Of all the colossal indignities, the witch had turned him into a kitten. A bloody kitten. With gray fur, judging by the appearance of his paws and what he could make out of his tail and backside. Lord John Grey had darted off immediately of course, hissing and spitting, tail all a-floof, and promptly tripped into a puddle. He startled, cold and wet and infuriated, backpedaling until he landed arse over teacup, sprawling in the leaflitter.
He crept back to the puddle and caught sight of his reflection in the water. Christ, he was even adorable. He scowled at himself, tail flicking and twitching in annoyance. Of all the wretched, indecent, offensive insults, that bloody witch had to make him… cute. Grey made a noise in his throat like a growl, but pathetic and high pitched. What he wouldn’t give to be able let loose a string of blasphemous oaths in four or five languages right about now.
The sound of horses and a cart startled him, and Grey dashed into the nearest brush, his tiny little heart pounding in his impotent little chest. Most of the group of travelers stopped a ways ahead, one rider dallying. Enormous riding boots crashed into the earth just inches from Grey’s hiding place, and he leapt in fright, hissing at himself for his skittishness. Get it together, Grey. You’re a soldier, for the love of God.
Something gigantic and warm and alive scooped Grey up under his belly and he was lifted into the air, a dozen feet at least. Grey let out a meow of challenge and a hiss of outrage, swiping and scratching with his teeny paws. Unhand me, you bastard!
“Hush, ye wee beastie,” said a deep Scottish voice. A familiar, deep Scottish voice.
God damn absolutely everything to hell. Of course—fucking of course—Grey would be turned into this abysmally unfortunate form and Jamie-fucking-Fraser, of all people, would be the person to find him. Maybe he’ll crush me in his big, meaty hands and spare me the humiliation.
But of course not. No, Fraser naturally had a soft spot for wee chitties. Jesus. “Keep still now and ye’ll have a nice saucer of cream at home.”
Oh God. No, anything but that. God damn it all. I am not your pet, Fraser!
But Jamie had shoved him inside his coat which was warm and nice and—no! No, he was angry! Grey made his escape, clawing his way out of Fraser’s coat and making a daring leap from at least sixty feet in the air—
Landing in the open flap of his saddle bag. Well. Fuck.
As if nonconsensual transfiguration into an adorable housecat wasn’t bad enough, Jamie had presented him as a gift to Claire and named him Adso. Grey had protested mightily, but then she had cuddled him and proclaimed him sweet and let him sleep on her pillow. Well. At least it was a comfortable pillow, even if he had to share it with Jamie’s wife. A loud rumble startled Grey and he looked up, through the dark. He could go curl up next to Jamie. If he purred, perhaps rubbed his face against the huge man’s cheek, he might let Grey cuddle up under his chin.
Pull yourself together, man, Grey told himself firmly. Sleep on the bloody pillow and in the morning you can figure out a way to communicate with Jamie and enlist his help.
The next morning, Claire carried Grey—Christ, as if he didn’t have four perfectly functional legs—into the kitchen. She set him on the table, cooing at him to wait—what the hell else was he supposed to do? Leap to his death from the dizzying height? She returned a few moments later with a saucer of fresh goat’s milk, scratching him behind the ears with one finger. Grey’s stomach rumbled, a most pitiable sound, and he took a tentative lick of the offering. It was positively the most delectable thing he’d ever drank, and he lapped it up greedily. Much to his dismay, he realized that he was emitting a truly indecent purr from his throat. Well, damn it all. He couldn’t very well compliment the cook any other way in his present state, could he?
Claire laughed. “There’s a sweet kitty. Good boy.”
On second thought, maybe he would fling himself from the table after all.
Though Grey had tried to help himself to a bit of Claire’s buttered scone—milk only filled so much of the void—she had deposited him in her surgery and wished him, “Happy hunting.”
I beg your pardon? Grey plopped his rear onto the floor and stared after her, willing her to come back and explain, perhaps drop a morsel of bacon in front of him, but no such luck.
Movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. Grey turned toward it, eyes wide until he identified the source. A spider, a fuzzy black thing a little larger than Grey’s paw, skittered along the baseboard under the large cabinet where Claire kept a lot of her herbs and accoutrement. Well. It wasn’t exactly poached eggs and ham, but it was breakfast.
Grey watched the spider for a moment, getting a feel for how it moved, creeping up on it. He stalked toward the spider, stealthy and fearsome as a tiger on his softly-padded paws. Lowered his head, tail high, he wiggled his little body to be sure he had solid traction, and pounced.
