Arthur padded out onto the window ledge with ease, tail aloft to aid his balance as he trotted a few paces away from the window and settled down to survey the world below him. The air ruffling his fur the wrong direction was cool and damp, warning of an incoming storm, but Arthur refused to head back inside right away. Although he had every modern convenience in the penthouse – a comfortable bed, entertainment and an endless supply of food – the air sometimes grew stuffy, overbearing.
He took a deep breath in, appreciating the natural outdoor smells. The controlled air in the penthouse certainly never smelt bad, but it also never smelt particularly appealing. It was dull. And although Arthur’s nose crinkled at the smell of the dumpsters ten floors down in the alley, he enjoyed the spicy scent of the pine trees that he believed must only be a short distance away. He had never really explored the outside world beyond the windowsills and once, when he was young and reckless, down two flights of the metal stairs winding along the side of the building like a vine.
Arthur’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard the window a short distance away being slammed closed quickly. The noise startled him nearly badly enough to make him slip off the window ledge, Arthur giving a tiny yelp of surprise before he steadied himself. Once he was sure of his footing he headed back to the now-closed window quickly, confused as he peered in. He had had the window closed on him once before, his youngest owner finding it amusing when she was younger to close the window and giggle at him as he stared in at her imploringly.
But now she wasn’t standing on the other side of the glass watching him with big eyes; nor were Arthur’s two older owners. Arthur gave a concerned mew and nudged his head against the glass, feeling the unyielding resistance press back against him. He heard some loud talking inside when he strained to listen, the pattern of rushed footfalls on the carpet and words like “Hurry” and “Late”, and other things Arthur knew to be related to time even if he couldn’t understand it himself. Arthur began pawing at the window with determination, wishing suddenly for the claws he now barely remembered having as a kitten, howling loudly. But his owners were in too much of a frenzy to hear him and, after a bit more rushing around, Arthur heard the door slam closed.
The penthouse on the other side of the glass grew silent and Arthur felt his heart drop in fear. They couldn’t have forgotten about him. They couldn’t have made the mistake of not checking to make sure he was in one final time. He couldn’t be stuck out here until they got home in two weeks; Arthur wasn’t entirely understanding of humans’ time telling, but he knew he wouldn’t last that long without food and water.
He continued yowling as loud as he could, desperately hoping that they might have forgotten something and have to come back. But an hour later Arthur’s voice was growing weak, the wind was growing colder, and the window remained closed. Worse, the sun was fading, the shadows in the alley lengthening. Arthur continued to cry as loudly as he could manage, wrapping his tail around him in search of some comfort and heat. He could feel the wind mussing up his perfectly-groomed coat, the black over his entire body except for the white on his stomach soaking up the heat of the last rays of sunlight.
Suddenly he heard something clamouring on the creaky metal framework of the staircase a short distance away and fell silent, lying flat on his stomach in case the approaching creature was an enemy. A moment later a mottled alley cat pulled himself up onto the window ledge, long fur looking dirty and dishevelled even in the growing darkness. Arthur’s ears pressed back and he gave a warning growl as the cat spotted him and padded across the ledge towards him. Arthur really didn’t want to get into a fight with an alley cat, sans claws, and especially not on such a high ledge where losing would hurt more than his pride. But he refused to appear weak either.
The alley cat didn’t seem interested in fighting though. His tail twitched slightly at Arthur’s growl, and Arthur could see a little pink ribbon tied around the tip of his tail, which was fluttering in the increasing wind. The cat stepped up close to Arthur and then sat down, his fluffier tail wrapping around him and surely doing more to ward off the chill than Arthur’s sleek tail. The cat’s fur was a mess of patterns and colours, looking as though he had started off white and rolled around blindly in a pile of black, brown and orange paint. The alley cat looked him over curiously for a moment, startling blue eyes bright even in the shadows, and then peered in through the window. “What’s got your fur in a knot, pet?” Arthur bristled at the name. The other cat hadn’t said it in a mocking or condescending tone, but Arthur knew many cats were displeased and unfriendly with indoor cats. Arthur was about to argue the name but the other cat spoke up again, “Wow, nice place. Who lives here?”
“I do,” Arthur sniffed, rising from his stomach to stand proudly at his proclamation. He was slightly offended that the other cat had not assumed based on Arthur’s groomed appearance, and he wanted this alley cat to know who he was talking to.
But the other cat just glanced back at him, looking confused and slightly bored. “Then what are you doing out here?”
Arthur’s tail began swishing in agitation. “My owners...” he began and trailed off, feeling embarrassment mix with frustration, “Well they were in a rush and accidentally locked me out. But I’m sure they’ll remember and come back any minute.”
The alley cat gave a thoughtful-sounding hum for a moment before standing up. “Right, well you better come with me,” he stated lightly as he began wandering back to the metal stairs.
“I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t even know you.” Arthur shifted his weight on the ledge, unsure and nervous.
“Call me Eames, darling,” the alley cat glanced back at him as he jumped onto the metal stairs, causing a loud clatter.
“Well, Eames,” Arthur said the name with as much disdain as he could manage, “I’m not going anywhere with you. My owners are going to be back any minute.”
Eames stared at him for a long moment, looking disbelieving. “I wouldn’t put such faith in the memories of humans, sweetheart. But if you’re going to be so stubborn about it, just nudge the bottom bar of the stairs when you eventually come down.” When Eames no doubt saw Arthur’s confused look, the alley cat continued. “It’s squeaky so I’ll hear it.”
