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byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
Supporting Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2017
Messages
77
Location
UK
"It seems you've been working harder than any of us! Take a break, alright? I will try and speak to you again next week." The second he signed off, Christine flopped backwards onto the bed with more force than was strictly necessary.

"Stupid!" She kicked at the duvet, narrowly missing her laptop. When she closed her eyes, she could see the image from her dream so clearly - she could even summon the sensations she'd experienced, the warmth and scent and palpable tension, as though she'd been there. The implications seemed clear. "Ugh, she doesn't want me to make any pissing progress!" Christine smacked her hand down on the bed, her frustration finally melting into despondency. Maybe she had been a little tired… and hopefully that meant this entity wasn't able to just, switch her off and intimidate her whenever she wanted to. Because make no mistake, that had been an intimidation tactic. This is what you're looking for. It won't make any difference. It was a bloody good thing she had something to get her out of the house.

The walk to Susie's gave her an opportunity to decompress. Blasting Florence and the Machine through her headphones and moving briskly got her jitters out, letting her get ready to enjoy a proper evening - not just sifting through books to find scraps of relevant information followed by staring at her paws.

"Chris!" Susie, a slight woman with long blonde waves, pink cheeks and ever-present red lipstick, yelped and threw her arms around Christine's neck as soon as her door was open, buzzing with energy. "What's going on! I'm so sorry I haven't had the time to hang out, I'd have loved to see you right after you got back but I was an idiot about this essay and there was this resit as well, but it's alright I passed it just fine but that's not important, what's going on with you! I'm so glad you're here, seriously, I've been in the study cocoon for like a week straight and having someone over makes you clean up, you know, not that it looks incredible but trust me it's better than it was-" Susie continued in her typical fashion as she welcomed Christine in, walked her up to her flat and made her a cup of tea. It was half empty by the time Christine got to really speak.

"It's okay Suse, I've been busy too."

"Oh my god is it about that bracelet you found?" Her friend clapped once and doubled her excitement, if such a thing were possible. "It's so crazy dude, it's like you're in The Mummy. You've even got a Brendan Fraser!"

"What, who?"

"The German guy!" Oh dear. "I know he has a name but he's Chubby Brendan Fraser now. And who's the lady, the librarian - which is appropriate - Rachel Weisz! You could pull off Rachel Weisz." Untrue, but appreciated.

"Thanks, Suse, but it's been a lot more reading and a lot less adventuring than you're imagining." Susie raised an eyebrow.

"Adventuring, is that what you're gonna call it?"

"Call what?"

"You know!" She giggled, scandalised, "you barely had the time to text all month. Nothing in the evenings, but when you do pick up the phone, there's always plenty to say about this guy. I know what's up, kid."

"Ughh," Christine shook her head, unwilling to entertain this line of questioning. "I'm sorry Suze, but we're not - adventuring together - anymore. It's nothing bad but I'd really rather talk about something else."

"Aw, I'm sorry. You can always be Rachel Weisz solo, you know." A commiseratory hand found its way to her back, where it gave a gentle pat. "Go on then, how was it? Tell me everything." So Christine related the small details of her trip, the flights, the hotel and the dig and the small dramas and jokes that cropped up among the other students - avoiding Elias. It was nice to revisit the memories she'd made that didn't necessarily involve a boy… the quiet, warm evening she spent on the hotel balcony with a borrowed set of chisels and a still half-finished sculpture of an iguana, the massive blini Tanya made for dinner that ended up looking uncannily similar to Australia, even the mishandling-related mistakes she made, which had become harmless and funny ever since her lingering fear that Thomas secretly couldn't stand her for messing up had been quashed. More or less.

The game was comparatively stagnant, ending 1-1 after numerous near misses and uneventful penalties on both sides, but it didn't matter to Christine - almost, anyway - because of the pure joy of the mental reset. Listening to Susie explaining her troubles with this new lecturer (apparently there are people who can send you almost immediately to sleep with naught but the sound of their voice and a deck of slides) and the essay she'd been hurling herself up against, it did more to relax her than, well, anything had in quite some time. Enough that when the game was over, and half a box of takeout curry was cooling on the coffee table and a glass of wine was swirling in her hand, she said,

"Suse, listen, I'm having some guy trouble." Immediately one hand was on her shoulder and the other was on her free forearm, attentive energy pouring out of Susie like a waterfall.

"Go on." Christine took a long sip of wine. "Is it Brendan Frasier do you miss him -"

"It's him, but it's also another guy,"

"Another guy!?" The traditional pose of the supportive friend was abandoned in favour of that of the ecstatic gossip, "there's two! Who is the mystery lad, did you meet him on the trip? Two Brendans!?"

"No, there aren't two Brendans, I might've mentioned him to you before, it's the guy who lives in my building, you know? Face like thunder but pretty when he wants to be, big round glasses, tall, Indian lad -"

"And of appropriate stature, shall we say?" One blonde eyebrow was raised.

"Extremely so, as it happens, yes."

"More than Brendan Fraser?"

"Yes, but call him Elias, please -"

"He's Brendan Fraiser until Mystery Man gets a name!" Christine rolled her eyes dramatically, provoking Susie to continue, "if you know his name..? Is he giving you trouble and you don't actually know?"

"Krish, it's Krish."

"Krish! Okay. I think I remember - isn't he the one you couldn't even get to talk to you? What changed?" Ah.

The truth would have been nice to reveal. Easy, too. She wouldn't even have to move from her spot on the sofa. Christine looked over at Susie with a tipsy gaze, the gears turning in her head slowly but carefully.

"Tell me something first, Suse. Do you believe in fate?" Susie didn't hesitate for a second before answering,

"No. There are no higher powers influencing our actions, that's what I think. True, it's just my opinion, but if you ask you shall receive and all that." There was a brief pause. Susie's answer didn't surprise Christine, but it did little to comfort her, instead landing her in something of an awkward position. She didn't want to break the silence, having no readily prepared alternatives for the truth but also no desire to shatter her friend's worldview. Such a thing can be brutal. Christine, of all people, knew that. "Did something crazy happen? Some wild coincidence?"

"Yeah. He saved me from a, uh, a car." For the second time that night the truth came to her aid. "I don't know why but I just froze. He grabbed me right out of traffic."

"Holy shit. That's a Prince Charming move right there." Christine shook her head, unsure how to phrase the next part,

"But I don't want to just hang out with him based on, uh… I don't know, pretense. I like him. But I miss Elias. But I don't think Elias and I would work long term, so I want to make this thing work with Krish, but he wants nothing to do with me unless I'm-!"

"What, he only wants a damsel in distress?" That idea really made the eyebrow arch. "I mean fuck that, you're not Snow bloody White, that-"

"It's not his fault," Christine groaned, "he didn't fawn over me then suddenly go cold or anything, I just get this feeling about him, and I want to get to know him better so badly, but he's one of those people who doesn't let people in." Susie shook her head.

"Chris…" the gentler tone of voice was accompanied with a tender side hug. "You can't force this thing to happen. If you're coming to someone with something… you have to meet them on their own terms. And if those terms are bad for you then you should accept that and back off."

"I know."

"And I get that it's hard for you… this whole exciting thing with Elias is coming to an end, and it's unfortunate, and maybe if things were different they'd be different, but they are the way they are. If I were you, I'd grab some nice heavy tinder dates, a thing of Bourbon and scream along to Never Mind the Bollocks until things make sense."

"That's a very you solution, Suse."

"Well, you might want to try it some time," Susie chuckled, giving her friend a squeeze. "Go into recovery mode. I'll even watch Star Trek with you if you need."

"Oh, you really think I have it bad for this guy, huh?"

"Chris, baby, it's obvious. You never want to talk about boys, and I know that's because I'm obnoxious about it, but that's only because you don't ever bring me this stuff!"

"I find myself in a unique situation," Christine mumbled, "so, you know. Any and all advice."

"I'm flattered," said Susie with a grin. "Come on, I have some ice cream in the freezer, it's traditional for relationship talks. You want some..? I'm getting the ice cream. It's happening."

A good thirty minutes later than she'd initially planned, Christine was walking home. Tipsier, consequently slower, and infinitely more introspective than she'd hoped to be at that time. It wasn't that Susie hadn't been supportive. It wasn't that Christine didn't appreciate her advice. It wasn't even as though things were going all that badly - with more thought, she realised just how encouraging her earlier call really was, even if it was tinged with a frustrating ending. Although it was an ending which in itself had, it seemed, given her some more clues. Nothing to be sniffed at, especially when she couldn't afford to leave anything on the table.

