Once again he was in the storm. A storm that, inherently, he knew he was the cause of. A terrible rainstorm of magnificent proportions, called forth from his own inclinations, a storm that threatened to consume not only him but everything around him. Lightning crashed down all around, each bolt blasting a permanent scar into the earth. It was too much to contain, too much to control, and too much to begin to reign in.
So he didn’t. He threw caution to the wind and let the magical energy flow through him, igniting every fiber of his being with a wild electricity that made him feel so alive, so free, so himself. He danced freely between the raindrops, fur alight with the white hot magic running along his skin. This was how he was meant to be. No more hiding what he was. No more restraint. Now it was just the magic and the storm and himself. And it was electrifying.
A very familiar face was watching him through it all, careful to stay out of harm’s way but brave enough to stand in the potential line of fire. The cat’s very presence was enough to curb the literal storm around them, offering a loving shelter among the chaos.
Hungrily he reached for it. This was all he wanted, all he craved, and without a second’s thought he was in his lover’s arms. This is where he belonged, their bodies pressed up against one another, holding each other so tightly it was impossible to tell where one being ended and the other began, he was losing himself, losing his hold on the electric emotions that surged between them, there was no-
“Mistoffelees.” A voice purred in his ear, soothing the wild magic and sending a calming tingle through his burning limbs. “I’m here.”
It was too much. He opened his eyes.
Back to reality. Back to consciousness and reluctant wakefulness. The dream, since it was always just a dream and nothing more, faded away, leaving him to stare at the small interior of his den. Compared to the electric, magical world of his dreams this was a cold, boring reality. But it was real. And he was alone.
With a great deal of effort he managed to center himself, mind edging away from the restless energy rolling around inside him. Every time he had the dream he found it more difficult to bring his mind back to the present, to push the excitement down, and with a degree of regret he was beginning to realize that some day he wouldn’t be able to resist what his dreams were offering him.
Someday he was going to wake up and not be Quaxo anymore.
Today was not that day, however, and with considerable determination Quaxo put on a smile and stepped out to face whatever the day had in store for him, trying to ignore the aching in his head.
It was a little known fact that the Rum Tum Tugger was quite skilled at going unnoticed when he wanted to be. Stealth was not something anyone would normally associate with Tugger on the account that he was routinely one of the most noticeable cats in the tribe, but, on the rare occasion, Tugger could exhibit an ability to hide that would even baffle the most observant of cats.
It had something to do with everyone expecting him to always command attention, so if he wasn’t commanding the attention then it was assumed that he simply wasn’t in the area. It was amazing how the various hues of his fur could blend in with the surrounding junkyard when people weren’t expecting him to be there. And, despite his inclination to be wild, loud and commanding, he could be silent when necessary.
Munkustrap was one of the few cats that could attest to such a talent, having spent many frustrated hours trying to find his younger brother while babysitting, only to discover that Tugger was, in fact, a pro at hide and seek. It was a subject the tabby wasn’t keen on discussing.
As it was in this moment, Tugger wasn’t necessarily hiding, but had overheard a conversation and decided to hang back and listen for a bit before announcing his presence. Just in case it was a conversation worth listening in on. Judging from the voices it was two cats hanging out in a private corner of the junkyard and they had been talking for a while.
“You should be stretching.” The first voice, a young queen, said.
“Nah, I’ve still got time.” The second voice belonged to a young tom.
“He’s going to want to get started right away, you know that.”
“Well, if he showed up when he said he was going to then maybe I’d be ready. I had to skip out on breakfast to be here.”
“You did not, I saw you eating that mouse Jenny told you to leave alone.”
“Uh, that wasn’t me, that was Tumble.” A pause. “I’ll start stretching.”
There was a long silence and some shuffling. The queen sighed. “Maybe I should go check on him, it’s not like him to be late.”
“Eh.” Somehow Tugger could hear the shrug. “I bet he saw Tugger and took the long way around again.”
“That’s not very nice to say.”
“’m not saying it to be mean. But it’s true.”
Another silence. Tugger tried to puzzle out just who they were talking about.
“He doesn’t hate Tugger, you know.” The queen said, voice quiet. “In fact, it’s just about the opposite.”
“Coulda fooled me. If he doesn’t hate him then why’s he always rolling his eyes and staring at him and making sure that Tugger sees him leave all the time? Like, he goes out of his way to make sure Tugger’s looking at him before turning his back on him and strutting off. Kinda makes it seem like he doesn’t like him.”
“Well, sometimes….” The next part was almost a whisper, too quiet for Tugger to hear.
“Nah. That doesn’t make any sense at all.” The second voice was dismissive. Both went silent.
That was enough for now. Whoever it was that supposedly hated him would have to wait. For now Tugger was curious enough to see who he had been eavesdropping on enough to come out of the shadows.
To his surprise he found Victoria and Pouncival sitting in the clearing, the former primly seated on a cushion while the latter slouched his way through some warm up stretches. It was an odd pairing. Not that the two hated each other, far from it, but generally Quaxo or Plato were part of the group. What was odd was the fact that this time they had only each other for company.
“Pounce, would you please straighten up and focus- Tugger!” Victoria’s plea quickly turned into a smile as she spotted the cat. Hurriedly she smoothed down her already pristine fur.
“Hey, Tugger!” Pounce made an effort to sit up into less of a slouch.
“Now this is an interesting sight.” Tugger remarked, casually leaning up against a rusted bed frame. “What are you two waiting for?”
“Quaxo.” Pounce replied.
“He’s practicing his newest routine.” Victoria added. “We’re here to help him out.”
“You giving advice I can understand.” Tugger nodded at her. “But Pounce, why are you here?”
“I’m overlooking him.” Pounce announced.
“Understudy, Pounce, you’re his understudy.” Victoria sighed. Clearly this was a subject they had gone over before and would have to go over again.
“Yeah, that. Understudying.” Pounce nodded.
“You, Pouncival, are Quaxo’s understudy.” Tugger was not one to openly gape but settled for raising an eyebrow.
The thought that this scruffy tom had enough focus and poise to fill in for a cat as precise and graceful as Quaxo was difficult to comprehend. Sure, Pounce was athletic and possessed a never ending amount of energy, but even getting him to sit still long enough to take instructions was a bit of a trial. Although physically they were roughly the same size and shape, maturity wise they were on different levels.
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m understudying him.” Pounce frowned, seeming to pick up on Tugger’s inner doubts. “Why’s that so hard to believe?”
“Well, you’re not really of the same… stock as Quaxo.” It was difficult to be truthful without being insulting. “Who’s idea was this? Munk finally go off the deep end?”
“It was my idea.” A new voice announced. Everyone turned to see Quaxo perched on top of the bed frame Tugger was leaning up against. Just how long he had been watching them was anyone’s guess.
“Your idea.” Tugger repeated, leaning out of the way as Quaxo slid effortlessly to the ground.
“Yes. Pounce has a lot of potential.” The answer was intentionally vague. “Now, if you don’t mind, we have a lot of practicing to do.”
“Go ahead, I don’t mind at all.” Tugger made a show of making himself comfortable.
“Private practice, Tugger.”
“Come on, you’ll need an audience eventually.”
“That’s why Victoria is here.” Quaxo was giving him a very familiar exasperated look. It was also a look that, as far as he knew, Quaxo only gave to him. It was a look that only made Tugger more inclined to stick around.
“Oh, don’t be that way. Victoria and Pounce don’t mind if I stick around, do you?”
“Oh, no, I don’t.” Victoria giggled while Pounce shook his head. “Not at all.”
“See? I’ll even sit quietly and watch. You won’t even know I’m here.”
All three cats stared at him.
“Okay, so maybe I might be a distraction.” Tugger admitted. “Can you blame me?”
“I can blame you for a couple of things, yes.” Quaxo muttered.
“Maybe I can help out.”
“Oh? And how do you suppose you could help? You’re not suggesting you be an understudy-”
“Hey, that’s my job!” Pounce interrupted.
“I’m no one’s understudy.” Tugger clarified. “But you do that magical stuff, right?”
At the mention of magic Quaxo’s face turned an interesting shade of red. It was a well known fact throughout the junkyard that Quaxo fancied himself as a bit of a stage magician, doing sleight of hand and card tricks to mainly entertain the other Jellicles. Even Tugger himself had to admit that Quaxo was pretty good at it, even if it meant taking the attention away from himself from time to time.
“Yes.” Quaxo eventually said after he composed himself. “I do that ‘magical stuff’.”
“Well, you wanted advice-”
“Not from you-”
“If you’re asking me the act could use an attractive assistant.” Tugger watched the expressive array of emotions cross Quaxo’s face. It sure was easy to fluster him. At this point he wasn’t even trying.
“Really?” Quaxo huffed. “And just who might that be? You?”
“Quaxo, please, if I were an assistant all the attention would be on me and I’d end up the star of the show. It comes with the territory of being me.”
Victoria giggled as Quaxo rolled his eyes.
“Oh, pardon me for the assumption.” The tuxedo flicked his tail back and forth impatiently. “But we’re wasting time. If you insist on staying, Tugger, then please be seated and keep quiet.”
Much to Victoria’s excitement Tugger obliged and sat down next to her, giving Quaxo one of his most charming smiles. As expected he received another eye roll. That only further cemented his need to stay and watch.
“Pounce, let’s get started.” Quaxo gestured to his friend. “From the top.”
And thus the rehearsal began. Tugger settled back to watch. He had to admit that Quaxo was good. Better than good. This was the first time Tugger had seen the tom performing in his own space, been in a private audience, and he couldn’t help but wonder just why he hadn’t watched Quaxo dance before. Of course, he was usually preoccupied with his adoring fans (and who wouldn’t, really), but still, it was odd that Tugger hadn’t at least been aware of Quaxo’s talent.
But now, in this moment, Quaxo commanded the space. He shone in the spotlight, quietly demanding everyone’s attention without uttering a sound. While both toms were dancing and putting on an entertaining performance, Tugger only had eyes for Quaxo. His very presence seemed to sparkle.
Wait. No, the cat was literally sparkling. Tugger looked over at Victoria, who didn’t seem to be perturbed that Quaxo’s fur was spontaneously glittery. Pounce was too busy trying to follow the routine to comment.
“Uh, Quaxo-” Tugger was cut off by Pounce enthusiastically leaping into the air and landing hard enough to shake the ground. A cloud of dust enveloped them all.
“That’s good, Pounce.” Quaxo coughed, waving dust out of his face. “Try to land a little more softly next time.”
“I’m trying but it’s hard.” Pounce complained. “I can’t just float around and ignore gravity like y- mmph!”
Abruptly the tabby’s mouth was occupied by Quaxo’s paw. The strange sparkle vanished from his fur.
“What was that?” Tugger asked.
“Nothing.” Quaxo hurriedly said, trying to assume the perfect picture of nonchalance.
“That was definitely something.” Tugger stood, brushing the dust off of his fur. “I saw-”
“You saw nothing.” Quaxo’s voice was becoming insistent. The fur on the back of his neck was beginning to stand on end. Pounce quickly backed away from the increasingly agitated cat.
“I’m not blind.” Tugger crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not saying it was bad, I’m just curious.”
“Tugger, I mean it, I-” Abruptly Quaxo winced and clutched at his head, curling in on himself in obvious pain.
“Quaxo?” Immediately Tugger’s curiosity was replaced with concern. Before he knew it he was crouched next to the tom, unsure if he should touch him or not. The tuxedo’s eyes were tightly shut and an odd heat radiated off of him.
Before he could puzzle it out Victoria quickly stepped in, putting an arm around Quaxo and guiding him to his feet. Her fur was standing on end.
“It’s alright, Tugger. Just a- just a headache. We’re going to go see Munk- I mean, Jenny.” Victoria quickly clarified. “Don’t worry. Just- Just go about your day.”
Quaxo, still clutching his head, didn’t even acknowledge her excuse, groaning quietly to himself as the white queen led him away. That left Tugger and Pounce both staring after them.
“What was that all about?” Tugger turned to Pounce, who was unusually still.
“Um, dunno.” Pounce shrugged, eyes fixed on the ground. “He gets headaches sometimes.”
“Yeah, I heard that. I meant the sparkling.” Tugger watched the kitten carefully. Pounce had a tendency to fib when he thought he was in trouble but he had a very obvious tell.
“Huh? What sparkling? I didn’t see any sparkling.” Immediately Pounce grabbed his tail and started pulling at the fur. There it was.
“Pounce, you’re not in trouble. I’m just curious.”
“Um.” Pounce shifted from one foot to the other. “He just… does that sometimes.”
“He just spontaneously sparkles.”
“Yeah. Don’t tell him I said that.”
“Why does he want to keep this a secret?” Tugger asked.
Pounce shrugged. If there was anything else he wanted to add to the conversation he was, for once, keeping quiet about it. Time to try a different approach.
“Look, Pounce, you know me, I’m a curious cat.” Tugger gestured to himself. “And this is a very curious event. You wouldn’t deny me the pleasure of satisfying my curiosity, would you?”
“You know what I’m like when I set my mind to something, right?” Tugger slung an arm around Pounce’s shoulders. “It’s just easier to tell me the truth instead of dragging it out. I can keep a secret. No one will ever know you told me.”
“I’m not worried about that.” Pounce muttered.
“What’s there to worry about? It’s just sparkles.”
“No, it’s not just….” Pounce trailed off.
“Not just…?” Tugger looked down at the tabby. “Pounce, buddy, you okay?”
Pounce was trembling, clutching his tail tightly to himself. Gone was the hesitation. Now there was only fear in his eyes.
“There you are!” A new voice interrupted. Bombalurina strolled into view. “I’ve been looking for you all over the junkyard.”
“Oh thank the Everlasting Cat!” Pounce shouted, using the distraction as an opportunity to make his escape. He ducked out from under Tugger’s arm and took off.
“What was that about? Usually he’s happy to see me.” Bomba raised an eyebrow as they watched Pounce zip over the nearest pile of junk and disappear from sight.
“Beats me. I nearly had it out of him before you showed up.” Tugger grumbled.
“Well excuse me for wanting to know where you disappeared off to.” Bomba cast her gaze around the abandoned rehearsal space. “What were the two of you doing anyways?”
“It wasn’t just us. Quaxo and Victoria were here too.” Tugger quickly filled her in on the rest as the two of them made their way to the main part of the junkyard to indulge in some well earned sunbathing.
“Sounds like quite a rehearsal. I’m surprised Quaxo let you stay.” Bomba commented as she stretched out in the sun.
“He didn’t ‘let’ me do anything.” Tugger corrected her. “I do what I want when I please.”
“Sure. Maybe I’m more surprised that he didn’t try to chase you out.”
“Why would you say that?”
“I’ve noticed that he’s… how do I put it, not your biggest fan?” Bomba said. “Judging by how every time you arrive on the scene he makes himself scarce I’d say he prefers the company of others.”
“Wow, thank you for that observation.” Tugger rolled his eyes. “I suppose you know who he does prefer the company of.”
“Maybe. But let’s not dwell on him.” Bomba purred, trailing her tail up his thigh. “There are plenty of other things we could be talking about. Or be doing.”
As tantalizing as the suggestion was Tugger couldn’t help but press the issue. “But how could he hate me?”
“Quaxo. I don’t get it.” Tugger sat up and rested his chin in a paw. “I haven’t done anything to him that I haven’t done to anyone else.”
Bomba sighed. “This really bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“No. I just want to know why he doesn’t appreciate my company.”
“Tugger, there are plenty of cats in the junkyard that appreciate you. Myself included, although I’m becoming less appreciative the longer we have this discussion.”
“Maybe he’s intimidated. I can see how he’d be unprepared to handle my charm.”
Bomba let out a very unladylike snort. “Yes, that has to be it.”
“You are not helping me figure this out.”
“Look, all I know is that Quaxo’s more reserved. More, ah, what’s the word-”
“Yes. And you’re the opposite of that. So what works for you might not work for him.”
“Then what would work for him?” Tugger muttered to himself.
“Wow. You really do care about what he thinks, don’t you?” Bomba gave him an incredulous look.
“I want him to look at me without rolling his eyes. It’s not too much to ask.” It really wasn’t.
Now the hardest part would be convincing Bomba that he wasn’t obsessing over the fact. Judging by the pitying look she was giving him, she had already decided that he was hopelessly disturbed by Quaxo’s dismissal.
Not that he was disturbed. Just… perturbed. There was a difference.
“Look, if this is going to bother you so much then maybe you should talk with Victoria. She might be able to help you figure out how to talk to him without driving him crazy.”
“Maybe.” The thought of asking Victoria for advice on how to approach any cat, let alone her brother, did not sit right with him. Tugger was the most confident, suave, self assured cat in the tribe. There was no reason he couldn’t figure out the tom on his own.
So why was it so difficult to put Quaxo out of his mind?
“Great, so much for the sunbathing.” Bomba said, gesturing up at the sky.
Dark clouds were rolling in fast. The sunny afternoon was quickly turning into a stormy one.
“I’d better go find Demeter.” The queen said, sauntering off towards the nearest tunnel. “Try not to obsess too much about Quaxo, okay?”
She was gone before Tugger could defend himself.
“I’m not obsessing.” Tugger muttered as it started to rain. Time to leave before he got too wet.
Unfortunately the rain had other plans. In an instant the sky darkened, releasing a torrential downpour that threatened to sweep even the most sturdy cats off their feet. Various yowls of dismay and alarm were heard all over the junkyard as everyone scrambled to find shelter. Tugger scaled a nearby pile of junk and ducked under a bent umbrella. Admittedly not the best place to be but it was better than sitting in the mud.
“Tugger!” Munkustrap’s voice carried easily through the increasing roar of the rain hitting the ground. The silver tabby ducked under the umbrella with him. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Tugger replied, shaking water out of his mane. “Is everyone else okay?”
“Lonz and I are trying to corral the kittens into Jenny’s den. Will you help?”
Running out in the rain was the last thing he wanted to do, especially since it would take ages for him to properly dry off, but the thought of one of the kittens being lost out in the storm was even more distressing.
“Yeah, of course.” Tugger said.
“Thank you. Be careful, this storm’s going to be a terrible one.” And with that Munk ran back out into the rain. Something about his brother’s words didn’t sit right with him but Tugger didn’t have time to dwell on it. He had a job to do.
Of course, wrangling kittens in the middle of an unexpected rainstorm was easier said than done, and by the time he had ushered the last wayward kitten into Jenny’s den Tugger was well and truly soaked. It would take forever to dry off and resume his well groomed appearance. Right now he felt and probably looked like a drowned rat.
“Speaking of drowned rat.” Tugger said to himself as he ducked back under the bent umbrella, huddling in close to a white and black cat that was just as soaked as he was. “Hey, Alonzo! Enjoying the weather?”
“Oh, yes, this is exactly what I wanted to be doing today!” Alonzo yelled to be heard over the howling winds. “Did we get everyone?”
“I think so!” Tugger yelled back. “Etcetera was the last one.”
Most of the kittens had been corralled into Jenny’s den, with some of the older cats hunkering down with Munkustrap to wait out the deluge. Etcetera had been the last to be ushered to safety, although it had been a bit of a trial to get her unstuck from his leg.
“I’ll let Munk know, he was doing one last sweep.” Alonzo turned back towards the rain. “Are you staying with us or-”
“I’m headed back to my place. It’s sturdy enough.” Tugger would have preferred to have been in a nice, warm, dry house, but he wasn’t about to travel much further in the rain if he could help it. And being stuffed into a den with other wet cats would do nothing for his already frazzled fur.
“Suit yourself.” Alonzo darted back out into the rain, leaving Tugger alone.
“Might as well get going.” The sooner he made it to his den the sooner he could start the laborious process of drying himself off. He had barely made it across the junkyard when movement caught his attention. Ducking under the nearest shelter, Tugger strained his eyes through the increasing darkness and pouring rain to see what it was.
They hadn’t accounted for everyone after all. A small silhouette was huddled up against the tire. A silhouette that was roughly the same size and shape as a certain tuxedo tom.
“Hey! Quaxo!” Tugger stepped out into the open just as the sky lit up in a flash of blinding white light.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. When he was able to see again whoever it was by the tire was gone.
“Quaxo?” The rain was momentarily forgotten as his gaze drifted towards a new sight.
Munkustrap had been right. It was a terrible storm. Shadows jumped over the sharp edges of the junkyard, moving with a life of their own as lightning crashed through the clouds. The rain was almost a solid curtain, parted only by the howling winds that buffeted anyone who dared to be out in the open, threatening to blow everything away. No one in their right mind would be out in such awful weather.
Except Tugger. And someone else.
In the midst of it all was a small tuxedo tom, dancing all alone in the rain, completely at ease with the chaos whirling around him. There wasn’t anything that Tugger could say that would do his thoughts justice. For the first time in his life he was completely speechless.
Quaxo turned in a circle, face turned up towards the sky. Thunder rolled ominously overhead. Electricity charged the air, causing Tugger’s soaked fur to spark and stand on end. Only now did Tugger realize that, despite being in the middle of the downpour, Quaxo’s fur was completely dry.
Lightning arced across the sky, lighting up the junkyard in another flash of brilliant white. Suddenly everything went quiet. The rain stopped. Quaxo stood in the middle of the clearing, eyes wide and trained up towards the sky. Every inch of him seemed to be waiting.
Tugger could hardly breathe. Then Quaxo started to dance.
If it could be called something as simple as dancing. Never had Tugger seen anyone move like this, as if pushed by the very nature of the universe in a language all of their own. Like a beacon in the night he shimmered and sparkled with each movement. Beautiful. Otherworldly. The cat was transforming into something else, something… dangerous. A being that knew no boundaries.
Reverently the being lifted a paw. Electricity flashed into existence over his fur, tracing paths along his body and leaving glittering trails in its wake. His eyes flashed white, dazzling with energy from within, gaze lifted towards the sky.
Briefly Tugger remembered to breathe. The sound was enough to catch the being’s attention.
The being’s gaze drifted down. Down towards Tugger’s. The two of them stared at one another, neither able to move, neither wanting to.
Whoever this being was, it was not Quaxo. And yet somehow Tugger knew his name.
“Mistoffelees.” Tugger breathed.
The name broke the spell. Suddenly the reality of the situation slammed into place along with the rain, bringing Tugger to his knees. The cat, now Quaxo once more, was drenched in the downpour. Instead of seeking shelter with Tugger, however, he turned and disappeared into the shadows, leaving the other to fend for himself.
There wasn’t time to think about what he had just witnessed. Struggling to pull himself out of the mud, Tugger darted off towards his den, intent on cleaning himself up and trying to figure out what the hell he just saw.
The image of bright, burning eyes would not leave him, even when he finally fell into a restless sleep.
Welcome back! Got a couple of things to establish in this chapter. I do enjoy writing mysterious happenings and whatnot. I've got the next chapter or two planned out but don't quite have a sense of how long this story will be. Guess it will be a surprise for everyone!
The name settled in his ears, pulling him out of his hazy dreams of thunderstorms. Was that his name? It wasn’t what he had been called last night. What had he been called?
Memories of the night before drifted through his mind. At some point his head, which had ached for a better part of the day, exploded in a new wave of pain that clouded his mind and reduced him to acting on his last resort to relieve it. A last resort that had literally exploded as he finally gave in and let nature run its course.
More memories surfaced. Relentless rain that fell all around him but not on him. The earsplitting cacophony of the storm forming above him. The urge to move, to dance, to release the magical pressure building up within him into the sky above, forming literal lightning that could easily destroy anything in its path. He didn’t care at the time. All that mattered was moving as his magic and body demanded.
