Third Impressions: It's Rabbit Season

January 19, 2017:

Jhiao returns to camp and she and Nerina share some rabbit stew. Who needs a common language, anyway?

New York Campgrounds

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

A few hours later, the leopard lopes back into the campsite whisper-quiet, carrying a pair of rabbits in her jaws. She pads over near the fire and drops these off, then looks at Nerina curiously, waiting, her head tilted just slightly to the side. Can the woman realize the cat has a question?

And she did not freeze.

By the time the leopard returns, Nerina's campfire is crackling with a revitalized, healthy glow without having quite exhausted her pile of kindling. The fair-skinned Russian is nestled nearby sitting crosslegged in the heat trap of her lean-to. Before reaching the campsite or even spying its glow though, the first sign of its presence is the melodic trill of a flute. Perched in her half-gloved hands, the flautist is blowing a slow, melancholy tune through its plastic pipe. Her eyes are shut and the blonde is in her own little world for now.

Her only intrusion is when the rabbits hit the ground and Nerina reopens her eyes to look over, spotting the familiar leopard. Her music stops and she lowers the instrument from her lips.

"What?" She asks simply.

The leopard chuffs softly, and then pats her paws. One. One two. One two three. One two three four. Then she tilts her head again, watching Nerina with those intent amber eyes.

"I'll cut them for us," Nerina assures, making a guess at Jhiao's intent as she tucks the flute away and pulls a knife from another pocket. "Bring them here? I'm finally warm." While it might be an exaggeration, there's finally color in the young blonde's face again.

The leopard tilts her head in the other direction, then picks them up and pads back over, dropping them within reach of Nerina. Then she tries again, tapping her paw against the ground. One. One two. One two three. One two three four. And that piercing amber gaze, almost as if she's willing the other woman to understand her.

A blonde eyebrow raises as the leopard repeats her gesture. "Time?" She guesses again before grabbing a branch from her kindling pile and offering it. "Draw it," she suggests

The leopard eyes Nerina for a good long time. Then, finally, she sticks out her paw very delicately, striving to get the stick caught between digits of her paw. Then she very, very delicately traces out a rune on the ground. Unfortunately? It's Mandarin. Probably not terribly useful. Then she lowers her head, eyes closing, and concentrates. It's almost a full minute later before she then starts tracing out, very slowly, english letters. They're crude, like a seven year old. M. Then an O. Then a lower-case r. And then an upper-case E. And her tail crooks up behind her in what can only be seen as a question-mark shape.

Nerina watches with interest as the cat struggles through drawing and can't help but laugh a little when she finally finishes. Gently taking the stick back, she writes a reply below it, H-E-T. "Nyet, no. Two is okay, more tomorrow."

"Your tail is very flexible," she snickers, batting it playfully with the stick.

The cat nods, little ears flicking in amusement. Then she pads over and lays down, curling her body around Nerina's hips, placing her head on the other woman's thigh to keep an eye on her. Enough rabbits is good. And yes, her tail is very flexible. And she uses it to flirt the soft furred tip along the other woman's hand.

Nerina grins a little as she leans back and rests her elbows against her new cat-couch, jumping at the feeling of the leopard's tail brushing her hand. The flautist makes a playful grab for it and scratches the feline's thick neck with her other hand, keeping the knife in her fingers pointed the other way. "You're playful as a leopard," she notices.

The leopard's head bobs slightly on Nerina's thigh. She could try to explain that she can be playful in both - well, all three - forms. But Nerina wasn't feeling welcoming when she changed to human. Part of the reason, perhaps, why she's staying in leopard form right now. She stays out of the way of the knife and the work on the rabbits, but she stays close. She's quite prepared to be helpful in any way she can. Right now, she's a couch. A support. And company. Most importantly company.

Drawing a little extra warmth from the leopard, Nerina takes a moment to remove her arm warmers and store them on the leopard's haunches then grabs the first rabbit and spins the knife back into a straight grip in her hand. Setting to work on the unlucky animal, she makes comfortably fluid work of its carcass, minus a couple of pauses where the cold body has stiffened up. Working in front of more than in her lap, the discarded parts of piled upon the ground while a couple messier ones are placed near Jhiao's head - perhaps for a snack while she waits. In a break from common practice, the fishwife isn't making any efforts to keep the 'freshly dead animal' smell away from her campsite.

With one rabbit reduced to a pile of food and discards, Nerina grabs the second one and begins the process anew.

The leopard nibbles quite fastidiously upon the bits she is given. She's very thorough, and she cleans the bones completely, even as hard as it is to do so. Then she cracks the bones, and starts cracking open the bones, drawing out the marrow. She doesn't seem to mind at all being used for arm-warmer rest.

