Never Be Earthbound

It was so perfectly out of left field, so utterly dashed into existence that Iago almost didn't think he'd just heard what he'd very clearly just heard. His own response was as unmeasured, "What??" and the bewilderment of it made it almost a laugh. Perhaps removing his hand at this point would have been the reaction expected, but Iago almost didn't even connect the two things together, and remained where he was.

Tamping down on some misplaced feeling that wasn't amusement but wasn't... not, he tried to say something more helpful than simply that knee-jerk confusion. "Sokol," was all he ended up with, but in that tone that could be translated as 'did you seriously just ask me that?' if you were really good at reading between every letter.

IT WAS ABOUT THE ARM AND IAGO WAS STILL TOUCHING HIS ARM THIS WAS OBVIOUS. Iago was laughing at him and still arm and abruptly, from a place of mercy, the lion shoved its useless host over to the side and Sokol's bones were splintering, his mouth erupting from its perfect dentition into something monstrous.

Sokol was done. Sokol, if he ever did shift back out of his lion, would have to live the rest of his life alone on a mountain. It was the only way. He didn't even bother to turn away as his pretty face bulged outward, only sank with resignation to sit splay-legged on the floor and catch glimpses of his trousers shredding.

For as long as he had been a lion--some years, a lifetime in its own right--Iago had not really seen too many others shifting. His had been a solo venture 95% of the time, and he didn't typically tend to stand around and look in a mirror when he did. They were inelegant, at best, these transformations, and Sokol had apparently emotionally murdered himself enough to trigger one, it wasn't exactly the most marvelous of things to witness.

Uncertain he could do much--but feeling flustered enough now to try--he sank to a crouch and kept close, patting him. "Sok, please, it's okay, you're okay," he said, insisted, really, while knowing that it was probably not something that was going to be easily backed down from. Maybe it was experience, or maybe it was a literal need to flee the scene, but the shift was going quite quickly. A little like trying to stop a rolling car on a steep hill with your own two hands.

Perhaps he didn't really want to stop him, though. Already his own lion was rousing, suggesting the best comfort was equal company. It was ill-advised, two lions in this nice house... but it was a real temptation for a man still in reasonable control of his own person.

Pat, pat. The lump of meat groaned, a swiftly doubling, tripling skull pitching steadily downward as the rest of the body struggled to keep up. Oily fur, grey-white and beige sprouted prolifically and gave Sokol the pleasure of experiencing crippling pain and intense itchiness all at once. His ribs belled out now, shearing his shirts steadily at the seams, and the lion-thing placed its hands against the cool kitchen tile and stretched, hips canting forward to allow for the stubby growth of a newborn tail.

It hurt, blindingly so at this speed, and this was preferable to dealing with human blunder.

Iago did feel badly, but he wasn't sure exactly what had happened, either. Like, yes, in theory he sort of understood that Sokol had upset himself, but how had they gotten there? It still felt so perfectly out of line with Iago's own thoughts that he just...

Maybe, okay, it wasn't time to think about that anymore. Maybe a conversation for later, if Sokol could bear to have it. But as the beastly thing on the kitchen floor grew and changed, there was a keen longing that was impossible to really deny, and Iago had never had issue with letting the lion have his way when he was this insistent. It wasn't like he could--or wanted to--leave, and it wasn't like he could provide more as a man than as a lion.

The lion called out from the metaphysical veil, and Iago--more cognitive in his choice than poor Sokol had likely been--took to quietly disrobing while the other was distracted by pain and confusion, and then let the lion have more than just his teeth, his eyes, and his hands.

Very quickly, he had passed through the gauntlet, almost as swiftly as he had abdicated from his own body, and seated in the close confines between kitchen island and refrigerator was a six hundred-pound lion, still with naked pink feet. Skin twitching, he reached around to hook incisors into a shred of fabric over his shoulder and ripped it off as his fur finished growing in.

Indoors was not especially desirable, although stink-lines were emanating from the counter, unfinished meat and cheese. The apartment was doll-sized, no room to run or sprawl. Taking all of this into account, the lion blew out a humid breath and moved to investigate its companion.

