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Fan Fiction - Coming of Age, Pt. 6/? [Post 1 of 2, because I am wordy as all hell]

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Feb. 5th, 2007 | 04:09 pm
music: Nooooothing

Title: Coming of Age
Author: cooking_spray
Fandom: CATS
Pairing: Tugger/Jemima
Genre: Drama/Romance/General
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 12,388
Status: Ongoing
Summary: The kittens are growing up quickly, bringing about some changes in the Junkyard. This applies to Tugger's fan club as well. As he begins to lose the attentions of the Princesses, some facts must be faced. A certain soon-to-be Queen seems willing to aid the difficult process along, however. . .This chapter: Victoria makes a proposal whilst Demeter makes a confession, Jemima and the White Queen renew their friendship, the Tugger has an altercation, and Bombalurina searches but turns up what she isn't looking for.

Note: Okay, this has to be segmented into two halves, just because it's too large for LJ, apparently. . . This is actually kind of hilarious. The link to the second post can be found at the end of the entry. 21 pages is a bit excessive as far as fan fiction chapters go, I guess. *hides* Anyway, enjoy!



Chapter Six:
One More Time, With Feeling



~*~*~*~*~



Disclaimer: Highlight the phrase “fan fiction”. Read carefully. Consult dictionary if necessary.

Back again. Upon average, in consideration of how lengthy these chapters are, I think I'm shooting for an update every three weeks, if everything goes according to plan. Due to some very angering home issues, I no longer have the internet on my computer, but I luckily have a flash drive and a hospitable neighbor (to whom I owe thanks for helping me work out some of this chapter!), so it shouldn't be too hindering for you all.

This time around, things are supremely fluffy. . . And there's some mild innuendo, though I doubt it's offensive. I suck at writing the stuff outright, but this has its fair share of overtly romantic moments (once again, unintentionally!). A lot of what will transpire are things I thought of when I first began writing this, and only now managed to fit in properly. There's quite a lot of plot development, though, for a nice change of pace. XD

And I realized I am a "scene" writer, in the sense that I tell the story in individual segments. It just feels natural to me to think in that progression, although it kind of reminds me of the techniques television writers use for individual episodes. Maybe that's what you should think of my chapters from now on. . . Hopefully there's some continuity between them.

Here's the part where I tell you to ignore me and just read.

P.S.: I don't do phonetics, but you can hear the Cockney in your head. Right? Riiiight.



~*~*~*~*~



Getting a Mate had a way of making one feel lazy. The long nights, the late mornings. . . Of course, if you wanted to be overly analytical about it, most could say that once they had a den for two instead of one, they got more exercise than ever before. Still, once you realized that a good majority of your time had come to be spent in some form of reclined reclusion, you suddenly felt your age. Kittens were always spryly up and ready at every possible moment, balking when nap time came around. Even asleep, a young mind often dreamed of the adventures that would await them once they next awoke.

If she was representative of anything, Victoria could honestly say that her subconscious romps had little to do with children's play games anymore. As enjoyable as the dreams she did have were, the White Queen missed the other kind, just a little. It was much too early in her Queenhood to be lamenting over her lost innocence already, but all the talk about Jemima had put age in the forefront of her mind. You didn't truly notice the changes in yourself as you grew older unless you purposefully paused to consider them - she supposed life operated that way for a reason. If someone lived their days in regret of the past, how could they properly enjoy the present?

Victoria was doing a little of both at the moment, however. The sun had risen, and the its intruding rays had perturbed her into premature wakefulness. Just like anyone wrested from their sleep at an odd hour, she was having trouble closing her eyes again - and thus, she was forced to succumb to the odd musings that often strike you while everyone else is dreaming, simply because they don't fit in anywhere else.

On the other paw, a specific tortoise-coated Tom was still snugly curled around her, making it impossible for her to get too wrapped up in her thoughts. Her present was still properly enjoyable, despite the recent avalanche of longing she'd experienced for more carefree times. One of the things she definitely didn't miss was having to sleep in the nursery - as secure as it had been, the eyes of Princesses never wanted to close when they were commanded by a Matron. Drifting off to bed in honest content was quite the luxury.

