The blazing, crossed blue eyes of the silky black cat stared out from under the chair. Fire and flame! Danger. Attack. Protect.
CRASH! A blazing ball of fire slammed into the desk beside Killian, throwing wood and splinters in every direction. The Witch Master dove behind the first row of chairs and cast a wall of power toward the black-haired witch who fired at him from the back of the lecture hall. Who the hells is she, and what do she and that other witch want? Why would they attack him at school, where any human could walk in? Hells, why would they attack him at all?
THE CAT’S mouth widened, fangs glistening. Protect. Defend Killian. He crouched, muscles coiling. His inky feline body ripped through the air, fur magnetized by the power in the room. Suck power. Give power. Be power!
“MERRRRRWAOOOOOR.” ALOYSIUS landed on Killian’s back, his claws digging in for traction. He leaped to Killian’s shoulder. Like lightning, power flashed up Killian’s spine and out his hands in invisible bolts. The black cat familiar amped his force by a hundredfold. Killian might be the most powerful male witch in ten generations, but with Aloysius he was far more formidable. The blonde witch pulled the door in front of her, but that was little protection from his casting.
He heard a scream. Good. Maybe that one’s down.
Silence. Killian peeked over the chair top. Had he hurt them both?
“Sweetheart? Are you there?”
Holy shit. Blaine! His husband’s voice came from the side door of the lecture hall.
“Stay back, Blaine. Don’t come in. Stay out.”
That most loved, beautiful face came around the corner of the door. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Killian felt Aloysius tense on his shoulder. The cat loved Blaine so much. “Stay out, Blaine. Danger!”
Blaine frowned. Wrong words! Blaine would move the heavens to protect Killian and Aloysius, even though he was a very vulnerable human. Killian popped up over the top of the chair. “I’m fine. Stay away, please.”
“What the hell is going on?” Blaine stepped through the door.
No. Gods. Both witches jumped out from their hiding places with hands raised to cast toward Blaine.
No way, bitches!
Killian leaped up. Thunder rumbled above the history building. He cast a bolt. The blonde witch jumped aside, and she and the other female focused together, pouring power in a huge visible flash toward Blaine.
Gods! Killian hurled himself in the air to try to get in front of Blaine, casting at the same time. Not going to make it. No, please. Me, not Blaine. No!
Aloysius moved so fast even Killian’s eyes could barely perceive it. His black, furry shape propelled in front of Blaine, pulling the bolt of power like a magnet.
Blaine screamed, “No, Al!”
The cat’s body lit up like a flare, with all the black fur standing out. He flew into the air, twisted twice, and fell, fell, fell to the floor—limp and still.
Gods, not Al!
Without Aloysius, he felt like someone turned his power switch to low. Killian whirled on the witches. The two of them stood with wide eyes staring at the scene in front of them. He started blazing power at them, bolts hitting at their feet one after another, the wood shattering and carpet bursting into flames. But compared to a moment ago, the bolts were weak. They had to know that. Why didn’t they fight back?
Another bolt. He didn’t want to kill them. He needed to know what this was about. Strange. They looked horrified. As he approached, they glanced at each other, turned as one, and raced out the door.
Killian ran after them, out into the sunlight of the bright early summer day. No sign. Gone. Damn, he had to see to Al.
He hurried back through the door. Shambles! He flicked his fingers and put the room to rights, even the wood and carpet reforming, then ran down the aisle of the lecture hall. Blaine knelt over Aloysius with his ear pressed to the cat’s lean flank.
Killian stooped down on Al’s other side. “How is he?”
Blaine looked up with tears in his eyes. “I think he’s breathing but just barely. And he’s not moving at all.” He sat up. “Shit, what was that all about? Who were those witches?”
“I don’t know. They just appeared when Al and I were packing up to leave.”
Blaine spread his hands. “Here. Really? I thought you supernaturals didn’t like us humans to know about you.”
Killian put a hand on Blaine’s arm. Blaine was a physicist, and his acceptance of witches was always tinged with acid. He only believed because he had to—and he had to if he wanted Killian as his husband. “They must want something really badly to take the risk. I have no idea what it is.”
Blaine frowned. “It seemed like they wanted to kill me.”
Killian shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t know why they ran away. They had to know that Al magnifies my power. They outnumbered me two to one. Still, they ran.”
Blaine stroked the silky black fur and looked up at Killian with pleading eyes. “Okay, baby, do your stuff. Make him well.”
Killian took a breath. He placed both hands on the slim body. Only a small spark of life force pulsed, but it was steady. Thank gods. “He took a strong hit. Those females are very powerful.” Sadly, without Aloysius, Killian was less so.
With focus, he ran a ripple of energy into the cat. “Come on, guy.” The strong heart beat faster, but his eyes didn’t open. Al was a mighty creature. Even that huge hit shouldn’t have been able to keep him down.
Another stream of energy flowed from Killian’s hands and his mind.
