As far as anyone in the village was concerned, Jerry himself was fairly unremarkable. He had normal hobbies, like reading, and had stuff he hated but did anyway, like gardening. He participated in festivals and often had children, friends of his little nephew, playing outside his house. He wasn’t against conversation and was fairly affable when spoken to, yet he also never went out of his way to talk to anyone. Yes, the most remarkable thing about boring Ol’ Jerry, who lived on the outskirts of town, was his cousin, the great Sword Master Muscles who was known for charming elves, slaying villains, riding dragons and lifting mountains. Muscles had tried to teach Jerry the sword–Key word tried, as Jerry was really, really terrible–and when he realized he couldn’t reasonably drag Jerry with him he bought him a house with some acres of land in the safest village, he could and visited in-between quests often. Muscles visits in town were often met with celebration and many eyes following in hopes Muscles would just glance at them.
But this story isn’t about Muscles. It’s about Jerry, who had nothing remarkable about him, or so he’d say to the people who tried to cozy up to him to get to Muscles. The difference between those who were passively neutral or passively friendly to him, and those who treated him like a brief fancy in order to get to his cousin, was painfully obvious. Jerry had long since stopped trying to make relationships beyond polite acquaintances in town.
There had been, once upon a time, a boy who Jerry couldn’t put words to his relationship to. The boy was a year or two older than him and was a little terror. He was a middle son from a farming family with more children than livestock and always seemed to have a list of chores that never grew or shrank regardless if he did them or not. The boy, Tom, would often harass him in town and chase him around houses and over fences. The realization that the young child he was chasing was related to Muscles didn’t change Tom’s behavior, except for Tom harassing Jerry less frequently when Muscles was around as to not get caught. Strange as it was, Jerry was always thankful for that. And, despite Tom being awful to him, Tom also kept the other village bullies (who were far, far crueler than Tom) away from him. And, despite it all, Jerry sometimes helped Tom out with his more dire chores, liking getting a specific ingredient for Tom’s grandmother’s pie. Tom was always grateful. And the cruelty of the harassment gave way to something more gleefully childlike and playful, with fewer scrapes and bruises yet with the same thrill.
Shortly after Tom turned 13, he and several other of the village delinquents vanished without a word. Jerry had cried, and cried more when the searches came back empty and cried harder when the searches were called off for good.
But again, this story isn’t about delinquents going on near a decade of being missing. It’s about Jerry. Jerry, who was neither Sword Master nor delinquent, sneaking off into the woods just out of view of the town.
A few years after the disappearance of Tom, an old book-peddler stopped in town. When Jerry had made a purchase, the old woman threw 4 more books in free of charge. They were each bound with a leather cover dyed different solid colors. One was green with a gold leaf on it. Another was red with a golden phoenix on the cover. The third was blue and had a black silhouette of a water drop. The last was white and had a blue rabbit on it. They were all written in Latin, and as Jerry had neither knowledge of the language nor dictionary, he struggled to comprehend the thick tomes. It took many years, yet Jerry was confident in his ability to read the books. More importantly, he could use them. They were spell books. As they should be. All free books that are thick as a brick, written in Latin, look fancy and are given to folks by old ladies should be spell books.
The green book is the one Jerry first attempted and mastered. It was of plants. Fairly simple stuff. Words formed on his lips, but Jerry let none tumble out. Petunias and sunflowers lived and died by his force. If he wanted a ripe, juicy tomato, he would simply grow one from the ground into his hand. The only downside was Jerry still had to crouch down and pretend like he was just a really good gardener, so his neighbors didn’t get suspicious. They were open-minded people, however Jerry would rather them not know about his “witchcraft like” hobbies. Not to mention if said rumors about Jerry hurt Muscles.
The red book was the next one he tackled. Both simultaneously the easiest and hardest book, Jerry rarely used it. It created fire. Jerry used it to light his fireplace, but he didn’t exactly want to test how burn proof he could make himself any time soon. Sometimes, while alone in winter, Jerry would hold a fire the size of a candle in his hands and bask in the warmth. Many of the spells were more for combat and self defense, and while having a flaming sword sounds amazing, Jerry couldn’t even handle a not on fire one.
The blue book was the most useful. It dealt with water’s movements and temperature. That meant he could warm his bath with hot water when he pleased, make his drinks icy if he wanted to and could make water flow around him like a dancer's ribbon. No more dirty water. No more spilt water. No more lukewarm tea. Good. Great even.
The white book Jerry was still practicing. It concerned animals mostly, and if Jerry had one to test it on besides himself, he figured it could work on humans too. Charming animals to come closer as if in a trance, putting beings to sleep with enough concentration, communicating with animals, commanding creatures. It even had healing spells, which Jerry used often, as the pages loved to nick his fingers. The book probably had practical uses, like hunting and espionage, but that seemed rather cruel. Jerry mostly charmed rabbits into coming closer, then either spoke to them about his troubles or forced them to nap while he pet their soft pelts. That was half the reason for being in the forest. The other half was, again, making his habits unknown to his neighbors.
The village isn’t known for trouble, and it is fairly out of the way, so the thought of being attacked by highway thugs had never occurred to Jerry. And yet…
Jerry felt the rabbit he was holding tense before feeling the uncomfortably cold steel of a dagger pressed against his neck. The rabbits scattered, leaving Jerry to his fate. With a strong grip, his assailant pulled him back by the shoulder, then pushed him against a nearby evergreen. The dagger, while not cutting skin, still against Jerry’s neck. He was going to die. This is it, killed by some random rogue because he wanted to pet a rabbit. What a stupid way to go. He hoped Nibbles would be taken in by one of his friends’ parents and wouldn’t be depressed for too long and didn’t have to cling to false hope... And Muscles. Oh, Muscles wasn’t going to find out for weeks at the earliest. And then Muscles would have to ride around the continent delivering invites to his family for a funeral all because Jerry was stupid enough to go and try to pet a stupid rabbit-
Okay, deep breaths. He had to stop panicking. He wasn’t dead yet. He could get out of this. He just had to not be stupid… or, well, not be stupider than whoever was attacking him. Jerry analyzed the guy holding the dagger. He had black hair that didn’t know what a brush was and stood taller than Jerry. The guy had a look of surprise and confusion, like he didn’t think he would get this far.
“Uh, hi?” asked the guy, not removing the dagger. Jerry said nothing. Even if he could, he couldn’t think of any possible response to that.