Although it wasn’t him demanding it. Not entirely. There was something else moving within him during the storm. Something that had been increasingly demanding that he stop resisting and give in. A something that he was still actively fighting against.
And, shockingly, there had been yet another being there with him last night. A certain cat that, despite his best efforts to appear otherwise, he couldn’t help but feel attracted to. This cat called him by a different name, called him Mistof-
Wait. No. That was not his name. Who was he again?
“Quaxo.” The name was repeated.
That was his name. Quaxo rolled over and opened his eyes. He was not alone. A sleek tabby queen was calmly watching him, clearly waiting for him to wake up.
“Tantomile.” Quaxo blinked around at what was now obviously her and Coricopat’s shared home. “How did I-”
“You arrived sometime in the night.” Tantomile informed him. “After the storm subsided.”
“I’m sorry for disturbing you, I intended on going back to my den, not here.”
“It was not unexpected.” She gave him a small smile.
“Is that something you and Coricopat saw?” Despite spending a significant amount of time in the company of the psychic twins he still wasn’t quite certain of the extent of their abilities. To be honest, he wasn’t sure of the range of his own powers, especially after the events of the night before.
“No, but it was easy to assume you would come here to rest.” Tantomile placed a cup of tea in front of him. “Especially after such a violent display of magical energy.”
“I suppose it did get a little out of hand.”
Tantomile raised an eyebrow but did not comment, instead helping herself to her own cup of tea. Quaxo took her silence as an opportunity to inwardly assess himself. Right away he noticed that his headache was gone, the source of his pain pacified for the time being, leaving him feeling oddly light and relieved. He hadn’t hurt that bad in a long time and had no intention of repeating the experience if he could help it.
Of course, the whole issue was that whatever he tried he hadn’t been able to solve the problem of his steadily growing magic. So far he’d been able to keep it contained, keep it secret from everyone but a select few, but the effort of doing so resulted in an eventual, uncontrollable event like last night’s storm.
Quaxo shivered. It did not escape his notice that while he had willingly manifested the storm, he wasn’t the only presence that occupied his mind. It was only a matter of time before he lost total control and lost himself for good.
How would he go about handling his magical abilities without facing such dire consequences? It wasn’t as if there were other magical cats around. So far as he knew he was the only cat in the tribe with powers as wild as his. While Coricopat and Tantomile had their own abilities, they weren’t of the same variety. Although maybe they had experienced similar troubles.
“Yes, I have had difficulties with handling an unexpected surge of power.” Tantomile interrupted his thoughts. “And, yes, I found a way to relieve the overwhelming pressure.”
“By bonding with Coricopat. We are connected in such a way that the power flows between us. Instead of trying to contain it, we channel it between one another. It is always moving and always changing, but evolving in a way that we can both handle.”
Her words sparked the beginning of a thought inside him, flaring into a small flicker of hope. There might be a solution to his question after all, one that would keep him from descending deeper into the chaotic, out of control being that haunted his dreams.
“Where is Coricopat?” He asked, noting the obvious absence.
Tantomile stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. “He is assisting Demeter but will be back soon if you would like to speak with him.”
“No, that’s alright. I should be going anyways.” Quaxo stood. “Thank you for allowing me to stay last night. And for the tea.”
“Always a pleasure.” Her eyes locked back onto his. “Quaxo.”
“You know what will eventually happen. It is only a matter of time.” The statement settled around him like a lead weight.
It was too much to think about. Without a word he turned away and stepped out into the sun.
It was morning and the birds had the audacity to chirp and sing as loudly as they could. While the presence of birds normally meant breakfast, for Tugger it was currently the world’s most annoying wake up call. After weathering the thunderous storm and grooming his soaked fur into something that vaguely resembled a respectable coat, Tugger had fallen into a sleep plagued with half formed nightmares that left him vaguely unsettled.
What exactly had happened last night? There had been the storm. Munkustrap had warned him that it would be ‘a terrible one’, but he had said nothing about Quaxo being able to control it. The only distinctive memory Tugger had of the previous night was watching Quaxo dance through the storm, beautiful and mysterious and… magical.
It wasn’t some cheap stage magic he had witnessed. No one had told him that Quaxo was literally magical. He wasn’t sure if anyone else actually knew. No, wait, Pouncival at least knew about the sparkling fur. And since Quaxo was her brother Victoria had to know. But who else knew?
There wasn’t much use sitting around and thinking about it. The best way to find out would be to ask the source, the source being a probably uncooperative Quaxo. Tugger’s mind flashed to the being Quaxo had transformed into during the storm, the wild, dangerous energy it exuded, and the white magic that burned behind its gaze.
Tugger shivered. For once he would consciously make an effort to tread carefully. There was no telling if the cat he was seeking would be Quaxo or… the other. The name crawled along the back of his mind but stubbornly refused to surface. For now he would have to focus on finding Quaxo before deciding what name to call him.
As soon as Tugger stepped outside he stepped into mud.
“Wonderful.” He grumbled, trying to find the best path through the junkyard.
The storm had really done a number on the surrounding area, creating a hazardous obstacle course of fallen debris, damaged dens, large puddles and, of course, endless mud. Already he could tell it was going to be a trying day. A few cats were out and about, not hesitating to share their complaints, but there were two that caught Tugger’s eye and gave him a direction to head towards.
Bombalurina and Tumblebrutus were sitting on the a pile of junk that was currently in the direct sunlight, also making it the only dry spot in the area. While Bomba had managed to avoid the worst of the mud Tumble looked like he had rolled around in it, sporting many new brown, muddy spots in addition to the usual brown patch over his eye. As soon as they noticed Tugger they waved him over.
“Hey, Tugger!” Tumble greeted.
“Hey, you two.” Tugger positioned himself next to Bomba out of the range of the mud. “Bit of a wild night last night, huh?”
“That’s an understatement.” Bomba groaned. “I hardly was able to sleep with all the thunder and lightning.”
“Yeah, same.” Tumble agreed. “I got stuck in Jenny’s den with all the girls and couldn’t get any sleep with all their talking and stuff.”
“You poor thing.” Bomba teased. “Being the only tom with only beautiful girls for company.”
“Pounce wasn’t with you?” Tugger asked.
“Nah, I’m pretty sure Lonz dragged him over to his den to wait out the storm.” Tumble shrugged. “It was pretty crazy how fast it hit. Munk grabbed me before I even knew what was going on.”
“Speaking of rescues, Tugger, I heard you helped out quite a bit last night.” Bomba added.
“Yeah, I risked my neck and my beautiful coat to make sure everyone was safe.” To emphasize his point he fluffed up his mane.
“Etcetera wouldn’t stop talking about how you carried her to safety.” Tumble complained.
“As she should. In case you didn’t notice, the junkyard wasn’t the safest place to be last night.”
“I noticed.” Tumble sighed. “I noticed this morning when I went back to mine and Pounce’s den and half the roof was caved in.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Tumble.” Truly Tugger was. Oddly enough the tom didn’t seem too upset about it.
“Thanks, but it’s fine. Plato said we could bunk with him for a while.”
“Better hope you find somewhere before the next Jellicle Ball.” Bomba said. “Because I have the feeling that Plato’s going to have someone else move in with him after that night, if you know what I mean.”
Both Tugger and Tumble were momentarily lost until Bomba nodded across the clearing, bringing their attention to a certain white queen that was carefully picking her way across the muddy ground. It was very slow going.
“Hey, Victoria!” Tumble yelled, waving to grab her attention.
Briefly she looked up before fixing her eyes back onto the ground. At this rate it would be the next day before she made it over to them. Tugger hopped down and made his way to her to give her some help.
“Here, allow me.” Tugger scooped her up into his arms and deposited her on top of the junk next to Bomba.
“Thank you.” Victoria sighed unhappily. “It’s taken me ages to make it this far.”
“Where were you going?” Tumble asked.
“To Coricopat and Tantomile’s.”
“That’s all the way on the other side of the junkyard!”
“I know, Tumble. But I need to talk with them.”
“Well, I saw Coricopat and Demeter over by the tire not too long ago.” Bomba said. “If you want I can help you over there.”
“That would be wonderful, thank you.” Victoria said gratefully.
“Hey, before you go, you haven’t seen Quaxo around, have you?” Tugger asked, ignoring the knowing look Bomba gave him.
“No, I haven’t. I spent the night at Jenny’s and haven’t checked in on him.” Instantly she looked worried, eyes glancing around the junkyard.
“I’m sure he’s fine.” Bomba assured her. “He’s a grown tom, he can take care of himself.”
Victoria did not comment, but something about her posture and expression seemed to suggest she thought otherwise. With that the two queens left, leaving Tugger with Tumble. It was an odd parallel to the events of the previous day when he had been left with Pounce to wonder about where Quaxo had gone off to.
“Hey, Tumble, have you noticed anything odd about Quaxo lately?” Might as well question Tumble while they were there.
“Uh, not really, what do you mean?”
“He seems kind of different lately.” Understatement of the century in the light of the previous night’s events. “Seems to be having headaches.”
“Oh, Pounce mentioned something about those.” Tumble said. “But he thought it was just because of all the rehearsing they’ve been doing.”
“How about sparkles?” Tugger tried. “Notice any sparkling?”
“What?” Tumble looked at him like he had grown an extra head.
“Never mind.” This line of questioning was going nowhere. “New question. No, wait.”
Tugger’s next question was going to be if Tumble knew anything about what Quaxo might think of him but he couldn’t decide if now was the right time. What he didn’t want was for Tumble to not know the answer and go straight to Quaxo himself to find out, leading Quaxo to directly know that Tugger was asking about him. That, combined with the fact that his previous conversation with Quaxo led to him having an abrupt headache, was the last thing Tugger wanted. At least, not until he figured out a few things first.
“Uh, Tugger?” Tumble asked, interrupting his thoughts. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” For now he was. “Forget I said anything.”
“Okay.” Tumble awkwardly fidgeted on his feet. “Well, I’m gonna go find Pounce unless you got any more questions.”
“Not any more for now.” Tugger watched the tabby tom scamper off with no regard for keeping his fur clean from the mud.
If Tugger had any sense of priority he would be taking this time to fastidiously check and make sure that he himself was not muddy, taking advantage of his spot in the sun to groom himself to perfection, but his mind was stubbornly fixated on a certain tuxedo tom. A certain sparkling, magical, apparently lightning wielding tom. The previous night’s events themselves were rather hazy in his mind, but the storm had been real enough, meaning that him witnessing Quaxo do incredible feats of magic could very well also be real.
He just needed proof. And the easiest way to get proof would be to interrogate Quaxo himself. But where was he?
As Tugger contemplated his next move a flash of gold and silver caught his eye. He looked up just in time to see Munkustrap and Demeter vanish around the corner, both moving fast with no regard for the mud they were kicking up. They weren’t exactly the cats he was looking for but it was certainly more interesting than hanging around and waiting for the right cat to show up.
With great care he followed the obvious path in the mud. It led him straight to Jennyanydots. Specifically, Jennyanydots, Coricopat, Demeter and Munkustrap. The four gathered together and angled themselves away from the entrance to her den, as if intending to keep their conversation from reaching whoever was inside.
Instead of jumping into the conversation Tugger hung back and listened much like he had done the day before. The four were too busy to notice his presence.
“How is he?” Munk asked. “Has he said anything?”
“Poor thing hasn’t said a word.” Jenny replied. “I couldn’t even coax him out to eat some breakfast.”
“Where is he now?”
“Hiding in my yarn supply. Hopefully he will come out before the mice come in for their crochet lessons.” Jenny didn’t look as optimistic as she sounded.
“It took both myself and Coricopat to bring him over here from the tire.” Demeter said. “I don’t think he understood that the storm was over.”
“Is he hurt?” Munk asked. “Any injuries?”
“No, there are no injuries.” Coricopat answered. “Scared, yes, but with a little time and patience he should be back to his usual self.”
“I’ll sit with him awhile and see if he calms down a little.” Demeter volunteered, the golden queen disappearing back inside Jenny’s den.
“I should be going back to Tantomile.” Coricopat added.
“Thank you for finding him and bringing this to my attention.” Munk said.
Coricopat nodded and headed off in the direction of his and Tantomile’s den, eyes flicking over to Tugger before he disappeared out of sight. Whether or not it was simply a coincidence or the psychic cat knew Tugger was there wasn’t quite clear, but either way Coricopat didn’t seem inclined to push the matter further and expose his hiding place.
Both Munkustrap and Jennyanydots were silent for a while in their own contemplation. Tugger was about to step in and announce himself when he noticed the slight slump of his brother’s shoulders, the sudden weary posture of a very tired silver tabby. It was enough to make Tugger hesitate and for Jenny to act instead.
“This isn’t your fault, Munkustrap, you know that. It was an accident.” Jenny said, giving the Jellicle Protector a knowing look. “We had no way of knowing that he was out in the storm. You and Tugger and Alonzo did the best you could with rounding everyone up.”
“Regardless of the circumstances being accidental or not, it is still my duty to ensure everyone’s safety. And it will not be a mistake that I will repeat again.” Munk said, mainly to himself.
“Really though, a thunderstorm shouldn’t cause that much of a reaction from him.” Jenny mused. “It’s not as if we haven’t had storms before. I don’t recall them giving him much trouble in the past, and I know for certain this isn’t the first time he’s been caught out in one.”
“We haven’t had storms like this before, not of this magnitude.” Munk replied, face carefully kept blank.
“Hopefully it will not happen again. Although we cannot control the weather, can we?” Jenny’s question was oddly genuine, as if she were considering such impossibilities of controlling the weather as a sudden possibility.
“We cannot.” Munk said, straightening back up into his usual posture. “All we can do now is try our best to move on from this and ensure that we’re better prepared for next time.”
The words ‘next time’ hung in the air between them. It was not a promise nor a threat, but the words cast a dim pallor over the already tense conversation. Munk settled into a sort of grim silence. Jenny, knowing that it would be an uphill battle to press him further, turned her attentions elsewhere for the time being.
“Very well, dear. I have full confidence in your abilities to do what’s best for the tribe. Please do take time out of your very busy schedule to care for yourself.” Jenny gave him an affectionate nuzzle before heading back inside to join Demeter.
“Yes, Jenny.” Munk sighed. Now that he was alone he allowed himself a brief moment of uncertainty, tail tucking tight around his feet and eyes drifting shut in thought. If left alone he would sit and think until he drove himself crazy with all the things he needed to be doing.
This, of course, was the perfect moment for Tugger to step in and act as if he hadn’t just heard the preceding conversation.
“Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?” Tugger drawled, approaching his brother with the best nonchalant swagger he could muster.
“Yes.” Munk didn’t even bother to pull himself into his usual composed posture, instead settling on a slightly wary, mostly weary look that was meant solely for when he knew his brother wanted something from him.
“That was quite a storm last night.”
“Yes, it was. Thank you for helping everyone find shelter.”
“Eh, it wasn’t a big deal.” Tugger shrugged. “Even if it took me ages to dry off properly.”
“I’m sure you will recover.” Munk’s eyes slid back over to Jenny’s den. “As will everyone else.”
“I should hope so.” Tugger parked himself next to Munk and fussed with his mane.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Munk asked, voice clearly indicating that he was hoping the answer would be ‘no’.
“Yes, there is.” Tugger ignored his brother’s sigh. “How’s Quaxo doing? Haven’t been able to find him today.”
It truly was amazing just how Quaxo’s name could inspire a shift in Munkustrap’s mood. Gone was the weariness, the uncertainty, replaced almost instantaneously with a carefully controlled suspicion that would give lesser cats whiplash. Fortunately Tugger was used to this particular look and was able to keep up his casual pretense.
Munkustrap gave him a long, calculating look before answering. “Why do you ask?”
Ah. So it was going to be one of those conversations. Whenever Munk did not want to talk about a subject he had a habit of turning everything in a question. Tugger could play this game.
“No reason.” Tugger raised an eyebrow. “Just curious. But you’re saying you don’t know?”
“I do.” Munk glanced back at Jenny’s den before making his way towards his usual spot on the tire, leaving it up to Tugger to decide if he wanted to join or not. “What do you think you know about him?”
“It’s not that I think I know, I do know. You know?” Tugger followed him closely.
Munk’s eye twitched. “What?”
This conversation was going nowhere fast, and Tugger’s patience was already wearing thin. There was something Munk knew about Quaxo that was important to this puzzle. Something big. The fact that Munk kept quiet about it only served to aggravate Tugger’s need to find out and piece it all together.
“I think that you know something that I might also know, so why don’t we just cut to the chase and talk about it?” Tugger finally said, immediately bristling as Munk sighed and purposefully turned his attention elsewhere.
“Tugger, I really don’t have time for this right now-”
“Then just tell me if Quaxo’s okay or not!”
Both toms paused at the sudden outburst. Eventually Munk stared at the sky and muttered what suspiciously sounded like a prayer before looking back down at his brother.
“Fine. Quaxo is fine.” Was all he said.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to tell me?”
“What else is there to say? In case you haven’t noticed, the entire tribe is a bit out of sorts since the storm last night. Several cats are homeless thanks to the rain washing away their dens, the kittens are scared, the perimeter around the junkyard has been destroyed-”
“Okay, okay, Munk, calm down.” Tugger interrupted before the silver tabby could really get going. “I was just concerned. I heard you talking to Jenny and was just wondering how Quaxo was doing, that’s all.”
“You-” Munk paused, genuinely confused. “You think we were talking about- oh. No. Quaxo isn’t here. That’s not who we were discussing.”
“Oh.” That took a bit of the wind out of his sails. “Then who-”
“I apologize for the confusion, although you shouldn’t eavesdrop anyways.” Munk gave him a stern look.
“Yeah, yeah.” It wasn’t worth pushing the point. “Do you know where I can find Quaxo?”
“No, I don’t. Even if I did, he’d probably appreciate having a quiet morning to himself without you bombarding him with whatever you’re concerned about.”
“You know, not everything I say is with the intention of being annoying.” Tugger paused. “Well, with you, perhaps, but I wasn’t planning on bombarding him with anything.”
“Sure.” Munk rolled his eyes. “If you’ll excuse me, we need to get started.”
Tugger turned to see Plato and Alonzo heading their way, leading a group of bedraggled cats through the mud. No one looked particularly enthused to be there.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re going to start putting the junkyard back together. Or at least reestablishing a perimeter and finding new homes for those that lost theirs.” Munk told him.
“Oh.” Already Tugger could see where the conversation was going next. It was too late to back out now.
“If you have enough time to badger me about Quaxo, you certainly have enough time to help me.”
“Fine. But I’m only helping so things can go back to normal.”
Munk gave him a wry smile. “I assure you that eventually everything will be back as they were, including everyone’s strange obsession with you.”
“The sooner we return to the established status quo the better.” Despite his reluctance to put aside his current quest to find Quaxo he summoned his best smile and directed it at Plato, who immediately broke out into a grin and tripped over Alonzo, sending them both sprawling into the mud. Maybe the rest of the day wouldn’t be so bad after all.
It was the end of the day and his headache hadn’t returned. That in itself would have been a cause for celebration if he hadn’t spent the better part of the day trying to find Pounce or Victoria and failing miserably. His wanderings had led him to the edge of the junkyard, leaving him to trudge back through the mud on a long trek home. Wherever the two were they were currently hidden away and steering clear of the mud. Maybe even intentionally steering clear of him.
Quaxo sighed and continued on his way home. There was no telling just how Victoria and Pounce were going to handle things when he lost control again. They had both promised to keep his real magic a secret when it first started to manifest, although neither knew the true extent of his abilities. Pounce just thought he tended to sparkle and defy gravity at times while Victoria admired the trails of light he could trace in the air. If either of them knew he had been responsible for the storm there was no telling how they’d react.
Although Victoria and Pounce weren’t the ones he was worried about. Tugger had seen the storm too. He had been there. And if there was one thing that everyone knew about Tugger it was that he was a curious cat. A cat that, once he was interested in something, would pursue it until he grew bored and found something else to focus on.
Then again, the thought of being Tugger’s object of curiosity didn’t exactly repulse him.
No. It would be a disaster if Tugger found out about his magic. Better to avoid him for now.
Right now Quaxo wanted to go home, curl up under a blanket and-
-and he ran headfirst into the Rum Tum Tugger, the last cat he wanted to run into. In an attempt to keep himself from falling he grabbed onto Tugger’s mane. Briefly his mind was overrun with the instinct to use his magic to disappear, to vanish to a safer place, but was quickly replaced with an insatiable need to bury his face in Tugger’s fur and hold him tightly-
“What?” Quaxo asked himself, unable to move as his mind fought against itself. “What was that?”
“Quaxo?” Tugger slowly raised his arms in the air. “You feeling alright?”
No, he wasn’t. With a great amount of effort Quaxo stepped away from the tom, firmly planting his paws on his hips as he attempted to keep his mind from imagining what it would be like to be planting his paws on Tugger’s hips instead-
“No, stop.” He immediately said, again to himself.
“What?” Tugger was looking at him like he had lost his mind. Which, in all fairness, he probably had at this point.
“Not you. What do you want?” There would be no salvaging this conversation. Best to get through it quickly and move on. Move on before his strange wants and desires made him act in a way that neither of them were prepared for.
“How are you?” Tugger slowly relaxed into his usual posture, still giving him a bit of a concerned look.
“Uh huh.” Disbelief radiated off the cat in waves.
“Quaxo, I know something happened. Apparently something is still happening right now.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” If he denied everything enough then he wouldn’t have explain himself. At least, that approach worked so far with everyone else. Tugger was proving to be a stubborn case that wouldn’t quit.
“Oh, sparkles, I think you do.”
“Don’t call me sparkles!”
Their conversation quickly faded into a stubborn staring contest, a match of wills to see who would concede first. What Quaxo should have known but hadn’t counted on was that Tugger’s will was just as as strong as his own. For an eternity they stared into each others eyes.
As Quaxo stared he was dimly aware that he was coming to a realization that he had been avoiding. There was something there between them, something he noticed while staring into Tugger’s eyes, something that clicked into place. A warm tingle went up his spine, setting his fur on end and causing his heart to stutter in his chest. Involuntarily he flexed his claws into the ground beneath him.
Either he was having a heart attack or something else was happening to him. Quaxo wasn’t sure which option he wanted it to be. Whatever it was he had to look away, if only to compose himself. Tugger himself didn’t seem much better off, shrugging his shoulders and flicking his tail back and forth in a nervous gesture.
“Well.” Tugger eventually said. “That was quite a storm we had last night, wasn’t it?”
That was it. Whatever Tugger knew or didn’t know would never come to light, because Quaxo wasn’t going to discuss it.
“Goodbye, Tugger.” As silent as a shadow he slid away from the curious cat and headed off into the night.
The tingling under his fur hadn’t subsided as hoped. After his conversation with Tugger he was left with an insatiable itch that spread through his limbs, searching for a relief that he knew would not be easily found. It was a frustrating distraction when all he wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep.
“What do you want me to do?” Quaxo asked aloud, not entirely to himself this time.
There was a distinct presence in the back of his mind, one that was always there, waiting for the day he would give in and finally stop fighting. The presence had a name. A name that he had heard echoing through the howling winds of the previous night’s storm. It was a name that Quaxo himself had never spoken aloud, yet someone else knew it.
No, not someone else. Tugger. Tugger had known it. He had been there in the pouring rain, risking the danger of being struck by lightning, and had simply watched.
“Why?” Quaxo asked himself. “Why didn’t he leave?”
His paws twitched. Sparks briefly flickered over his fur before he got a hold of himself.
