Chanyeol reaches over Junmyeon's shoulder for the ladle. "You should grab a bowl for yourself and go eat, Hyung. Your kittens are holding a chair for you."
"They're not my kittens," Junmyeon snaps, and then immediately apologises.
It's not Chanyeol's fault. His gene profile belongs to the ninety-two series, from after they'd ironed out some of the instinctual quirks that troubled the earlier lines. Like the ones that are currently troubling Junmyeon. If this were any other week, Chanyeol's teasing would prompt Junmyeon to tease back.
Junmyeon thinks "calm and relaxed, calm and relaxed" and reaches for a handful of Chanyeol's overly large hoodie, and Chanyeol is quick to bend his knees. Junmyeon rubs his cheek against the bared column of Chanyeol's neck. He can smell the shift of relief in Chanyeol's scent, a scent that only deepens when Junmyeon lets Chanyeol pour him a bowl of soup. Junmyeon can't smell himself, but he doubts his own scent has shifted as easily.
"Calm and relaxed," Junmyeon chants in his mind, and settles his face into a smile before exiting the kitchen. That only works on humans, who think first with their eyes before their nose, but they're all used to politely not drawing attention to what they know but a human wouldn't.
Their vegetarian soup kitchen is close enough to campus, and perhaps more importantly, cheap enough to be popular with students. At this early hour, the late night study groups have been cleared out, and it's just employees and their friends gathered to eat up today's leftovers.
Jongin's taken his hat off, the points of his ears sticking up amidst the messy fall of his hair. He's from the ninety-four series, with them only since last November, when Lu Han found him cold and alone after the Black Friday sales.
Gene-splicing technology is constantly advancing.
Pack loyalty has always been a desirable trait, which is lucky, because most off-contract hybrids find it easier to share space with others. That's why Chanyeol and Baekhyun and Jongdae and Kyungsoo share one tiny flat (though only Chanyeol and Jongdae work here) and why Junmyeon used to sleep in a pile with Lu Han and Yixing before he was adopted by two of their regular customers that simply refused to go home one night if he wouldn't go with them.
"Umma!" Zitao calls out. "Sit here, c'mon!"
He and Sehun have left a space that's wide enough for two Junmyeons between them. Junmyeon has given up trying to teach them manners. Besides Minseok and Yixing, Zitao and Sehun are the only humans in the room. They don't have the incentives to learn etiquette that a hybrid does.
The gap shrinks to a quarter of the size once he's seated, strong, long thighs on either side of Junmyeon's own. Sehun leans over and shrinks down, pressing his nose into the space between Junmyeon's jaw and collarbones, almost down under Junmyeon's collar, and inhaling deep. Zitao requires more prompting, requires Junmyeon's fingers on the back of his neck and Zitao complaining that he was "talking, Umma!", as he folds small and scandalised into the curve of Junmyeon's neck.
Junmyeon can't feel Zitao's ears as he nuzzles in. Zitao's ears are round and hairless, too low on his skull for touch that Junmyeon really should have trained himself out of expecting to feel. Sehun's fingernails are blunt and square.
Zitao and Sehun don't smell like they feel, the way Chanyeol smells comfortable when he can be useful and Jongin smells nervous during the lunch and dinner rushes. They smell like boys and sweat and the synthetic scented black cherry shampoo they all share because Sehun's the only one of the three with an opinion about which type to get. But Sehun smells like Zitao, smells like Junmyeon, and so does Zitao, and if they're not his kittens, the familiarity of their mixed scents is enough to settle the prickles under Junmyeon's skin long enough to eat.
Junmyeon can usually trick his instincts with the familiarity of the space, all the smells of home, but tonight, turning the metal tumblers of the deadbolt does not ease the tightness in his throat or still the twitching of his tail trapped down his trouser leg. He once lived somewhere where the door-locks pricked his finger, testing his blood against those the doors were programmed to admit. Home should feel safe, and in this old building, the locks are only analogue and he can hear their neighbours through the walls and the ceiling.
Unpacking the leftovers that Yixing sent them home with tonight helps him settle, reminding the little cat voice at the back of his mind that Junmyeon does provide for his family. He can imagine Zitao's boy scent on his hands mixing with the bright, sharp scent of peel as he unwraps sweet oranges. He can imagine Sehun's cheeks dusted with crumbs, sweat a basenote to the savoury scent of yeast, and of smoke from grilling day old bread on their hot plate.
He takes bottles of drinking water, thick refillable glass and heavy, out of Zitao's backpack and finds that shelf occupied by the bottles he removed from Sehun's bag. He looks at the bottle in his hand, and turns to look at the boys watching him.
He should make a joke. If this were a normal day, and if Junmyeon felt normal, he would make a joke. He knows so many terrible jokes, but for some reason, not a single one of them springs to mind.
"This is a lot of water," he says.
