Copyright © 2003, 2015 by D'Artagnon
Andy the Fox
Sammy could barely keep up. Andy was a sprite in the air, fluid motion and grace as they crossed streets from three stories up. The thieves' highway, the slender boy had called it; racing over rooftops, jumping across streets from high tree limbs, using the occasional TV aerial, flag pole or weather vane as a pivot point. Sammy couldn't believe his eyes. This scrawny kid with the thin wire frame glasses was making moves Sammy had only seen on TV watching Cirque de Solei performances. It was like watching the Spiderman movie all over again.
Andy smiled, barely exerting himself on the trip over to Sammy's house. It was clear that the younger boy was impressed. Andy needed that. He needed to know that his skills, so carefully honed in the shadows of society, had some value to others. He needed to see in the eyes of another equally impressive boy that he was special, admirable, maybe even an equal.
Andy didn't have the power of genetics on his side. He was short for his age, thin, needed his glasses to read and see anything closer than ten feet away with any kind of clarity. He had pale skin and easily burned. He wasn't gifted with fantastic strength or shape shifting abilities. He couldn't ride the wind like it was his own. He didn't have enhanced reflexes and agility that Mother Nature usually reserved for her most cunning and lethal creatures. All his agility, strength, reactions and skills were trained in. Years of his life had been spent mastering his craft. Years he had sacrificed at the cost of his own childhood. Now at the cusp of 15, he saw that there was so much he had missed out on. He needed to prove to himself that his own loss had been worth the cost.
He paused on a rooftop about a block from Sammy's house, near the top of Highland Avenue, just before the point where the hill's backside starts its casual decent to Kenoza Avenue. He waited, secure in the knowledge that the screen of the willow tree he was in protected him from casual observance below.
Sammy made the leap, his Kat claws digging deep into the bark of the willow and he pulled himself up to Andy's perch, looking at the scene below. All was quiet, save for Sammy's shallow, rapid breathing. The trip through the trees had been a challenge to his feline senses and strengths, and a serious shake to his confidence. The route hadn't been easy and several times, Sammy had doubted himself just enough to almost not make certain leaps.
"Wha?" Sammy started only to have Andy reach up quickly, without looking over, and place his hand on Sammy's muzzle, covering his chin and broad tiger nose with one hand. Sammy got the hint. "Why are we stopping?" he whispered.
"We're looking," Andy responded, his tone not a whisper, but low enough that only Sammy could hear it. "Looks all clear. Is you grandmother likely to be home?"
"No, she goes bowling on Saturdays."
"Okay, follow me," Andy said and he ran down the length of the willow branch, gave a slight springboard leap near the end, planted his feet like he was about to leap from a diving board and launched himself into the air. He twisted and flipped in the air, his body a virtual blur, and landed on spread feet atop the tall Victorian house beside Sammy's Grandmother's house. Sammy felt his mouth drop open in awe of what he had just seen. Andy was like an acrobat, and ninja and a comic book hero all rolled into one.
Andy looked back and saw the expression on the tiger boi's face. He grinned, and let his own heart catch up a little. That had been a very difficult jump, and making it look even more spectacular than was necessary had just sealed the deal for Sammy. The little tiger boi was suitably impressed. Andy quickly waved across the intervening distance, beckoning the younger boy across.
Sammy sat back on his haunches, back up against the tree bole. He'd need as much room as possible to get up to speed for the jump. Andy made it all look so easy. And while Sammy felt confident he could do it, the distance still scared him. He might be a Kat at the moment, but he didn't know if he'd be able to land on his feet or not should he fall. Or even if such a fall might be fatal.
Taking a deep breath, Sammy ran forward, took the springing step about where Andy had and bounced off the end of the willow branch. He shot up and landed neatly beside Andy, all four sets of claws digging into the roof shingles as he landed. He panted heavily as he recovered, staying near Andy.
Andy stroked his fingers through the tiger's head fur. "Not bad, tiger boi. This next part is pretty easy."
