spirits of decay: chapter 2
It was late when Stray awoke again. Relatively late, at least. The past two mornings, Declan had gotten him up at five-thirty, when he and Blaire got up to prepare for school, saying if they had to be awake, so did he. It was past five-thirty now. The sun was shining brightly outside, and had been for at least an hour by the look of things. Stray wondered if Declan had decided to relent in waking him up so early, or if maybe he was just making an exception now because of last night – not because of his nightmare, but because of what they’d been out doing before.
Prior to waking Declan up by crying out in his sleep, Stray had gone with Declan and Blaire to track down a fae named Kelpie who’d been drowning locals in the nearby town of Rusted Hill. That confrontation hadn’t exactly worked out how Blaire and Declan hoped it would. They’d wanted Kelpie dead. Kelpie had wanted Stray dead. No one got what they wanted, with the possible exception of Stray, who just wanted her to stop killing people. There were no guarantees, but Stray had the feeling that Kelpie would back off, for awhile at least. It had been after midnight when they’d gotten home, then Stray had woken them all up again only an hour or two after they all crashed. Perhaps it was a combination of the two events that made Declan decide to give him a reprieve. Or maybe Declan had woken up late and didn’t have time to wake up Stray. Yeah, Stray decided, that was probably it.
Something else was different, though. It took Stray a moment to realize what. A jolt of interest ran through him as he realized what it was, and he swung his legs over the side of the bed. Someone downstairs was cooking and it smelled delicious.
Someone turned out to be Declan. He was in the kitchen when Stray got down there, flipping pancakes on a griddle. A pile of dishes by the sink indicated that everyone else had already eaten.
“Oh, you’re up,” Declan said, spying him. “Good timing.”
“You’re not at school?”
“Clearly,” Declan agreed.
“Why not?” Stray wanted to know.
“Because, you remember that house I told you about last night? The one full of arcane crap that we’ve got to sort through to make sure nothing dangerous gets sold at an estate sale or anything? Well, turns out that’s a bigger job than I first thought, so Thomas is pulling us out of school even earlier than planned,” Declan said. “We leave in half an hour. I was right about to go wake you.”
“I let you sleep since I know you’ve already got everything packed,” Declan said. “Blaire, I let get up at five-thirty as usual, because it takes her so much longer.”
Stray bit his lip on a smirk. “I bet she loved that.”
“Well, it hasn’t occurred to her yet that I realized last night this would happen,” Declan said, not bothering to hide his own smug expression.
“One of Beatrice’s suitcases was by the door, when we got home last night,” Declan said. “She didn’t have any business trips scheduled this week.”
“One could have come up.”
“She had runners set out beside her case,” Declan said.
“I mean athletic shoes,” Declan said with a slight shake of his head. “Tennis shoes, a lot of Americans call them, though they’re not specifically designed for tennis. Brits like Beatrice call them trainers though. Stupid, how many words there are for the same damn thing, especially when they’re all either lacking in specificity or are blatant misnomers.”
“Okay,” Stray agreed, though he didn’t really get it.
“She doesn’t wear athletic shoes on business trips,” Declan said, getting back to the point. “Ergo, if she sets out athletic shoes beside a suitcase it’s because she’s preparing for a hunt or something Eldritch-related.”
“You know a thing or two about reading people yourself, don’t you?” Declan asked.
“I know you do. All good pickpockets have to. Are they worth the risk? How much are they likely to be carrying? How alert are they, do they have a chain on their wallet, and will they chase me if they catch me?”
Stray snorted. “And here I thought you were smart.”
“Hmm?” Rather than insulted, Declan looked interested.
“You think it matters if someone has a chain on their wallet?” Stray didn’t hide his smirk this time. “It doesn’t. Not to me.”
“No, I guess it wouldn’t,” Declan said. “You got my wallet without me noticing. That’s no small feat –”
“That was child’s play,” Stray told him.
“I’ve caught people trying to pickpocket me before.”
“Amateurs,” Stray scoffed.
“They were older than you.”
“Older doesn’t necessarily mean more experienced.”
“Touché,” Declan said, looking delighted for some reason. He picked up the spatula again and began removing the pancakes from the griddle, stacking them on a plate. When he was finished, he tossed the spatula into the sink and handed the plate to Stray with one hand, unplugging the griddle with the other.
“These are all for me?” Stray asked warily.
“Yes. Too much?”
“No. It’s fine,” Stray said and sat down at the kitchen table, at the spot that had become his usual place. A napkin, fork, and knife had been set out, along with an empty glass. Stray glanced at Declan to make sure his housemate had no objections to him sitting there, then filled his glass with milk from the jug on the table.
“Help yourself to the butter and syrup,” Declan said when Stray picked up his fork to start eating without bothering to add anything to his pancakes.
Stray put down his fork and picked up a maple leaf-shaped bottle. He glanced at Declan again, then poured a bit overtop his stack of pancakes, until he saw a scowl cross Declan’s face.
“You’ve never eaten pancakes before.”
“No,” Declan said quickly. “It’s fine. It’s just, the best way to eat them is like this.”
He lifted all the pancakes except the bottom of one the stack, and poured syrup over it. Then he let the next one in the stack fall and poured syrup over it as well, repeating the process until he’d doused every pancake in the stack. Then he topped it all with a square of butter, which began to melt the moment it made contact with the pancakes.
“Well, go on,” Declan said when Stray just stared at him. “Try them.”
The pancakes were ridiculously good. Fluffy, buttery, filling, and soaked in sweetness – Stray practically inhaled his stack. Part of him kept waiting for Declan to make some sneering comment about his table manners, which were lacking at the best of times and akin to a wolf’s when he was really hungry, or was given something really delicious. Thankfully, Declan didn’t say anything, though he certainly noticed. An arched eyebrow was his only reaction before he turned away to wash the griddle.
Thomas, one of the two adults who lived at the sanctuary, entered as Stray was licking the remaining syrup off his plate.
“Good, you’re up,” he said, giving a friendly smile when he saw Stray. “Change of plans for today. We’re going on a road trip.”
“Declan told me,” Stray said.
“I would have told you all last night, if you hadn’t disappeared,” Thomas said, his gaze darkening. “Of course, I know running off wasn’t your idea. Declan told me about that too.”
“About all of it?” Stray asked.
“All of it that he deemed relevant,” Thomas said. “He usually knows a bit more than everyone else about any given situation, but keeps it to himself. He likes to feel superior.”
“I am superior,” Declan said. “Never forget it.”
“He told me how you wouldn’t kill Kelpie, if that’s what you were worried about,” Thomas said, ignoring Declan. “It’s all right, Stray. You don’t have to worry about us throwing you out over that.”
“Is it really all right?” Stray asked. “Everyone else here kills the Eldritch.”
“Everyone else here has known what they were for years – well, only about one year in Blaire’s case. Still, everyone else here has a good reason to hate the Eldritch, and has been hating them for awhile. In time, after you learn more about them, you may change your mind about killing them,” Thomas said. “But if you don’t, it is all right. We won’t make you kill them, and we won’t get rid of you for not wanting to. You have a home here, if you want it.”
Stray shifted uncomfortably, unsure how to respond to that.
“Say you want it, Stray,” Declan chimed in. “It’ll be fun – like a slumber party every night! Just say you’ll let me French braid your hair.”
“No,” Stray told him.
“Not even if I make you more pancakes?”
“Declan,” Thomas said between gritted teeth, “I’m being serious, here.”
Declan gave him a wide eyed stare. “So am I. Can’t you tell?”