players: Park Chanyeol, Huang Zitao/Tao, Kim Jongin/Kai, Oh Sehun
word count: ~4,000
summary: (Cat/boy AU) Sehun's never been too curious about life outside of fleecy blankets, fresh food, and fenced-in yards.
a/n: Written for the kittyexo12 exchange. (Original post here.)
The cats call people either humans or pets. Dogs call them humans or masters. "You can keep a dog, but it is the cat who keeps people, because cats find humans to be useful domestic animals." —George Mikes
The title is a German proverb.
One summer day, cloudless and humid, the kind that sticks to everything and makes breathing a chore, Sehun decides to lay outside. The warm breeze ruffles the leaves and flowers, carrying a relaxing fragrance of the neighbour’s lavender that adds to the sleepy sort of day. He stretches out on his back beneath a cluster of blossoming plum trees. A butterfly flutters passed, stopping to taste the blossoms, but Sehun pays no mind. He has no interest in bugs and kittenesque exploration.
He is a domesticated purebred with an impressive pedigree going back many generations and takes great pride in looking the part, always keeping his fur immaculate and paws clean of any dirt or dust. His pet human always compliments him while brushing his fur, reducing him to content, pleased purrs.
The house and backyard are his world. Since being adopted, he has only left the house for the occasional vacation and his doctor appointments. Otherwise, any visitors come to him. Whether or not he graces them with an acknowledgement of their presence is another matter entirely. Many humans do not understand the do not touch rule. Maybe mixed breeds have different rules; Sehun doesn't know. He hasn't met any; the few who were brave enough to try approaching him at the doctor's office were kittens, anyway, and even purebred kittens aren't 100% learned on the Rules.
Truthfully, Sehun doesn't follow all of the Rules himself, but his indulgences are few and fair between and minor things. He still keeps the occurrences secret to keep up immaculate appearances.
Aside from chasing his tail well into maturity and sneaking marshmallows for snacks, though, he and a stray tomcat rendezvous every once in a while when Sehun's pet is asleep or away.
Sehun's neighbourhood consists of similar-looking homes with manicured lawns and healthy flowers separated by fencing that got taller as it runs to the backyard. There is a lot of pride. A different kind of pride than any stray cat has.
It's home, and Sehun loves it, he supposes. He loves his pet, certainly, but since meeting the alley cat, he finds himself wondering about what's outside the fencing and if it's different in person from seeing it from inside a car.
He doubts he'll ever get the chance to find out and easily resigns himself to his afternoon nap, spending over an hour lazing about on the grassy yard.
The slumbering cat’s ear twitches at the slight scuff of sound. A bird or rodent in the grass. He sighs and burrows his face in his arms.
At the end of the well-kept garden, a dark-eyed tomcat peers between the slats of the privacy fence. The house sits silent, a bird on the sill being the only sign of movement.
It is easy to pull himself up and over the fence, landing with all the stealth, grace, and agility cats pride themselves in. He stalks through the shrubbery, pausing at every twitch and shift of his target.
Standing over Sehun, the tom drops to his hands, holding his body over the napping cat, and slowly lowers himself comfortably, stacking his hands at the base of the other’s neck to cushion his chin. “Are you going to sleep all day?”
“Yes, because it’s hot.”
“All you ever want to do is sleep,” the tom sighs.
“Because I’m tired,” Sehun whines. He wiggles, trying to dislodge the other tom. “Now get off, Tao; you’re hot.”
“You’re not so bad yourself.”
Where Sehun is pale, Zitao is dark, but the narrowed eyes glaring at Zitao are a pumpkin orange, while Zitao's ringed eyes are a vibrant sapphire blue. They make a pretty pair, Zitao likes to think.
A particularly vicious shake dislodges him from his perch and daydreaming, and he rolls to lie beside Sehun.
“Ewww.” Sehun turns onto his back and squirms at the shirt sticking to him. “Now I feel sweaty and gross!”
Zitao arches his back and swipes at his ears with a pleased chirrup.
Sehun huffs and sits up, struggling to pull his shirt over his head and throw it aside. “Why is it so freakin’ hot?”
“Cuz I’m here.”
“Then leave.” Sehun flops onto the grass again.
“Sehunnnieeeee,” Zitao cries, feigning heartbreak.
“Stop touching me! You’re all sweaty and sticky and— ” He stills, sniffing, eyes narrows. “You smell like Yifan.”
