A Feline's Fancy

Horses

Despite the clouds scudding before the sun and a light breeze cooling the Doctor's skin, it was still a bright warm day. He walked leashed behind Icha up the hill through the residences towards Jelei's house. While he was anxious about their destination, he didn't have much time to think on it. He had learned much the night before and was running the information through his head, trying to connect anything of value.

Unless the books were from another planet, the Doctor was indeed on the planetoid Paurin. Even though none of the books had been general history books like he suspected his original choice was, he was able to pick up little facts along the way. Making Way for Cottonelle, an agricultural reference, was mostly about the development methods of the material over the years. The purpose of the book wasn't interesting, but there were snippets here and there that were. An event referred to as the Awakening caused certain production machines to be retired and replaced by more "advanced" ones. Certain families were said to come into more fortune than others due to their influence and number of acquired slaves available to do the labor.

Another book named Geban's Tale also referred to this Awakening and described in detail the story of a cat person before this event. While a dramatic tale, only a few parts were of intellectual value. The man's life was told from the perspective of a member of a minority race and its related hardships. Some of the trials were not unlike the Doctor's current situation, but he had the feeling a great deal of them were exaggerated.

The book the Doctor really wanted to get his hands on was Paurin, a History. Icha hid it upstairs, and the Doctor not only wondered what he would have to do to earn the right to read it, but how to let Icha know he wanted it if he couldn't talk.

The estate holding the birthday party wasn't as big as Icha's, but it was still quite impressive and a hell of a lot more lively. The expansive front lawns were teeming with activity, and the Doctor wondered just how differently his life on Paurin would have been had he found himself slaved here just a couple blocks away instead of at Icha's place. Laughing children played together on one side amidst carefully cropped trees of violet and gold and shrubs of every other colour. Some ran chasing each other between clusters of adults who stood around chatting and sipping from glinting crystal glasses.

As they crossed the front of the property towards the assembly, the Doctor looked down at his attire. Icha had greeted him this morning with another box, this one full of an assortment of pants and shorts. She told him he could pick out a pair to use for parties, but that it wasn't actually a gift. Depending on how well he behaved today and tomorrow, he could be allowed to keep them.

It was hardly party wear, but the Doctor was grateful to not look completely ridiculous. Along with his slim-fitting white shirt he now had simple black trousers of a fairly sturdy material. They were a couple of sizes too big for him, but he had pulled off a belt from another article in the box to use with them and Icha didn't make a fuss. Some of the choices hadn't been long enough in the leg, but his selection suited him well enough.

Now feeling more normal than ever and just a little more confident despite the blue leash leading him along loosely by the collar, the Doctor concentrated on those around him.

Every single person not of catkind was obviously a slave, and it's these people that drew his attention first. They all wore collars and seemed to have a similar amount of clothing as he did, and the Doctor had to wonder if it was due to the party setting. Perhaps he wasn't the only one to think it would be rude to show up at a party wearing pet shoppe attire. A few slaves were leashed to the front gate whispering to each other or looking around, some bored and some enthralled by the events. Some slaves crouched at the end of leashes with their owners or walked normally behind them. Yet others carried trays of refreshments whom the Doctor assumed belonged to the estate.

No Rose.

Icha led the Doctor across the lawn towards people who obviously recognised her. They smiled, waved, and cheered her for coming and told her how good it was to see her. When they stopped, the Doctor remembered to crouch at Icha's heel, but he found it an uncomfortably new experience to be looking up at people from so close. After the lengthy pleasantries, all eyes turned to the Doctor. Icha prompted him to stand with a little tug on the leash next to his collar. Surprised, the Doctor gladly stood.

"Tress told us you had a new pet," one man in a smart suit commented and brushed at his whiskers, looking the Doctor up and down. "She said you intended to take him to the Zel Power Appreciation Dinner."

Icha smiled. "I do indeed. He's really quite remarkable."

The Doctor wondered if Icha would have him speak for them and pulled out a grin that he didn't quite feel. While he was glad to be out and meeting people, these weren't really the type of folks he wanted to be meeting. He raised a hand in a little wave of greeting and immediately tensed, unsure of himself. He checked with Icha to see if she objected, and while she was watching him closely to see how he interacted with her friends, her smile didn't waver and his collar didn't buzz.

