Laska and Me – 6

September 3rd, 2005

Morning was much the same as last night; Laska still hadn’t breathed a word to me. Though if I had something to be thankful or hopeful for it was that she wasn’t completely ignoring me. Just like last night, I left a plate of breakfast on a tray in front of her door. Two of her favorites – pancakes and sausage. I knew she wasn’t going to come out when I was around, so I resigned myself to knocking.

“Honey, I left you something to eat. Don’t let it get cold, okay?”

I held my breath for a moment, hoping that maybe, just maybe, she’d say something. But, as usual, there was no response save for some rustling on the other side of the door.

It was difficult, so very difficult. Trying to keep my spirits up through this all had been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do since adopting her. Every little doubt and worry had found a voice and nagged at me relentlessly, never letting me forget what I’d said and done. It wasn’t that I wanted to forget how I’d hurt Laska, no – I never wanted that to happen to her ever again. I just knew that in order for Laska to forgive me, to forgive myself, I had to be able to move on.

So against the endless whispers I had to constantly tell myself that Laska still loved me. I had to hold that thought near and dear in my heart. She was scared, worried, angry, or any other number of things right now. But at her core, she still loved me. She had to, because I still loved her so very dearly – Laska was the world to me.

There was a small note I’d left on the tray that said about the same. I wrote that I loved her, and when she felt ready she could talk to me or we could simply get on with our lives.

Slinking away from her door, I felt like half the man I ought to be. Maybe even less. I wondered if a different father would simply force the topic, one way or another. It wasn’t as if her door was locked, but it would be a massive invasion of her privacy. Even might take away the one spot left she felt safe. No, I decided, I had to let her have her security – her safe haven.

Shortly after sinking into the chair in my office, I heard her door open. At least she was eating, or even just taking a look at what I’d left for her. Knowing she was just down the hall and out of her room, I deeply wanted to dash over to her, to hold and hug her. But I had to calm myself; she’d probably just drop the dish and dart back inside her room once she saw me. She might even feel more skittish about coming out of her room.

Her door closed again with a soft click and the pressure to bolt up and over faded. For a few minutes, anyways, as it opened again along with the thunk of the tray on the wooden floors. I had to smirk a little – my first since last night – she still remembered not to leave dirty dishes in her room. One ray of light in this whole fiasco. A tiny ray, but it was something.

Afterwards, there wasn’t much else excitement. The day had none of the brightness or cheer it usually had, and I don’t think it was simply because of the grey skies and occasional drizzle. Through the rest of the morning, afternoon, and into the evening I tried to do my usual things. Played games, watched a movie, tried to read. But I could never really get involved or invested in whatever I was doing. My mind always turned back to Laska.

My thoughts were constantly about what to do or what to say, especially whenever I heard her door open. Every now and then she’d come out to use the bathroom or grab a drink, but she was always invisible. It was probably for the best, considering I’d probably wind up trying to confront her or something. Though I still had to exercise more than a bit of restraint whenever I watched a glass float out of the kitchen and head up the stairs.

So I just forced myself to sit and think. In that regard, it was also fortunate that Lydia, Zoe, and Steve were out of town. They’d left to visit family for the weekend, as well as celebrate Lydia’s birthday. Had she been around, there was no doubt I’d have called her up in a panic. I would’ve found myself begging and pleading for some sort of quick fix to this problem. Really, it wasn’t fair to her that I constantly pushed my problems with Laska onto her, no matter how much she said she didn’t mind. Wasn’t fair to myself or Laska to constantly take the easy way out, either.

This was something I had to do. But as I sat and thought, a question slowly bubbled up into my mind. Bit by bit it gained strength until it was all I could think about.

What, exactly, was I doing?

That little idea wormed its way into me and I pondered it until long after the sun had set. Letting Laska cool down and work out her own feelings was one thing, but what was I doing? Absolutely nothing! Even worse, when I considered it from that angle, I was all but ignoring her! The only times I’d interacted with her was when I dropped off plates of food.

I was just afraid of the problem, afraid of Laska. I’d even somehow managed to make her responsible for resolving the mess I’d made. Really, my stupidity was boundless. I just had to laugh at myself and shake my head. Laska was afraid and alone. And I wasn’t doing a damn thing about that. She might be a clever little girl, but she’s still a little girl.

The time to actually do something was now. Hell, I should’ve done something last night. Instead I just gave up and fell asleep. Some father I am.

After a quick detour to pick up a blanket, I settled down on the floor next to her door. I knocked on her door and waited, though I’d fully expected the silence. Or rather, I expected her to carry on doing whatever she was up to. Instead, the quiet noises from her room came to a complete stop as soon as I’d made myself known.

I figured that meant I had an attentive audience.

