Yang had never understood why everyone seemed so enamored with the concept of soulmates.
Sure, she supposed that having someone to love romantically might be nice... but she'd never really put much thought into what that would mean in actuality. She'd never really considered it for herself. She'd seen her old man and her moms, and how they'd always seemed so tightly knit- so close. She supposed that having something like that- something personal, intimate- with someone... might be what she wanted. She'd be lying to say she'd never been attracted to people before. But relationships had never seemed serious to her like they did to other people. After all, if she found her soulmate one day, then what would it mean to be dating someone else? What would that say about how she felt about the other person, even if they weren't the right person for her?
Yang sighed- what did she know, anyway? She was better off putting it out of her mind for the moment. This would be Yang's second time attending the equinox dance, and while she knew the importance of it, and the excitement with which her parents had been preparing for it, and her sister’s anxiety about her first time attending, Yang couldn’t help the foreboding feeling that had settled into her bones.
The thought set a slight frown into the corners of her mouth as she shoveled a bite of honey flavored oat cereal into her mouth. Thundering footsteps descended from the stairwell- the way to the attic, and Ruby's den of books, plants and empty cartons of milk. Yang looked at the clock, shoveling in another bite of cereal as the door slammed open. She hadn't slept in as long today, remarkably, just making the mark at 10:00 in the morning. Yang sighed; her baby sister was a lot of things, but an early riser was not one of them.
"Yaaaaang!" Ruby exclaimed in a whine as she launched herself from the last step and onto the hardwood of the kitchen. She tried to keep her balance as she did so, holding her arms out to steady herself. Another thing Ruby was not was graceful. "I told you to wake me up early today!" Her sister pouted as she joined her at the bar, hopping up onto a bar stool. Her hair was a mess, as always, sticking up every which way. Yang set her spoon into the bowl of milk with a plink and, turning on her stool, proceeded to try to smooth out all the bedhead that had overtaken her sister's head. "You've been sleeping with that hat on again, haven't you?" She gave Ruby a pointed look, which was immediately met with a slight blush on the younger's cheeks and an indignant expression as she swiped at Yang's hands.
Yang sighed. "Ruby.. You have such pretty hair. You really ought to let it breathe every once in a while."
Ruby huffed. "I don't wanna hear that from you- all you do is let your hair breathe. I've never seen it in any other 'style' than windblown."
Yang lightly flicked her cheek. "Watch it, baby sister. I'll have you know, my hair is my best feature."
"'Mhm'? What do you mean by that, huh?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing. Nothing at all." Ruby glanced away, whistling lightly as she picked an apple up from the basket perched on the counter between them. The skin was red and shiny, and Yang could make out Ruby's reflection staring at her from the fruit's surface.
“Hm. Those are new… Mom must’ve grown them.” Yang mused as she picked one up herself, turning it over and letting the weight of it settle into her palm. It was firm; fresh, and Yang couldn’t help but marvel at the simplistic beauty of them. She lifted the fruit to her lips and sank her teeth into its flesh with a satisfying crunch, and the flavor of the juice melted on her tongue. It was sweet, and delicious, and she made a mental note to praise their mother for it later.
At this point, Ruby had also bitten into her apple, slurping up the sweet juice inside before breaking off a bite. She always did that- always had, ever since she was little. It had been messy then, and it was still messy now, Yang observed, as Ruby wiped at her chin with the heel of her palm. She was getting older, that much was certain, but she still acted like a toddler. It was endearing, and Yang felt a pang of something like sadness in her chest at the thought.
“Hey, where is Mom anyway?” Ruby asked suddenly through a mouth full of apple. Yang shrugged. “I assume she’s out in the greenhouse. You could check there.”
Ruby hopped down from the barstool, nodding in confirmation. “I wanted to talk to her about the dance.”
Yang would have joined her, but she knew that the greenhouse was Ruby and Summer’s space. She and Summer had their own place to chat- she could always ask her later. “Tell her the apples are pretty great. And if you see Dad, let him know I’m going into town in a bit if he needs anything.” Ruby saluted her sister in an enthusiastic gesture, and turned toward the sliding door to the back deck and their vast property, leaving Yang to finish her now soggy cereal in the quiet of their little kitchen.
As she lifted soggy oats on her spoon and let them plop back into the milk, her mind found itself wandering to the dance that would take place in just a few days. She had been practicing with her Dad, but not nearly as much as Ruby, who was new to the whole process. While Yang could dance the steps decently well without having practiced in nearly a year, Ruby could barely spin around once without losing her balance. It was amusing, but also a little worrying. Their mother had had to step in and give Ruby a bit more hands on instruction.