The real question was less binary than she'd thought. Not, who should I be pining over, option E or option K - but, how do I get over them both? The temptation of nostalgia and of course, an easy solution, pulled her towards Elias, despite the knowledge that any comfort he might give her could so easily collapse. The trembling anticipation of something new, of rebellion, that vibrated under her skin like electricity - that adrenaline shot through with the bitter likelihood of rejection - pushed her in Krish's direction. The two forces acted on her in totally different ways, and as such, she doubted there was a solution that could effectively neutralise them both.

She ended up sitting down on a low stone wall. Not too far from her place. The pavement had begun spinning a little, definitely not 100% from the wine - she hadn't drunk that much - though it certainly hadn't helped the intensity of her thoughts. Christine stared into the middle distance, hands in her pockets, watching the leaves dance on a nearby tree. Its brick planter was already littered with orange and brown cast offs, but the branches were still filled with hangers on which twisted and fluttered in the breeze. She was trying to recall the plot of The Lobster. That movie where people were made into animals if they didn't have a romantic partner. That had Rachel Weisz in it too, didn't it? They were at a hotel to find a partner, but only for the first half, then they escaped into the woods. Things changed again after that, but… maybe she didn't want to remember the ending.

A shape caught her attention in the half dusk. A familiar figure, tall, broad. Crossing the road with a shopping bag in hand.

Krish.

Christine tried desperately to keep her expression under control. Seeing him in person again, especially at a time like that, was almost totally overwhelming. It was impossible not to watch him as he paused to close his coat and zip it up over his tummy, suddenly hitching when it came to the latter and, yes, it looked like he eventually had to suck in a little bit to make it do so smoothly. It closed right up to his chin, the plump flesh bulging over the collar as he walked past. Christine duly performed the traditional silent nod. He gave her a slightly quizzical look - like he wouldn't expect her to exist in the world outside their building - and returned it.

Krish disappeared around the corner, and Christine's attention returned to the leaves. One finally broke off, coasted on the wind, and landed on the pavement near Christine's feet, and something about the way it skittered along the floor made Christine want to -

She pounced. White paws closed over the leaf, and her tail swayed with pride, before she realised, ah. Cat again. The mild intoxication faded quickly, evidently left behind in her human body, but the recent sighting of Krish kept her from truly finding stability. A quick check of the surrounding area didn't turn up any of her belongings, implying that her phone and keys and wallet were residing in the same mysterious space as her clothing usually did - except for her necklace, naturally, which she didn't wear to remember Elias, which she didn't wear so Krish would be guaranteed to recognise her again. Surely they would all return in the morning. In the meantime…

Christine skittered around the corner and bolted for him. If these were the terms she had to work with, so be it.
 

Tad

Dimensions' loiterer
Staff member
Global Moderator
Library Mod
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13,818
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The great white north, eh?
I'm not sure how I'd missed this update until now, but you livened up this Friday afternoon wonderfully :)
 

FFAscinated

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 19, 2021
Messages
117
Location
USA
I ran across the idiom "katzensprung" for "a short distance." I hope the next chapter is but a katzensprung away.
 

byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
Supporting Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2017
Messages
77
Location
UK
Thanks so much all for so many kind comments, especially where I'd least expect it, after a chapter where the boys don't make all that much of an appearance ;p I'll have to see if I can use "katzensprung" at some point later in the story :)

Chapter 6

"Christine!" It took the woman in question a moment to adjust. A dream? Yes. Lucid? Absolutely. That voice? Unmistakable.

"Freyja!" She howled into the darkness, swiping with her hands at the faint shapes that morphed from it. It wasn't a mere absence of light, as in the physical world - this darkness pulsated and bent around her like a strange work of architecture, untouchable and almost invisible but for the extra dimension of the dream. "Turn me back! Turn me the fuck back, you bastard!"

"Oh, and are you sure that's what you want?" The voice boomed from every direction, echoing faintly. "It seems like you've decided to turn your cat lemons into brand new fat boy lemonade. Who's this joker you're spending all your nights with?" Christine's breath caught in her throat.

"You've been watching me."

"Yes?"

"I - I figured you would occasionally, but for some reason I didn't think you'd still be… all the time?"

"Enough." A horrible thought gripped Christine.

"Don't do anything to Krish. Please."

"Oh, I can't, don't you worry about that. If you could get these two to touch my bracelet so I can redistribute some mass that would be great though, maybe then you'd be able to focus. You really should have told me you like the big ones."

"Okay, okay, hold it." Flailing in the void never did anyone any good. Christine did her best to hold still, to remain as upright as one can in a space without a floor, and take a deep breath. "You want to see romance and shit, right? Well, I'm trying to make something happen here with Krish. Isn't that good enough for you?"

"Honey, he thinks you're a cat." Freyja's voice gained an unbearable edge of pity. It took some effort not to snap at her. "He thinks you lick yourself clean and eat baby birds off the tarmac."

"Well, I'm -" as though she didn't know that excruciatingly well - "I'm working on it. This is a hurdle. Maybe I could make better progress if you give me a break and-"

"And do what? You've never been successful with this boy before. Don't try and lie to me, I know." The darkness pulsed with a strange light, running from red to purple to a hazy mixture of the two. "This is a dead end. I'm telling you. You text Elias every day - you have so much more than just a chance with him."

"I don't want that."

"You miss him."

"He's a friend now. That's all it is."

"Call him."

"You might've been watching me, but you're not in my head!" Christine thrashed at the air, which felt heavier than it had before, and soon it gained a cotton texture that tangled around her legs. Her duvet. It was morning.

Maybe it wasn't surprising that Freyja had chosen to make a second appearance. The night before had been... a lot.

Christine brushed some white hair out of her bed. She'd made a habit of curling up under the covers when she got back from Krish's place, memories of him lulling her to sleep. That'd been her routine for a solid couple of weeks, in fact - while normal life rolled on during the day, holding occasional update calls with Thomas, going for lunch with Susie and Philip and chatting with Gloria about the curator's latest family drama... come her feline hours she sauntered down to Krish's window and meowed to signal her arrival. Like clockwork.

He always let her in. In more recent times he'd stopped trying to offer her cat food - a mercy, since it had an unpleasant, cloying smell which always irritated her until he put it away. The last time he put some out she kicked it. That seemed to get the message across. Instead he went directly to letting her lounge about the room, sometimes draped over the back of his chair and his shoulder, always purring like a motorcycle.

And he, in turn, always talked.

"This new Halo thing is doing wonders for my social life. I haven't properly spoken to Eric in - what, it has to be a year? And Lissa, even longer than that. Crazy." The trend of having something nearby to snack on at all times also continued. Krish's diet was, not to put too fine a point on it, completely and utterly abysmal. Without going so far as to have a prowl around his kitchen, Christine somehow doubted he was also eating many balanced meals alongside the avalanche of junk food. She couldn't do anything about it, exactly, and just making the observation made her feel guilty… quite aside from not wanting to be judgemental, it was hypocritical. All that worry about invading his personal space, and there she was, daily (or was that nightly?) melting at how happy he always was to see her. Fretting and learning and thinking about him constantly.

Initially she'd just meant to show him that she was okay. See his smile again. But what a smile it had been… over the course of a few nights, following him home turned into perching on the windowsill, turned into just a little saunter over his desk to see what he was up to, turned into… what she liked to think of as companionship. Krish seemed to have accepted that she knew her way around, and out of concern for her assumed posh owner, didn't hinder her leaving before morning.

"Oh, Rosie, your timing is perfect. Come here…" that was how Krish greeted her that night, the night she came home and received a telling off from her celestial stalker. A thick hand stroked her back as she sauntered along his desk, careful not to knock anything over. "There we go. There we go, you little, free serotonin machine…" enjoying a gentle scratch between her shoulders, Christine sat in front of the keyboard and looked up, examining him. Krish petted under her chin with both hands, sighing. “At least I have you to listen to me. Ugh.”

While Krish was rarely seen to be happy-go-lucky (excepting that evening when Christine was present for his first hearing about the production of a new Matrix movie), his expression was noticeably more somber than usual. Asking him what was wrong was, naturally, out of the question, so Christine butted her head against his forearm and purred quietly, followed by a curious look upward.

"Oh, look at those eyes. Can you tell that something's up?" In a gesture that surprised Christine with its vulnerability - though of course, who thinks to hold back in front of an animal - he wrapped his arms around her and pressed his face into the soft fur of her neck. "I'm stuck going round in circles. It's never the right bloody time." Initially, it seemed like his words were muffled because he was pressed into her, warm and heavy and close, but when he pulled back it became clear that his eyes were getting wet. That was why his voice was so thick. "I'm sick of it, Rosie. I was such a stupid, shortsighted kid, and for that I've only myself to blame really, but no matter how hard I've worked for it I've never had another… chance. My sister got all the luck. I don't know, maybe she watched me be stubborn and immature and make all the wrong decisions and decided, hey, maybe I shouldn't do that, maybe I shouldn't end up like my big..." Krish bit his lip and frowned and blinked very hard, "brother." He sighed, tears conquered for the time being. "Her big fucking brother." One hand went to the high curve of his stomach, where it met his chest. "You know, nobody else in the family is this fat."