Of course, Vicki, the pampered house cat, was no one to complain. . . She'd always had a cushy kitty-bed to go home to, should she have desired. Most of the time, however, she'd spent "nap time" with the Princesses, so as not to seem hoity-toity. Contrasting as their ages and natures were, the White Queen often felt a bit left out, but she had not regretted the times the infamous "trio" had let her in on their fun. She found a connection with Jemima, especially, and the remembrance of the late-night chats they used to share made her slightly wistful. Especially because of all the gossip floating around concerning her and the Tugger, and the conversation her brother had treated her to the night before last. . . Had it really been so long since she and Jemi had sat down with each other and had a heart-to-heart? She felt ashamed of herself, and at once made a resolution to right this as soon as possible. Last night was too full of distractions, and she suspected that Jemima wouldn't have appreciated having to discuss her love life while it was sitting next to her.

Speaking of which, her own love life had just shifted in his sleep, his face now burrowing into her shoulder and body flush against her back. Plato was a very possessive sleeper, and was prone to treating his Mate like a cherished stuffed toy while they dozed. His touchy-feely nature coupled with her shyness made them an odd pair, but Victoria had to admire his easygoing confidence. It was the same trait he had used to charm her at the Ball last year, and she had been so flattered by his unlikely attraction that she couldn't help but return it. Their courtship was a little predictable, as far as love stories went, and no one, including herself, had expected it to last long. . . And then Plato had surprised everyone by asking her to be his official Mate. It had only been a month, but what did she have to lose by accepting? Her tortoise-coated Tom was laid-back and openly affectionate, and even a little unpredictable at times, and she could easily see herself leading a happy and simple life with him. Ever since her acceptance of the proposal, they both had fallen into the routine of matrimony faultlessly, and the White Queen found herself as content as she had predicted. Maybe her romance wasn't the exciting sort from which exaggerative yarns and Queenly gossip was spawned, but it suited her just fine. Besides, everyone else in the Junkyard had enough scandal surrounding their own relationships to more than make up for her lack thereof. No matter what the popular speculation was, Victoria was just as humble as her brother. Dancing was the only passion she allowed to define her.

Another wave of nostalgia for her kitten days assuaged her at that thought. Vicki, the little ballerina. . . She had fond memories of pirouetting in the moonlight with Misto, so young that her steps were still clumsy. He had been a perfectionist even then, and always corrected her foibles as well as his own. Sometimes, like the children they were then, they had bickered and fought over his criticisms and had to be separated by the Matrons. Without her brother's harshness, though, she probably never would've reached the caliber she occupied today. Their pas de deux was still the centerpiece of the last Ball for her, and she had never been able to duplicate the feeling she had gotten from performing it. It was the culmination of all those missteps and quarrels as kittens. . .

In relation, she thought of an idea that was growing on her, and had been for a while. It was such an utterly female, universal idea that she had refrained from voicing it at first, but whenever her mind drifted, it kept coming up, unwilling to be ignored. And this morning, it was also springing itself upon her, its appeal even stronger due to all of her recollecting. She was nervous about the prospect, but her eagerness almost outweighed her apprehension. All at once, she was struck, and suddenly certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that her "thought" should become a reality.

Her conviction was so strong that she was unable to keep it to herself, and she nudged her Mate awake. He grunted and lazily blinked open his eyes, rubbing them with a paw to erase the sleep. Victoria was gazing at him in a radiantly embryonic way, eyes wide and glittering.

"What's the matter, Vicki? Have a nice dream you'd like to share with me?" He yawned. "Unless you mean that literally, I hope whatever it is can wait until dusk. . . I adore you, but I'm beat."

The White Queen shook her head with more force than she had intended, and then looked back up at him, a touch reticent. "Plato. . . what would you think about starting a family?" Then she absurdly added, "With me?", as if there were an other Queens with whom he would consider applying the suggestion to. Her heart pounded in anticipation of his answer.

Plato blanched at first, completely unprepared for the question's magnitude, especially so early. By the time he'd re-gathered his bearings, however, a slow-spreading grin was tracing its way across his face. "Hm. . . a bunch of little hellions just as beautiful as the two of us running around and getting into trouble? Sounds great to me."

