My name's Thomas Cattrell Jones, T.J. for short. What can I say? My parents had a rotten sense of humor. I turn into a tomcat during the full moon, and more often if something tips the balance between man and tabby.
Like MacGowan. Love makes you crazy, right? MacGowan, my main squeeze, the wizardly wonder to whom I also am a feline familiar. He tends to have a certain...effect on my morphic control. As in, when he's around, my control isn't. Relationships are hard enough without adding in shape-shifting snafus, so trust me when I say that blindfolds and handcuffs aren't the only kinks we've got to work out. High emotions, physical exertion, and stress tend to trip my morphic trigger.
Normally--for a given value of normal--it's all good. But the holidays are upon us, and they have a way of bringing everyone's inner beast out to play. Plus the elemental critters that flock to a wizard aren't crazy about cats, and they're out to cause some havoc.
Tidings of comfort and oh...joy.
* * * * *
T.J. had one foot on the stairs that would lead him up to home sweet home when his pocket rang. Fortunately when he checked he did have a cell phone in there. Given the world he lived in, where anything could happen--and usually did--it didn't pay to take even the simplest things for granted.
He paused, awkwardly posed, to juggle the slimline out of his pocket and wedge it between ear and shoulder. Impressing himself, he even managed to keep two plastic deli bags from slipping free and splattering tofurkey goodness at his feet. Dexterity: you're doing it right.
And after all that? “About fucking time you answered,” was what the caller had to say by way of greeting.
T.J. raised his eyes toward heaven. Might have known. “Arden, this better be good. What are you calling me for, anyway? It's not like you aren't lurking upstairs planning to steal my dinner.”
“Not...exactly,” Arden drawled.
That didn't bode well. Vague nonspecifics never did. “Whatever you've done, I'm not paying for it or bailing you out. Just so you know.”
“Whatever, kitty-boy. Put me on video.”
T.J. squinted up at the sky and its massed clouds, rolling from the gray of MacGowan's eyes in a somber mood to steely darkness. Snowflakes floated down, lazy now but with a definite sense of just getting started. “I'm pretty sure I'm going to regret asking, but why can't I just come inside and talk to you face-to-face?”
“You'll see,” Arden said. Sounded like he'd been taking “ominous and menacing” lessons from Shavey. T.J. grimaced. Yeah, regret was definitely on the horizon. “Video me.”
Damn his feline curiosity, anyway. T.J. gave in to the urge to check it out--and hey, how about that? Regret. The screen appeared to be filled with something large. Cavernous. Red. Moist. T.J. stared, transfixed. Also horrified. “Arden? Please tell me that's not what I think it is.”
Arden cackled. The zoom drew back from--oh thank God--Arden's nostril. Wait. Oh. Oh, that's not
“I'm a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Had you going for a second, didn't I? Sucker. And it got your attention, didn't it? A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do when dealing with a pussy like you. Now zip it and keep your focus on me.”
T.J. considered that order. Decided said order could go fuck itself. “Arden, I've just gotten home after a twelve-hour day grading freshman-level biology exams. It's snowing. I'm hungry, tired, and my vegan dinner is getting cold. MacGowan's up there because we're supposed to share this food, and I need him to hug me until the world goes away. Speed it up, or I swear I'll hunt you down and pluck all your nose hairs out one at a time. Which, by the way, would be doing the world a public service.”
“Calm down.” Arden waved an airy hand. “I'm going to make this well worth your while, you'll see.”
“Do I have any choice?”
“Not really. Ever hear of 'ask, and ye shall receive'?”
“Uh-huh. That usually comes right before 'be careful what you wish for.'“ T.J. propped his elbow on the stair railing. “Y'know, the odds are good that I'm going to freeze to death out here before you're done. MacGowan's going to come downstairs in search of a tomcat and find a catsicle. I so wouldn't want to be you right about then.”
Arden ignored him. Grandly. However, he did hop right to the point. T.J. decided to call that a win on behalf of MacGowan's developing skills. “If you will look to the left and to the right of you, you'll notice that your neighbors appear to have gone walkabout. No cars in sight, right?”
T.J.'s automatic scoff halted midsnort. Whoa.
“What did you do with them?”
“Me? Absolutely nothing.” Arden gave fantastic straight face. “That would be very, very wrong.”
“Uh-huh.” T.J. decided not asking was the wiser choice. Some things he didn't want to know for sure, and besides, honest plausible deniability came in handy when dealing with the inevitable law enforcement.
On the tiny screen, a dark shadow passed behind Arden. It planted a meaty paw on Arden's shoulder and squeezed. With intent. Arden squawked. “All right, Shavey, I'm getting there. Behave, or no sex for you.”