“No. It doesn’t matter. I can’t focus on him right now.” While the storm had relieved most of the magical pressure that had built up within himself it was only a matter of time before it became unbearable again.
And once the magic became too much it wouldn’t be Quaxo that stepped out to temper it.
Hello everyone! Welcome back to the story. Thank you all for your support and your enthusiasm!
Quaxo stretched across the wooden beam he had claimed as his own, allowing himself a moment of peaceful indulgence in the warm light of the sun. Today the junkyard was much more settled. While he hadn’t had the opportunity to speak with the others since he had his little… magical upset with the storm, he could feel the overall mood of the tribe reverting back to normal. Once everyone had a chance to breathe he would integrate himself within the general routine of the tribe and return to normal. No more headaches, no more unwanted sparkling, no more strange thoughts plaguing his mind.
He had been lucky to find this spot away from the others. And, oh, yes, there was definitely a bonus to this hidden perch. Not that Quaxo would readily admit it, but his current spot allowed him a perfect view of a certain tom that, for some reason, he couldn’t shake from his mind. The heat that spread through him at the sight wasn’t entirely from the sun.
Tugger wasn’t even doing anything beyond his usual posturing and lazing about and yet it was enough to pique Quaxo’s interest and (to his simultaneous horror and delight) fuel his imagination. Yes, it was all too easy to imagine himself draped over Tugger’s lap while playing with his mane. To have all of Tugger’s attention on him and to receive his praises, knowing that despite his fan club he only wanted Quaxo, that was a secret desire that had been brewing for who knew how long.
With no one around Quaxo didn’t feel nearly as perturbed by the intrusive thoughts, mainly because this hadn’t been the first time he had thought them. Not that he would ever act on them, oh no. To willingly throw himself into Tugger’s arms was essentially telling the whole world that he was pathetically in love- no, not in love, lusting- pathetically lusting after the one cat in the tribe that he could not have. It would be the end of him.
Right, maybe he wouldn’t actually die if the others found out about his attraction. Maybe he was being a bit dramatic. The past few days had really done a number on his poise and composure. Anyways, as it was, Quaxo was never going to admit to anything, not so long as he could keep it all to himself until he grew old and died alone-
Again, maybe that was too dramatic. He needed a distraction. Luckily the universe had decided to spare him any more indignity and granted him one.
“There you are.” Victoria appeared at his feet, visibly worried. “I couldn’t find you yesterday.”
“Sorry, I was….” Trying to keep his magic from surging out of control, to keep the literal and metaphorical storm at bay, to keep his mind from splitting in two, while also tampering an unrequited crush on Tugger? “Busy. I was busy.”
“Well, are you busy now?”
“No.” He scooted over on the beam to make room for her. “How are things?”
“Going as well as can be expected. At least the mud dried out. It took me ages to get all the mud off.” Victoria stretched a leg out in front of her for scrutiny.
“I can only imagine.” He gave her leg a brief glance before returning his eyes to Tugger.
“How are you feeling?” Victoria followed his gaze over to where Tugger lounged with the others. Apparently his feelings about the tom were much more noticeable than he had hoped. Better nip that subject in the bud before she got ideas in her head and ran with it. He would have to be direct and to the point, otherwise she would take over the conversation and never let him hear the end of it.
“Just because I may be staring at Tugger doesn’t mean I have to tell you how I’m feeling about him. In fact, I’m not thinking about him at all so you can drop the subject.” Quaxo said with as much finality as he could muster.
“I wasn’t talking about Tugger.” Victoria slowly turned to look at him. “I was asking about your headaches.”
“Oh.” His heart sank. There was no turning back now, he had really done it this time.
“But now that you mention it, I’ve noticed that you’ve been very interested in whatever Tugger’s doing.”
Quickly Quaxo tried to steer the conversation in any other direction than the one it was careening towards. “My head is-”
“Too late about that, I’m much more curious about your feelings for Tugger.” She was giving him those eyes. The eyes of a queen who was now lazer focused on what might be the most scandalous gossip in the tribe. Maybe that was being a little too dramatic, but Quaxo felt like throwing himself over the side of the chair and hiding his face among the garbage.
The little flicker of warmth in his chest that had been sparked at the sight of Tugger was now burning brightly, surging up to his face and turning it red. This did not help the calm, unaffected attitude he had been trying to convey.
“Oh, Quaxo!” Victoria exclaimed excitedly. “You still have a crush on him, don’t you? This is-”
“No! No, I do not.” Quaxo hastily said, doing everything he could to look away from the tom he had been openly ogling. “Whatever I may have said earlier, either today or in the past, has been wildly misconstrued.”
The look Victoria gave him almost made him turn around and hide. For such a sweet, delicate queen she sure could dial up the intensity of her gaze. He felt sorry for whatever tom she chose to spend the rest of her days with. Hopefully that tom would be able to withstand her relentless pestering.
“Quaxo, you know I haven’t told anyone about your feelings about Tugger, not since you told me after we first met him.” She purred, giving him an affectionate nuzzle that he knew was only for show. He was really in for it now.
“That was an unfortunate accident. I don’t know what I was talking about. I must have lost my mind.” Oh, he knew that was a lie.
In fact, as a further betrayal, his mind brought up the memory of when he first laid eyes on the Rum Tum Tugger. The very sight of the tom had rendered Quaxo speechless, mostly out of sheer fascination as Tugger sauntered up to him and Victoria, giving them both a wink and proceeding to gyrate in a sort of dance neither of them had ever seen before. The amount of swagger, not to mention hip action, could hardly be contained in one creature, and yet through Tugger it was the most natural form of dancing in the world. Before Quaxo could introduce himself Tugger had flicked him on the nose with his tail and wandered off, leaving him hot and bothered and thoroughly irritated.
“It’s not fair.” Quaxo had said once he and Victoria had been properly greeted and left to their own devices. “He can’t be that attractive and that obnoxious at the same time.”
Victoria had simply sighed and watched the show, completely lost in her own fantasies. Of course, later on she had latched onto his words and taken them wildly out of context, proclaiming that Quaxo had a crush on Tugger and ignoring all of his protests to the contrary. Not that there was much he could protest against.
Now here they were again, in the present, watching Tugger do his thing. Quaxo sighed. It was all too easy to let his imagination get away from him, especially after the brief events of the night before. Running into Tugger, the feel of his fur, his mane, and the urge to do much more than simply sit and talk-
Oh, he had it bad. And sitting around watching Tugger bathe himself in the sunlight wasn’t helping him say otherwise.
“Why don’t you go sit with him?” Victoria prompted. “You wouldn’t be the only one. Etcetera and the others are over there too.”
“I don’t need to be part of his fan club, thank you.”
“Oh, you know it’s not just sitting around ogling him all the time.” She gently batted his shoulder. “It’s a lot more fun hanging out with the others than sitting over here brooding.”
“I am not brooding. I’m….” Frantically he tried to come up with an excuse. “I’m busy.”
“You’d rather be miserably alone than let Tugger know that you actually tolerate him.”
“When did you become so-”
“Insightful?” She interrupted brightly.
“I was going to say something else.”
“Look, I know you’ve been going through some… some things lately. With your magic. But I want you to be happy. And I think that if you spent more time around Tugger and the rest of us instead of avoiding him you might be able to relax a little.”
“Thanks. I really do appreciate it. I’ll think about it.” It was the best he could do at the given moment. “And as for my magic, don’t worry. I have it under control now.”
Victoria gave him a long look, appearing to want to say much more, but instead gave him a hug.
“Very well. I’m off to say hello to Tugger and the others.” She said. “I’ll be sure to give him your regards.”
“Wait, no!” Too late. She bounded away from him, flicking her tail in a playful goodbye. “Great.”
Quaxo sighed to himself. Well, back to what he should be doing. While he was content to sit and watch Tugger from a safe distance (not that he was admitting that he was enjoying sitting all alone watching the tom), there were other things he had planned to do.
Finding Pouncival was the first order of the day. For some reason the tabby tom was proving difficult to find. Asking Munkustrap would be the next logical step, but the thought of speaking to the Jellicle Protector after he had nearly blown up the junkyard in a fit of magical overflow wasn’t high on his list of things to do. For now Quaxo would do his best to stay out from under Munk’s feet until things had calmed down a little more. He would have to try and find Pounce and avoid Tugger all on his own.
“And then Tugger just swooped in and picked me up, carrying me in his arms through the rain and the lightning. Oh, Electra, you should have been there, he was like my knight in shining armor!” Etcetera excitedly acted out the motions as she told the story of her rescue for the hundredth time.
“Oh wow, Tugger, you’re so strong!” Electra exclaimed.
“Hey, I’m not that heavy.” Etcetera pouted. “And anyways, I haven’t told you the best part-”
“Please, we’ve heard this story a million times already.” Tumblebrutus moaned and covered his ears. “Tugger’s your knight in shining armor, he brought you to Jenny’s to keep you safe, and then you spent the whole night telling us all how wonderful he was and I didn’t get any sleep!”
“No one was asking you!” Etcetera batted at his tail.
“You never ask me anything!” Tumble swatted her back.
“I do too!”
Said knight in shining armor closed his eyes and stretched his legs over the armchair he had claimed as his own, ignoring the argument happening below him. The day before had been such an arduous day of piecing the junkyard back together (despite him telling Munkustrap that it made no sense to try and organize a literal yard of junk) that all Tugger wanted to do today was lounge and catch up on some well earned relaxation.
“As I was saying, I’m just happy we can all hang out again and not be sitting in the mud.” Etcetera continued once the argument was over.
“I’ll second that.” Tugger commented. “The mud does nothing for my fur.”
“Oh, Tugger, you’d look good even if you were covered in mud.” Electra sighed.
Next to her Jemima giggled. As soon as Tugger had claimed the chair for his own Etcetera, Electra and Jemima had arrived. Tumble had shown up not too long after, and the five of them settled into the sun for a lazy afternoon. The group soon attracted another familiar queen.
“Victoria!” Etcetera called out to their newest arrival. “Come sit with us!”
“Nice to see that you managed to avoid all the mud yesterday.” Tugger said, gesturing to her pristine fur.
“Thanks, Tugger.” Victoria smiled brightly at him. “Quaxo sends his regards.”
“Does he?” Tugger casually looked in the direction she had come from but saw no sign of the tom. Not that he had expected to see Quaxo but a small part of him was disappointed.
“Where is Quaxo? I haven’t seen him in a while.” Electra asked.
“Oh, he’s busy.” Victoria said dismissively. “As usual.”
Despite his growing curiosity Tugger decided to shelve his questions for later. Right now he had some relaxation to catch up on. Yes, everything was how it should be. Although now that the subject of missing cats was brought up he couldn’t help but notice the lack of a certain patch tabby tom in the usual gaggle of cats that liked to hang around him.
Not that Tugger needed to have every single cat in the junkyard adoring him, but an absence of Pouncival was usually something to take notice of, especially since it usually meant that the tom was off plotting some sort of prank that would become unfortunately relevant in the near future.
“Hey, Tumble, where’s Pounce?” Tugger asked.
“Pounce? He’s with Demeter and Munk.” Tumble pointed over to the tire overlooking the main clearing in the junkyard.
Tugger squinted over at the tire where both Demeter and Munkustrap were talking quietly to each other. At first it appeared to be a private conversation, but if he looked closer he could just make out a patch of cream fur behind the gold and the silver.
“What happened to him?” Jemima asked. “Is he in trouble?”
“No. I don’t think so.” Tumble shrugged. “If he is I didn’t have anything to do with it. I’ve hardly seen him at all since the storm.”
Tugger watched as his brother turned back to survey the junkyard, the intensity of his gaze strong enough to be felt even from such a distance. Even though everything seemed normal there was something about the situation that seemed wrong. Tugger couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was but it was enough to keep him from settling back in his chair.
There was no fighting it, he’d have to check it out. The sooner he figured out one mystery in his life the sooner he could get back to his lounging. And there was still the matter of asking Pounce about Quaxo’s magic, especially since their last conversation ended with Pounce fleeing from him in unwarranted terror.
“Sorry, ladies, but I need to speak with my brother.” Tugger stood, gently shooing away the queens that were in his path.
“Aw, Tug, do you really have to go?” Etcetera pouted.
“I’ll be back before you know it.” He winked before sauntering off. “Keep my spot warm for me.”
It wasn’t a long walk to the tire and Tugger knew that he was in clear view of everyone, yet Munkustrap did not once glance his way as he approached. The Jellicle Protector sat ramrod straight on top of the tire, Demeter beside him in a slightly less tense posture, and sandwiched between them was Pouncival, who looked like he was trying to merge with them both through sheer proximity.
“Hey, Munk, enjoying the sun?” Tugger leaned up against the rubber beside his brother.
“Hello, Tugger.” Munk did not look at him but turned an ear his way. “I’m fine. Enjoying yourself?”
“Yes, very much so. Hi, Demeter, Pounce.”
To his surprise Pounce flinched and curled up into a ball, pressing up against Munk’s back to further hide himself. Demeter gave Tugger a warning look before trying to soothe the tabby’s trembling.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Munk asked, not moving a muscle despite the commotion behind him.
Now this was an odd sight. Munkustrap, while capable of being stern when he needed to be, was always a source of comfort for any cat that sought it. He was an anchor for those who found themselves lost in the drama of every day life, always a calm presence in mind and body, and never ignored a cat in need. Not that he was outright ignoring Pounce, but it was clear that there was something else on his mind. Something more important than the obviously terrified tom trying to hide in his fur.
“Not much you can do for me.” Tugger tried to puzzle out the sight before him. “But is there something I can do for you? Or for someone else?”
“No.” The single word did not give Tugger much to go on. Munk’s body language, however, was familiar enough to provide some explanation for the odd behavior.
It was obvious to anyone that knew Munkustrap that he was currently in full Jellicle Protector mode. Tugger could see the stiff posture, the alert focus of his eyes and ears, and the barely noticeable twitch of his tail. Munk was not comforting Pounce because he was busy protecting him. But protecting him from what?
Judging from the fact that he was not hiding Pounce away from the majority of the tribe nor ushering anyone else to safety it wasn’t a present threat, but it was close enough to keep him from relaxing his guard. Whatever it was that had Pounce scared also had the Jellicle Protector on edge. That was enough to make Tugger uneasy, not that he outwardly showed it.
“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute? Privately?” Tugger asked.
“Not right now. Unless it’s an emergency.”
The answer was not unexpected although it had been worth a try. While Tugger dearly wanted to interrogate his brother to see what was going on he didn’t want to bring up the subject in front of Pounce, who looked like he was about to jump out of his skin at any given moment. Whatever had him spooked really got him good.
“No emergency here. Just a lazy afternoon now that everything’s back to normal. I saw you two- sorry, Pounce, I mean three- and thought you’d like some company.”
“We’re fine.” Demeter said. She managed to coax Pounce to lean up against her side so that Munk could move.
Tugger stared up at them. Demeter was the only one who stared back. This was going nowhere. Might as well change tactics and ask about another cat that was acting strange. Maybe someone would finally give him a straight answer.
“Well, if you’re all fine, have you seen Quaxo anywhere? I’d-”
The question was interrupted by a shrill yelp. Tugger didn’t even have time to blink before Pounce rocketed off the tire towards him, knocking him clear off of his feet and sending him tumbling backwards into the dirt. Immediately Demeter and Munk were off the tire and at his side.
“We need to find him.” Munk said, helping Tugger to his feet. “Before he’s- before he gets lost.”
“I’ll go look for him.” Demeter said, putting a paw on Munk’s arm to keep him from running ahead. “You need to stay here and keep an eye out for-”
Abruptly she stopped, glancing over at Tugger. Munk shared her look. There were far too many secret glances between the two for Tugger’s liking.
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’t want Pounce to get hurt.” Tugger said. “I’ll help look for him. If I find him I’ll bring him back to you.”
Munk hesitated, obviously torn.
“I’m serious.” Tugger added. “I promise.”
“Very well.” Munk backed down and returned to his post on the tire, once again resuming his mysterious vigil. “But be careful.”
Demeter nodded and headed off towards Jenny’s den to see if Pounce had fled there. Tugger opted to wind his way through the junk pile that Pounce had darted over and start the search on the other side. He had to hand it to the tabby tom, he was quick when he needed to be, and apparently was able to vanish into thin air when he wanted to. Probably from hanging around Quaxo so much. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Quaxo had taught him some other tricks besides dancing.
The sound of small feet tapping a rhythm in the dirt caught his attention. Unless his ears deceived him it sounded a lot like Quaxo’s style of dancing. Careful not to disturb the tuxedo tom, Tugger crept closer, keeping his own footsteps light and precise. It was a bit of a squeeze but he was able to emerge into the neighboring clearing in one piece. The anticipation of what he might find kept him quiet.
To his surprise it wasn’t Quaxo after all. A certain patch tabby tom was dancing all alone, trying to emulate Quaxo’s dancing but not being very successful at it.
“Just forget about it, just dance.” Pounce muttered to himself. “If you’re too busy dancing you won’t have to think about it. Yeah.”
The pep talk obviously wasn’t working as well as he hoped. Several times Pounce stumbled, landing awkwardly after each jump, eventually leading him to flop onto the ground and curl up into a defeated ball.
“Looks like you could use some more practice.” Tugger commented as he strolled into view. Immediately Pounce shot into the air, landing heavily on his feet and whipping around to stare at him.
“Tugger!” Pounce half greeted, half screamed as all his hair stood on end. “Didn’t- didn’t see you there!”
“Pounce, relax. I’m just here to-”
“I’m fine! Absolutely fine!” The way his eyes rolled in his head indicated that he was not fine. “I’ve- I’ve- I’ve never been better! I’m fine!”
“Look, if you need to go, I’m not going to stop you.” Tugger sat down on the ground so he wasn’t looming over the smaller tom. “But if you stick around I’ve got something to ask you.”
“Me? Ask me? There’s- what’s- who- no, I’m fine!” Pounce did a funny squat, as if he were about to sit, decided not to, tried to lean nonchalantly up against a box, missed, and fell flat on his face.
“Seriously, do you need me to call somebody? Maybe Demeter?” Tugger could only stare at the sight before him. “You’re making me nervous. And I don’t do nervous.”
Pounce let out a huge sigh and rolled onto his back as he tried to stop hyperventilating. “Sorry. I’m just- It’s- I- I don’t know. What’s your question?”
“I was wondering what’s going on with you. You’ve been acting weird since the storm.”
“The what?” Immediately Pounce was rolling to his feet, grabbing his own tail in a panicked death grip. “Storm? What storm? I didn’t see- I heard- no, I didn’t-”
“Pounce, calm down! You’re going to send yourself to the Heaviside Layer at this rate.” Tugger risked putting a comforting paw on his shoulder. At the touch Pounce latched onto his arm and held it tightly.
“You don’t know.” Pounce whispered. “You don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
“What I saw.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it?” It was an awkward endeavor but Tugger managed to shuffle them both around until they were sitting side by side. Pounce still had his arm in an uncomfortably tight hold but at least he wasn’t using his claws.
“I was- I was outside.” Pounce said, eyes staring off into the distance. “It started to rain. A lot. So I ran under the tire ‘cause it was closest. Then I saw it.”
“Him. No, it. I dunno.”
“Who?” Tugger asked. “Who did you see?”
Pounce shivered, still staring into space. “I dunno. I thought it was… no, I dunno.”
“Did you see Quaxo?”
Wide eyes turned to him. “Were you there?”
“Yeah, I was.” Tugger thought back to that night. He had seen someone he thought was Quaxo over by the tire right before the lightning. The silhouette had been roughly the size and shape of Quaxo, but now that he thought about it, Pounce was the same size and shape too.
“I thought Quaxo was stuck in the rain like me.” Pounce continued. “But then he- it- it looked at me. And it wasn’t Quaxo.”
Any other time, any other place, and Tugger would have called him crazy. But Tugger remembered looking into Quaxo’s eyes and seeing… something looking back. Something that wasn’t Quaxo. Having Pounce confirm it did nothing to quell his suddenly racing thoughts.
“Pounce, what did you see?”
Pounce shook his head, remaining silent.
“Have you seen this… this thing before?”
“No.” The word came out as a whisper.
“Look, whatever it was, it’s gone now. You’re safe. It didn’t try and hurt you.” Munk was so much better at this than he was. What else could he say when he himself was uncertain? “Do you remember anything else?”
“I dunno. After that I tried to leave, but couldn’t, I was stuck behind the tire, and then Demeter and Coricopat found me, then I was at Jenny’s, and then- then they kept asking what was wrong, but I couldn’t tell them, Tugger, who would believe me, I wouldn’t believe me and I saw it, I saw that- that thing-”
“Okay, okay, take a deep breath. Just try to keep breathing. I believe you. I saw it too. I think.”
Pounce was now half buried in his mane, huddled up against him like he had done to Munk earlier. It was not a comfortable position. Tugger was not one for a cuddle but in this rare case he allowed it, mainly because this seemed to be the only opportunity he was going to have to interrogate Pounce without him running off.
“Pounce, I know about Quaxo’s magic. His real magic. The stuff that you and Victoria know about.”
“Um.” Pounce froze.
“Come on, you gotta be honest with me now. Especially since we both saw Quaxo blowing up the sky with literal lightning.”
“I don’t- I don’t know. All I’ve seen him do is sparkly stuff and floaty stuff. Until now.”
“Yeah. Uh, like he can just… float in the air?”
“Float.” Tugger repeated. Add that to the list of burning questions to ask Quaxo about.
“I don’t think I should be talking about this, Tugger. Quaxo’s gonna find out and- and- and get me or something-”
“Look. I don’t think Quaxo’s out to get you. I don’t think he’s out to get anybody.”
“You didn’t see the look in his eyes, Tugger, he-”
“I did.” Tugger interrupted. “I looked him dead in the eyes and I’m still here. Nothing happened. Yeah, it was an impressive storm, but Quaxo got it figured out and now we’re fine. You can trust me, can’t you? Have I ever let you down?”
Pounce took a deep breath. “No, you haven’t.”
“So how about you stop freaking out and join the rest of us? Tumble’s telling everyone you got in trouble with Munk, you don’t want them to think that, do you?”
“I… I guess.”
“Come on, let’s go back to the others.” Tugger pulled him to his feet.
“What about Quaxo?”
“What about him?”
“His magic and stuff. What if he goes crazy again?”
“He won’t go crazy, Pounce. Not any more so than the rest of us. Whatever happened is over with. He’s got control now.”
Pounce did not look totally convinced but allowed Tugger to take him back to the main part of the junkyard, where Munk immediately jumped into a worried lecture of not running off when terrified, especially if the reason for running off was because someone was apparently out to get you. Running away from the protector was not going to help with the protecting. Demeter joined them and resumed her own mothering of Pounce until he looked much more at ease and more like himself.
Tugger left them to it, weariness pulling at his limbs. He had been far too responsible as of late. If he didn’t do something soon then the others would think that he was turning into his brother, and that just wouldn’t do.
The rest of the afternoon progressed without further drama. Etcetera once again told the story of how Tugger had saved her from the thunder and lightning, Tumble complained, and everyone was happy. Even Munk settled down a little, posture relaxing from high alert to his normal attentiveness.
As the sun started to set everyone went their separate ways. By that point Tugger was ready to call it a day, and without further ado headed back towards his den. Tomorrow he would do as he wanted and not spend his time moving debris or searching for wayward cats no matter how much anyone asked him to.
Once again the sound of feet tapping along the ground made him pause. And once more his curiosity got the best of him and he detoured from his usual route to take a look. Maybe Pounce had decided to rehearse some more on his own now that he wasn’t about to jump out of his skin. Or maybe it really was Quaxo this time.
