Thing: Part Four
Morning arrived, and Xana woke up with, to her surprise, feathers in her hair.
Sitting up quickly and ruffling her hair to get rid of them, she realised she had fallen asleep with her face in her old Furwitch pillow. It was lying beside her on the bed, feathers spilling out of the wide gash in the fluffy material that L had made with his fangs when he had got a little over-excited.
As she pulled the last feather from her fringe and flicked it away, she found herself laughing at the memory.
She couldn't exactly explain how her mood had changed so quickly. Perhaps it was the prospect of getting rid of that Thing today. She hadn't wanted to get over it at first, but she couldn't deny it felt much better to laugh about it and think back on it fondly than cry over it.
She felt better all round, actually. More cheerful, more motivated. She was even smiling a little.
She slipped her feet into her slippers and walked across to her wardrobe, rummaging through the rows of jeans and T-shirts and selecting a Nightsteed T-shirt to wear. It was her newest one and smelled of Sango's perfume mallow fabric softener. All her brothers and sisters had pitched in to buy it for her, the week after she lost L to the Turmaculus. It had been bought with the intention of cheering her up. It hadn't worked at the time - in fact, she had thrown it in the back of her wardrobe and never spared a glance at it until now. But now she was looking at it from a different point of view, it really was lovely. It fitted her perfectly, hugging her figure. It was the kind of T-shirt that made you want to twirl around in the front of the mirror like a toddler trying on her mother's dress.
When she entered the kitchen, Sango's face lit up as if she had just brought home a Beauty Contest trophy. She dropped her newspaper on the floor and ran to her, lifting her off the ground and hugging her tightly. Shyly, Xana returned her owner's embrace.
"Good morning," Sango said quietly, not letting go of her pet as she hugged her. Until she sneezed. She dropped Xana back on the floor and cupped her hands around her nose as she sneezed a second time. When she let her hands fall away from her face, she revealed a tiny green feather floating through the air. She looked puzzled for a second as she looked down at her pet's head.
"You've got feathers in your hair," she commented. She began to giggle, and it wasn't long before Xana joined in.
When she finally managed to collect herself, Sango grinned widely and ran to the kitchen counter, swinging open every cupboard door and pulling out cartons of eggs, boxes of flour and a huge punnet of blueberries. Xana's heart sank when she produced a box of frozen Woo Woo Grubs from the fridge and sat them alongside the other ingredients on the counter.
"I'm gonna make you pancakes for breakfast!" she announced, clearly extremely proud of herself.
Trying her best to stay calm, Xana breezed over to her owner and took her wrists in her delicate paws, gently pulling them away from the counter. "How about we let Mila make breakfast?"
A hurt look flashed across the teenage girl's face, but was quickly replaced by a dismissive shrug. "'Kay. I guess," she mumbled. Suddenly, her face lit up with a classic Sango-grin -- deliriously happy, if ever so slightly absent looking. "How about we go for a walk before breakfast? We can take your new petpet and--"
Xana dropped her owner's wrists and turned away, occupying herself by picking at the punnet of berries. Her eyes floated over to meet her owner's gaze, but quickly flitted back to the fruit as she popped one in her mouth and chewed on it slowly. She had successfully forgot about the Thing until now, and she had been liking it that way. She could feel the anger rising in her throat again and desperately tried to hold it back; she didn't want to spoil the mood.
"Couldn't we just go together?" she asked, sadness tinging her voice.
"But he didn't get a walk yesterday and he's so fidgety; besides, it'll be a brilliant way for you two to bond, right?" she pressed. Xana gritted her teeth - she talked about that Thing like it was already a member of the family. 'He didn't get a walk yesterday'. 'He's so fidgety'. Talking about him like she'd known him for years. Like she knew everything about him.
"Sango, I don't want to bond," she said quietly. "I'm taking him back to Hayley's today, remember? I did tell you."
She could have sworn that he understood. Upon hearing the news, he whined pitifully and pawed at her leg persistently until she took notice. When she did, he whined again, showing off his porcelain baby fangs. She ignored him.
Sango's face fell and her gaze dropped to her slippered feet. "Oh, yeah," she muttered. "Well, how about we just go for one last walk?" She forced out the word 'last' as if she was choking on it.
Xana felt a twinge of guilt as she looked at her owner's face. What she was doing was upsetting Sango. The least she could do was take the Thing for one silly walk to cheer her up. She nodded as she resealed the box of flour Sango had ripped open and slid it back onto the shelf.
Sango beamed and ran into the hallway to fetch her jacket.
Sango groaned inwardly. She was ecstatic that Xana had finally cheered up, but she was refusing to even acknowledge the poor thing's existence now. Even when he fetched sticks from the roots of the trees that lined each side of the path, bringing them to her and dancing around her feet, wagging his entire butt furiously, desperate for her to take it and throw it for him, she would keep walking as if he wasn't there, often walking straight into him and causing him to stumble out of the way. The pained look on his face tore her apart; it quickly reached the stage where she couldn't even look at him.
But Xana didn't care. To her, he was a liability. Nothing more. He was a painful memory of her beloved old petpet, a traitor, undeserving of her attention.
She had so desperately wanted them to get along. It was all she had wanted and she couldn't even get that one, simple thing. She knew Xana hadn't got over L completely yet, sure, but she wished with all her heart she would just give the poor thing a chance. It wasn't his fault. He didn't deserve all this hostility.
Perhaps he would be better off with Hayley...
She looked down to see her boots were wet. A river was rushing past, lapping against her feet as it raced through the murky ditch. She had missed the stepping stones. She rolled her eyes. How many times had she gone past this river? You would think she had remembered it was there, after living by this park and visiting it nearly every day for three years.
Xana was already hopping from one stone to the next, halfway across the river. It was crashing against the moss-coated rocks, washing over her pet's paws and colliding with her ankles savagely. The stones were almost submerged in the water. After all the rain, the river was deeper and faster-flowing than it had ever been. It was charcoal-grey, and hacking away at chunks of the river bed as it rushed through the trees, sending them hurtling down through the water. Stronger than it had ever been. To see her petite little Xweetok making her way across it made her legs turn to jelly as she ran through a familiar scene in her head. Xana losing her footing, slipping, falling into the water, her terrified screams echoing in Sango's head as the current pulled her under...
"Come on, Sango," Xana called impatiently. The pup was already at the other side, dripping wet but grinning as widely as ever. He joined in, running into the shallows and yapping at her to follow. She willed him desperately not to run in further - he would be swept away in a split second, the tiny, fragile thing that he was.
And then it happened. It all came and went in a split second but the heart-wrenching sound would remain in Sango's mind forever. The sound of snapping twigs, of scratching and scrabbling and a scream of terror abruptly cut off by a sharp splash that twisted Sango's heart into knots and sent it flying up to her throat.
And then, every other sound was drowned out by her own, terrified screaming as the scene before her eyes blurred and broke away as tears streamed down her cheeks.
To be continued...