Green Tea - 33-1989
It was generally frowned upon to cancel a ceremony half way through. Even more frowned upon was sprinting out of their temple, wrapped in nothing but a sheet and flinging off bits of gold and silver tribute as they went. Hard to care about what was and wasn’t frowned upon, Sett thought, as their own heartbeat roared in their ears. They felt heads turn as they sprinted through market towards the part of town they knew to be less populated, hiding their eyes and relying on their other senses to guide them. It didn’t matter if they ran headlong off a cliff at this point, they just needed to get away.
It was not a cliff that ended their sprint, but the heavy wooden door of a small, two-story stone building, held together more with thick vines and the pressure of time than with the decaying mortar.
Abandoned. Perfect. They pulled on the door handle and gave a small sigh as it clicked. It slammed behind them as they fell against it, bracing shut with their back and slumping to the floor. They buried their face in their hooves, feeling an angry blush rise in their cheeks as they noticed for the first time the deep tear-streaks soaking their snout.
“Stupid.” They growled at themselves. “Stupid. Idiot. Awful.” They sat there, their breath refusing to calm any further as they tried to choke down bleating sobs. It had not been long enough since the last time they panicked like that, but it was the first time in recent memory they let it get the better of them. They kicked themselves, there was nowhere to run to, absolutely no point to the ache in their chest as they struggled to normalize their breathing.
Sett was shocked out of their self-loathing as an old floorboard creaked just beyond their claws. They looked up from their palms slowly, expecting some variety of monster, met instead with an elderly woman, her head tilted in concerned curiosity as she gazed down on the tiny goddexx at her feet. Sett jumped to their feet, pressing themselves deeper against the grain of the door.
“We apologize— we thought-” The woman held her hand up, palm out.
“Your thoughts loud little goat.” She signed deftly, her gnarled fingers moving steadily. Sett watched, suddenly calmed by the effort of focusing on a language they had fallen out of practice with. They raised their own hand tentatively, suddenly conscious of their limited knowledge, making a mental note to practice more when the opportunity arose.
“S O R R Y” They spelled clumsily. “T H O U G H T A B A N D O N E D” The woman laughed, gentle and encouraging.
“Mute, not deaf.” She signed “Speak normal.”
“Of course.” Sett’s voice shook as they stood. They were not used to towering over anyone, it was a very strange sensation to be gazed up at. “We’re terribly sorry,” the goat took a step forward, reaching for the door handle and steeling themselves to walk out into the world. “We’ll leave you be, then.”
“Like this?” The woman asked, shaking her head and gesturing to the strings of blanket hanging off of them. She turned on her heel and doddered across the room, reaching over her counter pulling some spare clothes from behind: a proper mantle, and long skirt to go underneath. Sett nodded graciously as the clothes were all but forced upon them, dropping what was left of their tattered sheet and wrapping themselves in the carefully kept fabric. They fit perfectly, draped around their waist and ankles, protecting them from perception.
“Thank you.” They said, dabbing their tears on the corner of the hood. “If there's any way we can-” They stopped to watch the woman sign.
“Yes, you help pick leaves.” She shooed Sett away from the door, filling the dark room with light as they stepped out with very little room for negotiation. Sett took a moment before following, still hesitant to be seen. They swallowed what little anxiety they had left under the pretense that they owed this woman, and followed her around the side of her home.
Her garden was overrun with bright green bushels of waxy-looking leaves. They chose their footsteps carefully, increasingly overwhelmed by the smell of green tea as they breathed more and more of the springy air. The older woman smiled as they caught sight of Sett, looking only for a long moment before returning to their work.
Sett set to work picking what seemed from their limited knowledge of herbology like the best leaves. Deep green? But not too deep green? Like… spinach coloured, maybe? They took a moment to admit to themselves that they were guessing, and for the second time that day made a mental note to study. The woman stepped out in front of them, placing a firm but gentle hand on the back of their own.
“Don’t pick good leaves. All good leaves. I grow them good.” She smiled, demonstrating by diving in with both hands and grabbing the leaves by fistfuls. Sett laughed quietly at her fervour, like years of doing only this had conditioned her into the perfect tea-picking machine.
