I knew I was dreaming. It was fairly obvious: Not even in London does the fog get so thick you can walk on it. Still, I felt comfortable in this dream, more complete that I ever did waking.
The tom in my dreams had something to do with it. He was always a little way off in the fog, close enough I could see him; shout at him, but not close enough to touch. Neither of us could ever walk forward and touch each other. We both tried a few times before giving up and contenting ourselves with talk. He could talk to me, too. And talk we did! About everything; our lives, hopes, ambitions. He had a wildly different life than mine: That of a stray. Well, I didn't have humans either, but I had the Junkyard, even though there were very few that I could truly call my friends in it. He told me that there were a few cats that he talked to, but nothing was ever really a friendship. I agreed with him.
There was a funny thing about that tom: Even though he was a figment of my imagination, he seemed to think that I was a part of his dreams. I laughed with him about both of us knowing that the other was a dream, but it still rather unnerved us both. Dreams aren't supposed to think you're a fantasy.
And he was certainly handsome enough to be a fantasy! We had the same color eyes; green, we were both short-haired, and we were about the same height. But those were our only simularities, physically. If someone could have put us side-by-side, we would have illustrated contrasts. I was a light, nearly chalky gray, with a white blaze and thin gray stripes. He was a deep black, with broad, deep red stripes. Very attractive, and I told him as much. He flushed under his fur, but gamely returned the compliment.
I awoke and sat straight up. My brother, Munkustrap, jumped away from me in surprise. "Everlasting Cat, Stripey! Don't do that! I was just going to wake you up!"
"Don't call me Stripey, and why not do that?" I returned. I was irked about being woken up: I wanted to talk to the dream-tom, not have to deal with real life. And that rather frightened me; that I would rather be with him, a figment of my own imagination, than with my own family.
"Whatever you say, Stripey. Anyway, Old Deuteronomy wants to talk to you," my tabby brother told me, rather enviously.
"I haven't done anything," I protested, but I got up. Nobody refused a chance to talk to Old Deuteronomy, even if it was because they'd done something wrong.
"He didn't say you had; just to come see him," Munkustrap replied. I shrugged and left.
I didn't have very far to go at all. Old Deuteronomy was making a visit to the Junkyard. He shooed everyone away before greeting me affectionately. He was one of only two cats to ever use my real name, and the other was my dream-friend. Even my parents called me "Stripey," even though I told them over and over how much I detested the nickname.
"Have you been having any strange dreams lately?" the old Persian asked me.
I recoiled. "I... what do you mean by strange dreams?"
"Dreams you didn't want to wake up from. With another cat in them, a tom, yes?" He always could tell whenever I tried to lie, even though nobody else could. I nodded mutely. He can't stop me from dreaming, though! I thought angrily. I was startled by my own vehemence.
"I thought so..." he sighed. I took a step backward. "What's wrong? He--- it--- it's just a dream, right? Right?"
"I wish that it were... If I'd known about it before, I could have stopped him, but it's too late for that now."
"What are you talking about? Too late for what? Is he some kind of evil mage tryin' to steal into my mind?" I demanded. I couldn't believe the last part; he wouldn't do that. I may have shared my innermost thoughts with my dream-tom, but he'd shared his, too. Nobody's ever managed to lie to me successfully yet, and I don't think they will.
"No, he isn't either a dream or an evil mage. What I mean is, it's too late to divorce your minds from each other. I'm certain his tribe is worried about him: the toms usually have it rougher than the queens," Old Deuteronomy explained. Or tried to, I didn't understand a single word of it. My ears went halfway back in confusion.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"Sit down," the Persian told me. I remained standing. I was too suspicious, even of Old Deuteronomy. That should tell you how much the tom was affecting my mind! Only a stray could ever be suspicious of Old Deuteronomy. He looked startled for a moment at my antagonism. "To be brief," he began, "your dream isn't a dream. It's all real."
I instantly rejected the notion. Nobody could ever reflect my personality like my dream did. He was too good to be true; therefore, he wasn't. Still, I listened to Old Deuteronomy. His age and status demanded attention.
"I've told you that you have the potential to become magical?" Old Deuteronomy asked me. I nodded. I rather doubted that as well. No: that young kitten, Mistofflees, was magical. I was not, and that was that.
