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Catalyst

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Mistoffelees took a deep breath, trying to steady himself at the sight before him. Tugger’s vague insinuation that something had gone wrong had done nothing to prepare him for what was waiting for them inside Coricopat and Tantomile’s den.

The interior of the den was destroyed. The walls and floor were covered in deep scratches and burn marks, the decorations were thrown all over, and there was a noticeable scorch mark on one of the walls that looked like it had been put there by a bolt of electricity. The stench of ozone and sweat permeated the air, tinged with a stinging scent of distress and illness that burned the nose. There had been a fight, maybe several, leaving the victor unknown.

Tumblebrutus and Victoria were crouched in the corner together, eyes fixed on the opposite side of the space, both tense and waiting. The object of their attention was being held by a stoic Munkustrap, who was covered in scratches and remarkably disheveled. On either side of him were Tantomile and Coricopat. All three of them had their backs to Misto and Tugger as they entered the room.

“What happened?” Tugger asked.

Munk turned slightly. In his arms was a shivering Pouncival.

“You have returned.” Tantomile said, looking directly at Misto.

“I have.” Misto replied, doing his best not to flinch when everyone’s eyes turned to him.

Unexpectedly Tumble burst out of the corner in a fit of unrestrained anger, stopping just outside of arm’s reach and placing himself between them and his brother. Just like Munk he had several scratches across his face and chest.

“What do you want?” Tumble snarled. “Back to finish the job?”

“I’m so sorry Tumble, I didn’t mean for it to end up this way.” Misto held his ground.

“I won’t let you hurt him again, I won’t-”

“Tumble, he’s here to help.” Tugger stepped in between them. “Let him do this thing.”

“I don’t believe you, look what he did to Pounce, look at what he did!” Tumble gestured to his brother. “You did this to him. You turned him into some kind of- some kind of monster!”

“Tumblebrutus, you need to remain calm.” Coricopat’s voice was urgent. “We do not want a repeat of before.”

Pounce groaned and shifted in Munk’s arms, weakly trying to break out of the Jellicle Protector’s hold. Munk grimly held on until the smaller tom quieted. It was clear to see that while Pounce had been the source of the destruction around them he was in no shape to cause any more.

Tumble bitterly turned his back on the room and sat in the corner once again. It was Victoria’s turn to approach.

“It is you, isn’t it?” She asked, hesitantly reaching out.

“Yes.” Misto allowed himself to be pulled into a hug. “It’s me.”

“Thank Heaviside.” She whispered as she held him tightly. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I won’t, I promise.”

“I will hold you to that promise.” Victoria squeezed him again before pulling back to properly look him in the eye. “Are you… will you be able to help Pounce?”

Once more Misto was staring at the consequences of his actions. Pounce’s breathing was short and quick, eyes rolling around behind closed lids, a sheen of sweat breaking out on his forehead. The tom was sick and struggling. It was incredible that he had managed to hold on for so long.

It was incredible that he himself had held on for so long, Misto reflected as he drew closer with Tugger and Victoria on either side of him. Munk did not pull back but the hair on the back of his neck stood up and he held Pounce a little tighter. Both Tantomile and Coricopat sat back to give them space.

“Are you truly here to help?” Munk asked quietly. His eyes betrayed his exhaustion and fear.

Misto felt a bit of his heart break at such a question. It wasn’t a surprise considering the danger he had put everyone in but it hurt nonetheless. Munk was the Protector, it was in his nature to ensure everyone’s safety, and Misto had brought them all into danger. Now it was time to fix it.

“Yes. I made a mistake and I am sorry. I can fix this but you have to trust me.” Misto tried to sound confident. “I am the only one who can help him.”

“He is telling the truth.” Tantomile said gently.

“We can’t take much more of this.” Munk sighed, marginally relaxing his hold. “Pounce can’t take much more of this.”

“As soon as Tugger left he lost control again.” Coricopat said. “The magic is trying to escape. His mind is slipping away.”

“I can help him.” Misto said again, mainly to convince himself. His own magic called to him, drawing him closer, the instinct to reach out and wrench it from Pounce’s body growing stronger by the minute.

“You can do this.” Tugger was at his side. “I know you can.”

Misto sat down and looked Munk in the eyes once more. “I will save him.”

Munk remained silent, his breathing purposefully kept steady, but in his eyes was a glimmer of hope. Gently he leaned forward and laid Pounce down on the ground between them. Tugger hovered to the side, his presence adding a comfortable weight to the room.

Another deep breath. It was time. Misto closed his eyes and let himself be pulled in.

