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“Tang Yi,” Shaofei yells as he’s running up the stairs, the sound of his footsteps getting closer to where Tang Yi sits at his desk. “Where are you?” 

Tang Yi’s chair scrapes on the floor as he pushes himself away from the desk, takes a few footsteps, and appears through the door of his upstairs office, one eyebrow lifted in wonder and the other low above his eye, bent in a crooked frown. 

“In my office, working, as usual. Where else would I be?” Tang Yi says, with an air of puzzlement that borders on bemusement, should someone take the time to listen. 

Shaofei, however, doesn’t listen; he finishes his mad rush upstairs, and Tang Yi actually has to take a step back into the room as Shaofei comes barrelling through, placing the quickest of kisses on Tang Yi’s cheek before turning around and racing to their bedroom, already removing the shoulder straps of his backpack and his vest, all the while managing to not trip over his own feet in his whirlwind flurry. 

“Wha―?” Tang Yi begins to speak, but Shaofei’s loud chatter from their bedroom cuts his next words short.

“Is your work nearly finished? Will you come with me?”

“Come with you where?” Tang Yi asks, still standing in the doorway of his office, peering towards the bedroom as if he’s judging whether it’s safe to leave the confines of his current location. 

“To the pet store,” Shaofei says, seemingly unfazed, pulling his shirt over his head and changing into a new one. He rummages through his backpack as well and makes sure to take out his wallet and smartphone, which he stows in a side pocket of the pair of trousers he’s wearing. 

“The…pet store?” 

Tang Yi decides his need for context is large enough to warrant his leaving his office and making his way through the hallway towards the bedroom, where Shaofei is apparently noting down something in a small notebook in his hand.

Shaofei raises his eyes as he hears Tang Yi approach, and nods. “Yes, the pet store.” 

Tang Yi wonders whether he has missed a crucial piece of prior information, because he has no idea what his disaster of a boyfriend is on about. They don’t have any pets. Before he can ask Shaofei to elaborate, Shaofei rushes past him and out the door, hooking his fingers around Tang Yi’s wrist and pulls him with him. 

“You’re going to have to explain,” Tang Yi says, groaning as he follows Shaofei’s mad dash down the steps, trying to stay in rhythm lest not to trip over his own feet and send the both of them flying and injuring themselves. 

“What is the point of going to a pet store? We don’t have any―”

“We’re going to adopt a cat.” 

Shaofei reaches the bottom of the stairs and makes his way to the entrance, one foot already in his shoes while he takes out his notebook again and scribbles down something else in it. Tang Yi starts to put two and two together. Shaofei is presumably jotting down everything they’ll need for a cat, such as food, supplies, a basket, a litter box…

“No.” 

Except Shaofei has long ceased listening to his no’s, and so he continues putting his shoes on, unfazed, even unaware that Tang Yi has stopped in his tracks at the foot of the stairs. 

“No...no no no no no,” Tang Yi repeats, louder this time, and when he thinks he sees a frown appear on Shaofei’s face, he continues. “Absolutely not. We are not getting a cat. Not now, and not ever.” 

Shaofei’s smile fades away, only to be replaced by a deepening ripple between his eyebrows. 

“But…” he begins, backtracking a few steps until he’s right in front of Tang Yi again, grabbing his boyfriend’s hand and rubbing a thumb over the skin between Tang Yi’s own thumb and his index finger. Tang Yi has to give it to him, Shaofei is a master of persuasion. He’s a cop after all, used to interrogating suspects and getting confessions. But it won’t work on him. Not this time. 

“Shaofei, I said no. Do you realize how much time and effort it takes to care for a pet? Who’s going to look after it while you’re at work? It’s not going to be me.”

“Tang Yi,” Shaofei argues, in his signature pouting voice. His lower lips juts out and his eyes grow large as well, and Tang Yi feels his resolve breaking. Almost, but not entirely. He’s going to have to keep his foot down. 

“We found her in a dumpster in an alley. She’s - I think it’s a she, she’s a tabby cat, and she’s so adorable. We think the owners left her there to fend for herself, and she’s so skinny but still trusting. She came over right away. We couldn’t just leave her there, so we brought her to the station and―”

“I know what you’re doing,” Tang Yi interrupts, pursing his lips. “And it’s not going to work on me. We are not getting a cat, do you hear me?”

“But...I already signed myself up for adopting her,” Shaofei pleads, his voice betraying the fact that he knows he’s on the verge of losing this battle. But Shaofei always holds on for dear life, so Tang Yi knows he’s not out of the woods yet. 