"I know that you've been having odd dreams all of your life..." the Persian told me. "Most of them are real, as well."
This, I already knew. I hadn't known that Old Deuteronomy had known about them, though. When what you dream happens the next day, you don't generally noise it about to anyone. I'd told my dream-tom. He'd told me that the same thing happened to him. Then, he'd shuddered, as if at a bad memory. I'd asked him about it, and he'd told me, reluctantly, about how his half-brother had wanted to use his gifts, and how he had been forced to leave when he wouldn't tell his brother, Macavity, what he'd dreamed. I'd offered him my sympathy. I'd never heard of Macavity before.
Old Deuteronomy had to speak my name sharply to regain my attention. "Your mind must have sought his out, when you slept. I know that you don't have many good friends in the Junkyard; and I wouldn't bet that he has many where he lives either." I shook my head. "He told me he didn't." I'm taking this seriously? I asked myself. Well, what can it hurt?
"When you go to sleep today, try to ask him where he lives," Old Deuteronomy told me. "Try to arrange to meet him somewhere."
I know I looked openly skeptical, but the old Persian didn't comment.
The rest of my day was spent as usual: avoiding the kittens, with the occaisional exception of Mistofflees. Fortunately, one other queen shared my general dislike for kittens in general. Cassandra was a sleek Burmese, one of the few whose minds weren't open books to me. If either of us had been forced to name their best friend, I believe we both would have named each other. She was the other cat who used my real name. But, really, both of us loved our privacy too much to really be more than aquintainces.
"I'm going to go see where Alonzo is," Cassandra told me, leaning up and stretching. I was happy to see her start to be attracted to a tom, and happier yet to know that he returned the feeling. (She never asked me if he loved her or not: She knew. And I wouldn't have told, anyway.) Not that I would be able to defend myself, if someone asked me about it. I was in love with a dream.
I waved her on, smiling a bit. "I think I'll stay here and take a nap," I told her. I curled back up into the sunbeams and drifted off to sleep.
Predictable, I thought disgustedly. The one day I am supposed to do something in the fog, I get a vision. I didn't complain that much, though. The visions weren't very often, and never, ever came twice in one day.
I saw the cat I knew, beyond knowing, was my dream-tom. I also knew, somehow, that this was happening right now, not tomorrow or even yesterday. He was arguing with another tom, a tall, thin ginger cat with incredibly long claws. I couldn't quite hear what they were saying, but my dream was clearly frightened, and as clearly angry that he was frightened.
A few words drifted up to me. "Macavity, I don't care what you need to know! I left your group; damn you, let me be!"
"Oh, but you're my brother, Red," the ginger cat chuckled, in a deep, eerie bass. I felt the intangible hairs rise along my spine. "You can't get out of my tribe as easily as that. In fact, you're so useful that you can't leave, period. No matter what."
"Watch me," my dream-friend snarled. I knew that Red was no more his name than Stripey was mine. He'd told me his second name, and I'd told him mine.
My dream backed up, and I tried to scream a warning. Someone's behind you!
He spun and lunged to the side, as a cat so deep a gray as to be a shadow snatched at him. Who---? he thought back to me. Then he repeated my name back to me. You're not real, but I'm trusting you anyway--- he told me.
"And you think I'm going to tell you anything now?" the black and red tom snarled. "I told you I'm out, and I meant it."
"Red, I don't want to do this," the ginger cat known as Macavity growled. "But I need to know. Either tell me now, or stay in here until you will."
"Try me," he snarled back.
Run! I tried to shriek again. He heard me, but too late. The same dark gray cat laid my dream's unconscious body to the floor.
"He'll stay out of it long enough to take him to the abandoned theatre on Eleventh?" Macavity inquired. "I know that he's never been there in his life; it's out of his range."
For a response, the gray cat merely nodded, and picked the red and black tom back up off the cold concrete floor.
A location... I thought distantly. Theatre, on Eleventh... But, try as I might, I could not wake up. Something held me there, watching as the unknown gray and Macavity took my dream-friend's limp form to what seemed a shack on Eleventh.
