For SuperKaty on her birthday, with much <3.

Sequel to Pussyfooting Around.

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Cat's Paw
by afrai

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There were good things about being the Warrior. A free pass to just about everywhere in London Below, which, while not comfortable, was certainly interesting and saved time during adventures. Adulation from some classes of people, though this wasn't as fun as it sounded because the people involved were usually smelly or mad or both. Respect from other classes of people, and that was worth having, because Richard didn't get to cut queues or anything but at least now Door let him order the food once in a while, and the Marquis. . . .

Well. Yes. The Marquis. Was very. Yes.

Lots of good things, really, but that was hard to remember when the bad things about being the Warrior snuck up behind you and put a knife to your throat.

And Richard meant that in the most literal way possible.

"Not much of a Warrior, is he?" the man behind him whispered in his ear. Richard didn't know if he wished there were light, or if he was glad there wasn't. "Did he kill the Beast by trembling it to death? Did it quiver on its little hooveses when he squeaked at it? Oh, oh. Isn't he scared, though? He's lost his pretty knife and he's . . . all . . . alone. In the big dark. . . ."

Next time, Richard thought, he'd pick a bad guy who didn't refer to him in third person all the time.

If there was a next time, that is.

The Marquis was going to be really mad at him.

The man turned the knife so that the sharp edge slid along Richard's neck. Something warm and wet trickled down, dampening his shirt. Richard winced -- was his life flashing before his eyes again? Just when he'd almost obliterated the memory of that time he'd got lost in Lords and kept stabbing the ghosts of dead peers until one of them pointed out that they were already dead, thanks all the same, and did he want to join in their everlasting game of cricket? No? Right, jolly good, we'll just kill you with our spectral cricket bats then, no hard feelings, eh?

At least it wasn't quite so stupid to die in an ambush by a maniacal ex-nanny as being clobbered to death by a lot of phantom peers.

It was cold comfort, but one to which Richard was well used. He trotted different forms of the line out every time he was in mortal danger, which was about every once in a week now that he'd got better at surviving in the Underground.

"Goodbye, little Warrior," cooed his attacker, and then, "Aaargh!"

Richard blinked.

"Right, right, right--" said a voice, and a wind went past his head. Richard's back was suddenly very cold.

There was a heavy, fleshy thud.


There was another thud.


There was a squelch.

And then there was a noise that sounded remarkably like someone stomping repeatedly on a maniacal ex-nanny's stomach.

"D'you give up?" said the new voice. "What's that I hear? A yes? Are you sure? All right, no need to swear like that; we all understand each other here. -- Are you sure you give up? Well, if you're sure."

The stomping sound broke off. The ex-nanny said,

"I'm going to kill you--"

There was a very final thud.

Richard breathed, and wished he hadn't. London Below wasn't generally known for its salubrious air, but it was even worse than usual down here.

He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out his torch. He switched it on.

The shaking beam of light picked out the dark tunnel, the sewage, the limp form of the ex-nanny (who was, apparently, more ex than he'd ever been), and finally a man holding a crowbar. He grinned at Richard.

"Er," said Richard.

The man looked down at his hands.

"Oh, sorry," he said. The crowbar vanished into his coat. "All right?"

"Uh. Yes?" said Richard. "Look, thanks for saving my life, and sorry if this is an awkward question, but -- who the hell are you?"

The man handed him a card. Richard trained the light on it.

It was black. There were only three words on it, in curling gold letters: The Amazing Maurice.

"That's not very enlight--"

"How much d'you reckon it's worth?" said Maurice.


"Your life," said Maurice, with an air of incredible patience. "I'm not saying it's worth, you know, the Crown Jewels or anything, but I think it should just about pay for a human body, yeah?"

"I'm sorry, I don't quite follow you--"

"It's only for half the time, anyway," said Maurice hopefully. He seemed to be trying to convince himself of something. "So . . . half a human body, right? Your life should do it. More than enough. Besides," he added, "the bloke likes you."

He said this in a way that implied he'd just barely stopped himself from adding, "God knows why."

Richard's eyes narrowed.

"You're a friend of the Marquis's, aren't you?"

"Who, the Marquis? The Marquis? What Marquis? I don't know any Marquises, I'm a ca -- man of the people--" He deflated under Richard's glare.

"Not a friend, not a friend, more sort of a -- debtor," he mumbled.

Richard thought.

