Sydney Vs. Treezilla
His green-gold eyes blinked once, then again, and he rubbed his muzzle against the pine needles that surrounded him. His non-fur hadn't filed down his claws recently, so his grip on the bark of the tree was strong and true. Another short leap and a scramble and he'd almost be at the summit.
Sydney's ears shifted when he heard the snap of the lock on the door--a key being turned. His nose twitched involuntarily when rubbed by the bristles of the pine needles as he turned his head, hearing the sound of his non-fur's voice.
Natalie was home. And his claws were too firmly imbedded to make a quick leap and escape undetected. Maybe if he just stayed where he was, nestled among the shiny-bright things and the warm-blinky things, she wouldn't notice--
"Sydney, you bad, bad boy!" Her fingers grasped his midsection and he yowled unhappily as she unintentionally tickled him. "No apologies!" scolded Natalie.
He spun in the air for a moment as she turned him to face her, his legs dangling freely, his tail twitching in acute embarrassment. He hated that! It left him vulnerable for attack and the scent on the air told him that her fanged near-mate was also here.
Natalie shook him slightly, her eyes fixed on his. "Bad boy!" she scolded again. "How many times have I told you, no climbing on the Christmas tree!"
"He's a cat, Nat," said Nick. "Cat's climb. It's only natural."
Sydney twisted in her hands, his rear paws kicking futilely as he heard the sound of the fanged-one's voice.
"Not a tree with lights and ornaments. Or are you gonna tell me they grow overnight, fully decorated, just add tinsel?" Sydney recognized the cue--he meowed pitifully and hung his head.
"All right," relented Natalie, her eyes narrowing only briefly in suspicion. "But no more tree climbing?"
Another pitiful meow and she crouched down, putting him on the floor. Sydney dashed for the safety of the underside of the dining room table, his tail flicking lightly against Nick's shoes as he passed. The chair legs provided a maze of wood--thank heavens he was old enough to resist the temptation of that scratching urge any longer!--and he slipped in and out of the openings before he stretched out on the rug and looked upward, watching his non-fur and that fanged-one.
His non-fur was shedding her outer covering, which the fanged-one took from her. "Thanks," she said, taking a step toward the tree, then rearranging the things he'd dislodged in his climb.
"You've done a beautiful job on that tree," said Nick, tossing her covering on a chair, then joining her.
Sydney hissed softly as the fanged-one moved closer to his non-fur. He smelled danger and blood on that one, as well as great age, and he tried again and again to warn his non-fur Natalie to run away. He'd even tried to chase off this fanged-one that pretended to be a non-fur.
But she didn't take the hint. And the fanged-one was too big and strong to frighten away, so he and Sydney had settled into a truce of sorts.
That fanged-one--Nick--made his non-fur's lips curl. Her voice purred often when she spoke with him or about him. And even when she showed her teeth, her claws were sheathed. Sydney knew a near-mate pairing when he saw one and though it saddened him that his non-fur had found another fanged male to keep her company, and a dangerous one at that, his tail swished in joy for her.
His eyes narrowed into slits and he tilted his head, hearing his name--but she wasn't calling him.
"--Keep Sydney off it," Natalie complained, still fixing the shiny stuff he'd knocked out of place. "There's pepper on the bark--"
"I noticed that," answered Nick, taking a step back and sniffing slightly.
Sydney rubbed his own nose against his paw, agreeing. Nasty stuff--made him sneeze.
"Lemon on the needles. I even bought a bottle of that 'Cat-be-gone stuff."
"And?" asked Nick sympathetically.
"My cat is a mutant--he loves it." She turned and searched the room, as if looking for him. "I had to dump it, he went bananas, like it was catnip or something!"
Sydney grinned, showing the tips of his fangs. He wasn't a lap cat, after all--he knew enough to pretend that foul nasty-bad stuff she'd placed around the tree was pure cream. Silly non-fur! He could fool her so easily . . . .
Which was why he was still a little alarmed about the fanged near-mate. Might Nick be able to fool non-fur Natalie as well?
The thought made him scramble out of his hiding place. Natalie spotted him and scooped him into her arms. "There you are, you bad boy."
Even though she scolded him, her voice was soft and cooing. Sydney nuzzled her cheek, stretched along the length of her neck and shoulder, then settled in her arms, his eyes fixed on that fanged-one, unblinking.
