Chips of Emerald
AN: Yes, I am aware that I haven't updated Midnight Stranger in… oh, ages. I must sheepishly admit to a severe lack of inspiration, leaving me with a half written chapter and a whole load of superfluous plot. I may start posting up a different story instead; knowing me, my inspiration for Midnight Stranger will return in the middle of a chemistry exam, causing me to fail. So until then… sorry?
Katie laughed as she tripped down from the carriage, but fell silent, cocking her head, once on the street. "What was that?" she asked, perplexed.
"What was what?" Philip asked carelessly, his eyebrow raised, as he jumped down himself, offering a mocking hand to David, who rolled his eyes but took it as he made his own descent.
"That little mewling noise - there it is again!" Katie peered past the pools of light spilt carelessly from the carriage lamps, into the shadows crouched beside the buildings.
"It sounded like a cat," David opined.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Katie," Philip seconded, but she was already moving forward, scooping up a wobbling shadow from the ground. There was another plaintive cry.
"It's a little kitten!" she exclaimed in delight, holding it gently. "Let's keep it as a pet!"
"Let's not," Philip countered warily. "It'll shed fur on everything."
Katie pouted, and David stepped forward, tilting the little creature's head into the light shed by the carriage lamps. "Its eyes are still very blue," he pointed out. "It probably has a mother nearby. You can't take it away."
"I can't see a mother," she objected truculently.
"A baby like this wouldn't be out on its own," David replied. "If you put it down, the mother will find it."
"No," she said obstinately. "It'll stay lost for ages that way. I'll just have to find the mother cat, and give it back." She turned, walking down the street with her eyes fixed avidly on the shadows.
"She's like a little child," Philip sighed.
"I heard that!" Katie's voice floated back to them.
"Well, let's follow her on her mission of mercy," the redhead continued whimsically, ignoring the threatening tone in the girl's voice. Shaking his head at their impetuosity, David waved at the butler, who had been patiently holding the door open, to wait a few more moments, and they wandered away after her.
More mewing beckoned Katie into the alley between two buildings, the men following at her heels. A dark furred shape was huddled in a corner.
"Shouldn't the mother cat be growling by now?" Philip asked David in an uneasy undertone.
Katie bent close, and reached out a tentative hand, before pulling away with a squeak of her own. "Cold," she said softly. "David, I think the mother cat is dead!"
"Oh, no," Philip muttered despairingly as his lover joined the girl in examining the nest.
"You're right," he agreed sympathetically. "Poor kittens..."
"I'll adopt them!" Katie immediately declared, obviously distressed at the thought of their orphan-hood. She reached to pick up the second kitten, putting it next to its sib, cuddled against her chest, where their mutual crying abated somewhat.
"Katie, it's not a good idea," her brother told her tiredly.
"It's really not a good idea," Philip agreed fervently.
"I don't need your help," she said stubbornly. "I'll look after them all by myself!" She clutched them possessively, making them squall.
"Gently, Katie!" David scolded her. "They have soft bones, you'll hurt them!"
"Then I can keep them?" she asked eagerly.
"They probably have fleas," Philip said pessimistically. "And all sorts of peculiar illnesses."
"Yes, I suppose you can keep them," David sighed. Philip made a protesting noise, and David laughed, putting an affectionate arm around his waist. "You're just being difficult," he said fondly. "You don't really mind that much."
Philip just scowled. "If they put hair on my clothes, there will be trouble," he promised.
Not so very long afterwards, a select party had gathered in the drawing room. Katie, her maid Rachel, and David were gathered around a small tub of warm water, surrounded by towels, as they attempted to clean the somewhat ill-kempt kittens. However, the kittens themselves did not seem to be enjoying the experience, and were determined to make things difficult.
"They're very upset," Katie said in dismay, trying to comfort one wriggling, crying kitten.
"I can hear," remarked Philip dryly, observing the proceedings from his - safely distant - sprawl on the sofa.
"They need to be clean, Miss," Rachel said practically, gently rubbing grime from one little kitten, and ruffling its fur dry on a corner of towel. Calmly, she tipped it upside down. "Female," she announced, letting it wriggle over again.
"A silver tabby," David smiled, taking it from the maid and stroking its soft fur.
