(1311-04-24) The Thin End of the Wedge
Summary: Philo returns home from the horse race a loser, only to find that her usual consolation prize awaits her.
RL Date: 29/04/2019 - 01/05/2019
Related: Previous scenes with these characters. Follows closely upon the heels of Day of Anael: Horse Race.
leda philomene 

Maison aux Herbes — Rue du Port

Desc elided to protect our more sensitive viewers.

When Hirondelle has been tucked safely away in her pond and Philomène returns to her house in the rue du Port, she may be at first too… wearied… by her equestrian antics to discern the small changes which have taken place in her absence. Chairs and tables stand in neater relation to one another. The floors are fresh-swept and the windows forbiddingly clean. And whatever detritus left by Geneviève last night, human or otherwise, has been cleared away.

It would however be difficult for any householder bent upon changing her clothes to overlook the pair of cats curled up asleep in the middle of her bed. One of them is a small bundle of golden fur adorned with dark brown spots. The other, wrapped round the first one, is Leda Lavecq.

The bedroom door opens a few inches and then catches upon a red silk dress dropped on the floor just inside it. The noise wakes the baby first; and then that warning growl uttered from within the circle of her long bare arms prompts a vague, sleepy, “Shh, my love,” from the erstwhile Orchis, who hasn’t been seen or heard from in Marsilikos for two full months. She soothes her pet with instinctive touches, cuddling the creature close against the front of a sea-green silk chemise about as covered as you’d expect in shed golden fur.

The overall cleanliness of the house, the faint smell of soap lingering where stains Philomène had long since despaired of have been miraculously got out, should have been enough to at least flag that something was up. But then perhaps it’s difficult to see the bright windows or the polished brightwork when you’re still scowling sullenly at the world in general, and when you’re fuelled by anger and disappointment it’s hard to identify the smell of fresh tea and baked biscuits over the bitterness of having failed just to win at the only thing you thought you could still do.

It’s in a fair temper that Philomène flings open her door and, barely managing to avoid walking face first into it when it’s stopped by a puddle of silk, she lets out a few choice words. The answering growl causes her to stop, and then as she forces the door open and sees the current occupants of her bed, her expression changes first to pleased relief, and then to wariness. The red dress is nudged aside with one foot rather than attempting to bend to move it out of the way, and she edges along the side of her chest of drawers to keep a healthy distance between herself and what looks worryingly like a feral animal. And a leopard.

Leda is by now properly awake: with one arm still round the baby she uncurls and stretches out upon the bed like a red and green flower opening its petals in the sunshine of Philomène’s presence. Her eyes open. She blinks thrice and then focuses upon her old and dear and regrettably smelly friend. “Oh, Philo,” she says nonchalantly, but beaming ear to ear, as though the other woman’s advent were in one and the same moment a) no surprise, and b) a treat. “… Well, I suppose Brigitte can draw a bath for you. She promised me a bath too when I woke up. And I’m awake now, aren’t I?” she points out, with her usual impeccable logic.

The baby is meanwhile licking its chops, as good little leopards do when they smell such a lot of horse in so confined a space as Philomène de Chalasse’s bedchamber.

There are a lot of questions buzzing about the vicomtesse’s head at a time like this. Questions like ‘Where have you been?’, or ‘Why are you in my bed?’ or ‘Where has Brigitte been all my life?’, but she begins, after opening and closing her mouth once or twice, with: “What the bloody hell is that?”

It seems pertinent, as the feline baby in question is glowering with Philomènesque ferocity, teeth bared and shoulders up. Philomène, naturally, returns the look as good as she gets. Only when it becomes apparent that this is a standoff that neither is going to win in a hurry does she turn that glare to the more human of her bed’s occupants. “And where the hell have you been?”

Isn’t she welcoming?

Meanwhile Leda, alert to but somewhat puzzled by the hostility in the room, is scritching some small fluffy spotty ears. The leopard kitten not only backs down but butts her head against the loving touch and begins to emit a sonorous rumbling purr. “Oh, it’s only Bébé,” her maman explains vaguely. “We thought we’d go down the coast for a few days, only I suppose it did take me a little while to get back again, because Froufrou was in prison. Why, don’t you like cats, Philo?” Wide green eyes widen, astonished by the prospect of so odd a prejudice.

“That,” Philomène pronounces firmly, with one slender finger pointing directly at the beast, “is not a bloody cat!” She looks as though she might be about to go on, but stops herself, rubbing at the bridge of her nose with thumb and forefinger. “Wait… what else have you brought home with you, Leda?” she asks cautiously, taking a long breath and deliberately relaxing her shoulders. Must. Not. Rage.

