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put a collar on it

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one night when jeno is walking home after spending hours at a cafe and three cups of passion fruit tea, he notices, just barely, a cat running across the street but the speeding truck driver headed down the road doesn’t. so like any logical person would, jeno dives into the middle of the road and swoops up the cat into his arms right before the truck drives past them, headlights blinding for those couple of seconds.

 

“oh, man, i really could’ve died back there…” jeno lifts the cat in his hands, a black one with gorgeous golden eyes, and laughs between light pants. “you really should be more careful out here, dude! …or is it lady?” he hesitantly checks the cat’s lower body. “right, yes, dude.”

 

jeno eventually frowns, observing the collarless cat staring back with wide eyes. “so you’re a stray cat, huh? must be tough out here.” carefully placing the animal back down on the ground, he grins. “well, it was nice meeting you. i hope you have a good life, cutie. i gotta get home.”

 

jeno’s turned on his heel and starting to walk the path back home, but from the corner of his eye he spots something moving, trailing next to him — it’s the same cat, following him and glancing up. he meows. jeno looks back at the feline in wonder with a tilted head.

 

“you’re following me? i mean, i guess that’s fine…” an idea pops up in his head. “aha! you want some food, don’t you? i got you. i think i have some mackerel in the fridge… maybe.”

 

jeno giggles, his signature eye smile forming. “it’s so weird. i feel like you’re actually understanding what i’m saying.”

 

the black cat meows.

 

later, when the duo reaches jeno’s home — a tiny, cozy house that looks at least a century old — the young man takes out the promised mackerel from his fridge, gently breaking it apart with chopsticks, and serves it to the cat on a plate at the doorstep. jeno wouldn’t let the cat actually inside his house because, apparently, he’s allergic to cats and shouldn’t really be near them. but the loveable little animals are absolutely irresistible to him (just ask his family and the three cats at his parents’ house). the cat eats all it can, leaving a cleanly licked pile of bones. jeno fetches a bowl full of water too and sits on the doorstep, hugging his knees. the cat lays next to him comfortably, tail gently swishing back and forth.

 

“i sorta miss my cats back home. back at my hometown, i mean.” he sighs. “i’m new to this place, actually. just moved in a week or so ago. i’m doing okay, i guess, but i dunno… i wish i had some friends.”

 

the cat walks in a circle around jeno, occasionally stopping to rub his face against his body, which makes him smile faintly. his eyes reflect a somewhat sad and lonely light, gazing at the moon in the dark sky.

 

“i’ve thought about getting another cat. but i don’t just want to buy one, i want to, like, rescue one. help a cat in need, you know? save a kitten born from a stray mom so it’ll live a better life well fed, warm, dry…” he leans the side of his face on his knees. “i guess the bottom line is that i’m a loner. it’s kinda funny, isn’t it? here i am, ranting to a stray cat i just saved from getting hit by a truck… what a life.”

 

another meow. jeno flashes a happy grin and pats the cat’s head, rubbing the ears.

 

jeno gets up with a groan, stretching his arms out. “well, i need to head to bed soon. i’ve got a job interview tomorrow morning. sorry i can’t let you in, little dude.” smiling apologetically, he picks up the plate but leaves the bowl of water on the doorstep, heading back inside. “goodnight.”

 

the cat stares at the closed door for a few moments before running off somewhere.

 

“maybe this is a chance for you to finally get an owner,” suggests renjun the next day, sitting on chenle’s bed in the room with the window. he’s flicking around one of his cat toys for jaemin, who’s rolling around on the comfy floor and swatting at the toy. he sits up, legs crossed and lips pouting.

 

“but renjun, i don’t need to be someone’s pet. i’m completely fine on my own.”

 

“you were literally just explaining to me how you were saved by this guy from getting run over.”

 

“fair point.” jaemin huffs out a breath, gazing at the silver-haired male, his cheek resting on a balled fist. “he’s so dreamy, renjun, i don’t think you understand… when he called me a cutie i swear i was about to scream. and he even looked at my dick!”

 

“jaemin, you’re a cat. that’s normal.”

 

“okay, jeez, harvard graduate. i get it.” jaemin blinks up at renjun. “can i sit there?”

 

“help yourself.”

 

with a victorious grin, jaemin hops onto the bed and sits close to renjun, practically snuggling with the smaller boy. renjun acts like he’s annoyed but he hides his tiny smile from jaemin.

 

“you should get a collar if he keeps you. you’d look nice in one,” adds renjun, closing his eyes as though he’s asleep.

 

jaemin finds that ridiculous. “ha! as if i, jaemin the stray bombay, would ever dare to wear such a thing!” he laughs and snorts then becomes quiet. “wait, really? you think i’d look nice with a collar?”

 

renjun glares annoyedly. “no. i was joking. you’d look ugly like you always do.”