"You mean that?" she whispered, knowing the dialogue was overplayed but having to make sure. Plato's warm reception had already manifested itself in her glowing features.

"If you're up to the challenge, then so am I." He gave her a head-rub to assure her. "We're soon to have a shortage of kittens around here, anyhow, and it'd be a shame to leave Jenny and Jelly to sit on their paws."

Her Mate was taking this in stride, but overly casual or not, she knew he would a good father - she wouldn't be with him otherwise. As her brother had once told her, she was maternal enough to make up for their own lack of parentage. Although she wasn't as great of a disciplinarian as the Matrons, she was genuinely caring and concerned towards those who mattered. Motherhood was certainly a big progression from the life she was used to, but it was not a stretch of character.

"I love you." In this moment, she meant it more truly than any time she had said it before, no matter what might (and quite possibly would, she was not so naive not to think) change in the future.

"Back at you." He tilted her chin up and kissed her, and the two then snuggled with silent content for a few moments before Plato made the second proposition of the morning. "Feel like getting a head start on that family?"

The moon would not rise for a good while yet, after all, and there's never a better time than the present to get things accomplished.

The White Queen's cheeks pinked, which he took for a yes - and it was safe to say that, in the hours that followed, nostalgia of any kind was no longer an issue.


~*~*~*~*~


Demeter wasn't tired.

She was, in fact, the polar opposite of tired; which was to say very rested, indeed. It was bewildering just how effectual her change in sleeping arrangements had been in curing her insomnia - and, at the same time, it was hardly a surprise, on some level.

Through rheumy, sleep-hazed eyes, she let her surroundings settle in. She had promised herself that no matter how embarrassing her behavior had been the previous night, her resolve would stay unflappable. With this in the forefront of the black-gold Queen's mind, she disallowed her insecurities to get the best of her, something that was always a loathsome struggle.

She could tell that it was mid-morning - the sunlight that had forced its way through the armoire's crevices was quite vocal about this fact. The Yard was still yet, as most Jellicles were predisposed to stay cooped in their dens at such an offensive hour. . . And so was the body of the silver tabby next to her, breathing in an even rhythm only achieved during sleep.

Demeter's own breath caught for a moment, heart trilling wildly in accompaniment, and her body, in general, performed a number of cliche gestures that also included an obligatory somersault of the stomach. This was the part that she could not prepare herself for - she was always very skillful in her initiations; it was the aftermath that she dealt with considerably less grace. Gut instinct told her that her feelings were danger - but "danger", as she had learned to interpret, meant "Macavity" - and this Tom bore very little resemblance to him, in any aspect. Not all handsomeness could harm her.

Besides, when had Macavity ever been so affectionate as to allow her to share sleeping quarters with him? The answer was "never", and so she relaxed - well, as best as she could, anyhow, seeing how close Munkustrap held her to him.

Though any contingent process of thought seemed a bit much to hope for, in light of her current accommodations, Deme tried for one anyway. It was always the Queen who awoke first in this kind of situation - it must've been some sort of unwritten rule, universally inputted into the sleep cycles of males everywhere. It accorded a female some time to think upon whatever chain events had led up to the position in which she then found herself, pleasant or unpleasant. Demeter was a bit out of practice at this sort of scheduled introspection, but she thought she might as well give it another try. She did have a lot to consider.

What had possessed her to so brazenly fling herself at the Guardian last night was indeterminable to her, now that she was in a clearer state of mind - a long time ago (and she had to stop referring to it that way), those fits of passion had made her famous, but they'd been in submission ever since the Asylum. That kind of desperation wasn't the variety that had usually overtaken her, way back when, but her cheek did make her smile a little. It had been a long time since the black-gold Queen had taken a risk for anything, let alone a Tom. It'd taken more of a push than normal, but it still felt nice, in more ways than one.

