Leon returned from med bay, feeling kind of dumb. The claw marks on his face were still stinging, but at least he wasn'tgoing to get rabies. He settled down at his desk, now covered with some of the blueprints Tanya had been showing him.Tinkering he could do, at least. Everyone else may be acting strange, but that didn't stop him from carrying on. He pulledout a tool box and the latest piece of equipment he'd been fiddling with, and glanced to the side, wondering where he'dleft the candybar he'd been munching on earlier.
Leon jumped, seeing Sapphire appear seemingly out of nowhere, and dropped the wrench he'd been holding. The catmade no violent move against him, however, only sat down, curling its tail around it, and gave him a strange, intensestare, watching his every move.
Leon muttered something incognizable, getting down on all fours to find the tool he'd dropped. Damn cat. Wrench inhand, he started to stand up, and froze at what he saw.
In the exact spot Sapphire had been sitting now perched a gray-skinned boy. No. Not a boy. But not a man. The face wasboth young and old at the same time. And his eyes...were the same color as the cat's.
The two stared at each other in silence for a minute. The stranger's hair was a darker gray than the rest of him, and whilehe seemed to have a basic human structure, there were some definite feline qualities about him. His ears were pointedand covered in a grayish fur, and his hands ended in claws rather than fingers.
"S-sapphire?" Leon gulped. The being seemed to smile, though his face was as devoid of emotion as a cat's.
"My apologies," he said, in a voice that sounded like silk and blood. Like Leon would imagine a cat's voice would soundlike, if one could talk.
"What?" Leon asked, backing up a little. This just wasn't turning out to be his day.
"I mistook you for another changeling. But now I see you are no such thing."
Leon shook his head, confused. Something about this creature...a familiarity.
"We changelings are a bit territorial, after all," the boy/man/creature continued. "That is why I clawed your face. It is aneasy mistake, really."
"O..Of course," Leon coughed.
"You are a halfling then?"
Sapphire hopped down from his perch with catlike grace to the floor, assuming a two-legged stance. He stood like onemore accustomed to all-fours. Leon blinked. The cat/man's features mutated further, into a more human appearance. Hishair remained gray, but his skin was no longer gray, and his hands were five normal digits. He leaned back casuallyagainst Leon's desk. He still had that feline air, and was short....maybe 5'2" at the most.
"A halfling. One of your parents was mortal."
"I thought as much. Most likely of the unseelie household. Who was it?"
"Who are you?"
"Sapphire, for now. Was it your mother, or your father, that was the fay?"
Leon glared at him suspiciously. The blue eyes met his with a cool, unfeeling calmness. Leon felt himself relaxingwithout even thinking. No! He wouldn't fall for whatever tricks this creature had. He shoook his head, clearing it, andavoided looking into Sapphire's eyes after that.
"Speak up, Boy."
"I'm not a boy. And don't you do that again! I'm not sure what's going on, but I have a feeling you're responsible for what'sbeen going on with the ducks, and I can tell you right now--"
"It was Kell, wasn't it?"
Leon froze, staring at Sapphire in horror. His mouth went dry.
"You have her talent for acting, for becoming someone else when it suits you. She was...a very old friend of mine."
Leon swallowed, his knees going weak. So it was true. He did have roots on Earth. He sat down hard in the nearest chair,staring wide-eyed at Sapphire. He swallowed hard, trying to find a response.
"She, umm....she said something like this would, um, happen. That you would want to kill me."
Sapphire raised an eyebrow. "Why would I want to kill you? I have no quarrel with you...now, anyway," he said, passinga glance at the scratches on Leon's face. The shapeshifter stared at him, then looked down.
"I-I, she said, I mean....Mom..." Leon swallowed again, unwanted memories coming back in floods. He bowed his head,trying to maintain some level of control over himself.
Sapphire stared at him a moment with his expressionless eyes, then looked down thoughtfully.
"So...Kell is dead. This is serious."
Leon choked. "Y-yes...she..they..." He took a breath. "She said that's why...umm, why others of her kind would try to killme. Because of her."
Sapphire nodded. "Well. She was right."
"What?" A touch of panic crept into his face. Leon knew his limits. If a full-blood ever came after him, he didn't stand achance.
"Calm down, Boy. I mean you no harm. Kell was right, though. There will be others of our kind that will hate what youare, and what you stand for, and will use her death as an excuse to dispose of you."
Leon blinked. "What I stand for? What are you--"
The door hissed open, and he turned his head quickly to see who it was. Nosedive walked in, a puzzled look on his face.Then he grinned.
"Hey, there he his!"
Leon looked back.. Sapphire the cat was sitting calmly on his desk again, giving him a knowing look. Nosedive scoopedthe kitty up and looked at the shapshifter.
"Hey...did I hear voices in here. I thought I heard ya talkin' to somebody."
Leon looked at the cat, then back at Nosedive. He shook his head.
"No, I...had the radio playing."
"Okay, cool. He didn't try to scratch you again, did 'e?"
"M'kay, whatever. I got a date with a pizza. You comin'?"
