“I still love you, even if you can’t love yourself!” Klaus called to Five’s retreating figure, spitting the stale bagel out dramatically. He glanced at Ben’s smirk.
“What?” he grumbled, continuing his search of the dumpster. He had only dumped the papers here the day before and all of the same bags of trash remained. He recognized the slightly mushy bag leaking questionable contents. So where were those papers?!
“Arg!” he growled, throwing back his head and baring his teeth at the sky. Pogo was never going to stop riding him. He stomped angrily, taking small comfort in the hollow metallic clangs his feet produced. Clangs and a feral growl. Klaus stopped his tantrum, startled by the sound. He had lived on the streets for a long time and had categorized the sounds they held.
There were the creaks of older construction towering precariously over some alleys and the choked yips of weaker dogs encountering stronger, meaner dogs. There were the sounds of blissful laughter, a bright contrast to the dingy streets and low, mournful sounds of passion. These sounds Klaus tended to avoid because they meant company and if Klaus was on the street, he usually had made a conscious decision that had ended up with him alone for a reason. Sounds of passion could quickly turn into sounds of apathy and Klaus just couldn’t stomach the train of thoughts that accompanied apathy.
This sound, however, he knew well. Feral growls like that were almost always accompanied by the longer yowls of animals in heat, specifically alley cats. Alley cats were a different breed of cat altogether. If street dogs were mean, alley cats were vicious. Street dogs used physical intimidation techniques, arching their backs to make themselves seem bigger and pulling back their lips to let their fangs glisten in the dim light. Alley cats didn’t bother with anything so menial. Alley cats were simpler, if not more effective, beings. Whereas street dogs growl as a warning to keep away, feral cats growl as an attack cry. If you heard the growl, it was already too late for you to avoid whatever assault was coming.
It was for this reason that Klaus felt giving a flinch was an appropriate reaction. He was not going to engage in a one sided blood match for scraps of food. Even if his belly wasn’t currently full, no scrap was worth the plethora of complications that wounds from a cat could bring on the street. No way. He cautiously peered over the side of the dumpster, moving almost comically slowly, as Ben hopped down from his perch to peer beside him. Klaus gave his brother an irritated look. If Ben provoked this cat and it attacked Klaus, he was never going to let Ben hear the end of it.
His irate train of thought was abruptly derailed by the sight of his adversary. Adversary seemed too strong of a word for the creature before him. It was unmistakably a cat, that was for certain. However, it wasn’t one of those mangy cats that were more filthy mats than fur. Oh no. This was one of the fanciest alley cats Klaus had ever encountered. He didn’t even think it could qualify as an alley cat, with its clean, glossy hair and eyes free of gunk. No, this cat was quite simply the prettiest cat Klaus had ever seen. It’s been Klaus’ experience that pretty things were that much more dangerous than regular dangerous things because the façade threw you off. Made you relax. Klaus gritted his teeth in preparation.
He wondered idly if this cat was someone’s pet.
The cat made a low growl in the back of its throat again, looking up at Klaus with poisonous green eyes, hunched at the ready to defend whatever it had claimed in the dumpster. Ben echoed the low noise the cat had made, startling Klaus and, surprisingly enough, the cat? Klaus whipped his eyes from Ben back to the cat, taking in the way the cat wilted slightly with the appearance of a second adversary. But... that wasn’t right. Ben was dead. Ben, his brother, his constant companion no one else ever believed was there, much less saw, was dead. Incorporeal. Despite this, the cat was staring openly at Ben, following Ben’s movement as he shifted to the lip of the dumpster. It was clear the cat saw Ben and, other than seeming a tad put out by another presence, was not in the least bit impressed or intimidated.
Now Klaus, having seen spirits his whole life, found this behavior slightly odd. Yeah, Ben wasn’t a bloody mess of a person like most spirits were, but he possessed an eerie aura around him nonetheless. He was both natural and unnatural, a natural essence and supernatural being at the same time. He had observed how strangers naturally gravitated away from Ben, minutely and unnoticed. Animals howled when he neared them, never acknowledging him but reacting to the wrongness his presence exuded.
