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Coming of Age 7/?, Pt. I [CATS, Tugger/Jemima]

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May. 20th, 2007 | 06:20 pm
mood: productiveproductive
music: Marry the Man Today - Guys and Dolls

Title: Coming of Age
Author: cooking_spray
Fandom: CATS
Pairing: Tugger/Jemima
Genre: Drama/Romance/General
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 11,119
Status: Ongoing
Summary: Adolescence is coming to an end for the kittens. With Jemima as the oldest of the group, she feels her affections for the Tugger metamorphosing. . . And she isn‘t the only one struggling with her emotions, as well as the complexities of life itself. Now 100% more existential!This chapter: A séance is held, Jemima and Tugger have a run-in with a jilted Queen, and a lonely Electra finds company in Tumble while Admetus is at a family meeting.



Coming of Age
by Cooking Spray


~*~*~*~*~



Disclaimer: Highlight address bar. Read carefully. Consult dictionary if necessary.

So, the deal with this chapter's untimely arrival is that I have been absorbed or otherwise preoccupied in costuming and the waking nightmare that is school. Also, my computer saw fit to tell me that "hard disk failure was imminent" at random one day, so I didn't want to write anything for fear it would be eaten. Do forgive the lateness. It's not a cop out, as I still have no intentions of abandoning this story - I love it more than anything I've ever composed. But, I also am infamously horrible at predicting my bouts of writer's block with any stability, so this is my way of saying "updates are hereby moved to 'whenever the hell I feel like it'". I'm not re-scheduling it from primetime to weekends after ten, mind, but trying to be realistic.

Bad metaphors aside, I don't have much to say this time, which is shocking. A pre-reading note that doesn't take up half of your screen! I guess it's because I've been planning this chapter out in my head for a long while, but really haven't received any compelling interest or motivation to plunk it out. I feel the need to get my hands dirty every once in a while, so to speak. On the upside, my Demeter wig is coming along quite nicely!

Anyhow, to those of you who awaited it, I present chapter seven, and it hope it is worth the months I just know you spent in agony of its arrival. Enjoy!


~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Seven:
In Which an Incidence of Life and Death Must Occur


~*~*~*~*~



It was supposed to be a séance, of sorts - of course, it was not the deceased or any sort of apparition they were calling upon, but rather a memory, all of their memories, anything explanatory of interpretive. Their four pairs of paws were all linked, eyes closed and heads bowed, and the whole affair felt rather foolish to Mistoffelees, even though the other participants seemed to be taking things seriously enough.

Coricopat was to his left, and Tantomile to his right; Cassandra faced him from across the circle. It helped that he had at least one ally in this - even though they all shared similar gifts, and therefore could never truly avoid each other, the Abyssinian Queen and the Dark Twins' female representative had the eerie ability to make the fur on the back of his neck prickle, especially as a double team. They were the ones so insistent on the necessity of this gathering. Cori, however, seemed just as reluctant as Misto himself to become involved.

They were supposed to be meditating; lending their power to one another to help strengthen the vision. Misto's heart was only half in it, though - and besides, it wasn't as if he'd be able to divine anything in any case. Basically, the only reason for his presence was to act as a source of energy, into which the three Seers of the group could tap in hopes of clarifying some mystical imagery, only part of which had been explained to him. The Conjuring Cat felt distinctly used, like a battery in some dispensable Human device. This was not the kind of magic he liked to perform.

Minutes wore on, and felt like hours, and eyelids like lead - so on, so forth. All were indications of his extreme disinterest in this endeavor, although no one took notice, considering everyone's eyelids were closed, and it was hard to tell whose felt more leaden that way. He had seen his Mistress do something like this, with her cocktail-attired friends (who too often loved to crush him against their bosoms and tell him what a good, cute little kitty he was). The only difference was that they had hummed, and were also probably extremely intoxicated by one too many of their pink drinks.

Some excruciating amount of time later, Cassandra abandoned her rigid posture to scowl at him. "You were the weakest link, Mistoffelees," she accused. "Have you still not discovered how to harness your power?"

"Hush, Cassie." Coricopat came to as well, and his rebuke actually sobered the Abyssinian Queen a bit. "He, like myself, doesn't see the reason for all of this." He directed his gaze specifically at his twin, then, challenging her a second time. Misto couldn't help but admire the directness with which he handled the two most meddlesome Queens in the Yard - females tended to intimidate him with their constant "I know something you don't" airs. To make it worse, these two probably did know something he didn't.

"Don't be so unkind, brother. You know what the Guardian told us last year as well as I do. Don't dismiss this as a female thing."

The dark calico Tom heaved a sigh. "A bunch of fuzzy images hardly count as a vision, in my opinion. And, if I may be so inclined to say so, I believe Munkustrap has his own distractions to contend with right now. If this had anything to do with Macavity - which it does not - he would've already heard about it. Several times, most likely."

