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There’s always something ringing around Bakugou.

Bumps in the pavement make bike bells chime right under his bedroom window every morning before seven; not long after he gets out of bed, the kettle starts to whistle in a long warning and stabs right through his poorly formed train of thought. This bird, this tiny grey thing, perches on the railing of his balcony to sing and call through hail and storm if he has to, his song piercing, too strong for his small body – Bakugou doesn’t have it in him to open the sliding door and scare him away anymore. No matter how many times he shouts at him to shut the fuck up already, they’ll see each other again. The bird will be back once more, tomorrow morning and the next after that, sitting here to fluff up his feathers while Bakugou waits for the water to boil, here to sing with the kettle when it does.

All of the sharpness, all of the angles in all of the noises – Bakugou knows he’ll grow tired of it. He can’t help but hear it in the streets, at work; it’s the steam whistling in the pipes, the machines beeping, all the metal clinking and tinkling, the surgical precision all of these noises have as they slither straight through his skull in fine needles and pile up like arms of an urchin forever moving between his ears. Even the highs of his own first name heard through the phone – Katsuki, how are you doing Katsuki, take care of yourself Katsuki – are pinpricks to his eardrums.

In answer to all of it, he finds silent comfort in everything smooth and rounded. In water bubbling, in old motorbikes starting slow, in low cello lullabies coming from somewhere in the apartment building and humming through the walls – notes rolling after one another sound like how warm bread smells, full and soft, and Bakugou opens the windows to invite the music in. It goes well with his own sighs, with how the flavors of his dinner develop slowly, one line of notes at a time, with the ambient noise settling down in a quiet blanket. Fall just starts to show through shades of plum and rust all over the city, immune to the few bursts of heat of early September, last spasms of a dying summer – it’s easier on the eyes, too. Quieter. It goes well with cello, with soup becoming thicker with each turn of the spoon, with the heavy bounce of a basketball somewhere outside.

So of course, he notices when a small bell rings somewhere behind him – it’s so acidic, so thin and pointed, it doesn’t fit in the picture – and when he turns around, it’s to catch a cat looking at him straight in the eyes.

Standing on the coffee table, the intruder warms up to the evening sun shining through his brown coat, giving it reddish reflects. He has a small golden bell attached to a red collar around his neck; his amber stare shows no shyness, no fear of any kind. This table could have his name written on it for all Bakugou knows, because the cat looks like it’d belong to him if he decided so – there’s a hint of ego, of mischievousness so characteristic to his kind that Bakugou can see behind his smart gaze.

He’s not small for a cat and he had to sneak in through somewhere – the bedroom window, probably. It’s been open all day. Who knows how long the cat’s been in here, waiting for his bell to betray him.

“Who the fuck are you,” Bakugou grumbles, leaving the wooden spoon in the simmering soup to face him properly. The cat doesn’t answer, sitting down to lick at his own flank lazily instead. The small golden bell chimes with each move of his head, taunting, insolent. As he twists, the evening sun gives him a shade of roasted ginger, almost orange through the reddened brown – beautiful when looked at the right way, Bakugou has to admit. Of all neighborhood cats to find a way in his apartment, the one who made it had to be fall incarnate.

But he’s going to shed like a maple tree and leave hair everywhere if he keeps this up, and Bakugou never signed up to clean up after someone else’s pet.

The cat stops moving when Bakugou steps forward with his hands at the ready in front of his hips. They look at each other for a second, frozen, judging one another. Bakugou doesn’t like that, this way the animal has to stare him down like he has any right to do so, with his tongue peeking out from his mouth.

“Don’t give me that look, you sneaky bastard,” Bakugou mumbles. “You know exactly what you’re doing.”

The cat blinks. Yes, he knows.

The truce is brief, and easily broken; Bakugou’s next step forward makes the cat jump down from the coffee table, his bell jiggling in the rush. “C’me here!” Bakugou calls, lurching forward to try and catch him, but the cat aims for the bedroom without any hesitation and disappears in a flurry of brown and red through the open door. By the time Bakugou galops around the couch, trying not to slip up in his socks, all he gets to see is a brown tail swish out of the window.

The distraction wasn’t enough to make the soup burn, and the cello is still playing; winds picks up and ruffles the last green leaves still on the trees outside, like a whole season waving hello.

 


 

Climbing up to the fifth floor with bags of groceries is good for the heart, or so they say – it better be, because Bakugou won’t be caught asking for help from anyone every time he comes back from the farmer’s market with half his body weight’s worth of vegetables. There’d be no-one to ask though; no-one heard him curse at a dip between two rounded stones that almost made him trip and let go of both his bags, no-one saw him drop a leek straight in the middle of this narrow alley, because no-one ever comes there. No-one but his neighbors, and like hell he’s asking them for anything.

So it’s sweaty and short of breath that he pushes his front door and makes his way to the kitchen to leave the bags on the countertops. The plastic takes a few seconds to settle, and Bakugou’s lungs take the same few seconds to deflate, and then it’s all silence.

Until, a bell.

Amber eyes peaking out from a ball of brown fur wrapped on itself in a corner of the couch, and the quiet jingle of a golden trinket – that’s what meets Bakugou halfway when he turns to catch where the spark came from.

“You again,” he groans, and the cat unfolds the whole length of his body instead of pretending to listen. “Why are you even here, don’t you have anywhere else to sit?” Bakugou continues as the cat stretches out, bending his back in a long arch. He ignores Bakugou royally, his tail flicking in slow curves, and he makes his bell sing some more. Bakugou would have picked another red for his collar, more of a maroon, of a burgundy maybe; what the cat sports is a bright firetruck red that contrasts with his clean furniture and he might not have it in him to care this much about the collar of a stranger’s cat, but still. With a pretty fur like that, his owner could have gone the extra mile and bought something that actually flatters his pet.

Bakugou sighs. Oh well.

“Come on you ugly fuck, time to get out,” he says before pushing himself away from the kitchen counter. This time the cat turns to him – oh he’s felt the shift in tone, that’s for sure, it’s all over his wide amber eyes and his perked-up ears. But he doesn’t leave this time; he stares, impassible, as Bakugou strides his way over to the couch. He stares as if to show how unphased Bakugou’s attitude leaves him, and when Bakugou goes to grab him, the cat lets him, still staring. Bakugou hates that – the feeling that he’s being challenged by this cat who has no right to be here in the first place, as though he owed the pet something, an explanation, a justification for picking him up from his napping spot, anything.

Holding the cat at shoulder-height makes it worse, as though these big amber eyes could see right through him and all of his layers. The beast is light though, and shows no claws, no fangs, no signs of the apocalypse; he just lets his lower body stretch down and keeps staring, unflappable, right into Bakugou’s head as though he already knew what to find there.

“Out,” Bakugou groans before bringing the cat against his chest as he goes to find the open window in the bedroom. “Where you belong.” Against his expectations, the cat doesn’t fight him and lets himself be carried; he’s warm and soft, safely pressed against Bakugou’s torso until he isn’t, until Bakugou all but drops him down on the white stone of the window sill.

