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A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2017-03-24 04:49 pm

Company for Christmas

title: Company for Christmas
players: Park Chanyeol, Do Kyungsoo/D.O.
rating: G
word count: 9,980w
summary: After breaking up from a long-time boyfriend, Chanyeol's life pretty much stops. He merely exists until he takes some familial advice and leaves his apartment. He meets someone he didn't expect and certainly didn't expect to need so much.
warning/s: smattering of foul language
a/n: Originally written for the Takostation event.

I almost named this after a Frank Sinatra song (Out of Nowhere), because it kinda fit. I decided to go with a Hallmark movie-esque sort of title, instead, because my mom watches a lot of Hallmark holiday movies, and I love my mom. So.
Read on: AFF || AO3 || LJ

The outside has a thin layer of snow when Chanyeol finally leaves his apartment. His sister was right; hibernating his Feelings away doesn't work, and he thinks if he sits on his couch for much longer he'll share a blood supply.

He feels like crap. Weeks of barely moving or eating have him easily exhausted, and he knows he doesn't look much better. Taking a shower before venturing out for food would've had him right back into bed, though, so a mask and knit hat hide the greasy hair and scruffy beard.

No one pays him much attention as he shuffles down the aisles of the convenience store. The cashier is more interested in their phone, staring at it while wishing Chanyeol a distant Merry Christmas, and Chanyeol makes it back to the bus stop five minutes before the next bus. If he had more energy, he'd just walk home, but he's barely on his feet as it is.

He's so out of it, blearily staring at the soaked toes of his sneakers, that he doesn't recognise that the dark blob is not, in fact, a third foot rubbing his shins.

A cat slithers back and forth across his shins, dragging its cheek over his pantleg. Its ears stand forward as th bus pulls up, and it hops aboard after Chanyeol, even leaping onto the open seat beside him. Somehow, this seems perfectly normal to him. It's not important enough to be thought about in-depth.

He nearly falls asleep on the brief ride back to his apartment, but a paw on his thigh wakes him up enough to get up in time. Again, the cat follows him. Maybe it lives in the neighbourhood, Chanyeol muses.

He falls against the door to push it open, not noticing the cat slipping inside until it's sitting in front of the elevator doors and watching the number panel light up as they ascend.

"You live around here, cat?" Its left ear twitches towards him but flicks right back when the elevator dings and opens onto Chanyeol's floor. Tail high, it walks onto the worn red carpeting and turns left. Chanyeol's apartment is on the left. Maybe it's the too-many fluorescent lights, or maybe his body is finally getting used to being vertical again, or maybe it's the cat that's been is companion since the convenience store, but Chanyeol's mind is starting to work again, and it's wondering where that cat is actually going.

He leans out the doors just in time to see a tall tail disappearing around the corner at the end of the hall. Curiously and cautiously, he follows, an unknown feeling settling in his gut.

The cat is in the middle of the hall, cleaning its shoulder just a few doors down, but it stops when it notices Chanyeol and stands, as if saying Come on, already! and sits right outside Chanyeol's apartment door.


He digs his keys from his pants pocket, flustered by the cat's affectionate rubbing and reedy meows at his feet, egging him on. "Just gimme a minute!"

Someone's door opens behind him. Mrs. Choi is a widow who moved into the apartments around the same time as Chanyeol. "Chanyeol? It's been a while. How are you, dear?"

"I'm okay," he lies, finally fishing out his keys.

"Oh, is that your cat? He's handsome, just like his dad." She smiles and returns Chanyeol's hasty bow before closing and locking her own door, probably on her way shopping.

The cat enters his apartment first, ears forward and tail up, brazenly exploring its new territory.

"Don't get too comfy, cat," Chanyeol says. He locks the door behind him and tosses his mask and hat onto the small table he'd shoved into his kitchen. "I dunno who you think you are or who you think I am, but this isn't your home." It's finished its cursory surveillance and appears beside his feet as he's untying his shoes. "I should tie a bell onto you, for as long as you'll be here. Gimme a heart attack, why don'tcha."

The cat blinks its big, round, green eyes with an innocent tilt of its head. Keep struggling, human.

He must be really out of it, if he's talking to a cat an imagining its replies. Kicking off his shoes, he dumps his bag of instant goodies onto the counter and fills a couple cup ramens with water.

The microwave whirs; the dirty glass turntable spins slowly, and Chanyeol falls under its dizzying spell. He comes to when his stomach swoops and steps back fast enough to catch himself and stay upright.

He used to hate instant convenience store foods. Fresh and attentively cooked are always best. He loves cooking, and he'd cook every day, even before meeting his longtime boyfriend. After they broke up, he just...stopped. He stopped caring about the taste of food, the feel of restedness after sleeping well, the smell of fresh laundry, even the sight of the clouds drifting across a bright blue sky.

Everything shut down and became so dull. He used to be able to see the magic woven in everyday life. Now, he can't even see the magic in Harry Potter. It's all just special effects and a lot of money.

Something pulls at his pantleg, drawing him out of another trance. The microwave is beeping, electronic green characters flashing ENJOY YOUR MEAL. He reaches in an carefully lifts the cups with his fingertips, squeezing the sides just enough to lift the paper lids and superheat his palms with steam.

Cursing and shaking his hands, he tucks his elbows up and tugs his sleeves down over his hands. It makes it bearable to carry the cups the short distance to his counter.

The cat's chirping and pawing at his leg, eyes round and interested at the smells wafting to its little nose.

"What, you want some of this? It's hot."

The cat meows and spins in an eager circle.

"Can cats even have noodles?" He hasn't used his phone in eons. Predictably, it's dead, but its familiar brand screen lights up once he's fished his charger from under a side table. The date reads early Decemeber; he's missed most of November, but it's still the same year, at least.