"The Lady Demeter would make a lovely Human alarm clock, yes," Cassie mused aloud. "If only she made a ringing noise with the same regularity she says Macavity's name, my Mistress might actually make it to work on time. . ."

Coricopat flattened his ears and hardened his gaze a bit in slight warning. "No insult is needed, pharaohess. Demeter has experienced enough hardship in her life without your added ridicule."

"Touché, touché. . . And that's Prophetess to you, Cori. Prophetess of Doom - and you'd best take me seriously, or you'll end up with the same fate as all of those silly Humans."

"It's obvious that someone has been sifting through Gus' private library." Coricopat rolled his eyes in the face of the Abyssinian Queen's saucy triumph before bringing the exchange to an end. "Anyhow, before I allow myself to be led too far astray from the original subject matter. . ."

Cassandra suddenly turned her attention to the magician. Misto found himself in momentary disbelief that the conversation was actually being directed at him, for once - never mind that it was about him in the first place. "Mistoffelees, what is your opinion in this matter? You volunteered your services to us, so surely you must think our cause is worthwhile." Her eyes glittered with an encouragement that could've been described as "menacing". They read, ‘agree to this, or I'll make your life miserable from here on out. . .’

"Volunteered" was a bit of an overstatement - it would've been more correct to say that he was guilt-tripped in the way that only excruciatingly crafty Queens could get by with. The magician knew he was being manipulated, but to be honest, the frightening look on Cassie's face made him hesitant to tell the truth. He berated his own lack of self-confidence.

"Well, in all truthfulness, I'm still not sure what exactly the 'cause' is. But, if it is indeed for the good of the tribe, then you can be assured that my support is available unquestioningly."

Coricopat smirked at him. "Nice evasive technique. You learn quickly."

Misto bubbled with the joy of the older Tom's praise, but tried not to let it show too much - only a kitten was so easily swayed by the slightest bit of praise, and Cassie and Tantie were liable to tear into him and then dispose of the pieces quietly the next time they were alone together if he agreed in too much earnest.

Fringed brows drawing together in scrutiny, Tantomile regarded both her twin and Cassandra in turn. "We were actually attempting to be serious, you are aware?" The dark calico Queen centered fully on the latter party. "Cassie, this isn't a competition. Mistoffelees is doing his best under the conditions."

The Abyssinian Queen returned to solemnity, although whether it was by Tantie's command or the reminder of the subject at hand was uncertain. “I did manage to recall one detail.” She leered at the magician, as if one detail was the extent of his worth to her. Thankfully, under the advice of Coricopat, he did not take her seriously. “Everything is still so obscured, but if I concentrate long enough, a single image stands out to me. It is of a constellation - Aries, the star of the ram. In my mind, it is directly overhead with the moon, so bright it hurts my eyes to gaze upon.”

Coricopat looked thoughtful. “Aries. . . we will enter that constellation around the time of the Ball. The day of the vernal equinox, exactly.”

Tantomile nodded. “Night and day will be equal.”

Mistoffelees absorbed this process silently (not unusual, really). He was somewhat attuned to the stars’ migration across the sky, but only vaguely so with the correct astronomical terminology to describe it. Then again, this was the Twins - they knew things that ordinary cats (and even ordinary Jellicles) could only guess at.

Coricopat didn’t speak for a few more moments, features radiating various degrees of “deep ruminations afoot”, and gave Cassie a begrudging expression. “Your divinity penetrates where mine cannot, it seems. I hate to admit it, but there may be some validity to your concerns. The images align too well.”

Slowly, and with absolute satisfaction, the Abyssinian Queen grinned. “I told you that the Prophetess was not to be dismissed.”

“It wasn’t the prophecy itself that I took issue with, but the pomp of its deliverer.”

Cassandra laughed. “One of us has to have confidence. You’re the doubting Tom, Tantie’s the ever-patient Queen, and Misto has not an idea in all the basements of the Hotels what we are doing here. That leaves me.”

“Enough, kittens.” Tantomile intervened both verbally and physically this time, standing between the two feuding. . . colleagues. It was subtle, but Misto swore he could see the traces of a former attraction in their eyes - it was obviously bygone, as Cassie now had Alonzo, but when two cats have been together, the phantasms of that time - be it an affair, a formal courtship, a Mating - never completely dissolve. If you look for the signs closely enough, you will find them - and if there was one thing that the tuxedo cat excelled at besides magic, it was observation.

The idea of Coricopat and Cassandra as any sort of item took him a bit by surprise, honestly. It must’ve been a secretive relationship, brief and torrid, because while he sensed that Tantomile had often suspected a past liaison between them, she did not know for certain. They must’ve masked their thoughts expertly from her, too, as Misto assumed the dark calico Queen could read them at will.