“There, and don’t try to come back,” Bakugou warns, but his words are empty and the cat knows it. With a flick of his head and a curl of his back, he comes to rub against Bakugou’s hand as though he hadn’t just been banished from the apartment, his warm eyes closing in contentment.

Bakugou allows himself to scratch the cat behind the ears, giving in just a little, and the cat rubs his cheek against his palm in answer. “Stop that,” he mumbles without conviction, but there’s no one to listen to him. He doesn’t give the cat any other reason to stop, any other way to understand; when the cat asks for more, Bakugou tells himself befriending a local cat can never be a waste of time.

The cat’s bell rings between his ears long after he closes the window, though it ends up chased out of his mind by the low lullaby of a swelling cello.

 


 

It’s always the bikes stuttering on the pavement first, then the rising whistle of the kettle; this morning the wind is at it too, howling through the gutter. Every new high its wailing reaches is one more needle, one more pin in Bakugou’s already tired head. It’s all too sharp, it’s all too pointed and shrill, but all he does is rub his eyes until he’s awake enough to ignore it.

Then the bird comes to sing glorious praises to the boiling kettle, puffing out his tiny chest and peeping as loud as he possibly can. Does he know, Bakugou wonders, that the kettle cannot hear him? Does he know, and would he care, if the kettle never answered – or maybe he’s happy like this, courting a whistling kitchen appliance, convinced he can hear reciprocation in the metal’s strident screech.

Maybe birds don’t care about superfluous things like that, maybe they only care about being loud and annoying; when the bird keeps singing long after the kettle has gone silent, Bakugou decides that yes, birds are probably just stupid.

Bakugou can’t stand stupid – true stupid – but despite the wind, and the probable rain, he still leaves his bedroom window open before leaving for work. It’s not stupid, he tells himself. No one’s using the couch during the day anyway.

 


 

Summer tries again, desperate, and the heat rounds off the corners, melts down the shards in everything – people talk slower, the crowds grow thinner, the wind falls back down. It should be good news, but Bakugou comes back home angry, his body supercharged with wild energy he doesn’t know how to channel, and the door slams behind him. He can’t think, he can’t think straight, properly, maturely, so he slips in his running shoes and slams the door again on his way out.

He comes back an hour later, too tired to be angry. Something in him is still vibrating though, spinning in tight circles and squealing at his every thought, relentless – it’ll dig a headache right into his skull soon, he knows it. It’ll carve a hole between both hemispheres of his overloaded head and push a migraine right into the crack, beating, beating and crying, beating and pulsing like a thorny, disgusting maggot.

Water. Food. They will help.

A shower, too, and rest.

And why not the cello of a neighbor, grave and heavy, coming to him in slow waves. That’d be nice. Maybe. It’s not boring yet, and Bakugou could use something to fill the air.

Bakugou could use a lot of things.

A phone call. A hug, his father said once, a hug, as though there was any medicine to that. A vacation, his doctor had said at least twice, but Bakugou doesn’t care for vacations, breaks and holidays – the work is important, the focus is primordial, and the machines beeping, the metal glinting in the light, everything always ringing – this is why he’s here. Bakugou already has moments for himself, he doesn’t need a break, he doesn’t have to use a vacation; he takes showers just long enough, he cooks for himself, in the shade of the evening sun, he breathes in the silence until he finds nothing left to be angry about, until it all settles.

Until, a bell.

The cat comes out from the bedroom slowly, taking his time with each step towards the other side of the living room; both his ears are turned towards Bakugou, attentive and expecting. The bells chimes in cadence every time he moves, soft and easy, and he passes through the patches drawn by the evening on the floor, his eyes turning to small suns when he catches the light at the right angle.

“I’m gonna have to ask for rent at this point,” Bakugou tells the cat when he comes to rub against his shins, lengthening his whole body to press against him. It was supposed to come out as a threat but Bakugou doesn’t manage to make it sound hostile even to himself. And the cat knows, of course; he meows in answer, finally accepting to communicate, and turns between Bakugou’s legs to rub his cheek against his sweatpants.

Keeping an eye on the stove, Bakugou pushes him away with a foot. “I’m not about to get accused of stealing a cat because you don’t know what boundaries are, you parasite,” he grumbles. “Get out.” All the cat does is meow again, higher this time as if in protest, and Bakugou pushes him harder. “I said, out.”

He must have sounded firmer this time because the cat lets himself flop to the side under the pressure of his foot, his tail lazily swishing against the floor. Bakugou’s not stupid, the little monster isn’t giving up, nor is he asking for belly rubs; the cat relaxes on the floor, trusting, content, and even in this Bakugou knows how to read a challenge. No matter how much he tries, no matter what he does, this cat doesn’t seem to feel threatened or even think about leaving. Bakugou’s repeated orders have no power over him, even though he doesn’t belong here, even though Bakugou’s never asked him to stay – so to demands and insults, all the cat does is lay down, blink slowly, trust.

And maybe there’s a hint of you can’t tell me what to do, too.

Bakugou frowns, looking at the animal straight in the eyes. “The fuck do you think you are,” he growls, and the cat blinks again, slow and deliberate, rolling over to his other side indolently like a duchess in silk. “If this is food you want, you can get lost,” Bakugou says, and the cat lets his head rest on the floor too, one ear still turned to Bakugou. Visibly comfortable, he lets go of all tension, blinking slowly in this patch of evening sun. His fur has the tones of warm stones in summer, of old blocks melding browns and polished by the hands of dozens, by the wind and the rain. The narrow alley might have sprung alive and this cat might have sprouted out of the pavement, a rounded stone turned fluid and malleable, still soft to the touch.

Bakugou wonders what his name is.

The longer he looks down at the cat, the easier it becomes to accept him as part of the furniture. Tiny flat in the quiet part of the city with a part-time cat option? Doesn’t sound too bad.

He swallows back his thoughts later that night when the cat joins him on the couch, very obviously aiming for the bowl full of food he’s holding.

“I said no!” Bakugou snaps, pushing the cat away with his free hand – failing. The cat tries to slither under his forearm, ambitiously pawing at his thigh to test the waters and find an angle of attack, and Bakugou bends out of his way, this close to spilling his dinner all over the place. “For fuck’s sake, leave me alone, you pest,” he tries again, but in the ultimate low blow, the cat rubs his face against the hand trying to chase him away, closing his eyes behind Bakugou’s fingers.

And that’s going too far.

His bowl ends up on the coffee table first then he grabs the cat with both hands, lifting him up without ceremony. “That’s it, you’re going out.” The cat weakly mewls in protest, trying to fold his hindlimbs against Bakugou’s chest as he makes his way to the entrance, but Bakugou has had it. He’s too tired to fight a stranger’s cat on his own couch, too tired to even try to make friends with one, so the front door it is.

“I fucking warned you, no thieves in this goddamn house,” he says, moving the cat under an elbow to fumble with the lock and make the door creak open. “Out.”

The cat plops down on the brown mat behind the threshold and immediately turns to look up at Bakugou with blown amber eyes, denouncing the betrayal without a sound. At Bakugou’s reciprocal silence, he shakes his head as though to clean something off him and his bell jingles, ringing, ringing, ringing.

