Set just after Cat's Cradle.
Our hero finally comes to terms with certain feelings she's been trying to ignore. It's not the end... just the beginning. CAT/SYD.
One-shot, rated K+.
Act 1 Scene 1
You must forgive me, dear Reader, for my negligence in keeping you updated. Since returning from my adventure in Scotland, things have quietened down a bit. Frank has returned to Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess to their home in Grosvenor Square, and Bridget and I have been well looked after by a very kind but very fussy Mrs Fletcher. So, as you can see, I have once again nestled myself in the blankets of utter boredom. Mrs Fletcher, noticing this, had tried to persuade me to pick up a sewing needle. I had politely, if somewhat hurriedly declined. Never, no matter how unbearable the boredom becomes, will Cat Royal be tempted to even think about sewing.
As it soon became evident that I must do something or go mad with frustration, I decided to visit one of Rabbie's boxing lessons. He had taken his training further since our stay in Kinlochrie, (one of the Duke's Scottish estates) and Syd had been teaching him.
Dear, dear Syd. My hopes for him and Bridget had turned out to be no more than hopes. Frank was right - any ideas of matchmaking were addle-pated in the least. Despite my best efforts, the carriage ride had not gone as planned. A few miles after the holdup from the Bruce family, their carriage had encountered a ditch, and was damaged beyond repair. The only solution was for Syd and Nick to ride the horses while Bridget, Joe and the rest of the gang squashed into our carriage, some hanging on at the back. So much for my plan. Seeing my exasperation, Frank couldn't stop himself from grinning.
"Something wrong, Cat?" I kicked him hard in the shins.
Following the sound I rounded the corner behind the shop. In the centre of the yard stood Rabbie and Syd, both stripped to the waist. Rabbie was aiming hooks at a bag stuffed with sand, sweat pouring off him. Syd was patiently showing him how to position his feet properly. Seeing me, my brother smiled and speeded up.
"Alright lad, that's enough for today. Go into the 'ouse an' clean yourself up."
"Bleedin' well right it is!" cried Nick, jumping down from the barrel he'd seated himself on. "Worked the lad to death 'e 'as. Thank Gawd you came, Cat, or you'd 'ave nothink left of your brother."
I smiled. "Glad to see you too, Nick."
Rabbie leaned against the sack, heaving. "Cat, how are ye?"
"Better than you, apparently," I laughed.
He winked, and strode off into the house. Syd walked over, looking much better than Rabbie, with hardly a drop of sweat on his brow.
"'Ello Kitten," he said, crushing me with his bear-hug. It didn't help that this six-foot something giant had muscles to match his big heart.
"Hello Syd," I said, adding with a grin, "I won't thank you for ridding me of my only brother."
"Nah, wouldn't dream of it. Lad listens well - not like you, ey, Cat?" he said, nudging Nick. "You sure 'e's your brother?"
I poked him sharply in the ribs.
He chuckled. "Oi, Cat, put away your claws, I'm just pullin' your leg. What can I do for you?" Nick nodded to me and followed Rabbie into the house. I told Syd about me being stuck with nothing to do. He guffawed at my indignation to take up the art of stitchery. He stopped, seeing my hurt expression.
"Aw, Kitten, I 'ates to see you like this. Tell you what, why don't we all go to the Crown an' Anchor again tonight? I'll get me boys ready, if you're up to it."
My eyes widened. "Up to it? Of course I'm up to it!" I squeaked in excitement. Then I stopped, remembering the last time we were there, when I had refused Syd. I looked at him, his golden hair hanging tousled over the bright blue eyes, framing his handsome face. Unbidden, a butterfly fluttered in my stomach. He grabbed his shirt from the ground, pulling it on as he grinned.
"Good. Seven alright, Kitten?" But I was gone, already halfway up the stairs to the bedroom I shared with Bridget, trying to quell the bursting of emotions that threatened to get the better of me.
What was that, Cat?
Syd has been like my big brother, since I was a little red-headed toddler running around Covent Garden.
But you're not little anymore. I shook my head. You've already refused him, remember?
Enough, Reader. I must stop before I get carried away with any more of this absurd foolishness.
The Crown and Anchor was abuzz with people, more than usual because tonight was also the owners birthday, which meant that everything was on the house. I smoothed out my pale green dress with my long silk gloves (yes, another hand-me-down from Lizzy, from my time in America) and proceeded to acquaint myself with the delicious looking cake adorning the large table near the entrance. I nearly choked on my piece of confectionary when I caught sight of familiar black coat-tails standing a few feet away. Billy!
Blast, I never seemed to be free of him. Our last memories at a ball were still fresh in my mind. I immediately turned my face away, but to no avail - my long red locks were unmistakable. I soon felt a strong hand grip my arm from behind.
"So the Cat has come out of hiding again at last. I thought I'd see you here tonight." He turned me to face him. "What, no 'ello for your Uncle Billy?" he sneered, slipping back into his own accent.
"Why, Mr William, how nice to see you again," I smiled sweetly. "And how is your Miss Abingdon? Mrs Shepherd now, I imagine."
His expression soured, and his grip on my arm tightened. He growled, "Not yet. I 'ave 'alf a mind to arrange a trip for 'er down the Thames. That woman near drove me mad last week - only talks about 'er next ball an' 'ow pretty she thinks she is." He stared at me. "She ain't got nothing on you though, Cat."
I grimaced. "More maddening than me, is she?" I shook off his arm. "Nah, there ain't nothink in the world as can top Cat in that," he said, a wolfish grin spreading across his face. His eyes flicked to something over my shoulder. He leaned in closer.
