"Mr Khun, sir, which plate do you pick?"
Khun Aguero Agnis hums, tapping his chin. Two dishes sit in front of him, two matching amateur chefs staring at him anxiously. The first is some strange salad-type dish that consists solely of fish, made by a short, skinny man wrapped in a giant sherpa even in the middle of summer. Aguero doesn't like him, although he isn't very sure why. The second is a baked mushroom and chicken pie. The flaky crust is delicious, although the chicken is a little dry. It belongs to a girl no older than his younger cousin Ran. He's pleasantly surprised at her cooking - the last time Aguero had brought Ran into a kitchen, they had caused a city-wide blackout. Needless to say, neither of them were ever allowed to cook again. That's fine with him. He's a food critic, after all, his talent lies in food-tasting, not food-making.
Speaking of food-tasting, Aguero has a secret talent - he can taste emotions in food, too. Not simple ones like love (he doesn't actually know what love tastes like, to be fair), but more advanced ones. Like the guilt of cheating on your spouse, for example, he'd tasted that for the first time after his father cooked for him. His manager Shibisu has been with him for years, and he knows it's a good selling point despite not knowing whether to believe Aguero or not.
Aguero's lips close around a forkful of chicken pie. It tastes like abandonment and broken-up families. Familiar. "I pick this one."
The young girl's eyes widen. The tag on her apron reads 'Anaak Jr', and Aguero vaguely remembers her as the daughter of a model who eloped with a famous chicken pie chef. Clearly, their daughter is hoping to follow in her father's footsteps. Aguero wonders what happened to the mother - was it a divorce? A suicide?
Sherpa man scoffs. "You pick hers? Really?"
Aguero meets his gaze calmly, cobalt on cyan. "Is there a problem? The only problem I see here is you, pervert."
Sherpa man - Lo Po Bia Ren, who has started a new restaurant called 'Yuga' - scowls at him. "Who are you calling a pervert, huh?"
"Your fish salad is undercooked, and it's telling me you're a sexual predator who likes to threaten and prey on young woman." Aguero wrinkles his nose haughtily. "Filth like you should get out of my sight." He turns to Anaak. "I'm deeply sorry for your loss," he tells her honestly, "I don't know what happened to your mother but my family's pretty fücked up too. You're not the only one out here with a terrible family. Next time, keep an eye on the time when you're cooking. Your chicken's a little overcooked. You can ask your father for advice next time."
Anaak blinks. "Thanks. I'll remember that."
"Ten months," Ren snarls. He's shaking with rage, which is honestly quite a comical sight, with all that fluff jiggling around and everything. Aguero almost laughs out loud. "You have ten months to redeem yourself, or the whole world will see you for the beast you are inside."
Aguero rolls his eyes. "The only monster in here is you, pervert. And I don't listen to bullshït."
Ren bursts out laughing, licking his lips with a crazed look in his eyes. "If nobody falls in love with you within ten months, you'll remain a beast forever. I can already taste your downfall, Khun Aguero Agnis, and it tastes delicious."
Aguero sighs. He's used to threats, although this one is a little strange. Monsters? Falling in love? Aguero doesn't need to taste Ren's food to know he's a maniac. "Isu, call someone to escort him out, please. Anaak, I look forward to trying your pies again."
A heavyset guard plucks Ren up, hauling him towards the exit. Aguero yawns. Another day, wasted. Does nobody make good food anymore?
The long drive back to Aguero's penthouse is mostly silent on his end. Shibisu talks more than enough for the both of them. "That was one hell of a weird threat," he announces. "Do you think you'd need to watch out or anything?"
Aguero stares out the window, watching the lights flash outside the car. It's midnight, there are barely any cars still out. "It's probably just bull," he answers. A wave of pain rushes through his skull, and he grits his teeth, rubbing his temples with a vengeance. "Do you have any ibuprofen? My headache is killing me."
Shibisu glances at him worriedly through the rearview mirror. "Khun, you don't get headaches."
He feels like bashing his head against a window. "Well, I have one now." Is it just dark outside, or are his arms growing hairs? Aguero could've sworn he waxed yesterday. "God, even my bones hurt." That's an understatement. He has a relatively high pain tolerance, but it feels like his body is being ripped apart at the seams and put back together, it feels wrong. His vision swims. Is he shrinking? He wasn't that hairy before. His ear twitches. He didn't know he could do that. He tries to grab his phone, but something clacks against the device's surface when he tries to pick it up. Have his nails always been that long? He's pretty sure they're not. He's pretty sure he doesn't have claws, which connect to paws, which are apparently attached to the body of a cat.
"Hey, Khun, are you o-" Shibisu turns around to look at the food critic and nearly swerves into the next lane. "Holy shït! You turned into a cat!"
Aguero meows indignantly. No shït!