This cat clearly didn’t care about any perceived wrongness or about acknowledging any threat. This cat seemed perfectly happy, smug even, to stare Ben down, like the cat would and could rip him to shreds. Klaus glanced back to Ben hesitantly, only to see a look of unfettered glee on Ben’s face. Klaus was never sober (yay for no ghosts) but that meant Ben was often alone with just Klaus for company. Even that was just some of the time, depending on how wasted he got. As far as Klaus knew, this was the first time Ben had been acknowledged by any creature, living or deceased, since he had died. After all, there weren’t a lot of ghost friends Ben could make because, again, drugs.
Glee was clearly not the reaction the cat was expecting, because a hint of puzzlement inserted itself into the glare. With the imminent threat of his disembowelment via feline averted, Klaus let out a delighted chuckle. This turn of events was absolutely delightful.
“Look at the little pussy cat!” he cooed at it, clasping his hands in pleasure. The “little pussy cat” pointed its stare back at Klaus, the hairs on its back standing up in offence. Klaus waved it off as Ben hopped down from the dumpster and neared the cat. The cat backed away warily, the air of being the one in charge of the situation wavering a bit. This cat was used to being the scariest one in the room and it definitely showed. If Klaus didn’t know better, he would say the cat was trying to save face as Ben crept nearer.
“No collar,” Ben announced, inspecting the neck as best as he could as tufts of fluffy hair obscured his view. “Probably doesn’t belong to anyone?”
“That’s your take away from this encounter? You looking for a companion, Ben? A friendly,” he paused, observing the scowling expression and unimpressed air of the cat, “face to greet you each day after work? To snuggle with you in the evenings? Am I no longer enough for you?” he sniffed dramatically.
Ben, predictably, glared at him. He was as aware as Klaus was that not only did they not have a “place of dwelling” as Klaus sometimes referred to continual living spaces, he was also dead. Very dead. And the dead, as Ben was ever so painfully aware of, could not, in fact, snuggle. Among a plethora of other things.
“You’re an ass, you know that, right?” Ben groused. Klaus just gave him a shit eating grin.
The dreary clouds that hung low took that opportunity to begin to weep, a heavy drizzle engulfing the alley. Klaus sighed dramatically again, eyes heavenward as he implored the universe as to why nothing was working out in his favor. Ben rolled his eyes, shifting on his feet just for something to do. The cat growled low again, swiping at his too close form and swiping a second time when its paw was met with nothing but air. Klaus had expected it to turn tail and find a dry place to wait out the weather, but the cat looked even more determined to make a stand. For what, Klaus couldn’t imagine. Yeah, a food source was precious enough to defend, but there was also a hierarchy of needs when living on the street. Shelter usually preceded food on the list, mostly because shelter meant warmth, or at the very least, an absence of worsening cold. Food didn’t assist in the maintenance of core temperature whatsoever. Plus, didn’t cats hate getting wet?
Klaus weighed the merits of continuing his search in the steadily increasing rain versus giving up and having Pogo hound him for dear Daddy’s papers. He had already torn through every inch of the dumpster and had located nothing promising. Five had driven away ages ago and Ben was looking thoughtfully down the alley, like he was about to disappear to wherever he went off to. Searching without Ben to poke fun at, or get poked by in return, was definitely not as exhilarating. Besides, he was beginning to observe the shadowy figures of the ghosts slipping into the corners of his vision as the drugs receded. He was definitely not going to search for anything whilst sober.
With a decisive clap, making both Ben and the cat jump a good foot in the air, he declared, “Welp, Benny boy, let’s call it a night!”
“But it’s barely noon-“, Ben began.