Bakugou sighs. “Fuck you.”

The neighbor doesn’t play any music that night, nor the night after that, and Bakugou closes the windows; still, his mind wanders while his hands stay busy cleaning the dishes, and he plays on a loop the way someone had looked for the cat the same way he looks for the low song of a cello – the way a relieved voice rose right before he closed the door, ah, there you are.

 


 

The bird never loses his voice. He keeps calling, every morning, carrying a world of shrills in his tiny body, always ready to sing, screaming, screaming, screaming. This angle of the balcony railing seems to be his favorite, for he chose it and always comes back to it not long after seven, when the kettle starts answering.

There’s enough longing contained in this puff of feathers to power a whole city of lovers, and Bakugou would almost be jealous, if he cared for it. The bird tries so much, exists so hard, pouring all of his energy into courting a partner he doesn’t yet know he has no chance with – but maybe then it’s the illusion that counts, maybe, as long as the bird believes the kettle answers, there’s not much harm done.

He could spend this wasted time flying though, like other birds do.

Sipping on tea, Bakugou thinks of buying a new kettle.

 


 

It’s not like running down the stairs to check his neglected mailbox took him a long time. It’s not like jogging across the small courtyard, trying not to slip on the wet stones and keeping a hand above his eyes to see in the rain, had ever been a lasting ordeal – round trip? Two minutes, three tops.

And yet, despite how fast he ran, it was enough for Bakugou to regret keeping his eyes off any and all windows in his apartment. He’d thought himself safe – foolish, how foolish it was to believe that leaving a ridiculously small kitchen window gaping to let the fresh air in would not, at the same time, invite fall inside, and with it the chime of a golden bell.

The few minutes it took him to go fetch two bills and a flyer for a nearby sushi restaurant were enough for the cat to find a bag of groceries left unsupervised on the kitchen counter. He turns towards Bakugou when he enters the room, having visibly been interrupted in the middle of something important. “You’re here again,” Bakugou frowns, and no, he won’t apologize for coming back to his own apartment, no, he won’t try to cuddle either – could this fucking cat stop looking at him like that.

Apparently fine with the greeting, the cat dives back in head first in this treasure he just found; the plastic bag rustles with his curious digging, most of his body disappearing somewhere between eggs and tomatoes, and Bakugou jerks forward.

“Hey, those are my groceries you fuck, don’t hide in them” he scolds the cat, who only digs deeper.

Before he gets to grab the intruder, someone knocks at the door.

Both he and the cat perk up. “Who the fuck is it now,” Bakugou mumbles, feeling his patience crumble. What is going on, on this day, and why does it have to happen to him; can’t he have some peace and quiet? He’s going to get it no matter what, hurling plates at people so they leave him alone if he has to.

The knocking insists. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fucking coming,” Bakugou calls, turning around to go back to the hallway, and the cat jumps off the counter to follow him. In typical pest fashion, he gets all up in Bakugou’s feet, slithering between his ankles to trot to the door at his pace. “Get out of the way, for fuck’s sake,” Bakugou says before pushing the cat away with a shin between two steps to avoid tripping over him.

The knocking comes back right when Bakugou reaches the door, and since no-one seems to have any patience around here, he grabs the knob and yanks it open. “What!”

On the other side of the threshold stands what’s left of summer – a man pretty as sunrise, with shoulder-length hair he has no legal rights to dye this red and a smile Bakugou didn’t ask for; there’s a woosh of something, a sudden shift in Bakugou’s blood as though the stranger flipped a switch just by standing there, because fuck is he gorgeous.

“Hey, sorry, you don’t know me and this is hella awkward,” the stranger starts, one of his hands rubbing the back of his neck nervously – are these his real biceps, “but I think my cat just jumped in your apartment?”

The stranger’s hand drops from his neck and he smiles a bit wider, a fang – a fang? – peeking out when he nibs at his bottom lip.

“Oh,” Bakugou manages, and it’s already too much effort. The stranger’s eyes won’t leave him, red and sweet like cherry candy, since when – since when can people look like that, since when do strangers get to sparkle, why why does he look like the sun setting down, why is he so pretty

He barely registers the cat walking past him to rub at the stranger’s legs with a renewed enthusiasm, and he couldn’t focus on him if he tried.

“Crimson! There you are, you problem child,” the stranger smiles, crouching to pet his cat, and the cat closes his eyes to gratefully accept the scratches; Bakugou’s red, isn’t he, he knows he’s red but why, why does this man’s voice sound like the easiest thing to listen to, why is everything about him so soft, why is his hair this shiny and his hands this perfectly sized for this stupid cat –

Bakugou’s heart jumps in his chest when the stranger looks up at him. “Thank you for being kind to him!” he beams again. “He doesn’t really know what is supposed to be his territory yet, but I’m trying to teach him.” He stands up then, cradling the cat again his chest – Crimson (what kind of name is that?) lets himself be petted by a gentle hand, cozy and comfortable in the crook of his owner’s shoulder.

Probably encouraged by Bakugou’s silence, the stranger continues. “We just moved in,” he clarifies, looking at Bakugou straight in the eyes and visibly gleeful about something – is this his default state or is this asshole making fun of Bakugou for not being able to align two words in a sentence? Either way, Bakugou feels himself burning all the way down to the pit of his stomach; it stirs and it pulls at him from the inside and fuck fuck fuck.

“He’s stupid,” he croaks without thinking, and it should be a terrible thing to say to someone cute he just met but the stranger barely muffles his laugh.

“He’s really not, trust me,” the man assures him, quirking a brow. “I’ll tell him not to bother you again.” He hugs his cat for emphasis and Bakugou’s whole cardiovascular system squeezes at the sight, his blood pressure going bonkers.

He doesn’t have time to think of something – how could he even think of anything – before the strangers speaks again. “Thank you again!” he nods, and is his hair the exact same color as his eyes what the fuck; it’s all too much, it’s too much information to absorb all at once, it’s nothing but it’s too much, and Bakugou’s not in the mood for too much.

“Whatever,” he mumbles, stepping back inside his apartment.

“See you around!” the stranger says right before the door slams closed on him.

Bakugou’s hand lingers on the door knob. What was that, and why does he want to punch it – primary school is far behind him but only now does he understand the kids passing notes and checking boxes, threatening each other with stubborn affection. Get the fuck out of my school, he wants to open the door and shout, fuck right off, fuck right off and never make me feel like that again.

He closes all the windows and turns on the TV so the silence doesn’t let him think freely; the night falls fast now that fall settles down over the city, and the rain plays with the branches of the trees watching over the narrow alley.

Maybe he should get a dog.

 


 

The mornings grow lazy, spreading pink later every day, but whoever’s biking to work still keeps the same schedule; the bell rings right under Bakugou’s bedroom window right before seven, no matter the weather. It’s still irritating, too thin of a sound, too sharp and bright, but he’s gotten used to the sound of bells lately.

