Demeter shivered as she walked along the alleyways. She hated coming this close to the docks, she never felt safe. The fog swirled in thick circles, and she would have been moving almost blind had she been anything other than a Jellicle Cat. It felt as if her heart was racing like she had just danced the entire Jellicle Ball straight through. It had been unnerving having Bombalurina catch her like that. And then having to lie to get away, she hated that even more.
But it's only for a little while longer... she told herself over and over again. He promised that everything would be done soon. Then he can come back with me, and it'll be like he never left. We'll start a family, live happily in the Junkyard, and go to the Heaviside together. A whistful smile fell over the queen's face. A litter or two of kittens, toms and queens... A warm den that they would all share. Maybe one day they might even find humans of their own.
"A nice queen like yourself should't be alone in a place like this." came a low voice from behind her as Demeter found herself pulled back by two strong arms. She twisted wildly for a moment before calming and letting the smile return.
"You're going to send me to the Heaviside doing that, Macavity." she purred softly as she nuzzled his thick red coat.
"Oh I think not." the ginger tom smiled back at her. "They don't like it when the Everlasting Cat gets shown up in beauty." He pulled Demeter close to him and kissed her deeply. Demeter's purr deepened a little, but she kept herself in control. She knew Macavity had a tendency to enjoy the physical aspect of their relationship a little too much for her own liking. Macavity sensed her reluctance for any furthur fun in the fog and sighed. "I suppose we should go inside, my dear? Let you warm up and get something to eat. Then you can tell me all about what I missed last night."
Munkustrap sighed as he lay across the top of the old Ford that was next to the tire in the center of the Junkyard. The sun was shining brightly and it felt nice just to be able to bask in it's rays. Rolling onto his back, he stretched his arms and legs in a very satisfying movement before settling back down. He was about to drift off into a quick catnap when he detected a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. Sitting bolt upright, he looked around, and spotted Demeter making her way quietly across the central clearing. Slipping down the trunk of the car, he was about to call out to her when he noticed her looking around nervously, wringing her hands all the while. "Demeter..." he called out, smiling at the sight of the young queen.
She really jumped!
Munkustrap was startled. "Demeter, are you alright?" he asked approaching her slowly.
The calico looked up at him and almost went slack-jawed. Bombalurina hadn't been kidding! This was most certainly not the tom she had known just a year ago. As she watched him, the silver tabby took a tentative step closer and Demeter was surprised to see a look of concern on his face.
"Oh, yes..." she managed to sputter out. "I'm fine, thanks." Munkustrap didn't look entirely convinced, but didn't press his luck. Shifting nervously from foot to foot, she looked over towards her den, which was behind the silver tabby. "Um, but nice seeing you, Munkustrap!" she said quickly, darting past, Mukustrap bearly sidestepping in time.
"Demeter, wait!" he called after her, but to no avail. She kept going until her calico coat dissapeared into the darkness of her den.
Munkustrap sighed, his shoulders falling and tail curling slightly between his legs. Even after a year, barely a look... he thought glumly to himself. I'll never be what you need in a tom, will I Demeter? Turning back the way he had come, Munkustrap climbed back onto the tire, the sun somehow seeming less warm now.
After a few minutes, he caught the sounds of raised voices coming from the queen's den. Concerned, he made his way up to the opening of the shelter.
"What in the hell was that?"
Demeter looked up to see a very irrate Bomby and Cassandra glaring down at her. "Wh... what was what?" she stammered back, surprised to see both the queens giving her icy stares.
"He gets all worried about you and you blow him off like he was a... a policle or something!" Bomby fairly blew up at the golden queen.
"What do you mean by that?!" Demeter shot back. "Blow who off?!"
"Care to explain why he's laying out on the tire looking like he just lost his reason for living?" Cassandra almost hissed, not even stopping to answer Demeter's question.
Bombalurina crossed her arms. "He just wanted a few minutes of your time to talk to you, Demeter."
"Who? Munkustrap?" Demeter asked, still trying to get an answer.
Bombalurina's eyes narrowed. "Who did you think we were talking about?"
"I don't know!" Demeter retorted. "There are other cats in this junkyard."
