They say that every person has a True Love, the one (or two, or three) that's just right for him. They're hard to find, but once you do, some little part of your soul just clicks and together you are happier than you every thought possible when you were alone.
Len looks at the creature which fate has determined is to belong to him and him alone and asks, "Are you kidding me?"
"The signs are quite clear," Sandy, an elder of Len's clan and a fearsome fighter, says disapprovingly.
Len hops to the next fence over, lashing his tail side to side in distress. "He's not even Catfolk," he complains, staring at him. "He's a Man."
"The signs are clear," Sandy replies, settling down serenely and starting to lick her paw delicately, a clear sign that the matter was settled. "There's no fighting fate, Leonard."
"Humans are pets," Len says crossly. "They're good for feeding and providing scritches, but they can't hunt, they can't defend themselves, they're deaf, dumb, blind, like to twist tails when the mood suits them -"
"The signs -"
"Are clear," Len says. "Yes. I heard. But a Man. Can they even form the proper emotional connections necessary for True Love? I don’t know; is there a chance that the signs are, um, mistaken?"
Sandy flicks her tail at him. "Don't be absurd, Leonard. We're not Human. We don't rely on random chance to find our True Love; we have science for that now. The signs have never been wrong, particularly not when they are this clear."
"It's unusual, I grant you, that one of the Folk is matched with one of Man," Sandy says. “Hasn’t happened in a few centuries, when Man still wrote stories and sang songs about the times when it happened. One of you will have to shed skin to join the other, of course.”
“Shed skin?!” Len exclaims. “No one’s shed skin for ages, not for any reason. And who’ll be shedding skin anyway, me or him? Is it that he gets to be Catfolk or I have to be Man?”
“You won’t know until you form the correct bond,” Sandy says. “I’ll reach out to some of the Memory-Keepers to see what songs they sing that mention it. You’re not alone, child.”
“No, but I might have to walk on two legs,” Len says, glaring at the Man as if he could will him not to be his True Love by sheer force of will. “This is absurd.”
“I understand you’re displeased. But the signs –”
“I know,” Len says with only a hint of snarl. “Sandy, you know how kittens tease each other about their True Love being a dog? This is worse.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to live with it,” Sandy says, shaking herself and hopping down to the ground. “Good luck, Len.”
Len sighs and turns back to continue watching his True Love. This is going to take more thought than he’d originally planned on when he’d first decided to find a partner in crime.
The stupid cat’s back again.
Mick knows it’s the same one, too: speckled grey and white, a lithe pale thing with big wide blue-hazel eyes. It’s an alley cat, that much is obvious; it’s got a little notch in its ear and a good handful of scars so clear that Mick can see them through the fur, and even if it didn’t, the cat’s skittish as hell.
At first Mick thought that it was hungry, but it ran away from Mick when Mick tried to offer it some milk. When Mick had retreated, figuring the cat was probably people-shy, the cat had come forward again.
It had been staring right in Mick’s eyes when it had deliberately upturned the bowl of milk on the ground. Because the cat is a fucking spiteful bitch is what it is.
And yet, it keeps hanging around, sitting on fences on Mick’s commute to work and turning corners in the same direction as Mick and, in one particularly creepy bit, lurking on the fire escape outside Mick’s fourth-story window like it wants to watch Mick sleep or something.
Mick had just decided to call the cat Creeper – except for when it brings all of its friends over to yowl loudly under the moonlight in some sort of sick keep-humans-from-sleeping cat ritual, in which case Mick was seriously contemplating calling it “murdered in a tragic accident involving a thrown hammer” – when there’s a late snowfall, probably the last shakes of winter before spring starts properly, and the cat goes freaking bananas with it, hopping around in the slush and rolling down the hills of snow created by the snowplows on the side of the roads.
After that, of course, Mick has no choice but to call it Snowflake.
It helps that the first time he calls it by its new name the cat hisses at him like Mick’s insulted its mother. Mick grins evilly. “Awww, Snowflake doesn’t like his new name?” he coos in a deliberately childish manner which people seem to use around animals and which has always annoyed the living daylights out of him. Seems to annoy the cat, too. “Well that’s good, because Snowflake’s a little bitch, isn’t he?”
The cat looks like it’s considering leaping at Mick’s face, claws extended. Snickering, Mick retreats back to his apartment.
Then he realizes he’s engaged in a battle of wills with a freaking cat and has to go turn on his piece of crap TV in an attempt to stop thinking about how pathetic his life is right now. And it is very pathetic. Having one of the Big Five on your resume isn’t good for anything other than more criminal behavior, and most employers stop caring once you check off the little box that says “have been convicted of a prior criminal offense” and also “felony”.
The career counselor at the halfway house he’d gotten a recommendation for from his parole officer had been optimistic at first, saying that arson wasn’t the worst thing to have on your rap sheet. “Just tell them that nobody died,” he’d said.
“Someone did,” Mick had explained. “My whole family: Mom, Dad, three brothers, two sisters, the dog.”
“Oh,” the career counselor had said, shuffling the papers on his desk awkwardly. He’d been a lot less optimistic after that.