Still, Coricopat and Cassie? Perhaps she had been entranced by his wordless strength and wisdom - he admitted to a little awe himself, and Queens always seemed to love a mystery. They must’ve clashed, though. Mutual passion, but different hemispheres of thought - he could discern that much from mere observation, and his previous associations with the Abyssinian Queen. The moment made him the slightest bit curious (talking to the Tugger must’ve made the inclination catching).

The pair heedlessly stared each other down before Cassandra delivered a final and knowing grin and ducked her head. To Misto’s shock, when she looked up, her eyes found him.

“Sooo. . . speaking of the Ball. Who are you thinking of inviting, Misto?”

Coricopat rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Cassandra. . . That is the most pathetic diversion I do believe you've ever resorted to."

The Abyssinian Queen jutted her nose into the air, self-righteous, but did not turn her head. "It's a valid question."

The tuxedo cat, however, was taken aback. The conversation had vacillated between divination and petty sparring, and had now suddenly settled upon a topic that seemed better whispered about between a couple of squealing kittens. In fact, he'd heard the young Toms arguing about something almost identical to this the other day whilst he was pretending to nap (which he did more often than he would like to admit). Most of them would come of age by the time of the Ball, and since it would be their first proper one as a fully-grown and initiated member of the tribe, there was naturally an amount of prestige and excitement surrounding the whole affair. Still, it had not occurred to him that he was now considered an adult, as well, and thus also eligible to extend his own invitation - the most likely cause was the fact that he, while also realizing that he was quite a few leagues superior in thought to other Jellicles, still saw himself as a kitten. Maturity did not make up for his lack of experience.

Proposition settling upon him with a slightly different luster, he considered Cassie's query for a while. A vague, improbable scenario unfolded in his head, but he shook it away - with great genius came the fallacy of loving too much in idealisms. There were too many reasons why he knew the answer that first rose to his tongue was also the one he should most prevent from ever leaving his mouth.

"I haven't given it much thought, to be honest," he answered finally. Although, now that the idea was in his head, he suspected that this remark would soon become invalid against his will.

"Which is probably the best course of action, all things considered," Cori commended, still sending Cassie a sharp stare that she was by now completely in ignorance of.

"So says the Tom who has never attended a Ball when he was not in the company of his sister. What authority do you have on the matter?" Cori's glare was now comparable to a depth that rivaled some ravines, and although it was beginning to make even Misto anxious, Cassandra still seemed to be un-phased.

"Anyhow. . . Mistoffelees." Her smile glittered in a disarming way as she pronounced the name. "Even though it doesn't surprise me that you don't have anyone in mind, I would like to remind you that Tantie here is as of yet unaccompanied herself. Perhaps, if you were to escort her, this stuffy brother of hers might begin to realize how terrible it is to be alone in a crowd. . ."

The mentioned "stuffy brother" was, by this point, completely exasperated by Cassie's childishness. "Really, of all the most half-witted matchmaking schemes. . ."

Hush, brother. Let her be. A single glance passed between the two twins, and Coricopat seemed critical of the amusement that was evident in his sister's eyes. Still, he trusted her judgment, and let go of the argument, although not without some trepidation. In the scheme of things, it was trivial, and perhaps he had allowed his personal feelings to get in the way and exacerbated the entire situation. However, his points were always ones of principle, and if there were one Queen determined enough to defeat all of them for defeat's sake, it was Cassie. She knew how to agitate him far too well.

Tantomile felt her brother's thoughts collapse inward, presumably to brood, and then chanced an appraising look at poor Mistoffelees, who was once again caught in the middle. Although Cassandra's suggestion was only aimed at flaring Cori's temper, she did consider it for a few moments, even knowing better otherwise. The magician was young, barely a year into adulthood, but already quite the adept at his field - and he was not un-handsome, either, even if he was more slight of frame and stature than most Toms his age. In other circumstances, the dark calico Queen might've taken her cohort's advice - but, she knew where Misto's interests lie, and they weren't with her. They were both out of luck.

A transitive silence stretched, and Tantie soon found herself in the company of the Abyssinian Queen, who was smirking contentedly. Their quartet was divided into neat pairs, now, moon nearly risen. A peculiarly secular thought slipped into her consciousness, and she kept it there, a smile of her own beckoning the corners of her mouth.

Ordinarily, I would demand an apology from you. . . But it seems you have once again bested me at my own game. Tantomile watched Cassandra's self-content deepen, and shook her head. You have known all along. That tongue of yours deceives.

Cassie chanced a look at the two Toms in her periphery, eyes hooded and scheming. Coricopat was, undoubtedly, still chuffed at how cheekily she had behaved towards him - his seriousness made him too tempting to rile. Mistoffelees still looked a bit confused, and lost, and she knew he was trying not to think of the Ball, now that she had reminded him of it. You may be able to read my mind, Tantie, but I can still keep many secrets from you.