*****

Pain. It was so painful. Like an out of control fire the magic was spreading through Quaxo’s body, clawing its way through every fiber of his being, every cell, threatening to consume him and turn him into a being of pure, agonizing instinct.

There was only one thing to do to stop the spread, to stop the overwhelming power, and that was to lock it away until he could handle it. Just imagine a box. Imagine putting the pain, the power, the instinct to let go of all reservations and just be free, be wild, transcend into who he knew he was meant to be, take all of that forbidden desire and… and put it away.

How he had done it was still hazy. After all, no normal being could just take a part of themselves and banish it to the furthest corners of their mind. But Quaxo hadn’t been normal. Quaxo had managed to do it and bought himself some time to sort it out, although he hadn’t been able to keep the magic from coming back. It came as no surprise that there would be consequences later on, consequences that he now had to fix.

Consequences that shouldn’t have even happened in the first place if he had just been strong enough to handle his magic when it first manifested, how had he been so weak, it was pathetic really-

No.

Mistoffelees shook himself. There was no use reliving the past. What he had done to himself had been done, the consequences had happened, and now it was time to fix things. Pouncival wouldn’t have to live with part of himself locked away, not if he could help it.

All around him was magic. It was electric, wild, out of control, and it was all his own. Misto allowed the burning energy to settle within himself, only wincing a little when he felt it return to him. This was but a fraction of what Pounce had been feeling. Little by little he collected the magic until he could sense no more.

“Pounce?” He called into the surrounding darkness. Silence.

Physical magic came easily to him. The mental variety did not. It took all of his focus to remain in the present moment instead of getting whisked away into parts unknown. Even though he didn’t have a physical body he still felt a chill go through his fur.

Pounce’s condition was a product of Misto’s own magic, that was certain, but in an unfamiliar host his powers had grown into something malevolent, something that neither of them could control. It was a minor miracle he had been able to collect it back at all. The absence of magic in Pounce’s body had left a noticeable hole in his mind, a void that threatened to consume anything that drew too close.

Once again Misto was standing at the edge of that void. This time, however, it was not himself he was trying to save.

He pressed on.

*****

Cold. It was so cold. But being cold meant being numb and being numb was better than the burning inferno that his body had become. So long as he didn’t have to go back to that he’d be fine being a popsicle.

Pounce shivered. He sure missed his body though. And his voice. And his… everything. He wasn’t even sure what he was anymore. It was just whatever was left of himself and the void at his nonexistent feet.

The void was getting closer though and that was kind of a problem.

Pounce wasn’t sure what exactly the void was but it didn’t feel good to be near it and falling into it probably wasn’t a good thing to do. Already he was slipping and he had done his best not to move, not since that… whatever it was tried to pull him under. The thing had grabbed him by the metaphorical ankles, thrown him headfirst into the void without much preamble, and it took all of his strength to pull himself back out.

It had not been a pleasant experience. Whatever had briefly pulled him back into that hellscape wouldn’t get him again, no sir, he wasn’t going to let anything put him in that much pain again so long as he could help it. If he had to stay alone in the dark for forever he would.

Sure was lonely though. For some reason he thought that death would be more… comforting. Maybe he should have paid more attention when Munkustrap was talking about the Heaviside Layer. Although did cats really die when they went there? What was Old Deut doing when he chose someone once a year to go up, up, up past whatever hotel they sang about? Was he choosing someone to die?

Yeah, Pounce definitely should have paid more attention. Too late now, he was stuck here and couldn’t figure out a way to come back without his mind exploding.

“This sucks.” Oh hey, his voice was back. At least that was something. Too bad he had nobody to talk to.

“Pounce?” A voice called across the void.

Wait, he wasn’t alone. A glittery, sparkly, intensely bright being was sitting next to him. Somehow Pounce’s nonexistent eyeballs burned at the sight.

“Pounce.” The being said again, voice ringing in his ears.

“Too loud!” Pounce yelled. “Too bright!”

“Sorry.” Immediately the being dimmed, revealing a familiar but somewhat different face. The features were all the same but there was something not quite right. Did he get a haircut?

“Oh hey, Quaxo, didn’t know you were here too.” Pounce squinted. “Wait, you’re not- who are you?”

“I am Quaxo. Well, I was. My name is Mistoffelees now.”

“Huh.” Yeah, that didn’t make any sense. “You’re called Mistof… Misty… Misto now?”