The Families were still offering jobs, of course, but Mick had found that getting a job as a bouncer for a Family-owned club was practically a test run for being one of their enforcers, and he doesn’t like the thought of hurting innocent people for a living. It’s not that he’s squeamish about hurting people, but he doesn’t usually aim to do it, or at least not anybody who doesn’t fight back as good as he gives. Besides, the Families will use him and use him and use him until there’s nothing of him left, and he’s not stable enough to stop them.
Unfortunately, not having a job isn’t an option – even aside from paying rent, which he can barely managing using the pittance of money he gets from the government, he’s got to eat and pay for his meds.
Mentioning the pyromania thing had made the career counselor start unobtrusively looking for a way to escape the conversation as quickly as possible, which hadn’t been helpful in obtaining a source of income to get said meds. Honestly, Mick can live without whatever drugs they’ve prescribed for his pyro thing, since those don’t really work all that well, but the anti-anxiety shit is a fucking necessity. But neither the pills themselves or the shrink visits he needs to attend to get them come cheap.
It’s this sort of capitalist bullshit that makes crime so attractive, but Mick knows well enough that if he ends up signing up with the wrong group, they’ll use him as muscle and then scapegoat him at the first chance, and then he’ll be in prison and miserable.
Mick’s taken to signing up for construction gigs over by the docks where the undocumented guys go, because if they won’t ask for their papers, they’re sure as hell not going to ask for his. It’s unsteady work, unreliable.
He’s started spacing out his pills to once every other day instead of every day in an attempt to make them last longer. Fuck, his life really is pathetic.
Mick puts his head into his hands, ignoring the muted television.
There’s a meow.
Mick lifts his head from his hands.
“How the fuck did you get in here?” Mick asks, astonished. “You little sneak thief.”
Snowflake sits back on its (his?) haunches and licks a paw, managing to look incredibly smug.
Mick snorts and shakes his head. He had a dog as a kid, which he’d never much liked – Rusty’d always been his elder brothers’ dog, not his – and he’d lived on a farm, so he had the basics of caring for an animal down. “You want food, I guess?” he says with a sigh, trying to think about what he might have in his mostly-empty fridge that could feed a cat.
Snowflake strolls over to the armchair that Mick found on a street corner and brought inside in hopes of entertaining guests, and which has not yet seen a single one, jumps up onto it and yawns dramatically.
Mick snorts. “Or maybe you want a place to nap,” he says, amused. “Fine by me. More food for me, loser.”
The Man is perhaps not as hopeless as Len was concerned he would be.
Len follows him to where he spends his days and he demonstrates both intelligence – avoiding the men who stink of money and strange hungers – and strength. He is perhaps a little too free with his food – Len doesn’t quite understand why would anyone give away food to someone not in their clan, but perhaps it is a human thing and at any rate Len’s always been known as being rather greedy even for one of the Catfolk – but that could easily be remedied with some instruction. One day, when the Man went to the poison-place to drink, a fight broke out and he was both swift and fierce and effective. Still deaf and dumb and blind as any other Man, of course, but for his species he is clearly a fine hunter.
He loves fire.
This much is clear quite early on; the Man will produce fire from his hand-held gadget or from some other source and stare at it for a long time. This has sometimes caused him to miss appointments, whether for his daytime activities at the lumber yard, his monthly visits to the healing-place which stinks of soaps, or his twice-monthly visits to the small door with the long line that stinks of desperation, but he persists. It seems to please him.
The Man does not surround himself with useless other Humans, which Len approves of. There will be plenty of space in the Man’s life for Len to take over, and Len is not fond of sharing.
Yes, perhaps the signs were not so wrong after all. If Len must have a Man, then this one seems perfectly acceptable. The Memory-Keepers sang many songs of the Folk shedding skin to rise up on two legs or of a Man becoming Folk; they tended towards heroics and great deeds. Len certainly wishes to do great deeds, as he is one of the great adventure-lovers of his clan, but he’s not all too certain about the whole hero business. It does not seem to be that much fun. Len always saw himself as a thief, not a hero. But, regardless, it certainly promises not to be boring.
This Man will do quite nicely, then.
Pity that humans don’t remember the old stories. You can’t just shed your skin on a whim; you must acknowledge your True Love and declare yourself to them before you can manage it. A kiss usually works, as the old stories love to tell.
Getting a human to kiss a cat and mean it, though: that will take some doing in this modern age.
Len determines that he will not fall into the pitfalls sung of by the Memory-Keepers: the misunderstood presents, the overtures misread, the lack of communication. Len can learn from the lessons before him – he’s always been very good at that – and he will not commit some foolish act such as dropping a nice, fat rat on his Man’s door in the hopes that he will appreciate it properly. The race of Man hates rats, remembering in their bones the Gnawing Time, when the rats carried plague along with their fleas. The Man would react with disgust rather than the pleasure that should greet a treat like that.
No, Len will approach this the same way he does any major project: research, analysis, and logic.
He observes quickly that the Man does not eat as much as his size would seem to suggest is necessary. This is because the Man is short on the currency Humans use, which seems to cause him some amount of distress.
Len resolves to begin the courting process appropriately to his Man’s need.
Len follows the men from the construction site, the ones who smell of greed, back to their lairs – giant houses, empty and hollow, places where they cast down rugs to cover the blood on the floor – and finds the local Catfolk, who give him a quick rundown of how these Humans run their business. It’s a matter of ease to find one of the bags of colored paper that Humans use for money now that they’ve abandoned gold, to grab it in his teeth and taunt one of the humans with a sniggering mewl that catches their attention, and run out the window as they chase him, cursing futilely. It wouldn’t do to have them realize that the theft was going to benefit his Human, after all.