Even a shift willfully gone into was never pleasant, even when one considered the result at the end to be a reward well worth it. It had been primarily paws first today, a little more comically hollywood as fur grew in and the dangerous weapons of the will-be animal asserted themselves. It wasnt too uncommon with Iago--as if the points on him that were stuck were an easy weak point to start with.

Still, while quite quick about it, he wasn't nearly so quick as Sokol, and by the larger of the two lions had his bearings, the was just shy of halfway done. Fully furred at this point, but rapidly growing and reshaping under the thin blanket of gold and chocolate strands. Finally his legs reoriented properly, allowing him to roll over onto his belly, to groan and growl about it in a position that didn't feel quite so hopelessly dramatic, even as his liver in particular was doing something distinctly unpleasant in his gut.

Sokol the lion sat, watching, his head at an intently curious tilt. He made anticipatory little huffing noises, and unable to help himself, batted out at a leggie as the shifting lion rolled over. This drew him onto his feet, and he paced the two steps available to him in the shrinking kitchen.

That was fun. He knew what it was turning into: his favorite friend.

It was normally one of the reasons he preferred to shift alone. The idea of an audience while so vulnerable was often a strange feeling for the loner lion. But he was just cognizant enough of where he was still, and who he was with, that even with the peripheral movement going on while his shoulders buckled at first then arched and reshaped while mane fur blossomed between them, he didn't feel the nerves. No reason to try and be alert and wary through the haze of a muzzle pushing out. He let his eyes close as it carried on for another minute or more, numbers and time relatively meaningless.

The countdown. 10... 9.... 8...

His tail lashed as the last bits of fur came through on the end of it, and his ever-ready claws flexed into the tile of the kitchen, scraping faint white lines. Rearing his freshly formed head back, he sought to sniff, mouth slightly open as he tried to absorb the essence of the other as if that would be the last bit of power he needed in order to find himself fully configured and on four paws.

Sokol rubbed his cheek on the cabinet doors as he waited, hooking a handle into his mouth; this was not intentional and so he had to draw back his head and bite it, carefully.

After this had been attended to, he crept slowly in this tiny space back to Iago, yes, here. Tenderly, he nosed his way down to the lion's hip and bit.

All the happy buzzing feelings were there, but better now. Nothing to distract from them, nothing to make them pull away, and the darker lion let out a low and easy rowwww of not-quite-protest as he found a mouth on him. It twisted him, from his belly, his muscled thighs knocking the island as he rolled over, all four limbs coming up as a defense and to try and grab the great, shaggy, pale head in a happy vice of plate-sized paws.

He was here, as he should be, the last little bits clicking into place as he took a deep breath that seemed to come with his lungs being the last to finish the race today, filling up the last hollow inside.

Iago rowled at him, and this made the lighter cat's tail tick restlessly against the refrigerator, made him press his teeth in harder as he was buffeted by heavy paws the size of sandbags. He snarled and shot a paw up to bat away at some of the offending limbs, his great bony ass sinking down to the floor, a strategy.

This was perfect. Sokol's lion was proud and wise.

The noise of complaint continued as teeth asserted that dominance. Iago was lighter than his companion by what was likely a hundred pounds, and the less powerful of the two animals. It was ultimately a hierarchy that was decided for them by circumstance, but it seemed less terrible when the one with the weighty presence was Sokol.

Still, the close-quarter struggle was a flail of rough limbs, and the lesser lion abandoned his attempted trapping of Sokol's head and went to completely his rotation, trying to twist free by going back to his belly--knocking his head on the panel of the island again, rattling the water glasses that sat up on the stone surface.

Sokol stayed attached for as long as paws were on his head. When Iago twisted, he released his bite to jump up onto the other's back, aiming to to wrap his forelegs around the thighs and continue to be a royal nuisance, nibbling at Iago's back.

But no! Too slow, only jumping after him, the impacts heavy on the apartment floor. Thwarted from having Iago as a small, little thing he could hold and bite, he made wounded sounds out of a face of profound grimaces. Not fair and sad, they said!