With that information, Eames began wandering down the stairs towards the alley far below, Arthur watching his progress in surprise. He wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to this odd alley cat, or Eames’ odd insistence that Arthur follow him down. Arthur knew the cat probably meant Arthur should come down to avoid the mounting storm, but he couldn’t see how following Eames would help much; it wasn’t like he’d get into his home that way. Not that Arthur would accept help from a mangy alley cat anyway.
So Arthur sat dutifully on the ledge, continuing to watch inside the darkened penthouse in search of movement. It was about an hour after the sun went down that Arthur realized his owners probably weren’t coming back to let him in. But he still remained on that ledge stubbornly, silent now as he watched the still penthouse on the other side of the glass; he couldn’t bear proving the nosy alley cat right.
It was only when the storm hit that Arthur was forced to make a quick retreat to the metal stairs. The wind hit him first, buffering him so strongly and quickly that Arthur let out a terrified yelp as he tried to steady his paws’ grip on the ledge. The rain came just seconds later, falling so quick and heavy that Arthur was soaked through by the time he reached the stairs. Arthur slipped when he jumped onto the stairs, the metal slick with rain, and Arthur gave another howl in pain when he felt the pads of his paws scrap against the metal.
He picked his way down the stairs as carefully as he could manage, his body weighed down with soaked fur. The wind wrapped around him cruelly, chilling Arthur to the bone and forcing him to grip the metal stairs harder even though it hurt his paws with sharp stabs of pain. Lightning flashed above him, lighting up the alley as Arthur nearly tumbled off the last few steps of the stairs, and thunder rumbled loud enough to shake the cement below Arthur’s paws. Arthur was panting in fear and shivering violently as he felt solid ground beneath him, but the storm was only growing stronger.
He jumped into the air, his hair on end, when he suddenly felt something brush up against him. He turned and hissed as viciously as he could, hoping he could make the other creature reconsider attacking him before they found out that Arthur definitely wasn’t equipped for defending himself. He found Eames standing beside him, fur looking even worse than it did before now that it was wet and hanging limply off the alley cat’s form. Eames paced back and forth for a second until Arthur allowed his ears to rise again, the alley cat assessing that Arthur was not planning on following through on his threat.
“Come on, darling. Let’s get you out of this weather,” Eames spoke over the terribly loud storm before dashing down the alleyway. Arthur, having no other option, quickly followed Eames before the other cat’s form was hidden by the sheets of rain. They didn’t go much further down the alley before Eames stopped and nudged Arthur behind a dumpster. Arthur crinkled his nose at the smell but allowed the other cat to nudge him further since the rain stopped pelting against him. It was very cramped between the dumpster and the alley wall, but then Eames was nudging Arthur’s flank again, directing him towards an indent in the wall for a boarded up doorway.
On the stoop in front of the protected door Arthur found a large box pressed back against the wall, the opening facing away from the opening to the alley to keep drafts away. “This is your home?” Arthur asked, pausing to survey it critically.
He felt a nose nudge him forward again, startling Arthur into movement. “Don’t sound too disgusted, sweetheart,” Eames chuckled as he continued prodding Arthur around the side of the box to the opening. “This is your home now too.”
“This is only temporary!” Arthur snapped as he came around the side of box, peering inside curiously. “And don’t call me that.”
“Unless you tell me your name then I’ll just have to keep making ones up for you,” Eames warned teasingly. Arthur watched as the alley cat shook off a bit of rain water before crawling into the large box with a nest of torn fabric coating the bottom.
“It’s Arthur,” Arthur offered grudgingly as he tried to knock off as much water as possible before treading carefully onto the pile of fabric. He was grateful that the pieces of fabric were soft, making his paws hurt much less than the cement had. Immediately Arthur was glad he had abandoned his ledge and come down here, and that Eames was willing to take him in until the storm was over; even though Arthur couldn’t understand the alley cat’s motives. The wind and rain couldn’t reach them here and although the storm only seemed to be growing stronger, the lightning and thunder wasn’t as terrifying now that the box and dumpster served as some sort of barrier.
“Okay Arthur.” Arthur didn’t like how smug the other cat sounded when speaking his name, but he was distracted when the smell of food filled the box. “Have this; you must be hungry.”
Arthur felt his stomach twist hungrily when Eames nudged an opened can of tuna towards him. A third of it was already missing but Arthur didn’t care enough to ask where Eames had found the can. He settled down on his stomach, taking the weight off his sore paws, and began eating with vigour. The food was quite plain and not at all what Arthur was used to eating, but he was too grateful to complain. When he finished the can he licked up the remainder stuck to his whiskers in embarrassment. Then he rested his chin on his front paws and allowed his eyes to close. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, darling.” Eames purred.
Arthur blinked his eyes open, ready to tell the alley cat off for the name, but then noticed something. “Why aren’t you eating?” he asked in confusion, seeing that Eames was curled up in front of him without any food.
Eames was silent for a long moment and Arthur felt himself growing more uncomfortable. “That was the last of my food,” the alley cat eventually admitted, though he didn’t sound angry as he stared across the small space at Arthur. The box was actually surprisingly large when you were inside it; two more cats could probably have curled up in it before it would grow uncomfortably cramped.
“I...” Arthur looked down at the empty can and gave a small mew of apology. “I’m sorry.” He knew the alley cat must be hungry, much hungrier than Arthur who was constantly spoiled by living indoors with owners. Arthur felt horrible, his tail resting listlessly on the blankets. Eames had given him food and shelter when Arthur had been abandoned, and Arthur hadn’t even taken the time to consider the other cat’s needs in return.