Len drags the bag to a safe spot and selects one of the bundles of colored paper money within it, holding it delicately in his teeth and scrambling into his Man’s house to go present it to him. He trots right up to him and spits it out on his feet.
“What’s that you’ve got for me there?” the Man laughs, shifting his foot to make room for Len without imposing on his space. Len is very pleased: a few days of gracing the Man with his presence, and he already recognizes the innate superiority of Catfolk over man. Len must admit, given his domineering ways, Len might’ve – might’ve – had some small problems pairing up with another of the Catfolk; a Man capable of being appropriately trained really might suit him better.
Especially since the Man has yet to take even some of Len’s shit. This morning he deliberately ate all the sliced ham standing up, staring straight at Len’s eyes but backing off every time Len edged forward from any direction to try to steal some. Dastardly. Len is almost impressed.
“It’d better not be a rat or garbage or some shit,” the Man continues, reaching down and picking up the bundle. “I don’t want to be cleaning up – holy fuck this is cash.”
Len finds himself purring as the Man starts cursing.
He’s learned that for this Man, it’s a good sign.
Snowflake’s a fucking thief is what he is.
Mick has no idea where Snowflake got the idea into his little animal brain that Mick wanted cash (Mick certainly doesn’t have enough on him to give him that idea, though maybe the amount of time Mick spent flipping through the sparse bills in his wallet might’ve done it), but he’s started dropping off big hunks of bills and occasionally the neighbor’s wallets at Mick’s feet with a proud expression like he’s hunted down meat for a helpless baby with his own hands. Paws. Whatever.
Mick doesn’t so much ask around at work as he does open his ears, and the story of the cat that got away with a bag full of cash from the local Family’s counting-house gets pretty well told even though no one will say it within hearing distance of any Family member. Snowflake, definitely Snowflake; the stupid cat’s going to get himself killed stealing shit the way he does. From the fucking Family, no less.
Doesn’t mean Mick isn’t going to use the money, of course. He tops off his prescriptions and pays his back-dated rent, first and foremost, and shoves the rest into his bank account so he can get the next round of pills and rent as well. Not before he takes out a bit to go food shopping – real food, food that still looks like the animal or plant it came from. Snowflake deserves a treat, and so does Mick, just from the heart attack he got worrying about the cash.
Snowflake’s a bit of a mystery, really.
Snowflake is very firmly an alley cat, for one thing. If Mick does anything stupid like try to offer him a bed of his own to sit in during the day (he prefers the armchair, which Mick now thinks of as Snowflake’s chair), he takes offense and stalks out of the room. He’s bitchy and suspicious of new things and skittish as fuck, and any attempt Mick makes to pet him is met with claws. He’ll wander in and out any time he pleases, mostly because he’s figured out how to unlatch Mick’s kitchen window. He’s a smart cat.
Also a smartass. At one point he figures out that if he takes things from place to another, Mick will have to run around looking for it, cursing his head off, and that seems to amuse Snowflake to no end. But he’s not that evil: Mick nearly had a nervous breakdown when he couldn’t find his keys right before a meeting with his parole officer, and Snowflake had found them first. He’d started making a howling racket until Mick had come over and found them, and every time after that time Mick’s never lost his keys when he really needed them.
Snowflake’s good enough at figuring out Mick’s ticks that Mick wonders if he used to be a therapy cat before he went out into the alleys, but he also can’t see Snowflake ever being collared and kept by anyone. It just doesn’t seem to fit him.
Snowflake swaggers in after a fight every handful of days, dripping blood on Mick’s floor but refusing to let Mick care for him. Mick tries to find out where he’s hurt, Snowflake hisses at him like a rattler. Mick curses him out for making a mess, Snowflake purrs at him like he’s done something right.
Mick’s given up trying to understand his cat. A couple of hours spent in the library and at the local animal park made it clear that with cats, total submission was really the only way to handle it. Mick’s always liked following someone else’s lead, so it’s easy enough to fit himself to Snowflake’s needs.
He firmly ignores how stupid it is to shape your life to a cat, especially a cat as ornery and contrary as Snowflake. He ignores how lonely he is when Snowflake’s not around. He had nothing and no one before Snowflake, and he didn’t need them, either; but he seems to have been forcefully adopted by Snowflake at some point, he doesn’t know why, and his life’s so much better for it he can’t even remember how he managed before.
Mick’s still got money trouble, and job trouble, and psych trouble, but fuck it, he’s got a cat.
And today, he’s gonna feed that stupid cat a treat if it’s the last thing he does.
Holy crap, why didn’t anyone tell Len that human food tasted like this? Sooooooooo gooooooooooooooooooooooood.
