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Cat Out of the Bag

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   Growing up, Connor was always stuck in the worlds he fabricated in his mind, and he wasn’t ashamed of it like his family tried to tell him to be. Even when he would introduce himself to people since middle school, he would always say his name then state that he had an uncontrollably active imagination, and if they ever are speaking to him and he doesn’t appear to be actively listening that they should try to not be offended. He just simply found inspiration and was committing whatever it was to memory to come back to later, or has laid out a simple plot to follow along later. He really meant no harm or disrespect to them.

   Let’s just say that, among the school’s nerds, jocks, or other social cliques, “Crazy Connor” did not fit into any group, and regularly gained more bullies than friends. He never minded too much, though. He always lived vicariously through his character’s lives which he created, and they always had plenty of friends and allies they could turn to when in trouble.

   By his first year in high school, he wrote an entire book, and by the end of his first year, he wrote another, longer one. For his second year in high school, he was “gently persuaded” into taking an art class for whatever reason the school offered (he wasn’t listening on purpose that time), and he discovered he had a natural gift in the subject. With the encouragement of his art teacher and his one and only friend, Markus, he started posting his artworks on a blog he created just for this purpose, that way he didn’t flood his normal social medias with the unusual content. Soon after, he bought himself the equipment to start doing digital art and quickly switched to that for any piece that wasn’t a graded assignment.

   By the end of Connor’s second year, an online social media influencer found the one fanart of them he made– and his blog and all of his other works by extension– by pure chance. After some talking and interactions, they asked if they could commission him to do a small line of t-shirt merch designs. Of course, Connor said yes. They loved it, and so did the customers and fans who looked at and bought the t-shirts. He still knows to this day that he is more than extremely lucky to have had this chance.

   After designing the merch, his art blog started gaining more attention, and by christmas break of his third year in high school, he was making more money each month than any student he knew with a job. He got donations from very generous people just for sharing his art and little comic scenes, and he regularly got commissions from people, and was even asked to create pin and more t-shirt designs for that same online influencer. Connor never gave up writing, however, he simply never posted it anywhere public. Although, as soon as he turned 18 early in his Senior year, he immediately self-published the first book he wrote after doing some heavy editing (it was an actual cringefest trying to read through it), and made it well known on his blog that more were coming in the somewhat-near future.

   It didn’t do too well, to say the least. A world where nekojins and inujins don’t exist, especially for the sake of not making certain things in the plot happen conveniently and provide crude or perverted humor? It doesn’t fly for most people. He didn’t give up, though, of course not. He expected this book to not do well at all, so he wasn’t put off in the slightest. He self-published his next book during his final new year’s break of high school, which ended up doing much better than his first, considering it was a fantasy adventure genre and had a nekojin as one of the main characters. Looking back on it now, this is probably where his career in writing first started.

   Up until this point, Connor was convinced he’d be stuck at a nine-to-five office job for his entire life, since he couldn’t see himself doing what he loved due to the lack of publisher and author connections and, as much as he loves art, that’s not where his true passion lies. He knew that he’d eventually get burnt out if it were his job and only source of income. Although, he also couldn’t imagine doing something he actively disliked because he would rather rip his hair out than be an accountant or anything of the sort like what his family wanted. However, this second book made him realise that it could be possible to do what he wanted full time.

   As Connor very soon found out, nekojins and inujins weren’t popularly a main character in books or any media for that matter, and if they were, the book almost always had a forbidden love type of plot or the partial-human was a slave of some sort of a main character. The fact that Connor, a high schooler, wrote a book with a kick-ass nekojin who gives no fucks and takes no shits as a main character with a pure human lover/sidekick was decidedly open minded and extremely controversial.

   At one point, a surprise encounter with a reporter brought up the question of how he found the courage to make such a bold statement. Connor felt somewhat guilty when he admitted that this story idea had just been in his head for so long and it just had a bad-ass nekojin as the main character. He put no thought into what people would think about it or what kind of statement it could possibly give. It’s just what the story always was, so he made it how it is. Simple as that.

   And apparently that was an open minded answer. The fact that he hadn’t even thought about what the public might think and didn’t care whatsoever that the main character was a nekojin proved that in his head was a world that easily existed where partial humans and pure humans lived in perfect equality and harmony. The writers of those articles weren’t exactly wrong, but Connor still didn’t like how every single one of his artworks and writing pieces were soon heavily criticized and people looked far more into in them than even Connor himself thought was possible. It was almost intriguing how people could pull such in-depth ideas and conspiracies from works that were made simply because he thought “Oh, this kind of pose looks cool for this character” and “Wow, these colors look cool with it so we’ll smash them together like this” and “Ta Da! I did it! I made a thing! Look guys!”.

   By the time he graduated, he was in the midst of self-publishing a third book that Connor carefully picked because the story line didn’t have anything blatantly controversial in it. His fourth or fifth ones didn’t have anything especially attention-grabbing in them either. Although, that’s just how he planned them in his head. Yes, he did have other titles deemed more risky and controversial, but he didn’t release them only because he didn’t want that kind of attention on him again yet. Eventually, all the controversy surrounding Connor had died down once people began realising that such a large statement from him was likely going to be a one time deal.

   Yes, he hated that partial human slavery still existed, and no, he never planned on getting one of his own and thus helping the economy of those types of businesses, but he never felt the urgent need to make any grand statements on his blog and never felt any great desire to march along with the groups of other people protesting in attempts to set them free. He had morals and human decency, but they didn’t run deep enough to make him less terrified of the potential mass of negative attention and large crowds of people, so he supported the protesters in spirit for doing what he can’t with minor guilt.

