For he can creep.
-Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno
After the spider, she took a nap. After the nap, The Captain had the door open to talk to a woman. She followed the woman out, and got her attention by rubbing past her legs.
But the woman wasn't hers; when she got back, the door was closed.
This isn't good. Shadow twitched her whiskers, and sniffed at the sheer metal. This isn't good.
"You lost my cat?"
Gray sighed. He had the desperate, dismal feeling that, yes, something had gone terribly wrong. It didn't help that the shock and horror had started to sink in, and Neil looked ready to cry. "Look, she's probab-"
"How could you lose my cat?"
"She's probably," Gray repeated, sternly for being interrupted, "hiding somewhere. She's been getting into everything, anyway."
Neil pondered this, taking into consider the captain's honesty and integrity, placing a mental bias towards his cat-skills. It didn't weigh up, and without warning he had ducked past Gray to rummage around his sparsely comforted home, clicking and calling as he went. Gray followed him, nearly tripping when the younger man would stop suddenly and crouch to peer under this table or that chair. He tolerated the intrusion for all of ten minutes before trying to shoo Neil out of his home.
"Look, when I find her," Gray insisted, cutting Neil off at the door to... he glanced over his shoulder to see his bedroom, "I'll bring her back over. Okay?" Regardless, Neil tried to push his way past, and the captain sighed and internally began to count.
He didn't need this.
He really didn't. Really. At the count of ten, he caught Neil underarm and manhandled him out of his apartment.
"I have a meeting with Hein at noon," Gray snapped, "Unless you want to go up there instead of me, the cat has to wait."
At that, Neil stopped trying to salvage his dignity and looked up, hopeful. "You promise you'd find her?"
Shadow ran after the woman, dodging doors and as she went. There was someone familiar on the rampart causing her pause, and she lost her quarry to a sea of legs. She managed to avoid being trampled, but there was something different out here...
There! The fur along her back rose, and she tucked her tail. Shadowkin!
She would have hissed to warn him off, but he had yet to notice her. She liked it that way.
Instead, she followed the nearest pair of legs through the nearest door, and into the elevator. Here it was safer – much safer – and she rubbed against the man's legs to let him know it was going to be okay.
The fact that he was surprised by a cat appearing underfoot in a closed-access elevator begged the answer to whether he had, in fact, become too settled into the everyday customs of the war, and had, in fact, not adequately prepared himself for the possibility of anything else. Pondering on this, Major Elliot picked up the oddly friendly creature, absently scratching at its neck as it began to purr...
...and promptly forgot, until he reported to General Hein an hour later, with the feline still draped over his arm. It took him a moment to realize exactly why the general was staring at him in such a peculiar way.
"Major," Hein paused phrasing his question thoughtfully, "Why is there a cat in my office?"
"It followed me in, sir."
The general collected the cat off Elliot's arm, and gave it a stare. It wasn't from the labs; judging by the green, home-woven collar, someone cared for it. The obvious answer was, Just put it outside, but before he could say anything, there was a knock on the open door.
"Sirs, Captain Edwards…" the young man trailed off. All the attention in the room was on him, but he couldn't seem to make it past a simple squeak.
In the general's arms, Shadow heightened the volume of her purr, staring at him with gold-green eyes. Neil was fairly sure that he was going to faint. Later, he figured that it would have been easier if he had.
He didn't know how Shadow could have possibly gotten into Hein's office; he said as much, repeatedly and bemoanedly. Jane paused on disappear somebody and twisted to peer around the curtain. It was amazing how wrapped up in the cat Neil had actually become.
"It's not that bad," she pointed out, "At least you know where she is."
She set the book aside and crawled out of her bunk. Stretching, she watched him worry himself further.
"He's probably going to..." Neil couldn't finish the sentence because he didn't know what Hein was going to do, other than it had to be something terrible and fiendish, befitting of a General of the USMF.
"You're trying too hard," Jane pointed out, fetching her boots.
"...to make a hat out of her." He started, sitting up straight when he noticed her moving for the door. "Where are you going?"
"To get your stupid cat back." Her bunkmate stared at her in shock, and she scoffed. "What? I don't want to listen to this all night."
The day was productively uneventful. Edwards' notable lack of an appearance, the running consensus among the paragon cadre was that nothing had changed in the past month. Strategies were discussed, situations were accounted for, and when he swiveled his chair so as to sit down and conclude the day's accomplishments in list, there was a lounging feline staring up at him.
"Why is this cat still in my office?"
When he stepped out the door, he very nearly walked into the man that stood outside. The cat snarled and yowled, puffing up and scrambling out of his arms before running off like hell's vilest demons were after it. It belonged to someone, which meant it probably knew where it was going anyway... but it was, nonetheless, a startling moment.
