A Purrfect Catastrophe
A "Life at the Lair" fic -- Special Edition
With a long furious swipe of his rough tongue, Panther struggled to calm himself as he groomed. His glorious, glossy black coat was soaking wet and he was shivering uncontrollably from the cold. Only the vicious, forceful lashing of his tail and the rhythmic motions of his bathing helped him keep from tearing off in snarling, slashing, bloody fury of death and destruction.
That, that... arrogant, annoying, unpleasant, common cougar! It was all her fault! Where did she get off treating him -- HIM! -- like some pathetic young tom she could just push around?! He was a mighty jaguar, a sacred Spirit Guide and Guardian of the Sentinel of the Great City. She should be falling down on her paws and revering him, not picking fights everytime their paths crossed. Why, he had just as much right to visit the Lady Pheral as she did! No one knew how to scratch as good as the Wild One, and he'd had a fierce itch behind his left ear that he just couldn't reach himself. But thanks to her, not only didn't he get the scritches he deserved, he'd ended up falling into that pesky dolphin's pool of freezing water as well.
For a moment, Panther purred in reflection as he remembered the cougar's indignant shriek when she hit the water. Cold as it was, jaguars at least had an affinity for water that didn't tend to be shared by other cats. He'd gotten quite the jolt of sadistic pleasure at her horrified reaction before the freezing temperature sunk in and he scrambled out of the pool himself. Almost made up for his outrage over her tackling him and actually managing to get a grip on his scruff before he flipped them over the ledge into the pool.
Damned female... A 'queen', his fuzzy wet ass! She didn't deserve the title -- a nuisance is all she was!
Growling, fur still damp despite his best efforts, Panther got up and paced around the Lair to warm himself. Unfortunately, his loyal lupine friend to whom he would normally turn to for comfort and companionship was nowhere to be found. Wolf, Spirit Guide and Guardian of the Shaman of the Great City, was entirely two enthralled by the two not-wolves currently visiting the Lair. Panther himself wasn't sure what to make of them, the brother and sister pair who were both human and wolf, but he was especially leery of the female. She was an alpha bitch if ever he had smelled one, and Panther was getting tired of the way his supposedly mature friend followed her around like a lovesick puppy. The male not-wolf wasn't bad though, as canines went. Sometimes, Panther would even allow himself to be talked into joining his fellow Spirit Guide and the not-wolf in a rousing wrestling match or romp through the woods.
Of course, Declán did have something of a suicidal streak, if his constant attempts to engage the alien mutt of the tunnels was any indication. Why Sir Riddick insisted on retrieving that unpleasant creature from its homeworld and bringing it within the confines of the Lair was a mystery. Panther wouldn't have been surprised if the slathering beast tried to eat any of the Lair's denizens, human or animal. Come to think of it, Sir Darien still hadn't been seen he'd gone off during the security test...
Unconsciously, Panther shivered. Being metaphysical in nature, very little frightened the powerful Spirit Guide. Sir Riddick's pet Hellhound (and, to be frank, occasionally Sir Riddick himself -- really, what was with the man's fascination with Panther's claws?!) was one of the few things which did. Despite the creature's dog-like appearance, it did not have much in common with its canine brethren. If it weren't for the creature's incredibly sensitive eyesight restricting it only to the deepest bowels of the Lair, Panther feared it would slaughter every living thing in its path. Only Sir Riddick and, oddly, the female not-wolf drew any of its respect and some measure of its obedience.
Panther wasn't sure he wanted to know how that came about, especially given her brother's repeated failures to get within fifty feet of the Hellhound without being attacked.
Sighing, Panther took one more desultory look/sniff around the empty Lair, huffed in annoyance, and flounced outside. He would, of course, vehemently deny his actions could in any way be described as "flouncing". Claim it was really more of a regal, stately saunter or powerful, graceful stalk, if anyone had been about to see him do it. But as things were, with most of the Lair's two-legged population out and about doing whatever it is humans do, no one was there to witness his exit and prove that, yes, in fact, panthers do indeed flounce.
The sun was shining brightly on the world outside the sheltered caverns of the Lair. It was warm, but the hint of a chill hung in the high mountain air, bringing with it the threat and promise of rain. It was not Panther's preferred jungle home, but it was familiar and comfortable nonetheless. At least here there was a predominance of trees and rock, instead of the concrete and smog that made up his charge's home in the Great City.
Stretching the kinks from his spine, Panther blinked his eyes against the brightness and cast his golden gaze about him. He paused for a moment crouched on the grass by the drive, and tried to decide what to do.