   He still feels that way even now at 32 years old. He’s lucky enough to no longer be a starving artist, and he moved out of Markus’ apartment to live on his own a couple years ago. He still mainly does digital pieces when creating art, but he took inspiration from Markus and his father and started using different types of traditional medias again. Although, somewhere down the line (Connor wouldn’t be able to pinpoint where exactly, but he’d estimate it was a little before he moved out of Markus’ place), art stopped being the larger source of his income, and started being extra cash he put into savings and funding for larger, luxury items– such as trips across America for more experiences he could use in his art and books.

   He no longer has to self-publish anymore, yet he still occasionally does under an alias when his agent, a good friend of his by the name Luther, wants him to change one or more key aspects of the book to make it more commercialized. By now, Connor thinks his agent’s gotten used to simply telling him a straight yes or no on if he thinks it has a good shot at getting published without changing too much of the plot. Luther has told him in the past that he comes up with other manuscripts to pitch quickly compared to the other writers he works with, so he doesn’t worry too often about refusing a plot. Though, Luther always tell him what parts he doesn’t like if they decide together to not use it because there are uncommon occurrences where Connor decides that the world in his head would be made better with the change he wanted.

   Connor is currently heading home after one of said moments. He just got done with a meeting to pitch his next potential book, and Luther had suggested that he change the time travel portion in it to make it a trilogy rather than have it be significantly longer than average and still seem somewhat rushed. Connor, not understanding why he hadn’t written a series of any kind yet, quickly and happily agreed to go home and edit large chunks of it to make it work. He wonders if he can somehow convince Luther or the publishing company to hold off on publishing the books until all three are completed. Connor hates waiting for sequels and much prefers having all books in a series so he can binge them, and he knows that he’s far from the only one who feels this way. They probably won’t stall until all 3 books are fully completed, though. He’ll just have to somehow work quicker than usual without getting burnt out, he supposes.

   Connor blinks out of his head to pause and take in the scenery around him. It’s his own home town, has been for a long while, so he knows exactly what it looks like and where he is, but Connor’s a firm believer in not taking anything for granted. Plus, he’s starting to get a headache from the amount of contemplating and reimagining he’s been doing today. Normally he’d create some art to wind down and slow his imagination enough to take a break, but he’s been having a particularly bad case of art block recently and has no clue what to do about it.

   Therefore, right now, Connor forces himself to only think about how he’s lucky to live in a more suburban area. He’s is an extremely light sleeper, so he could never survive in a place like a large city that never sleeps. The nearest area like that is just far enough away that the only evidence of it being there are the skyscrapers in the distance and the fact there are precisely 12 stars on a clear night sky, and on nights that aren’t clear, the clouds over the downtown area have an enchanting glow to them.

   In the area Connor lives in, most of the roads are all one lane per direction, with the exception of the main roads with the stores, apartment buildings, and sloppy grids of traffic lights, which are all two or three lanes per direction. This is where Connor is right now, walking along the strangely empty sidewalk. He lives in one of the apartments in the area, and the rumble of cars and the shrieks of emergency vehicles are enough to make him want to move back to Markus’ area despite there still being five more months left on his two-year lease. Looking off to the side where his apartment building should be, Connor decides that he should start hunting for other apartments if he really wants to move to some place quieter.

   Connor pulls out his phone to take a picture of the serene scene he’s just been greeted by. The sun setting behind his favourite burger place, casting the sky in a brilliantly beautiful gradient of rich orange and gold. He has to shove the odd sense of guilt away for thinking something that air pollution has caused is gorgeous because that’s exactly what it is. The small trees that are planted in the middle of the wide sidewalk on the other side of the road look like a black void is trying to rip and glitch its way into swallowing the sky whole, yet is always coming up short. The road he walks along is empty for now due to the traffic light glowing red behind him, which gives him a chance to get an unobscured picture.

   This is the perfect scene to paint back at home. Maybe it’s just the thing to finally get him out of his art block.

   Connor quickly snaps several pictures at varying levels of brightness and contrast before the light (now to his left, since he turned to take the pictures) turns green. He quickly puts his phone away, not wanting anyone to think he was trying to take a picture of them– even though he knows that’s a ridiculous thing to think– and continues on his way home. Honestly, Connor should have taken an Uber or something instead of walking, but he isn’t regretting it quite yet. He probably will in a few minutes, though, when the only light will be from the occasional street light and the moon. He supposes he can always call an Uber now, but he’s currently only a fifteen minute walk away from his apartment complex if he doesn’t take the shortcut through the trees, closer to ten minutes if he does.

   Besides, the air is nice and cool for once, if not a bit on the humid side, but that’s just what happens when you live along the east coast. On top of that, Connor really needs to get more fresh air. The last time he left his apartment (besides hopping into his car for grocery, work, or mail related journeys) was probably an actual year ago, maybe a little over a year. Sure, once in a great while he’ll open his windows for an hour or two, but that isn’t the same as being outside, breathing the fresh air and feeling the slight breeze in his hair and on his skin.

   Huh, that could make a cool land in his series. A place where no matter where a person stands within the small civilization, there is always wind to be felt. They could remain protected and unspotted with the use of a force field of sorts that spreads itself over the town. That is, until the antagonist steals its power for his–

   A thud of something hitting metal immediately followed by a quiet groan of pain interrupts Connor’s wandering train of thought. He probably wouldn’t have even heard it if he hadn’t retained his habit of somehow being alert to his surroundings while zoned out from back when he was in school. He doesn’t even know where the painful sounds came from, but that doesn’t matter because he would keep on walking even if he knew, anyway. He hates conflict, and people in pain generally mean there’s a conflict, but Connor is also too nervous to try to call any authorities. What if there isn’t there isn’t anything happening and it’s just someone who tripped and fell?

