It's cold and wet on the pavement and there is also a profound lack of shelter, good or otherwise. His sides are still sore from the two adolescent human males who kicked him two days ago. He hasn't eaten a decent meal in weeks and he feels it in his bones. He's just strong enough to hold his head up, but only barely. His normal graceful strut has become a stumbling, limping gait. He thinks those two males also broke one of his legs. He's not quite sure anymore which human caused which injury. These humans, or at least the ones he had come in contact with, didn't take kindly to a stray hanging around their homes and places of business.
But at night, he had free run of the town. With it being so late, everyone was gone, not to come back until the sun was up again. He makes his way to the edge of the alley, peering cautiously in every direction to be certain he is currently free of those vile creatures. Once he approves his clearance, he struggles to walk towards the street, falling into and dragging himself out of the puddle ridden gutter. It's an effort to get his strength up for the energy he needs to cross the street. He thinks he remembers seeing the butcher throw out some giblets earlier. He doesn't even make it to the yellow lines when he hears a soft gasp followed by hurried, soft steps. A human. He stares longingly at the alley that held what could have been another meal, and he's sure it will be the last time he will have to worry over his hunger. This human may just be the one to finish him off. He keeps his eyes forward, because maybe this beating won't hurt so bad if he doesn't see his attacker.
He hears the drop to the pavement next to him, and he shuts his eyes. Maybe if they see how pathetic he already is, they'll take pity on him. When he feels a hand on his side he winces and leans away from them, collapsing to the ground, and waiting for the blows to start. He's shocked when, instead of punches and too-tight grips, he gets the gentle hand running along his fur. The human begins muttering and cooing to him softly.
"Oh...you poor thing. Who did this to you, hmmm? Who hurt you, dearie? Such a pitiful dear one. You look so tired and hungry. And hurt. You look like you're in pain. I can fix it, dearie. Would you like me to fix you? Hmm? Would you like to come home with me?" As she's cooing, he cracks open his eyes to look at this human who has shown such restraint in her hatred of him. The streetlights above them make her glow, a halo around her dark curls, and her eyes an almost electric blue. They were narrow in an emotion he's never seen on a human's face when they are facing him, but if he had to call it anything, he'd call it worry. She is worried about him. Her hand retreats, and so does the warmth and comfort. He reaches out one dirty paw to her, an agitated purr beginning in his chest. He watches her unwrap the long woolly thing from around her neck and place it flat on the pavement next to him. Gently, she reaches out to him, wrapping her hands around him safely and with as little pain as possible shooting through him, she lifts him and places him on the cloth. With careful hands she wraps the long ends around him, covering him so completely in her warmth and gentle scent. He blinks and he's in her arms, still wrapped in the soft, fuzzy cloth covered in her scent. He blinks owlishly up at her for a moment before he decides to trust her and closes his eyes again.
He doesn't wake up until she's brought him into her home. He's never felt so safe, and that's cause enough to be cautious. He turns his head this way and that to check for her, but he doesn't see her. He takes a moment to soak in his surroundings.
He's laying curled in a plush chair, a fire blazing a few feet away. The floors are wooden and shining with polish and health. The wool is still wrapped around him, and he feels snug, dry and warm. Somewhere behind him, he hears movement; clanging, and electric noises. He wonders if it's the human from before. He wonders if she's alone or if there are others he needs to watch out for.
When she makes her way back out to him, she is dressed differently than before. Instead of the tights, skirt, thick coat and heeled boots from before, she is now clad in a light green shirt and pants, little watermelon slices with "I'm sweet enough to eat!" printed on them.
He is wary when she lowers herself in front of him.
"Hello there," she whispers kindly. He's waiting for the other shoe to drop. There's no way she'll continuously stay this kind. Not to him.
She slowly raises a wash rag in one hand, unraveling the scarf with the other.
"I need to see how badly you're hurt before I can fix you. If it's too bad, I'll have to take you to a vet. Will you be okay with that?"
He doesn't answer, choosing to keep his glare on her instead. She looks him in the eye and nods.
"I understand your wariness. People haven't given you the love you need, have they? They wouldn't take you in. Well, you don't have to worry. While you still need me, you'll be here. I'll nurse you back to health, and when the time comes, you can go."
She takes the warm, damp rag and runs it gently along his back, taking the time to scrub softly at the more difficult stains. It's a strange sensation, this being 'cared for'. She holds each paw carefully, inspecting each for damage before wiping them clean of the dirt and filth that had accumulated. She is tender, careful, in her attentions. He's never felt so...real. Real and yet, this must be a dream. He's going to wake up in an alley, hungry, cold and alone. So alone. She will have been a figment, a thing his mind created to help him feel alright, even for just while he slept.
