From the author: Jacque finally comes out of hiding to meet Brigitte.
He couldn't get the witch girl out of his head. He'd seen her the last three days, and each time it was the same. She wandered the alleys until she found a cat or two to… well... visit. There was no catnip to lure them, something he'd seen with other witch-born. The milk and morsels weren't tainted, so she wasn't killing off strays or binding them into some sort of army. It was all quite cordial. She never chased anyone, choosing to let them come to her. He'd seen a particularly skittish kitten lurk three meters away while her litter-mates scarfed rewards, and instead of compelling the stray, the girl used her magic to deliver a few pieces of meat so the little one wouldn't miss out on a free meal.
He didn't question why he was able to find her again. He was a black cat, for the moment at least, and he was more than a little sensitive to magic, which had actually made living with his father all the more painful. He did wonder why he was bothering to stalk her. She was looking for a familiar, and she'd made that clear, but he couldn't begin to guess what would make a cat or kitten the right one. So far, none of the strays had met her requirements, and with his brand of magic he didn't stand a chance.
He shook his head, hesitating before continuing on his path in search of the sweet witch. He didn't want to be a familiar. He'd run away from home to escape the bindings his father imposed on him. Why on Gaia, would he seek out permanent magical entanglements? Of course he didn't want to be a familiar. He was a stray, and that's how he'd live until he turned eighteen, or maybe the rest of his life. It was better this way.
He'd dreamed of her, though. Every night since he first saw her, he'd woken to an almost painful absence of safety and warmth. It didn't make sense. He didn't know her, and while she seemed so kind, it could still all be a ruse. He needed to monitor her. That would keep his worries over the insidious creeping thoughts and cozy dreams at bay.
He continued on his way, again hiding himself in the shadows and leaves to watch her. Her clothes were bright and fun, reflecting a spirited personality. Other than her jacket, she'd had a different outfit each time, and they were all equally fabulous. For all his years modeling clothes by countless designers, he'd never been permitted to express himself like that. He doubted even his father could object to her impeccable styling. Today she wore a white swing tunic top with cherry blossom embroidery peeking out of her open coat. He suspected her pink pants were denim, but couldn't tell from here. His cat eyes saw color better than regular cats, but not as well as his human eyes did. He hadn't seen pastel denim since the Italian women's fashion week three years ago.
Miss Gigi proudly strolled into the alley, a short line of strays following behind her. When the girl bent down with her cup of milk, Miss Gigi nudged the free cats to approach. Jacque grinned, flicking his tongue against his delightfully sharp teeth. She was trying to help the girl, like some sort of familiar matchmaker. It was adorable.
This time things went a little differently, and he held his breath as the girl scooped up a gray tabby from the little clowder. Had she found her familiar? Why did that make his chest hurt?
"Oh dear," she said softly. "You have ear mites." She fondled the cat's ears, and looked up to meet Miss Gigi's eyes. "I'd like to treat his ears. Can you let him know I'm not going to harm him?"
Miss Gigi bobbed her head and let out a series of meows and mrrows. "Sit still and let the witchling cure your ears. You'll be grateful for it later."
The cat sat docile while the girl dripped a minty smelling potion on his ears and waved a hand over his head. Jacque felt the magic, even from his hiding place. Again, it was nothing like his father's, leaving him soothed, instead of anxious.
"There you go," the girl said. "Good as new." She gently set the cat back down and finished doling out treats. "Thank you for coming to see me," she told the cats. "And I do appreciate your help, madame." She bowed to Miss Gigi. "I'm afraid I've got to go." She cleaned up her things, reaching to give Miss Gigi a bit of meat before heading out.
Miss Gigi sat where she was, long after the girl had left. She looked up to the shadows. "Did you think she was going to pick that little tom?" she meowed. "How did that feel?"
He took a three-hop route down to the alley beside her. "She wouldn't want me," he insisted, choosing not to answer her questions. He still wasn't sure how he felt about the inexplicable moment of fear and sorrow.
"She's powerful, and you're sensitive," Miss Gigi continued. "You're exactly what she wants."
"Not... exactly," he replied. He wasn't fully cat, and he was pretty sure Miss Gigi knew that.
"You aren't meant to be a stray," she hissed. "You're clever and resourceful, I've no doubt you'll handle the winter fine, but this is the wrong life for you." She stared into his eyes for a moment before turning away. "There is an opportunity before you."
"An opportunity to be enslaved?" he asked.