Zitao stiffens, looking anywhere but Sehun. “N-No, I don’t!”
“He’s part of the reason our pets think you’re just a sneaky neighbourhood tomcat.” Yixing, Jongin, Lu Han, and others make up the other parts. Sehun only knows them by name, but Zitao has plenty to say about his adventures and other cats he met.
“I’m just being friendly.” Zitao shrugs innocently.
“You don’t have to be friendly with your body.”
“Yes I do! I say ‘hi’ to you, and you don’t complain!” Anymore than usual, anyway.
Sehun runs a hand through his hair and over his eyes. He's blushing from the heat. “That’s different,” he mumbles.
Zitao flops onto his back again and pokes Sehun’s cheek. “Sehun. Sehunnie. ..”
The white cat straightens his tail fur and ignores Zitao’s whining. “If you stay, you’re going to sleep with me.” He dodges the grabby hands and pushes Zitao onto his stomach.
Sehun’s palm heels push and press into the firm muscles of Zitao’s butt. “Because I'm tired, it's hot, and my pet's gone for the day.”
Their purrs settle around them with the dying heat of the day, and they sleep until the sun begins its daily descent.
Sehun yawns wide and stretches.
He shakes Zitao’s shoulder. He doesn’t stir. “Zitao. Tao. Tao. Tao. Tao. Tao.” He pulls his shirt back on and crouches down beside the sleeping tom, scrutinising the sleeping face. For being so adamant about doing stuff during the day, he managed to fall asleep pretty fast and stay soundly asleep.
He looks so peaceful.
And he's easily awoken by a sharp bite to the ear.
“Sehun!” Zitao cries, rubbing his ear gingerly. He checks his fingers for blood and pouts, teary eyed.
Sehun smooths the poofed tail and wipes at the tears with his thumbs. “Must’ve been a cricket.”
“Crickets don’t bite.”
“In your neighbourhood, maybe.” He pulls Zitao down by the neck to kiss the wounded ear. “Better?”
“Maybe. You can make it up to me by going out with me.”
Sehun gazes around the garden. He likes the chirping stillness of the night. “We are out.”
Sehun’s tail twitches. “Outside?” Of the fence?
“Out of the yard?”
“Yes!” Zitao sits up eagerly, pain all gone in his excitement. “I’ll show you my territory. C’mon.”
Sehun looks back at his house. It is dark and quiet. His soft bed calls to him like a siren, but he accepts Zitao’s offer and follows him to the fence.
“What about my pet? She’ll miss me.” She had ruffled his hair and kissed his nose before leaving for a studying weekend at a friend’s. She would be back late that night to make it to work in the morning, but Sehun had been left with a running fountain of water and plenty of food and the whole house to himself.
He isn’t lonely. He likes quiet.
Zitao lies across the fence, rolling his eyes. “I promise to have you back at a reasonable hour. She won’t even notice you’re gone.” His tail flicks and quivers, antsy to get out.
Sehun nods and gauges the fence height. Maybe a little bit won't hurt.
“Need a boost?”
“I can do it myself,” he huffs. With a leap, he lands awkwardly on the fence, nearly toppling over. Even with the jostling boards, Zitao manages to stay firmly in place, smile never faltering.
“Your grace is overwhelming.”
Sehun shakes his hair and straightens his tail. He hops down on the other side of the fence, followed closely by Zitao. “I told you I could do it.”
Zitao bumps their shoulders together. “I never doubted you.” He faces right and tilts his head. “This way.”
Sehun has never left his yard before. The only other cats he knows are the ones who are looked after by Sehun’s pet when their own pets leave for whatever reason pets deem more important—and Zitao, who meandered into Sehun’s yard one evening after hearing his pet talk about food. It simply became habit, splitting his food with the stray, and his presence and lack of manners became familiar.
Everything outside is new.
And it only gets stranger as they walk.
The privacy fences turns into chain link and then no fence at all, although some dumpsters make makeshift barriers between the front and alleyways of some condominiums. Sehun’s ears twitch and shift, trying to take in all the new sounds. Pets, birds, cars, cats, dogs.
“Hi, Zitao!” A large dog leaps up against a tall chain link fence.
Sehun hisses and swipes at the dog, snagging the fence angrily.
