A Feline's Fancy


The Doctor heard stirring upstairs, and he sat bolt upright. Finally, Icha was awake! It had helped air circulation during the night to keep his cupboard door open, but he now pulled it shut, thinking she may want him to keep it closed. He waited impatiently, and finally Icha descended the stairs and opened his door.

She was wearing a fuzzy robe of sorts in an off-white, which made her fur look even whiter. "Good morning, Marwari! Did you sleep well?"

He really should be polite and nod affirmatively. Since he didn't sleep and was feeling grumpy at her for leaving him bored and keeping him captive, he really didn't want to. Instead, he settled for a vague shrug of his shoulder. To his surprise, this earned him a frown from Icha. He hadn't expected her to care.

"That's too bad. I'm sure the adjustment will pass quickly." She brightened and waved him out. "Come on! Time for some breakfast!"

The Doctor climbed out and stretched. If he didn't do something active soon, he would surely go stir-crazy. Surely they would do something today? He followed Icha into the lounging room.

"Make whatever you like. I'll be right here." Icha slinked onto the sofa, making herself comfortable.

The Doctor frowned at Icha. Didn't she do anything but walk to the pet shoppe and watch telly? Then he remembered she had said something about a party. He wondered what would come of that as he shuffled off down the hall towards the kitchen. He was grateful to be finally doing something, and breakfast did sound brilliant.

After a satisfying meal, the Doctor collected the dishes and took them to the kitchen. He then hurried to the end of the hall and peeked out the laundry window into the sunlight. Bright green shrubs and multi-colored flowers were everywhere, and he couldn't see past them. Everything looked so well kept, and the Doctor didn't take Icha to be the gardening type. He remembered the rooms he was able to enter appearing fairly well dusted. Someone had to be maintaining the place.

Returning to the lounging room, the Doctor hopped onto the cushions and lay on his stomach next to Icha on the sofa in the spot that was quickly becoming his, just to her left. Brown pillow in his arms and under his head, he closed his eyes against the drama that was playing out in front of him. He had a brilliant mind and could keep himself occupied forever if he wanted to, just by thinking. Right?

Right. If he was so brilliant and had nothing to do but think all day, why hadn't he figured a way out yet? And furthermore, why was he sitting around doing nothing and not pushing his limits? Sure, Icha would prefer he be the perfect pet, but where was earning her trust going to get him, really?

His thoughts turned towards the collar. It had something to do with the ring of metal around his neck, it's hard surface a constant reminder that it could activate at any moment and render him useless. Yes, he recovered from its effects quickly enough. He did have to wonder what long term effects from frequent shocking would do, however. The Doctor frowned, puzzled. He risked his life all the time when people he cared about were in danger. Why should now be any different?

It was more than that, though. The collar frightened him. He feared losing control of himself.

Icha had experience with its use. While Vicks had shocked him senseless with every word, Icha seemed to have an uncanny perception as to just how much was necessary. Her confidence told him that she wouldn't hesitate if she felt an actual shock was necessary to keep him in line, and that was apparently enough to change his usual manner of doing things.

He hated being a slave and should be doing everything in his power to escape, but a sense of hopelessness settled around his shoulders that he couldn't explain.

After pondering on his irrational fear grew frustrating and boring, he sighed into his pillow and relaxed, attempting to distract himself with thoughts of Rose.

Time passed and his thoughts muddled together with words and sounds from the telly. After a while, he found himself smirking.

In his mind, he had just teased Rose about something. Whatever it was, it didn't matter, because right now, she was giving him the most brilliant smile in return. No, hold on, it did matter, because whatever he'd done he'd have to do again over and over just to get her to smile that way. No, nevermind, it did not matter, because it was all in his head. The Doctor sighed and hugged his pillow a little tighter, wishing it smelled like Rose. He couldn't wait until he found an opportunity to escape and find her.

Something touched his hair, and the Doctor jumped clean out of his thoughts. Looking back at Icha, he could see her arm casually outstretched towards him. When she didn't relent, he jerked away.

"You want to cooperate, Marwari." Icha's expression was as calm as ever, yet the warning in Icha's tone was clear. "I'm not harming you in any way. If you pull away again, do not think I will allow it."

The hours of lazily doing nothing in relative comfort had dulled his alertness, and the Doctor had been caught suddenly off guard. He was now fully awake, and his sense of complacency had turned to distrust. His eyes flicked from the remote at her right hand to her eyes, meeting her challenging gaze with his own. He knew he could stare down the best of them, could intimidate even the boldest of kings, but Icha wasn't even blinking.

