"If he stares at you, it means he doesn't like you."
"No, it means he's trying to assert his dominance," Kayn replied, not allowing Jhin's input to interrupt his staring contest with Rhaast. Rhaast was one of the campus cats, with the other being an elusive kitty Kayn had only spotted once or twice. Rhaast wandered the campus more often, but was arguably even less social. He had no problem lying down to sunbath in the middle of a sidewalk, or attacking someone's untied shoelaces, or even pawing at the door of the cafe to try to get in. But legend held it that nobody had ever successfully pet Rhaast without being scratched or bitten.
Zed was also leering at Rhaast, but the tabby was holding steadfast eye contact with Kayn alone. "I think it means he's planning to do something awful to you," Zed declared, flipping a page in his notebook. "Cats are already demonic to start with, and Rhaast looks like one as well."
Kayn momentarily looked away from Rhaast, who was sitting right outside the campus cafe's window, to give Zed a chastising look. "Hey, don't bully Rhaast. He can't help how he looks. Plus, cats are perfectly fine as long as you don't treat them like dogs."
Jhin nodded, humming a couple notes as he glanced out the window at Rhaast. "Oh, he's ugly, I'll give you that. But cats can be sweethearts."
"I'm a bit biased against them, since I'm allergic, but I've never met a cat who didn't hate people." Zed gestured out the window to Rhaast. "And he's not a great example of a cat that breaks the norm."
Kayn really couldn't disagree with either perspective. Rhaast was certainly no model kitten- he was actually quite large for an adult tabby. His fur was a mottled black-brown, with a few lighter chunks near his paws. He was missing a couple toes on his back left paw, along with a chunk of his right ear, and his tail had an odd crook in it no matter what position it was in. There were a couple lines of scar tissue on his back and legs where fur wouldn't grow. And, of course, there was his antisocial behavior.
He was a hideous, rude cat, and Kayn wanted nothing more than to pet him.
Jhin and Zed were both aware of this mission, and thought Kayn was a complete dunce for pursuing it. Jhin was at least polite about it, saying that he was concerned for Kayn's physical well-being since Rhaast was known to attack those attempting to pet him. Zed simply maintained his stance that all cats were inherently evil.
They had come to the cafe with the intention of finishing their first round of post-winter-break homework, but Kayn had immediately been distracted by the yellow gaze of Rhaast. "I bet if you pet him at just the right spot, he won't bite," Kayn hypothesized. One of the foster homes he'd lived in had an old Siamese cat who had taken nearly three months to warm up to Kayn, but eventually became his closest friend there. Maybe Rhaast would be similar.
"I doubt it. People have lost fingers to that beast," Jhin said, tapping the eraser of his pencil against his chin as he gazed at his sketchbook with deep contemplation. Kayn, who was as artistically gifted as the average Canadian goose, thought the anatomy study Jhin was working on looked great, but he knew Jhin was too much of a perfectionist to settle for just 'great'. "And he's more of an outdoor cat, right? So I doubt luring him with food or treats would work."
Kayn nodded. Rhaast certainly looked like an outdoor cat, and his lack of collar solidified that. "I think his owner lives somewhere nearby, since we always see him hanging around campus. But he definitely seems like an outdoor kitty."
"And that's a blessing for his owner, I bet. Look at how much fur he has- I bet his shedding is absolutely nightmarish in the spring. Just imagine trying to clean that off of furniture."
Zed shuddered outwardly for a moment. "Just thinking about that much fur makes my face itch," he muttered, nose crinkling adorably as he spoke. Kayn wanted to reach out and boop the tip of Zed's nose, just for fun, but he knew better than to try that. His relationship with Zed was still in the "friend of a friend" zone, but they were slowly growing closer independent of Jhin and Rakan. And despite how enamored he was, Kayn knew better than to try to rush something between them. Come to think of it, Kayn's tactics for trying to get close to Rhaast weren't too unlike his tactics for befriending Zed.