Leon half-smiled at Nosedive. He was a good kid.
"No, I got some stuff to finish in here. But save me a piece, huh?"
"Hee-yeah, right. As soon as Grin finds it, there won't even be a box left! Good luck, anyway." The teenager left withSapphire perched on his shoulder. Leon could swear the cat winked at him as the door hissed shut.
Cleech glanced from person to person in the rec room. Mallory had the expression of one who was looking for a reasonto kill someone. Wildwing was smiling like an idiot, holding the hand of an equally perky Tanya, and Duke was lookinglike he was trying to find a way to get to Mallory without giving her a reason to kill.
Grin and Raye were playing against eachother in Tekken3. Raye was wearing a brightly colored summer dress andgrinning brainlessly. Cleech swallowed hard, and considered panicking. Keep cool, just keep cool....
Then Nosedive entered with that cat on his shoulder. The blonde teen smirked at Cleech, then walked over an noogiedhis brother.
"Heya Wing! Can I borrow yer wallet?"
Wildwing blinked, looked confused, then frowned.
"No." Almost a second later, Tanya blinked and looked equally confused. They looked at each other, gasped, and movedaway, both flushing in embarrassment. At that precise moment Mallory threw herself at Duke's throat, every intention ofbloody murder made obvious.
"Hey! Break it up you two!" Wildwing moved to stop the fight, grabbing both their arms. Both jumped, looked at theteam leader, then at each other.
"Pinch me again and I'll break your arm!"
Duke scratched his head, puzzled. "Umm, okay. Right." He left the room, still looking confused. Cleech frowned,wondering if he was really the only one who'd seen what had just happened. So everybody was back to normalnow...except the two in front of him. Grin and Raye. They were intent on the game, not even glancing up at the outburstthat had occured.
Tanya moved over and poked Raye.
"Hu-hey, uh, did you ever finish those, uh, prints?"
Raye blinked and stood up abruptly.
"What the hell am I wearing?!" She bumped Grin as she stood. He didn't react, just kept playing the video game.Nosedive grabbed Raye's controls and took over playing for her.
"I think it's wearing ye, lass," Cleech said quietly. Raye glared at him, confused and looking like she wanted to blamesomebody. She looked at Tanya.
"The...prints. Yeah. They should be on your desk." With that, she hurried out of the room and to her quarters to put onsomething more suitable. Cleech watched her go, then felt something soft crawl into his lap. He glanced down atSapphire, who proceeded to groom himself. The cat seemed to wink at him.
S'funny, Cleech thought....he felt really...happy, all of a sudden. Raye crossed his mind, and he smiled. Then Nosedivepoked his knee.
"Hey! You noddin' off there, Cleechman?"
Cleech blinked, then scowled at Nosedive and stood up, dumping Sapphire onto the ground. The cat gave him anindignant look and walked away, tail in the air.
"Don'ae touch me, punk." Cleech stalked out of the room. Nosedive shrugged and returned to the game.
"Man, Grin, why do you always play that nasty ogre anyway? Guy's wearing an iron grate for pants!"
"It is not how he clads himself so much as how he fights."
"Oh yeah, well, this little Julie chick is gonna kick yer butt!"
Phil entered the room, frowning.
"Uh....did someone order a pizza? Some guy up there wants a tip."
Nosedive grinned and stood up. "That's mine!" He gave Wildwing a pleading look.
"Please can I borrow your wallet? I'm kinda low on cash right now..."
Wildwing sighed. He hated it when Nosedive gave him 'The Look.'
"Alright, alright, but this is the last time, Dive! You gotta start planning ahead."
"Sure, okay." Nosedive headed uptop, where a tall human with auburn hair waited.
"Alright, how much do I owe ya?" He asked, taking the box from the pizzaguy.
"Hee hee, pizza from hell, right? Seriously, how much?"
The pizzaguy gave him a strange look. Nosedive repressed a chill that was starting at the base of his spine. The guy hadreally weird eyes! They were almost red in color. Did humans have red eyes? He'd have to ask Thrash and Mookie aboutit later.
If there was a later, he added. The guy suddenly grabbed a handful of Dive's hair and jerked his head back.
"Take me to your mistress. I know she is here."
"Ow! Hey! I don't...what are you talking about?! Let go!" The guy forced Dive to look into his eyes. The the red eyesnarrowed.
"You are protected, I see. She was wise...but clumsy. There are other ways of entrance."
Nosedive felt his head go hot...like it was going to explode. The guy's eyes were burning into his...literally, it felt like. Hereached out to try to shove this punk off of him, when he suddenly realized he was alone.
Dive looked around, confused. Nothing. The only evidence that the weirdo had been here was the pizzabox, still sittingon the ground. The blonde duck scratched his head, staring around, then picked up the pizza.
"Yeah...well...don't expect a tip," he muttered, hurrying back downstairs. That was way, way creepy. An obsessed fanmaybe? He suddenly didn't feel so hungry...~Nyah nyah, cliffhanger! To be continued in The Wild Hunt!