    So he checks the time (for evidence purposes, just in case) and keeps walking straight, hyper aware of every little movement and sound around him, yet never turning his head. That is, until he jumps at the abrupt sound of sharp laughter coming from behind the boutique that’s closed for the night.

   “The fucker’s weak and already passing out! Who would’ve guessed! Ha!” a nasally voice taunts. Connor freezes against both his will and better judgement.

   “Should we call some place to pick ‘im up? We could get some extra cash?” a woman asks.

   “Hell no!” a masculine voice shouts, “Who the hell do you think would want an old, fat neko like him, anyway. We’d be doing everyone a favor by just killing it.”

   “Uh, I didn’t fuckin’ sign up for murder.” the nasally voice says uneasily, “I just wanted to go out and have a good time.”

   “Ugh, it’s not like we’d get caught. And even if we did for some reason, we would get a slap on the wrist at most.”

   “Are you actually that fuckin’ stupid, Damien?” the woman snaps. “If we kill him we’d get judged as if we killed an animal. Even I’m not stupid enough to think that we’d get away with something that in a place out in the open like this. Someone’s gonna have to take out trash, and evidence of us being here is everywhere.”

   Connor finally snaps out of it long enough to hide behind the short hall-entrance thing whatever-you-call-it-now’s-not-the-time-to-try-to-find-specific-words of the boutique. He was not as quiet as he wanted or needed to be due to the panic that’s quickly growing in his chest.

   “What was that?” the first guy asks

   Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh–

   “Dude, you’re being paranoid. let’s just get out of here. I’m bored and getting eaten alive by bugs.” The supposed ringleader persuades, his boots thumping on the concrete as he walks away.

   “Same. C’mon.” The woman starts following him if the sound of clacking heels is anything to go by.

   There’s a relieved sigh, then one last set of footsteps walking away. Luckily, based off of the sounds of scuffling and skateboards from around the corner, there’s another way to get in and out of that place besides the one Connor is hiding near. He stays completely still and tense for what feels like hours after those people have left, but when he’s finally able to make himself loosen up enough to look at the time on his phone, only twelve minutes have passed since he last checked.

   Taking a deep breath, he manages to move himself out of his hiding place with minimal internal screaming and panicking. Looking around to see if anyone else witnessed what he had, he only sees his apartment building across the crosswalk and down the road directly in front of him. He’s only four or five minutes away from being safely inside his home if he uses the short cut. Yet, when he contemplates just leaving going home, he finds that a small but loud part of him screams “no!”.

   Connor takes a moment to scowl at the fact that this is an extremely cliche and predictable place to do this type of sketchy thing, before realising that this is, in fact, real life, and what just happened wasn’t so much of a cliche itself than it was proof of why such cliches exist in the first place. Then it properly hits him.

   There is an actual injured, probably unconscious, person behind this very building. A nekojin at that, so calling 911 is pretty much useless and out of the question.

   What the hell does he do about this?! Connor can’t exactly take the guy to a hospital since he doesn’t have ownership over him, and he doubts that he’ll even get any proper help if he’s left there. He doesn’t know what else to do short of taking the guy back to his place, but, as he just pointed out, this isn’t a book. Taking a random, hurt stranger home is extremely risky and dangerous, and Connor literally has no way of defending himself if the nekojin ends up not appreciating the effort of him doing so.

   Maybe he isn’t hurt too badly. Maybe they just knocked him out but didn’t beat him to a pulp like the cliches. Connor highly doubts it, but he’s hoping that the real world doesn’t follow these sort of things to a T. After all, the worlds in his head are never this predictable, for better or for worse.

   That doesn’t really help, but he still wants to see the guy for himself. Fuck. He’s an actual idiot. A genuine idiot.

   Taking a deep, shaky breath, Connor takes a very hesitant step towards the space between the boutique and the bakery, then another, and another. He doesn’t stop until he’s finally in the dark shadow casted between the buildings. Not able to keep himself in the open any longer, Connor steps over to the wall by the bakery. He continues to inch forward, happy to have something sturdy against his back where no one can sneak up behind him like he recalls someone would in a few of the worlds in his head.

   Being able to easily peer around the rear corner of the Boutique, he spots the large nekojin laying against a dumpster in the alley and oh thank god those assholes didn’t quite follow the cliche. He’s still hurt, though. The poor guy’s got blood in his hair that’s grey with age, and there’s blood on the ground and dumpster where he was presumably knocked down. His wrist is also zip tied to the back handle of the dumpster, so his arm is raised high above his head and Connor can see where the ip tie is cutting into his skin. He can’t even quite tell if the nekojin is breathing from where he’s standing. He stands frozen in place, looking for any sign of life from the unconscious man. Connor watches as the man takes a small breath.

   That seems to make something in Connor click, because he’s suddenly moving to the stranger at a fast pace, then dropping to his knees beside him even faster. First thing’s first, Connor removes the zip tie from the man’s wrist by jamming his fingernail between the latch and tail slowly undoing the loop. He carefully puts the man’s arm down by his side. Connor only knows so much about first aid and injuries from past, admittedly extensive research for his books and comic scenes, but he does remember how to spot the signs of various broken bones. He also knows that just that much won’t be enough to make sure he’s actually okay.

   He carefully lifts up the large man’s shirt, carefully avoiding his white, tan, and black blotched tail that was draped protectively across his chest before he passed out. He notes that there’s a lot of bruising, which could mean a few things, none of them good. He’s taking even, shallow breaths instead of short, sporadic ones, though, which could be a good sign. After checking a few other things tenderly and carefully, Connor decides that it’s probably okay to carefully move the stranger so he can check his back.

