She was always home before sunset like a good girl, because she was a good girl. She always went out to do her chores, to catch something for Mama and herself and the deaf she-cat that lived next door. She steered clear of the rough crowds, kept to herself, because she didn't have time to mess around, not when she had Mama to look after.
That night, it was nearly moonhigh before she crossed the threshold of the tiny, dusty house.
She breezed in on paws so light, she may as well have been flying, gliding into the room with a smile that lit up her face. "I'm sorry that I'm late, Mama," she apologized at once, seeing the concern in the patched she-cat's eyes. "I didn't mean to worry you; time just got away from me."
Her mother chuckled as she sat up in her bed, licking the top of the little ginger's head, smack-dab between her ears. "It's fine, sweetie-pie. Is everything okay?"
She nodded. "Oh, yes, ma'am, everything's wonderful." That smile spread over her muzzle again, enchanted, absolutely moonstruck. "It's just...Mama, I met a tom." And she beamed so brightly then that she could have outshone the stars themselves, and her mother had to return the smile.
"That's wonderful, Annie. What's his name?"
Annie licked one flame-colored paw, drawing it over her ear. "Tobias," she sighed, settling down in the nest of rags beside her mother. "Lovely name, don't you think? So regal. Better than Annie, anyways." A look of distaste flickered over her face, crinkling her nose, but it was gone just as quickly, replaced by that airy smile. "And he's so handsome, Mama, not like any of the other toms in the neighborhood. He's tall, and he's got this golden fur that just shines when he stands in the sunlight, and his eyes! They're bright green, the most beautiful pair I've ever seen." She blushed underneath her fur, looking up at the older she-cat bashfully. "You probably think I'm being silly," she murmured.
Her mother purred, nuzzling Annie's cheek. "No, sweetie-pie, I think that you're being young, and that's a good thing. You're always so serious for a youngin', and it's good to see you so happy." She gave her a small, secretive smile. "So, when are you going to see this Tobias again?"
The tabby rested her head on her paws, wrapping her tail tightly around her body; a chill had come earlier in the year than she'd expected, the cold moons nipping right at their heels. "I was giving him directions around the neighborhood—he'd never been to this part of the city, and he was quite lost—and he offered to take me on a walk tomorrow. I'll go and meet him in the part at noon. You don't mind?"
"Of course not, Annie. Just be careful, alright? I don't want to see you get hurt, sweetie-pie."
"Yes, Mama, I promise that I will be." Of course she would be, because she was a good girl.
"Annie, you need to come feed him now; his last meal was at noon, and it's getting dark."
She turned away from the window with some difficulty, blinking haggard blue eyes as she attempted to focus on what her mother had said. "Feed him?" she repeated, voice brittle as her gaze fell on the little ball of fur curled up at his grandmother's belly.
The elderly she-cat nodded. "Yes, sweetheart, he needs to eat. Come on, Annie, rest just for a moment." Her green eyes glittered with something that Roxanne couldn't place, couldn't comprehend. Didn't she understand?
"Can't it wait, Mama?" she pleaded, turning away from the window but not moving to the bed. "Just until Tobias gets back, please? It shouldn't be much longer now, I promise. As soon as he gets back, I'll rest. I swear to Fel." Annie fidgeted anxiously, glancing over her shoulder with every other words, back towards the dirt-streaked window. I hope he gets here before it's dark. He doesn't know the neighborhood very well, and I'd hate for him to get lost and not be able to find his way back. I hope that he's not hurt. Felsky, if he's injured...
"Annie..." The expression on her mother's face made her look abruptly old, the laugh lines replaced with tracks carved by worry and sorrow, her muzzle more gray than white in the murky half-light. "Annie, sweetheart, Tobias isn't—"
"Don't say it!"
The words clawed their way from her throat as a shriek, and for a moment, she couldn't believe that she would even consider shouting at her mother, but why would Mama lie to her like that. Of course Tobias was coming back. He had to come back, because he had said that he loved her, and she loved him, and that meant they were supposed to be together forever, didn't it? He was coming back. He was just lost, that was all, just a little delayed.
He had to come back, because otherwise, she had been waiting at a window for three moons, loving a hope and hoping for a love that hadn't been real. She had been hurting over someone who hadn't spared her a second thought, while her injuries remained so very, very real.
Her mother's ears flattened against her skull, but she didn't cringe away under that burning blue glare, the first light to come to those pale, dead eyes in a season's time. "He has to eat, Roxanne. You have to feed him, or he'll die."
"I don't want him!" Her voice was choked with emotion, half a scream and half a sob. "I never wanted him. I'm a bad mama. I don't even want to touch him again, never again. I can't do this. Mama, look after him, please. I can't...I won't...I don't want this. You can find somebody else to take him, Mama, somebody else to feed him, 'cause I can't."
She was a coward, and it ate her up inside. What kind of mother was she if she could barely stand to look her son in the face, for fear that his eyes would have changed color?
And, like a coward, she turned. And like a coward, she ran.
And, like a coward, she did not look back.