Christine did her best not to squirm. Relief that he seemed to be keeping himself together blended with panic that he was talking about his size. "Everybody, and I mean everybody, is so obviously doing something right that I'm not. It's a stupid thing to focus on, but that's classic me, I zoom in on all the wrong details, and I've just done it again, and…" his eyes flicked up at the screen. "Shit." He wiped at his face with the backs of his hands and ushered Christine off the desk, muttering, "class in like, twenty minutes. I need to drink something."

Christine eyed the window from the floor. Maybe she should leave early. While Krish did seem to be getting some comfort from her presence, surely it would be unacceptable to keep watching him in such a state…

He walked in, plastic bag full of Maltesers boxes in one hand and a bottle of Smirnoff Ice in the other.

Ice? Seriously?

"Don't look at me like that, this is not the kind of drink I meant. But it's the kind I grabbed, so!" He shrugged and landed in his chair, which dropped a level or two with a wheeze. "Ah, damn it." As he readjusted it, Christine stared at the bottle. It was unlikely to knock him out. Hell, it probably wouldn't make that much of a difference even to Christine, who was at a significant physical disadvantage (even as a human). Thank goodness for Krish's sweet tooth, she supposed, which was likely what provoked him to pick up premixed… but still, he was upset. He was drinking. Drinking sixth form party tier alcohol, but still, drinking. She shouldn't leave him alone like that.

To try and delay any possible drunkenness, Christine decided that (all things considered of course) it would be morally right for her to return to his lap. The whole thing made perfect sense to her: she would stand with her hindpaws on his thigh (thick, solid, with a beautiful later of fat that made them still so soft and squishy and-) and her front paws on the arm of the chair, and she would act as though she were innocently watching the screen and enjoying being stroked. Which, she kinda was, but that was besides the point. Functionally, Krish would receive some camaraderie and be hopefully less likely to reach for the bottle. With a low meow, a carefully executed jump and a less than enthusiastic but still pleased reaction from Krish, she was in position. Trying very hard not to think about the warmth and size of the body she was using as a perch.
 

byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
Supporting Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2017
Messages
77
Location
UK
The plan was a success; the bottle in question was opened only after the conclusion of a rather circular discussion on the topic of Lord of the Flies. It wasn't that Krish was totally inattentive, but… something was definitely off. Something that made Christine's fur stand on end. She darted down as soon as he signed off, for moral reasons.

"Alright, no more bloody work for the rest of the evening. At least things pick a good time to go wrong. Always punctual." Krish leaned back, hit the power button on his PC tower with his toe and took a long swig at the same time. "Fuck it!" Even his raised voice was softer than Christine imagined, sadder and more muted than angry. She hopped up onto the bed and scooted up against the wall, trying to coax him in - maybe he just needed some sleep? It still wasn't entirely clear to her what exactly was upsetting him so much. "I should've just applied earlier. I have the bloody money, Rosie, I was just too much of a moron to do it properly, now I have to wait another year, and I shouldn't have had to wait so long but I don't qualify for shit in the way of loans these days! Won't take anything but the best… all or nothing… stubborn. And it's always - it's always my own fault."

Ah, this sounded familiar. Something to do with school, she'd wager. Which was odd, since Krish was a teacher - surely that took some of the intimidation out of adult learning? Apparently not, as he grabbed the remaining Maltesers (most of them had disappeared during the lesson) and flopped into bed with Christine, the now mostly empty Smirnoff sitting precariously close to the edge of his bedside shelf. She'd had the opportunity to see him relaxed a couple of times, sitting up in his bed while reading or leaning on his side to give her a pet, but this was her first time seeing him lying down. He was on his side, so his stomach pooled out in front of him like dough, practically begging Christine to start kneading… but that would be unacceptable for multiple reasons. Krish's face was still adorable, despite his mood, even moreso for having one cheek squished against a pillow, and his chest reacted beautifully, creating a deep cleavage that showed through his t-shirt. One of the arms of his glasses had come unhooked and they sat at an angle, useless.

"I'm ninety nine point… nine nine nine nine, nine percent sure you can't eat these," he told Christine, holding a malteser in front of her nose. It was a good thing she wasn't a real cat. Krish ate it, staring at her in that particular, unguardedly thoughtful way that tipsy people do. Christine peered at his drink again - he hadn't finished it, but here he was, head lolling and voice wavering like he was several pints in. At his size too, it was especially surprising, but at least he wasn't pounding back neat whiskey in order to feel something. "You're smarter than me, Rosie. No interest at all, huh?" He ate another. "I should too. Shouldn't. I guess." He tugged at the hem of his shirt. "No wonder I'm so fat… this is my problem, Rosie, I ignore my - my problems - until it's too late, and only then whatever I was doing to make them worse, I see it, 20-20 vision, and then the morning comes and I think, damn, it's fine, I shouldn't - I don't need to do anything. I don't need to apply. I'll just keep job hunting with no cards in my hand, because that's worked brilliantly so far. Also, I'm hungry, I should keep eating junk, never mind my great big gut and horrible posture, none of that makes me deeply unappealing. It's so much easier to keep things the same, even if it means looking like a sack of potatoes and a stack of pancakes had a baby."

He propped himself up on an arm and downed the rest of the Ice. This latest ramble caught Christine off guard like nothing else that night - sure, a bit of insecurity after a missed deadline or whatever was par for the course, but this? There was no doubt in her mind that she'd been right to stay, because no matter how pithily he might be phrasing things, they were undeniably getting downright existential. She took a few tentative steps forward, trying to find a position that would be comforting but not too personal. It was a difficult task. After dithering for a few moments while Krish disposed of the remains, she went with a paw on his forearm, to be level with his head which he was supporting on his shoulder.

"Oh, hey, kitty." Before she could react, he scooped her closer and planted a kiss on her forehead, a soft gesture that made her freeze entirely - and then she was up against his chest, the warmth that radiated off of him making her skin tingle. "I'm going on a diet, Rosie. I can't do anything about the college yet, but I can stop cramming sugar down my throat right now." She squirmed free and performed a quick U-turn to face him again, only to be met with a truly miserable expression. "I don't blame you, Rosie. I wouldn't want to get up close and personal with my tits either." The very thought made her claws pop out. As though she didn't! As though she'd rejected him! As though the very reason she couldn't wasn't because she wanted to!

If only he weren't a bit out of it, he wouldn't be anthropomorphising her that way. It wouldn't be nearly so awkward. Maybe he was picking up on something subconsciously.

"When even a cat thinks you're too fat, that's when you know you're - oh -" Christine was pushing her forehead against his other arm, trying to get him to lift it. "Okay..?" He did, and she slunk underneath with her side only brushing up against his chest. Just don't think about it. "I'm sorry. Sorry, I squished you, I'm too big and drunk to… do this right. I mean I'm not really drunk but…" he petered out as he stroked Christine's head, lingering on the softest, finest patches of her fur near her forehead and ears. "Rosie. You're so cute…" finally, it seemed like he was nodding off. "Little… serotonin machine…"

Christine wished she could be there when he woke up. But that was out of the question.

Would it be possible to check up on him? Knock on his door with some excuse - in doing so, waking him up at a bad time, probably - and swerve the conversation around to, are you okay? A real conversation, in person. As people. It would prove Freyja wrong, too. And maybe she wouldn't have to reside in this awkward, moral grey zone anymore… maybe she could turn this into something real.

Freshly showered, doused in body spray and wearing a denim jacket that she liked to think made her look cute and friendly, Christine made the journey to the ground floor. It was a Saturday, and while she'd been considering a journey to the library, the quest for Krish had to take priority - oh, she wished she could just knock on his door, arms laden with hangover cure food, though whether he'd have a hangover after so little alcohol was debatable… his being such a lightweight surprised her. It was kind of charming in a way. Although admittedly, she was predisposed to think that of anything he did...

Standing in front of the letterboxes with her back to Krish's front door, Christine struggled to think of a reason why she'd be bothering him. Nobody borrows things from people who live in flats, what was this, the lake district? He'd think she was trying to steal something. He wasn't that loud last night either, if she claimed to have heard him and been worried, that would make her seem like a stalker, ear pressed up against his keyhole all night.