On second thought, maybe she did have an inkling of what had possessed her, although the thought of it made her feel slightly guilty, of all things. If her emotions hadn't overtaken her (which wasn't in Demeter's original plan at all), she might've made it back to the Scarlet Queen to tell her. . . Well, to tell her what? It then dawned upon her that although her new residence presented a lot of connotations, it was not technically her residence just yet, and the connotations were just that. Her breakdown had only helped her to accomplish half her goal. Upon realization of this, Demeter's fretting kicked back in. She thought she'd learned about not jumping to conclusions, but love was making her come undone all over again. In the end, I haven't changed a bit. . .

Before the black-gold Queen could work herself into too much of a lather, however, her bed mate gave forth a warning stretch and started to roll onto his side. . . Only to find that such a movement was hard to complete when another body was affixed to said portion of your anatomy. Once fur was encountered instead of hard floor, two eyes opened - Munkustrap had awakened.

Demeter tried to say something ("good morning" would've sufficed), but her tongue was at odds with her intentions. After last night, it would've been the perfect time to show that she wasn't such a pathetic excuse for a Queen, but the silver tabby seemed to bring out the femme fatale in her.

The Guardian's memory served him well, even this early in the day, and seeing how the last image he had of Deme was of her blubbering atop his chest, his first expression had nothing to do with pleasantries or the weather. With a tentative paw reaching out for her cheek, his eyes went straight for the "how are you?" faster than his mouth.

She wanted to say "fine", but that wasn't exactly true. . . And the concern in Munkus' face was so blatant and so expressly for her that she was tempted to voice her answer in another round of clinging (even though such a question hadn't even technically been asked). She wondered if being around him wasn't making her regress completely, as he had managed in a few short hours to retard both her composure and her speaking capabilities. Honestly, was she still a kit?

Demeter's strangled silence finally prompted him to speak in her stead, though. Rather than going the direct route, the silver tabby detoured to give his guest a chance to warm up, as it seemed she was having trouble doing.

"I hadn't intended to take more than a nap, you know. . . But I'm glad you persuaded me differently." He sat up, and Deme along with him, giving her a good-humored nudge in the process.

"I'm sorry" rose to her lips, but didn't escape them - because, truthfully, she was only the tiniest bit remorseful for what she had done (at least to him). That, and she desperately wanted some of what had compelled her last night to shine through again, only in a different way. That Demeter wasn't so easily destructible, so paper-thin. . .

"I could make a habit of it, if you like," she replied with shy deliberation, forcing her eyes to focus on her audience. To her secret delight, the remark gained just the response she had hoped for.

"I would like that very much, indeed." Munkustrap's intonation was soft and inescapably meaningful - Demeter tried to turn away at the concentration of it, but was apprehended by a paw on her upper arm.

The Guardian regarded her affectionately but seriously, a combination only he could pull off. "However. . . I can't help but question what this means, exactly."

An apology was necessary on behalf of his confusion. "I'm sorry. I admit to being. . . out of practice at this, if you will." She dared to meet his eyes again, half-smiling at her own sarcasm. "I don't mean to be confusing. It just happens that way."

"Demeter, you were forgiven before you ever knocked on the door." The thing about Munkus' princely talk was that, although it would've been veritably laughable coming from anyone's mouth but his own, he had a way of making it seem so sincere that you believed it - and instead of having a chuckle, you would blush.

Doing just that, the black-gold Queen pressed on before she lost her nerve. "Anyway, what I meant last night was. . ." She stalled, and then broke off, fumbling for the appropriate phrasing. Munkustrap gently encouraged her with the same heartbreakingly unfathomable patience. Demeter then made up her mind to dispense with the words (they wouldn't obey her, anyway), and convey what she wanted in a way that wouldn't betray her meaning.

She let the impulse take hold of her, and acted upon it before her second thoughts could catch up. In a moment, Demeter was decisive, and she seized it - which is all a very poetically vague way of saying "she kissed Munkustrap with all the passion she had in her".