“You know, yesterday I did something pretty stupid. Just, really stupid…” I didn’t know exactly what to say, so I just began talking. I’d never find those exact, perfect words, but maybe I could find suitable replacements. “See, a girl showed a little interest in me and I got it in my head that she was everything I’d wanted. I mean, the way we met – she obviously was looking for a long-term, committed relationship, right?”

I let out a dry, short laugh and sighed. I’d no idea if Laska would understand half of what I was saying. Not that it mattered at this point.

“So, I got all excited and wound up ignoring the sweetest little girl that’s loved me for years. You should see her! She’s just the cutest thing – especially when she smiles, and such a loving thing. Gives the world’s best cuddles, you know. Not only that, but she’s clever, far more than I could ever hope to be. Goes without saying that I love her more than life itself and I’d give anything for her, just to make sure she could always be happy.”

Despite the gloom, I found myself smiling. Thinking about what a dear she was it all it took to brighten my mood. I shifted a bit, fluffing out the blanket I was using as a cushion. I kind of hoped that she’d say something or maybe even come out by now, but that was perhaps too optimistic.

“So why’d I ignore her? Yeah, because I’m an idiot. She loved and trusted me, and then I went and betrayed her in the worst way possible. Brought home the one thing she’s most afraid of. Ain’t that something?” I said with a deep, resentful sigh. “All ‘cause that woman had a pretty tail.”

“I hurt my cute little girl – my daughter – so deeply, and I didn’t even realize just how deep until it was far, far too late. I hurt the girl that means so much to me…” My voice was beginning to crack as struggled to keep any tears at bay. I wasn’t entirely successful.

“Now here I am, hoping she can find it in her heart to forgive me. Hoping she can trust me again,” I said, pausing to sigh and wipe away a drop on my cheek.

I drew my knees up into my chest and rested my chin between them, sort of hugging myself. “But even if she doesn’t forgive me, I wouldn’t stop loving her. There’s no way I could ever give up on her.”

Had to pause yet again to clear my throat and wipe away another few tears that’d managed to squeeze out. This was far harder than I thought it’d be. I’d intended to stay positive, upbeat, and energetic. Instead I’d managed to wind down some morose path where I was almost saying that I wasn’t worth forgiving. Some habits managed to come roaring back long after I thought they were conquered.

I may have just been imagining things, but it felt and sounded like someone had slid down against the wall on the other side. I pictured Laska huddled tight, maybe wrapped in a blanket sort of like I was. Definitely with a red, tear-soaked face and her perky, fluffy ears laid flat against her head.

“No matter what happens or how she feels about it, I’d still take her to get ice cream. Let her stay over at Zoe’s whenever she wanted or let that crazy wolf stay here. We’d still go for our walks, and I’d still pretend that I never saw her sneak cookies out of the jar,” I said, smiling as more tears trickled down.

“And I’d definitely make sure I never told anyone about how she wet herself when she was seven and thought I wouldn’t wonder why there were paw-print patterned underwear and sweatpants in the garbage.”

Something thumped in her room, drawing my smile even wider. I don’t know why I felt compelled to bring up what was probably one of her most embarrassing moment. Trips down memory lane were often full of surprise detours. They were good times, in their own way.

“Even if she hated me, I’d still love her to death and make sure she knew it. Even if she wanted nothing to do with me I’d still be there to help with her homework – with anything, be there if she needed someone to hug, be there if she needed a shoulder to cry on.”

I let my head roll back against the wall and I stared up at the ceiling. “I know what it’s like to not have someone you can lean on as a kid.”

Talking to someone who wouldn’t answer or respond felt a bit odd, but also surprisingly liberating or refreshing. Cathartic, even. There was a chance she wasn’t actually listening to a word, but I knew her better than that.

“So,” I began with a deep breath to clear my mind and voice, “I’m going to sit right here until you leave that room, just so I can tell you how much you mean to me. Even if you don’t want to see me.”

There was a bit more rustling of something in her room, but I couldn’t quite pin what she might’ve been up to.

“And don’t think you can sneak out without me knowing,” I said, slipping the tiniest bit of ‘dad’ into my tone. “I know all your tricks, so whether you like it or not I’m going to hug you the moment I see you.”

Without realizing it I’d crossed my arms in front of me. Side effect of trying to act like a dad. I thought about continuing on, but I felt I said I’d all I had to say. A bit of silence might not be too bad, either. Laska had a lot to think about, as did I. I couldn’t bear the thought of her hating me from now on, but I’d keep to my word.

As I settled in quiet, so too did everything else. There was some shuffling out of Laska’s room, but after a minute that died out. About the only thing left was the ticking of the wall clock that echoed up the stairwell and into the hallway. It was a nice reprieve from what would have otherwise been deafening silence, but listening to each second tick off made every moment drag on.

