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Of Witch I Am Familiar

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Rodney was curled up in a patch of sunlight in the kitchen, his head pillowed on his tail. It was a perfect, quiet afternoon, nothing in the air but dust motes and the faint echoes of the bacon he’d had for breakfast. It was a good warm-up for his pre-dinner nap.

Of course the bird had to ruin it.

“She’s not back yet.”

Rodney cracked open one eye, but all he could see were spindly black legs. “Go away.”

“But she’s not back yet.”

Rodney stretched and rolled over, his back to John. He hoped the bird would take the hint, but of course that featherbrain was incapable of understanding subtleties.

“Aren’t you concerned?”

“I’ll be concerned if she’s not back by dinner. Now go away. I’m trying to sleep.”

“You’ve been sleeping all morning,” John complained. He hopped over Rodney and flapped his wings. “Come on. This is serious.”

Rodney flicked his tail in annoyance. “She’s allowed to go out. And so are you. Go eat worms or something.”

John clacked his beak, but he finally wandered off in an agitated rustle of feathers. Rodney fell back asleep with a self-satisfied grin on his furry face.

*o*o*o*

Rodney became mildly concerned when dinner time rolled around and Gwynnie wasn’t back. Still, it wasn’t like she hadn’t left food out for him, even if it wasn’t the good stuff. He wasn’t going to starve.

John was pacing back and forth on the windowsill. “Where is she? Do you think she ran into trouble?”

Rodney groomed himself. “No.”

“You do remember she’s a witch, right? Sometimes bad things happen to witches.”

“You watch too much television. It’s not like that for witches anymore. She probably just decided to eat in town.”

John tapped his beak against the window. “I should’ve gone with her.”

Rodney looked at John from around the leg he had stretched over his head. “Why? So you could sit on her shoulder like the world’s drabbest parrot?”

“What’s a parrot?”

Really, it was pointless talking to that idiot sometimes. And it was only because they were Gwynnie’s familiars that they could talk to each other at all; contrary to Disney films, animals didn’t all speak the same language. Though John could imitate it pretty well sometimes.

“Don’t you have something dead to go eat?”

John pointedly turned back to the window.

*o*o*o*

Gwynnie still hadn’t returned by breakfast, and now Rodney was worried. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day. It was eggs, and sometimes bacon or sausage, and always bits of cheese. He eyed the dry food in his bowl with disdain. Was he supposed to just starve to death?

He looked around for the bird, but John wasn’t anywhere to be seen. And maybe Rodney panicked, just a little, because he hadn’t planned on waking up to an empty house.

“John? John!” Where had that featherbrain gotten off to?

Rodney made a thorough search of the house, which didn’t take long because there were only three rooms and the bathroom. John also wasn’t out in the herb garden, the flower garden, or the shed where Gwynnie made her potions and worked her magic.

He expanded his search, and finally found John down by the mailbox, where the yard met the dirt road.

“Waiting for a letter?” Rodney asked, trying not to show how worried he was. He sharpened his claws on the post.

“I’m going to town,” John said. “To find Gwynnie.”

Rodney cocked his head to the side. “I’m sorry, what? You’re going where?”

John looked at him, his smoky grey eyes filled with determination. “I can’t just wait here. I have to find her.”

More panic. Rodney was a pretty self-sufficient cat, as befitted his noble species, but he didn’t want to lay around the house all day, alone. With no-one making him good breakfasts, or grooming him with the special brush, or being a foil to his intelligent observations.

“You can’t walk all the way to town!”

“Yes I can!” And John stalked off down the road, his spiky-feathered head never once looking back.

Rodney glanced at the house, then back at John, and sighed. That stupid bird would get himself killed out there. Which would only serve him right. But Rodney remembered when Gwynnie brought John home, a little black ball of feathers that had fallen out of his nest and been rejected by his mother. Rodney couldn’t abandon him. He hurried to catch up.

“I would just like you to know that I’m accompanying you under protest.”

“No-one’s forcing you, Mer.”

“Yes, well, you know how mad Gwynnie would be if something happened to you. She’d cut me off from the pudding.”

John opened his mouth and canned sitcom laughter came pouring out.

“There’s no need to be rude,” Rodney retorted.

*o*o*o*

“I’m hungry,” Rodney said. He wished now he hadn’t turned up his nose at the dry food.