He spins a chopstick around his fingers while he waits, fending off the curious cat that's decided if the noodles won't come down to it that it'll come up onto the countertop for the noodles. "Just hang on! I don't want to accidentally kill you. I dunno what to do with a live cat, much less a dead one."

It sits with a huffy sort of sigh and stares at his phone with him.

Naver and Google have nothing about noodles being bad for cats. Pretty much anything in moderation except things Chanyeol doesn't even have in his cabinets. "Okay, then." He pulls down a little bowl and picks apart some noodles into more cat-sized pieces. "Knock yourself out."

With how quickly it devours the food, it probably hasn't eaten for at least as long as Chanyeol. He's not even halfway through his first cup when the cat's pawing at his arm and looking distressed that he's not sharing more.

"I bet you didn't even taste it, piglet."

Having tasted it or not, the cat's impatient enough that it's trying to pull Chanyeol's noodle-laden chopsticks towards itself.

"Hey! Relax. Chill. Here." He dumps the noodles into the little bowl and nearly drops another bundle right on the cat's head; it eats with with single-minded gusto.

That seems to sate its hunger. Chanyeol sees it blink slowly from the corner of his eye and slowly tuck its paws under itself as it lowers its body and wraps its tail around itself.

One-and-about-a-half-a-cups of hot noodles later, Chanyeol's in no better state. He feels full and sleepy and has no greater intentions for the rest of the day than to sleep.

Leaving his phone to charge and chopsticks in the sink, he rolls over the back of his worn, oversized sofa, melts into its familiar softness, and closes his eyes.

Daylight shines on his face when he next opens his eyes. The little clock on his DVD player reads 8:15 AM.

When's the last time he even saw a morning? Why does he need to be awake so early?

The cat from yesterday is perched on his back. Deep vibrations rock his upper back, and a set of claws calmly grab onto his hair and pull it.

"Morning," he greets. He tastes his dinner in his morning breath and grimaces. It even disgusts the cat enough that it hops to the floor and glares at him. "What? You saying I should brush my teeth?" And shave. And shower. And find something clean to wear. And do laundry.

The cat follows him to the bathroom as he makes an increasingly long list of things to do, slipping inside before he closes the door.

He had no idea just how awful he smelled until he steps out of the shower. It's like the hot steam opened up his entire system, allowing him to acknowledge that clean is much more appealing and feels nicer than the greasy grime he'd been living under.

Towel around his waist, Chanyeol pokes the dark lump in his pedestal sink. The cat scowls at him. "I gotta shave and brush my teeth. Go lay in the kitchen sink, if you must." It apparently doesn't must; it stretches its back and each of its legs and only moves to sit on the toilet tank.

It's been a while since Chanyeol's shaved with an audience, but it's not unwelcome attention. He playfully scolds the cat when it nudges his elbow as he's trying to shave and only threatens to give it a haircut once.

He actually looks and feels human when he looks in the mirror, even with mouthwash in his cheeks.

One of the good things about living like a slug for weeks is he didn't wear many outfits, so he actually has a lot of clean clothes. The downside is the rather musty smell and the mysterious odours from the clothes he did wear.

They can wait.

His phone is filled with texts and voicemail, mostly from his family but a handful from friends offering to do a wellness check. The cat nuzzles his socked feet and looks at him expectantly. "Now what?" Their stomachs both growl at each other. Now, food.

"I don't have anything suitable for cats." He looks into his fridge, cringes, and promptly closes it. "I don't have anything suitable for humans, either." His stomach grumbles again.

The cat's sitting by his shoes.

He gets a good look at the state of his apartment. It's not in much better shape than his fridge, but he can't do much of anything but moan on an empty stomach.

"Okay, breakfast, pet store, home. We're gonna be productive, like an actual functioning adult."

Breakfast is omelets from a corner cafe that ignores or doesn't notice the tuxedo cat sitting on the bench between Chanyeol and the window. It choses a bag of reasonably priced food at the pet store but gives Chanyeol a look when he tries to engage it with a feathered toy.

The plan falls apart a few minutes after Chanyeol trudges through the door. He collapses onto the sofa for a power nap that lasts four hours and tells him just how little power he is actually running on.

After half-heartedly sorting his laundry and stuffing it into the machine, he drapes himself over the kitchen counter just to fool himself into thinking he's okay because he's partly upright. The cat rubs against his forehead consolingly. His eyes water, and he blames allergies. He's still so tired, and the more he walks around his apartment, the emptier feels. It isn't that big, but it feels like too much.

A new text message chirps on his phone. Jongdae.

are you still alive?

Chanyeol types one-handed, scratching the cat's chest with his other hand. The white fur feels so much softer than the black. I think so.

Almost immediately, Jongdae's smiling selfie fills the screen. Chanyeol almost doesn't accept the call, but the cat's quicker. Its nose sniffs Jongdae's face and touches the icon to connect.


"Hi, Jongdae."

For a second, he thinks that's the end of the conversation, because Jongdae's so quiet.

"What're you up to?" He means How are you?, Chanyeol can tell, and he's grateful his friend doesn't actually ask.

The washing machine hums rhythmically behind him. It kind of sounds like a souped up droning purr. "Laundry." He feels bad. He's usually so chatty and forthcoming; he could talk to Jongdae, but something holds him back. He sighs and tickles the cat's chin. "I got a cat."

"What?" On Jongdae's end, someone asks who he's talking to, and the cat leaps straight into the air at Baekhyun's sudden and overly enthusiastic greeting.

"Are you ever coming in? There's still a job here, if you can scrape yourself off the couch." Chanyeol hears the thud of a hand hitting a hollow head followed by Baekhyun's indignant whine.

"He's tactless but right, Chanyeol," Jongdae says. "Joonmyun hyung says you're welcome here. We could use an on-site tech guy. Calling out just isn't reliable, and I honestly don't think they're fixing anything, because it's always the same problems."