I twiddled my thumbs and looked around. Wished I’d have brought a book, but having something to do had been the furthest thought when I charged up here. Left to the stillness of the night and the ticking of the clock, my thoughts drifted from memory to memory of Laska. As the slide show of remembrance went on, I realized that almost every happy memory I had featured Laska. She’d only been a part of my life for just a short time and already she’d made those few years more worthwhile than the rest of my time combined.

Bit by bit I grew more and more tired. I hadn’t exactly slept well last night, and camping out in the dark hallway wasn’t doing me any favors. But, no, I’d resolved to stay right here. I’d sleep if I had to, though bathroom breaks would be a source of turmoil – mostly for Laska. One could only ignore the call of nature for so long, so I’d see her one way or another. Unless she… no, she’d never do that. No way.

I sighed. Long blinks got longer. My last thought was that Laska had most likely drifted off to sleep herself. Was she in her bed, or opposite the wall?

Next thing I knew, a loud boom that practically shook the floor had startled me awake. Or maybe it was the flashes of lightning just outside the window. A succession of arcs lit up the hallway in brilliant strobes and yet more thunder rumbled through the house.

I stretched and yawned as my senses snapped back into focus, including the pain of joints and muscles caused from sleeping awkwardly on a hardwood floor. My back and neck popped a few times as I struggled to sit up and wiped off a bit of saliva I’d apparently been drooling onto the floor. Hadn’t recalled there being such a nasty storm in the forecast for tonight. But what’d those guys know?

As I attempted to move my legs, I suddenly became aware of something warm and a little heavy pressed up against them. And that the blanket draped around my shoulders was not the same one I’d brought with me to sit on. Pulling the blanket off of me, I realized it was the comforter from Laska’s bed. Then, as I squinted into the dark I saw my daughter. There she was, curled up against my legs and wrapped in the warm confines of the blanket she’d tossed over me.

Another peel of thunder roared from outside, distracting me from the bundle of joy nestled against me. It’d been a rather long while since we’d had a storm this bad. Propping myself upright, I saw the treetops bending and whipping about through the window, backlit by an almost constant barrage of lightning burning through the sky.

Laska stirred for a moment, but only drew herself into a tighter ball and pressed against me a little more snuggly. Leave it to mother nature to solve what I hadn’t been able. She was always a bit skittish when it stormed, even at her age. For once I was thankful of her habit of wanting to sleep with me whenever a storm raged.

She’d appear in my doorway at some random hour of the night or morning, clutching her fish. And she’d say “Daddy, I can’t sleep,” while giving me that look of hers. And every time I’d just sigh and flip back my sheets, instantly bringing a smile to her face. In a only a few leaps and bounds she’d then dive into my bed and snuggle up against me. Just took minutes for her to drift off to sleep, wearing the happiest little smile a girl could possibly have.

Moving carefully to avoid disturbing her, I flipped myself around and wrapped my arms around the little bundle capped by fluffy ears. Either I wasn’t as stealthy as I thought, or she’d been awake the entire time. Her eyes glinted in the dark, peering at me from under the covers. I just smiled and gave her a squeeze.

“Couldn’t sleep?” I asked.

“…No,” she mumbled, then buried her face in my chest.

“Well, don’t you worry, sweetie. I’ll keep you safe,” I said softly.

She said something, but I couldn’t make out her muffled words. It was brief, maybe just a single word or two. It didn’t matter, I still knew what she’d said. I was just so relieved and happy that she’d sought me out. I didn’t think she’d completely forgiven me, but at least she knew I still loved her.

For the time being, that was more than enough. Really, in the years we’d been together, yesterday had probably been the first major strain. We had our squabbles and tiffs, but nothing that’d lasted this long or that I’d fucked up so hard. Yet, I was sure we’d make it through. Didn’t matter I’d adopted her, we were family. Families made it through shit.

But, there was just one more teeny-tiny issue I had to resolve. “Hey, how about we get off this floor? It’s not exactly the most comfortable place for an old man like me.”

Her fuzzy little paws slipped out to draw the blanket away from her face and she looked up at me. “Okay,” she said quietly, then quickly hid her face again.

“Good,” I said as I scooped her up, blankets and all, into my arms and stood. “I think we’ll both sleep a bit better on a bed.”

Laska didn’t say anything as I carried her back into her room and set her down on her bed. “Is it okay if I sleep here tonight?” I said, kneeling down just below her level.

She was rather reluctant to answer – until another crack of thunder rattled her bedroom window. Laska scurried under the safety of her blankets, but only half-way. Her butt and tail were still exposed, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. Wiggling forward until her head just barely poked out, Laska simply nodded nervously.

“Well, don’t mind if I do,” I said, patting her head through the blanket with a chuckle.