For once Tugger was not disappointed. In the light of the setting sun Quaxo danced, as if bidding farewell to the day and welcoming the night. It was the same dance he had been rehearsing with Pounce before, but on his own it was clear to see that it wasn’t just a dance, wasn’t just a series of practiced movements, but something more.
This time Tugger didn’t make an effort to conceal himself, instead stretching out on a forgotten mattress and making of show of getting comfortable. Quaxo gave him a look but did not stop in his routine, probably hoping that if he ignored the company then said company would take the hint and leave. Too bad Tugger was never one for taking hints.
“You’d have a lot more admirers if you danced where people could see you.” Tugger remarked.
“Maybe I don’t need to be admired.” Quaxo replied, turning his head up towards the emerging night sky.
“Well, no one needs to be admired. But you have to admit that being the center of attention isn’t as bad as you pretend it is. You could turn a lot of heads if you wanted to.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Quaxo stopped dancing. There was a hint of a warning in his tone. It was not enough to deter Tugger from the chance to have a decent conversation between them for once.
“I’m just saying, if you need some pointers I would be more than happy to help you out.” Tugger offered. “You’d be amazed by what I know.”
“It will be a dark day for us all when I need pointers from you.” Quaxo’s insult was dampened by his amused smile.
“You know what I think?”
“Whether or not I want to know you’ll tell me anyways.”
“I think that, despite your insistence on being Mr. Vague and Aloof, you secretly enjoy my presence.” Tugger kept his words casual while keeping a close eye on Quaxo. To his disappointment there wasn’t a noticeable reaction.
“If you’re trying to receive a compliment from me you’ll have to work harder than that.” Still smiling, Quaxo resumed practicing his footwork, keeping near enough to continue the conversation.
“Please, if I want to be complimented I’d have my pick from anyone in the junkyard.”
“Okay, maybe not Munk. But just about anyone else.”
“It must be hard being adored all the time.”
“It is a burden that few can bear.” Tugger dramatically held a paw to his heart.
Quaxo let out a very undignified snort, obviously trying not to laugh. “You poor soul.”
Tugger couldn’t help but smile in return. His smile grew even wider when Quaxo sat on the other end of the mattress, closing his eyes and turning his face up to the moon as he caught his breath. A comfortable silence settled between them, and Tugger took this moment to truly study the tom.
There was no sparkle to his fur, not this time, but something seemed to shimmer around him, just shy of being invisible to the naked eye. Tugger could sense it better than he could see it. There was another presence around them, one that was watching, one that wasn’t entirely Quaxo. Yet, in an incomprehensible way, it was only him.
Tugger shook his head. The longer he stared at Quaxo the harder it would be to look away. And already he felt like he was treading unknown waters, uncertain just how long the moment would last between them before he said something that pushed Quaxo away.
“How is everyone?” Quaxo asked, opening his eyes to stare up at the stars.
“Everyone? Fine, I suppose. Munk’s got the usual stick up his butt about something and everyone’s still complaining about the mud. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Hm.” This didn’t seem to be the answer he was looking for. Idly he picked at a stray thread on the mattress, tail twitching back and forth.
“I saw Pounce rehearsing your dance earlier.” Tugger said, trying a different approach. “Kid still needs practice but at least he seems interested in being your understudy. Still don’t know why you picked him of all cats.”
That got Quaxo’s attention. “You talked with Pounce?”
“Yeah. Poor guy seemed stressed.”
“Did he mention anything about me?”
“A little. The storm freaked him out.” Tugger glanced over at Quaxo, who had hunched in on himself at the mention of the storm. “But I told him he had nothing to worry about and that you handled it.”
“Thank you for helping him. Otherwise I would have had to find someone else to dance with.”
“That would be a shame. I can’t imagine who else you would be able to find on short notice.”
Quaxo quirked an eyebrow at him but did not comment.
“Oh, and Victoria told me that you sent me your regards. Nice of you to do that.”
Instantly Quaxo turned red, whether from embarrassment or indignation was hard to tell. “She didn’t dare. I’m going to-”
“Easy, it’s fine. I was a little confused though since you practically ran away from me last night.”
“There’s… there’s been a lot on my mind.” Quaxo admitted. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“It’ll take a lot more than that to offend me.”
“I can only imagine.”
“Look, if you want to talk about last night-”
“I don’t, Tugger. I really don’t.” Quaxo interrupted, closing his eyes again.
“Whoa, okay, we don’t have to talk about it.” Tugger said. “I’m just saying if you want to you can. I don’t know what impression I gave off earlier, but I do enjoy talking to you.”
Casually Tugger stretched a little further until he was nearly touching Quaxo. The tom, eyes still closed, didn’t react to their proximity.
“You know, I don’t think we’ve ever really talked before. Not like this.” Tugger commented. “It’s nice. We should do it more often, you know?”
Quaxo hummed an assent, posture melting into a more relaxed pose. Without even opening his eyes he laid back across Tugger’s legs, a pose that couldn’t have been comfortable but one that Tugger dared not move from. Quaxo’s fur exuded a warmth that was more than just normal body heat, extending past Tugger’s legs and warming his whole body with a pleasant tingle.
Tugger was about to comment on the obvious use of magic when he noticed that Quaxo’s fur wasn’t just acting as a heater. It was also sparkling again. The sight was entrancing enough to make Tugger want to reach out and touch Quaxo’s fur, but he just barely managed to keep his paws to himself. For once he would show restraint.
Well, maybe only for a second. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Slowly Tugger reached out and traced the fur between Quaxo’s ears, holding his breath at the feel of the soft fur. With a contented sigh Quaxo opened his eyes, turning to look directly at him.
It was not Quaxo looking at him. The body was still the same but the mind behind the eyes was entirely different. A jolt ran through Tugger as he recognized the being from the storm, the one who had danced with the lightning, the wild, dangerous being that he felt inexplicably drawn to. A being that, in an absurd turn of events, was now using his legs as a pillow and welcoming pets.
“Quaxo?” Tugger asked, immediately knowing that he was using the wrong name.
The tom stared at him, eyes searching. Then, with a blink, the presence was gone, and Quaxo was himself once more.
“I should be going.” Quaxo said, not commenting on the fact that he had been lounging on Tugger’s legs, nor admitting that he had just been taken over by something else entirely.
“Quaxo, I-” Tugger stared as the tom stood and stretched. The sparkle to his fur had vanished, leaving Tugger feeling oddly cold.
“Yes?” The question was innocent. Quaxo was still smiling.
“Never mind. Have a good night.”
“You too, Tugger. This was… nice.” With that Quaxo turned and left.
Tugger fell backwards onto the mattress and stared up at the stars. What had been a passably normal day had just taken a turn once more into the unknown. And for some reason he knew that, no matter how much he tried to ignore it, he would find himself at the heart of it.
Here we are again! Got a couple more things to set up in this chapter before the real fun stuff starts. Thanks for hanging on and reading this, I'm having a lot of fun writing it!
It was the first morning in Jellicle history that Pouncival was awake before dawn. Granted, he hadn’t really slept at all since the night of the storm so he technically wasn’t waking up but rather giving up and going about his day, but it still counted. At the very least he was awake before Tumble and could therefore berate his brother for sleeping in.
Of course, trying to wake Tumble was a herculean task to begin with and one that Pounce quickly gave up on. There were better things he could be doing. Aimlessly he made his way across the junkyard to find a spot to himself.
“Morning, Poun- Pounce?” Alonzo, who had taken the last watch of the night over the junkyard, did a double take upon seeing him. “What are you doing up at this hour?”
“I didn’t do anything!” Pounce automatically protested, then realized that he in fact hadn’t done anything worth being punished for. “I’m just… actually, I’m not doing anything.”
“I’ve never seen you up this early.” Alonzo gave him a suspicious stare.
“Yeah, well, I’m up.”
“Are you alright?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah! Quit asking me that!” Pounce huffed, offended.
“Only Munk told me that you were having a bit of trouble after the storm.” Alonzo said. “How are you-”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore, I’m fine, we’re all fine, so thank you but I have places to be!” And with that Pounce darted off through the closest tunnel he could find, squeezing through spaces that not even Alonzo could fit through to follow.
“It’s fine, Tugger said that it was fine.” Pounce told himself once he was fairly certain that he wouldn’t be found or interrogated.
Despite his and Tugger’s words he couldn’t help but feel that they were both wrong. Sure, Tugger had said that Quaxo had it under control, but did he really? Quaxo was magical, there was no doubt about that, but the thing that Pounce had seen seemed beyond just some flashy magic tricks. There was an intelligence there that wasn’t just Quaxo’s and that was what bothered him.
That night, that night where he had been stuck by the tire in the storm, where he had turned and looked Quaxo dead in the eyes, he had seen it. Something dangerous, something powerful, something that hungered. The recollection of that look crawled under his skin and made it impossible to sleep.
But again Tugger had said that Quaxo had everything under control. And Tugger would know. So really, there wasn’t anything to worry about. Maybe if Pounce didn’t look at Quaxo anymore he’d be okay, although it would be hard to learn from Quaxo if he couldn’t look at the cat.
Idly Pounce ran through a couple of the steps that Quaxo had taught him, trying to keep his feet light and delicate. Before the storm he had been excited to study under the tom and learn new things for himself, especially since he would have an opportunity to show off at the Jellicle Ball, but now… now he wasn’t sure if he could handle being around Quaxo long enough to learn any more.
Was he really going to lose his friend over this? Over some strange magic? If only Pounce had the courage to talk to Quaxo face to face and sort it out, if only he had been able to sleep for more than five minutes at a time, if only-
“I’ve been looking for you.” The soft voice was drowned out by Pounce’s scream of surprise. It figured that Quaxo would arrive precisely when it was most anxiety inducing.
“Oh! Uh, you have?” Pounce’s eyes looked everywhere but at the one cat that terrified him. “Didn’t, uh, didn’t know you were looking for- for, ah, for me. Were you looking for me?”
“Yes, Pounce, I was looking for you. I was wondering if you’d- Pounce, are you alright?”
“Yep. Absolutely. Nothing wrong. Just fine and, ah, and dandy?” So long as he didn’t look Quaxo straight in the eye he wouldn’t have to wonder if Quaxo would be the one looking back. “You wanted something?”
“Yes. I was wondering if you’d be free to practice our routine some more.”
“More of that overlooking stuff?” There was a different word for it but Pounce could never remember.
“Understudy. It’s called being an understudy.”
“Right. I can do that.” Pounce turned his attentions to a rusted bicycle. Could he go the rest of his life not looking at his friend? Maybe. Was he going to try? Also maybe.
“You know, you’re going to have to look at me if you want to learn from me.”
“Yep.” His eyes were still firmly fixed on anywhere else.
“Pounce, did I do something wrong?”
“Then why aren’t you looking at me?”
“I’m….” Afraid. Uncertain of what would be looking back at him through his friend’s eyes. Feeling like he would be eaten alive if he looked into Quaxo’s eyes and saw something else looking back.
“Was it something I said?”
“No.” Heaviside above was he tired. Pounce rubbed his eyes, wishing that he had just stayed home and hadn’t gone for a wander.
“Then what is it?”
“I….” Might as well get it over with. If whatever was inside Quaxo was going to eat him it’d be better to do it now. With obvious effort Pounce finally looked at him, tail nervously twitching back and forth.
“Are you feeling alright?” The tuxedo asked, clearly concerned.
Quaxo, so far as Pounce could tell, was his usual self. No sparkling, no flashes of magic, no-
- no gazing into a void that threatened to pull unsuspecting toms in and swallow them whole-
- nothing unusual. Just Quaxo, his friend and mentor and all around good cat.
“Better. I’m better now.” Pounce let out a small sigh of relief. Yeah. There was nothing to be afraid about. Tugger was absolutely right, like usual.
“I’m glad to hear it.” Quaxo looked relieved. “I was worried that… well, that something might have happened to you.”
“Nope. Just a little freaked out by lightning. Not like you know anything about that, since you were in it and didn’t care.”
“What does that mean?”
“Um.” Well now he’d done it. If Quaxo didn’t know that he had seen the storm he certainly did now.
“Pounce, what did you see?”
“Ah, not much. Just lots of rain. And lightning. And… and you.” Even if Pounce had wanted to mention the other presence he had seen he didn’t think he could properly articulate it. Trying to tell Tugger what was going on had been difficult enough.
“I see.” Quaxo said quietly. “I’m sorry if I scared you. You know it is never my intention to hurt you or scare you.”
“Yeah, I know. I just got freaked out. Um, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. It was just a small surge of magic brought on by a headache. But I’m fine now.” Quaxo really did seem to be telling the truth.
Pounce shrugged. “Then I guess we’re both fine.”
“It would seem so.”
An awkward silence descended upon them both. In tandem they fidgeted and aimlessly kicked at the ground, both trying to come up with something to say that would dispel the uncomfortable mood. Finally it was Quaxo that came to the rescue.
“Would you still like to practice?” Quaxo asked.
“Well, yeah, of course.” Pounce replied. “I mean, if you still want to.”
“Of course I do.” With a bit of a forced smile Quaxo drew himself into the first pose of their routine. “Let’s begin.”
Here was where both of them were the most comfortable with each other. For as long as they had been friends they had learned to dance from one another (although to be honest it was mainly Pounce learning from Quaxo) and as they danced through the routine Pounce could easily forget his fear of his friend. Or, rather, the fear of whatever had been inside his friend. It was too complicated for him to think about while trying to follow the complicated routine.
“Hey, I have a question.” Pounce asked once they took a break.
“Yes?” Quaxo stretched his legs out in front of him and looked up at the clouds above them.
“Why you what?”
“I mean, why’d you pick me to be your over… understudy?”
“Oh.” Quaxo flicked his tail back and forth in thought. “I suppose I sensed your... potential.”
Pounce chanced a glance at Quaxo while they were resting. There was something about how Quaxo phrased the word ‘potential’ that didn’t quite sit right with him. It sounded more predatory than praising.
“Hm?” Quaxo looked away from the clouds and met his gaze. Still normal.
“Never mind.” Pounce bounced back onto his feet. Might be best to change the subject. “Hey, wanna go show off to the queens? I’m sure we’re good enough now to turn a few heads.”
“You sound like Tugger.” Quaxo said, face blank.
“Well, maybe he’s got the right idea. Come on, you’re good enough to show off and get some attention. You can’t just do the same old magic tricks all the time. Gotta hit them with something new, they’d never expect it.”
An expression flickered over Quaxo’s face, a flash of something Pounce couldn’t identify, but suddenly the tuxedo was on his feet.
“You’re right. I can’t just do the same old tricks.” Quaxo announced, looping an arm through Pounce’s and hauling him off towards the main part of the junkyard. “Let’s go and see who we can find.”
Pounce grinned. Now this was more like it. Despite Quaxo proclaiming that he would rather keep to himself there were times where he suddenly seemed to want to be the center of attention, demand everyone’s time and energy, and it looked like this was it. The tom was literally glowing with excitement.
The Rum Tum Tugger was not a creature of habit. His disobliging ways were but, by definition, that meant that any minute he could do the exact opposite of what was expected and therefore still not keep to any usual habits. It was a talent that made Munkustrap roll his eyes more than any cat ever could.
Still, when Tugger sauntered into the junkyard, he at least expected to start his usual routine of collecting as many queens and toms around his feet as he could while figuring out what to do with himself.
“Alright, ladies and gents, where were we?” Tugger placed his paws on his hips and strutted towards the waiting group. Back to business. “Ladies? Gents? Anyone?”
There was a suspicious absence of the usual crowd. Scratch that, there was a suspicious absence of anyone. Where was everybody?
Tugger’s wanderings led him over to the tire, where Munkustrap was, as expected, perched like a sentry. What was not expected was for Alonzo to be perched there with him, their foreheads nearly touching as they huddled together in a private conversation.
“- said he was fine, but he looked half crazed.” Alonzo was saying.
“He’s been on edge since the storm.” Munk replied. “But Tugger was able to talk to him and settle him a little yesterday.”
“Tugger? You had the Rum Tum Tugger talk some sense into Pouncival.”
“Yes, I know. He more or less volunteered to do it.”
“You do realize that Tugger has the ability to rile up the entire tribe with just one well placed hip thrust.” Alonzo pointed out.
“Please don’t put it like that.” Munk sighed. “And Tugger can tone it down when it suits him, he just doesn’t feel the need to.”
“All the time.”
“I don’t know about this.” Alonzo stretched out onto the tire to properly lounge in the sun. “First the weird weather, then Pounce’s half mad, and now Tugger’s a psychiatrist. What else is going to happen?”
Munk remained silent, aiming a worried look at the sky, a look that went unnoticed by Alonzo but was not missed by Tugger. That was a good a time as any to announce his presence. Although judging by the lack of Munk’s surprise Tugger suspected that his brother knew he had been listening in on the conversation.
“Well, what are you two up to? You haven’t seen… well, anybody around, have you?” Tugger asked.
“No. We suspected they were all gathered around you.” Alonzo muttered.
“I just returned from patrolling the perimeter of the junkyard.” Munk told him. “I haven’t had a moment to account for everyone’s whereabouts.”
Normally this would have been an exaggeration but judging by the look in Munk’s eye Tugger knew he was serious about keeping everyone accounted for.
“If you want to take a look around I’ll keep watch here.” Alonzo said as he made himself comfortable.
“Thank you.” Munk slid off the tire. “I’ll be back shortly.”
Instead of hanging around Alonzo, who looked about as interesting as a bowl of pudding at the moment, Tugger followed his brother, who had set off in a purposeful stalk across the junkyard.
“You seem to be keeping a tight watch on things lately.” Tugger commented.
“No more so than usual.”
“Uh huh. When was the last time you had a break-”
“That is none of your concern.” Munk snapped, fur bristling.
“Whoa, Munk, I didn’t mean to-”
“No, no, I apologize.” Immediately Munk returned to his usual slightly stressed mood. “Things have been rather tense as of late and I… I’m finding it difficult to keep everything in order.”
The rare admission was enough cause for alarm. “Hey, Munk, you know you can talk to me, right?”
“Yes, Tugger. The fact that we are talking right now proves that.”
“No, I mean, you can have a serious conversation with me.”
Munkustrap stopped to give him a look. A look that simultaneously held a thousand unspoken thoughts and yet revealed nothing. It was a look honed from many years as being the Jellicle Protector and thoroughly irritated Tugger, because he knew that while his brother wanted to say something he was never going to. There was no use pushing him when he was in such a mood.
“Fine. Be cryptic.” Tugger huffed. “But don’t say I didn’t try.”
“No, Tugger, look.” Munk took a minute to compose his thoughts. “Things… there are things on my mind that are concerning, but I’ve come to realize that they are also things that I may be blowing out of proportion. At the very least the whole situation is outside of my control.”
“Sounds like you shouldn’t worry about it then.”
“If only I could.” Munk sighed.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with Pounce, would it?” Tugger hazarded a guess.
“No. Well, yes, in a way, but I believe you did more to help him than I could.”
“Eh, I might have talked some sense into him.” Tugger shrugged. “He’s pretty flexible, he’ll bounce back.”
“May I ask what he was concerned about?”
“He didn’t tell you?”
“Not in so many words.” Munk aimed his disappointed gaze at a rusted bicycle. “He wouldn’t talk to Demeter either.”
“Oh.” Tugger wondered just what Pounce had told Munk when they were sitting up together on the tire the day before. “Uh, he was just worried about Quaxo.”
“I see.” That got Munk’s attention. “Did he say anything in particular about Quaxo?”
“Some things. Mainly he was just… worried.”
“Worried about what?”
“You know Pounce, he gets weird ideas and just runs with them, it’s not that important.” Tugger intentionally kept the part about Pounce’s fear of Quaxo’s… peculiar personalities vague. For one, he felt that Munk wouldn’t understand, and two, there wasn’t much either of them could do about it.
“I find it important. I find it very important.”
“Look, why don’t you just ask either of them yourself? I don’t know why suddenly I’m your go between.”
“Because neither of them will talk to me, Tugger!” Munk was only one step away from hissing at him. “I’ve been trying to talk to both of them but neither will open up to me. I can’t even find Quaxo to ask him how he’s faring. For some reason it’s you that they’re drawn to.”
“Oh.” There wasn’t much Tugger could say to that.
“Yes. I don’t know what I did to drive Quaxo away-”
“Hey, I don’t think it’s like that. Just between the two of us I’m amazed that Quaxo even talks to me.”
“He likes you, you know.” Munk stated. “He always has.”
“Oh really? Why don’t you tell me more?”
“No. It’s his business if he does or not. And your ego is large enough as it is.” Munk rolled his eyes, settling back into his usual brotherly exasperation. It was a better look on him than the frustration he had been previously sporting.
“Hey, it takes a lot of talent to be this appealing.” Tugger fluffed his mane to emphasize his point.
“Right, and I’m-” Munk’s retort was interrupted by the sounds of cheering and laughter.
They rounded the corner to find Tugger’s usual group sitting attentively and watching Quaxo and Pounce rehearse a complicated routine, the same routine that Tugger had walked in on before. It was apparent that Quaxo had it nailed down but Pounce still needed some work, but the tom was humorously turning his stumbles into intentional improvisations that provided plenty of amusement. Quaxo, for his part, did his best to guide his protégé and gently corrected him when needed.
Interestingly enough both Coricopat and Tantomile were part of the crowd, both turning to look at Tugger and Munk as they approached. Immediately Coricopat nudged Munk aside and led the silver tabby away for a private conversation, leaving Tantomile to watch the performance on her own.
“So this is where everyone ran off to.” Tugger remarked.
“Yes. Quaxo and Pouncival were eager to show off what they have learned.” Tantomile replied. “We have been waiting for you.”
“You in particular or all of you?”
Tantomile did not reply, instead turning her gaze back to the show. Sensing that he would get no more information from her, Tugger instead sought out the company of someone who would be more talkative.
“I was wondering when you’d show up.” Bombalurina rubbed up against him affectionately.
“You know me, I never arrive on time.” Tugger gave her a satisfied smile. “How long have these two been showing off?”
“They just started. I didn’t know that anyone was capable of getting Pounce to sit still long enough to teach him anything, but Quaxo seems to have met the challenge.”
Tugger tried to look at Pounce to confirm but his eyes kept getting drawn to Quaxo. The way the cat moved, the way he danced, it was beyond talent that came from relentless rehearsal. This was an inborn talent that, no matter how hard they tried, some cats simply wouldn’t possess. Not that Tugger had to worry. While his moves might not have been as balletic as Quaxo’s he was sure he could keep in sync if given the chance.
The thought of being given a chance to dance with Quaxo sent a warm rush through him. He couldn’t help but picture how they’d move together, how easily they would compliment one another, how it would feel to have the tom up against him as they really showed the others how it was done. There would be no doubt that the two of them would be the talk of the junkyard if Tugger danced with Quaxo the same way he danced with some of the more provocative cats.
There was a mental image that would stay with him for a while. Forget chances. At the next opportunity Tugger was going to step in and seize the moment.
“I think you have an admirer.” Bomba whispered in his ear, interrupting his daydreams.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I have plenty of admirers.” Tugger automatically responded.
“Yes, but not him.” She nodded towards the dancing pair.
Quaxo was looking their way, gaze focused solely on Tugger as he effortlessly showed off his footwork. It was clear to Tugger that Quaxo wanted to make sure that he was watching.
Oh, Tugger was watching. And he was getting ideas.