“Mistoffelees, but Misto is fine. You don’t have to understand. I hardly do myself.” Misto sighed. “It has to do with me realizing my full magical potential, and with such power I have been granted a new name-”

“Okay, I appreciate your explanation, but my mind’s real tired.” It took a lot of energy to keep from slipping back into the painful void at his feet. Too much energy. Why did he have to work so hard at being dead?

“I know. I know you’re tired.” Misto said sympathetically. “You’ve done an amazing job at keeping yourself safe from my magic, but you don’t have to do it anymore. I’m here to help you come back.”

“No thanks. Been there, done that. It hurts too much.”

“It won’t hurt you anymore, I promise.”

“Thanks Qu- Misto, but I don’t really believe that.”

“I don’t blame you.” Misto looked terribly sad, sad enough for Pounce to feel bad about it.

Pounce rolled his metaphorical eyes. Great, even when he was dead he could still hurt his friend’s feelings. This place sucked.

“Tumble misses you.” Misto said. “He wants you to come back.”

“Well duh, I’d miss me too.” The words struck a chord in him though. “Did he say he was gonna kill me for being dead?”

“Uh, no he did not.” Misto stared at him. “Also you’re not dead.”

“Huh. That’s a surprise.” Pounce mulled over his options.

Either stay in the numbing dark and eventually fall into that void that kept grabbing at his ankles or take a risk and follow Misto back home, where Tumble may or may not kill him. Kind of seemed like a no brainer once he took a minute to think about it.

Might as well take the risk. Not like he had anything better to do here anyways. He was tired of being cold and dead… or not dead. Whatever he was he was tired of it.

“Okay, fine, I’ll do it. Lead the way.” Pounce said. “Just, uh, don’t blow me up like last time.”

“I promise I won’t.” Misto reached out and touched him.

The world faded to white.

*****

It took a minute for Misto to find his way back to himself, and when he did he was instantly overwhelmed with the sensation of having a body once more. Immediately Tugger was at his side to hold him steady.

“You okay there Sparkles?” Tugger murmured in his ear.

“Don’t call me that.” Misto muttered, receiving a chuckle for his efforts.

Slowly the world became a little less sharp and a little more manageable. The room came into focus, his ears stopped ringing, and he was able to relax into Tugger’s comforting hold.

“Pounce?” Tumble’s voice came from his left. The tom had situated himself at Pounce’s feet and was watching anxiously.

“Hold on.” Munk murmured, bending in close to study their patient. Around him everyone held their breath.

Misto felt Tugger’s arms tighten around him. What if it hadn’t worked? What if he hadn’t managed to pull Pounce back from the void? What if there was still foreign magic burning within him, threatening to incinerate what was left of his mind?

Munk pulled back with a sigh. “He’s still breathing and seems more comfortable.”

“That’s it?” Tumble asked. “That’s all you can say? He’s still the same as before!”

“No, he isn’t.” Munk replied. “He’s no longer trying to attack us-”

“That’s not good enough!” Tumble slapped Pounce’s foot. “You’re not gonna spend the rest of your life asleep you- you-”

“Tumble, don’t hit him.” Automatically Munk moved to restrain him.

“If that’s what it takes then I’m gonna-” Tumble’s threat was interrupted by a screech of fear.

“Don’t kill me Tumble, I wasn’t dead!” Pounce screamed, sitting up with enough force to send sweat flying off his forehead. “I wasn’t dead, I swear!”

“What the hell, why would I kill you?” Tumble wiped the flung sweat off of himself. “Also gross.”

“Hey, I was infirmed, give me a break.” Pounce swayed a little, eyes roving the room.

Everybody but Misto returned his look of surprise.

“You don’t even know what that means.” Nevertheless Tumble tackled his brother into a hug. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I dunno what I did. But I feel terrible.” Pounce slumped forward into his arms. “’m gonna take a nap.”

“Wait, don’t-” It was too late. Pounce was already snoring.

“At least he is sleeping now.” Coricopat gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder. “I doubt that he could snore that loud if he was still distressed.”

“Is he truly alright?” Munk asked, looking between the psychic and Misto.

Both Tantomile and Coricopat sat around Tumble, who was unwilling to let go of his brother. Coricopat closed his eyes and went still.

“I did all that I could.” Misto said. Tantomile gave him a comforting smile.

“Pouncival is well.” Coricopat opened his eyes again. “It may take some time for his body to recover from the trauma but his mind is sound.”

“Or as sound as it ever was.” Tumble muttered, shifting Pounce’s dead weight into a more comfortable hold.

“I am glad to hear that.” Munk indeed looked more relieved at the news. “I will go talk with Jenny and see if she’s willing to take him in until he’s recovered.”