   It’s immediately apparent that they jumped him from behind. The entire back of his shirt has blood all over it, and some blood on the wall and dumpster where he was leaned against them. After a solid twenty seconds of blindly panicking about what to do about this first, Connor finally forces himself to tenderly lift the back of his shirt up. He notices that none of the cuts should be deep enough to do any lasting damage beyond scars here and there. He doesn’t even think blood loss should be a problem, since the blood wasn’t even visible for the most part until he was rolled over.

   It’s then that Connor realises that he likely has most of the things needed to take care of these types of injuries at home in his jumbo first aid kit (Markus bought it for him on his birthday as a jab at how clumsy he is, but it’s come in handy multiple times since then). That’s at home though. He doesn’t know what will happen to the nekojin if he leaves to get it and comes back, and even if he does, what is Connor going to do once he’s bandaged up? Leave him out here unconscious for the next disgusting person to come along and hurt him worse?

   Oh god damn it, apparently Connor’s going to be one of the dumbasses who brings injured strangers back to his home. He can’t just leave him out here and he can’t trust anyone else in this area– state, even– to not abuse this guy as soon as Connor is out of sight. Maybe he can call Markus to come over to help keep watch just in case? No, damn it, that won’t work. He and Simon are out in New York on a vacation until the weekend. He couldn’t ask Carl or Kara to come over, since Carl’s wheelchair bound and Kara doesn’t get enough sleep as it is. He knows Luther will come help him out, but he’ll be extremely uncomfortable the entire time. Plus, despite his large size and bulky stature, he has no training or experience in any type of fighting, and he’s actually a giant sweetheart that doesn’t like shaking kids’ hands because he’s afraid of hurting them. Besides, he and Kara have Alice to look after, they don’t need to look after him, too.

   This is either going to end surprisingly well or very badly, and Connor has a feeling of which it’s going to be.

   Connor starts very gently feeling around the older man’s head– his fingers carefully avoiding his tan and black ears– searching for any lumps or open wounds. There’s a rather large knot on the right side of his head where the majority of the blood in his hair is around, which is probably the same injury that pretty much knocked him out in the first place.

   Now the tricky part is getting this bear of a man home, since Connor’s a fucking idiot that can’t think of any other better solutions for the guy. After a few minutes of contemplation and trying to reenact how different scenarios would turn out, he finally admits that he can’t do this without help. He pulls out his phone and texts Kara, partially because she has a car that can easily fit the injured man, but also partially because she’s a doctor, and maybe she’ll be kind enough to look him over while she’s here. It’s not like Connor won’t pay her for her expertise, after all.

 

        Connor Child Today at 19:28 (7:28)

Hey, do you happen to be busy right now? If so, then that’s okay.

   Connor doesn’t even have time to repocket his phone before it vibrates in his hand. She mustn’t be busy, if she responded so fast.

        Best Mom Friend Today at 19:28 (7:28)

i’m free. what’s up

        Connor Child Today at 19:29 (7:29)

You know how you’re a doctor? Are you, like, a general doctor, or are you specialized in something? And is there a difference between pure and partial humans medically/biologically?

        Best Mom Friend Today at 19:29 (7:29)

it’s called general practitioner but yes i am. and no there aren’t major differences besides the tail and ears and heightened senses and all that jazz.

why? weren’t you just with luther?

        Connor Child Today at 19:29 (7:29)

I was, but I found an injured Nekojin that was beat up by these three assholes while walking home. It doesn’t look life threatening, but I’m not a doctor and also I have no way of getting him to my place.

        Best Mom Friend Today at 19:30 (7:30)

first of all, where are you.

second of all, you shouldn’t bring strangers into your home.

third of all, you should take him to a hospital anyway.

        Connor Child Today at 19:30 (7:30)

We both know he won’t get proper care at a hospital, especially since he doesn’t appear to have an owner or a way of paying off any debt for the stay. Also, I’ve already thought about every other option besides bringing him to a hospital and they all end with him getting abandoned and/or hurt again out here. I don’t wanna leave him like that.

 

   At the bottom of the screen, Best Mom Friend is typing… flashes then disappears a few times before she finally sends her message.

 

        Best Mom Friend  Today at 19:32 (7:32)

fine, you win. tell me where you are and i’ll bring you guys home. call someone to stay the night with you just in case, i have work early tomorrow.

        Connor Child Today at 19:32 (7:32)

Thank you so much!! I’m at the boutique by my apartment complex!

You’re the best!!

        Best Mom Friend Today at 19:33 (7:33)

i know, it’s my nickname.

        Best Mom Friend Today at 19:35 (7:35)

omw

 

   With that taken care of, the next challenge is getting this nekojin out of this alleyway and out to the parking lot on the side to wait for Kara. A bit of fumbling and thinking over later, Connor ends up deciding that moving the man without knowing the extent of his injuries is probably not a good idea. Instead, Connor carefully chooses a spot where he’ll be able to see him breathing from where he’ll be waiting for Kara by the side of the boutique. Just a bit over ten minutes later, she pulls up and parks her blue SUV in the spot closest to where Connor is waiting.

   “Kara! You’re a lifesaver, really!” he calls after Kara steps out of her car.

   “I know I know,” She shuts the door behind her, “Where’s the guy?”

   “He’s back here. I didn’t want to move him too much.”

   She nods and silently follows him to the nekojin, then starts looking over his wounds. She decides that the cuts on his back aren’t as bad as they could be and the bleeding has already slowed down. At her request, Connor retells everything he knows. After several minutes more of checking, she states that the stranger no doubt has a concussion and will need plenty of rest and another check up once he’s awake. Although thankfully, she doesn’t think his wrist is dislocated or fractured or anything, just heavily bruised and raw from the tight zip tie. Together, they lift the unconscious man into the back of the SUV, and Connor climbs in the back to sit with him.