"Ummmm," Sammy said, leaning into the stroking. He couldn't help himself anymore. Any time Andy touched him it was like his skin needed more. He didn't understand it, but his instincts were guiding him as much as his own consciousness. He just went with the moment.
Andy looked down at the closed eyes of the little tiger under his fingers. There was such a look of contentment, of near bliss, that Andy had to stop and think about what he was doing. In his altered form, Sammy's senses were far more magnified. Almost any gentle touch would almost be sexual to the tiger boi. He retracted his hand and waited for Sammy's eyes to open. When they did, Andy could almost see the tiger smiling. "Watch carefully, Sam. This is the easy part, but it's still dangerous. Do as I do."
"Okay," Sammy replied, his features sobering slightly. Andy nodded, his expression going totally business. He placed one foot on the sloping side of the roof, shifted his shoulders and hips about slightly, making sure his body was square to his target, the eave roof of Sammy's house, some thirty feet away. Andy glanced up at the low hanging branch of the oak between the two houses. That was his first goal, the branch. With the right momentum and angle of jump, he'd be able to swing on that branch out far enough to land on the other rooftop without much difficulty.
If he missed, the drop wouldn't be long enough for him to even call out for help, and the sharp points of the plank privacy fence between the houses would break his spine, crack his ribs up through his chest and split all his organs. It would be a terrible and painful way to die. And it would take time for him to finally bleed to death like that, so it would last a good long while.
He smiled grimly at that thought.
Andy leaned his weight out over the peeked roof of the house and changed the displacement of his weight. Sliding on the cold-hardened shingles, he gathered himself for the leap. At the last second, just before his feet would have slipped into the rain gutter, Andy sprang forward, up into the air, and grasped the branch. It took both hands, but he made a firm grip on it, rolled his hips up, bringing his legs forward. The branch swung, sagging slightly with his weight, and Andy waited. When the branch reached the height of it's swing, the sudden feeling of near weightlessness his only cue, Andy kicked out hard with his legs, arching his body up and out, keeping the momentum.
He landed right in front of the gentle slope of Sammy's porch roof, right in front of his bedroom window. Sammy stared in awe at what Andy had just done. His Kat jaw hung down like a steam shovel, gaping open. Andy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small pack of lock picks and quickly had Sammy's bedroom window opened. He looked across to see the tiger boi still staring in wonder across the distance.
"You can do it," Andy whispered, knowing that Sammy's hearing was finely tuned enough to hear him speaking so low. "Believe in yourself."
"I'm scared," Sammy replied, nearly whining. "What if I miss the limb? What if I'm too heavy for it like this?"
"Sam," Andy said, adjusting his glasses as he looked back. "If I had your strength, I could have made the jump without needing to use the branch to swing on. You have the strength to just jump it, tiger boi. I believe in you."
"Sammy, I'll never rub your fur again if you don't at least try. You're a tiger. A powerful hunter. So powerful that in foreign lands they have to have whole villages hunt you because no one man can match you. Be the tiger!"
Sammy looked down the slope of the roof before him, saw the 15 foot drop and 20 foot span across between the roof tops. He still had his fear, still had his lack of trust in his Kat strength. But Andy said he was able to do it. And Andy himself had just done it. And Andy said he'd never, ever… again…
"Be the tiger, be the tiger, be the ti-ger…" Sammy repeated. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and blew it out, and then charged down the sloping rooftop. At the end he stretched out, bunched his legs all together and sprang off the end of the neighbors gutter, reaching out, stretching his body to its full length. His tail spiraled about in the air, swinging to maintain some sort of balance as he brought his feet forward for the landing. Andy slipped the window open, arms wide as the Kat landed on the roof, bouncing on his springy tiger legs, and rammed into Andy, landing them both inside the house, rolling backwards onto Sammy's bed, off the bed and onto the floor, fetching up against the closet door.
Andy smiled from under the tiger boi, scrubbing his fingers through the white jaw fur on both sides of Sammy's head. "I knew you could do it."
"I did it!"
"Yes, you did. Now can you get off me, you weigh a ton."