The whistling of the kettle brings the bird along, grey and puffy with morning dew, like a splotch of rainy cloud gifted with wings. He’s not a bell, and the kettle isn’t either – Bakugou will never get used to them. Their combined song is piercing, cracking clear and too much. Too much.

But in another corner of the balcony, the brown cat is rolled up in the shade, still and silent; his round amber eyes are fixated onto the bird perched on the railing, captivated. His tail doesn’t move and he surely doesn’t miss any note of the bird’s performance, but he does not ready himself to jump. He simply observes, gracious enough to let the bird sing his heart out – or maybe he’s considering it, Bakugou thinks, maybe he’s just deciding whether today is a good day for blood.

Too busy trying to get the kettle’s attention, the bird doesn’t notice.

 


 

“Not the pillows, for fuck’s sake!”

The cat meows at Bakugou’s scolding and continues kneading a pillow with wet paws; his brown fur has lost all of its red reflects with the rain, as though washed clean of light, and he’s left wet spots all over the bed.

Bakugou lurches forward and grabs him. “You fucker, have you been – you have been rolling around all wet, you absolute – ” The cat meows again, squirming in his hands, and he flicks an ear at Bakugou. It looks like what are you gonna do about it, but it also looks like I’m too cute and you know it, and Bakugou bares his teeth in answer. “You absolute motherfucker.”

He brings the cat into the crook of his elbow and the cat lets him, all four of his paws in the air and his belly exposed; curled against Bakugou’s chest, he blinks up at him slowly.

“You’re disgusting,” Bakugou says, fingers carding through the fur of the cat’s torso. His forearm feels wet, he knows he’ll be covered in sticky cat hair the second the pet jumps out of his arms, but somehow this is fine. This feels okay. He’s not against it.

The cat – Crimson – closes his eyes when Bakugou comes to scratch at the side of his neck, his tail flicking once or twice. Bakugou carries him out of the bedroom. He should throw him outside but somehow, it’s easy to forget about the idea as soon as he even thinks of it so he stands there, in the middle of his apartment, to pet this cat a bit longer. “You’re so gross,” he mumbles, finding dry spots to scratch at under the cat’s chin, and the cat chirps at his voice, his delight vibrating into Bakugou’s fingertips. He shifts in Bakugou’s arms but doesn’t try to leave, and when he opens his eyes again, Bakugou finds specks of gold trapped in the amber.

The bell under the cat’s chin is cold to the touch, and it doesn’t ring – it rolls every time Bakugou touches it, softer than a sting, kinder than a stab. It’s nice. To have a cat find his arms cozy, to become a comfortable place to be for such a creature, it’s really nice. The cat still hasn’t tried to attack his hand, and this alone feels like he’s doing something right. If he wanted, Bakugou would still be able to find things to complain about, but even the red of the cat’s collar isn’t too bad. Scarlet, like a threaded sunset, like hair curling under the last of summer, and expecting eyes that turned Bakugou into a blooming poppy – that still do, when he thinks about them.

He thinks about them.

And it’s warm (and stupid) and it’s way too nice (but it’s stupid) and it feels so innocent, harmless, cute (and Bakugou can’t stand stupid), but this stranger’s cat is in his arms and maybe he could go and find him? Maybe he could walk around the inner courtyard to find the right stairs and the right door and say hey, I found your cat just so he can see this specific shade of red again, so he can hold summer back; hey, I found your cat, let’s get coffee, and that wouldn’t be him, that’d be true stupid, people only do this in movies, but hey, I found your cat, wanna go out with me?

The cat starts purring.

It resonates in the cavity of Bakugou’s chest, vibrating between his ribs like a good line of bass, the sounds round and bubbling. There’s nothing harsh to this, to a cat softening in his arms, pushing a diesel engine right next to his heart, slow to start but forever rolling. There are hints of ginger, hints of red under the brown of the cat’s fur, quiet and muted as in old bronze, and with every move of Bakugou’s hand the cat keeps purring, purring, purring. Fall could not have found a better vessel.

It’s really nice.

Still, Bakugou finds his way to the front door no matter what, no matter how loud the cat purrs in his arms, how good it feels to have this humming engine this close to his heart. Tearing his hand away from the cat’s chest, he opens the door. “Come on, out.”

“Hey!”

Bakugou looks up to find the stranger trot up the stairs towards him, waving a hand. Oh no.

“There he is!” the stranger breathes, making his way over to the door. “I’m so sorry man, I don’t know how he got out this time,” he says, looking all apologetic with his shy smile and his fidgeting hand. When he stands to stand right in front of Bakugou, his hair sways with the breeze, and as though Bakugou needed more reasons to burn all over, the cello starts playing somewhere above. Oh fuck, oh no.

“I’m gonna have to lock him up or something,” the stranger smiles jokingly, going for the cat. Bakugou hands him his pet without a second thought and the cat chirps again but doesn’t protest, finding his way easily against the stranger’s shoulder. “I’ll have to repay you for this, it’s so kind of you to treat him like that,” the man says – his voice fits the cello so nicely, it’s so smooth and rounded, so gentle to the ears. There he is again, looking like all the prettiest tones of fall at once, his smile tugging at all of Bakugou’s heartstrings at once.

Bakugou feels his pulse pick up – if he could rip his heart out of his own chest and bite into it so it’d stop galloping like a wild rabbit, he would. “No need,” he grumbles, and why the fuck is he refusing this, but he can’t think straight, he can’t think at all, it’s too much, the guy is too much and the cat is too much and the cello is too much and why do this dude’s arms look so comfortable

“I have to go, I have people over, but we should grab a bite one day!” the stranger says, patting his cat. His smile widens, and everything in Bakugou’s body constricts. “Getting to know your neighbors, you know, I just moved here so I don’t know many people,” he continues, “I mean I have friends but I don’t know my neighbors, and it’d be cool, plus I’ve heard of some cool places –”

Is the guy rambling? “Yeah yeah,” Bakugou interrupts him, and the stranger’s mouth clamps shut. He bats these long eyelashes at Bakugou and butterflies. Feels like wild butterflies. “Keep an eye on your fucking cat, I don’t do shared custody,” he says, swallowing all the wings down.

It’d have been two seconds of silence if it weren’t for the cello finding its way between them. Bakugou kind of wants to walk past the threshold, kind of wants to pull him inside – kind of wants to blow up the whole apartment building so he wouldn’t have to think about any of these possibilities again.

“Will do!” the stranger beams again, scratching his cat behind the ears, his eyes still stuck on Bakugou. Wild, wild butterflies, still alive in the back of his throat. “See you around?”

Bakugou hums, and the stranger turns around before he closes the door, mumbling to his cat as he walks away.

The cello keeps singing through the walls and Bakugou almost wishes it was silent for once, so he could focus on another kind of noise without feeling like he’s stuck in a (stupid, stupid) romcom; the cat is gone, but the small engine is still purring in his ribcage.

 


 

On Sundays, Bakugou leaves the windows open. It’s to let the air in, he tells himself, and it’s true; the fresher his place is, the easier it is to deal with his overheating body. The breeze passing through the rooms makes it a more comfortable place to stay in, and it brings with it the smell of humid leaves fallen on cobblestone, and fresh dirt upturned by the rain. This crook of the city barely rustles, and the narrow alley is silent, as usual, quiet like a sleeping child.