"You saved my life because you owe him something?"

"Well, when you put it that way -- sort of, yes? I would have done it anyway," Maurice said hurriedly. "I'm soft-hearted, me. Always glad to help a . . . fellow human."

He didn't say it with much conviction.

Richard sighed. He could feel tension gathering behind his temples. He hated getting mixed up in the Marquis's deals. Especially since they'd become -- well -- friends (in the most Wildean sense of the word, said a cheerful voice in the back of his head), Richard had tried to avoid getting involved in the Marquis's bizarre ideas of barter. It made things so complicated.

He would have to talk to the Marquis once he got home.

Perhaps Maurice saw how much he wasn't looking forward to the prospect, because he gave him a long look, sauntered over, and slung an arm around his neck. Richard had just the time for a dizzy thought -- he moves exactly like the Marquis -- before Maurice's voice, low and sleepy, was scraping in his ear:

"Or we could just forget about your boyfriend. Fancy a shag?"

"What? No! We've only just met!"

"I'm not askin' you to marry me or anything. It's just a shag -- you sure you'd rather not? Right, right, sorry." Maurice lifted his hands. "Just askin'."

"Besides, he'd kill me." Richard paused. "No, first he'd kill you, and then he'd kill me."

"Good point," said Maurice.

Then he started taking off his clothes.

"Er, Maurice," said Richard. Maurice was golden-brown in the light. Richard's hand wobbled.

"Don't move the light," said Maurice irritably. "You humans, I don't know how you ever get anywhere, you're practic'lly blind. . . ."

Richard thought: don't look down, don't look down. . . .


"I mean it," said Richard weakly.

"Hmm?" The black trousers slid down onto the crumpled silk waistcoat.

"You don't even know my name!"

Maurice gave him an odd look.

"Yeah, so? I prob'ly wouldn't remember it anyway. Like I haven't got better things to do than remember the names of stupi -- um, people." He paused. "Wait, it's not Keith, is it?"


"Right." Maurice straightened and stared at Richard.

A few eternities ticked past.

"You can look away now," said Maurice meaningfully. Richard blushed and whirled around.

Then a look of puzzlement crossed his face.

"Wait, then why did you take off your--"

"You can turn around now," said Maurice. "So, tell your boyfriend -- nah, kid, down here."

He -- it -- he. Was a cat.

Richard's mouth worked, but no sound came out.

"Look, let's just get this over with once and for all, all right?" said Maurice wearily. "Yes, I'm a cat. Yes, I'm talking. Is this all clear? Can we move on?"

"But," said Richard.

Maurice sighed.

"Yeah, well, see, the thing is, I'm a werehuman, right?" he said. "Every once in a while I lose all my fur and claws and whiskers, and grow opposable thumbs an' irresistible sexual appeal. Not," he added, "that I don't already have irresistible sexual appeal, I mean. I mean to humans."

"A werehuman?"

"I was bitten by a human," said Maurice. "It was horrible. Not fit to tell of in polite company."

"Are you serious?"

"No," said Maurice.

Richard stared at him.

"It's a good story, though," said Maurice. "And it's practic'lly true. And it's shorter than the truth, which is borin', anyway. And you can always ask your boyfriend; he should know, he's the one who told me how to do it. Look, are we going to stand around here all night, 'cos I've actually got things to do and people to see in places that, and this is the important part, aren't here."

"Sorry, I'm just--" Richard passed a hand over his forehead. "I should be used to this, shouldn't I?"

"Yeah, well," said Maurice. "You're human." This seemed to be an acceptable excuse in his mind.

He jumped off the ledge they were standing on, landing neatly just out of the sewage.

"Since we're not going to shag, I'll be on my way," he said. "Unless you've changed your mind?"

He looked intelligently inquiring, which was a bizarre look to see on the face of a street cat, and Richard really should be used to this level of weirdness by now, shouldn't he?

He miraculously managed not to say, "But you're a cat." Maurice had indicated that he'd already noticed the fact of his felinity.

"Er, no. No," he said instead.

"All right," said Maurice equably. "Some other day, maybe. Give your boyfriend my card, and tell him all debts are off. Au revoir."

His teeth glinted in the light, and then he was gone, melting into the darkness. Richard thought of straight white teeth in a golden face.

He got enough of that grin from the Marquis. And yet. . . .

"I really hope not," Richard muttered. He almost meant it.

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