Miss Gigi laughed. "That girl will not be enslaving her familiar. She's looking for a partner, a companion. Why do you think it's taking so long?"
Jacque was quiet for a moment. Miss Gigi was contradicting everything his father claimed witches would do if they found him.
"Do you want respect and affection?" Miss Gigi asked. "For those will be your fate, should you go with that girl."
He stared at his paws a moment. "How can you be sure? People change." His father had never been exactly warm to him, but when his mother was still around, he'd seemed fond enough of Jacque. That all changed when she vanished.
"My witch is gifted in reading the currents of time and chance," Miss Gigi said. "As her familiar, I'm a fair paw at seeing." She got to her feet. "Think hard on this, child, and don't let it pass by without making an actual decision on it." She turned and trotted away, her tail twisting behind her.
He led the witch on a quick and merry jaunt to this alley. It was quiet and empty, and had decent hiding places, allowing him to control their meeting. As he'd hoped, she started following him the moment she caught sight of him. He was careful to go slow and stop periodically so she could track him, without turning it into a chase, since she'd made it clear she wouldn't run at the cats she met.
"Here, kitty kitty," she called, her voice light and playful.
He liked her voice, even though it had haunted his dreams since the first time he heard it.
She closed her eyes, and he felt her magic lightly brush over him. Smiling happily, she crouched down and pulled out the thermos he'd seen so often. "Come on, kitty. I just want to meet you." There was no lie in her words, and she looked content to wait.
Brigitte relaxed, prepared to sit for some time if that would draw him out, but it wasn't necessary. He was hungry or curious, and brave enough to approach. She opened her eyes when she sensed him half a meter away. He was sleek and perfectly black, with hair somewhere between medium and long, and it lay smooth and clean over his whole body. His eyes, oh goodness, his eyes were such a beautiful green.
"Oh," she gasped. "You're gorgeous, aren't you?"
He paused and rolled his shoulder to gaze at her over it, before slowly taking a few more steps.
Giggling at his posing, she pushed the thermos cap of milk toward him, then pulled her hands back, keen to get to know him without spooking him. "I suppose you know what a handsome lad you are, huh?" He was out of his kitten days, but he had the leggy build of an adolescent. "Do all the ladies admire you?"
"Mrrrrow," he agreed, pausing to smell the milk. Then he leaned forward just a bit to sniff at her. Her skin was warm against his nose, and he butted his forehead against her fingers. His magic sense kicked into overdrive at her touch. When she ran her hand over his head and back, he suddenly remembered the joy in being petted. His mother had given him all sorts of pats and cuddles no matter his form, and he wondered how he'd survived without it for so long.
"Oh, goodness, you're so soft." She scratched his neck, hitting all the best places, though she seemed to be verifying his lack of collar. "Don't you know how dangerous it is to prowl the streets with no tag or necklace, Hēi Māo?" she asked.
Had she just named him? And in Mandarin, one of the languages his father insisted he study? It may have been intended as a nickname or term of endearment, since it was literally a description of what he was, but he was suddenly determined get rid of his old name and use the one she'd given him instead. He rubbed his head against her forearm, lifting his front paws to her knee in an effort to raise his jaw enough to reach her face. If he became her familiar, he would never be alone again. He wouldn't have to worry about hiding from his father, or other witches for that matter, and he'd be guaranteed a place where he belonged. If he was safe, and she got the benefit of a familiar, it was a fair trade. It was like Miss Gigi had said, they were a good fit for each other; he felt that now, though he suspected that might be the magic.
She ran a hand over his back and drew on her power as she looked him over. Again, he found himself relaxing under her touch.
"Huh." She put a second hand on him. "You have the strangest aura. It's almost as if you're not quite a cat, but at the same time, you really are."
She wasn't wrong, of course. His witch was so clever, and yes, she was his; he could feel it. His purr rumbled up in a way it hadn't in years.
"Are you Schrödinger's cat, then? Both cat yet not cat at the same time?" she asked, smiling brightly.
He purred, amused with her quantum physics joke.
She let out a sigh. "I don't think I can claim you, Hēi Māo, but I'd really like to."
His witch was silly. He'd already decided. He was hers. Her fingers moved under his chin, and he closed his eyes in pleasure.
Brigitte is a teen witch who is desperately ready to find her familiar. Jacque was an internationally-known teen model, but he's spent the last four months living as a stray cat on the streets of Paris. What could possibly happen when these two cross paths?
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