“Don’t be sorry,” Eames insisted as he stood up and stretched, back arching, before picking the can up between his teeth and walking it out of the box to place it in the alley. Guiltily, Arthur thought the other cat wouldn’t want to smell the food he couldn’t eat for the rest of the night. “We’ll hunt for more tomorrow,” Eames added when he stepped back into the box.
Arthur was surprised when Eames settled down on the blankets beside Arthur even though there was plenty of room in the box for some distance between their bodies. Then he felt a warm tongue on his fur and Arthur jumped away, nearly collapsing into the blankets where he stopped a second later when his paws protested the sudden movement. “What are you doing?” Arthur growled warningly, fearful because he knew he didn’t have the claws or experience Eames had in fighting. Not to mention the pain putting him on edge.
“You’re soaking wet, Arthur,” Eames reasoned as he slowly shuffled closer to Arthur where he had come to lie again near a corner of the box. “And we wouldn’t want your beautiful coat getting ruined.”
Arthur’s tail flicked shyly at that comment and he nestled a little deeper into the mound of blankets. He was going to make some biting comment about Eames being diseased and just making Arthur dirtier, but when he felt that rough tongue begin working the wet knots out of his fur again Arthur allowed his eyes to drift shut without making another sound of protest. Eames worked at his fur diligently, tongue mesmerizing and teeth gentle when they worked through knots. Arthur felt himself drifting away into a sleepy haze, too content to question his trust in this strange cat. He was only drawn back to full consciousness when Eames head butted him affectionately. “You’re purring like a newborn,” Eames informed him warmly.
Arthur blinked his eyes open to watch Eames as the alley cat began working on a particularly knotted patch of fur on Arthur’s left shoulder. “I haven’t had anyone but myself to groom me since I was brought to the penthouse,” he admitted, feeling suddenly self conscious. He told himself he shouldn’t care what this shabby alley cat thought of him, but he did care. Eames’ tongue on his fur felt much more calming than Arthur’s own; grooming himself had been a chore while this was more pleasurable. He liked the way their bodies warmed each other, and how their vibrating purrs merged into a more complex hum.
“Well now you have me,” Eames stated happily before continuing his work. Arthur ducked his head at the proclamation, feeling warm inside at Eames’ easy acceptance of Arthur into his social circle. Arthur felt terrible when he thought back to all those times he had sat on his window ledge and looked down at the alley with distain, unwilling to give any creatures below him a second thought. Look at what Arthur had nearly missed out on! When Arthur flicked his tail to rest on top of Eames’ and the other cat didn’t comment on it, Arthur gave another loud rumbling purr and closed his eyes again.
Arthur didn’t drift off this time, instead focusing on the pleasant sensation of Eames grooming him. It was only the sharp sting of pain when Eames nudged one of his front paws curiously that could motivate Arthur enough to move. He gave a hiss and a warning growl as he tucked his paws safely under his body, out of reach. “Watch it,” he snapped and then fell silent, worried he had angered his new friend when he saw Eames sitting back on his hind legs, tail wrapped around him. “I’m sorry,” Arthur forced out, feeling foolish and even more self conscious. “They hurt.”
“Let me see,” Eames demanded strongly, though he remained seated.
“No,” Arthur argued. Beyond the fact that he didn’t want Eames accidentally making his paws hurt more, Arthur was fearful of what the alley cat would say when he finally noticed that Arthur only had back claws.
“Arthur.” Eames managed to growl his name in a way that noticeably raised the hair across Arthur’s back. Arthur internally knew that Eames would have more experience with this sort of thing than him so, defeated, Arthur manoeuvred himself so that Eames could get to his paws. Eames stepped forward slowly, movements silent on the acquired pieces of fabric, and Arthur was grateful when the other cat only looked at his front paws but didn’t touch. Eames gave a thoughtful hum and then sat back, looking down at Arthur. “You can lick them clean but there isn’t much else to do. Walking will hurt for the next few days so you should relax, but they’ll heal easily.”
Arthur’s heart was racing as he tucked his paws back under his body. There was no way Eames hadn’t noticed his missing claws, and yet the alley cat had not mentioned it – hadn’t made a big deal out of it at all. “Alright,” he said softly, lifting one paw to his mouth to begin his work. “Eames?” he questioned quietly when he felt Eames begin grooming Arthur’s back where it would be hard to reach. He heard the other cat grunt and continued, “Why are you helping me?”
“Why wouldn’t I, darling?” Eames questioned in return, effectively silencing Arthur because he didn’t know what to say in response. Arthur shyly allowed himself to begin purring again, smiling slightly when he heard Eames begin purring again as well. Unfortunately it all came crumbling around Arthur when, sometime later, he felt Eames work back towards Arthur’s flanks and then stiffen and jump away. “Arthur, what--?”
Arthur felt his heart and body freeze, knowing what Eames had accidentally discovered. Tucking his tail between his legs to hide his shame, Arthur stood and bolted, ignoring the pain in his paws and legs at the moment. But Eames seemed to recover quickly and had lightning-fast reflexes, biting onto the scruff at the back of Arthur’s neck. Arthur felt his body still immediately as he let out a pathetic mewl of fear. He was horrified by his body’s reaction – just because Eames was attractive, and just because he had been neutered didn’t mean he had any intention of being submissive – and he fought an internal urge to lift his tail out of the way.