It lasts about a second before she’s gesturing wide with her hand. “This isn’t a zoo! It’s my house! I just want to come home and go to sleep, and…” Again she trails off, shaking her head at the sight of those wide green eyes. “Oh. Leda. Really,” she finishes lamely, pressing her lips together and limping heavily a pace or two over to her chair where she can begin to unbutton her horse-scented jacket and scowl at the carpet. And perhaps, just once, for a split second, glance back at the occupants of her bed.

“Don’t you listen to her, my love,” Leda croons to the kitten, “of course you’re a cat, and a very good cat too,” in her totally unbiased opinion, conveyed now via languorous full-arm caresses against which her little leopard arches and purrs. Catlike in the essentials, certainly.

“Well, I did bring you a basket of oranges,” she goes on to Philomène, “but I think I gave some of them away to the children at the docks, didn’t I, Bébé, so I suppose it’s not quite a full basket now, is it… and we had some for breakfast, didn’t we? I didn’t bring Froufrou, he thought he’d better go home, what with everything. Anyway if you want to go to sleep, we’re not stopping you,” she says blithely, “I rather think we could nod off again ourselves, couldn’t we?” She consults the kitten, who just rumbles at her. “Or else we could have a bath,” she muses. “But you needn’t have another bath with us, Bébé, I know you didn’t like it much, did you?”

Yes, Leda Lavecq has bathed a leopard. She appears unscarred.

The jacket is peeled away and deposited with what might be noted is less than the usual amount of care on the back of the chair. Neither does it hang today in its usual lopsided manner, its symmetry unspoilt these last couple of weeks by the weight of a certain copper flask tucked away in the inside pocket. Philomène glances back towards her bed and her redhead, arching one narrow brow. “You brought Brigitte back with you?” she can’t help but recognise, and there’s a certain lightening of her tone that she can’t entire disguise with her affected glower.

But then she turns back away, busying herself with her breeches (also horse-scented, for those paying attention) and grumbles, “But I suppose it’s really too late in the day to ask her if she’d arrange warm water for a bath. I shall find a flannel.” Because clearly cold water is probably a better idea anyway, now the idea of that level-headed valkyrie is once again in her mind.

“You can stay. The… cat… thing… goes outside,” she demands simply. “This is my bedroom, not an exhibition. Can Brigitte deal with her? It? Him?”

But Leda can turn any bedroom into an exhibition. Just you wait.

She sits up on the bed and hauls the cat-thing into her lap by the scruff of its spotty golden neck; something bright flashes in the slanting sunlight from the uncurtained windows, apart from and in addition to her inevitable rings. Her new pet is wearing a collar set with— well, it might be pieces of bright-coloured glass, or it might be gemstones worth more than Philo’s house, contents, and horse put together. Leda being Leda it could go either way.

“She. Oh, but she couldn’t go outside! What if somebody tried to steal her?” Nuzzle, nuzzle. “It wouldn’t be safe,” she decides. Yes, leopards must be kept indoors, for safety.

“Nobody’s going to steal her,” Philomène reasons, lowering herself with a wince of effort into the seat so she can remove her boots. “Put her in the kitchen. Or in a cage. Or somewhere that isn’t my fucking bedroom.” Some latent irritability there, Philo? There’s a thump as the first boot hits the deck, toes stretching out gloriously to revel in their newfound freedom.

“How long are you staying this time?” comes the next question, demanded as much as asked. “I suppose you heard about the grain, did you?”

Whatever it is Leda mutters about cages — a subject antithetical to her very nature — is lost amongst the big fluffy ears of her new love. Only her wounded green gaze beaming at Philo over Bébé’s head gives some indication of the gist of it. Then she lifts her head, catches stray red tresses upon the said ears, and, disentangling them, inquires: “Grain, darling?”

Philomène arches a brow and her back as she eases out of her breeches. “Chalasse grain,” she explains shortly. “Been going missing. I thought you might have heard something in your travels, but… well, perhaps not. It didn’t involve drink, sex, or wild animals, so you probably missed the news.”

She turns in her seat rather than stand, elbows resting on her knees as she moves to look over at the pair. “It is good to see you again,” she admits after a moment, then leans back in her seat and adjusts her cuffs idly. “But I draw the line at animals in the bedroom. I’m not Geneviève. Please, please have the animal somewhere else by the time I get back?” she requests, to an Orchis helplessly distracted by the beast in question, hauling herself back up to her feet and limping her way (although is that limp slightly less pronounced than it has been?) in nothing but her slightly damp shirt-tails towards the door. We do not need to ask where she’s going. Even vicomtesses sometimes need to use the smallest room.