"Oh, sorry." Sammy picked himself up off Andy and leapt up to his bed, looking out the window at the distance he had just crossed. "Oh, man. Grammy'll never believe this."
"You can't tell your grandmother about that, Sammy."
"Why not? It was an awesome leap. Musta been thirty feet!"
"It was only 25 feet. And you can't tell her because you can't tell anyone about me."
"Because of who I am. Because of what I can do." Andy scooted backwards and put his back to the closet door, adjusting his glasses and then leaning forward, chin on arms folded on top of his knees. "They'd lock me away in a heartbeat if they knew."
"Look, you came by your powers honestly, you were born into them. I don't have powers like yours, but I was raised to be better than anyone else. I can see and do things no one else knows about. I've got skills that might seem impressive compared to what you can do, but that's all I'll ever have, my skills."
"I don't understand." Sammy closed the window and then turned, sitting down on the bed, his tail wrapping around his front paws as he stared down at Andy.
"I'll tell you some other time, Sammy. I promise. Just get dressed so we can go meet the little birdy."
"No, you know all my secrets, now tell me one of yours. It's only fair."
Andy blew a lock of his hair out of his eyes. Obviously, arguing with the little kat wasn't going to get him anywhere. And the trip across the river would be a long walk, even taking the thieves' highway back over. "We're kinda pressed for time here. I'll tell you while you get dressed."
"Well, okay," Sammy said, and then he jumped down off the bed and opened a dresser drawer with his mouth. He turned and looked back at Andy, a look of subtle concern coming to his face. "You didn't mean it before, did you?"
"Didn't mean what?"
"About not rubbing my fur. I really like that."
"I kinda liked it too, Sammy. I just said that because I knew you'd do anything for a good petting. Besides, your tiger fur feels really nice. Silky, all tickles and warmth."
"Oh," Sammy said, and if his skin were visible through the fur he'd have been blushing. "Um, this is probably gonna freak you out. I've never changed in front of anyone but Grammy."
"Not even in gym?"
"Not that kinda changing. I mean like turning back human and stuff."
"Oh. Do you want me to leave the room?"
"No, I guess you've probably seen me naked before, so that wont bother you. But Grammy said it looked kinda painful when I switched. I just don't want you to freak out, ya'know?"
"I'm talking to a half grown tiger who just jumped 25 feet across rooftops and you're worried that anything else you can do is gonna freak me out?" Andy smirked.
"Yeah, I guess that is kinda silly."
"Nope, just fits you perfectly."
"Okay, here goes." Sammy sat back on the bed and rolled onto his back, his front paws brought up to his chest, his back legs opening wide. Andy could see the little tiger's furry pouch lean over on his belly, his tail twitching a few times. Sammy closed his eyes and triggered the change again.
The first thing that happened was his fur sank back into his skin, letting his natural skin tones slowly emerge. His shoulders shifted and flattened out, followed by his chest sinking in and widening. Paws shook and trembled as his feet and hands resumed their normal shape. He stretched his head back as his jawline retracted, his nose thinning and turning up in a little ski jump. The tail seemed to suck up into his spine as his hips shifted, spread a little and changed angle. Sammy worked his jaw as the muscles re-seated themselves in their proper positions, bones quivered and folded themselves back into more human forms, and Sammy arched his spine, feeling his vertebrae reset themselves.
Andy watched in rapt awe. Where the tiger had once been, a well formed, thin young boy soon appeared. The transformation only took about 10 or 15 seconds, but it had been such a dramatic switch that Andy nearly let his awe show itself on his face. His observational training took on a mind of its own as he watched Sammy resume his boy form. He noticed that Sammy's nipples were erect as the change occurred, but his uncircumcised boyhood was not. He noticed the small scar on Sammy's abdomen, from an early appendix operation, Andy deduced. He saw how Sammy's eyes were slightly glazed over as the change finished. How Sammy seemed nearly spent from all the energy his body used in the transformation. A blissful look, to be sure, but one that hinted at a tiredness within. Limbs slack, a slight perspiration making his skin glow.