The dog’s ears fall back in confusion. He looks hurt, and Sehun cringes, ready for the inevitable eardrum-shattering whine. Inexplicably, he brightens. “Hello!”
Sehun can’t keep up with the mutt’s emotions. He doesn’t want to, either. Tail four times its usual size and ears flat, he growls and presses against Zitao’s side in a silent Let's go before I do something drastic.
Zitao leans against Sehun comfortingly, but doesn't high-tail it out of there like Sehun wants, greeting the dog brightly. “Hi, Chanyeol. Can you come out?”
“Don’t let it out!” Sehun cries.
The dog’s ears lower again, and his tail slows its breakneck rhythm. Sehun thinks he may have hurt its—his, Chanyeol's, whatever—feelings, not that he cares, but the dog sighs and leans his forehead against the fencing with a low, morose whine. “No, Master’s mad at me. I have to stay in the yard.” His tone is heavy, as if he was waiting out his final night on Earth in the backyard and not simply being punished.
Zitao shows interest in Chanyeol's misery. “What’d you do this time?”
Sehun snorts. Dogs are so dumb. No wonder they're at the bottom of the food chain.
“Keep it up, and you'll get neutered,” Zitao quips in a chirpy tone.
Chanyeol has to stop an think about words, looking for the right association and meaning. His large eyes widen more as his tail tucks between his legs.
Sehun has never seen such a robust individual—of any species or breed—shrink so small so fast. He much prefers the doom-and-gloom atmosphere to the hyperactive noise he's convinced is the dog's default state of being, but Zitao is much kinder.
“You'll be okay. Your human is very forgiving.”
“They have to be, with a pet like him,” Sehun mutters.
Zitao's tail flicks Sehun's calf, but his smile carries more amusement than before.
The reassurance cheers Chanyeol up considerably. "My master is really really good. So good. Like, super good. Even when I chew up her shoes or eat Jongin's special food and get sick, she still scratches my ears. Can you come in and play?" If his tail wags any faster, it'll fly off. The tip hits the chain-link with a tinny jingling sound.
The stray cat smiles and brushes his cheek against Sehun's. "Not now. On a date."
Sehun swats at a passing moth, fighting an embarrassed cough.
Chanyeol sighs, tail slowing to a dreamy wag. "That sounds like fun. I wanna go on a date, but I'm gonna go on a walk later, which is kind of like a date." He goes for walks at least twice a day, but the excitement never dwindles.
"Not even close, idiot." A third cat, all dark shades and sleek muscle, joins Sehun and Zitao, scaling the chain-link easily.
"Jongin, are you going‽" Chanyeol cries in heartbreak. He already apologised for jumping him, so why was he leaving? Doesn't he know Chanyeol's sorry?
"I'm meeting Joonmyun-hyung," the cat replies breezily. He greets Zitao with chaste cheek rubs and a friendly purr, but he pauses to blatantly size up Sehun. Purebred, well-groomed, obviously expensive, and probably drinks spring water, Jongin muses. He's new, and he's obviously not from Jongin's neighbourhood.
Not at all pleased with the silent scrutiny, Sehun flattens his ears further to his skull and grumbles lowly. This is not how he wants to spend his evening, meeting imbecilic dogs and being sized up like some uncouth, street cat. It's insulting.
Disregarding the lashing tail and airplane ears, Jongin touches his nose to Sehun's in humoured greeting and drags his tail up along Sehun's as he leaves. "See you around, kitten."
Chanyeol whines as he watches Jongin go. His ears perk moments later. A door opens, and his human calls him in with a cheery whistle.
Zitao and Sehun slip into the shadows and continue on their way as Chanyeol yips happily and bounds back inside, banishment forgiven and forgotten as he babbles apologies mixed with a jumbled account of the “pretty alley cats on a date.”
“What an idiot,” Sehun scoffs. He subtly pulls his tail between his fingers, smoothing the silky fur. Sehun has never been so grateful for fencing. Even with the fence, Chanyeol is a lot of dog to handle.
If Zitao notices the comfort grooming, he doesn't say anything. Bumping the housecat's shoulder at the mouth of the alley, he jerks his head to the side. “C'mon. We'll head to the park.”
The local park just inside Zitao's territory has a pond full of fish. Sehun has never seen a fish up close, and he is curious, but he has been in water—courtesy of his pet—and he is very wary. Baths are a necessity, which he begrudgingly accepts, but willingly approaching the wet is not Sehun's idea of a good time, and he says so.