Blaine frowned. “Why isn’t he waking up?”
“I don’t know, darling.” Killian closed his eyes and focused on the still point that was Aloysiusness. Odd. Somehow changed. Oh gods. Al had to be okay. The world’s most powerful familiar could not be put down. He couldn’t be.
“My God, Professor. What happened to your cat?”
Killian’s eyes flew open. Hells, he’d forgotten where they were. The next class was coming in. He looked up at the girl who often sat in the front row of his witchcraft class. “Hello, Miss Eberle. He fell and got injured. He’s alive but unconscious.”
She knelt down, her pretty face a study in sympathy. “Oh no, he’s such a wonderful cat. He has to be okay.”
“Yes, he does have to be okay. Dr. Genneau and I are going to take good care of him.”
She looked up with tears glistening. “Take him to the vet right away.”
“Uh, yes. Yes, we will.” He reached down and carefully picked up Al’s limp body. Blaine huddled beside him, and they started walking toward the side door where Blaine had come in. Students gathered around and murmured their hopes and wishes. Funny, that was what some of them called him—Mr. Wishes. Al was a very popular cat at the university.
Moving slowly, they finally got to Killian’s car in the back lot. Thank gods he hadn’t brought the motorcycle today. Blaine climbed into the passenger seat, and Killian laid Aloysius on his lap. Tears dripped off Blaine’s chin. Not much made Blaine cry.
Killian petted Blaine’s head and then Al’s soft side. He knelt beside the car and laid his head on Blaine’s leg, beside the cat. “He’s alive. And he’s so powerful, Blaine. He has to be all right.” But what in the hells to do?
Blaine wiped a tear from his cheek. “That girl had an idea. He’s a cat. Maybe we should take him to a vet?”
Killian raised his head. “But he’s not a cat.”
“He has a cat’s body. There’s a guy in my men’s group who’s a vet. Young, but he seems real capable and compassionate. I could call him.”
Killian’s eyes widened. “Take a witch’s familiar to a vet?”
Another tear dropped from Blaine’s green eye. “It’s a shot.”
Well, hells. It might be crazy, but this whole thing was crazy. “Call him.”
Taking care not to jostle Aloysius, Blaine pulled his phone from his hip pocket. He searched through the contacts and dialed. After a second, Killian heard the buzz of a voice on the other end. Blaine gripped the phone. “Hi. Is Dr. Elliott available?” He listened. “Tell him it’s Blaine Genneau.”
Blaine glanced up at Killian. “Oh, hi, Luke. Hey, my husband and I have this great cat, and he’s unconscious. Any chance you could see him?” He got a deer-in-the-headlights expression. “Uh. He had a bad fall. Yeah. Our other vet…” He looked at Killian. “…left town.” He smiled tightly. “Thanks so much. We’ll bring him right over.”
Blaine clicked off the call and gripped Killian’s hand. “Thank God.”
“Let’s give it a try, sweetheart.” Killian stood and walked around to the driver’s side. Give it a try even if it was a crazy idea.
Despite horrible, New-York-in-the-afternoon traffic, they managed to get to the vet’s place in about twenty minutes. There was a small parking lot with a few emergency spaces marked for the veterinary hospital. Killian pulled his electric sports car into one of the spots.
He hopped out and crossed around to the passenger side. Blaine pushed open the door, and Killian gently lifted the limp, furry form from his husband’s lap. He pressed his ear to Al’s back.
Oh, Al, why won’t you wake up? The warm, spicy smell that had comforted him so many times filled his nose.
Blaine put a hand under Al’s back. Aloysius wasn’t very big, so he didn’t really need two carriers, but that hand was moral support. They carried Al across the parking lot, onto the sidewalk, and through the door of the office. The space inside was small, simple, and all about pets. Photos of people’s animals, signed by the owners, decorated the walls. There was a basket of chew toys and two containers of treats on the counter of the reception desk.
A young woman popped her head up over the counter. “Hi. Can I help you? Oh dear.” She flew out from behind the counter and motioned to them. “Please bring him in here.” She held open the door to an examining room. The table was metal and fairly large.
Blaine looked at the girl. “Do you have something softer?”
Oh no. His poor baby was so upset.
The girl pulled open a cabinet and grabbed some towels. She made a soft pad on the metal table, and Killian gently deposited Aloysius on it. She looked at him closely. “What happened to him?”
Blaine cleared his throat. “He, uh, fell.”
She looked up sharply, as if maybe she suspected him of hurting the cat.
Blaine frowned. “He was very high up.”
“I’ll get the X-ray machine ready. I’m sure Dr. Elliott will need X-rays.” She walked out.
Killian put a hand on Blaine’s shoulder. “We didn’t really think about how to explain it.”
Blaine sighed deeply. “I frequently find the world hard to explain.”
A tap sounded on the partly closed door. Well, hells.