But even though Eames had mounted him to still him, Arthur could feel the other cat hesitantly step off him again, hind legs brushing against Arthur as Eames retreated. The other cat still kept his front paws on either side of Arthur though, his teeth still holding Arthur still. Eames’ warmth radiated down against Arthur’s back and Arthur continued to fight his instinct to relax. “I’m sorry, Arthur,” Eames mumbled through his mouthful of Arthur’s fur. “Please don’t run.”
There was a heavy pause of silence where neither of them moved, and then Arthur felt Eames let go of him, stepping away. Arthur wanted to run away and never look back, tail still between his legs, but the storm still raged outside and Arthur had nowhere else to go. Instead, he turned his back to the wall of the box, facing Eames and hiding his embarrassment. “It happened when I was very young,” he explained weakly, finding it hard to swallow when he saw the horrified look on the alley cat’s face.
“I’m sorry,” Eames apologized again, pacing across the small space of the box in clear agitation. “I shouldn’t have—I mean, I should have expected...” Eames trailed off and stepped closer. Arthur’s ears flattened as he backed up more against the box’s wall. Eames paused and slid to his stomach, mimicking Arthur’s position; it wasn’t to pounce, it was to put their eyes on the same level. “Forgive me, darling.”
Hearing the sincerity in the other cat’s plea, Arthur allowed his body to relax slightly and his ears to perk forward. Reading the change in Arthur’s stance, Eames immediately shuffled forward and nuzzled Arthur’s neck, licking the back of Arthur’s neck in further apology. Arthur felt a purr building in his throat that he fought down, trying to understand Eames’ surprising reaction. Arthur had never met another cat in his life, except for the cats he saw through cat carrier bars at the vet. But he had always been terrified of other cats finding out about his situation and hating him – shunning him – for it. And why wouldn’t they? Eames’ initial reaction hurt brutally, but it made sense. However Arthur couldn’t understand the way Eames was curling his body around Arthur, resting his chin on Arthur’s back.
“Why should you have expected...it?” Arthur asked curiously, trying to find something else to focus on.
Eames hummed and nestled his face against Arthur’s now-groomed coat, whiskers tickling Arthur’s back in an oddly-pleasant way. “You’re not the first indoor cat I’ve met, sweetheart,” Eames explained, sounding as though he too was attempting to think about something else. “Cats forgotten or abused or just desperate for freedom.”
Arthur stiffened before he could stop his reaction. Even though it had been a stupid thought, a part of Arthur had felt special at Eames’ attention and aid. But now it appeared as though this was commonplace for the alley cat; Arthur was just one of many in a long line. “So you do this often?”
He felt Eames shift around until his body was moulded to Arthur’s back, head resting on the crease of Arthur’s neck. “I have a habit of helping out lost indoor cats, yes,” Eames admitted against Arthur’s fur. The alley cat flung a paw over Arthur’s body to keep him from running, causing Arthur to topple over onto his side to lie curled up with Eames. “But you’re the first cat I’ve brought back here, love.”
“...Why?” Arthur couldn’t help but ask.
“I don’t know,” Eames confessed. The other cat began to purr, causing a pleasing sensation of vibrations that controlled the pace of Arthur’s heartbeat. “There was something about you when I heard and saw you that felt...right.” That declaration had Arthur purring, their combined purrs of happiness drowning out the storm outside. Arthur felt so relieved and warm at Eames’ insistence that he wanted Arthur here, and that he didn’t just do this with every cat needing assistance. He had never expected acceptance from anyone outside the safe haven of his penthouse, nor had he ever expected the possibility of feeling comfortable outside his home. But it didn’t take long before Arthur drifted off to sleep beside Eames, entirely content.
When Arthur woke up he was alone in the box and, judging by the smell of the air, the storm had stopped and the sun had begun to evaporate the rainwater off the pavement. Arthur remained nestled amongst the shaggy blankets for another few minutes, listening to the busy street life along the street at the end of the alley. He remembered his current situation and the night before with a mix of emotions. He remembered getting locked out of his home and Eames providing both shelter and food. Then he remembered the horribly embarrassing moment when Eames found out about Arthur’s situation, as well as the surprisingly pleasing resolution.
Arthur attempted to stand but felt a dull ache in the pads of his paws and he sank back down to a resting position. He wondered if Eames had woken up and reconsidered the type of cat he had brought back home with him, and was in the process of finding some motivation to leave the comfortable box in search of another shelter until his owners returned, when Arthur heard paws approaching. A moment later Arthur was blinking against the sunlight reflecting off the door to focus on Eames, who had a dead mouse hanging from his mouth. “I brought lunch, darling,” Eames proclaimed with a satisfied smirk.
Arthur knew he should be impressed, or at least grateful, but instead he felt his nose crinkling up. “Gross,” he mumbled in disgust at the thought of eating the raw creature, even though he was hungry.
He saw Eames’ smile falter as the alley cat set the mouse down on the door stoop outside the box. “This is all I could find,” he lamented, staring down at the mouse looking hungry but sad.
Feeling guilty, Arthur tried to wipe the disgust from his face. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” he assured Eames. “I just...” he looked at the dead mouse, “You must be starving by now. You should eat.”
“No, I’ll go find you something else,” Eames muttered hurriedly, leave the mouse and turning to sneak back out into the alley.