The thought made him chuckle a bit. Beneath the table, Kayn nudged Zed's foot with his own and said, "I don't know why you wouldn't like cats, given that you're so much like one yourself."
Zed gave Kayn a foul look (with no real venom behind it, Kayn could tell), and Jhin laughed. "Kayn isn't wrong," Jhin conceded, poking Zed's arm with his pencil and earning a glare in his direction. "You're rude and temperamental on the surface, but you'll give affection to those close to you."
"I don't give affection to anyone," Zed snapped, swatting Jhin's hand away when he attempted to ruffle Zed's hair.
Jhin scoffed and shook his head, prodding Zed with his pencil again. "That's bullshit and you know it." He gave Kayn a knowing grin and said, "Seriously, all he needs is a little tequila in his system, and he'll be draping himself all over people. Even when he's sober sometimes- oh, you should have seen the way he used to cuddle up with S-" Jhin was cut off by Zed clapping a hand over his mouth after finally bypassing Jhin's defensive pencil jabs. Jhin's eyes were full of teasing mirth, and Zed looked like he was ready to commit a murder.
Kayn couldn't help but laugh at the idea of Zed cuddling with anyone at all. He certainly didn't seem like a cuddly person, just the way Rhaast didn't look like a cuddly cat. The thought prompted Kayn to look back out the window. Rhaast had disappeared. "Aww, where'd he go?"
"Probably back to hell, to drop off the innocent souls he's collected lately," Zed hypothesized. His hand was still clamped over Jhin's mouth, although he yanked it away a second later, disgust painted all over his face. "You gross fucker, did you lick me?"
"You should know better than to keep your hand over someone's mouth for that long," Jhin said. Kayn gave an absentminded nod of agreement, but his focus was elsewhere. His opportunity in that moment may have past, but he was still determined to pet Rhaast before the end of the year.
Rhaast could frequently spotted outside of the university library- particularly, lying right in front of the entrance and forcing students to walk around him. It wasn't the most convenient place to attempt to pet the cat, but it was late enough at night that nobody would be around to watch Kayn.
Kayn had a game plan. Step one: approach cat slowly.
The tabby leered at Kayn through narrowed eyes, tail flicking back and forth as he sat cross-legged on the concrete step in front of the library. It was cold as hell, but Rhaast didn't seem the least bit bothered by the weather. Kayn certainly was, despite the hat and scarf he was wearing, but he understood that this was a crucial phase in his plan. Rhaast had to get used to Kayn's general presence.
Kayn's stare-down with Rhaast in the cafe hadn't ended especially well, and Cassiopeia (resident animal expert) had later told him that cats preferred indirect eye contact, so Kayn made sure to not look directly at Rhaast. He pulled his phone out and scrolled through twitter for a while, occasionally peeking at Rhaast out of the corner of his eyes. Rhaast hadn't taken his gaze off of Kayn, but hadn't moved away from him either.
Alright, cat had been approached and did not seem to directly oppose Kayn's presence. Step two: close distance between self and cat.
Kayn moved a bit closer to Rhaast. His tail, which had previously stilled, began flicking back and forth again. Kayn wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. Maybe it was a warning sign...or maybe it was an invitation to move closer. Knowing the kind of cat Rhaast was, Kayn wasn't particularly inclined to believe it was the first option. He stayed where he was.
Another ten minutes passed before Rhaast's threatening tail-swishing ceased, and Kayn repeated the move-closer-and-wait pattern twice, until there were just a few inches between himself and Rhaast.
Now was his chance!
Still not looking at Rhaast, Kayn slowly extended his open hand towards the cat. He peeked out of the corner of his eye- just in time to see Rhaast's paw getting ready to swipe. Kayn yanked his hand back to his side, and Rhaast's paw collided with empty air. The cat didn't seem pleased with this outcome and stood up, stretching before moving a few paces away from Kayn and lying down again.