“What’s your name?” They asked, splitting their attention between watching and mimicking. More leaves seemed to end up on the ground than in the bucket, but the woman didn’t look like she minded.
“Green Cat.” She signed, taking the sign for green and twisting it along her whisker. “Fur used to be green. All fell out.”
“Stress!” She grinned. “Stress like you. Stress makes your fur fall out. Now I make tea, no stress in making tea.” Sett’s hands faltered in their motion as they remembered the anxiety quietly crumbling away at their insides. Cat slapped their wrist.
“Stop! You think too much. Work instead.” She signed, more encouraging than chastising. “Your name?”
“We are- we’re Sapphomet, of the mountains, and chaos, and um, love… also…”
“S A P P H O M E T?” Cat spelled. Sett nodded. “I am not going to spell that every time. I will call you-” she took the sign for little and flicked it up into a pair of goat horns. “Little Goat.” Sett smiled at their new nickname. It was cute, but…
“What about-” the goat brought a closed fist down on the back of their hand. “Set?”
“Both.” Cat nodded. “Little goat: Sett.”
The two of them worked in silence until their shared bucket was full well past the brim with leaves, Sett carried it back inside as the sun began to set. They sat quietly by the fire, taking turns tending to the large bundle of leaves in the steamer pot. Sett took over when it came to spreading the leaves out for drying, their hardened hooves more used to handling something with the potential to scald.
The two shared a few glasses of the runoff when all was done, it’s potent flavor coating the goat’s throat the same way it seemed to stain into every inch of their arms up to the rope burns on their wrists. As night dragged on into the early hours of morning, Cat insisted that Sett stay.
“Too dangerous to travel at night little goat.” She signed. “You stay long enough to taste your work.”
Sett could hardly argue, having to hide a yawn every few minutes. They cleared a space in the attic and strung a hammock across a pair of beams. As they struggled to sleep, as their senses were made void and left room for thoughts to return, they found themselves raising the back of their hand to their snout and focusing on the seemingly impossible-to-wash-out smell of green tea.
They sighed, contented with every inhalation as they drifted off.
They stayed in that attic a lot longer than the week it took their first batch of leaves to dry. It was comfortable here, far more comfortable than the alternative to say the least. Though it was impossible to put an exact number of days on it, Sett stayed in that attic long enough to think of it as a home. Long enough to sneak out at night and feel safe coming back, long enough to occasionally butt heads with Cat and stay housed.
It always smelled constantly like green tea and tobacco smoke. They had carved a path through the old sacks of dried leaves, checking them on their way in and out each morning and evening for signs of rot. Cat brought in a friend of hers from market to build a small desk into the attic, and Sett quickly filled it with books.
They kept a small mirror next to their collection, and their favourite tributes next to that: some thick gold bangles that they had been meaning to sell off, a set of beautifully crafted clay teacups, a small wooden carving of themselves and a dozen small bottles of wine from the carpenter. They received one just about every time they held tribute, always from the same long haired lamb. Jacob, or James, or something. A biblical name for sure. They quietly hoped they would see him again today.
Market day was always exciting. Sett had become a shut-in since the day they met Cat, humiliated to go anywhere if there was not a good reason. Going out to sell off the home’s excess tea and going out to be the subject of worship were just about the only times they interacted with other people, and it was much easier to make friends bartering than it was when having semi-public religion based psudo-sex with them.
They tied their hair up with a short length of cord as they went downstairs. Sett glided up next to their mentor at the counter, quietly focused on putting freshly chopped leaves into small silk bags. Part of what made a good market day was having a little something to give away.
“Good morning.” Sett signed, drawing focus to their claws with a little wave. Cat smiled, signing back.
“Getting there. I still prefer your voice.”
“Well if we don't practice we’re not going to get better.” Sett teased, nabbing half of the silk squares and setting to work making their own bags.
“Fair enough,” Cat nodded. “Will the Lamb Carpenter be there today?”
“I don't know why you would expect me to know that.” Sett said, successfully keeping down a blush. Cat laughed her quiet, breathy laugh.
“Good boy. Makes good wine. I'll get you a bed if you want to bring him around.”
“We’re not sure it would work, his dad and our… uh...” Sett trailed off. It wasn't worth talking about.