Until, a bell.

The cat comes to sit on the sill of a kitchen window, peeking curiously inside. There’s meat thawing on the counter, Bakugou’s well aware of that, and the cat seems to know as well; he stretches his body to try and look past the barrage of Bakugou’s shoulders, the small golden bell chiming with his every move.

Bakugou stretches out a hand and lets him sniff his spinach-stained fingers. “You again.” The cat bumps his forehead against the back of his hand in answer, pushing for contact.

“You want food?” Bakugou asks, and the cat perks up. “You can’t have any though,” he grins, and somehow the cat seems to understand. Something glimmers in his big eyes – a challenge – and he tries to push Bakugou’s hand away with his head, going for a corner of the window.

“No, you can’t,” Bakugou says, keeping his palm in front of the cat’s face, but the cat undulates like an eel in front of him, going down, up, left and down again. He’s testing Bakugou’s patience, very obviously so, and it’s working. “I said no, you ugly fuck,” Bakugou growls, pushing the cat’s head away, “I swear I’ll kill you if you get in.”

His threats are empty and the cat’s not stupid; he gives Bakugou’s fingers a few licks, his tongue rasping against his skin, then lies down on his side, and Bakugou can’t be angry at that. The cat fits perfectly on the window sill, stretching from nose to tail on the white stone like a pile of fallen leaves on clean marble, and Bakugou can’t stop himself from petting the cat’s chest. His fur is so soft when it’s dry, and through his palm he can feel the purring before he hears it. It starts slow, slow like a diesel engine, but in an instant it’s all Bakugou can hear and all he can feel, thrumming from his fingertips to his core. He gets the articles in the magazines now, and the vague headlines in wellness TV shows – cats are good for your health! Cats will make you sleep better!; yeah, this is pretty relaxing, alright.

The cat warms up in the sun under Bakugou’s hand, purring like a well-oiled machine. “How do you make this much noise,” Bakugou mutters, scratching gentle lines under the cat’s chin. “You’re so fucking loud, you like being loud?” The cat chirps, rolling to his side to stand back up, and curls around Bakugou’s hand to ask for more petting. Still purring, he twists and bends around his wrist, pushing his side, his head, his flank against Bakugou’s palm with unabashed neediness, and Bakugou watches the sun play with the reflects in his fur.

“You like me?” he asks when the cat brings a paw up to keep his hand still so he can rub his face against it. “Yeah, of course you like me.” He turns his hand to indulge the cat and stroke his whole body from head to tail, making him arch in satisfaction under his fingers. “You’re not actually ugly you know,” Bakugou admits. “But you’re one hell of a fuck.”

The cat doesn’t seem to care about being a fuck, and he doesn’t seem to mind about the smell of spinach tainting Bakugou’s hand; he stays on the window sill for as long as Bakugou allows him to and Bakugou leans over the edge of the window, his hand buried in fur, to better listen to him purring, purring, purring.

 


 

The bike bells, piercing; the kettle, screaming; the squeak of a door hinge, the chime of glass against glass, the whine of steel on steel, crawling under his skin – a headache, swelling along with the rising sun.

But the day the bird doesn’t show up, Bakugou searches the silence to find him.

 


 

Through the pipes, the cello’s voice turns ethereal and unreal, as though played in the sculpted dancing hall of an abandoned manor; it resonates in an organic hum, each note grave and low, and paints something slow, long and full, something out the throat of ghost choir. The neighbor must be using another room, or gotten the instrument closer to the walls, because it’s the first time Bakugou hears it as though from the bottom of an abyss, the severity of its heavy song reverberating all around. With such a cocoon woven over the whole apartment, it’s easy to let himself drift away to the tune, tucked into a corner of the couch, and block out the rest of his thoughts so he can focus on his pencil, his notepad, and nothing else.

It works, for a time. Until, a bell.

The cat comes to paw at his knee without a hint of shyness in his demeanor, unashamed of asking for room between Bakugou’s thighs when he’s not even supposed to be here in the first place. The poor natural light almost turns him black, the brown of his fur now indiscernible from the core of an ebony tree – only his eyes, amber alive, contrast against his coat, along with the bright red of his collar.

“How the fuck do you keep on getting in even,” is all Bakugou grunts at him as a welcome, and the cat climbs over his lap with a quiet meow. One of Bakugou’s hands easily finds its way over the curve of the cat’s spine to scratch at his back gently. “And why do you come here just to fucking sleep anyway.”

It’s not like Bakugou’s lap is particularly comfortable, or like this living room is anything out of the ordinary; Bakugou’s never fed this cat, he’s never (really) gone out of his way to pet him, and the summer has made him uncomfortably sweaty. Maybe that’s what keeps bringing this cat back, the warmth, but it can’t be that easy. Or maybe the cat simply does it naturally, maybe he’s some sort of whore cat rolling onto his back for everyone is this apartment building, but Bakugou knows, it can’t be that easy.

This cat has chosen him, somehow, and Bakugou doesn’t know what to make of that.

“This owner of yours sure doesn’t look like the type to not let you sleep on him,” he says as the cat makes himself comfortable, kneading the muscles of his legs, “probably smothers you in affection all the damn time too.”

And the tiny engine in his chest starts rolling at the thought, warm and fuzzy and stupid, so stupid but here, right next to he never really expected to feel it, right where it tugs at his heart with each pump, where it spreads into a happy hive buzzing in his chest. Only kids have crushes on their neighbors, only teenagers who don’t really know the first thing about stuff like romance and making a relationship work would fall for strangers, right – but Bakugou’s a grown up and running his hand over this cat’s collar makes his stomach jump, and it feels good.

“You lucky fuck.”

Guided, the cat answers him, starts purring; he settles into a ball into Bakugou’s lap and keeps growing louder by the second, his whole body an echo chamber.

He probably does it with his (shitty, shitty) owner too, probably finds a curve or a nook, in which everything is warm even in the dead of winter, and crawls his way into it like cats know how to. He probably takes advantage of these hands perfectly made for him, and these arms that could carry him anywhere, hold him against a solid chest, hug him until they both fall asleep. Do cats see color? Bakugou hopes they do, it’d be a waste for this cat not to know why he’s named Crimson, not too understand how much love his caretaker has for the shade, how adored he must be, every minute of every day. Yet the cat still decides to go spend time with Bakugou instead of milking his owner’s attention – if Bakugou were a cat, he’d never leave the dude alone, he’d never pass up on a golden opportunity to snuggle in the crook of his neck or play with his hair or make him grin and smile and beam like he’d swallowed the sun whole and caused the first rains of fall.

Bakugou swings an arm over his eyes; his face is overheating and it’s stupid, stupid but “fuck, I’m jealous of a fucking cat.”

Oblivious, the cat keeps purring in his lap.

Then there’s a knock on the door, and the last of Bakugou’s faith in the universe flies out the window.

