The throbbing wasn't going away.
Charthur groaned, and tried to manage her head out of the pillow it was trapped in. Her limbs were dead, mouth dry, head pounding. Sunlight obnoxiously streamed into the room, trying far too hard to be pleasant for Charthur's taste. She snarled at the warmth on her face and let herself collapse back into her pillow. As if there was any point in feeling good or enjoying things. What a childish idea.
The throbbing continued.
At some point, she realized she wasn't going to be able to spend the rest of her life in bed. It was a hideous thought, and she considered making a serious effort to disprove it, but ultimately she realized that lying around feeling miserable was exactly as pointless as standing up and feeling miserable. At least a shower might help with the headache.
She rolled over and managed to get her legs over the edge of the bed, lying there for a full minute before working up the energy to haul herself upright. She took in the state of the room. There, on her night stand, was a glass of water and a leaf on a delicate plate. Nim’s handiwork. He’s so nice. What a shithead. I don’t deserve him. The thoughts didn’t make sense, but she wasn’t holding herself to any standards at the moment. She gulped down the water before placing the leaf on her tongue, its magic already working to relax her muscles and soften the pounding in her skull to a rough thudding.
Her furniture was otherwise barren. All the little things that used to decorate her surfaces had been shoved into her closet over the last few weeks: distractions, she had decided. She was glad that she had cleaned up all that paper last night: she wouldn’t have been able to deal with it this morning.
She rose, and made her way to the door of her room, when she suddenly froze, an icy fear seizing her spine.
It's easy to notice something that shouldn't be where it is. It's much trickier to notice when something that should be there, isn't. Which is why it wasn't until she was about to step through the door that the condition of her desk floated to mind.
The fear punched Charthur in the gut. It was a visceral fear, the kind you experience before your brain has quite managed to put together the implications. She burst out of her room to find Nim lounging on a couch in the living room, looking surprised at her panic. "Where?!” she shouted at her roommate. “Where's the poem from my desk?!"
Her roommate stared back at her, a confused look on his face. Several agonizing seconds passed. "Well!?" Charthur screamed.
"Oh! Uh, sorry. I was waiting for the rhyme," he managed. "Well, uh, after Vivian helped carry you home, I asked them to drop off your poem since they live right nearby." He started to wilt under Charthur’s stare, wide-eyed, her teeth bared. "I mean, you said were done, right? So… they said they'd drop it off in the morning," he explained.
"You betrayed me without warning?!” she shouted back at him. “Tell me, hurry, is it morning??"
"Charthur, it's…" Not knowing what else to do, Nim gestured at the window. "I mean, you know what sunlight is, right? I know you're a lightweight, but you can't possibly still be that…"
But Charthur was already sprinting out the door, driven towards Jasmaby's house. There wasn't a second to waste. She didn't even have time to properly hate every idiotic, smiling face or the obnoxious sound of other peoples' laughter. Every dawdling moron too wrapped up in their carefree ease to see her coming was justly shouldered out of the way.
He can’t have seen the poem. He can’t have.
Charthur's mind raced alongside her feet. Okay. Jasmaby was at the party too, right? Probably took out a lot of tigers, had a bunch of drinks too. Would've slept in as well. This was good, good so far.
And someone like Jasmaby, they probably get a ton of fan mail, right? No delivery yesterday, that's two days of mail all at once. Vivian would've used the mail slot, so my poem would be mixed in with all that. Yes, yes! That made sense.
So, what, it's easy. All I have to do is walk in and take the poem back before he reads it. I'll just… oh, I'll just say it was a joke, delivered by accident. That's practically true anyway. Perfect. Just walk in, say the poem was a joke, and…
Charthur realized with a certain horror that she had arrived at Jasmaby's front door, tall, elegant and intimidating. Knocking felt inappropriate, somehow — simply barging in struck Charthur as the less intrusive approach.