She had never seen the streets after nightfall, because she was a good girl, and good girls never lasted long in the city. She did what all of the she-cats did when they had nothing left to give.
Sometimes, it was easier to imagine that they were him.
She still waited for him. He couldn't be much longer now, could he?
The caterwauls of the other girls were enough to wake her most mornings, vying for passersby, prospective customers. She lifted her head and stretched, all long, aching limbs from the night spent in restless sleep. The gutter was safer than most places, when it wasn't raining, but it hardly made for a bed.
The catcalls were louder than usual, and that brought her to her feet. That meant a new customer, not their select few that passed by at least once a week, not one of the guards or the runners. The ginger she-cat smoothed down her ruffled fur, blinked her blue eyes until they gleam brightly as a kitten's, curled a smile across her muzzle. She stepped out of the gutter with a quick shake of her pelt, ensuring that no leaves clung to her pelt, and moved into the open.
We're all starving to death because of you, Annie, one of the other girls had told her once, voice tinged with respect and a hint of that damnable pity that they all tried to hide from each other. They all want you, 'cause you've got something that we don't. You don't look like a whore. You look respectable, like a good girl.
His pelt gleamed in the sunlight, and the scowl he wore wasn't enough to dim his eyes.
She was frozen for a moment, gawking, wide-eyed. It's him. It's him. He's finally come back, to take you far away, to make you a queen just like he promised. He was heading her way, head held high as he padded down the filthy, litter-strewn street. He rounded the corner, and just like that, she was unpetrified, brought to life by the sight of his figure retreating into the early-morning skyline.
She wasn't going to let him leave her again. Never again.
"Tobias! Tobias!" The ginger she-cat raced after him, and the tom whipped around at the sound of his name, eyes narrowed to slits.
She skidded to a halt in front of him, panting, out of breath. "You...you came back, Tobias," she mewed softly, awestruck. "Just like you promised. You came back."
The scrape of claws over asphalt. The curl of his lip. The disgusted gleam of two beautiful, bottle-green eyes, eyes she knew her son would have inherited.
It was simple, really, to break a cat with a few small gestures. Annie knew what was coming before he ever opened his mouth.
"Do I know you?"
She gaped at him for a moment, trying to ignore the bitter cold that was growing in the pit of her stomach, leeching away the hope, the euphoria, the ecstasy of only moments before. "No. No, you remember me, don't you? Tobias, you remember me. Roxanne. Annie. Y-you were lost, and I showed you the way out of the neighborhood. Annie. You said that you loved me. Tobias, please. You remember me. Don't you?"
And he was turning away, and she was chasing after him, just as she had been doing for all these moons.
"Please, Tobias, please just stop for a moment. It's me, it's Roxanne. I h-have a son—Fel, he looks just like you except for the pelt, right down to the eyes. Bottle. His name's Bottle, because of his eyes. Your eyes. Tobias, please."
She barely leapt back in time as he whipped around again, unsheathed claws catching the light as they slashed at where her throat had been only moments before. "I don't know you, you stupid bitch," he growled. "I don't care about you. I don't care about your stupid son. I've never bedded a whore in my life, but if you don't turn around, I'll have killed one before the day is done."
The street was very quiet.
Annie fancied that she could hear the sound of her heart shattering, piece by piece falling into a black void, finally breaking apart from injuries that had been festering for all these moons.
The street was very quiet, and the new girl stepped off of her corner. The ginger she-cat was very pretty for a whore, one that Annie had never seen on her street. What beautiful green eyes, she thought.
Brand smiled. "Hello, Tobias."
The street was very quiet. Annie only saw the cats moments before she heard them, and then the street was quiet no more.
She could have run, she supposed. The cats were not after her, after all. They wanted him, Tobias, an entire pack of them lunging for his throat. She could have run or joined in, ripping the golden tom's heart from his chest.
Lily's daughter Roxanne had never learned to fight, because she was a good girl. Annie the whore had not been a good girl in a very long time, and she had learned a thing or two.
It was madness. There was nothing glorious about battle, nothing exhilirating or thrilling. I want to go home, she though, over and over again as she traded slash for slash, bite for bite. I want to go home.
But she couldn't leave him, oh no. She'd only just gotten him back, and he wasn't going to leave her again.
She did not know the tom who pushed her to the ground and sank his teeth into her throat, but she knew his eyes. Pale, eerie green, not the bottle-green of her son's, her Bottle's. There was an odd sense of relief as he ripped away flesh and tendon, a slow, drowsy warmth that spread throughout her entire body as the scarlet gushed from her throat, red blood on red fur. It was an odd thing, to know that she was dying.
Annie closed her eyes as they swarmed around Tobias, going in for the final kill after what seemed like hours of torture. She did not open them again. Her wait was finally over, her watch done.
"As soon as he gets back, I'll rest. I swear to Fel"
She kept her promise, because she was a good girl.
AN: Aaaaand, there we have it! I've decided to restart this whole challenge, and this was definitely a fun way to begin. This is all theorizing, but li'l Annie was just too good to resist.