"Hi. I'm almost back."
Ice grinned. "Excellent, where are you, and can I offer you food?"
"I'm in line for the New York-Paris Corridor and I could be on your doorstep in twenty minutes, and I'm starving."
"Dinner will be waiting for you. And so will I."
He turned on the grill and the oven, got out the instructions . . .
The salad was the easy part, open bags, dump in bowl, and mess it around a bit.
On the table with bowls and serving stuff, forks and knives . . .
He put the rolls in the oven and set the timer.
He closed his eyes and felt Keiq turning into the parking lot.
Carrots in bowl, zap for half the time. Pour sauce over. Zap.
Steaks onto the grill. Set. The. Timer.
Open door and kiss Keiq comprehensively.
"Woops, dinner is calling."
He let go of Keiq, flipped the steaks, pulled the rolls out of the oven . . .
Grinned over at Keiq who was laughing at his flowchart cooking instructions. "Yes, I really do need that level of instruction." He grabbed two plates, one steak and half the carrots on each and set them down with a sigh of relief.
"Ta da! What would you like to drink and . . . oh, rolls, butter . . ."
Keiq snickered. "So are you trying to impress me with your superior husbandly attributes, or have you done something horrible?"
He filled his bowl with salad and decided he'd better be frank and honest.
"Well, I have hit the first road-bump in the house project. I have met the building inspector and the fire marshal. The Enclave Association has been mentioned. Right now Mikel House is wrapped in yellow danger keep out tape." Ice grinned. "And how was your weekend, Dear?"
She swallowed steak. "I have had much the same power gathering exercises you gave all the nephews, plus all three kinds of shields. Professor Rael vilified the staff of the Magic School, consulted with Xen Wolfson," her voice got a little squeaky, "on whose recommendation we went to Comet Fall and met one of their judges who has a talent not totally dissimilar to mine, and one of their Old Gods, who gave me a puppy."
Ice bit his lip. "Michael Omega? A Hell Hound puppy?"
She grabbed a roll and started buttering it. "They call them that because they call the god Lord Hell. Rags is a very cute puppy, no glowing red eyes or anything like that. Then I wound up at a state dinner with their Crown-and-Spear brother rulers."
"Oooo! I know what you'll be doing this week. Ajki's going to want a complete report on that, to pass on to the other directors and President Izzo."
"Oh . . . And that all happened Friday. Except by the time we got back to New York it was oh two hundred Saturday."
"And eight in the morning here."
She nodded. "So Wolfson says, 'Oh you'd probably better sleep in a fast room.' And they showed me to a little room with no windows, but I was too tired to worry about it. I slept like a log, and when I woke up . . . my watch said I'd slept nine hours, and their kitchen clock said it was just five in the morning."
"Fast rooms. It sounds like that one must have been three to one. Weird stuff like that is the only thing about Comet Fall Magic that I just flat can't do."
She swallowed. "Well. Saturday I had three sessions—Shields, Triads, and Mayhem. I . . . think I may be an even better shot now. I . . . understand more about what I do. And turning shields into slice . . . I'm only dangerous out about ten meters."
A pause for another bite. "Then this morning, it was all about my lie detector skills. Rael got a Princess in from their School and we did triad exercises so they could see me doing it. Showed me how to put some power into it. Now I can do it from twenty meters instead of two, and shield and not do it. And my brain is whipped."
Ice nodded. "I always walk away from lessons absolutely brain fried."
"Brain fried. The perfect term for it." They ate in silence for a long moment.
"So . . . did you say Rags? I've never actually had a dog."
Her brows rose. "Earth must be a really strange place."
"No, but we had a townhouse with no yard, and busy parents. I had friends with dogs, and the neighbor had a cat who visited regularly." He suspected he was failing to keep a wishful tone out of his voice.
She reached in her pocket and pulled out a metal bar . . .
Ice laughed. "Right. Dimensional dog houses."
She shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I said it was way too valuable. They all laughed and made it out of a crushed soda can." She split it length-wise and pulled out a grunting armful of short black fur. "Ragnarok. A bunch of boys named the pups in the litter on a theme. Armageddon, Apocalypse, and Doomsday."
It didn't look hellish, wobbling clumsily around. "It's got awfully short legs."
"It's a puppy, they'll get a lot longer proportionally as he grows."
"He's cute. I like the little white line up his nose." Twelve kilos max. If he doubles in size, that'll be a nice medium sized dog. "Umm, do dogs and horses get on all right?"
"Oh yes, that won't be a problem." Keiq savored another bite. "You're a good cook—this time. Dogs and cats can be a problem. If you want a cat, we should get a kitten and raise them together." She eyed him suspiciously. "Why are you grinning?"
"Because you are talking in terms of us being together for a long time."
She put an elbow on the table and leaned her head into her hand, watching him. "I always feel like I'm . . . ruining your quiet, calm isolation here. You seem to need a lot of private time. My life . . . well, you've met my family. But even when it's just Azek, Wacky, and the kids, they do tend to invade my apartment, expect me for meals and fill up weekends . . . growing up with four brothers, that's how my life has always been."
Ice thought that over. "It's not that I need private time, I need time where I can be myself. I'd hate to forget, and turn into a drawling snob full time. You . . . insist on me being myself. You let me be myself out in public. Well, around your family. And I grew up in a small townhouse with two mothers, and a step sister three days older than me. So, quiet and peaceful wasn't a part of my life until I moved in here. Until I met you, I was never lonely enough to do anything foolish, like have a girlfriend. Now when you're gone, I'm lonely as hell."
"Oh." She frowned. "Two mothers?"
"Mom and Trixie Mum. Not that I wanted to know anything about their sex lives or proclivities, but they claimed after they found out that they were pregnant, the easiest way to get child permits was to get married. They divorced, and Trixie Mum married a guy. It was a bit of a shock to me and Mandy, to realize that maybe they weren't lesbians after all."
Keiq snicked. "And did Mandy call them Mum and Kaat Mom?"
"Cat, short for Catherine. And yes."
"It sounds like you had a pretty good childhood, apart from a lack of dogs." She looked around hastily. The puppy was staggering along the wall, sniffing.
"I did. And an excellent example of marriage as a form of friendship. And with that in mind, I won't propose again until I'm past the point of getting sued by four or more civic organizations."
Ice shrugged. "I'll be exploring the permit process next week and planning how best to do the leveling, with or without moving the whole house."
"Should I hide my head under my pillow until you're done flaunting the law?"
"Oh, I'm good on the laws. It's the implementing regulations that are the problem. But there are a lot of do-it-yourself exemptions that they never imagined could be applied to a job like this, by someone like me."
She eyed him cautiously. "Are you . . . having fun getting around regulations?"
Ice snickered. "Let's just say that I'm anticipating the expressions on their faces with glee."
"I've got a bet with myself about whether they'll even notice that I've moved the house. Just because that's so improbable."
She thumped her forehead and started laughing. "Anytime I'm away from you, I start wondering if you're not a figment of my imagination."
"And I shall have to start calling you Mitzumo, like Zizi, who, by the way, was at that State Dinner with her husband. Dog—whose name is actually Mars Obsidianson—said to tell you Zizi was having fun learning Witch style magic. Zizi laughed and said Dog was writing reports."
Ice grinned. "And he's probably homesick for Paris. Damn those idiots, he was already three-fourths of the way to—if you'll pardon the expression—going native before he married Zizi."
"You think he would betray his home?"
"No. But he might waffle enough about which world was home to slide in a warning, when needed to keep the peace. Well, it's all speculation now."
She nodded and stifled a yawn.
"And you've got a bad case of corridor-lag." Ice looked around. "If we can find your puppy, who fortunately has pooped on the hard floor, not the rug, we can attempt to get a good night's sleep without a fast room."