I laid down and stretched out, sort of wishing she wasn’t hogging the entire comforter. Fortunately for me I got my wish a few seconds later as she crept over and settled down so she was just barely touching me. I stole away a bit of her blanket to cover myself with, and then in the same motion I laid an arm across her.

“Goodnight Laska, I love you,” I said, kissing the back of one of her ears.

Though she didn’t say anything back, she did scoot up against me a little bit more. It wasn’t quite a return to how things were, but it was a step in the right direction.

September 4th, 2005

It’d been quite some time since I woke with the dawn. Perhaps it was due to my little nap last night. Though I think it was due to the stream of sunshine warming my face. And probably the considerable weight sprawled across my stomach and chest.

At some point Laska had crawled onto me as she used to do in the past, letting her arms and legs dangle to the sides. And, just like in the past, she was drooling on me. Well, what’s a little Cheshire spit in the morning?

I nearly rolled her off of me so that I could get up, but there was no real reason to get up just then. So I resigned myself to lay in bed a while longer, staring up at the ceiling and occasionally at my daughter’s sleeping face. The tip of her tail was flicking almost non-stop and she’d twitch every so often; must’ve been having a dream of some kind.

Sadly I didn’t get much time to enjoy the serenity of a sleeping cat on my chest – the call of nature was making itself known. Loudly.

Considering my options, I settled on the one that’d hopefully make it seem like she’d woken up on her own. Careful – but not too careful – I blew into her ears, sending them into a twitching frenzy. The little downy tufts inside each of her ears were easily the most sensitive parts of her.

Took but seconds until she began to stir and I immediately went limp to play dead. Or asleep in this case. She shifted about and yawned, and so very conveniently I happened to wake up and stretch at the same time.

Soon as I moved she practically leapt off me in a start, much to my surprise. She’d never been one to be shy of sleeping on top of me before.

“Oh, good morning Laska,” I said after a forced yawn that turned into an actual yawn about halfway through.

“Good morning,” she said after a short delay, inching away a little bit more.

Not the warmest greeting she’d ever given, but I’d take it.

“That was a pretty big storm last night, huh?” I said, swinging my legs off her bed and standing.

“Yeah.”

“Seems like it’ll be sunny out today. Lot better than that grey, nasty day we had yesterday, eh?”

She didn’t say anything, but just sort of gave me a look before balling herself up in her blankets. I was hoping she’d be a little friendlier since she was talking to me now, but a start is a start.

“Since we’re up early, is there anything special you want for breakfast?” I asked, banking on the power of food to coax her out.

“No.”

That certainly sucked the wind out of sails. No matter, I’d just have to use my strongest play.

“Well, we could also take a long bath together, I know it’s been a while since we last did. How about it?” I said cheerfully, totally expecting she’d agree in a heartbeat.

While her ears did perk up and a twinkle filled her eyes, she didn’t budge. In fact, she dropped the blanket over her face to hide. “No thanks,” she murmured.

Now I was a bit worried. She had never turned down a chance at a bath. But I was also unsure of how to proceed. Forcing the topic would likely be pointless, but I didn’t want to be nearly passive as I was yesterday. A bit of consternation later, I settled on letting it pass – for now, but only because I had all day to work with her.

“Okay, sweetie. Well, I’ll have food done in a little bit. I’ll let you know when to come and eat, alright?”

“Okay…”

Despite my efforts, today was not looking much better than yesterday. Laska spoke to me a bit more and ate at the table, but she was still awfully distant and was usually cloistered in her room. Considering how she’d been so close when I’d fallen asleep last night – both on the floor and in her bed, I just couldn’t figure her out.

I did, however, remember that she had school tomorrow and I was fairly certain she hadn’t done her homework. As stupid as it sounded, I was glad to have something else to try and talk to her about that didn’t make it seem like I was just hassling her.

“Laska, have you done your school work yet?” I asked after knocking on her door. That was the other thing – she never closed her door before. Now it was closed all the time.

“No,” she said after a long pause.

“Can I come in? I’ll help you,” I said, mostly expecting she’d just turn me away again.

“Sure,” she said.

I’d actually begun turning around to head back downstairs. In the history of fathers and daughters, I don’t think a father has ever been so happy to help his daughter with her homework.

“Great,” I said, doing my best to conceal my joy as I opened her door.

Laska was at her PC, turned around to face me. Didn’t look like she was doing anything; maybe I’d interrupted whatever she was up to.

“So what do you have to do?” I asked, pulling up a chair alongside hers.

“Well,” she began as she hopped off her chair to grab her bag. “Math and writing, I think.”

She handed me her math textbook and I flipped through it to a page she’d dog-eared. “Decimals, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said, setting her notebook and pencils on the desk.

“Alright, well let’s start with the problems you already know…”

In just a few minutes she’d spoken more to me than she had in two days. She wasn’t exactly warm, yet neither was she cold. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and just kept on acting like I always would. By the time we finished her work she seemed to have thawed a little more, so I was hopeful we’d return to our normal, everyday, happy life. Maybe not now, but soon.