“Watch this.” Tugger swiveled his hips in Quaxo’s direction and gave him a saucy wink.
Quaxo’s face turned such a deep shade of red that it could be seen from a distance. Immediately he turned his entire body away to save face but the damage had already been done.
“You know how to leave a lasting impression.” Bomba remarked.
“I really do, don’t I-”
“Hey, Tugger! Look at this!” Pounce did an interesting interpretation of back flip and landed squarely on Quaxo, sending them both crashing to the ground.
“Good job.” Tugger reached out to help Quaxo to his feet as the others dusted Pounce off. “Way to literally bring down the house.”
“Hey, I’m still learning, I’m trying.” Pounce protested.
“Yeah, you’re trying to kill everybody.” Tumble gave him an affectionate smack upside the head.
“Watch it! It’s not like you haven’t done the same thing.”
“I haven’t because I’m actually careful when I do acrobatic tricks.”
“Uh huh, and what about when you were showing off for Jemima, what about that-”
“Shut up, we’re not talking about that-”
And with that the brothers were scuffling, providing an impromptu intermission to the show. A few of the cats in the audience who were familiar with this form of communication between the two quickly grew bored and left to find something more interesting.
Tugger wasn’t paying attention to any of it. His focus was currently on the cat that he had helped to his feet. The cat that, once more, was no longer Quaxo. How Tugger could recognize the difference so easily might have bothered him if he wasn’t so intrigued.
“Uh.” Tugger let go of the being, eyes noticing the subtle sparkle to the tom’s fur that he was rapidly associating with the change in mindsets Quaxo seemed to oscillate between.
“Hey, Quaxo, sorry about throwing you in the dirt, we can start again if you want.” Pounce kept his embarrassed gaze anywhere but at the other cat. Luckily this meant that he did not notice that his dance partner had suddenly turned into someone else.
Before Tugger could intervene he was pushed aside as the tuxedo tom immediately took center stage, drawing in everyone’s attention and sending a hush over the remaining members of the audience. His eyes were closed, hiding the unnatural being that had taken over, and with an entirely new routine he began to dance.
The air around him grew heavy, reminiscent of the humidity before a summer thunderstorm. The sparkling on the cat’s fur was more prevalent now yet no one but Tugger seemed to notice. If they did then they did not comment, too enthralled by the display to interrupt. Faster the being moved, directing Quaxo’s body through a complex pattern of movements, in a dance that left Tugger feeling both immeasurably drawn into and deterred by. There was a dangerous feeling to it, one that Tugger had experienced before, and it was only a matter of time before something happened.
Surprisingly it was Pounce who put an end to precarious situation. The tom had been trying to keep up but his weary body simply couldn’t handle it anymore. With an exaggerated sigh he gave up and dramatically threw himself to the ground.
“Yeah, okay.” Pounce panted, sprawling onto his back. “You win. I can’t move anymore.”
Clearly the physical activity had taken its toll on the tabby tom. As soon as his he was horizontal his eyes slid shut and he was out like a light.
“Guess I’ll take care of this.” Tumble muttered from the crowd, leaving his spot in the audience to sling his brother over a shoulder. “Way to go, Quaxo, I think you finally danced him into submission.”
The being twitched at the name, eyes narrowing at Tumble.
“Hey, Quaxo, the sparkles are a nice touch, how did you do that?” Bomba sidled up to him and reached out to touch his fur.
“Trade secret.” Tugger immediately intervened, pulling her arm away from the increasingly agitated magical cat. There was no telling what he was going to do in such a mood.
“Hey, don’t be jealous.” Bomba shot him an irritated look.
“I’m not jealous.” Tugger took his gaze off of the tuxedo to give Bomba his own irritated stare. “You don’t understand-”
“Please, don’t even kid yourself.”
That was the unspoken cue for the rest of the group to disperse. No matter how intriguing the situation was nobody wanted to be present when Bombalurina and the Rum Tum Tugger started to argue.
“Bomba, you need to back off.” Tugger growled. “You don’t understand what’s going on here.”
“Don’t tell me to back off, Tugger.” Bomba reached out to touch Quaxo again. “I’m allowed to admire the same toms you do.”
“It’s not that, it’s-”
“Stop!” Quaxo’s shout startled them both into silence. Bomba’s look of irritation turned to concern.
“Quaxo, no need to be upset.” She said comfortingly. “We were just-”
“Stop! Just stop! I can’t deal with you right now!” Quaxo pushed past her to stand by himself, eyes screw up tight in intense concentration.
“What in the world-”
“Bomba, go get Munk.” Tugger said, more to spare her from witnessing any strange changes the cat might be about exhibit. Also it wouldn’t hurt to have his brother see for himself what was going on.
Bomba didn’t hesitate and hurried off at his suggestion, leaving Tugger to deal with Quaxo on his own. The cat in question was struggling, paws pressed tightly against his head, body hunched over as if he were about to be sick. His fur flashed brightly in sporadic bouts of magical electricity. The very air hummed around him.
Despite the obvious danger Tugger drifted closer. “Quaxo, tell me what’s wrong.”
“Don’t touch me, I’m- I’m-” Quaxo batted at Tugger’s arm and staggered away. “I don’t know how- it hurts, Tugger, it hurts so much.”
To hear the tangible anguish in Quaxo’s voice sent a chill down Tugger’s spine. Instinct overrode any sense of self preservation, filling him with a need to stop the tom’s pain in any way he could. This was achieved by Tugger simply enveloping Quaxo in his arms and holding him close, almost as if to shield him from himself.
“Just breathe, take it easy.” Tugger murmured as he felt his own fur tingle with the magical energy he was in contact with.
“You don’t understand, I can’t- it’s- it’s so much to handle, it knows I can’t handle it-”
“You’re still here. Focus on that.”
“There’s… there’s not much time.” Quaxo pulled away to stare up at him, eyes filled with fear. “I’m going to be gone soon.”
“What?” Tugger didn’t allow himself to ponder such an odd statement. “No, don’t say that, just-”
Too late. Quaxo’s eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he fell face first into Tugger’s arms. The air around them grew cold and quiet, leaving them all alone in an unnatural stillness.
Well, not entirely alone. Tantomile was still watching, having not once moved from her spot since the show began.
“What can I do to help him?” Tugger asked, wondering why she wasn’t doing anything but watch.
“He knows what he must do. Until he accepts it this will keep happening.” Tantomile told him.
“What will keep happening?”
“This.” Tantomile did nothing to expand upon her statement.
“Well can you do anything about it?” Tugger tried to keep the anger out of his voice but he couldn’t stop the growl.
The psychic cat was undeterred. Tantomile started to walk off, gesturing with her tail for Tugger to follow. Carefully Tugger shifted Quaxo into his arms, trying to keep the tom’s head from becoming lost in his mane, and followed her down a familiar path. In no time at all there were in front of his own den. Without hesitating Tantomile walked right in and made herself at home.
“Why my den?” Tugger asked, trying to ignore the absurdity of such a situation. At least his home was spacious enough for all of them to sit comfortably. Or, in Quaxo’s case, sleep comfortably.
“He will be most comfortable here.” Tantomile said, gesturing for Tugger to lay Quaxo down on his bed.
“I know my bed’s pretty comfortable, but shouldn’t he be in his own?”
“Do you want him to be in his own?” The question was accompanied by a delicate lift of the brow.
“Shouldn’t we get somebody to help?” Tugger tried a new question, not wanting to get into a debate about how he truly felt about a cat that was unconscious in his bed. He didn’t even know where to start thinking with that subject anyways.
“Coricopat is with Munkustrap at the present moment. Neither of them are needed.” Tantomile placed a paw on Quaxo’s side and gently rolled him so she could touch his back. Without much preamble she closed her own eyes and went still.
Tugger shuffled around a bit before he found a comfortable spot to sit and wait. It was no secret that Coricopat and Tantomile were psychic but it was still a rare sight to actually see one of them use their powers. As it was, he still wasn’t sure what they actually did besides read minds and perform unnaturally in sync. Then again, he hadn’t known that Quaxo was capable of actual magic until recently. The tribe was becoming very complicated very quickly.
“Quaxo.” Tantomile said, breaking the silence.
“Uh?” Quaxo’s eyelids fluttered but did not open.
“Quaxo.” Tantomile called his name. “Come back to us.”
The cat in question responded by sighing and burying his face in the nearest blanket. Tantomile removed her paw and sat back, completely at ease with the sight.
“What’s he doing?” Tugger asked.
“Making himself comfortable.” Tantomile replied with a knowing smile.
“Okay, that’s all well and good, but is he going to be alright?”
“So long as he stays with you, yes.”
“Please tell me what that means.” Tugger groaned, knowing full well he wasn’t going to get any straight answers.
“You will find out in due time.” Tantomile gave him an affectionate nudge of her shoulder as she passed by him on her way to the door.
“How about that time being now? Tanti?” Tugger asked. “Come on, you can’t just leave me like this-”
“Are you saying that you do not want Quaxo in your bed?” She paused in the doorway.
“Well, normally I’d be fine with it, but in this context, yeah, I’d rather he not be unconscious in my bed. I’d rather persuade him to come here myself.”
“You will not need to do much persuading with him.” And with that Tantomile was gone.
“Wonderful.” Tugger ran a paw through his mane as he looked down at the relatively peaceful tom sleeping in his bed.
Normally he’d be sleeping there too but usually after engaging in some pleasurably strenuous activities. Not that he wouldn’t be interested in sleeping with Quaxo down the line, but first he wanted to make sure that whatever was going on with the tom wouldn’t interfere with said activities. As if summoned by his lascivious thoughts Quaxo stirred, angling his face against Tugger’s blanket so he could stare up at him while still remaining comfortable.
“Right. So-” Tugger stopped. Once again it was not Quaxo looking at him. Well, it was, but it was not Quaxo looking out through his eyes. It was eerie how he could so easily make the distinction. Even more eerie was that this fact did not currently bother him.
The being looked him up and down, lounging back against the blankets with an appreciative purr. Once more his fur was sparkling with a shimmer that highlighted every part of his body. It was simultaneously a gorgeous and unsettling sight, mainly because it reminded Tugger that he was dealing with an outrageously powerful being.
“Hey, uh….” Tugger tried to play it cool as he was stared at. The being’s true name lingered in the back of his mind but he couldn’t bring himself to say it, not yet. Somehow he knew it wasn’t the right time. Better stick to a nickname. “Sparkles.”
‘Sparkles’ raised an eyebrow at the nickname, stretching out until his foot brushed against Tugger’s leg.
“You doing alright there? Is Quaxo around?” The cat ignored his question, instead sitting upright reaching up for Tugger’s mane.
“What are you- wait.” Every touch from this cat sent mixed signals to his brain.
On one side he was very concerned for Quaxo’s state of mind, on the other, his body was very, very interested in what was happening. The cat threaded his claws into his mane, rubbing himself up along the entire length of Tugger’s body as he pulled himself to his feet.
“Okay, hold on a minute.” It went against every fiber of Tugger’s being but he took hold of the cat by the shoulders and forced their bodies apart. Immediately he felt colder and more miserable for it. “You can’t just do this.”
The cat stared at him with those impossibly deep eyes. Judging eyes.
“Well, okay, yeah, I know it’s weird coming from me, but this is Quaxo’s body. You can’t just hijack it and do whatever you want with it.” Heaviside help him he was about to get electrocuted for trying to tell an otherworldly being what it could and couldn’t do. Not to mention that he was starting to sound like Munk.
To Tugger’s astonishment his words actually worked. The cat sighed and laid back down on the bed, deliberately turning his back to Tugger before curling up with his face in the blanket once more.
“Hey, sparkles?” No answer. Not that there was much of a conversation going on in the first place. “Quaxo?”
Still no answer. It looked like their conversation would have to wait until morning.
So fun fact the end of this chapter was the very first thing I wrote for this story so it's all been leading up to this point. Very excited to finally get here!
It was quiet. The storm of magical energy that rolled through him had dimmed to a bearable hum, filling him with a sense of peace that he had not felt in a long, long time. If he could he would simply curl up and bask in the glow of contentment forever.
With a happy sigh Quaxo buried his face deeper into the blanket he had burrowed into, breathing in the wonderful smell of Tugger-
Quaxo’s eyes flew open. This was not his bed. This was not his den. For a minute he simply stayed curled up in the blanket, fighting the urge to just ignore the wrongness of the situation and indulge himself.
Tugger himself was sitting at the edge of the bed, staring at him like he was waiting for him to do something. It was the most quiet and still Quaxo had ever seen him be.
“Hello.” Quaxo felt like he was going to die of embarrassment.
Tugger’s scent was all over him but it might have just been from the blanket he was aggressively cuddling and not because they had actually done anything together. To his internal mortification he felt disappointed at the idea that it was very possible that all he had done was sleep in Tugger’s bed instead of actually sleeping with him. Better to keep that thought to himself and deal with later while he still had his dignity.
“Morning.” Tugger said, looking him square in the eye. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” Hazy memories floated to the surface.
What had happened? The last thing he could distinctly remember was dancing with Pounce, then the tabby tom suggesting that they show off in front of the others, then… parts of the dance were in focus, the others draped in a haze of unawareness that made his blood run cold. He had lost himself again, been taken over by the urge to dance, to move, to let go of all of his inhibitions, consequences be damned, he was alive and this was his chance to show off for Tugger-
Did he do something with Tugger? There were vague recollections of being held in Tugger’s arms, of being carried, his mind overcome with the pain of trying to push back not only the surge of magic but also the tidal waves of instincts that demanded he let go of his carefully crafted self control and just be-
“Hey, Quaxo, it’s alright. Nothing happened. Take a breath.” Tugger’s voice was a lifeline in the chaos his mind had fallen into. “You fainted, I brought you here, and then you slept for a while.”
“Why… why did you bring me here?”
“Oh, well, Tantomile suggested it.”
“Yeah. She said you would be most comfortable here.”
Quaxo felt the heat rise in his cheeks again. Tantomile was far too observant for her own good, and the addition of her psychic abilities just added to it. There was no doubt she had picked up on his attraction to Tugger if only for the fact that every time he saw the tom he was filled with very particular thoughts. Particular thoughts that he could barely keep from speaking out loud, let alone try and keep from a psychic’s abilities.
In fact, the longer he stared at Tugger while lounging in his bed the more his mind drifted towards the daydreams that he normally only indulged in while alone. Oh, if only Tugger knew the things he had imagined-
“You drifting off again?” Tugger asked, voice soft.
“Hngh?” Quaxo blinked, suddenly aware that his eyes had closed. Time to get his head together. “No. Just thinking.”
“Mind if I stretch out?”
“What? It’s your bed, you shouldn’t have to ask.”
“No, but I thought since-” Abruptly Tugger stopped, looking him deep in the eyes again.
Such a look was mesmerizing. Quaxo could hardly breathe. This was the first time he could ever recall being the center of Tugger’s attention, and honestly it was equal parts disconcerting and invigorating.
“Since what?” Quaxo whispered, unable to tear his gaze away.
“Since last time you were awake you were sending me mixed signals. And despite my reputation I want to make sure that whatever is going on is what we both want.” Tugger still remained seated on the edge of the bed but he was leaning towards the open side.
“What happened last time I was awake?” There was something that Tugger wasn’t telling him, he knew it, he could see it in Tugger’s eyes.
“Look, I don’t want to alarm you, but… you weren’t entirely yourself.” Tugger stretched out on the bed, keeping a healthy distance between them, and laced his arms behind his head.
It was odd to see Tugger so respectful of his space. Quaxo wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or offended that the flirtiest cat in the junkyard wasn’t trying to seduce him.
“What do you mean by that?” Quaxo asked, flicking his tail irritably.
“You were all… sparkly. And very forward.”
“Forward how?” The sparkling Quaxo could handle. The vague actions Tugger was insinuating he could not.
“Nothing happened.” Tugger repeated. “But you woke up and seemed very insistent on starting something. The thing is, I’m not sure it was entirely you.”
There it was. Quaxo felt his blood freeze. That explained why Tugger was being so distant. He had seen the manifestation of the other presence lingering in the back of his mind, the presence he fought so hard to control and keep from taking over, and was trying to give him space. The thought was oddly touching.
Twice Tugger had tried to initiate the conversation about his magic, and twice he had managed to avoid the topic. But here, in Tugger’s bed, where it was just the two of them, he felt his resolve melt away.
Maybe it would be okay if he let his guard down, if only for a moment. The presence usually buzzing in the back of his mind was subdued for now, leaving him feeling much more bold. Also Tugger had seen his magic and so far had not yet run away. It was an encouraging thought.
“You saw it?” Quaxo asked.
“I’m not even sure what ‘it’ was, but yeah. And I first saw it in the storm, then again when we were last hanging out, and then while you were dancing with Pounce, and once again after I put you here.”
“Heaviside above.” If he strained his memories he could vaguely recall each of those times but they were more feelings than mental thoughts. “I didn’t- I mean, it didn’t hurt anyone, did it?”
“No.” Tugger assured him. “I called it ‘Sparkles’ if that helps.”
“You did what?”
“Called the thing Sparkles. Seemed appropriate.”
Leave it to Tugger to find an innocuous name for a magical entity that constantly threatened to take over his mind forever. The cat’s creativity was truly mind boggling.
“You astound me.” Quaxo muttered. “But thank you for not taking advantage of me while I was taken over.”
“Sure thing.” Tugger shrugged. “But if you don’t mind, I’d really like to know what it’s all about.”
“What it’s all about?” Quaxo echoed.
“What Sparkles is all about.”
“Please, let’s not refer to it as Sparkles.”
“Then what should we call it?”
There was a name sitting unspoken in the air between them, a name begging to be brought to life, but Quaxo firmly shoved it back into the recesses of his mind. There would be no awakening, not when he was finally in control, not with Tugger lounging next to him.
“Sparkles is fine.” Quaxo sighed. “Although it makes the situation seem much less serious than it is.”
There was a brief buzz of discontent that tingled throughout him. Immediately he took in a deep breath, allowing Tugger’s scent to drive it away.
“Sometimes you need to take a less serious approach to figure out what’s really going on.” Tugger stretched, his body on full display. “Keeps things interesting.”
“Yes.” Quaxo’s eyes unashamedly took in the sight. “Interesting.”
“So.” Tugger let a lazy smirk tug at the corner of his mouth. “You going to take a serious approach?”
“Stop, you’re such a distraction.” Quaxo huffed but couldn’t keep himself from smiling. “This is a serious subject.”
“Then tell me what it’s about.” Tugger said. “I have nowhere else to be, and judging by how you’re still here, you don’t either.”
“Fine.” Quaxo settled back into the blanket. “But you must keep it to yourself.”
“I can keep a secret.”
“You are avoiding the subject.”
Quaxo sighed. “This is difficult to discuss. I’ve been keeping it a secret for so long.”
Tugger remained silent, waiting for him to continue.
“As you know by now I have… abilities. Magical abilities. I was born with them but only recently they have been growing stronger.” The words were slow to come to mind. “Tantomile and Coricopat have been helping me gain control of my magic so it doesn’t… so it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Slowly Tugger rolled onto his side, propping himself up on a paw to get a better look at him. “You haven’t hurt anyone.”
“No, and I don’t intend do. But if I lose control then I very well might. You saw the storm. I caused it.”
“I did. It was… beautiful.” Tugger’s voice was quiet. “In a terrifying way.”
Quaxo gave him an odd look at such a statement but saw nothing but honesty in his eyes. Never did he think he would find himself confessing his secrets to Tugger but here they were. It was oddly relieving.
“The storm was what happens if my power builds up beyond my ability to handle it. First it starts with a headache, then eventually a storm.”
“How often does this happen?”
“Not frequently. But it has happened a couple of times. Nothing on the scale like that night, however.”
“And it’s going to happen again?”
“Not if I can help it. If it does I’ll be ready this time.”
Once again Tugger gave him a long look, but this time it wasn’t searching for something, but instead contemplative.
“I think you’ll handle it just fine.” Tugger said. “You’ve already done some pretty amazing things.”
Such a compliment sent Quaxo’s mind momentarily reeling. Sexy, provocative Tugger he could deal with. This quiet, tender Tugger was completely out of left field and he wasn’t sure how to best handle him.
“Thank you.” Quaxo settled on saying. “You’re in an odd mood.”
“I can be whatever mood I choose to be in.” Tugger shrugged. “You just haven’t hung around me long enough to experience every side of me.”
“Heaviside save us if I spend enough time with you to witness all of that.”
“There it is, I was wondering where the sass was.” Tugger smirked again.
“The others may not notice it, but I certainly have. You have quite a mouth on you.”
“Oh? And how would you know this? You said we haven’t hung around long enough with each other to experience every side.”
“I said every side of myself. I said nothing about not knowing about every side of you.” The words came out in a purr as Tugger leaned in closer.
“Bold of you to presume that you know every side of me.” Quaxo said, fighting the urge to lean in as well.
“What if I want to?” Tugger whispered, sending a pleasurable chill down Quaxo’s spine. “What if I want to know every side?”
“You….” Oh, this was exactly everything Quaxo wanted. The presence in his mind was gone, he was finally at peace, he was with Tugger in his bed, and… and….
And yet there was still a part of him missing. Something that still needed to click. Before that happened he couldn’t give himself to anyone.
“Quaxo?” Tugger paused. “Did I-”
“No, Tugger, you didn’t do anything. I… Tugger, believe me, you are insufferable-”
“Hey, be nice, I was being nice-”
“You are insufferable but in an amusing way, and I like it. But I need to take care of something first.”
Tugger settled back, obviously disappointed. “Your magic.”
“Yes.” Quaxo sighed. “I need to deal with it. And then, once I do, well… I’d like to see every side of you too.”
“Quaxo, you really know how to rile up a tom and leave him high and dry.” Tugger groaned, falling flat on his back.
“Like you haven’t done that to plenty of cats before.” Quaxo scoffed.
“Okay, forget what I said earlier about the sass, go back to being your serious self.”
“How many sides of me are there?”
“Many. You are one of the most complicated cats I have ever met, Quaxo, there’s no doubt about that.”
Quaxo fell silent at that, wondering if it was another one of Tugger’s strange compliments or not.
“That’s not entirely a bad thing.” Tugger clarified. “Very intriguing.”
“Curious, you’d say?”
“Well, they do call me the Curious Cat for a reason-”
“I think it’s time I left.” Quaxo rolled his eyes as he made a show of standing up and leaving. Unfortunately his limbs were still heavy from the dancing he did earlier, leaving him weak and wobbly.
“Whoa, hold on.” Tugger caught him just before he fell over. “In all seriousness, maybe you should rest here for a while longer. At least until you can stand up on your own.”
Immediately Quaxo settled into Tugger’s mane, not caring what the tom would interpret from such an action. His mind was suddenly exhausted, leaving his common sense at the door and prompting him to turn to instinct, instinct that told him to make himself comfortable in any way he could.
Thankfully Tugger seemed to take the hint and settled back down on the bed, allowing Quaxo to stay curled up at his side. Instantly the mane was fluffed up directly into Quaxo’s mouth.
“Pft- ack!” Quaxo sputtered as he fought against the fur. “How do you deal with this?”
“Practice.” Was all Tugger said as he rested an arm behind Quaxo’s back.
Finally Quaxo won the battle and cushioned himself against Tugger’s side, letting his body and mind relax. Just a quick rest and he would get back to work, just a brief moment between them, and he would finally set things right.
Tugger wasn’t sure how much time had passed since he fell asleep with Quaxo at his side, but when he woke up the tom was gone. Briefly he allowed himself to worry but reminded himself that Quaxo was in control, he had plans to handle his magic, and that the best he could do was trust the tom to his word.