He must be cursed, or at least that’s the conclusion he comes to while making his way to the door in his sweatpants and socks, carrying an aloof, indifferent cat in his hands; if he could find the witch, he’d make her regret every word she uttered along with his name, he’d have her beg for his mercy for having dared do this to him, make this guy move right next to him, and give him this face and this voice, and wrap Bakugou in such stupid, stupid emotions.

The door opens on the brightest side of the sun, and Bakugou doesn’t even bother saying hi.

“There,” he says, plopping the cat in his owner’s arms before the guy can start talking.

“I’m sorry!” the stranger stammers immediately, his face torn with an apology he doesn’t seem the find the proper words for, “I really – I just saw him jump out so I came here as fast as I could, I’m so sorry!”

There’s something different to him today, here in the way he stands (is he taller?), in the way he moves (is he stiffer?), in the red – oh, his hair, his hair has changed. He’s brought it up with what must be copious amount of hair gel and his face is the same, his eyes are the same, his buff shoulders and his cute dimples are stupid, stupid but exactly the same; his hair has spikes now, sharp and pointy, and he’s even given himself horns on the front. How shitty can this guy’s tastes can be?

“I’m sorry this keeps happening,” the guy continues, almost bending over in front of Bakugou, with his cat dangling from between his arms and fuck, mother of fuck he’s still cute, even with how horrible this all is, how ugly he should be; this hair should be a massive red flag – ah – but Bakugou still can’t find what’s supposed to be unattractive in this whole picture.

“Stop apologizing already, for fuck’s sake,” he grunts in return, keeping an eye on the cat slowly slipping from between the stranger’s arms.

“I was so sure I had closed every window,” the guy says, fumbling to keep his cat in his grasp, his burning gaze flying over Bakugou’s face without finding an anchor.

“Yeah I got that the first twenty times you said it.”

After finding a way to keep the cat from slipping down, the stranger straightens up. “He really likes you though, I don’t think he’s gone to bother other people.” He raises the cat at eye level to look at him properly. “Have you?” he asks Crimson, his voice reaching higher. The cat rubs his face against the stranger’s cheek at that, purring loudly, and Bakugou could swear the stranger nuzzles him back.

Butterflies, again, and the echoing voice of a cello in his empty head, and his body vibrating to the tune, to the thrum of his heart, to the rhythm of stupid, stupid.

“Yeah, right,” he mutters, his hand finding the door handle again, and the stranger brings the cat back to his chest to finally look at Bakugou properly.

“Thank you again!” he says – here’s the smile, and all these damn teeth, and these dimples in his cheeks. Here’s what fall cannot dim, what goes so well with the rich brown of the cat’s coat, what Bakugou crushes on.

“Fuck off.”

The door clicks shut behind his back but it doesn’t stop Bakugou’s thoughts from staying on the other side of the threshold. The stranger’s chiming voice sing-songs a lesson to the cat, quieter and quieter as they trot away together; he’s out there walking around with this stupid spiky, sharp haircut, and sometimes, sometimes, Bakugou likes spiky, sharp things.

 


 

He comes back.

They both come back.

The cat – spreading all of himself over a couch, a table, a counter, a pair of pillows, finding his way into the bathtub, between books, on the keyboard of a laptop currently being used. Asking, demanding for some petting, for some scratching, for the ears and the chin and the back, pawing at Bakugou’s lap and leaving hair everywhere; through rain and sunshine, he never stops looking like polished cobblestone, like a season made ball of fur, once brown, once copper, once ginger¬ – all the time, red and gold.

The stranger – in sweatpants, in jeans, in cargo shorts, lulling Bakugou out of his apartment with three solid knocks on the door and the promise of a few minutes of August in the middle of September, burning red and sweet like cherry wine. Soft in all the ways Bakugou can name and terrifying in all the ways he can’t bear to admit right now, he looks through him with all the faith in the world, forever merciful, forever thankful at Bakugou’s supposed kindness.

One does not show up without the other and soon the chime of a golden bell makes Bakugou’s heart hurt with anticipation, the tiny engine in his chest starting at once when the cat enters the room, until they’re both purring, purring, purring.

It has his pulse racing off beat and all of him waiting for this voice lingering behind the threshold; exhilarating, fresh and innocent like a child’s first summer, it adds a cadence to his days along the swelling song of a cello, blooming in a smile framed by red hair barely hidden behind cat ears.

 


 

Bakugou gets used to bike bells, and even the kettle’s screech isn’t that bad.

He almost smiles, too, when the bird comes back as well.

The little thing just sits there, his grey feathers fluffed up by the dew, and stays on the balcony railing in silence. The yellow of his beak peaks through the uniform blob of the rest of his body, keeping him from looking too much like a rain cloud, and it never opens: the bird doesn’t sing. He sits, turns around a few times, sits some more.

The kettle stops crying, the morning keeps rising, Bakugou keeps watching him, and the bird stays mute. Why did he come here, if not to do what he usually does, if not to court a singing kettle – has he lost it, the hope, the ear for the kettle’s gargled answers? Is he here just to contemplate, for once, to leave the stage to the kettle alone?

Or has he forgotten, over the course of the last few days, how much this moment used to mean to him – does he not feel anything new, or does he know, now, that the kettle could never really love him? Can birds be heartbroken, too?

Or the simplest explanation is the answer, in which case Bakugou knew it, birds are just stupid, true stupid.

He pays attention to not ever really close the windows before leaving; when he comes back home, there’s cat hair on the couch.

 


 

He comes back from the gym with heavy legs but he can’t show that, so he walks down the narrow alley and all over the dark cobblestones without wincing at how the curves in the pavements pull on his calves. The smell of rain envelops him, a bit thicker with every step he takes under trees, a bit stronger every time he walks past a patch of fallen leaves. It must be ten at night, maybe even eleven – at least a couple of hours past his favorite bedtime, but this was necessary. Needed. Felt good.

The lights in his hallway take some time to warm up but Bakugou could navigate his apartment with his eyes closed anyway; he throws his sports bag somewhere, kicks off his shoes somewhere else, avoids the corners of the kitchen table to get himself a glass of water, sighs. He could fall asleep standing right here, right now in front of his sink, and for a second, he considers trying.

Until, a bell.

Bakugou turns around. “The fuck do you want now.”

The cat meows, trotting to his side to his can rub his whole body against his cramped calves. It’s almost nice, he massages the muscles as he goes, and in the dim lightning he looks like a shadow without a body, like the vague print ghosts leave on blurry photographs. He smells like rain, too.

“You know you can’t spend the night here, little bastard,” Bakugou reminds him. He puts his glass down on the counter and leans down to grab the cat, grunting at how stiff his own body is. “How about you become an outdoors cat for a bit, huh? Would do your fat ass some good.”

And the cat starts purring against him – what a low blow, what a personal attack; how does one stop a cat from purring, is there a method to stop the noise, is there a trick to counter the vibrations, a place to pinch, a word to say? The cat lets himself be cradled and it’s his fault, it’s his doing if Bakugou ends up carrying him like a child, curled up against his chest. There’s no way it’s comfortable given how sweaty and smelly he is, but the cat doesn’t complain and tries to gently knead at Bakugou’s pecs instead.