Normally, he'd take advantage of the quiet and weather for a nice, quality nap. There was only one problem with that plan today: his preferred resting place had left with its human. The absolute best place for a cat to catch a nap around here was up on one of the huge metal beasts parked side by side under the open sky. They were strange creatures, certainly, with the look and smell of those inanimate objects humans were always riding around in. Yet Panther could sense the unique essences of the life-spirits that thrived within them. And though he could not communicate with them, he enjoyed listening to them converse as he catnapped upon their smooth, warm bodies. He was especially fond of the Dark One, whose constant rumbling he found quite soothing to his nerves. Always reminded him of his days as a cub, snuggled up warm and safe with his mother's purr lulling him to sleep.
He could use that soothing effect right now, he was still a mite agitated from his earlier confrontation with that pushy female cougar. Maybe some exercise would help? A little activity to work off the tension still roiling through his muscles?
Considering, Panther cast a longing gaze at the horses calmly grazing in the meadow. Of no surprise at all, they did not react to his undivided attention. It was one of the better bonuses to being metaphysical; he did not truly exist unless he specifically wished it so. The tempting animals were innocently unaware of the presence of a nearby predator.
Watching them, sifting through his memories of past encounters with the small herd, he idly gauged which of them would make the best prey. He ruled out the big black with the mean temper automatically. That one didn't realise it was supposed to be prey, and had the annoying habit of making himself more trouble than he was worth by trying to fight instead of doing the sensible thing and running. Not that Panther was actually intimidated by him, don't be ridiculous! It was just a horse... meat on the hoof, that's all. Panther had merely decided -- quite pragmatically, mind, because he was just that sort of cat -- that it would be an unconscionable waste of energy to take down that particular animal while there was much easier prey about. It was just natural predator behaviour, of course, to go for the weakest link.
Really, it's not like he was actually afraid of some dumb horse. Don't be absurd! He was a jaguar, the mightiest cat of the jungle! All other animals feared him!
He was Panther, the great and powerful Spirit Guide -- hear him roar!
Out in the field, Peso raised his head to eye the suddenly visible large black jaguar striking a fearsome pose. With nary a whisper of fear, the ornery prey threw back its head and nickered long and high. The sound was remarkably reminiscent of a laugh...
Disgruntled, Panther snarled and flashed his pearly whites at the arrogant equine.
The cursed horse aptly demonstrated just how thoroughly less than impressed it was by Panther's implied threat. With a snort of disdain, Peso dropped his head to continue grazing and went about placidly ignoring the metaphysical predator.
Grumbling his irritation with the supposed prey's continued lack of respect for its place on the foodchain, Panther thrashed his tail and turned his back. He didn't have to take this. Wasn't it bad enough he'd already been pestered by the cougar, must he be made a mockery of by a useless horse as well? This was not the way a Guardian for the forces of Light should be treated!
"Artemis! Artemis, you idiot! What are you doing in that tree? Get down from there this instant!"
"I'd love to Luna, but in case you haven't noticed, I'm stuck."
Panther froze and cocked his head curiously as he overheard the exchange. He recognized the voices instantly of course, even if the names weren't enough to give away their owners identities. He'd flirted often enough with the female, after all. Though only in an effort to inspire jealousy in her male companion, to be certain. Cute though she was, Luna wasn't exactly his type.
But he decided to go see her anyway. She at least treated him with the decency a cat of his stature deserved. And besides, it was good entertainment watching Artemis fluff up with indignation whenever Panther was near.
Grinning slyly, good mood instantly reestablished, Panther set to tracking the two voices. Following the female's shrill demand, answered by a tone that could only be produced through gritted teeth, brought Panther around the mountainside to a thin crevasse from which a large pine sprouted tall. The crack dipped only about ten feet into the rock, but had created the ideal wellspring for the evergreen to grow. It towered over the crevasse, casting ominous shadows along the jagged rock of the mountain side.
Perched precariously at the top of the tree, a small white cat clung tenaciously to the rough bark of the tapered trunk. Standing below, looking worriedly up, was an equally small black cat. They looked liked ordinary housecats, and in fact many of the Lair's denizens believed them to be just that. But the small golden crescent moons upon their brows marked them as different. They were no domesticated pets, but Guardians in their own right. The Mau, or Lunar cats, were sworn guardians of a group of warriors known as the Sailor Senshi. They were wise and intelligent creatures, highly empathic and gifted with the ability to speak verbally to their human charges, which no doubt made their task much easier.
The Mau and the Spirit Guides had long been allies, and for the most part held a deep respect for one another. Though among at least two representatives of their number there was no love lost. The reason for that enmity was the third feline, the beautiful black queen who was (unlike that troublesome cougar) worthy of the title.
Panther softly padded up to her. 'Is there a problem, my dear Luna?' he asked the black Mau, knowing her heightened psi-abilities would pick up his thoughts easily.
Luna yelped and arched her back in fright. "Panther!" she scolded. "You scared me half to death!"
'And which of your nine lives would that bring you to?' he chuckled.