After all, during their entire conversation Tugger had searched for any sign of the being behind Quaxo’s gaze and there was nothing, not even a hint nor trace of another presence. That would have to be good enough for now.
The sun was low in the sky as Tugger strolled out into the junkyard, searching for any indication that something interesting was going on. Briefly he searched for Quaxo but thought better of it. Quaxo had said he was going to gain control of his magic and then return to what had been started between them, maybe not in so many words, but the intention was there. He would have to hold Quaxo to his word and trust that it was the truth.
His wanderings were rewarded with the sight of Tumblebrutus and Victoria lounging in the last rays of the setting sun before it grew dark. Well, Victoria was doing most of the lounging. Tumble was busy practicing handstands and attempting to do the splits.
“That’s some impressive flexibility.” Tugger commented, causing Tumble to startle and fall flat on his face. “Hoping to catch someone’s eye with those moves?”
“Yeah, sure.” Tumble spat out some dirt as Victoria giggled. “Like I could compete with you.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it, there’s someone out there for everyone. Maybe not for your brother, but for you there’s still hope.”
“Don’t let Pounce hear you say that, he still thinks he has a chance with Bomba.”
“Kid likes to dream big, I can admire that.” Tugger said. “Where is he anyways? You two are usually joined at the hip.”
“Oh, Quaxo’s making him practice some more.” Tumble sighed as he attempted another handstand. “I think he’s trying to dance Pounce to death, not that I blame him.”
“He really is improving.” Victoria said, trying to save Pounce’s dignity in his absence. “And Quaxo is a good teacher.”
“If anyone can teach Pounce I’m sure he can.” Tumble admitted. “It’s just gonna take forever.”
“Give him time, Quaxo’s got it handled.” Tugger assured him.
“And where have you been today, Tugger?” Victoria asked, looking far too innocent for his liking. She may have looked dainty and pure, but beneath the delicate exterior lay a sharp mind like her brother’s.
“Around.” Tugger said, lazily waving a paw in the air.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want Victoria to know that he was interested in Quaxo, it just wasn’t the right time. It would be better to make that announcement when he could have the best reaction. Also, strangely enough, he was still unsure of the whole thing they had going on between them, which had never happened to him before. Usually he knew where he stood with his partners, but now… now he was left in the unknown. It was a strangely thrilling thought.
“I see.” Victoria sniffed the air and smiled knowingly.
Tugger’s retort was sadly interrupted by the sudden onset of dark clouds and the rumble of thunder in the distance. The air grew heavy with a humidity that made everyone’s fur feel sticky and damp.
“Aw, not again.” Tumble complained. “What is with this weather?”
Tugger glanced down at Victoria, who looked back at him with the same acknowledging look in her eyes.
“Tumble, why don’t you go see if anyone needs help finding shelter.” Tugger suggested. “I’ll make sure Victoria makes it home.”
Tumble nodded, not even questioning the odd request, and disappeared through the nearest pile of junk. As soon as the tom was out of sight Tugger turned to Victoria, who was apprehensively looking up at the sky.
“It’s Quaxo, isn’t it?” Tugger didn’t need to ask but wanted to hear the confirmation from the queen himself.
“Yes.” Victoria took hold of his arm. “It’s never happened this suddenly before.”
“Come on, let’s see if we can find him before it gets worse.” Tugger gently pulled her along, not wanting to leave her alone in the elements and not sure if she would let go of him anyways if he tried to.
They heard the voices before they found the cats in question, both Quaxo and Pounce having to yell to be heard over the increasingly howling winds. Tugger and Victoria took momentary shelter under an overhanging pile of junk as it started to downpour.
“Quaxo, I dunno about this, maybe we should tell Munk or somebody!” Pounce’s voice, concerned and frightened, echoed over the pile of junk.
“There’s no more time!” Quaxo’s voice was strained and urgent. Tugger could hear that he was in pain. “You said you’d help me Pounce, you said-”
“Were you lying?”
Both toms fell silent. Tugger strained to peer in between the debris separating himself and Victoria from the two toms but it was impossible to see through the junk and the rain. They would have to find another way around. Urgently he took Victoria by the paw and led her around, keeping close to the wall in case either Quaxo or Pounce said anything else.
Lightning flickered through the sky, followed immediately by thunder. Victoria yelped and clung to Tugger as the winds picked up. If it wasn’t for him acting as an anchor she would have been blown clear over.
“Tugger, we have to find shelter!” She wailed as the rain pummeled them both.
“We can’t just leave them out here!” Tugger shouted back. “We’re almost there, climb on!”
Quickly he knelt down so she could climb up on his back and hold on to his mane. She was so light he barely noticed the extra weight. The two of them edged around the corner just in time for lighting to flash across the sky once more, illuminating the near identical silhouettes of Quaxo and Pounce. In that brief moment it was impossible to tell which one was which.
“Quaxo!” Tugger yelled as he watched the two toms draw near, mirroring each other’s movements.
The air was saturated with static electricity, sparks tickling both Quaxo and Pounce’s feet as they moved through the routine they had been diligently rehearsing. Despite the storm they remained dry as they seemed to simply dance between the drops of rain. Pounce’s face was a mask of dire concentration as he moved from step to step. It was the most focused Tugger had ever seen him.
Quaxo, on the other hand, moved with the same alien grace that Tugger had seen before. His eyes were blazing with pure magical energy, body glowing and sparkling, leaving literal trails of light in his wake. Despite the obvious magical influence Tugger could distinctly see that it was Quaxo dancing, not the being he expected. One could say that Quaxo was enjoying himself, only he wasn’t smiling this time. An ugly grimace of pain marred his beautiful features.
“Pounce!” Tugger tried again, hoping the tabby tom would hear him. The rain swallowed his words.
Miraculously Pounce turned and looked at Tugger, eyes huge. He opened his mouth to shout back just as Quaxo reached out and touched him.
An enormous bolt of lightning crashed down on top of them. Both toms were engulfed with blinding, magical light, too bright for Tugger to see. An ear splitting wail of agony tore through the air.
The world went white. The only sound was the wail echoing in their ears. Even the rain seemed to fall silent. As the spots cleared from Tugger’s vision a single cat staggered backwards, paw outstretched towards the empty air. Electricity crackled around the cat, the light reflecting in their wide, frightened eyes.
Quaxo was gone. Only Pounce remained. For a moment his throat worked against itself as he tried to speak half formed words.
“Uh….” Pounce groaned once, closed his eyes, then fell silent. A couple stray sparks fizzled across his fur as his body collapsed to the dirt.
The rain petered out. The clouds parted to reveal a starry sky above. The silence roared in Tugger’s ears. Victoria said something as she climbed off his back but all he could hear was Pounce’s wail echoing in his mind.
“Pounce!” Tugger ran towards the fallen cat. “Pounce, talk to me. Say something, anything.”
Nothing. Pounce lay deathly still.
Hey everyone, I'm back, I know it was cruel to leave you where I did so thanks for not coming after me even though I wouldn't blame you!
It was wrong.
Everything was wrong.
The second he left Tugger’s side he knew it yet he was too proud to acknowledge it. He was so sure that he knew what the solution was to his magical problem, he thought he knew what needed to be done, just one ritual and then he’d be himself again and then-
- and then he could get back to his own life, a life without the constant struggle against himself, a life where he could finally have control over his magic and just be who he was supposed to be.
A life, just maybe, with Tugger.
But first Quaxo needed to follow Tantomile’s advice and find-
- Pouncival, he needed to find Pouncival and sort this out once and for all. Finding Pounce had been easy. Trying to explain what was happening while fighting the searing, blinding pain in his head was not.
“Quaxo, I dunno about this, maybe we should tell Munk or somebody!” Pounce’s protest had been barely heard above the screaming in his head.
“There’s no more time!” It was now or never. “You said you’d help me Pounce, you said-”
“Were you lying?”
“Then start!” Quaxo hadn’t meant to be so forceful but he could feel himself slipping away with every second that passed.
Thankfully, mercifully, his friend agreed to help, clearly not understanding the true scope of the issue but wanting to help out.
Not that Quaxo himself knew anymore. Everything was out of his control, his magic, the presence, his mind, everything burned, it hurt, it was too much, he had to fight fight fight fight fight but it was so sudden and so tiring and so frightful….
The dance he had practiced with Pounce, his friend, his hopeful catalyst for a positive change, was second nature, the steps inspired from pure instinct, and he moved of his own accord, feeling his magic momentarily soothed by the motions of his body.
This was what he needed. Dancing always quelled the writing, rolling, electric power beneath his skin. Yet it also opened the door in his mind to the presence, the being that took him over, insisted on letting go of all inhibitions and just existing as he was truly meant to be, wild and carefree and-
alive, he so desperately wanted to give in and just be alive, be
- dangerous. That being was dangerous.
If Quaxo gave into the presence he would be lost and everyone he loved-
- would be in danger. He couldn’t live with himself if something terrible happened because of his magic.
The storm was rolling in again, called to life by his power, manifesting above them as they danced together-
wrong, it was the wrong partner, this was wrong and he knew it
- and then it was time. Quaxo reached out to Pounce.
There was only one chance to save himself, to reach out and find a lifeline, to share some of his power for only a moment so he could breathe and figure out what to do, Tantomile had suggested it, she always knew what she was talking about, she had to be right, this was how it was supposed to happen, it was the only way to stop the struggle and save them from himself, save them all, save himself from himself-
It wasn’t working, it was never going to work.
Quaxo had known all along that Pouncival was not who he needed to bond with. Yet he still tried, and now his pride had led them to this.
The light of his magic was blinding white. Too much, too strong, too powerful, it flowed through Pouncival with a vengeance, punishing them both for such an act.
Quaxo recoiled, trying to bring it all back to himself, but it was too late. The magic crackled through the space between them. A wail of agony cut straight through the chaos, grinding his thoughts to a screeching halt.
Pouncival was screaming, his eyes wide and terrified, an unspoken plea for it to stop echoing through Quaxo’s mind, please stop stop stop stop stop STOP-
The voice was gone. The light left Pounce’s eyes.
The implication of what had happened tried to sink in but there was no more room for thought.
There was only instinct left to guide him.
It was kind of funny how something so ordinary could turn out to be so life changing. How such a simple moment could change so much. Actions held consequences, sure, but usually they were actions that held a bit of danger in them to begin with. Dancing and holding each other and stuff wasn’t all that dangerous. Or at least that’s what he had assumed until now.
Of course, Pounce normally didn’t sit around and think about the consequences before jumping in, especially if a friend like Quaxo was asking for help. He just did what sounded like a good idea at the time. Quaxo was one of his closest friends, why wouldn’t he help him, especially if he was in so much pain?
Sure, Pounce honestly had no clue why Quaxo needed him to learn a specific dance, to be his overlooker understudy or whatever, but that wasn’t important. As long as he didn’t have to do anything really embarrassing he would gladly help out-
A blinding, searing, smiting, rolling thunder of agony was tearing him apart every individual fiber of his being from the inside out, it hurt, it hurt so much, it was too much too much stop it stop it stop it stop stop stop stop stop STOP-
Everything stopped, leaving Pounce feeling like he had pins and needles all over, especially in his brain. It was not a pleasant sensation.
So maybe he should have asked a question or two at the start instead of blindly agreeing to help Quaxo out. Tumble was always telling him to look before he leaped, to at least have an idea of where he was going before he enthusiastically jumped in with both feet-
Tumble was going to kill him when he found out he had di… he wasn’t coming back.
He wasn’t coming back. How could he after something so catastrophic?
Regret tried to creep in but it was soundly blocked by the simple fact that his mind was too overwhelmed. A bright light had filled in all the spaces, leaving him nowhere else to go.
It was too much to take in.
So he didn’t.
Better to simply shut down and d r i f t
In an instant Tantomile knew what had happened.
Hearing Pounce’s voice cry out, feeling his bright, energetic mind slam to a halt, feeling that rambunctious energy dim, it sent her reeling. Briefly she felt her own light flicker as a ghost of the trauma echoed through her thoughts.
Physically she did not change but mentally she cried with him, bowing her head and trying to hold on to the last few fleeting thoughts she could sense within his mind. They were so small, so thin, so fragile, it was like trying to cradle a feather in a hurricane.
“Quaxo has failed.” Coricopat was at her side, his own grief mingling with her own. “We thought-”
“- he knew what he must do.” Tantomile finished. It was easier to blend their thoughts together, to share the grief between them, instead of weathering the shock alone.
“We were wrong.”
“We failed them both.”
“We thought we were being helpful.”
“We led him down the wrong path.”
“We must face the consequences.”
“We have let Pouncival-”
Both paused. Tantomile clutched Pounce’s last thought with as much delicacy as she could manage. A beat passed through them.
“Pouncival.” Coricopat whispered, the realization flooding through their mental bond.
“Yes.” Tantomile whispered back. “We must go.”
There were times in his life when Tugger wondered if maybe he had fallen asleep and was experiencing a very vivid dream. No, a nightmare. A nightmare that, while unpleasant in the moment, he could look back on and laugh and wonder just what the hell was going on in his subconscious to inspire such strange scenarios. Usually those were times when the world seemed a little too harsh or cruel and a dream was the only sane way to look at it.
As the cold rainwater dripped off his fur he tried to imagine what could have really happened.
Pounce and Quaxo dancing under the moonlight, the former energetic, rambunctious and a bit uncoordinated, the latter elegant, refined and… beautiful. So beautiful.
They were simply rehearsing and were caught in a summer storm, leaving them soaked to the skin but unharmed, and then Tugger would come in and give them both a hard time before sweeping Quaxo up into his arms while Pounce complained, their laughter echoing under the bright light of the moon.
Victoria would appear and try to negotiate the mud until Pounce inadvertently bumped into her and knocked her over, sending them both sprawling, and then she would really let him have it while Quaxo and Tugger wandered off to find some privacy of their own, to finish what they had both had wanted to start that very same morning.
That morning moment between them had been a lifetime ago. There had been the promise of a new life between them then. Tugger just knew it. But now….
Now it was silent and still.
It wasn’t a dream. It was real. It was all too real and there would be no waking up from this.
Tugger stared down at the body he was kneeling next to. The body that had no right to be so quiet and motionless. Even while asleep Pounce still managed to be more active than any normal cat should ever be. Now, seeing what had happened to him, what Quaxo had done to him-
Tugger pushed away the thought. Thoughts concerning Quaxo would have to come later. It hurt too much to think about it. For now all he could do was focus on what was in front of his eyes.
“Pounce, please, you have to say something.” Tugger reached out to touch him.
Upon contact a spark of static electricity arced up from Pounce’s fur and shocked him with a painful jolt, sending him staggering back from the body.
“Tugger, be careful!” Victoria was behind him, the raindrops on her fur sparkling in the moonlight as she steadied him.
“I’m fine.” Tugger shook his tingling arm and went right back up to Pounce’s body. He had to see for himself, had to see that this was really happening, had to be sure, the curiosity was too great.
“Is he… oh, Tugger, is he really?” Victoria knelt down next to him and hugged herself, unable to speak her true thoughts.
Carefully Tugger touched Pounce once more. Nothing happened this time. Gingerly, hesitantly, he lowered his head, angling his ear towards Pounce’s mouth. He listened.
“He’s breathing.” Never had Tugger been so relieved to utter two words. Next to him Victoria sagged in relief and let out a breath of her own.
“Thank Heaviside.” She hastily wiped her eyes. “But what happened to him?”
“I don’t know.” Tugger felt for a pulse. It was strong, if a little fast. Anything was better than the alternative.
“He’s going to wake up, isn’t he?”
“Of course.” Tugger lied. There was no telling what was going to happen. All he could do was keep moving forward and see what came next. “Come on, let’s get Pounce somewhere more comfortable.”
And safer, Tugger wanted to add as he bent down and scooped Pounce into his arms. While the obvious danger was gone, there was no telling just when something-
- could unexpectedly happen.
“Man, Pounce, what have you been eating?” Tugger muttered, hefting the dead weight in his arms. Despite being the same height and size as a certain tuxedo he was much heavier than expected.
Victoria tried to laugh but it turned into a stifled sob. If Tugger’s arms weren’t currently occupied he would have comforted her, but all he could do was lead the way. Being in charge like this was something more suited for his brother, but right now Munk wasn't around so it was up to him to figure it out.
"What are we going to do?" Victoria asked once she composed herself.
"Let me think." Carefully Tugger angled an ear towards Pounce. Still breathing. Good.
The situation was dire but not entirely desperate. Pounce was alive and the magical storm had subsided. Really all they needed to do was get Pounce to someone that could wake him up and go from there. Easy.
"Right." Tugger said. "Let's head towards Jenny's. If we run into Munk along the way even better."
It wouldn’t do Pounce any good to sleep in the mud. Jenny’s den was much more comfortable and secure, not to mention that the Gumbie Cat would storm the Heaviside Layer herself to make sure that any cat under her watch remained safe and sound.
"You don't think Munk will… will banish Quaxo, do you?” Victoria asked. “For what happened?"
Briefly Tugger’s mind considered the possibility. Just as quickly he pushed it to the back of his mind, unable to think beyond what was happening right in front of him.
"Doubt it. Munk's not the banishing type.” Tugger tried to sound upbeat. “Besides, it was an accident. We'll wake up Pounce and he'll clear things up. You’ll see."
Tugger knew that both he and Victoria didn't believe his words. Silently they moved on.
Thankfully they were intercepted by Alonzo along the way, the tom soaked and looking thoroughly irritated. As soon as he spied the three he ran over.
“Tugger, who’s-” Alonzo stopped, eyes wide and unbelieving. “What happened to Pounce?”
“Got hit by lightning.” It wasn’t entirely a lie, and Tugger didn’t want to discuss the details out in the open, not when they were still exposed. “He’s alive, Lonz, but we need to get him to Jenny’s.”
“Yes, of course.” Alonzo stepped aside and headed in the opposite direction. “I’ll let Munk know to meet you there.”
No one else stopped them on their way, a fact that Tugger was immensely thankful for. Pounce was slowly slipping in his arms and he had to stop several times to adjust his grip, trying his best not to jostle the poor cat more than he had to, always checking each time to make sure the tom was still breathing. Each time it was a relief to confirm that he still was.
The sounds of several other cats met his ears as he and Victoria approached Jenny’s den. Tugger slowed, his heart sinking into his stomach. There would be no hiding what happened to Pounce if they walked in with him unconscious in Tugger’s arms. How would they be able to explain it?
“What if Tumble’s in there?” Victoria pawed at his arm. “Tugger, if Tumble sees-”
“I know.” He could only imagine the look on Tumble’s face if he saw his brother in such a state. “But there’s no where else to take him. We have to-”
“Tugger, bring Pouncival this way.” A voice called out to him. Coricopat appeared from the shadows, his calm exterior marred by his urgent footsteps.
There was no time to argue or question the cat. Pounce, already chilled from the rain and the mud, was starting to go cold. Victoria was shivering and if Tugger didn’t have a mane to keep him warm he was certain he would be shivering as well. They followed Coricopat down a deceptively convoluted path through the junkyard until they arrived at the psychic’s home.
Tantomile was waiting for them inside, eyes closed and sitting next to a cushion that had obviously been intentionally set out for Pounce. Tugger carefully laid Pounce down, arranging his limbs and tail to make him more comfortable, then stepped back so Coricopat could step in. Immediately the room fell silent as the psychic cats each put a paw on Pounce’s shoulders and closed their eyes.
Tugger sagged back against the wall, barely noticing Victoria as she huddled up next to him. His shoulders ached, his fur was damp and matted, and his head spun every time he tried to think beyond what was happening right in front of him. If he could he would simply close his eyes and sleep until the nightmare was over.
Time passed. Tugger and Victoria sat in silence and held one another.
Finally Coricopat opened his eyes and left Pounce’s side, Tantomile still maintaining a connection to the unconscious tom.
“You were there.” Coricopat simply stated as Tugger and Victoria looked at him.
“Yeah. We were.” Tugger replied.
“Quaxo too.” Victoria whispered. “Oh, Cori, he was there too-”
“It is alright.” Coricopat affectionately pressed up against her side. “I know. We are sorry for not understanding the full extent of Quaxo’s intentions, it was not meant to be this way.”
“Well what the hell was supposed to happen?” Tugger’s patience had been left at the door.
“I know you want answers.” Coricopat gave him a long look. “But it would be better if Munkustrap were here as well. So we will not have to repeat ourselves.”
“Well then go get him.”
To his credit Coricopat simply nodded and left, opting not to engage in an obviously one sided fight. Tugger slumped back down and stared at Tantomile, who had hardly moved a muscle since connecting with Pounce. It was an oddly calming sight, one that Tugger could easily pretend was simply Pounce sleeping while Tantomile watched over him.
“Do you think she’ll be able to help?” Victoria whispered.
“Yes.” Tantomile responded, ears twitching.
“How is he?” Tugger asked.
“He is alive.”
“Well yeah, that we gathered.” Trying to get a straight answer out of either twin was always a struggle.
“I apologize. It is difficult to organize my thoughts while inside the mind of another.” Tantomile told him. “The surge of magical energy also has not helped my focus.”
“Sorry.” Tugger sighed, trying to reign in his irritation. “Can you at least tell us what happened to Pounce after Qu… after the storm?”
"Quaxo’s magic was too much for Pouncival to process. Pouncival is not strong enough to handle such an influx of power." Tantomile shook her head, opening her eyes. “It is no surprise that he is in this condition.”
"Is he…?" Victoria's voice was hesitant.
"Pouncival's mind is still active. He has not left us."
"Well that's a relief." Tugger sighed. "Would you be able to tell him to wake up?"
"Unfortunately I cannot reach him directly. While his mind is active, he is not available for communication."
“Uh huh.” Tugger interpreted her words as simply 'no'.
“It is difficult to explain.” Tantomile clarified. “But imagine your body as your home. Your home is your space, your sanctuary. Normally you are protected by its walls and you seek shelter and comfort within them. When something happens to your home that threatens your well being you would remove yourself from it, yes?”
“Of course.” Tugger said.
“That is what Pouncival has done. When his body was overwhelmed with magic he simply took his mind away. Removed himself from the danger as best he could.”
“So his mind is gone from his body?” Victoria asked, horrified. “He’s… he’s brain dead?”
“No, his mind is still present within his body, just simply moved to somewhere where he can no longer feel the pain. Like I have said, it is difficult to explain. It is a remarkable talent for someone not inherently magical.”
Idly Tugger wondered if it was because Pounce simply didn’t have many thoughts to begin with, making it easier to turn off his brain, but that seemed cruel considering the circumstances.
Tantomile smiled despite herself. “While Pouncival may be somewhat simple minded he does possess a strong will. For now it would be easiest to consider him as existing in a dreamless sleep.”
“But when will he wake up?” Victoria asked.
“That is up to him. I cannot say for certain.” Tantomile gently smoothed back the fur between Pounce’s ears. “But for the time being he will be safe here.”
“The time being?” Tugger repeated.
“Yes. It is not ideal for him to remain this way.” Tantomile glanced towards the door a second before Coricopat returned, Munkustrap right on his heels.
Immediately the Jellicle Protector was sitting beside Pounce, resting his head on the tabby’s chest to see for himself that the tom was still alive. Once he confirmed it he turned to Tugger.
“What did you see?” Munk asked.
All eyes turned to him. Tugger didn’t have the energy to put on a show or elaborate. Quietly he explained everything that he and Victoria had witnessed, from the beginning of the storm to hearing Quaxo instructing Pounce to dance, the thunder, the magic surging all around them, and how Quaxo was the one to touch Pounce and nearly kill him before disappearing into thin air.
