author Gabrielle MB.
fandom The Bartimaeus Trilogy belongs to Jonathan Stroud. I own nothing and make no money from this.
warnings Some light slash. Bartimaeus/Ptolemy, Bartimaeus/Nathaniel. Spoilers for Golem's Eye!
notes This little scene nagged at me until I wrote it down. I'm so sorry.
Of Djinn and Cats
The kid's quarters really left something to be desired. I mean, hello, my buddy boy Nat here lived with one of the strongest (and most annoyingly corpse-like) magicians in London, and yet all he had was a neatly made bed, a desk and a measly little bookcase. Made me feel all ruffled for him, which was a bit off-putting, seeing that -- surprise, surprise -- I didn't really give a flying rat's ass. (believe you me, flying rats are terribly annoying. Saw a pack of those in Egypt once, back in the days I spent with Ptolemy as my master. They went for his hair. I went for their wings. They crunched nicely in my big kitty teeth.)
But yes, Nat (who, of course, hates it whenever I bust out his birth name at the most inopportune times. I call him Nat in my head just to spite him) was sleeping soundly at his desk as I squirmed inside by the window he'd left ajar for me. London had been just as wet and dark as it had been on the numerous other evenings and nights I'd spent patrolling its streets with a pack of easily excitable foliots and a few fellow djinn. Nathaniel's plan for finding the mystery Destroyer-of-Tourist-Spots through nightly patrols wasn't really paying off. Queezle and I had just spent yet another soggy night scooting along alleys and streets to no avail.
I shook myself briefly, trying to get at least some of the water from my fur. I was yet again in the guise of a cat (this time one of those sleek, inky black animals Ptolemy loved so much), which made sneaking around easy enough. The boy didn't stir even as I splattered his dark mop of unruly hair (which was, honestly, still ridiculously long. I briefly considered doing him a favor in the form of a buzzcut) with rain water and poked him with a paw.
Nathaniel was sleeping with his face pressed to a spell book, his eyes clenched shut and mouth drawn in a tight line (I bet you anything he was grinding his teeth in his sleep). He didn't look terribly peaceful, what with his fingers curled into white-knuckled fists and his back stretched taut in a terribly unergonomic position. That was going to bite him in his bony ass come morning. I smirked at the thought, twitching the tip of my tail across his cheek and then slapped his nose with it.
Nat gave a snort, batting at my tail with his fist. I hopped down from the table and assumed the form of a slender, black-haired boy with dark skin. Ptolemy's form was the only male human form I was truly comfortable with. Whenever I looked in a mirror, it made me feel as though a small piece of him was still with me (which, of course, is a very sappy thought for a formidable djinni like me. I will naturally tear out the ears of anyone who even slightly hints that I just admitted to having those kinds of thoughts).
I pulled at Nat's shoulders to tilt him backwards. My clothes and hair were wet -- just like my fur had been -- and I imagined they were leaving splotches on his painted-on suit (good riddance. That suit has to be the worst I've ever seen, and I once served a master during those brief, hushed-up years of French history when they thought blue polka dots were haute couture). Nathaniel barely stirred as I hooked my arms under his, pulling him sideways and then backwards from his chair to haul him to bed.
Hey, Nat wasn't a half bad master. Since he was sleeping next to an opened window on a rainy night, I felt it prudent to save him from a painful death through untreated pneumonia. Believe you me, the kid was already thin as a rake, so I wasn't convinced he'd even notice if he ever fell sick. I huffed and puffed for show while dragging him, just to make him feel less threatened and babied if he did decide to wake up.
I got him up to his bed without waking him. I laid him down carefully on the unwrinkled sheets and coverlet, his head lolling to the side the moment it hit his poofy pillow. I snorted to myself, reaching out Ptolemy's slender fingers to stroke back Nat's hair from his eyes. I felt like a horrible sap. As long as he didn't wake up and notice that I actually held a certain fondness for his pained smiles, overgrown hair and flamboyantly queer choices in clothing, I figured I was safe.
Of course that was when he opened his eyes. I snatched my hand back fast as lightning (literally. I'm a djinn. You think I can't do it?), stuffing it in the pocket I'd made in my roomy jeans. Nathaniel blinked at me sleepily, brows furrowing. I felt like thwapping him across the forehead for being this slow and vulnerable. He smiled at me briefly, obviously amused by my bedraggled hair and sopping clothes.
(I briefly wondered whether he'd like a nice trip out the window into the pouring rain, but held myself back. I don't like being laughed at.)
Fortunately the kid was exhausted enough to just sigh tiredly and then drift off again. I took a step backwards from the bed, ready to settle down for a good think (djinn rarely sleep). I found I couldn't. Nat had the hem of my shirt held tightly in his fist.
I felt like the heroine of a really bad romance novel (shut up. Everyone reads them, including you).
After a moment of beating myself up for thinking this was sort of cute (in a really, really, really vague way, because this was my master. My very young, very grumpy and very snotty little master), I changed back into the black cat. Nathaniel's fist closed on empty air. He made a whimpery sound, which went straight to my very small cat toes and travelled up to the tip of my tail.
I was worried that he might wake up and ask difficult questions (all the while cheerily administering some painful punishments), so I hopped up onto his bed. I pressed my small cat body to his side, purring in a bored, disgusted manner. I hated myself for being such a softie. Nathaniel laid his hand on my back in his sleep, petting the sleek, soft fur with his surprisingly small fingers. My next purr was pure pleasure.
(Don't look at me like that; it's been ages since anything's touched me with anything resembling tenderness. I was a bit starved for some affection. I still hate the brat, and as soon as our six weeks are up, I am so out of here. Yes, really.)
So there I lay, a proud, 5000-year-old djinni defeated by one friendly touch. I squirmed under Nathaniel's arm to press my head onto his shoulder, sighing tuna-scented kitty breath into his nose (it was a small victory when his whole face contorted into a look of sleepy disgust). I poked a paw under his shirt, settling it on his steadily rising chest so I could feel the thuds of his heart underneath his painfully visible ribs.
I settled in for a spot of meditation, all the while cursing myself quietly for liking this sort of simple contact with my brat of a master. The only other master I'd ever allowed this close to me was Ptolemy. I feared for my sanity even as I curled my tail around Nat's wrist and let him close his fingers around the tip of it.
Nathaniel slept like the dead. I felt strangely at peace. We both hated each other again in the morning.