"This one's ginger," Katie reported, trying to dry the squirming little creature.
"No," Philip protested immediately. "No, no! A silver tabby I can stand, but not a ginger kitten!"
"It's my kitten!" Katie declared wrathfully.
"It clashes with my hair!" Philip complained. "It has to go."
"She," interposed the maid, checking the second kitten's gender as well. "They're both female."
"I will not give her up!" Katie said hotly.
"You don't have to," David said soothingly, shooting Philip a look comprised of exasperation and pleading.
"But -" Philip's protest evaporated as David caught his eye. "Oh, fine," he surrendered grudgingly. "Just keep it away from me, or it will pollute my clothing with ginger hairs."
A maidservant effectively brought this line of discussion to an end by rapping on the door and entering, sleepy-eyed at the late hour. "I brought them, sir," she said respectfully, settling the basket and bowl she had carried neatly onto the ground.
Quickly grasping the point of the cloth-lined basket, Rachel placed both kittens snugly within it, manoeuvring it before the warm embers of the fire. "What's in the bowl?" Katie asked, staring in bemusement at the creamy contents.
"Egg mixed with milk and cooked a bit," David supplied, selecting one of the droppers that the maid had also supplied, and filling it with the thick liquid. He smudged a drop on the end of the tabby kitten's nose, making it squeak even more demandingly, and open a little pink mouth, where he dropped the food-substance carefully in. "They look about a month old, which means they can eat solid food soon, but in the meantime, this will be best."
"How do you know all this?" Katie marvelled, trying, rather more haphazardly, to feed the ginger kitten in the same manner.
"One of the grooms taught me, years ago," David answered absently.
Finally full, the kittens fell asleep, curled around each other. "They're so cute," Katie murmured, carefully touching their soft fur with one finger.
"Go to sleep, Katie," David advised her wearily. "Morning will come soon enough as it is."
"But what if they wake and are hungry again?" she asked anxiously. "Should I take the basket up to my room?"
David shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he dismissed the issue. "I'll stay with them." Philip opened his mouth to protest, and thoughtfully closed it again. "Just go, go, relieve me in the morning."
"If you say so." Tiredly, she climbed to her feet, shaking out her rumpled skirts. "Good night, David, Philip." Katie's voice was lofty as she addressed the redhead. "Good night, my little kittens." She left, taking a tolerantly smiling Rachel with her.
David stood slowly, stretching until his back clicked. Philip reached out, snagging his sleeve and pulling him to the sofa: obediently, David sat, and Philip wrapped his arms around him. "Why do the kittens make you sad?" he murmured.
David tensed slightly, then relaxed again. "Now, how did you know that?" he asked curiously.
"Your voice," the redhead shrugged. "It was quiet, subdued. You were very gentle with them: you're only that tentative when something's upsetting you. I know you, love."
"When I was nine," he explained quietly, "One of the stable cats died, leaving behind four kittens. The head groom said they should be drowned, but I wanted to save them. One of the undergrooms told me how to keep them happy, and for several weeks I managed to keep them safe in my room."
"Then what happened?"
"My father found out," he shrugged, trying to make light of the old fear and pain that always returned in a discussion of the long dead tyrant. "He drowned them, of course, and he had me locked in my room for a week. I wondered why he hadn't been harsher, but - when I was allowed out, the bruises hadn't faded from Alice's face. She took the fall for me, as she always did. As I should have known she would."
Philip kissed him softly. "Then I shall tolerate the kittens for your sake," he promised. "As long as they do not hurt my clothes."
Early the next morning, before Katie was awake, Rachel slipped downstairs to check on their resident orphans. She stopped short at the door, however: David was asleep on the sofa, and, cursing softly and persistently, Philip was kneeling beside the basket of kittens, dropping more of the milk mixture into their mewling mouths. Rachel laughed, covering her mouth with one hand to smother the sound. Philip glared at her.
"Don't just stand there," he ordered irritably in a whisper. "Come help me with the kittens before they wake him with their squeaking!"
Still smiling, the maid knelt beside him, taking over the care of the ginger kitten. "You do realise I'll have to tell Miss Katie about this," she murmured.
"Don't you dare!" he said, immediately fierce. "I'm only doing this so David can get some sleep."