“Not without me.” Tumble said.

“Of course not.” Munk assured him. “But first I believe we are all owed an explanation. Quaxo?”

Once more everyone’s eyes turned to Misto. Once more he was on edge. Once more Tugger was beside him and giving him the confidence he needed.

“His name isn’t Quaxo anymore.” Tugger said.

“What?” Victoria, who had remained silent throughout the whole series of events, asked.

“I’m still me.” Misto insisted. “Just… a different name.”

“Now that you have fully realized your magical potential you have also realized your true self.” Tantomile suggested. “As well as your true name.”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” Victoria was doing her best to understand. “Then… then what do we call you?”

“Mistoffelees.” Each time he spoke his name it felt more and more like his own and not some foreign presence in his ears. “My name is Mistoffelees.”

*****

“My name is Mistoffelees.” The cat in his arms declared, sounding much more confident in himself than he had moments before.

Tugger felt the cat in question gently shift around until he was more comfortable. Just how long Tugger planned to hold him was uncertain, but he knew that right now he needed to be at Misto’s side. Things were finally turning around and he wasn’t going to let an opportunity to hold Misto slip away.

Misto was busy explaining what had happened to his enraptured audience. Honestly Tugger was having trouble concentrating seeing as he had experienced most of the wilder events of the night and was now ready for some peace and quiet.

Everyone else listened attentively to the tale, from Misto admitting that he had tried to banish his magic only to have it come back with increasing intensity, to his desperate attempt to bond with Pounce to manage the overwhelming power.

“That obviously didn’t work.” Tumble muttered. Pounce had shifted back to the floor and was using his brother’s leg as a pillow. Occasionally his snores punctuated Misto’s story.

“No, it didn’t.” Misto said apologetically. “It was never my intention to harm Pounce.”

“I know.” Tumble sighed. “I know you didn’t mean to.”

“If you couldn’t bond with Pounce then who did you bond with?” Munk asked.

Victoria giggled. Tugger increased his hold around Misto’s shoulders.

“I, well… I don’t quite know the reason why.” Misto almost sounded smug. “But it seems that Tugger was who I needed.”

“Oh.” Munk once again was keeping himself remarkably composed but Tugger recognized the slightly strained look in his eyes. “That’s... great.”

“Yeah, I’m glad I could help.” Tugger flashed his brother a dazzling smile.

“I imagine you are.” Munk muttered. “So thanks to… thanks to Tugger you were able to unlock your magic and return it to yourself without harm?”

“There was a little struggle but yes.” Misto replied. “Tugger helped me settle and discover my true name.”

Predictably all eyes turned to Tugger, who simply shrugged.

“I’m just that good I guess.” His statement prompted Munk to roll his eyes.

“The two of you share a significant bond with one another.” Coricopat observed.

“Sure, that works too.” Tugger shrugged again. “I don’t know how it works but you know, I’m not really complaining.”

“I can see that by how you’re practically wrapped around him.” Munk was starting to drop the carefully crafted composure.

Thankfully Misto took over the conversation once more. “As I said before, I don’t quite know the reason why, but Tugger was able to handle my magic long enough for me to… er, sort it out in my head. Without him I don’t think I could handle it. I could only imagine what I would have turned into had I lost complete control.”

Everyone looked at Pounce, no doubt imagining Misto in such a state. Tugger shook himself and banished the thought. No use worrying about what could have been.

“So what happened with Pounce?” Victoria asked. “Why did he wake up like he did?”

“You mean as a monster.” Tumble muttered.

“That, I’m afraid, I don’t have an answer for.” Misto admitted. “But when I first tried to bond with Pounce I accidentally gave him some of my magic. I have the impression that when I was first trying to reclaim that magic on my own it had an unexpected effect on Pounce’s mind.”

That was an uncomfortable thought. Thankfully that train of thought was derailed by Pounce letting out a very loud snort and opening his eyes.

“Huh?” Blearily he rubbed at his eyes. “What’d I do?”

“We’re talking about your brain.” Tumble told him. “And wondering why you went nuts.”

“Why I did what?” Pounce shakily pushed himself up until he was sitting upright and leaning heavily against his brother.

“Nevermind.” Tumble huffed. “Just try not to fall asleep again.”

“No promises.” Pounce muttered. “My head’s all fuzzy.”

Tugger exchanged a look with Munk, who was giving Pounce a very careful side eye. So far as either of them could tell the tom was back to his usual self.

“That would be a side effect of the magic that was once within you.” Tantomile told him.