 

“oh,” breathes jaemin, acting heartbroken, knowing renjun doesn’t mean what he said.

 

“jaemin, i honestly think you should be this guy’s pet,” says renjun. “you said it yourself, you almost got run over. i warned you about this. living as a stray might be fun for you, but it’s dangerous.”

 

“you always tell me that.”

 

“and why do you think i do?” renjun suddenly pulls away from jaemin’s body with a stern gaze. “it’s because i actually care about you! i don’t want you to suddenly die out there on the streets without me knowing.”

 

“so you’d be fine with me dying if you were there to witness it?”

 

renjun punches the other’s arm lightly. jaemin sticks the tip of his tongue out at him teasingly.

 

“you know, that sorta reminds me”—jaemin takes a short pause here—“about what he told me yesterday.” glancing to renjun, his eyes droop sorrowfully. “that he’s new here and doesn’t have friends. and that he feels lonely.”

 

when jaemin was listening to jeno’s rambling about how he was alone, the cat felt sad, too — when his mom abandoned him, like all cat mothers do eventually, he felt lost and naked in the streets. he was young and fearful of his life, having no one to help him through the experience. he was lucky enough to come across individuals like renjun who (despite his irritated demeanor) were willing to talk to him, to hang out with him and soften the harshness of living as a stray cat. jeno, in a sense, is a stray too — alone in an unfamiliar environment. and jaemin can’t help but wonder what he could do for him.

 

renjun pats jaemin’s arm, humming. “then you should fix that.”

 

“how?”

 

“just be his friend. visit him, offer him some of your time. you don’t have to exactly be a pet, if you’re so adamant on not being one.”

 

“but he wants human friends too.”

 

renjun raises an eyebrow at him knowingly. “chenle is a human and he likes making friends.”

 

pushing his bangs over his forehead in thought, jaemin pouts even more. “yeah, but… but how would i get them to meet?”

 

“you’ll figure it out. you’re smart enough.” renjun lazily smiles at the bombay. “i think.”

 

jaemin blinks at him. “renjun, you’re cute.”

 

“oh, shut up and get out of here already.” rolling his eyes, renjun pushes jaemin away playfully. the other shrugs — jeno said he had a job interview in the morning and now it’s almost noon. there’s a good chance that he’s home unless he’s off doing other stuff for the day. either way, there’s no harm in checking up on his house. jaemin gets off the bed and is about to climb out the window before he stops, looks to renjun with puppy (kitty?) eyes and a somewhat mischievous smile.

 

“you won’t be mad or jealous or anything if i hang out with him more than i do with you, will you baby?”

 

renjun presses his lips together. “no, because we’re not anything more than friends. and don’t ever call me ‘baby’ again.”

 

“alright, kitten.”

 

“jaemin, i can and will kill you right now.”

 

“actually, i’d much prefer a goodbye kiss than first degree murder.”

 

jaemin waits very patiently, bright, happy smile directed at the unimpressed, unmoving renjun.

 

“please?” he adds in a higher voice.

 

“come here, idiot,” the other beckons with a strong glare. jaemin does, kneeling in front of the bed, expecting to be slapped or pinched. instead, renjun gives him a delicate little kiss on the cheek. “now leave.”

 

jaemin puts his palm on the spot where he’s been kissed, delighted at the moment of mercy renjun offered him. swiftly, he leans in to place a kiss on renjun’s lips and heads to the window afterwards, his body transforming into a black cat that leaps out of the room. renjun is left with his fingers on his lips out of astonishment and gaze fixed on the window. he scoffs but is smiling shyly. in the near distance, a door opens. renjun gasps and turns into a white-gray abyssinian before he's caught by chenle.

 

there’s no presence of jeno when jaemin, as his bombay self, reaches his home. jaemin has nothing else to do anyway, so he decides to sit at the doorstep and wait for an hour or two.

 

as for what jaemin is going to do in order to bring jeno to meet chenle, he’s got no ideas. but he’s not concerned since he’s better as a spontaneous thinker anyways, so hopefully an idea will create itself when he sees jeno and his cute smile and sweet words again.

 

sometime past noon when he’s watching a dragonfly flutter by, the cat falls asleep right there and then. when he finally wakes up in the evening, it’s because of a gentle hand petting his head and back. the scent, he recognizes as jeno’s. he’s finally here! he gets up quickly and meows as a greeting to the human, but something isn’t right. he can hear him sniffling and hiccuping.

 

“how long have you been here?” murmurs jeno with a voice, weak and shaky. it’s dark but jaemin’s cat eyes can see well — and jeno is crying, tears falling. how long he’s been crying, jaemin can’t tell. and it doesn’t seem like the cat is the reason why he’s shedding tears.