Chanyeol's always loved computers. His mom started him out on an old DOS machine and her Atari video game system. It wasn't long before he knew the systems better than she did. He met his old boyfriend in college and was hired by the same technology company. When they broke up, he quit. Maybe it was weak of him, but he just didn't feel like he could casually face someone he dedicated so much of himself to.

He must be quiet for too long, because Baekhyun sounds almost shy. "We miss you, Chanyeol. I wanted to break into your apartment and drag you out for drinks or something, but Jongdae says that's technically illegal and also just insensitive. If you're up to it, though, we should still all go out. Just us three. Update you on life on the outside."

"Maybe sometime. I'm still too tired right now." He looks at the long plane of his counter from his close angle and feels his nose itch at all the fuzzy dust. A fan of clean space shines from where the cat's tail swept across it. "And my apartment's a mess. I want to clean it before doing anything."

"Sure," Jongdae replies. "Just don't be a stranger? We're a phone call away." Something in his tone triggers Chanyeol's limbic system, and he suddenly feels his heart clogging his throat and pushing tears out of his eyes.

"Yeah." He sniffles, sighs. "Thanks you guys."

The cat's in his face and sniffing the salty tears when he sets his phone face down on the counter. He sneezes and pushes himself upright. "I need drugs if you're going to stay here. No offense, but you make me feel itchy. Maybe I should call you Wool Sweater. Sweat, for short."

It isn't impressed, if the sudden bite on his petting fingers is any indication, but he supposes he kind of deserves it. He wouldn't like to be called something like B.O., either.

Chanyeol pours some of the new cat food into a bowl, pairs it with a bowl of water, and sets them both on the kitchen floor. "You've gotta get used to being on the floor. It may not seem like it now, but this is a kitchen, and even if you bathe yourself, like, fifty times a day, you're still not sanitary enough to sit on where I'll someday prepare food."

His spiel is ignored.

He goes back to the sofa and naps to the sounds of the washing machine and crunching cat kibble.

For a brief moment, he's conscious. The washing machine is silent. A full moon sits high in the sky, barely visible with the ambient city light. He smells something unfamiliar.

He's not alone on the sofa. Chanyeol shifts his arm up to cushion the man's head, letting his forearm drop over his shoulder. They're not facing each other, but they fit well, and it's comfortably warm.

It's just a dream.

First thing's first, he decides the following morning: Finish laundry. If he can complete several smaller tasks, it'll make the big task—his disgusting apartment—manageable.

Snow is making little piles on his window sills outside, indented with tiny bird prints. The cat watches closely, jumping when the resting birds least expect it and spooking them into uncoordinated mid-air fits.

"You're mean," Chanyeol tells it.

It ignores him until he's folding warm towels, which do feel so nice that Chanyeol tucks his hands into them for a bit. He's tempted to actually climb into bed, for the first time in forever, after he throws his "fresh scented" comforter over clean sheets. The cat beats him to it; he closes his bedroom door to vacuum everything else.

He isn't so ambitious that he washes the floors, but he does find a bottle of air and fabric freshener and spritzes everything until he can distinctly smell it.

A couple soft knocks at his bedroom door draw his attention, and the cat waits until he opens it fully to stalk out and park itself on his clean towels.

"I'm sorry, okay? Historically speaking, cats haven't liked vacuums." Historically speaking, fewer cats have actually experienced vacuums than those who haven't. The cat doesn't care and curls into a ball with its back to him.

By noon, his apartment looks liveable again. All his clothes are clean and put away. His bed is made and inviting. He can see all of his floors. There are towels to spare in the bathroom. The groady blanket he's cocooned himself on the sofa with is fluffy and soft again.

It's progress, and he feels in a good enough place to treat himself to some takeout, since he's saved his kitchen for last.

Snow boots are unearthed from beside the washer and dryer. He's tying his laces when the cat sits beside him and paws at the door. Chanyeol still wonders if it belongs to someone, and that's why it likes to go outside, but he hasn't seen any missing posters with tuxedo cats.

"Okay. Let's go." He's careful opening the door; the cat starts walking before there's space to walk through. It's a weird animal trait Chanyeol's never understood.

They part ways once outside. The cat treads around the snow, probably in search of birds, and Chanyeol ventures down the road to the corner cafe.

He stomps his feet a little while waiting for a crosswalk light. It's definitely feeling like winter. He's missed the end of the changing leaves and sweater weather; it's now down winter jackets and frosted windows weather. People bustle along the sideways, breath puffing and curling around their faces. Some have shopping bags, and Chanyeol remembers that it's almost Christmas. He should call his mom and sister and see how they are, but they're probably bogged down with preparations.

This will be his first solo Christmas in a long while.

The light changes, and he shuffles with the rest of the red-nosed crowd and thaws inside the drugstore beside the cafe while buying a couple boxes of allergy pills.

Inside the cafe, staff has hung a few strands of white lights over their menu board and wrapped the columns in green garland. It's tasteful but pretty.

He recites his order a few times in his head but changes it at the counter. Even though he's bought cat food, he adds a plain croissant to his order. The cat deserves it for putting up with his moping and sloppiness.

The girl working the counter double bags his order. "To keep it warmer," she explains with a shy smile. He thanks her and wishes her a merry Christmas.

Walking home, Chanyeol purposely walks through the slush on the edges of the sidewalk, stomping when no one else is around just for the satisfying SPLAT and spray of wet snow.

Outside his apartment building, the cat greets him with a high tail and friendly trill. "Hey, buddy." Chanyeol bends down, and the cat allows itself to be lifted to Chanyeol's shoulder. It's the first time he holds it, and it wiggles a little, just to nuzzle its face against Chanyeol's neck and warm its ears in the giant scarf. "That's what you get for running around in the snow, dressed like that. Should I buy you a sweater and booties?" It'd be adorable, actually. He should do it.