A feminine voice commanded from behind the rogue. “Oi, Butch! Hurry up!”
“How? I still have to keep him from running?”
“Well, I’m too short to blindfold him! So, hurry. Up.”
The guy, presumably Butch, did end up blindfolding Jerry using a long white cloth, about the texture of a table cloth, while using one hand. During the many struggling attempts, which Jerry didn’t try to make harder lest he be harmed, Jerry caught sight of Butch’s companion. She was short, but maybe only a few centimeters smaller than Jerry (she totally could have been helping Butch), and unlike Butch, she looked like she brushed her hair and at least tried to make her clothes pretty. Though both her and Butch’s clothes looked old, torn and like whoever made them had never learned how to make sleeves.
Now successfully blindfolded (not really, Jerry could see from the bottom of the blindfold still), Jerry was tossed roughly over Butch’s shoulder, knocking the wind out of him. Which hurt a lot. But Jerry had a plan. To comply. Perhaps a plan that others would call cowardly, however it was Jerry’s best chance at survival. Barring anything that would give him great physical, emotional, or mental harm, Jerry would simply play along until Muscles returned. Won’t that be fun? Muscles coming back home, hearing from Nibbles Jerry had been stolen away somewhere, and then Muscles unleashing hell on these people. Plus, if anyone else was kidnapped there, then Muscles could rescue them too! If anything went wrong, Jerry could just use his magic to escape or something. He’d be fine. Probably. Hopefully?
Jerry’s hands (unbound, just like his legs. His kidnappers must either be confident he won’t escape or too foolish to notice) accidentally brushed against Butch’s rear. As quick as he could, Jerry retracted his hand and gave an exaggerated gag, causing the woman to cackle, causing a clueless Butch to ask what happened. Without providing an answer, the woman kept laughing. Her laugh was familiar, somehow. It reminded Jerry of summer and holding a bucket of water and- ah. He remembered.
She was one of the people Tom used to hang out with, one of the delinquent children who disappeared long ago. That laugh of hers was the same as it was years ago, when she saw Tom having to be helped carry water by Jerry. If she was one of those missing children, it stood to reason Butch might be one too, given he looked around the same age. Vaguely, the memory of a black-haired runt hanging out with another kid with orange hair and Tom surfaced in his memory. Maybe? It was hard to tell, but maybe? And if these were two of the missing kids, maybe Tom would be there?
Jerry’s heart sped up without permission, because what if? What if Tom was there? Does he tell Tom the many years he spent missing him? Ask him what their relationship was? Does Tom even still remember him? Well, that was if Tom was even there, and if he was there of his own free will, and if Tom cared enough to recognize him.
Butch bounced Jerry slightly and purposefully. “Tootsie, I think you are embarrassin’ him.” Realizing that Butch could feel his heartbeat while holding him, Jerry felt the heat rise to his face, now actually embarrassed at being called out. Tootsie kept laughing, and the ever confused Butch just kept on walking.
The walk was unexpectedly short. If the kids had been here all these years, Jerry would be disappointed in everyone in town. Most of the trek was made on a straight gravel road that went up a hill. The walk itself from where Jerry was kidnapped to their destination was roughly 15 minutes, and that included a few minutes Butch had to give “Tootsie” to compose herself. Tootsie went to open the door, and it sounded heavier than any door Jerry had heard before. When Butch stepped inside the structure, the temperature instantly cooled. All Jerry could see from his blindfold were brown and grey stones. This probably meant he was in some stone structure of sorts.
As the door creaked close, a small “welcome back!” Came from another woman’s voice. Her words were laced with awkwardness. Nobody verbally responded. Instead, Jerry found himself on his own two feet in a singular motion by Butch, and felt his blindfold ripped off of him. The room was dimly lit only by a few windows.. The structure was made of stone, and all of the furniture was made of old produce crates. But what drew Jerry’s attention were the three other people in the room.
A man with orange hair was glaring at him from across the room. His hair was the same shade as the boy in his memory, so Jerry automatically assumed he was the same. He looked edgy, like he purposefully put tears in his clothes to make it appear as though he had been in many fights. While her name escaped him, the woman who spoke with such an awkward tone seemed familiar to Jerry than the man. He was certain her name started with a T, at the least. The last man was Tom. There was no mistake, even having not seen him for a decade. He knew that was Tom. He knew because 1, Tom’s striking blueish-gray hair was a unique shade and 2, Tom was staring at Jerry with slack-jawed recognition.
The awkward woman spoke up again, “isn’t that the boy who Tom was always hanging out with?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Butch grabbed Jerry’s face to force them to make eye contact. Butch blinked twice, clearly trying to recognize Jerry. Copying his younger self, Jerry stuck out his tongue.
“Oh,” muttered Butch. “Yeah. He is.”
Tootsie spoke up, humor gone from her tone. “Wait, that means he’s Muscles’ cousin, right?”
And then the arguments started. Tootsie immediately took to blaming Butch, because Muscles was going to beat them up and haul them to jail. Everyone else pointed out she was with Butch, and could have stopped him at any time. Butch began to suggest letting Jerry go because “maybe he won’t recognize us?” There was a moment of silence as everyone deadpanned at Butch, including Jerry, who definitely recognized Tom and had heard the names of half of their little gang. The awkward girl wanted to give Jerry back, beg for forgiveness, then move far away. This suggestion was shut down by Tootsie, who refused to move from this “prime real estate.” The edgy man suggested they “permanently silence Jerry,” which was met with a few horrified “no!” and one clueless “Isn’t he mute, anyway?” Tom was silent, only giving looks to the other’s arguments, which was expected.
“Okay, okay!” Butch shouted, everyone hushed. “Okay, so we agree we can’t release him?”
“And we can’t kill him?”
Everyone except the orange haired man nodded. Tom elbowed him, causing him to reluctantly nod.
“So the only thing left is to keep him prisoner here, right?”
Everyone looked around, assessing the others' reactions. Jerry waited with bated breath. Tom gave a nod, and seeing him nod, the shy lady nodded as well. Tootsie gave a shrug, and the edgy guy gave an annoyed huff. Good enough for Butch, evidentially, as Jerry found himself slung over Butch’s shoulder once again.
