Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey

When: A week after returning to the Dwarf. In the morning, before Jay’s refectory speech.
Where: The promenade.

“I told you, I don’t have any sunflower seeds.”
“Hm.” The 5 foot tall gerbil squinted upwards, regarding the sullen-faced human with mistrust. “Then what makes you think I will give you this?”
Alex repressed a sigh and rummaged in the pocket of his ancient, ripped, jeans. “Look, I’ve got fifty vouchers for Whiskers’s bar, will that do?”
“Vouchers, you say?”
Alex shifted his weight, self-consciously. “Yeah, he gives them out for… customer loyalty.”
The deceptively cute looking gerbil performed the rodent equivalent of a lip-purse.
Alex rolled his eyes, impatience threatening to make him snappish “Well?”
“Well what?”
Solvay swallowed, as his fist unconsciously clenched. “Will you take them?”
The gerbil cocked his head. “Does Whiskers still have those karaoke evenings?”
The shopkeeping furry held out a paw, his attitude totally adjusted. “In that case, you have yourself a deal, Sir Human!”
“Uh, great.” A surprised Alex shook the paw, handed the vouchers over, and took the item. “Thanks.”
He thought for a moment.
“You don’t have anything to wrap it in, do you?”



The offering of horribly weak tea had nothing on Bedge’s super-strong cuppas. He was gonna have to rescue him as soon as possible.

“Hello Lanky Locks…” Artie interrupted his thoughts, sitting at a nearby table with a cup of his own. “I must say, your hair is far less lank and mud stricken than when I first encountered you in the swamp, however.”
Alex frowned, confused. “Er, hello” he nodded. The wild-eyed scientist indicated his jeans.
“Interesting look. Are those tears from accidents, or for fashion?”
At a nearby table Jacky sniggered. Alex supposed it was at his lack of people skills.
“Did you know gerbils like karaoke?” He blurted, trying to be conversational.
“Actually I did rather suspect it.”
Artemis was about to mention his work with animals when everyone was distracted by the arrival of the Chrysler family. Alex found himself smiling at Max’s scampered entrance. Breath of fresh air.
<snip> “I don’t want to ask any of you to do more for me than you already have. But, I need to…I can’t rescue her alone. I need your help…will you help me?” </snip>
<snip> (Several others spoke up on their participation in the upcoming mission)</snip>

A tight-lipped nod and a “yeh.” Was Solvay’s incredibly long-winded contribution.

Jade hadn’t seen Alex very much over the last week, having spent a lot of her time checking Jay was recovering well. After having sorted her lighting situation the morning after their sleepover, the two had said an awkward, hugged, goodbye. Alex had been keeping a pretty low profile ever since, spending long periods of time off fixing things on his own – despite Jamie’s repeated attempts at teamwork - or in his room, while the others socialised, worked, or made plans. Jade still thought that he was likely suffering from some kind of battle-shock, or PTSD. But she'd need to pin him down to make a proper diagnosis - or at least convince him to see the medicomp. She’d tried to engage him as they’d passed in the corridor a couple of times, but he’d been distant and strange and un-engageable.

Now though, he was hurrying across the canteen towards her. She winced guiltily as she noticed he still had a limp. He rushed up, brandishing a small, wrapped, something. He actually seemed excited.
Well, excited for Solvay.

“All right?” he nodded.
“Hi” she smiled. “I’ve not seen you around for a few days…”
“Been busy?” She asked, noticing the gentle fragrance of Eau de Hankey Bannister which aurad around him. While it wasn’t an unpleasant odour, it was sad that he’d already been drinking at around 11am.
“Bit." He frowned. "I thought you'd been busy."
"Oh... Maybe we got our wires crossed..."
"I’ve got something for you.”
She blinked.
“I didn't eat breakfast. " He continued. "You hungry?”


Whiskers’s Sawdust & Dinery

“Nibole, he is a wild animal, not an adorable pet!”
“I know” she soothed her worried husband “but it is cute that he’s brought a lady human along with him.”
Winston mumbled something.
“What was that?” She chuckled, prodding his furry, waistcoat-covered ribs.
“I said I suppose it is a bit cute, yes.”


Jade was curious and surprised at both Alex’s sudden announcement and at having been ushered up to Whiskers’s for lunch.
She was about to ask what had gotten into the man, when out of nowhere, a smooth, plastic voice chirped up, interrupting proceedings.

