Chapter 2

"Damn it Gilbert, why do you always have to ruin everything?"

"Elizabeta, what I think you meant to say was why do I always have to make everything AWESOME?"

"Gilbert, let me be perfectly clear," Roderich said, and the tone of his voice made even Gilbert stop talking and pay attention. "You stormed into the house, got your bootprints all over the place, ransacked the fridge, got the animals all worked up, got us a noise complaint –"

"I turned the music off, all right? And how is it any different from when I visited you and Ludwig? Except with the cat, and that wasn't my fault anyway!" Gilbert said, and he had the gall to sound outraged.

"It is different, because Ludwig trusts Elizabeta and me to keep his and Feliciano's new house pristine while they are away, and as his good friends we are not going to let him down."

Elizabeta's fist was clenched around her frying pan; the force of her stare would have been potent enough to kill a lesser man. "You are not going to trash this place. How do you think Feli's going to feel when he comes back and sees all this?"

"He's going to wish he was with the awesome me, and not my anal-retentive little brother!" Gilbert laughed.

No one laughed with him. When his cackling finally dwindled away, the room was dead silent. Gilbert surveyed the livid faces before him, grin never faltering, but glanced around quickly. There were bootprints on Ludwig's nice white couch, and his nice new floors, and the edge of his shiny coffee table where Gilbert had propped his feet up. He saw that Gilbird had left a neat little present on top of Ludwig's TV that had dripped onto the screen. And if he remembered correctly, there was still some shattered glass in the kitchen from when he'd dropped a shotglass (though to be fair, Elizabeta had been assaulting him with her stupid pan).

"I can even kind of understand you disrespecting your little brother like this, because you've always done it, but I thought you liked Feliciano!" Elizabeta finally said. "Do you really think that messing up his new house is going to make him like you? If you continue with this behavior, I swear we'll–"

"I got it, I got it," Gilbert said, visibly deflated. "You guys are just as bad as Lutz. I can even kind of understand Roderich, because he's always had a stick up his ass," he said mockingly, making the man stutter in rage, "but you used to be fun, Elizabeta! We used to do crazy shit all the time!"

"We were in middle school, Gilbert!"

"Which I'm surprised he ever left," Roderich muttered.

The sun had set; it had been a few hours before Gilbert had finally turned the music off. They had been visited by two police officers, who had driven up in their car with flashing red and blue lights. Ludwig was probably going to be very unhappy when he came back and heard about this, Gino thought.

Elizabeta had fed him again and moved his litter box into the room; Gino was happy about that, since he figured that the best thing to do would indeed be to stay here until his humans came back. He was still dirty, though, because whenever Elizabeta had stopped by, he'd retreated under the bed and wouldn't let her groom him, still feeling enormously ashamed for ruining Feli's room. He also felt guilty that he wasn't friendlier to the woman; if she had visited him back home, when he wasn't so stressed, he would definitely have played with her.

Gino yawned. Three more days, starting from tomorrow. He'd just have to stay strong and endure it.

He curled on top of Feli's pillow, ignoring the continuous bickering from downstairs. Since Feli had moved in with Ludwig, Gino had effectively been exiled from sleeping on the bed with him if he wished; now, though, there was no one to take him off of Feli's bed and put him in his own, and Gino could sleep wherever he liked.

He closed his eyes, thinking about pasta.

"Look, there's nothing here for you to do – why can't you just hang out with Antonio and Francis until Ludwig and Feli come back?" Elizabeta said.

"Eh, Antonio's with Feli's prissy brother," Gilbert said, looking put out. "And Francis is busy with his restaurant again." Then he perked up and grinned at them. "But that's why I came here! There's this new bar I wanted to try, and I figured Ludwig would need a drinking partner, since he's practically married now, and who likes being married, right Roddy?"

"N-now see here, Gilbert–"

"–and god knows how boring it is for Feli, stuck with my little brother all the time. He's probably dying for a little excitement, am I right? I only had their best interests in mind!"

"Then why don't you go to the bar now, Gilbert?" Roderich ground out. "Obviously we would all be happier if we parted ways this instant."