"Don't say you're ok," Sehun says. "You've been weird the last couple of days. We remember what happened the last time."
Zitao is much less euphemistic. "We had to take turns getting supplies while you wore the other one out!"
"It's not like last time," Junmyeon tells them, because this is not a heat, even if it's just as much of an unpleasant surprise. "But, yes, it's related, I think."
There's so much hybrids don't know about their own programming, the parts that product release promotional material would never discuss. Junmyeon had regular heats during training and with his original owner, but not in the years on his own. He'd thought that part of him was done, not dormant. Junmyeon wishes he'd kept in touch with the hybrids he trained with those seven years before purchase, so he'd have others to ask.
Had it been insufficient food, perhaps, before he got the job at Minseok and Yixing's soup kitchen, for his body to support additional life? Or a reduction in stress hormones, telling his body that he now had a safe environment to bring kittens into the world, two strong boys sleeping beside him at night? Or was something encoded into his body and his blood waiting for human ownership to resume?
"Do you remember what I said about the last time, about why that happened?"
Zitao figures it out first, grabbing Sehun's arm in one hand and pointing at Junmyeon's belly with the other. They didn't use contraception six weeks ago. It's not something they would ever have thought to waste money on before.
"Don't worry. I'm not pregnant," Junmyeon tells them, because he isn't.
He can't be.
This part is worse than the instinctual wantonness of his heats. This part was a bug in the design. It's why he was traded in for a newer model, an inconvenient undesirable behaviour that could not be trained away.
It's the "heats" that have always made hybrids like Junmyeon worth R&D budgets, let alone their RRP. The genes for their heats come from the common house cat, and only from the female of that species. Junmyeon's human Y chromosome base overrides much but not all of that inheritance. His body doesn't have the organs to support a pregnancy; he just has the organs to produce the hormones that tell his body to try.
"How can we help, Hyung?"
"Umma, what do you need?"
The boys are still by their bicycles, standing no closer though Junmyeon's back is pressed up against the cabinets. He's breathing too fast, forgetting that now is not then. That his boys didn't give someone money to take Junmyeon home; they asked him if he wanted to come with them. That once upon a time, he'd told them yes.
That six weeks ago, he'd come back to himself drenched in their sweat and other bodily fluids to two worried boys who had done their best. Human boys, but careful and kind, Sehun and Zitao had been as terrified by Junmyeon's unexpected behaviour as the hybrid himself.
There should be words to explain-- a cat can't talk, but a human can; he's both and so many others besides. He should explain, because even humans smell of their nervousness, but Junmyeon's fingers are already unbuttoning his coat.
He's too warm, sweat slicking under his arms and across his lower back. This morning, he wore his oldest, softest T-shirt, but it still feels too rough on his chest. Dotting down the fabric are dark wet patches that did not come from sweat.
Sehun is purebred human, but the noise he makes also has no words.
Zitao looks fascinated. "Sehuna said you smelt of milk."
Junmyeon's lucky that they're both human, and they can't tell that he doesn't smell of the same musk that is quickly overpowering Sehun's nerves. That particular scent might currently close up Junmyeon's throat, but it's not the disgust he was afraid of. It's Junmyeon's nipples that are swollen this time, not anything lower down, but he thinks he can distract them from discovering that fact.
Sehun won't notice that Junmyeon's less than flirtatious as he gingerly lifts his shirt up. Sehun's too busy staring fixedly as Junmyeon reveals his chest.
The areoles of his primary teats are now more than an inch wide, though the secondary and tertiary sets are closer to their usual size. All six are sore, their colour deepened to the pink of his lips.
Holding his shirt bunched under his arms, Junmyeon cups the slight swelling under the muscle, pressing the nipple between thumb and index finger, pressing out a thin trickle of milk.
"Umma," Tao calls him.
His usual soft reverence provokes a rush of warmth through Junmyeon's belly-- and then shame. Mother is what Zitao likes to call him (and Junmyeon likes it, revels in the way Zitao will let him take care of him; he shouldn't like it, but he does). Zitao is looking at him like Junmyeon is an amazing miracle.
But Sehun always calls him "Hyung."
"Taozi," Junmyeon begins, hesitant to disagree with either of them, "Sehun doesn't like--"
"I'll call you anything you want," Sehun interrupts, face as pink as Junmyeon's nipples. "If you let me taste that, I'll call you whatever you want."
Junmyeon holds up his wet fingers; Sehun stumbles forward to fall on them with his hungry open mouth. A second later, Zitao crashes into Junmyeon's other side, pushing his nose in between Junmyeon's bunched up neckline and his skin, demanding Junmyeon's other arm wrap around the boy's waist.
He's tangled in his own shirt, Zitao burrowing in beneath the bunched neckline and Sehun holding onto his wrist with both hands. His teeth are unexpectedly blunt, his tongue so soft, eager, still hunting for the taste that must already be gone.