Jerry had no strong opinions on the dungeon, which is strange because it seemed like the sort of thing one should have strong opinions about. It was the standard sort, three walls of stone of one of steel bars. There was a window, too small for Jerry’s hand, but enough to let a small breeze through, and it could be closed by a small wooden plank that someone provided. The cot was a bit lackluster, however, it somehow wasn’t the worst bed Jerry had ever been in. The shy woman also provided him with a soft blanket and pillow, so it was overall okay. Jerry barely had a chance to be bored before Butch returned, less than two hours later, to drag Jerry off somewhere. Thankfully, this time, Jerry got to walk.
Butch brought Jerry to the kitchen. It was… well, pathetic. Yeah, they had a wood-fueled stove and counter tops, but all the tools and the like were crudely made. The entrance through which they entered had no door. Directly across from them was a wooden door with “pantry” written crudely at eye level.
“Okay, so," Butch clapped his hands together. “We are making dinner."
Jerry nodded. They were in a kitchen. He assumed they were making food.
“So… do you know how to cook?" The way Butch phrased that question wasn’t, “are you capable of cooking?” It was more “I can’t cook, so I really hope you can.” Which was alarming, because they had been runaways for how many years without learning to cook?
Despite Jerry’s fears, when Butch asked if Jerry could cook, the pantry was full of unrotten food. Namely potatoes and some jars of herbs, which Jerry dragged out to the kitchen as Butch watched from the entry way. The grand plan was to cut the potatoes in half, then cook them with some salt, garlic and the better tasting herbs. He guessed each person could eat roughly one potato, but he quietly prepared two for each person. In a scenario where he could only eat after everyone else had finished, preparing extra leftovers insured he got to eat. Or maybe they will be nice and feed him, regardless. Or cruel and just toss out the extra food. Who could really say?
In the intern where Jerry was watching the food cook, Butch filled the silence with various tidbits of information. For instance, Jerry was captured because they apparently were too busy to do their housekeeping. Or apparently, Tootsie was too busy to do her house keeping? And apparently Butch was the best chef in the group and yet still made horrible food?? Or something to that effect. The information quickly and unfortunately turned into a rant. Ah well.
Jerry loved Nibbles, however it was easy to feel unappreciated with him at times. It wasn’t his fault really, the kid was 8 and just took for granted Jerry's cooking and cleaning. There was the positive, after taking care of a kid who constantly ate enough for 8 people, that Jerry was very prepared for cooking for 6. And, from the kitchen, Jerry got to watch 5 faces light up with the simple joy of eating a well-cooked meal. Jerry’s fear of being forced to eat leftovers was unfounded. He got to eat at the same time as everyone, however he had to eat separately in the Kitchen. Butch took the knives away, and the group at the dining room table blocked his one escape. Not like he was going to try, anyway. Jerry sat on an upside down bucket, used a barrel as a table, and listened to the laughter from the next room as he ate.
Butch came to get him after everyone ate to bring him to the dungeons. Honestly, Jerry was expecting to have to do the dishes first. The walk back wasn’t in silence. “I just don’t get how you got potatoes to taste that good!” Exclaimed Butch from behind him. It was probably the garlic. Still, Jerry allowed himself to be pleased with the praise. It wasn’t often he got compliments at all.
Jerry wished the pleasant joy of being complimented lasted. The dungeons were awful at night. That little window for breeze made the night colder than he was used to. The blanket was thin and smelled. The dungeon was empty aside from him, and while he was thankful, he didn’t have anyone else to worry about, the echos made Jerry feel isolated. And all he could do was grin and bear it. He had no way of telling time, but from his natural clock and the moonlight, he assumed he had finally gone to sleep at 1am. Which was unfortunate, as he was awoken before dawn by Butch, who looked equally annoyed at being awake. Without Butch talking to him, the weight of being kidnapped actually sunk in. And you know what? If nothing else, the lack of autonomy and the constant fear made it suck.
Breakfast was an easy affair. The hardest part was figuring out what he could make with the limited ingredients he had. Along with breakfast, Jerry started on bread dough with a plan. At home, he let bread rise for an hour or two, and then it needed to rise another 1 and a half hours, but given the less than stellar ingredients, he figured the dough would need to rise for twice as long. Making the bread gave Jerry an excuse to appear useful, gave himself a little more control of his schedule, as well as forcing a way to communicate with Butch at the least. If Butch believed he needed to be back in the kitchen at certain times, then Jerry could make certain meals to give himself a schedule he liked. As well as build trust and maybe get certain amenities during his stay.
Jerry snapped his fingers twice to get Butch’s attention. Butch sleepily looked over. Jerry made a writing gesture, using one hand like a page and pretending to hold a quill in his other hand. Butch sleepily blinked. C’mon Butch! Jerry did the gesture again, adding in his annoyance. Butch sleepily blinked. Ugh.
“He wants to write something.” Tootsie leaned against the doorframe, currently earning the title of ‘most awake person in the building'. Thank you.
“Ah. How’d you know?”
Tootsie gave a small huff. “It’s ASL.” Huh. Jerry didn’t think she, or anyone else here, knew that. He was mostly betting on using relatively recognized gestures.
“ASL?” Asked Butch.
“American sign language.”
Butch blinked once again. Confusion overtook his tiredness. “What’s an American?”
Tootsie calmly handed Jerry a notebook and a stick of charcoal. Both of them looked homemade and previously unused. Then, as Jerry calmly wrote a request to be back in the kitchen in three hours, then three hours after that for the bread, the two of them argued. The argument turned from being about what America was to petty complaints and cheap insults. Jerry stood by the side, unalarmed. The more they argued, the less work Jerry would have to do.
“You can’t even make mashed potatoes!”
“Hey, at least I try to cook! You had us kidnap someone to cook for you!”
“Whatever!” Tootsie spun towards Jerry and, without a glance at the note, she dragged him away. Butch didn’t try to stop her.
The task Tootsie gave Jerry was to clean her room. It wasn’t that bad to be honest. Nibble’s room was usually worse. Nothing in the room was too complicated either, just tedious. Like reorganizing her ribbon collection by color and shade. What was hard about the task was constantly keeping an ear to her one-sided conversation and giving small responses to let her know he was still listening.
“So without talking to one another, both of our parents named us Toodles. What kind of name is Toodles, anyway?! As soon as we left, I changed my name to Tootsie. I mean no offense to Toodles, she’s a sweetheart, but Tootsie is such a better name- right, Jerry?” Sure. Sure, Tootsie. Jerry gave a polite nod as he swept. The important thing was the other woman’s name was Toodles, what Tootsie wanted to call herself was her own business.