One of the ladies tittered. "Oh, how he's polite! What's his name?"

"Marwari," Icha answered fondly.

The woman looked delighted but confused. "Lovely name. It sounds familiar, but I can't place it..."

"Like the horse. Rich brown coat, sort of leggy."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow.

"Oh yes, of course!" the woman exclaimed, not sounding like she understood at all.

"He's very smart," Icha crowed. "I have no doubt he could pick up any task I throw at him. He's mastered cooking in just a couple of days."

The Doctor frowned. Icha never showed him how to cook, and it's not like he didn't know how to before.

The group made other useless observations. The Doctor was hardly unaccustomed to being the center of attention, but he found the situation rather demeaning.

"I'll be right back," Icha assured them. "Mees wouldn't forgive me for not at least saying hello to the birthday girl!"

The group giggled and waved Icha off, and the Doctor followed her across the main pathway to an area three little girls were playing. One girl looked up and smiled a little cat-toothed grin. "Hello, Mistress Icha!"

"Hello there, Jelei, you little dear. Happy Birthday!"

Jelei wore a pretty little pink and gold dress with a small frill around her hips, giving it a hint of the tutu look without the bother. Her tawny coat sported an attractive scattering of dark spots. Icha crouched and, eyes bright, the small girl ran up to give her a hug.

"I'm so glad you could come! Did you see my tea party?"

"I see it, yes!" Icha said, glancing behind Jelei. "Very beautiful! Are you having a tea party with your friends?"

The Doctor wondered if just maybe he could unclip his leash and run for it while Icha was distracted. He had no idea what the collar's range was. Before he had made a decision, however, Icha had tugged on the leash, and the Doctor reluctantly dropped to crouch beside her. Icha then stood up.

"This is Marwari. He's my new pet."

Jelei's eyes went to him, as if noticing he was there for the first time. Her expression didn't show much interest. "He's too tall."

Icha giggled. "For you he is. For me he's not. But look, he doesn't have to stand up if you don't want him to."

Jelei reached out and tugged a bit on the Doctor's hair.

"Can he play with me?"

The Doctor froze. No, I'm Icha's pet. She's very territorial. I'm a total drag at tea parties.

"Sure, go ahead. He understands very well, so tell him what you want him to do. Happy Birthday, dear."

The Doctor craned his neck to look up at Icha, his eyes pleading. Icha put a furry hand to the side of his face. She gave him a knowing look.

"Be good, Marwari. No speaking."

The Doctor swallowed as Icha unclipped his leash. He watched her hips sway as she walked back the way they had come towards the watching faces of her friends.

Jelei squealed, and the Doctor started. He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw, telling himself he wanted to keep his trousers.

Unfortunately, he didn't see it coming when he was suddenly jerked by the collar, forced off balance into the grass.

"Come on!" Jelei squealed again. "I'm having my birthday tea party!"

The Doctor peered over to see Icha watching him carefully. He sighed, picked himself up, and shuffled over to Jelei's little table. Jelei's two playmates looked at him sourly.

"Go away," Jelei told them. "I don't wanna play with you anymore."

One of the girls started to cry, but the other one rolled her little eyes like she was used to it and dragged the crying girl off. The Doctor watched them go tolerantly, knowing there was nothing he could do, then looked down at the little table.

Four tiny tea cups the size of shot glasses that had clearly already been used sat haphazardly on its surface. Jelei picked up a matching tea pot and began pouring into one of the cups. There was no way the Doctor could sit in one of the chairs, so he just crouched next to the table and watched her with hooded eyes.

"I'm six today!" Jelei exclaimed. She picked up the filled tea cup, spilling some, and held it out for him. The Doctor took it gingerly, not wanting her to scream. Jelei stared at him, waiting. "Go on, drink it!"

The Doctor sighed and looked over his shoulder. Icha was watching, amused. He looked back to Jelei. Since a six-year old was hardly expected to know to pour her own cup first, the Doctor pretended to take a sip. The liquid was cold on his lips.

Jelei took a step forward and looked down into the Doctor's cup. She frowned and looked into his face and chastised him. "You're supposed to drink it all!"

