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The worst thing about being turned into a cat, honestly, is that it’s not that much worse than being a witcher was.

He still gets boots thrown at him, and stones. He still gets chased out of inns and taverns with loud yelling. He still gets treated as a sort of exterminator-for-hire, though now his prey are mice and rats instead of kikimoras and arachas.

Oh, and cats still hate him.

So yeah, just about the same as being a witcher, except as a cat he can’t talk. Jury’s still out on whether that’s any sort of an improvement.

So frankly Lambert isn’t all that surprised when he ends up lying mostly-starved and beat to hell in a back alley somewhere in Oxenfurt, in the rain, waiting for this little cat body to finally give up and let him go on to whatever the fuck waits for witchers after death.

(Aiden, maybe. It’d be nice if it was Aiden.)

He hears the footsteps approaching, and doesn’t bother to open his eyes. If whoever that is decides to just put him out of his misery, so much the better.

The footsteps pause, and then there’s a soft splash, and Lambert cracks an eye open to see that someone has knelt down in the puddled alley. At the moment, he can’t tell anything more than “tall,” and even that’s subject to revision - everyone looks tall to a cat.

“Damn, you look like hell, moggy,” a male voice murmurs, and then two astonishingly gentle hands slide under Lambert and scoop him up, somehow managing not to jar too many of his injuries. “Poor thing.”

Lambert manages to produce a very weak hiss. The man chuckles. “Yes, I’m very intimidated,” he assures Lambert. “Truly, you are a fearsome beast, and I shall be duly wary of your claws and teeth.”

What the actual fuck, Lambert thinks, and makes a confused little noise. The man chuckles again. “There now,” he says, and cradles Lambert against his chest in the crook of one arm, like Lambert’s an infant. It’s a good chest, broad and very warm, and Lambert is frankly too tired to struggle. If this man is taking him somewhere to kill, well, at least he’ll be warm for a few minutes first.

The man doesn’t go very far, just down to the end of the alley, and then there’s the sound of a key in a lock, and a door opens with a very faint creak, and they’re inside out of the rain. The man carries Lambert over to a hearth in front of a banked fire, tugs a cushion off a nearby chair, and puts Lambert down on the cushion before poking the fire back to life. Lambert lies there in confused comfort as the man moves away - there are sounds of cloth rustling, and the clack of pottery against wood.

Finally the man comes back, and puts a saucer of what sure as hell smells like a rich chicken broth down in front of Lambert’s nose. It smells really fucking good. Lambert manages to get his front paws under him just enough to reach the saucer, and laps up the broth hungrily. It’s thick and a little salty and there are actual scraps of chicken - and carrot, but what the hell, carrot’s probably not bad for cats - and Lambert finishes the whole thing in less time than it took the man to pour it.

The man chuckles, and puts down another saucer, this one of water, and takes the first one away and refills it.

Lambert might actually die happy. There’s a wonder for you.

He finishes the second saucer of broth, and the saucer of water - cool and clean and nothing like the muddy puddles he’s been subsisting on - and then lies down on the pillow and closes his eyes. Fuck it, if this bastard decides to kill him now, Lambert won’t even bother hissing.

“There now,” the man says, quiet and pleased. “You look better already.” A very gentle hand strokes Lambert’s side. Lambert flicks his tail but doesn’t try to move away.

“Damn, you’re filthy though,” the man adds, which is fair but kinda rude all the same. What, does he think staying clean while slinking around in alleys is easy?

But the man goes away and comes back again with a warm, damp cloth, and his hands are very gentle as he works some of the grime from Lambert’s fur. Lambert lets him, not even objecting when the man very carefully rolls him over to get at his other side.

“Be damned, you’re orange,” the man murmurs. “I thought you were grey. What a handsome moggy you are.”

Lambert doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, and also is having a really fucking hard time staying awake. He’s warm and comfortable and full and clean for the first time in months, and he’s very, very tired.

“There now,” the man murmurs again, and strokes a finger along the top of Lambert’s head. “There now, I’ve got you.”