"I'm just afraid that he'll get hurt," said Natalie, stroking his fur. "He could get tangled in the garland and fall. Never mind chewing on the ornaments, choking on small bits . . . ." She turned and Sydney found himself with a non-fur-eye-view of the tree and all of the pretty-pretty sparkles. "I unplug the lights before I leave, but this time I forgot--so what happens if he pulls the plug from the wall and starts a fire or something? I'm getting desperate enough to try chicken wire."
Sydney heard the fanged-one move closer and tensed in Natalie's arms. The cold fingers stroked the fur on his head and his eyes narrowed into slits as he hissed very, very softly.
His non-fur missed it, but the fanged-one drew back quickly, frowning. "I can see the problem. Would you . . . would you like me to try something?"
"You mean, like male bonding or something? Because believe you me, I am not that permissive. Sydney's not a discipline problem--well, not much--"
The fanged-one turned away, smiling. "No. I was thinking of something more like a . . . suggestion."
"Suggestion." Sydney felt his non-fur's arms tighten around him and meowed his protest, craning his head to keep the fanged-one in view, sensing her unease. "Like . . . that hoodoo stuff? Are you talking about hypnotizing Sydney?"
The fanged-one was looking at the tree. He shrugged. "Well, he seems to understand you. It just might work."
"I . . . don't think so," said the non-fur, hugging Sydney to her.
"It was only a suggestion." Nick shrugged again, his smile fading as he added, "I didn't get a chance to ask--about the Teichman case?"
Sydney pushed his back legs against his non-fur's body and she released him. With extraordinary grace--well, at least he thought so--he sailed through the air and landed lightly, then made his way into the kitchen, in search of his food bowl.
He recognized the tone of the conversation, the drone of the words, as being anything but dangerous. There were more important things to do, like check his dish--nope, nothing there yet--then patrol the apartment in search of intruders. His non-fur was safe enough in the presence of the fanged-one.
She'd gone to the place of dead things.
Sydney had long since grown to recognize the signs and smells; the coverings worn by his non-fur always changed with her destination, which he knew from the smells she brought back with her. When he'd been small, the smell of the dead things had made him uneasy, but he'd grown to accept it as a part of her.
He patrolled the territory again, tail twitching and held aloft, signaling intruders that he was on alert and ready for action.
But there were no intruders. And Sydney haughtily strutted to the couch and leapt onto it, knowing that none would be so foolish as to risk his claws and fangs. He settled onto the cushion, careful to sheathe his claws as he kneaded the spot he choose. Closing his eyes, he settled into sleepy, feline darkness.
It was the cold that awakened him--a drift of fresh air that carried the crisp scent of outside.
Sydney opened his eyes, blinking slowly, and raised his head from the comfort of his paws. He hissed, showing fangs at the other scent that reached him--the smell of a fanged-one and soft leather.
The dark shadow by the brightly lit tree turned toward him and he saw the features of the thing--another like that Nick his non-fur purred at. Its eyes were light and bright as it caught sight of him. "A pet? I didn't expect to find you, here."
The fur on Sydney's back bristled as he arched it, his tail rising straight and true as he hissed a warning that he was about to strike.
"None of that," said the fanged-one, his voice soft but carrying a threat Sydney understood. It reached for him.
Sydney darted from the edge of the couch, but the fanged-one was too fast, like all of his kind. He caught Sydney evenly, one hand grabbing the loose fur at his scruff and pinning his head, the other arm cradling him. "I wonder how well you do with Nicholas around, hmn?" The fingers scratched his head softly but firmly. "Don't appreciate the competition for your lady's attention?"
The voice was soft and sure and smooth. Sydney felt his fear and anger drain away, his eyes slitting and his muscles warming to the stroking of his fur. He almost purred . . . .
Then he shook his head beneath the fanged-one's hand, trying to regain his wits. What was he thinking! This was a bad one, he could smell it. He had to get away, to warn his non-fur.
But he was held too tightly to squirm from the grip of the fanged-one. So he settled, muscles tensed, and waited for the proper moment to make a bid for freedom.
The fanged-one continued to stroke his head. "I think I may have done you a favor," he said, turning toward the pretty-pretty tree, with the glittering lights. He reached out a hand and plucked an envelope he'd left on the tree. "I've left your mummee--is that what she has you call her? She seems the type--I left your mummee a little gift."
It was a bright envelope, like the pretties on the tree. There was a dark slash across it. The fanged-one held it up, as if examining it. "A fair job on Nicholas' handwriting, but I was in a bit of a hurry. She only needs to open it, to read so far, before accuracy won't be that essential. This," he shook the envelope in front of Sydney's nose, "is a 'confession' of sorts, of all the things Nicholas has done through the centuries . . . with a few embellishments, of course."