‘Oh, Ma… I should see if she’s up…’ Yang thought to herself, stepping down from the barstool and taking her bowl to the sink. She dumped out the sugary milk and scooped the remaining soggy cereal into the trash can, taking a moment to thoroughly wash her dishes and leave them on the rack to dry. If she didn’t, Summer would have her head, and she’d rather keep it, if she was being honest.
Yang wiped her wet hands on her bomber pants as she left the sink, jogging around the stairway and to the master suite in the back of the house, past the little living room. Their house wasn’t huge; it was just enough room for their little family, with a room for Ruby, one for Yang, and one for their parents. There were two bathrooms, thank god, one attached to their parents room, and one off of the living room. She popped into that one real quick to make sure she didn’t have any apple or cereal on her face, and then continued to the master suite. The door was open a crack, so she knew her father had already left for work, and with Summer more than likely in the garden, that left her mother still asleep in the dark room. Sure enough, Yang could make out light snoring from the dark chamber.
She’d kill Yang for getting her up this early, but then, they had important stuff to talk about, and really, Yang had already waited long enough. Creaking the door open, Yang stepped quietly into the cave of a room. The ajar door did little to light up the pitch dark, and Yang had to remind herself to take it slow, or she’d trip and chip a tooth, like last time.
As she neared the end of the large bed, she put her hands out in front of her to try and brush the wooden footboard. Unfortunately, as her fingers brushed the textured surface, her foot caught something hard, and slightly sharp. Yang gave a gruff ‘Fuck!’ and bit her lip as she fell forward and rammed into the footboard, tumbling over the top with a groan.
“... It better not be earlier than ten, Yang, or I swear to gods…” There came a deep grumble from the bed, and Yang looked up, tossing the hair that had fallen in front of her face over her shoulder. She was still grimacing slightly from the pain in her toes where she’d kicked what she assumed was one of Zwei’s chew bones. “It’s 10:15…?” She winced.
From the bed, Raven rolled over with a sigh, sitting up and pulling the sleep mask from her eyes. “Yang…”
“I know, I know, Ma- just- fuck… ” She whispered, trying to shake the pain out of her toes, hopping on one foot.
Raven rubbed at her eyes, obviously not ready to deal with any of her shenanigans yet. Yang supposed that was fair; her mother had never been one to get up early. But at least she’d waited two hours this time.
“Go sit down on the couch. I’ll take care of those toes, and maybe I can get some goddamn coffee in me before we start for the day.” Raven sighed, falling back so her head hit her pillow, her arm falling and covering her eyes.
Yang did as she was told; normally, she’d persist, but between the hot pain in her toes and her mother’s clear annoyance at being woken up, she thought better of it. And Raven kept true to her word. She trudged out of the suite a couple of minutes later, her red silk robe tied loosely, and her hair just as unkempt as Ruby’s. She yawned into her the back of her hand and stepped into the bathroom off the living room, digging around for a moment. Yang could hear her rusting in the mirror cabinet. “So what was it today? The bears with the red eyes again?” She called, still obscured from Yang’s view by the doorway.
Yang shook her head, but then realized Raven couldn’t see her. “No, not that one.”
Raven stepped out of the bathroom holding a little tin no bigger than the palm of her hand, walking over and sitting beside Yang. “The one about the red bull?” She asked, reaching out with her hand and making a motion for Yang to give her her foot. Yang shook her head and lifted her foot so her mother could examine it. “No.”
Her toes were pretty red, but most appeared fine. The middle one was a little more swollen than the others, however. Raven unscrewed the canister and swiped a bit of mint green paste onto her finger, glancing up momentarily up at Yang before looking down to apply it to the swollen toe. “... the sleeping ones?”
Yang’s throat bobbed at the mention, however subtle. Raven wasn’t the most nurturing of the three of her parents, but she had been the one to wake Yang up from that particular dream. She’d never seen her mother so concerned for her before; it was a very rare moment, but since then, she’d made it clear that Yang was to come to her if she had any more dreams of the same sort.
Yang had been fine thinking it was just a run of the mill night terror, but Raven wasn’t certain. Yang remembered what her mother had told her the morning after that terrifying dream.
“They’re not just dreams, Yang. I know, because I used to get them too. They’re connected to your magic, somehow. I’m not entirely sure, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s a rare occurrence, but I think they’re a type of clairvoyance. My brother has the same condition.”
Raven’s expression then had been deadly serious, and Yang, then barely 13, hadn’t dared to refute it. They’d only persisted after that, however spaced out. She’d dreamt of a pack of bears, each bigger than a car and black as pitch. Their terrible red eyes still bore into her every once in a while. She’d discovered a long time ago that after a night when she dreamt of the bears, the next morning would be filled with challenges, or conflicts.