Cassandra smouldered as she looked from Demeter to the Junkyard and back. "I don't get you, Demeter. I know I'm fairly new to the tribe, but I heard the two of you were friends, that he saved your life even. So he comes back and you don't even stick around to say hi." She took another look out to where the silver tabby was resting. "I mean, it's not like he's unpleasent to look at or anything! Heaviside, if I wasn't with Alonzo right now I'd be out there trying to convence him to go a round or two with me."
"As if he would even be interested." Bomby mused. She looked down at Demeter. "He's still got it bad for you, Dem. He was looking for you this morning, wanted to talk to you. He turned the brightest shade of red when I asked why. Honestly, now that Macavity's gone you can't do better than Munkustrap. Hell, he was probably better than Macavity in the first place. Kind, well-mannered, thoughtful... Macavity was self-centered, egocentric and ill-tempered once you got down to it. Probably better that he did run away and leave the roll of protector for Munk."
Demeter's face had grown almost as red as Bomby's fur. "SHUT UP, the both of you!" she yelled at them. "Macavity wouldn't run away! You two just don't understand him! He'll come back and make this the greatest tribe of cats in history!"
"Fat chance." Bomby snorted, "Munk's got this leadership thing down..."
"Munkustrap is still the second-born!" Demeter retorted, "And if he knows what's good for him, he won't get too comfortable as Protector because Macavity will come back and he isn't going to need a runt in his way!"
The faint sound of a bit of garbage tumbling to the ground suddenly caught her attention, and the three queens quickly made their way to the entrance to their den. The got to the opening just in time to see a flicker of silver dissapear into the hole that had recently been claimed as Munkustrap's den.
Demeter's hand flew to cover her mouth, "Oh, Heavside..." she whispered.
"Well," Cassandra said dryly, "I guess you won't have to worry about Mukustrap pining after you anymore."
Bombalurina nodded in agreement. "Oh defenitely. You seem to have handled that one with a great deal of finality."
All this time, that's all she ever thought about me... Munkustrap lay curled up in his den, his tail wrapped around his legs. Macavity's little brother... The runt.
The growl escaped his throat with more force than he thought was in him. Munkustrap took a few deep breaths and collected himself. What was he thinking? He was the Protector now. No matter what anyone said. The option of being a weak kitten was no longer there for him, there was the tribe to think about. The real kittens who needed to be protected. Electra, Etcetera, Bill Bailey and Carbucketty. Feeling sorry for himself would not get anything done.
And there was Father...
He's depending on me. He has so much faith in me, I can't let him down.
Shaking the dust out of his fur, Munkustrap straightened himself up and turned to face the entrance to his den. He exited, aware of three pairs of eyes on him. A look of firm determination settled on his face as he forced his tail to remain upright and head high.
Demeter watched him leave, a knot forming in her stomach for some unkown reason.
Over the next few days Munkustrap threw himself into his roll of Protector. With the help of Alonzo, Admetus and Victor, Munkustrap had built a series of hiding areas for the tribe should they ever need them. The toms also worked to strengthen the defences around the central Junkyard. The silver tabby seemed to work with a single-minded drive that exceeded the energy of the others, usually leaving him the last one working during the day. He also spent time with the kittens, play wrestling with Carbucketty and Bill Bailey, and taking Etcetera and Electra out on safaris to nearby parks. For the most part he was able to keep Demeter out of his mind.
But the calico queen still would creep into his mind once he settled for the night.
For her part, Demeter had become more withdrawn from the other queens. Bombalurina and Cassandra were still sore at her, for what reason Demeter still couldn't fathom. It was her own business who she decided to be with. And right now, well, it wasn't Munkustrap.
Since their loud argument a few days ago, Bombalurina and Cassandra had begun openly watching Munkustrap when he passed by their den, played with the kittens, or did any sort of work in the clearing in front of the tire. The two would exchange comments about the silver tabby loudly enough for Demeter to hear. Every so often they would call down to Munkustrap and the tabby would simply turn and give them a smile and a wave in return. The two queens would then turn to look at each other and giggle for a moment. Whenever they started that, Demeter found it hard to stay in the den. She would generally slip out and leave to find refuge elsewhere.