The croissant disappears fast, and Chanyeol finds he's weak to the plainly begging eyes. They're like puppy eyes, but stronger, because the cat just sits there and stares. No whining, no gentle nudging. Expectant. Waiting.

Together, they finish lunch, put leftovers on the cleanest refrigerator shelf, and stretch out on the sofa for an afternoon nap. Although not minding being carried through the apartment building, the cat is decidedly not a lap cat and curls up between Chanyeol's ankles.

They wake up long enough around six o'clock to eat dinner. The cat cleans its bowl of kibble and waits for bits of Chanyeol's reheated meal. He resists by pretending he doesn't see it, but the cat has a big presence for being so small.

Chanyeol showers again, dresses in pajamas he didn't remember he had, and crawls into bed.

It feels weird, after being on the sofa long enough that he wouldn't surprised to find a human-shaped indent in its cushions, but it's a welcome weird. His spine seems to realign on the supportive foam mattress, and he falls asleep a little bit less exhausted than his new usual.

His boyfriend was a cuddler, moulding himself to lie along Chanyeol's back or tucking an arm over his chest. This isn't his boyfriend, though, that's sleeping soundly on top of him. Cold feet rest on his shins, which is telling enough.

Chanyeol can't get a good look at his face, but he makes out fair skin and short, black hair that's soft under his fingers.

The cat wakes him up before nine again with a cool paw to his nose. He feels like he's slept on his back all night. Apparently, his sleepy self is too polite to remove a comfy cat so he can roll over.

It's a big day, though, so Chanyeol is grateful to have an early-ish start to the morning. The cat's shadows him through his morning routine and sits by its bowl until it's filled with breakfast.

He finds dish soap and a sponge under his sink and starts running hot water as he pulls out every single expired product in his fridge and throws it all in the trash, upsetting a family of flies. Something leaked at some point or another, leaving behind a sticky black reside.

Chanyeol really hopes something leaked, at least, because no mould should look like molasses or smell so bitter.

The drawers and shelves stack precariously beside the sink of hot, soapy water, and Chanyeol scrubs them all with single-minded determination until they were spotless. Even then, he didn't give his aching shoulders a rest. He set them out on a clean dish towel to dry and moved right on to the refrigerator itself.

Bits of paper towel pull off when he picks at the sticky residues, but they slowly peel away and don't seem to stain the surface itself. He's up and down, moving between the fridge and sink to clean his sponge, but it looks like pretty close to new when he determines it to be clean.

His freezer, at least, isn't in as bad a shape, but he does dump out all the ice from the tray, wash the tray, and replace it under the ice maker. The food that isn't expired is stacked neatly by expiration date and type of food, which he knows is a system that won't last but makes him feel good for the time being.

With another towel, he finishes drying the shelving and drawers and replaces them. The towel they laid on works well to clean off the countertops an is blackened when he finishes. For good measure, he pulls some bleach wipes that are still wet from beneath the sink and sanitizes the counters and refrigerator. It makes everything smell like lemons, which just seems to freshen the room even more.

He steps back to admire his work but frowns when he looks at his top cabinets. They have glass fronts, which are dusty but otherwise okay, but he doesn't see much behind them.

Nearly every dish and utensil he owns is in the dishwasher. Weeks of dirty dishes. Habit hadn't yet broken, at least, and they were all rinsed before being abandoned, otherwise he shudders at the potential ecosystem that could have grown.

That's the easiest part, at least. He sets it up with a little pod pack and rinsing solution and lets it run while he ties up his disgusting trash and takes it to the chute in the trash room.

Amazingly, he still has energy. A clean kitchen and empty fridge are like a fresh start and beg to be filled with food.

He finds the cat asleep on his bed and quietly gathers his keys, wallet, and phone. It still manages to appear, silent as a phantom, when he's tying his boots and sniffs his chin with a soft purr.

"I'm getting groceries, or I'd take you with me." He could probably sneak it in under his coat, but why does he need to? "Be good while I'm gone, and I'll cook something good for dinner. So don't, like, pee on anything." He pets its ears. "I'll let you out once I get back." It flips its tail around its socked feet and stares at him. If it was a puppy, Chanyeol would probably be feeling really guilty, but he has a feeling all his furry roommate is going to do is sleep while he's gone.

Outside doesn't feel as cold as before, but there's no wind to cut into his layers and steal his warmth. His breath still puffs over his scarf and fogs his glasses, an annoying hazard of winter.

Some kids are chasing each other through the piles of snow left by shovellers. The park is probably filled with people walking their dogs and having snowfights and building snowmen. If the accumulation on his boot soles is any indication, the snow is perfect packing snow.

Compared to outside, the bus is almost sweltering and somehow smells like pine needles. He's seen some strange things in his time riding the bus, but he has yet to see someone hauling a real tree up the steps.

The lady across the aisle from him has a wreath sitting over her knees, though, and the compliments her choice. She smiles and launches into a detailed plan of what she's going to decorate it with and where it'll hang and how surprised her husband is going to be when he gets home. It sounds nice, very pretty.

Chanyeol's apartment is so bland and lifeless, in comparison. He loves Christmastime for all the lights and decorations and food. The decorations he used at his last apartment were left behind. If he still has the drive after grocery shopping, maybe he'll stop for some holiday decorations and surprise the cat.

Surprise the cat?

The bus squeaks to a stop, and Chanyeol follows the crowd to the sidewalk as he asks himself when he started wanting to impress the cat, of all things.

The bus stop is conveniently right outside the grocery store, but the new crowd of finished shoppers is harder to pass through. With every bump of a shoulder, an apology falls from Chanyeol's lips and is muffled by his scarf.