The spider, God damn it all, escaped his clutches. Grey was in hot pursuit, claws scrabbling for purchase on the smooth floor. The spider made as if to scale the wall—cheating bastard! Come back here and die like a man! Sensing that he was about to lose the upper hand, Grey flung himself at the spider, claws extended. He seized the creature between his paws, feeling several legs break. Grey lifted one paw to peer at the spider and it flailed, trying to escape. He slapped it hard, and it went still.
It was definitely not poached eggs and ham. But his belly had stopped rumbling at least.
By the third day, Grey had devised a way to communicate with Jamie. He was patrolling the kitchen for vermin and dropped bits of cheese or biscuit, as was his daily custom around teatime, when he spotted it. The cockroach. He’d been subjected to a flying variety in Jamaica, and though he’d learned that they were not, in fact, dangerous, they were unnerving. This one was not so large and did not appear to have wings. He shuddered nonetheless, tempted to let it go about its business. But he knew that Mrs. Bugg, the Frasers’ housekeeper, hated the things even more than Grey did and would likely scold him mightily if she suspected him of being a layabout.
Sneering at the cockroach, Grey stalked it, creeping up behind it. He pounced upon the beast, seizing it in his paws on the first go. It continued to writhe and struggle, and Grey crunched down on it with his fangs.
He heard Jamie approaching the kitchen door through the garden. Perfect. Grey trotted out through the open door to greet him on the porch, his prize dangling from his mouth. He intercepted Jamie—Dear God he was huge from this angle—and stopped him with his two forepaws atop the toe of his boot.
Jamie smiled and stooped to scratch his ears. Grey spat the roach on his shoe. “Well met, Adso. What have ye there? Oh, did ye slay that in the kitchen? There’s a bonnie wee chitty. Such a fierce hunter, are ye no’?”
Grey let out an indignant meow. No, you dense Scot, it’s me! I’m not a cat! Christ, man, put me down!
Despite his most adamant protestations, Jamie scooped up John in one hand and cradled him against his chest. He scratched under Grey’s small chin with one big finger, which felt rather nice. He purred, and Jamie’s smile broadened. “Come wi’ me, ye wee beastie. Ye can have a bit of my butter.”
Well… alright. If you insist.
The next day, Grey found an enormous green moth in the parlor. Its wingspan was roughly the size of his face and it was rather pretty. He waited until it rested in the late morning sun on a windowsill. It took a few tries for his short legs and rather stubby tail to propel him to the narrow ledge, but he eventually succeeded. Capturing the insect was far easier than that first spider had been. He was becoming quite adept at hunting in this fashion, and he sauntered outside in search of Jamie, his fresh kill clutched gingerly between his jaws so as not to damage the lovely wings further.
He found Fraser with Claire near the smokehouse, his hands in her hair and his mouth on her throat, her head thrown back and ecstasy plain on her expressive face.
Oh Christ. Of course, Grey knew they were married and happily so. But the shock of stumbling upon such in open display of passion was unnerving and Grey let out a displeased gurgle to that effect. The pair looked down at him, attention drawn to the sound, and Claire beamed at him.
“What have you got there, little one?” Her voice was sing-song and condescending and Grey would have scratched her ankle were he less of a gentleman. He spat out the moth into the ground at Jamie’s ungrateful feet, turned tail, and darted off.
Grey refused Claire’s invitation to share her pillow that night. Instead, he stared at her while she patted the pillow and tried to coax him up with the promise of scratches under his chin, which almost worked. But he was nothing if not steadfast in his convictions. He blinked slowly, then rose, flicked his tail at her, and stalked out of the bedroom with his nose in the air. That will fix her wagon.
For the next few days, Grey kept to himself, hunting throughout the house and venturing into the garden for grasshoppers. He would have liked to go farther, but his legs were too small. Besides, it was much nicer to steal errant morsels of ham or fresh venison from under Mrs. Bugg’s nose, help himself to whatever open containers of cream he could find, and then fall asleep on the hearthrug.
He’d spent most of one afternoon chasing some shiny insect—he’d had no intention of catching or killing it but it was an amusing diversion nonetheless—and was preparing for a long evening of well-deserved relaxation by the fire. The Frasers had finished their supper and retired to the parlor, Claire squinting over some sewing, Jamie reading aloud to her by the hearth. Grey watched him, let the sound of his voice wash over him. He didn’t pay much attention to the words he said, though he realized it was in French. One of the novels Grey had sent him in years past, perhaps? The thought warmed him to his core, and Grey’s eyelids grew heavy, the lovely cadence of Fraser’s voice lulling him to sleep.
The earth shook. Something positively massive struck the roof, and Grey startled awake with a yowl, certain it was about to fall upon them all. Jamie and Claire didn’t seem particularly concerned by it. Christ, could they not hear it?