“The man who makes our jars, you know him?” Cat asked, prodding the goat. Sett nodded, focusing on their work. “He tells me his daughter asks about you. Maybe I will find my wine somewhere else.”
“Maybe both.” Sett smiled softly.
“Maybe!” Cat signed, reaching up to pat the goat as she finished up her tea bags. “No time to think about the past. Market day is a busy day.” Sett took a deep breath, sliding their pile into a small crate and handing it off to Cat. They swept the unused leaves back into their sack and slung it over their shoulder.
“Ready?” They asked.
“Ready!” Cat answered.
Very little money actually changed hands
Market day was about community
Like, a secret santa
There were those that came from out of town who brought whatever currency their nation used
Sett's influence attracts people who hear about the tea leaves that sparkle gold in the morning sun
When the romans came by they were up-charged
For cat's personal proclivities than anything else
Understandable, considering what they did to some of her favourite customers
But most people just traded
Grain and fish
And little things
Sett intentionally timed their absence to when the carpenter showed up
Not to avoid him for any other reason than
He was cute
Of course why would it be that simple
Sett jumped as they were grabbed by their dress
Turns to look at cat
What are you doing
Dragged out in front od
Obviously the carpenter
God he was fucking cute
Dumb as a bag of rocks but
That fucking smile
I'm sorry! I was just asking your mother if you were around.
We are around
Trying to contain their beating little heart
Tail short enough to flick nervously entirely behind their back
Did you need help with um, anything, today?
Was it possible for him to be glowing
Thank you, I was just hoping I might take a walk with you
Turns to cat
We suppose yes, we could use a break
Takes off their apron
Follows the lamb
So fucking tall
Shortened his strides so they could keep up
They walked in contented silence until they were out of market
Towards the north end of town
Whats on your mind sett
Uh, its nothing
Woke up with a sense of dread
Like they did every day
Are you sure?
Stopped at the near abandoned plaza in front of their temple
Too much for them
I'm not sure, no…
Shall we sit?
Opens the door
Sits in their usual spot
A few feet away from their stone slab
Smelled like blood
The carpenter sat down on the first pew
Something to smoke?
Takes a drag
Smoke caught in the sunbeams
Everything about this place was too beautiful
I don't want to go back
Neither do I
We’re so happy here
I don't know if I've ever had to chance to think about myself
I love me
As much as we have learned about everything else
We am finally getting the opportunity to learn about me
None of this makes sense
Stands up and sits next to sett
The perfect warmness
They scoot over
I understand completely
It's hard to be part of something when you can't get close to it
Harder when you know its all going to go away
People are lucky.
They pass on, and get the chance to forget all the good they forgot to do
It's much harder when you could always risk going back
Enjoys the lamb's warmth
I hope I'm not being too forward
No, of course not
Its hard to touch anything knowing it'll be gone
So, we appreciate your company actually.
Do you know what i think we owe during our time here
Shakes their head
The best we can do
Every time god sets before us a chance to do good, we should take it.
That's what the people who don't live forever do
Seems only right that we follow their lead.
I wish we had more chances
I mean I-
we don't know what makes me happy
Or I didn't
we thought it was
Pulls a thread from the air
Wraps it around their claw
I don't know what i thought it was
Making myself better? Maybe
I really like making tea
And i love the books you and everyone else brings me
And people- jesus christ, I love people
The carpenter laughs
Oh I just- didn't know that jesus christ was an expression
Please go on
But like in a way where someone is attractive
Want to be a part of it
Helping them is- don't get me wrong- so beautiful and very attractive of you
And i want to be that too
But i think
At the most, base level of this feeling
I just want to be a part of it
Wraps sett's tiny, shaking form
Not a girl
The lamb nods
I didn't think you were
Glad I'm putting that out, at least
The lamb laughs
Glad that, even by the standards of biblical Bethlehem I'm still putting off "gender vibes"
Wait hold on
Are you going forward?
Maybe save the spoilers, little goat.
Did you um
Were you just inviting me on a walk?
I don't know if it would be appropriate, I feel like the mood is…
Can i kiss you?
It was dark by the time they got home. It was always dark after a good day at market, their arms loaded up with gifts, groceries, and a few pouches of roman coins. Sett walked with an excited bounce in their step, turning today over in their mind. The act of knowing what they wanted made it feel so much closer.