But then, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Almost imperceptible sound and movement, coming from behind the door, but not directly behind - somewhere within. Krish had to be awake. This almost spurred her into action, but then the sound and the feeling grew, he was approaching, so Christine fumbled for her keys and made a show of checking her mail just as Krish emerged into the hallway.

"Oh, good morning!" The words came out chirpier than maybe she'd intended, tension driving her voice higher than usual. Krish nodded.

"Hi." He paused, then made for the mailboxes too. Score.

"I, umm…" that got his attention - he turned his head and waited through the silence, looking down because he had to because Christine was still a good deal shorter than him - in fact it was hard not to think about, just how much bigger he still was, in fact how was that possible when she was back in her human body, for the two perspectives to be even comparable, and- "so… I keep seeing you around and, I was thinking, do you want to, uh…" would coffee be a good proposition? No, he didn't want to come last time, and hopefully the issue had been with the activity, not Christine. Wait - wait. A flash of inspiration. Philip. "I have a friend who works at the new bakery on Church Street. Come with me and you can get a discount!" Krish looked at her for another second, long enough for Christine to wonder if he somehow hadn't heard her, but just as she was about to unload a ton apologies and qualifiers and explanations he replied,

"Okay, uh… no thank you. I don't really have the time." Damn it. Damn it. Christine tried very hard not to let her disappointment show.

"No worries." And with that, he left the building.

Christine's stomach hurt. How embarrassing. He must think she was so desperate. Get the message, dumbass: I'm not interested. Freyja was right, she wasn't going to get anywhere with the guy like this, and if she wanted to she would have to further leverage her status as a cat, which would be bad, but…

Clearly serving up another relationship to watch wasn't an option. And even so, it wouldn't be fair to Krish to further expose him to the renegade goddess like that. Meanwhile, efforts with the team were stagnating - it made sense given the information they had, that Thomas and this new guy, Reese, would spend most of their time together and she would get about as much of a look in as Gloria (who was still overworked) did - but it did little to help Christine's predicament. She knew she'd been subconsciously viewing her unique position with Krish as a weird little bonus, a way to start a relationship, a way to turn the whole thing around on itself. Evidently it was not. The hope wasn't dead, not yet, but still - the visit from Freyja and Krish's chilly rejection made it clear that something had to be done.

"Hey, Thomas, how are you?"

"I'm well, Christine, thank you. What's happening over there, are you going to do a reading for me?" The professor smiled, unable to see how nervous Christine was - the camera was tilted down at the table, where she'd set out the major arcana cards from a tarot deck, dug up from the bottom of her closet. It made sense to do this with a little bit of theatrics. Thomas would probably respond better to that.

"No sir, it's a, uh, little experiment." She glanced out of the window, to check the colour of the sky. Google was still indicating that she was on schedule, but she didn't want to trust it blindly. "Will you please generate a sequence for me? It can be as long as you want. It doesn't have to include all of them."

"Alright, er… the magician." Christine touched it with her right hand, hoping to call on her muscle memory later. "The lovers. The empress. The magician again…" she touched each in turn, and Thomas appropriately finished with, "the moon."

"Wonderful, thank you."

"What happens now?" Another glance at the sky. It had become a matter of stalling.

"We just have to wait a bit. In the meantime, any news to share?" Thomas nodded,

"Of course. Let's see, I have a source here that I think would be useful for your write up…" Thomas struggled with a PDF file for a few minutes. Christine had, in all fairness, begun on an article about the find - which had been promised to Thomas for editing, and soon - although it was significantly less narrative than she'd allowed Thomas to continue to believe. It was a relief, certainly, to think that multiple layers of pretense were to be dropped.

"Oh, Christine? Where are you? The connection, I think it..." The window was suddenly a good foot higher than it had been before. Christine jumped onto her kitchen table, ears flicking as she tried to remember the sequence. "Oh! Hat Christine eine Katze..?" Christine tapped the cards with her right paw - magician-lovers-empress-magician-moon - then bowed to the camera as best she could. "Was in aller Welt…" She did it again, then looked at the camera as pointedly as possible. Thomas frowned. "This isn't funny, Christine. What are you doing?" She swayed her tail in silence. Thomas began typing, probably messaging Gloria to complain. Christine performed the sequence one last time, then waved her paw in a circular motion with her head tilted - hopefully such a human motion would get through…

Thomas stared. He cleared his throat. After a couple of false starts, he said,

"Christine?" She nodded. For good measure, she added a wink. "Heilige Scheiße."
 

Chubbychaser

New Member
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4
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Pennsylvania
I need to read more! Please keep posting! I was skeptical about this storyline at first, but now I’m loving it. I need to find out what happens between Christine and Krish. Hopefully it leads to them being snuggled up in his bed with her in her human form.
 

byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
Supporting Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2017
Messages
77
Location
UK
Thank you Chubbychaser, I'm glad you came around on the concept ;)

Another year, another chapter... I'll do my best not to wait until 2023 to post chapter 8 ^^;

Chapter 7

If Christine never heard the phrase, "we should ask Reese first," again, it would be about a century too early.

The fallout from her announcement to Thomas had been brief but intense. Thomas was practically beside himself while she painfully typed out an explanation with her paws, filling in a laundry list of questions the next morning when she was capable of speech. Gloria didn't know, and much as it felt to Christine like she was getting shut out, she had to admit that it made sense not to reveal her little problem to the curator as well. The woman was still swamped - she hardly needed such a distraction. But Reese knew, in fact the initial news was enough to drag him into a video call (for the very first time, despite prior promises).

The first thing she noticed was that he had a densely packed bookcase behind him, its shelves bowing in the middle from the sheer weight of volumes. The variety of colours and thicknesses and heights drew Christine's eyes immediately, and her gaze kept returning to those spines and she tried to read the titles inscribed on them while Reese was talking. Reese himself was reedy and slim and overwhelmingly beige, with a head of thin, curly hair and thick horn rimmed glasses and a sweater the colour of oatmeal. His voice was high and nasal, British, though Christine knew he'd lived and worked in Germany for over a decade, and it veered up and down a register or two when Christine gave him a repeat performance of the tarot-at-sunset trick.

He had a copy of something called Exotic Birds of the Americas. It was thick and royal blue and something about the embossed feather-texture of the dust jacket made Christine want to pounce on her laptop. Her ears twitched as she pushed the urge aside.

He kept saying, "absolutely astounding."

Christine regretted committing to the transformation without a reliable method of communication. Typing was still slow, and the two men went back and forth with the speed of two people who can each follow the other's train of thought as though on a map. Thomas relayed the story as best he could, as Christine told it to him - the dig, the accidental brush of the hand, the transformations, the visions and dreams.

Only, well.

She'd left out the part about the boys.

If there was any possibility of finding a way that she could fix this without dragging them into it, hopefully it would reveal itself with Thomas and Reese's help. In the meantime, the exact reasoning for why Freyja wanted so dearly to toy with her would remain in the back pocket. The involvement of the professors plus a nice dose of hard proof would no doubt legitimise the claimed connection for Krish, and Elias, he would probably believe her from the word go - only last week, during a discussion about old essays, he'd rushed to defend her long-abandoned position on the value of facial reconstruction studies even as he technically agreed exclusively with her new stance.

But it wouldn't be fair. What if it ruined everything? What if, worst of all, one or both lads turned against her at the news? She wouldn't blame them - nobody needed to get mixed up in such a thing.

"So, it's opportunistic, you think?" Reese rested his chin on his fist, "the entity is capable of both communication with humans and understanding human impulses." He peered at Christine over his glasses, "I say, entity, young lady, because we cannot discount the possibility of its true identity being something other than a divine force. Aliens. Ghosts. Extra-dimensional beings." He lingered over folding his hands into a scholar's cradle, lounging forward and blocking Christine's view of his bookcase. "Or even human, wielding an as of yet unpublicised scientific achievement. When faced with such an incomprehensible situation, one must be open to all things."

Thomas nodded gravely, adding, "give me a moment, Reese, let me get a notebook." He scrabbled for a stubby pencil and a little black spiral-bound, and began scribbling away.

Christine had already considered that Freyja might be something other than a literal god, but the existence of so much recently established lore surrounding Reese's suggestions both attracted and repelled her. On the one hand, such things offered a hundred possible routes for cure-seeking - on the other, how could they ever prove accurate when no case other than hers had ever been observed in -

Well, perhaps there were a lot of people like her. Those who didn't want to become the epicentre of a medical, spiritual, philosophical media circus.

So when Reese said, "let's start simple. Christine, I see you're fond of tarot, it seems as good a place to start as any! Have you ever had a reading?" Christine shook her head, and listened attentively.