Sydney yowled softly and narrowed his eyes--his haunches were still held tightly.
"You may well meow," said the fanged-one pleasantly, replacing the card. "It won't free you of Nicholas . . . not at first. But it will drive a wedge between them. And any fischer can be widened, with the application of the proper pressure in the proper place." He stroked Sydney's head, then peered into the cat's eyes. "So, you'll have your mummee back. And I'll have Nicholas."
The fanged-one released him suddenly and Sydney was hard-pressed to keep his balance, but he landed on all fours, if not gracefully. Shooting beneath the dining table, he sought a secure position and whirled, ready for attack.
But the fanged-one had gone, closing the window behind him, leaving only the scent of age and leather and the barest hint of that intoxicating air from . . . outside.
For a moment, Sydney's eyes misted over as he thought about that wonderful, wide place beyond his territory. His non-fur had taken him beyond on the days of warmth and bird song, or even during the days of decay and leaf-fire smells. Sometimes it was just to play. Sometimes it was to go to the bad place, with the white, bright, shiny-cold things and all those furred non-cats with loud barks and big teeth. But it was still outside. How he longed to explore it . . . .
Sydney shook his head again, then rolled on his back, trying to shake off the scent of the fanged-one's hand from his fur. As he rolled and scratched, he caught sight of that thing, high up in the tree--
And stopped. The fanged-one had left the thing. The fanged-one was bad. So it must be a bad thing.
Sydney growled in the back of his throat, his chest rumbling as he thought about what the fanged-one had said. That would make the Nick fanged-one go away. How could it be a bad thing?
But his non-fur Natalie would be sad if the fanged-one Nick went away. She wouldn't purr anymore. It was like that when a near-mate left. So it must be a bad thing.
It was a bad thing, since it had come from that fanged-one. Sniffing anxiously, Sydney rolled one or twice more on the carpet in an attempt to rid himself of that old fanged-one's scent, then he stretched out on the carpet and looked up at the tree.
The bad thing was high. Very high. Up near the shiny things that Sydney wanted to reach and play with.
He could climb, of course. He was a good climber--the best. But his non-fur would be angry, she told him not to climb the tree. And she would be home soon.
But when she got home, she would find the bad thing. And she would be sad.
So, Sydney decided to climb the tree and get the bad thing before she got home. Then his non-fur wouldn't be sad and she would purr again.
The monumental decision took a few minutes, but Sydney worked on cat-time (which is based on the equation forever=now) so it didn't matter to him. He paced back and forth in front of the tree, tail twitching, eyes narrowed, as he tried to find the proper angle of attack. There--just a space with nothing attached, lots of branch to grab . . . .
A leap was better than grabbing the trunk and running up--which meant strenuous climbing. A launch from one of the chairs, or even the table, would work.
So Sydney went back to the underside of the table. If he dug his claws into one of the chair legs (his non-fur wouldn't see it right away), and pulled up, he could reach the cushion of the chair. From there it was an easy jump to the table . . . although he knocked over some candles with a satisfied twitch of his tail.
He was distracted only for a moment, but after having decided that the candles had no real taste, he abandoned them and centered his attention on the tree again.
It sparkled and blinked at him. Sydney blinked back. Then he turned and walked down the length of the table, his steps measured and easy, pacing his way into position.
The table covering slid as he walked and Sydney took that into account as he plotted his trajectory. It was something cats knew instinctively, as they leaped from here to there. He also knew that this leap would be special. So he took care in finding the right place to set his paws. There was only a moment of hesitation, as he wiped his nose with the pad of his paw, then licked the underside of one claw, which seemed dry and stiff.
It was a spectacular launch! Sydney barely noticed the cloth on the table traveling with him, sliding to the floor and accompanied by the clatter of the candles and flowers his non-fur had left there. There was the table, then the air, then--
The green tree, pine needles poised like pins and smothered in the scent of dead Christmas, hurtling toward him. He struck, yowled, but remembered to dig his claws into the trunk and limbs . . . anywhere he could find purchase. One set of claws hit true and snagged wood. The other three sets scrambled, knocking away shiny things, which crashed to the floor below, or got tangled in the blinky-pretties.
The tree swayed beneath him, one side to the other, but Sydney continued to scramble, trying to gain purchase. One claw dislodged the bad thing the fanged-one had left and it wedged between his belly fur and the pine needles (for which he could have purred in gratitude--those pine needles were sharp).