The bull dreams started a year prior. A bull as red as blood, with skin rippling in terrible scars. It dug its hooves in the dirt, and the next thing she knew, a harsh sudden pain would shoot through her body. Those were close contenders for the worst ones. It was typically a week before anything out of ordinary happened following that one, and typically, it involved someone she loved getting hurt. She remembered hanging out with friends one afternoon in town, and when she got home she found Ruby unconscious upstairs, her hands cut to ribbons and thorns all over the place. It had been a growth potion gone wrong, but somehow the guilt still ate away at Yang for the rest of the week.
She felt Raven touch her shoulder, and snapped out of her thoughts, blinking as her hearing came back into focus. “ Yang.” Raven urged her, sounding as close to concerned as Raven was likely to get. “Huh..?”
“Was it the sleeping dream?” Raven asked again, and Yang swallowed, and shook her head in assurance. “No.. no it wasn’t that one. This one was new.”
At that, Raven’s brow furrowed. “New, huh? What was this one?” She closed the tin and set it on the coffee table, standing, and Yang realized that the paste had already been applied to the toe, the pain now reduced to a dull stiffness.
“This one had a cat…”
Raven nodded, leaving the living room to get a cup of coffee going. As she got to the counter, Yang heard her breathe amused through her nose, and mutter, “Tai…” Before taking the hot pot of coffee out of the machine and pouring it into her red mug. Each of them had a mug; Raven’s was red, Summer’s was white, her dad’s was yellow, hers was orange, Ruby’s was black, and when their uncle came to visit, he had his own gray one tucked away safely in the cabinet.
“This cat kept staring at me. It was black, and it seemed like it was blending into everything else- everything was dark. And it just stared at me with these big gold eyes…” Yang recounted to her mother. “It was like it’s eyes were lighting everything up; like they were chasing away the darkness.”
Raven hummed lowly, sipping her coffee. Her brow was furrowed in thought. “Odd… well, this one doesn’t seem inherently negative… but I’d still keep an eye out, okay?” Yang nodded in understanding. “It might be your familiar.”
At that, Yang blinked in surprise. “My familiar?” Raven nodded. “For most people, you’re more likely to summon a familiar, or tame one, but when I was a little younger than you, I had a dream that a huge wild raven with red eyes was sitting over my bed, and watching me sleep. Three days later, I woke up in the middle of the night, and it was sitting perched on my window.” Raven took a drink, and Yang connected the dots. “Omen.”
Raven nodded yet again. “Omen.”
Omen was Raven’s familiar- a large black raven with red eyes that spent most days flying around in the woods. He was far from the tame familiar most witches hoped for, but his isolating personality seemed to compliment Raven’s well.
“Now, I suppose since I’m awake I should get ready for the day. Is Ruby up yet?” She groaned, stretching and setting her mug on the counter top.
“Yep.” Yang popped, pushing herself up and picking the canister up from the coffee table. Summer had chided her before about leaving it out, and she wasn’t about to get chewed out a second time.
“I assume Summer’s tending to her roses?” Yang nodded in response. “And your father must have already headed into town.”
Again, a nod.
“Well aren't we just chatty today…” Raven remarked, taking a long drink from her mug and looking up at her daughter. Yang felt her cheeks flush slightly- it was true. Usually, she was much more talkative, but…
“There’s more to it… Isn’t there.”
Yang.. wasn’t quite sure what to say. She hadn’t really expected her mother to pick up on what was bothering her- or to pry. “It’s… complicated…”
A beat of silence, then, “Okay. Whatever then. I’m going to hop in the shower.” Raven sighed, and Yang watched as she knocked back the rest of her coffee, pulled her dark, coarse hair into a messy bun in the back of her head, and trudged back into the master suite.
‘Figures…’ Yang raised an eyebrow as the door closed behind her. Oh well, there was no use getting worked up over nothing anyway. Yang reminded herself to relax a bit, stretching her arms to relieve the tension she had started to feel creeping up on her.
Truth be told, this new cat dream hadn’t been the only dream plaguing her recently. The only problem was that Yang herself wasn’t sure what else it was. Unlike her usual dreams, she could never remember this one. She knew she was dreaming about something, but by morning, she’d always forget what exactly it was. She remembered a smell- something sweet, and colorful. Maybe a type of flower…? She’d have to ask her mom about it later.
Yang tossed the greasy rag over her shoulder and weaved her fingers together, lifting her arms high above her head and stretching her tired limbs. Outside her open garage door on the front lawn, Ruby was practicing her steps, while their moms gave her direction as best as they could manage. Yang found herself laughing good naturedly as Ruby missed a step, almost tripping over her own feet. “Watch it there Rubes, you’re gonna fall on your butt if you’re not careful!”