That is of course, only what it felt like. Sett got to the door first by a couple seconds, and eager to go up and read for a few hours before a well earned rest. Something light probably, perhaps a treatise on-
Their horns thunked against a hard, familiar chest as they crossed the threshold. Cat’s heart raced as she rounded the corner, answering in a terrible instant why Sett had stopped on the doorstep. They saw an illustration first: a harsh black and white illustration of their face, no doubt commissioned that day in the market.
They followed the mass upwards: a fitted, all black suit. He was dressed far too modernly for the era they were in. His black fur gave away seamlessly to a short black pair of horns, his solid white eyes too focused on Cat to watch Sett drop what they were holding and trip over it, scrambling for safety.
John had cut the pull-cord to the attic ladder.
“Hi Sapph!” The demon grinned, staring down at the goat like a predator playing with their next meal. “I was actually just looking for you, isn’t that wild?”
Cat barged past him, putting herself between John and Sett and signing furiously in his face.
“What is she trying to say to me?” He asked, leaning around the small and steady frame.
“She’s-” The goat’s voice broke in their throat. “She is asking you nicely to leave.” John cocked an eyebrow, glancing back and forth between his charge and the cat’s paws. By the looks of things, the way she was asking could not be described as ‘nicely’. John gave a short, impatient sigh as he tried to step around the smaller woman, earning him a firm stomp on the toe of his polished black loafers.
He stopped, sucking his gums as he stared down at the scuff of dust. He rolled his eyes and shoved her to the side with roughly the same effort as swatting a bug out of his face. Sett winced as the back of their head thumped against the floor. They planted their hand on the counter top and pulled themselves up from the floor, blindly fumbling for the knife they knew would be waiting for them. They stepped in-between John and Cat, the blade shaking in it’s guard.
There was nothing to be done. John was not leaving here. Stabbing him would make things worse, and again in this dark home they felt so stupid for daring to give a fuck about anything.
Their heart stopped as he spoke again: “Sapphomet, come on home.” if there was a worse context under which to be winked at, Sett couldn’t think of one. Their gaze fell, suddenly unable to meet John’s gaze, instead trying to focus on what little of Cat they could see. Something in her leg was clearly broken. She tried desperately to push herself off the ground with one hand, signing with the other, pulling on Sett’s dress with the other. They turned, using what would surely be their last moments on earth to heal the break, and simultaneously feeling their heart snap as they caught sight of what Cat was signing, less than a foot from their face
“Love you.” She was crying. “Always love you, little goat.” Sett felt the bone snap back into place just as John took them by the wrist. It was only as his claw clamp down around their wrist that they noticed how badly they were shaking.
“C’mon, Hell just isn’t the same without you.” He teased.
And then it was gone. Their last thought on earth was a quiet estimate on how badly their shaking hands might have worsened Cat’s wound.
The plain facade of Sett’s shop was not designed to attract customers and those who made it inside rarely recognized it for its intended purpose. The warm interior was decorated more like a specialty shop than an active tea counter: fitting, considering the better half of their customers were daring collectors looking for cursed antiquities.
This wasn’t an issue. It served mainly as a place to deal with cursed shit far enough away that it didn’t affect their home life, and close enough to get to by subway. Beyond that, it was very rarely a place they spent the night to get away from the noise of downtown.
Tonight was not any of those kinds of nights though; tonight was just a get out of the house night, and it was now over.
They spent the last few minutes after finishing today’s paper watching the downpour outside seep under the front door’s bent kick-plate, their eyes flicking once in a while to the crumpled form of a young lizard in a heavily worn parka clearly sleeping at one of their tables. Pokey often spent whole days in the shop.
They checked the time again, cycling Ratty’s watch around to the correct timezone: 9:54pm.
There was really no point in staying open any later than they wanted to. No one was going to come in in those last six minutes. They let out a deep sigh, meandering around the counter and pulling the plug on the worn “Open” sign.
“Do you have an umbrella, Pokey?” They asked, startling the only other occupant out of her nap as they pulled on a raincoat. She re-hid her eyes almost instantly, trying and failing to conceal the fact that she had noticed being noticed. “I can call you a cab if your place is too far to walk.” Sett offered. Pokey buried her face deeper into her arms. The goat blinked, set their jacket back on the hook and crossed the room to sit across from Pokey.