"Well, Moggie, I must be off. 'Ere comes your Fletcher - though I've 'eard rumours that you turned 'im down - saving yourself for someone else, ey?" He winked, and before I could begin voice my indignation, turned and vanished into the crowd of drunkards and dancers that surrounded us. I turned to see Syd moving towards me, a worried expression on his face.
"What's 'e doing 'ere?" he said when he reached me.
"Nothing. He just wanted to gloat about his growing fortune. You scared him away, though," I nudged him with my elbow.
I sighed. Syd knew me too well - I had to distract him. "Really, it was nothing. And besides, I would much rather dance than talk about Billy."
His face lit up, then he hesitated. I knew what he was thinking. Then, brushing his feelings aside, he offered me his arm and led me to the dance floor. The small orchestra had struck up a lively melody, and my face was soon flushed with exertion. Syd spun me around, his eyes shining. I laughed, and once nearly succeeded in tripping over the hem of my dress. During the set we changed partners, mine now being Joe 'The Card'.
"Enjoying yourself, Cat?" he winked, and passed me on to my next partner.
After ten minutes of this, I was quite out of breath. Flopping down into a chair I sipped at a glass of water, observing the people that passed. I caught sight of someone in purple entering the room - Bridget! Our eyes met at the same instant.
"Cat!" she yelled, rushing towards me. We embraced. "What are you doing here?" I asked in delight. "I didn't know you were coming!"
"You don't think I'd miss a night out, do you?" She scanned the room. "Isn't that your friend over there?" she pointed to Billy, who was standing leaning against the wall on the far side of the room, watching us. I rolled my eyes.
"I wouldn't exactly call him my frie-" I broke off, an idea forming in my mind. It was a long shot, but it just might work. If I could transfer Billy's obsession with me onto Bridget, then I might just be free of his annoying person. "Actually, I don't seem to remember introducing you two," I strode over to Billy, dragging Bridget along with me. "Billy, this is Bridget. Bridget, this is - " I refrained from saying 'a lying, cheating cutthroat' and said instead, "This is Mr William Shepherd."
"Enchanted," said Billy, dropping his accent, no doubt to impress my friend. He was slightly apprehensive - I scarcely introduced my friends to him by choice.
Bridget smiled. Her dress matched her dark eyes, making her look very pretty.
"Nice to meet you, Mr Shepherd."
I said, "Billy, why don't you dance with Bridget? She's only just arrived."
Billy glanced at me, confused, then laughed when he realised what I was doing.
"I would be honoured," he smiled warmly, adding in a whisper to me as he passed, "Alright, Kitten, but don't expect this to work,"
I smiled sweetly. "Expect what to work, Billy?"
"C'mon, Kitten, time to go,"
I stirred. It was a few seconds before I realised where I was. I had fallen asleep in a cushioned chair at the Crown and Anchor. Syd was standing over me. Before I could struggle to my feet, Syd said, "Don't move. I'll carry you 'ome."
He scooped me up in his arms as if I weighed nothing more than an infant. I blinked my eyes, and saw some of the gang heading for the door, most of them too drunk to walk straight. I couldn't see Bridget or Billy. They must have gone home hours before. "What - how long..." I yawned.
"It's near midnight. You've been asleep for some time, Kitten," he murmured.
"I'm alright, Syd, I can walk,"
He ignored me and carried me out, Nick, Joe and the boys jostling and laughing around us. The night air was warm, the stars shining bright without any clouds to obscure them. At length we arrived in the alley outside the butcher's shop, and Syd put me down gently.
"You alright, Kitten?"
Dear Syd. Always concerned for my welfare and safety, despite the circumstances. I smiled grimly. "Yes, thank you, Syd."
He hovered uncertainly, poised on tiptoes. He tugged nervously at the red kerchief around his neck.
"I'll just go check on the boys, then," he said.
His blue eyes stared into mine. Suddenly, I realised how much I owed this gentle giant. He had looked after me when I was only just toddling around Covent Garden, making sure I was always alright. I had always relied on his strength and caring, and him and his boys to deal with the trouble that seemed to follow me like a cat's tail. The butterfly I had felt earlier that day returned. I sighed. Looking at his handsome features, I didn't deny it anymore - I loved Syd. There, I had said it. I loved him. Tears sprang unbidden to my eyes. Syd looked alarmed.
"Cat? What's the matter?"
At first I couldn't answer. I choked back a sob and whispered, "Syd - I... I'm sorry." A single tear trickled down my cheek. He brushed it away gently with his thumb, lifting my chin up to meet his gaze.
"You don't 'ave nothink to be sorry for, Kitten," he said.
I shook my head. "You've always looked out for me, Syd, and I've done nothing but disappoint you." I took a deep breath. "I love you, Syd Fletcher."
For a moment, nothing happened. I couldn't meet his eyes, for fear of what I'd see there. Then suddenly, he scooped me up in his arms, on his face a look of such pure delight, such rapturous joy as I had never seen before.
He looked down at me and said, "You mean it, Cat?"
I nodded, smiling through my tears. His eyes twinkled mischievously. Then he kissed me - a real kiss this time. The kiss was golden and strong. That I had ever compared his to Billy Shepherd's was unthinkable. I smiled inwardly as I thought of what Billy would say when he found out.
cat's eye - able to see what's coming
addle-pated - foolish, confused
moggie - domestic cat (Billy's annoying nickname for me)
Huge thanks to Dr Golding for her awesome series.