Shibisu manages to drive to the penthouse without panicking. He marches up to the door, Aguero's briefcase gripped in his hands. Aguero trots behind him. He really isn't used to only reaching the back of his manager's knees. He's not used to walking on all fours. He's not used to being a damn cat. Thankfully, it's too late in the night for the paparazzi to follow him around. God, he's not ready for the humiliation that is the headlines screaming "Khun Aguero Agnis Turned into a Cat" at him.
Shibisu's moment of peace doesn't last long. As soon as the door closes behind them, Shibisu screams and starts hyperventilating. Aguero yowls back, ears ringing. His hearing is far better than it was when he was human. "Okay," Shibisu wheezes, gripping his head in his hands, "Lo Po Bia Ren threatened to expose you as the monster you are, and you turned into a cat."
Aguero flicks his tail in irritation. I didn't ask for this, he wants to say, I know I'm a cat person, but seriously? When do I turn back into a human? All that comes out of his feline mouth is "meow."
Shibisu sits himself down on Aguero's couch, and Aguero resists his sudden innate cat instinct to pee and scent-mark it. He still has to be human, right? He can't stay a cat forever. "Okay, so I'm going to have to find you a new apartment."
"Meow!" But this is my penthouse! I've been living here for years! The paps won't know I'm a cat if they don't see me change into one.
Shibisu raises his hands in surrender, watching Aguero's flexing claws with nervous eyes. "Just bear with me, Khun. Like that Ren guy said, you just have to find someone to fall in love with you, right? I'm going to find you a new apartment. And a boyfriend."
Aguero spits at him.
After Shibisu leaves, Aguero burrows into his blankets. Even in his furry form, the feeling of the covers around him is familiar and comforting and not at all like being a damn cat. He falls into a restless sleep to the sound of silence, and when he wakes, he is human.
The next night, he turns into a cat again, but thankfully, it hurts a lot less. He spends a month getting used to his new midnight form, which is coincidentally the same amount of time it takes Shibisu to convince Aguero to move into the new apartment he has rented for the sudden-half-cat food critic. It's far away from the heart of the city, further yet from the cameras. Nobody will catch Aguero in that accursed cat form of his. Cursed as he may be, he makes a rather handsome Russian Blue tomcat.
The only good thing about this horrid place is the café two blocks away. Floral Butterfly Café is a gem hidden in rubble: the blond-haired barista - what's his name, Hansung? - is as horrid as his tea, which is low-quality and tastes like sleep deprivation, and the redhead waitress Hwaryun seems to have made it her life mission to annoy him until he screams, but the pastries. God, the pastries. All those beautiful tarts and macarons and cake slices. Aguero has never been to heaven before, but if heaven was a taste, these pastries must be it. He has never seen the pâtissier who makes them, but he's pretty sure they must be an angel.
Aguero is an atheist, but this pâtissier would be the first god he worshipped.
"Wow, the pastries are really that good, huh."
Aguero jumps. Sitting opposite him is Anaak Zahard, or 'Chicken Pie Girl'. "I'd say so, yes." Ever since he'd started turning into a cat, he'd been craving creamy sweetness. He swats at the young chef when she steals one of his eclairs. "Hey! Those are mine!"
She takes a bite of the pastry, making a face. "Too sweet. But not as gross as Auntie Endorsi. I mean, look at her." Anaak points at a young woman around Aguero's age aggressively hitting on a man in an apron. He's probably a year or two older than Aguero, but his big eyes and chubby cheeks make him look younger. There's flour on his hands and apron, and with his new advanced sense of smell, Aguero can sniff out the caster sugar in his hair. His stomach does a cartwheel. Good food and good looks? Oh my. "I asked Auntie En to ask the baker guy for tips on making flaky pastries, not for his number -" She looks at Aguero and his dumbstruck face. "And you're barely any better than she is."
Aguero crams the rest of his éclair into his mouth, refusing to tarnish his reputation by screaming at a rookie chef he'd just praised a month ago. "Don't say a word," he says while pointing a custard-covered finger at her.
Anaak rolls her eyes. "Auntie!" She shouts. "Eat the rest of my éclair for me! It's too sweet!"
"Finish what you started!" Endorsi shouts back, grabbing the pastry chef's apron as if to make sure he won't run away. "I don't share spit!"
Anaak rolls her eyes, stomping over to Endorsi. "But you wouldn't mind sharing spit with him, would you? We had an agreement! Every time you flirt with him, you owe me more food!" She points at the pâtissier, whose eyes widen before he takes off his apron, leaves it in Endorsi's hands, and bolts.
Aguero snorts into his matcha frappucino, wincing when he tastes daddy issues and depression mixed in with the cream. Who had made this? It certainly wasn't Hansung. He rubs his jaw. Brain freeze is even worse in semi-cat form.