“So go catch something,” John replied.

“What am I, a savage?” Rodney didn’t hunt for his own food. That was fine for some, but not for him. Not that he couldn’t, of course, because he often caught creatures for Gwynnie to use in her magic: newts, toads, once in a great while a bat.

“Then stop complaining about it.”

Rodney growled. It was easy for John, who only had to nab a wayward beetle to get some protein.

“This would go a lot faster if you’d just fly to town,” he snapped.

That ruffled John’s feathers, as Rodney knew it would. John insisted that he couldn’t fly, not more than to get up on the table at home, or the windowsill. He said he’d injured himself when he fell out of his nest. But Rodney had seen him looking longingly up at the sky, and thought maybe John was just scared. A fledgling trauma like that, who could blame him? That didn’t mean he should be holding himself back.

Of course, Rodney couldn’t help but feel that if John regained the power of flight there’d be nothing keeping him at the house. Maybe he’d find his family, or another unkindness to go live with. Then it would just be Gwynnie and Rodney again, and who would he bicker with?

There was no traffic on the back road, one of the reasons that Gwynnie had chosen to live there. She talked to Rodney a lot, told him that she was painfully shy around large groups of people. She was much happier with her big, fluffy cat and her silly bird and her internet connection that let her reach out to other witches around the world. Although at the moment Rodney wouldn’t have minded a car passing through, something they could maybe hitch a ride on.

“I need a break,” Rodney said.

“That’s what you get for napping so much.” John shook out his wings, but stopped walking. “You’ve been a familiar longer than me. Can’t you conjure something up?”

“Like what? A tiny car that doesn’t require opposable thumbs to drive? No.” Rodney licked his paw pads. “Why don’t you do something useful and find me something to eat?”

John mimicked a loud, sputtering sound and hopped off the road into the bushes. Rodney had no idea how much longer it would take to get to town. Gwynnie didn’t have a car, just an old bicycle, so it couldn’t be too far. Rodney flopped on his side and tried to ignore the hunger in his belly. If this kept up, he might be forced to actually chase something down and eat it, as distasteful as that was.

He dozed a little, waiting for John to come back, and then his ears pricked forward when he heard barking. Rodney was instantly on his feet, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound. He wasn’t a fan of dogs – big, stupid, slavering things – and even less so of one that sounded out-of-sorts.

John came bursting out of the bushes, something big and white clamped in his beak, and gave Rodney a wide-eyed look. Oh, of course. The dog was chasing John. Moments later the dog itself arrived on the scene, a big brown thing with a stub for a tail and murder in its eye. Well, no-one tried to murder John but Rodney, that was how things worked.

“Back off, fleabag!” Rodney shouted. He put his back up, unsheathed his claws, and growled at the dog. It was gratifying how quickly the beast backpedaled when it saw Rodney. “Go home!”

Rodney darted forward and took a swipe at the dog, and if it’d had a tail, it would have been tucked between the animal’s legs as it ran away. Score another one for the feline!

“Are you insane?” Rodney said, turning to John.

“There were people having a picnic,” John explained. He’d dropped whatever he was carrying, and pointed towards it with his beak. “You like sandwiches, right?”

Rodney stalked over to what he could now see was two slices of bread with some sort of filling. He sniffed at it, and turned wide eyes on John.

“You found me a tuna sandwich?”

John gave him the avian equivalent of a shrug. “You said you were hungry.”

Rodney made quick work of the sandwich, discarding the bread – which John was more than happy to have – and gobbling up the tuna. It had a nice mayonnaise base, but he could’ve done without the bits of dill pickle. Belly full, he sat back and cleaned his whiskers.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Well, I don’t want a cranky Mer coming all the way to town with me,” John said cheekily.

Rodney made a snap decision. He felt bad for goading John into finding him food, especially since John had nearly gotten eaten himself in the process. “You know, Meredith is only my familiar name. I prefer my second name.”

John cocked his head. “How many names do you have?”

“Three. The name Gwynnie calls me, the name I call myself, and the super-secret name that I don’t even tell other cats.”

“But you’d tell me your second name? Really?”

“Only if you promise not to tell anyone.”

John hopped closer, his eyes gleaming. “I promise.”

“It’s Rodney.”

“Rodney,” John repeated, tipping his head this way and that. “Rodney. Rawd-nee.”