"It's not so bad," Zitao insists, splashing the water a little. “You get used to it, after a while, and sometimes, it's just easier to ... ” He stills, pupils wide, and thrusts his paw into the water, quick as a snake.
Sehun backpedals from the edge as a fish flops and gasps on the grass at his knees. It stares at him with wide eyes, gasping for water and only managing to flip itself further from the water. Sehun slaps at it, not entirely sure what to do.
"Why aren't you killing it?" Zitao watches the housecat, head tilted with a look of bemusement. His own fish is pinned beneath his claws and struggles.
"What?" Sehun jumps when the not-quite-dead fish flips itself again.
"Why aren’t you killing it?" Zitao repeats.
"How am I supposed to kill it?"
The pointed cat sighs with a small smile. "Forgive me. I forgot your high status as a pampered housepet."
"I am not—!"
Zitao swipes at his fish, and it twitches as it finally dies, head and body separated cleanly. Once he is certain the fish is entirely, completely, and utterly dead—disembowelling it and tossing the innards all over, Zitao pokes it experimentally and smiles at Sehun. "Dinner!" He holds up his bloodied claws and frowns before cleaning them thoroughly. “Do yours just like that.”
Sehun tucks his declawed paws out of sight beneath his tail. “And I'm ... I'm supposed to eat it? Just like this?” His stomach growls. He keeps his expression impassive.
“Just like this,” Zitao confirms, speaking around the fingertip in his teeth as he struggles to get a piece of scale out from under the nail.
Sehun stares at the fish.
It stares back.
Sehun has never eaten anything so raw before. He's never wanted to or even entertained the thought; his idea of food comes out of the oven—and occasionally the microwave, when his pet is particularly tired or when he's left to his own devices. This fish is filthy, shimmery scales all intact with flecks of dark dirt and grime where it struck the grass. It is bright red and bloody and, frankly, disgusting.
His stomach lurches a little, and Sehun tries to swallow the acid rising in his throat.
“What's the matter?”
“I'm not hungry.” His stomach speaks at the same time, a grumbling liar. He flushes pink and takes a sudden interest in the clouds crawling overhead. The sun is slowly sinking, but light still hangs on the horizon. To the west, towards home, the sky is stained navy and plum with specks of white as the stars make their nightly appearance.
Zitao's lips fright the amused grin, but his eyes can't lie. “If you can't kill it, just say so, Princess.”
“Fine,” Sehun backsasses. “I can't kill it.” He's grumpy when hungry.
The teasing glimmer dulls in Zitao's eyes. He drops his hands and tilts his head. “Why not? It's easy!” He points to the fish's gills. “Just dig your claws into its neck ... ”
“I can't.” Sehun's tail tucks up against his thigh, tip quivering off the ground. The air feels cooler beside the water. He wants to go home; he doesn't like being outside. “I just can't. I don't have ... ” He sighs heavily, ears flattening to his hair. “I don't have claws.” His fingers hide in the silky fur of his tail. He avoids looking at Zitao.
“Shhh!” Sehun hisses.
Zitao ducks and looks around; there is no one to hear them. The ducks on the pond don't care. The fish on the shore beside them have long since suffocated and have no interest in anything.
He scoots closer, asking gently, “May I see?”
The housecat hesitates, flexing his fingers, but slips a pampered paw free and holds it where Zitao can barely see. He flinches when it's grabbed—not roughly, but Zitao has rough skin, calloused from a life on the streets. He handles Sehun's hand like it's something precious, fanning the fingers apart and scrutinising the blunt tips of the glossy nails.
“I'm sorry.” Sehun doesn't know why he apologises.
Zitao shakes his head. “I shouldn't have assumed. I'm sorry.” He looks to Sehun's eyes. “We could go someplace else. Ready-made food, as long as you ask nicely and aren't too picky.”
“As long as it's dead and cooked, I will eat it.”
The alley cat pulls Sehun to his feet, only releasing one hand. Neither say anything as they walk. Sehun simply follows the subtle tug when Zitao turns a corner, trusting his judgement. The humidity from the day has finally dissipated, leaving behind dry heat thrown about by a light breeze that actually feels cool and enjoyable. A few crickets chirp in the grass; some lightning bugs flicker among the well-kept lawns and overgrown lots.