   They reach his complex in just over a minute, then fight to awkwardly lift the man out of the car and up a flight of stairs to Connor’s apartment. Once inside, they lay him on the bed in the guest room. Kara makes a comment about the sheets not making it through unscathed, but Connor disregards her with an obvious lie about needing new sheets anyway. From then on, Kara washes the man’s back and arms then carefully tends to his plentiful superficial wounds with Connor’s help, since there was apparently glass in some of his wounds still. By the time they’re finished with that and the nekojin has a light blanket draped over him, a couple of hours have gone by. Kara leaves once Connor promises (lies) that he texted someone else about staying over and they’ll be on their way very soon.

   Connor, now completely alone and starting to get anxious about having a large, strong stranger in his home, grabs a canvas and does what he does best; create. Normally when things get stressful or unusual, he’d write a short story depicting a character going through something that would make them just as uncomfortable and stressed as he is and post it on his blog and Patreon, but he doesn’t want the click-clacking of his keyboard to mask any noises that the man could be making. Therefore, he goes for the next best thing, painting out his feelings, or however Markus words it.

   He goes down the short hallway that connects his room to the rest of the apartment, passing the doors to the bathroom and a closet, and grabs a canvas and various paints and brushes from his closet on the right side of the room. Going back out to the area of life, as Connor calls it (since the kitchen, dining room, and living room are all one large area with the living room sectioned off by couches, and the kitchen by a counter island), he sets up his stuff on the coffee table, facing the doors to his and the guest rooms with his back to the front door and the sliding door to the patio.

   He pauses in his painting every half hour to check on the nekojin. When the sun finally rises, Connor’s finished two sellable paintings and is working on a third and has reached the level of exhaustion where he no longer feels tired if he ignores the pressure behind his eyes. Sometimes his insomnia flares up until he gets to this point, so he isn’t worried, especially considering he has a guest– as one could call it– resting in the other room.

   After checking on the man yet again, Connor decides to fix a breakfast sandwich using his near-expired bacon and a tube of premade biscuits. He makes enough eggs and bacon for only one person, pointedly not thinking about the fact that the nekojin should probably be awake by now if there were no serious injuries.

   He’s in the middle of putting his food on a plate when there’s a slight creak coming from behind him. If he were alone, Connor would have been able to convince himself that it was the building settling or something, but he isn’t. He quickly turns around and is relieved to see nothing behind him. He sets the eggs on low before cautiously walking through the living area towards the guest room. He pauses right at the door and listens for movement, just in case the nekojin woke up and is trying to do something stupid and/or dangerous in a blind panic.

   After a couple of seconds of complete silence, Connor hesitantly opens the door just wide enough to see through with one eye. He immediately sees that the man is no longer in his bed, and opens the door wider to scan the room after a beat of hesitation. Connor barely makes it two steps in when a heavy weight barrels into him from the side. Next thing he knows, he’s pinned to the wall by a furious nekojin, with his ears pinned to his head and fangs sharp as needles. It’s already getting hard to breathe.

    “Cause any trouble and I make your life painful, ya hear?” the man snarls lowly, and if Connor wasn’t already on the verge of pissing his pants, this would have done it. Connor rapidly nods as best as he can with a hand around his throat. “Who the fuck are you?”

   “Connor” he rasps, “I’m– no harm. Please–”

   The older man hisses, and it sounds nothing like when cats do it. When cats hiss, it almost sounds like an air leakage from a pipe; high pitched and more breathy than anything, relying on body language and defense more than the actual sound itself. This hiss, though, is not unlike what demons made to sound like in horror movies. It’s lower and almost growlish and absolutely terrifying enough to make up for the lack of a small, agile body.

   It shuts Connor up to say the absolute least.

   “Where the fuck did you bring me?”

   “My–” Connor coughs and gasps painfully, “apartment.” That must have been the wrong answer because the grip around his throat gets tighter.

   “I can fuckin’ see that, dumbass. I meant where the fuck is this place?”

   “Not– far, fr… alley…” Huh, so the darkness not only invades from the sides of your vision, but the focus of it also dims too. And the spots he reads about are definitely present, although they’re dark circles rather than white stars like some books describe. Aw great, he’s starting to dissociate. Just what he needs.

   The nekojin is trying to say something to him, but the only things he can make out clearly from the sudden white noise are “you”, “better”, and “punk”. Connor doesn’t want to agree to something preposterous, but he also doesn’t want to try to ask for clarification or anything like that and make the man angrier. He suddenly has a fleeting thought of dying here, and his mind just as suddenly latches onto it and won’t let go. God he’s so fucking stupid. He knew this was a horrible idea, and he still fucking did it. Why doesn’t he ever listen to anyone?

   Abruptly, he’s released.

   Connor drops to the ground, his legs wanting to function like jelly more than anything remotely solid. He coughs and gasps and lowers himself to his elbows, too weak to hold himself up on his hands. He distantly recognises that the nekojin is trying to talk to him again, but he’s just too dizzy and lightheaded to even try to decipher it. Thankfully, whatever he said wasn’t urgently important because nothing happens when Connor doesn’t give any kind of response, and nothing continues to happen until he’s breathing normally and sitting up again.

   “You said I wasn’t far from the alley,” he spits out, “How close is it?”

   Connor blinks the tears from his eyes and doesn’t dare look up. “Five minute walk, maybe.”

   “Where are your roommates?”

   “Don’t have any.”

   “You live completely alone?” he asks, disbelieving.

   Connor silently nods.

   “Why’d you bring me here? Think you could tame some fuckin’ stray to be your personal pet? ‘Cause you’re very wrong.” he ends in a growl. It sends shivers up Connor’s spine and he can feel the sweat on him beading and rolling down.