While she does offer most of the less edible bits, Nerina keeps the smaller bones along with their meat in the food pile. "That good?" She chuckles quietly at the leopard's gusto before digging a cooking pot and some hemp out of her backpack. Rocking forward off of Jhiao, she rigs a tripod above the fire out of a trio of branches and hangs the pot underneath it. The rabbit parts are unceremoniously dumped inside then covered by a long pour of water from her thermos before the fishwife seals it with a lid.

"Krolik ragu," she names it in Russian.

Not sure what it means, the leopard merely nods. But she listens. She pays attention. And she helps as little as she can. But oh yes, it is good. Company is better. And she doesn't hesitate to continue lightly touching Nerina. Contact is rather nice.

Contact from a warm fur coat at least doesn't seem to bother the blonde either and once the rabbit is cooking she takes her spot back and pets the leopard a little more, nicking her hand on her knife in the process. Looking down unconcerned at the bleeding cut - thin but long - she puts it in her mouth and sucks it clean. Then, after a time, the fishwife takes it out and offers the wound, now covered in saliva and still bleeding slowly, to the cat beside her.

The leopard nuzzles the hand lightly, giving a little sound of mild distress. Then she licks the wound, lightly, gently. Her tongue is rough and a little barbed, as to be expected. Unfairly, she then extends her paw, patting at the knife, and visibly - intentionally - knicks the pad of one digit on the blade. Then she licks the pad lightly … and Nerina can watch the paw pad visibly close itself up, heal, and the injury disappears, as if it was never there.

Nerina watches the leopard with patient attention and grins for just a moment at the noise of concern. Her gaze sharpens, studying the cat perhaps too closely until she feels the sandpaper tongue against her wound. The fishwife smiles quietly, unbothered by it, then her expression drops back to neutral as she curiously watches Jhiao repeat her injury.

"Special leopard," she muses, lightly running her fingertips against the healed pad. Nerina pauses and her eyes grow distant in thought for a moment before she grins dryly and shakes her head. "How old are you?"

The leopard gives Nerina a very purposeful shrug of her feline shoulders. She couldn't answer that question even if she had a human mouth right now, so she answers it as best she can in a gesture she's been taught is almost universal amongst humanity. Her paw pad is smooth and unmarred, not even a light ridge where the cut was present. Sadly, it does not appear to have been her saliva that made it heal like that, as Nerina's own cut, though now closed, has not just up and disappeared as if it never was.

"Young?" Nerina guesses, as if the leopard's human form wasn't enough proof. Taking her hand back, she lets it curl and rest in her lap, tucking the wound out of sight. Borrowing the hand on Jhiao's neck, she unhooks her thermos and takes another drink.

The leopard nuzzles Nerina's thigh and her shoulders ripple again. She just can't answer. If she were able to speak, she might explain that neither she nor anyone else knows how hold she is. Or that she has some reason to believe she doesn't age, or does so incredibly slowly. But she doesn't have a human mouth right now, so she can't really do that. She just chuffs and brushes her cheek against Nerina again.

The fishwife raises an eyebrow at that but lets the matter drop and resumes petting with her uninjured hand. The young blonde leans back against her surrogate couch and makes herself comfortable in Jhiao's fur while she waits for the rabbit to cook. Her head leans back and she closes her eyes with a quiet exhale, her hand continuing to run its nails through the leopard's fur unconsciously.

The leopard leans into the attention, and rubs herself against the human woman encouragingly. She could wish for the ability to communicate more completely with Nerina. But Nerina has proven more comfortable with her as a leopard than as a woman. So a leopard she will remain, and struggle on.

On the bright side, the blonde youth might not be petting another human quite so affectionately. "You make a good cat," she mumbles in praise.

Eventually Nerina rises from her den again and crawls forward with a quiet groan to inspect the stew. As soon as she pulls off the lid, a steamy burst of aroma floods out and scents the air with the savory smell of cooked meat. The flautist sighs blissfully and pulls the pot away from the fire, setting it and its lid on the dirt. The lid is left face-up.

Digging back into her backpack, she produces a pair of metal chopsticks and a ladle, then looks quizzically between Jhiao and their shared dinner.

The leopard's ears flick, and it offers a smile, though of course a cat's smile can be rather bloody intimidating; it's those fangs. Of course she makes a good cat; she was born a cat, grew to adulthood as a cat, and considers herself aways to be a cat, even when she's walking on two feet with her fur tucked away inside her.