She smirked undutifully. "Of course, sir."
"We need to name the kittens," Katie declared, stroking her charges fondly from her seat beside them on a cushion.
"We do?" Philip queried in a resigned fashion.
"We do," David yawned as he decided the matter, leaning into Philip's shoulder.
"Ginger and Tabby," Philip suggested indifferently, playing with a strand of his lover's hair.
"Boring," Katie sighed disgustedly. "They need descriptive names. Like - Fire and Silver!"
"Oh, that's far too elaborate for two scraps of fur like them," Philip objected.
"Perhaps they need good names to civilise them?" David recommended absently.
"Something from literature, then?" Katie mused. "How about Shakespeare?"
"Romeo and Juliet," Philip supplied.
"Philip," Katie groaned, exasperated. "They're both girls."
He shrugged. "Romea and Juliet?" he offered instead.
"Stop teasing me."
"My dear girl," Philip said firmly. "If I am forced to share a house with cats, I must at least find some amusement in it."
"Ophelia and Hermia," David suggested, as a diversion.
"No-o..." Katie said slowly. "I don't think it really suits them. Besides, I don't want my pets going mad and drowning themselves. Any other names?"
"It's too early in the morning to be remembering Shakespeare," Philip grumbled.
"It's noon," Katie contradicted superciliously.
"Far too early," he repeated, nodding.
Katie rolled her eyes, but David yawned again. "He's right, Katie," he said. "If you want Shakespeare, go look it up. I'm too tired to remember any others."
"How about classical myths, then?" she suggested.
"Echo and Narcissus," the redhead recommended.
"Philip, they're girls."
"Echo and Narciss-"
"You say you want names, so I provide them," Philip said in an injured tone. "And yet still you are unsatisfied!"
"Calypso and Ino," David shrugged.
Katie pursed her lips. "I don't really want them named after nymphs," she said doubtfully. "It might give them bad ideas."
"Hera and Aphrodite," her brother said absently.
"Aphrodite was annoying," Katie countered.
"Artemis and Apollo?" Philip offered, a teasing smile hovering on his lips.
"Philip!" she wailed.
"Artemis and Athene," David suggested the better option before Philip could stir up more trouble, laughing softly.
"I - like it," Katie said after a thoughtful moment. "The silver one shall be Artemis, and the ginger shall be Athene."
Philip gazed sceptically at the ginger kitten, which was deeply involved in chewing its own hind paw. "She doesn't look terribly wise or warlike to me," he opined.
"She's making cunning plots," Katie excused her pet. "She's going to wait until you're put off your guard by her innocent behaviour, and then - she will strike! Shedding ginger hair all over your coats!"
"David!" Philip said in alarm. "That kitten is obviously possessed by the devil!"
The kitten, now labelled with the unlikely title Athene, wandered towards him, stumbling only slightly. She paused at Philip's boot, investigating it carefully. she patted it with a paw.
"Shoo," Philip told her uneasily, nudging her very gently with his toe. "The boot belongs to me."
Undeterred by this order, Athene stretched up, leaping to hook her claws around the top of Philip's boots, and scrabbling for purchase as, with her claws hooked into the material of his pantaloons, she tried to scale his leg.
"Off!" Philip ordered her frantically. "Off, devil-cat!"
David quickly rescued them both, carefully pulling Athene's claws free of the material, and stroking her gently before setting her next to her sister on the floor once more. "Poor Philip," he sympathised, a smile tugging at his lips. "Tormented by a kitten."
"It's a sadistic kitten!" he exclaimed. "It knew I didn't like it! It was trying to make trouble! And it hurt my clothes!"
"She probably just wants to be friends with you," David said soothingly.
"She has poor taste, it seems," Katie murmured, smirking at the redhead.
Philip gave her a pained look. "Katie," he sighed. "While I take the slur in the convivial spirit it was meant, you just insulted your brother as well as myself."
"Maybe he'll grow out of it," the girl said lightly, teasing Artemis with a feather.
David's hand closed tightly around Philip's: his lover gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Not funny, Katie," her brother said flatly.
"What?" she asked in confusion. "Oh! I didn't mean -"
"Just think before you speak," David sighed, relaxing again.
