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No Home Complete Without a Cat

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Between Cougar's feelings on kitchens, Jensen's feelings on high-speed internet, and the healthy paranoia that both of them share, it takes them close to a year to find a place that meets all of their requirements. When they do, it's a condominium. Standing in the kitchen going over the Homeowner’s Association rules with their agent, as they prepare to sign the lease, Jensen has a moment of deep appreciation for the surreal turns his life has taken, from presumed-dead and on the run from his own government, to embarking on the gay suburban dream. Then he starts wondering how the HOA feels about keeping lines of sight clean, and whether they object to their residents keeping small (and well-secured, especially now that Cougar is here to curb Jensen's absent-mindedness) arsenals. He weighs the benefits of asking these questions, then decides that what their soccer-mom neighbors don't know won't hurt them, and signs on the dotted line.

Three hours later, he's in IKEA, watching his sister argue with Pooch over the relative merits of sectional couches, while Cougar investigates bookshelves. Definitely surreal. Cougar had remained aloof until Pooch had suggested that IKEA's birch veneer finish was in any way acceptable, at which point Cougar had suddenly and unexpectedly manifested strong opinions on the subject of interior design. Jensen was surprised by this development for all of about five seconds, and then he had reflected on Cougar's fondness for Che Guevara shirts, scarves (while technically a sniper thing, Jensen often thought Cougar wore his scarf with a hipster's dedication to fashion, not that he was complaining,) and, of course, the hat, and decided that it all made perfect sense.

“So, meatballs?” Jensen says to Clay and Aisha, (Jolene had flatly refused to come along, sensible woman that she is,) who look as bored as he feels.

“I thought I smelled cinnamon,” Clay replies.

“That would be the cinnamon buns,” Aisha says drily.

“Part of IKEA's plot to keep you here for all eternity,” Jensen grouses, because he hates IKEA, always has, always will. Internet shopping was invented for a reason, and that reason was to keep Jensen out of places like IKEA. “They pipe that smell over to the registers, I swear to God.”

They lose Clay to the housewares section – Jensen's CO has opinions on flatware; file that under Shit Jensen Never Needed To Know, Jesus Christ, Please Get Me Out Of This Hellhole Of Affordable Swedish Home Furnishings, seriously, what is this world coming to? – so in the end it's just him and Aisha, eating cinnamon rolls and getting steadily tipsier on lingonberry soda spiked with whatever was in the flask Aisha produced from about her person. She didn't say what it was, Jensen didn't ask, because he is more than willing to admit that he probably doesn't want to know. She's drinking it too, so he can be reasonably sure it's not going to render him blind or impotent.

***

By the time Jensen manages to chase everyone else out of his – their, and isn't that an odd thought – new place, they have a sectional couch, beer (and nothing else) in the fridge, a pile of empty pizza boxes in the hall, and more flat-pack furniture waiting to be assembled than Jensen even wants to think about. They're also lying on the floor of the living room, surrounded by torn cardboard, and there's an IKEA hex key digging into Jensen's back. He's just about to suggest moving, maybe to the couch to give it a thorough christening (sex on new furniture being practically a requirement) when there's a thud from the kitchen. Jensen glances over at Cougar, who nods, and then they're both moving, only to be brought up by an inquisitive miao?

Cougar stops, and looks at Jensen, his eyebrow up and frowning in confusion, as if to ask whether Jensen also heard that, and this time it's Jensen's turn to nod. Jensen takes point, peering through the door from the living room into the kitchen, and -

There's a cat in the kitchen. It's standing on the counter: a rather large cat, dark grey with four white paws, white stomach, and yellow eyes. One ear is torn and crumpled close to the cat's skull, while the other sticks up, giving the creature a lopsided, rakish air. It spies Jensen and thumps down onto the floor, purring loudly even before it starts to wind around Jensen's shins.

“You think it's gonna shred my hand if I try to pet it?” Jensen says, even as he throws caution to the wind and scratches between the cat's ears. The cat stops its twining, shoving its head up and into Jensen's fingers, and the purring grows thunderous.

“We are not keeping it,” Cougar says, glaring at the cat.

***

“Sorry, buddy, but I think the cat is keeping us,” Jensen announces several days later, after the cat's fifth successful break-in attempt, this time by darting between Cougar's ankles while he was carrying groceries in from the car.

Maow,” says the cat agreeably, and makes a beeline for the kitchen. Cougar corners it by the stove, and dumps it back outside.

“You're heartless,” Jensen says, mock-aggrieved. Cougar rolls his eyes.

***

The next morning there's a rat – well, most of a rat – neatly regurgitated on the mat in front of their door. The tail is intact, the rest of it a mess of fur and half-digested chunks.