Ever since then, it'd been endless. Report to Reese, ask Reese, Reese has the most recent copy of that document. Due to Reese's schedule, the overwhelming number of video calls - increased in frequency as they were - were rescheduled to post-sunset Christine's time, leaving her struggling to keep up over the Skype text chat interface. The two would distract each other with minutiae and read her contributions minutes after she hit send, promising to circle back to her question about the layout of the town her festival vision had taken place in, right after they finished listing out every possible date in the Mayan calendar which they thought might be of significance.

Reese promised secrecy with regard to the tarot reading, taking his time in choosing a woman he assured the others they could trust should she be faced with anything truly abnormal. She was based in the UK, so that Christine might stay close to her day job, though Reese groused that he and Thomas wouldn't be there to observe.

"But aren't readings meant to be very personal?" Christine asked, a few days before it was scheduled to occur.

"Indeed so, but I'm afraid these would appear to be extraordinary circumstances, wouldn't you agree?" Reese smoothed down his hair and coughed, folding his arms afterwards to repress any more anxious tells. "Ah, I knew I forgot something the other day, your birthstone - Evelyn wants you to take along a sample of your birthstone. Do you have one?"

"Er…" Christine tried to remember if she'd ever been given any as a gift. A pendent, perhaps. Though she was wary of taking off her rose quartz - despite Reese's asking numerous times if she'd been able to prevent the transformation by removing it. The answer was no.

"Oh, and the shape, she said the shape matters…" Reese clapped, a short, sharp sound that blew out his microphone. Christine tried not to wince. "I know what I'll do. So I can better advise, I'll come to England."

Thomas's eyes widened. Christine almost gasped out loud - the first thought in her mind was, perhaps he'd be easier to talk to in person?

"But Reese-!"

"Don't think I'm not aware of how frustrating all this must have been for Christine," said Reese, bowing his head. "I could truly dedicate myself to this project. The sooner we help her, the better."

"Don't you have any other commitments..?" Christine asked, and with a wave of his hand Reese replied,

"Immaterial. Everything pales in comparison."

The other professor nodded, slowly pursing his lips.

"Thomas, don't feel bad if you can't do the same, I'm sure I'll be fine with Reese here."

"Plus, if you stay behind, you can look after the bangle."

In the following half-second of silence, Thomas blinked. "Weren't you going to take it with you?"

The minor inconsistency stuck in Christine's mind like a pebble in her pawpa- shoe. The birthstone was an excuse, the remembering of it an act. Although, perhaps only in part. And maybe she'd become truly privy to such plans given more physical proximity.

Reese sat back and raised his chin to explain, "I don't think it's the right time to take samples. For all we know, a mere atom of the thing could be enough to increase our number of patients from one to two, and who knows how cooperative a secondary individual might turn out to be. No, we can't just take a scraping, it's not a bone."

Much as Christine had wondered about manhandling the bangle again, and throwing it against a wall or two maybe or melting it down with a blowtorch, she found herself agreeing with Reese's statements. What if Freyja got in contact with one of the others and spilled the beans about the boys? She'd surely find that hilarious. And the idea of the thing being in the same country as Krish made her feel queasy.

The tarot session suddenly seemed like a wonderful alternative.

"Well…" Thomas wet his lips. "When I follow you, I'll bring it along. We can all man the laboratory together if necessary."

"Thank you." Christine gave the pair a genuine smile. "Thank you so much."

Real action. Nothing that had any real strength of evidence behind it, but still. The prospect felt so good, so reassuring, and even though Christine tried not to let her hopes get too high she was already picturing a dramatic standoff between the goddess and the tarot lady, who she imagined as kind and grandmotherly with a big sword on her wall that looked like a replica right up until it was time to use it. The internal tug of war only intensified, until it was the night before her appointment and she couldn't sleep and her tail kept flicking back and forth no matter what she did and…

She wanted to see Krish.

The unintentional intimacy and the visit from Freyja on the night he got tipsy, plus the events of the following day, hadn't exactly filled her with confidence, but… she was trying to resolve such matters by no longer thinking of him as a romantic prospect. He could not have made things clearer! There would be no more offers of bread or coffee or free museum tickets (the brief candidate for a third attempt). So she was nothing but a cat to him. Alright. She had something else to put her curse-removal energy into, and besides, if it was the best she could get… it wasn't bad. Krish wasn't just a pretty face and an impressive waistline, he was sweet, intelligent, funny. He made her feel better about herself during those long nights. Existing alone in her feline body could stit be shockingly disorienting, the increasing ease of using and living in it proving uniquely unnerving without another person around to fill her head with something unrelated to her curse.
 

byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
Supporting Member
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Messages
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UK
In short, the temptation to let things continue as they had been… won. Probably a bit too easily, at that.

The reassurances from Reese about the care being taken regarding the bangle actually helped. She would keep Krish safe. Freyja might have been irritating, but her powers were certainly limited to Christine's shape alone. So it was okay, surely, to saunter down to Krish's place for a bit of R&R before the big day.

The issue was she hadn't been looking, hadn't been careful while picking her way through the grass on the way to his place. It'd been down the fire escape, round the side and up to his window as usual, the light still on and his big silhouette visible through the open window, drawing her eye like a magnet, so she just hadn't been looking properly when she felt a sudden, sharp pain in her paw.

Christine jumped back with a yowl, eyes refocusing on the ground. The green top half of a broken bottle, with a long sharp edge that reminded her of a blade. The cut was neat, clean and not too deep, and only a little bit of blood was pooling - though it was hard to contort her body to get a proper look at the thing. She tried standing on it, and hissed. That wouldn't work. It was right on the pawpad.

"Rosie!" She looked up to see Krish, practically cutting himself in half by leaning out the window. "What happened? Come here, come here…" he made some clicking sounds with his tongue and held out his arms for her, so she wouldn't have to leap for the windowsill. Another attempt to stand on the injured paw ended in another hiss, so she limped towards him and let him deposit her into his lap. "Oh dear. Oh…" he tenderly took her foreleg and raised it up, inspecting the wound. "What did you do to yourself? Poor thing." A little scratch behind the ears followed, which wasn't unwelcome. "Let me see."

Krish gave the entire leg a once over, pressing in various places, presumably looking for other, hidden injuries. Then he set Christine on the ground and watched her, ignoring several pings from his computer in favour of observing Christine doing her best not to get blood on his rug.

"Right," he muttered. Christine didn't think much of it as he scooped her up again, holding her in the crook of his arm and letting her feel his warmth against her back as he walked. He was usually chattier than this, to be sure, but maybe he was just in a quiet mood and didn't feel like talking. Then he'd opened the cupboard, that much she'd noticed, but next thing she knew she was being put down again and not onto the carpet, no, into a…

Shit.

"First thing in the morning you're going to the vet."

The carry case was extremely generous, proportion wise - fit for a large dog, with a water bowl (empty) and a makeshift bed in the corner and some pacing room.

It categorically would not be a good fit for a human woman.

Christine's fur bristled at the thought - would she be injured even further, stuck inside those plastic confines like a bonsai tree, would the same convenient force that absorbed her clothes and spared her from a The Fly-style accident force the carry case apart, or could it be something else entirely? She didn't want to find out.

"Sorry, Rosie. I can't let you keep walking around on that thing. It's not turning out to be a good night for either of us, huh?"

Oh, no. He picked up the case and brought it through to the living room, where a ridiculous amount of food was laid out on the coffee table. Numerous pizzas, a pair of massive plastic coke bottles, crisps and popcorn and a selection of empty boxes and bags already flattened neatly and stacked on the floor.

Christine knew that Krish's diet hadn't been going incredibly well, since his constant snacking habits had mostly been consolidated into regular carb-heavy meals, but this was something else…

"Keep me company on cheat night?" His smile was faint, and didn't reach his eyes. "I got hungry and annoyed and ordered all this and now I can't let it go to waste. Or at least, that's the excuse." Christine was placed down on a spare bit of sofa, and the door of her case was opened - still on the latch - just far enough for Krish to stick his fingers in and stroke her head. Not enough for her to escape. "I ate some earlier, before class. Your timing was actually pretty good." His thick fingers found the spot behind her left ear that she liked so much, and Christine closed her eyes against the sensation. So nice. "Though I wish you weren't running around like that." Krish's voice came through muffled, as though his mouth was full. Christine's stomach lurched.

With those fingers consistently in her fur and, from the sounds of things, a lot of food being consumed rather quickly, Christine couldn't think what to do other than keep her eyes shut. Lie down, rest her head on her paws and wait until he stopped and wandered off for another break, then slip away harmlessly. Easy. She would not be a voyeur. She would not think about how lovely he must look with his mouth full, about chubby cheeks and crumbs at the corners and eyes closed to enjoy the flavour and plump fingers pushing another bite inside and…

His hand retracted. Christine opened her eyes, assuming he was getting up, only to see-

Krish was taking his shirt off.