Freedom! But at a price. Though it was nice to have his bodily agency back for a moment, half-dragging his lean booty away, he heard those noises of unhappy protest, and they wound up his sympathy. He didn't want to be awaaay, he just wanted less bites! His ears twisting first, the rest of him followed suit before he even manged to exit the kitchen like he'd originally planned. Doubling back on himself, he not-so-gently shoved his entire head at the other's neck. Face first, then curving to the crown of his skull, rolling all of his weight forward into the gesture of feline affection.

Sokol stayed planted, sad until his sadding got him what he wanted, the other cat rearranging itself to face him, and to smash their faces together. Oooh-ooooohff, he lowed, and scratched his chin between Iago's shoulder blades. This was what he had wanted, from the moment his friend entered the home. Close, lean, feel and smell and bite. Sokol groomed fancifully at tufts of black hair, his eyes almost closed, relaxed.

This was a nice of the Very Nice variety, and keeping himself bowed under the ministrations of the other. For the moment he sank to his haunches, content to plant and let himself be loved on. It seemed only fair and natural to turn his own nose into the dusky colored mane across Sokol's shoulder and chest, nibbling first with this front teeth, then licking. Two could play the grooming game, and it filled his senses with the other lion. Warm and happy, just like being full up on good food and out in the sunlight. That was his former favorite thing to do during shift time. This was his new favorite thing.

Sokol continued grooming, moving from lackadaisical, occasional mouthfuls of hair to a real system, getting some one spot of Iago's mane over and over and over. It was a very good mane, dark and strong in a way that was satisfying to the other male, maybe even alluring. Also, he was a little small and weaker, which made the lion feel good about being most important.

Sokol's lion had everything it wanted. Growing more and more relaxed, he went from standing to sitting, and from sitting to melting over the paws of Iago in the very cramped quarters of the kitchen, huffing and snuffing with contentment. A nap while being groomed would be very nice.

It was easy to willfully forget the tension that had brought them to this point. It was silly, wasn't it? To get all worked up about any of this. Even still somewhat human-conscious of it all, Iago didn't want to fight to change any of this. It didn't feel upsetting at all. Didn't give him pause or concern. In a lion's world, playing by the lions' rules was probably the smartest thing anyone could do. Why think about what had spooked Sokol? Why think about exactly why it was Iago had been so blindsided by it?

So he groomed, and they sank together. Iago felt trusted, with Soko's weight over his front feet. He groomed him now between the ears, then slowly removed a paw so that he could slide it over the round of Sokol's jutting shoulderblades, grooming over ear and craning a little to glide his comb-like tongue over cheek as well, rumbling on every exhale as he squashed himself in the perfect spot between Sokol and the cabinets.

Very, very, very...very, very.

Very good.

He was asleep, mostly, flattened by this very good lion and getting the best thing for being asleep, which was gentle face grooming. He was so very relaxed and sleeping that his face muscles were all slack, like he had been anesthetized. But one paw did a gentle dap-dap up at Iago's shoulder, as if to say, this is the best place ever to be. As if to say, please continue because Iago was the best at it.

Whiskers were next, and up under the chin. Grooming someone else was an entirely different thing than grooming yourself, and it was almost somehow nicer than being the one to be groomed. Weird mindset to be in, but it came with a natural cadence that began to lull the smaller lion as well. Dozing, but not really asleep at all, he found himself licking well after everything about the pale lion's face was clean and perfect, on an autopilot that took no brain whatsoever.

His paw kneaded gently against the other now, too, like the most overgrown of kittens.

It was tingly-ticklish to have your whiskers groomed, and for this part only the giant animal wriggled, lips tucking back foolishly for a moment before the tongue moved on. After that part he had a big old snooze, even on an empty stomach; he dreamed for a little while of pulling an animal carcass down off a tree.