“No claws,” Bakugou warns, and the cat gets it; maybe he’s just tired, maybe he doesn’t even feel like pushing his claws out of his paws, maybe he’d fall asleep on Bakugou’s chest if he went to lay on the couch, right where the sunrise will hit tomorrow morning.

Maybe, maybe, maybe, and the bell gets lots in the fur of his chest, buried in warm browns and soft shadows, his amber eyes closed on the world, purring, purring, purring.

 


 

The morning has barely hit the window yet Bakugou already blinks awake, taking his time to fully open his eyes. His alarm hasn’t rung – it’s Saturday, he should sleep in and he might just do that, but he’ll take the time to roll over under the covers before diving back in. All the fluff feels so good to be buried under, and right there, at the edge of his consciousness and surrounded by pillows, it’s the best place to be. The creamy light peeks through the drapes and gives a bit of color to the skin of his arm, buried between two mounds of full covers, and lingers on the thinner tips of his hair, the trained curves of his hand, the contrast around the tendons and the pulp, the cream over the bone, the scars over the skin. Bakugou moves a finger, blinks, and the light moves with him, licking at a dip, mouthing at a high, reminding him he’s awake.

So he blinks again he rolls in bed, stretching his legs with a low whine and pushing it for a second longer, and a second longer, until releasing the tension makes a fantastic wave rush to his head. Satisfied, he turns around, and that’s when the morning shows him.

Pillow, pillow, pillow, cat.

He’s a warm loaf of rich brown bread, rolled to perfection against the headboard, his tiny body puffing up and down slowly. There’s no way to tell where the head is supposed to be; there is only paw, pink and soft, showing up from somewhere in the breathing pastry, and a bit of tail rolled around for good measure.

The sheets around the cat are warm under Bakugou’s palm; he’s been there for a while, maybe even the whole night. Bakugou made sure to take him out last night though, has he found his way in after he went to bed? Why didn’t he go back home, is his owner away, did he get locked outside, and why is Bakugou worrying – it shouldn’t be his business. None of this should be happening in the first place. Bakugou can’t adopt him, and he refuses to let this cat think for one more second that it’s okay to intrude in stranger’s beds like this.

It takes him more than a second to sit up though, and to find a shirt, some sweatpants, to open the curtains; finally, at the light pouring in, the cat chirps awake.

His head pops up from somewhere in the mass of brown, squinting at the sudden brightness. “Good morning, fucker,” Bakugou greets him with a raspy voice. The cat better not be purring already. He stretches, long and bendy over the pillows, his jaws opening on a curled tongue when he yawns.

Bakugou could find the window he slithered in through and throw him right back out, but the cat blinks slowly at him, the amber fogged by sleep, so he doesn’t.

The cat comes to sit on the table while the tea seeps in, not interested by any of the breakfast; he stares out, ears perked up, the golden flecks in his eyes glittering with every move of the bird sitting on the railing.

The bird’s silent – he’s been for a good minute now – but he’s still there, right in front of the window. He might not see properly through the glass but Bakugou sees him well, and the cat sure doesn’t miss one bit of the sight. Still, he sits politely without showing any hunger through his interest; he’s smart, he’d know Bakugou wouldn’t tolerate the sight of spilled blood in front of his own food.

Bakugou munches on a piece of toast ¬– would he stand between them, if he had to?

His thought doesn’t reach its end before someone knocks on the door.

The cat drops down from the table before Bakugou has the time to get out of his chair. “Can’t believe you’re rushing like that,” he mumbles around what he has left to swallow, trying not to step on the cat on their way to the door. “You slept with me and now you’re running back to him? Asshole.”

All the cat does is meow at the door, this heartbreaker.

Bakugou swings the door open before letting himself overthink this and somehow does not even choke on his last piece of toast; the sun has not yet risen high but he still has to squint.

“Hey, so uh – good morning!” the stranger says, showing off his fangs. “I couldn’t find my cat so I came here to check!”

He’s saying it like something obvious, like a reflex he picked up without trouble – no cat? No problem, let’s just go visit the rude neighbor exactly when he feels least presentable, and let’s pull our hair up in the cutest ponytail worn by anyone, ever, holy shit why.

Said cat is already curling around his ankles, meowing for attention. “You found him,” Bakugou nods in the direction of Crimson, pretty Crimson, who’s about to get cuddled to death by the most beautiful fucker he could have been adopted by, fucking Crimson and his tiny bell and his soft fur and the way he makes the neighbor smile like he’s a walking piece of chocolate cake.

Bakugou’s hand clutches at the door. It’s too early for this. It’s way too early for this, why does this have to become some sort of habit, why does this keep happening, it’s not fair he never asked for this, for this aching drum inside and this fierce need to push the cat away and take up all of the stranger’s personal space for himself.

The guy picks up the cat; when he straightens back up, locks of his hair have escaped the rushed ponytail he sports and of course, of course they have, of course the universe has to keep conspiring against Bakugou and make this beautiful idiot even more wantable, even more kissable than he already is. How does one roll their eyes at the whole sky at once, how does one grab gods by the collar to say you’ve made your fucking point.

“What am I going to do with you,” the neighbor sighs at his cat, and this look of adoration Bakugou has grown familiar with paints his face. Ugh. He ends up letting the cat climb his shoulder, and his eyes find Bakugou again right when he smiles the widest. “Well, thank you for taking care of my cat again, Bakugou!”

Bakugou blinks. “How the fuck do you know my name?”

The neighbor’s smile falls. Visibly confused, he points to the small plaque on the wall right next to the front door. The small plaque everyone has in this apartment building, cold and grey. The small plaque carrying his name, as it’s been the case since he moved in.

The realization dawns on him, and Bakugou can’t hear his own thoughts anymore.

His face goes full red, he can feel it – summer all over his cheeks and embarrassment clogging up his throat, and he must punch the feeling, tear it apart. He can’t do that though, and break the nose of his handsome, handsome, most handsome neighbor, so he slams the door shut before the neighbor can stare at how fucking scarlet he’s suddenly turned and lets himself slide down all the way to the floor.

It has only taken this stranger a few visits, a few opportunities to show up and babble on his own for a minute like it’s a habit he enjoys nurturing, but it’s been enough. Just materializing behind the door, on the other side of the threshold; just trotting across the inner courtyard, his voice bouncing against the stone; just being, at all, all red and bright, shiny and sunrise gold – it’s been enough for him to turn Bakugou stupid, true stupid.

 


 

The new kettle is sleek metal, silver and black. The water bubbles quietly inside, a little bit rumbly, and that’s all. No more screaming, no more screeching, no more sharp stabbing through the ears first thing in the morning. No more.

But the bird is still there.

And he sings like nothing has changed, delivering his own little opera on the balcony railing and stringing harmonies out of his puffy body. The old whistling kettle isn’t here to answer anymore, even less to listen, but still the bird sings, desperately in love with the idea of her. With what he knows, from the other side of the window; with the memory, maybe. Or maybe with the boundary itself, the safety of the limit, the other side of the threshold.