Despite having narrowly avoided an attack and little more, Kayn was happy with what he accomplished. Rhaast probably needed a slow acclimation to people, and most students probably weren't willing to give that. Kayn had more patience than that, though. He didn't mind just sitting in silence and letting Rhaast get used to him, just as he was getting used to Rhaast.
For four days, Kayn returned to the step of the library and sat a couple feet away from Rhaast. For four days, Rhaast would watch as Kayn moved closer to him in tiny increments. And for four days, Kayn would narrowly dodge a swat from Rhaast's paws.
The fifth day was different, though. Kayn wasn't sure what it was, but Rhaast seemed more tolerant today. He wasn't whipping his tail back and forth, nor was he leering at Kayn. Most notably, though, when Kayn extended his hand towards the cat, Rhaast didn't swipe at him.
This delighted Kayn immensely. Progress was being made! Rhaast didn't seem particularly interested in Kayn's extended hand, so Kayn moved it just a few centimeters closer to Rhaast. His tail began swishing in a gesture of warning. Kayn knew he was pushing it, and decided to pack up for the night, so to speak.
He shoved the script he had been highlighting back into his backpack and turned towards Rhaast before leaving. "Everyone says you're a demon, but I really don't think you're that bad."
Rhaast blinked slowly at Kayn. Kayn figured it must have meant something and returned the gesture, then went back to his dorm for the evening.
"I've gotten through the first two phases of my plan," Kayn informed Jhin and Zed as they walked to their first preliminary rehearsal. All the cast members had received their scripts before winter break and were meant to use the four-week break to begin learning their lines. Kayn had done his best, but most of his script-work had involved actually reading chunks of Les Mis and researching exactly what the hell was going on. He conceded that the music was wonderful, and he was sure the plot made perfect sense to people who already knew what was going on. But for Kayn, it had been largely a confusing jumble of names and years.
Hopefully that would all be sorted out during the sing-throughs, though. Jhin had explained that the first portion of rehearsals involved everyone in the cast gathering in the performing art center's chorus room and singing through piece-by-piece while taking musical instruction from Rakan, Zed, and the other direction (whose name may or may not have slipped Kayn's mind). Then, once everyone had the music down, blocking and dancing would begin. Blocking, Kayn had been told, was a fancy name for standing and walking places on stage. Finally, everything would come together with set pieces, costumes, lighting, and the actual orchestra playing through the show, instead of just Zed and Jhin alternating on the piano.
Kayn was more excited than he anticipated being. Even after being cast and given a script, it hadn't totally set in that he was a lead role in a musical production for the school. Now that he was actually going to a rehearsal, it felt much more real, and Kayn couldn't wait.
"And what exactly have those phases been?" Jhin asked, tactfully stepping past a frozen puddle on the sidewalk.
"Getting him used to my presence."
Zed scoffed. "And how exactly is that helping you pet him?"
"He needs to be used to my scent and stuff, so that I'm familiar? I mean, how would you feel if some random person came up to you and tried to hug you? It's kinda like that with Rhaast. He probably doesn't want to be pet by random people. But if he knows me, he won't mind," Kayn hypothesized. Jhin sighed in equal parts fondness and exasperation at the end of his explanation.
Zed had a look on his face like he wanted to tell Kayn how stupid his plan was, but knew it wouldn't make the slightest amount of difference. So he instead asked, "And what is the third phase?"
"Actually petting him- come on, don't look at me like that! It's possible."
Kayn followed Zed and Jhin through the fine arts building into one of the chorus rooms. He had never actually been in there before, and he was impressed by the size of it. There were stacks of chairs along the back wall, and a massive mirror covered the wall at the front of the room. There was a piano near the front of the room with various towers of paper sitting on the bench. Zed began rummaging through those while Jhin and Kayn gathered the group of students milling about.