The big old snooze lasted thirty minutes, or a little longer; Sokol's lion was not tired, after all, only very happy. When his eyes opened (bright kitchen light, apartment), he expressed a thoughtful contentment (snore) and blinked up to see what his lion was doing.

He hadn't really slept in a real sense. He'd stopped grooming after a while, having wriggled around so he was draped more carefully across Sokol's torso. Like a very warm, weighted blanket. His paw had kept kneading tenderly, lavender eyes open the barest squint as he'd listened to the other breathe, felt the rise and fall beneath him.

Perhaps something in his brain had turned off even if his eyes had never really fully closed, though, because he was snapped back into consciousness when there was movement again. Gruffing lowly, he straightened all of his limbs in a relatively downward stretch, but otherwise remained draped malleable.

A lucky lion, to wake up in the best place, which was smashed under lion and breathing, and warm air that smelled like Sokol and favorite lion, filling up the room like a lair. Iago stretched, prodding at Sokol, which made him think about eating, especially something hard that would crack into pieces.

Breathing heavily, thoughtfully through his nose, his tail began to thump as he thought about biting and eating. He made larger noises and kicked his legs to see what Iago thought about it, but he was mostly too stuck to move.

It seemed it was time to rouse, which was--upon testing his own waters with a healthy hum--perfectly fine by him. He rolled up his hind legs into the too-small kitchen, to try and slide off of his buddy and give them both room to work. It ended up with his head and neck crunched up into the fridge and his tail flipping into Sokol's face, but hopefully separated them enough that they could take their fresh energy and do...


There was still cheese on the counter, growing steadily more smelly. Iago swallowed and found it a pity that Red Rock was so far from this exact spot.

Sokol grunted supportively from the bottom of the pile, allowing himself to be squashed and swatted until they were two lions again, the larger rolling onto enormous paws and pacing to the opposite side of the counter. He laid his head across it, his whiskery mouth seeking out the remaining salami in a manner not unrelated to that of a horse going after grains.

Once he had it in his mouth, he chewed thoroughly, elaborately, as if to enjoy as much of the stink as possible before it inevitably disappeared into a bottomless stomach.

Upright, Iago rubbed his face on the fridge, once, twice, then turned towards the island, giving the edge of it the same treatment. But then the scent of food was right here and very alluring. Though he was plenty tall enough to see the platter as well as he could have done on two feet earlier, he sincerely thought about hopping up to the smooth surface, his legs even coiling in a crouch somewhat. But in the end, he thought better of it. The island was small and he would have had to scrunch up, and it was quicker to just put his front paws up there as he then proceeded to gobble down hunks of cheese through the side of his mouth.

Soft. Too soft. The handful of cracks that snuck in by sticking to the side of his tongue didn't really add too much crunch and while it was all quite tasty and left him licking his whiskers, it felt more like a prologue to something heartier.

The big lion finished his salami treat. Licking his chops, he watched his favorite lion Hoover up all of the cheese, which made him feel pangs of injustice; it was hard to share even with a friend. Not when there was so little on offer.

Still breathing audibly, the lion pondered. And after a moment, almost as if there was some germ of human brain in there, guiding things along, he walked back to the refrigerator and began to hook his teeth into the freezer handle on the left and YANKED. It worked startlingly well. Inside the freezer, wrapped and solid, were steaks and roasts and sausages, a whole cache of meat, almost enough for two lions to eat at one sitting!

The only problem was that he had to walk backward to open the door and he was now blocked from the protein trove.

Iago was paying his own mind to licking up everything he could from the remainder of the plate. Almonds tasted weird to a lion's tongue and the mangled plastic they'd been in ended up dumped wetly on the floor. His big head had knocked over both water glasses on the counter, but though the noise of stone and glass together was sharp and alarming, neither broke and the water dribbled onto the tile. It was this he was investigating, lapping up the small puddle of water, when the heard the strange and distinct noise of the freezer being opened.

His head lifted and his curiosity spiked. What was going on? What was this? With everything so cold, the smells weren't quite so obvious, and the pale light of the freezer illuminated little in his mind other than the need to get closer, big sniffs at the chilly air, moving to stick his head right in there and investigate, oblivious to the fact that Sokol had momentarily frustrated his own efforts.