A little while later, after affectionate brushes and careful cleaning, he's purring on the chair, feeling her fingertips scratching his cheeks. His eyes close from the feeling coursing through him, though he can't place it. Whatever it is, it's the best feeling he's ever come across. He falls back to sleep with that feeling rolling over him in gentle waves, coaxing him to rest easy.
He spends his time, while still injured, weakly sniffing around the big room he's in. She has called it the 'Living Room', although the place doesn't seem very lively. She's got bookcases filled top to bottom, and stacks of books that didn't fit throughout the room. He can't go too far throughout the house yet. He knows he will tire easily, and it will be such a shameful event if he needs her to carry him back to his warm, cozy chair cushion. He'd rather save what little bit of his pride is left.
There's a bit of bandage that she has wrapped around his back right leg, and while he understands the nicety that it is, it itches him something fierce. Every couple of steps, he stretches out that leg, shaking it, and trying to loosen the gauze, only to hear her come close. She gives him a soft thwap on the top of his head, and he hears a 'No, little kitty.' He stops moving to turn his head to her and meow about his discontent. His leg lifts and he gives it a shake. She caresses the gauze right where he needs it, soothing the itch. He mewls a small thank you before wandering off to sniff at a rack of quilts she has in a corner.
It's been a few days since she brought him to her home. He's made his way as far as the dining room. He especially loves the feel of the thick, plush carpet beneath the wooden table, enough seats for eight. By the smell of the place, though, she hasn't had company recently, as all he can smell is her. And 'Her' is a very pleasant scent, indeed. It's not covered in pungent fruit cocktails, too-sugary-sweet perfumes. It's soft, subtle, and oh so very calming to his nerves. He can smell her ease around him. She doesn't smell of hatred or prejudice. He wouldn't be surprised if she came home with another stray, just like him. She is genuinely kind, and very attentive to him. She makes sure he has enough food and water to last him through the night, little bowls with flowers around the rim.
"These will have to do," she says,"until you leave."
His heart lurches a bit, but he knows it's coming. She never asked for a companion, and he never asked for a cage, no matter how big it may be.
But a part of him still can't help but wonder 'What if?'
A week and a half later, and his wounds have healed nicely. Unfortunately, she has spoiled him. Anything he needs for his recovery, he gets. Rubs, pats, scratches, and casual caresses are given freely at anytime he deems appropriate. She talks to him, with him, really. It's like she knows what he's saying, even if they are different species, and their words are totally different. She answers him accordingly, as he does to her. Naturally, there are some things he can only answer with actions. Those times, he sees a soft smile cross her face as she interprets his response. She knows he's smart; smarter really than most animals around here.
The morning she found him on top of the refrigerator, with boxes stacked in to steps high enough for him to jump, she knew he was different. Just as he knew then that the warmest spot in the house had instantly changed, no longer being the highest point in the kitchen, but her soft lap as she sipped at her morning tea.
It's three days after that when the decision has to be made.
She opens the door and stands to the side. He understands why now. She's giving him the option to leave her. She's letting him go. He looks up and sees the tears in her eyes. She is sad to see him leave. He walks slowly to the threshold.
"Please be careful," she whispers."I love you."
It's this that stops him. He begins purring, making his lazy way back to her ankles to rub and wrap himself between them. He casually strolls behind the door, headbutting it until it was shut. He hears a sniffle and looks up once more. Her blue eyes are wide, tears slowly streaming out, and her face scrunches up for another hard sniffle before she raises a hand to wipe at her tears. She drops to sit on the floor, one foot brought in to her inner thigh. She holds her hands out to him, and he walks to her, using his front paws to prop up and lean on her chest. He lets out a mewl, his tail swishing and twitching in the air. Her fingers curl around him, scratching at the base of his tail, and his upper neck. It's at this point that he figures out what he's been feeling from her this whole time. All those soft touches, gentle pats, and reassuring murmurs that made his eyes close and his body shudder; the scratches, playing and laughter that made his heart beat a little faster.
This was what it meant to find where you belong. She loves him, and he loves her, and though he may have a hard time showing her, he can stay to learn how. And besides, the poor woman needs someone to stay with her. She is lonely. He can cure the lonely. He decides he may stay and take her on as his pet. She needs someone to keep her from doing herself any harm.
And he was just the feline to do it.