Snowflake finally seems to relax a bit around Mick after the Food Incident, in which Mick woke to a ravaged kitchen and a depressed-looking flour-covered cat who hadn’t seemed to realize that cooking is a necessary part of making the food in the fridge and cabinets tasty (how the hell had he gotten into those anyway?!) and Mick had yelled at him for ten minutes straight before realizing he was yelling at a cat. But they’re friendlier now: Snowflake will sometimes do a dorky little hop-skip into Mick’s lap and let Mick pet him for a bit before stalking away like Mick’s insulted his mother by seeing that little hint of vulnerability, he’ll eat Mick’s food, and sometimes he’ll even stay the night, looking smug at the start of each night as he curls up on the very center of Mick’s pillow until Mick yanks it out from under him to the sound of pissed-off yowling.
He’s started curling up on Mick’s chest at night. His purring is a comforting weight, and Mick wakes up to dazzling eyes and a paw on his cheek in the morning.
Mick has his savings, he has his pills, he has his cat. Things are looking good.
Naturally, that’s when everything goes to shit.
They’re waiting for him when he gets to work one day, just standing right there out in the open with everyone else is pretending not to pay attention because they don’t want to wake up with a bullet between the eyes. They could shoot him if they wanted to, in broad daylight in the middle of the street, and no one here would say they saw anything.
It’s the Santinis that come to him, dark suits and slick smiles and rot in their hearts, saying apologetically that someone with a record like his was never going to be able to go straight and it was really only a matter of time before he threw in with one side or another – and they wanted to know which side he was going to go with. As soon as possible, if he didn’t mind.
The way they smile makes it clear that the answer is them or nobody. Mick’s worn out his welcome in Central City at last; he’s too big and his record public – no one will hire him but the Families and they know it. If he’d signed up with some independent thief, made a name for himself as a contractor, then it might be different, but right now he’s just a wild card. A no-good trying to go straight and sure to fail. Nothing but trouble, and the Families like to keep things nice and tidy.
He could go to one of the other Families, sign up with them, and get protection from the Santinis, but that’s the same as signing up with them. The Families are all the same, and they’re all vile.
He doesn’t want to leave Central, but they’ll kill him if he stays.
They give Mick 24 hours to come to them with an answer.
That’s enough time to run, for someone as experienced at it as Mick. He’d have to explain it to his parole officer, of course, but he could do that from California or New York or somewhere else. He could ditch the parole officer entirely; start afresh.
Mick goes home instead. Makes all his favorites in amounts he’ll never be able to finish. Invites Snowflake to sit on the table and feast to his stupid little cat heart’s delight.
“I’m not coming back,” he says dully once dinner is over and there’s nothing left for it. “I’m sorry, Snowflake. Just when you’ve finally broken me in, you know?”
Snowflake mewls unhappily, likely reflecting Mick’s own all-to-obvious emotions.
“It’s not you,” Mick says. “It’s me. The Santinis want me to sign up and they’ll kill me if I don’t, but I don’t want to sign up for them. They’ll make me their muscle and they’ll abuse me until the day I die in their service. Best they can offer is that I’ll get to light fires sometimes. It’s not worth it, not alone, not with them.” Mick tries to smile for Snowflake, but he’s pretty sure he fails. “Wish I could’ve found someone to take care of you. You’re probably the only person on this damn earth that’ll even notice I’m gone, and you’re a cat.”
He leans forward and presses his lips to Snowflake’s head. “You stay and eat the food, okay? You’ve got some time before it goes bad. Invite all those yowling friends of yours if you like. Take care of yourself.”
Mick rises to his feet and heads out. He has until tomorrow morning to make up his mind, officially, but he’s never been one to put off the inevitable.
The Santini own a handful of bars; he goes to the main one and gets shown into the boss’s room.
The boss smiles a shark’s smile. “Mr. Rory,” he says. “I’m so happy to see you. Are you here to join us?” The goons behind Mick loom with their gun holsters unlocked. “Or are we going to part ways on a more permanent basis?”
Mick opens his mouth to answer but he never gets a chance.
“I’m afraid he can’t do that,” a voice drawls from the door. Mick turns and the most beautiful guy he’s ever seen strolls in through the door like he owns the place. He’s got blue-hazel eyes and a bone structure that a model would kill for. “Or rather – you can’t afford us.”
“Call me Leonard,” the man purrs, sliding around the goons in a way that’s so graceful it’s almost disturbing. “And I’m afraid my partner and I might be a bit too rich for your taste.”
The Santini boss smiles indulgently. “You’d be amazed at what I can afford.”
“Not a war,” the guy – Leonard? – drawls with a predatory smile. “Not with half your coffers committed to the takeover in Hub and the Darbyinans just waiting for you to blink on the Three Rivers project.”
The Santini boss’s smile has frozen on his face. “How do you know about all that?”
“Oh, I stole your ledgers about an hour ago,” Leonard says, still smiling even as everyone in the room straights up with cries of surprise. “About the time you threatened my partner. I’ve put them somewhere nice and safe, and if you’re very good and apologize for wasting all of our time, I’ll even tell you where they are before my contact delivers them to the Darbyinians – and the police, too, just for kicks.”
Santini flicks his fingers and one of the goons disappears, presumably to check Leonard’s story. “I wasn’t aware that Mr. Rory had signed on to work for someone capable of breaking our security, Mr…Leonard.” That smile looked like it hurt.
“He’s my partner,” Leonard says, shrugging casually but somehow managing to make the simple words a threat. “Not my employee.”
“I’m sure it makes a big difference to you, what labels you put on it,” Santini says, scarcely hiding his scorn.