Kayn naturally hung around Jhin, since he didn't know anyone else, but his attention was soon caught by a familiar set of yellow eyes peering at him through one of the windows. It was Rhaast, who had leapt up onto a trash can positioned near the window and used that as a jumping point to reach the windowsill. He was watching Kayn curiously, tail curved over his back.
Jhin noticed the cat as well and chuckled, nudging Kayn. "Is he following you around now?"
"It would appear so," Kayn said, padding over to the window. Rhaast watched him for a moment, but the moment was broken by the sound of Zed whistling sharply to get everyone's attention. Rhaast leapt off the windowsill and scampered away, glancing back at Kayn before disappearing. Kayn offered the cat a tiny wave of goodbye before turning his attention to role call.
Rhaast was waiting for Kayn outside the fine art building when he and Jhin left, with Zed having stayed behind to sort out a couple minor schedule conflicts with other cast members. Kayn grinned and waved at Rhaast, ignoring the look Jhin was giving him.
"You know he can't wave back to you, right?"
"He's waving spiritually. I can feel it," Kayn asserted, walking over to Rhaast. Despite Jhin's proximity, Rhaast didn't scamper away or hiss. He just watched with narrowed eyes as Kayn knelt down next to him and extended one hand.
Jhin tried not to act intrigued as Rhaast carefully sniffed Kayn's hand before resuming his disinterested staring. Kayn, both emboldened by Rhaast's initial interest and deterred by his lack of action, decided to make a bold move- reach out and try to pet the underside of Rhaast's chin. If there was anything that living with cats had taught him, it was that cats loved to be scratched right under the chin.
Or so he had thought.
Before Kayn was aware that Rhaast had even moved, his teeth were sunk a fourth of an inch deep into Kayn's hand. Kayn yelped and reflexively yanked his hand away while Rhaast watched him, almost to assess how Kayn would react.
His hand now featured two puncture wounds, almost like a fucking vampire had bit him, both bleeding rather profusely for how small they were. And they fucking stung, too. Kayn huffed a sigh and glared at Rhaast, who flicked his tail. "What happened to just swatting at me, huh? You couldn't have stuck with that?"
"I think that's cat-speak for leave me alone," Jhin said, walking over to Kayn and effectively scaring Rhaast off. He raised a brow when he saw the state of Kayn's hand, which was now dripping blood onto the grass. "Jesus. You've been vaccinated for rabies, right?"
"He's not rabid," Kayn protested as Jhin helped him up. "He's just a bitch, apparently. Which doesn't bother me," he amended rapidly. "Given that I'm friends with both you and Zed."
"I'll pretend I'm not deeply insulted by that, if only because you're injured," Jhin responded. A second later, a dangerous glint appeared in his eyes. "Speaking of Zed, though- you two have been getting along rather nicely, haven't you? Zed normally doesn't take to people as well as he did to you." Kayn's face heated up with a blush, and he was about to respond to Jhin's comments with he pressed on. "Don't think I didn't notice you stealing glances at his ass during rehearsal- or at Shen, for that matter."
If Kayn's face had been warm before, it was now hot enough to cook an egg. "What can I say?" He replied with nonchalance he didn't actually feel. "Your ex is kinda hot."
That was a grand understatement on Kayn's part. He had always favored tall, muscular men (hence his attraction to Zed), and Shen was built like a brick shithouse. He was an inch or two shorter than Jhin, who towered over everyone, but he was toned as hell. And his voice was something to be admired as well.
"I think you just have a thing for guys who look like they could beat the shit out of you."
Kayn snorted. "You certainly aren't wrong."
Jhin insisted on walking Kayn to the campus wellness center, where a nurse wrapped his hand up and advised against trying to pet Rhaast again. Already, though, Kayn was mentally planning his next encounter with Rhaast. Kayn was nothing if not persistent in pursuing what he wanted- and dammit, he wanted to pet that ugly cat.
