The shelter was so cold.
Hiro sat in the corner of his too-small cage, staring sadly at the wall. If only he had been more careful, if only he had stayed put instead of straying into the city for food. Sure, life in the forest wasn’t great, but it was better than this dusty, grimy dump. For eighteen years of his life, he had lived happily, far away from the horror stories of the other cats, surviving on what his parents brought back from their scavenging. His ears pressed back slightly when he remembered the day they disappeared, how confused he was, how terrified-
None of that. You have bigger problems.
He shook his head and flicked his tail, looking at the lock to his cage. There was no way he would be getting through it, it needed a key, and he had nothing left to pick it with. His ears flattened at the sound of someone coming through the large doors that closed the shelter off from the rest of the population.He bared his teeth slightly at the footsteps- the heavy ones of the shelter workers, and the more muffled ones of someone else.
“... We just caught another one, here. He’s still pretty nervous, and he isn’t very sociable, but if that’s your thing, go right ahead. He isn’t a young one, either.” Hiro’s lip curled in contempt at the sound of the worker’s rough voice, but his ears pricked at the calm, quiet voice that followed.
“It must be awful to just be picked up like that,” The voice sounded concerned, but Hiro agreed, it was awful- “Can I take a look? How old are we talking?” The footsteps got closer, and Hiro fought to decide whether to move forward and look, or to press back towards the back of the cage.
“It’s hard to tell- he hasn’t said much since he got here. My guess is about seventeen or eighteen.” Definitely close.
And then there was a hand fiddling with the lock of his cage, and Hiro no longer cared about the shelter worker, or the mysterious voice. The prospect of freedom hung heavily in his mind, kicking his brain into overdrive. When the door opened, he took only a moment to think- run, or wait until there was an opening? But his hopes were dashed when a heavy, metal chain was attached to the loose collar on his neck. His lip curled- the damn thing had been impossible to get off, and he was sure there was some sort of key involved in getting it off.
A few tugs, and he crawled out of his cage, standing up and stretching his sore back before taking in his surroundings. A few pops rang out loudly in the air, and he frowned. That small cage did nothing for his back, or any of his muscles for that matter.
The clearing of a throat brought his attention back to the current situation.“Hi, my name is Tadashi,” Hiro looked down at the hand held out to him. This person couldn’t really be treating him respectfully, could he? A quick glance to man’s face showed that, at least on the outside, he really meant it. Hesitantly, Hiro took the hand in his own, and gave it a quick shake.
“I’m Hiro.” He murmured quietly, avoiding eye contact. Another glance to the man’s face graced him with a gleaming smile.
“How’d you like to come home with me?” The voice sounded so happy- surely this man- Tadashi- couldn’t be serious. No one had treated him with respect since he got to this god-forsaken place, and he had heard more than enough tales of shelters, and how the old ones were never taken home.
“U-um-,” He stuttered, looking around, panicking. What if he wants to hurt me? His heart was suddenly pounding in his chest, and the collar around his neck hung heavier than before, weighing him down.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Tadashi muttered, putting his hand under Hiro’s chin and raising the boy’s head to look at him. “I’m not going to hurt you, I want you out of here as much as you do.” Hiro looked into the man’s eyes, and gave a tiny nod. It would give him a better chance of escaping, an unsecured area and only one person to stop him.
Tadashi smiled happily, looking to the worker. “I'll take him, let’s go get this paperwork dealt with!” An exchange of the leash, a quick ruffle of his hair, and then they were walking towards the exit, Hiro’s too-long pants dragging on the floor and his tail lashing in annoyance and fear behind him. He shivered, his bare chest exposed against the chill that seeped through the cement floor, and his equally bare feet padded silently on the floor. He was careful not to let the leash lose it’s slack, though he was sure that Tadashi would take his comfort into account, as well. The man looked at him, noticing the way his arms wrapped tightly around his torso.
“Are you cold?” He asked softly, voice warm, with a concerned look to his features. Hiro nodded, a shiver climbing it’s way up his spine. Tadashi passed the leash to the worker, slithering out of his hoodie and passing it to Hiro. Hiro was amazed for a moment- why would this man, who had just met him, care at all? But he wriggled into the hoodie all the same, standing still and obedient when Tadashi gently pulled the leash loose and held it once more.
They made their way to another, more unfamiliar room, Hiro curiously sniffing at the hoodie along the way. It smelled nice, he had to admit, and it kept the chill of the shelter at bay. While Tadashi was preoccupied with signing a multitude of forms, Hiro took a deep breath of the fabric, inhaling the scent. Okay, so he smells nice, no big deal. A smell and a little kindness won’t keep me from running off.
The sound of fabric shifting brought him out of his stupor with a flick of his ears. Tadashi had untied his leash from the pole- when did that happen?- and was looking at him expectantly.
“Come on!” He beamed happily. “Let’s go home,” Hiro walked towards the man, standing close and following a few steps behind him. He was led outside, and he bared his teeth and narrowed his pupils against the harsh sunlight. It had been too long since he was last outside. His tail lashed, but stopped when he was led to a small scooter.
“I’d guess that you would want that collar off, right?” Tadashi asked him, holding the key.
“Yes, please!” Hiro responded, grabbing the taller man’s arm, uncertainty and hope across his features.
“Here, one second,” Tadashi murmured, fiddling with the lock on the collar. It fell away, and Hiro rubbed his neck happily. He could run away now- it would be so easy, the street was empty, and Tadashi wasn’t in any position to catch him- but he decided to stay. It wouldn’t hurt to try it, right? Tadashi doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. With a blush, he stood on his toes and pecked Tadashi on the lips.