Lambert sleeps.

*

He wakes up to the sound of the man walking into a doorway. “Gods damn it,” the man says, without any particular heat.

Lambert uncurls - apparently he’d curled up sometime in the night, tucking a paw and his tail over his nose - and looks up at his rescuer, and for a long, long moment, he can’t find any thoughts at all.

It’s Aiden.

It can’t be Aiden; Aiden is dead. But the man now crouching down to smile at Lambert looks exactly like Lambert’s long-lost lover. He’s got Aiden’s warm brown skin, and the same sharp jawline and distressingly perfect cheekbones, and the chunk taken out of one earlobe by a childhood mishap. He’s got the same scar across his nose - Lambert was there when he got it from a particularly agile bruxa - and the same crooked tilt to his smile, and the same ridiculously soft-looking curly brown hair.

He also only has one eye, as green as it ever was, though for some reason the pupil is as round as a human’s. The other eye is covered by a brown leather patch. And when he stretches out his right hand to offer his fingers to Lambert, the palm of his hand is marred by a terrible scar, and two of his fingers don’t seem to straighten at all. It looks like a crossbow bolt went right through his hand at some point.

Warily, Lambert leans forward and sniffs at the proffered fingers. Fuck, the man smells like Aiden...sort of. He doesn’t smell of sword oil and leather and bitter herbs anymore, the way most witchers do; instead, he smells of parchment and ink. But under that - under that is the smell Lambert’s never been able to describe, the one that told him for decades that he had his lover safe in his arms.

He mews in confusion. The man chuckles. “Hey there, you’re looking better. Think you can manage solid food today, moggy?”

Lambert mews again, and the man strokes a finger over his head and stands, moving away to a cupboard and producing half a roast chicken. He gives Lambert a saucer of shredded chicken scraps and another of water, and Lambert eats all of it while the man has a roll with some butter and an apple.

Aiden never did like a heavy meal in the morning.

This can’t be Aiden. Aiden is dead.

Once the food is gone, Lambert sits up rather gingerly and begins licking himself properly clean. It took a while to get used to doing that, back when he’d first been transformed, and it’s still kinda disgusting when he thinks about what he’s doing, but it works, so...he’s drunk nastier things than whatever he’s licking off his fur.

“I’ll be back for luncheon, moggy,” the man says. “Try not to get in too much trouble, yeah?”

He leaves through a door near the fireplace, and Lambert finishes cleaning himself and takes stock of his surroundings properly for the first time.

He’s in what’s pretty clearly the main room of a small apartment: there’s the fireplace, and the cupboard for food, and a shelf with cups and plates and things on it, another shelf with a basket of yarn and several half-finished knitted objects, and a table with two chairs, and a shuttered window near the door to the outside. Lambert doesn’t smell anyone else but the man who can’t be Aiden; apparently he lives alone. There are three doorways: the one to the outside, the one the man just went through, and the one he walked into earlier, which has no door in the frame. Warily, Lambert picks his way across the very clean flagstones of the floor and pokes his nose into the next room, which proves to be a bedroom; there’s a large, comfortable looking bed and a clothes-chest and a small nightstand, and a little curtained off area with a privy, and not much else.

Everything smells like the man who can’t be Aiden.

Confused and exhausted even by so little exploration, Lambert returns to his cushion in front of the fire and curls up again.

He wakes up when the man returns for luncheon; Lambert gets chicken and water again, and while plain chicken and spring water would have been a really depressing meal as a witcher, it’s pretty much ambrosia for a cat. He bumps his head against the man’s fingers when he reaches down to take the saucer away.

“Hey there,” the man says, and runs a gentle hand over Lambert’s back. “Guess you are friendly.”

Lambert growls a little. He’s not friendly. He’s just...appreciative of the kindness.

“Oh, my mistake,” the man laughs. “Didn’t mean to offend you. You are a fearsome moggy indeed, ferocious and deadly, hm?”