"Aww, but it's no fun to go by myself! Nope, I think I'll just sit here and wait for them." Gilbert settled back onto the sofa, grinning (though he didn't put his feet back on the table).

Roderich and Elizabeta looked at each other, rage and horror in their faces. "You mean, you're not going to leave?" Elizabeta said.

"We'll call Ludwig!" Roderich blurted, then inwardly winced at how childish he sounded. (The only reason they hadn't called Ludwig yet was because they hadn't wanted him to stress out about his brother on what was supposed to be a vacation of sorts.)

Gilbert roared with laughter. "You'll call Ludwig? You'll call Ludwig? What the hell is he going to do, order me out of the house through the phone? Kesesesesese!"

Elizabeta took a deep breath and advanced on Gilbert, whose eyes widened at the frying pan in her hand. "Wait, Eliza, don't, I was just–"

"Look, Gilbert, if you're going to stay, you're going to have to pull some weight around here," she snapped, "which means helping us take care of the dogs and house – that means taking your boots off when you're inside, that means no more drinking beer and getting pissed out of your mind–"

"WHAT!"

"–no more partying with heavy metal, and, most importantly, cleaning up after yourself!"

"No beer? Are you mad, woman?!"

"My dear, may I have a word with you?" Gilbert's protests went utterly ignored as Roderich drew his wife aside and whispered fiercely at her.

"I did not sign up for pet-sitting, but while I am willing to do it for your sake, I am absolutely not going to babysit this idiot for the next three days!"

"Please, Roderich, Ludwig is going to kill us when he finds out we let Gilbert in! We have to tell him eventually! But maybe it'll help if we tell him Gilbert's promised his best behavior and there's going to be minimum property damage when he gets back."

Roderich groaned. "I can't believe I'm doing this…"

"Look guys, I know it's really hard for you to take in how extremely awesome I am," Gilbert said loudly, "but if it'll make you stop nagging, I'll walk Lutz's dogs with you – they like me more anyway – and I'll even – ugh – clean up after myself." This last phrase was said with something like loathing. "But you have to let me have the beer!"

"And what happens when you get drunk and start breaking things?" Elizabeta shouted.

"The awesome me never gets drunk!"

"Fine," Roderich snapped, "you can have one can of beer a day!"

"One can? Are you out of your fucking mind?"

"If you really can't go without more than one can of beer a day you need help, Gilbert."

"And if you really can then you're a pansy, Roderich."

"One can, Gilbert."

"You are not going to restrict my beer, you damn aristocrat."

They glared at each other.

"Fine," Roderich spat, "if you get drunk I'm sure Ludwig wouldn't mind if we called the police; then your precious friends could bail you out. Or Ludwig can get you when he comes back."

"I'm not going to get drunk!" Gilbert said. "But if you want me to do all this boring stuff then you guys have to come out with me!"

If Roderich had less dignity, he would have been pulling at his hair and screaming by now. He looked at his wife pleadingly; Elizabeta looked wearily at Gilbert.

"You mean, go to that bar with you?"

"We'll go to that bar tonight, and do something else tomorrow, I don't know! We can do all the cleaning and boring stuff during the day, and awesome stuff at night!"

Roderich and Elizabeta exchanged one last suffering look. "If we go with you, will you please be civil for the next few days?" she said, defeated.

Gilbert grinned.

Gino groaned. Feli's friends just wouldn't stop arguing – as soon as he drifted off to sleep, a shout would wake him up again.

Why did humans have to yell all the time? he wondered. Lovi was always yelling at Feli and Ludwig, and Ludwig sometimes yelled back at Lovi and sometimes yelled at Feli, and Feli screamed a lot whenever he was scared (though to be fair, Gino screamed a lot too), and now these three wouldn't stop shouting at each other. There was a lot of yelling and screaming in his life, actually, Gino thought rather morosely.

"Why do I have to get it?" Gino heard. Roused further from sleep, he gave a great yawn.

"Roderich and I are going to start the car – just get it and meet us outside, it's in the bedroom."