Arthur leapt before he realized what he was doing. One second he was nestled in the pile of blankets and the next he was pinning Eames to the concrete stoop. He felt the other cat’s tail swish against him and Eames’ surprisingly strong body push against him before relaxing, allowing Arthur to pin him. “Eat the stupid mouse.”
“Eames,” Arthur hissed, quietening the alley cat. “We’ll go hunting for more together later. For now, eat.” He gave a warning nip to Eames’ ear when it looked like the other cat was planning on arguing again, and finally let Eames up when the cat hummed his agreement.
Arthur stumbled back into the box and settled down on the patch of blankets his body had warmed up overnight, careful of his paws. He watched Eames eat a short distance away on the stoop, finally able to see the cat lit up in the reflected sunlight. Eames’ long fur really was mottled with colour, though the tones almost looked like a welcoming puzzle or painting now. Arthur could also see a few scars across Eames’ body – the alley cat no doubt having experienced multiple tussles while living on the street.
“I know I’m not a pretty sight,” Eames muttered mournfully when he noticed Arthur staring at him. Eames’ striking blue eyes met Arthur’s brown ones for a quick second before skirting away, embarrassed.
Arthur couldn’t believe that Eames was the one feeling embarrassed in front of Arthur. Eames was powerful and strong with sharp claws and sharper skills to defend himself. He was also fully intact, natural – unlike Arthur. Despite the alley cat’s fur being a knotted disaster littered with tiny scars that no doubt told some interesting stories, Eames really was quite handsome. Arthur decided to inform Eames of this fact, wanting to wipe away that look of doubt Eames had saved Arthur from the night before. “You’re quite handsome. Your fur just needs some help.”
Before he could talk himself out of it, Arthur padded over to where Eames was finishing up his lunch. He looked over the alley cat’s fur critically, searching for a good place to start and aware of Eames sitting tense beside him. It appeared as though the rain from the previous night had washed away most of the dirt, leaving only knots behind. Arthur eventually chose a particularly nasty looking knot on Eames’ side and began working it out slowly with his tongue and carefully-placed teeth.
He could feel Eames’ body relax immediately, which made Arthur smile, pleased. Eames finished up his meal and Arthur did his best to ignore the smell of the mouse, instead taking in the oddly comforting smell of Eames’ fur. When the alley cat was finished eating he harmlessly batted Arthur away for a moment, picking up the remains and trotting away from the box to get rid of it. Arthur remained seated on the stoop until Eames returned and nipped the end of his tail, tugging playfully.
Curious, Arthur followed Eames out past the dumpster, grateful that Eames didn’t complain about Arthur’s slow walking pace. Arthur was surprised to find a little dented up metal pot a little further down the alley, filled with fresh rainwater. They both drank quickly, heads and whiskers brushing with their close proximity although neither of them complained. Then they headed back to the box, Eames insisting that Arthur rest his paws a little longer and demanding a need for a nap himself.
Feeling playful himself, Arthur pinned Eames to the blankets once they were back amongst the blankets. Eames growled light-heartedly and flipped them, and Arthur couldn’t say he minded being pinned to the blankets by Eames’ weight at all. Eventually he nudged Eames away though, the alley cat stepping away and settling down, and Arthur settled down beside Eames. He began working on Eames’ fur again, diligent and meticulous in his efforts. “You really don’t have to, darling...” Eames protested weakly, sounding as though he wasn’t sure why he was talking against this.
“I refuse to go out with you looking like this,” Arthur teased, licking the fur on the top of Eames’ head until it stuck up the wrong way to show his playful mindset.
“Can’t argue with that,” Eames chuckled, tail flicking back and forth until it rested on Arthur’s back warmly. As Arthur worked he could hear and feel Eames purring ridiculously loudly, filling the box with the sounds of his contentment. He knew Eames was in serious danger of drifting off to sleep but then Arthur got a tooth snagged in a clump of fur and had to fight the knot to pull away. Eames immediately tensed and gave a yell, taking a swipe at Arthur but luckily with claws retracted. “Watch it, love. You want to go out with me when I’m bald?”
Suddenly embarrassed and frustrated, Arthur huffed. “It would probably be easier,” he snapped. “When was the last time you took the time to groom yourself? You’re a disgrace.”
“It’s been years,” Eames stood up tensely, agitated. “And I didn’t invite you into my home to tear out my fur and insult me.”
“None of your other charity cases offered anything in return? Not even a groom?” Arthur snarled in disbelief, tail low and ears back, ready for an attack if it came.
Despite being prepared, Eames attacked with too much speed and weight behind him for Arthur to do anything in retaliation. In a flash Eames had Arthur splayed out uncomfortably on his back, tail pinned beneath him. Arthur was about to fight the alley cat off but then he felt Eames’ deadly teeth on the vulnerable underside of Arthur’s neck; the other cat wasn’t biting down hard enough to cause damage, but any sudden movements would certainly cause some. They remained frozen like that for an disturbingly long time, Eames holding him in determination until Arthur finally felt a defeated whine work up the back of his throat.
Eames immediately removed his teeth and began licking at Arthur’s neck, but Arthur hissed and kicked Eames away, rolling over to hide his vulnerable underbelly. Eames bared his teeth at Arthur for a moment and then froze. Arthur watched in confusion and distrust as Eames stared at him and then rolled over, purposefully exposing his vulnerable neck and stomach to Arthur. Recognizing the offer, Arthur darted forward and bit down solidly but carefully on Eames’ own neck, teeth brushing but not digging into skin.