Leonard hums. “Oh, to be sure,” he says agreeably. “But you care about labels too, don’t you? Or at least Miranda does, or Carmina – tell me, which one do you call your wife, and which one your girlfriend? I keep forgetting which label you put on it.”
Mick wouldn’t have thought having a piece on the side would bother a mob boss, but the boss’s smile disappears entirely. “How do you know –”
“Oh, wait!” Leonard says brightly. “I remember now – Carmina Santini, that’s the wife one, right? Your hook into the Family.”
Mick gets it now: this Santini’s not a member of the blood family, nor was he raised up by merit. He’s only an in-law, and he’s cheating on his Santini wife. He must be an idiot to do so, but it doesn’t matter; this Leonard guy has Santini by the balls and everyone in the room knows it: Leonard, Santini, Mick, even the now wide-eyed goons.
“How did you find out about Miranda?” Santini says through gritted teeth as the goon from earlier comes in and nods grimly, confirming Leonard’s story of the stolen ledger. “Tell me that, and I’ll let you go.”
“You’ll let us go either way,” Leonard says dismissively. “But since I’m feeling generous, how about this for a deal: you apologize for bothering Mick, and I won’t rip out your tongue and eat it.”
This last is delivered with the same nonchalance as Leonard’s been displaying this entire conversation.
Santini apologizes through gritted teeth. Mick nods and darts his eyes over to his bizarre savior.
Leonard leaves, and Mick follows him out the door.
They get four blocks away before Mick can’t take it anymore. He grabs Leonard’s shoulder and spins them face to face. “Who the hell are you?” he hisses.
Leonard blinks. “Isn’t it obvious?” he says. “I’m your cat.”
The Man – Mick Rory, Len’s learned that he calls himself, a perfectly respectable name without too many syllables the way humans sometimes have – does not seem to be handling Len’s revelation very well. In fact, he seems convinced that Len is –
“Insane,” Mick says flatly. “Absolutely stark raving bonkers, to be precise.”
Len rolls his eyes and wanders into Mick’s apartment. He’d really thought this would be easier after they’d shared True Love’s kiss.
“You actually take the ledger?” Mick asks, following him in.
“Sure,” Len says. “It’s in the fridge.”
“The fridge,” Mick repeats. “My fridge?”
“It’s a pain in the ass to get into,” Len says, glaring at it resentfully. Then he brightens. “Hey, I have opposable thumbs now. That’ll help a lot.”
“No kidding,” Mick says faintly. “You’re fucking nuts. I mean, thanks for keeping my ass from getting killed, but – ”
“Oh, I couldn’t let that happen,” Len says, scowling. “You’re my True Love, after all.”
Mick makes a choking sound.
“Oh, I know that Mankind doesn’t believe it in anymore,” Len says, going and testing his newfound dexterity on the fridge and smiling as he successfully pulls it open and closed. This will make obtaining the Leftovers much easier. Len loves the Leftovers. “But we Catfolk have rather gotten it down to a science.”
“And you think I’m your true love,” Mick says, tone skeptical. Then he adds, as if to clear up any doubt of his view on the matter, “You delusional maniac.”
“I didn’t believe it at first either,” Len says. “How do you feel about kittens? I can’t stand most of them, but there’s a human-shaped kit, female, name of Lisa, terrible family life; she lives down the block and feeds me fish sometimes. You people prefer to pick up your kits from bad homes if you can’t have them yourself, right? I rather like her –”
“Kittens? I – we are not planning a life together!”
“Why not? You seemed happy enough when you thought I was Snowflake, and fuck you, that is a terrible name.”
“You are not my cat!”
“No, I’m not,” Len agrees, which seems to surprise Mick. The look of surprise is replaced with a look of exasperation when Len continues, “I am my own cat, thank you very much, and you are the Man I have chosen to have as my own. Please stop reversing the balance of power here.”
“No kidding,” Mick says, dropping heavily into one of the kitchen chairs. “I owe you, I get that, even if you are nuts. Listen, even if you were Snowflake, which you’re not because that’s insane, how the hell did you get the ledger from the Santinis in time to rescue me? They only approached me this morning.”
“You didn’t give me much time,” Len says, pursing his lips and turning to face Mick. “You told me about the whole thing, kissed me, and skedaddled off to face your doom without anything more than a ‘here, I left you some food’, and of course I wasn’t going to accept that.”
“Do you have this place bugged or something?” Mick asks, sounding curious but also strained. “I said that to my cat and no one else was here.”
“I am your cat, as I keep explaining,” Len says. “Anyway, I had to hop on the grapevine. Luckily, I already knew Mercedes from an earlier heist.”
“Miranda Santini’s Abyssinian,” Len explains. “She’s – uh, something else.” He coughs.
“Oh god you think you’ve fucked a cat,” Mick says faintly.
“I’m a perfectly healthy tomcat of adult age,” Len says, voice injured. “And it was before I’d met you. You can’t possibly hold that against me.”
“For the last time, you are not a cat. You’re – I don’t know, some sort of crazy thief furry or something.”
“What’s a furry?” Len asks, frowning a little.
“You know what, I’m not even telling you. People like you give furries a bad name.”