“Yeah, sure.” Pounce rested his head on Tumble’s shoulder. “Dunno what that means but sure.”

“What do you remember?” Misto asked.

“Dunno. Gets real fuzzy after… after….” Pounce’s face screwed up in concentration. “After you asked for me to help you dance. Then it was raining. Um, then something something and then I was dead. Or I wasn’t. Misto woke me up and now I’m here.”

“I am so sorry Pounce.” Misto apologized again. Tugger could feel him trembling with barely restrained regret. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.” Pounce lazily waved a paw. “Didn’t think you were the ‘blow up your friends’ type. Also you brought me back so Tumble wouldn’t have to kill me for being dead.”

“Again, I wasn’t going to kill you.” Tumble sighed.

“Whatever. Thanks anyways for bringing me back Misto, I knew you could do it.” That was the end of Pounce’s contribution to the conversation. Without much preamble he slumped forward again. This time Munk caught him and picked him up before he could hit the ground.

“I believe that it’s time to go to Jenny’s.” Munk said. Tumble hovered nearby. “Are you going to be alright?”

The question was directed mainly towards Misto. Tugger could tell that his brother was no longer wary of the magician but merely concerned.

“Yes, I will be.” Misto replied. Both Coricopat and Tantomile nodded in agreement.

“Very well. I will be back to check on you later.” Munk gave Tugger one last glance before heading out. It was a look that promised a conversation in the near future.

“Can’t wait for that talk.” Tugger muttered to himself.

“It will not be as terrible as you think.” Tantomile assured him.

“What, you can tell the future now?”

“No.” Tamtomile flicked him with her tail. “I can see that while he might a little….”

“Confused.” Coricopat supplied.

“Yes, confused, he only wants what is best for you, and if that includes you being bonded with Mistoffelees, then so be it.”

“Yeah, so about that.” Guess now was a good a time as any to start asking questions about that subject. “What does ‘bonded’ mean exactly? Are we… you know, mates now?”

Misto stiffened in his arms and none too subtly shifted away, not far enough to break completely out of Tugger’s hold but enough that he wasn’t practically sitting in his lap anymore. Victoria did nothing to help her brother’s embarrassment.

“Oh, if you’re going to be talking about that, maybe I should go.” She made a big show of dusting herself off and slowly walking towards the exit.

“Wait!” Misto surged to his feet and followed her out, leaving Tugger with two very amused psychic cats.

“Okay, just to make this conversation quick I have no idea what’s going on with me and Misto, but I’m not about to just ditch him and leave him to his own devices.” Tugger said.

“We know you love him.” Coricopat’s tone was as blasé as if he were discussing the weather.

“That’s a bit of a strong word.” The implications weren’t as daunting as they should have been. Life altering magic and dangerous situations aside, he had to admit that the attraction he held towards Misto wasn’t unfounded.

Tantomile merely smiled at him in that knowing way of hers.

“Right, so maybe there’s something going on and I’m not upset about it” Tugger admitted. “That I can work with and understand. What I don’t understand is why I was the one that had to be the… the whatever it’s called.”

“Catalyst.” Coricopat said.

“Sure.”

“Magic is not something that can be easily understood or explained.” Tantomile said. “There are many facets that are tied into emotions, instincts, conscious and unconscious thought. It takes many forms.”

“If you have the time we can explain the basic principles to you.” Coricopat offered.

“How long would that take?” Tugger asked.

“A week.”

“No thanks. How about you just tell me about my part in all of this?”

“Very well.” Coricopat shared a glance with Tantomile before continuing. “The power that Mistoffelees possesses manifested when he was too young and inexperienced to handle it, leading him to lock it away until he was ready to access it again. However, as we have witnessed, it grew beyond his control.”

“Yeah, that I get.”

“As a result of his power growing beyond his control he needed an outside influence to help mitigate the integration.”

“He needed someone to help him figure out how to get his powers back without exploding?” Tugger suggested.

“Yes.” Tantomile let out a tiny laugh. “And you were the ideal candidate to help with his transformation. You helped him realize that he was not fighting an outside magical influence but merely himself.”

“But why me?”

Both psychic cats stared at him. It was a truly unnerving sight.

“Look, guys, it’s been a long night.” He didn’t feel like his brain was being scanned but it was invasive all the same.

“To achieve such a bond, to be able to transfer magical energy through one being and into another, takes a great amount of trust.” Tantomile said. “It does not work with a being that you do not ultimately entrust your very soul to.”

“So that’s why it didn’t work with Pounce?” Tugger asked.