There was the feeling of flight, of laughing himself in a leap . . . but he was attached to the tree. It was the tree that was leaping, toward the floor. Unable to disentangle himself, Sydney scurried within the branches and rode with it, letting out an outraged cry. This was not a good thing.
The sounds were deafening, especially since he was in the center of it all--the crash of glass, the thump of the tree. But the blinkies still shone around him. Dazed, Sydney simply sat within the branches, surrendering to the silence.
Then he heard the keys in the door.
He tried to leap free, but the blinky-thingies trapped him. When he nipped at the wire, it nipped back and he howled in protest . . . but the wire wouldn't let him go. His non-fur was coming! If he could only get out, hide under the bed, she'd never know he'd caused this. He'd been asleep the whole time, hadn't heard a thing--
It was too late. The door opened and he heard her voice as she entered, "--don't know what you and Schanke were thinking. A butterfly knife couldn't have caused--oh my God!!! Sydney?!"
He huddled down amongst the branches at her tone, startled and not knowing whether he was being scolded or called. That fanged-one--Nick--was with her and they both ran to the fallen tree, kneeling on the floor.
"The plug for the light?" asked Nick.
The blinky-blinkies went out. Sydney huddled in the darkness of the tree, his claws scratching against something flat and smooth--that bad thing. He settled his body over it, not wanting his non-fur to touch it because it would hurt her. When she reached for him--"Poor baby, are you all--?" He hissed.
"Nat, let me," said Nick, suddenly beside her. "He's probably just scared--"
"I know he's scared, poor Sydney. Come on out of--"
Her hands were around him, lifting him away. She'd touch the bad thing. He couldn't let that happen. And so, Sydney unsheathed his claws and, using the tiniest one, dug it into the skin of his non-fur.
"Ouch!" cried Natalie, as she released Sydney and pulled back, sitting down on the carpet suddenly. "Damn! He scratched me. He's never scratched me."
"Let me see," said Nick.
Sydney burrowed down among the branches and meowed plaintively for forgiveness. He shook his head at the scent of blood, then peered out, watching the fanged-one near his non-fur.
But the fanged-one was helping his non-fur to her feet. "Go wash that off, I'll get him out."
"He's not real thrilled when you're around--"
"I told you, he's just scared. Give me a second, I'll get him out of there."
"But he's never scratched me before--" His non-fur stared back at the tree, holding her wounded wrist with her other hand. Shaking her head, she walked away.
Before Sydney could sigh in relief, the cold hands of the fanged-one were on him. He twisted, trying to get away, but the grip was firm--the scruff of his neck pulled tight so he couldn't scratch. But he managed to kick and the bad thing was pulled with him, from among the branches.
"There, I told her you were all right," said Nick, cradling him in his arms. "You're pretty lucky you have nine lives, because when Nat gets out of that bathroom I think she's going to kill--"
Sydney squirmed as Nick picked up the envelope. Sheathing his claws, he patted the leather jacket frantically and meowed, trying to tell the fanged-one not to touch the bad thing. But the fanged-one placed him on the floor, as if forgetting Sydney was there, and rose to his feet, staring at the envelope, saying, "That looks like my . . . ."
Sydney brushed against the fanged-one's legs, meowing softly, warning him about the bad thing. Nick looked out of the room as he tapped it against his hand, then stared down at it again. After a moment, he ripped it open in one move and took out the card and paper inside.
Tail twitching, Sydney watched as the fanged-one scanned the paper. He hissed in answer as he saw the fanged-one's eyes go gold, then backed away toward the tree.
"LaCroix," said Nick, also hissing. Hurriedly, he stuffed the paper inside his jacket, along with the bad thing. He moved toward the window, slid it open easily and looked out into the night.
Sydney sniffed, enamored by the sudden scent of outside. He arched his neck and reveled in it, leaping to place his paws on the wall and to reach the sill. But then the window was shut. And Nick scooped him up off the floor and tucked him under his arm.
"LaCroix was here," said the fanged-one, as if to himself. "He must have left it on the tree. She would have found it--if not now, then later . . . ."
And just as Sydney gave up the idea of escaping being held for the night and was ready to knead himself a soft spot in the crook of the fanged-one's arm, Nick held him aloft by the middle with two hands, letting his rear paws dangled.
"And you knocked down the tree." The fanged-one stared into Sydney's eyes, then smiled slightly. "No. You couldn't have-- Or did you?"
Sydney meowed softly and blinked, his eyes assuming an innocent expression, as they did when he was accused of anything. His non-fur usually relented or scolded him.