I wonder what else I do not know, then. Tantie looked into the self-proclaimed Prophetess' eyes, and knew they were both seeing the same thing - even serious-dreaming, dark-coated, mysterious-powerful Queens could plot girlish schemes. Foggy dream vision to unravel or no, it was naive to think that that the Dark Queen spent all of her time skulking about, prophesizing miseries.

The Abyssinian Queen grinned. I am not at liberty to divulge all of my secrets, but I will say that it is rather unfortunate for two well-bred Toms in their prime to be pouting so.

I should have expected that no work would be done if I invited you. Tantomile's mind-voice sounded disapproving, but her eyes still smiled, and Cassandra knew that she would assist her.

If Coricopat and Mistoffelees thought they had problems to cope with now, they had not yet seen the half it.


~*~*~*~*~



Princesses, in all of the stories that Gus liked to tell, and that Jemima secretly enjoyed, were not supposed to be kept waiting. Instead, to prevent royalty from growing impatient, there were aptly named ladies-in-waiting who stood on their toes in a Princess’ stead. They were the ones who took care of all of the unpleasant things in a young ascender to the throne’s life while she sat alone in her turret, eating curds and whey and dreaming of the handsome young princes that may walk by and admire her long, luxurious fur, saving her from a life of unfulfilling luxury.

Jemima had neither the long fur or a turret - in fact, she wasn’t quite sure what a turret was, and her knowledge of Human fairy tales was poor, at best. Still, even though Jemima was a Princess, she, unlike her storybook counterparts, was waiting alone. Her handsome prince (who, although definitely handsome, was not really suited to rule any kingdom in the near future) was due to show any moment, though, and in the meantime, Jemi had tread into the realm of romantic metaphors to amuse herself. So far, however, she was beginning to run out of ones with happy endings, and having to resort to Cinderella this early in the night would be far too pessimistic.

The moon was bright, she was patient, and the Tugger was late. Jemima bore the White Queen's advice foremost in her mind, though, and would not let this lateness (or, more specifically, what this lateness could be explained by) bother her. In all fairness, he did not even know he was being expected - how could he possibly make an effort to be early?

As soon as the Curious Cat did appear, however (she had, of course, sniffed him out first), she was at a loss of anything clever to say - although, in this moment of panic, she remembered she could not recall that she had ever had a conversation with the Tugger that included very many clever sayings, so the lack thereof would probably not be noticed. Since when had he ever been beguiled by a female because of her witty, unconventional way of phrasing greetings, anyway?

The Tugger took several long, lanky strides through the fence, looking, as usual, to be in an extreme state of self-satisfaction. When he saw that his reception was limited to a single nervous-looking rust-black Princess, his eyebrows shot up in what was not immediately identifiable as surprise or pleasure, and was perhaps more accurately a little of both.

"Good evening, Tugger," she said in a voice that was painfully shy and deliberate, even to her ears. It was a malady that had often overtaken Etcetera, but she had not considered that she and the white tabby Princess would've had anything in common when it came to handling conversations with a Tom. Stranger things had happened recently, though.

"Well. . ." The Maine Coon said this appraisingly, and Jemima experienced the silent cousin of a stammer, if such a thing was possible. "You mean to tell me you're the only one left here, Jemi babe?" He circled her in a way that was uncomfortably predatory and yet curiously gratifying; he might've practiced it, in varying quantities of the two, until Queens reacted appropriately. It was scarier to think that he hadn't.

Jemima felt one side of her face slacken, like she was drunk, especially as his fur brushed her own. She would not let herself mewl; that would've been too embarrassing. "I guess everyone else has better things to do these nights. . ."

"But not you, right?" The Tugger was, by this time, standing so close that his ruff was beginning to tickle her nose. While this was not at all romantic, Jemima blushed anyhow, and managed to suppress her sneeze. She was quite sure, by now, even if she was really bad at this, that he was flirting with her - it should've come as no surprise, because she highly suspected the Tugger would've even flirted with a fencepost, if it seemed like the fencepost might be interested. Still, he had never flirted in quite this way with her, or any of the other Princesses, and it dawned on her that perhaps he was beginning to consider her as he might a Queen rather than a kitten. Her heart beat a little faster.

He saved her from answering the question by answering it himself, for which she was grateful - it had almost been rhetorical, and perhaps it was not good flirting etiquette to try and give responses to such things. Electra would've known what to do, she thought.

"They'll all just have to miss out on the fun then, won't they?" He grinned in a very easy, distinctly Tugger-ish way, and slipped an arm around the young Princess' shoulders, almost as if he were confiding in her. It gave her the odd impression that he believed the two of them to be old chums, of sorts, and while she didn't object to this assumption, she still found the casual familiarity that came along with this kind of flirting to be a little dazing (but not unwelcome).