It was properly dramatic, if a bit sudden, but the Guardian's reflexes were none too shabby, and he returned the gesture somewhat instantaneously. She hadn't forgotten how to do this, surprisingly, and if the lost time had made her inexperienced, Munkus helped her find her way. It occurred to her that she was feeling something, and that it wasn't panic. What was more was the fact that she knew - not just by touch, but something else stereotypically exhilarating and indescribable - that he was, as well. She forgot to be embarrassed and drowned herself in the sensation, which was so very different than anything she had ever encountered, even though everyone is tempted to say that. Putting a name to it yet would tarnish it, but at the inexorable breakaway, she was smiling, as sure as she had all morning.

With the shortness of breath that only succeeds a good kiss, Demeter began, "That, and. . ."

"There's more?"

She laughed - it was a muted laugh, but one filled with beauty and music, as rare laughs tend to be (especially so if you are in love with the Queen producing them). "That, and a declaration: I'm staying with you. For. . . much longer than a night."

There followed much celebratory nuzzling of a most intimate sort. Munkustrap had yet to discover who or what could be thanked for his good fortune (and it was safe to say that he would be in a less celebratory mood when he did), but the thought that maybe it was, perhaps, those years of patient biding was buoying. For the most part, he couldn't be seriously bothered - being himself, he was honestly happy that Demeter had, at last, given in to the feelings he'd only suspected she had and allowed him to love her aloud. Specifics were unimportant at the moment. With Demeter, you always took what you could get, when she let you.

Right now, that was all of her, with room in his heart to spare.

The Guardian didn't know why yet, but he'd be glad for that extra space when the time came.


~*~*~*~*~


Time passed, as it always does, unless you were going by the Tugger's clock face, that was (no hidden meanings intended). The temperature had dropped quite rapidly in the transition from day to night, however, and the Yard wasn't exactly teeming with life as a result. A film of obnoxious cloud cover had scattered the moon's light, so it was not an opportune time to partake in any traditional Jellicle activities. The only tribe members who couldn't be swayed were, unsurprisingly, the kittens. Despite how the Matrons had grumbled that it was "only sensible" to stay shut in during such unforgiving weather, their juvenile charges would hear none of it.

The young Toms had somehow rounded the Princesses over to the tire, where Admetus was delighting them with a selection of what he called "spooky stories". Etcetera was the first to point out that the season wasn't very appropriate, but Pouncival then started accompanying the tales with improv and sound effects, and both she and Electra were soon shrieking with alternating delight and horror.

Jemima, for her part, just felt uncomfortable. She and Tumble, who didn't share his friends' crowd-pleasing gift, had been awkwardly stuck next to each other in what Electra seemed to think was a grandly charitable gesture. It was obvious that the Princess the spotted Tom would've much preferred to sit by was Electra herself, though - every time she laughed, he kept staring at her with such obvious longing that Jemima felt sorry for him. Addy was stealing his show, as always. The problem wasn't that she didn't find his and Pounce's antics funny; she just wasn't in the mood for them on this particular night. Every once in a while, Admetus would try to specifically include her, but for the most part, it was very apparent that the whole act was designed to gain the attentions of her other two friends.

Pounce had just finished his impression of a ghostly Pollicle apparition that the other half of his comedy team claimed had tried to chase him through an alleyway one night when the rust-black Princess decided to stand and take her leave. She didn't want to imply that she was above their fun, as she had been skipping out on things a lot lately, but the feeling of exclusion was getting to her.

"Excuse me. I. . . I have some things to prepare for next moon." She smiled apologetically. It wasn't a complete lie, at least. "I really did enjoy the stories, though."

Admetus halted mid-syllable, agog. "You're leaving? Aw, c'mon, Jem! This is the best part! Don't be a party pooper."

Etcy and Electra also turned to her with similarly imploring expressions. "Are you sure, Jemi?" the white tabby Princess queried with some concern. "We can all do something different if you're bored. . . Don't feel like you have to leave!" Her words were well-intentioned enough, but her disappointment at the suggestion still shone through.

Jemima shook her head firmly. "No, no, it's fine. Don't make exceptions for me."

A look of understanding somehow reached her in Pounce's eyes across the tire, which was a bit of a surprise. "Hey, Jemi's a big girl; she'll be fine out on her own." He regarded her directly, and she was grateful for the unusually sensitive intervention - it must've been influenced by the conversation they'd had last night. "Do what you need to, but don't whine about missing all of the fun in the morning!"

