Disclaimer: Not ours, yadda yadda. See earlier chapters for more info. Please do. My hand is cramping.

Notes: This is the sixth chapter in the Kitten Saga (I think that's what it's called. I think. I'm too tired to care at the moment, of course). Which is all PerK's fault.

Other chapters can be found at, uh, Timelines, The Askani Archive, and Luba's. I think.

Dedication: To DiaDiaDia. May Stryfe never make you hate him.

Same as it Ever Was?
by Persephone Kore and Ana Lyssie Cotton

"All right, back in with you," Nathan said cheerfully. He seemed to be very weirdly cheerful, and had been every time Stryfe had seen him today. Stryfe really didn't think some renewed smugness about his personal fate was what had Dayspring acting so elated, which implied something else was going on. Either that, or Dayspring was simply in a good mood, or thought it would be annoying. Which it was, whether that was the point or not.

Stryfe stopped just inside the doorway of the cell as Nathan put him into it, and turned to give his double a baleful look and a spiteful comment.

The comment never quite made it, because at that moment Aliya came striding down the hall. She did not speak until she reached Nathan, at which point she jabbed a finger into his breastbone, looked up at him, and said seriously, "Not Bertrand. No."

Bertrand? Who was Bertrand?

Or was Bertrand a what?

Or maybe a where..? Stryfe was still trying to figure that out when Nathan, looking a little sheepish, suggested, "Tetherblood?"

And a small black-and-white fluff picked her way delicately into the doorway, pausing to wind first around Aliya's ankles. Aliya crouched to pet her briefly, shaking her head. "Not Tetherblood. I can see why, but too confusing."

Why would Tetherblood be confusing? Stryfe wondered about this while Diamonde paced over to Nathan's feet, smelled his boot, and figure-eighted around his ankles as well. That was even worse than her doing it to Aliya...

"Um... Scott? You used--"

"I know I did. Interesting... erm. Maybe a little egotistical? Or pressuring, I suppose, if he doesn't choose it."

Diamonde permitted herself to be picked up by Nathan, and purred vibrantly when he stroked her fur, patting his hand with a velveted paw.

Stryfe stared at them, mind churning. Dayspring was playing with his kitten, and they were having this strange conversation about names. His eyes widened slightly.

"What are you talking about?"

Nathan turned to Stryfe and startled him severely by handing him the kitten. "We're discussing names." He was grinning that disturbing grin again.

"Names?" Stryfe absently cuddled the kitten to his chest and looked at Dayspring, curious. "For what?"

"I think that should be who," Aliya pointed out with a soft chuckle.



Now that was just exasperating. Besides, now Aliya was wearing a very similar grin. Stryfe waited impatiently as the two looked at each other, grinning.

When it seemed like neither was going to answer, he cleared his throat. "Ahem."

Nathan yanked his gaze away from Aliya for a second, then looked back at her in case she wanted to say it. She shrugged. "I'm pregnant, it's a boy, we're figuring out what to name him."

Then she beamed.

The room suddenly felt full of sweetness and light. Stryfe scowled, ignoring the kitten as she suddenly dug her claws into an arm. He tightened his hold and looked at them. "A boy."

Aliya rolled her eyes. "Well, obviously. Else we'd be discussing girls' names."

"True." Nathan looked at Stryfe, "What do you think we should name him?"

Stryfe glared at him. "Don't start that again."

"Start what?"

"Asking me to name--anything. Besides which I can't imagine you'd listen if I DID make a suggestion."

He sounded sulky, and he knew it. But they were certainly mocking him.

Aliya's lips twitched, but she nobly refrained from snickering at him. "Try us anyway. You never know, I might like your suggestion."

Stryfe glared a bit harder, and transferred it to Aliya. "Ch'vayre."

Aliya looked at him reprovingly. "You're just being silly."

"Oh, Stryfe is never silly, Aliya. Still, I don't think that will work. Try again, Stryfe."



"First son--he is your first, right?"

"Yes, but... no."

"Tyler," Nathan said suddenly. "How about Tyler?"

"Tyler..." Aliya blinked, then smiled, "I like that. Tyler."