Lambert sniffs and curls up with his back to the man, and the man chuckles again, and strokes a hand down Lambert’s back, warm and gentle. “Fierce little orange firebrand, aren’t you,” he murmurs. “Guess you’re probably not going to stick around, since cats generally don’t like me, but while you’re here, I’ll call you Kai.”

That’s...not a terrible name, really. Lambert twitches an ear in acknowledgement.

“I’ll be back for supper, Kai,” the man says, and goes back out through the door to who knows where. Lambert considers his options and goes back to sleep.

The man comes back through the outside door in the evening, startling Lambert to his feet with a growl; but the smell of the meat pasties the man is carrying is far too good to stay irritated. The man laughs at him. “This is human food, fierce little Kai,” he says, but when Lambert glares at him, he breaks one of the pasties open and puts half of it in a saucer for Lambert. It’s ground pork, rich and a little too spicy for a cat, but Lambert eats all of the filling nonetheless.

“Oh hey, you’re purring!” the man says, delighted, and Lambert realizes the soft thrumming is, indeed, coming from his chest. He stops it at once. The man makes a sad sound. “Aw, you stopped.”

Lambert looks at the pastry shell in the saucer, at the cushion on the hearth, at the man who isn’t Aiden watching him with such a soft expression, and lashes his tail a little in irritation, and walks over to bump his head against the man’s leg...and lets himself start purring again.

“Oh,” the man says, almost wonderingly, and leans down to stroke Lambert’s back. “Just don’t like me calling attention to it when you’re in a good mood, huh? That’s fair.”

Lambert gives him a haughty look - something cats are very good at - and goes back to his cushion. Recovering is exhausting, and he wants another nap.

*

It takes three days before Lambert’s feeling back to full cat strength; he thinks he heals faster than a real cat would, but having never spent any time around any real cats, he genuinely isn’t sure. But once he’s properly back on his feet, the prospect of spending entire days cooped up in these two rooms is not attractive.

He also...doesn’t really want to leave. Not just because the man who can’t be Aiden feeds him and pets him and talks to him softly, but because...because for all that he can’t be Aiden, he sure acts like him. He’s got the same easy humor, the same inability to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time - which, like Aiden, he deals with by near-constant knitting - the same firm ideas about cleanliness.

So when the man who isn’t Aiden gets up to go through the door by the fireplace on the fourth morning, Lambert follows him.

“Coming to work with me, then, Kai?” the man says, chuckling, and holds the door for him.

On the other side, to Lambert’s astonishment, is a bookshop.

No wonder the man who isn’t Aiden smells like parchment and ink.

It’s a very tidy bookshop, as Lambert would have expected any store run by Aiden - or the man who can't be Aiden - would be. The man leads the way down an aisle between two shelves to the front of the shop, where a sturdy counter stands beside the door. The man who can’t be Aiden unlocks the door and goes outside to open the shutters over a pair of surprisingly large windows. Lambert hops up onto the counter and curls his tail around his feet, looking with interest at the already-bustling street outside.

“Hey, Siraj!” someone across the street calls, and the man who can’t be Aiden raises his hand in greeting. Hah, he’s got a name. Siraj, not Aiden.

Siraj comes in and grins at Lambert. “Going to stand guard today?” he teases, and runs a hand over Lambert’s head. Lambert leans into it, because why the hell not?

Siraj’s shop, Lambert discovers, does pretty good business. He sells parchment and ink and quills and blank books as well as printed ones, and there’s a steady stream of people jingling the bell above the door. Well, Oxenfurt’s a university town; presumably, most of these customers are students. Several of them try to pet Lambert, who hisses and hunkers down, ears flat, anytime they reach for him.

“Sorry, he’s a grumpy little thing,” Siraj says apologetically to a customer who didn’t pay attention to the hissing. Lambert didn’t actually connect when he swiped at her, so he doesn’t feel like any apology is really needed. The girl huffs and pays for her quills and goes out again in high dudgeon anyway. “Chasing off my customers, hey Kai?” Siraj murmurs, stroking a hand over Lambert’s back.