"I'm sorry, David, really I am," she apologised. "I don't - I really don't disapprove of you being together anymore, truly I don't, not when you're so happy with each other..."
"Katie, you're babbling," Philip quelled her. "It's alright. Just keep the kittens away from me and stop talking thoughtlessly, and I shall forgive you entirely."
Philip was reclining on a sofa, flicking through a book, when he felt eyes upon him. Glancing first towards the door, and then, with a frown, at the floor, he saw Artemis, the little silver tabby, gazing at him solemnly.
"What are you looking at?" he asked her curiously, lowering the book.
The kitten didn't answer, still staring.
"It's not that I object to you personally, you understand," he continued idly. "Or even feline-kind in general, really. But you take up a lot of time and attention that could be better spent on me, and have no respect at all for clothing."
The kitten looked enquiring.
"You, personally, are rather cute," Philip informed her. "Not that you're to take that as an invitation to climb on my lap, because it isn't. It is simply that, in a purely aesthetic sense, I do not disapprove of you."
The kitten did not seem particularly fazed by this revelation.
"Your sister, however, is quite another matter," Philip continued. "While you and I, my dear Artemis, are aesthetically compatible, Athene and I most emphatically are not. Her ginger hair is an affront: it clashes with my hair."
Artemis looked very solemn, and Philip nodded gravely.
"It's a very serious business," he agreed. "And she hasn't improved it with her callous disregard for the sanctity of my clothing, either."
The kitten mewed.
"Oh, yes?" Philip asked. "Well, I think that you and I could develop a very good working relationship, I really do. But I'm afraid I doubt that my interactions with Athene will ever be cordial."
There was a sound from the doorway, and Philip smiled at David, who was leaning against the doorframe, and appeared rather bemused. "Were you just having a conversation with a kitten?" he asked in disbelief.
"She started it!" the redhead shrugged defensively.
"...I'm not even going to ask," David said after a moment, with an affectionate smile, walking over and planting a kiss on his lover's lips. "I'm glad to see you not detesting the kittens, though."
"I still detest Athene!" he said quickly. "I just happen to have a rather good understanding with young Artemis." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps I should propose that she and I form an alliance against the dastardly ginger kitten?"
"Please don't," David said dryly. "Katie would surely unite against you with Athene, and the house would be turned into a kitten battle ground."
"Mm," Philip said vaguely. "Full of little kittens with pistols and swords."
David gave him another bemused look, and brushed his lips over Philip's forehead to check for a temperature. "Are you alright?" he asked anxiously. "You're not normally this odd."
"You've been staying up to baby-sit the cats," Philip said pathetically, wrapping his arms around his lover and pulling him close, with a directness in his green eyes that made David blush faintly despite the tragic overtones of his voice. "I don't sleep well when you aren't there... and besides, I've been all lonely."
He leaned in, initiating a long, languorous kiss, but after a few moments, David pulled back, blushing more than ever. At Philip's raised eyebrows, he muttered, "The kitten is watching us."
The redhead looked over to where Artemis was still gazing at them in fascination, and sighed, slumping back into the sofa cushions. "I knew that those animals were a bad idea."
When Philip awoke, he was alone, with only a few sleepy memories of David sliding away from him in the early morning, with a soft kiss in the warm darkness, leaving Philip to sprawl decadently across the width of the bed.
After he'd risen, Philip decided to go in search of his lover, and to this end he idly traversed the corridors. David, he discovered, was in the library, absently petting Athene as he flicked through a book.
"Up early, aren't you?" Philip asked from the doorway, smothering a yawn as he glared suspiciously at the ginger kitten.
David looked up and smiled. "I awoke, and couldn't get back to sleep," he explained simply. "I might have stayed with you longer, but you were stealing the blankets -somehow managing to simultaneously do that and lie on top of me." His wry grin took any sting from his words.
"The cat's lying on you, too," Philip pointed out, a pout just touching his lips.
David smirked at him. "I think that jealousy towards a cat is probably a little beyond what is reasonable."
"Not at all," Philip said loftily, walking over and carefully (so as not to get any ginger hairs on himself) evicting the purring animal from her position on his lover's lap. He promptly replaced her with himself, smiling triumphantly as he gave his lover a proper greeting.