"Hi," whispers a voice, "do you mind if I sit with you? I need a place to hide."
The food critic looks up, and oh, shït, the cute pâtissier is standing right next to him. He swallows, nodding. He doesn't quite trust himself to speak. Is the pastry chef here to ask something else of him other than a space to sit?
"Oh, thank god." The pâtissier sighs, slumping into the seat on the opposite side of the booth. "I'm really sorry. Miss Endorsi keeps bothering me about dates while I'm trying to work, and I never know how to get away. Does that ever happen to you?"
Aguero wipes his mouth with his napkin. He'll never live it down if there's a cute chef in front of him and he has crumbs around his mouth. "I like women how I like my coffee."
The pastry chef squints at the label on his cup. "Your frappucino has minimal amounts of coffee in it."
The pâtissier - who is brown-haired, golden-eyed, and absolutely adorable - cracks a smile, which spreads into a grin that bares a hint of teeth. "I'm Jyu Viole Grace, but you can call me Bam. My friend Rachel came up with that nickname actually, because I make really nice chestnut cake, but we had a fight and we're not really friends anymore. I'm still partial to chestnuts, though. But enough about me, I'm rambling. What's your name?"
Aguero baulks. "You don't know who I am?"
Viole, or Bam, blinks innocently. "Am I supposed to?"
"I'm Khun Aguero Agnis." Bam shakes his head, still clueless. "I'm a food critic."
Bam props his head up on his fist, brows knitting into a frown. "Oh, I think I've heard of you now. Anaak mentioned you. You tried her chicken pie? She's been bugging Miss Endorsi to ask me about the secrets of flaky pastries, but she could've just asked me herself. I don't know if she's just shy or if she's trying to wing-woman. She's getting better at making pies, though. She makes me try them sometimes."
The rock Bam is living under must be a very nice rock. He opens his mouth to answer, but he's interrupted by the loud clearing of a throat. "Viole, I understand you feel threatened by some of your female customers, but your shift hasn't ended yet. Do you want me to deduct this from your break time or your paycheck?"
Bam gulps, shooting to his feet. "Right! Sorry Master Jinsung! I'll head back to work!" He shouts a few more apologies to his boss, or 'Master Jinsung', before turning back to Aguero. "It was nice talking to you, Mr Khun. See you around?"
Aguero grins. "Please, I'd skip work for these pastries. They're delightful. How has nobody recommended you to me yet?"
Bam flushes, pink and proud. "Well, I'm not really anybody special-"
"Viole!" His boss barks. "I'm going to start cutting cash out of your paycheck!"
"Yes, alright, sorry! I'll see you again Mr Khun!"
Aguero takes Bam's exit as a sign to take his leave. His inner cat is purring, satisfied with the cream in his belly. His rational conscience, however, is telling him to hit the gym. He does exactly that. The moving workers are due in two hours, he has time to spare.
He bumps into Bam again an hour and a half later. They're heading in the same direction, and Aguero has no qualms in starting a conversation. Bam mentions that he's moving into a new apartment later, (oh cool, me too!) it's in Thirteen Month Towers, (wow, what a coincidence, we're going to be neighbors!) he'll be moving into apartment 3B, and (wow, there's gotta be a problem there because I'm supposed to be moving there too). Bam watches him call Shibisu, listens to him scream over the phone when Aguero's manager laughs it off with a whoops, I guess I forgot to tell you about your new roommate.
Aguero gives his manager the cold shoulder for the next month or two. The sole purpose of living in a new apartment was to hide from people, how on earth had he forgotten? He and Bam manage to set up a few basic ground rules, although Bam seems wary of Aguero's red-cheeked rage and stiff posture. The one main rule they had agreed on was that Aguero would leave during the night, and Bam was not to follow him. Bam is seemingly fine with living with Aguero, and all he ever asks for is for Aguero to taste-test his pastry ideas.
Aguero finally starts to lower his walls a little to let his new roommate pass at the three month mark. He has been spending more and more time as a cat, and cat-like behavioral traits have even begun to appear when Aguero is human. Lo Po Bia Ren would have a field day if he saw the state Aguero is in. These days, Aguero's body is controlled mainly by his cat instincts. He bats at Bam's long ponytail when he gets bored (honestly, he would've done that even if he wasn't a cat); his throat rumbles in a purr when Bam makes him good food (he also purrs whenever Bam touches him, which for some reason Bam does not find embarrassing although Aguero wants to throw himself off a cliff); he blinks at Bam slowly and tries to fix his hair, which is apparently a sign of affection in cats.
Surprisingly, Bam finds Aguero's subconscious attempts at courting rituals and constant invasions of his personal space endearing.