"Spill sauce on yourself, Krish. Be more of a stereotype," he muttered to himself, ruffling his hair as he pulled the shirt over his head. The effort made his body shudder, his every movement sending waves through him, because Krish was soft - his chest sat on a thick roll of fat which led neatly into a full, sloping stomach that perched in his lap, with a thick, hanging roll below, leading round to a pair of wide, well padded hips. Lightning-like stretch marks decorated his chest and upper arms, varying in shades and degrees of clarity - he'd collected them over a number of years. The most obvious ones were clustered around his navel and scattered over his sides, disappearing into the rolls of his torso.

Christine was transfixed as he took a big bite of pizza, the second to last one left - how had he eaten so much in so little time? A glance confirmed a set of boxes piled on the table, empty aside from the odd smear of cheese. Was that three over the course of the evening? Four? And they weren't small. The thought of his potential capacity made Christine's heart skip a beat.

"Oof," Krish stifled a burp. "Ouch." He gave the curve of his upper stomach a gentle rub - it looked exceedingly full, pulled taut by the amount of food he'd managed to cram into it. Christine could have cried. "Stupid," he muttered. "See, Rosie? This is why diets don’t work for me." He let his head loll back, so he was staring at the ceiling. "Ugh, I shouldn't need to do this. I just, when I get anxious, or bored, it makes the most sense to me…" he gesticulated with his hands, making the flesh of his arms and chest and stomach wiggle and bounce. Christine finally managed to avert her eyes again. Nothing good could come from looking at him like that. "If I eat enough, my brain goes blank, and I can’t think about my problems anymore. I’m just full and big and fat and that's not even an issue anymore, because everything is fine."

Christine mewled and pawed at the door. Given some time to recover, she was finding the cut wasn’t even that bad, probably already starting to close and heal. It just looked, not very good because she was totally unwilling to lick her fur clean. She didn't even need medical attention, so there was really, really no excuse for her not to make an exit, distraction or no distraction - but Krish didn’t notice her. His hands were on his stomach, massaging its underside, his gaze still faraway.

"You know, Rosie, every now and again it hits me just how fat I've gotten. It doesn’t feel out of place when I’m around other people, or when I’m say, too big for some things, I’m used to that. I've been the biggest guy in the room for a long time. It's always something odd. Like, I look in the mirror and I can’t even see my whole body because it doesn’t fit, I'm too bloody wide, and it… I’m almost thirty stone now. Thirty, that's insane." The conversion happened in Christine's head automatically. 190 kilograms. He was hovering around four hundred-

It had gone far enough. Christine let out a yowl, pantomiming a much more grievous injury. Krish jumped, finally saw her writhing in the box, and rushed to let her out. She tried to bolt, only to get picked up again. "Rosie! What happened? You were so calm a minute ago!" Much as she didn’t want to scratch him, this situation was inexcusable. His bare skin was warm against her and no doubt he’d be mortified to know she’d heard him talking about his body like that, but his hand had gone to the spot on the back of her neck that made her go limp. A route, a plan, would be necessary. Krish let her climb up to put her paws and chin on his shoulder, looking backwards, while he supported her back legs. The door to the bedroom was open, with a clear path to the window visible - if she could leap over the back of the sofa, get to the desk via the swivel chair, onto the bookshelf and through the window, she’d be out.

"There you go. Shush," Krish muttered. "Were you upset because I wasn’t petting you, is that all?" Being up against him like that made Christine pause. Despite his openness about his binge, Krish didn’t seem anywhere near as vulnerable as that other night with the Ice. He’d be fine if she left, even if he wanted her to stick around. So, when he reached for another slice of pizza and his hand left her head, she pushed off and sprinted - "Rosie!"

Using the toes of her injured foot, she raced across the floor, up to the desk, over the bookcase, and flowed through the window to land smoothly on the grass. At least those improved instincts for feline movement had come in useful, letting her take a few more loping strides before sitting and looking back at Krish, who was motioning and clicking at her again through the open window.

"Rosie, come on… you don’t want to get sick!" It wouldn’t matter in the long run, naturally, because she’d be back the next night with no infections to be seen - but it did tug at her heartstrings a little to see him so concerned. Her ears twitched and she let out a forceful breath through her nose. Then she leaped onto the garden wall, waved her paw a little bit to try and show that it was fine, did her very best to ignore the way it stung, and walked off.

Christine did not end up getting to sleep. It took an inordinate amount of effort not to think about his tits. She could not think about them. Things weren't like that anymore. She couldn't think about kissing him and fucking him and worshipping him and his fat cheeks and fat neck and fat tummy and fat tits-

"And how is your love life?"

"What?" The question made Christine jump. Over the course of the reading she'd already been told to work less, confront sources of stress in her life and try to connect with her birthstone when she meditated - and to meditate in the first place, as a matter of fact. The small, irregular lump of emerald sat inert on the little round table, weighing down a card or two. Evelyn, who was tall and pale with pin-straight blonde hair and had no swords to be seen in her general vicinity, was using a tarot deck with cat people on it. The woman's eyes widened at Christine's reaction, and a quick look at Reese (deposited on a folding chair in the corner of the sparse, concrete basement) confirmed he was suddenly paying a lot more attention too.

"I've got the two of cups here, darlin'," said Evelyn in her thick London accent, "and that is a strong indicator of romance."

"I - it, erm…"

"Let's keep this question in our minds as we pick another card." Evelyn slid another across the table from the deck in her hand. The floaty, gauzy robes which covered her rustled as she did so. "Two of swords. Are you facin' a difficult decision, darlin'? A dilemma of any kind?"

"Per… uh…" blue eyes that'd seemed watery at the start had turned piercing. Evelyn had the look of a bloodhound who'd caught an interesting scent.

"One more card?"

"Okay." Another rustling draw.

"Now I want to tell you what I'm gettin' from this card before I show you, darlin'. People often misinterpret it, so don't worry." Evelyn waited for Christine to nod before she continued. "What I am readin' here, darlin', is transformation." The death card came to rest next to the others.

"Right." Christine's mouth felt dry. The boys. Shit. "Can we talk about-"

"With all these twos, I think you have two lads in your life and you can't choose, you minx!" Evelyn grinned and stroked Christine's forearm, like she was helping, like they were friends, and her rings scraped against Christine's skin and it was all she could do not to scream. "The one you choose will decide who you become in the future. That's what you really need to think about. What do you want to be, darlin'?"

"Uh…" Christine looked at Reese again. He was taking notes. "I'll think about it."
 

Tad

Dimensions' loiterer
Staff member
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The great white north, eh?
PLEASE next chapter before 2023! ;)

Still loving all the twists and turns, really a lovely story and one that I'll read whenever you do add a chapter, I just hope for less time before the next one/
 

byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
Supporting Member
Joined
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Messages
77
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UK
Thanks so much Tad, that's very encouraging of you to say. Could it be a new update after only a month...

Chapter 8

"Enlighten me, Christine." Reese put down his latte, letting the cup clink against its saucer. "How do you think that went?"

After swallowing a bite of her sandwich, she replied, "well… there's something to be said for the process of elimination."

"What makes you say that?" He crossed his legs, leaning backwards in the well-worn coffee shop armchair like a Freud impersonator.

Christine coughed. "It didn't feel particularly relevant."

"Is that so?" A faint wrinkle appeared between Reese's eyebrows, a little hairline crack of tension. "Transformation, Christine. Don't you think it's interesting that she struck upon that concept?"

"Granted, she had a hit, but how many times did she miss?"

Reese pursed his lips, "was there really nothing that stuck with you about the conversation?"

"Nothing." She had to avert her eyes to stop her voice from wavering. Thanks, Evelyn.

After finishing his coffee, Reese began explaining the meditation guidelines Evelyn had gone over during the session, encouraging Christine to use them to initiate more visions of Freyja. Why exactly the lump of emerald he'd given her before the meeting should increase the likelihood of such a thing, Christine wasn't sure, but she didn't disagree with the concept. Freyja seemed to be coming and going when she pleased, but that didn't mean Christine shouldn't interrogate the process.

It was still something of a relief to find herself alone when he left, though. She'd felt it most keenly when he was asking her about her impressions of Evelyn, but any time she spent physically in his presence gave her the odd feeling that she was being observed. Not merely watched.

Hopefully that meant Reese would see something she hadn't been able to pick up on.