“Anyway,” Len says, trying to get back on track. His Man was a contrary sort; he was almost Cat-like with it. Len couldn’t help but feel fondness swell in his heart. “I spoke with Mercedes and she gave me the meat I needed to leverage over that rat bastard that was trying to threaten you. Very smart feline, that Mercedes. She has a bit of a following – there’s Roxie and Oliver and Demosthenes, and they helped get the ledger itself –”
“Yeah, I don’t know how you Men think of names. You’re all frankly bizarre to my mind, honestly. But as I was saying, I would’ve pulled the heist myself but I was short on time, so I traded them bacon for it.”
Mick blinks. “I’m sorry, did you just say that you traded bacon for the Santini’s private Family ledger?”
“Yep,” Len says. “They’ll be by to collect soon enough.” He hears a mewling by the door. “Ah, there they are.”
He opens the door and his four accomplices trot in, Mercedes in the lead as always.
Is this the Man you’re mated with? she asks, eyeing Mick.
“Not yet, but I have high hopes,” Len tells her.
He’s attractive by human terms, she tells him. My mistress would be all over him like a tomcat in spring.
Len sniffs. “I don’t share.”
Of course, of course.
“Are you talking to the cats?” Mick asks, sounding vaguely despairing.
Len frowns at him. “You talked to me all the time.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t expect you to answer. Not, like, for real, anyway!”
You should jump skin, Demosthenes says, scrambling up to the counter and picking up some bacon with his teeth. They won’t believe anything they don’t see, Humans.
“I just jumped up!” Len says indignantly. “Do you know how much of a pain it was?”
I’m telling you, nothing else’ll work.
Len groans and turns to glare at Mick. “Why can’t you just be reasonable and believe me about this?”
“Because you’re crazy?” Mick suggests.
Len sighs. “Fine. If I jump skin back to being a cat, then will you believe me?”
“If you turn into a cat right before my eyes right here and now?” Mick says, crossing his arms in front of him and arching both eyebrows. “Sure. I’ll believe you.”
Len reaches inside of himself to that wiggly part of his being that still needs a tail to balance right, reaches for the sharp teeth and the predator’s silence, the long ears and the slitted eyes, and he falls a great height to land on all four legs, wiggling his way out of the clothing he’d stolen from Mick’s closet earlier with an aggravated hiss.
“Holy fucking Christ,” Mick says. “Snowflake, you fucking stalker, I knew you were a creeper.”
Len’s True Love, ladies and gentlemen.
Len sighs and goes to go chow down some bacon with the other cats while he’s at it.
(Mick needs some time to do that ‘processing’ shit anyway.)
Mick has picked up his phone to call his shrink something like six times by now, but he’s also put it down. There’s no real good way to be a pyromaniac arsonist and say “possible sudden-onset psychotic break and/or schizophrenia” without every policeman in the neighborhood being called to your house. He doesn’t hold it against his shrink; she’s good people, but she’s got her obligations under the law.
Also, he has the sinking suspicion that he’s not crazy and that his cat did, in fact, turn into a human being in order to save him from being murdered by the mafia.
He’d almost prefer to be crazy than think that sentence again, but – well, the Family did let him go. And there’s a ledger in his fridge that he definitely didn’t put in there himself.
(There’s a Family ledger in his fridge, what the fuck, Snowflake?!)
Also, Snowflake is named Leonard. Or Len, apparently.
Len also apparently thinks Mick is his True Love. Full on capital letters and everything. Mick’s not sure what to do about that. It’s…strangely appealing, honestly. He’d always thought he’d end up alone and unwanted.
Well, he’d thought that, and then Snowflake had come into his life. Len had.
Mick opts to go to bed instead of puzzling it over any more. He’s developing a headache.
He wakes up abruptly in the middle of the night, mostly because there are a pair of dazzling eyes staring down at him.
Not cat eyes.
Len is perched on him, straddling his hips, and he’s as bare as the day he was born. More bare than that, actually, Mick thinks in a daze of abrupt lust, as he’s bare even the fur he was born with. He’s slim but thoroughly scarred; all of those feral catfights coming home to roost in a thousand cuts and gashes and scars of all sorts.
Some of those don’t look like they were inflicted by cats. Mick went to juvie and foster care; he knows what wounds a broken bottle leaves behind. Cigarette burns. There’s a long line down Len’s leg that looks like someone took a meat cleaver to him.
He’s a goddamn cat some of the time. What the fuck, Mick.
“You’re awake,” Len says, his voice a low, throaty purr that makes Mick’s whole body twitch and regret the thin blanket and boxers that separate them, no matter what his brain thinks of the matter. “Good. I want to talk.”
“It’s –” Mick glances at his clock. “It’s two in the morning, Lenny.”
“Lenny?” Len says with a frown. Then he shrugs, a whole-body affair that rubs him right up against Mick all over. “I can live with that. But you are awake, and I am awake, and we should talk.”
“Expectations,” Len says. “You continually refer to me as ‘your’ cat –”
“When in fact it’s that I’m your human,” Mick finishes. “Yeah, I got that. Don’t worry, I gave it up back when I thought you were still a cat. You’re the boss.”
“Boss?” Len says curiously. “What is a boss?”
“It’s the guy in charge,” Mick says. “The one who gives the orders and must be obeyed.”