A horrific flash and then the terrible boom again. Grey hissed and before he could think through any possibilities, darted under Jamie’s chair, trembling. He meowed desperately, tried to warn them. How could they not hear it? You must do something! Do you not care that something enormous is trying to tear down your house!
Grey was absolutely not cowering. He was leading by example. Or at least, he was trying to. At last, Jamie left his chair and crouched in front of him, blue eyes full of concern and… was that… sympathy? Christ, it was. Oh God in heaven, he… pities me. How terribly undignified.
“It’s alright, wee chitty,” Jamie said, voice soft and kind.
Grey meowed at him again, the trembling now totally beyond his control. Damn it all.
One of Jamie’s hands infiltrated Grey’s refuge, seized him by the scruff of the neck, and dragged him out. Of all the improper liberties you could presume to take with my person! Unhand me, sir! Quite unable to hiss or spit to any effect, Grey could only express his ire with a deep growl of disapproval, narrowing his eyes in as threatening an expression of fury as he could muster.
Jamie cradled Grey in one of his unnaturally huge hands close to his chest. He clicked his tongue quietly and rubbed his cheek with a finger. “Aww, there’s a good wee lad. ‘Tis nay but a storm.”
Grey continued glaring. This is absolutely unacceptable! Put me down! But Jamie kept stroking his face and cooing at him, and Grey could feel the steady tap of Jamie’s heart against his own teeny body. Grey stopped growling.
“There now, ye see? Safe and sound.”
Well… It did feel nice being held so tenderly by Jamie, even if Grey were in this abominable form. His eyes drifted closed and he purred to himself—to himself and not for anyone else’s benefit—and drifted to sleep, cuddled warm and safe on Jamie’s lap.
The next day, Grey struck it rich. The storm had driven a family of refuge-seeking field mice into Claire’s surgery. One of the young mice strayed from the group, directly across Grey’s path while he patrolled the rear cabinets. A brief wiggle to settle himself, one fierce pounce, and it was in his grasp. A quick chomp to the neck brought an abrupt end to its struggles. He took hold of the little thing in his mouth, careful to avoid dripping blood all over the floor, and trotted outside in search of Jamie.
He found his friend clearing storm debris from Clarence the mule’s pen. Grey approached the gate, sat down on the driest of the leaves, and meowed as loudly as he could around the rodent corpse in his jaws. He had to repeat himself twice before Jamie looked at him.
Jamie gave him an indulgent smile. “What have ye there, Adso?"
Through only an excellent strength of will, Grey managed to not roll his eyes. He waited patiently as a saint for Jamie to approach him, then gingerly placed his offering on the ground at his feet. There, you see? I killed it for you.
“Well done, wee chitty,” Jamie said, stooping to scratch behind Grey’s ears.
Grey purred and rubbed his cheek against Jamie’s hand, raising up on his hind paws and stretching to nuzzle him a second time as he stood back up. Can’t you see it? Can you not tell that it’s me? Christ, Fraser, open your eyes. I’m literally gray. I’m bringing you tokens of my affection. I’m protecting your house. How can you not tell! He meowed desperately up at his friend.
Jamie bent again and scooped him up, letting him ride on his broad shoulder. “Do ye want to come wi’ me to the whisky shed?”
Digging his claws carefully into Jamie’s coat to help him keep his balance, Grey peered at the ground. Christ, you are tall. As Jamie walked, Grey watched the hazy sun play in Jamie’s ruddy hair, glinting off a few white strands he hadn’t noticed the last time they were together. On a thoroughly unhinged impulse, Grey sniffed at Jamie’s neck, just above his stock. There were no words to describe what Fraser smelled like through Grey’s more sensitive nose, just an overwhelming sense of familiar and good. Then he lost his wits completely and licked the skin he’d just been investigating, his rough tongue rasping and raising gooseflesh. Jamie shuddered and laughed, a truly beautiful, affectionate sound.
Grey sighed and crouched more comfortably on Jamie’s shoulder. I love you, Jamie Fraser.
Everyday for more than a week, Grey brought Jamie gifts. He exterminated the entire family of mice in Claire’s surgery, presenting each neatly murdered little corpse one by one with pride. His tokens were accepted with praise and good humor, often some physical display of appreciation—scratches behind the ear or under his chin. But the thick-headed object of his affection remained thoroughly oblivious to Grey’s predicament. To the point that Grey began to suspect he had hallucinated everything… whether his current situation as a cat or his previous life as a man, he wasn’t certain.
One evening, Grey perched atop one of the higher kitchen shelves, guarding Mrs. Bugg against the indignities of dropped morsels of fish as she cooked. She muttered and sang to herself as she worked, occasionally asking Adso his opinion on some mundanity. Adso, quite indifferent to whatever the woman was prattling on about, declined to answer.