They were awkwardly close and their eyes locked as Eames gave a defeated mewl to mimic Arthur’s previous one. “I just helped keep them from getting killed, Arthur. They meant nothing special to me, unlike you,” Eames professed seriously, remaining on his back staring up at Arthur even after Arthur had removed his teeth.
“We just met,” Arthur argued, sitting back and struggling to avoid Eames’ heavy gaze.
“I know,” Eames agreed. “But didn’t you smell it when we met? You smell like my mate, and I want us to be equals.”
That explained Eames rolling over to allow Arthur a moment of dominance over the alley cat. And even though, when Arthur thought about it, Eames really did have an enticing smell that seemed to draw Arthur in, Arthur hadn’t met any other cats to know if that was odd or not. He didn’t even know what other cats smelt like, let alone what a mate was supposed to smell like. “You smell good,” Arthur admitted, stepping closer to gently nudge Eames into rolling over, hating to see the other cat vulnerable. “But I don’t know what other cats smell like.”
“I understand, darling,” Eames finally rolled over at Arthur’s touch, though he remained lying down. Arthur watched with interest as Eames wrapped his tail loosely around one of Arthur’s front paws. “I know you may not want to be with a cat like me, and may not want to continue living on the streets when you’re owners return. Just give me a chance. I want the opportunity to win you over.” Arthur didn’t move when Eames leaned up and began licking Arthur’s face warmly, because his thoughts were reeling. “Just think about it, love,” Eames finally whispered into his ear.
Arthur nodded in agreement in a daze and began grooming Eames again automatically, needing some sort of simple routine to calm his jittery nerves. There was so much to think about, to consider after Eames’ sudden declaration, and for the moment Arthur simply pushed all those thoughts aside. Thinking about leaving his owners to live on the streets with Eames was terrifying in more ways than one, especially since Arthur really didn’t know what the choice was. Instead he decided to just keep his nose buried in Eames’ fur and breathe in the ally cat’s comforting scent.
“You really need to believe that this isn’t something I’ve ever done or said to another, Arthur,” Eames mumbled into the blankets, sounding distressed.
Arthur thought about it for a second and then licked the side of Eames’ face, careful of whiskers. “I believe you,” he assured the alley cat before returning to his grooming work. Arthur wasn’t accustomed to knowing or having someone to be protective and possessive over. He would be understandably pissed off if his owners decided to bring another pet home, dividing their love and attention. But even though they were all he knew, humans were different; Arthur was never going to be more than a friendly companion to them.
Eames was different. Although they could never have kittens of their own, they could still mate and become equals, partners. The thought of losing Eames’ love and attention scared him, and not just because Arthur would be left outside without any means or knowledge of surviving on his own. Arthur really didn’t know yet what he felt for Eames, whether he really did smell like a mate, or whether Arthur would be willing to abandon a life of comfortable living to be with the alley cat. All Arthur knew was that he did believe Eames when he said Arthur was special; there was something in the tone of Eames’ voice.
Arthur had continued grooming as he thought over Eames’ proclamation, and when he focused on the other cat again he realized Eames had fallen asleep. Although Arthur’s eyelids were feeling heavy and tired he forced himself to stay awake and finish grooming the other cat. It took quite a while, the sun powerfully heating the air when Arthur finally finished, but when Arthur glanced over the result he was pleased. Then he finally allowed himself to curl up next to Eames, tucking his head under Eames’ chin, and drifted off to sleep.
The next two weeks were rough, and long. But Arthur was proud to realize that he endured. As his paws healed, Arthur grew more curious and more daring – as long as Eames was by his side. And the tom cat never left Arthur behind, even when it might have benefited Eames more to do so. Eames showed Arthur where to search for food humans had thrown out, and even helped Arthur hone some natural hunting instincts when times grew tough and a plump rat scuttled down the alley.
Arthur felt a little embarrassed, like he was a kitten all over again, needing to be taught the basics to survive. And he still struggled to adjust to living without the comforts of his owners’ home. He had grimaced when the tackled rat hung from his teeth, but Eames had raced up to him and pinned him and licked his face in congratulations. Arthur’s heart had swelled along with his pride and he had pressed close to the warmth and attention. Eames made everything more bearable, and he was a patient teacher.
A few sleeps after Arthur had joined Eames in the little cardboard box, Eames had nipped Arthur’s ear affectionately to wake him. Arthur had blinked his eyes open sleepily and stretched, waiting for an explanation. Eames had merely told Arthur that they were going on an adventure and had ducked out into the alley, assuming Arthur would follow. And he did.
It was odd when they left the alley. Arthur was accustomed to living with humans; knew enough to know that you had to stay out of the way lest you accidentally get stepped upon. But when he followed Eames out of the alley and onto the busy sidewalk beside the loud roar of the street, Arthur found himself pressing to the walls of buildings in a fearful attempt to avoid the rush of busy feet. Eames had walked protectively beside Arthur, keeping his body between Arthur and the unseeing mass of humans. Arthur was surprised at how safe the other cat made him feel simply by being nearby and watching over him.
They walked a short distance and ended up in the park Arthur must have smelt his entire life in the apartment. Although the large open spaces and the scent of dogs stained some of the grass and trees, Arthur immediately felt calmer in the park. The grass felt wonderful on his paws; much softer than concrete or the itchy carpet of his owners’ home. And the sun felt wonderful on his skin, his dark fur soaking in the warmth. Arthur only realized he was purring when Eames nuzzled him and began purring as well, much louder than Arthur himself. It made Arthur smile and calm, his playful side emerging fully for the first time since he was a kitten.
