It took no more than a small breath to propel herself through the air, between the branches, with only the form a highly trained athlete could manage. Like a whistle she sailed straight upwards, and angling her body, she landed on the thick branch. Her bare feet slid against the bark, nails just barely inching out for a tight grip.
The humanoid cat spoke into her radio. "I've got eyes on the bull. I'm going to scare him your way."
"Roger that Nana-bear." Came a chirpy voice.
The woman turned her head, looking past the strands of dirty blonde hair that flew into her eyes from its long braid. Sharp, catlike blue eyes watched the roaming bull make its way through the woods. With her dark blue t-shirt and blue jeans, she was hardly visible jumping across the branches, tail whipping behind her. She scurried down the tree like a silent squirrel, and when the bull was feet away, she raced out onto the ground in front of him and sprang up to her feet, roaring with all the strength she could muster.
Birds flew out of their nests, and the bull reared up on his back legs. Immediately he started back towards the ranch. The woman let out a breath into her radio. "Heading your way. Better have those gates wide and open Tom."
"You doubt me? Oh, that hurts."
Nani pushed the hair back from her eyes, allowing herself to enjoy the walk back to the ranch. "I'm not saying you're stupid… But you did look around for your glasses last night, right when they were behind your ears."
"… how was I supposed to know Cyrus put catnip in my dinner? That stuff always clouds my judgement!"
"Well you shouldn't have insulted his weight. I'm out." She turned off her radio, peering ahead in time to see Tom close the gate behind the lost bull. From the porch, Jonathan watched, smiling. The wrinkles and decades past of hard work allowed him to rest more these days. Every day he was thankful for his furry family taking such good care of things.
Nani met up to the tiger at his side, where they promptly continued their argument. "I mean, I know the guy likes to cook, but I'm worried for his health." Tom frowned. "Baby fat was fine twenty years ago…you can't tell me that jiggle is kitten chub."
"You can't make him do hard work like the rest of us. We're all talented differently." Nani gritted out, muttering incline under her breath as they walked up the hill. Tom let out a dry laugh. "Well, he's more talented than Johnny. All that cat is good for is drinking-"
Nani sharply looked over, and that was the end of that. Tom would have carefully pressed on the matter, but they had reached the porch by then. Jonathan gave them big, iced glasses full of tea.
"You cubs are getting better every day."
Tom shyly smiled, tipping back his hat. "Well we were raised by the best."
Nani flicked his hat off his head. "Suck up."
"Hey! That's an expensive ten-gallon!"
"Children," Jonathan reprimanded, "where are the others?"
Tom dusted his hat off, pouting. "Cyrus went shopping for groceries. T.J is out trimming the weeds along the fences, and me and Nana-bear are here." He smiled. The older man's smile briefly faltered. He would have liked having two of the eldest living here again, but… They had left long ago.
It was a small town, and with time long ago, the town had accepted the cubs. They were like any local in town now, well known, and accepted. And it was also a well-known fact that Johnny and his brother lived in the local bar's second level. They both worked there, and it wasn't a secret Johnny had a problem putting the bottle down after every paycheck. The only reason James put up with that was because he was scared of leaving his older brother alone…
It was hard on all of them, but Johnny would never come back.
Nani cleared her throat, putting a stop to where their thoughts were heading. "Is Aunt Beth on the way home?"
Jonathan nodded. "She called a few minutes ago. Should be home in twenty or so minutes. Cyrus should be back with dinner by then. I love that boy's timing." He chuckled.
The two licked their lips, simultaneously listening to their stomachs growl. Luckily Cyrus returned at that moment, calling the two to the truck to help with groceries. Tom flew over every fence in the way, leaving Nani to run and jump over them. Cyrus had put on a bit of weight over the years, but it could easily be mistaken for having a big frame. "Stuff's in the back. Hurry now. I won't have that on-sale ice cream melting on account of you slow pokes." He made clear, raising his brows.
Cyrus was a very no-nonsense feline, but always loving and fun. When it came to groceries though, the family did as told. The two sighed as they hauled the heavy groceries up and headed inside. Cyrus was busy putting some things away. "It'll be ready in five minutes. Ya'll better get T.J too. Also, someone move the truck. I didn't mean to take Aunt Beth's spot."
Nani swiped the keys before Tom could. "He's your twin." She reminded, smiling as she headed out. Tom groaned, knowing he'd have to fly over those long stinking fields so his brother would hear. Nani moved the truck to its rightful place, and then made herself comfortable on top of it. The mutant stared off down the driveway, waiting for the glimmer of a car to reflect off the sun. She liked doing that every other day, greeting Aunt Beth when she came home.