What's even more surprising is that when Cat Aguero scratches on the door, demanding to be let in to bask in the air-conditioned apartment, Bam is eager to open up, even if it's in the middle of the night. Bam tells Human Aguero about his dreams: he wants to have his own bakery one day, he and his friend Rachel were supposed to start one together before she abandoned him for a better deal. He tells Cat Aguero about his fears: most of the staff at Floral Butterfly are members of the FUG mafia group, and the don, his uncle Luslec, wants Viole to become his heir, and he is only allowed to work at the bakery if Viole runs errands for FUG. In the afternoon light, Aguero serves his purpose as a food critic, as a taste-tester, an encouraging friend. In the dark of night, he offers himself as a stress-relieving ball of warm fluff when Bam comes home injured after doing FUG work, kneads the kinks out of his aching body with lithe paws until his breathing quietens and he falls asleep.
Bam asks Human Aguero about the silver-furred cat that comes to soothe his fears with gentle purrs and asks for nothing more than a bowl of fresh milk in return, and Khun tells a different lie every time. The guilt of lying feels strange in his tongue, like newfound friendship, like that sweeter-than-sugar aftertaste that lingers in every pastry and cake Bam feeds him. He tries to ask the pastry chef about it, asks him are you alright, has anything particularly good been going on in your life lately, but Bam is always either innocently confused or completely evasive.
It's confusing, and it makes Aguero almost regret giving Shibisu the cold shoulder. Shibisu is a decade older, his brain contains the wisdom of a man nearly in his forties. But the way he'd suddenly given Aguero a new roommate is not entirely forgivable. He decides to spare Shibisu's life after five months of living with Bam. And to think it started with their irritating, gator-wrangling neighbor. Bam had been baking banana cake - a new recipe he'd wanted Aguero to try - when Rak Wraithraiser, insatiable banana-obsessed giant had kicked their door down and demanded Bam give him some of whatever he was making.
Aguero won't lie and say Bam didn't have to stop him from beating their stupid neighbor's head in with a whisk. Bam was so kind it scared him, honestly. He not only let Rak in without a complaint about the broken door (Aguero did the complaining, mostly), but also offered Rak the bigger portion of the cake.
When Aguero had pulled Bam into his room and asked what the hell, why are you being so nice to him Bam had simply smiled at him, brighter than lemon zest, and asked him is there a problem with being kind?
Bam is kind, Bam is good, Bam is beautiful in the sense that he is everything Aguero isn't. At one point during his curse, perhaps he wouldn't have minded turning into a cat forever, with the way Bam strokes him from neck to back and scratches his chin with a touch so good he wiggles in pleasure and tries to recreate that feeling as a human. But Aguero's heart went ba-DUM in his chest, and oh, that was a problem. Aguero had feelings. For Bam. And he only has five months left to be human.
Aguero tries to avoid Bam, avoid his feelings and his oncoming fate, but it's getting increasingly hard. Bam worries about him, perhaps more than a roommate or a friend should. Lately, when Aguero tries to leave to shift for the night, Bam has been standing in front of the door, and when Aguero makes excuses he stomps his foot like a stubborn donkey and whines his name until he apologizes and says he'll be back before morning. Only then does Bam let him leave, but Aguero knows Bam is getting suspicious. He'd move out if his heart and his stomach weren't getting so attached.
Aguero wanders into a nearby alleyway to shift. The now-familiar creak and grind of his bones feels particularly uncomfortable today, and he has to grit his teeth when his entire body changes shape. Is it supposed to hurt a little more every shift? He leaps over a puddle and freezes when he detects a whiff of citrus. It's Bam. Specifically, his cologne. Something musty and foul throws him off balance. It makes his back arch, hackles raise, a hiss slipping out of snarling lips.
"Hey there, buddy, I'm just waiting here for a fri-"
A loud growl and a bark echoes through the midnight air, and a yell follows.
Aguero's ears prick up. Bam's in danger.
Aguero yowls, territorial instinct and some other ambiguous human emotion driving him forward. He'd scent-marked Bam - regularly rubs all over him as a cat, touches him every now and then as a human. How dare a mutt touch what's his? He pounces, hissing and screeching with his claws unsheathed. They're razor sharp, thanks to Google, a claw-clipper, and Bam's endless patience. He manages to scratch the dog's muzzle deep enough to bleed, which is good enough for him. The other creature is more than double his size, and Aguero crouches down, ready to pounce again. His ears are turned out like satellite dishes, tail stiff behind him. The dog - a grey wolf-dog - slobbers, sharp canines bared. Aguero has enough adrenaline running through his tiny body to forget about fear. He lunges, possessive enough for killing intent.
"Mr Khun, watch out!"