“Perhaps. It could also have been because Pounce did not understand the gravity of the situation.”

“But I did.”

“You knew what was at stake, yes.”

“I mean, anyone could have figured that one out.”

Again with the silent stares. Tugger was beginning to feel that he was having this conversation with the wrong cats.

“You are.” Coricopat confirmed.

“Okay, you know what, I think I’m going to go find Misto.” Tugger stood. “Uh, sorry about your den. Did Pounce do all of this? Or whatever he was?”

“Yes. It was unfortunate but we were looking to move anyways.” Tantomile gave a graceful shrug.

Well that was one way to look at it. Without a second thought (intentionally so, since he was tired of the twins answering his unspoken thoughts before he could ask them) Tugger stepped outside.

Misto and Victoria were nowhere to be seen. Feeling slightly put out that the magician didn’t wait around for him Tugger slowly made his way back to his own den, taking his time to enjoy some peace and quiet under the starry sky. It was rare that he found a moment to himself, what with him being the most popular tom in the junkyard, but now… now he just wanted some time alone.

Unless Misto decided to show up. The thought of finally being alone with the tom without some sort of crisis or impending danger over their heads was a welcome one. He would love to get some time to actually talk to Misto without wondering if he was being overtaken by magic in the middle of it.

Love. Did he love Mistoffelees? The thought wasn’t as foreign as it had been before. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more it felt… right.

“Love’s a bit of a strong word.” Tugger muttered to himself as he navigated the scorch marks and mud outside his home.

“It is.” Munkustrap was waiting for him outside of his den. “But it’s true, isn’t it?”

“Hi Munk.” Tugger didn’t have enough energy left in him to be contrary. “Here to talk to me about my terrible choices?”

“No. Unless you’ve made some recently that I’m not aware of.” The two of them sat down to look at the destruction Misto’s magic had caused. “I came here to make sure that you were alright. Also to offer you a place to stay until you can find a new home.”

“Right. I’m going to need a new home after this.” Just add that to the pile of things to think about later. “Guess it was time for a change anyways.”

“You’re being awfully calm about all of this.”

“Well, what else can I do?”

“You can always talk to me.”

“I know, Munk, just… I don’t know what’s going on.” Tugger shrugged.

“Tell me about it. Have you talked to Mistoffelees yet?”

“I just got here, so no.”

“Well… I just want you to know that I… I support you two however you may-”

“Okay, just stop.” Tugger halfheartedly shoved him. “I appreciate your blessing but there’s nothing to bless. Also you’re starting to sound like dad and you shouldn’t.”

“Right.” Munk coughed. “Just be careful. Both of you. I don’t fully understand the nature of your bond but I… I trust you to find a way to work it out.”

“That really took a lot out of you to say that, didn’t it?” Tugger gave him a smug smile.

“Yes, it did. It’s been a long night.” Munk made an exaggerated show of slumping his shoulders and splaying his legs out in front of him.

“How’s Pounce?”

“He’ll recover. Jenny’s got him sleeping in a proper bed and Tumble’s watching over him. It doesn’t look like he’ll have any long lasting effects from the magic.”

“Good.” Tugger could feel the next question coming and braced himself for it.

“How did you survive it?” Munk’s question was quiet. “How did you not end up like Pounce?”

Tugger’s mind flashed back to the moment Misto’s magic flowed into him. It had hurt, had been just short of agonizing, but then it changed into a manageable warmth that he had been reluctant to let go of. Clearly that had been Misto’s doing, but why had it happened that way?

“I guess I was just the right guy for the job.” Tugger finally said.

“I guess you were.” Munk sighed. “When you ran off after him I wanted to follow but had to… deal with Pounce. Or whatever that was. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you.”

“I don’t think it would have worked if you tried, but thanks.”

Both sat together and stared up at the stars for a while. Eventually Munk stood.

“Do you want to stay at my place tonight?”

“No thanks. I’ll find somewhere to crash. Bomba’ll take me in.”

“Very well.” Munk gave him a rare hug before heading to his own home.

Once again Tugger was left alone under the stars. This time it did not take long before he was joined by the very tom he didn’t realize he had been waiting for.

“You came back.” Tugger said as Mistoffelees settled down next to him.

“I did.”

“Welcome back.”

“I tried to come find you earlier but Vicki wouldn’t let me go. She seems to think that I’m about to disappear for good.”

“Are you?”

Misto looked down at himself. His fur still faintly shimmered in the moonlight.

“I don’t believe so.” He finally said.

“Good. I’d be a bit upset if you did after all the trouble we went through.” Tugger shifted back until he was more comfortable.