Which is what she was going to do now. Slipping away, Demeter headed out of the Junkyard and to Macavity's home near the docks. Being there didn't exactly put her mind at ease, but at least some of the confusing thoughts left her mind. When she reached the entrance to the lair, Demeter rapped on the door and waited to be admitted. Eventually, a scruffy tom appeared at the door and opened it for her. Demeter slipped quickly by him without a word. Some of the cats that Macavity was keeping company with these days unnerved her to no end. They were hardly the sort that Old Deuteronomy would approve of...
"My darling Demeter..." Macavity's silky smooth voice suddenly purred from a side corador. "What news from home do you bring to me today? No, wait, let us go someplace a little more private." Taking her by the arm, Macavity gently guided Demeter towards his private den.
Munkustrap had gone a little further than normal in his patrol and he was hurrying to get back to the centeral clearing before nightfall. Policles had been seen around the Junkyard lately, and it made him feel better to be near where the kittens were when darkness fell. He had just crossed a pile of pipes that had recently been dumped, when he heard a faint sound. Sliding to a halt, Munkustrap's keen ears swivled to try and catch the sound again. It drifted up, bearly loud enough to hear, from somewhere within the pile of pipes.
It sounded like... Kittens...
Peering down into the mass of stacked pipes, Munkustrap looked for any signs of Carbucketty, Bill Bailey, Etcetera, or even Electra. His eyes peered down into the pile, hoping to catch a flash of orange or white from one of the kitten's coats. "Anyone down there?" he called down. His only answer was a scared sounding mew from somewhere deep in the pile, defenitely a kitten, possibly more. Kittens typically did not like to be alone and they generally traveled in groups if they could at all do so.
Munkustrap jumped off the mound of pipes and looked it over. The pipes had been dumped rather haphazardly onto the ground, leaving plenty of small tunnels for a kitten to crawl into. Not to mention that the kittens could be in the pipes themselves as well. After a few moments of searching, Munkustrap had managed to find himself a hole big enough for him to crawl through. This.... *urgh*... wouldn't have been a problem a few months ago... he grumbled mentally to himself as his head knocked into a pipe above him. "Hello?!" he called down further into the mass of pipes. "Who's down there?" From down in the blackness, Munkustrap thought he saw a flicker of white.
"H... help..." called a voice weakly. It was a tom kit's voice, but there was another voice down there as well, this one simply wimpering more than anything else.
"Hold on." Munkustrap called down. "I'll get the two of you out of there."
"M... my sister... She's... she's..." the voice called weakly, "I... I think she's hurt..."
"It's going to be alright." Munkustrap replied, then he repeated his promise, "I'm going to get you out of there."
"Please hurry!" te tom kit's voice called again.
Squirming out from the pipes, Munkustrap looked over the maze, trying to find a way that would take him to the center where the kittens were. It was a mystery to him how they had gotten themselves in there in the first place. No matter where he looked there were pipes that should have blocked even most kittens from getting in. The pipes themselves were fairly large to a cat. Planting his shoulder under one, Munkustrap pushed it with all his strength and didn't feel it move at all. The silver tabby began to become very worried. There wasn't enough time to go and get any of the other toms, nightfall was coming and he couldn't just leave these kittens here by themselves. The queen kit was injured and the tom kit sounded scared out of his wits. Climbing back up to the top of the pile, Munkustrap finally found a pipe that he could squeeze through. It was a risky idea, using the pipes themseves as a means of getting to the kittens, but the way that the pile was stacked was going to keep him from crawling between them at all. Taking a breath to steady himself, Munkustrap crawled into the pipe head first.
The sides of the pipes had been rusted and worn with age and use, providing plenty of claw grabs. The going was slow, but Munkustrap managed to keep moving from one pipe to another while trying to keep his mental direction. The sounds of the kittens were getting louder, but while the tom kit's voice was keeping up it's mews for help, the queen kit's voice seemed to be fading. Hurrying as much as he dared, Munkustrap kept up the pace until he came to a small pocket of open space. From the shadows peered two pairs of eyes.
A young, tuxedoed tom kit clung protectively to a white queen kit as he looked at the silver tabby. Munkustrap pulled himself out of the pipe and extended a hand towards the young kittens. The white kitten looked afraid, but the tom was a little more assured. As if he somehow knew that Munkustrap ment no harm to them, he reached forward and stroked Munkustrap's paw in the traditional feline greeting. This gesture seemed to somewhat reassure the young queen, who struggled to sit up and do the same.