Jemima removed herself from their company, freeing the spot next to the toffee Princess, to Tumble's great elation, and waved a requisite goodbye that was mirrored with some (but not too much) regret by the rest of the trio. As soon as they found a moment alone, suspicions were sure to fly, but she wouldn't be there to hear them, at least. Before she was even out of earshot, Admetus' voice had picked up from where he'd left off, again, and faint giggles sounded shortly thereafter.

A deserted area around the back of the oven beckoned to her. At first, she just sat, guiltily relieved to be away from her nursery mates' cajolery. Jemima really wasn't in the mood for the usual tiring introspection either, though. She'd been doing too much thinking recently, and it never seemed to have a positive effect on her mood. She had this time alone, and she wasn't going to waste it on her own self-indulgent angst.

Empowered, she got up, and for lack of any other immediately involving thing to do, began to dance. The practice would be good for the pressuring solo that she had to look forward to next moon, anyhow. She hadn't put much thought into any sort of routine yet, and honestly wasn't too keen on forming one. Dancing when the mood struck her had always been preferable to her sensibilities - the movements were more natural, more expressive.

This number began slowly, with a few methodical, teasing steps as the rust-black Princess warmed up, opening herself to inspiration. She performed a number of graceful stretches upon the cobbles, and then leapt into a set of a more sprightly and hopeful description, incorporating arches and leaps. The elementary sensation of moving invigorated her, and a few embellishing pirouettes wove themselves into the choreography, along with other ballet selections that she had picked up along the way. By that time, she was no longer consciously thinking about her motions, and instead was allowing the dance to dance itself, caught up in the rhythm of it.

When she at last bent into a final bow, arm outstretched and legs perfectly split, she was startled to hear the sound of applause. Embarrassed, she jerked her head to the clapping's source, already beginning to get up and dust herself off.

Her unaccounted audience turned out only to include the White Queen, who had been admiring the progress of her dance from a few steps away. The knowledge that such an examination had taken place without her notice make Jemima's ears droop - everyone knew that Victoria was the tribe's terpsichorean authority. Her impromptu recital must've seemed unbearably amateurish in comparison. After all, half of the ballet she had picked up from Vicki herself.

Despite Jemima's fretting, Victoria seemed to show nothing but legitimate encouragement. The developments from that morning still had an addling effect on her mood. "Sorry if I surprised you, but I didn't want to interrupt your dance."

"It's alright." Jemima's shyness lingered, and suddenly, the exchange felt stilted and unnecessarily formal. A year earlier, neither of them would've felt obligated to explain themselves - but, as she was learning, age has a way of creating all sorts of changes in a cat.

"I had hoped to find you," the White Queen said with a sheepish smile. "I'm guessing you've gotten scouted out a lot these days, though, so I feel a little ashamed of myself."

Her comment evoked a sigh, but also some relief - at least they both felt equally inadequate. "Your guess is right, but I've gotten used to the interrogations - and surely you've heard the gossip. It'd be a bit difficult not to."

Jemima's resignation intrigued her. Victoria vacillated between honoring the Princess' sensitivity and indulging her own curiosity, as the subject was clearly wearying. In the end, she decided to gently press further. She did want a true understanding of the situation, because she thought she might be able to offer better advice than what she suspected Jemima had been fed already - and, above all, their friendship was long overdue for renewal. She just feared that the gap might've grown too wide, and that the distance between them might make her un-relatable.

"If I may be so forward to ask, what exactly is the truth behind all that? You don't have to answer, but. . . from my own perspective, I'd like to know." The same guilt overtook her. "I suppose this is a shoddy way to get back in touch. Forgive me."

"No, actually, I'm glad to get the chance to talk to someone like this. . . Especially you." Jemima spoke with a smile and sincerity. "Pounce tried to give me a pep talk yesterday, and it did make me feel better, but not because it was really reassuring in any way. Now that everything's out in the open, there's no use in hiding it."

Vicki giggled into her paw. "They haven't changed a bit, have they? I'm probably still more like them than I'd prefer to admit, though. I may've been the oldest, but I still believe you were, and remain, the most mature. Except for when the Tugger was involved, perhaps, but he made us all act terribly silly."