Somehow, Bakugou understands.

He gets it, there’s thrill to the unreachable – still, where’s the harm in wanting, where’s the hurt in trying, in taking it all if possible? It’s not a bad life after all, to be forever chasing until it feels all too real, until you can swear you have it. Seems like it’d feel better than flying.

The skies of September wake up clear, tinged with a hint of plum, a brush of red, bright and true like painted scarlet. It haunts him, the sight alone. It makes a shedding maple out of his chest, his heart beating as though slipping on wet cobblestone with every pulse, it makes him warmer than summer. It makes him awake, of all things, awake and ready to feel something other than sharp and pointed. Fall is turning bronze and it rounds the corners. It softens. It feels, simply, truly; it just feels real and true, real like flying.

There’s a choice Bakugou needs to make, and he’s going to bite into it like he does for everything else; hi, he’d say, hi, you’re really fucking pretty, he’d say, and he’d find a way to learn how to be bird, hi, I kind of like your cat, come here and go out with me.

On the other side of the window, the bird might have been serenading Bakugou this whole time; it only makes Bakugou bolder than he already is, if humanly possible.

That’s what he’d say if anyone asked – how he’s shameless, how he’s unstoppable, how he’s so tough nothing never scared him, ever – but he can’t stop the tiny engine in his chest from purring, purring, purring.

 


 

Bakugou must not be the only one with a window open; the cello sings heavy and strong in the inner courtyard, resonating against the stone. The neighbor has improved. They make the tune follow the wind, as if commanding to the trees, and slow down time in the old apartment building. It makes for a good backdrop while cooking, it stops his thoughts from racing, kills any headache before it swells up too thick.

His first guest shows up right when he expected him, when he’d only been listening to the muted thuds of the knife against the cutting board, then the fizzle of meat in oil, and the sigh of steam. In truth these sounds go well together but they were lacking a bit of spice; until, a bell.

The cat sits on the window sill, carrying his head high. He has a bit of dried leaf attached to his shoulder, his version of jewelry. He’s probably gone to roll around in piles of fallen leaves and kept this as a souvenir, and it almost matches his collar. Bridging the gap in the gradient between the red and the gold, the sun cuts a golden lining around his silhouette, fire orange.

Bakugou looks at him, the cat looks back. It takes them a couple of seconds to acknowledge each other, then Bakugou’s back to cooking. Not asking for more, the cat lounges on the window sill with a generous yawn, spreading himself all over like spilled cocoa. The sun filtering through the leaves dances in his fur with the moving branches, piercing patches of warm caramel through the brown. The light makes the golden bell glint bright and piercing sometimes, when the angle is right, and Bakugou sees the metal’s reflection appear sporadically on the kitchen’s wall.

Then the cat starts purring, and fall comes complete. He’s loud enough for Bakugou to hear him but Bakugou didn’t need that reminder anyway, didn’t need to feel his heart squeeze and race in the same second. He knows, he knows, okay? He’s aware already, of how good it feels to let a few emotions bloom in his chest like it’s a second spring, how well it compares to holding a soft cat against his chest. Of how cute, terribly cute the stranger is – of how hard it is to stop thinking about him despite his best efforts. He just wants to touch the red, alright; he just wants to run a hand in this (stupid) hair and another around these (stupid) shoulders and feel the curves, get to know where the angles are, give his heart a reason to pace to the rhythm of stupid, stupid.

Something in him imitates this cat so well, permeable to the season. Bakugou must not let anyone see him like this, ever; Bakugou must have a talk with himself, and the sooner the better.

Right after he takes the eggs of the boiling water, someone knocks on the door. Truly, the sooner the better.

The cat perks up but does not leave the window sill. Bakugou takes his time to dry his hands, looks around at the pots on the stove. Right.

It knocks again, so Bakugou throws his hand towel on the counter. “Shut up, I’m coming!”

It takes him a dozen steps to get there, but then it’s only him, the threshold, and summer. The cello picks up in a heaving cry somewhere above them and the wind follows, blowing the leaves into a ginger tornado right behind the stranger’s back, reminding Bakugou it’s fall and not the middle of August, it’s fall and not early spring, but man does it feel the same.

“Hey!”

And he smiles, the idiot, as though he had any right to do so, as though he wasn’t just standing there almost in Bakugou’s home, where he should have no power – but there’s a cat purring somewhere near the kitchen, and Bakugou swore to himself he’d never let the cat outdo him.

The stranger runs a hand through his hair. “I guess you must know that by now but I’m here for my –”

“What’s your name?”

He blinks, his (gorgeous, almond) eyes focusing on Bakugou’s mouth for a split second. “Huh?”

Bakugou leans against the door frame, frowning for good measure. “Your name, what’s your goddamn name.”

“Oh, uh, Kirishima,” the guy says, correcting his posture just a bit. “Kirishima Eijirou.” He doesn’t seem ashamed to have never introduced himself properly, or worried about why Bakugou would want that information before giving him his cat back, no. “And that’s Crimson, remember? The cat,” he continues, a finger pointing to somewhere inside the apartment, probably to the window on the other end of the kitchen.

“Yeah yeah I know.” Kirishima. It’s nice. A bit similar to his own name, a bit sharp at the start – Kiri, like the song of a spring bird, pointed and spiky at first, but easy on the ears after a time. He’s wearing his hair down today, too, soft and flowing around his face, around these tiny dimples he keeps showing – Kirishima is not too bad; now Eijirou is the roundest, fullest, most pleasing name Bakugou has heard in a while.

Right then. He pushes back against the door frame and turns to go back inside. “Come on, it’s almost ready.”

The stranger – Kirishima – doesn’t follow, and he sounds more confused than anything else. “What?”

Bakugou twists to talk over his shoulder. “You said we should have dinner together once, right.”

A wave of heat hits the back of his neck, and maybe it’s summer overflowing, but maybe it’s his own blush betraying him, rushing to his head and scorching his whole body on the way.

“Did I?” Kirishima says, clearly smiling wide now. Bakugou doesn’t need to look, he just feels it. The bastard’s beaming right behind him like a small sun, bare joy hidden nowhere behind his question.

“Yes you fucking did, so close the door behind you and let’s have dinner,” he says, and his voice comes out surprisingly calm for someone who has a whole marching band making its way up their throat.

Kirishima doesn’t wait to be asked twice; he crosses the threshold, his shoes almost silent on the carpet, and fall comes in with him before he closes the door on the outside.

It takes him a good minute to stop thanking Bakugou, to stop trying to taste everything and help with everything else, and his voice fills up the space like Bakugou’s never tried to; he’s loud, but he’s cute, and he talks too much, but he’s really cute, and nowhere between the starter and the dessert does Bakugou feel a headache coming. There’s something to him too, something Bakugou has seen before in his cat first, like layers of brown hiding gold.

They leave the window open until nightfall, bringing in the flutter of fallen leaves and the mellow voice of a cello; Crimson rolls up in a ball on the kitchen counter and even from a distance, Bakugou gets to feel him purring, purring, purring.