Aguero screams when the mutt's blunt claw latches onto the back of his head, slamming him down onto the ground. Pain skyrockets through his skull, and he tastes blood in his mouth. Did he bite his tongue? Or worse, break his jaw? His vision swims, and he whimpers. He doesn't care that Bam knows that he's a cat anymore. All he knows is that it hurts. He howls when a strong jaw clamps around his throat, tossing him one way, then the other before releasing. His body shoots through the air and slams against a wall. He chokes and spits blood. It hurts. He can't breathe.
He purrs weakly. It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts-
"Mr Khun!" Bam wraps himself around Aguero, ripping off his sleeve to bandage the cat's wound. "Don't move, okay? You're bleeding a lot."
Aguero meows pitifully, weakly pawing at where Bam should be. His vision blurs and swims, the tang of iron drenching his teeth. It hurts it hurts make it stop hurting make it stop make it stop-
"Shh," Bam coos, his voice low and smooth and comforting, "I'm gonna get you help, okay? You're going to be okay." Aguero nuzzles against the warm, familiar hand stroking his back. "You're going to be okay, Khun."
"Fenryl!" Aguero's ears pivot in the direction of footsteps and a female shout. There's a loud whistle that curdles his blood, and he tries to grab at Bam. "Fenryl, there you- oh my god, what happened to you?"
Bam strips off his jacket, gently rolling Aguero into it. It smells like gun oil and whipped cream, but most importantly, it smells like Bam. He clears his throat, walking towards Fenryl's owner, a young woman with dark green hair. Aguero squints, meowing in irritation when his vision blurs. Isn't that the head chef of the Italian restaurant Kaiser, Lo Po Bia Elaine? "Excuse me," Bam says with a voice as warm as the coldest freezer, "is that your dog?" He cradles Aguero to his chest, and the cat purrs at the warmth. He doesn't know if he's drowsy due to sleep deprivation, blood loss or both. He does know he probably shouldn't close his eyes, though. Not yet.
Elaine shivers. "Yes?"
Bam gently unwraps Aguero. "Your dog just tried to attack me, and my cat almost died trying to protect me."
Aguero yowls at the cold air hitting the wound on his throat, only to cut himself off with a whimper. Cold cold cold ow I don't want dogs I want your jacket-
Elaine groans. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry about that. It's my fault for getting distracted while keeping him off the leash. Is there any way I can make it up to you?" She clips the leash back onto Fenryl's collar. The dog whines, nosing at his owner's leg. "I can drive you and your cat to the vet. Yours probably needs immediate help, but Fenryl got scratched too and I don't want to risk an infection." She stares down at Fenryl disapprovingly, whose head droops in shame. "Again, I'm so sorry about your cat, what's his name?"
Bam follows Elaine to her car, Aguero carefully wrapped in his arms. It's nice, being treated like he's so fragile. His own sisters hadn't even bothered giving him a bandage when he broke his arm falling off his bike as a kid. "His name is Khun."
"Interesting name choice," Elaine murmurs. Bam crawls into her car, placing Aguero down before buckling himself into a seat. He resumes stroking the area between Aguero's ears with a steady thumb. "Any reason why?"
Aguero nips at Bam's fingers. Don't expose my identity!
"Well," the brunet adds with a nervous laugh, "he's technically my roommate's cat, and my roommate's from the Khun family, and I just thought they looked alike, you know? The name stuck, so I'm living with two Khuns now."
Bam continues talking. The sound of his low voice is soothing, his lap warm and stable despite the constant bumps of the car. Aguero finds himself drifting off to sleep before they even reach the vet.
When Aguero finally slips back into the world of consciousness, he's human. He has hands! He can't feel his neck or his jaw, but what he does know is that he's lying on something warm and comfortable. A pillow? He snuggles closer, a purr of content escaping his lips. His pillow rumbles and makes a noise, warm air fanning against his neck. He noses against his pillow when fingers slide through his hair. Ah, he would sleep like this every night if he could.
He freezes when nails scratch against his scalp. Pillows don't move, or make noises, or have fingers. Just what exactly is he lying on?
Aguero forces his eyes open with a slight groan. He looks up. "Morning, Mr Khun, did you sleep well?"
He blinks, eyes wide. His pillow is a firm chest, one that's connected to a pair of arms, one under an actual pillow, the other with a hand buried in his hair. It's also connected to a head of brown hair, with fond golden eyes and a sleepy smile. He rolls off immediately with a yelp. How long has he been using Bam as a pillow? "Wha- How-"
He's still lying on Bam's arm, and he wriggles until it's out of the way. Bam looks amused. "Hey there, kitten."
Aguero blinks at him some more. Kitten? The last thing he remembers is being attacked by a dog, and being in a car. He flits through his hazy memory, vaguely recalling bright white lights and a woman with white-blue hair staring over him, and Bam whispering don't worry, everything's going to be alright, Dr Garam's going to fix you up, okay? I'm here, don't worry. He remembers something about a vet, maybe a woman with dark green hair. "What happened?"