Len hums, deep in his throat. “Boss. Yes. I can be the boss. But not just the boss, you understand. I went to the Elders and the Memory Keepers and demanded they help me find my True Love so that I could have a partner in crime.” He blinks those wide, strangely luminescent eyes. “That’s you, in case you haven’t gathered.”
“Well, since you’ve already announced that we’re partners to the Santini Family, I’m not really seeing having much of a choice,” Mick says dryly. “Lucky for you, I’m not too big on law – just on not being used.”
Len nods. “I won’t use you,” he says earnestly. “Well, not for anything you don’t want to be used for, anyway. Tell me, what are things that humans value?”
“You mean for crime?” Mick says, trying to pretend that Len’s proximity wasn’t doing things to him. “Money, cash, jewels, art…all sorts of things.”
“Good,” Len says. “I want to take them.”
“Money makes you happy,” Len says. “And I like taking things that belong to others. It’s a challenge.” He pauses thoughtfully. “Also, you feed me better when you have money. I want to encourage that.”
Mick snorts. That much is true.
“Well, what do you say?” Len says patiently, laying himself back down until his face is only inches away from Mick’s. “Partners?”
“Sure,” Mick croaks, transfixed by Len’s eyes. Not that he would have objected – somewhere overnight it had occurred to him that this meant he would never be left alone, not really, not any more than Snowflake being his usually contrary bitchy self, anyway, and anyway, how many people could do the things Mick has done and still get a soulmate that went out of their way to hunt them down? No, this is clearly the best deal Mick’s ever going to get, no matter how strange the circumstances.
“Good,” Len says, and smiles. “So, while I’m here, I’ve heard great things about human reproduction. Care to explain?”
Huh? Why would Len care about –
Well, okay, sure.
Mick vetoes Len’s initial plan of murdering Lewis Snart and feeding his body to the local cats, thereby freeing up his daughter for adoption, mostly on the grounds that he doesn’t want to encourage the cats to take up man-eating.
He regrets that decision after a week of observing how the man treats his daughter, but the point still stands. No man-eating cats in his neighborhood, thank you very much.
Pinning all of Len’s trouble-making on Lewis Snart’s shoulders and making papers that say that Len is Lewis’ long-lost son, and thereby the obvious guardian for a now-alone Lisa, on the other hand, is remarkably satisfying.
“Hi, Lisa!” Len chirps happily at her when she opens the door warily. “I’m your big brother; the CPS people called me.”
“My…big brother?” she says doubtfully.
“Actually, I’m a cat,” Len tells her.
Mick, standing behind him, groans. “Snowflake, I told you to lead up to that,” he says.
“I said the other stuff first, didn’t I?” Len defends himself. “Anyway, Lisa-kitten, we’re here to take care of you.”
“Uh-huh,” she says, skeptical in a way no ten-year-old should be. “And what do you want from me?”
“Fish,” Len answers before Mick can come up with something less creepy than ‘to adopt you and keep you safe from harm.’ “Fish surprise. You get it at school every Wednesday, and you feed it to the cats behind the school gymnasium. I want first dibs.”
Mick puts his head in his hands.
“Len here got to liking you when he was a cat,” he says helplessly, knowing exactly how crazy it sounds. “And your dad was a dick, so I figured you were better off without him. If you let us in, Len can prove the whole cat business. It sounds stupid, I know…”
“He’s really a cat?” Lisa asks, all hushed-voice and wide-eyed awe. “Really?”
“Of course I’m a cat,” Len says, voice injured. “You don’t think I’m really a Man, do you? Ugh!”
Mick elbows him. “Be nice to your adopted species in front of the kid, Lenny.”
“She’s a good kitten,” Len says dismissively. “Kittens are strong and adaptable; it’s one of their strengths.”
Lisa giggles and lets them inside, though she keeps the wireless phone in her grip and a wary eye on them. Smart kid.
She doesn’t put it down until Len does his “jumping skin” trick, and after that she’s in love. By the time the people from CPS come poking around, she and Len have gotten the whole story down: he’s Leonard Snart, long estranged son and loving elder brother, and she’s his beloved younger sister who loves and trusts him and would be very safe in his hands. She sells it with earnest eyes and stomps on Len’s foot every time he accidentally says anything too cat-like.
The CPS people are just relieved that there’s someone willing to take her in other than the already over-burdened foster care system. So what if the guy’s a bit weird about the superiority of cats over dogs? He’s as good a parent as anyone.
Lisa adapts quickly enough to having a cat and an arsonist as adoptive parents, especially when she figures out that Mick can be bribed with flammable objects and Len is equally easy to buy off with a can of tuna and promises of belly rubs.
Mick’s shrink is extremely bemused by Mick having suddenly acquired a (male) spouse and a daughter, but is tentatively pleased that he seems to be setting down roots. He decides not to tell her about the crime spree he’s also simultaneously embarked on.
(Mostly because he’s pretty sure she’ll see it in the news soon enough.)
“No, Snowflake. Leaving an unconscious guy dressed all in yellow at the door to STAR Labs is not how you show the Flash how much you appreciate his participation in your stupid games, okay? This is just like dropping of a rat at the front door thing you told me you didn’t do!”
“But I’ve already caught him and everything!”
“Ugh, fine. We’ll do it your way, just this once.”
“I can’t believe that the Flash likes you now.”
“Hey, Mick,” Ray says, sounding very confused but also like he was planning on forcing his way through it with sheer cheerfulness. “Uh, can I ask a question?”