Ruby stuck her tongue out at her sister, before promptly tripping, and indeed falling on her behind. Summer couldn’t help the small amused smile that passed her lips, and Yang didn’t fail to catch the exhausted, frustrated look in her mother’s eyes. Yang turned quickly, wiping her hands on her overalls and whistling, acting as though she had no idea what her mother was eyeing her for. “Yang, stop distracting your sister. We only have a week left, and this is certainly not helping.” Raven sighed, and Yang pointed to herself, looking around. Even pouty Ruby looked amused, once she pushed herself up from the dirt, brushing dust from her legs.
Their moms had made her wear Yang’s old dress to practice dancing in, and at first, Ruby had been incredulous. She didn’t see why she should have to wear a dress- it would be cold, and her legs would freeze, and it was too big in the chest anyway.
But Summer insisted.
“ You need to learn how to move properly in a dress- swinging around in shorts is different than swinging around in a skirt. Besides, it’s only one night.” She’d smiled, and tucked Ruby’s hair behind her ear, and Ruby had caved. She could never say no to her mother.
“Why doesn’t Yang have to practice this stupid dance?” Ruby pouted, kicking the dirt with her flat.
“Because Yang’s already learned it. Now come on, we’ve still got a long way to go.” Summer tried to get Ruby back on track.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get out of your hair. I’ve got to go pick up some parts from town.” Yang chuckled, closing up the paneling on Bumblebee’s side and grabbing her helmet from the countertop lining the side of the garage. “Is that safe?” Summer asked a little tentatively. She hadn’t been too impressed when Raven had brought home the dingy shell of a rusty old bike she’d found in the junk yard, and she’d been even less impressed when Raven gave it to Yang to fix up.
Ever since, she’d tried to be supportive of Yang’s tinkering with the thing, but the idea of Yang riding it still put her on edge, however nice it looked now. “And you’re going to town… covered in grease?” Summer couldn’t help the tone that leaked out with the words, and Yang looked down at her clothes and back up at her mom. “Hm? It’s just a quick run. Nobody cares if I’ve got grease stains on me, mom.”
“Summer, relax. Let the girl ride her bike- she knows what she’s doing.” Raven tried to ease Summer’s anxiety, letting a hand come to rest on her lower back comfortingly.
Summer nodded, trying to reassure herself. “You’re right- you’re right- I’m sorry, sunshine, go on ahead. Just make sure not to be gone too long- I still need your help with some other things around the house.”
Yang grabbed her bomber jacket and pulled her arms through the puffy sleeves, walked her bike out onto the dirt and threw one leg over the seat, sitting down and putting her helmet on. Turning the key, the bike roared to life, and Yang smiled as she felt the rumbling deep in her gut, and in her hands as she took the handles. “I’ll be back for lunch.” She promised, shouting over the loud chuffing of the engine. Turning the handle and kicking off with her foot, she was off, kicking up dust as she rode down the long winding country road that their property was attached to. The town of Vale was just a couple miles down the road, so it would really take her no time at all to get there. There weren’t very many cars on the road that late morning either.
Aside from one car passing her, seeming in quite the hurry, and another car turning into a sideroad just ahead of her, there hadn’t been any traffic at all, which was remarkable for a late saturday morning. But then, she supposed that no one really wanted to do anything on Saturdays anyway.
Yang loved the wind in her hair. She loved the rush of it against her hands, and the force of the wind against her body as she leaned into turns and avoided potholes. She loved the quiet of the road, excepting the purr of her engine, and she loved the rumbling her bike sent through her body as she rode. She could ride like this forever, really. She wouldn’t mind it, that much was certain. Just her and Bumblebee, and the empty, endless road.
So to say that she was surprised to see a black shape in the road ahead of her was an understatement. From the distance, she thought it might be a hat, or a doll that someone had thrown out the window on accident, but the closer she got, the more apparent it was that this wasn’t either of those things. Black as pitch, it looked to be about the size of her head; which was saying something, considering Yang had a pretty big head as her father never let her forget.
As she got closer, Yang slowed her bike, easing up on the gas and lightly applying the brake. She pulled off to the shoulder of the road about ten feet from the thing, and by then she could see that it was textured with fur. Her heart immediately leapt into her throat. Some poor creature must have gotten hit by a car; it was probably dead-
A soft, pathetic mewl sounded from the creature, interrupting Yang’s thoughts, and all that her body told her to do in that moment was ‘ make sure it’s okay.’ She didn’t hesitate, putting Bumblebee’s kickstand up and jogging over. Up close, it didn’t appear so bad, and Yang breathed a sigh of relief. She had honestly been expecting much worse, if she was being honest. One of the creature- which she could now identify as a black cat-’s legs looked swollen, and Yang was no doctor, but she remembered how her own arm had looked when she’d fallen out of a tree and broken it when she was younger.