The man who walked in clearly wanted to make a low-key appearance. The dark-rimmed glasses, lab coat, and simple ponytail spoke of a science geek. A tall science geek. With broad shoulders and eyes like gray storm clouds on a sunny day. Hmm. Men’s group, huh?
Blaine stepped forward with his hand extended. “Hi, Luke. Thanks so much for seeing me on such short notice.”
The man offered his long, slim hand to Blaine and shook. Blaine put his other hand on Killian’s shoulder. “This is my husband, Killian.”
Luke turned to Killian. The widened eyes and flared nostrils were pretty standard human reaction to Killian’s supernatural appearance, so he just smiled, flipped his blond braid over his shoulder, and stuck out his hand. “Thank you so much for seeing us.”
Luke pried his eyes away from Killian—also standard—and looked at the furry body. “So what’s happened, boy?” Even in repose, Aloysius’s big-balled gender was obvious. Luke inspected the black body and gently touched him. “You say he fell.”
Blaine nodded. “Yes.” He glanced at Killian. “He was on a high piece of furniture. He lost his footing and fell really hard. He’s been unconscious ever since.” Blaine’s voice broke, and Luke looked up with sympathy. Nice guy. Still, way too pretty.
Luke softly ran his hands over Aloysius. “Nothing is obviously broken. We’ll X-ray him, but he doesn’t have the look of an animal that’s broken bones. Concussion, maybe.” He stuck a thermometer in Al’s anus. Oh yes, Aloysius was totally unconscious, or the cat would at least have expressed indignation.
Luke listened with his stethoscope. “Good heart rate—for a cat.” He smiled, pulled out the thermometer, and looked at it. “Normal. It seems unlikely that he has a lot of internal bleeding with such good vitals, but we’ll give him a good check.”
Blaine petted Al’s furry side. “There has to be some reason he’s unconscious. He’s a really tough cat.”
Luke opened one of Al’s eyelids. “We’ll find out. How old is he?”
Holy crap. How do you say “probably hundreds of years” to a human? Killian shook his head. “He was full-grown when I got him as a gift. Any thoughts on his age?”
Luke pulled back Al’s lips and looked at his teeth. “Probably no more than two or three from the looks of him.” He glanced again at the impressive balls. “Obviously, sexually mature.” He smiled. “He’s not neutered?”
“It’s generally recommended.”
“Since his former owner hadn’t done it and he was already an adult, I didn’t think it was fair.” To say nothing of the fact that Al would have killed him.
“Does he give you a lot of trouble, tomcatting around?”
Funny, in the couple of years since he got Al, he’d never wondered about the familiar’s sex life. “No. Not at all.”
“All animals are different, just like humans. Many even display homosexual behavior.”
Blaine looked up. “Really?”
“Yes. Though not usually exclusively. There are sheep, however, who form lifelong homosexual bonds.”
Blaine glanced at Killian. All the times Al had lain on the bed and watched them have sex, maybe he was just taking notes.
The girl came back in. “I have the X-ray and other diagnostics set up for you, Doctor.”
“Thanks, Carolyn.” He extended a hand toward the door. “Why don’t you wait in the lobby? I’ll come get you when we’re done.”
Blaine half smiled. “Thanks, Luke.”
They walked out of the examining room, and Luke followed them. In the waiting room, an older lady sat with two Siamese cats, and a man held a Chihuahua. Luke handed Blaine a magazine for pet fanciers. “Don’t worry too much. The only thing I see wrong with him is that he’s unconscious, so I think we’ll have good news.”
Blaine smiled tightly. “We really appreciate it, Luke. By the way, I’ve been encouraging Killian to join our men’s group.”
Just what the gay human men’s group needed: a male witch. Killian flipped his braid. “I’m not much of a joiner.”
Luke shrugged. “Not much joining involved. Just show up for one of our get-togethers.”
Killian glanced at Blaine. “Then how would he get to complain about his husband?”
“I’ve never heard a complaining word about the old ball and chain. Actually, he pretty much has us convinced you’re the love god of husbands.”
“Oh, really?” He looked at Blaine, who shrugged and tried to appear noncommittal.
Luke laughed. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.” He walked into the back.
Killian leaned over to Blaine. “Love god, huh? Was that as close as you could get to ‘witch’?”
“Mm-hmmm.” Blaine smiled.
“That guy is altogether too pretty for you to be associating with, my love.”
Blaine grinned. “Funny. I’ve never seen him with a boyfriend or heard him talk about a date. He seems committed to his work. He comes to the men’s group, but I don’t even see him form close friendships with the other guys. Aside from his animals, I don’t think he’s got much of a life.”
“Odd for one so young and beautiful. He also appears to be disguising his rather exceptional appearance behind his geek costume.”
Both their heads snapped up when Luke ran back into the waiting room. “Blaine, I don’t understand it. Carolyn left the examining room for one minute and—your cat is gone!”