“Oh, that is gross,” Jensen says, delighted. “Check it out, I think I found the spleen.”

Cougar doesn't check it out, instead going to get a trash bag while muttering angry Spanish under his breath – something about cats and the Devil, as far as Jensen can make out.

They reach a sort of ceasefire after that: the cat stops trying to get in, and Cougar doesn't try to skin it. Jensen considers it a victory all around, but he does kind of miss the cat – he and his sister had a cat as children, a stray they fed secretly in the back yard. You couldn't trust them, but he had a fondness for the creatures. They were tidy, bloodthirsty, self-sufficient, and sometimes let you scratch them behind the ears, to the delight of all involved – which, come to think of it, rather explains his relationship with Cougar.

***

The kitty ceasefire lasts right up until Cougar finds mouse droppings in the lower cupboards. Cougar skips live traps in favor of going straight to the good old-fashioned snap traps, baited with peanut butter. The next morning, there is one dead mouse, and four other traps licked clean. Cougar looks at the empty traps, and stares into space for a long moment. Then he clears the traps away, walks to the front door, opens it, and calls, “Here, cat.”

Jensen blinks.

A minute later, the cat strolls into view, looking thoroughly unconcerned, sits down on their front step, and curls its tail around its feet.

The cat looks at Cougar.

Cougar looks at the cat.

A long moment later, during which Jensen can only assume they negotiate some deep, spiritual bond, Cougar steps aside and holds open the door. The cat stands up, stretches, and pads into the condo as though it has always lived there. The humans watch as the cat makes a cursory inspection of the tumbled pile of shoes and boots in the entryway, then a thorough and measured progress around the living room, making sure to asses the relative comfort levels of the couch, the easy chair, and the sunny spot on the floor. After that it's off to the kitchen, where the cat discovers the mousey cupboard. The cat's one good ear swivels forward, its whiskers quivering, and subdued urgency fills every movement. Preliminary investigation complete, the cat settles down in the cupboard, facing the gnawed hole in the back, tail hanging out onto the linoleum and twitching gently. Jensen and Cougar look at the cat, look at each other, and leave the cat to its business.

Almost an hour later, there is a muffled thump, followed by frantic scrabbling, panicked squeaking, and finally silence. A moment later, just as they're both getting up to investigate, there is a drawn-out mraaao. The cat is sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, a mostly-dead mouse twitching between its paws.

Mrah,” the cat announces, sniffing at the mouse as though to make sure it hasn't suddenly become interesting, and then looking at the humans again.

“Good cat,” Cougar says solemnly, and Jensen very nearly chokes trying not to laugh.

The cat crouches down to devour its kill, crunching as it does. It catches four more mice in the next three days, and every time meows loudly until one human or the other comes and admires the cat's prowess, upon completion of which admiration the cat eats the mouse.

After those three days, there are no more mice. There are also no more attempts made to get rid of the cat. Instead they leave the kitchen window cracked open, and the cat is free to come and go as it pleases. Jensen goes to the hardware store with the intention of buying cable ties, gets distracted by the pet store next door, and comes home with no cable ties, an assortment of cat toys, bowls for food and water, and the sort of hideously expensive cat food that advertises no plant fillers and purports to be Alaskan salmon flavored. Cougar doesn't say anything, doesn't even raise an eloquent eyebrow, just retrieves the bowls from where Jensen left them on the couch and finds a place for them in a corner of the kitchen.

***

“Since when do you have a cat?” Pooch asks, crouching down and extending a hand to the cat in question. “Hey, kitty. Aw yeah, look at that ear, who's a big tough dude?” He continues, scratching under the cat's chin while demonstrating the Munroe Theory of Cat Proximity. Cougar drifts into the room, grinning at Pooch at the cat.

“Since, uh, a couple weeks ago?” Jensen replies. “Stockholmed us into adopting him, pretty much. Get behind his jaw, he likes that.”

Pooch dutifully scratches behind the cat's jaw, and the cat stretches out, purring in ecstasy and leaning into Pooch's hand. “What's his name?” Pooch asks finally, standing up and grinning as the cat, still purring, winds in figure eights around his legs.

“Fluffybutt Deathpaw-”

“No,” Cougar says, but Jensen, undeterred, keeps talking.

“-Slayer of Squirrels and Scourge of Rodents!” Jensen finishes, triumphant. “Mister Fluffybutt, for short.”

“Jay, I love you, man, but you are so weird.”

“All hail He Who Sleeps in the Sunny Spots!” Jensen crows.

***

Cougar, because he is a boring person, calls the cat Cat.