She pushed open the door, thankfully unlocked, and took in the scene. Grand, elegant foyer. Massive, gilded windows. Intricately tiled floor. Table. Stack of fanmail, untouched. And… shit. Jasmaby, sitting nearby. Okay okay okay, this is it, just don't flub this, just say your lines and go. It was a joke. It was a joke. It was a joke. Charthur opened her mouth to speak just as the final details of the scene snapped into place.
Jasmaby, glaring at her, more angrily than Charthur had ever seen on the battlefield. The poem, in Jasmaby's hand. Charthur's voice caught in her throat, so Jasmaby spoke instead:
"Is this a joke?"
Charthur felt tired, suddenly. The lack of sleep, the hangover, the sprint over here. Tired. Disheveled clothing, pounding head, sweaty body. Tired of feeling like this. Weak, ashamed; a loser. Tired of being this. Head pounding, words not coming, no control. Tired of being stuck in her own head. Tired of having to be Charthur all the time.
She swayed, slightly. A few simple words floated down out of the tangle. Normally, she would reject them — too whiny, too pathetic. At this point, though? What did it matter? The words wanted to be said. Why do you have to keep making fun of me? It was comforting, in a way, to finally drop the cool act and just admit the truth. Ha, okay. I’ll say it.
"Why do you have to keep making fun of me?"
It took a second for Charthur to realize she hadn't spoken the words. Jasmaby had. Oh, okay, Jasmaby can read minds, too, she thought for a second before realizing that probably wasn't the case. But if that wasn't it…
Charthur looked up into Jasmaby's face, still glaring, but — just as they made eye contact, was there a hint of sadness, shining through at the corners? If there was, it vanished a moment later, as Jasmaby barked, "Either you can give unto me the real poem, or you can depart from my house right now."
An out. Okay. Time to end this farce. “I’ll be going from your home,” Charthur said. Just needs an easy second line…
One came to mind. But… no. No. Why would she ask that? There was no point in future conversation. There was no answer that wouldn’t result in more insult and humiliation. Something else, anything.
The length of the pause was getting awkward. No alternative presented itself. Just leave, then, thought Charthur. You don’t have to finish it. Just turn and leave. Now. She remained standing there. Hey. Feet. We’re leaving now. They remained unbudged. Go! Nothing.
The line was still stuck in her head. I’m not asking, thought Charthur. Why would I? No one would ask that. Only the stupidest, most stubborn idiot would ask that!
Another part of her brain spoke up: Hi, it said.
Jasmaby’s lip was curling. Charthur suddenly felt a certain clarity. Yes, indeed. Only the stupidest, most stubborn idiot would, wouldn’t they? She had to admit that, very rarely, there were indeed advantages to being Charthur. She finished the rhyme, the way she must have meant to from the start: "…what do you mean by 'the real poem'?"
The disdain on Jasmaby's face blossomed into undisguised anger. "The REAL poem, MY poem! The one which you wrote, then erased, and scribbled this… this, ridiculous, pathetic tripe on the top of!” Jasmaby brought the poem to his face again, eyes ready to burn a hole through it. "I can't… only a few phrases can I make out…"
Charthur's head was swimming. Under normal circumstances, speaking was an effort, but at the moment, even thinking managed to be a struggle. Thoughts floated in and out of her head with no apparent connection between them. He cares about my poetry, came one, and lingered. And then a better one: He knows what tripe looks like. Nice. Too many tigers would fall for just any soppy verse; So Jasmaby has taste, apparently?
"I've put up with your insults since the day we met, but this I simply cannot abide!" Jasmaby sneered, packing each word to the brim with disdain.
Charthur managed to snap back to what was calling itself Reality these days. Something had come back. A spark. The need to fight. No, not quite: the feeling like it was worth fighting. "My insults, are you insane? / Do you have a working brain?" she shot back.
Jasmaby sneered down at her. "Well, what would YOU call them? When first we met, I told you that you were cute, and regretted express," the corner of Jasmaby's mouth twitched, "…expressed regret that we couldn't talk then. And you just walked off!"
Charthur could only stand there, dumbfounded, but Jasmaby had enough momentum to carry the conversation by himself for the moment.
