A bond snapped loose and he was himself again, pulling free of the broken shell and worming out like a moth shucking off its cocoon.
When the shell broke everything had gone very wrong; looked wrong, smelled wrong, felt wrong. Now suddenly everything was clearer than it had been in a long time. The gnawing inside had gone, the aches, weakness, the moments of confusion.
There was a girl motioning to him from the back-most part of the car, and she smelled familiar, like his girl, so he went and climbed neatly into her lap. He was big again as he used to be, so he took up all the available space and curled his long tail neatly about his paws.
“Hi,” she smiled.
As always he thought it a very goofy human expression. “Hi,” he said, and for once one of them seemed to understand exactly what he was saying. That was nice.
“It’s time to come home now,” she said.
He looked into the backseat and realized that his own girl was sitting there. She was trying to peer into the holes at the top of the box, where his shell was, and frowning because it had gotten so quiet in there. The boy was all the way up in the front seat, reaching back to her with one of his long arms – both of them were focused on that awful box. Much as he wanted to go to them there was no way he could get back inside of it.
That dratted sister of hers was there too, the one who always seemed to show up when something uncomfortable needed doing.
He looked back up to the girl in whose lap he sat, “but they still need me. She still needs me.”
She nodded, “I know – but they’re going to have to learn to be without you for a little while.”
She lifted one shoulder and stroked a hand over the broad of his head, “it’s the way of things here. There are others for you to meet though, my granddaughter loves cats.”
“You don’t smell old enough to be a grandmother,” he noted with some skepticism.
She chuckled, “I used to be. Your girl is my great granddaughter.”
That was met with a silent moment of feline surprise as he looked back at the others again. His girl was saying his name quietly, over and over again. “Who’s going to look after them?”
“They’ll have to learn to look after themselves.”
“They’ll be so sad…”
“I know. But you can’t stay, can you feel it?”
There was a pause as he evaluated the question. Then, “yes.”
Despite his considerable size she gathered him up closer and warm against her chest, tucking him under her chin the way his girl had always done. He settled in against her in a boneless fashion and gave a little sigh about it like he always had.
“Then I’ll take you home now,” she said.
“Will you carry me?”