“Then you go and un-adopt her. I’m sure one of your colleagues would be glad to take her off your hands. Doesn’t Zhaozi have his own place? He could take her.” Tang Yi’s tone is final, and he pulls his hand out of Shaofei’s clasp and trots to the kitchen, where he pours himself a glass of water from the tap. 

“Tang Yi,” Shaofei repeats, sounding resigned. Tang Yi thinks he’s won. But he can’t lower his vigilance just yet. It’s nothing like Shaofei to give something up this easily. And sure enough―

“At the very least, come with me to the shop so I can get supplies.” 

“Shaofei…” 

“For that other person to take care of her.” 

The rim of the glass is still between Tang Yi’s lips when that distinctive gleam of victory appears in Shaofei’s eyes. This is not good, Tang Yi thinks. 

 

***

 

Tang Yi should have known that giving in was a bad idea. He can’t even trust his own resolve when it comes to Shaofei. He should have expected Shaofei to drag him to the station after paying a visit to the pet shop. He can mentally slap himself now,  because two days later, Yuanzi, which means round in Chinese, although the cat is everything but, is strutting around in his kitchen like she owns the place, sniffing every corner and rubbing her cheek against every surface imaginable. 

When Shaofei comes up from behind and hugs him, his chin perched on top of Tang Yi’s right shoulder, contentedly sighing next to Tang Yi’s ear, Tang Yi can only scowl. 

“If she destroys anything, she’s leaving, and you’re going with her,” he tells Shaofei, whose low giggle sounds adorable. Damn him. Why can’t he refuse Shaofei anything

“Awww, but Tang Yi. Look at her. Isn’t this the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? How can you say no to such a lovely ball of fur?”

“Ball of fur my ass. Listen carefully. This is your cat. So you’re taking care of it. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have a cat, okay? I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“Her.”

It.” Tang Yi will not get emotionally attached. 

Tang Yi coughs and pretends to sneeze. Perhaps he’ll peel some onions later to get his eyes red and watery. He may try to convince Shaofei that he is allergic. Only Shaofei sees right through his schemes and doesn’t fall for them, which renders Tang Yi even more mad. At least Shaofei partially makes amends that night by offering him a blowjob, which results in a most titillating love-making session that Tang Yi will remember for a long time. But it’s only fair, after Yuanzi claimed the leather couch in the living room by sharpening its nails and leaving a big scratch that would make any grown man cry. 

 

***

 

As predicted, it’s Tang Yi who has to take care of the cat when Shaofei is playing captain at the station and leaves him alone in the house with the monstrous feline. And now that they’ve decided that Yuanzi will be an indoors cat for the time being - in fact, it was Shaofei making the decision because Tang Yi spent the entire time sulking behind the wheel on the way back from the station with a cat in a carrier box on Shaofei’s lap in the passenger seat next to him - Tang Yi is forced to spend more time with it in the same space than he really cares for. But, despite what others might think of him, he’s not cruel, and he cannot really let the beast die, lest Shaofei would never forgive him and put a bullet in his shoulder. But he does the bare minimum. He feeds the cat every day, checks to see whether it still has fresh water, and then leaves it alone downstairs to do its own thing, while he works in his office upstairs, trying not to let thoughts of the other furniture it can destroy in his absence consume his mind.

Tang Yi is deeply concentrated on doing the Xingtian Group’s finances, which is why he doesn’t immediately register the soft brush against his leg, and by the time his mind catches up with his senses and he realizes he must have left the door to his office slightly ajar, Yuanzi has already slipped in and is curling its tail around his calf, rubbing its body and its cheeks to the legs of his desk chair. 

“What the―!” he exclaims, startled, but the cat is completely untroubled, thrusting its tail straight up in the air while it checks out the new surroundings. Tang Yi heaves a sigh. As long as Yuanzi doesn’t create any trouble, it can stay, he grudgingly concludes. At least he can keep an eye on it this way. The slightest hint of devilry and he’ll chase the creature out of his office and give Shaofei an earful in the evening. 

Tang Yi has to admit that while Yuanzi does its soundless patrolling of every corner of the room, he nearly forgets about its presence, quickly refocusing on the papers in front of him and the numbers on them. It’s only when Yuanzi has no qualms about hopping on his lap that Tang Yi nearly jumps up again, his hand unwittingly making a swing so he almost knocks the cat back off brusquely. But contrary to what Tang Yi expects, all it does is stare up at him before it headbutts his abdomen, making two turns and then actually lies down on his lap, nestling itself comfortably on his thighs. 