“Sure,” Mick says, not because he wants to answer but because he’s noticed that Ray doesn’t actually understand the word ‘no’ in any way, shape or form.
“It’s just – Snart’s doing something weird, and I wasn’t sure if I should say something; like, I don’t want to upset him or anything –”
“Why, what’s he doing?”
“Well, you know the big box of stuff we got from the bank?”
“Yeah,” Mick says, not quite sure where this is going. “What, Snart took something?”
“No, actually,” Ray says. “That I would have expected. No, he’s just sort of sitting in the box…”
“Do you know why?”
“I’ll go deal with it,” Mick says and goes to find the water bottle with the spray nozzle.
Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, or, well, cats with water.
Len spends the rest of the day sulking on the foot of Mick’s bed, batting moodily at his favorite ball of yarn which of course he packed to bring with him on a trip to travel through time, because Len’s priorities have always been fucked up, now and forever, and also he keeps bitching about how Mick never lets him have any fun.
Mick says that personally, he thought setting the box on fire and watching Len scramble was fun.
(Len is willing to forgive Mick in exchange for an hour of laser pointer playtime. It’s been fifteen years and Mick still doesn’t understand cats; he’s starting to doubt he ever will.)
Sara wasn’t planning on stopping by Mick’s room – he’d gone off by himself, mute with horror and grief and loss at what happened to Leonard at the Oculus – but as she was walking by his closed door, he’s started laughing somewhat hysterically and she’s worried if she doesn’t go stop him he’ll pass out or hurt himself. Or somebody else.
She swipes it open and sticks her head in warily. “Mick?” she asks, aiming for a tone of concern about his wellbeing instead of concern that he might kill them all in a fit of nihilism.
Mick’s sitting there, flat on the floor, clutching a purring grey-and-white cat to his chest and rocking back and forth, laughing so hard that tears as streaming down his face. “Nine lives,” he says, shaking his head. “Nine fucking lives, you little bastard, I should have known – fucking hell, Snowflake, you gave me a fucking heart attack, you know that? I don’t even want to know how you did it, that doesn’t even make any sense – ”
“Mick?” Sara says again. She hadn’t noticed him smuggling a cat aboard, but he seemed to be more concerned with his cat’s survival than Leonard’s loss, and if that was the case she was going to punch him and then drag him to med bay for a full checkup. “You okay?”
“I’m okay,” Mick replies, finally looking up at her. “Snowflake’s okay. Look, do you see? He skittered out of there before the blast somehow. Caught a ride in a time pocket, made his way back here. He’s alive, y’see?”
“Right,” Sara says, biting her lip. “He was…at the Oculus?”
“You left him there,” Mick points out. “To get blown up instead of me or Ray, remember?”
Ah. They’re dealing with a case of transference.
“I left Leonard at the Oculus,” Sara says carefully.
“Yeah,” Mick says. “Fucking Lenny. But he made it out by jumping skin, you see – cats can dart through time pockets or something like that, I don’t really know the rules of it. It’s a cat thing. But Lenny’s alive, that’s what matters.”
Ooooooh, boy. Mick’s totally lost it.
“Mick,” Sara says as gently as he can. “Leonard’s gone. You know he’s gone.”
“No, he’s back,” Mick says, holding up the yawning cat. “See? He’s right here.”
Sara smiles awkwardly and figures she’d better play along for now. If Mick was this unbalanced, who knew what could set him off – and the heat gun’s right there by his side. “Right,” she says, nodding. “He’s right here, you’re totally right. He’s back. I should go tell the others.”
“You should! But not for a while yet,” Mick says. “We’ll be wanting some time to catch up, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course,” Sara says, forcing her smile to keep in place. Note to self: go get tranqs from Gideon ASAP and come back before Mick does something he’ll regret. “I’ll give you both some time alone, huh?”
She turns and walks out of the door.
Just as the door slides shut behind her, she hears a voice – not Mick’s, definitely not Mick, that’s Leonard’s voice – say, “See, Mick, I told you she was good people – ”
Sara spins around and forces her way back into the room. “Sorry!” she chirps forcefully. “I forgot to ask –” She cuts off.
Leonard blinks at her from where he’s perched, bare-ass naked, in Mick’s lap. “Yes?” he says when she doesn’t continue. “You forgot…?”
“You’re here,” she says weakly.
“Of course I’m here,” he replies haughtily. “Cats are the favorite creatures of Time. We always land on our feet.”
“Cats?” she says dumbly.
“Hey, Lance,” Mick says. “Could you get Gideon to fabricate us some catnip and weed? We should party tonight, worry about rescuing the bird lady tomorrow.”
“Don’t talk to me about birds when I’ve just jumped skin,” Leonard lectures his partner. “I keep wanting to chase.”
“Aww, Lenny,” Mick says, sliding his hands up Len’s thighs. “I thought I was the only one you wanted to chase.”
His hands continue moving up Len’s legs.
Sara squeaks and throws herself out of the room, letting the door close behind her.
After a few seconds, she pinches herself.
“Okay,” she says and shakes her head firmly before marching down the hall to bed to sleep and deal with this in the morning. “This is fine. This is…good. Just remember your mantra. Nothing is weirder than zombie assassins –”