The Doctor raised his eyebrows. Where did this child learn to drink tea? When Jelei's miffed expression didn't subside, he sighed again and raised the cup to his lips. Throwing his head back, the Doctor emptied the cup in one go. He swallowed and forced a smile while suppressing the urge to gag. It was certainly tea in the cup, but Jelei's parents clearly didn't supply her with the means to serve it properly.

Jelei became ecstatic and giggled, snatching the cup from the Doctor's weak grip and returning to the table. "Mummy says I can have my very own pet when I'm older!" She poured the cup full again, and the Doctor wilted. He didn't think he could take another cupful of the stuff. "Mummy says I can have my own pony! She thinks it's a surprise, but I know she's getting me one." Jelei set the teapot down slowly, and the Doctor could almost see the heinous thought seep into her little brain. She turned to him, eyes wide. "You can be my pony!"

Dismayed, the Doctor stared back and shook his head.

Jelei was shocked and quickly became angry, screaming, "But I want a pony ride!"

The Doctor held out his hands placatingly, not daring to look behind him at Icha. Jelei glared at him, and he looked to the forgotten cup of tea on the table. He supposed some good could come out of appeasing the girl if he didn't have to drink it. Slowly, he lowered his hands to the grass.

Once again, Jelei's mood completely reversed and she jumped about squealing in delight. The Doctor grimaced as his ears were assaulted. Jelei clambered onto his back, at first using his collar as a handhold. He rememdied the situation by pulling the collar tight against the back of his neck, making her choose to use his shoulders instead. Once she was steady, he moved forward on his hands and knees, and Jelei giggled as he crawled about on the lawn. The Doctor hoped he wouldn't ruin his only pair of trousers and pondered on how he could stoop to such a low as this.

Jelei pounded her little fist on his shoulder. "Faster, faster!"

The Doctor growled, but before he had to do anything, a woman called out.

"Attention, everyone, attention!" The cat woman held up her hands to everyone around as they turned towards her and quieted. "Thank, you, yes. Thank you all for coming to my daughter's sixth birthday party!" The woman, apparently Jelei's mother, Mees, smiled excitedly. "While little Jelei has been appreciating most of her birthday gifts all morning, I would like to take this opportunity to present to Jelei and everyone here her best gift yet!" Mees looked to her daughter who sat atop the Doctor's back, and everyone's eyes followed. The Doctor didn't move and grinned self-consciously, feeling somewhat foolish.

Jelei jumped off the Doctor's back and squealed again, and he was grateful when she ran away from him towards her mother.

Mees beamed at Jelei. "There you are! Are you ready for your present?"

"Uh huh!" Jelei giggled.

Mees raised a hand in presentation towards the side of the house. "Here you are, my darling! Happy Birthday!"

From around the building and through an archway, a slave led a small tawny-coated pony with a white mane towards Mees and Jelei. The assembled guests cheered.

The Doctor stood and brushed the grass from his trousers. Mees looked down to her daughter, but he couldn't see Jelei's face. Whatever it was like, it caused Mees' expression to fall with uncertainty.

"I wanted a pink pony!"

There was a hush across the lawn as Mees stared down at Jelei.

"Well, darling, the honey-coated pony is the closest there is to pink. See? It matches your fur!"

"I wanted pink!" Jelei insisted crossly.

"There are no pink ponies, Jelei!"

"Well, make it pink, then!"

Mees apologised to the crowd and knelt in front of Jelei, exchanging words quietly. Nervous conversation broke out, and the Doctor looked to Icha. She had been distracted by the events as well but had enough of a mind to look to him and wave him back over. The Doctor shuffled to Icha's side and crouched while she reattached his leash.

Jelei refused to ride the pony, and Mees shooed her back to play with her other birthday gifts. The slave holding the pony looked uncertain and a bit bored as he was made to stand there waiting.

Jelei's friends joined her to play, and the party droned on as Mees spoke animatedly with a well-dressed man. The Doctor stayed crouched at Icha's side while she made small talk with other cat people.

Cake was served, and the Doctor had to endure watching people eat it without any for himself. He wanted cake, too, but he was just a slave, and apparently slaves didn't get cake. He tried a hand below Icha's knee, but she only giggled down at him and polished off her plate.