Lambert grumbles and hops down from the counter onto Siraj’s chair, curling up in a ball. Siraj laughs. “I use that chair, you know. No? Alright, I guess it’s yours now.”

Damn straight.

Lambert naps for a while - cats sleep a lot, he hadn’t quite realized how much before he got transformed - and then goes and prowls around the shop, sniffing around the bases of the shelves. He’s in the very back corner, where not many people come, when he smells something that’s become distressingly familiar these last few months, and he hunkers down and waits, tip of his tail twitching gently with impatience, until finally the mouse comes out from a tiny crack behind the shelf. Lambert hangs onto his patience by the very tips of his claws, holding his tail still by sheer stubbornness, until finally the mouse is too far from the wall to escape, and Lambert leaps.

He carries his prize up to the front and drops it proudly at Siraj’s feet. Siraj yelps in surprise and then laughs, crouching down to stroke Lambert’s head. “Well now! You are a mighty hunter, aren’t you, Kai? Thank you!” He tosses the dead mouse out into the gutter, which is fair; Lambert vastly prefers chicken anyhow, and is well-fed enough that if he doesn’t have to eat a mouse, he’d rather not.

When evening comes, Siraj closes the shop up and lets Lambert back into the apartment, and then goes off to find supper, coming back with a meat pie and a chicken leg - the latter for Lambert, though when Lambert gives him a hopeful look, Siraj gives him a chunk of venison from the pie, too.

So Lambert becomes a bookstore cat.

*

It’s been most of two months since Siraj rescued Lambert, and Lambert has discovered he quite likes being a bookstore cat. It’s a lot more peaceful than being a witcher, that’s for damn sure. He sleeps on the pillow in front of the hearth, warm and comfortable, and he eats well, and Siraj pets him whenever Lambert allows it. He gets to sit on the counter or on Siraj’s chair during the day, and when he feels like hunting something, he prowls the bookstore for enterprising mice. The customers learn that he’s not for petting - Siraj can pet him, but Lambert’s not gonna let just anyone put their hands on him - but some of them bring him treats all the same.

Siraj buys him a red leather collar after the first month, with a little brass tag that says Kai on it. Lambert eyes the collar for an entire week before he lets Siraj put it on him. He’s never let anyone claim him like that - no one but the fucking Wolf School - but he’s not a Wolf witcher anymore, is he? He’s Siraj’s cat, now, and it’s -

Well. If Aiden had ever offered Lambert any sort of token, any sort of claim, Lambert would’ve worn it all his days. And a small, pathetic part of Lambert is willing to take Siraj’s collar as a sort of pale mimicry of what he really wants. Siraj isn’t Aiden, and Lambert knows that, but...well.

Lambert’s a godsdamned cat, he’ll take what comfort he can get.

Siraj has a very consistent routine, opening the bookstore at the same time every morning except Sundays, when he sleeps in and then goes out for a late breakfast and comes back with bacon for Lambert, and then closing the bookstore at the same time each evening, and going to one of the same five or six nearby food stalls for supper and the next day’s lunch. Three evenings a week he goes out after supper to a bathhouse, and comes back smelling clean and a little minty. It’s soothing, knowing exactly what’s going to happen.

So Lambert is deeply disconcerted, one day two months into their arrangement, when Siraj closes the bookshop in the middle of the afternoon, leaves Lambert in the apartment, and goes out for hours, returning stinking of alcohol and distinctly unsteady on his feet. He walks into the doorway twice, and doesn’t even bother trying to sit in the chair, just sinks down onto the hearth next to Lambert and sighs.

“You’d think it’d get easier,” he says.

Lambert mews a question, and goes over to bump his head against Siraj’s hands, confused and worried and - because it’s Lambert - rather angry.

“Aw, Kai,” Siraj says, and gathers Lambert into his lap, which he’s never tried to do before. Lambert decides that it’s acceptable anyhow, and stretches up on his hind legs to pat at Siraj’s face with his forepaws, claws carefully kept sheathed.