That last one sounded like something John had heard on TV, kind of twangy and exaggerated.

“Just plain Rodney, if you don’t mind.”

“I like it,” John said. “It suits you.”

Rodney fought back the urge to purr.

*o*o*o*

A truck rumbled down the road, kicking up dust and leaving behind garbage carelessly tossed out the window.

“That was unnecessary,” Rodney said once he stopped sneezing.

“It’s shiny,” John said, inspecting the item more closely.

“It’s a beer can.”

John switched to his announcer voice, repeating a commercial he’d seen. “Enjoy a beer on the pier with your best buddy.”

“Pretty sure humans aren’t supposed to drink that when they’re driving.” Rodney was careful to check in both directions before he stepped back out on the road.

“Do you ever wish you were human?” John asked.

“No. Why would I? Humans have jobs and bills and only two feet. Me? I get to lay around the house all day.”

“I only have two feet,” John pointed out. He hopped on one of them and held the other out, toes curled.

“Which is why I’d also rather be a cat than a raven, thank you very much.”

“Ravens are really smart, Rodney. You shouldn’t underestimate ravens.”

Rodney knew very well how smart John was. He could look at a complex problem and solve it in seconds, even with only the two feet. He just wasn’t as worldly and experienced as Rodney, no doubt due to his sheltered existence as Gwynnie’s familiar. Which in no way made him at all endearing.

“Ravens can also fly,” Rodney said. “You’re not much better than a penguin.”

“What’s a penguin?”

*o*o*o*

In hindsight, Rodney should’ve known better than to think with his stomach instead of his superior feline brain. But lunch time had come and gone, and he was hungry again. He’d smelled food, and followed his nose, and now he was stuck in some kind of metal cage with a hunk of raw chicken and no way to get out.

John’s talons were clicking as he walked around on top of the cage, looking it over. “There’s a lever up here.”

“Can you move it?” Rodney kept eyeballing the meat, but he didn’t trust it not to be poisoned.

“No. I can’t get my beak wedged under it.”

Rodney sighed. He was doomed. Either he’d die in the cage, or the person who put it there to trap unwitting animals would come back and make a fur hat out of him. Unless…

“John, you have to find Gwynnie and bring her back here.”

“I can’t just leave you here, what if someone comes?” John hopped off the top of the cage and looked at Rodney through the side. “What if they carry you away?”

“If you fly, you could get there fast.”

John shook his head. “You know I can’t.”

“No, I know you want to but you’re afraid,” Rodney corrected. “But you can do it, John, I know you can. It’s our only chance.”

John didn’t look convinced, so Rodney busted out the big eyes and tried to make himself look as pathetic as possible. “Please, John. I’m getting claustrophobic in here.”

“I can’t promise it’ll work,” John said. And then he got back up on top of the cage.

Rodney could hear John flapping his wings up there, and there was more talon clacking. He held his breath. Could the featherbrain actually do it? Could he fly? Rodney waited. And waited. And let his breath out in a rush before he suffocated himself.

“John! What are you doing up there?”

“Psyching myself up.”

“I’m not getting any younger down here, you know.”

There was more flapping, some incredibly inappropriate cursing – Where had John learned those words? Gywnnie didn’t watch that kind of TV – and then Rodney heard John lift off the top of the cage.

“Go, go, go,” he chanted under his breath. And waited anxiously for John to crash back to Earth.

“I’m doing it!” John called gleefully from somewhere over Rodney’s head. “I’m really doing it!”

Rodney pressed his face to the side of the cage, and there! John was swooping back and forth over the little clearing they were in. He looked magnificent.

“Told you so!” Rodney shouted. “Now go get help!”

John circled back. “Nope. I got this.”

He flew out of sight, and then Rodney heard scrabbling on top of the cage. More cursing, a black feather floated down, and with a snap the cage door swung open and Rodney made a run for it.

“How’d you do it?” he asked when John landed gracefully beside him.

“I couldn’t fit my beak under, but I could grab it with my feet. I just needed a good lift-off.”

John was looking rightfully smug, and Rodney let him have his moment. He supposed they were even now, one save a piece. And surely it wouldn’t be long before John flew off to explore the world he’d only seen on a TV screen.

“Stay here,” John said. “I’m gonna scout ahead and see how much farther we have to go.”