David laughed at him. "You're as attention seeking as any cat yourself," he declared. Philip's affronted expression just made him laugh more, and he expanded teasingly. "And as vain... and languorous... and -" another kiss demonstrated his words "- tactile. The only thing you don't have is the ability to purr."
Philip pouted. "I am not catlike!" he protested. Alright, so maybe he had a tendency to sprawl in a fashion that could be considered vaguely feline... and yes, maybe he did attend to his appearance quite as often as the most conscientious groomers among cats, but... well... "If I learn to purr," he asked plaintively, "Will you get rid of Athene?"
When Katie burst into their room one morning, Philip groaned, but retained enough awareness to hastily pull the blankets up to cover David's arms before the scars on them could be seen. David didn't need to have that conversation so early in the morning.
"Katie, much as I love you, I will detest you absolutely if you do not learn to knock!" Philip said irritably. Honestly, that girl...
"But -" Her lip trembled.
"And not only are you intruding," Philip went on testily, ignoring her interruption as he brushed his fingers soothingly over David's shoulder as he began to shift and rouse. "You are carrying a cat."
At his less-than-delighted tone, Katie's arms tightened on Artemis, whose expression turned distinctly disgruntled. "I can't find Athene anywhere!" she said, her voice as full of tragedy as any heroine's of the stage.
Philip closed his eyes again. "If you expect me to bestir myself for that, you are quite mistaken," he informed her loftily.
"Katie." That sleep-blurred voice was David, who began to sit up, still clutching the covers protectively and ignoring the disgusted noise of objection that Philip let out. "Go away. I will help you find your cat when I am dressed."
Still obviously worried, but now blushing from the reprimands, the girl abashedly withdrew. With a long suffering sigh, Philip caught David's waist as he lay back down, kissing his neck idly as he cuddled back into the bed. "Stupid Katie," he murmured piteously. "She woke me up."
"As you correspondingly woke me," David pointed out, relaxing against his lover before reluctantly wriggling away. Philip made another protesting noise, but it was cut off with a kiss. "I said I'd help her," the brunet said reluctantly. "You can go back to sleep if you like. It's only seven o' clock, after all." His tone became lighter, faintly mocking. "By rights you shouldn't be stirring for hours, yet."
Philip waved a hand in dismissal of his lover's teasing, but it lacked some of his normal flamboyance, and he burrowed back into the blankets with no further protests, barely even taking the trouble to watch, with his usual aesthetic appreciation, as David briskly pulled into clothing.
The knock on the door came just as David was pulling on a waistcoat, and Philip was drifting back to gentle slumber, and Burton slipped inside. "Miss Katie's cat has still not been found," he reported respectfully. "I have been... ordered..." The word was distastefully given; upper servants did not take orders, they granted requests."To assist the search for her, unless Master Lordan requires my help in dressing?"
"Master Lordan is trying to sleep," Philip informed his valet grumpily. Why was the entire household bent on disturbing him for the sake of a preposterously ginger-furred catling?
David rolled his eyes with a tolerant smile. His lover, as always self-consciously decadent, was seldom at his best before ten o' clock - unless sleepy affection was what you sought. They left the room, David still amused, and Burton as dutifully deadpan as ever, and were immediately accosted by Katie and her entourage of Rachel and two chambermaids.
"She's not anywhere, David!" she said anxiously without waiting for a greeting. "She didn't appear for dinner last night, the cook says, and I haven't seen her since yesterday afternoon! And I checked the salons and the bedrooms and the kitchen, and there's no sign! I need you to go look in the garden, you and Burton. She's not meant to go outside!"
David patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "I'm sure it's fine," he said comfortingly, and allowed himself to be swept up in her wake, not noticing the unlatched bedroom door he left behind him.
Inside the room, however, Philip was having an annoying amount of difficulty in returning to sleep, despite his tiredness and the comfort of his surroundings: a fact that he decided to blame entirely on Katie, if only because Burton was too deft a valet for Philip to hold any long-standing grudge against him. He wished that David would return: even if he couldn't sleep, his lover's presence would open the situation to other alternatives, and Philip took a shameless delight in those mornings when David could be persuaded to eschew to outside world and stay with him.
But David, although in general a man of excellent qualities, still had a few unfortunate faults that Philip had been unable to train him out of, one of which was his occasional and tragic tendencies towards waking up in the morning.