Once inside, he takes a moment to breathe and unwraps himself enough so the tails of his scarf hang, brushing against his knees. He'd normally just grab a basket and power through the store for this and that he needed, but he literally needs everything. It's kind of awkward, pushing a cart meant for a much shorter person, but he's shopped with his mother enough to not be completely embarrassed by the look.

Vegetables, seasonal fruit, and rice all stack up in his cart. He's on his way to the aisles of canned goods and sauces when he hears a laugh that punches him in the heart with familiarity.

He'd quit his job and moved apartments to avoid seeing him, but Chanyeol couldn't get far enough to not share the same favoured grocery store.

Walking on autopilot, because his brain is telling his body that he wants to just see him, Chanyeol peers around the aisle of baking supplies. His ex is handsomely wrapped in a dark peacoat and giant scarf Chanyeol had gifted him for his birthday, nudging shoulders with another man Chanyeol recognises as part of the same dance troupe and laughing at whatever.

His brain can just hang itself, because his heart is withering like an apple left in the sun.

He's tempted to just abandon his cart and go home, but he convinces himself that he should pay for at least this much and then go home and sulk.

The cat greets him at the door silently and watches him shove his groceries—bags and all—into the refrigerator.

"Boys are awful, cat. I don't recommend ever falling in love." He sheds his winter things and leaves them in a trail to the couch. Cocooned in its familiar protection, he sleeps straight through the next two days.

He only wakes up once just long enough to use the bathroom. When he returns to the sofa, the cat's curled up in his spot. It murps when he scoops it into his arms and cuddles it to his chest, wrapping the blanket around them both and lying down again.

The cat hasn't seem like a snuggly sort of cat, but maybe it's sympathetic to his pathetic display of human Feelings and only shifts in his arms enough to get more comfortable. Nuzzling his whiskered jaw with its whiskered cheek, it lulls him back to sleep with deep, even purrs.

Hunger pushes Chanyeol out of his brief hibernation. His back is sore, his eyes hurt, ad he can't feel his right arm.

The cat slithers into a tighter ball when Chanyeol finally sits up. He leaves it and goes to the bathroom to rinse the taste of death from his mouth.

He takes some time to actually unpack his groceries while searching for the rice. Vegetables and rice is quick and easy to make.

The cat makes an appearance and sits on a dishtowel that's already covered in salt and pepper fur.

"You've staked your claim, huh?" He sniffles and leaves his rice to soak so he can down another allergy pill. Hes surprised he can even breathe, with how closely they were sleeping.

While cooking, he lets his mind wander and doesn't realise that he's even talking out loud until he looks to the cat for its opinion.

"If he can move on, why can't I?"

The cat hops to the floor, and Chanyeol sighs. Frustrated tears well in his eyes; he thought he was done crying.

"What's that story? Some Spanish one about crying and chocolate or something. It's tears and rice for me, I guess. I hope you don't mind extra salt." He feels the cat's tail around his shin and feels worse and better at the same time. He can't stop himself from crying a little, but the cat doesn't seem to mind being used as a tear towel, purring once its lifted in the human's arms. "This was a mistake," Chanyeol admits, eyes watering and nose running even worse. "I can deal with it, though. You're a good cat, you know that?"

It knows. There's a catty sort of smile on its lips, and it aggressively nuzzles his hair. Chanyeol doesn't even mind the claws piercing his sweater and neck. It's just nice to be loved on, even by a cat.

"You don't eat vegetables, I'm sure, but how about some rice? That sound good to you?" He sets himself up with a big bowl of rice piled with cooked vegetables and doesn't bother setting a bowl on the floor for the cat. He sets it on the table and shakes its food dish to get all the leftover kibble to one side, tapping a spoon of rice beside it. Sitting across from one another, they eat quietly except for the cat's low purrs.

As he chews, Chanyeol considers his life and choices. Yeah, he loved his ex. He probably still kinda does, but he was worth loving. So it didn't last. He's young. There are other young people. There are people better and worse than his ex. Can't he put himself back out there again? Even just casually? Sure he can. He can probably find someone who loves animals just as much as he does, just preferably without allergies.

First thing's first: Now that his apartment is liveable again, he can start setting alarms to go to bed and wake up at normal, sun-seeing times. Once his body adjusts to normal, he won't need-or-want naps as much, and he can take up that job offer. He can only live on savings for so long, and now that he's providing for two, those savings will last even shorter.

He's so lost in his mental planning that he doesn't recognise the cat eating his food, even staring right at it. When he blinks out of his trance, he hisses through his teeth, and the cat just gives him a look, licks its lips, and jumps to the floor to show how little it cares by stretching languidly and showing Chanyeol its butt.

"We're just not at the stage of our relationship that we share food, man. No offense. Maybe if you didn't lick yourself and used mouthwash or something." Chanyeol picks out random grains of rice that may or may not have touched cat lip with his chopsticks.

Without his internal arguments and commentary self-loathing or peptalks, it's quiet. He leaves his food to get his laptop from his room and sets it on the counter. A lot of radio stations are playing Christmas music. Tis the season, he supposes, and clicks a random one.

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."

At home, his parents would declare December to be the month of Christmas. Decorating, baking, sending cards, hanging cards received filled the family's time. It made the coldest month seem really warm to Chanyeol and his sister.

That's what he needs. He's not sure if he's ready to go home and face his family's good-hearted coddling, but if he can discover that warm feeling on his own, for himself, he thinks he'll be in a pretty good place.

Plus, his apartment just looks so boring and smells like the lemon-scented bleach wipes he assaulted his kitchen with. Not the most Christmassy smell.

"Hey, cat." Its eyes open from his nap spot on the back of the sofa. "How do you feel about picking out a Christmas tree?"

It yawns but doesn't go back to sleep. Chanyeol takes that as an enthusiastic, positive response.