“You want to hear the story, then?” Siraj murmurs. “Alright.” He strokes a hand down Lambert’s back, and Lambert curls up, ears perked. “Well then. I can’t actually remember anything more than about six years back.”

Lambert’s head jerks up. Siraj laughs a little wetly. “Yeah, I know. Weird, isn’t it? But six years ago, old missus Helima found a man on the riverbank, as close to dead as you can get and not be buried. She coulda left me there - nobody woulda blamed her - but she hired a guy with a wagon to bring me up to the free hospital that the university runs, and she sat with me until I woke up. I didn’t know anything - not where I was, or who I was, or what had happened to me.” He flexes his scarred hand, wincing a little. “Whatever it was, it was bad. Cost me an eye, and this, and my memory. Old missus Helima, she said she’d been thinking she needed some help around the shop, and the gods had sent me to her. She brought me home with her, and fed me up proper, and taught me how to run her shop. Treated me like a son, for all we shared no blood. For all I’m not even human. Gave me a home, and a job, and a name. And two years ago today, she didn’t wake up in the morning.” Siraj sniffs hard, tears trickling down his cheeks. “Fuck, Kai, I miss her.”

Lambert goes up on his hind legs again to prop his paws on Siraj’s chest and bump his head against the man’s chin. Siraj chuckles. “Thanks, moggy.” He sighs and strokes Lambert’s back again, scritches his fingers under Lambert’s chin. “You’re very sweet, really, but I promise I’ll never tell anyone. I’m good at keeping promises. I promised old missus Helima I’d never let anyone know I’m not human, and see? Nobody knows but you!”

Lambert mews confusion. Siraj sways a little and then slowly sinks down, head landing on Lambert’s cushion. Clumsily, he reaches under his tunic and fishes out a pendant, a strange twist of carved wood that makes Lambert’s eyes hurt a little to look at it. “See?” he murmurs, and manages to unclasp the necklace, letting it fall to the floor.

The pupil of his one remaining eye narrows to a thin slit, catlike and inhuman.

Lambert stares. It can’t be. It can’t be.

Aiden.

Aiden is alive.

Aiden is alive, and living as a human bookstore owner in Oxenfurt.

What the actual fucking hell.

Lambert bats the pendant under the cushion and curls up in the curve of Aiden’s throat, as close as he can get. Aiden sighs. “Thanks, Kai,” he murmurs, and wraps an arm around Lambert, and passes out.

Lambert stays awake, guarding Aiden’s sleep.

*

In the morning, Aiden wakes up with a little moan and starts to sit up, then freezes when he realizes Lambert is cuddled up to him. “Hey there, Kai; guess you thought I needed some comforting, hm?” he murmurs, stroking Lambert’s back gently. Lambert uncurls and bumps his head against Aiden’s cheek. Aiden chuckles. “Aw, you sweet thing. Now where’d my necklace get to…” He digs it out from under the cushion and puts it on, tucking it under his tunic, before rising and stretching. “Fuck, sleeping on the floor is hell on my back. Thanks for sharing your cushion, Kai.”

Lambert mews, and when Aiden sits down at the table for breakfast, leaps up into the man’s lap. Aiden startles a little. “Oh, are you a lap cat now, moggy?”

Lambert mews and curls up in a ball. When he thought Siraj was a sort of strange doppleganger, cuddling would have been a bridge too far. But he and Aiden were always in each other’s space, holding each other at night and sitting tucked against each other in inns and taverns, taking comfort in nearness. Now that he knows this really is Aiden...well, he’d better get used to having a cat in his lap.

Aiden seems delighted by this, to be fair. He’s the one who comes up with the idea of having Lambert sit on his shoulder, and Lambert happily drapes himself over Aiden like a sort of extremely furry shawl, only hopping down a few times to do his usual patrols of the bookshop to check for particularly foolish mice. Several customers comment on Siraj’s cat having gotten even clingier, and Aiden just shrugs and allows as how he’s not sure why but he’s not looking a gift cat in the mouth.