Christine held the rock tightly in her pocket as she made her way home, trying to cultivate the mindset Reese had described - open to the universe, that was the phrase he kept using. That night she replicated the appropriate posture, the breathing, did her best to fall asleep as the transformation occurred, failed, tried to assume the posture again, failed (arguably, through no fault of her own, since it assumed rather longer legs and an entirely different type of neck), and eventually got bored and did some binge watching instead. But she gave it another stab the next night. And the next.

Not a vision to be seen.

Remaining open to the universe did seem to bring one benefit, though. Correlation might not equal causation, but before doing her best to adopt such practices, Krish had never initiated a conversation with her of his own volition.

"Excuse me, um…" Christine almost jumped out of her skin when she heard his voice behind her. She was coming in from work and he'd just emerged from his flat, with his hair damp as though from a recent shower and dressed in loose-fitting loungewear. Christine tried to keep her expression neutral but open, like she really had simply been approached by an attractive neighbour and nothing was out of the ordinary about it. She wouldn't think about his tummy, the little wobble she knew was being sent through it as he shifted on his feet, or the smile that was hiding somewhere behind his stony expression - not his sad one, but the one that said she'd done something funny, the one for when he was happy and relaxed and content, the one that made her feel like she was floating. None of that was to cross her mind at all. "I keep seeing a uh, white cat, around the building, and I was wondering if she belonged to you?"

"Uhh…" Christine’s mind went utterly blank. The first coherent thought she had was that he’d figured it out - but no, that didn’t make any sense. Why would he think-

"Just, I thought so because... " he gestured at his neck, "you have matching, uh, jewelry."

"Oh. Yeah," Christine managed to bring her expression back to life. "It’s kind of silly, really…" was that what the long pause at the mailboxes had been about? Fantastic. Great.

"Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell anyone, if your landlord doesn’t allow pets or whatever. I just wanted to let you know that I saw her a few nights ago with a cut on her paw, and she wouldn’t touch it at all, which usually means it’s a problem. I tried to catch her, but." He bit his lip, pivoting his frown into something that was trying quite hard not to look like concern. "I just wanted to know if you’ve seen her."

"Oh! Rosie is fine, don’t worry about it."

Krish blinked. "Her name is Rosie?" Shit. Shit. This was why Christine didn’t like lies. What would make sense as a reply?

"Heh," she did her very best to look pleasantly surprised, "did you get it? You know, rose quartz…" she touched the pendant.

"Yeah." The corners of Krish's mouth threatened to curve upwards. "What was wrong, in the end? Like I said, I saw a cut, and I tried to check her leg out. Didn't find anything."

"It was just a cut. I took her to the vet." Did Freyja count as a vet? The injury had certainly disappeared, not to be found on either of Christine's bodies in the days since. Truth be told, she'd been working up the courage to give herself a little nick while in human form and see what happened. It wasn't as though she never injured herself - plenty of literal blood, sweat and tears had been shed over her carving tools - but the on purpose part was giving her some trouble.

"And is she alright, is it healing?"

"Yes, she’s completely fine. You wouldn't even notice there was anything wrong."

"Well…" displeasure took over again. "Maybe you shouldn’t be letting her wander around, especially at night." In theory, Christine knew that cats - normal cats - should really be kept inside. But how was she supposed to both agree, and also keep seeing him, without looking like a total hypocrite?

"Look…" Christine squirmed, like she could physically wriggle her way out of the question.

"It's lucky that I saw her, I mean, she was about to get run over by a car the first time I did. It's not safe."

"I see your point." There was nothing else for it. "She's… a pretty smart cat. I thought she would be okay. But obviously not, so… thanks for letting me know."

"No problem." Krish left with as little sentimentality as usual.

"Shit," Christine breathed.

She saw three courses of action before her.

One, she should admit the truth to Krish and explain everything. No more subterfuge. Full stop.

And who knew how he would react to that?

Two, Christine should never see Krish again.

If "Rosie" ever went out on the town from that point on, he would think Christine was a terrible, uncaring cat owner. If he saw Christine in passing after that, he would definitely express his dislike of her for being irresponsible with "Rosie". Any human-to-human relationship wouldn't just be dead in the water, it would be encased in concrete at the bottom of the proverbial river.

Three, Krish should never see "Rosie" again.

If she just stayed inside all night, things could remain neutral-tending-to-negative. As had been the status quo for months. And months. And months. Despite this, the path of least resistance beckoned, helped along by the fact that so much sustained deception made her stomach twist like crazy. The anxiety of it locked her up all evening, leaving her to bounce around her flat, unable to concentrate on meditation - or anything else for that matter. Eventually she just curled up on the sofa and sulked about it, trying to imagine what each path would look like for her.

None of the conclusions she reached were wonderful.

She thought about Krish's expression when he'd asked her about "Rosie", when she'd unthinkingly repeated the name he'd given her. When he first picked her up on that road. Every time he stroked her fur. A little spark of hope began to fizzle in her chest. Much as the situation led her to think of the worst possible scenario, there was always the possibility that he wouldn't be upset. He might understand - that she'd tried to be respectful, and she'd never planned for things to turn out that way, and she only kept things up because…

In the end, she left a small stack of paper and a pencil out for herself - for practice - and did her best to nap until nightfall.

"Oh my god," Krish muttered upon seeing her at the window. "Unbelievable. Not even a week after you get hurt and she's let you out again." Krish opened the window, reached out and gave her a long stroke, from her forehead to the tip of her tail. "There you go. It's okay. How's your paw?"

It was a lot better, which Christine demonstrated by waggling it at him.

"Heh." A crooked little smile crossed his face. "I guess you are pretty smart, huh?" Christine bent to pick up the paper and pencil she'd painstakingly carried in her mouth. Not getting saliva on it had proven a challenge. "Hey, what have you got there?" She neatly slunk out of his way and onto his desk, putting it down before he could get concerned. She sat back and rolled the pencil to the side, smoothed the paper as best she could (straining to absolutely ensure the tension didn't make her claws pop out), then took the pencil between her forepaws, just like she'd practiced. Krish was silent. She didn't look at him.

"H," she managed, carefully, slowly. It was difficult striking a balance between big, clumsy movements that took up a whole page and small incomprehensible scribbles. The body was being forced by the mind to do something that did not come naturally. "E," she heard Krish gasp lightly. Better not to look at him. She made her L's just single, slashing lines, and her O was more of a spiral than anything else. But it did the job. She dropped her pencil and shuffled backwards to look at Krish with what she hoped was an expectant expression.

"That's one hell of a party trick," he whispered. "What the fuck…" he picked up the paper to inspect it. "How on earth did you do that, Rosie? Did your owner teach you?" Christine shook her head. Krish pushed his chair backwards.

"That has to be a coincidence," he muttered. Christine shook her head again. "Hell, can you seriously understand..?" Big, big nod for that.

Christine extended her front leg towards the keyboard, then mimed typing - tapping her paws on the desk alternately. The message didn't get across, so she did it again, faster.

"The keyboard? Oh-Okay," Krish moved it towards her. Christine looked at the screen, where Krish had a YouTube video open. "Oh. Yeah, s-sorry." He hastily opened a notepad window. Painstakingly, using one toe when possible, she managed,

"helllo. thasnk you for savint me from that car"

"Holy shit." Krish stood, then paced around the room a couple of times, looking away from and back at the white cat. "Oh my god." Christine waited for him to calm down a little, then after batting at the enter key, started typing again.

"im sorry for deceivingg you"

"God, wait. Wait, how - what are you?" Krish was keeping his distance, evidently having decided that Christine might be something he didn't necessarily want to be sharing a room with.

"am human. got cursed to turn inrto a cat at night"

Krish stood spellbound as the letters gradually appeared. His eyes widened more and more, until finally he blurted,

"You mean… are you the woman who lives upstairs?" Christine looked away, the tone of his voice knocking her off balance - he was clearly upset. Not unexpected. But before she could type anything else, Krish continued, "I've been scratching you behind the ears for weeks! You've seen me shirtless! You've-!" At that, Christine forced herself to look at him, only seeing intense frustration and shame on his face. "Why have you been coming back? I don't understand. I'm nobody, what do you get from hanging around me, watching me?" He tugged the hem of his shirt down unhappily, his lip curling in disgust, "was it to laugh at me? Is that what this is? Because you’re bored or whatever? It didn't work when you were a human so you think you can get away with it if you look like this?"

That hurt. Christine wanted to shake her head, to say something, but she froze in the face of his pain.

"Do you have any idea how… how much you've…" As he approached her, mouth open with the shock of it, he managed in a strangled voice, "get out." When she reached for the keyboard again, he repeated, "get out!"