They make it into the outskirts of the city within minutes. Sehun had no idea he lives so close to it. Driving never takes long, but it turns out walking isn't so bad, either.
Or maybe time passes quicker with Zitao. Sehun doesn't know.
Behind a rather ugly building, Zitao motions for Sehun to wait at the end of the alley—away from the dumpster bins, Sehun knows there's a rat somewhere in one of them by the soft skittering and squeaks—and jogs to the middle door beneath a bare light bulb. He ducks inside, and Sehun waits.
Moths fly at the exposed bulbs, going for the source of warmth or simply drawn to the artificial light that mimics the sun they're never awake to witness in person. One lands for too long and fries. It falls to the scummy asphalt and rolls into a large crack sprouting weeds.
Sehun shifts from foot to foot, careful to stand away from things but stay in the shadow. He remembers hearing about some crime on the late night news when his pet had fallen asleep with the the TV on. Some stray cats were beaten for loitering around alleys or dumpster diving for food. He knows he doesn't look anything like a scruffy, homeless tomcat, but neither does Zitao.
Before the panic could really set in, Zitao returns with a plastic bag. The scent wafting up through the night was drool-worthy, and Sehun's stomach loudly reiterates its empty state.
Zitao holds the bag of food out of Sehun's reach, spinning and dodging the grabbing hands. “Zitaaaaao. I'm hungry!”
“How hungry are you, on a scale of 'Who's Zitao?' to 'I love Zitao.'?”
Sehun whines and shakes Zitao's arm up and down impatiently. “I really, really, really love you, now please feed me!”
Zitao leads him to a small playground. There are no children so late at night, and few cars pass. The swings have been removed or fell off, so they sit on the edge of the raised sandbox. Boxes of chicken, noodles, pork, and steaming vegetables are opened between them with a box on each of their laps. Without plates, they pick and choose what to eat directly from the box, occasionally feeding the other something particularly tasty.
They clean out the boxes—almost literally; Sehun is very tempted to lick the box, but his dignity stomps out the remainder of his hunger.
“We should get you home.”
Sehun looks up from licking his fingers. “Already?”
“It's been a couple hours. The sun's all gone.”
So it is. Sehun hasn't noticed; the almost-full moon illuminates the night just as well as the sun.
Boxes disposed of in an overflowing garbage bin that has raccoons boldly investigating, Sehun and Zitao amble back to Sehun's neighbourhood.
“Do you like living out here?”
Sehun's question hangs in the air like the humidity had during the day. It sticks to them the longer Zitao doesn't reply.
“I like the freedom. I like meeting new cats and whatever.” He shrugs. “I'm used to it; this,” he waves a hand in a vaguely encompassing gesture, “is all 'home' to me.”
“But is it really safe? I-I mean, like, if you lived indoors, you'd be out of the rain, and no one could bother you, and—”
“Sehun, who'd want a vagabond like me?”
“Like I said, this is all my home. I do like it. I can do whatever I want.” He takes Sehun's hand again. “I appreciate the thought, but I don't think your pet would go for it.”
Sehun stares at the moon. “Then I guess you'll just have to come take me out a lot.”
“I plan on it.” Their tails brush against one another as they walk. The moonlight casts short shadows behind them, and one cannot be distinguished from the other because of how closely they walk together.
The return trip is shorter than the walk out, Sehun thinks, as the houses become familiar. They walk down the alley until Sehun finds his yard. Zitao gives him a boost, and the housecat drops softly to the grass.
Zitao has just turned to leave when his ears flick back at the sound of scuffing wood. “Hey.”
Sehun leans down over the fence and kisses him. It's very short and chaste, but the moon picks up their matching pink cheeks. “Thank you for taking me out.”
Zitao nods and smiles.
Sehun watches the alley cat scale the opposite fence and practically skip to the end of the alley before going inside. The air conditioning is a huge relief. He could never live outside.
He's only home a few minutes before his pet returns. He misses the sound of the car in the driveway; she must have sat and talked with her friend a while.
He dives under a pile of blankets on the sofa and wills his heart to calm down as a key turns in the front lock.
His pet shuffles down the hall, flipping on the light and laughing when she sees his head hanging off the sofa arm to look at her.
"Hey, baby... " his pet coos softly, scratching his chin. "Were you okay without me?"
"No wild parties with any alley cats, right?"
Sehun snorts. Parties? No. Alley cats? Oh, yes.