He pushed off the ground and flapped his wings, and it was like he’d been flying all his life. Rodney sat in the grass and watched him go, trying to feel happy for his friend.

*o*o*o*

It was nearing dusk by the time they reached town. John had kept a vigilant lookout, especially once the dirt road turned into blacktop and there were more cars, but Rodney kind of missed walking with the dumb bird.

“Over here!” John called. “See her bike?”

“I see it,” Rodney grumbled. “I’m not blind.”

Gwynnie’s bike was resting against someone’s porch. The front tire was all bent out of shape, and the basket was squashed. Rodney hoped she was okay. He ran up the front steps and pawed at the front door, yowling as loudly as he could. John landed on the porch rail and added his own voice to the cacophony.

It didn’t take long for the door to swing open, revealing a man. Rodney glared up at him.

“Nevermore,” John said from the railing.

“Uh…Gwynnie? I believe you have visitors, lass.”

Finally, there was Gwynnie, wearing her same long skirt and ruffled blouse, though there was a bandage on her forehead and all her long, curly red hair had been pulled back.

“Meredith! Johnny Angel! How did you find me?”

“It wasn’t easy,” Rodney muttered.

“My poor babies. I had a little accident and hit my head. Dr. Beckett has been looking after me.” Gwynnie stooped down and scooped Rodney up. “I missed you.”

Rodney butted against Gwynnie’s chin with his head. The feeling was definitely mutual. Of course, then John had to show off by flying around in front of the house and Rodney got jostled while Gwynnie tried to clap her hands.

“Johnny Angel, look at you! I knew you could fly!”

Rodney huffed and headed for higher ground, draping himself across Gwynnie’s shoulders. “You coddled him and you know it.”

“Hush, Mer. Let me enjoy the moment.”

Beckett cleared his throat. “They, uh, they don’t actually talk to you, do they?”

“Of course not. That would be silly.” Gwynnie held out her arm and John landed on it. “I’m so proud of you!”

John practically beamed, and Rodney refrained from mentioning that the only reason the featherbrain could fly was because of him.

“It’s all right if I bring them in, right Carson?” Gwynnie didn’t wait for an answer, just swept into the house. “I want to hear all about your adventure, my boys!”

*o*o*o*

Rodney lay in the window, sun deliciously warm on his fur. But he didn’t enjoy it. He was glad to be home, where Gwynnie had treated him to a hero’s breakfast every morning, but it wasn’t the same without John. He’d gone exploring two days ago and hadn’t come back, just as Rodney had feared.

He absolutely wasn’t keeping watch for him.

“Oh, Meredith. Stop moping.” Gwynnie scratched him behind the ears. “I need a newt, can you catch me one? Preferably with spots.”

Rodney sighed, but stretched and jumped off the window sill. He went out the cat door in the back and made for the flower garden, where he could usually find one or two good-sized newts. There were none to be had there today.

He wandered past the shed to the pond, and spent some time staring at the little fish darting around in the water. He half-heartedly batted at them before deciding he didn’t want to get his paws wet.

And then the quiet of the day was shattered by a throaty caw and a shouted, “Incoming!”

Rodney looked up to see John barreling straight for him, and his reflexes kicked in too late to save him. John plowed into him and they both went tumbling, fur and feathers flying. When they came to a stop Rodney was on his back and John was sprawled out on top of him.

“Hey, Rodney!”

“I can’t believe I missed you. I must have a brain fever.” Rodney pushed John off and stood up, shaking himself out. “Where have you been?”

John hopped around, wings spread. “Everywhere! It’s even better than on TV, and I met some really cool ravens. We played a game with this pinecone, it was so much fun!”

He sounded really excited.

“Just come to say goodbye, then?” Rodney asked.

John stopped hopping and looked at him, head cocked to the side. “What? Why would I do that?”

Rodney’s fur bristled. “Oh, so you just stopped by to rub all your happiness in my face before you leave? Really nice.”

“Rodney, I’m not leaving. Why would I do that? I live here.”

An, ineffable bird logic. Rodney rolled his eyes. “Because you could go live with other ravens now. Have a family.”

John hopped closer and butted Rodney in the head. “You are my family, stupid cat.”

Rodney absolutely did not purr.

When Gwynnie came looking for him later, she found Rodney and John curled up together in the flower garden, fast asleep.