“… And so Lightning just gives up on fishing with a pole, and get this- he dives into the water!” A pause. Jerry gave a feigned shocked look to Toodles. “I know! But get this, he actually came out of the water with not one, not two, but three fish! Three! The only bad part about that day was Butch was cooking, and he burnt the fish again...” Jerry quietly rearranged Tootsie’s trinkets whilst trying to figure out what was important and what was not. The punkish guy who wanted him dead was named Lightning, there was a possibility of Jerry having to cook with fish during his stay and Butch was both horrible at cooking and yet always on cooking duty.
“… then Tom started crying, because of course he would cry if some kid called him ‘Momma’ and- ah, hello Lightning.” Pausing from his dusting, Jerry looked over to see Lightning leaning on Tootsie’s doorframe. Did everyone lean on doorways in here? Lightning’s eyes bore down on Jerry, like he was looking at some blip in a pattern.
“You know, you could ask if you need Jerry’s help, right? Looming there in the doorway isn’t accomplishing anything.” Tootsie gave a small huff, bothered by either Lightning’s behavior or losing the person willing to listen to her talk.
Lightning rolled his eyes, then quick as lightning, he snatched Jerry’s arm and began to drag him away. His legs were long, steps wide, and Jerry nearly had to run to keep up with him.
First impressions were important, however, they should not be the defining moment of anyone. On that note, Jerry would like to apologize for calling Lightning edgy. The edgy kids in town might wear more black than a funeral and look more done with life than, again, a funeral, but they were good kids. Sweet kids who helped people out and stood up for those who were too shy to do so. Lightning was how people who hate edgy people think edgy people act.
Lighting was not edgy, he was just a huge butthole and if Jerry had less self preservation, he would show Lightning a particular gesture.
He had shoved Jerry to the ground with an old rag as a mop and forced Jerry to mop the entrance. Standing between Jerry and freedom, he gave a long list of insults that weren’t inspired in the slightest. In fact, Jerry almost wanted to laugh at how ineloquent they were. The smell of whatever soap (or at least, Jerry hoped it was soap) that was in the bucket Jerry had to dip his rag into stank.
From the corner of his eye, Jerry saw movement. He turned his head whilst still mopping. There was nothing there, just an empty corner. Maybe it was the hat man.
“Oi!” Lightning kicked over a pot. The pot itself, an ugly, unglazed thing, didn’t break, but the unidentified plant and its dirt mixed with the soapy water on the uneven stone flooring, coating it in mud. “Pay attention to your work!”
Jerry hated him. He hated him. He hated him so much. Jerry wanted to scream, to cry, to throw this stupid rag in his face and run. To toss the soapy water at him and hope he gets pneumonia. He wanted Muscles to barge in right now and slug his ugly mug. He wanted to burn his food purposefully. He wanted to fight back.
He sucked in a breath, a horrible one as the soapy mud stank worse than before, and went back to futilely trying to mop as his hands pruned.
No progress was made by the time Jerry heard footsteps approaching, yet he didn’t look over out of fear of yet some other thing being added to making mopping harder. Whoever it was cleared their throat. It sounded like Tom.
“What?” hissed Lightning. Tom must've gestured some response that Jerry didn’t see, as Lightning loudly began to argue. “WHAT, TOOTSIE HAD HIM FOR TWICE AS LONG!”
Peaking his head up to watch the spectacle, Jerry paused his mopping. Tom was rolling his eyes and crossing his arms and would occasionally point at Jerry or Lightning. Lightning himself was loud and hostile, fueled solely by feeling like his authority was being challenged. Lightning stomped slightly closer. He almost crushed Jerry’s hand. Slip. Come on, step closer and slip. Jerry eyed his legs, both out of fear and hope of karma.
The front door swung open, hitting Lightning slightly, causing him to stumble slightly. “Dude,” snapped Butch, who had opened the door with one hand while holding a barrel of something in the other. “This is supposed to be a secret base. People can hear your shouting from that ‘America’ place.”
“Don’t care. Just let Tom take Jerry for a little whi-“ Butch slipped, however quickly steadied himself. “Wha- why is Jerry mopping the entrance, anyway? Who are we going to impress here?”
And, because everyone here can only argue with one another and lean on doors, that started yet another fight. Fun. A small tug on his arm from Tom brought Jerry to his feet, and they snuck away as the verbal fight escalated.
Tom did not drag Jerry like Lightning did, however, he kept a hand on Jerry’s arm the whole walk to the training grounds, which is where they evidently ended up. The walls were high, no chance of escape. The lines on the ground were crudely made from sand. The weapons were made from wood, lacking the heft a real weapon would. Tom released his grip from Jerry when they stood in the middle of the arena. Jerry stood still and watched Tom draw two wooden blades from an outdoor armory. The smaller one, a long, right handed sword, was tossed to Jerry. To his own surprise, he caught it. For himself, Tom chose a large, two-handed sword.
Tom squared himself to fight. Oh no. Well, it should be expected, thrown into an arena and given a weapon, but that didn’t mean Jerry didn’t dread it.
Tom charged forward. He clearly had an idea what he was doing. Now if only any Muscle’s lessons stuck. Tom made a horizontal slash with his sword, intending to his Jerry’s stomach. Jerry made to block, but the sheer power behind Tom’s slash knocked the blade out of Jerry’s hand and he still took a blow to the stomach. Ouch. He steeled himself again and looked up at Tom’s eyes. He was amused. Amused, damn it! Jerry was a formidable foe! Jerry attempted a swing at Tom’s knee, but not only did Tom successfully block it, he pushed back, knocking Jerry to his rear. Damn it!
The duel continued, and Jerry tried to remember anything Muscles told him to earn an advantage. None of the sword skills stuck, or at least Jerry wasn’t powerful enough to block or counter Tom’s attacks. The hits stung, not in the way a painful welt does. More so in a way that the only thing bruised was his pride. Tom was barely sweating, and Jerry was barely standing.
After a powerful hit, Jerry found himself on his rear again, Tom looming over with a mischievous grin. That smug little- Jerry felt a different material as he put his hands to his sides to push himself up. He grabbed a handful of the sand and threw it at Tom’s face, then as Tom squeezed his eyes shut, Jerry launched himself to Tom’s midsection, knocking the wind out of Tom and causing him to discard his weapon. And the real battle began.