"And continues to, in some cases," Jemima said, with a smile that was now begrudging. "This is where I think those remarks about my maturity cease to be true."

Victoria studied her friend for a moment, and then took a seat on a cooperative mess of cans, motioning for the rust-black Princess to join her. When Jemima complied, looking expectant, the White Queen posed her question.

"I know enough to be aware that you've started thinking of your feelings for him seriously, but have you ever thought of why? What is it about the Tugger that attracts you, specifically?" Victoria grinned a bit at her own phrasing. "Well, besides the obvious fact that he is simply attractive."

The grin proved to be contagious (it felt better to blame it on that rather than the subject matter). "I guess it never really occurred to me to approach it that way. . ." Crushes were much more harmless when they were left at that and not defined. Besides, what was the use of thinking of better, more specific reasons to become attached? The whole situation was hopeless. The only resolution Jemima had come upon was that she was some sort of masochist - Gus had used that word once, and she thought it fit perfectly here, too.

"I'm probably too young to give pep talks as well, but whether or not it makes any difference, I don't think you're hopeless. I think you like him for a reason, and maybe I'm making assumptions, but I think that reason just might be that you're good for one another. You should give it some thought. Plato and I saw the two of you last night, and we both agreed." Victoria was unused to dispensing wisdoms, especially with such conviction, and felt suddenly sensitive about how Jemima would receive her theory. The mention of her Mate in conjunction with herself still had the effect of making her beam like a newlywed, though.

"Pounce compared me to you last night," Jemima admitted, contemplative. "He said I acted like you did when you were dancing around Plato before the Ball. I was unsure of what to make of it, because I think he was just trying to make me feel better."

Vicki smiled again. Perhaps she wasn't as bad at handing out advice as she thought. "Maybe that's the closest way he knows how to describe love. I didn't know I had a certain look, though. . . But then again, most of us are probably so enamored that we don't notice."

Jemima cast her eyes downward, trying not to let the proposition appeal to her. "Do you think I have that look, even so?"

"I do," the White Queen said matter-of-factly, completely sure about this one. "It's not like you walk around wearing it, but it's apparent in your face when you're around him, or if someone mentions him. Like now. You shouldn't feel bad about it, as it's not like it's something that can be helped."

"And you said I was the mature one. . ." Jemima's expression was wry.

"You are. I just have a year's worth of experience over you. After all, you probably have stopped to consider the consequences or your feelings more than I did. What I did at the Ball was impulsive, but it luckily turned out to be fortunate. I was a shy Queen who took a risk." It felt bizarre to hold any sort of clout over someone, especially Jemima, but not unpleasant. She fancied she had a brief moment of understanding with Munkustrap.

"I just. . . don't know how this happened, exactly." She called upon a tired metaphor to illustrate. "I woke up one day, and Etcy and Electra's fawning seemed innocent, while I suddenly began to care. It was irrational, and I knew it, and also horrible, because it was the Tugger. I don't think he can love anyone but himself for longer than a week."

The visit she had paid to Mistoffelees jumped to the forefront of Victoria's mind. "You might be surprised. . . I actually think Tugger is less narcissistic than you say he is, if my opinion counts for anything. He was asking my brother about you a couple of nights ago, you know. It seems as if he might actually make an attempt to approach this the right way."

"There's a right way?" Jemima still couldn't prevent the spark that comment had ignited in the pit of her stomach, though, causing a warm feeling to spread through her against her will. "And he's. . . going to approach me? Like I'm some sort of game?"

The White Queen laughed. "Give him a break. Not that he needs one, but he's the Tugger - what do you think he would've said? The fact that he even asked my brother for advice stands for something, though. For him, that's a step in the right direction - and yes, there is one."