That night, Lambert follows Aiden into the bedroom and hops up into the bed, curling up on the pillow and looking at Aiden expectantly. Aiden laughs. “You’re going to have to let me use that pillow, moggy,” he murmurs, but when he lies down, he seems perfectly happy to let Lambert curl up in the curve of his throat, tucked under his chin. “Snuggly little thing, my fierce Kai,” he says fondly.

And that becomes their new routine.

Lambert has to admit, if he’s got to be a cat, being Aiden’s bookstore cat - being able to spend all his time with Aiden, knowing Aiden is safe and healthy and not about to be eaten by a fucking wyvern, spending every night in a clean soft bed and eating three meals of pretty decent food every day and being spoken to by everyone they meet in friendly tones - is pretty damn nice. Naturally he’d prefer not to be a cat, but...well. This is as good a cat-life as he’s going to get, and he’s fucking well grateful for it.

He lets himself make friends with a few of the most frequent customers of the bookshop: a very pretty young blonde girl who wears her bangs over one eye and has a marvelously sweet singing voice; a brisk redhead who usually smells like bitter herbs and will buy any medical texts Aiden can get his hands on; a tall grey-haired man who visits from Toussaint every month or so and knows more about monsters than anyone not a witcher usually does. Lambert even allows the chosen few to pet him, though he never sits on their laps or perches on their shoulders. “A one-man cat, your Kai,” the redhead laughs when he snubs her, and Aiden looks smug and picks Lambert up, nuzzling the top of his head. Lambert sighs and allows it.

Really the only flaw in this idyll - aside from Lambert being a cat - is that Aiden has nightmares. Lambert didn’t know about them when he slept on the hearth, because they’re very quiet, but now that he’s sleeping in Aiden’s bed, he hears them. Every few nights, when he’s most deeply asleep, Aiden’s heartbeat speeds up, and his breathing comes quick, and he shifts in the bed, tossing his scarred hand up to cover his missing eye. And sometimes he speaks, just tiny whispers. Lambert has heard No, and Please, and then, one night, wonderfully and terribly, Lambert.

Which means Aiden’s memories are in there somewhere, locked away. But really all Lambert cares about at this point is the fact that Aiden is scared and unhappy, even if he never remembers it in the morning. The best Lambert can do about that is curl up on Aiden’s chest and purr as loudly as he can, which does seem to help, but he really wants to be able to do more.

Still, the nightmares are a small problem in the grand scheme of things. All in all, this is...probably the best retirement either of them was ever gonna get, really. Even if it’s cost Aiden his memories and an eye, and Lambert his ability to talk or use opposable thumbs. Still better than being dead in a ditch somewhere, or wyvern chow, or some mage’s toy.

The months roll by, and Lambert is...content.

*

“Been a year since I found you, Kai,” Aiden says one evening. He’s sitting in front of the hearth, knitting a hat, and Lambert is draped over his lap and purring thunderously while firmly resisting the urge to pounce on the twitching yarn. It can be amusing to annoy Aiden by attacking his knitting, and often results in really entertaining games of catch-the-cat and maul-the-hand, but this hat is for Essi’s graduation, so Lambert is being good. He rolls over to look up at Aiden in astonishment. A year? Really? Surely not.

But then, he hasn’t been paying much attention to the passing of time. In the bookshop, one day is much like another; during the warmer months, he’ll go outside to sit in the sun on the window ledge sometimes, and during the winter he most definitely does not, but otherwise it doesn’t matter much.

A full year. Huh. And he was a cat for at least half a year before Aiden found him, too. Well, his brothers almost certainly think he’s dead, then. Which is a pity, but there’s fuck all Lambert can do about it. And Geralt has his vineyard in Toussaint, and Eskel has the Path (and also probably the vineyard in Toussaint), so they’ve got plenty of distractions.