The next time Kayn encountered Rhaast, it was on his way back from his last afternoon class the following day. Rhaast had been lingering outside the café, roughly in the same spot that Kayn had seen him the first time. He watching Kayn closely, and as Kayn approached the café, Rhaast padded over to him and circled his ankles a couple times.
Kayn wasn't entirely sure what this meant. Maybe Rhaast just wanted to go inside the café? It was technically against the rules, but he usually found a way to sneak in when he wanted to. Kayn opened the door, giving Rhaast plenty of room to go in, but the cat remained firmly planted at Kayn's feet.
"Are you trying to apologize to me?" Kayn asked, letting the door close and stepping aside so people could still get in and out of the building. He pushed back the sleeve of his jacket, revealing his bandaged hand. "You took a fuckin' chunk out of me, you know."
Kayn knelt down again and extended the same hand to Rhaast. The tabby sniffed the bandages experimentally, and then- to Kayn's absolute astonishment- licked the very edge of the bandage, like a silent apology.
Kayn couldn't have wiped the dumb grin off his face if he had tried. "I forgive you," He said, settling down next to Rhaast. Rhaast took a couple experimental steps towards Kayn before sitting down as well. "I still want to pet you, y'know."
Rhaast blinked at Kayn.
Cas had told him that the slow blinking meant Rhaast liked Kayn. That in and of itself was a massive accomplishment- who knew that it would only take a couple weeks for the alleged demon-cat to actually become fond of someone? The accuracy of that statement was to be debated, since Rhaast had practically mauled Kayn the day before, but that wasn't enough to deter Kayn from possibly befriending the cat.
"Will you bite me if I try to pet you?" Kayn asked, giving Rhaast a critical look.
Again, Rhaast just blinked at him. Kayn took this as a reassurance that Rhaast wouldn't try to take any fingers off and reached out slowly, mentally prepared to rip his hand back at the first sign of danger.
There was no danger this time, though. Kayn's fingertips made contact with the underside of Rhaast's chin, and he slowly began to rub the area.
Rhaast's eyes drifted shut for a moment, then opened again. Emboldened by the lack of resistance, Kayn shifted the angle of his wrist so he could actually get a few firm scratches in as he pet Rhaast. After a few moments, the tabby actually began to purr. Kayn could have fucking cheered, but knew that would disturb the moment. He just smiled and continued petting Rhaast.
Eventually, Rhaast must have gotten bored or hungry, because he padded back over to the cafe's door and began pawing at it, demanding entry. Kayn sighed, pulling the sleeve of his jacket back down over his hand. "You know you're not allowed in there, right?"
Rhaast flicked his tail teasingly. Kayn stood up and, after a moment of contemplation, opened the door for the cat and walked in after him. The café was empty enough that nobody immediately reprimanded Kayn for letting Rhaast inside, so he bought a drink and settled down to continue memorizing his lines.
Rhaast paced around the building for a few minutes, then eventually settled down at Kayn's feet. An employee poked her head around the corner and eyed Rhaast wearily, but she seemed to not mind his presence so long as he wasn't causing any trouble.
After a couple hours, Kayn packed up and was about to head back to his dorm. Rhaast had fallen asleep beneath the table, and Kayn quickly knelt down to give him a scratch behind the ears (and take a picture) before leaving. Rhaast opened one eye and lazily flicked his tail at Kayn. Kayn smiled and waved as well.
[Private Chat: virtuoso, deathmark, shadowreaper]
shadowreaper: [image attached]
shadowreaper: I DID IT LADS I PET THE DEMON CAT
virtuoso: i'll be damned, I didn't know he was capable of receiving affection
deathmark: You actually put your hand near that thing after it bit you?
shadowreaper: his name is Rhaast and yes I did, bc he is Babey once you get to know him
virtuoso: you should give it a try, zed. maybe you and rhaast will get along since you have such similar demeanors
deathmark: I think I would rather die, but thanks for the input.
virtuoso: anytime, love