Clanks! The noise scared him at first, and he lost hold of the handle; by the time he realized it was just things falling, the door was closing, and he did what was natural which was to slap at the door with his right paw. Theoretically, to hook it back open. Realistically, to clunk it into Iago's encroaching head, Iago who was on the good side of the door and not Sokol. Moaning quietly at this turn of events, he backed away from the fridge, a little out of the kitchen...and then threw his body onto the island.

It was small. The plate clanked under one of his feet, rude. His tail got going as he saw from this vantage, still he could not reach food, unless he tried to stand on Iago's back which he might. Impatient and bossy, he put out a low, poignant roar and balanced himself precariously at the counter's edge.

There was a whole lot of moving, the heavy feeling of a very large animal on a floor that was also someone else's ceiling. But Iago ignored it, more and more curious as to what Sokol had revealed--undeterred by the fact that he had just gotten a freezer door full to the side of the head, too. Manes made for nice padding, and he merely crinkled his whole face and kept sniffing.

Oh, hey, duh, food!

Sensing Sokol looming behind him, he opened his mouth and grasped at one of the frosty packages. It was one of the smaller ones, shrink-wrapped sausages that his teeth scraped against even as he backed out, tumbling several items that had been on top of it out of the freezer and onto the tile.

He sat heavily, still not looking at the perched lion, and began to try and eat it straight through the packaging.

Whether or not Iago had cleared out, Sokol was coming for that freezer, dropping forepaws onto the ground with a grunt as the front of him navigated the appliances opposite. He knocked the door open again and huffed into the cold, blowing space, his eyes closing enjoyably against the breeze for a moment before his jaws secured the Biggest Thing, many pounds of rump roast.

He drew it out from the freezer and one hind leg dangled off the island as he pivoted. Room for cuddling down here, but not room for eating. His ass dropped very casually off the island, and then he bunched himself up and leaped over Iago with roast in tow, exactly the kind of shitty cat jump that leaves zero inches of clearance. This propelled him a little gracelessly into a breakfast table but that was okay, he was up and trotting to the living room immediately.

The couch, obviously, was the best place to eat, except it was a little small. Maybe better...on the rug? Or if he turned, about a third of him on the rug, and all the mess on the hardwood. He thumped down and began with a mouthful of saran wrap.

Crowded kitchen, frozen meat--Iago watched Sokol work with a half-eyed interest, and flinched in surprise when Sokol finally absconded with his chosen prize, pretty sure he'd just felt paws clip his head. Snorting, he hunkered down as if it would happen again and began to lick the last dredges of still mostly-frozen sausages out of the package. In the end it felt a lot more like a few swallows rather than an actual meal, and with some of the freezer meat spilled out on the floor...

He edged towards it again, find a hunk of... something. He wasn't even sure! That made it exciting. It was bigger than the sausage, though, and he rarrooooed as one does when calling to your bestie because he'd gone too far away.

But then, rock hard mystery meat that looked tasty and edible, into his teeth and he plodded the short distance until he could plop down right in front of Sokol and his eating space and made it his eating space, too!

Sokol's tail thwacked in between furniture legs. He paused in unwrapping to roar back at Iago, not a long-distance sound by any means...but certainly a large noise for a small, urban space. What a good day! A good day for lions.

The black-maned animal settled near him, which made him feel quite cuddly except he needed to make sure Iago did not get near his meal. He'd unwrapped it now and held it between soft white paws, a meatsicle, and was shaving away layers with the back row of his teeth. Delicious.

They both had plastic and meat, and Iago eyed Sokol only a moment before he settled in, gouging with teeth that could kill a man, finding the difficulty of biting into frozen meat actually quite satisfying. It helped take some of the edge off of the fact that it would only do so much to fill a belly. The goal changed from being about filling one's gut to having the experience. Eyes half closed, though he wasn't sleepy at all, he licked until a layer was somewhat defrosted, then dug deeper.