His voice is disgustingly raspy, but when he clears his throat Bam shushes him frantically. "Don't talk, Mr Khun. You almost died last night."
I saved you, so it would've been worth it. Bam brought him to the vet, which must mean - "You know, don't you?"
Bam sits up, shifting Aguero onto his lap to check over his bandaged wounds. "I guess the cat's out of the bag now, isn't it?"
Aguero short-circuits. Bam knows he's a cat. He's the cat. Where's the big reaction, the temper tantrum, the blow-up, the eviction? People hated him enough when he was young and full of lies, hated him more when he was older and too bluntly truthful for them. His blood sister had killed herself a few years ago when she found out Aguero had lied (read: forgotten to tell) her that he had chosen to help their step-sister Maria start a restaurant instead of her. "You're not angry at me? Or scared?"
The brunet cocks his head. "Why would I be? You always act like a cat, it wasn't really surprising to find out that you are one. I am curious, though. I didn't know people could turn into cats."
Aguero exhales, and much to his own surprise, he finds himself laughing. "You really are one of a kind, Bam."
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Bam tells him steadily. His hand is back in Aguero's hair. "You should rest first. I've already called Mr Shibisu to give you a day off, and Master Jinsung is letting me stay at home to take care of you."
"It's okay, Mr Khun, just sleep." The feeling of being pet feels the same, his part human, part cat self purring when Bam scratches his head with the pads of his fingers. "I don't mind."
"Aguero," the bluenet mumbles.
"Hmm?" The fingers in his hair still.
"Call me Aguero."
Bam continues stroking his hair, his gaze as soft as cotton candy. "Alright then. Go back to sleep, Aguero. I'll wake you up if I need anything."
Aguero hums. "Okay." His cheeks are already smushed against Bam's thighs, and it doesn't take him long to slip back into the realm of sleep.
The next two months pass in a similar fashion. Aguero decides to tell Bam about his curse - everything, from Lo Po Bia Ren to learning to love. He doesn't tell Bam he's the one Aguero is in love with, though. They both worry, knowing that Aguero doesn't have much time left as a human. Aguero becomes more and more catlike by the day, submitting to his feline instincts of responding to "pspsps", chasing lasers, and pestering Bam by gently kneading anywhere he can reach until he gets cuddles. His entire personality has changed - according to Shibisu, he has been more affectionate lately, still critical but more to the constructive side. When he heads out for lunch with his cousin Ran, Ran asks him if he is actually an alien hiding in Aguero's body. Ran gets a good smack over the head for that.
A month later finds them both crowded in the kitchen, Bam teaching Aguero to make macarons. Aguero's sweet tooth has been particularly aggressive lately, his sugar cravings insatiable despite stealing Bam's pastries while the pâtissier wasn't looking. They've both done some research on cat diets, and apparently it's not sugar Aguero is craving, but fats. That's fine with him, as long as he does his exercise. That spot of meringue dotting Bam's cheek is particularly distracting, though, perhaps even more so than his arm muscles flexing as he whisks the ingredients together.
Lick it, whispers the sly, feline voice in his head. You know you want to.
Aguero tells himself he doesn't.
Why you lie, boy? I thought you were better than this. Since when had his inner cat developed a voice?
"Aguero, you're staring." Bam pats his cheek, missing the spot of meringue completely. "Is there something on my face? Almond flour? Powdered sugar?"
Lick it, the voice goads, more aggressively this time.
No! Aguero is most definitely not going to lick it.
"Aguero?" Now Bam is the one grabbing his face, twisting it from left to right. "You're really red. It's worrying me."
Aguero jumps away, nearly knocking a thankfully empty bowl to the ground. "I'm fine! It's just-"
LICK IT, the voice insists, HE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
Aguero doesn't realize he has actually done it until he tastes sugar and egg whites on his tongue, and Bam is staring at him with wide eyes and red cheeks. "Aguero? Di- Did you just lick me?"
Aguero turns away to face the wall, his head buried in his hands. "I am so sorry. I wasn't in my right mind, it's just these cat instincts, I swear-"
Much to his surprise, Bam laughs, draping his arms over Aguero's shoulders, cheek bumping against cheek. "You're so cute, kitten."
"Please, stop," Aguero groans as Bam noses against his rapidly pinkening ears, "this isn't good for my dignity."
"What dignity?" The blue-haired man screams into his palms at Bam's teasing tone. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry. I don't know if I'm the only one brave enough to say it, but you really are cute, Aguero. I'm glad I didn't macaron choice moving in with you."
Aguero would dip his hands in flour and smack it all over Bam's face if he wasn't using them to hide his blushing face. "Go away," he whines, "you're not funny." He's smiling uncontrollably like the idiot he is. "Just get those macarons in the oven, I'm hungry."