Tang Yi stares back at the furball on his legs, mind momentarily blank about what he’s supposed to do next. He keeps his whole body as motionless as possible, but after a few minutes, with the animal’s body heat soaking through his trousers, he finds himself calming down, convincing himself to ignore the fact that there’s an animal in his lap, and to focus back on his work. Only until Yuanzi ’s purring sounds grow unfathomably loud does he realize that his left hand has been scratching behind its ears of its own accord. He draws his hand back, but that merely results in a trilling sound coming from the cat’s lips, as well as it lazily opening one eye to look at him, as if it wants to interrogate him about why on earth he stopped.

“Fine,” he mutters, sliding his fingers back to their previous position, brushing his hand through the soft, striped fur on the back of Yuanzi ’s head, growing a bit bolder when Yuanzi begins purring again, expressing its appreciation for the small amount of affection Tang Yi is willing to show. 

“Listen,” he tells the animal coiled up into a perfect fibonacci spiral on his legs, “work with me here. There is no way that Shaofei can know about this. You and me have never as much as looked at each other. We haven’t bonded, okay? Not even a little bit. If he asks, you and I ignore each other, right? I’ll never hear the end of it otherwise.” Glowering, he uses one finger to poke the neck of the cat, hoping to get his point across. 

Yuanzi doesn’t even deem it necessary to open her eyes, but the animal squeaks something between a meow and another sound that Tang Yi can’t quite place yet. He guesses it’s an affirmative.

“Great. Glad we cleared that up. Make sure you’re back downstairs before he comes home, too.” 

Yuanzi doesn’t heed his words at first and rolls on its back, its four paws in the air, and sleeps for another two hours in that position - Tang Yi resorts to scratching its belly absentmindedly from time to time. Finally Tang Yi has to use the restroom and gently pushes the cat off his legs. At least it seems to have decided that it has made enough use of these sleeping arrangements for now, because it yawns and then vanishes through the open door, no longer acknowledging him. A moment later, Tang Yi hears scratching in the litterbox. Yuanzi does not appear again. 

After another hour, footsteps sound downstairs, followed by Shaofei’s voice softly ringing through the house, cooing over Yuanzi. “Here you are. Did you have a nice day? You must have been lonely, huh? Not too bothered by that angry human up there?”

“Hey,” Tang Yi chides, just then stepping down the stairs. “Would you refrain from making me look bad in front of it?”

Her.”

“Whatever.”  

“Don’t you mind him,” Shaofei continues, stooping down and addressing the cat, which appears to cock its head sideways to look from one to the other. “He’s just grumpy because you get all the attention now and he doesn’t.” 

Tang Yi clicks his tongue and huffs out a breath, crowding into his boyfriend’s space despite his obvious annoyance. “I do feel a bit...neglected,” he announces, emphasizing his pathetic state of affairs with a pout of his own he knows Shaofei won’t be able to resist. 

“Awww, come here,” Shaofei says, and turns around to drape himself all over Tang Yi, as expected. “I had no idea you’d be this jealous over a cat.”

“What, I’m not jealous.” 

“Sure.” 

Shaofei obviously doesn’t believe him, but while he’s not looking, his face firmly pressed into Tang Yi’s neck, planting a soft kiss on the sensitive flesh there, Tang Yi winks at the cat over Shaofei’s shoulder. Yuanzi promptly turns around and marches away, its tail high in the air, cold-shouldering them both. Which is probably a good thing. Tang Yi isn’t a prude by any means, but what Shaofei proceeds to do next, isn’t fit for anyone’s prying eyes, not even a cat’s. 

 

***

 

Tang Yi develops a rather symbiotic relationship with Shaofei’s cat. When Shaofei is not at work and loitering around the house, either messing up Tang Yi’s kitchen or being annoyingly high on sugar from all the cola he consumes, Tang Yi purposefully ignores Yuanzi

It’s as if the cat has completely understood what its mission is from the first time Tang Yi explained it, and it never as much as takes a second look at Tang Yi either. Instead it rushes in front of Shaofei when it’s hungry or wants to play, causing him to trip more often than not. The sofa is also beyond saving after a few hard-core sessions of chasing a feather on a stick, and Shaofei has had to apologize. But despite all that, Shaofei continues to adore Yuanzi with all his heart, the Shaofei way. The same manner in which he loves Tang Yi. Unhesitatingly and unconditionally. Tang Yi is secretly enamored by how Shaofei gives his all when he is committed to something or someone. 

Shaofei tries to include Tang Yi in some play sessions or other facets of raising Yuanzi, of being cat dads together, but Tang Yi does one of his signature stares and grumbles each time, and manages to successfully sidestep everything related to the cat, at least when he and Shaofei are both at home and it’d be something they’d have to do together. He knows it makes Shaofei a little upset, but Shaofei bounces back quickly each time, shrugging his shoulders while he goes and pets Yuanzi and whispers validating words to the furball, assuring it of the affection of at least one of them. 