Stryfe retreated from the little glow of shared happiness, across the room to his bed, sitting down on it with his fingers firmly entwined in kitten fur. Just at that moment, for once, he'd have welcomed their shutting him in. He was feeling a sharp, bewildering pang of... of loneliness? And he was power-inhibited, so he couldn't shield from the two undamped telepaths in the room with him.

Aliya looked at Stryfe then, and chuckled. "Let's go, Nathan. Leave the man to his sleep."

"Right." With an amused look at Stryfe and his kitten, Dayspring stepped away from the door and let it shut and lock.

Inside the cell, Stryfe began trying to make his brain work out ways of escaping and regaining his power structure.

The kitten butted his hand, and he started petting her.

If anyone had ever told Stryfe that he liked cats, he would have laughed in their faces, then tortured them and their favorite cat. If they had one. Still, he couldn't figure out how he came to like one cat. Well, maybe like. Dammit. He hated cats.

Of course, if he really hated them, why was he sitting crosslegged with a purring, furry kitten in his lap? He was even petting her abstractedly as he tried to figure out a way out of this.

He didn't like cats. That was a given. Still, she was sort of cuddly. Besides, she wouldn't let him be.

With a twitch of his shoulders, Stryfe turned to the more pressing problem of how he was to get out of confinement and reconstruct his network of spies and informants.

Sometime during the night, he awoke to find his hands and arms throbbing. The kitten scratches were aching, as they had a lot over the last few days. "Ow."

Not that the Chaos-Bringer was allowed to say ow. But he felt like it. Besides, they really hurt.

However, before he could really get into a snit about the pain, he drifted off to sleep again.

Waking up to irritated Askani curses in Cable's voice was not exactly reassuring. Stryfe slitted his eyes open to see what was going on. There was still a kitten on his chest. Check. He appeared to be in bed. Check. Cable was standing over him glowering. That couldn't be good. Now what?

Not that he disliked annoying the man, but at the moment it probably wasn't very *smart*, and it was no fun anyway if he didn't know about it at the time.


"I thought," Cable said crossly, "that your hands had been disinfected."

Stryfe managed to get his eyes the rest of the way open and promptly blinked. Okay. "They were." A scratch itched, and he suddenly remembered. "Well, I thought they were."

Cable gestured eloquently at them. Stryfe looked. The scratch marks were red, slightly swollen, and painful, but they'd been like that for the past few days. It irritated him no end, but he'd been too proud to ask for aid he expected to be denied, and he really couldn't see why it would bother Cable.

"Well, what did you do to them SINCE?"

"Washed a lot of dishes?"

"That shouldn't have reinfected them. If you'd been manuring rosebushes I could see it. Oath, what DOES that cat walk through? Get up, you're going to the infirmary."

Fighting off the last vestiges of sleep, Stryfe got his feet, "Fine. Lead on."

Cable steered him firmly out the door and watched him like a hawk, or maybe a phoenix, all the way through the halls. "How long have they been like that?"

"A couple days. I really haven't paid much attention."

Cable grumbled at him.


"You could get blood diseases from them."

"So nice to know you care."

"I don't. But Aliya might get stressed if you suddenly died. That would be bad."

"Oh, thanks." Stryfe sneered, "That Askani whore gets more consideration than me. Lovely."

The infirmary doors opened obediently at their approach and Cable thrust Stryfe determinedly through them. He stalked in and flopped into a chair. The Askani'Son left him there to wait.

Soon, he grew bored, and began counting the cracks in the ceiling.

"Ah, there you are." The voice startled him.

Stryfe stared in confusion at the dark hand that reached to pick up his for examination, then transferred the stare to the owner of the hand and tried to pull away. "Who are you? You aren't one of the healers from here."

"I should hope not," she replied briskly. "I'm Hope."


"Really?" She looked amused as she ran a probe over his arm. "I was told it was Bob."

He shuddered, "Stryfe."

"That's better. Hrm, nasty infection here. What *is* your kitten running through? The infirmary's garbage?"

"She's not my kitten." He mumbled.

"That's why you're covered in her scratches. Uhuh."

"You know, perhaps your customs are different, but slicing into someone's skin isn't something I've been accustomed to considering a sign of affection."