Without really considering the implications or the consequences, Arthur pounced on Eames. He tackled the larger cat to the grass before speeding off, giving a little taunting mewl when he heard Eames growl warningly. Eames could pin Arthur easily; they both knew it. But Arthur was agile and fast and managed to elude Eames’ pursuits for a good few minutes. And when Eames finally caught up to him and pressed Arthur into the grass, their tails twitching against each other, Arthur could only purr and relax.
The afternoon was spent grooming and napping out of the way in the sun, curled up around one another. Normally Arthur would never relax enough to sleep in a place like the park, worried a dog or human might come along. But Eames was resting his chin on the back of Arthur’s neck, and Arthur could feel the alley cat twitch slightly, always staying half aware of their surroundings to keep them both safe.
When the sun was beginning to sink in the sky, Eames nudged Arthur awake and led him away from the little patch of grass they had smoothed down. “I want to introduce you to my friends,” Eames said as he led Arthur across the park to a large shed surrounded by trees. Arthur suddenly felt nervous; worried that Arthur’s friends would not be nearly as accepting of Arthur’s situation as Eames himself was. But he didn’t like the sense of loneliness and danger that washed over him when Eames wasn’t close, so he stuck close to the other cat as they slipped through a small hole in the wall where some wood had rotted away.
Inside the shed, Arthur saw a lot of metal contraptions he could only assume belonged to humans. The smell of dirt and oil assaulted his nose for a moment, quickly followed by an overpowering smell of other cats. Four of them, as Arthur learned when Eames introduced him. There was Dom, a sleek blond cat that hopped down from a shelf to sniff at Arthur and give him a little head-nudge of welcome. Then there was Mal, a dolled up dark haired cat who seemed all poise and agility. After that there was Ariadne – a playful young thing with a questionable scarf around her neck – and Yusuf, a quiet but calm cat.
They all swarmed around him, smelling and welcoming him. Arthur sat in a way that hid his embarrassment Eames had discovered the first night, his tail wrapped around his body. None of them seemed to notice, and none of them kicked up a fuss at the obvious fact that Arthur was a housecat. Mal even came up to him and admitted that she used to live indoors until her owner had passed away and the kids had chucked her out; Dom had saved her, similar to the way Eames had saved Arthur.
Arthur was polite but shy, though he realized quite quickly that he had nothing to fear. It seemed that anyone with Eames was automatically welcome into the small family. Ariadne batted at Arthur’s tail until he finally agreed to chase her around the shed, dodging metal contraptions set up like an intricate maze. After that, Mal groomed a knot on Arthur’s back he had acquired while sleeping, asking him at the same time if he was the reason Eames suddenly looked so clean and dashing. And Arthur swelled with pride and nodded, allowing Eames to nuzzle him when the tom cat noticed Arthur purring.
It felt incredibly calming and comfortable in that shed with the small family, adopted immediately. Arthur actually felt a little sad when Eames finally suggested they head home for the night. But the others called after Arthur, telling him that they would see each other soon, and Arthur agreed energetically without even thinking about what that implied. He noticed Eames watching him affectionately as they trotted home together, and Arthur confidently walked a little closer beside the cat. One thing Arthur knew for sure was that none of the other cats he had met had smelt as good – as much like home – as Eames did. And Arthur didn’t want to lose that.
Time flew. Even though it felt like a long time that Arthur was out there, living on the streets with Eames, with all of the struggles he suddenly had to deal with just to survive. Food was harder to find, and the weather definitely wasn’t always favourable. But Eames helped him and they kept each other warm in their box when the weather grew cold or wet. The little box with torn up blankets had become home, as had the natural scent of Eames’ fur. So it was rather jarring when, two weeks after Arthur had gotten locked out on the window ledge, he heard his name being called frantically. By human voices.
A part of Arthur wanted to bolt out of the box and climb the metal staircase, yowling until his owners noticed him and came to get him; took him back to the warm apartment with an endless supply of food and warmth. But he still hesitated. His tail twitched in agitation as he turned to look at Eames, surprised to find that the other cat was already awake and watching him. “Eames,” Arthur yelped quietly.
Eames’ eyes were dull as they watched Arthur, his chin resting listlessly on his front paws. “It’s alright, Arthur. I’ll understand if you want to go back. They’re calling for you; they’ll take you back.”
Arthur felt his heart clench painfully. He stood up and began to pace, tail drooping low. “You could come with me. Warmth, food, toys. We could have it all,” he offered, desperate.
Eames shook his head sadly. “That’s not my world, Arthur. I need to be able to explore the world beyond a window. I want to make that sacrifice to be with you, but I just can’t. I couldn’t stand it.”
“But I want to be with you,” Arthur admitted feebly, whining in the back of his throat. Eames looked away from him, looking sad and ashamed. Arthur was angry at Eames for expecting Arthur to make this sacrifice while not being willing to make a sacrifice in return. He was also angry at his owners for forgetting him two weeks ago; it would have been so much easier if he hadn’t met Eames, didn’t need to make this choice. “Eames,” Arthur mewled, padding across the box and nudging Eames until he raised his head. Arthur snuggled up close, resting on his stomach. Eames rested his chin on Arthur’s back and licked comfortingly at the fur on the back of Arthur’s neck.