Sometimes T.J. wished Arden hadn't gotten in touch with his gay side. By which he meant, “anytime Arden and Shavey are in the same room together. With me.”
“Anyway,” Arden said with a subsonic growl, “it's been brought to my attention that you and MacGowan haven't really had what you might call much 'private time' lately.” He made quote fingers just in case T.J. missed the point. “And seeing as it's Festivus Eve--”
“It's December seventh,” T.J. interrupted.
“Festivus is whenever it needs to be. That's the joy of the holiday.”
“Wait, wait.” T.J.'s brain caught up. “Go back to the bit about MacGowan. And me. And how we are never, ever alone. I liked where that part was leading.”
Shavey squeezed Arden's shoulder. Firmly. But silently. T.J. thought he might suddenly have to revise his opinion of Shavey.
Arden rolled his eyes and sighed the sigh of the truly put-upon. “Happy Festivus, you sorry bastard. This is a gift to you, from all of us. The apartment is yours. The entire fucking complex is yours. No neighbors, no friends, no interruptions. Well. We don't actually know where Sur Lune is right now, but Mr. Jontan's on the case.”
“It's a Festivus miracle,” T.J. said, staring at the phone. Tiny angelic choirs sang ecstatically cold and lonely hallelujahs in his head. Hot damn!
“How long is this going to last?”
“Until morning. Dawn's early light is as long as we can keep the mojo jo-jo-ing. So you'd best make good use of your time until then, if you know what I mean.”
Arden jabbed his elbow backward. Shavey oofed.
T.J. watched. Warily.
“Right. This part is for your ears only,” Arden muttered out of the corner of his mouth. “Come closer. Put me on audio. Press that delicate, pearl-like shell to the phone, because I'm going to whisper.”
And just like that, we're right back to
.” Hell with it, though; T.J. would have gone so far as to kiss Arden just then if Arden had been within lip reach.
“Just like that, yes. Come closer.” Arden wheedled. “Closer. Now.” He paused for dramatic effect. Damn him if it didn't work too. “I happen to know, my feline friend, that there's an envelope hidden beneath your couch. Taped to the springs. Wouldn't have found it if I weren't incurably nosy. I also happen to know, because I broke it open and looked, that within that envelope is a copy of your apartment key.”
“There's even an adorable key chain attached. Custom job, very classy, burgundy and silver. Engraved with the name 'MacGowan.' Considering that he's already got his own key to the place and has likely used it even today to let himself in to wait for you after work, I can only see this as a symbolic gesture.”
“Arden,” T.J. said. Threateningly.
Menace didn't carry as well over the phone as a tomcat could hope. Arden carried on with blithe abandon. “Hearts and flowers and lace, oh my. Dare I hope your plan is to ask your fine piece of wizardly ass to live in sin with you, his feline familiar? Yes? I approve. But--”
“There's always a but with you.”
“I should hope so. Otherwise I'd look damned funny walking around with waist-legs.” Arden started to carry on. Stopped. Snickered, no doubt thinking Shavey-related jokes. Any second now he'd come out with a line about junk in trunks, and no.
“You were humiliating me. Get on with it so I can go inside. I'm freezing.”
“Right, right.” Arden cleared his throat. “The key chain. Now, given the amount of dust on that envelope, you've been considering this fine romantic option for more than, say, a month. Tsk-tsk-tsk, my lad.”
“I'm waiting for the right moment. What's so bad about that?”
,” Arden blared. T.J.'s wince, violent enough that he nearly dropped the phone, went a long way toward making him regret any earlier, kindlier thoughts. “A little more action, a little more satisfaction. In other words, shit or get off the pot.”
“You're all class, Arden.”
“That's me,” Arden agreed, sunny as a June morning. “Take my advice, and you'll thank me ver' much. My hand to Bob. And that's all the time we have tonight, folks. T.J.? Twelve hours till dawn. Enjoy. Arden, over and out.”
The phone silenced as its twinkling lights died to black. T.J. barely noticed, too busy listening to something else: Silence. Sweet, sweet silence. Peace and quiet. Almost terrifying in its strangeness. Utterly fantastic.
T.J. might actually have to thank Arden for something. A house wasn't a house without someone you loved to come home to. Sure, MacGowan hung out in the apartment all the time, even slept there as often as not, but it wasn't “theirs.” As Festivus presents went, T.J. couldn't think of a better one.
On that note, T.J. tossed the cell phone gleefully skyward. A guy could do that when he had wizards in his life. He preferred their service contracts, especially the Happy Ending Special. “Fuck yes. Happy Festivus to me! To us! Hey, MacGowan!”