When Jerry was younger, he often dreamed of seeing Tom again. In his daydreams, he typically finds Tom in some open area and Tom was always shocked to see Jerry there. Without words, Jerry would throw himself at Tom and they would fight like they used to. Those pleasant daydreams never progressed past the fighting part, but if they did, Jerry figured they end up just like they were now.
Jerry was pleasantly tired from the physical exertion, lying on his back next to Tom. They both breathed heavily, neither of them unscathed from their wrestle. Jerry could feel the heat emanating from Tom, a warmth like a summer’s day. The sun wasn’t too hot, in the distance Jerry could hear both birds and a stream. How picturesque.
Gazing upwards, Jerry spotted a particularly fluffy cloud. He lazily hit Tom’s hand. Tom looked over. Jerry pointed to the cloud, then used his index finger to flick the tip of his nose, saying the cloud looked like a mouse. Tom looked at him for a second, then shook his head. Using his right hand, Tom pinched where his nose started then dragged his fingers outward, implying the cloud was a cat. With a snort, Jerry hit Tom’s arm. It wasn’t hard enough to get Tom to physically retaliate, yet it was hard enough to get his point enough. And it drew a laugh out of Tom, and wasn’t that good enough?
Jerry basked in Tom’s presence until the sun began to set. Butch had come out to drag Jerry away to cook. Which inspired two chain reactions. One where Tom tried to pretend like he didn’t spend far too long cloud gazing with Jerry, and another where Jerry promptly remembered his bread.
Dinner was just as the previous night, though this time Jerry worked his magic with beans instead of potatoes. And, just as last night, Jerry got to be an insomniac in the dungeons. Tentatively, a schedule began to form.
Every morning Butch would wake up Jerry to help make breakfast. Sometimes Butch would help, most times he was just trying to wake himself up. At least now Butch saw his note about the bread, and promised to either gather Jerry at appropriate times or attempt to make the bread himself. To Jerry’s surprise, Butch was also somewhat eager to learn ASL (if only because Tootsie, Tom and apparently, Toodles could speak it.) While the meals cooked, Jerry taught Butch some useful and simple gestures, which Butch would excitedly show Tootsie later.
After breakfast, Tootsie would drag Jerry somewhere in the tower. Cleaning was a possibility, but listening to Tootsie was a guarantee. She had a lot to say. A lot. It’s hard venting to your friends with your other friends, Jerry supposed. Some of what she said was gossip, some insecurities, lots of ridiculous stories from over the years. Jerry wrote out his own little tales from their village over the years. He wouldn’t lie, it felt nice to tell some of his own stories rather than repeating Muscle’s exploits.
Tom would collect Jerry from Tootsie. He always waited in the doorway of wherever they were, unwilling to interrupt. How he always found them, Jerry would never know. Detecting his presence, Tootsie would wrap up her thoughts before sending them off to spar. The first few days, Jerry kneaded the bread dough first. Butch had learned the technique, so more often than not Jerry was immediately dragged to the arena.
They changed weapons often. Axes, naginatas, sticks. It didn’t matter, because eventually they both would be disarmed and wresting in the dirt before cloud gazing and just laying there. They never brought up the years of absence. Jerry never asked why Tom left. Tom never initiated conversation. But they were together, and Jerry never felt more at peace than fighting with Tom.
Typically after this followed Butch dragging him in for dinner, which involved Jerry quizzing Butch on the ASL that day. Jerry would eat dinner in the kitchen, listening to the other’s banter, then would be dragged down to stare at his dungeon wall and beg for sleep.
Which, considering everything, wasn’t that bad of a kidnapping. Jerry often toyed with the idea of weaving some elaborate tale that blamed everything wrong in his life on Lightning and letting everyone else in the group off scot-free. It wasn’t a realistic dream; it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be a comfortable one.
Some day later in the week, long enough in Jerry’s stay for him to already have a schedule, yet not long enough for it to have been a full week yet, Toodles showed up. He had barely seen her around despite her also living in the tower. She approached him and Tom just as they stopped fighting, her legs as shaky as her voice.
“Hello, can I borrow you, Jerry? Please?” Disappointment was plain on Tom’s face, but he didn’t protest. In fact, he made a small go-ahead gesture to her. Jerry too, nodded, then went to follow her. She lead the way, often checking on Jerry and their surroundings, as though terrified of an ambush any moment.
They ended up in her room. It was on the top floor and included an old, large bookshelf. The bookshelf itself was empty, and many different sorts of books were scattered around. While Jerry took in his surroundings, she closed her door with a heavy thud.
“I’m sorry for taking you away from Tom,” she said so genuinely that Jerry almost forgot she was part of the group that kidnapped him. “Lightning said he would make you clean the outhouse today and I figured he wouldn’t try it if you were actively helping me so, um, yeah.” Never mind, Toodles was his savior. Thank you.
She had asked for book sorting help. She had amassed quite the collection over the years, though less than half were traditionally published. Most of it was stolen journals, taken from some unfortunate souls who had thought they misplaced them. These journals had bookmarks in them. Jerry didn’t know what they were marking, and he didn’t ask. There was about 4 religious books, all of them the same text. One of them, as Toodles showed him, was just a cover, and in fact was a box for lock picks. Then there were a few that Jerry knew, if only because he liked reading these books before they went ‘Missing’ at the library. What the heck, Toodles. They ended up organizing the books by emotion, each shelf holding books that inspired a particular emotion in Toodles.
When they had finished, Toodles cleared her throat. Jerry turned to give her his full attention. “I believe this one is yours.” It was Jerry’s white book. Oh no. Jerry tentatively took it, then looked at Toodles fearfully. She didn’t know, did she? Jerry was already a bit frightened of her, with her ability to lockpick, sneak and her collection of stolen diaries, but did she also know his best kept secret?
“Can you read it? I didn’t know you knew latin. I have always wanted to learn, but I’ve never the opportunity.” Oh. Oh, thank goodness. He was the only one here that knew Latin. Phew. Okay. Okay. Still good. Jerry made a so and so gesture, and she left it at that. Good.
Jerry spent that night rereading the book again. There was almost a draw to read it again, especially the passage of healing. Maybe Butch would nick himself, and Jerry would tell him sticking his wound in salt can heal small cuts, and as Jerry would have healed Butch’s wound, Butch would believe him. Better yet, do it to Lightning. Yes, the perfect revenge. Well, maybe not. Jerry would still have to heal the jerk. The ideas floated in his head, and for the first night since his involuntary stay Jerry had a good sleep.