Bam salutes him playfully. "Yes si- No, no, stop trying to hit me! If you hit me you won't get any food! Ahh, Aguero, I told you, I'm sorry!"
They're both laughing by the end of it. The macarons end up a little burnt, a little misshapen, but it's mostly all right. Aguero's biggest problem is Bam wiggling his eyebrows when the food critic moans at the sweetness and the underlying taste of unresolved sexual tension. God, he didn't even know that was a taste. The voice in his head is purring like a cat that got the cream. Bam reaches a hand out to touch his hair, but Aguero downright hisses at him. "Don't touch me or my hair without washing your hands first. I can smell the sugar on your fingers."
Bam has the audacity to snort before lunging at him with outstretched, sugar-coated fingers. Aguero shrieks and topples off the chair, but getting sugar and flour is totally worth it when he gets to see Bam's beaming grin, brighter than the yellowest banana and most definitely sweeter. He can feel the corners of his eyes crinkle, his lips part in a laugh that steals the breath out of his lungs. He has never felt so happy in his life.
Maybe that quote his sister used to tell him was right, the one about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach. The butterflies in his stomach are at work whisking his empty heart into shreds and caramelizing it into something new and better, the feeling of falling in love blanketed over him like syrup over pancakes. He knows what that strangely delicious aftertaste in every single one of Bam's pastries is now - it's love and passion, dedication for his craft, leaking out of his soul like chocolate sauce out of lava cakes. Aguero has never been more in awe of anything else.
He doesn't want to lose this, but he barely has any time left to be human.
Aguero spends less and less time as a cat every night. The very first night he had changed, he had only been a cat for three hours at most, starting at midnight and ending at the crack of dawn. Now, he changes into his feline form as soon as the sun disappears beyond the horizon, and only reverts when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds the next day. Bam worries for him, despite Aguero's express wishes for him not to. His heart is loyal to one man only.
On Aguero's very last day as a human, the two of them set out on what could be called a date. Aguero has already let Shibisu know - his manager had cried, telling him Khun, my son, thank you for being a good friend. Aguero doesn't show anybody the tears that fall. Just for today, they can do whatever they like, fearless of the cameras and the criticisms that will follow. They choose a decent spot in the local park for a picnic: they feed the ducks, which waddle away from Aguero and flock towards Bam; try to climb the tallest trees, which Aguero dances his way up with feline grace, much to Bam and a squirrel's surprise; relax on the grass, under the shade and away from the sun.
Just before the sun begins to set, Aguero swallows any regrets he could have, replacing it with oxygen. "Bam?"
Bam's eyes are beautiful, endless pools of honey Aguero wants to spend the rest of his life drowning in. Bam is beautiful, from the inside out. "Yes, Aguero?"
Aguero takes a deep breath. The light of the late afternoon sun casts shadows over his heart's desire, dappled shade painted across the apples of his cheeks. No turning back, he reminds himself, this is the last time you'll be human. "I'm in love with you."
Bam's mouth pops open in shock, but Aguero doesn't hear what he has to say. His very last shift is painless.
"Meow." I'm sorry.
Russian Blues do not tend to make very good lap cats, but there's nothing stopping Aguero from crawling onto Bam's lap and curling up into a ball. His mind is fuzzy, the memories of what it feels to be human already fading away.
"Aguero," Bam whispers, smoothing over his fur with a calloused hand, "why didn't you tell me?"
There's something broken in his voice, wrong like adding salt instead of sugar to your coffee. "Mrow?" What do you mean?
Bam laughs, his watery eyes blurred in Aguero's feline vision. "Oh my god, we're both idiots." Aguero bats at Bam's free hand, pawing at it until it rests under his head. He rolls over, belly bared. He doesn't like to see Bam crying, and if Bam is being vulnerable, so will he. "I've been in love with you this entire time, but I was so scared you'll never love me back, because every time I open up to people I get hurt. It happened with Rachel, I told you about that. I didn't want that to happen to us. I didn't want to destroy our friendship, so I never told you about my own feelings. I never realized you felt the exact same way."
Bam flops onto his back, a mirthless smile on his face, leaves dusted in his hair. "Man, we are such idiots."
Aguero meows, trotting next to Bam's head and licking a stripe up his cheek. What idiots we are indeed. He nuzzles the hand Bam extends towards him, purring when Bam scratches his chin.
"It's probably too late, but..." Bam closes his eyes, a tear rolling down his cheek as he presses the ghost of a kiss to the tip of Aguero's little nose. The cat shivers, pink tongue darting out to lick away the wetness. It takes like salt and an endless sea of affection. Bam laughs through heartbreak at the feeling of Aguero's sandpapery tongue on his cheek, under his eyes, licking him like that will take the pain away. "I love you."