“And then! When next we met, I…” he snarled. “I was so, so nervous, I just blurted out my hope for a date!” He grabbed his face with both paws, his nails visibly digging into his temples. “I can still hear them laughing at me, so pathetic was I! And what did you do? Just again walk off!”
With this, he slammed his fist on the table. A small spark leapt from the impact and caught on the fanmail pile, where it started to smoulder. Charthur considered interrupting to bring it to Jasmaby’s attention, but didn’t feel it was worth the risk at this point.
Jasmaby took a deep breath, and managed to calm himself a little bit. "So, okay, okay. I thought, maybe on I came a little strong. So the next time, I thought, I'll just ask about her outfit. What could be more less of harm?" He smiled sweetly at Charthur for a second, before the rage retook him. "But no. That wasn't good enough for you! And off you walked again!"
The flame was starting to spread a little bit. Charthur let her eyes wander to it for the briefest of moments before returning to taking in Jasmaby’s tirade.
"And then! And then!” He threw his hands into the air. “I was so ready to give up. So ready to believe that you, that you’d just never get it. That’d you never understand,” his paw slammed the table again, and Charthur was sure she could hear something crack this time, “how I felt about you!” He laughed, a mockery of sweetness. “But I don’t know, I don’t know, stupid, stupid Jasmaby. Here’s someone else who speaks in the strangest of ways, maybe she’ll, I dunno, see something in that?” He shook his head, chuckling softly, nastily.
“And and, when I worked up the nerve to ask,” he cupped his hands, as if cradling something precious. “You gave me this moment, this moment of… of… of the most honesty, and I thought, I don't know, maybe it meant something.” The sarcasm had faded. He gave a wistful sigh. “I thought, I thought I had found someone else who stood under how difficult it is, every day. How tragic for us. How sad.” He placed one finger on his chin, briefly lost in thought. Charthur realized, though, that he was trembling, barely at the moment, but growing worse with each passing moment.
“And when I told you that,” Jasmaby’s voice dropped, each word a growl, each louder than the last: “when I told you that… walked you off again!!" Jasmaby had gone past anger, past hate: he was screeching at her, every word and gesture radiating his fury.
Charthur couldn’t help herself. There were a dozen appropriate reactions to the situation, she knew. But she couldn’t stop the one that was building up inside of her. It was probably the worst possible reaction, but there it was. There was no denying it.
It started as a chuckle. She leaned over, placing her hands on her thighs to keep from pitching forward. It graduated into a full-blown laugh, forcing itself from her belly, again and again. All the tension, the anxiety, the fear of these endless weeks came up all at once, irrepressible. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe, but it didn’t seem to matter. The tears streamed down her face, one after the other plopping onto the tiled floor.
She risked a glance upward. Jasmaby was furious, but the sight of him looking so pissed just made Charthur laugh even harder. Her laughter echoed off the walls of the spacious foyer, filling it.
“WHAT.” Jasmaby barked. Charthur fought for control. She sucked in air where she could, still fighting a losing battle with sporadic giggle fits. She wiped the tears and snot from her face onto her sleeve unapologetically (as if this wasn’t any less dignified than anything else she had ever done in front of Jasmaby), and composed herself long enough to say:
"Are you blind? Can you not see? Intent and content — disagree! I hardly know how it can be,” (Unable to help herself, she jabbed a finger at Jasmaby’s face) “…you're even worse at this than ME!"
She didn’t know what reaction to expect. But trying to predict or make sense of Jasmaby had never gotten her anywhere, so why worry about it? Maybe he would finally see the humor in it, too?
Jasmaby screamed at her, "You… you snotty, insolent little runt!" Or not.
But something wonderful had happened. The laughter had changed something: The tangle had vanished. It was gone! Incredibly, the words simply arrived in her head when called upon. Charthur was amazed. She tried it out: "You're a conceited, self-absorbed, prick!" It worked!
"You impudent, annoying shrimp!" Jasmaby punched the table hard enough to scatter the fan mail everywhere, the pieces still on fire settling on the tiled floor.