The next day’s schedule only lasted until breakfast. Jerry was eating when the sound of horses came from outside. Oh good, the Calvary was here. The others didn’t think so. Jerry heard abrupt swearing, and felt the wave of seriousness rush over the others. Well, that was to be expected, they were getting arrested, right?
Tom ran into the kitchen, sword in one hand and a small dagger in the other. He ran up to Jerry, put the dagger in front of him, then made a hurried ‘Stay’ gesture before running. There was pounding at the door. Jerry didn’t recognize any of the voices from outside. If Tom ended up giving Jerry a dagger, they were probably danger. But who? A rival gang, Jerry supposed. Well, he wasn’t staying here. The kitchen was far too close to the entrance for comfort.
Jerry, dagger clutched in his hands like it could do more harm to his attackers than him, looked around the corner. The unknown attackers were still pounding at the door, not yet inside. Butch, Lightning and Tom were preparing to charge out there, each with their own weapon. Tootsie was making a Molotov Cocktail, already prepared to light it, presumably to clear a way for the others. She also had a weapon drawn, an elegant sabre. Toodles was nowhere to be seen, but if Jerry had to guess from her skillset, she was either making a trap or running surveillance. With no eyes on him, Jerry ran for the stairs, Tootsie’s room, and then under her bed.
It was worse, not knowing what was happening. There was lots of shouting from the other group, their yells echoing throughout the tower. Not one of those shouts sounded familiar, why? Well Tom was mute, and Toodles was fairly quiet, but what about the others? Heavy steps echoed as the strangers ran up the stairs. What happened to everyone? Jerry evened his breath and kept himself small.
Two dirty hands picked up the mattress and tossed it up. There were three unknown people in the room, all staring at him like he grew another leg. If only their splendor lasted. Dragged out by his legs, Jerry was then unceremoniously shoved to one of the thugs, who tied him so tight his wrists hurt and gagged him with a handkerchief, who then shoved him to another, who roughly carried him down the steps. He was dragged out of the tower. He expected when he finally escaped the tower, it would be a clear sunny day, like when he was outside with Tom. Today, it was overcast with a chance of rain. And how could he call this an escape when he was thrown into the back of a caged wagon, on top of Tootsie, Toodles, Lightning, Butch and Tom. Jerry looked them over. Nobody was visibly injured, yet. That was good. Maybe.
In Jerry’s panic, the suspenseful wait of what would happen next seemed to take hours. In reality, his new captors were incredibly efficient. The rest of the tower was apparently searched, and any luxuries were stolen. There weren’t any luxuries in there, Jerry knew that for a fact. What ended up being stolen was all of their food, some of Tootsie’s trinkets, and- oh dear. His white book. The one he left in the dungeon. The items were placed more gently than Jerry was into another wagon, and soon they were off.
Jerry wished for Butch and Tootsie’s jabbering right now. Who were these guys? What was going to happen to them? A few of the people who kidnapped them sat in the wagon, laughing and hollering at one another, saying nothing that gave Jerry any clue for his future. Despite everyone trying, there wasn’t room to completely move away from one another. Jerry ended up wedged between a wall and half on top of Tom, who looked just as bewildered as him.
Jerry remembered nothing about the drive beyond that, except that it was soon over and they were shoved into the other gang’s hangout. The place itself was nicer than the tower was, more structurally sound at least, but that didn’t make it inviting. One person stood in the middle, capes draped upon them like it wasn’t summer, and they spoke with the air of someone who thought themselves the main character.
“Ah, I see you lot are back. With our new…friends…” The, presumably, leader purred, sounding as villainous as they could. If Jerry wasn’t afraid of death, it would be hilarious how overly dramatic they were. The person looked over to Jerry, who could not step back due to the thug holding him still.
“You’re new,” the leader circled Jerry, eventually leaning far too close. Averting his eyes, Jerry made eye contact with Tom, who stared down the dramatic villain.
“Ah. You are Muscle’s cousin.” They knew too? What, did Muscles just keep a picture of Jerry on hand and brag to everyone about his cousin? That’d be sweet of him, but if it got Jerry in these sorts of situations, Jerry would need a word.
“So, whata we do with ‘im then, boss?” Asked the thug holding Butch.
“Hmmm.” The boss stared at Jerry. Please say ‘let go’. “Lock him up with the others for now. Keep ‘em alive, we need a ransom.” Damn it. Or maybe, good? He, and the others, won’t be killed. And ransom just means Muscles gets an address and name to go off of. Wait, but then Muscles might find his book, that’s bad. Okay, okay. New plan.
Jerry was led to a jail cell with three sets of shackles. To his left, Lightning was shackled. To his right, Tom was currently being shackled. It wasn’t often that Jerry was proud of his short stature. In fact, this might be the only one in recent memory. He was too short and thin. His arms didn’t fit in the cuffs, his chest barely fit in the shackle meant for torsos and his ankles just barely fit in the foot cuffs. Ha! And he was mocked for being beneath 5ft. He could even pinpoint when the crook who was told to cuff him gave up and moved on to locking the cell bars themselves.
Jerry took in his new situation. He had slightly more freedom than his cell mates, but only just. They had removed the rope bindings and gags, but nobody in the cell tried to speak. Tootsie, Toodles and Butch were in the cell one over, arguing. Well, more like Tootsie and Butch were arguing while Toodles softly wept. One guard was in a chair, with the keys as stereotypically shown in cartoons. They watched them uninterestedly. Jerry was thirst, and oh did he have a plan.
Step 1, wait until night. Best way to past time? Nap. Napping was incredibly hard when cuffed upright, however. So Jerry settled for lowering his gaze and running daydreams in his head until it was dark. Another guard came to replace the one that had been watching them. The new guard had the keys now. Good.
“Hey, wait!” Lightning called. The old guard looked over. What.
“I, uh- know about some secret stuff at the base. Yeah. Let me have an audience with your leader, I wanna exchange information for freedom.” Hmm, that was smart enough, Jerry supposed. The guards unlocked Lightning, tied him in rope, then relocked Tom and Jerry back in the jail cell. Unfortunately, given how much Lightning cared for Jerry, Jerry figured Lightning wouldn’t fight hard for Jerry’s freedom. If he even fought at all. His plan was still in motion, with or without Lightning.