"Like hell you're driving!"

"Like hell we're letting you drive! It's almost as terrifying as Feliciano's driving!"

"At least my eyes are open when I drive!"

"That's why I said almost! Just do it, Gilbert!"

"ARGH, fine!"

"And close it for me too, will you?"

Gino heard a familiar thundering up the stairs. Suddenly, he was wide awake. Gilbert was coming to get something from the bedroom? He had to hide, if there was one of Feli's friends Gino didn't want to get in the way of, it was that loud, red-eyed man with that awful bird.

There was no time to think – the footsteps were almost at the door – panicking, Gino saw Elizabeta's bag yawning open and jumped in.

The door slammed. "Stupid… think they can order me around," he heard Gilbert mutter. Gino tried to burrow as deep into the bag as he could, when his surroundings jerked around him. There was a sharp noise from overhead, and suddenly Gino was in complete darkness. He gasped – Gilbert had zipped the bag up. Gino felt himself being lifted, and terror seized his heart.

"Wait, no, let me out," he gasped, and he pushed against the bag, but it was bouncing as Gilbert bounded down the stairs, and the man didn't feel anything.

"Christ, woman, are you carrying bricks in this thing?" Gilbert groaned. "It weighs a ton!"

"All the better to hit you with, my dear," Elizabeta said, rolling her eyes. She didn't bother to look at Gilbert as he swung the bag into the backseat and followed it, cursing. "It's just my camcorder and some other things in there, I don't know why you think it's so heavy."

"He doesn't work out as much as Ludwig," Roderich said mildly.

"Just shut up and drive!" Gilbert hollered.

The ride was hectic and bumpy. Roderich was driving, and as soon as he started the car he tuned to a classical music station. Gilbert had immediately complained about Roderich's "pansy-ass fairy music" and told him to switch it to a station that played rock, at least, but Roderich had merely turned his music up louder. Which had made Gilbert shout louder, which made Roderich increase the volume even more, which made Gilbert shout even louder, which made Elizabeta scream at both of them.

All in all, this was how they blazed down the roads that night, Mozart roaring from the speakers and voices screeching out the open windows as they made their way to the bar Gilbert had wanted to check out, attracting more than their share of baffled looks.

Of course, this meant they couldn't hear any of Gino's plaintive meows, though he'd given up the second time Roderich turned his music up, and was just fervently thinking about pasta to keep himself from wetting the bag.

The voices were muffled but still distinct; Roderich had finally turned the music off.

"Is this the place?"

"Ha, you found it, Roddy! Now park over there – over there, the spot's open!"

"It's next to a fire hydrant, you idiot!"

"So what?"

After some more squabbling, Gino felt that they were slowing down; he jerked with the car as Roderich parked it. Doors opened and shut; Gino felt himself being lifted and squeaked as Elizabeta's things rolled over him. His heart pounded in his ears; it was getting harder and harder to keep from losing his mind to panic.

"Hey, why do I have to carry this?" Gilbert said. "Make your husband do it, it's his job!"

"Let's go, Gilbert!"

Gino bounced around the bag, eyes watering as Gilbert jogged. He could hear the humans approaching something very noisy, heard them get closer and closer – and then he was enveloped in noise, he had been dropped into a cauldron of noise, a cacophony of crashing, indistinct music and human voices hollering and laughing and screaming. The smell of smoke seeped into the cramped space, and then he jolted as he was abruptly dropped onto a hard surface. Gino couldn't take it anymore – he cried out, scratching and lashing out randomly – "Let me out let me out let me out!"

Suddenly, lights flooded the bag, the noise was magnified, and something dropped very hard very fast and clamped on Gino's tail.

Gino screamed, shooting out of the bag.

"OH MY GOD, GET IT OFF, GET IT OFF!"

"WHERE DID IT COME FROM?"