Jemi declined to give an answer a second time, both for reasons of sheer verbal incapacity and the continued uncertainty of whether or not the Tugger's questions required an answer. The Queen who talks least will be the one loved most. . . A "proverb" she had heard discussed once. Not all proverbs were true, and more often than not, they all contradicted each other, but this one had struck Jemima as applicable, at least in situations such as these. (Especially when she could think of nothing but nonsense to say.) It wasn't as if she had never been flirted with before - Admetus had come on to her countless times, but somehow she was always able to politely demur him, however exceedingly persistent and increasingly thin his lines became (this had been a little amusing, actually, but she was able to laugh because Addy was shameless, and even took her entertainment as progress). Maybe this was because Addy was, and always had been, a fellow kitten, and a friend of a sort. . . The Tugger had never been either, and could not have possibly ever been mistaken as such.

"You're so tense." He said it cheerfully, obscenely cheerfully, and it mortified her at how offhandedly he could announce her nervousness while she took every measure to stifle it. It was the Tugger's slightly more sophisticated way of prancing about and saying, "You liiike me, you liiike me", although he probably wasn't above doing this, either.

"You never used to be tense around me, Jemi babe. What's the deal, eh?" The Tugger grinned down at her, in blithe anticipation of her answer - or rather, what she might try to say . He knew very well what the deal was. He just wanted her to admit to it.

'I suddenly seem to have found myself in love with you' didn't seem like a good response to give, so Jemima settled for something more vague. She felt only half there, anyway. "Things change."

The Tugger looked contemplative, and absently teased her head fur as he followed whatever train of thought had occurred to him. It was the second time he'd done this to her, and she wondered whether or not it was purposeful or compulsory. Against good reasoning, however, it relaxed her, this indirect act of physical intimacy, and she closed her eyes as his paw threaded through the strands; she was, for the first time that evening, finally able to remember why it was she had thought this was a good idea in the first place.

Feeling some of the tautness release itself from Jemima's muscles, the Curious Cat ruminated upon her. She was odd - only when he had not paid direct attention to her had she given in to any of his affections. He normally avoided thinking about the logistics of such things (hey, a purr was a purr was a purr, no matter how you got it), as doing so defied his credo, but Jemi was becoming both bamboozling and interesting, at the same time. Queens like Etcy were a dime a dozen (not to discredit the silly little minx), and the type he usually attracted (and, of course, couldn't turn away), but Queens like Jemi were rarer, unnerving. Most wanted nothing to do with him, or played games so intricate that the Tugger, in wanting to play along, generally became frustrated and lost patience with. He knew Jemi, though, and had all his life - she was easy enough to read, but it was damn near impossible to ever figure out what was going on in her head. It was disconcertingly alluring to hear some of the things that came out of her mouth being voiced by a wide-eyed, petite Princess, too. He could've never thought of any of them. At the same time, though (and this was the kicker), she seemed largely unaware of her brilliance, despite rigorous self-examination.

The Tugger hated riddles, but loved mysteries - and Jemima was a mystery if he ever saw one. Call it thrill of the chase, but all consequences weighed, he found himself committed to solving it. Whatever “solving” really entailed, as far as metaphors went.

"'Things change', huh?" He continued tousling her head fur, amused and pleased by the rust-black Princess' purr, which was now audible. "For good or for bad?"

"Mmm. . . Can't say yet." No Jellicle can resist a good petting, and Jemima was no exception to the rule - her earlier apprehensions forgotten, she allowed herself now to lean back into the Tugger's chest, for the moment uninhibited.

The Maine Coon's grin was now at its maximum dimensions - content had been achieved. This was why the Tugger loved Princesses. It didn't make him perverse, necessarily; he wasn't taking unfair advantage of the under-aged (what, you doubt his morality?). But, at what other age were females so trusting to let themselves melt against you like this? Exactly. As soon as you hit Queenhood, you got a title - and then, the Toms had to chase after you, and never usually the other way around.

Mid-rub, a perturbed alto voice shoved its way into the scene from above. "Someone should tell you that you're being awfully touchy-feely for a first date."

Both Tugger and Jemima jumped, collectively, the second the further of the two, although she only succeeded in painfully colliding with the spikes on Tugger's collar. They looked very much as if they'd been caught with their noses in the cream - although, really, why did either of them have to worry? Hadn't Jemima been seen purring against the Tugger a dozen times before? And what was so revelatory about him putting the charm on a hapless Queen or Princess? It had to have been that the both of them were so utterly unaware of another presence that the emergence of one had been a complete shock.

Whatever the speculative causes of their behavior, the effect was the same - the pair craned their necks and saw, a good altitude above them, a Scarlet Queen. She appeared to have been moonbathing on the Vicarage Wall, although her posture suggested that she had also been sunbathing a time before that, even. More shocking than the sight of Bombalurina in what was usually the position of their Leader was what she was wearing - atop her head, there rested a Human child's plastic tiara, slightly askew and at least two times too big for her. All either of them could do at first was stare, mouths agape.