 

jaemin sits up and meows again while jeno wipes his sleeves at his eyes and face. “i’m — i’m sorry you have to see me like this, kitty…” jeno sighs, sniffing a very watery sniff.

 

the backpack jeno’s been holding onto is dropped onto the doorstep alongside his body that plops tiredly on the concrete. he sits with his knees close to himself unconfidently and his sniffling continues. jaemin sits in front of him, gazing at him in concern.

 

“i was just — i got so nervous during the interview and i messed up so bad… i stammered a lot, said the wrong things, i… i felt so embarrassed. it was the worst.”

 

jaemin frowns internally. he puts his front paws up against the human’s legs, hoisting his feline body up as though he’s standing. there’s not much he can really do as a cat to comfort jeno. turning into jaemin the human is most definitely not an option, even if it’s the best way to offer him love and support.

 

jeno, shoulders trembling, reaches over to the bombay and strokes his fur. jaemin doesn’t understand how kind and gentle jeno can be when he’s so sad himself. jaemin’s just a cat, but still jeno is generous enough to give him some love when really, he needs to love himself before anything. this hurts jaemin — is there really nothing he can do?

 

as jeno is staring into the distance with his teary eyes, out of nowhere he feels the edge of his pants being tugged on. he glances to see the black cat biting on the material, pulling on it with all his might.

 

“...what’s up, cutie?” he asks softly. the cat looks right at him, meows, and tugs on his pants again. not knowing what this means, jeno gets up on his feet anyways. the cat proceeds to meow, fast-walk a short distance to the streets, stops, turns around and meows once again, as if calling for jeno to come.

 

what’s the harm in following a cat? jeno approaches jaemin who, making sure he’s following him, goes even further to the streets.

 

a pattern of jaemin jogging, halting and meowing goes on and on, him guiding a confused jeno throughout the town. jeno might be crazy for thinking a cat has something of value to show him but to him, the animal clearly has a purpose and goal, so he trusts him.

 

at an apartment building in a part of town jeno’s never been to before, jaemin stops. from the corner of his eye, jeno sees the glimpse of a silver cat sitting at a window for a second but by the time he glances, the cat’s gone. the main question is why in the world the bombay led him to a seemingly random place, though. jeno looks around — maybe he has a cat friend that needs some help? — then the door of the apartment building swings open and out comes a teenage boy with blonde hair and someone taller accompanying him.

 

“lele, that’s literally the worst idea ever. you’re gonna get robbed or… or ridiculed at the very least!”

 

“what are you talking about, jisung? the suspicious people standing in the alley look pretty friendly to me —”

 

both of them abruptly stop in their tracks when they notice jeno awkwardly standing in front of them.

 

“uh… hi?” the blonde one, chenle, says weirdly. something catches his attention — specifically, a small creature rubbing up against jeno’s legs. “hey, i know you!” exclaims chenle, crouching down to see the cat. “you’re renjun’s cat friend!”

 

“i don’t really know why but this guy’s been… dragging me here,” explains jeno shyly, glancing between chenle and jaemin.

 

“huh. that’s weird.” chenle shrugs then gasps loudly. “oh my god, did — did he know?”

 

“he’s a cat, of course he didn’t…” jisung mutters with a groan.

 

chenle looks at jeno excitedly, standing up straight. “the thing is, my parents sent me a bunch of food and i was gonna throw a big food party! but jisung and i can’t finish it all on our own, so i was trying to find someone to invite. see!”—he swoops up the black cat and shoves him relentlessly towards jeno’s way—“this guy must’ve known or something and that’s why he brought you here! oh my god, this is so amazing… i think i’m gonna cry…”

 

jisung stares at him silently. “so… is this the guy that’s gonna join us then?”

 

“you bet he is! he’s our new friend, in fact!” chenle puts down jaemin to the ground and dashes back through the apartment entrance. “come on, dude! we’ll do some epic ice breaking later!” he calls to jeno. jisung shrugs at jeno and calmly walks back in as well.

 

friend?

 

jeno’s mind wavers to that time yesterday, when he talked to the cat about how he wished he had some friends he could talk to. he squats down and extends a hand out to the bombay that sniffs his fingertips. a smile grows on his face. the last bit of tears gets wiped away with the back of his hand.

 

“you really did understand what i said, huh?” he laughs softly. “thank you for listening. i really appreciate it.”

 

a smile forms in jaemin’s mind too. the cat purrs.

 

“i wish i knew your name, though… if you have one, that is… or maybe you don’t?”

 

“jaemin.”

 

a whisper? jeno turns over his shoulder. he sees nothing but the silver cat from the window, currently seated behind him, grooming a paw meticulously. he looks back to the black cat, who meows as though he’s responding to that name.

 

“jaemin?” the cat meows again and jeno smiles. he quite likes that name. for some odd reason, it sounds perfect for the bombay. jeno nods. “jaemin it is, then.”