Before long, dinner was being called, but Nani waved him off. "I'm waiting for Aunt Beth!"
So the minutes went by, and there still was no car coming down the driveway. When thirty minutes had gone by, Nani slid off the truck and started for the house. On the way, Jonathan stopped her. "I'm going out to look for her. She hasn't answered her phone… I'll call when I find her." He smiled, going to his truck. Nani squinted her eyes as the truck soon sped off, kicking up gravel. She curled her tail around her leg worriedly, till Cyrus called her again.
"Come on Nana-bear! Food's not good cold!"
But Nani kept looking down the driveway. "I'm not really hungry, Cyrus… Go ahead and eat."
The tiger huffed indignantly and started inside. "Alright, we'll save you, Uncle Jonathan and Aunty the leftovers!"
Nani lost track of how long she'd spent looking down that driveway. The others glanced out from the window, but figured not to bother her. Often in her thoughts Nani refused to talk to others. It was best to let her brew and think.
It made her jump when her phone rang. Upon answering, her Uncle was already talking breathlessly and blurred. "Woah woah, slow down, I can't understand you Uncle Jonathan."
The man took a deep breath. "It's Beth. There was an accident. A-A semi-truck and her car was crushed," he panted for breath, "I just got to the hospital when I found out. They took her to the E.R."
"Oh my god, are- are you okay?! Where are you?!"
"Sprigs Hospital. But its outside town. You and the others can't come out this far. Please… just stay home… manage the others.. I-I need to-" The phone suddenly went fuzzy, and the call ended. It felt like a blur for Nani. She ran inside, repeating what she was told a few times over, as if to clarify it for herself. It didn't seem to do much good, and only horrified the others. Nani stared at the wall phone, hesitating, and occasionally reaching but stopping herself.
T.J watched her with wide eyes. "W-wait…you're not thinking about doing that, are you?'
Cyrus took in a sharp breath. "It's the one thing those two always warned us about. Never to call the city, not to have any connections to-"
"I know the risk!" Nani shouted, eyes wide, and deciding what to do. "But there was the exception of an emergency… If this isn't, I don't know what is!"
"B-But Gen-U-Tech! We still have the letter from years back when Xanatos actually told us the truth. We can't risk something as big as-" Tom began, till Nani turned towards him.
"Tom, Aunt Beth might die. Her sister and… and her brother, should know that…"
A heavy, short silence followed in the room. Nani swallowed and turned, imputing the numbers she and the others swore to never call, until it was a last resort.
The feline was shaking as it rang.
"I'm calling Mr. Xanatos."
Owen Burnett's eyes never moved from the thin computer screen before him. His hands glided like magic across the keys, busy as always with his work. David Xanatos was upstairs near the castle heights, presumably deciding how to give the castle some repairs it needed. Owen couldn't complain with the simple computer work. It wasn't as bad as having to cook dinner or cleaning up after the gargoyles.
The ringing suddenly echoing in his ears made him falter in his typing. Owen calmly backed the errors away and answered the phone next to him.
"Owen Burnett, Xanatos corporation. May I ask who's calling and how you came by this number?"
In seconds the assistant turned from his computer screen, brows knitting. "I must ask you slow down- No, I haven't caught your name-"
He paused, listening to the frantic voice on the other end. "I'm tracing you from Montana… Montana?" Owen's eyes widened, suddenly making sense of what was being told to him. "Very well. I shall contact the two right away and coordinate their immediate departure."
The assistant only felt a small pinch of surprise, but like usual he bit any emotions down and made the phone calls. One for retired Detective Maza, and one for the leader in the sewers.
David Xanatos was surprised when his old friend Talon arrived beside him, panicked and wide eyed. "Talon, you came here in daylight?"
"Where is Elisa? We need to go now!"
"What are you-"
"Excuse me, sir." Owen interrupted as he approached. "I should have told you first."
Elisa Maza came out of the elevator nearby, rushing over. "I-I got here as soon as I could." She breathed. "What's happened?"
Xanatos impatiently looked at the assistant. Owen simply adjusted his glasses. "We've received a call from Montana." He stated, and that was enough for the three to freeze, one more than the others. "It seems your sister Beth was involved in an accident. It is believed to be critical, otherwise the call would not have been made."
"Owen? Has transport been arranged?" Xanatos quickly asked.
Owen simply lifted his head, listening as one of the fastest and most advanced in recent technology helicopters approached. Xanatos sighed. "I trained you good."
Elisa grabbed her brother's hand. "You ready?"
To all their surprises, he pulled away, stiff. "I…I can't. What if I see.. what if I see her again-"
"It's been too long, Talon." Elisa stated. "It's better to see your daughter sooner than never."