He seriously hoped tomorrow's party would be less frustrating.

Finally, the Doctor heard a commotion from the children's area. Jelei was making a fuss and screaming at her friends. One of the girls screamed back at her, and the other one began crying. They left Jelei, presumably running off to their parents to complain.

The Doctor felt a hand on his head, and he looked up.

"Why don't you go play with Jelei, Marwari. She seems to like you." Icha unclipped his leash.

He groaned inwardly. Please, no...

At Icha's prompting, the Doctor got up and walked across the lawn. He supposed he could at least enjoy the walking part.

He reached the little tea table and frowned down at Jelei, who looked up at him crossly.

Icha was the one with the shocker remote, not Jelei.

The Doctor turned his back to Icha and crouched at the table. By his position, he judged she couldn't see Jelei very well either. Picking up the teapot and a teacup, he poured, making sure to keep his hands busy and appear to be playing silently and innocently with the birthday girl.

Adopting his most conversational tone, he asked quietly, "Have you ever met a pet that could talk?"

Jelei looked up and stared at him in disbelief, implying she had probably not.

Her mouth started to open in a scream, but the Doctor did his best to look like he didn't care and cut in quickly, "You probably haven't, but that's not surprising. Most pets don't talk." He leaned in and handed Jelei a cup, momentarily diverting her focus. The Doctor bobbed his eyebrows and whispered significantly, "I'm a magic pet!"

Jelei hesitated, and then her little mouth closed.

The Doctor gave her a winning smile. "And that pony over there?" He pointed secretly, then leaned in confidentially again with the teapot, making to add more tea to her cup. "That's a magic pony." The little girl looked from the pony to the Doctor in shock, her eyes bulging further. "We're friends, me and her. Known each other for ages. Her name's Jasmine." He sniffed and idly poured himself a cup. "I'm different than her, though. I'm different than most pets, really. Me? I'll talk to anyone. Jasmine, though," he gestured to the pony and paused seriously, "only talks to people she likes."

Jelei stared at him while he put his teacup to his tightly sealed lips, and her face twisted into a scowl. "You're lying."

The Doctor frowned back, affronted. "Am not."

"Are too!"

"Am not," he singsonged and looked away as if losing interest, checking Icha's location. Still with her friends, smiling proudly and watching them.

Jelei studied him up and down, then said, "Prove it."

The Doctor sniffed again and thought quickly, pulling back one side of his mouth as if in difficult contemplation. "All right... but I can't talk in front of the grown-ups, so don't ask me any questions in front of them. Otherwise they'll take me away, and then I won't be able to talk to Jasmine." He put his teacup down and extended his hand. "It'll be our little secret. Deal?"

Jelei looked suspiciously to the pony again, then shook his hand. "Deal."

The Doctor grinned. "Oh she's gonna love you. She might even let you paint her pink." He frowned. "I wouldn't do it without her permission, though. She's a bit particular. Might even tell all the pink ponies not to like you."

Standing, the Doctor waited for Jelei. She looked up at him critically, then began marching towards the pony. He fell into step behind Jelei and glanced over at a dubious-looking Icha. The Doctor shrugged his shoulders and did his best to look ignorant.

Knowing he was being watched carefully, the Doctor approached the pony just behind Jelei. She looked up at him, as if waiting for him to do something. Unfortunately, the Doctor hadn't thought this far ahead. He motioned side to side with his eyes at the grown-ups, indicating his hands were tied.

Jelei looked at the slave holding the pony's bridle, then at her mother. "I wanna ride Jasmine!"

Mees' confusion turned to delight at seeing her daughter begin to cooperate. "Oh my dear, you gave her a name? You're willing to give it a go, then?"

"I didn't give her the name. It is her name!"

Mees had the slave hold the bridle tightly and moved to pick Jelei up. As she placed the girl on the saddle, guests across the green cheered at the birthday girl. Making an instant decision, the Doctor stepped over to the other slave and grabbed hold of the reins. The slave was resistant, but the Doctor leaned in and whispered, "It's fine, I'm with Jelei. Watch this!"