He wanted to stretch a paw out and touch Sokol, but he also needed both paws to hold his meatberg.

It was pleasant and hypnotic, to shear away fine ribbons of beef, to listen to the other lion lick and lick. Sokol the lion was happy, and would continue this piecemeal process of eating every scrap of meat in the house, to the tune of moderate appliance and cabinet door damage.

In the meantime, Sokol the man was present, and Sokol the man had run more or less to the end of the lane on this one. There were two supernaturally large lions in his apartment kitchen and his idiot human brain was needed to begin amending the situation. He could...go into his bedroom and pretend to be dead. He could smash his way out of the building and be shot and killed by police. He could, when he woke up after this, book a flight back to Europe and never look back.

Each option had its benefits.

Pacing through the kitchen with its layer of food packaging detritus, the cat made noises. It pulled a dish towel off of it's rung and placed it on the ground. Then it nosed its way over to Iago and scratched its bristly white chin on the lion's hip.

Full and happy.

That was most of him, anyway. Iago was never truly not present when the lion was at large. They weren't quite... separate enough, and he knew that had a lot to do with the fact that physically he couldn't escape being a lion, either. So the lion gave him claws, and he gave the lion some human sensibility. Well, as much as Iago could. To say the least, sometimes he wasn't sure what to do.

He wasn't stupid. He knew this shift wasn't just a fun romp in place of conversation. He knew, inevitably, that going back would be awkward, even if he didn't quite understand what had brought this all on in the start.

It would have been very easy to just leave it well alone until later when they were standing over the disaster of the kitchen, Iago looking rumbled in clothing that lions had laid on, and Sokol in a fresh outfit and... the lion chin at his hip had him wiggling slightly, casting his gaze back over his shoulder to really see Sokol.

Just in case it was lost that Iago was still in here--just in case it was a fear that something for Iago might have changed in the whirlwind of fur and feelings, he offered an assurance that he hoped would be well taken. "Sokol, my friend." As if greeting him for the first time today. He didn't have many words, but he had those.

The lions gazed at one another, and for a moment Sokol felt calmed, felt as if he had the situation under some modicum of control. He had been prepared to use the lion to do all of his grovelling for him. But Iago spoke instead, and he was nailed to the floor.

It was. Uncomfortable. Really everything that Sokol thought of as himself rested upon being invulnerable to all but his father and uncle, who unfortunately had had his entire lifetime to get their claws into his head. His friendship with Iago had been a departure from what he could manage confidently, and now he paid with incompetence, he paid with humiliation. He did not want to shut him out, but nor could he cleanly talk about being a fool and a wreck.

Also, also, that really had been too much...handsiness.

He shifted on his paws, closing his eyes and blowing out a meaty breath. Then he opened them, returned his eyes to Iago's. "I embarrassed myself."

It was a little strange, to have a conversation. Maybe because he had nearly expected Sokol would continue to float on a lion's sensibilities until he had zero other choice. But the fact that there was a response at all warmed him, and he turned slowly so that he could face him somewhat better, and let the things he felt certainly and without doubt settle.

It was hard. to explain to Sokol... That while yes, he might have mortified himself beyond all reason, Iago didn't think... less of him? Badly at all?

"Not to me."

Three word sentences were about all he had, but he hoped Sokol would understand what he meant.

If he had not gotten it out of his system, this might be another moment for embarrassing himself. As it was...he stared evenly down the length of Iago's flank, into the face of the animal that. That he had thought of, not irregularly, as the thing that was Good about coming to Mountainside.

Everything else could be deflected, discarded. He could keep a friendship to himself even if it was irregular, because. It provided irregular things. In addition to leading him into his own mortification this one time. Iago might be more courageous than he was wise, but Sokol liked him, damn it, and wasn't that what you needed, when your goal was to create a family from the animals that shared your mind?

All this clamored in the front of a big lion brain, Sokol's will fighting to solidify an amorphous thing into a shape that was containable, known. It didn't matter very much. The lion's tail ticked up, and with joy, and with dread, he pounced.

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