PG at most. Warnings for possibly excessive doses of fluff.
Topaz is given a box of kittens, and mayhem ensues. With special guest appearances by, well, very nearly everybody.
Honestly, Jasper thought, the kid really ought to know better by now. Walking in after shift with a box that rustles? He's asking for whatever he gets, really--
--and the box didn't just rustle; it scrabbled. Whatever was making that sound probably included jewelry...
No, wait. Jewelry didn't. Er.
...Jewelry didn't squall.
"Darling," Jasper said, leaning on Topaz's shoulder abruptly just to feel him flinch in startlement at having been sneaked up upon, "don't tell me you could possibly have gotten some girl pregnant. If she comes here, there's no way they could tell whose--"
Right about then, Jasper focused on what exactly was wriggling under the blankets in the box.
"Oh, darling, don't even tell me some girl convinced you those are yours!" he managed, before he was too busy laughing to breathe.
Topaz was doing his best to ignore Jasper entirely, but the pink flush creeping its way up his cheeks and down his throat put the lie to it. There were some advantages to teasing people with northern complexions, after all.
"Do you think you can help me?" Topaz asked Lapis, a little urgently.
"I can try," Lapis said, all his attention fixed on the box. "Not to be rude, Topaz, but... why me?"
"Um. Because you're really good at taking care of things that need taking care of?" Topaz said. "Liam says they're too tiny to be away from their mother yet, but their mother'd been killed by a carriage in the road, and he can't take care of them himself, he travels so much, and I told him since I stay here, indoors, they'd be safe here, and they will be, it's just that I don't know what exactly to do with them, so I thought..."
"It's okay," Lapis said, stroking Topaz's hair in an attempt to comfort him. "You're more upset than they are. We'll figure something out. Did you think about asking Yakout?"
"He's got such big hands," Topaz said, and then flushed deeper when Jasper let out a guffaw. "No, I-- I just mean-- they're so tiny, I'm almost afraid to touch them myself, and..."
"Ohhhhh," Onyx said from behind Topaz's other shoulder, startling him again. "Oh, they're adorable. Can't be more than a fortnight old, if that-- yes, we hear you, sweetie, it's going to be okay--" and he scooped up the little squalling ginger tabby and cuddled the tiny bundle of fluff and flailing paws against his chest, making a deep purring sound that had the kitten kneading at his breastbone in no time at all.
"Hungry, are you?" he asked, offering a fingertip, and the way the tiny thing immediately latched on was proof enough. "Right, then. We're going to need a lot of old rags, and fresh goat's milk, and something like a baby's bottle. A little one. For that part I'm not sure what we can do -- do you think Safeer's daughter might have a toy she'd lend us?"
Both Topaz and Lapis were staring at him in wide-eyed awe,
as though he were the fount of all knowledge kitten-related. Jasper was still
laughing too hard to make himself useful.
Onyx played a quick mental round of rock-paper-scissors.
"Lapis," he said, "would you be a darling and go fetch some goat's milk from the cook, and then find Jade?" Because when Jade had free time, he generally spent it in the vicinity of Cobalt, and Cobalt had a wide assortment of ...unusual things to ...insert into various locations. Surely something in his collection would be... delicate enough for feeding milk to a kitten; but Onyx knew better than to directly mention Cobalt in Topaz's hearing when there were tiny, hurtable things to be protected.
Lapis shook himself out of his staring awe, and nodded, and ran for the door. Topaz, clinging to the box as though his life depended on it, was watching Onyx's hand cradling the little ginger fluffball in a combination of admiration and anxiety.
"Are you sure you ought to be standing up? I mean, they -- they wriggle a lot, and -- it's a long way to fall--"
"It's fine," Onyx said, but sat down for Topaz's sake more than the kitten's, and patted a spot beside himself. "Come on, let's teach you a little about taking care of babies."
"How -- I mean -- where did you learn about what to do with kittens this tiny?"
"There were a lot of rats in the cane fields," Onyx said ruefully. "We liked having cats around."
Jasper was looking a little skeptically at Topaz's box of kittens now. "How long do we have to do this?"