And I still couldn't leave! It was a good thing that he kept me, though. Macavity had somehow created a maze through most of the shack. The maze had a formula that had to be followed for it to be solved, but solving it without the formula would have been a hefty task.
Once the trio had reached the inside of the theatre proper, I felt myself jerked backward, as if by the scruff of the neck.
I felt myself be shaken awake. Cassandra and Alonzo crouched over me. "Wake up, wake up, wake up," Cassandra chanted, slapping my face lightly.
I shook my head. "I'm awake, I'm awake. What happened?"
"You wouldn't wake up," Alonzo explained succiently. "Mistofflees came up here to try and find you; tried to wake you; couldn't; and went to us."
"Oh," I said blankly. I tried to gather myself. Part of me knew, beyond doubt that my vision was real. After all, the rest of them had been! But another part of me was cautious enough not to want to take anyone with me on such an idiotic quest that would surely cast me as a fool at the end of it. "I'm fine now..."
"We were just worried," Cassandra told me. "We're sorry about interrupting your nap."
"It's all right. I don't think I'll go back to sleep," I told her, absolutely truthfully.
Cassandra and Alonzo wandered off, and I sat by myself, trying to convince myself that there was a reason for me not to try to find that abandoned theatre. Ah, what the hell, I thought. He's either there, or he isn't. Macavity would have likely left by now. I know him well enough to tell that. I blinked. I know him? No I don't! I thought over my own thoughts to myself, and they weren't quite mine.
I forcibly calmed myself. I have to find him now, I decided. My mind's not my own; that was his. If anything else, I need to make him stop...!
Decision made, I walked out of the Junkyard.
It was almost eerie, the ease with which I found that theatre-maze. I remembered the way Macavity had gone in, and re-traced his path. So far, my vision's accurate...
The maze was a little trickier, but not much. Macavity had used a pattern of repeated turns to navigate, and it was easy for me to remember the pattern once I got the hang of it. He always did like the complicated-to-look-at-but-easy-to-solve ideas... I shook my head vigorously. "Stop that," I said out loud. "Get out of my mind."
You get out of mine! the tom thought. It took me a second to identify the thought as his, and not my own.
"I'm not in your mind," I snapped. "And why should I care, anyway? You're not even real: I'm just going insane."
Lovely, he snarled. A figment of my imagination is thinking she's going insane. My life is perfect: held captive by my own brother and now, I'm finally losing it, too.
"We're in agreement then," I told him. I looked at the bolted cat door, behind which my friend would be, if he were real. "Here goes nothing..." I knocked over the bolt and pushed my way through the door.
And--- he was there.
"You're not supposed to be real!" we yelped in unison, staring at each other. "I haven't dreamed this before---!" we finished in unison.
Nearly hesitantly, he walked forward. "It's nice to know I'm not insane," he said contemplatively. "I was worried for a while."
"Yes..." I also took a few steps forward. Slowly, we both reached out a hand. Carefully, he pulled me toward him, and I was only too happy to approach.
"I've wanted to do this for a long, long time," he told me softly.
I didn't need to know the future to anticipate the kiss.
When we separated for air, I stared at his face. The fur on it seemed a bit paler; gray instead of black...
He stared back. "Your fur's changing color," he said. He looked at our linked hands. The fur on one of his hands was also lightening to gray, and my opposite hand was beginning to darken to black.
So's yours, I told him. It's changing to my coloration; or at least part of it...
We discovered that physical contact increased the speed of the fur color change, but it didn't change nearly as fast as it had when we first touched.
Eventually, we had to decide where to go. I knew, from his mind, that he really had no permanent residence, and he knew from my mind that I lived at the Junkyard.
So it's back home we go, I thought cheerfully. Do you think anyone will notice that I look different?
My mate chuckled. Oh, why ever should they notice at all?
No reason, I told him, in high good spirits.
We arrived at the Junkyard with no problems; no sign of Macavity or anyone, in fact. By the time we'd reached the entrance, our footsteps were in sync.
Cassandra and Alonzo were sunning near the entrance. Both of them sat straight up and looked at us. "Tantomile?" Cassandra queried.
"Who's he?" Alonzo asked, indicating my mate.
"My mate, Coricopat," I told them firmly, leaning my head onto his shoulder affectionately.
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