The twilight smelled of rain and citron. Through the veil of fog, fairy bluebirds called their mates, coming into the nests with fits to shed the rain. On the surface of the pond, Kaleigh could see the water skitters dodging the precipitation and eager mouths of fish. Beneath her paws, the earth was lush, sticky, and uncomfortable. Shivering, she tucked her face into her stripped tail, the pitter-patter of her tiny heart matching the rhythm of the rain.
Countless times she had watched the rain from the safety of her home. Pet cats always hid, but the dogs were more than happy to follow their owners out into the wet and play as Kaleigh watched from inside, her breath fogging the glass. Finally experiencing the phenomena of rain for herself, she was almost terrified. She wasn't used to water falling from the sky and bringing cold wetness with it.
She wished she could leave the fern under which she huddled so that she could try and discern her footprints, follow them home, but even a house pet as herself knew that the soggy ground had swallowed them up. A pit of hopelessness opening inside of her, the little red panda curled herself into a ball under the fern. She was beginning to settle when she heard another animal sloshing through the mud
Stepping carefully through the darkness was a creature that was massive compared to Kaleigh. His black legs were stained with mud and his matching ears were erect, alert. The animal's eyes were dots of black against snowball fur. If he noticed Kaleigh, he did not acknowledge her. He merely walked to the edge of the pond and began to chew the reeds there.
Curious the red panda sat up, but in doing so, jostled the pink collar around her neck. The ID tag chimed like a bell, a fairy bluebird sung sweetly, and the creature turned, its brown eyes resting on the fern.
A hard knot of breath and tension was caught in Kaleigh's chest. Fear warmed her blood. The animal was coming closer. What would it do? Did it eat more than reeds? Did it snack on little red pandas?
With a splayed black paw, the animal moved aside the fern and stared with surprise at having found the red panda.
"Ho hong mao?"
Kaleigh shivered against the rain, assaulting her once more. "Wh-What?"
For a moment, the other animal said nothing, opting to observe his new friend. Finally, he settled on a question. "Who are you?"
"Kaleigh." Her voice was as small as she felt standing next to him. It wasn't merely the physical space he occupied, but the way he carried himself. He had a confident, warm air that she could already feel. However, it didn't stop her shivering.
"Where did you come from?" he asked. The red panda said nothing, only stared back at him, unsure how to explain to him that she had been separated from her humans.
"Then where are you going?" Once again, Kaleigh said nothing.
"I see. You should come with me. I will keep you warm." Without a warning, Kaleigh's new friend scooped her up in his paws and pushed her underneath him into the puff of his fur where it was warm and dry. Her heart beating fast, she noticed her new friend smelt faintly of the forest; of citron.
They walked until twilight had faded to night and the moon whispered behind the rain clouds. The rain began to grow softer, but Kaleigh remained underneath her friend, safe in his shadow. They stopped before a grove of trees that stood separate from the others. Smaller and with branches that twined and weaved together as the arms of humans did when they showed affection. The boughs of the trees were supple with ripe apples.
Kaleigh's companion stepped up to one of the trees and began to shake it. Almost in light of the rain, apples began falling like rain drops. Her friend nosed one to her.
"Eat," he said.
Kaleigh sniffed the apple licked the skin. She could smell the soft white flesh of the fruit inside. The scent was delicious, but she refrained.
"Will you tell me your name? And what you are?"
"I am hong mao." He said as he came to sit beside Kaleigh. "And my name is Jian."
A/N: "Jian" is pronounced "Geen."