Tang Yi just needs a bit of time to figure out how to break it to Shaofei that Yuanzi isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to him, without being teased about this for the rest of his life. 

Because the thing is, when Shaofei is out of the house, Yuanzi has made it a habit of paying a visit to Tang Yi in his office upstairs. Tang Yi gladly leaves the door open ajar each time, and finds that he can’t even concentrate on handling taxes or other administration for his company anymore if the cat isn’t perched on his lap, sleeping or licking its paws. Tang Yi even has a secret stash of cat treats tucked away in the very back of one of his desk drawers.  If Shaofei ever found out that Tang Yi had spent at least thirty minutes in the animal food aisle of the supermarket looking at every possible colourful wrapper and trying to decide which treat to buy, he would honestly never stop laughing at him. Tang Yi still remembers the sigh of relief he’d breathed when Yuanzi gobbled up the cat candies with much gusto after only one short sniff at what Tang Yi had offered in his palm. 

Yuanzi also knows exactly when to leave the warmth of Tang Yi’s lap so that by the time Shaofei returns home, it looks like nothing has ever happened, and Tang Yi and the cat are once more like two strangers coexisting in the same space without any interaction. 

“Don’t you think she’s getting fat?” Shaofei asks him one night, frowning. “It’s not like she’s getting too much food when you are feeding her.” 

Tang Yi shrugs noncommittally, denies all possible involvement, but still thinks that now at least the cat’s name starts making sense. Yuanzi is no longer the scrawny creature that first arrived in their house about two months earlier, but is turning into a gorgeous house cat with shiny fur and bright green eyes. 

Tang Yi’s cover is almost blown when, one night, he and Shaofei are watching tv on the couch (sitting on top of a blanket that Shaofei had spread to keep the scratch marks from view and to keep Tang Yi from scowling at said scratch marks). Tang Yi’s arm is wrapped over Shaofei’s shoulder, and Shaofei is pressed warmly against Tang Yi’s side, his hand resting on Tang Yi’s knee. They’re both comfortable and relaxed, but when Yuanzi walks past the coffee table, most likely in search of another piece of furniture to demolish, Shaofei sits up straighter and removes his hand from Tang Yi’s leg, leaving a cold and empty feeling there, to pat his own lap and invite Yuanzi over. 

Except the cat completely disregards Shaofei’s attempts to cuddle with both his lover and his pet, and jumps on Tang Yi’s side of the couch, headbutting Tang Yi’s leg before plopping down next to him, nestling herself against his leg with her head on top of her paws, almost immediately closing her eyes, the vibrations of her soft purr tangible to only Tang Yi.

Shaofei looks completely dumbfounded, so Tang Yi decides he must salvage the situation by cracking a joke. 

“She knows who’s boss here, obviously,” he says, smiling, while doing his best to keep his hand from wandering into Yuanzi ’s fur and scratching behind her ears, which he knows for a fact to be her favourite spot to be petted. He’s not yet supposed to reveal his secret fling with the cat with which he has always supposedly maintained a very distant rapport. 

But instead of the expected defensive comeback from his boyfriend, Shaofei’s eyes turn completely soft and Tang Yi needs a second to compute what’s happening.  

Tang Yi stiffens just as Shaofei opens his mouth and speaks only a few words. “You said she .”

“I...what?”

“You called her a she...a her…whatever,” Shaofei repeats, his eyes growing large and a little watery. “You’re warming up to her, aren’t you?”

Tang Yi doesn’t immediately respond, but Shaofei huddles closer and quickly pecks Tang Yi’s cheek, beaming at him, his smile so wide it’s taking over the entirety of Shaofei’s features. 

“What was that for?” Tang Yi questions while he raises his hand to his cheek and rubs the spot Shaofei’s lips just touched, as if he can’t quite believe that Shaofei did that, when in fact, this kind of display of affection is fairly common for someone like Meng Shaofei. Shaofei likes physical contact, and he will not shy away from showing someone he cares about just how much he enjoys being close to them.

“No reason,” Shaofei whispers and shrugs, before he leans in again purposefully, “and maybe because I love you a little, Tang Yi.”

Tang Yi lifts one eyebrow. “Only a little?”

Shaofei grins, his eyes flitting from Tang Yi’s face to the cat pretending to be asleep beside him. Tang Yi knows for a fact she’s listening in because he feels her tail sweeping in contained motions next to his leg. 

He gives her a short glance before returning his attention to Shaofei. 

“Perhaps she’s okay,” he offers, smiling in return. 