Christine dutifully made for the outside, watching him slam the window shut once she was safely on the ground. Her chest felt so heavy, her head tingly and light, and, miserably, she thought this was the worst possible way her confession could have gone. She trotted away as quickly as possible and sulked on the fire escape all night, knowing she absolutely couldn't go back to see Krish again but unwilling to collapse into bed quite yet. His words repeated in her mind over and over - the way his voice had cracked when he asked her if she'd been laughing at him, the gravelly pain as he told her to leave.

Christine hadn't predicted just how poorly he might take the revelation. She needed to express that she only hung around because she liked him, and because her presence seemed to help him she didn't want to take that support away. Plus she'd done her very best to be respectful and leave when he was up to more, well… private stuff. He just didn't always make it easy.

God, he’d looked so hurt.
 

byutane

Grabby Hands Sr.
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A letter. Obviously she should have written a letter. Could she deliver one to him now, given his belief in her situation, or would that make everything worse? But as she dragged herself back inside, unwilling to climb through the window in her human form come sunrise, Christine thought that she didn't, in fact, have the right to say a single thing to Krish at all. She'd invaded his privacy, seen him in compromising situations, and finally given him this horrible impression that he'd been made a laughingstock.

She hadn't been trying to do it. That didn't change the fact that it'd happened.

"Chris? Chris, you in there?"

"Ah, sorry…" Christine looked up from the tome on the library desk, mentally scrambling for what topic it was actually meant to be covering. "Miles away."

"I can tell, you've been on that page for twenty minutes." Gloria tapped the top line with a smile. "You alright?"

"Mhm."

"Anything I can do?"

"It's not about the museum or anything…"

"But it's still bothering you," Gloria pulled up a chair and sat in it backwards, very-special-episode style. "No matter what expression you're making, you've got a little pout. I don't think you've realised, but it's there."

"I wouldn't be surprised," Christine mumbled. "The truth is, Gloria," and it was nice to be telling the truth, even if it was only a small part of it, "I did something bad. I really hurt someone's feelings."

"A friend?"

Christine shifted in her seat, "an acquaintance."

"Right." Cupping her face in her hands, Gloria asked, "what happened, vaguely? Why are they upset?"

"I did a poor job, erm… communicating. He thinks I've been making fun of him every time we've, uh, talked." Her voice faltered on 'talked', but hopefully Gloria would take it as mere upset about the situation. "The last time I saw him, when everything came to a head, he yelled at me to go away."

"I see."

"And I don't feel like I can even explain, because he seems really upset, and I don't know him that well, and I know it doesn't sound like a lot but… I really, really screwed up."

"I see." Gloria sucked in a breath through her nose, taking a moment before she said, "think about what he might want. Apologise in a way that doesn't demand his forgiveness, doesn't imply you even want any further contact."

"And if he doesn't even want that?"

"Then… I hate to say it, Chris, but you just have to get over it." With a shrug, she added, "not everyone can like you. I know that's hard for someone like you to hear."

"No, I know that, it-"

"You're not a seasoned veteran in pissing people off like I am, but it's alright, you'll learn." That got a smile out of Christine, weak as it might've been. "Now look, Chris, I don't mean to pry, but… do I know this person?"

Christine frowned. "No. Why?"

"Well, I thought…" With a grimace, Gloria continued, "you might be talking about Reese."

Christine sat up a bit straighter. "Reese? Has he said something about me?"

"He just seems a bit frustrated. But, hey," Gloria waved her hand, "it's not like I speak to him often. We caught up recently and I was just thinking, you know, what could have gotten him so worked up about this project? Especially with regards to you, when you're everyone's junior by a not insignificant degree." After studying Christine's expression for another few seconds, she added, "but I can't read the guy anyway, it was just a thought."

Christine swallowed. "What did he say?"

"I, er…" Gloria shifted, her posture suddenly a lot less stable. "I shouldn't have said anything. I don't want to gossip."

A fresh twist of anxiety made itself known in Christine's stomach. More than one person angry at her would be almost too much to process. "Have I done something I should know about?"

"He…" Gloria sighed. "He said you weren't being cooperative. And I said, you know, what do you mean, how uncooperative is she even capable of being? Is she withholding sources, not responding to emails, and he said no, nothing like that, and… I don't know, he's a weird guy. I thought maybe you accidentally rubbed him the wrong way and he decided to take the hump."

"Uncooperative?" Christine felt something in her chest go twang. "If something isn't working, you should say so. That's the only way to improve your methods."

With a raised eyebrow, the curator asked, "what's not working?"

A certain feeling came back again, that same empty sensation Christine experienced when Krish asked her about "her" cat. No acceptable answers were forthcoming. A fresh wave of guilt arrived, one for giving the game away, then another for having agreed to hide anything from Gloria in the first place. If Reese was making the curse her problem, she should be given the proper context.

"He thinks that the curse I picked up from touching the bangle will be broken by new age spiritualism and while I am willing to try anything, I won't treat his ideas like they're sacred."

Gloria closed her eyes. "Okay." Her voice remained level as she looked at Christine again, "what kind of curse?"

Christine did her best not to let her annoyance at Reese colour her explanation. The guy had essentially relocated on her account, and it was also worth bearing in mind that nobody had as much experience with her transformations as she did - it took time to adapt to the idea. These mitigating factors were mentioned as she outlined the situation to Gloria, though she didn't seem to be paying them very much attention.

With fingers pressed firmly against her temples, she mumbled, "everything to do with this is insane, I hope you know that."

"I am extremely, profoundly aware."

"Good. Good." Gloria smoothed her hair down at the end of Christine's monologue, having run her fingers through it enough times to leave it frizzy and flyaway. "I, I'm almost afraid you'll think less of me for believing you right away, and that doesn't make any sense because of course you want me to believe you, but… Jesus, Chris."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier," said Christine, head bowed. "The only person I told was Thomas. Because he had the bangle and I thought he might be able to help me." Gloria nodded. "And… he and Reese kind of came as a pair."

"It's alright. This whole thing… must be quite scary." After a beat, she asked - quickly, as though unsure that she should say it at all - "can I see?"

The pair stayed late so Gloria could witness the transformation in person. Her experience mirrored the others': one reality seamlessly jump-cutting to another in which Christine was suddenly replaced with a fluffy white cat. Gloria laboured such comparisons in her car on the way back to Christine's place, and again the cat reminded herself that the whole thing was quite a difficult idea to get used to - while Gloria pondered the possibilities of quantum accidents, time travel, dimensional shifts, and other things she'd seen on episodes of Star Trek Voyager. Christine also did her best not to shed on the front seat.

When they arrived, Gloria didn't open the door for a moment. Just sat and looked straight ahead.

"Whatever this thing is, Chris, you've got me behind you 100%. I want you to know that, alright?" She put out her hand, palm up on the seat, and Christine gave her a paw. "I won't tell anyone. And regarding anything and everything to do with it, your say is final." With a grin, she added, "bit of a promotion in the team, huh!" Christine gave a soft chirp. Hopefully that would read as a smile.

Gloria dropped her off at the foot of the fire escape, since with the keys still stuck in hammerspace, she would have to wait for morning in order to get inside. An offer of staying at Gloria's was declined, since usually the question of occupying herself of a night wouldn't be a problem, she'd go snooping around the building or nap in a tree or hang out with Krish, and Christine was seconds from turning towards his window before she stopped herself - ah. Of course.

The outline of an apology was beginning to formulate in her mind. It wasn't easy to compose, and a pair of opposable thumbs and a pencil and pad would have been nice - especially since there aren't a lot of cards in Paperchase that read, sorry I crept through your house in the guise of a beast of the earth to base such messages on. Looking for inspiration, and something to relieve her melancholy, she decided to go and sit on the grass outside Krish's place. Far back, so he wouldn't see her. The window wasn't open - unsurprisingly - but the blinds also weren't drawn, so she could still see the outline of him sitting at his desk. Avoiding the temptation to project a certain mood onto his silhouette took some doing. It was perceptible when he rotated his chair, or hunched over to write something, or took a sip from his mug. What did each gesture mean? Was he relaxed? Frustrated? Still so upset his hands were shaking?

Maybe this was a touch antithetical to what she was meant to be doing. This way, he didn't even know she was there - but the degree of observation she could perform was significantly reduced. Was that worse or better?

It didn't matter. The shape of him moved, and Christine realised - shit, he’d caught sight of her - a few seconds too late. She scuttled even further away from the window, such that she was a good few meters away before Krish opened it and yelled,

"Do you think I’m not going to be pissed off just because you’re a cat right now?"

A passerby carrying some late night shopping accelerated their walking pace. Krish groaned.

"Alright. Come in, then."

Part of Christine told her to keep going. Not to enter his space again, especially when she couldn't easily explain herself. On the other hand… he had asked her. Properly, this time.

Watching out for debris hiding in the grass, Christine approached the window.
 

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