Without much else to do, I left her alone again. But not after attempting to lure her out of her room with further temptations of food and movies and even another bath. Sadly, she resisted everything. It was disheartening, but I just had to remind myself of the small steps. I found I was reminding myself to stay positive an awful lot. And somehow it was working.

Otherwise, not much else happened until it was time for bed. Heading upstairs to remind her of her bedroom, I found her door wasn’t closed all the way. Those small steps were starting to cover some distance. Rather than just push her door open I knocked and waited a few moments before poking my head in.

“Laska, time for bed,” I said, taking a quick look around.

She glanced over her shoulder at me for a moment and then returned to whatever game she was playing on her PC. “Okay,” she said quietly. “Just a minute…”

Normally I was used to ‘just a minute’ meaning she would be quite a few minutes – usually dozens of minutes. Trying to nag and remind her had always proven fruitless, so I’d simply taken to sitting on her bed and I would ask her all sorts of questions about whatever she was doing. It was quite effective in getting her to hurry up. Called it my ‘Nosey Father’ tactic.

But tonight she’d simply closed her game and spun around before I managed more than a few steps into her room. She gave me a sort of curious look and flicked her tail a few times before jumping into bed.

“You seem eager to get to bed tonight,” I said as she crawled under her sheets in her usual cat-like manner.

“Yeah, I’m tired,” she said after turning around and poked her head out from the top.

Without the usual bed-time banter I felt a tiny bit lost as I was forced to mentally fast-forward through all the usual steps.

“Well, if you want I’ll get you up a bit later than usual in the morning,” I said, sitting down on her bed.

“Okay.”

She blinked at me a few times, paws holding her sheets up to her chin. It seemed like she wanted to say more, or maybe this was just a rouse to get me out of her room. Wouldn’t be the first time she snuck out of bed, but she was never this agreeable. Highly suspicious, but after all that’d happened, I was hesitant to point fingers at her.

“Alright, goodnight sweetie,” I said after kissing her forehead and stroking her hair and ears a few time. “I love you.”

“Goodnight,” she said.

I waited a few moments for the other words she usually said, but nothing. It was heartbreaking, but I forced my usual smile and began walking out of her room. But, just after I flicked off her light and began to close her door, I heard something that almost made me turn around.

“I love you, daddy.”

It was so quiet, I couldn’t tell if she intended for me to hear it or not. Either way, I think my hesitation let her know I heard. I continued on, heading towards my room as a little tear worked its way out.

In bed I watched a movie for a while, or tried to – just couldn’t focus on it at all. Or anything, really, but nothing new with that these past few days. I wound up just flicking off the TV so I could just stare up at the ceiling and think. And think and think and think. About everything, about nothing. An hour in the dark passed, then two.

The soft clack of my door opening may as well have been a firecracker going off.

It would happen when I felt myself drifting off to sleep. However, before I jerked upright, I recognized the silhouette that was attempting to sneak in. Laska often crawled into my bed, but she always knocked or made herself known. This time she appeared to be on a clandestine mission, even pausing just inside the doorway – presumably to see if I was awake or not.

I probably should have said something, but I was curious about what she’d do. Step by careful step she padded over and slipped onto my bed. She crawled up to me very carefully and slowly. By now I’d closed my eyes so she’d be none the wiser, but I could still feel her presence linger over me for a moment. Until she dropped down and curled up against me – almost exactly like she’d done out in the hall. She even kneaded my leg a little; I’m surprised she managed to avoid scratching me.

I considered letting her be, pretend I didn’t notice her. But, as I’d been doing so much these days, I thought about that. So far I knew that she was uncomfortable talking to me, but she obviously wanted to cuddle – more so than even I’d expect from the snuggly girl.

“Hi,” I said at the same time I ran my fingers over her ears.

She went stiff for a moment, but just as quickly relaxed again. “H-hi…”

“What’re you sneaking around for? You know I’d let you sleep with me whenever you wanted,” I said, softly scratching her ears.

“I-I was scared,” she said.

Maybe it was due to the darkness or maybe it was because we weren’t looking at each other. Whatever it was, this was the most she’d told me how she felt about, well, anything since this whole situation exploded.

“Scared of what, honey?”

“That you would say no…”

Say no? I was dumbstruck. I’d been asking her almost non-stop if she wanted to do things together. But, now was not the time to question her logic. She just needed to be comforted and reassured.

“Laska,” I began with a sigh, moving carefully to wrap my arms around her in a hug. “I love you so, so much. When have I ever said you couldn’t sleep with me? Any time you want I’d be more than happy to have the best cuddles any father could hope for.”

“Really? Do you mean it?” She said, nuzzling into me.