Step 2. Jerry knocked on his torso cuff, gaining the guards attention. He gave a feeble few coughs, then did a W with his fingers while touching his chin. Wait, water wasn’t as intuitive in ASL as other stuff. Mimicking taking a swig of water instead, Jerry signed to drink. The guard huffed and looked agitated, but grabbed a flask and came over. Yes. He unlocked the cell and stepped inside. Yes. As he stepped closer and unscrewed the cap, Jerry allowed soundless words to flow from his lips. The guard swayed, then fell. Asleep. Yes!
Jerry concentrated on the open flask, it’s liquids spilling out of it. With concentration, the liquid spiraled up like a snake, then formed a hook. Moving the hook, Jerry snagged the key chain, pulling it to himself. And, with that, Jerry dropped the magic to unlock his restraints normally. If he was better at lock picking, maybe he could have picked his lock with ice. Would have been cooler. Ah, well.
Finally free, Jerry turned to face Tom. Tom was staring at Jerry, more slack-jawed than when they had reunited. Jerry gave Tom a serene smile. One that said ‘I’m glad you are safe’ and ‘Nobody will ever believe you’.
The hardest part about getting Tom free was his wrists were too high for Jerry to reach. Cursed short height. Fortunately, Jerry did manage to unlock Tom’s dominant hand’s cuff, and Tom was able to do the rest. And for good measure, Jerry got Tom to cuff the sleeping guard.
They left the cell, and came to the others to the surprise of the trio. Tom did the unlocking, and Jerry kept a careful eye out for anyone who might come creeping down. Nobody did.
“Tom, buddy? How’d yo-“ Everyone shushed Butch. They needed to be quiet, which was easy when most of them knew sign language.
Tom looked at him expectantly. Seeing his eagerness, the other three did as well. Which was great, Jerry wasn’t used to being the center of attention still. Now for what to do. He didn’t think he’d get this far, and didn’t know the layout of the place. What they needed was weapons to defend themselves, and a way to get away quickly.
The weapons part was easier than expected. The place where the guard had been sitting had a large sword, which went to Tom. There was a hunter’s bow and arrow’s, which went to Toodles. The guard himself had a dagger, which was pick pocketed by Tootsie. And Butch could hopefully get one along the way.
Now the get away part was simple in theory. They needed to steal a couple of horses, maybe a whole wagon, then book it. Now this was complicated because just getting to the stables would involve them passing legions of the thugs, not to mention Jerry needed his book. And he couldn’t express how much he really needed this book without it sounding weird and suspicious.
Therefor, they were going to try to locate the book, then sneak to the stables. Or at least sneak as well as they possibly can. And Jerry wasn’t exactly going to clarify anything, so he hoped for blind following.
They made their way up the steps, Jerry reciting the sleep spell in his memory. Nobody was guarding the jail room. From the sound of it, they were all partying and hollering in the banquet hall. Good. Well, not all of them. The few stragglers who were out of the hall all had the misfortune of being alone. With alarming precision, Toodles knocked them out one by one. If Jerry didn’t fear her already, he certainly did now.
And, by luck, he spotted his white book. It sat in a lone bookshelf, shining in it’s beauty compared to the other books, bound in darker leathers. Yes! Jerry grabbed it and clutched it tight. Yes, a weird reaction for a book in this situation, but nobody was going to call him out on it. Now all they needed to do is-
“HEY!” A voice bellowed from behind them. Somehow, the group of escaped prisoners walking in hallway while leaving a trail of unconscious bodies behind them alerted somebody. Run! Jerry broke into a sprint, hoping the others were behind him. They ran, throwing open doors and hoping whoever was behind didn’t catch up.
They were outside. It was dark and lightly raining. The ground was muddy, the cold air hurt, but they had to keep running. Jerry pointed to the stables. The others ran. Jerry spun around in a move that would make Muscles proud. Perhaps twenty people had been chasing them, and due to Jerry’s pause they were gaining. He had never tried this spell on people, yet if it worked on twenty bunnies…
Jerry clutched his book tight, closed his eyes, and moved his lips to silently recite the spell. Had it a voice, Jerry would like to think it was an echoing tone, one that would resound in everyone’s hearts.
Well, he wasn’t stabbed. Jerry peaked an eye open. They were all asleep. They were all asleep! He did it! Oh, he did it! Jerry laughed. Laughing itself was a freedom. The laughing also made Jerry light headed. Or maybe that was exertion. Or thirstiness. Or everything. Just everything. Jerry swayed, but tried to move to the stables.
The stable doors flew open. Butch was controlling a two horse hay wagon, the very same they were dragged her in. Tootsie and Toodles had opened the door, and were running to the wagon. Tom trailed behind, catching site of Jerry, then running up to him.
“Okay, how in the world did he do that?!” Butch’s shouts echoed, taking in the many bodies surrounding Jerry.
“He’s Muscles’ cousin,” snapped back Tootsie, like that was an obvious answer that explained everything.
Tom arrived at Jerry’s side, and only then did Jerry allow himself to collapse. Leaning in to Tom as he was carried to the wagon, then tossed lightly in the pile of hay. Tom leapt in afterwards.
“What about lightning?” Someone asked.
More people poured from the hideout; weapons drawn. Among them was the boss. “We can’t go back for him!” Someone else responded. “Giddy up! Hyah!”
The horses took off at full speed for the trail. Just as a good measure, Jerry muttered the sleeping spell again, aiming at the people and the stables. Hopefully that at least slowed them down. The wagon was bumpy, and Jerry was more fearful now of dying in a crash than the villains stabbing him, but whatever. They needed to go!
The horses only ran at full speed for roughly five minutes before slowing to an even trot. There was no noise beyond their hooves, the rain, and the occasional owl. Still, Tootsie and Toodles had weapons drawn, prepared to fight from the back. Leaning on Tom, Jerry fought to stay awake. He needed to. He needed to know if they were safe.
“Halt!” A commanding voice resounded. It was so powerful, even the light rain stopped. The horses stopped. In fact, the only being who could move after hearing such a commanding voice was Jerry.
Jerry popped up, making himself dizzy from the blood flow, and waved excitedly to the man who had called the order. It was Muscles! Oh, it was his dear cousin Muscles!
“Jerry!” Muscles dismounted his horse as Jerry leapt as carefully as he could from the wagon. He ran over and hugged him tight.
The hug was cut short when Muscles put him a distance, so Jerry could sign to him. “What happened?” What happened? What happened? Well, Jerry would tell Muscles what happened. Jerry could almost feel the nervous tension from those still on the wagon, could almost hear their throats constrict.
