Anya hadn’t known what to make of Sherdan that evening. Her heart had skipped a beat when he’d asked to see her artwork and two more when he’d requested a portrait. She’d almost said yes before it occurred to her that, with a possible case of Stockholm syndrome, incorporating him into her artwork would be bad for her

She hoped he accepted her excuse. It had only been half true. She wasn’t very practised at painting or drawing people. Practice would be good for her but she didn’t think Sherdan would appreciate it if it wasn’t really good. She didn’t like that kind of pressure.

She felt her muscles ache and complain as she climbed into bed. She’d had a second martial arts lesson with Nathan that morning. He’d insisted she was picking it up quickly. He went over all the blocking he’d taught her the day before and followed it with some new moves. Her fitness let her down, however.

The following day’s lesson was similar, although thankfully she ached less than the previous two days when she was released from her lesson. She put it mostly down to getting a better nights sleep than she had for a while. She’d been thinking of her art before bed, thanks to Sherdan, and it gave her the emotional release she needed.

She’d almost had to wake him again that morning as he’d overslept his alarm for the second day running. Something inside her knew that wasn’t like him. He had been working too hard lately and couldn’t keep it up. She felt sorry for him.

The second request he’d made of her bounced into her head. He’d been very interested in what she’d seen on the news. She could keep watching and reading to find him info. It would help him make informed decisions but it wasn’t helping enough to make her feel like she might be doing something wrong.

She took his laptop through to the sitting room and turned the TV on. She’d have the twenty-four hour news channel in the background while she read through the online news report. If she finished that she’d start reading relevant blogs by influential people.

Anya felt really good when she’d made several pages of notes a few hours later. The news was full of reports on the influx of residents to Utopia and Sherdan’s seemingly unstoppable progress. Even the retaliatory attacks were considered a waste of time by the news in general. All they did was provoke Sherdan.

At noon, Anya watched as Sherdan’s people expanded their territory again in response to the attempted invasion the night before. As the next few hours of events went by, the news team began interviewing people. Almost everyone was suggesting that the army stand down and negotiations should begin.

To Anya’s surprise, the European union were planning an emergency meeting for the following day. Sherdan hadn’t applied to them for recognition within Europe, just to the UN. So far they UN board had not given any indication either way.

It gave her a greater sense of purpose to be doing something with her time and she found the day passed much faster than they had been. She’d enjoyed finding out the public’s opinion on Sherdan. He had a lot of support among the general population but a lot of politicians didn’t like him.

She had to eat dinner alone, as she had often done recently, but she was heading back to the sitting room to continue her work when Sherdan arrived back.

“Good evening,” she said as she walked towards him. She stopped as she noticed he was carrying something small in his arms.

“Good evening. I have something for you, to help with the loneliness.” Sherdan held out the tiny little ginger kitten towards her. She gently took it from him as it mewled at her.

“I think this is the fluffiest kitten I have ever seen,” she said, unable to help but smile.

“You like it then?” She nodded, “Good. I hoped you would. When someone said this little fellow needed a home I immediately thought of you.”

“Thank you. He’s beautiful.” She kissed the top of the kitten’s head and stroked it. It elicited a second meow before it began to wriggle in her hands. She gently lowered him to the ground and let him go.

“There you go. Now you can explore your new home.” The kitten gently took a few steps forward, sniffing at the unfamiliar surroundings.

“What do you want to call him?” Sherdan asked as they watched him explore.

“I… I’m not sure…” she looked thoughtful. “Antonio. The guy who voiced ‘puss-in-boots’ was Antonio.”

“Very well. Antonio is your gift. If you leave at some point you’re also very welcome to take him with you. In the meantime, I have already let Anne know to put food and a litter tray out for him in the kitchen.”

She nodded still watching the kitten as it crawled around underneath one of the chairs. Suddenly she looked straight at him. He smiled at her as she hugged him. She wasn’t sure why, but she’d always wanted a cat. Now she had the cutest, fluffiest one she’d ever seen.

When she stopped hugging him she went straight back to watching Antonio explore. He’d now made his way to the doorway into the sitting room and she followed the little creature. Sherdan wasn’t far behind.

“Before I forget, I made notes today on what I saw, seeing as you were so interested yesterday.”

“Perhaps you can tell me about it all while I eat something. Have you already eaten?” Sherdan replied.

“I’ve already had food but I can sit with you in the dining room if you wish?”

“No that’s not necessary. I’ll have food in here with you and our latest arrival. That way we can watch him together as well.” Sherdan sent for Anne and sat down on the sofa beside Anya.

They laughed together at the kitten’s antics as he tried to get up beside them and play. He got his claws stuck in the side of the sofa and found he didn’t know how to fully retract them. As such he stuck to the side, unable to go up or down.

She lifted him off, set him down beside them both and stroked him as Sherdan reached out to do the same. Their hands brushed against each other until she pulled hers back. Anya blushed as she thought of all the film scenes where the same thing happened. She blushed and stared at the kitten.

Thankfully the awkward moment was relieved when Anne brought in dinner for Sherdan. He had to stop stroking Antonio to take the tray and place it on his lap, giving her a moment to compose herself.

She fetched her notebook from a nearby chair and skimmed through it to remind herself of some of the things she had read and heard that day. The notebook was fuller than she expected and she had take in a lot without realising. Sherdan had long finished eating by the time she’d told him everything.

“And what do you think of what I’m doing?” Sherdan said when he realised she’d finished.

“I… What do you mean?”