“More than you know.”

“But I thought…” Laska began, but then trailed off.

“Thought what?”

She swallowed whatever she was going to say and shifted to something else. “…You’ll always love me?”

Now that was an odd question – I had no idea where she got the idea that I’d stop loving her at some point. “Always, I guarantee it,” I said, giving her a squeeze.

Laska didn’t say anything. Instead she just snuggled up against me.

“Goodnight,” I said, letting my eyes shut for the first time all night. “I love you.”

“Love you daddy,” she said, letting herself melt into my arms.

October 31st, 2005

Laska sat there grinning at me, just like the namesake of her species.

“No, it’s okay, I don’t need any help or anything,” I grunted as I fumbled with the latches on the back of my breastplate.

Why the hell had I agreed to her ‘great’ idea for themed costumes for us and Zoe? And it just had to be ‘real’ armor for me; cardboard and tinfoil weren’t good enough for my daughter.

“Since when do princesses help the knights?” She said, fluttering her eyelashes. Anyone else and sure, it would’ve been cute. From her it just looked sarcastic.

“When said princess needs her knight to be ready if she wants to go anywhere,” I replied, quirking an eyebrow. “And didn’t I help the princess put on her outfit?”

“It’s a knight’s duty to help the princess,” Laska said as if it were the most natural thing – even managed to sound a little bit haughty. “But I guess I can make an exception…”

“The princess does love her candy,” I replied with a grin.

Laska’s grin vanished in an instant, replaced by a pout. From my comment or her struggles to stand in that hilariously frilly dress, I wasn’t sure. She’d absolutely insisted it be very ‘princess-ish,’ and hence picked out one of those dresses that was actually supported by a wire frame underneath. She managed the ‘sitting down’ part easily enough, but whenever she tried to stand it reminded me of a turtle that’d been flipped upside down – much to her irritation.

“No laughing! I’ll send you to the tower!” Laska shot back with a scowl.

“Yes, yes, sorry. Now if her majesty would aid her lowly servant?” I said, attempting something of a gentlemanly bow. Attempted, but failed due to clattering like I was wearing a ghillie suit made of pans.

Some of her previous mirth returned, erasing her vicious scowl. “I suppose I could…”

With an extra set of paws I was able to get all the various latches and straps done up that held on my shining armor. This was certainly the most elaborate costume I’d ever worn, and I wasn’t even going to a fancy party. Just out with Laska, Zoe, and her parents. The things I do.

“Right, go get the rest of your stuff and put it on,” I said while checking myself over in the mirror out in the hallway.

“Okay,” she chirped, scampering back into the living room.

I tugged and poked and worked to adjust the heavy iron plates into a more comfortable position, but quickly realized that a comfortable position did not exist. I’d have to settle for ‘not uncomfortable.’

The greaves were easily the worst offender of it all. Whoever crafted the suit must never have seen an actual human foot before. Considering that the owner of the costume shop was a salamander, that may not be too far from the truth. Still, I’d expect someone who marketed to renaissance faire regulars to be at least a little familiar with human anatomy.

As the last fleeting hopes of not being in pain tonight slipped away, the doorbell rang.

“Hey, you guys are a bit earlier,” I said as I opened the door. Didn’t even need to look first to know who it was.

“Well, you know how… Oh my! You’re certainly dressed up to the nines, aren’t you?” Lydia said, wagging her tail while looking me up and down.

I sighed and slumped my shoulders, which set everything clinking and clanking. “Laska absolutely insisted.”

“Almost makes me feel like I should’ve done more for Zoe,” Steve said, scratching at the back of his neck.

“Oh? Did you make Zoe’s costume?” I asked as the wolf-girl-turned-dragon weaseled her way between her parents to stand front and center.

“Ya! Dad made it for me!” She said excitedly, wagging her… scaly tail.

From the tips of her ears to her tail, Zoe was covered in, well, dragon. Looked like he used felt for most of the material, but it was very well done. Not an errant stitch or seam anywhere. She wore a hood that capped her fluffy ears with more horn-looking appendages, and even had little scales glued to her cheeks along her jaw. Wasn’t sure what the wings were made out of, but they were more of a ‘cute’ size than practical. Made sense, considering that flailing felt-tail extended out far enough to cause more than enough trouble on its own.

“Well aren’t you just the cutest little dragon,” I said, patting her head.

Which only served to send her tail into a furious blur. Dangerous indeed.

Lydia and Steve were dressed up as well, though I wondered about their choice of attire. Lydia’d obviously been the one to pick both of theirs out. Far as I knew they weren’t planning on going anywhere after this. That is, unless they were intending to pop the question on me as a surprise.

Lydia’s eyes held a devilish glint, just as that thought crossed my mind.

“By the way,” she began.