"Until they're old enough to take care of it on their own," Onyx said ruefully. "We're mama cats at the moment; we have to take care of them until they can take care of themselves. That includes everything from keeping them warm and feeding them clear through to the other end. Fortunately, they do catch on fairly quickly."
"How quickly, pet?"
Onyx laughed, a little sheepish. Fortunately, Lapis and Jade's return absolved him from the need to answer -- or, more specifically, Cobalt following Jade into the room distracted Topaz enough to change the subject for all of them.
He was on his feet between Cobalt and the kittens in a flash, arms flung wide: "No you don't."
Cobalt quirked a brow, and strode over to the group in the corner. "What sort of vermin have you dragged in now?"
"They're kittens, and if you hurt them I'll--"
"Why should I bother?" Cobalt asked, plucking the little ginger out of Onyx's hands by the scruff of the neck. "There's no gain in hurting an animal that hasn't the awareness to beg me for it and pay after."
"And you people call me a savage."
The kitten had curled up reflexively from the scruff-grab; Cobalt held it up and let it dangle, little bristle-tail slicked up between tucked-in paws, utterly limp and helpless and utterly trusting.
"If I really wanted to hurt something," he said to the kitten, rubbing a fingertip over the white patch under its chin, "I'd snap your little neck here and now. You wouldn't feel a thing; he'd be the one to feel it..."
"You bastard." Topaz's hands were fisted at his sides, and he was trembling all over. "Put it down. Give it back. It hasn't done anything to you!"
Jade was looking back and forth between them, hands opening and closing around empty air, helpless to defuse the situation; taking the kitten would offend Cobalt, but leaving it was torturing Topaz, and it made Onyx's heart ache for him.
The kitten mewed, beginning to wriggle a little, and it broke Topaz; Jade flung himself in the way before the blonde's fiercely swung fist could connect.
"Let it go, you bastard!"
Cobalt made an inelegant sound, and turned on his heel and walked out, the kitten still dangling from his hand.
Topaz struggled against Jade's hold, but the older boy had both height and reach on him; panting with frustration that wavered on the edge of tears, he was cursing under his breath in a dialect so thick it might as well have been another language. Onyx hugged them both at once.
"He won't hurt it. He plays with people, but he's not vicious," Jade said.
"Like hell he's not," Topaz said, unshed tears standing too bright in his eyes. "You're just too stupidly in love with him to see--"
"It'll be all right," Onyx said to them both, and hoped desperately that he wasn't lying. "Come on. We've still got to get some milk into these little ones."
Without a baby bottle or anything like it, though, it was difficult. Tying little knots in the corners of a napkin swiped from the formal dining room and then dribbling milk down the fabric was slow going, and their tiny teeth were tearing at the threads of the linen faster than they were filling their tummies. They didn't grasp licking, either; all their instincts said to suckle, and so milk beads on fingertips led to desperate little nurslings attached to entirely inappropriate places.
"What are we going to do?" Topaz asked, cradling a soft, fluffy little gray-and-white kitten against his chest to keep it warm as he tried to coax more goat's milk into the napkin it was suckling from. "I mean, none of us are girls; we're not exactly equipped for--"
Jasper was howling with glee before he even finished the sentence.
"--and that's not what I mean, you pervert," Topaz continued, rolling his eyes. "I just mean we don't have dolls with baby bottles, or tiny blankets or... or even perfume bottles with little droppers."
The two of them traded a look, then settled it back into the box and lifted out another. The handkerchief corner was thoroughly mauled, though; Lazuli knotted another corner for the next kitten.
"Cook's going to kill us," Jasper predicted gloomily, looking at the number of napkins they were ruining between them. "Salt in the tea. No blackberry tarts for the rest of the summer. How are we going to survive?"
"Let's show her the kittens," Lapis suggested. "I think she'll love them."
"Should we show Madame Garnet?"
"She'll love them and make us pay for them," Jasper said. "Just the cook."
Cobalt strode back into the room with the kitten cupped in one hand -- at least it wasn't dangling by the scruff of its neck anymore -- and some sort of device involving a glass jar and stoppers and tubing in the other. He set the kitten down in the box, handed the device to Onyx, and turned away and left before Topaz could decide whether to shout or to swallow his pride and thank him.