‘Okay so hopefully it’s a clean break…’ She bit her lip. The poor thing looked a little thin too- and one of it’s ears had a tear in it. Yang tried to think of what to do. It’s chest was rising and falling, so it was clear it was alive and breathing, but it’s eyes were closed. She worried if she picked it up, it would freak out, and hurt itself more… but there weren’t many options. She could take it into town with her and ask An if she could fit the poor thing in…
Yang made up her mind. Unzipping her coat, Yang reached for the cat and gently set her hand on it’s side. The cat opened its eyes immediately, and Yang lifted her hand, afraid it might mistake her for a threat. “It’s okay… It’s okay there, bud… I’m just here to help…” She spoke softly, keeping her hand off the cat as it stared at her with large golden eyes, it’s ears flat against its head. Yang kept it’s gaze, and while the coincidence of her dream and now this cat was certainly something to ponder, now wasn’t the time. Slowly, the cat’s ears flicked, and raised slightly, and it lowered its head back to the dirt. Yang took that as a sign of trust, and gently laid her hand on it’s side once more. When the cat didn’t raise it’s head, Yang lightly ran her hand down the length of its side once, twice, and a third time. The tension in the cat’s body seemed to ebb away with each soft pet of Yang’s hand, and Yang felt great relief at the acceptance the cat had bestowed on her.
Now would come the tricky part. Yang got down onto her knees and tried to remember what An had told them to do during a presentation she’d given in school a couple years prior. Reaching her right hand over the cat’s body, and under its chest, she lifted it up. The cat’s eyes opened again in concern for a moment, but as Yang held it against her, gently petting it with her free hand and moving it lightly to cradle it ad keep weight off it’s foot, the cat didn’t attack, and Yang let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “It’s okay kitty, I’ve got you… I’m gonna take you to the doctor, okay? Just hang in there.” She gently rubbed circles in the cat’s fur, scratching gently as she moved it to lay on the inside of her jack, and zipped it up to create a makeshift sling. Once the cat was supported, Yang kept a hand under it and walked back to her bike, carefully getting on and turning the key to her bike. She prayed that the noise wouldn’t agitate it, or that the bumps wouldn’t jostle the poor thing too much.
Keeping one hand underneath the precious cargo, Yang started the bike. The cat gave a slight startle at the rumble, but Yang was quick to try to reassure the cat. “It’s alright… shh… she let go of one of the handles and gently scratched the top of it’s head, letting it sniff her fingers. It seemed a bit tense still, but it wasn’t squirming about now, so that was good, Yang supposed. Finger’s crossed for once she started driving. Under her breath, Yang muttered a spell for protection Summer had made her memorize, if for anything than just for assurance that they wouldn’t crash on the way. Yang had never driven with an animal in her jacket, but there was a first time for everything. Slowly, she pushed off, looking both ways before merging back into the right lane, and going a little slower than she had been going previously.
She hoped that no one would be on the road behind her, or that a police officer wouldn’t happen down the road and see her going under the speed limit. “Deep breath…” She muttered to herself, trying to keep collected. It was only another mile to town, and An’s clinic was toward the center of the downtown area. It would probably take less than ten minutes to get there. She just hoped the cat nestled into the bottom of her jacket could hold on that long. It might be more than just a broken leg- Yang had no way of knowing. But the more she thought about it, the more anxious she became. “Hang in there, kitty. It’s gonna be okay… I’ll get you to An’s…” She promised.
And sure enough, after nearly a ten minute drive, Yang pulled her bike into a free parking space along the road in the general downtown area. Navigating traffic had been difficult the closer they got to the town, but she had managed, somehow. Turning the engine off and putting out the kickstand, Yang slowly disembarked from the bike, walking over to the sidewalk. She’d tried to park as close as possible to An Ren’s Veterinary Clinic as possible, but somehow she’d still ended up parking at the opposite end of the street.
She hoped that Mrs. Ren would be able to help. Lie Ren was a good friend of hers, he and his girlfriend Nora, and he’d always assured her that if she ever needed any veterinary service, his mom was always taking new clients… but still, Yang had always been hesitant about taking advantage of that particular friendship perk. She didn’t have an animal to bring in anyway, and the idea of getting treated before other patients who’d been waiting already seemed a bit cheap to her. But now that she’d come across an animal that seemed pretty worse for wear, those concerns suddenly didn’t matter as much.