Sammy rolled over on his side as the change finished up, feeling his skin twitch here and there with the last of the fur follicles retracting under his skin. It would be a few years before Sammy had any other kind of body hair, Andy realized. A late bloomer, just like himself.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just… changing leaves me feeling kinda sleepy the first few minutes after I switch back. Going Kat is no problem. Coming back, well that kinda makes me woozy."
"I'll get you some clothes, then. You rest up."
"Will you tell me now?" Sammy said weakly as Andy got up and went to the dresser. Andy stopped and looked himself in the mirror over the dresser as he reached in and got out a pair of underwear and thick woolen socks.
I guess I gotta trust him as much as he trusts me, right Gramps? Andy asked his reflection. Trust is earned, not traded. I've earned his, I have to believe he's earned mine. Andy swallowed hard as he turned back to the boy behind him. He walked over, shaking out the folded socks so that they slipped free of each other.
He knelt beside Sammy's bed, laying out the clothes and picking up one sock. "When my grandfather was a young man, he discovered that he was very good at doing sneaky things. And that he could learn faster and better than most of his friends at school." Andy slipped one of the socks on Sammy's foot, watching as Sammy bit down on his top lip at Andy's touch. "This was a very long time ago. When he graduated from high school, he volunteered for a special program. The war was on at the time. Many of our town's young men went off to fight." Andy slipped the other sock on, noticing that Sammy's eyes were hooded, almost dreamily. "My Gramps went into a special school where they taught him to be a spy." Sammy's eyes shot open at this.
"Yes, a very special sort of spy, trained at sneaking into places through unconventional means. He was also trained in how to see what other people miss on casual notice." Andy snapped Sammy's briefs open and grabbed Sammy's ankles. Using a gentle pressure on Sammy's ankles, he rolled the other boy onto his back. "Eventually, the war ended, and the government didn't need my Gramps as a spy anymore. All the things he had done for our country were still top secret, mind you. He never told me all of it. Said there were some things that he couldn't talk about because of how secret some of it was." Andy threaded the waist hole of the underwear over Sammy's stocking feet and pushed the elastic waist band up enough that each foot pierced the proper leg hole. Sammy watched Andy's every move with rapt attention.
"After he came home, Gramps tried to find a job just doing things like normal people. His spy days were over. But he didn't have any special skills that the factory owners could use. His education and training after high school was all spy stuff, and he was forbidden from even using a lot of it."
Andy pulled the briefs up to Sammy's calves, stopping just behind Sammy's knees. He looked up at Sammy's face taking a deep sigh. The boy just a hairs-breadth from his own touch gave off a warmth and peacefulness that Andy himself longed for. He made sure not to contact any of Sammy's skin with his own. His eyes alone told Andy that the boy's flesh was unblemished, perfectly smooth, supple, firm over his muscles and bones without being tight yet, still the slight pads of fat left over from his early childhood.
"So, not being able to find any work," Andy said, sitting back on his feet, "getting kind of desperate and very angry with all of the secrets and things he carried around in his head, and just plain mad that he couldn't show off what he could do, what he had done for the whole country… Gramps turned his skills to stealing."
"He was a thief?" Sammy asked, simultaneously interested in Andy's story and wanting Andy to finish dressing him. There was something innately gentle and concerned about Andy that drew Sammy in, like catnip. He wanted nothing more than to go Kat again and let Andy stroke those awesome fingers through his fur all day.
"It was that or starve. You have to understand, Sammy. All of his family had died by this time. His brother died in the Pacific during the war and his parents passed away while he was doing spy things in Europe. He had nothing else."
"Oh," Sammy said, not fully understanding, but suddenly realizing that he had things pretty easy. Even though his own parents had died years ago, he still had Grammy. Andy's grandfather had been totally alone and out of options.
"Yeah, well, he did that for a long time, trying to put a little aside so that he could retire and not have to steal anymore. The papers called him the Merrimack Cat Burglar. And he was damned good at it. Only stole from those that could afford to be stolen from.
