Author's Note: I never planned to write a Cats fic! But this story nagged at me until I realised that the world of Cats was the perfect one in which to set it. And where The Muse leads, I follow. Even when he has no idea where he's going ... Cats, of course, belongs to ALW and TSE, and I'm definitely neither!
For Win, who taught me to believe in magic when I was little.
And for The Muse, who took me dancing and taught me to believe all over again.
Did he see me watching him?
I'm sure everybody else sees. Everybody knows how I feel about him. I don't think for a second that I'm the only one who feels that way, either.
At least, that's what I suspect. Probably I'm imagining it. I've never said anything to anyone, after all, so how could they know?
But maybe they've seen me watching.
I watch him during the long, dusty-hot summer days, as he lies carelessly sprawled along the top of that old frame that I think might once have been somebody's bed. Sometimes he seems so wonderfully unaware of everything; unaware of all the eyes on him, unaware of just how beautiful he is. Either that, or he's very good at pretending ... but maybe that's unfair of me. I wish I could be like that; so utterly self-confident. I bet it would never occur to him to wonder, as I so often do, can they see me? Do I look like a fool? Are they laughing at me?
I watch him sauntering across the junkyard with that ridiculously elegant stride of his. He walks like he's just a heartbeat away from dancing. All the time.
I watch him in the darkness, as he stares in a half-trance up at the sky, on those crazy, dreamy full-moon nights; the way the liquid silver light turns his great green eyes to smoky grey, turns his coat into a splotchy shadowy mystery, a puzzle too hard to solve with just one glance.
I watch him as it begins to rain, huge fat drops staining the ground, and he leaps and twists suddenly away as though he believes that if he moves fast enough he can dance his way through the drops and not one of them will touch him.
And sometimes I think he must know what I'm thinking, because every now and then I don't look away fast enough when those eyes flick in my direction. Sometimes his gaze catches mine, and holds it for too long, and I can't breathe.
Sometimes he smiles. And one time, he stared so hard I wanted to sink through the floor and disappear; and just when I thought I couldn't take that stare for one single second longer, he winked. At me. And I thought: maybe, just maybe, there's something there …
Perhaps wishes do come true. I guess he did see me watching. Because tonight, unexpectedly, he's there, standing in front of me, amusement dancing like starlight in his eyes as I scramble to my feet, feeling like I suddenly have too many limbs and too much tail, and try to compose myself. He has his head tilted slightly to one side as though he's trying to work something out.
My heart is thumping so loudly in my ears that I don't catch what he says, apart from one word: dance.
"Me?" I blurt, too high and too squeaky, and I could bite my tongue with embarrassment. I clear my throat and try again, a pitiful attempt at playing it cool. "That sounds like fun."
He says he knows a place, somewhere the People go at night, a place where the music is like a heartbeat; he says it makes the ground shake beneath you and the blood pound in your head like the beating of a drum. He says tonight is a dancing-night; he has that strange itch in his feet, that mad urge to leap about. I understand what he means. I feel that way too, sometimes.
"I'm going to see if Tumblebrutus is around," he says, and I deflate a little. "He comes with me, most times. But I thought maybe you'd enjoy it, too," he continues with an encouraging smile. I hitch an answering grin back up onto my face and say brightly, "Why not!" In all honesty I think this People-place of his sounds a little scary, and yes, I'm a bit disappointed that it's not just going to be him and me - but there's nothing I wouldn't do, nowhere I wouldn't go, if it means I can be with him; even if I have to share him. Even if it's just for this one night.
So we make our way through the junkyard, slipping from shadow to shadow, him in the lead and me following a whisker behind, until we get to the big metal box with the four small circles on the front that Tumble adopted as his home a couple of moons ago. I wait at its base like a tightly-wound spring, a ball of nerves, unable to sit still. I can't quite shake the feeling that I shouldn't really be here. That he didn't mean to ask me; he must have meant to invite someone else ...
"Hey, kit," says a voice, right in my ear, and I almost jump out of my skin. I leap and turn and land, embarrassed half to death, to find myself face to face with an utterly wicked grin. "He's not there," he says, and for a terrible second I think he's going to say that he's changed his mind, that he doesn't want to go without his friend; but then I hear him say, "So, it looks like it's just us. Are you still up for this?" I swallow, look down at my feet, scratch one paw in the dust. I'm not sure I am up for this ... But suddenly I realise, I have a choice: I can either give in to these feelings of shyness, of not belonging, and throw away this possible once-in-a-lifetime chance, let it sink in a pool of awkwardness without a trace ...