It was easy to pick out the veterinary clinic from the other shops around.
The soft pink paint on the outside walls was certainly distinguishable enough from the beige and brick buildings on either side of the street. Yang had always thought that shade of pink was pretty, but she wouldn’t have called it her favorite color, not by a long shot. The bell at the door rang as she pushed it open, stepping inside and glancing around. Thankfully, there was only one other patient in the waiting room: an older, graying woman and her doberman. Yang spared her a glance, before the woman glowered at her, and Yang felt a chill ripple up her spine. The dogs’ hackles rose, and Yang heard it growl lowly. Unconsciously, she held the cat closer to her, turning away from them and to the service window. Thankfully, An’s assistant was at the desk, filing some forms. “Excuse me? I need to see An Ren- it’s urgent.” Yang expressed to the assistant, who blinked.
“An emergency?” The woman, who Yang vaguely remembered hearing Lie refer to as Glynda, tipped her glasses at Yang, looking her over. Yang flushed slightly, and unzipped the front of her jacket enough for the cat’s head to be visible, nestled inside against her overalls, seemingly completely at ease. “I found this cat in the middle of the road- I think it’s leg might be broken, and something happened to its ear…”
Glynda’s entire demeanor changed as she saw the cat, and heard what Yang had to say. She nodded, standing up from her desk. “Let me just call for An. I think she might have just gotten back from her lunch break. Come on in through the side door there.” She gestured to the doorway from the waiting room into the actual office, and Yang wasted no time in moving toward it. The older woman’s eyes followed her as she did, her doberman watching with narrowed eyes and tense shoulders. Yang caught sight of the circular nametag attached to its collar on her way in the door. Cinder .
‘ Hm… Odd name for a dog…’ She couldn’t help but think as she entered through the doorway and closed it behind her. She stood there for a moment, waiting for Glynda to return with An. In her jacket, the cat had begun to purr softly, and Yang looked down at it to find it’s eyes closed in sleep. She was relieved to see it wasn’t in too much pain, but still, she worried. “It’ll be okay kitty…” She murmured, gently scratching its head. Thankfully, it didn’t take Glynda long to arrive with An.
They rounded the corner, and Yang looked to An. She looked a lot like Lie, despite her difference in hair color: a darker, muddier shade of pink that Yang thought looked quite pretty with her eyes. “Dr. Ren. Thank you for coming so quickly-”
“Of course, of course!” She assured Yang, smiling in a soft, motherly way that reminded her of Summer. “Now, where’s this cat you say you found?”
Yang unzipped her jacket a bit more, and the cat’s purring stopped in protest, golden eyes opening slightly to look at An. “What a pretty thing. Come on back, and we’ll take care of her.” Yang nodded, gratefulness flooding her chest as she carried the cat to the back room. Already in the room, a boy maybe a little younger than Ruby was sterilizing some equipment. “This is my assistant, Oscar. He’ll only be observing any operations I do, so don’t worry about that.” An assured her, and Yang glanced from the boy to the doctor. “Operations…?”
The trepidation must have leaked into her voice, because An gave her a soft smile while she put on a pair of rubber gloves. “Let’s just see what we’re dealing with, okay?” Yang hesitated slightly, but nodded, and completely unzipped her jacket, keeping the cat cradled in one arm. She moved over to An and the table, and An gingerly took the cat from her, looking her over.
“Well, it doesn’t seem too bad- possibly a clean break. I’ll take some x-rays, and we’ll go from there, okay?” She smiled reassuringly, and put a comforting hand on Yang’s shoulder.
Yang had to admit, that was reassuring to hear, but now she was a bit out of her league. “Dr. An… I should probably call my dad… I don’t think I can afford-” She was silenced by a gloved finger in front of her face. “What…?”
An moved the finger to rest in front of her own lips, and winked. “I won’t charge you for the appointment, Yang. You did a good thing. Now, you’re welcome to stay with her while I get those x-rays and figure out what we’re dealing with, or if you’re squeamish about doctors offices, you’re also welcome to wait in the waiting room.” She turned to the cat laying on the table.
The black of her fur was absolute and abysmal against the white table, and Yang watched as she breathed, her chest heaving up and down as she laid there on her side. She glanced at Yang through slitted golden eyes, and suddenly it was incredibly hard to imagine hiding in the waiting room while An worked on the cat.
“I’ll stay.” Yang promised, looking from the cat to An. The doctor nodded, and Yang moved over to the table, placing her hand comfortingly atop the beautiful black cat’s side. “I’ll stay with you.”
“So, what’s her name?”