"Take it easy." Munkustrap instructed her gently. "I'm going to get the two of you out of here." Looking around, Munkustrap searched for a way to get the kittens out of the pocket. "How did you two get in here?" he asked, somewhat amazed and defnitely somewhat confused.
The small tom looked a little frightened, as if scared to tell. "I... It was an accident." he stammered.
Munkustrap was quick to re-assure the tom. "Don't worry about trying to explain. It's not important. What is important is trying to figure out how I'm going to get the two of you out." It was then that he noticed that the young queen was wrapped in a red blanket. The revelation sparked an idea in his head. "We're going to need your blanket." he told the kittens gently. The young tom nodded and helped his sister out from the folds, then handed the blanket to Munkustrap. Folding the blanket into a sling, Munkustrap tied it around himself and knelt down. He carefully picked up the queen kitten and placed her into it. Then he turned around and motioned for the tom kit to grab onto his back. "This is going to take a while, so make sure you have a good hold on me."
"Okay." the tom kit replied, and Munkustrap felt his small fingers grasping onto his shoulder fur.
The climb up was a lot longer than Munkustrp remembered it from the trip down. Of course, he hadn't had two kittens hanging on him then either. He was about halfway up when he felt his arms and legs start to scream at him, burning in the muscles and aches in his hands from where he was digging his claws into the sides of the coroding pipes. A few times he lost his grip after misjudging the stability of a claw hold, each time hearing a mew of fright from the queen kit and a small yelp from the tom.
Eventually the small queen pointed upward, directing Munkustrap's head towards the sky. Looking up, the silver tabby saw the moon... His heart skipped a beat as he closed his eyes and sighed happily. They were almost there! Just a few more feet and he had a grip of the lip of the top pipe. Pulling himself free, he let the tom down off his back and lifted the queen out of the sling. She managed to stand for a few seconds on her own, but then Munkustrap had to catch her to keep her from falling down the pile of pipes. Giving her a gentle smile, Munkustrap picked up the kitten and carried her down, the young tom following directly behind them.
When they reached the bottom of the mountain of pipes, Munkustrap looked down at the tom kit. "You know, I haven't told you who I am yet, have I?" The small tom just shook his head. "My name is Munkustrap. What are the two of you called."
"I'm Quaxo." the tuxedoed tom answered quietly.
"I'm Victoria." Munkustrap looked down in surprise at the little queen in his arms. She blushed a little as his face broke out into a smile.
"So you do talk, after all." he laughed. "Now, where are your parents?" he asked. "The two of you aren't out here by yourself, are you?"
The two kittens suddenly looked very sad. "We don't know where our parents are." Quaxo replied. "Humans took us from them a few weeks after we were born, and we haven't seen them since. We ran away so we could try and find them."
"And that's how you got stuck down there..." Munkustrap mused. He thought for a moment, and then took Quaxo by the paw. "Well, you can't stay alone in the Junkyard overnight. Come on, I'll take you someplace where you can get some food and some sleep."
Jenny scanned the Junkyard, wringing her hands in worry. She jumped a little when she felt a gentle paw on her shoulder.
"Fretting isn't going to make him show up any sooner, my dear." Bustopher said softly. "Munkustrap is a grown tom. He can take care of himself."
Deuteronomy was behind the Saint James' Street Cat and nodded in agreement. "I'm sure he'll be along shortly."
"But there've been Policles around..." Jenny started when she was suddenly inturrupted.
"Aunt Jenny! I need your help!"
All three cats turned to see a rather dirty Munkustrap and two kittens entering the Junkyard. "Great Heaviside!" Jenny exclaimed, rushing down to meet the three weary cats. "What's all this? Who are these two? Where are their parents?"
"Quaxo and Victoria, I found them in the Junkyard, they're alone." Munkustrap answered as he let Jenny take the white queen kit in her arms, the Gumbi Cat's instincts taking over.
"The poor dears! They look half starved! And this poor little thing has some nasty cuts..." she looked down at Quaxo and took his paw in hers. "Come along with me, you two. Kittens in your state. That will never do!"
The three grown toms smiled after Jenny. "Was she like that with me?" Munk finally asked, looking over at Bustopher and Deuteronomy, who just smiled and nodded.