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A Long Overdue Thank You

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“Cidgeon?” Alma approached the professor. He sat alone at the briefing table with tea, book and kitten at hand. Most of the group had gone into town; he had remained, claiming a desire for some peace and quiet for a change. Alma would join the others soon enough, but she had a mission of her own to fulfil that had gone undone for too long.

“Do you need something?” Cidgeon asked.

“I was hoping to have a word.”

He nodded toward the chair. “You may as well sit down.”

She did so and the kitten raised her head with a mewl, rose, stretched, and daintily weaved around the teacup to pad across the table and melt into Alma’s lap. A flicker of amusement crossed Cidgeon’s features, though he remained silent.

Alma stroked the kitten’s soft fur then took a slow breath. “I should have done this long ago, but I wanted to thank you for taking care of Kamila.”

“She’s a good kid. It wasn’t a hardship.”

Alma shook her head. “But you had nothing to do with us. You had your own work, your own goals, and still you didn’t just keep her safe, she loves you. You were there for her. You could be the family… we couldn’t be.”

Cidgeon’s gaze was piercing. “’Nothing’?”

“That’s not,” Alma stumbled. “Of course Cabanela, and he always spoke fondly of you, but you didn’t know us.”

Cidgeon held up a hand. “Stop. I didn’t, and I never approved of the whole affair. The Empire was headed down dark paths back then. Seemed to me it could only end badly.”

Alma looked away. And it had for a time. There was still no guarantee it wouldn’t again, or that what they once had could ever recover.

“But being in Figaro changed him. Foolish or not there was no denying his love for your family.” He sighed, suddenly looking older and wearier. “Thirty years I’ve looked after him and I can count the number of times he’s asked me for anything on one hand. He came to me back then, determined, righteously furious and terrified.”

“Terrified…” Alma murmured.

“Of course he would never admit to such a thing, but his king was captured, his queen’s fate unknown and their daughter taken away by his own hand. I’ve never told him this, but his own fate was a closer call than any of you lot know.”

Alma stroked the kitten in what was a comforting gesture at first, but hardly something she noticed herself doing now as she fixated on Cidgeon. It wasn’t until there was an irritated mew that she realized she’d gone a little too hard and forced herself to calm.

“What do you mean?”

“You all know he was taken after the invasion of Tzen, I’m sure.”

She nodded. Cabanela had spoken of it eventually in a detached sort of way until he spoke of Cidgeon, when he was once more as lively as ever.

“Asbolus had a keen interest in him even then. If I hadn’t stepped in when I did he would have taken him. I don’t think I need to spell out the possibilities if he survived at all.”

Alma supressed a shudder. No, no he didn’t.

“Damn fool put himself in his hands in the end anyway,” Cidgeon continued, “but the point is, he came to me as close to pleading as he gets and here’s another kid whose life was being torn apart by the Empire. A kid I was sure the Empire would be all too happy to use as another hostage, or simply another subject for Asbolus. I couldn’t let that happen and my work gave me a ready excuse to leave.”

Alma took a deep breath over the rising fury. Save it; it would do nothing here. If Asbolus survived the end of the world his payment would come. “Then it seems to me,” she said slowly, “that I only have more to thank you for. Kamila and Jowd, and Cabanela too. And for myself. I… don’t think I can forgive him for everything, those years of knowing nothing, but I understand things better now.” Had she ever given much thought to Cabanela’s point of view? How he felt during that time? She had her own apologies to make as well.

“I’m certain Kamila has already asked,” she continued. “If we can win this, if we can go home again, I hope you might join us as well.”

“She did,” Cidgeon said gruffly. “I told her we’d see.”

”Of course.” Alma rose, carefully shifting the kitten into her arms. Silly little thing was a stubborn beast, but she found herself grateful for her grounding presence. She stared down at the old professor. She owed him everything and had no idea how she’d ever repay all he’d kept safe, but… “Kamila considers you family. I hope to as well.”

Cidgeon shook his head. “Ah, get on with you.”

She gave him a warm smile before turning away to leave. “Enjoy your quiet. Thank you.”