Something must have been going through the panther's mind, because he shook his head. "I don't know h-how- I'm sorry… Tell Beth I love her." Both she and Xanatos called after him as he ran. Xanatos frowned. "This family problem will have to wait. Beth needs you, detective. Hurry."
The second the helicopter landed, Elisa rushed inside, and quickly it went back up into the sky. Xanatos stared up a few moments, fists clenched.
"Owen… are the robots ready?"
Owen's blue eyes glanced over, blank, yet sharp.
Xanatos continued. "It's amazing… all this time getting ready, spending more money on advancement, and I feel just as much frustration and pain as those mutate parents. I think it's time." He turned, glaring at the blonde.
"No one should ever be separated on the account of fear of a madman and his pets."
He started inside, readily.
"Sevarius should have been handled twenty years ago…"
The family at the ranch had no way of seeing their Aunt during her stay at the hospital. It was too risky to go out, even disguised, purely because of how tall the mutates were. There were well over six foot, though Nani was just under it. It was painful for them to hear very little information about their Aunt, with Jonathan so torn and upset about it. He practically lived at the hospital now.
One day that long, horrible week, his truck came down the driveway. The four grown cubs rushed out to the front porch, watching with held breaths as Jonathan came out. His appearance startled them. He looked tired, as if he hadn't slept in days.
He probably hadn't.
They never noticed or expected the passenger door to open. A younger woman stood there with long, darkish blue hair in a low ponytail similar to Beth. The cubs all stared as the woman managed a small smile, and started for the porch.
"Well," she began, stopping before them and stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets, "you guys got big."
The cubs all exchanged looks, confused. Elisa smiled, eyes trailing over. "Nani… I almost didn't recognize you. You've grown so much… A beautiful woman, just like your mother." She smiled.
Nani furrowed her brows, not moving an inch or sure what to say. "…Elisa?"
The woman nodded.
In seconds, the mutates' long legs crossed the distance, and her strong arms nearly picked the woman up in her hug. "Aunt Elisa!" She cried, laughing. "I almost didn't remember-" she sniffed, quickly placing the amused woman back down. Nani lifted her head. "Did my father come with you? To check on Aunt Beth?"
They all could tell by the look in Elisa's eyes. The former detective lifted her hands slowly. "Listen, he… it's not easy for him-"
"Why didn't he come?" Nani asked, confusion and hurt coming to her face.
"If he knew Aunt Beth was in such a state-"
"He couldn't, Nani!" Elisa stressed. "He, he didn't know how to-"
Nani simply turned and walked inside the house. Her door slamming seemed to echo after a minute. It was amazingly horrible for the woman. All the childhood pain she'd buried, thinking silly things about her parents, even after she learned the truth with Gen-U-Tech… a part of her wondered why they didn't come out to see her. Was the situation in New York really that desperate?
And would he really choose to avoid his own daughter, in the face of his sister possibly dying?
The feral screech of a wild feline shook the room and a window smashed. Furious white eyes glowed at anything she looked at.
Not that she could see clearly anyway with the burning tears in them.
Hours later, she felt a sense of childishness as her family talked with Aunt Elisa downstairs. She could hear them. But she didn't want to go down there. Nani wasn't mad at them… It was just the hurt over Talon. Her parents.
Nani looked down at her hands, and then her reflection in the mirror. She could see nothing wrong with her. She was as normal as any other mutate.
But then, she saw her back.
They weren't covered by long, leathery wings that skimmed the ground. It was only brown fur on the figure of a woman. It was such a small, ridiculous thought that had never crossed her mind before.
What if they had disowned her because of what she lacked? What if Gen-U-Tech wasn't really that big a deal? Possibly, her parents just wanted a son to continue leading, one normal in every mutate respect. Strong, commanding like her father, with wings…
She had to consider it, as much as it horrified her.
Surely twenty years, without the single hint of anything from them… that had to be a clear message, right?
"I have to get going, unfortunately. Lawyer work isn't forgiving for my case in the morning."
Nani could hear feet by the front door. Elisa must have been getting ready to leave. The distant sounds of a chopper whistled in approach. Nani cracked her door open, listening. Elisa's voice was soft. "Listen… tell her I'm sorry… I really am… It's just…things have really gotten blown out of proportion over the years. But if you ask me, I think Xanatos and the others don't plan on living this way much longer." The front door closed, and the others must have gone out with her.
The helicopter was at its loudest as it landed. After a slow goodbye, Jonathan returned to the house and knocked on Nani's door. "Nani, I need to have a talk with you." He stated, waiting semi-patiently.
The man only waited a few seconds before he opened the door, but it only pushed open without effort.
The room was empty, and the window's curtains billowed in the breeze…