“Nah ah ah!” Klaus interrupted loudly, hopping down beside his brother. He noticed the cat still stood its ground, though it looked more inconvenienced than mad at this point. Plus, he couldn’t take that adorable little scowl seriously with water dripping off its whiskers. “I’m hungry. I wonder if we could convince Mom to whip a little something up, hmm? Nice change of pace from dumpster diving!” He gestured to the half masticated bagel littering the ground.
“You just want to get high again,” Ben said in resignation.
“Mwauh? But of course!” He waved his ‘Goodbye’ hand at the cat. With a flourish, he twirled on his heel, making extra sure his patchwork coat flared out behind him dramatically, and began to march towards the opposite end of the alleyway. He didn’t even need to turn around to see if Ben was following him because he heard a quiet farewell to the cat (and since when did Ben speak to animals?) before he trailed Klaus, just inside his peripheral vision.
Ben kept his silence as Klaus held open the gates to the front door for his brother (he wasn’t without manners thank you very much). Klaus wouldn’t have normally cared about Ben’s silence, relished in it even, except for the fact that he couldn’t get Ben’s exuberant face out of his head. Ben hadn’t looked that excited in, well, as far back as Klaus can remember. Definitely not since he had died. What was there to be excited about if your life consisted of being tethered to your junkie brother who overdosed sometimes for fun?
“Fluffernutter,” Ben stated pensively.
“I beg your pardon?” Klaus asked, startled into his manners.
“Fluffernutter,” Ben repeated, his pensive face turning towards Klaus. Klaus stared at him blankly. “You know, the sandwich?” Klaus most definitely did not know.
Ben let out an exasperated noise behind closed lips. “The sandwich. Five’s favorite sandwich. The one Vanya used to make for him every night after he disappeared? With peanut butter and marshmallow fluff?”
Klaus pursed his lips for a moment before carefully asking, “Is that what you want Mom to make for you?”
“What? No, you idiot. The cat. I want to name it Fluffernutter.”
Klaus studied Ben’s face for any clue as to how to approach this sudden conversation. Was Ben joking? Why was he suddenly thinking of their missing brother’s favorite snack? What did peanut butter and marshmallow fluff have to do with some feral cat they encountered in an alleyway?
“Alright,” Klaus agreed neutrally, too sober to tease Ben about ghost Alzheimer’s or whatever was going on with him.
Ben was clearly losing his patience. “The cat. It was a calico. You know, the cats that have black and gold and white markings?”
“I know very well what a calico is,” Klaus sniffed haughtily. “We all had the same schooling, you know.”
“I sometimes wonder- nevermind. Fluffernutter sandwiches are gold and white. Toasted, they blacken. Calicos are black, gold, and white.” He repeats this last part like Klaus has a single brain cell incapable of any sort of conjecture. Which is quite frankly insulting, because Klaus happens to know he owns three brain cells, thank you very much.
“Ahhh,” Klaus says absently, tracing the umbrella design inlaid into the gate to the house. He was trying to decipher if Ben wanted his input on this declaration or if he should just let it be a statement.
“They are also almost exclusively female,” Ben continued, ignoring Klaus’ disinterested look. “Because the gene for coat color in cats is on the X gene and females have two X genes, so when a cat inherits one black X gene and one gold X gene, X inactivation randomly turns one off, creating the unique pattern-“
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Klaus interrupts, waving a hand to dismiss all the information Ben just began spouting without warning. “Dear Papá would be so very proud of you and your retention of cat coloring-“
“-Whatever. My coat is getting damp Ben. You can’t imagine what water does to the material -“
“I’m sure I can,” Ben mutters.
“-and fashionable clothing is so delicate and you know how hard it is to find-“
Ben didn’t even acknowledge his existence as he walked right through Klaus and into the house.
“MANNERS Ben! Who raised you, a wolf? We do not walk through people!” Klaus hollered towards him as he stomped inside, shutting the door a bit too hard behind him.