Tugger recovered more quickly, which was unsurprising - once it came to him that Bomba had insulted him, he knew he couldn't leave the odds in her favor. "Is that jealousy I detect? Judging by that gaudy. . . thing on your head, you've gotten your paws into Lady Thief's stash. . . And we know what Bomby goes back to when she's been downgraded."

Surprisingly, the Scarlet Queen did not so much as growl - her anger had burned past the point of rage and into bitterness. "Funny you should talk about downgrading, Tugger. The way I see it, you're not quite out of the dumps yourself." She looked very pointedly at the Princess on the Maine Coon's arm, whose ears immediately flattened. It occurred to her that she should've felt more remorseful for making such a meanly implicative remark, as she was really on Jemima's side, but her mood did not particularly care about those who were affected by its swipes right then, however blameless.

"You're taking your anger out on Princesses now, Bomby? Poor form, poor form. . . And I'll have you know that Jemi is here because she wants to be." Whether it was for show or merely an instinctual reflex, the Tugger drew her closer. Jemima now felt unnervingly like some sort of prop; a mere physical extension of the Tugger and Bomba's argument. She thankfully was astute enough not to take Bomba's comment to heart, but she couldn't help but wonder if that was what was thought of her and the Tugger's association, in the back of everyone's mind. She took advantage of his physical generosity for the time being, though, curling further into him; and although this was embarrassingly soothing, it was not as if it would really shield her from the acid on the Scarlet Queen's tongue. Tugger made a better pillow than he did a shield; which was to say that you’d much rather lie with him than trust him with your safety.

"Did it not occur to you that I might prefer Rumpleteazer's company as well? Or, as you so charmingly refer to her, 'Lady Thief'?" Bombalurina adjusted her crown as she said this - the gesture was meant to be un-ironic, but as soon as Tugger saw it, he began to laugh.

He only spoke again after the last chuckle had subsided - Jemima was now looking up at him, blinking and slightly bewildered. “Oh, you like their company fine. . . I’m not saying you don’t. I just can’t help but notice that you didn’t seem to want to pay a friendly visit at all until Munkus took your friend as his Intended.” A smirk. “She’s a real winner, too - spied on me, and then told me how worthless and sneaky I was after she was caught. So, if it’s any point in your favor, I’d say the two of you have a lot in common.”

Tugger had (again, unsurprisingly) cut straight to the heart of the matter. It was what Bomba both loved and hated about him - he was unapologetic and unhesitating, never stopping to sugar-coat things (he probably didn‘t even have the vocabulary - ignorance is bliss). Sometimes it made him refreshing, and other times it made him a pain in the arse. Since he did not bother with the usual reparations he made for other Queens (after all, he was not trying to get Bomba into his den. . . or at least, hadn’t been for a few good years now), the words stung, especially since she knew they were true. Truth always hurt the worst. How had Tugger managed to cushion himself from the force of his own bluntness, she often wondered? It was a mystery for sure - having a Queen constantly at your side must’ve helped, though. In some ways, she could verify this.

Looking between the two of them, Jemima pieced things together. She hadn’t counted on being stuck in the middle of a tiff (especially a tiff between Tugger and Bomba, often synonymous with words like “escalate” and “violent”), but there were a lot of things that you didn’t count on in life that happened anyway. Falling in love with the Tugger was one good example. And, in the case of the Scarlet Queen, she suspected falling in love with the Guardian was another.

With sudden determination, she wordlessly slipped free of the Tugger’s hold on her (she did confess to at least a little regret at this, as the night was cold and he was warm), and made her way up a Human-made mountain of broken bottles and wheel spokes and bent, useless automotive parts. She hadn’t any concrete idea of what she was going to do, once she reached the top of the wall, but her conscience told her that she should do something. And, more importantly, it was distasteful to act as the sort of Queen who would ignore a friend in need just to gain favor with her current company - not that Jemima was close enough with Bomba to rightfully call her “friend”. Still, a common plight and gender does implore the growth of some feeling of kinship.

Bombalurina watched, with some detached sense of amusement, as Jemima scurried up to meet her. She wanted to laugh again - her sorrow must’ve seemed very oppressive, indeed, if it had tempted a Princess out of the Tugger’s clutches just to comfort her. What did Jemi think she was going to be able to say or do, especially with the most obnoxious excuse for a cat as an audience? She’d always considered the girl to have a fair amount more class than most her age, but there was still no way she could hope to offer an words of wisdom that Bomba wouldn’t have to scoff at. The fact that she’d given up what was usually a quite coveted position to offer kind words to a Queen that could be her mother was a little impressive, though. At the very least, Jemima represented some sort of moral conviction - could be a good thing in the Tugger’s case, although it made some interesting contrast with her apparent taste in Toms.