For a few moments there was silence between them. Then Arthur heard his youngest owner crying and shouting his name brokenly. Arthur stirred at the sound, wanting to take away his owner’s pain. His older owners were fond of Arthur, but they would be alright. But Arthur didn’t know how the young human would handle this, or how long it would take for her to forget about Arthur. The thought of being forgotten left a painful twinge in Arthur’s heart and he began to stand, but then he felt Eames’ teeth dig lightly into his fur.
“Please don’t go, Arthur,” Eames made a pitiful sound, nuzzling Arthur. “I’ll find us a bigger box. Maybe a nice abandoned shed; or we could live with the others. I’ll get more food, anything. Just...” Eames released his teeth but threw a paw over Arthur’s small form, pulling him closer. “Please don’t leave. I’ve been waiting to find you. I don’t want to go back to the way things were, now that I know you exist.”
Arthur remained curled up against Eames for a few moments, and then he stood. Eames didn’t pin Arthur, leaving him to make his decision freely, which Arthur appreciated. He watched sadly as the larger cat watched Arthur and then turned around, presenting his back to Arthur. Eames’ head drooped again; he couldn’t even bear to watch Arthur leave.
Arthur’s heart was torn between Eames, the alley cat who had adopted and cared for Arthur, and Arthur’s youngest owner, who he could now hear sobbing stories above the alley in the apartment. As Arthur imagined climbing the metal staircase, returning to the embrace of his owners and leaving Eames behind, Arthur knew he could never survive without this cat... without his mate. But he also knew there was something else he had to do first.
He padded forward and nipped Eames’ ear, hard when Eames tried to bat him away. “Eames, you need to come with me,” Arthur demanded, trying to ignore the fact that he sounded more pleading than he meant.
“Why?” Eames grumbled, batting Arthur again. Arthur knew he had made the right choice when Eames kept his hits to Arthur light; even when he was angry he was still taking care of Arthur.
“Because I need to say goodbye to my youngest owner. I want her to know I’m safe and happy,” Arthur tried to explain, worried that Eames wouldn’t understand, or wouldn’t care.
“She won’t understand you,” Eames reminded him softly, though his ears had perked forward at hearing Arthur’s words. Eames knew what Arthur had said, but he was too scared to hope.
Arthur head-butted Eames and purred softly. He gathered up his courage and spoke. “I think she’ll understand when she sees me with my mate.”
The reaction was instantaneous. Eames surged forward and pinned Arthur, nuzzling him and breathing in Arthur’s scent while their tails twined together. Arthur loved the feel of Eames’ weight on him and felt a needy mewl escape his throat; he was very happy about where this was going. But he knew he had to say goodbye to his owner before the window closed so he nudged Eames aside, pleased when the tom cat got off him willingly despite giving a frustrated grumble. They were equals.
Eames followed Arthur out of the box and toward the metal staircase. They got distracted for a moment at the bottom of the steps, Eames purring loudly and nosing at Arthur’s neck. The sound of crying above them ruined the moment though, and Arthur sent Eames a promising look before beginning up the stairs. He made sure to go slow, not wanting to hurt his paws again now that he knew he was going to be living on the streets. It was bizarre to think that just a few weeks ago Arthur had never even considered those living in the alley worth his time, and now he was making the conscious decision to choose Eames, a life companion, over every other comfort he had grown up with.
But he knew he was making the right choice. He had never truly been happy living in the apartment the way he had been with Eames these last two weeks. He enjoyed the adventure and the sun and the feel of grass against his paws, not to mention the comforting warmth of Eames purring against him as they fell asleep curled up, Arthur knowing that same warmth would be there in the morning when they woke. It would be difficult living in the alley, and dangerous. But he had Eames, and he would be there for Eames in return, and they had friends to help them along as well. It would be worth it.
They made it to the top of the staircase at the same time, metal clattering beneath their combined weight. Arthur could still hear his youngest owner crying so he knew she must be near the window. Arthur took a deep breath, glanced over to Eames for reassurance – those big eyes focused on him, affectionate and understanding – and then meowed loudly. There was a loud sniffling noise and then Arthur’s young owner stuck her head out of the window, glancing around until her reddened eyes focused on the two cats on the metal platform.
“Arthur!” she yelled, leaning further out of the window to wave at him. “Arthur! Come back!” Even though it hurt Arthur, he remained seated where he was. He waited until he was sure his owner was paying attention, and then he wrapped his tail around Eames, nuzzling the bulky tom cat. He was purring without realizing it, and when he turned back, he traced his owner’s eyes glancing between him and Eames. Her eyes widened, and Arthur thought she understood. “Be happy,” she yelled again and giggled, her eyes sliding back to Eames, who was fidgeting under the attention. “He’s cute.” Arthur puffed up with pride and leaned on Eames, knowing he had chosen well. He met his owner’s eyes for another long moment, silently wishing her a happy life. Then she began to wave and Arthur finally turned away, heading for the stairs again with Eames at his side. “Bye, Arthur!”
They were about halfway down the stairs when Arthur heard the voice of one of his other owners, the older female. “You saw Arthur?” she asked loudly, sounding worried. “Where is he?”
Arthur stilled and Eames paused on the next step down, patiently waiting until Arthur was ready. “He’s with his prince,” Arthur’s young owner stated. “Happily ever after.” She sighed, sad but also happy and accepting. Eames met Arthur’s gaze and they leaned towards one another to briefly nuzzle before continuing on down the stairs to return to the little cardboard box in the forgotten archway.