Or I can just go with it. Go along with his craziness, his laughter; just for this one night I can belong with him. I can forget who I am, back in my real, boring, safe-in-the-sunlight life. I can be whoever I choose. And I choose this night, these stars, this dance.
I choose him.
And so I lift my chin and let a grin spread across my face that almost matches his in its wickedness, and I say, teasingly, "Oh, I think so. And by the way - scare me like that again, my sweet, and I'll show you how to really make someone jump ... "
"Is that a threat?" he asks, amused, and, dare I say it, a little impressed.
"No," I reply, opening my eyes wide and trying to look as innocent as I can, "not a threat, not at all. It's a promise."
We walk on. Sometimes I have to scramble a little to keep up, he walks so fast; I think about asking him to slow down, but I don't want it to feel like he's having to make allowances for me, and in the end I find I'm quite enjoying the occasional little hop-skip-and-jump. I hope he knows where he's going. It's beginning to feel like we're just aimlessly wandering.
Until we round a corner and he stops, staring around the new place we find ourselves in; it's a square, huge even by People-standards, and glowing golden in a strange light that isn't the moon and can't be the sun ...
"Oh," he says, for once not joking; and I glance up at him and surprise an expression on his face that brings tears to my eyes and makes my throat ache with the effort of not letting them fall. "It's so beautiful," he says, softly, "I never realised ... " A small smile twists his mouth then, as he realises I've heard, and I can't find any words to say that won't sound meaningless and stupid, so instead I walk over to him and butt my head gently against his shoulder. He looks down, pushes back against me briefly, and I think he gets it. I think he understands.
We walk on.
I hear it long before I see it; and I feel it even sooner than that. A sound that isn't a sound, but a tremendous thumping vibration beneath my paws. And as we make our way nearer and nearer to the source of it, I feel it spread upwards until it seems as though it's inside me, catching my heart and my breath and making me want to jump and spin and leap out of control. I bump my shoulder against his, then dart sideways, bounce off a black plastic bag lying in a doorway, making a satisfying scrunching sound, and then skitter back to his side, laughing and breathless and not really understanding why.
There are People here, in twos and threes and some larger groups, their raucous voices echoing off the surrounding buildings. Smell of perfume in the air, sickly-sweet; smoke from those strange glowing sticks they put in their mouths, acrid, burning the back of my throat. We lurk in the shadows, as near as we dare, and watch as they make their way through a door and inside; and each time the door swings open, the music in the air and the giant's heartbeat beneath the ground grow almost unbearably loud, and we press closer together, giggling like maniacs with a mixture of excitement and fear. I wonder how he ever finds the courage to come here alone. Or maybe it's not courage. I think it might be more like ... need. Like something he has to do.
And then suddenly he's off across the street, streaking through light and shade and back again, ears flattened back against his skull, looking for all the world as though he's terrified; except I know he's not. He reaches the far side and leaps up to rebound off the wall with all four feet, twisting in mid-air to land with a bounce and a skip, and as the tide of the music washes me out from my shelter towards him, he starts to dance.
I have never, never in the whole of my short life, seen anything like it. I'm not sure whether he's serious or playing at some private game; whether he means to inspire laughter or awe, or some strange mixture of the two. Or maybe it doesn't matter; maybe nothing matters except the dance. For a few seconds I can only stand and stare, and I think perhaps he's forgotten I'm here, lost as he is in the magic of it all; but then he looks over. "Come on," he calls, "come and join me!"
And I do.
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We stagger back through the junkyard as the rising sun starts to paint a line of pale yellow across the sky; exhausted, dizzy, light-headed with tiredness but ridiculously happy. He looks down at me and nudges me with his shoulder as we walk, and I know he sees me differently now. I realise that I love the way I look, in his eyes. I love the me that I am when I'm with him. I never felt like that before.
I feel as though I've been given a gift. Something to treasure forever, even if I never get to share another night like this one with him. I know he doesn't feel about me the way I do about him; but now, strangely, it doesn't seem to matter the way it would have done yesterday. I know I will always have his friendship.
Because for this one night, he could have chosen to share the wonder and the madness and the magic of the dance with anyone. Anyone at all.
But he didn't choose just anyone.
He chose me.
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