Jemima found her footing on the ledge, and crept over to Bomba in careful, measured strides. The Tugger stared at them both in disbelief - he looked a little less smug now that his bragging rights had dashed away to fraternize with the enemy. The rust-black Princess would berate herself later if this compulsory action of hers ended up killing the supposed mood, but at least she had taken a somewhat literal stand. Tugger, being himself, didn’t mean to be a prick, and Jemima was well aware, but she suspected that even what he considered to be all in a day’s fun wasn’t what the Scarlet Queen needed to put up with for the moment.

She looked at Bomba, eyes famously wide (but not dripping with a naive, overly moral-impressed sympathy, as she had expected). Jemima felt intimidated by the older Queen’s experience, her distinctly adult beauty, and almost hesitated to speak - but of course, one would not dismiss a kitten’s shyness. In this moment, however, she was not approaching Bombalurina as a “role model”, but as a fellow female, who is no stranger to the kinds of cruel things that Toms can do, even when they think they are on their best behavior.

In a voice that was remarkably resolute, she said to the Scarlet Queen, “Jennyanydots says that the best way to treat someone who can’t behave themselves is, simply, not to play with them any longer.” She paused. “So. . . I will sit here, until he behaves.”

There was a deliciously awestruck silence, on behalf of both older Jellicles present, and then Bomba began to laugh, hard, until she was gasping and tears were forming in the corners of her eyes. The Curious Cat’s expression went from utter perplexity to mild bereavement, although he couldn’t decide which Queen most deserved to be scowled at.

“Ooooooh, Cat, that is rich!” Bomba gasped back a few final giggles, shaking her head and clapping a paw on a very bewildered Jemima’s shoulder. “Jemi, I’m sorry to say this, but if you want this one to behave, you’re going to be sitting on this wall for an awfully long time.”

Tugger now looked undeniably perturbed, and perhaps a little pout-y at being the subject of not only Bombalurina’s jousting, but Jemima’s as well. “So I’m a troublemaker now, is that it?” he questioned flatly. “You didn’t seem to mind before Bomby here showed up. Queens in groups. . .” The last part of that sentence was muttered, but very audibly, and something about its further exemplification of the kitten metaphor Jemi had made beforehand sent the Scarlet Queen into more trills.

Jemima was beginning to think she had overstepped herself, however. Where had that sauciness come from, anyhow? It sounded more like something Electra would do to get a Tom’s attention - in other words, not her style at all. “I. . .-I’m. . .”

“Don’t whine, ickle Tugsy,” Bomba crooned, grinning cruelly. “You got snitched on, fair and square. And it’s about time, too!”

Tugger stared at her crossly, finding the persisting nursery age references not at all amusing. “Well, you sure cheer up quickly.”

Jemima was still floundering with an apology. “But. . . I didn’t mean. . .”

“Oh, for the love of the Heaviside, just get down there!” Again shaking with mirth, the Scarlet Queen gave the stuttering Princess a shove, but not unkindly - if that made any sense to anyone but Bomba at the time. Jemima squeaked and grappled with some sort of imaginary foothold before, of course, inevitably plummeting (although perhaps that is a strong word to describe a drop of only a few yards).

It was a moment of profound slow-motion time-stop that can only be preceded by the adjective phrase “one of those” - in which you knew, in some sickening, inevitable sense, just was about to happen, and that it could be bad. But only because this possibility existed was there any real panic, because the only true reason that any Queen gives more than a passing thought to a routine lapse of cat-like grace is if there might be someone there, for some indeterminable reason, to break it.

The fact the Tugger was nearly in target range as it was could be overlooked. The more important thing was, he caught her - effortlessly, like a feather, and all that jazz. It looked like the most honest example of fairy tale romance that had happened all night (a stone wall could pass for a feline turret), until the Tugger realized the unconscious genteel in the action - and, in a fashion significantly less charming, dropped her. Jemima was fine, of course, and would’ve been either way, except that she was considerably more shaken and confused now than ever before.

Tugger caught onto Bomba’s game, but too late, and he couldn’t undo what he had already done. Looking strangled for lack of adequate speech to express his despise of the Scarlet Queen and her evil, female schemes, he glowered to hilarious effect at the mastermind of his sabotage. Where had that impulse even come from? It was downright. . . chivalric.

Triumphant, and noticeably back to her old self, the Scarlet Queen swung herself off of the wall and landed perfectly, the comparison only adding to the combination of mortification and indignation Tugger was currently suffering from. As she slipped past him, she smirked.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that cats always land on their feet?”

While Tugger decided to greet this quip with more pouting (Jemima was making them all regress), Bomba addressed the fallen rust-black Princess directly, an unmistakably insinuative quirk to her eyebrow. "If that piece of work ever gives you any trouble, you're free to swing by my place any time."