Tang Yi will have to explain to Shaofei some other time that rather than simply tolerating each other’s presence, Yuanzi and he actually have a thing going on, because every word he wants to utter is muffled by Shaofei’s attack on his mouth. 

They learn that night that Yuanzi doesn’t do well with being ignored. When she becomes aware of her humans being caught up in each other, and Tang Yi shifts on the sofa seat to be able to pull Shaofei in his lap, the cat hooks one of her front paw nails in Tang Yi’s thigh, and angrily jumps off the couch, stalking away to the highest point of her scratch pole tower to glare at both of them. 

Tang Yi yelps in surprise and in momentary pain, but Shaofei offers to kiss it better. If a few moments later, Shaofei’s fingertips press into Tang Yi’s back and Tang Yi’s own fingers in turn sink into the sofa’s backrest, adding a few more scratches of his own, no one has to know. 

 

***

 

It doesn’t take long for Tang Yi to realize that something is wrong. He’s been sitting at his desk for the past half an hour, gnawing on the tip of his pen, writing down some nonsensical things and looking up from time to time to stare at the opposite wall. Except the tell-tale soft creak of the door being pushed open a little bit further and the subsequent bump of Yuanzi ’s head against his leg doesn’t come. Tang Yi frowns but decides to let it go. He shrugs; Yuanzi must be busy chasing a candy wrapper across the living room or sleeping somewhere else in the house. 

Tang Yi tries, he really does, but after five more minutes of utter silence downstairs, he can’t stand it any longer and decides he needs to check up on the cat, for his own peace of mind. 

The gnawing dread of impending doom only grows larger and larger with every corner he turns. Yuanzi is nowhere to be found. He looks in all her usual sleeping spots, calls her name multiple times, rattles the box with her dry food, but there’s no inquisitive meow followed by four paws bounding towards the kitchen to stare at the food bowl. 

Panic sets in. Tang Yi gets scared, and that’s not something that easily happens. Why can’t he find the dang cat?

While he’s pacing in his kitchen and the living room, Tang Yi hears noises outside. It causes him to involuntarily frown, though he’s not entirely sure why. It’s not that out of the ordinary. Security guards and other staff are working the grounds on a daily basis, so why would it…

And then it dawns on him. He hears voices outside. He can hear them. Tang Yi’s gaze flies to the windows, and sure enough, a floor-to-ceiling window that could, in theory, also serve as a glass door, is open, and has most likely been ajar since early morning. 

Tang Yi’s blood runs hot and cold at the same time, and he’s too worked up about finding the cat that he doesn’t even think about who left the window open and about who he’ll have to fire after everything is said and done. He runs outside still wearing his slippers, disregarding the morning dew soaking through his socks, frantically calling Yuanzi ’s name. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knows it probably won’t help. The property is large and the cat could be anywhere. And if she leaped over the fence and into the road...Tang Yi doesn’t want to think about it, yet all kinds of horror scenarios flood his mind. 

He instructs security guards to comb through the back and the side gardens, orders them to leave no stone unturned, pleads with them to look up at tree branches, meanwhile running through damp grass in drenched socks himself, the slippers lost somewhere behind him. 

The grounds get methodically searched and scanned for traces of feline presence, but to no avail. There is no sign of Yuanzi , and Tang Yi realizes he’s going to have to tell Shaofei that the cat has vanished. The worst part of it, Tang Yi reckons, is that Shaofei is undoubtedly going to think he did it on purpose. The warm burn of impending tears sting Tang Yi’s eyelids and his shoulders drop in defeat. 

Ever since Meng Shaofei had virtually disappeared from the face of the earth a few years ago, leaving Tang Yi in a state of worry bordering on despair, Shaofei has learnt his lesson. It takes no more than fifteen minutes after Tang Yi texts Shaofei to please come home as soon as possible for the car to pull into the driveway, tires crunching and brakes screeching. If there wasn’t bad news to deliver, Tang Yi figures he would probably get a good chuckle out of the fact that Shaofei takes his car - a former mob boss’ car - to work and puts the siren onto that car to chase after the bad guys. 

Shaofei bursts through the door, his hair in even more disarray than after his non-existent morning routine, and a crazed, concerned scowl wrinkles his forehead as he storms inside, calling out for Tang Yi immediately. 

Tang Yi gets up from the sofa and walks towards Shaofei, who barrels towards him, putting his hands everywhere on Tang Yi’s body, full of concern as he feels for wounds and looks up at Tang Yi’s face for signs of distress. “Are you okay? What happened? Are you hurt? Tang Yi! Talk to me. What’s going on?”