“Tugger, I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing you need to apologize for-”

“No, I do. I… I haven’t been very forward with you lately and I need to tell you the truth.”

“The truth?” Tugger did his best to appear nonchalant but his mind immediately went to every unwanted scenario he could think of.

Was he about to say that he only used Tugger for the bond and didn’t want to see him anymore?

Was he mad at Tugger for the kiss? That one was hard to believe since Misto had clearly wanted more in the moment, but had the moment passed?

Belatedly Tugger realized that despite the danger, despite the mystery, despite the confusion and hurt and overwhelming desire to know what the hell was going on, not to mention all the fear, part of him had enjoyed spending time with Mistoffelees.

Even now, at the very edge of what might be a terribly revealing conversation, he was still happy to be having one at all. The thought of not speaking to him again was a horrible one.

Was this goodbye?

“Misto, I-”

“I love you.” Misto’s words were plainly spoken yet steamrolled right over Tugger’s thoughts.

“What?”

“I love you, Tugger. I always have. Since I first saw you I haven’t been able to put you out of my mind, no matter how much I want to at times.” Misto continued, completely oblivious to Tugger’s shock. “I suppose that was obvious since… well, since I kissed you, but I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner. I was just-”

“Hold on, I kissed you.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did. I remember that clearly.”

“You remember the kiss but you don’t remember the rest of what happened.”

“No, I remember all the other stuff too.” Tugger stared at him. “Did you just say you’ve loved me at first sight?”

Misto sighed. “Maybe I should have saved this for later when we were both more coherent.”

“No, we need to talk about this now.” Never had he felt more present and alive than at this moment. “You love me?”

“I do.”

“But you act like you can’t stand me.”

“I….” Misto looked embarrassed. “It’s difficult for me to just go out there and proclaim my feelings to the world like you do.”

“I am taking that as a compliment.” During the conversation he had edged closer to the cat. “So you’re saying that all those times you acted like you wanted nothing to do with me you actually wanted-”

“The opposite, yes.” Misto’s face was turning red. “But you have to understand, with my magic trying to… to take over I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to try and do something about my feelings for you.”

“Uh huh.” Tugger thought back to the way Misto had acted when he had slipped, the way that ‘Sparkles’ had acted very interested in him, especially when they were together in his bed. Suddenly things were clicking into place.

“So.” Misto fidgeted a little and rubbed his ears. “Do you….” His words trailed off into a mumble.

“Do I what?”

“I understand if you don’t, after all I just kind of threw you into this whole ‘magical bonding’ thing without explaining it.” Misto stared up at the moon. “It’s a lot to take in, but we don’t have to be mates or even be in a relationship, I know how you are, I don’t want to tie you down to me-”

“Mistoffelees.” The name was enough to snap the cat out of his rant. “If you want an answer you need to ask a question.”

“Oh. Yes.” Once more Misto rubbed at his ears and fidgeted. “Do you… do you feel the same way?”

“Do I love you?” Tugger asked.

“Yes.” Misto whispered.

Now was the moment. Under the moonlight, in the silence after the storm, it was just the two of them and the universe above. Never had Tugger been in a moment like this. He hoped it would never end.

“I love you.” Once more to punctuate the statement Tugger pulled Misto in for a kiss

This time Tugger made sure that he was the one initiating it. Just in case Misto tried to claim that he had made the first move. Again. Already he could see many happy arguments in their future. Tugger didn’t mind so long as they could thoroughly enjoy making up afterwards.

“Well.” Misto gasped once they broke apart for air. “I guess… I guess this is happening.”

“Never thought you’d end up with me, did you?” Tugger couldn’t help but feel a little proud of himself. Misto’s eyes were slightly glazed over.

“You are going to be insufferable.”

“Yes, but you already said you loved me.”

“I did.” Misto laughed. “And I’ll say it again.”

“When?”

“When you’ve earned it.”

“I believe I have done plenty tonight to earn it.” It was meant as a joke but Misto’s smile faltered.

“I… I’m sorry-”

“Stop.” Tugger put his arms around the tom. “You did what you needed to do, and I had plenty of opportunities to back out if I wanted to. I don’t know if I believe in destiny but I’m not complaining about the way things turned out.”

Misto buried his face in Tugger’s mane, voice muffled through the fur. “Me neither. But….”

“But what?”

“Sorry for blowing up your den.” The words came out as a pitiful mumble.

Tugger couldn’t help it. He laughed.

“What?” Misto raised his head and looked up at him, eyes reflecting the stars above.