   “No. You’re hurt.” he doesn’t try to hide the shakiness in his voice.

   “You honestly expect me to believe that you brought an old, fat, stray nekojin home just because he was a little hurt?”

   Connor nods. “Didn’t know if you were bleeding out or not–”

   He shuts his mouth with a click and tenses painfully when he sees the other man’s feet move. It’s barely a shift to the side, but it’s enough to send Connor back into a panic. The guy must realise this because he shifts backward a step.

   “What do you get outta patchin’ me up?”

   “...technically nothing?”

   “No one does anything without any gain, so fuckin’ spill it.” he spits.

   “A clear conscious, maybe? Self-satisfaction?” There’s no bite in his words, only the underlying fear of giving the wrong answer. When the older man doesn’t immediately shoot another question, Connor continues in a panic that he said the wrong thing again. “Look, I just don’t like it when people’re in pain. I just wanted to help.”

   “People.” Connor says nothing in return. “I’m not people. Won’t ever be, thanks to the ears and tail.”

   “...you should be people.” he breathes.

   “Ah, so you’re one of those activists? You realise you guys are going to get killed before anything changes right?”

   “I’m– uh, I’m not really an activist? Too anxious.”

   “Yet not too shy to bring home a dangerous stranger from the streets into your own home for the sake of patching up a few scratches.”

   Connor decides to get a bit risky and add information, “You also have severe bruising and a concussion. And the hospital wouldn’t have done much for you because it wasn’t immediately life threatening.”

   “If it wasn’t fucking life threatening then you should have left me out there! To hell with your hero dilemma or whatever the fuck you have!” the man snaps, causing Connor to shrivel up again. “How the hell did you even know where to find me, if you really aren’t with the fuckers who did this to me?”

   “I was walking home from work and heard voices. Got too scared to move on, then heard them insulting you. Stayed until they left.” Connor squeaks. He’s starting to shake again.

   The man sighs. Connor can feel his exhaustion from that one breath alone.

   “And how the fuck did you get me here?” His tone is slightly less angry.

   “Called a friend with a car. She patched you up. She’s a general doctor.” Connor tries to slow his breathing back to normal.

   “And why the fuck did she help?”

   “She thought someone else was staying with us last night so i wasn’t alone.” Connor blurts, and with that he throws out the breathing exercises and starts hyperventilating. “No one else is here, but she doesn’t know that. She has a family and work. Didn’t want her involved.”

   “And you don’t have one?” he can almost hear the raised eyebrow accompanying the nekojin’s question.

   “Not really.”

   “Nothin’ to lose by taking in a stranger, huh? Self destructive much?”

   “Not– not exactly.”

   There’s a few moments of tense silence. Connor still refuses to move a single muscle from earlier and it’s really getting painful now, but he can’t force himself to do anything.

   “...you’re not gonna try to name me or some shit?” the partial-human asks warily and, if Connor isn’t wrong, with a hint of timidity.

   That… was not at all what Connor was expecting out of the gruff man after what has been going down. The fact he even has to ask proves how problematic the world is. Connor wouldn’t be able to hold back his offended tone even if he tried.

   “No!”

   “And none of these drawers have clothes of my size in them?”

   Connor blanks. He has no clue what Hank means or what he’s talking about, and he’s willing to blame it on the dizzying panic running through his systems right now.

   “Why…why would I have clothes in your size? I haven’t left the apartment since bringing you here.” When he gets no immediate answer, Connor fears he said the wrong thing again. ‘I– I mean, you’re welcome to check! If– If you want, if it’ll make you feel better. I mean– that’s kind of a weird thing to offer but–”

   Connor flinches as the feet walk toward the single dresser in the room and hesitantly opens the first drawer. Every drawer after that was opened and reshut with great haste. Finding it all empty, he moves on to the closet and goes through the small shelving unit in there. He once again finds nothing, and shut the closet with an obvious breath of relief. He sharply turns back to Connor, who hadn’t realize he raised his head to watch him search until he was met with piercing blue eyes. Connor snaps his gaze back the ground right in front of his feet. He hears another sigh then the shuffling of feet.

   “You really mean no harm or ownership of me?” The man sounds less angry and more skeptical.

   “If you don’t believe me, then you can always leave. I don’t want to trap you. But you’re still hurt.” There’s nothing but the suffocating silence, so Connor tries to explain a bit. “I’ve never been interested in getting a nekojin. I hate what you guys have to endure, and I won’t support it.”

   Hank huffs in what Connor thinks is almost mocking? Maybe ironic or sarcastic amusement? Damn it, his english degree just keeps failing him lately, isn’t it? He wants a refund.

   “You sure you’re not an activist? Going out and parading and getting arrested by plan?”

   Connor squirms in shame and apprehension and shakes his head. “I’ve always been too shy and nervous for anything like that.” No response. “I, uh, I prefer to support through the internet. It feels safer.”

   Feet appear in Connor’s line of view and he instinctively tenses, not realizing that he ever relaxed just the slightest bit in the first place. Hank pauses, then lowers himself down to Connor’s level. He tries to balance on his heels, but it’s apparent that the aging process was not kind to his joints because he falls back onto his behind with a grunt. At this angle, Connor can see that Hank’s now crossed legs from where he still pointedly stares at his feet.

   “How do I know you aren’t with those three brats and are gonna try your shot at taming my fugly mug into something sellable? Hm? How do I know that no one’s waiting to catch me if I try to leave like you offered?”

   Connor speaks without thinking. “You’re not fugly, just in need a shower and new clothes.” Connor hates the tense silence that immediately follows, so Connor quickly moves on and fills itt, “And, I– uh– I guess you don’t? I mean, I don’t know how to prove it? That I don’t think it’s a good idea to ‘tame’ anyone? I mean, don’t you need those life skills?”