Major Elliot recovered briefly, and eyed the man, who smiled enigmatically back.
"Can I help you?" the soldier asked, but the lengthy silence swallowed his words. He waited, and was about to ask again, when the man shook his head.
"No, thank you."
The stranger walked away, and Elliot was left standing alone. He went over this, the cat, the day, and decided he wanted to retire from the evening as fast as humanly possible.
"Major Elliot!" And winced, when he realized he couldn't just yet.
He knew the woman by sight, or knew that he should have, but... Either way, she took it in stride. He should have been asking what she wanted, but he felt dizzy, and couldn't get the thoughts through his mind. All the while, the corporal was staring at him strangely.
"Are you all right, sir?"
He crouched beside her hiding place, but he was too big to fit. She hissed her displeasure when he tried to drag her out, and wormed her way further under the dumpster.
"Oh, come on, kitty," he grouched, doing nothing to sway her mind. "Please?"
There was a movement behind him, dark and creeping and Shadowkin! she hissed again in warning, growling deep in her throat.
It was a pure stroke of luck that she glanced up when she did. On retrospect, maybe not pure luck, but only on retrospect did she recognize it at all. She spun on her heel to a stop, facing the alley. There was the man she passed on the way to the headquarters, not that it was... odd, per se, but she was drawn to closer inspect him, for he was certainly peculiar.
Jane startled, sympathetic to the sudden feline battle cry. She followed the sound down, and found Shadow, fluffed up and terrified at the man's feet. The fuzzball was making an impressive stand between the stranger and… Neil, prone on the pavement. Swearing inwardly, the woman hissed in surprise, causing the man to jump. He spun around, and glared at her, annoyance in his eyes.
"Leave us be," he said. His voice was soft and hollow; he sounded as if he were making an unspoken offer. Shadow skittered to her side and hissed, hiding behind her ankles.
Furious, the stranger took one step towards her, and vanished.
The cat made a running dash for the safety of the dumpster. Astonished, but not one to ignore a prompt warning, Jane dropped, scraping the ground behind her. He wasn't there, appearing instead to one side. She lunged to her feet, catching his hands and shoving. Her fingers went numb, and her arms blazed, but she held her ground. At last, the stranger shoved, sending her back for her balance, and weakly staggered backward.
He seemed horrified, refused to look at her. It was the oddest thing; he withered and broke apart, to be scattered away on the wind. Except that there wasn't any wind, and all the steel was making her dizzy, and she was vaguely aware that she should probably sit down... she ached all over, but she couldn't feel past her headache or the ice in her hands. She was aware of the fact she was outside, and of wondering if it were morning...
And the jolting sleepstart, at which she opened her eyes and glared at Neil.
"Um, hey?" He smiled faintly, and jerked his hand back. "Sorry, but you kinda had me worried. You were-Kitty!"
He lunged over the woman, catching the complacent, bathing feline by the tail. She took a moment to lick his fingers before working to clean her face, and Jane growled at the incidental placement of his balance.
"Neil. Get your hand off me, before I decide to keep it."
"She isn't going anywhere."
Neil slowly and carefully leaned backward to rest on his heels. Jane recovered herself and stretched; the movement slowed to a stop as she caught sight of something past his shoulder and towards the street.
"Corporal Fleming," a lean, authoritative, voice called, and Neil froze where he was.
"That's not who I think it is, is it?" he asked softly. Jane picked up Shadow, and gave him the best advice she could.
Instead, he opted to stand and face this ungodly horror. Major Elliot closed the distance between them with agonizingly metered steps, and Neil did his best not to flinch. The officer reached out to scratch Shadow between the ears, and scowled as she tilted her head to lap at his fingers. "Why did you not simply tell me that the cat belonged to Captain Edwards in the first place?"
"I can, er..." Neil tripped over his tongue, not quite expecting... that. The major stared at him, and he inwardly squirmed. "I didn't know if it was the same one?"
"Are you feeling better, sir?" Jane cut in, deflecting the officer's impervious gaze, for which Neil was momentarily grateful.
"I was. You are both aware what time it is?"
There followed a strained silence, through which Neil tried to be optimistic – at least he had his cat back.
Working Title: Jubilate Agno
Inspiration: Thinking of Halloween the other year, and being amused by For he can creep.
Noteworthy: First appearance of the usefulness of cats in Ovo's Final Fantasy universe. Also, let it be known that Ovo cannot write action for her life, and unless anyone wants to impart any advice, she'll be struggling with it for a while while she tries to figure out a style she likes.
Disambiguation: Temporally, this is the November before TSW takes place.
Series: Pact; Shadow; Jubilate Agno; Penumbra; Umbra; Aurora
Derivative work of material © Squaresoft, Square Pictures.