Tugger scoffed. "Oh, please. You're corrupting the kittens now, too? When's a Tom going to get some slack?"

Bomba's grin didn't fade. "Everyone has to have a case of the breaks sometime, Tugsy. Figure out how to get out of yours!"

As she made her way over to the center of the Yard, regaining her famous Scarlet Queen sway, she left the pair with a last semi-prophetic utterance. "Jemi seems to have helped me. Maybe she can do the same for you."

Jemima, still lying where she had fallen, watched the Tugger's eyes follow Bombalurina until she was swallowed by shadow, brow furrowed. The Scarlet Queen had found her pluckiness admirable - this was another item that would've been gushed over at the nursery, where Queens were sometimes looked upon as celebrities. She didn't feel proud of herself, though, only more unsure of where she and the Tugger stood - not that a specific stance or status was required, as the acoustics of relationships were harder to pick out. Was he angry with her? Should she care? Hadn't she done the right thing? What was "the right thing"?

Before she could be overwhelmed by all of her unanswered questions, she heard Tugger chuckle once, shortly, and looked to see him duck his head. When he met her eyes again (she was, apparently, not forgotten or ignored), his features were cleansed of any resentment or annoyance. In fact, he looked casually amused, and as collected as he always seemed to appear - although she had just seen proof that this wasn't the case, despite what he would've liked you to believe. This mercurial shift of mood only abated some of the rust-black Princess' confusion, though. She did not really know him, beyond being Jemima, the Wide-Eyed Kitten, and he The Rum Tum Tugger, perpetually charming and self-sure. Was it another childish assumption to have said she was in love? Her feelings didn't feel that one-dimensional, however, basis aside.

She met his gaze, on edge for what he might say. And he did speak, not moments later, and her relief was again so strong that she could've hugged him, although that was something that she would never, ever do. Still,, the impulse was there.

"So, you think I'm a troublemaker. . . Do you plan on ratting me out to Jenny like you just did to Bomby, is that it? Do Princesses need ulterior motives to spend time with the Tugger now?" His tone was teasing.

"I didn't say that!" she insisted, earnest to absolve herself of ill-intent. Then, when she saw that Tugger was still looking at her with the same expression of amusement, she realized it wasn't necessary - she had already been forgiven, without an apology.

She started again, shifting her eyes. "I mean. . . it's in the song, right? I wouldn't be here if I disapproved." Her face heated up at this abnormally bald statement. "What I mean to say is, Bombalurina and I know this, and. . . I just thought that even troublemakers deserved a to be told when they were making too much trouble. . ." Why did her tongue keep running amok and allowing her to babble so? She sounded like a kitten again.

The Tugger just shook his head and grinned, though. "Jemi, you're the most adorable basket case I've ever met. Calling me on my bad behavior. . . cheeky, cheeky. Didn't they tell you that I'm incorrigible?"

Basket case? Was that some sort of pseudo-compliment? With the Tugger, anything was possible. "They might've, yes."

"Well, just as long as you don't get any notions about changing my ways. . ." He offered her a paw up, which she accepted semi-dazedly - and when she was upright, he leaned in close to her ear, and whispered.

"And so we're straight about things - I didn't mean to catch you, but I didn't mean to drop you, either." He rose to his full height again, carefree, all-purpose smirk intact. "Got it?" he asked aloud.

Jemima nodded. She was coming to the realization that these paradoxical confessions were the only acknowledgement she was going to get from him, and somehow, the fact that he felt obligated enough to give them to her was more than good enough.

"Good girl." He ruffled the fur between her ears, and draped the arm back around her shoulder. While this was intimate for Jemima, she also realized that this was the way in which Tugger dealt with things - without this impersonal, physical power over her, she would be different, and this uncertainty in dealing with a female would be overwhelming.

"So, have you eaten yet? Because if this is going to be a proper date, I can't let you starve. It's not classy, you know, even if I'm enough to feast your eyes upon."

Jemima allowed herself to smile, almost entirely comfortable. Somehow, the Tugger's over-confidence, when looked at in the right light, made his swagger and her nervousness seem like one and the same. "No, I haven't."

"Then allow me."

He gestured with one arm toward the hole in the fence, exaggeratingly gentlemanly. With a paw on the small of her back to guide her though, Jemima almost summoned the courage to smack him.

So, this was dustbin romance.

She looked to the Tugger, all smile, saunter, and cocked eyebrows. She could deal with it.


~*~*~*~*~

End of Part I
Click here for Part II




Previous Chapters:

1 || 2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6

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Comments {1}

The Island of the Fay

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from: atraphoenix
date: May. 21st, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)
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*squee* Definately worth the wait. This chapter realy made me smile, as well as doubling my excitment about the fact that I'm going to see Cats in a week XD Bombalurina was absolutely excellent.

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