Especially when they’ve got so much to think about, and they can from this afternoon no longer rely upon a moment’s privacy anywhere else in their own houses.

Suspicious noises in the passageway draw Philomène forth again from her place of contemplation to find that, in the face of all her plans regarding cold water and flannels, Brigitte has caused to appear in her bedroom the copper bathtub she herself never troubles to haul about and fill with hot water, because who’d go to all that trouble when there’s a perfectly acceptable bathhouse not far away—? Who indeed. Leda Lavecq is sitting on the end of the bed pinning up her long red tresses and regarding the rising steam with a hungry look.

The answer to the question “Can Brigitte deal with her?” appears meanwhile to be a resounding affirmative. Wherever the one-woman bucket brigade should happen to tread — pink-cheeked, white-aproned, her magnificent stature topped with a crown of golden braids — Bébé follows at her heels, rubbing against her skirts and generally being a beautiful nuisance.

At Philo’s return Leda looks up to her and smiles more brightly than before. “You know, you do look rather well, darling,” she remarks; after their handful of nights together she knows better than to mention Philomène’s bad leg by name in any connexion whatsoever.

Philomène leans up against the door on her return, both in order to admire the view — multiple views, if we’re quite honest — and to disguise the scarring on her leg by making sure her shirt tails hang down in just the right way to cover the worst of it. It’s not going to fool anyone for long, but it’s an automatic reaction when faced with… sigh… Brigitte.

Not that the domestic seems to be paying the slightest bit of attention, only even deigning to recognise Philomène with a courteous murmur when she finds herself waiting patiently, a bucket in each hand, to get through the door that the Chalasse is so unhelpfully blocking.

With a guilty start (yes, in her own house), Philomène limps awkwardly aside, then tries her best to hide the fact that her leg might be troubling her at all by placing the foot flat on the wall behind her and folding her arms over her chest, chin lifting in defiance of anyone who might call her out on it.

“I look,” she tells Leda drily, “like I feel. Old, tired, more than a little nauseated.” She’s selling herself, clearly. “I’ve not been well these past couple of weeks, but I seem to be recovering at least. How do you do it?” She tilts her head, looking Leda up and down with a fondly critical eye. “You don’t seem to age like the rest of us. Even when you’re asleep you don’t look tired. Did you do a deal with a demon?”

“… Oh, only with an angel,” giggles Leda, wriggling her shoulders in token of her simple and artless enjoyment in being so praised by such a dear friend; “but don’t we all, who try to serve her—?” She blinks her absurdly long and preposterously dark eyelashes at Philomène; she breathes out, “Anyway, p’raps I’ve just missed you too, darling.”

She drops her comb on the bed and gets up, and in the next instant her chemise falls and she’s standing there in only her unfairly immaculate skin, and a ruby or two she’s forgotten to take off. “D’you think it’s too hot?” she asks Philo anxiously, re: the bath. The level of the water in the copper tub suggests that Brigitte may well be making a return trip, with the baby kitten at her heels, but Leda of course cannot wait until a sensible moment. “Shall I try it?”

“If it’s hot enough to scald, count me in,” Philomène decides, making her way over to her chair and casting a somewhat approving look at the Orchis and her choice of clothing, or lack thereof. Look, it’s her house, she’s allowed to ogle the guests, surely?

“If I end up as a Philo soup, it’s a good way to go,” she insists with a light smile, crossing her arms over her front and peeling away her shirt over her head. This she deposits on her chair, runs a hand through her now mussed up hair to tame it, and limps over to the bath. One hand trails in the water to test it for a half second or two and then she awkwardly clambers in. Sure it’ll probably turn her bright pink in seconds, but the heat is going to do wonders for a tired and aching body in the aftermath of equestrian sports.

The bathtub is not in theory built for two — but Leda nó Orchis, that pioneer of the Night Court, prepared as ever for any sensual challenge, gives it a damn good try.

If Brigitte, returning with a further pair of buckets, gets a wee bit of a scare, it’s nothing for which her previous months in Leda’s service(?) have not prepared her. One can only imagine she pours the water, tip-toes out, and with the baby leopard lovingly in train shuts the door behind them both, having lent to the proceedings her own ineffable fragrance.

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