"Well, during one job, something went wrong. He never really told me what. He was robbing a rich guy's home here in town. For whatever reason, a lot of things went wrong all at once, two people got hurt and one man died. Gramps was hurt himself and got caught."
Sammy rolled to his side and drew his legs up, realizing that he was going to have to pull up his underwear the rest of the way. But he listened intently to Andy. Something about this quiet, self assured boy and the layers of him underneath what you could just see with your eyes was having an even more pronounced effect on Sammy than just his touch again had. Now it was sadness that caught Sammy's attention, brought up in him feelings he could barely put names to.
"Because he was a former government spy, he was sent to a special government prison. For 10 years he rotted in there, doing hard labor. He got hurt in there, and never healed right. He had a limp the rest of his life."
"My god!" Sammy exclaimed, gasping.
"Yeah, well, when he came out, he was pretty much wasted. His life was ripped apart, and he had no career skills. He came back home and got a job washing toilets and sweeping floors at city hall after hours, and then he'd go around and help a sand spreader crew in the winter once it snows." Andy lifted himself off his feet and sat sideways on his hip, his thighs out to one side, leaning back on his arm. "He met a nice woman 15 years younger than himself, got married, tried to forget about being a used up spy. Then my grandmother had my Mom. But they were poor and, well, grandmother didn't survive the birth."
"Oh that's horrible."
"It happened a lot back then. My mom grew up and married my dad, and then they both got jobs working for the government, doing research and scientific experiments. They didn't want to have kids. They thought they were careful about that. But then they had me, very late in their own lives."
Sammy nodded, just sensing that some big moment was coming up in Andy's story.
"They were working on something big, something important. I never was told what it was, no matter how I tried to find out. Top secret and all that. Well," he said, taking a shuddering sigh. "Well there was a fire at the lab. An explosion really. Government wont tell anyone about what happened or what they were working on though." Andy turned his head away, his longish bangs covering his face slightly, the tips of his hair brushing past the edges of his wire frames to trace against the skin to the sides of his eyes. He closed his eyes, feeling himself nearing tears, but reasserted his iron will. No more crying, he thought savagely to himself. You can never cry again.
"So, I was sent to live with Gramps. He was old then, but still had all his marbles. I was only a baby. As he raised me, he trained me. Everything that the government taught him to make him a super spy, he taught me. So that's how I can do all the things you've seen me do. How I know all the secrets I do."
"So… so you like, look in people's windows and see what they do when the door is closed?" Sammy asked, sitting up, drawing his knees to his chest.
"Something like that," Andy smiled, almost shaking his sadness. Gramps taught me that other people's secrets are precious things. Sometimes they are things to keep to yourself, sometimes they are things that need to be shared."
"Oh. So you've looked at me when I've had the door closed?" Sammy asked.
"A few times," Andy grinned, but kept having to avert his eyes from Sammy's. Sammy blushed brightly, feeling his face warm in his embarrassment. "But if I see anything like, uh, well, you know, I kinda move away. That's not a secret meant for me."
Andy uncoiled and rummaged through Sammy's dresser a while and pulled out a pair of thick sweat pants, a tee shirt and a dark green sweater with a hood. He tossed the clothes at the other boy and excused himself to visit the bathroom. Andy knew the layout of the house well; he'd been in here many times without waking the occupants as they slept. After taking care of nature's call, he returned and found Sammy dressed and ready, an old pair of sneaks on and a backpack loaded up on his back.
"Good idea," Andy said. "Let's get going."
"You still haven't told me what we're gonna do, or even who we're gonna meet up with."
"A little bird," Andy responded, smirking. "A little bird who awaits us at Watching Rocks."
"That's a long way from here, across the river and then back over this way again."
"I know a shortcut."
"Is it like the thieves' highway?"
"Something like that," Andy just grinned, and he reached out and brushed the backs of his fingers against Sammy's cheek. Sammy leaned into the touch as though he were still a Kat. At least now that the boy was dressed it was safe for Andy to touch him. Otherwise…
"Let's get going, Sam. The little bird is waiting for us."
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