Charthur was too busy marveling at her own mind to take any notice of the insults. It was fantastic: she merely had to think of something she wanted to express and the words were there! "You’re an egotistical, insensitive, narcissistic shrew!" she shouted back, on the verge of glee.
Jasmaby brought his fists to his face, clenching and unclenching them. "You… you! Rude! Jerk!!”
This is it! Charthur thought, This ability to just say things! This must be how normal people feel all the time. One more! One more! "You're an overblown, overstuffed, diva!!" YES!
Jasmaby leaned down, bringing his face inches away from Charthur's. She could feel an immense heat building behind her ears, spreading down her back, filling up her heart. The words retreated again, but that was okay, this time. They had served their purpose.
Jasmaby got as far as “You--” before Charthur lunged forward to kiss him.
It was a good kiss. Too brief, perhaps, in that it only lasted a few seconds instead of forever.
Jasmaby pulled away sharply, leaving both tigers panting, staring at each other.
An awkward silence descended. The heat that seemed to flood the room during their argument had vanished, leaving behind an ordinary place, still a bit chill from the night, only a trickle of sunlight sneaking past the curtains.
Charthur realized that the look of hatred, although muted now, had not left Jasmaby's face. Realization sunk in. The dream was over. Reality settled back in.
Well. What had she expected, exactly? That it would, ha, make things better? That Jasmaby would drop to one knee and profess his love? That maybe the two of them would burst into intertwined lines of romantic verse? That maybe things could possibly just… go right, from now on?
Charthur looked inside herself, to the part of her brain that would normally be screaming at her in shame, and found nothing. Perhaps she had simply used it all up. Or perhaps, at last, she had managed to fuck things up in a way that was her own, and it was simply time to accept that.
Slowly, sadly, the tangle descended once more. Once again, she was just a small, sad tiger. What was appropriate, in this situation? What could possibly be? An… an apology haiku. Sure. The syllables were already slotting into place. All that was left was to say it.
"Autumn…" was all she managed before Jasmaby's paw lanced out, seizing her tie and yanking it harshly, pulling Charthur towards him by her throat. Okay. Maybe an apology haiku wasn't going to cut it here.
"How dare you," Jasmaby said. Charthur brought both of her paws to her neck — the tie wasn't cutting off her air, not yet. She stared into Jasmaby's eyes and saw a fire there, barely contained, ready to explode. Maybe this was more than just a standard-grade fuck up.
"How dare you," Jasmaby snarled again. His other paw seized Charthur by the chin, tilting it back slightly. I am about to die. She thought. Another part of her brain, not quite up to speed on recent events, thought back, No good. Six syllables.
All things considered, I lived a pretty good life, thought Charthur. No regrets, really. Up until the part where I got myself killed, I suppose. Charthur closed her eyes and waited for the end.
"How dare you,” Jasmaby screamed, “keep me waiting." With that, he locked his lips to Charthur’s. She was too shocked to drop the idea that she was about to die, yet somehow that didn't seem to matter anymore. The thoughts of mortal peril were still there, but they had been superseded by other thoughts, such as: Wow. He's really good at this.
The kiss went on for almost a minute, or more accurately, exactly as long as Jasmaby pleased. He stood up. This motion, combined with his grip on his Charthur’s tie, now held at the level of his neck, forced her onto her tip-toes. With a shaky voice that absolutely failed to disguise his fluster, Jasmaby managed to declare, "My bedroom's in the back. I'm going there now," he turned, and started to walk towards a nearby door. "Will you join me?" he asked, perhaps unaware he was dragging her along by her throat.
Charthur inhaled, both to speak and just to make sure she still could, but only got out, “Yes, I,” before Jasmaby whipped around and screamed "GOOD!! ENOUGH!!” He recovered, and added pleadingly, “No more words. Let's just… just agree we don't need words right now."
Jasmaby turned out to be right.
Part 9 by opa-opa! (one more part to go!)—glitchedpuppet