He washes his dishes, puts the cat's bowl beside its water again, and puts away some leftover food. His appetite isn't what it used to be, but he'll probably gain back what he lost when he starts baking cookies.

The closet door opening is a lure to the cat, who sits ready and waiting as Chanyeol dons his layers and stuffs his feet into his boots. He fashions a sort of sling out of his scarf, and the cat struggles when lifted but seems content once Chanyeol buttons his coat over them both.

He searches online for places selling trees while on the elevator, and he's in luck. There's a holiday market a few blocks from his apartment. He can walk there and bus it back.

Snow had fallen again, piling up shin-deep where no one shovelled. Chanyeol's glad he slung up the cat; it isn't that leggy and would've been dragging its belly in the snow. Plus, he can't imagine slush squishing up between one's toes would feel all that great. Even less great when cats use their toes to clean their feet.

People are still flooding the sidewalks. Chanyeol has to side-step a few people with literal stacks of gift-wrapped boxes in their arms or potted pine trees blocking their vision and walking on blind faith.

The market is busier than he anticipated, but a truck at the far end has just brought the first shipment of trees and wreaths. Stalls sell various ornaments, garlands, and treats. Fresh gingerbread drags Chanyeol off-course. The lady reminds him of his mother, and she laughs when the cat stretches out from the warmth of Chanyeol's jacket to sniff the gingerbread cookie.

It seems to like the gingerbread man's foot Chanyeol breaks off, tossing it around in its mouth and managing to not make a complete mess of crumbs in his scarf. A white paw taps his hand, quietly asking for more, but Chanyeol isn't exactly sure of it's even safe for cats to eat, so he ignores the big eyes and stuffs the rest in his mouth.

"Okay, cat," he mumbles. "Pick out one I can afford." He unbuttons his coat just enough for the cat to hop down. It stays close to his feet at first, whiskers quivering and ears turning with every sound. Chanyeol heads to some smaller trees that looked like someone had just cut off the tops from larger trees. He doesn't want anything particularly big, because he's carrying it himself. He also doesn't have a huge amount of room.

Chanyeol hears a few people point out the cat following him and laughing to their friends about how cute it they are. They laugh even harder when he starts scolding the cat for climbing into the trees and buttons it back into his coat with fervent apologies to the men stocking the trees.

It's not much of a punishment, and with how fast the cat snuggles into him, he suspects it planned on Chanyeol picking it up again.

The sun's setting when he finds a tree that doesn't even reach his waist but is full and a deep, rich green. It weighs less than he expects, and it's easy to carry once it's slipped into a netted sleeve.

The cat sleeps through the bus ride. Chanyeol plays peekaboo with a baby on her mom's lap, using the tree to hide his face.

Hindsight is great, he realises back in his apartment. He has a lovely tree, but he has nothing to sit it in to keep it upright, and he has nothing to decorate it with, either.

It should be fine until tomorrow. The cat sniffs at it on the kitchen table but otherwise ignores it to nose at its empty food dish, instead.

After a dinner of leftovers, they sleep in his bedroom again, and the cat burrows under his blanket and pins his sheets down between his legs. Chanyeol reminds himself that even if he feels awful, he should make the extra effort to open his door and collapse onto his mattress, because even stuck on his back, he's so comfy.

He shivers at the rush of cool air over his neck and chest; the blanket is held up by another body leaning over him. Moonlight glows around his visitor's head like a halo, shadowing the pale face and large eyes, but they have that familiar vibe that Chanyeol can't place.

He closes his eyes when the man leans in, tilting his head back to meet their lips. I must be dreaming.

As far as dreams go, it's a good one, and he wouldn't mind sleeping in late, if it meant staying in the dream longer.

He's still curious, though. "Who are you?" He sees their lips move, feels their breath on his chin, but he can't hear what they say.

Bright and early, Chanyeol's woken up by soft feet on his chin and doesn't even bother opening his eyes as he throws the covers off and strips off his pajamas.

A hot shower wakes him up, and he feels energized. Hungry but energized. The tree is still sitting on the table, although there are some loose needles on the tabletop and floor. He dumps some kibble for the cat, grabs fruit for himself, and calls a hasty goodbye to his apartment.

He wants to get a tree stand, maybe a tree skirt, plastic ornaments—he does not trust the cat with glass—some lights, garland, and who knows what else he'll find when not looking, so he wants to start early and spend the day making his apartment a holiday haven to humbugs.

There's a lot more options at the mall than he fully appreciated. He decides to screw class and splurges on anime and Star Wars decorations. It's his tree. He will make it pretty to his tastes.

He can't resist a little cat ornament, though; a smiling tuxedo cat is hanging onto a red stocking. The attitude is totally different from his four-legged roommate, but it's close enough.

Between stores, his phone rings. The I.D. says Sehun, but he never calls...

"Hi, Chanyeol!" Baekhyun chirps.

"What happened to your phone?"

"Sehunnie left his at my place, so I'm changing his contacts and sending lurid text messages. He's gotta learn to take care of his stuff, right?" Makes sense. "What are you up to?"

"I'm picking up some stuff for my apartment. I got a tree yesterday, but I didn't have anything—"

"You got a tree??" Chanyeol flinches at the shout and apologies to some of the people around him. "No fair. You should invite me and Jongdae over—" He whines, probably pinched, and Chanyeol hears Jongdae scolding him. "I'm just worried, Jongdae; calm down. So can we, Chanyeol? Jongdae and I both have off today. It's been a while, and you're decorating by yourself." At Chanyeol silence, he wheedles, "It'll be fun?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll even cook you guys something."


"If you buy it, sure." Baekhyun whines but agrees. "I'm going to one more store and will head home. Come over whenever."

Anxiety twists his guts, but there's anticipation in the pockets around it. It has been a long time, and he misses his friends. He misses being social and having fun. Simply having a life outside his apartment.

The cat's chewing on the tree when he gets home.