Quaxo had nearly killed Pounce and then ran away. It was a grim reality that none of them wanted to face. Tugger’s words hung in the air long after he was finished. All he wanted to do was curl up in his den and close his eyes.
“What has been happening with Quaxo?” Munk, mind always looking ahead for the next attainable source of knowledge, asked the twins.
"Quaxo's magic has been increasing exponentially." Coricopat said. "It was only a matter of time before it grew beyond his control."
"It has been manifesting in extremely unpredictable ways." Tantomile added.
"Is there anything he could have done to control it beyond what he was currently doing?" Munk asked. "I know he was working with you two to sort it out."
"We did the best we could, but even our abilities could not match his power.” Coricopat explained. “With the eventual surge in his magic there was only one outcome waiting for him. Quaxo was bound to try and share his power with another member of the tribe."
"This?" Tugger gestured to Pounce. "This was bound to happen?"
"Not exactly. While it was inevitable that Quaxo would attempt to merge his power with someone, Pounce was not the ideal option."
"Then why did he choose Pounce?" Tugger asked. "Why not Munk or Old Deuteronomy? Or one of you guys?"
"Since he is close with Pounce it is logical to assume that he felt the most comfortable with attempting to give his magic to him."
"Quaxo took Pounce on as his understudy not too long after his headaches started." Victoria realized.
Coricopat nodded. "Quaxo has stated before that he feels most like himself when he is dancing.”
“It would be a fair assumption that he would attempt such an unpredictable transfer of magic through dance.” Tantomile added. “That is how Coricopat and I initiated our bond to share our power. I told Quaxo this just recently.”
“Is it possible to reverse what he has done?” Munk asked.
"Yes. Should Quaxo gain control of his abilities, he will then be able to take back what he has given Pouncival." Tantomile said.
"Given him? So Pounce has some… some magic in him?" Tugger asked.
"Yes. Although he is ill equipped to handle it. It is painful for his body to contain such a power, which is why he has placed himself in this state."
"He put himself into a coma." Munk stated, looking mildly disturbed.
"Will he be like this until Quaxo is back to normal?" Tugger asked.
"Potentially, yes." The implication sunk in all around them.
"Where is Quaxo now?" Munk asked.
"We do not know.” Coricopat shook his head. “He has shielded himself from us. Whether or not this is intentional is unknown."
Munk let out a frustrated sigh and fell silent, staring down at Pounce while his mind worked. Tugger, seeing no reason to stick around for the time being, stepped outside into the cool night air to stare up at the stars. Funny how the world carried on while his own universe had turned upside down. To think that there were still cats in the tribe going on with their lives, completely unaware of the horrors happening nearby.
After a bit of silent contemplation he was joined by Munk, who sidled up next to him with a heavy sigh. Tugger welcomed the warmth of his brother’s fur against his own after holding Pounce’s cold body against his for so long.
“I need to tell Tumble what happened.” Munk massaged his temples with a grimace. “I don’t want him to hear about this secondhand.”
“Agreed.” Tugger murmured, wondering how he would react if he were in Tumble’s place. Thankfully he was not, although he still felt a terrible loss. Quaxo was out there somewhere but currently beyond his reach.
“We need to find Quaxo.” Munk added, seemingly reading his thoughts. “It’s not safe for him or for us to have him out there in his condition.”
“You knew about his magic all along.” It wasn’t an accusation but he couldn’t help but feel betrayed.
“For how long?”
"Since Quaxo first joined the tribe."
"That long? And you didn't think to tell anybody?" Now it was an accusation.
"You mean you?" Munk stared at him, unaffected by his brother’s attitude.
"Well, yeah. In case you haven't noticed, Quaxo's capable of doing some pretty spectacular feats of magic."
"Spectacular wasn't my initial reaction." Munk shook his head. "When I first heard that Quaxo had magical talents I had him explain it to me. I thought it was all small abilities. He thought it was small. Sure, over the years it grew, but not anywhere near where I thought it would be a threat."
"Until now." Munk repeated. "Until the storms."
"You told me that it was going to be a terrible one when you asked me to help.” Tugger realized. “You knew he was the one making them."
"I knew that Quaxo had caused it, yes. How he was causing it I did not know, but I knew it was him."
"And when Pounce said he was scared you knew he was scared of Quaxo."
"Yes. I tried to find Quaxo after the storm and talk with him but he was avoiding me, so I focused on making sure Pounce was secure. Obviously I failed to protect either of them in the end."
"There's no way you could have known this would happen."
“I knew that there was potential for an accident. I just….” Munk sighed, looking down at his feet. “I just didn’t think it would end up like this.”
“Me neither.” Tugger leaned up against him again.
“What are we going to do?” It was a rare question coming from Munk, a question that he normally wouldn’t ask unless he had nowhere else to turn. To hear such an honest admission was something Tugger hated experiencing because it meant things had truly gone wrong.
“We’re going to do what we can.” Tugger said, hoping his words sounded more confident than he felt. “One step at a time.”
Alright, time for another chapter! One more chapter of conversation before we get to the nitty gritty stuff.
Things get a little dark in this chapter but thank you for staying with me for this journey. I’ve got the rest of the story planned out from here!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Being Jellicle Protector didn’t always mean Munkustrap shielded his tribe from harm. There were times when he had to hurt somebody to help them, and those were times he always shouldered with the utmost care knowing that later, when he was alone, he would reflect upon the hurt in their eyes and know that he had inflicted it, even though it had been for the greater good. It was a responsibility that Munk hated to have but also never would give to anyone else.
Munkustrap was the Jellicle Protector. It was his duty to take care of his tribe. It fell to him to look Tumblebutus square in the eye and shatter his world.
“There was an accident. Quaxo and Pounce were in the storm.” It was best to just be direct, no sense in drawing out the painful truth. “Pounce is in a coma, Tumble. I’m here to take you to him.”
“I don’t believe you.” Tumble bristled, unbridled anger rising quickly to the surface.
Despite his normally easygoing demeanor Tumble had a bit of temper, especially when he was afraid, and the storm already had him on edge. Normally his temper was pacified by his brother but, well, that’s why Munk was taking him by the paw and leading him away, away to see his brother and be undoubtedly traumatized.
Munk hated how nonchalant he could be about this sort of thing. How he could just rip away the comfort and security of Tumble’s world without even breaking a sweat. Later, when he was alone, he would let himself feel the full extent of the situation, but not now. Now Tumble needed him to be strong, just like everyone else.
“Tantomile and Coricopat are looking after him.” Munk said as they walked, finding the words easier if he only spoke about the facts. “Victoria and Tugger are with him too.”
“He’s not hurt, he’s not.” Tumble muttered as he trotted to keep up with the longer stride. “Just fell and hit his head or something, I bet. You’re just making a big deal out of it.”
“He’s as safe and comfortable as we can make him.”
“What about Quaxo?” Tumble’s paws were shaking, fur rising on the back of his neck, teeth bared in a snarl.
“Quaxo is not here. I am taking you to Pounce.”
Tumble fell silent after that, allowing Munk to lead him to the den of the psychic twins. If it were Pounce being led to Tumble it would have been a never ending stream of questions. But Pounce wasn’t here. It was just Tumble.
No one had moved since Munk left. Coricopat was sitting next to Pounce, Tantomile not too far away with Victoria at her side, and Tugger was just inside the door, looking like he was trying to decide whether or not to leave. It was far too quiet, far too still, and far too grim an atmosphere for anyone, let alone for an energetic tom like Tumble, but Munk pulled him inside anyways to see what awaited him.
“Pounce?” Tumble rushed forward, stopping just short of his brother’s body. “What did you do?”
“Tumble, I know how it looks but he’s asleep.” Munk explained. “He’s not-”
“You told me he was alive!”
“He is, Tumble, I promise he is.” Munk’s reassurances fell on deaf ears.
“You’re trying to tell me that- that- this thing is Pounce?” Tumble gestured at Pounce with tears in his eyes. “He’s not moving, he’s barely even breathing, you can’t just lie to me like this, it’s not fair, it’s not right, he’s- he’s-”
It wasn’t the wisest idea to approach the hyperventilating tom but Munk did anyways, immediately feeling a set of teeth sink into his arm as he pulled Tumble into a hug. The bite was painful, that was an undisputed fact, but it didn’t compare to the ache he felt in his heart. Gently he pet Tumble with his free arm, trying to soothe the cat enough so he would release his hold.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help him.” Munk murmured. “We won’t leave him like this.”
“He- he’s gone.” Tumble moaned as he let go of Munk’s arm.
“He is not gone.” Coricopat told him. “Pouncival has merely placed his mind where the magic cannot hurt him. Think of a box tucked away in the attic of a house, think of a lock and key, it can be opened again-”
“What are you even saying? You can’t just- you can’t just put a piece of your brain away and be okay, who does that and is okay?” Tumble’s voice was nearly hysterical. “It’s not just- just a box you can put in the corner and leave forever, this is Pounce’s mind, it’s too big to just stuff away somewhere, you’re not making any sense!”
“It is possible with magic.” Tantomile confirmed.
“Pounce isn’t magic, he’s just my brother. And I want him back. He doesn’t do this mind stuff, he doesn’t do anything but be annoying and stupid and funny and- and-” Tumble choked and hid his face in Munk’s fur.
Munk ignored the blood trickling down his arm and exchanged a silent look with Tugger, who was watching the whole scene with a guarded expression. A terrible thought crossed his mind. What if Pounce and Tugger had been switched? What if Tugger was the one that had been in the storm, the one that Quaxo had tried to merge his magic with?
His imagination supplied him with the mental image. Pounce trying to carry Tugger’s lifeless body to Coricopat and Tantomile’s den. Seeing Tugger, always full of life and riotous energy, suddenly still and silent. Not knowing if or how to bring him back. All Munk could do would be what he was doing right now, which was desperately try to hold on to a rapidly fleeting hope and figure out the next step.
The never ending what ifs were making him sick. Best not to imagine what could have been, best to stay in the present and make decisions based on the facts, not pure speculation. Munk owed Pounce, owed the tribe that relied on him, that much.
“What about… what about Quaxo?” Tumble mumbled. “Did he put his mind away too? Is that why he… why he’s not here?”
“We don’t know what happened to Quaxo.” Munk admitted.
“Is he gone?”
“He is not near here.” Tantomile said. “You do not need to fear his unexpected return.”
“’m not afraid.” Tumble pulled away from Munk, shooting Pounce a disturbed look before curling up in the corner, none too subtly wiping his bloodstained mouth on his arm.
It was Victoria who eventually approached and curled up next to him, both finding solace in their lost siblings. Munk could only look at them for a moment before having to turn away. It was all too easy to imagine himself in their place, either shying away from Tugger’s too still body or wondering if Tugger had turned into some kind of monster.
No, not monster. Quaxo was not a monster. He was wild and magical and dangerous, yes, there was was no doubting that, but he wasn’t a monster. Munk couldn’t allow himself to believe that.
Something had to be done about Quaxo. The weight of the matter weighed even heavier upon him. Banishment briefly flickered through his mind, especially if, for some unfathomable reason, Quaxo had meant to kill Pounce, but the thought of sending Quaxo out of the tribe was not one he wanted to consider for long.
If they could just find Quaxo and… and what? Would talking really help? Or would it just provoke him and send someone else into a coma? Was it worth trying to save one cat if it meant putting the rest of the junkyard in jeopardy?
Tumble sniffed in the corner, hiding his face in Victoria’s shoulder. The queen wasn’t bothering to hide her own tears, looking over Tumble’s head to give Munk a pleading stare. There was no avoiding such a plea, not when it fell to him to protect all he loved, and that protection included Quaxo. There would be no banishing, hopefully no fighting, just… an attempt to bring everything back to the way it had been. It was worth trying to, at the very least.
But where to start?
At some point during his musings Tugger had gone back outside, the edge of his mane just visible through the doorway. Might as well start with his brother.
Gazing up at the stars wasn’t helping, but the breath of fresh air helped settle his thoughts. Despite his reputation as being a bit of a brainless flirt Tugger did spend a lot of his free time thinking, pondering, wondering about every little thing that caught his attention. Due to his short attention span he wound up thinking about a lot of different things, but now, now all he could think of was one thing.
The tom never left his thoughts for long. Now his mental image of Quaxo was of him reaching out to Pounce, grimacing as he intentionally-
No, not intentionally. Quaxo had been just as afraid as Pounce had been, Tugger had seen the look in his eyes, heard the fear in his voice when he was talking about his magic. He would never intentionally hurt anyone. It was important to hold on to that notion. It was important not to forget.
“May I join you?” Munk asked, settling down next to him without waiting for a response.
“How’s your arm?” Tugger nodded towards the bleeding bite mark on his brother’s arm.
“It’s fine. Tumble didn’t mean to bite me.”
“Looked like he did.”
“Do you blame him for doing so? I would have done the same thing if I were in his place.”
Tugger glanced back inside, back at Pounce’s body. If that had been Munk in his place….
“I probably would have done the same too.” Tugger sighed. “Glad it’s not you in there. I mean, it sucks that it’s Pounce-”
“I know.” Munk cut him off, clearly uncomfortable with that train of thought. “How are you holding up?”
“Fine.” He was not fine. “You?”
“Fine.” The answer was automatic.
“Any thoughts on what to do next?”
“Plenty.” Munk admitted. “But also nothing. This is far from the usual problems I deal with.”
“Yeah.” Tugger sighed again. “Didn’t think I’d be spending my evening trying to figure out if… if Quaxo is out to get any of us.”
“Do you really think he is?”
“No. Do you?”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Well, to quote you, ‘We’re going to do what we can. One step at a time.’, which sounds like our best option.” Munk said, staring up at the stars. “And I think the first step is to find Quaxo.”
“What are you going to do when you find him?”
“I’m going to try and bring him back.”
“No, I mean….” Munk vaguely waved a paw in the air as he tried to figure out the words. “I mean try to bring him back to us. To calm him down. To reason and see why he’s doing this.”
“Yeah, ‘cause words are going to help.” Tugger snorted.
“Well then what would you do?”
“Hell if I know.” Tugger shrugged. “Last time I talked with him he seemed fine. More than fine.”
Tugger’s mind flashed to the way Quaxo was sprawled in his bed, the lingering gazes, the clear attraction between them both. The electricity in the air had nothing to do with the poorly concealed magical abilities. Tugger knew an interested cat when he saw it. Yet it didn’t seem right to tell Munk about all of that. It had been a private moment, somehow, a moment that Tugger didn’t want to share.
“He just… was Quaxo.” Tugger shrugged. “Didn’t seem dangerous at all.”
“At the time.” Munk reminded him. “But you can’t assume that he’s the same now as he was before.”
“I know that. But… well, how else are we supposed to treat him? Like some kind of feral animal?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you’re thinking it. You’re going to go to him and try to protect us from him, even from himself, and he’s going to just get more stressed and it’s going to get worse.”
“Don’t assume that’s what I’m going to do.” Munk frowned. “What would you do, march on up to him and try and kiss some sense back into him? Don’t think I haven’t noticed your interest in him, I’m not blind-”
“You have no business in what I might feel about him-”
“I do if it means you’re going to go running into a situation where you could get killed!” Munk shouted, standing up to his full height. “You saw what Quaxo did to Pounce, don’t you dare think that I’m going to let the same thing happen to you-”
“I’m not blind, I know what happened, but it was an accident!” Tugger insisted. “Quaxo may have started it but Pounce put himself into a coma. The same thing won’t happen to me.”
“You don’t know that Tugger, you don’t know-”
“How could you-”
“I just- I just do!” Tugger resisted the urge to hold his head and scream. “I know there’s something going on that I can do to help but I don’t know what and having you try to control it isn’t helping!”
“Tugger, I just-”
“Give me a minute.” There was something he could do. The realization was almost there, an inkling of an idea, but he needed more information. Where the idea came from he didn’t know but he knew where to start asking questions.
“I’m serious, Tugger, I just-”
“No, wait, I mean it. Give me a minute.” Tugger said, not waiting for Munk to respond. Restlessly he stood and went back inside, sitting down next to Pounce and staring down at the sleeping tom. Tantomile was keeping watch while Coricopat sat with Tumble and Victoria.
“Explain it to me again.” Tugger murmured so only Tantomile could hear. “About what Pounce did to himself.”
“It is difficult to put into words.” Tantomile told him.
“Imagine a house-”
“No, enough with the analogies. Just… say it to me like you’d say it to Cori.”
“I wouldn’t have to say it then.” Tantomile gave him a small smile. “But very well. Pounce has taken his mind and placed it away from his physical presence. Yes, his mind is still in his body, but it is removed from any and all awareness. If he did not do so then he would have been overwhelmed by Quaxo’s magic.”
“And this isn’t something that usually happens.”
“Correct. It is unusual for those who are not inherently magical.”
“Have you done something like this?” There was a thought forming in his mind, one that wasn’t quite solidified, but Tantomile picked up on it just the same.
“I have not. But it is possible that Quaxo might have done so.”
“So if Quaxo did this, how’s he still up and walking around?”
Tantomile considered the thought. “It would not be entirely impossible to seal away only a part of yourself and still be able to function, although it is highly inadvisable.”
“Do you think that’s what Quaxo did?”
“I don’t even know what I think anymore.”
“Then focus on what you know.”
Tugger stared down at Pounce. What did he know?
Well, first of all, he knew without a doubt that Quaxo was the most complicated tom he had ever known. Every time Tugger thought he had finally gotten to know him Quaxo would do something completely unexpected, throwing him back to square one. While it would have been irritating for most cats Tugger only found himself drawn further in, determined to figure out the mystery.
Second, he knew that Quaxo was powerful. Probably too powerful for his own good. That amount of magic packed into such a tiny cat would have serious consequences. Consequences that a clever cat like Quaxo would try to contain, potentially in inventive ways.
Third, he knew that Quaxo wouldn’t hurt anyone, not intentionally at least. The tom had plenty of opportunity to hurt Tugger when it was just the two of them alone, and it was too difficult to stretch the imagination and imagine that he would willingly try to kill Pounce, once of his closest friends.
Fourth, he knew that Quaxo was prideful. Just trying to get him to talk about his magic in the first place had been a struggle. He wouldn’t admit that he was overwhelmed until it was too late. Quaxo would fight anyone, even himself, before he let his magic get the better of him-
- even himself. Now there was a thought to hold on to.
“What would happen if Quaxo did put away a part of himself?” Tugger asked. “And was still walking around?”
“I do not know for certain.” Tantomile admitted. “But it would be a considerable strain on him. No one is meant to survive with a part of themselves locked away. It is a miracle that Pounce is still alive, I can only imagine what long term consequences would be.”
“But a powerful cat like Quaxo might be able to handle it better, right?”
Tugger mulled over the thought. “He said his magic was getting stronger. If he put a part of himself away, would it grow somehow? What if it got to be too much to hold back? Would it… spill out?”
Tantomile stared at him unblinkingly. “You are suggesting something that has never happened before.”
“Well, this is Quaxo we’re talking about. Leave it to him to do something no other cat could do.”
“Then it is possible. It would undoubtedly manifest in a way which Quaxo could not control.”
“Like a thunderstorm.” Tugger realized. “Hold on, Munk’s going to want to hear this.”
“I’m already here.” Sometime during their conversation Munk had silently sat down next to Tugger. It would have been disturbing if Tugger hadn’t been on the edge of realization.
“Right. So let’s get this straight. Quaxo is powerful. Like, insanely powerful. His magic gets out of control. It’s too much for him, so he does the thing that Pounce did and… puts it away.”
“Okay.” Munk was giving him that look, the one where he had no idea what train of thought Tugger was on but was going to listen anyways.
“So Quaxo puts that magic away, somehow, and then because it’s gone he gets better.” Tugger glanced over at Tantomile. “At least, for a while he’s not as overwhelmed.”
“It could happen, yes.” She confirmed.
“But then the metaphorical box or whatever he stuck that magic in starts to leak, or break, because….”
“Because his magic is growing stronger and starting to leak out?” Munk suggested.
“Yeah, sure. So the magic starts leaking out and making his head hurt. Then it blows up into a storm.”
“But how does he control it again?” Munk wondered.
“I don’t know. When I first saw him in the storm, the one without Pounce, I saw… well, I thought it was him.” Tugger shivered. “I don’t know who it was.”
“Who did you see?” Munk asked.
“It looked like Quaxo. But the eyes… there was something else there. Pounce saw it too.”
“No, not something. Someone. I think.” Tugger looked back at Tantomile, who was staring at him with an unnerving intensity. Still she remained silent.
“Someone?” Munk narrowed his eyes. “Like someone possessing him?”
“No. I don’t know, Munk, I don’t know how to explain it.” Tugger thought back to when he first saw the being that lurked behind Quaxo’s eyes, that presence, that dangerous energy that yearned to be free, the sparkle of magic that signaled its arrival.
Yearned. That was a new way to describe it. The memory of speaking with Sparkles in his bed came to mind, especially the way that it had rubbed up against him with clear desire. Desire that Quaxo admitted to but had not acted upon because he had more self control. At least both magical beings were in agreement there.
“I call it Sparkles.” As soon as the name left Tugger’s mouth it sounded wrong.
“You named it Sparkles.” Tantomile’s mouth crooked up into a half smile.
“Sparkles.” Munk repeated, voice flat.
“That’s not its name, okay? But Quaxo sparkles when he- when it- when whoever it is comes out.”
“But who is it?” Munk was not letting go of the issue. “If it’s someone that’s possessing Quaxo and threatening the tribe then we need to stop them.”
“Let us go back to what we know.” Tantomile suggested.
“Yeah, why don’t you tell us what you know, Tantomile, you seem to know more than you’re letting on.” Tugger raised his voice a little, garnering the attention of Tumble, Victoria and Coricopat in the corner.
Tantomile glanced over at Coricopat, who simply nodded. With that silent encouragement she stood and motioned for Tugger and Munk to follow her outside once more.
“I do not wish to upset Tumble or Victoria.” She explained once they settled under the stars. “But as soon as Coricopat and I met Quaxo we knew that buildup of magic was inevitable. We did not know what lengths he would go to in order to keep control.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Munk asked her. “Why didn’t you tell me he was struggling?”
“Forgive me, I misspoke. We knew that it was inevitable that Quaxo would become overwhelmed with his magic and need to find a way to control it. We witnessed the struggle, witnessed this ‘Sparkles’ struggling to be free, and knew that eventually Quaxo would have to come to terms with the situation.”
Tantomile took a deep breath, glancing up at the stars. Tugger and Munk waited for her to continue.
“What we- what I did not anticipate was that it would manifest itself as a thunderstorm, nor did I anticipate that Quaxo would try to use Pouncival as a catalyst. I thought he knew what he needed to do and gave him space to do it.”
“Well what else was he supposed to do?” Tugger asked.
“I told Quaxo that it was a matter of time before his magic grew beyond his control. I informed him that I shared my power with Coricopat to ease the overwhelming power. Had I suspected that Quaxo was struggling in part because he had tried to distance a part of his own magic from himself, I would have tried to reconnect him with that part before suggesting he try to connect with someone else.”
“So what can we do?” Munk asked.
“There is not much you nor I can do.” Tantomile actually shrugged, looking much more down to earth than mystical.
“Is it possible for Quaxo to try and connect with someone again? Someone else?” Tugger asked before he even considered the implications of such a question, his curiosity fueling the impulse to know more.
“Yes-” Tantomile was interrupted by his brother.