A full moon was rising in the autumn night. Grey could feel it, an oddness settling in his bones and fluttering in his stomach. Perhaps that latter bit was the fault of the aroma of the freshly fileted fish and his own hunger. He’d taken the last of the mice to Jamie earlier, dropping it in his lap in yet another vain attempt at communication. As usual, Jamie had congratulated Grey on, “Another fine kill,” and tossed the tiny carcass into a bush. Grey had not chased after it. He’d had no appetite in that moment, feeling acutely like an oft-jilted lover whose courtship had once again been summarily rejected for the umpteenth time.
But now that Grey stared at the fish being dredged in egg and flour, bound for a pan of hot grease, he was hungry. And the rising full moon had him thoroughly uneasy and on edge. If Claire were to come through that door and try to coax him from his perch, Grey thought he would scratch her without a moment’s hesitation. For that matter, he thought he’d do the same to Jamie just now. Bloody, unobservant man.
Well of course he doesn’t know it’s you, idiot, Grey chided himself. Why in God’s name should he believe that you’ve been spontaneously transformed into a kitten by a witch? Oh, fucking Christ.
The small trill of an evening bird made Grey’s ears twitch. It had flown in through the open window and perched on the sill. It didn’t seem to notice Grey. It certainly didn’t notice that Grey had assumed a crouch, gauging the distance from his elevated position to the bird. It would be close, but he was reasonably sure he could make it in a single leap.
Grey backed up a few paces until the sensitive fur of his tail barely brushed a decanter of whisky. He lowered his head and settled his hind legs with a little wiggle. He stared intently at the bird, willing it to stay put just one more… second—
He took two bounding steps at a run and leapt from the shelf, stretching his body as long as it would go, paws reaching for his target. He collided with soft feathers, dug his claws into the creature’s small body—and continued on through the open window. Grey crashed into the hedge below the window, the bird flapping and making an ungodly fuss. They landed in a heap. The bird flapped and screeched, pecking and thrashing. Grey got his jaws around his prey’s throat and chomped, silencing its struggle.
After a moment to catch his breath and lick blood from his paws, Grey collected his prize and trudged out of the bush in search of Jamie. He’d slain an intruder. If that didn’t convince Jamie of his true identity, nothing would.
He found Fraser in his study, the speak-a-word, as the Scots called it. Dark had fallen, and Jamie stooped over his desk, squinting in the dim candlelight at whatever he was writing. Grey could see the quill moving but could not make out if it was a letter or a ledger on his tall wooden desk. Padding across the carpet, Grey jumped to the desk, wary of ink bottles and not wishing to interfere. Writing was a chore for Jamie, awkwardly forcing each stroke with his stiff right hand.
Landing on an unoccupied corner of the desk drew Jamie’s attention. He gave Grey an indulgent smile. "Oh, is that to be my supper or yers?"
Grey narrowed his eyes at Fraser, not dropping the bird. Of course it's not meant to be your supper, you're far too large and this is far too small. He looked at Jamie's writing and saw it was indeed a letter. Addressed to himself, actually. He knew at once the shape of his Christian name in Jamie's cramped hand. Fraser truly had no idea that he was here, in the body of his wife's kitten, sitting on top of his desk, holding a dead bird—a gift.
Something, some tension in the air increased abruptly, as if squeezing Grey's tiny body between two invisible palms. And then all at once it popped. The pressure vanished, and it felt as if Grey would burst. Like whatever had been holding him together was suddenly gone, and nothing would stop him from flying apart.
When the immediate sensation had passed, Grey was aware of two things. The first was that the wooden table hurt his knees.
The second was that Jamie had thrown himself backward out of his chair, shouted, "Jesus, Mary, and Bride!" at the top of his lungs, and was staring up at Grey with eyes gone as wide as dinner plates. He crossed himself, chest heaving with fright. "John? What the devil—"
The door flew open and Claire's voice came from behind Grey. "Jamie, are you alri— Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! One of you will please explain—immediately—why Lord John is on all fours on the desk and naked!"
Jamie's face was a symphony of blank surprise so expressive that it might have been comical, except…
Grey looked down at his bare arms. Continued down to see his chest and stomach were also bare and quite returned to normal. And his prick—
"Oh. Shit," he said. Or tried to say. He spat out the dead bird onto Jamie's desk, gagged, and climbed down to the floor. "Um." His cheeks burned like a forge as he glanced at Jamie, who was climbing unsteady to his feet. "Might I trouble you for a blanket? And perhaps a very large quantity of whisky? And I shall endeavor to explain…"