“What!?” Muscles voice sent a frightened shock to everyone in the wagon. “Those guys up the trail kidnapped you all?”
“…Yes! Yes they did! And Jerry managed to steal the keys. Your cousin is pretty cool, haha.” Sputtered out Butch, who got the hint for once. His companions all nodded quickly, unwilling to bare Muscles wrath.
Muscles looked at the wagon, gave a hum, then turned back to Jerry. “Don’t worry, Cous’. I’ll take care of those fools up the hill.” Then, he turned to the people in the wagon. “Get ‘em home safe. We’ll discuss awards when we are all back.”
Tootsie, at least, perked up. “Awards?” But Muscles was already on his horse and galloping up the hill to fight a single man battle. And he’ll win. Because he is Muscles, the amazing swords-master. Jerry was safe. They all were safe.
Vaguely, he remembered being tugged back into the wagon. And he figures that he fell asleep on Tom. After that though, his next memories were in his bed with his Nephew and Cousin smiling at him.
Jerry had, as he had been informed by a teary-eyed Nibbles, been gone for 8 days. Nibbles had stayed on his own for a night before staying with one of his friends, and every day he waited for Muscles with the other village kids, to beg him to look for Jerry. He hadn’t actually told any of the other adults of Jerry’s absence, and nobody beyond the kids knew he was gone until he returned on the wagon. Mentally, Jerry made a note to talk to Nibbles about what sort of situations he needed to tell a trusted adult about.
Muscles took over telling the tale. He had taken care of the people on the hill. As menacing as he made it sound, Muscles wasn’t the sort to play judge, jury and executioner. They were all probably in some jail somewhere. Helpfully, he also paraphrased the cover story the others had gone with. The little gang decided they weren’t being treated well enough at home, so had ran away to travel for a while before eventually settling in the abandoned watch tower on the very outskirts of town. And they defended the town from people like those jerks on the hill, while stealing a minimum amount of supplies to keep themselves alive. The gang they fought against overwhelmed them, captured them, and while they were there also captured Jerry who was minding his own business. As Muscles began to scold him for wandering so far from town, Jerry just nodded. That’s the tale they were going with, Jerry supposed. One where they were vigilantes with a sad past, and Jerry was a just a guy who was in the wrong place and the wrong time who saved them all. Fair enough. Whatever.
It took another day for Jerry to recover from his over exertion. Well enough for Muscles and Nibbles to stop fretting upon him, at any rate. Well enough to, apparently, be paraded around town.
This was weird. Jerry looked over to see a group who previously obsessed over Muscles, cheering and calling for him. Really weird. What the people in the town were told was; Jerry had managed to knock out his guard, steal his keys, free himself and the long-lost children, knock out half the gang by himself in his escape, then lead everyone home in a wagon. Each retelling painted Jerry in a more and more heroic light, to the point Jerry was held at the same level as Muscles. Jerry clung to Muscles as they rode around on Muscles’ horse, he hated this. He hoped this 15 minutes of fame didn’t last.
At the least, Jerry got to learn what happened to Butch, Tootsie, Toodles and Tom. Muscles, in the brief day Jerry had to rest, had pulled a few strings and got them to be official guards of the town. This title came with a steady supply of food, legal rights to live in the tower, a steady salary for them all, and the respect of the town’s folk. They left for the tower yesterday. Without any goodbyes. Ouch. Despite being kidnapped by them, Jerry figured saving them at least warranted a goodbye or thanks of some sorts. At least by Tom. A loud cheer too close to comfort for him had him clutch his cousin tighter, eliciting a laugh from the other man. What a hollow victory.
Muscles left the day after. A messenger dragon, because of course one existed and of course Muscles had one, delivered a rolled-up scroll detailing some harrowing and heroic quest. So, Muscles wished his family well, took some food for the road, and headed off. His uncle no longer in danger, Nibbles decided to burn of his excess childhood energy running and playing in town with hid kids. And so, just like he usually was, Jerry was left alone in his house with a broom. Well then, he had nearly two weeks of chores to catch up on, and nobody to see him use his magic.
The victory felt hollow, the ending incomplete. Jerry was home and free, regaled as a hero. Both of his family members felt comfortable enough to return to the status quo. He had reunited with Tom. Yet here Jerry was, alone, cheating at mopping with his magic. Free, and yet doing the same thing as when he was enslaved. How anticlimactic. How boring. And worse of all, the chores in the house were cleaned far too quickly. All except gardening, which Jerry had procrastinated on before being kidnapped, and was probably being overran with weeds again. Sigh.
With dread, Jerry creaked open his back door. There was someone in his backyard. Weird. Not the weirdest thing that has happened to him this week, but still weird. The man’s striking blueish-gray hair was a dead giveaway. It was Tom, kneeling on the ground. To his right was a small pile of weeds, completely pulled up. Naturally, Jerry knew Tom knew how to garden. He grew up on a farm, after all. This said, the juxtaposition between the Tom he knew, the one who was part of a gang that kidnapped him and wrestled with him, and this one who was quietly pulling weeds from around Jerry’s tomato plants, was great.
Tom looked up. He had noticed Jerry when the door creaked open, it seemed, but had kept his eyes trained on the dirt. He opened his mouth several times, like he was trying to catch words with it. He eventually stood, faced Jerry while standing perfectly straight and reached behind him with his dirt-free hand. From somewhere behind him, he brought out a letter.
The letter, as large as his tomes, read: “Can I live here with you? Tom.” The handwriting was atrocious and despite grabbing it with his clean hand, the paper had dirt on it. Jerry peaked over the paper. Tom was rocking back and forth on his feels, scrunching up his clothes in his hands, and avoiding eye contact with Jerry at all costs.
Snapping his fingers, Jerry got Tom’s attention. Then nodded. Tom stared, bewildered. That look was well known to Jerry, Tom didn’t think he’d get this far. Maybe there should have been more of a discussion. Tom would have to sleep in either Jerry’s room, or Muscles’ room. Not to mention there wasn’t any explanation given for as to why Tom wanted to be here, with Jerry, instead of in the tower or with his family again. Nor did Jerry know why Tom said nothing about Jerry’s magic spells. Nor why Tom even left in the first place. Was such an explanation necessary? No, not really. Jerry smiled at Tom, warmly. Tom smiled back at Jerry.
Later, Jerry was going to shove Tom in the dirt. For now, Jerry was content as they were.