"GILBERT, GET HIM, DON'T LET HIM GET AWAY –"

Chaos as Gino was flung across the room, yowling his head off and scratching a dozen people as he flew through the air. He landed in a crush of bodies; patrons shrieked and scrambled to get away from him, people ran into and tripped over each other, a dozen barfights were sparked. Screaming and crying, he weaved through a jungle of legs, running purely on panic as he avoided kicks and swinging chair legs – he saw far-off lights, ran for them, burst into fresh night air.

"GINO!"

He heard the shout but didn't perceive it – all he knew was that he had to get away, away as fast and far as possible, it didn't matter where he ran, as long as it was away, away, away!

"Gino, come back!"

He barreled into the street – horns blared and headlights swerved in blazing arcs as drivers cried out and spun their vehicles to keep from hitting him. Gino bolted across avenues, through alleys, through puddles and garbage and broken gates. He crashed into a pile of litter, muscles burning everywhere but he didn't stop, he felt his paw catch on something and wrenched it out and kept running but the rubbish wouldn't fall off, it was a plastic soda can ring tangled around his wrist–

A blood-curdling snarl, barks and growls sounding behind him.

Gino gasped and turned to look, his eyes so wide their whites showed.

A pack of three dogs was following him, mangy and slavering, barking and howling as they trailed him through the streets. They snapped at him, nearing with every second; Gino sobbed, willing himself to run faster, run faster, but the damn garbage still snagged on his paw was making it hard to run –

He turned a corner and rocketed into the alley, and his heart nearly stopped when he saw the chainlink fence at its end – he had to climb it, he had to climb it, he threw himself onto it, the dogs nearing, he could smell them sick and savage and hungry, he tried to scale it but his paws slipped, he tried again but he fell, sprawled onto his back. He wailed, pressing himself up against the fence, and cried as he saw the dogs at the other end of the alley, finally caught up to him. "Oh please, oh please, oh please," he begged – but they only howled in triumph, and launched themselves towards him.

Gino screamed.

It was like a piece of the night had dropped in front of him. The dogs skidded to a halt, scrabbling and yelping.

"V-ve-meow?" Something was standing over Gino – something so big that at first he thought it was another dog, but the growling hiss that had escalated into a full-blown, frenetic scream revealed his savior to be feline. The dogs snarled and snapped at the air, but made no further move to approach Gino and the black cat, whose screams were starting to terrify Gino even more than the dogs.

"Get out of here," the cat screeched. "Get out or I'll tear you apart."

The dogs barked, howled, broke apart to circle them, merged into a pack again. The light gleamed in their eyes and teeth, highlighted the hair standing in stiff spikes all along their spines, their ribs. Gino could hardly sob anymore, too exhausted, too scared – drool flecked their mouths, he could see it – and then the largest one lunged.

Gino screamed – the cat leapt for the dog – and then it was a flurry of claws and teeth, snarls and shrieks, tails lashing, jaws snapping, bodies slamming into the walls, crashing into boxes and litter, so fast, so close, Gino couldn't tell what was dog and what was cat, they were just one single raging animal –

A high whine pierced through the chaos. Gino gasped – the dog that had attacked first was fleeing from the alley, tail between his legs. There was a confused scuffle filled with whimpers and furious screams, and then the scrabble of claws frantically scraping the ground as the other two dogs tore off yelping into the night.

Gino stared at the entrance of the alley. The streetlamps cast their pale yellow light on the swath of empty ground before him.

Silence.

The dogs were gone.

But where was –

There was a groan from Gino's right. He looked over, heart dashing against his ribs as the dark tom emerged, gasping for breath, from a pile of old newspapers by the wall. "V-ve-meow," he squeaked, "thank you for saving my–" he stopped at the expression on the cat's face. "Shut up," the cat rasped. He shook himself off, bits of debris falling from his fur; there were gashes on his legs, a scratch on his face, and his furious eyes caught the light like a cold blade. He was big, very big.

Gino couldn't move, couldn't run as the dark shape approached – his legs, his muscles, everything had locked up – and then the cat was there. He loomed over Gino, blacker than shadows, eyes glinting with fury, lips curling away from his fangs –

Gino's scream split the night. "D-don't kill me!"


Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who's faved, followed, or reviewed. It makes me happy to know that people like this.