Like a book.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll watch her,” I said, cutting her off with a wave of my hand.

“Thanks, and sorry!”

Steve and Lydia shared a wink. Given what they were wearing, I had a feeling about what they were looking forward to – most likely rushing back home, sans Zoe.

He was wearing something that looked rather butler-ish, save for the leather collar. Next to him Lydia was holding a leash, but it hadn’t been snapped to the collar. Gotta save that for later, I suppose. Lydia herself was done up in something I would call ‘sexy were-wolf-wirth.’ A thin, black-lace dress with barely-there black panties and bikini top. Didn’t have the heart to tell her in the bright light I could make out a bit of, ahem, detail, but she probably already knew that.

I was a tiny bit jealous of Steve. He knew it, too – based on the wry smirk he was giving me. Lucky guy.

“Daaad!” Laska suddenly called out from behind me.

But before I could even turn around, Zoe shot forward. “Hiiii Laskaaaa!”

“Down! Bad dragon!” Laska protested as the vicious beast wrapped its felt claws around her and licked her face with unmatched fury and hunger.

“Wow! She looks like the real thing! Curtis, did you pick that out?” Lydia said, clapping her hands together.

“Nah, Laska picked it for herself. She also picked my suit out,” I said, shifting my weight around as I turned towards my daughter.

Though I’d already seen her completely dressed up, and even though she had a fuzzy dragon threatening to knock her over, Laska did look the part. Her violet, frilly dress matched the highlights in her long, straight hair quite well. Held in place with ear clips, her tiara sparkled and shimmered and her white, arm-length gloves gave her that regal look.

The only thing out of place were the elegant paw-heels she wore, and only because she’d never been in heels before. Rather than a full enclosure, they simply lifted her heel up while leaving her toes exposed as normal. Black leather straps, studded with some kind of faux-gem, kept the things secure on her feet.

And sure enough, a bit more flailing and the two of them crashed to the ground. And, sure enough, the metal hoop that kept her dress poofed-out gave us all an embarrassing look. Fortunately the salamander at the shop had managed to talk Laska into getting bloomers to ensure a complete ensemble. Or maybe she just knew from experience what usually happened in these gaudy dresses.

“Claws off the princess,” I said, half-into the act as I peeled Zoe off Laska.

The wolf-dragon squirmed about in my clutches before going limp as she realized there was no escape. “But she’s my treasure!”

Heels clicking smartly on the floor and laughing as she went, Lydia claimed the dragon from my arms. “Don’t be quite so greedy, my dear,” Lydia said, poking her daughter on the nose before setting her down.

Zoe darted over behind Steve, giving me the evil eye.

Casually ignoring her, and now with my hands free, I stooped down to help Laska to her feet. “Having troubles, my lady?”

Laska placed her dainty paw in my hand and smiled with just a hint of red on her cheeks. “My hero!” she said as she dusted herself off once she got back on shaky legs. “And heroes deserve a-“

And then promptly fell on her butt after attempting a step forward. Far from hurt, Laska simply looked at her heels with more than a little irritation. I did not see the heels lasting long tonight.

Lydia sighed as I helped Laska up again, then stomped a heel smartly onto the floor. “My pretty, watch and learn,” she said, turning about and pointing to her feet.

“Step like you mean it, like you own the world,” she said with gusto, taking a few strutting steps for effect, letting her hips sway side to side. “You’ll get all. The. Boys~”

The diminutive werewolf looked over her shoulder with a certain coy expression. She was loving this far more than she’d like to admit. This was the only holiday that let otherwise respectable woman like her go out in public wearing less than a bathing suit and wear massive stiletto heels. So I could understand her excitement a little bit.

“Laska’s never been in heels before?” Steve asked, providing just the distraction I needed.

“Nope, she’s never wanted to wear them before. After this I don’t think she’ll be in a hurry to try wearing them again,” I said as Laska stumbled her way across the hall behind Lydia, attempting to mimic whatever sexy strut the wolf was doing.

Despite her grace, or lack thereof, she did seem to be getting the hang of it.

“How does the princess fancy her footwear?” I asked once she’d made her way over to me.

“Being a princess is hard,” she said, pressing down on her skirt. “It’s hard to walk and I’m itchy and can’t scratch!”

Then she sort of wiggled side to side and clasped her paws in front of her. No one could switch up their demeanors quite like she could. She gave me a little furtive glance before looking down. “But having someone save me from dragons is kinda nice…”

“Don’t you worry, I’ll save you from any mean old dragon,” I said while giving her a few pats.

It was so corny and embarrassing, earning me a few grins from Lydia and Steve, but the earnest smile on Laska’s face made it worth the pain. Of course, Zoe had picked the most opportune time to pounce from her not-so-concealed position and bowled Laska over a second time.

“You’ll never save her now!”