Jhiao stays out of the way while Nerina works on finishing the preparations of dinner. But she shakes her head side to side as Nerina checks with her about their dinner. Instead, she just watches Nerina eat and waits her turn. She'll clean up whatever is left over after Nerina is done. She can't exactly do chopsticks with paws, after all.

Nerina isn't quite so quick to eat alone but does eventually dig in with her chopsticks, grabbing bits of meat and crunching through the softened but not quite fully cooked bones. Partway into her meal, she grabs the ladle and spoons a separate helping into the upturned lid beside the pot. The leopard gets a wink, then the flautist returns to her own meal, making quick work of the rest of her half.

Given the lid-as-bowl, the leopard pads over and leans up, up, pressing her cheek against Nerina's. She wuffles, nuzzling the woman's neck lightly, and then twists away and settles down to lap delicately at the lid full of rabbit stew. And while she does, her tail swishes in slow, lazy arcs, and brushes against the other woman now and again. Just maintaining contact and connection.

The blue-eyed youth smiles and loops her arm over the leopard's neck to cuddle her briefly before letting the cat turn to her own meal. "Bon apetito," she bids on habit, another kernel of Italian.

Nerina glances at the tail when it first brushes her and smiles a little more before returning to her own food, making faster work of it thanks to utensils. Go opposable thumbs!

Eventually she sets the pot back on the ground and taps Jhiao's shoulder twice. "You can have the rest."

The leopard tilts her head, licking her chops and offering a bob of her head at Nerina. Then she finishes cleaning the lid spic and span - except for kitty germs - and then busies herself with the remainder in the pot. She is neat and careful about her meal, not wanting to make a mess, especially of herself. And when she is done, she grooms herself just as fastidiously. And when she's done that, she leans against Nerina's thigh bobs her head. That's her thank you.

While Jhiao finishes her portion Nerina dons her arm-warmers again, finally taking them back off the cat's fur. She smiles and pats the leopard's cheek, then dives her hand under the waistband of her sweats, and under Jhiao's head, to root around in inner pockets. When her hand comes back out, it's holding a squeeze tube of peanut butter.

The flautist winks again as she pops the cap and smears a hearty trail across the sparkling clean lid, then puts the tube to her mouth to suck out her portion directly.

The leopard lifts her head helpfully, looking at the other woman curiously. She had been wondering about the contents of the lumps in those pants, but she wasn't going to ask. Now she knows at least one thing. She sniffs at the peanut butter curiously, considers that scent, and then sniffs again. Mmm. Then she sticks out her tongue and drags it across the spread brownish goo. Then a little more. And then at last she starts lapping at it, slowly, fastidiously, but with the same gusto of approval and appreciation she showed for the rabbit stew. New one on her, but apparently she likes it.

And as before Nerina finishes first and tucks the peanut butter tube back under her pants. She smiles at the dining leopard and gives her a little more of a scratch before standing up and tending to the fire, this time only by racking at its coals and using a heavy branch to rake away a large rock from its edge. Tumbling the hot stone end over end, she leads it onto the plastic tarp that makes up the floor of her lean-to and tucks it inside. Following it in herself, she lays on her side and repositions her backpack, fluffing it up to serve as a pillow, then settles in to watch Jhiao finish eating, her blue eyes twinkling in the fire light a little more warmly than they were before.

The fire itself is still burning, slowly starving of fuel. Nerina might plan to let it run itself out.

The leopard watches Nerina settle herself, and then goes back to finishing her peanut butter. Then she noses the lid of the pot over beside the pot itself, and pads over to curl up against Nerina's front, tucking her body in close and nestles there, warmly, as promised. She watches the fire intently, waiting for it to gutter itself out safely, before she allows her amber eyes drift closed.

Nerina cuddles up against Jhiao's back and buries herself in the leopard's fur. She has no such concern about the fire, although one other thing does stop her from drifting off to sleep.

Abruptly, the flautist untangles herself and stands up out of the lean-to. "Bathroom," she explains in a word before disappearing into the woods.

A few minutes later the blonde's footsteps return and she ducks back into the lean-to to resume her position between the warm rock and the warm leopard. She pats Jhiao's broad chest as she settles back in and finally lets her eyes drift shut for the night. Unlike a few minutes ago, the hand resting upon the leopard's clouded coat shows no signs of injury at all.

At this point, however, the leopard has stopped checking the wound, and so she does not notice its absence. What she notices is that the two-foot is back, and so she wriggles in close against the woman, keeping her front warm as the stone will work on the back. And it puts her close enough to keep an eye on that fire until it has put itself out. Only then will she let herself join the woman, closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.

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