“You’ve got mail, Big Boy!”

Alex’s eyes widened and he reddened considerably, he’d still not remembered to change his PalmPuter alert. Seeing as he’d only received around five messages this side of stasis, it hadn’t been the most pressing thing on his mind.
“Excuse me.” He fished out the device from a pocket and began fiddling with it. Jade hoped he didn’t notice her amusement. Big Boy!?

“Who’s that?” The plasticy voice demanded. “There’s someone there, I heard her laughing!” The PalmPuter was in the rather possessive Virtual Companion mode. Panicking in his embarrassment, Alex couldn’t remember how to exit the programme.
“Is it that girl you told me about? The one with the Irish accent!?” VC blabbed. "You made me read her message..."
Jade’s eyebrows raised.
“No!” Growled Solvay, jabbing futilely at the screen.
“You can back off, strumpet!” The PalmPuter warned “this hunk of man-stuff is all mine, honey!”
Solvay finally managed to press the button and ‘Vicky’ the VC disappeared with a garbled digital shriek of anger.
Alex breathed a sigh of relief. Then looked sheepishly at Jade. "Sorry about that."
She gave him a wry smile. “You’re dating a computer?”
“No. She just thinks we-“ he closed his eyes and gave a miniscule head-shake “… It’s complicated.”
“I’ll bet it is, ‘hunk’!” There was no missing Jade’s amusement this time.
“Who was the message from?”
“Aw, shit. Forgot to check after all that. I’ll get her to r- Uh, I’ll read it later.”

He ran a hand through his hair and took a sip of his drink. Then, without further ado, he shoved the crudely wrapped little package he’d been carrying, over the table towards its recipient.
He enjoyed the expression she pulled – a sort of suspiciously amused look.
“It’s nothing good” he warned, so she wouldn’t be disappointed.
She unwrapped the brown paper. Inside was a little box with tiny shiny jewels stuck on it.
“Paw crafted by a gerbil that was.”
“Thank you! But why?”
“I wanted to say thanks for being there, the other night.”


Jade’s quarters.

Jay was well on the mend, so she could stop worrying about him so much now. She’d managed to spend some time with Phi and Jamie over the last few days and she was darned if she wasn’t going to spend some time with Solvay and get him to open up.

“You promised” she accused, smiling at how awkward he looked on her ‘sofa’.
“What did I promise?”
“That you’d tell me about Jess.”
“I don’t think I actually promised…”
She made a face.
“All right, all right.”

Jade's face was expectant.
“Uh… Well, Jess and I got married.”
“Things were fine.”
“Mm hmm?”
“I wrecked it, we got divorced and she wouldn’t let me see the kids any more.” This last sentence came out in a rush.
“Yeah. Can we talk about something else now?”
“What!? I dunno what you want me to say!”

“How about some detail?”
“Er..." he thought for a moment. "Well, Jess has brown hair. My kids are the best. We were going to have a third…” His face fell.
“What happened?”
“We split up before we could.” He felt like the conversation was going faster than he could keep up with.
“Why did you split up?”
It was like twenty smeggin’ questions. “I don’t really wan-“
He swallowed, wondering if it was wise to admit the following but wanting to repay Jade’s own sharing.

“Er, because I was sleeping around.”
“And, um, drinking, doin’ drugs,” he gave a flip of his hand “gambling.” He swallowed again. "That sort of thing."

She chose her words carefully. "That must have been difficult.”
“Yeah. I tried to sort it out, but…” He didn’t expand upon the ‘but’. “Anyway, she got sick of me.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault.”
“Still” she put a sincere hand on his arm. “Sorry.”
“My doin'. No reason to stop me seeing the kids though. That was spite.”
Jade nodded. “That must have been very hard on you.”
I don’t have the words to describe how hard. “Yeah. Like I say, she wasn’t very nice.”
Now he shot Jade a serious look. “She could get violent too. Nothing like your fella, but bad enough.”
He pulled up his shirt to illustrate the point. “That scar there?”
“That’s not from battle.”
Jade wondered if that meant the others were, or not.
“It’s from a plate. They can be quite sharp when smashed and used as a weapon.”
"And you say you tried to… stop doing the things?” She didn't name them, for fear that he'd clam up.
“Yeah. A lot of times. But…” He nearly said I'm weak.

“'But' what?”
“But I wasn’t very good at stopping. Can we watch a film or something now?”


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