Jemima deliberated. She was young, and very much aware of it - only four years, by Human calendars. What the Princess lacked in experience and knowledge, however, she made up for intrapersonal sensitivity. "Love" was something she was supposed to find, and define for herself along the way. It had not even entered her mind in any exactitude when she had taken the time to stop and consider her future. Certainly, she expected herself to eventually fall into it, as it was one of life's inevitabilities - but unlike Etcy and Electra, she hadn't courted any specific notions about whom the cat she would share it with might be, or even what they might be like. She just assumed that when it happened, it would. There was a time and place for everything, and as she had grown older, she had developed a considerable dexterity at distinguishing between the two.

But, to use a tired but true description, love really does hit you like a car out of nowhere. It had little consideration for anything or anyone, destroying all order and ignoring all previous engagements with a recklessness that could only be labeled "bittersweet". As they said, love was blind (or blindfolded), and while it might not have been the greatly dramatic, sweeping force that it was often referred to as, Jemima had been around long enough to testify that attraction or emotional attachment always created some kind of havoc, hers being no exception.

Until just now, she had been so caught up in the seeming incredibility of her endearment that she hadn't put much thought into why it existed in the first place. She tried to think of reasons, or pinpoint a moment. If truth be told, she was probably the least faithful of Tugger's posse - while she had giddily enjoyed his coercion during last year's Ball, she clung to him far less than Etcy or Electra, opting to admire from afar. When emotions were concerned, Jemima was always reserved with hers, distinctly aware that baring too much could make for unpleasant going. The Tugger was appealing to the eyes as well as the sensibilities of most Queens, and he was a talented performer besides. There wasn't any reason why she shouldn't like him, but this was all established fact. In her time, she had known other handsome Toms, showy Toms, smooth-talking Toms - and while these traits could all easily be found elsewhere, maybe even in the same configuration, they didn't particularly interest her. Unless, of course, they embodied the Tugger himself, who somehow managed to defy all of which she had defined as reasonable. For whatever reasons, she just liked him, and couldn't help wanting to be near the source of her affections, even if she did not always follow this yearning through. Luckily, the Tugger was forthright enough for the both of them, though.

Much as it seemed prudent to try and bury her feelings for her own good, she found that she simply couldn't (especially not with his constant providence of reasons to hang on). And furthermore, she didn't really want to.

Victoria was smiling at her silence, amused by the various emotions that flickered across the Princess' face. To deliberate over something so elementary (yet, at the same time, complex) and illogical as love was purely Jemima. The White Queen placed a paw on her shoulder, drawing her out of her thoughts. The resemblance to her brother entertained her.

"If you really like him, you should let yourself go for him, too, even if he is the Tugger. I wouldn't say so if I didn't think you had a chance. You've got your wits about you, and always had. I think you can take him." She nodded with confidence. "Forget you know anything about how insane of a notion the whole thing is. Love isn't sane itself, anyhow."

From Victoria's lips, the advice reached her with undeniable clarity. Perhaps it was just because she was more willing to want to believe it now, more than ever, because the White Queen's version of the truth was much more desirable than her own. But, everything that had been said made sense, and Jemima trusted that her friend knew what she was talking about. She had been able to pin down Plato, after all.

"I'll try." She smiled softly but decisively, and Vicki joined her.

A few seconds later, the first faint words of a song began to be crooned in tenor across the Yard, a baritone harmonizing exaggeratedly with its owner in a sad parody of a love song. Jemima and Victoria looked at each other, and began to giggle, knowing very well just who the singers' identities were. As the tune wore on, annoyed mezzo tones occasionally interweaving themselves, the White Queen hoisted herself up and began to sway ridiculously in time. Leave it to the young Toms to provide comic relief!

Jemima, now laughing outright, joined her, and together the two of them continued their silly dance, twisting and bouncing energetically like a couple of flower children at a rock 'n' roll concert. When Pounce began to also mime the orchestral bridge, voice straining to imitate a violin, the both of them were clutching each other with mirth so intense that their dance was forgotten.

The Tugger wasn't the only one who could bring out the kitten in her.

Chapter 6, Act I End!


Go to Part II



Previous Chapters:

Chapter 1 - The Fragile Cusp of Queenhood
Chapter 2 - Girl Talk
Chapter 3 - All's Fair. . .
Chapter 4 - Hypocritical Cats
Chapter 5 - Whispered Confessions, Shouted Secrets

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