Junmyeon was already sweating before he was sandwiched between his two tall, strong boys. He has been too hot all day, snapping and irritable, and he's too hot now but this is exactly where he wants to be.
Sehun whines when Junmyeon tries to pull back, step back in the direction of the pile of blankets that they did not neatly fold this morning. This room smells strongly of their family, but their nest is where the scent is strongest.
"Let's lie down," Junmyeon says. "I've got plenty for both of you."
The boys strip their shirts as easily as Junmyeon throws his off, and their pants. There's a moment when they're all standing, looking at each other, until Sehun and Zitao dig their underwear out of their pants and pull them back on.
Junmyeon has never done this before. He used to curl up small, alone, and try to knead the trouble out before his state was discovered. Now, he uses his hands to show Zitao and Sehun how to start his flow, to pet the back of their necks when they discover how to latch on and suck.
His boys are such fast learners.
Sehun is quickly milk-drunk, non-verbal and engrossed. He sucks hard and strong, lapping up his own overspill, greedy for every last drop. He makes soft sounds of pleasure around Junmyeon's teat, under his hand, but keeps his head down.
This is lucky, because Zitao looks up every time Junmyeon's hand pauses mid-pet. He's a slower eater, messier eater, milk dripping from his chin when he lifts his head. Zitao needs Junmyeon's hand on his neck leading him from distraction back to suck again and again.
When Sehun begins sucking desperately at nothing, Junmyeon lifts his head-- he's drunk Junmyeon's primary teat dry. Sehun looks confused, pouting until Junmyeon gently leads him further down to latch once more. And then Zitao calls "Umma," grinning up at Junmyeon with milk shining on his cheeks.
Junmyeon babbles a rain of baby nonsense at them, his good boys, his sweet boys. They're not kittens he birthed, but they're kittens he found, who found him and needed food and love and a home. He doesn't know what he's saying, his focus narrowed to the warm happiness of their sucking mouths.
Sehun pulls himself off the third time, and Junmyeon wipes his lip with his thumb, thinking about how they're going to fit Sehun and Zitao on the same side -- his boys are so big -- and then Sehun touches Junmyeon's hip, the heat of his fingers sensible through Junmyeon's underwear. "Hyung?"
Junmyeon can't move.
He can't will himself hard, and he can't will himself wet. He knows. He's tried. He's tried for people who were not as nice as his boys, who didn't let Junmyeon give them anything so good as what they've done since they all laid down. He doesn't just owe Sehun and Zitao; Junmyeon wants them to be happy.
Maybe if he just offers his hand. He's helped Sehun out before, when Zitao got bored or distracted or decided he wanted to do something else now instead. Normally, Junmyeon doesn't mind looking after his boys, even if he doesn't need any of that himself, but now just thinking of touching either of them like that brings sourness at the back of his throat.
"Tao, what about you? You want anything?"
Junmyeon looks up, startled, that Sehun isn't waiting for an answer Junmyeon doesn't know how to give.
"You go take care of that," Zitao says, waving Sehun off. "I want to stay with Umma."
And Sehun just nods, sitting up and waddling off towards their shower. As if his underwear didn't make an erection obvious, as if that scent of desire on him could be a question instead of an order.
Sehun leaving their nest also diffuses the scent into the larger space of the room. It's easier for Junmyeon to take deep breaths, even with Zitao trying to curl up small enough to fit onto his shoulder.
"And what do you want, kitten?"
What Zitao wants is distracting him with milky kisses, with squirming in Junmyeon's hold as he licks Zitao's face clean-- with squirming even more, shrieking louder than any of the noises Sehun is making behind the shower curtain when Junmyeon tickles him.
Zitao still smells of want, too, but less. One of the things that makes humans so confusing is the way they can smell of moods that have already changed and still expect a hybrid to understand what they want.
Sehun comes back smelling more of soap than desire, and the glass of the water bottle he brought with him. He sits behind Junmyeon, letting the hybrid lean back against his knees to drink. He's wearing different underwear, a pair that don't smell of what he's just been doing.
"Before we got, uh, distracted, we were going to ask you--"
"Not now," Zitao interrupts.
"No, not now," Sehun continues, "but later, and, uh, maybe with clothes on-- can we talk about what you like? You keep surprising us, Hyung."
Junmyeon doesn't have an easy answer for that. His heart beats fast at the thought that Sehun doesn't want an easy answer.
"Serious discussions later," Zitao huffs. He rolls to fit his back to Junmyeon's side and then tugs Junmyeon by the arm to wrap around him. "Let Umma think. I want to nap now."
Sehun lies down behind him. He presses his face into the back of Jumyeon's neck, but there's space between their bodies for Junmyeon's tail. Zitao's belly is soft-- full, Junmyeon allows himself to think, allows himself to stroke along the thin line of fur there.
This, Junmyeon thinks. He likes this, and he'll think more in the morning.