“No.” Munk shook his head. “You are not going to try it. I won’t allow it.”
“Yeah, like you have that much authority over me, nice try.”
“You could get killed.” Munk’s voice was soft but still stern. “Don’t put yourself through that. Don’t put me through that. Is it worth risking your life?”
Tugger hesitated. Would he risk his life for Quaxo?
The answer was automatic. Yes he would risk his life. And that was exactly what he was going to do.
“Sorry, Munk, but I’ve got no choice. Don’t try to stop me.”
“You know where Quaxo is.” Munk realized. “You’ve known all along.”
Honestly Tugger didn’t have a clue where Quaxo was until Munk made the assumption. Now that he thought about it there really was only one place where he could think of Quaxo fleeing to, the one place where he had been truly comfortable. It made some sort of sense when Tugger took a second to think. At the very least it was where he would have gone.
Out of the corner of his eye Tantomile nodded. That silent agreement was all the confirmation he needed.
“Maybe.” Tugger admitted. “But don’t follow me. I don’t think Quaxo would want to see anyone but me.”
“Don’t let your arrogance take over, think for once.” Munk insisted, trying to stand over Tugger and physically intimidate him. “You’re not prepared to handle what might happen, you could wind up exactly like Pounce, you could die, Tugger, you could die-”
“Munkustrap!” Coricopat’s voice, unusually urgent and frightened, shattered their argument. “We need you now!”
All three of them ran back inside to a terrifying sight. Tumble and Victoria were huddled up in the corner, both hiding behind Coricopat, who was hissing and trying to shield them from-
“Pounce.” Munk whispered the name, unable to believe what they were witnessing.
Pouncival was awake.
The tom wavered unsteadily on all fours, claws tearing deep grooves into the ground while his body twitched and pulsed with barely restrained magical energy, energy that was rippling through his body in visible waves. Flecks of foam dropped from his bared teeth, literally fizzling on the ground at his feet. The air crackled and snapped with electricity. The distinctive scent of ozone permeated the air.
A horrible growl warbled from Pounce’s throat as he lurched towards the three trapped in the corner. Coricopat bared his teeth in return and prepared for the worst, still trying to prevent Tumble and Victoria from becoming victims to the terrible creature advancing upon them.
“Pounce!” Tugger yelled. “Don’t do it!”
At the sound of his name Pounce turned and snarled. There was no semblance of the silly tom they all knew. His eyes were empty, cold, bottomless pits, the kind of blankness that one could easily get lost in. This was a different creature entirely.
Munk didn’t hesitate to act. As soon as the monster was looking away he sprung into action, tackling it to the ground and pinning it with a well placed paw. Sparks of electricity arced up his silver fur but he simply grimaced and held on, motioning for Coricopat to lead Tumble and Victoria to safety. Immediately Pounce tried to buck him off but the Jellicle Protector was too big to easily move.
Pounce shrieked as his fur started to glow white, the ground beneath him starting to rumble in reply, but still Munk held on. An agonized wail escaped him, the same wail Tugger heard Pounce utter before, the same sound when had been taken over by the magical storm. Everyone flinched.
“He- he- lp- m- me.” Pounce pleaded. He stared straight into Tugger’s eyes, a flash of his true self surfacing from the bottomless darkness that had taken hold.
Then suddenly it was over. Pounce let out a little sigh of defeat and went limp in Munk’s hold, eyes falling shut again. The silence slammed into them once more.
“What… what was that?” Munk gasped, limbs twitching as the electric magic faded away. Slowly he let go of Pounce. Everyone held their breath to see what would happen next but were met with only the slightly labored sound of Pounce’s breathing.
“I do not know.” Coricopat held Victoria and Tumble to him. All three of them were shaking. “It happened quickly. One minute he was asleep, then the next he was… not. There was no indication in his mind that he had returned.”
“Something did, if only for a moment.” Munk muttered. His attention was fixed on Pounce, clearly anticipating for chaos to break out once more.
Tugger felt a paw at his back, a gentle push, and he looked down to see Tantomile leading him towards the door.
“Go.” Tantomile whispered into Tugger’s mind. “Go to Quaxo. Now. Save them both.”
There was no need to tell him twice. Tugger ran.
Quaxo had left. It was as simple as that. There had been no time to consider where exactly to go, there was only enough time to close his eyes and trust instinct to guide him to safety.
So he shouldn’t have been surprised when he opened his eyes and found himself back where he started that morning. What he was surprised by was the realization that what should have been a den of safety only felt hollow and empty. There was no comfort here. Not that he deserved it, not after what he had done.
“Pounce.” Quaxo whispered. “Pounce, what have I done?”
In reply his head exploded in pain, throwing him headfirst into a chaotic, unstoppable train of thought.
Pounce was dead. Pounce was dead and it was his fault he had let the magic grow out of control and couldn’t fight it couldn’t fight couldn’t fight anymore he just couldn’t-
he had to fight or he would be lost-
he wanted to be lost-
he deserved to be lost-
just let it be over, stop the fight, let the magic win-
No. He couldn’t stop. He had promised himself that he would get a handle on his magic so he could see Tugger again.
Would Tugger want to be with a murderer? Would he be able to bear to be with someone who had killed his best friend?
Pounce was dead, he had seen the life leave his eyes, watched his magic fill every single space within his friend and push what was left of him out-
magic that he needed, he needed every ounce of magic he had to fight back against that what tried to possess him, magic he needed back-
Maybe he could get it back. Quaxo took in a shuddering breath, pushing the chaos of his mind back until he could focus, if only for a moment. Coricopat and Tantomile had taught him to center himself but they hadn’t taught him to fight himself, how to fight back against the crawling, creeping presence that wanted to consume him. How could he focus while keeping himself intact? How could he?
There. There was the missing piece. Against all odds he could see it. Like a beacon it shone, calling to him, drawing him in with its allure. It was like seeing an old friend.
It was all metaphorical of course. Quaxo knew his physical self was still hiding. But his mental, magical, fractured self was still able to reach out and grasp what he had inadvertently thrown into Pounce. Just take it, pull it back, and he could fight back against the hungry, instinctual being in his mind.
There. Quaxo made contact. It resisted. He pulled it free from the corner it had pushed itself into, trying to coax it back to the surface. No need to hide away, no need to be afraid-
Agony. Fear. A bottomless pit of darkness, an uncontrollable urge to fight, to run, to attack, to bite, to do anything to stop the never ending pain his body had been thrown into, what had brought his mind back, what had dragged him back, he had put himself away to avoid the pain, now he was being brought back into agony, he was going to lose his mind, lose himself, it hurt so much so much what did Quaxo do to him make it stop stop stop stop STOP-
“Help me.” Quaxo pleaded in a voice that was not his own.
He let go. The thing he had grabbed snapped back into the void. Briefly he saw images of frightened faces staring at him, felt the presence of someone pressing him into the ground, but it vanished as soon as it came.
Time passed. All he could do was hold on to that last part of himself. Everything in his mind was a storm, a whirlwind of magic and struggle that would have swept him off his feet if he hadn’t already been lying prone. Dimly he was aware of pulling a blanket around himself, his body desperately trying to hide from the fight, but it was a futile gesture since the battle was in his head.
It was too late. He couldn’t hold on much longer. Each second stretched into an eternity. How was he still holding on?
Why was he still holding on?
“Quaxo.” His name surrounded his disjointed mind like a comforting embrace. Through the haze he managed to turn and look at the speaker of his name.
Was it his name?
It wasn’t. Not anymore. But it had been.
“Help me.” He pleaded, this time in his own voice.
There were no more chances left.
Going to leave it here for now on the most confusing note I possibly can. Stay tuned for the next update, we're coming up on the end!
Almost done with the story! Thanks for reading along and staying with me so far!
“Please be at home, please don’t be anywhere else.” Tugger pleaded to the air as he ran across the junkyard.
If Quaxo wasn’t at his den then he would have no place to start looking. Well, maybe it would make sense to look in Quaxo’s den, but something was telling him that Quaxo wouldn’t find solace there. There wasn’t time to think about it, only time to act.
He was right. As soon as Tugger’s den came within earshot he could hear muffled sobs coming from within. Quietly Tugger approached, trying not to startle the cat hiding inside.
Everything was a mess. Blankets were shredded, little trinkets Tugger had collected from the junkyard were smashed and dented, it looked like a wild animal had sought vengeance upon his home. In the middle of his bed was a shivering pile of rags.
“Quaxo.” The name sounded wrong. Stubbornly Tugger said it anyways, hoping that it would bring the tom back to reality, if only for a moment.
A moment was all he needed, a moment of clarity, and then surely there was something he could do to snap Quaxo out of the torment he was putting himself through. Because that’s what he was obviously doing. There was no one else around, just Quaxo, just Quaxo fighting against himself to such an extent that he would willingly lock part of his own self away to win.
Quaxo shuddered under the blanket. With pained difficulty he managed to turn and whisper.
“Help me.” The words mirrored Pounce’s previous plea.
Tugger faltered in the doorway, the last shreds of his own self preservation halting his steps. This was his last chance to turn around, go get Munkustrap, and find another way to put an end to the out of control magician. No one would blame him for wanting to save his own skin. Even Quaxo would understand. This was undoubtedly a dangerous situation. Anybody would expect him to make the sane decision.
Of course, Tugger never did what was expected. That was his whole thing.
“Tell me what to do.” With little regard for the sparks of electricity flickering at his feet he knelt down next to Quaxo, just shy of actually touching the tom.
“Stop me.” Quaxo’s claws steadily shredded the blanket around his shoulders. “I’m slipping- I- I can’t stay-”
Quaxo’s fur wasn’t sparkling anymore. It was glowing, giving him an iridescent shimmer that was steadily growing brighter and brighter. The temperature around them was rising. Tugger could feel the humidity in the air, the telltale signs of an incoming electrical storm, and judging by the way his fur stood on end it was going to be a big one.
“It’s happening so fast, it hurts so much-” Quaxo grabbed his head and curled in on himself.
All around him the blankets started to glow and become charged with pure magical energy. Dimly Tugger realized that there was no way his den was going to survive whatever happened next. Their best bet would be to get outside in the open where hopefully there would be plenty of space for whatever happened next.
“Tugger!” Quaxo dug his claws into his fur, eyes flickering white. His voice turned into a painful, drawn out whine.
“Stop fighting it!” Tugger reached out to him. “You’re hurting yourself, just stop trying to fight- ouch!”
Much like when he had touched Pounce he was immediately bit with a painful jolt of electricity, prompting him to pull his paw back and shake it. Unlike the time with Pounce the electricity didn’t leave Tugger, instead traveling up his arm and settling in his chest with an odd tingle.
While the initial contact hurt the following touches didn’t, allowing Tugger to move in again and hug Quaxo to him, ignoring the literal sparks arching between them. If it didn’t hurt then it could be dealt with later, after he figured out how to help Quaxo fight… well, fight himself.
Himself. Quaxo was fighting against himself.
The presence, the being that he was so afraid of, it wasn’t a malevolent entity trying to take him over, it was his own magic manifested through fearful neglect. Quaxo had literally locked part of himself away, tried to control his magic by pushing the overwhelming part to the back of his mind, and couldn’t recognize it when that part grew and started pushing back.
Now it was time to put all the pieces back together.
“We have to go outside.” Tugger said as the walls began to shake. “We need more room to move.”
The cat in his arms let out a choked sob, shaking wildly in his arms. “I’m not- I can’t be- I can’t-”
“You are. You can. You can handle this. Stop fighting yourself.”
“I don’t know how-”
“You do. Let me help.”
Before the tom could protest Tugger scooped him up into his arms, swiftly carrying him outside to stand in an open area where there hopefully wouldn’t be much collateral damage. The sky was black, angry storm clouds rolling above them, the threat of a downpour hanging over their heads.
It was just the two of them out here. Just them and nothing else. Tugger gently set Quaxo on his own two feet, holding him by the elbows to keep him standing.
“You can do this. You know what you need to do.” He said, echoing Tantomile’s words from before. “You’ve been practicing all this time with Pounce.”
“I’m… I’m scared, Tugger.” Quaxo blinked up at him through hazy eyes, voice distant. “I don’t want to hurt you like I hurt Pounce.”
“You won’t.” This was where they were supposed to be. Together, just the two of them, with no one else.
“Tugger, I-” Quaxo flinched again, digging his claws into Tugger’s arms.
Thunder boomed in the distance. There was no more time to try and convince Quaxo that he could save himself. One more minute and they would both be fried by the chaotic magical energy.
Quaxo flinched again, sending another wave of magical energy through Tugger and briefly making both of their fur glow with sparkling light. It was a pretty neat trick, maybe one that could be repeated in the future if they both made it out of this alive.
No, not if. When. It was important to be confident. If Quaxo needed the confidence boost to perform the magic he needed to save himself then Tugger would become that source of confidence.
“You can do this.” Tugger repeated. “I trust you. Trust yourself.”
Quaxo nodded and closed his eyes, entire body glowing with barely suppressed magical energy. Then it started to rain. After everything Tugger had seen it wasn’t a surprise that the rain didn’t seem to touch Quaxo’s fur, instead falling all around him, but it was surprising to realize that he too wasn’t being bothered by the rain. This time he was included in the moment.
Quaxo was moving away from him. No, not away, around him. With surprisingly gentle touches Tugger was being moved in a specific pattern, a rhythm, directed in a familiar dance to an unheard melody. This was the dance that Quaxo had been trying to teach Pounce, a dance that was not meant for them.
It was a dance meant for Tugger and… and….
The name settled into his mind, finally ready to be spoken. Tugger let go of all rational thought and let his body take over. He always did his best when he improvised. A swing of the hips here, a little swagger there, and he was dancing in between the drops of rain like a pro. His partner, however, was on an entirely different level.
The being was still a cat, still a tuxedo tom, but moved like no one had ever moved before. Gravity and the normal laws of reality did not apply to him as he leapt and twirled and flowed around the space, sending small waves of magical energy through the ground whenever his feet did decide to make contact. Trails of multicolored light followed in his wake, thunder rolled overhead, and little by little the tom settled back into himself.
If he wasn’t compelled to dance Tugger could have spent an eternity watching the tom move on his own. Never was there a sight so beautiful until now. But there wasn’t time to stand around. Instinct was telling him to draw closer, to reach out and complete the bond that had been steadily growing between them.
Briefly Tugger hesitated, remembering Pounce’s wail of agony and the horror in his eyes when Quaxo had tried to bond with him. Just one wrong move and Tugger would end up meeting the same fate. The being he danced with was beautiful but also dangerous. Was it worth it to take this chance?
Yes. It was worth it. Now was his cue.
There would be no gentle touching of paws. Tugger was taking no chances this time. With a flourish he reached out and pulled the tom to him, bending down and punctuating the moment with all the passion and flair he could muster.
It would had been an impressive kiss on its own, but of course the universe decided to add a little extra pizzazz to the moment. An enormous lightning bolt crashed down upon them, shaking the earth beneath their feet and whiting out everything in sight. Everything went silent.
Tugger felt his body seize with the sudden onslaught of pure, unrestrained, wild magic, threatening to burn him from the inside out. Every fiber of his being was immediately overwhelmed, help him, this was too much, this was going to tear him up from inside out, how could he withstand it, he was going to die, how could he handle it alone-
-he wasn’t alone. Tugger felt his partner pull away, could sense movement, and suddenly the painful fire coursing through him was a manageable warmth. It was still a little uncomfortable, a little strange, but Tugger no longer wanted to run and hide. Now he could act as a proper catalyst for Quaxo’s transformation.
The being in his arms kissed him again. Slowly he felt the warmth fade as the magic receded, coursing through him and back into the being it belonged to. It was a little disappointing feeling the magic leave, knowing that it had only been a temporary bond, but it was for the best. Somehow Tugger knew that while he would enjoy having such power it would eventually consume him. Better to leave the magic to someone who could handle it.
The rain slowed its fall. The dark clouds dissipated, letting the clear light of the moon shine through. A new sort of silence, a more peaceful one, settled around them as all the tension in the air disappeared with the last of the storm.
It was over. They had made it through.
Tugger stared down at the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. The tuxedo tom was smiling, fur sparkling and glowing, full of happiness and wild energy and life, oh, he looked so alive, so complete, it was bewitching how free he looked.
This was who Tugger had been waiting for all his life and he didn’t even know it until now.
“Mistoffelees.” Tugger purred in his ear, soothing the wild magic and sending a calming tingle through them both. “I’m here.”
Once again he was in the storm. A storm that, inherently, he knew he was the cause of. A terrible rainstorm of magnificent proportions, called forth from his own inclinations, a storm that threatened to consume not only him but everything around him. Lightning crashed down all around, each bolt blasting a permanent scar into the earth. It was too much to contain, too much to control-
No. It wasn’t too much to contain this time. This time he had full control. There was no reason to fear himself or his magical abilities.
So he didn’t. He threw caution to the wind and let the magical energy flow through him, igniting every fiber of his being with a wild electricity that made him feel so alive, so free, so himself. He danced freely between the raindrops, fur alight with the white hot magic running along his skin. This was how he was meant to be. No more hiding what he was. No more restraint.
And he wasn’t alone. Tugger was with him.
Tugger was watching him through it all, careful to stay out of harm’s way but brave enough to stand in the potential line of fire. Tugger’s very presence was enough to curb the literal storm around them, offering a loving shelter among the chaos.
Hungrily he reached for the tom. This was all he wanted, all he craved, and without a second’s thought he was in Tugger’s arms. This is where he belonged, their bodies pressed up against one another, holding each other so tightly it was impossible to tell where one being ended and the other began, he wasn’t lost anymore, he was found, he was whole.
Their first kiss was, predictably, as dramatic as possible, but it was Tugger who was involved. Briefly it appeared that Tugger wouldn’t be able to handle the transfer of magic, the surge of power he was given, but again, this was Tugger, and stubbornly the tom made it through.
It was enough to help settle the storm within himself and sort out the magic that he had once locked away, pushed out of sight due to pure fear of what he may become if he grew too powerful. Tugger had helped him realize his full potential, had helped him become what he was supposed to be.
Tugger had freed him from himself and now he was complete.
Well, almost. There was one more thing to sort out, a matter of his name, a name that he always knew would eventually be his.
“Mistoffelees.” Tugger purred in his ear, soothing the wild magic and sending a calming tingle through his burning limbs. “I’m here.”
Mistoffelees. That was his name. It was his name and not the name of some malevolent entity that was trying to possess his mind. It was the representation of everything Quaxo had wanted to be, a being completely free of self doubt, full of confidence and poise and control and life-
Well, maybe not complete control. While every part of his mind and magic had been unlocked and combined back into one being there was still a lot to learn. Magic was a fickle creature that could never be truly tamed. Now it was a part of him again, giving him a world of possibilities that he never realized, a freedom to be exactly what he wanted to be, to reach up and beyond the limits of reality and- and-
And all he wanted right now was to be in Tugger’s arms. Again he reached for the tom even though they were already as close as they could physically be. To be held, to be wanted, to be here, this was where he was supposed to be.
Tugger was a little sad to see the magical light fade from the tuxedo’s fur but was more preoccupied with catching the tom before he collapsed in the surrounding mud. The performance had clearly done its job but also had taken its toll, leaving Quaxo exhausted-
No, not Quaxo. Wait, yes. No? It was Quaxo. It was Mistoffelees. Both of them-
No, not both. There never was two. It was just one. It had always been one.
“Mistoffelees?” Tugger tried out the new name, smiling a little when the cat in question flicked an ear against his fur.
“Sounds....” The gaze that met his own was slightly glazed over.
“Wrong?” Tugger asked.
“No. Sounds right.” Mistoffelees blinked. “It’s the right name.”
“It suits you.”
“I suppose. But I’ll miss being called Quaxo.”
“No reason to stop calling you that as well.” Tugger shrugged. “After all, the naming of cats is a difficult matter. It isn’t just one of your holiday games-”
“Stop.” A paw lightly smacked his chest. “I have nothing left to defend myself against your words.”
“Yeah, you like it?”
Mistoffelees mulled it over, settling down in Tugger’s arms. Tugger took the opportunity to move them both to a less scorched, drier part of the junkyard. Their magic thunder dance really did a number on the surrounding area.
“Better than Sparkles, I suppose.” Misto eventually conceded.
“Oh, I’m still going to call you that too. Need to change things up every now and then.”
“I also might have told Munk and Tantomile that nickname too.”
“Fantastic. I can’t wait to hear them-” The mention of their names made Misto freeze. “Munkustrap and Tantomile. Where are they?”
All traces of relief and amusement vanished at the name. Tugger watched Misto’s face crumple in grief.
“Pounce, I- I killed him.” Misto stammered, clutching his head again. “Oh, Tugger, I-”
“No, no you didn’t!” Tugger hastily interrupted, taking Misto’s paws in his own before he could hurt himself. “Pounce isn’t dead, he’s still alive!”
“What?” The question was a whisper.
“He’s still alive. But he’s in real bad shape.” That didn’t even begin to cover it. “He did some weird thing and put himself into a coma, but then… something happened.”
“I can’t even begin to explain it.” Tugger tried to reconcile the sight of the monstrous tom into words. “Just… he’s hurting. Munk and the others are with him.”
“Pounce.” Misto whispered. “I have to help him.”
“You’re the only one who can.” Tugger confirmed. “Can you make it to Coricopat and Tantomile’s den?”
“Yes. Even if you have to drag me.”
“How about I carry you instead?” Tugger asked. “I seem to be pretty good at doing that lately.”
“We are going to have a lot to talk about once this is over.” Misto muttered, easily settling into Tugger’s arms once more.
There was a little spark of hope in that statement, a little bit of assurance that despite all the chaos and trauma they had been through there was still a sliver of normalcy in the future. Well, as normal as anyone could get. Tugger never cared much for the mundane.
“Tugger, I’m sorry.” Misto murmured as Tugger carried him towards Coricopat and Tantomile’s den. “I’m sorry for everything, I know what the others will say-”
“Don’t.” Tugger held him a little tighter. “We can talk about all this later. Just focus on helping Pounce. I’ll take care of the others.”
Just how he’d go about it wasn’t really clear but he’d cross that bridge when they got to it. Better to just take care of things one step at a time. Tugger could handle Munk and the other jellicles but a potentially monstrous, out of control Pounce was far beyond his abilities.
“Uh, Misto.” Tugger said, remembering the bottomless look in Pounce’s eyes. “There’s something about Pounce you should know.”
“I can’t… I don’t know how to explain it. Just… be careful.” As expected his words did nothing to help the confusing conversation.
Before they knew it they were standing outside Coricopat and Tantomile’s den. Tugger lingered outside, savoring the last moments he had with Mistoffelees before they entered.
“Put me down.” Misto said, trying to stand tall on his own feet.
Together they listened for any sounds of distress from inside the den. It was far too quiet.
“Ready?” Tugger asked.
“No.” Misto whispered.
“Me neither.” Tugger admitted. “But might as well see what’s going on.”
Who knew what would be waiting for them inside. There was only one way to find out.
Hello everyone! This is the final chapter. Thank you all so much for joining me on this journey, it’s a bit of a bittersweet moment for me.
I do have vague notions of a potential sequel but I want to finish some other projects first, so for now this will be the end of the Catalyst story.
I’m honored to share this with you and want you all to know that I sincerely appreciate all of your feedback and support!
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-
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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 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.”
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?
“I love you.” Misto’s words were plainly spoken yet steamrolled right over Tugger’s thoughts.
“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?”
“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 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….”
“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?”
“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.”
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.