The Doctor didn't want to be shocked. He didn't want to be touched, either, but being shocked sounded much worse.

What would it hurt, anyway, but his pride?

Before he had settled on a decision, Icha had reached for him again, and he decided he had little choice but to comply. He did glare at her, though, as she stroked her fingers through his hair. He didn't have to like it.

When she was satisfied he wasn't going to put up a fight, she returned her attention to her programme. The Doctor sulked, lying there stiffly, feeling a bit silly with his hair sticking up in all directions.

The Doctor would wait it out, allow this bit of domestication, only because it really wasn't that important. After a few minutes, he finally began to relax again, and tried to return his attention to his inner musings as he was stroked by a purring cat.

It was a complete mystery why a cat would like to pet a furless person so much. Couldn't Icha just pet her own fur if she liked soft things? All this time, the Doctor figured cats loved receiving but weren't really the giving types. Besides, his hair surely wasn't softer than hers.

She had started with his head, but after he had gotten used to it, Icha had moved on to his shoulder and down his bare back, causing him to tense up. It tickled uncomfortably, as he was unaccustomed to the sensation. He finally relaxed, however, but he swore if she started using her claws, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions.

After what felt like hours, he snapped.

The Doctor sat upright, and Icha pulled back and peered at him questioningly. Should he verbally ask what he wanted? No, something told him now wasn't the time. He made to point down the hallway, but it turned into a tentative flick of the wrist and a self-conscious rub at the back of his head, as if gesturing too loudly would earn him a shock. Since the request had turned out completely pathetic, he decided to stick with the theme and fixed Icha with his best puppy eyes.

Icha gave him a little smile. "Go ahead. Don't dawdle."

Pushing off the couch, the Doctor made good on his chance to get away and walked as briskly as he dared, feeling better with each step away from Icha. Once in the hallway, he ruffled his hair and growled. After popping in and out of the loo, he went for the library.

The room was awash with daylight. Padded chairs and cozy tables in the center held sun-warmed surfaces and dusty old books. The walls rose up with rows of volumes promising hours of learning and lack of brain-numbing cat fiction. Here and there the blocks of stacked paper were interrupted by curios that looked more like chunks of space junkyard than bookends. The gaps between bookcases yielded views of vines swaying from trellises in the breeze, their dotted shadows dancing hypnotically about the room.

The Doctor pulled in a deep breath, and the comforting aroma of books permeated him. On this forsaken slave rock, he had found a tiny bubble of heaven.

Dragging a chair over, the Doctor balanced on its cushion and peered over a high shelf at a particularly convoluted heap of scrap. He suddenly beamed widely. "Oh, you're a beauty, you are!"

Fighting temptation to pull it down right then and there, the Doctor instead scanned the spines of the nearby books. "Choose quickly, no 'dawdling'..." he mumbled to himself. After putting up with Icha's latest fancy, he decided he deserved a book. He highly doubted Icha would let him take down a contraption that looked like it belonged to the more intimate side of a hover-sled's primary coil interface and start strewing its guts across her sofa, but maybe a book would be safe. He stopped at a title. "Paurin, a History. Hm." Icha may not like demonstrations of intelligence in slaves. She may object to the Doctor reading anything, or even the idea that he had gone elsewhere besides the loo, and he really didn't want to be shocked.

Then again, she really did like his being intelligent enough to understand her.

The Doctor tipped the book from its place and slipped out of the library.

Icha had treated him differently from her past pets, he was sure. He had full confidence slaves on this planet had picked up the language of their slavers, but by the time they did, they no doubt were beaten enough into submission and felt it wise to not let onto their knowledge. The Doctor was different. He understood and proved he could speak the language of the "higher race", by all appearances, and wasn't ready to give up. While Vicks clearly ignored him by falling back on years of denial towards intellectual equality of races, Icha measured his linguistic skills as a level of intelligence in him. He supposed he was lucky. If he could get through to anyone, hopefully it would be her.

Circling back around the sofa, the Doctor settled nervously next to his pillow and looked to Icha. Judging by her personality and training style, he figured it would be better to ask her permission than to just open the book up and have at it. He waved it at her questioningly.

Icha arched an eyebrow, its slightly grey fuzz doing little to stand out against the white fuzz of her face. "Had yourself a wander, did you?"

