players: Ivan Braginsky/Russia, Alfred F. Jones/America
word count: 1,400
warnings: character death, foul language, sexual themes
summary: Alfred finds a cat. Ivan finds a boy.
a/n: This is sort of a prequel to the main action of the story.
Alfred swore under his breath as he readjusted the collar of his coat, again, to try and prevent the cold rain from slipping beneath his clothing. He was already soaked, hair plastered to his forehead, dripping off his nose, his fingertips were numb, even deep in his pockets, and his stomach insisted on growling at him every few steps, cussing at him for not throwing some food into his backpack when he left home.
It was cold outside; the sun had set, the rain had come, and an icy northern wind blew among the buildings, pushing everyone faster down the pavement and hindering everyone walking up the pavement. Only a few hours had passed since he dropped out of school on a whim, packed a bag, and set out on his own. He wanted to save what money he had and make it as long as he could without withdrawing from his bank account. He’d watched enough crime shows to feel confident that he could disappear for a while until he was settled.
The real trial he hadn’t considered was where he was going to settle. He’d left without a single destination in mind, and he quickly accepted that “Anywhere but here” was not a practical sentiment.
Logical, yes. Practical, no.
The streetlights lessened, as did the people on the streets. It was late, and even people who worked in the dark night-time hours were holed up somewhere out of the rain.
Teeth chattering, Alfred ducked into an alley, taking shelter behind a dumpster beneath the faded awning of a Chinese fruit shop. It stank to high heaven, but it was somewhat dry. He could at least take a break and decide if he wanted to hoof it somewhere—and if so, where—or if he wanted to call a cab to take him somewhere—again, where. He slouched on some cut and stacked cardboard boxes, leaning back against his backpack.
“Jesus Christ,” he sighed, running his hands up through his hair, rubbing vigorously at the back of his head as he dropped his forehead between his knees. “The fuck are you doing, Alfred? Dad is going to have your hide once he finds out. . . ”
Why should his thoughts be about his dad and the sure punishment waiting for him? Alfred had left home to get away from that! He’ll be damned before going back without making some sort of accomplishment he could be proud of, something he did for himself. Since his mom died, everything he had went to making his dad proud; doing his best to make him happy, because he’d hated the hollow, tortured look the man had worn after burying his wife.
His mom would not have wanted that. She had been a very strong-willed and independent woman, and she used to praise Alfred for standing out from others and being open about his feelings and opinions, something her husband had occasional troubles with.
Alfred rubbed the hot tears that slithered down his cheeks on the soft cuff of his jacket. He missed his mom. He would never have left so suddenly if she’d still been alive. If his dad was just a stronger man. If he himself had the balls to stand up to the man and tell him to back off, even a little bit.
He sat for a few minutes, talking back to his stomach and sneezing occasionally.
Something metal fell to the cement with a tinny clang, drawing Alfred’s attention. “Hello?” No one answered, and no one appeared. The boy was suddenly hyper-aware of all the tiny sounds of the alley: skittering claws, clangs and bangs of somethings crawling in trash cans, dripping water from overhands into growing puddles.
It felt like a good time to move on. Alfred ignored the trembling in his hands, attributing it to cold, and told himself that his loud heartbeat was simply excitement about a new life, not adrenaline readying his body to run from whatever scary thing that could be sharing the alleyway.
His brain—ever traitorous when idle—conjured up an image of a person covered in blood and torn clothing, partially transparent and whispering pleas for help, not realising they were dead.
“That’s it. Shit. Shit shit shit.” Alfred scurried from the general protection of his resting place and hurried back to the open pavement.
Of course it was deserted, looking more like a ghost town than outer-city New York. The little night-life city sounds rose into the sky unhindered, echoes giving the illusion of lively activity.
He couldn’t help looking over his shoulder while he trotted down the pavement, nerves all on high-alert. Something suddenly slid into his path, making him jump back and shout in fear.
Muttering curses to himself with his hands on his knees, Alfred took a couple seconds to gather his frayed nerves and steel himself to investigate the thing that had frightened him.
It was only an empty McDonald’s bag.
Alfred’s stomach rumbled at the memory of fast food, sending frantic messages to Alfred’s brain to turn around and march to the nearest burger joint.
He’d just about convinced himself when he heard a familiar, safe sound coming from the shadows of the alleyway he stood at the entrance of.
He followed the soft meows to a bundle of smelly, wet rags. Digging into the bundle and peeling away rank layers, Alfred found a grey and mud brown kitten curled into a tiny ball, miserable and wet and calling for its mother.
“Hey there, little guy. . .” He carefully cupped it in his hands, marvelling at how tiny it was. He could easily hold the creature in one palm. Rubbing a finger along its spine, Alfred could feel its ribs and each vertebra as distinctly as he would touching a skeleton. It shivered in his hands, mewing with such a heartbreaking tone that Alfred swore his heart literally cracked. “Okay, dude. You’re safe, now. Where’s your mom?” Another meow, another crack in the boy’s heart. “Shh. Shh, I know exactly how that goes.”
He held the cat to his chest, unzipping his jacket and setting the kitten in the breast pocket of the lining, right over his heart. It wiggled and shifted, needle-sharp claws poking into Alfred’s T-shirt, but it finally curled up on its back, head against Alfred, and closed its eyes.
“You like little kitten, yes?”
Alfred nearly jumped out of his shoes at the sudden voice beside him. Eyes wide, he whipped his head around to meet the pleasant gaze of a man about his size, around his dad’s age. He stood with his feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart and his hands clasped behind him, looking to Alfred like a stern general examining troops. The man was smiling, though.
It freaked Alfred out.
“Y-Yeah… I just found him.”
“You will keep it, then?”
“I dunno.” Alfred shrugged. “I’d like to if I could.” His dad had never allowed pets at home. “I actually need to find a place for myself first, though. It’d probably just be easier if I left him at an animal hospital or something,” he sighed, rubbing sleeping kitten’s nose with a fingertip. He grinned when he felt its purr.
“I have place you can stay. Work, too, if you need.” With how the man pronounced “work,” with a v-sound, Alfred assumed he was Russian.
“Thanks, but I’d kind of rather just keep going. No offence or anything.”
The man’s smile took on a pleading edge. “Aw, just until rain stops. You can get malenʹkiy kotenokdry and warm.” He didn’t move his lips much when he spoke. Everything was more of a forced mumble. Alfred would understand him better if he spoke plain English and didn’t throw in his own language along with it.
Alfred felt the kitten’s low purrs and the grumbles of his own stomach. Maybe he could talk the stranger into food along with his offer of shelter. He nodded. “Okay. Yeah, sure. A little while couldn’t hurt any.”
The man stepped back and extended his right arm outwards, left arm bent towards Alfred, beckoning him to walk beside the stranger. Zipping his jacket a bit more to keep as much of the rain from both his person and the kitten riding shotgun, Alfred fell in step beside the man. “ I am Ivan Braginksi. I live not too far.” His arm hovered just behind Alfred’s back while they walked.
“I’m Alfred. Alfred Jones.”