   The nekojin only gapes at him as if he’s said something completely absurd, and knowing Connor, he probably did without realizing it. When it becomes obvious that Connor isn’t going to continue, the stranger shakes his head incredulously.

   “Do you know how many people would call a nekojin’s feral state ‘life skills’? Even the damn activists have their own ideas about how our sanity should be managed. Are you fucking insane?”

   Connor winces at his tone. “Uh… I mean, you don’t look feral to me, as such… But I’ve been told I’m dense–”

   “I can’t tell if you’re shitting me or if you’re really trying hard to get me to not fucking hate you.” He suddenly sniffs the air and his expression becomes darker. “Something is burning. What the hell are you burning?”

   Burning? Connor thinks, sniffing the air. He can’t really smell anything.

   “I– uh, I was making a breakfast sandwich before you woke up… It might be the biscuits that you smell burning?”

   He should really go pull them out of the oven, but he’s still terrified of the stranger in front of him. For good reason too. Connor feels like if he even so much as breathes wrong, he’ll pounce and end him. With that in mind, there is absolutely no way he’s going to have his back turned to the partial human for any amount of time. On top of that, there’s a large part of him that’s screaming to stay still and stay silent, because if he gets by relatively unnoticed, then life will be a million times easier. It’s a habit that he still has from when he was in middle and high school.

   “If you insist that it’s only harmless biscuits, then I will go sit out where you’ll be cooking so I know where you are and what you’re doing. But if I see anything– and I mean anything– out of place or suspicious, you’re done for.”

   Connor tenses painfully at the threat, not knowing when he relaxed just that miniscule amount. How was he supposed to know what counted as suspicious!? What if he decided the art supplies were something “out of place”? Does being “done for” mean unconsciousness? Maiming? Death?

   “It’s only biscuits, I swear!”

   He scrutinizes the younger man, “Fine. Lead the way, then, Mr. Not-an-activist.”

   Connor tries to move and get up, but he finds he can’t. He’s simultaneously too tense and stiff and too shaky and weak. He tries again, seeing the other’s impatience, and manages to move his hands down to the floor from where they were protectively curled in front of his torso. He uses little leverage and strength he has to try to push himself up. It wasn’t quite successful the first time, or the second. The third time he manages to get off his butt and into a kneeling position, and that seems to be when the nekojin in front of him, already standing, loses patience.

   “Can you hurry it up?” he snaps, “You were walkin’ fine earlier!”

   The yelling makes everything infinitely worse.

   “I– nerves–” He tries to speak in sentences, but his voice and mouth aren’t cooperating. “I– Sorry. I’m sorry. It’s– anxiety– can’t. Trying. Sorry–”

   The older man sighs heavily, causing Connor to shut his mouth with a loud, near-painful click. Any progress done on getting up to his feet has been completely undone. He can’t unwrap his arms from their almost choking hold around his legs, which he’s pulled up to his chest. It isn’t making his breathing any easier, and that’s when he notices he isn’t breathing. He gasps, then curses himself for overthinking. It’s just that this scene has happened multiple times when he was younger, just with different people, and even then he always knew who was doing this to him. They were never a stranger. God bringing this dude home was a huge mistake–

   “Hey kid, you need to calm down. You’re not breathing.”

   Connor gasps again, his lungs burning and head becoming light and dizzy, but his chest freezes again right after. He smells burning bread and suddenly remembers reading somewhere that smelling burning toast could mean you’re having heart attack. Is that what’s happening? Connor can’t really afford a hospital visit right now, because the price in rent from living alone has risen and his pay grade hasn’t by much at all.

   “Kid, look, I’m sorry for yellin’, but I don’t know where your oven mitts are so you gotta calm down and get the biscuits out before they burn the whole building down. C’mon, breathe–”

   The biscuits. That’s right. They need to be out of the oven. He was told to take them out of the oven. He should do that right away. Yes. That’s exactly what he’s going to do. He has to. Right now.

   Connor shoots up from his spot on the ground, and makes a distant observation that the nekojin makes surprised noise at the sudden movement. He only turns his back on him for long enough to open the door and leave the room, then he’s speed walking to the kitchen area because running in the house is a huge no no. Connor hears a door close as he finds and pulls on a pair of oven mitts. Connor turns his back to his irritated guest just long enough to grab the pan of burnt biscuits out of the oven and not a single moment longer.

   He sets the pan on the counter so the burned-to-partially-black biscuits can cool before throwing them away, just to avoid any possibility of the trash bag melting. He pulls out a stool and takes the smoke alarm off of the ceiling, then deactivates it right as it begins beeping. He gets down and puts it back. He moves back to the stove and turns it and the oven off all while avoiding having his back completely to the partial human behind him.

   There’s complete silence in the room that makes Connor’s anxiety bristle and bubble more even though he currently has eyes on the older man’s back. Connor glances over to the knife block next to the fridge, knowing that he would never actually use them to harm anyone, but he likes to believe he could bluff his way out of a situation. Although, maybe not out of any situation his potential opponent creates. He’d probably be unfazed or get more mad after everything he’s experienced in his lifetime.

   Connor jumps when the man in question starts speaking.

   “You okay now?”

   “Yes, sir.” he answers automatically. He immediately realizes his mistake and shakes his head. “I mean– Yes. Yes I am. Sorry about that. Haven’t had that happen to me in a long while.” He chuckles awkwardly.

   The man studies him carefully. “Why are you helping me, really? ‘Cause it’s obvious now that there’s no fuckin’ way you’re really with those other assholes. What are you getting out of this? Money?”