Hope paused and looked at him in mild surprise. "Actually, given some of the gossip about you, that's fairly reassuring. Things are different with cats, though, sometimes."

"I've noticed." Stryfe muttered as she began spreading ointment on the arm. It stung for a moment, then went numb.

"So, what's her name?" Hope asked, as she moved on to his other arm, spreading the same ointment.

"Diamonde. What is this stuff?"

"Disinfectant, antibiotic, and a bit of novacaine to numb the pain. Don't let the kitten lick it off, or she'll be damaged. Might even become intoxicated."

For a fascinated moment, Stryfe considered letting the kitten become intoxicated again. And then he remembered the trouble she'd gotten him into the last time. "I won't."

Hope looked at him thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, maybe I should wrap it. From what I've heard, she gets into, literally, everything."

"Yes." He agreed.

She turned and picked up a roll of bandages. "Hold out our arm."

He did, and she began wrapping the bandage around, tucking the end in neatly, then continuing from his elbow to his wrist, then around his hand. Tucking the end in, she reached over and snagged a scalpel, neatly sliced the excess off and pointed to his other arm. He held it out, and she wrapped it the same as the right.

Once finished, she stepped back and nodded, "If you'll follow me, I'll take you back to your room. You're not to do anything for a few days. I'll tell Cable."

Stryfe couldn't help wondering how that was going to go over. Then again, if Clan Chosen healers were anything like those he'd met in New Canaan, crossing them probably wasn't advisable.

As if sensing his skepticism, she snorted. "He will answer to me if you get re-injured."

"Thanks. But why the interest in my survival?"

"The kitten likes you. There must be something vaguely decent under the screwed-up exterior."

He stood up and followed Hope, or rather walked beside her--letting him behind them wasn't something the Clan Chosen folk *did*. He was in a position to watch her curiously, though, and did. She'd said room, not cell. That was odd. "She could just have poor judgment."

"I had a cat when I was younger. She didn't like my cousin. He ended up trying to kill half of us." She chuckled, "I've trusted cat instincts ever since."

"I've already tried to kill half of you. More than half of you," Stryfe felt compelled to point out.

"Well, she apparently thinks you're different."

On cue, a small furry body began winding itself around Stryfe's legs. "Meow."


Stryfe looked down at his kitten-surrounded feet and was rewarded with a tailflick against his calf and an incongruously adoring expression.

"I don't see anything," he muttered, leaning over to scoop Dia up before she sent him sprawling.

"No. You wouldn't." Hope smiled and stopped in front of a door. It wasn't the one to his cell, and it wasn't the one to his old quarters. "They've moved you. Apparently, there are more difficult prisoners than you now."

With a flourish, she opened the door. "Guards down the hall, and I lock the door."

"Still a prison cell, then."

"But more comfortable."

Stryfe sighed and stepped inside.

Hope looked almost sympathetic. "Well, really, what did you expect?"

"The same cell, actually." He frowned. More difficult prisoners. That was almost insulting. Had he gone docile? "Who are they?"

"Who are who?" Hope inquired, lifting Diamonde away as she hooked a claw delicately into the fabric and started trying to unwind his bandages. With typical fickleness, Diamonde proceeded to purr. Noisily.

"The 'more difficult prisoners,'" he replied irritably, backing away from Hope and his kitten to sit on the bed.

Hope followed him and held the kitten by his face. She rubbed the top of her head affectionately against his cheek. Oath, but her fur was soft... Stryfe told himself firmly to stop that.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that," Hope replied cheerfully. "Though I'm not entirely clear on whether this is because you'd be expected to try to join forces with them, or try to kill them."

Stryfe looked up at her, thinking perhaps he shouldn't have sat down and given up the height advantage. As he still didn't know who these people were, he really couldn't guess.

"Anyway, I have other duties." She tickled the kitten under her chin. "I'd leave her with you, but she might get into the bandages."

Stryfe watched as she left the room. With his kitten.

The door swung to and locked with an emphatic click.

He hated having people disappear with his kitten. There he went thinking of her as his kitten again. He was never going to convince anybody at this rate.


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