Tang Yi maintains a straight expression when he grabs Shaofei’s hand and gently steers him back towards the couch, indicating with a nod of his chin for Shaofei to sit down before following suit. He doesn’t let go of Shaofei’s hand as he sighs deeply, almost not daring to look Shaofei in the eyes.

Yuanzi escaped and we can’t find her. I’m so sorry.” 

It’s barely anything above a whisper, but Shaofei catches it, because his face falls, and Tang Yi hates to see it, hates that he is the one making Shaofei look miserable like this. He braces himself for the inevitable blame. However, Shaofei quickly recovers, and squeezes his hand in a reassuring manner. 

"Oh. You're not hurt or anything?  You're not in any danger? I thought―"

"Shaofei, did you hear what I said?" Tang Yi cuts in with a shaky voice. "Yuanzi is gone. I went downstairs this morning and she just wasn't there and the window was open. I searched everywhere but I couldn't find her. I am so terribly sorry." Tang Yi needs Shaofei to understand that as much as he believes Tang Yi and the cat don't get along, Tang Yi didn’t wish for the cat to disappear. 

“Tang Yi, calm down.” Shaofei tries, he truly does, but Tang Yi hasn’t been this un-calm in literal years. Even waiting to learn whether his sentence would be reduced, wasn’t as nerve-racking as this. Disappointing Shaofei is the worst thing Tang Yi could do.  

“But…”

“It’s okay,” Shaofei interrupts, still holding on to Tang Yi’s hand and rubbing soothing circles  in Tang Yi’s palm with his thumb. “She’s a cat. She was living on the streets and surviving. I bet she’s gotten so used to getting fed all the good stuff and having a roof over her head, that when she gets hungry, she’ll be meowing for us to let her in again in a couple of hours. You’ll see.” 

“I hope you’re right,” Tang Yi says with a deep sigh. 

“Don’t you know by now I’m always right?” Shaofei grins. 

Tang Yi is too overwhelmed to argue, and even Shaofei looks surprised at the absence of any comeback this time.  

 

*** 

 

Yuanzi never returns home that night, not even when Shaofei and Tang Yi both take a flashlight and take a walk around the property together before bed, calling the cat’s name at regular intervals. There’s no rustling sound coming from the bushes that line the garden’s perimeter, and no pair of glowing eyes staring at them from a hiding place. There is no trace of Yuanzi anywhere at all, and when they go upstairs and into bed, Tang Yi just knows Shaofei is trying to put up a strong front for his sake, but he is just as crushed as Tang Yi feels. 

“Sorry,” Tang Yi says in the dark, repeating himself. 

Shaofei scoots a little closer beneath the duvet, his chest plastered against Tang Yi’s backside. 

“It’s not your fault. It’s fine.”

“It’s very much not fine. I should have taken better care, I shouldn’t have spent all of my time upstairs. I should have―” Tang Yi rolls on his back, looking up at the ceiling, full of worry. The knot in his stomach hasn’t untangled since that morning. What if something happened to her? 

“Tang Yi, these things happen. She’s hardly the first cat to escape. But I’m sure she’ll come back.”

Tang Yi isn’t confident about that at all. He doesn’t sleep a wink that night, and gets up before the crack of dawn, leaving Shaofei, who is dazedly mumbling in his sleep all huddled up in the sheets, behind to take another walk around the premises in search of the cat. Without success, because he returns to the house empty-handed, scarcely daring to look Shaofei in the eyes, who’s clothed and drinking a glass of cola in the kitchen by then. Tang Yi doesn’t even have the heart to mock Shaofei’s bad breakfast habits.

After Shaofei departs for work and Tang Yi has assured him he’ll call should Yuanzi turn up, he takes his laptop and sits at the dining room table on the ground floor, so he has a view of the garden, just in case. Tang Yi researches tips to find a lost cat instead of filing his taxes. Place some used litter outside so the animal can smell its scent. Check. Open the door of any garden shed or tool shed so that a cat that accidentally locked itself up might escape. Check. Print flyers and hand them out to the neighbours. Tang Yi frowns. He lives in a remote area, and even if he didn’t, he doubts the neighbours would help him. Former mob boss, and all that. Still, he repeats instructions to his security guards to keep their eyes peeled. Double-check the space beneath the car’s hood just to be sure. Check. Nothing. 

There’s no sign from Yuanzi for the next several days either, and Tang Yi is losing his mind. He has no appetite, and the bags under his eyes are growing exponentially darker as a result of his lack of sleep. He’s not even that hungry when Shaofei offers to cook spicy gnocchi for him, a recipe that Tang Yi’s passed down to his boyfriend and Shaofei has been preparing occasionally, getting better at it each time he does. 