Her tone didn't sound promising. Deciding he had better backpedal, the Doctor swallowed and laid the book carefully near her lap and reverted to the puppy eyes. Please don't shock me! If you don't want me reading it, I won't... but I've been good. I deserve a book.

Icha studied him for a long moment, then looked up at the telly. The Doctor could tell she wasn't watching it but was still thinking. She looked to the book and then to him. Sighing discreetly, she picked up the book. "I'll allow you to look at books, but one at a time. Put them back where you find them." She lifted the book. "Not this one. Go find another."

The Doctor looked at Paurin, a History in her hand. What about the book did she want to keep from him? This made him even more curious, and he had to force himself to nod and stand up. A thought made him stop, and he held his hand out, testing his luck. I'll put it back, Mother, just like you said!

Her eyes narrowed shrewdly and she placed the book on the sofa next to her. "Go pick another, Marwari."

Damn. He nodded again and trekked back through the house. Even though he had made a small victory by having Icha's blessing to look at books at all, the Doctor couldn't help but wonder at the book she confiscated from him. Was Paurin the planet they were on? Did Icha consider something within its history dangerous for him to know about?

The Doctor chose Interstellar Propulsion Theory and Application and returned to Icha. There had been several other titles his quick scan had yielded that were far more interesting, but he determined those books would probably be just as interesting to Icha and he had better not risk her confiscating them, too. Surely she wouldn't have any interest in this book. Yes, I am a rocket scientist, why do you ask?

Sure enough, Icha raised an eyebrow, but this time with disinterest, and the cat woman returned her attention to her television programme. Satisfied he now had something to keep him from going insane, the Doctor made himself comfortable. He supposed making himself physically uncomfortable in such a place was impossible short of earning himself a shocking, but hey, he could be picky.

Surely he would learn something from the book. The Doctor was a bit rusty on this era's knowledge of hyperdrive multiplication standards, and it couldn't hurt to brush up.

After supper, the Doctor finished studying his book backwards and forwards while, to his annoyance, Icha idly pet him. He peered back at Icha, fully expecting her to be glued to the screen. He was surprised to find her gazing at him, and he caught a glimpse of wonder on her face before she managed to reapply her mask of indifference. Icha appeared to be coming to terms with the fact that the Doctor not only could read, but had understood everything in the book of science he had chosen.

Then again, she had also been petting him. The Doctor frowned. Icha's expression had been about the book, right?

Icha turned to look at the other book, which lay on the other side of her lap. She thought for a moment, then picked it up.

"Time for bed, Marwari."

The Doctor sat up, following the book in her hand with his eyes.

Icha stood and stretched, the curves under her robe rolling provocatively with her feline spine. She then walked off into the foyer with her book. The Doctor picked up his pillow, left his book on the sofa, then followed her. He found Icha holding his cupboard door open, and the Doctor moved to stand facing her in front of it, just like the night before.

"In you go," Icha instructed in a kind tone.

The Doctor spotted the remote in her grip, her finger resting on the button. A chill went through him, and he looked down into Icha's eyes. Why was he still here? This was ridiculous. He'd gotten nothing accomplished all day except reading some useless book. He had done nothing, less than he had done in so long. He would rather be running for his life or at least be able to fight some ignoble alien, like the one in front of him.

Frustration overwhelmed the Doctor in that moment, and he could feel it welling in his eyes and chest. He should have escaped by now. Rose was out there, alone, and it was his fault.

Icha searched his expression and turned concerned. "What's wrong, Marwari?"

She had asked him a question. Icha had just asked him a question, one that would normally be verbally responded to. Now was his chance to reply! Wasn't it?

The Doctor opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Why was this so hard? She wouldn't be upset. She had asked him a question! What else would she want him to do but say something back? He wouldn't get shocked, he told himself. Fear battled with his desperation to be heard. He took a deep breath and tried again, but he couldn't seem to find the words.

What had she reduced him to?

"It's all right, Marwari." Icha smiled at him. She put the book under her arm and rested her hand on his shoulder. "It will get easier, Marwari. You did very well today. Get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning, and we'll try something I've been eager to show you." Icha moved off towards the foot of the stairs, and the Doctor watched after her, confused. He should say something!

The moment passed, and Icha had ascended to the second floor. The Doctor drew in a shaky breath and slouched against the small doorway. He dropped his head back against the wall and shut his eyes.

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