And even after they found the dratted kitten, Philip reflected sourly, his lover would no doubt be distracted by half a dozen other household problems. Stupid Katie, stealing his David. He'd have to declare his room as absolutely forbidden to her as it was to the maids. Either that, or start locking her in her room until he was ready to descend for breakfast in the morning.
By the time he'd dressed, of course, and drunk the coffee that would always be awaiting him downstairs - and kissed David, naturally, but that went without saying - Philip would doubtless be returned to his usual good spirits, even to the point of being able to escort Katie to the modiste and argue with her eloquently on the merits of a rose-pink ball gown as opposed to one in blue or green. But now... no. Katie, that infidel, did not deserve his company.
There was a slight creaking sound, and Philip groaned again, pulling the blankets over his head as he realised they'd left the bedroom door open. No wonder distant sounds from the unsuccessful search party were drifting in.
This was followed by a quizzical "Hmreh?" noise from ground level, one that the sleep-fuddled Philip could not identify, and something jumped lightly onto the bed next to him, something that sent thin vibrations through the mattress, ending with a furred head nudging imperatively at his hand.
Philip sighed, lifting his hand to let the cat slide her head underneath and be petted absently. She let out an enthusiastic purr, which cause the redhead to open his eyes and see, to his dismay, the ginger form of Athene.
"You took advantage of me in my dazed state," he informed her in a dignified tone, and withdrew his hand under the blankets. Athene gave him a reproachful look before curling up next to him on the bed.
Philip heard the search party rattle by below, the thin, querulous voice of one of the younger maids uplifted in query - "Could she have climbed up the chimney? Should we send for a sweep?" - and knew a moment's fellow feeling for the cat. Both of them were simply desirous of sleeping, undisturbed by Katie's dramatics. This feeling, however, rapidly dissipated when he realised that Athene, not Katie, was the true cause of his woefully afflicted morning.
"I always knew that you were an evil being," he informed her resentfully.
Athene, far from contrite, began to wash her stomach in an insolent fashion, and Philip glared at her as he levered himself out of the bed.
The robe laid out so obligingly across the back of a chair was of quilted green silk, and in the normal run of things, Philip would have taken pleasure in this thought. However, Athene's presence on his bed - and, he asked himself in affront, were her eyes turning green? Such blasphemy was not possibly allowable! - made such simple delights impossible. He scooped up the creature - something Athene took great exception to until he actually held her against him, far more closely than he wished to, with the risk of her shedding forefront in his mind.
Kicking the door open with one bare tow, he descended the stairs softly, idly ruing his lack of an authoritative tread, and walked into the drawing room that Katie had commandeered to be her command centre to press her - purring? Ridiculous animal - pet into her arms.
"I know not where she was hiding in the meantime," he announced, "But she revealed herself by trying to invade my bedroom. Be so good as to keep her out in future." The thought of her discovering the chair where Burton so regularly laid out his clothes made him distinctly uneasy.
Katie cuddled her cat happily, depositing her on a sofa to hug Philip with equal enthusiasm, kissing him on the cheek. ("I told you there was something going on between him and her," Philip heard one of the maids whispering to her companion. "And the mater allowing it on account of they're such friends!")
"You found her! Thank you!" the girl cried, apparently oblivious to the scrutiny of the servants - although Philip had long since wondered if her occasional outbursts of affection had more to do with allaying the more venomous suspicions of the house staff than a simple expression of sweet, sisterly devotion.
"Only by misfortune," he told her solemnly.
"I trust your rest was not too disturbed?" David asked him courteously.
"Shattered, in fact," was the rather ungracious response. "I want my disapproval for the cats noted once again."
"Poor boy," David laughed at him. "I'm sure we'll find some way to make it up to you."
And here it ends, because it's nearly 5000 words long and honestly, that's plenty for a story about kittens.
In other notes: David's kitten-hiding stunt was taken directly from my aunt, who successfully raised a litter of kittens in her sock drawer when her father (a farmer) wanted to drown them. The recipe for kitten food was provided by Kirsty, a good friend of mine, who swears by it for weaning little kittens onto solid food. I have never attempted it myself, and so do not know if it is really a healthy kitten diet.