With a sigh I set about to rescue my damsel in distress once again. A knight’s duty never ends.

Sure enough, the heels – and my greaves – lasted all of five minutes. If that. Laska also wished for me to carry her to the doors princess style as we went house to house for candy. She loved every minute of it and nearly every house got a huge kick out of it. Got a few long looks from certain neighbors, but they kept to themselves for the most part. One did try to slip her number into the candy on a bit of paper, but Laska was quick to crumple it up and throw it away.

Just as we were finishing our candy route, the kinky couple informed me that they’d left a change of clothes for Zoe at my house and then they took their leave. Apparently they were heading back home for a night without their rambunctious daughter. While full-moon slumber parties at my house became sort of a tradition, it was an almost completely dark moon tonight. Suppose the feeling just struck tonight.

I didn’t mind much. Hell, Laska loved having Zoe over – which was precisely the problem considering it was a school night.

“Come on you two, it’s eleven already – get to sleep!”

Their giggling ceased for the first time in an hour as their attention snapped to me. I didn’t think I was particularly harsh, but they both folded their ears their ears down and hung their heads. What had been a neatly made bed not long ago was now a mess of blankets and pillows and toys.

“Sorry,” they both said in concert.

However, soon as they gave me that pitiable look I knew it was an act. Soon as I closed the door they’d be right back at it.

“Clear the toys off the bed,” I ordered, standing at the foot of Laska’s bed with my arms crossed.

They looked at one another – they knew the jig was up. Way up. A tiny bit of actual remorse crept across their faces, but only just. Soon the toys were cleared under my supervision, placed in some sort of order amongst the shelves. I then marched them into the bathroom for teeth brushing and to get them changed into their pajamas. So long as I kept my stern father facade up, they behaved like little angels.

But, despite knowing I really shouldn’t, I just had to. As they both crawled across the bed back in Laska’s room in order to snuggle under the blankets, I sat down on the edge and locked eyes with Zoe.

“Laska’s my treasure, you know,” I said, quickly scooping Laska up in my arms.

Zoe’s eyes went wide and a toothy smile bloomed on her face.

“No! She’s mine!”

The tiny wolf pounced at me, hitting me with the fury of an enraged dragon – assuming enraged dragons had the strength of a nine-year-old girl. Bested by her strength, all I could do was flop over and let Laska spring free from my arms.

“Agh, she’s got me…” I gasped, clutching at my chest.

“Ah! My knight!” Laska squeaked out.

“Flee, my princess!”

“No way!” Laska shouted, leaping forward to tackle Zoe, who was quite pre-occupied with attempting to squeeze the life from me by holding onto my arm kind of tight.

Zoe yipped, mostly in surprise as Laska pinned her to the bed. “Princesses don’t fight!” she protested.

“Being a princess is boring!” Laska shot back. “I can’t save him if I don’t fight!”

Her impressive display only lasted a few sad seconds before Zoe was able to roll Laska over, then again, and again as they tumbled around the bed in a fuzzy ball of laughter and arguments whether princesses could indeed fight a dragon or not.

Sadly, Zoe’s size advantage was proving to be too much for poor little Laska to deal with. “Now, now, I’m sure-“

“Hey, you’re supposed to be dead!” Zoe said as she rubbed her butt in Laska’s face – quite literally.

“My love for my princess has brought me back to life,” I said as I joined the fray, freeing Laska from Zoe’s tyranny by scooping the littlest werewolf up and play-throwing her into the pillows.

For my valiant, noble efforts I was rewarded with play-bites and growling from Zoe as she charged back at me and latched onto my arm yet again. However, I was not alone in this fight – Laska ambushed her from behind, or attempted to. She stumbled on the knots of sheets and managed to head-butt me right in the stomach, dropping me to the sheets yet again. This time it was a little bit for real as I winced and struggled to avoid looking like I was in any actual pain.

Laska gasped in horror, then quickly pointed a fluffy paw at Zoe. “Beast! You die today!”

“But you did it!” Zoe said, but it was no use – Laska was upon her and then I became the new battleground as they tumbled around all over me.

“That’s it, you’re both going down,” I sort-of-howled, rising to loom over the pair.

Now united against a common foe and long forgetting what they even started fighting about, they both leapt at me.

And on and on it went for far, far too long until we were all exhausted. Well, I was exhausted, but those two were still bundles of energy. In my final defeat I just laid down and relaxed as they continued to tussle, any pretense of parental responsibility long absent. I was thinking they would both be suspiciously sick and absent from school tomorrow.

Eventually they did finally tucker themselves out, and the dead knight became the happening place fall asleep. Laska got the coveted spot against my chest, leaving Zoe to settle for curling up against my legs. Never mind that I could no longer move; they were comfy as could be.

Not like I could complain much. How often does a guy get to sleep with two adorable girls?

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