The Doctor looked around, but no one seemed to have noticed. The slave hesitated but finally let go, and the Doctor stepped up to the pony's head. He made a show of patting the pony. Mees stood next to Jelei as if to steady her, and Jelei watched the Doctor.

Now what was he supposed to do? The Doctor racked his brain, but it wasn't like he could make the pony talk. Making it happy wasn't going to do anything convincing, either, so as the girl stared at him with waning patience, he decided on the opposite.

Leaning forward, he pulled the pony's head to his and surreptitiously whispered into her ear so that only Jelei could see. The ear rotated towards him.

Obviously, the words were meaningless to the pony. What wasn't meaningless was the way his fingers covertly probed behind her cheekbone just under her ear in order to project a rather unsettling mental allusion. Beasts weren't known for their reasoning capabilities, but fear was something common to almost every species.

The Doctor pulled his head away just in time as the pony suddenly jerked her head upwards with a shriek and reared.

Mees cried out and held her arms out for Jelei, but thankfully Jelei held on.

Ever the dutiful slave, the Doctor forcefully reined in the pony. He gripped her head, attempting to sooth her mind.

Jelei's face was a picture of absolute shock and horror. The Doctor caught her eye and rested his head behind the pony's, hiding his face from view of the crowd. He mouthed, "She doesn't like you!"

The girl stared for a moment, then began to tear up.

"Be nice!" he whispered.

Jelei sobbed and patted the pony's withers.

"Oh, Jelei, are you all right?" Mees made to pick her up off the saddle. "My poor baby!"

"NO, Mummy!" Jelei yelled and refused to be moved. The Doctor grinned. He had counted on her stubborn streak to come through.

His smile caught the attention of Jelei's mother, and she looked at him. "And what are you grinnin' like a loon for? Think this is funny, do you?"

The Doctor immediately sobered and he shook his head, tending to the pony's reins.

He suddenly jumped when his collar buzzed. Damn.

Icha was glaring at him from the crowd. Unable to do anything more, the Doctor passed the reins to the other slave. He noticed the slave was fighting to hide his own amusement.

He returned to Icha and crouched at her heel. He expected harsh words, but when he looked up at her face, he found Icha was concentrating on Jelei. The Doctor followed her line of sight.

All signs of pride had left the girl. Jelei was currently hugging the pony's neck and patting her fur affectionately, a look of humility on her face. Mees stood by, watching in amazement.

Murmurs started up across the assembled guests. Icha looked down at him with a sly smile. The Doctor sported his best poker face, and she looked back up at the girl on the pony.

He wondered just how much she knew of what he had done.

DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

After returning home, Icha went upstairs and told the Doctor to meet her at the door to the PCOS room. His apprehension spiked, and waiting at the door gave him plenty of time to ponder on how well or how not well his jiggery-pokery on its systems was going to work.

When Icha unlocked the door and they went inside, everything seemed normal. She placed his shocker remote into the PCOS sheath by the door, and when the Doctor saw the blue light come on, he breathed a sigh of relief. Icha made to undress, but suddenly she looked up in curiousity. The Doctor heard it, too.

At first, it was almost indecipherable from the low hum around the room, but the whine of an overload grew in pitch and volume. The Doctor looked all around hoping to find some way of stopping it, but it was no good.

The blue light clicked off and was replaced by the other light flashing mauve. Thankfully, the overload was aborted by the safety system, and the Doctor was left to wonder just what he had done wrong.

"Oh, no," Icha breathed. She went to the sheath and pulled out the remote, then placed it back in. Nothing happened.

Anxiously, the Doctor watched as she tried to figure out what had happened to PCOS, and he desperately hoped Icha wouldn't find out he had done it. He put on his best face of bewilderment each time she looked at him. Icha knew he was clever, but if she knew he was at fault, she didn't let on.

In the end, Icha grumbled and locked them out of the PCOS room. She went upstairs, leaving the Doctor on the sofa. After supper, they watched more telly and the Doctor had to endure being pet more. His thoughts had turned from PCOS to the day ahead.

The Zel Power Appreciation Dinner, the man had called it. It would definitely be a more adult setting and would attract a different crowd. Maybe he would see Rose there?

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