The fanged-one did neither, watching him carefully, his smile tightening. Tucking Sydney under his arm again, he leaned down and righted the tree with one hand, setting the base in place.
Sydney jumped as he heard the voice of his non-fur and burrowed his head beneath a crease in the fanged-one's leather jacket.
"Bloody, but unbowed," announced his non-fur Natalie, who held up her wrist and exhibited two flesh-sticky things on her arm (she let him play with a box of them once--nasty things bit fur and wouldn't let go). Then she moved closer. "Is he all right?"
"Sydney's fine," said the fanged-one, carefully unhooking the claws from his jacket and handing Sydney over. "His paw was caught in one of the light strings, I had to untangle it. It probably pinched him; that's why he scratched you."
"Let me see." Sydney suffered being turned on his back in her arms, as his non-fur bent his paws this way and that. "They all seem fine. Which one was it?"
"I don't know." When she looked up, he shrugged. "Nat, a cat paw is a cat paw." But then he walked over to the tree and the shattered shiny things on the floor. "I think most of this is a loss."
His non-fur rubbed his tummy as she walked over to the tree. "Thank God I took off the antiques. I'll have to get new ornaments tomorrow--"
"Why not tonight?" asked the fanged-one.
Sydney opened one eye, suddenly aware that the bliss of the tummy-rub was gone. But his non-fur ignored his meow of protest. "The stores'll be closed."
"They're all open late for the season. Besides, I need your help to pick out some ornaments for my tree."
"Your tree?" When Sydney meowed, she batted his paws lightly, but her eyes were still fixed on the fanged-one Nick.
"Yeah. I'll need something to keep Sydney busy when you drop him off at my place before you head in for work--at least until the end of the season." Lifting a hand toward the tree, the fanged-one removed the remains of a smashed sparkly-thing. "If we take Sydney, we can cat-test the stuff first."
Sydney gave a slight 'oof' as Natalie picked him up and slung him over her left shoulder, then began stroking his back. "Let me get this straight--you're offering to cat-sit? Voluntarily?"
"It's obvious you can't leave him here, alone, with the tree. And I don't mind. So, how about it?"
His non-fur purred low in her throat; Sydney batted her neck at the sound. "I have to get changed--"
"I'll clean up out here. I'm sure Sydney will give me a hand. Or a paw."
"Well . . . all right." There was a suspicious note in her voice, but his non-fur Natalie placed him down on the floor, beside the fanged-one. "You boys keep out of trouble."
Sydney almost followed her, but a shaking shiny thing on the floor caught his eye. He walked over to it and batted it with his paw and it shook again.
But then those cold fanged-one hands caught him and lifted him up. Fingers stroked beneath his chin and Sydney leaned into the petting, humming softly, his eyes mere slits.
"I think," said the fanged-one quietly, "I owe you one."
Sydney agreed, nuzzling the hand that petted him, encouraging it to move a little to the left, just beside the ear---aaaaaah!
"And I think between us, we can keep Natalie safe, right?"
Again, Sydney hummed and purred his assent. He wasn't certain why he'd ever been worried about this fanged-one, who knew exactly where and how to scratch.
"A little shopping might get you out of the doghouse. No catnip, but maybe some squeaky mice, Nat'll probably want bows on them or something . . . ."
Sydney wasn't really paying too much attention--he relaxed under the petting and stroking and stretched his neck this way and that . . . until he heard a familiar jingle. Then his eyes shot open.
His non-fur was shrugging into her covering, his leash in her hand. Sydney pushed out of the fanged-one's grip and dropped to the floor easily--and gracefully--then padded up to his non-fur.
They were going out!
"Are you sure you want to take him with?" asked his non-fur, as Sydney shook his head, testing the pull on the leash she hooked to his collar. "I mean, we're taking my car, right? I know you don't want those claws near your Caddie--"
"Like we're going to fit a full size fur tree in your trunk?" asked Nick.
Sydney pulled on the leash, anxious to get going, then glared up at them in annoyance.
"You're really serious about this?" He heard his non-fur chuckle, then she headed toward the door, keys jingling in her hand. "And just how big a tree are we talking about?"
"That's up to Sydney. I'm guessing he'll want to test climb a couple, check out the branches--"
Sydney darted into the hall as the door opened, then paused and sniffed the air beyond his territory. Head held high, he moved smoothly between his non-fur and her fanged near-mate and hoped that the sissy Persian sitting in the window would see him as he left. Because he, Sydney, protector of his non-fur Natalie and friend of her fanged-one, Nick, was going outside.
To climb trees.