Lambert gives Aiden a slow, contented blink, and rolls up onto his hind legs to brace his paws on Aiden’s chest and lick the tip of his nose. Aiden sputters with surprised laughter. “Silly, sweet moggy,” he whispers, and presses a kiss to the top of Lambert’s head.

They are both extremely surprised when Lambert topples over, convulsing, and begins to scream.

Through the agony, Lambert can just make out Aiden babbling, “Shit, shit, no, fuck, are you not supposed to kiss cats? Nobody fucking warned me - Kai, Kai, gods, please -”

And then everything hurts worse than the fucking Trials, and Lambert screams his way through it, wishing he could black out but never quite managing it. Aiden scrabbles at his throat, yanking the collar open and off as Lambert chokes, and then pins Lambert’s shoulders down to keep him from thrashing into the fire.

Some uncounted time later, the pain ebbs again, and Lambert lies there on the warm hearthstones, staring up at the familiar rafters, and pants. There’s a slightly ominous silence from off to the side where Aiden is sitting. Slowly, Lambert rolls his head to the side - fucking hell, everything aches - to see Aiden staring at him in shock, single eye enormous.

“What the hell,” Aiden rasps after a moment.

“Uh,” Lambert says, and sits up slowly. What the hell is he supposed to say to his amnesiac lover, who spent the past year caring for him while Lambert was a godsdamned cat? And who Lambert thought was dead for a good six years before that? “Hi?”

“Who the hell are you and why were you a cat and why do I know you?” Aiden demands, holding a knitting needle like he’s prepared to stab Lambert with it if necessary.

Lambert ticks the answers off on his fingers. “I’m Lambert of the Wolf School, because I pissed off a really fucking nasty mage and got cursed, and because we used to be lovers.”

“Uh,” Aiden says, boggling. “Really?” He gives Lambert a quick once-over. “Huh, I guess I had pretty good taste in men.”

Lambert decides that he’s definitely not blushing. “Not really; I’m a foul-mouthed, short-tempered fucking asshole.”

“Oh, so basically a cat who can swear,” Aiden returns, starting to smile. “Wolf School, isn’t that - are we witchers?”

“Yeah.”

Aiden considers that. “What...what was my name?”

“Aiden,” Lambert almost whispers. “Aiden of the Cats.”

“Huh.” Aiden rolls the name around in his mouth a while. “That’s a nice name.”

Lambert nods.

“I...have no idea what to do with any of this,” Aiden admits after a while. “Although I suppose I could start by getting you some pants.”

Lambert nods, and Aiden goes and digs out a pair of loose trousers, and Lambert puts them on, and they stare at each other for a while again. Finally Lambert says, “You should finish Essi’s hat.”

“Shit, you remember that?” Aiden says.

Lambert shrugs. “Yeah. I was still me, just cat-shaped.”

“Why didn’t you say something? Or - scratch it out on the hearthstone or something? Dip your claws in ink?”

“Because I didn’t know how to break the fuckin’ curse.” Lambert shrugs. “And being your cat was a hell of a lot better than any of the other options. Even before I figured out who you were.”

“I see,” Aiden says, and applies himself to his knitting, shooting glances at Lambert every few stitches. Lambert sets about a series of stretches, trying to work the aches out and remember how a human-shaped body moves. It’s quiet, though not uncomfortably so, until Aiden finally casts off the hat and sets it aside and says, “It’s late. We should sleep, figure this out in the morning.”

“Yeah,” Lambert says. “If you spot me a blanket, I’ll sleep on the hearth.” He wants to sleep next to Aiden in the big bed, but Aiden doesn’t remember him, and Lambert’s not enough of an asshole to push for more than Aiden wants to give.

“Alright,” Aiden says, and brings a blanket out, and Lambert wraps himself up in it and lies there on the hearth not sleeping, listening to Aiden not sleeping in the other room, and toying quietly with the collar that he’s worn for a full year now. The collar that marked him as Aiden’s, and doesn’t anymore.