There was no stopping the absurdity of the situation. They had just been through hell and back, Pounce had nearly died, Misto had magically lost his mind, Tugger had helped him transcend the mental and physical boundaries of reality and magic, they were arguing about their first kiss, confessing their love, and now the phrase ‘blowing up your den’ was what finally set him off.

“I- I can’t-” Tugger wheezed. He definitely needed to sleep, probably for a year.

“Are you making fun of me?” Misto sat back. “I’m serious, I blew it up-”

“Stop saying it like that!” Tugger took several deep breaths to compose himself. “And no, you didn’t. It’s trashed but I can fix it.”

“What about tonight?”

“Tonight?”

“Would you like to stay with me?”

After everything that had happened this was what made Tugger feel butterflies. Not that he was going to show it.

“Well, Sparkles, if you insist.” He said, giving Misto a winning smile. “Don’t even have to take me out for dinner first.”

As expected Misto rolled his eyes. How he managed to roll them and still looked beautiful was truly a mystery.

“Let’s go home.”

******

“So I was thinking-”

“Here we go again.” Misto closed his eyes and settled back against Tugger’s side, flicking his ears as they were buried in his fluffy mane.

He had barely woken up an hour ago and already he wished he could go back to bed. Of course he couldn’t, not when Tugger had dragged him outside into the middle of the junkyard and made them both comfortable in a convenient sunbeam. It’d be more inconvenient to get up, walk back to their den, and try and go to sleep in an empty bed.

They had been living together for maybe a week and every morning had started the same. Truly he was happy to be with Tugger, he really was, but the amount of nonsensical notions that the curious cat had were truly staggering. Every morning he was ready to fire off another round of ideas that made absolutely no sense. Where did they all come from?

“I was thinking, my beloved, that you need a song.” Tugger continued.

Misto allowed himself to melt a little at the pet name before realizing what Tugger was implying. “A song?”

“Yes. You can’t just go around telling people that you’re Mistoffelees now. You need to come in with a real punch, let them know that you mean business.”

“But I’m not telling anyone yet.” Misto pointed out.

It had been silently agreed upon by all involved that until Misto made a formal announcement that he’d still mainly go by Quaxo. Why he hadn’t officially told the rest of the tribe about his transformation wasn’t entirely clear to him, but it didn’t feel like the right time. Something told him to wait.

“I know, which is why we need to get you a song.”

“And where am I going to get that?”

“I’m sure someone will come up with one.” Tugger grinned.

“Hmm, I can only imagine who that will be.” Misto sighed. “Just… don’t have it involve as much pelvic thrusting as yours does.”

“Excuse me, Sparkles, but I happen to recall that a certain someone very much appreciates my pelvic thrusting. In fact, I also recall that a certain someone can do some impressive thrusting of their own-”

Misto silenced him with a tiny zap of electricity. While he wasn’t quite up to summoning actual lightning bolts yet he was at least capable of small feats.

“Ow! That’s not fair.”

“It isn’t.” Misto admitted. “But it does work.”

“Yeah, well, some day it won’t.” Tugger grumbled. “Also you owe me an apology. Here I am trying to write a new song and all you do is turn it down.”

“I am not turning it down. I’m just providing my opinion. Since it is about me and all, I think I should have one.”

“It’s going to be a surprise.” Tugger insisted. “For everyone.”

“Including you?”

“Probably.”

Misto rolled his eyes and settled down again. Tugger slung an arm around him and idly played with the white fur on his chest. The motions were enough to lull him into a comfortable doze.

“Hey! Misto!” Pounce’s voice broke through the moment. “Oh hey, Tugger, good to see you too. Misto!”

The tabby tom was back on his feet and just as energetic as ever after a couple of days of rest. Munk had tried to persuade him to take it easy but that was about as effective as everyone had expected.

“Hi Pounce.” Misto greeted him. “Feeling better?”

“Oh yeah. Actually, I was wondering if you wanted to, uh, actually teach me to dance some more.” Pounce shuffled his feet a little. “I know you don’t need me for that magical understudying stuff, but I think I was actually learning something.”

“What a world we live in.” Tugger said, completely deadpan. Misto gently shoved him.

“I would be honored to be your teacher again.” He said as he stood. “That is, if you don’t mind being our audience?”

Tugger looked at him as if he was given a great gift. Quickly he composed himself.

“I guess I wouldn’t mind watching you for a bit.” He said with a wink. “I’ll try not to give you a headache this time.”

Misto laughed and rolled his eyes towards the sky. The skies were clear. It was going to be a good day.