Yang blinked back into focus, looking to her father. “Huh?”
Taiyang chuckled and turned his eyes back to the road. The truck rumbled and bounced with the potholes littering the asphalt, and Yang tried to minimize the jostling by holding the cat to her a little more firmly. She was laying on Yang’s lap, a splint on her leg and some ointment on the tear in her ear. She was bundled up in Yang’s jacket, and while it was chilly, Yang could endure it. She needed the jacket more than Yang did. “I don’t know.” She finally answered.
Her father glanced at her again momentarily, before turning back to the road. “Isn’t it, like, a witch thing?”
Yang shrugged. “I don’t know. Ma can understand Omen… but she hasn’t tried to talk to me at all. All I get are purrs and meows.” She sighed.
“Maybe she’s just a normal cat.” Her father shrugged. Yang… wasn’t certain. She didn’t seem like a normal cat. There was something off about her; sure, she slept like a cat, and she moved like a cat, and she yawned and licked and meowed like a cat, but there was something Yang couldn’t quite name- something she sensed more than anything, that was off about her. Regardless, it was getting late, and she was exhausted.
She had ended up spending most of the day at An’s office, waiting anxiously for any word on what the cat’s situation was like exactly. She had been incredibly relieved to hear that it was just a sprain, and not an actual break, and all of the tension she’d been holding in her body had ebbed away, leaving only exhaustion. She’d called her father once she’d gotten the news, and had thankfully just caught him as he was leaving his part time job. She didn’t think taking the bike home would be a good idea, and her father had agreed. They’d worked together to get Bumblebee on the ramp and into the truck bed, and afterword, Yang had approached her father and simply laid her head on his shoulder, her arms limp at her sides and a groan passing her lips, muffled by his brown leather jacket.
He’d chuckled. “Come on, sunshine, lets get home.”
By the time they pulled into the dirt driveway and up to the house, the sky had already faded from blue to orange to pink to purple and now a deep black-like blue. The wind whipped around the trees, and overhead dark clouds promised rain. Taiyang sniffed at the air as he hopped out of the truck, and closed the door. Yang followed, carefully scooting herself out of the passenger seat and cradling the cat as she stepped around the truck and over to her father. “Smells like a storm.” He remarked.
Yang nodded silently. It was nights like these that made her nervous. Something about storms had always put her off, but in the fall, when everything was dying and the nights were longer, they seemed more dangerous; more ominous. She didn’t like it.
Unconsciously, Yang found herself petting and softly scratching behind the cat’s ears, holding her as close as was comfortable. Taiyang smiled slightly at the sight as he watched Yang frown up at the rolling clouds. He placed a hand on her shoulder, and Yang snapped back to attention. “Head inside before it starts raining, I’ll get Bumblebee in the garage for you.”
Yang blinked in surprise. “Really? You don’t have to.” Taiyang waved her off. “You just focus on taking care of that thing, okay?”
Yang smiled a bit at that, her relief palpable as she turned and walked up the steps of their cabin’s front porch. That relief was immediately crushed as both of her mothers jumped her the second she stepped in the door.
“Where in the hell have you been? We were worried-”
“You said you’d be home by lunch. It’s 6:30, Yang.” Raven’s tone was beyond scary as she tried to comfort Summer, who was in near hysterics.
“I uh… I got a little tied up…” Yang tried to justify, but Summer was not having it. “There is no excuse- we were so worried! You’re grounded, I swear to gods…” She went off, listing off all the things Yang was banned from, when she felt the cat in her jacket shift, and a ‘mrow’ chirped from the bundle. Summer immediately stopped, and Raven furrowed her eyebrows.
The cat chose that moment to peek out of the beige fur lining the neck of the jacket, meowing definitely. Yang gave a tentative smile. “I uh… made a new friend today. She needed a bit of medical attention so… I hope you’ll forgive me for worrying you.”
Summer and Raven were still just staring in surprise at the black cat snuggled in their daughter’s bomber jacket. “Your… familiar?” Summer asked, tentatively, and Yang blinked. “I’m… not really sure.”
“What do you mean, you’re not sure?” Raven quirked an eyebrow. “It’s a pretty moment, bonding with a familiar.”
Yang shrugged. “She doesn’t seem familiar, but… there’s definitely something magical about her. I don’t know what bonding with a familiar even entails, so…”
Yang could see her mother’s brain working; cogs turning, and running all the possibilities. “Why don’t you head downstairs, and get that cat settled. We’ll talk in a bit.”
