As fast as Julian ran, the cat was faster, flying over the cobbled streets. Its small size was no disadvantage. It wove through pedestrians and streaked across streets with an ease a small part of Julian envied—but only a small part. Most of his attention focused solely on closing the distance between them.
He gauged the speed of an approaching carriage, decided the risk was neglible and darted in front of the horses. A furious yell and the clatter of hooves followed, but he was around the corner before the driver could raise his whip. The cat paused on top of a wall. It flicked its tail, diving into a tiny alley way. Julian pursued.
Moving like this was a rare joy, a joy he rarely felt. The knowing part of his mind observed that the streets the cat led him down were becoming less frequented, the houses shabbier, but the thrill of the chase was louder. Still, he suspected that if it wanted to, the cat could lose him any time.
Just as Julian had that thought, the cat clawed its way over a thick stone wall. By the time he reached the wall, the cat had vanished, only its scent hanging in the air. Julian put a hand against the wall, weighing his options. It was at least twice his height, perhaps more. No chance of him scaling it. The chase ended here. He turned, his gaze falling on a grand entranceway with a wide-open door.
A little too convenient, Julian decided as he stepped through the door. Even so. He was too curious to turn back.
It looked like a park, broad cobbled avenues lined with trees and bushes, some of which still had leaves. Deciduous, he decided, recalling a lesson with Scott. The bulk were thin skeletons, the ground beneath them carpeted with brown curled leaves. The main geographic feature, were the graves, sprouting at regular intervals throughout the park. Some were headstones or slabs, others minature houses. The place smelled earthy, reminding him of walking with his fathers in the Foxwood Court woods, early in the morning.
Julian breathed it in, and smelled his adversary. He turned.
A boy about Julian’s age sat on the edge of a great granite slab. He had brilliant blue eyes, and his tangle of curls was grey, almost silver. His clothes were those of a Parisien labourer, but he had an insolence that belied his humble appearance.
Julian felt the thrill of danger. “How do you do?”
The boy’s mouth curled. “You’re not ordinary, so don’t bother pretending.” His gaze never left Julian.
Julian buried his hands in his suit pockets. He did not take his eyes off his companion. Instinct urged him to remain alert, while something about the boy’s directness appealed almost as much as it shocked. “It’s not pretending so much as speaking a common language. Scott says its important—”
“Scott,” the boy interrupted. “Your tutor?”
Julian tilted his head. “You were watching us a while to catch that.”
The boy smirked. He stood, stretching, before stalking over to Julian. “I was. Long before you spotted me.” He glanced at Julian, eyes half-hidden by his curls. “I admit, I didn’t see you.”
Was that a compliment? Julian felt that it was. “I wasn’t hiding.”
“No—but you’re not obvious either.” The boy paused in front of him. “What are you?” His tone was fierce.
Julian felt flattered. “Father says I’m not allowed to talk about that with strangers.”
The boy’s eyes flashed, but his smile was sweetness personified. “Your father means you’re not allowed to talk about it with ordinary mugs. He wasn’t talking about me.”
That was patently true, but still Julian hesitated. “We’re not completely sure.”
“You’re not like me. I could never have failed to spot you if you were. But you’re not human either.”
“No,” Julian agreed. “I’m not.”
“You smell human,” the boy accused. “You’ve spent too much time with them.”
Too much time? “I don’t have anyone else but humans.”
The boy looked at him. “You could have me.”
Julian’s chest surged with emotion at that. He shuffled his feet. “Who are you?”
The boy grinned. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“I would,” Julian assured him. “Very much.”
Surprise flickered in his companion’s eyes a moment. Then he smirked, patting Julian’s cheek. “I’ll tell you my name when you tell me your secrets.”
The only people Julian let touch him were his fathers. He opened his mouth to protest this familiarity, only to discover he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Instead he tugged at his collar, finding himself breathless. “Do you have a nickname?”
The boy’s mouth turned up at the edges. He glanced to one side. “Would you look at that?”
Julian turned. All he saw was the wide avenue, a man sweeping up leaves, and a scattering of people visiting the graves. “What do you mean?”
No answer. His companion was gone.
He couldn’t be gone gone. Julian scented the air, but because his companion had been still so long, it was hard to get a fix on which direction he’d gone. His nose caught smoke, a hint of cooking meat. The afternoon had dimmed while he’d been preoccupied. He smelled someone’s dinner, the scent eliciting an instant reaction from his stomach.
There was no trace of Scott, nor even of Dawson. Nothing except the cemetary, the mouldering leaves, and the damp cobblestones. Now that he wasn’t moving, the Parisien afternoon had a definite chill to it. He was alone.
Lost. Julian tasted copper in the back of his throat. He forced back his panic. Scott would be looking for him. And so would his fathers. He couldn’t have gone that far. The cat—
Julian sucked in his breath. How had he been so stupid! Well brought up gentlemen did not chase cats. It would be remarked on. If he did not return soon, Scott would tell his father, and then it would be school—or worse.
Julian wrapped his coat around himself and retraced his steps.
The walk was long and lonely. Julian tried not to think of the welcome waiting him, focusing instead on tracking himself and the cat-that-wasn’t back through Paris.When their scent trail faltered, drowned out by the stronger scents of the restaurants or sewers, the details of the chase stood out clear in his mind.
The light faded, smoke pervading the air and overpowering his trail. Julian walked down broad stone avenues, buildings taking on a uniform appearance in the dark. He emerged on the bank of the Seine. He watched as a man in uniform set a ladder against a lamppost and scaled it. The light provided a warm glow, but little illumination. The city was entirely different by night, the Seine a murky shadow, the buildings bleached of their colour, the people strange, unknowable, hurrying to their destinations. Julian grasped just how big and strange Paris was.
He must find a policeman. Julian consulted his knowledge of French. Le gendarme? His feet throbbed. Taking even a single step more was agony. He breathed in, summoning what energy remained, and caught a very familiar scent, sandalwood mixed with notes of beeswax and ink.
“Father!” He looked up, eyes shining.
A man paced on the bridge, scanning the embankment. As he heard Julian’s word, he turned. Julian caught his scent then: starch, beard oil, and the underlying scent that belonged to Cross. Ignoring his aching feet, he dashed across the embankment and onto the bridge. He stopped just short of Cross, breathing too fast to speak.
“There you are.” Cross laid a hand on his head. “I was getting worried.”
Julian gave a fluttery gasp. His chest was full. He’d been told not to run off by himself, that he must listen to his tutor, and mind what Scott told him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—it was an accident, it won’t happen again, I promise, please—”
“It’s all right.” Cross removed the scarf he wore. Pip’s scarf, his favourite. Julian felt a momentary pang of disappointment that he wasn’t there, it was just his scarf, and then Cross wound the scarf around him, enveloping him in the comforting scent of home. “Let’s return to the hotel. Your father misses you.”
Cross raised his walking stick. A carriage rumbled to a halt at once.
Julian stroked the fabric of the scarf. He was too tired to follow the exchange that followed, stumbling as he climbed into the carriage after Cross. “My stomach is empty and my feet are sore.”
Cross snorted as he shut the door after him. “Given the account we’ve had of your afternoon, I’m not surprised. Perhaps next time you’ll think twice about chasing a cat.”