Aguero shivers again. It's not even a shiver this time, more like a tremor shooting through his very bones. He shudders, a yowl of alarm echoing through the empty park. A flock of birds flap away from them. He feels like he's being ripped apart at the seams again, his entire being a puzzle being deconstructed and put together again. He squeezes his eyes shut at the pain wracking through his body.
Wait. That's not a cat noise.
Aguero looks down at himself. He has hands! With five fingers! And feet in sneakers! Pants! A shirt! Hair and not fur! He pats himself down, awe in his blue eyes. "Oh my god, Bam, I think you just broke the curse."
Bam gawks at him. "Aguero? You're human? Does that mean-" He shakes his head, a serious expression written onto his features. "Stop talking already." Aguero yelps when Bam reaches up, grabs him by the collar and yanks Aguero down over over him. "We've already spent over half a year being stupid. I don't want to waste any more time."
Aguero has never kissed before, or been kissed, for that matter, but he's pretty sure kissing isn't supposed to be a painful mashing of mouths and teeth clacking together behind closed lips. When he pulls away, he tastes coppery blood in his mouth. "Ow."
Bam's eyes widen to the size of saucers. Aguero nearly bites Bam's finger when the brunet lifts a hand to his lips. "You're bleeding! I am so, so sorry, I swear, this is easier in the movies-"
Aguero laughs, a full-bodied cackle of glee. He wipes his mouth. "I want to try again."
This time, he remembers to tilt his head, make sure their noses don't clash. It feels better this time, although he still has no clue where to put his hands. "Was that any better?"
Bam licks his lips, a glint in his honey eyes. "Maybe we should try again at the apartment." He shifts, Aguero still lying over him. "I think there's an ant crawling under my shirt."
Aguero rolls off nimbly, extending a hand. A purr rumbles through his throat. "That sounds like a very good idea."
Anaak has wanted to eat at Chestnut Café for a while now. Their head pâtissier, Bam, is a sort of mentor figure to her - he had taught her all the secrets of making the perfect flaky pastry, and thanks to his advice and reputation, her father's chicken pie business had begun to bloom once more. Bam's main taste-tester, on the other hand, is none other than Khun Aguero Agnis - his apparent boyfriend, and the food critic who'd chosen her (then) mediocre chicken pie over her competitor Lo Po Bia Ren's fish dish, and given her the attention she'd needed to support her and her father's shared dream.
Khun had been rather harsh back then, even if he offered slight constructive criticism. She isn't sure what had happened since then, but he looks happier now, brighter, like eating is more than an obligatory job but one of life's greatest blessing. Maybe it's Bam who had done that. He made Auntie Endorsi significantly nicer, and she ate boys like him for breakfast.
Maybe it's love that does that to people, but Anaak doesn't care much about that. Her only love is the kitchen.
She's heading to the café today - there are cats, and pastries, and Endorsi is hoping to flirt with Bam some more. Anaak had coincidentally forgotten to tell her he wasn't single anymore.
The first thing they see when they walk in is Khun Aguero Agnis himself in the middle of a vlog, his voice alight with a passion and dedication she has never heard from him before. "Hey, Khun," the redhead barista shouts at him, "what do bees make?"
Khun abruptly stops talking to answer her question. "Honey?"
A familiar brunet pokes his head out of the kitchen. "Yes, kitten?"
Khun groans, squeezing his eyes shut and swearing to cut this section out of the vlog. "Bam, please stop," he grumbles.
Bam only laughs, unstrapping his apron and sliding onto Khun's lap. "Make me."
Khun yanks him in by the collar, switching off his laptop camera and slamming it shut. Anaak hides a snort as a cough into her fist. "No PDA, there are kids around!"
The blue-haired man pulls away, the look in his eyes sour. "You're the only kid, and my boyfriend makes the rules around here."
Bam laughs, eyes bright. "Indeed I do."
They're kissing again, pastries and tea long forgotten.
Endorsi scowls at the sight. "Oh, you gotta be kidding me. Him? Again?"
"Hey!" Anaak complains, grabbing her sleeve before Endorsi can storm off and start a war. "You still owe me food!" She glances at the menu. "I want a chocolate puff pastry! And don't forget to buy me a strawberry and cream frappucino! A big one!"
Endorsi makes a face at her, wrinkling her nose and muttering about annoying nieces draining her wallet as she riffles through her dollar bills. The shorter girl grins. If she had a dollar for every time she managed to harass and annoy her auntie, she'd be rich. When the two young women walk past the couple on their way to the counter, Anaak spots Khun's hand extended behind Bam's back. When Endorsi isn't looking, she slaps down, hard.
The two of them resume their lives as if nothing had ever happened - Anaak happily slurping up her frappucino, Khun sucking his boyfriend's face, fingers buried in short brown hair.