“Summer.” Raven looked at her wife, and Yang couldn’t quite decipher the look she gave her, but Summer quieted, nodding. “Head up to your room, Yang. We’ll be up shortly.” Yang did as she was told, however confused she was about the situation. Climbing the stairs, she held the cat almost like a baby, swaddled in her warm jacket. She had started purring again, and admittedly, the sound soothed Yang’s worries.
Yang’s room was located on the second floor, across from the stairs and the third bathroom: the one she and Ruby shared. Naturally, the two had shared a room since they were small, but when Yang had started getting older, and Ruby had started getting into her magic, they’d both agreed that they needed more space. It was Ruby who had volunteered to move out of their room, surprisingly. She’d already talked to Summer about taking the attic, and their father had agreed that it was a good idea, but both of them knew he just wanted an excuse to refurbish another part of the house.
And refurbish he had; Ruby’s attic underwent a makeover during the first two weeks of that summer. He cut out the far wall, and built a terrace off of it, so Ruby’s plants could get some sun, and built shelves and hooks into the walls to hang potted plants from and stack books along. Ruby had been near tears when she’d seen it, and now you were lucky to get Ruby out of her room for more than a few hours at a time. Yang sighed. The thought admittedly made her a little sad. Ruby was growing up so fast. It seemed like yesterday she was just a little toddler, and Yang was pulling her around in a wagon out on the lawn.
Yang pushed open her bedroom door and closed it behind her as she entered her room. Her full size bed was neatly made, with enough pillows to drown in, all in varying shades of yellow and orange, and she wanted nothing more than to plop right down and take a nap. She stepped around the laundry basket by her dresser gave herself a quick glance in her full length mirror, before hefting the cat in her arms slightly. She’d been carrying her around all day- and while Yang was no stranger to heavy lifting(her biceps could attest to that) and the cat was decently skinny, she had to admit that her endurance was wavering. “Alright kitty…” She spoke softly, setting the bundle down on her comforter. “I’m gonna set you down now. My arms need a bit of a rest.”
Once she set her jacket down, the cat peeked her head past the fur lining and glanced around lazily, yawning. Yang, in turn, yawned too. “A nap does sound pretty good right now…” She admitted. Shrugging the straps of her overalls off her shoulders, Yang let them fall to her waist, not bothering to try and remove the pant section of the outfit. Her tube top was plenty comfy as is, and if her moms were going to come up and talk to her, then she supposed that being pantless wasn’t the best option. Oh, but a nap sounded so nice…
One look at the black cat sleeping there so soundly, and Yang caved. ‘It’s just a little nap… only for a little bit…’
Yang laid down on the bed beside the cat, resting her head on one of her orange pillows, shaped like an orange. She gently stroked the cat’s head, earning a grumble of approval and the feline affectionately headbutting her hand. A smile curved at Yang’s lips, and her eyes started to droop, and before she knew it, she was fading into darkness; into dreams.
Alyssum. Yang’s nose tickled with the sweet smell, and she knew this place. She knew that smell. She stepped through the white expanse of nothing- except this time there was something. Something different.
This whole thing felt familiar, like she’d done it all before. Like she’d been here before; like she knew what was going to happen next. She waited. She waited for the white to part, and… and what? She was forgetting… she was already forgetting, and it had just begun.
Alyssum. The smell tickled her nose and Yang remembered smelling that before, somewhere. She remembered smelling it, but she couldn’t recall smelling it ever in her life. Everything was bleeding together. Yang had no idea what day it was. She had no idea what she was- who she was.
Alyssum. Focus. Yang tried to focus on that one thing. On alyssum. She pictured it- finally. In her mind she could see them. She could smell them. She could touch- the white void was so blindingly bright. It was almost too bright. Yang tried to look away. Her brain jumped to shadows; wispy things that slithered and spiraled along the edges of her white, bright box.
Box. Box? Had it always been a box? This wasn’t right. She didn’t remember any box…
No. Not alyssum. Something else.
White faded darker and darker, and suddenly Yang could barely see. She could barely breathe. The air was thick and she gasped for it; choked on it. She reached out.
‘Anybody! Somebody!’ She pleaded, fingers outstretched. She shut her eyes tight. Was this it? If she could cry, she felt she might have, but it seemed she’d forgotten how to do that too. She floated there, adrift in the dense darkness, and waited.
And then soft skin met hers, and dainty fingers slipped between her fingers, and she felt herself pull out from the darkness.
It was light again. It was light again, and Yang gasped for breath, her face flushed. She opened her eyes, and Yang swore she saw stars.
Yang didn’t remember what she said. She didn’t remember anything but the stars- golden, and molten and warm. She remembered the color black; black as pitch, black as tar, black as obsidian and twice as rich. She remembered beauty.
And all too soon, she was gone, and all Yang could remember was the smell of something sweet.