“Pokey?” Sett tugged on the sleeve of her parka, not entirely sure if they had actually seen her wake up. She shot up, blinking through the light.
“Yeah, sorry- I just,” The lizard bit her tongue, “I just thought I could stay, I guess? Like hang out for a little bit?” Her eyes lulled closed for a moment as she spoke. She stuck her thumb through a hole in her hood, rubbing the cotton inside as a reflexive move of comfort.
She looked so tired. Even through her scales the deep purple discoloration of her pale green skin made it look like she had pressed a crumpled piece of newspaper against her eyes. That same discoloration stained just about everything she was wearing, the left sleeve of her jacket worst of all: nearly black in some places.
“Is something going on?” Sett prodded.
“I don't see why there has to be something going on. This is a public store right?”
“It is a closed store at the moment. I can walk you to the train station if-” Sett cut themselves off. “That’s beside the point. If you need- I mean if there’s - for example - an ‘is everything alright at home’, kind of thing going on...” The goat danced around the word ‘homeless’ as Pokey swallowed what little spit they had, mostly awake, staring empty at the uneven floorboards.
“I assume everything is great at home I just uh… I don't live there.” Pokey said. Sett nodded quietly, taking the smaller woman’s hand in their own.
Pokey kept to herself generally, always making a point to deflect when their usually limited conversations turned to personal questions.
It wasn’t long enough ago that Sett remembered hearing about an eighteenth birthday
They got up abruptly, closed the blinds over their front window and stamped down the latch on the front door. They lifted the cushions from a seldom used old couch in the corner and unfolded the temporary bed underneath. Pokey watched the flurry with a mixture of fear and hope.
“What are you doing?” She asked. Sett ducked behind the counter and clicked on the plastic kettle underneath. The floor kicked up a layer of dirt and dust as it gave way to a hidden compartment with a pair of dusty milk crates: one containing some fresh, if a little dusty sheets, a space heater, and some pillows, and several sealed jars of tea and thick textbooks in the other. Sett plucked a jar from one and rested it gently on top of the other, hoisting it out of the hole and dropping it onto the counter.
“Grab that.” They nodded at the basket of sheets, popping the seal on their jar. Pokey obliged, shaking the dust from the duvet and holding it awkwardly just off the floor, waiting for instructions. Sett went to work chopping the leaves into flakes as the pot began to steam behind her, stopping only as they noticed Pokey: frozen.
“Go on, you are staying here tonight.” They pointed at the pull-out with their knife in one hand while pinching the tea leaves into a strainer with the other.
“And!” A rare interruption from the little goat. “As long as you want until we find somewhere better.” Pokey stared for a moment, stunned, still holding the duvet like a flag in front of her. She took a moment to dry her eyes with the corner of the blanket before going to work making her bed.
“Thank you.” She croaked, not one to cry in front of strangers. “Thank you, really, thank you.”
“Of course.” Sett said, barely phased as they coated every dry leaf with a stream of boiling water. Pokey plugged in the space heater, all but falling to pieces as she slipped off her parka and submitted to the orange electronic hum.
“Can I shower here?”
“I would need to have someone come fix the hot-”
“Oh! I know how to do that!”
“Well, good then, as soon as that’s fixed you can use my place upstairs to get washed up.” Sett tapped the last few drips out of the strainer and brought the mug over to the shivering lizard. She stared into the green, confused for a split second before realizing she was being offered tea, and accepted it graciously.
“I apologize. I understand that having a relative stranger lock you into their store is probably a little hard on the nerves.”
“Better than being locked out.” Pokey barely finished their sentence before taking a long, throat scalding sip. Her guarded posture fell as the last shivers slipped gently from her bunched shoulders. She took a deep breath. “Thank you, really.” She stared up at the goat, her eyes watering.
“It really is the least I could do, Pokey.” They took a long, deep breath and started towards the apartment above the store.
“Wait, hang on.” Pokey set her tea down, nabbing the hem of Sett’s shawl before they got out of reach. Her gaze fell to the floor as the goat gave her a puzzled - although not at all upset - stare. That was going to be a weird thing that Pokey would remember forever, and everyone else would forget about within a few minutes. “You’re like, an alien, right?” She drew a line across her mouth with her finger as if to say ‘I noticed you look kind of weird.’