Luna smiled. "I believe I'm up to five now. Although it'll be six soon if Artemis doesn't get his butt down here. We've got to meet the girls in Tokyo in less than an hour!"
The girls, of course, referred to the Senshi the Lunar cats guided. They did not, as far as Panther knew, have a clue where their Guardians every so often disappeared to. Panther was apt to keep it that way, for warriors of the Light though they were, they still quite young.
He was not ashamed to admit the young -- of any species -- made him acutely uncomfortable. They were simply beyond his ken.
"Luna!" Artemis growled. "Quit flirting with that overgrown idiot and figure out how to get me down from here!"
'Idiot?!' Panther snarled back at him, baring not a little fang. 'I'm not the one stuck in a tree, so I'd watch who you go calling an idiot, you idiot!'
"Oh, stop it you two!" Luna chided them. "We don't have time for your macho posturing. Now, Artemis, see if you can't just wriggle down the way you went up."
"I already tried that, Luna. The branches are in the way, I can't get a grip on the trunk." Hs voice took on a slightly panicked note. "And could we hurry this up, please?! My claws are slipping!"
"Well, then... jump!"
"What?! Are you trying to kill me, Luna? It's a thirty foot drop straight into hard rock! I'd break every bone in my body!"
"Urg!" Suddenly, Luna whipped around to stare at the silent(ly smirking) jaguar.
"Could you catch him, Panther? If he jumped clear of the tree, could you catch him before he hit the ground?"
Catch him?! She expected him to leap off a boulder and actually save that ridiculous white tomcat who was too stupid to know a good thing when he had it?
Artemis freaked. "What?! He's not catching me! I don't want to be anywhere near his mouth! His fangs are bigger than my head!"
"Oh, nonsense, Artemis! Don't be such a kitten. He's not going to eat you -- he'll be as gentle with you as a mother with her cub. Won't you, Panther?" And she cuddled up under his chin, batting her unusual red eyes, and purring seductively against his throat.
What could he do? He melted like the spineless male he was and assured her that yes, indeed, he would catch Artemis as gently as a cub.
The operation went off without a hitch. Er, well... almost. There was a slight mishap when Panther misjudged the pressure of his jaw and squeezed Artemis so tight the little cat couldn't breathe -- but that was an accident! Honest! Really, it was!
And if Panther just happened to find the sight of Artemis's eyes bulging out the most hilarious thing he'd seen in days... well that's just coincidence, really!
Trying and failing to looked abashed, Panther said nothing as Luna (her own sides heaving with what Panther would bet was laughter, but Artemis took as concern) helped the ruffled white Mau smooth his fur back down. He stared over their heads at the rocks behind them, because he knew if he looked at Artemis's shocked face he'd ruin his stately composure and bust a gut laughing. Then Luna really would be mad at him, and even the ultimate pleasure of embarrassing the stupid white ball of fluff wasn't worth a pissed-off Luna.
It was only because he was studiously not-looking at the Mau that he saw the little red ball streak away from the tree and dash around the rock. Curiosity aroused, Panther left the other two cats to their making up and padded after the new mystery. The streak of colour against the stark grey of the mountainside remained always just a step ahead of him, flashing tantalisingly before disappearing around yet another rocky turn. Breaking into a lope, Panther chased it and felt his heart speed with excitement.
This was the kind of activity he'd been looking for! A chance to really let go, to give into his animalistic nature and really be the jaguar he was born to be. To forgo all the heavy responsibility of being a Guardian and wise Spirit Guide. To put aside the indignity of being challenged and disrespected by all the lesser animals that called Lady Moonbeam's Secret Lair home. To just sink into himself and chase a moving target until he caught it and crushed its throat between his jaws!
Exhilarated from the hunt, Panther stopped paying attention to his surroundings and focused his every being on capturing the mysterious dart of red. He ran after it, legs falling into a poetic rhythm, muscles roiling with extension as he reached for a ground-eating stride. His fur glistened and shivered in the wind of his passing, glinting darkly in the bright sunlight until it was eclipsed by the entrance to the Lair. He was a force of nature brought to life. A sliver of darkness dancing between shadows. Beauty and ferocity melded into one being. Death Incarnate cloaked in sleek, soft silk.
'Ahhh!' startled, Panther shrieked like an owl and leapt straight up into the air. A loud thunk echoed in the cavernous halls as the jaguar's head impacted the low ceiling and his 200-pound all-muscle fur-covered body came crashing back to earth with a smack!
Leaving one little reddish-brown mouse sniggering like a fiend beside the knocked-senseless cat.
But, hey, at least no one was around to see his ungraceful defeat, right?
Well, except for the golden cougar watching from down the hall. And the eerie pair of silvered eyes that glittered from a shadowed side-tunnel.
And the original perpetrator, the mouse, of course.
But besides them... no one would ever know!
P.S. Blame Shady for the ending, though she has no idea how. *eg*