There was about half a jar full of milk left in the center of the rigging, and a clamp on each of the tubes; Onyx unclamped a tube and offered the tip to the little black and white kitten, and it began suckling eagerly.
"Oh, good," Lapis said, and transferred his kitten from the napkin-knot to another tube. Jade looked so relieved, and so grateful, that Onyx hastily diverted Topaz's attention to keep him from growling about whether or not Jade had actually believed his own assurances about viciousness. Some arguments just weren't worth getting into.
"See, it all turned out all right," he said with a smile. "Let's see if we can salvage any of the napkins, for the sake of Jasper's blackberry tart fixation."
"Who wants to take bets on what those tubes originally went into?" Jasper asked gleefully, and this time when Topaz took a swing, Onyx leaned back and let him. "...Hey, just saying!"
By the time all the kittens were milk-full and drowsing, Topaz had rigged a sling of sorts out of the blanket from the bottom of the box and had tucked them all in to sleep, resting against his stomach so his body heat could keep them warm.
Lapis and Lazuli had identical yearning expressions on their faces, watching the tiny little shift and flex of a couple of soft tufts of fur and a little ear peeking out past the edge of the kitten-sling. But the way Topaz was carefully cradling them through the sling, and especially rubbing his fingertips over the ginger kitten Cobalt had waylaid, informed them all in no uncertain terms that he was feeling more protective than usual at the moment.
...More protective than usual, and more susceptible than usual too; even as they watched, the warm lapful of sleep-purring kittens was causing Topaz's eyes to drift half-shut and his chin to nod down a little. Clearly he hadn't yet built up an immunity to the sleeping-ether that seemed to be given off by the fur of warmly drowsing cats who didn't want their chosen sitting-places to move.
Onyx wondered if he should warn him about cats and sleeping-ether, then decided it was more fun not to. ...Jasper was obviously rubbing off too much, but still.
Onyx reached over and smoothed Jade's hair lightly. "It's all right," he murmured. "He'll forgive you. Especially when it comes round to feeding time a few more times. Every four hours, including through the middle of the night? He'll forgive anybody who's willing to help."
"Anybody?" Jade asked, with a little too much hope in his voice. "I mean..."
"Don't count on miracles, all right?" Onyx said, rueful. "Just give them some time. And if you can convince the cook that yes, we really need fresh warm goat's milk at ludicrous hours, he'll be delighted. A little bristly and feisty, for a while, but still delighted underneath. I think he's like an overgrown kitten himself sometimes."
"Mmm." Jade's eyes were still too bright and hopeful, but Onyx far preferred them that way to the alternative. "I should go thank Cobalt."
Actually, Topaz should go thank Cobalt, and Cobalt should accept it without mocking him; but since neither half of that will ever happen without some form of blackmail... "You go do that, sweetling," was all Onyx said aloud.
Jade hugged him before he ran toward the hall; Lapis and Lazuli had curled up to sleep too, tangled around each other and a pile of blankets, and Pearl had given up on not being seen watching the kittens sleep. He seemed to have a higher resistance to cat-sleeping-ether; Onyx wondered if the two of them should take the overnight feedings.
Smiling to himself as he curled up for the night, Onyx realized that he had grown accustomed to the idea of using his experience with a fieldful of fiercely independent and occasionally cuddly and needy barncats to maneuver his way through the house's politics; and yet somehow he'd never expected his experience with not-quite-pets to be useful in quite so concrete a way. If he'd ever tried to feed Jade or Opal with milk in a handkerchief, for example, or rubbed Jasper's stomach...
If he'd ever rubbed Jasper's stomach, Jasper would have purred loudly and insinuatingly and rolled over and pounced, of course. And Jade would have blinked at him and gone along with it; Jade went along with anything. But Opal would have been baffled by the handkerchief. Opal was normal enough to be baffled by a handkerchief.
...Onyx hoped Opal was normal enough to be baffled by a handkerchief.
...His last conscious thought, before drowsing off to sleep, was that he probably shouldn't test that idea, both because it would be embarrassing if he was right and because he really didn't want to know if he was wrong.