Sett laughed, then caught themselves: “You know, actually, I might be… I would not call myself an alien in the traditional sense, but… that is something to think about.” They smiled to themselves, seemingly content with this answer.
“Well, no. Hold on,” Pokey scooched closer on the bed. “You have to understand that that raises way more questions than it answers.” She said, incredulous.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Raising yet more questions. A wry smile formed beneath their skin. They gave Pokey just a half-second to scoot closer to the edge of her seat before: “I’m a demon, actually.”
“Retired demon?” She asked.
“Oh, yes.” With the joke now over, Sett’s smile fell back into its distant contentment.
“But like, thoroughly paranormal though?”
“Yes, very. So is my wife.” The admission came from Sett with an ease that Pokey desperately yearned for.
“Cool… so…” Pokey started, their voice shaking. “Right… that’s not cus like, I was kicked out by my parents or anything. It’s more cus like- I’m, uh- so-” The lizard faltered, struggling to figure out where to start with her story. She reached for her mug, cancelling the action as she noticed just how badly her hands were shaking. “A bunch of my friends- paranormal friends, have started like- like I can’t find them? I can’t- That’s why I can’t go home.”
Sett sat back down on the bed next to Pokey, a slight twinge of regret colouring their teasing. It would have been weird to hug a relative stranger, but Pokey was really just a kid. There was absolutely nothing wrong when she broke down and dove into Sett’s arms, holding them like a surprise third parent, wandering out of the crowd at the other two’s funeral.
“I can’t go home.” The words fell from her mouth. “I’ve been running for so long, and my friends keep disappearing, and I can’t go home, and I don’t know what to do, because every time I find somewhere to say-” she shuddered into the goat’s embrace as the ability to speak left her.
“Shh, shh. It’s alright. Nobody is going to hurt you here Pokey. I promise you that.”
Sett struggled to leave that night.
They sat with Pokey until the lizard fell asleep in their arms and slipped out quietly, forgetting their jacket in favour of triple checking the locks. It was an effort to walk calmly to the bus station, an effort too great to actually wait for it. They charged through the night, absolutely drenched as they all but slammed into their apartment.
“Ratty.” Sett panted. The possum stood, stunned, with a half-cracked egg in one hand and a pan in the other.
“You’re- you’re all wet.” She set the egg down in the pan, not thinking to remove the shell as she barged past Sett into the linen closet. “You’re so cold.” She murmured, wrapping the goat in their thickest towel. “Did you want spicy beans and rice, it’s nice and-”
“We should buy the rest of this building.” Sett interrupted, leaning on the counter for support as their lungs seized. Ratty blinked back at them, trying to split her focus between this and removing the egg shell from her egg.
“Did you run here?”
“Yes- I-” Sett panted, holding up a hand as their lungs struggled to recover. It helped only slightly as the scent of Ratty’s cooking coated their torn throat with a comforting little blanket.
“Well, okay. Eat some warm food. Calm down.” Ratty took a scalpel and a fork from the cutlery drawer and handed it to Sett along with the finished pile of food. They cut their lips open, taking a deep breath, then another, then a bite of runny egg.
“So, the landlord is taking a dive on this place. We’re the only two people who live here.” Sett started, balancing a lot as the cold burn in their lungs fought against the warm in their stomach, all while keeping their thoughts in order. Ratty nodded along.
“There are other paranormals on Earth, which I thought stopped happening, but I think we could create a place for them to belong.”
Ratty turned it over in her mind, watching Sapphomet eat as she thought of every reasonable problem with this plan. “Money would be tight.” was the first thing to jump to her lips. “We would essentially be out of money for the foreseeable future.”
“We could apply for an additional government grant based on our escapee status, Becca can push it through for us, and the courier is doing really well, and I really think we can afford it.”
“I wouldn’t be able to stop working, so I could only help-”
“I know…” Sapphomet felt hope build in their chest as the possum’s tone shifted. “Ratty, I really think this is what I was made for.”
“You fine with beans and rice?” Ratty asked. Sett nodded. “Okay. Then, yeah. Let’s do it.”