“You’ve told me what politicians think, governments and the general population. What do you think of my actions?”

“I think that what you’ve done is impressive. I’m just not sure whether it will work in the long term. People are often so far from perfect. I fear that even with the best of efforts to change governments that your country will be no better than everything that’s come before.”

“That’s no reason not to try.”

“Perhaps not, but there is also the enzyme you’ve all been taking. Eventually someone with less honourable intentions will take it and use the ability to gain for ill.”

“Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Hitchin’s vision says otherwise.”

“You already know my opinion on that.” Anya sighed. Sherdan couldn’t see the error of his ways and was so closed in terms of what he thought.

“You know we’re both as closed-minded as each other. Maybe we could both do with being more open?” Sherdan suggested as he got up.

He left the room to take his tray back to the kitchen, leaving Anya to feel indignant at his assertions. She felt tears sting her eyes and sat back, shocked at her own emotions.

She resolved to turn the subject back to more amiable conversation the second Sherdan came back but it was some time before he walked into the room again. When he did, he had two bowls of chocolate ice cream.

“Anne informed me you hadn’t eaten any dessert. I fancied ice cream. It’s got chocolate brownie chunks in it.” She took the peace offering gratefully and smiled. Chocolate went down well with most women and she was no exception.

They ate in silence until they were both finished and had put their bowls down. The kitten had provided enough of a distraction as it continued to get used to it’s new surroundings that the quiet wasn’t awkward. She’d never have expected someone like Sherdan, with all his antique furniture, to like the idea of a pet.

“Did you do any artwork today?” he asked, stirring her from her thoughts.

“No, I spent the day researching people’s opinions for you.”

“Thank you. It will help me going forward but please do draw… and anything else you’d normally do. Don’t feel you have to do what I ask. I’d rather you did whatever made you happiest.”

“Actually, it did make me happy. I really enjoyed researching.” Anya smiled in reassurance to Sherdan. She could hardly believe how nice he was being to her. A part of her expected him to change back to the controlling version of himself at any moment, however.

“I have some more work to do, but I’d appreciate some company while I did it, if you want to join me in the study?” Sherdan asked. She thought about it for a moment, considering saying no to stay and play with the cat, which had climbed up onto the coffee table.

“Yes, I can draw from in there as easily as here,” she replied instead. It had plagued her conscience that she’d not been kind enough. Being in the same room as him would do her no harm.

She followed him into the study and picked up her pad and pencils. When Sherdan had sat himself in his usual chair and put both his laptop and documents nearby, she sat somewhere so she could glance at him without him noticing too much.

A smile spread across her face when Antonio followed them. He evidently didn’t want to be left alone. He soon settled down by her feet and curled up against the leg of the chair.

She flicked to the next spare page in her sketch book and began to roughly sketch Sherdan’s outline. It took her quite a few minutes as she didn’t want Sherdan to notice her staring at him. Thankfully she managed to get his outline done before he looked up from the document he was reading.

“I’m sorry, I’m not talking much,” Sherdan said.

“That’s okay, I don’t talk much when drawing either, and the sooner you’re done working the sooner we can do something more fun.” Sherdan smiled at Anya before picking up his pen and going back to the document. He made notes while she slowly drew him.

Half an hour later she had a picture of him she wasn’t that impressed with. Sketching him from one side was helping in some ways but not in others. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get his mouth right.

He soon reached for his laptop and placed it on his lap, completely changing a lot of what she’d drawn anyway. Anya gave up, flinging her pencil and pad down. She sighed. Sherdan looked up at her but she avoided his gaze. She didn’t want to disturb him from his work.

Instead, she got up and went to the nearest bookshelf to read the covers of the many books Sherdan had. She wasn’t surprised to see ‘The Origin of Species’ by Darwin. It occurred to her that she’d never even flicked through it.

Anya went to pick the book up before remembering she’d been forbidden from touching his older paper books. Another sigh escaped her.

“You’re bored,” Sherdan said, making her jump.

“A little. I don’t really leave ever. The house I mean. I’m in these four walls daily.” Sherdan looked thoughtful.

“Give me a few minutes to finish this.” He went back to his laptop and tapped away at the keys. Anya patiently went to stroke her kitten. It mewled as she started running her hands over it’s very soft fur.

It made her heart feel a little lighter as she knelt, making a fuss of the gift he’d given her. She decided then and there to have Antonio up in her room when she went to bed. It could keep her company and might even provide enough of a calming presence that the frequency of her nightmares would reduce.

Suddenly, Sherdan got up. He paused for a moment, lost in thought, before snapping back and looking straight at Anya.

“Take Antonio through to Anne in the kitchen and ask her to look after him, then go up to your room and fetch some warm clothing and shoes.” Anya nodded and picked up her cat, snuggling it to her. It didn’t take her long to head through to Anne who seemed to be expecting the kitten. A litter tray and food was already laid out for him. She placed him down in the tray so he knew where it was and thanked Anne for being so prepared.

It took her a little longer to find warm clothes. She didn’t have much in the way of warm clothing and she couldn’t decide between two jumpers at first. When she realised she’d been gone over ten minutes she grabbed her coat and shoes, and rushed back to Sherdan’s study.

He still waited for her there and smiled as she walked into the room.

“So what are we doing?” she asked.

“You’ll see. Come on, get your shoes on.” She did as she was told, feeling unexpectedly excited. She’d been cooped up so long that whatever Sherdan was planning she thought she’d enjoy it.

As soon as she got to her feet again he took her hand and led her out of the study. He didn’t explain but she didn’t complain.