   Connor sighs, relaxing just a smidge and leaning against the counter.

   “Like I said before, I don’t think I’ll get anything out of this? Maybe self-satisfaction or a clean conscious for helping someone, but nothing tangible.” he doesn’t like the blank look the partial human is giving him. “I just– My gut told me that you needed help, and that no hospital in the area was going to give it properly. I generally have good intuition when it comes to people, so I trusted it.”

   That catches Hank’s attention, who then turns his head to look at Connor. “That’s some bullshit if I ever did smell any.”

   Connor shakes his head. “It’s not, though. I’ve, uh, been told that I can be stupid sometimes–”

   “Understatement of the year.”

   “Heh, yea,” he deflates, “Story of my life…”

   There’s a few moments that Connor finds to be more awkward and weird than tense and suffocating, which is progress. Maybe this dude won’t maim him in his sleep? Connor makes a note to brew his extra-caffeinated tea this afternoon, just so he doesn’t crash later and test the theory.

   The injured man in his living mumbles something, but Connor can’t make it out. He really doesn’t want to ask him to repeat himself, but what if it was something important? What if–

   He clears his throat, cutting off Connor’s growing panic. The guy’s head is down and his shoulders are slumped, but it’s still obvious that he’s still on edge and wary of his surroundings and Connor. When he speaks, it sounds like he has to force the sound from his lips.

   “My name is Hank.”

   Connor doesn’t let himself overthink as he replies, “Hello then, Hank. I’m Connor.”

   The man– Hank, sighs again, this time seeming so much aggravated as tired and annoyed.

   “Look, Connor, I’m sorry for snapping at you. I shouldn’t have done that. But I still don’t trust or like you, got it?”

   “Yeah. The sentiment is kind of the same right now.”

   “Do you at least get where I’m coming from, though?” Hank takes a step forward, and Connor praises himself for not outwardly reacting. “Like, according to society, I am an untamed animal or slave, and I wake up in a strange room and am getting checked on every god damned minute by a complete stranger when the last thing i remember is getting kicked around and beat with broken bottles.” He shakes his head.

   “I ain’t some starvin’, twink cat that you can just bring home and teach how to trust and love or whatever the fuck else books try to say. Hell, I’m not even a Persian or Maine Coon cat with those bushy, pale tails like people always love to give us bears. I’m just an old, fat calico.”

   Connor lowers his head. “I personally don’t agree with the stereotypes as well. But as I offered before,” Connor raises his head to meet Hank’s eyes for the first time, “you’re always welcome to leave, The front door is right there. I’m not keeping you trapped here, and there’s not anyone after you or anything, so…” Connor shrugs.

   For the first time this morning, Hank is the one that looks extremely uncomfortable, and Connor’s panic from before has lessened significantly. He starting to feel tired because the lack of adrenaline in his system, so he’ll probably need that tea much sooner than he originally thought. Maybe some breakfast to go with it, too; his stomach is starting to hurt with hunger.

   Still, Hank hasn’t responded, so Connor takes this opportunity to give him the explicit option to stay because he already gave him multiple outs and he’s as much of an idiot now as he was last night. Although, he really doesn’t think that Hank will do any harm for no reason. Looking back with a somewhat clearer mind, his anger and violence were understandable, and neither of them seem to want a repeat any of that any time soon. Connor doesn’t think he’s making the wrong decision by doing this, anyway. Emphasis on think.

   “If you wanted to stay, though, I can make you breakfast? You can watch me make your breakfast, or you can make it yourself if you want. I mean, because I’m willing to bet that you haven’t had anything to eat except actual trash for a while, yeah?” He chuckles awkwardly. “Or is that another stereotype? One that I’m not aware of?”

   Hank stares him down, obviously still skeptical and wary of Connor. The creator tries to not do anything that could be taken as suspicious, but that in itself could be suspicious in a way. A few more seconds pass like this in tense silence before Hank finally sighs and relaxes his shoulders the slightest bit.

   “What the fucking hell is my life anymore.” He mumbles, then raises his voice to a normal speaking level “Alright. I’m gonna sit on that stool,” He points to one of the two the kitchen island, “And I’m gonna watch you so you don’t poison my food. And then you can hear me if I even so much a shuffle, so you’ll know I won’t attack you from behind.”

   “Okay.” He watches as Hank moves with a slight limp in his left leg and sits with a poorly concealed wince. “Did you… did you want to maybe redress your wounds? I have over the counter pain meds if you want, but I doubt you’d trust that.”

   “You’re right. I don’t trust that a single fucking bit. This ain’t anything I haven’t gone through before, so you can quit your strange fuckin’ worryin’.” Hank hesitates, then continues, almost meeker. “And you don’t need to worry about allergies. I’ll eat anythin’.”

   Connor simply nods in response, finally starting to get used to Hank’s vulgarity and irritation. It’s probably not healthy why he’s already getting used to it despite his full-blown panic attack and the actual attack, but no one really has the time or patience to unpack that right now. Therefore, Connor does what he does second best, and instead of slowly unpacking that box of troubles and sorting through it like any healthy person, he simply tapes that box shut tightly and shoves it to the back of his mental storage unit while he takes out his portable cooktop. It’s kind of worked so far, so why wouldn’t it work well enough again?

   As he gathers ingredients and such to the island so Hank can see exactly what Connor is doing at all times, he never once looks up at Hank. The why from earlier tries to rear its ugly head again, but he shoves and forces it down again with practiced ease. Unlike what it has to say about the damnable why, his gut is telling him that Hank isn’t really a bad person, that he’s just been through some shit in his life. It’s right about people much more often than it’s not, and Connor can only hope that this isn’t one of those times where it’s not.