"Hey!" Chanyeol swings a bag at it, not close enough to hit it but enough to spook it off the table. He barely has the shopping bags off his wrists when there's an enthusiastic knocking on the door. "It's open!"

With dramatic flourish, Baekhyun throws open the apartment door, practically flies inside, and leaps onto Chanyeol. Behind him, Jongdae calmly closes the door but is no less enthusiastic in squeezing the life out of Chanyeol.

"It's been too long, man," he says.

"Hey, who's this?" Baekhyun rubs some feeling back into his face and crouches next to the cat, who's sniffing his feet and jeans. "I thought you're allergic."

"I am, but allergy pills seem to be working really well. I only really react when he's on my face." Or when he puts his face on the cat.

"He's cute!"

"Baek, it doesn't like being picked up—"

Baekhyun shouts when sharp teeth bite into his hand. He hides behind Jongdae and holds his hand out for some sympathy, but his friend just laughs at him. "Serves you right!" He bends down enough to offer a finger to the tuxedo cat and is rewarded with cautious sniffs and then cheek rubs.

"Everyone likes you. It's not fair." Baekhyun pouts. "If he doesn't want to be loved mercilessly, he shouldn't be so cute!"

Jongdae rolls his eyes and holds up a plastic bag for Chanyeol to see. "Beef. In the fridge?"

"Yeah. Put your coats wherever. All of this," he nudges his bags with his foot, "is for my tree or wherever it'll look nice."

"Oh, what'd you get?" Uninvited Baekhyun delves into the bags and laughs at all the anime. "It figures. Nice to know some things haven't changed, though." He goes still, eyes wide, and anticipates Jongdae kicking him, but Chanyeol agrees.

"I wanted things that I liked."

"And this one?" Jongdae holds up the cat ornament.

Chanyeol shrugs. "I like my cat." Current topic coils around his ankles, leaving rings of fur around his pants and glaring at the grabby-handed humans.

"Looks nothing like him," Baekhyun grumbles, still sore with rejection.

Unpacked, everything Chanyeol had bought covers his kitchen counter and table. The set the tree up first, mistakenly removing the netting before getting it secured and suffering scratches on their faces. It fits nicely in the corner of the living area, small enough to walk around and close to an electrical outlet to plug lights into.

Not even a minute after turning around to grab lights and ornaments, and the tree falls over with a shush of needles on wood, and the cat shoots into Chanyeol's bedroom.

"That could be a problem," Jongdae needlessly points out.

"Maybe it won't like it when it's covered in ornaments," Chanyeol hopes. It's a sad hope, he knows, but he wants to Believe.

It goes perfectly well until the end, when Baekhyun's making himself dizzy walking around the tree and draping it in sparkly ribbons. Something catches, and the ribbons fall from his hands, jerking away when he reaches for them. "Hey!" He stomps at the playful cat, and it tries to bolt but it wrapped in ribbon. Chanyeol catches the cat; Jongdae catches the tree, and potential crisis is averted with a mighty sneeze.

"Are you sure you're okay living with a cat?"

Chanyeol breathes heavily from his mouth give flashes a thumbs up. The cat hangs despondently from his other hand for all of fifteen seconds and somehow melts its bones to slip out of his grip.

"Go take a nap, cat," Chanyeol snuffles. "I need tea. You guys want any?" He'll make them tea whether they want it or not. He only cares about breathing again.

"Is that his name? Cat?" Baekhyun asks. He leans left and right to see around the tree, trying to figure out what to do with all the excess ribbon in his hands. "It's not all that creative."

"Well, I haven't been feeling particularly creative, and he doesn't seem to mind."

Jongdae takes the loose ribbon and ties it at the top, letting it drape down the side facing the wall and MacGyvering a pretty topper. "He didn't have a name at the store or shelter or wherever?"

The bus stop? "No." He pulls a kettle from a cabinet and fills it with water, simultaneously searching for where he rehomed his tea to while cleaning and reorganising. "We just kinda clicked, and that was it. He doesn't use my name, either." It's a very quiet cat, barely saying anything. The most noise it makes is purring and the sound of its claws trying to find traction on the floor.

"So aside from deep-cleaning your apartment, what've you been doing? Your SNS are pretty much dead."

He hasn't logged onto anything in weeks. "I've been existing pretty hard... Trying to remember what it's like to be human. Sleeping a lot, although I'm getting a bit better with that, now that I have a living alarm clock." The tea's bitter, probably old, but the steam helps him breathe easier. "I've actually been having really weird dreams, though..." He should look up if too much sleep can cause hallucinations, like sleep deprivation can.

Jongdae absently spins his mug on the counter with a finger. "What're they about? Naked for a presentation?"

"No, thank God. I haven't had that one since college." Chanyeol rests his chin on his open palm. "There's just this guy—I dunno who he is—who comes to bed with me, and we just...cuddle? They're very snuggly." It's nice. "Last night, I had a dream that we..." He gestures vaguely.


"No! Geez. Baekhyun's rubbed off on you."

Jongdae sips his tea. "No comment." Baekhyun wiggles against his side obnoxiously.

"We kissed," Chanyeol hisses quietly. He pulls at the neck of his shirt to try and relieve some of the embarrassed heat. "Then I woke up." And the cat had been on his chest, sleeping soundly.

"It sounds to me," Jongdae sighs, "that you're lonely." Steam rolls up around his chin. The warmth is welcome on his neck and cheeks.

"That's why I got a cat."

Baekhyun bumps Chanyeol's arm with his hip. "Chanyeol, a cat is a poor substitute for a lover, or even a friend. It's okay to be lonely. You guys were together for a long time. Of course it'll be a bit empty at home. Of course you'll feel bad. I really think your dreams are your subconscious telling you to put yourself out there again. Date people. Fool around. Fall in love again. If it doesn't work out right away..." He shrugs. "Oh well. It sucks, but it's not the end of anything but that one line. Jongdae and I'll love you no matter what." He's out of breath; he can only talk Feelings for so long, and it only works if he says all he can in one breath.