“You know, for someone who didn’t like a cat, you’re awfully upset about it no longer being here,” Shaofei remarks. “I assumed you’d be relieved you don’t have to fee―”

“No!” Tang Yi shouts, irrationally angry that Shaofei would even think such a thing, despite the fact that Tang Yi hasn’t given him much else to go on. “What kind of monster do you think I am? I didn’t want this to happen,” he continues, waving both of his hands in front of him. 

“Okay, okay,” Shaofei replies, raising both of his hands in the air as if surrendering. “I just thought―”

“Well, don’t,” Tang Yi cuts him off again, effectively ending the discussion with a stubborn stare and stalking off upstairs, leaving Shaofei standing dumbfounded at the foot of the stairs. 

Tang Yi apologizes again later for lashing out, but he feels as if his ‘sorry’ doesn’t even carry that much meaning anymore after the many times he’s said it in the last couple of days. Shaofei grunts in acknowledgement, but doesn’t intrude on Tang Yi’s personal space in the bed like he usually does, which leaves Tang Yi feeling like the biggest jerk in the world. 

 

***

 

Since sitting at the dining table hasn’t yielded any results for about a week now, Tang Yi has resorted to getting back to work in his office, where the door he’s still leaving ajar out of habit sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s where he’s still sitting in the evening, ignoring his churning stomach from skipping lunch, when he hears the door open and close below, followed by Shaofei running up the stairs. A moment later, Shaofei’s head appears in the doorway, eyes twinkling a little bit.

“Tang Yi,” he says, slightly out of breath. “You might want to come downstairs to see this.”

“What is it?” Tang Yi asks, but before Shaofei can open his mouth again to formulate a response, Tang Yi hears a hoarse meow and Yuanzi, who appears to have lost weight and looks a bit ragged but alive, ignores Shaofei’s shocked gasp as she runs past him and towards Tang Yi’s desk. 

“How?” Tang Yi manages to get out, suppressing a sob, but he can’t help tears from springing to his eyes instantly, and before he knows it, he’s full on weeping, embarrassingly so, while Yuanzi leaps on his lap as if nothing has ever been out of the ordinary. 

“Where have you been?” he asks the cat, hiccuping the words in between strangled sobs, as he clutches Yuanzi to his chest, stroking her fur from head to tail, more out of a visceral need to console himself rather than the cat, who repeatedly rubs her nose all against his chin and cheeks. 

“Don’t you ever do that again!” Tang Yi keeps talking to the cat. “Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?” Tang Yi’s tears render his vision blurry, and he doesn’t even notice Shaofei’s thunderstruck stare. 

Only after Tang Yi pulls open one of the desk’s drawers and one-handedly feels around for the cat treats, does Shaofei fully enter the room and asks, an astounded tone in his voice: “Tang Yi, have you been...cheating on me, with the cat?” 

At that, Tang Yi finally smiles through his tears, and throws Shaofei a sheepish look. 

“I mean, I had an inkling you didn’t hate her as much as you said you did, but this…” Shaofei motions to nothing in particular. “This is rather...unexpected.” Still, Tang Yi figures the look in Shaofei’s eyes turns to one of complete endearment as he observes his lover cuddle with his pet. 

“We had an uh...mutual understanding, of sorts,” Tang Yi says, a weak attempt at explanation, trying to sound apologetic, while he takes a tissue to blow his nose and releases Yuanzi, who jumps on the ground only to headbutt Tang Yi’s legs first before moving to Shaofei’s, meowing impatiently for one of them to turn into her lackey again and fill a bowl of food for her.

“Oh, I bet,” Shaofei grins, motioning his head for Tang Yi to join them downstairs. 

“So where was she?” Tang Yi asks when he is at the foot of the stairs and Yuanzi’s blend of eager meows and soft purring grows even louder when she spots Shaofei opening a cupboard door. 

“I came home and she was just waiting in front of the door, demanding to be let in, as if she hadn’t been gone at all.” 

“Ugh. Ungrateful beast!” Tang Yi reproaches, but he doesn’t mean a word of it, relief still coursing through every vein in his body. 

“Told you she’d come back though, didn’t I?” Shaofei laughs, looking very smug as he makes eye-contact with Tang Yi amid scooping out wet food into a bowl. Yuanzi ’s sense of urgency of getting fed right now almost compels her to crawl up Shaofei’s legs using her nails, making Shaofei hiss.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re always right, I know.” Tang Yi confirms, moving to stand next to Shaofei with his arm slung over Shaofei’s shoulders, the two of them silently watching on as Yuanzi gobbles up her food noisily. 