Finally there’s the sound of soft footsteps, and Aiden appears in the doorway, bumping the frame gently with his shoulder. “Fuck this, get in here. I’m not used to sleeping without a cat anymore, so you’ll have to do. Can you still purr?”

Lambert gets up, snorting softly. “I dunno,” he says. “Guess I can try.”

He can’t purr, but after a few minutes of lying there in deeply awkward silence, Aiden sighs heavily and rolls over, wrapping himself around Lambert the way he always used to. Lambert curls around him, his body remembering how best to arrange their arms and legs so both of them can sleep most comfortably, Aiden’s head tucked in under Lambert’s chin in an odd mirror of how Lambert slept beneath Aiden’s chin as a cat.

“Why is this so fucking comfortable,” Aiden mumbles, and is asleep before Lambert can reply.

Lambert doesn’t sleep. Tomorrow, Aiden might decide he doesn’t want a specter of his former life hanging around; tomorrow, Aiden may well choose to ask Lambert to leave. So Lambert is going to memorize every fucking moment of what might be the last night he gets to hold Aiden in his arms, and then when Aiden does tell him to get out and Lambert goes off to Toussaint or wherever, he’ll have this memory, and the knowledge that Aiden is alive and safe and happy in a little bookshop in Oxenfurt, and that will be...enough. It’ll be enough.

It’s well past midnight when Aiden’s heartbeat suddenly picks up, and his breath comes short. Lambert bites his lip and thinks several truly filthy Nilfgaardian curse-words. “Aiden,” he hisses. “Aiden, shh, shh.” Fuck, if he could purr he’d do it; the best he can do is hum, deep in his chest. Aiden thrashes onto his back, throwing his scarred hand up to cover his eye, and makes a terrible sound, a breathless gasp of pain that Lambert’s only heard once before, the time an archgriffin raked Aiden’s side so deeply they could see half a dozen of his ribs white at the bottom of the gash.

“No,” Aiden says. “No - no -”

Lambert puts a hand on Aiden’s chest, hoping it can mimic the weight of his cat-self at least a little. Aiden goes utterly still, not even breathing, and then abruptly shoots bolt upright, eye snapping open. “Lambert!

“Aiden,” Lambert says, and Aiden twists around to look down at him.

“Holy shit,” he whispers. “Lam.” And he lunges forward, pinning Lambert to the bed. For a moment, Lambert thinks he’s being attacked, and then Aiden’s lips meet his in a biting, desperate kiss.

Lambert kisses back, of course.

Because no one calls him Lam but Aiden. Eskel calls him ‘little wolf’ and Geralt calls him ‘pup’ and Vesemir just called him by his name. And so if Aiden is calling him that -

If Aiden is calling him Lam, then Aiden remembers.

“Lam,” Aiden says again when they finally part just far enough to rest their foreheads together, breathing in each other’s scents.

“Hey, Aiden,” Lambert whispers.

Aiden kisses him again.

*

There’s a brief flurry of interest among the customers of Siraj’s Books and Sundries when Siraj closes for three full days, and then returns to work with a new assistant, a tall redhead with hazel eyes who answers to the name of Kai, and wears a strange pendant around his throat on a red leather collar, and apparently spent the past year as Siraj’s cat. But the students who frequent Siraj’s shop decide that it’s awfully romantic how Siraj broke the curse on his lover with a kiss, and several of them write songs about it; and Kai turns out to be a very good carpenter, and blacksmith, and leatherworker, and mason, and even sempster, so his services as a general handyman are soon much in demand even if he does swear like a particularly well-educated sailor.

They’re awfully cute together, the bookseller and his beloved. And Siraj’s Books and Sundries is the best bookshop in Oxenfurt, even if it does close up for a month every winter so the owners can go down to Toussaint to visit Kai’s family.

And if Oxenfurt sees a sharp decrease in the number of monsters taking up residence within city limits, well, that has nothing to do with Siraj and Kai, surely. Why would it?

And Lambert, with Aiden in his arms each night, discovers that he is, against all odds, living happily ever after, after all.