The cat rewards him with a soft paw over his foot, however, looking proud and a little fond.

It lasts until Baekhyun reaches for it again, following it into Chanyeol's room when it flees.

Chanyeol rubs his face. Maybe Baekhyun's right. "I'll think about it." He must be in a really sorry state if Baekhyun's giving him advice and he's actually considering it.

But they're friends. And, sometimes against his better judgement, he trusts his friends to have his best interests at heart.

"He's right, Chanyeol. Take your time to mope and feel sorry for yourself, but I can tell you've been doing better." At Chanyeol's part-hopeful and part-curious look, he smiles. "I can smell the lemon cleaner, and the fridge looks like something out of a magazine. You're cooking again; you're feeling better."

"Speaking of cooking," Baekhyun calls, "what about that meat? Is that gonna be a thing, or are we ordering takeout?" He comes out with a blanket bundled in his arms. The cat's wrapped inside, wide-eyed but purring. "I think he likes it," Baekhyun claims happily.

They push aside the rest of the decorations to make prep space for dinner. Chanyeol assigns jobs, as he takes the chopsticks from an over-eager Baekhyun beside the stove. Amongst the three of them, plus the cat's attentive supervision from its towel on the counter, dinner is prepared and overwhelms the lemon-scent of cleaning as well as the fresh pine and makes everyone's stomachs growl.

Chanyeol makes sure to put aside bits of plain meat for the cat, ignoring the coos from his friends.

After eating until they're all full and lazy, they half-heartedly place some more decorations—Chanyeol will move them later—and play video games until the sun goes down.

Baekhyun and Jongdae flank Chanyeol to hug him tight and thank him for dinner. "I've missed your cooking," Baekhyun sighs, still tasting the meat.

"We'll do this again, sometime," Jongdae adds, tilting his head in question and smiling when Chanyeol nods. He's missed hanging out with his friends. They're fun; he misses fun.

The cat doesn't come any closer than the top of the fridge, the only place Baekhyun hadn't been able to reach it, and merely yawns when the two guests wave at it. They're okay in moderation.

Once the door closes on their goodbyes, Chanyeol's ears feel stuffy with the quiet that returns. His chest is still warm, though, and he nuzzles the cat's cheek with a finger. "That was nice, right? We'll do that again soon. They'll grow on you." Like mold.

A blizzard snows in most of the city. Chanyeol hasn't followed the weather in a while, and he's glad he has yet to call in to where Jongdae and Baekhyun work to ask about that job.

It's nice to stay home when there's good company and seasons of TV shows to catch up on. Chanyeol occupies one end of the sofa; the cat curls up on the other and slowly works its way closer every hour or two when it stands up to stretch.

Chanyeol's just waking up from an unexpected nap attack and feels the phantom weight of someone angled against him. When he yawns, however, his hand only finds the cat snuggled up next to him. It makes a little noise in its sleep but doesn't get up.

"Sorry, cat." He pets the soft fur, smoothing it down so it seems to shine with the lights from his tree. He sighs and slouches some more, tilting his head back onto the sofa. The snow seems to have let up some, falling in clumps but not frenzied.

That feeling of being leaned is still so familiar, and his shirtsleeve feels warm, too. Maybe it's his imagination, but he's felt it often enough to wonder if it is actually real.

So he makes a decision. He's thought of it off and on since his friends came over, and he's gotta know if his dream guy is a dream or not. He is determined to stay up. If all it is is a dream, then he'll accept that he's lonely as fuck and really misses intimate company. If it's not a dream, then he'll call an exorcist or the police, because someone has been sleeping with him.

That night, the cat curls up between his feet, its usual starting spot. Chanyeol nudges it with his foot a little and turns the page of his book.

Around midnight, just a little passed, Chanyeol's eyelids are drooping. He's losing his personal battle. The cat's ears twitch, and it stretches with a silent yawn. Chanyeol doesn't watch it sit upright, but he notices the strange posture in his peripheral vision. It's perfectly still except for slightly quivering whiskers, staring out the window at the moon.

The moon beam highlights its fur, but the highlights intensify and glow even brighter on their own.

Chanyeol drops his book to his lap and watches, transfixed, as the cat's body shifts and elongates. Fur recedes to smooth skin, ears slip down to the sides of a larger face and curve, toes on the forelegs stretch to fingers. He's not sure how long it takes, but, where his cat sat, there's the man from his dreams, sitting a little hunched over, face to the moon.

His cat is a man? "Whoa." Merry Christmas to me; there's a man in my bed.

His comment breaks the serenity of the moment, and the man looks over his shoulder at him, large eyes hooded and mouth frowning. He stands and stalks to the door.

"What, I'm awake, so...we're not going to cuddle?" His cat is a human. Or a human is his cat. Chanyeol pinches himself to be sure he's actually awake, and it hurts, so this can't be a dream.

The man stops and glares over his shoulder. He's got a handsome face, even scowling. Chanyeol smiles softly. "I'm not going to hurt you."

He scoffs and storms back to the bed, shoving at Chanyeol until he moves over and climbs into the warm spot left behind. Settling with a lot of wriggling and dramatic sighs, he's finally still, and Chanyeol leans over him to look at his face.

"What's your name?"

Prominent eyebrows dip with annoyance. "I told you before." He rolls over, facing Chanyeol but burrowing under his arm. His hair tickles, soft like cat fur. "It's Kyungsoo."

Giddiness bubbles in Chanyeol's chest. He finally has a name to the face, a body to the warmth he thought he felt in the morning. He carefully lays back down and pulls the blankets over them both.

"It's nice to finally meet you."