Later, after they’ve eaten dinner themselves, and everyone, including the cat, has come down from the adrenaline, Tang Yi promises Shaofei he'll take Yuanzi to the vet the next day. Now that she’s been fed and petted, she looks a lot better and she doesn’t act as if anything is wrong, but Tang Yi feels they better have a vet check her out to be on the safe side. 

“Wow, you really do love her, don’t you?” Shaofei observes, his eyes large and dark while he considers Tang Yi’s now relaxed form next to him. 

Tang Yi doesn’t immediately say anything. He knows that his lover is aware that it doesn’t come as easy to Tang Yi to say the L-word as it does to Shaofei, but that doesn’t mean that he feels it any less. He wordlessly expresses it a thousand other ways every day. Tang Yi flashes Shaofei a blinding smile. 

“Still jealous?” he jokes.

Shaofei scoffs good-naturedly as his eyebrows lift in denial. “As if! When have I ever been jealous?”

Now it’s Tang Yi’s turn to widen his eyes and to express mild disbelief. Just when he opens his mouth to refute and bring up the security camera footage from a few years back that Tang Yi kept for moments like these, Shaofei continues. 

“Although,” Shaofei says, putting a finger to his lips as he mulls over his next sentences. “Should I be jealous? I mean, it’s very surprising how quickly you were hung up on her, while it took you at least four years to warm up to me.” 

“You’re still my favourite,” Tang Yi simply states. “But can you blame me? I mean, look at her...you don’t have such a soft fur to touch. And you didn’t come headbutting me, so if it took longer for me to catch on, that’s why.”

“Excuse me,” Shaofei points out, “but I butted heads with you plenty of times in the past.” His eyes glitter again from the glee he’s barely able to conceal.  

Tang Yi rolls his eyes as he takes in Shaofei’s pun. “Why?” he says, looking up at the ceiling, crinkles forming in the corners of his eyes. “Why did I have to end up with an idiot such as yourself?”

Shaofei’s been fondly called an idiot by Tang Yi often enough to know that it’s all in good fun. Still, he decides to raise the stakes anyway.

“If you want, you can pet this idiot right now,” he says, an absolutely dirty grin playing around his mouth, “but if it’s something soft you’re looking for, you won’t find it, indeed.” 

Tang Yi doesn’t even try to conceal the fact that all of his blood rushes down in an instant. He also doesn’t need to be told twice. 

“Oh, you’re good ,” he tells Shaofei, and then turns his head to address Yuanzi.

“Will you be okay if your dads go take care of some...uh...business?” 

Yuanzi doesn’t even so much as raise her head when she’s all comfortable and curled up in a sleeping position.

“I guess that’s a yes,” Shaofei points out, not in the least alarmed when Tang Yi grabs his arm with force and unceremoniously drags him up the stairs. 

 

***

 

Tang Yi is waiting in his upstairs office when Shaofei comes home from his shift at the station. He listens to Shaofei talk to Yuanzi in a soothing voice while feeding her, before heading up the stairs to change out of his work attire. 

“Hi,” Tang Yi calls to him from the doorway against which he leans, arms crossed in front of his chest, a small, yet mysterious, smile lighting his features.

Shaofei stops in his tracks on the way to the bedroom and turns to his boyfriend.  

“Hey?” he says, his intonation making the greeting sound more like a question. He narrows his eyes as well, making an effort to decipher Tang Yi’s current mindset. “What are you―?” he begins. 

“Don’t change into too comfortable clothes yet,” Tang Yi says. “We’re still going out.” 

“Are we?” A frown appears between Shaofei’s eyes. 

Tang Yi takes a breath.

“I think I want a second one, Shaofei.”

Shaofei stares at him, unable to comprehend what Tang Yi is saying.

“A second...one?”

Tang Yi takes another breath in an effort to dispel some irrational nerves. 

“A second cat. I thought we could maybe go to the shelter?” 

Shaofei remains silent for a beat too long, and suddenly Tang Yi is absolutely unsure whether or not this was the most monumentally awful idea he’s ever had. Given Tang Yi’s initial scepticism about Yuanzi , Shaofei would be insane to agree to another one.

“I mean, if you want,” he tries. “It’s also fine if you don’t want to. I just thought, I don’t know…we could―”

Things happen in rapid succession at that point. Shaofei surges forward, clutching to Tang Yi in a bone-crushing hug, whispering a quick ‘I love you’ in his ear, before stepping back, turning around and disappearing into their bedroom. Tang Yi only got a brief glimpse, but he is pretty confident Shaofei’s eyes were a little moist. 

“I take it that’s a yes, then?” he calls after Shaofei. 

Shaofei’s voice is still a bit unsteady when it rings back from inside the room. 

“I’ll drive.”