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A New Home

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Sleep left Avi slowly, and he tried to hold on to it even longer. He felt refreshed and ready to awaken, but the right amount of covers were wrapped around him and there was a cushy pillow beneath his head and a squishy pillow in his arms. If he woke up, he might have to leave the cozy bed.

Then he ruined it by hugging the pillow tighter to his chest and jostling the piercings in his nipples. The sudden burst of pain chased away the remains of sleep and made him give up on returning to his nap.

He sat up and blearily looked down at the bed he lay in. The duvet was mostly blue, with a pattern of thin vertical stripes in green, red, and white. The bed itself was rather small—Avi fit on it, but to share with another person you'd have to cuddle up close. Although, all the pillows might be making the bed appear even smaller.

"That is a ton of pillows," he mumbled to himself.

He felt the bed shift as someone sat on the end. Startled, he peered through sleep-mussed hair at the man on the end of the bed. It was another catboy, about Hawthorn's age or a little younger. At least thirty, Avi guessed. He wasn't looking directly at Avi, and had the kind of features that aged well, which made it harder to tell. Sharp jaw line and chiseled cheekbones and all that. He wore a sarong of green cloth tied around his waist, which was more than Avi had. He gripped the duvet and gathered it tight around his waist.

"Catboys like to sleep curled up next to another warm body. If there isn't one available, surrounding yourself with pillows helps."

"Thanks," said Avi, unsure of how to react. The man's tone was matter of fact, and he seemed okay given that he actually explained a little of what was happening to Avi. But he seemed rather closed off, and his ears rested low to his head. They were rather unique ears, and caught Avi's attention. Most catboys seemed to have solid-colored fur, but his sported a tortoiseshell pattern that contrasted with his chesnut-colored hair.

"Are you Patches?" Avi asked.

The man turned to look at him, revealing bright brown eyes with slit pupils. Avi blinked in surprise. It wasn't unheard of in catboys, but it was a rarer feature. Patches was an exceptional beauty. Hawthorn had said Patches was too old, so maybe this wasn't him. He didn't look too old for anything to Avi.

"Hawthorn—Mr. Hawthorn," he corrected himself, "mentioned you a few times. He said you'd train me." Avi brought his knees up to his chest, trying to keep himself covered with the duvet at the same time. He wasn't sure what training entailed, and Patches intimidated him. He wasn't large or even angry, but he was beautiful and poised and Avi had a sense that Patches wanted to pick him up by the scruff and shake him, and he wasn't exactly sure why. "He said we could cuddle?"

He remembered that much from the vet visit, although he tried to put the rest out of his mind. The ride back had been okay, with Hawthorn encouraging him to lay his head in his lap again. That must have been when he fell asleep. Hawthorn stroking his ears and neck had been rather soothing.

A hand threaded its way through his hair, then tilted his face back, forcing him to look at Patches and bringing him out of his reverie.

Patches looked considering, which could be worse. He didn't look cruel, at least, and Avi was grateful for that much.

"Master Hawthorn," he said.

Oh. That was what he should call him.

"The center certainly failed at training you. You're a skittish little thing. Or is that a ploy to get people to cosset and pet you?" He dragged a sharp fingernail down Avi's cheek, stopping right at the septum ring, causing Avi to make a rather feeble noise of protest. Avi considered reaching up to grab his hand and pull it away, but Patches didn't seem to be trying to hurt him, more testing. Exploring.

And, well, now that Patches was closer Avi could see the toned muscle on Patches' deceptively slender limbs. It seemed prudent to let Patches discover whatever he was looking for.

"I wasn't at the center. Well, I was today when they captured me, but I was never trained there. This all happened today."

"You managed to hide?" Patches asked, clearly credulous about Avi's competence.

"No," Avi answered, blushing. He waved one hand at himself, from head to toe. "This all happened today. Yesterday I didn't have ears or a tail."

A look of consideration crossed Patches' face, and he moved to sit right next to Avi, their sides touching. "Late bloomer, huh?" he asked. "Unusual, but it certainly makes more sense. There are few who would help a sweet little morsel like yourself hide to take you for their own. Did you turn yourself in?"

Avi shook his head miserably as Patches ran a seeking hand across his back. He wasn't quite sure what Patches was doing, but it felt nice. "No, I tried hiding the tail and then a man noticed my ears when they came in."

Then, Patches' hand brushed across the bottom of his ribs and Avi let out a rumbling purr. He flinched, surprising himself with the deep noise.

"What?" he asked, but Patches smiled and repeated the motion. Soon enough he found that Avi's left shoulder blade was also sensitive.

Before Avi could really figure out what was happening, he found himself curled in Patches' arms, twining himself around the older catboy and letting his eyes flutter shut so he could better focus on those hands drawing out deep, contented purrs. He felt warmth gathering in his belly, more contentment than excitement.

He blinked up at Patches in a daze when he stopped making those wonderful motions and simply held Avi to him. "There are some advantages to your new life, kitten. I guarantee you that lots of us are going to enjoy making a pretty little thing like you purr."

"Lots of you?" Avi repeated, still bewildered by his response to Patches petting him.

However, something about his question made Patches' gaze sharpen. Avi didn't like the look in his strange eyes. Through a tensed jaw, Patches said, "Master Hawthorn has eight cats; myself and one for every day of the week. He had eight yesterday and he has eight today."

His nails nipped into Avi's sides, and Avi squirmed with discomfort. "Josh isn't even cold in the ground, and here you are. Josh II."

"My name is Avi." He spoke quietly, but he didn't want to give up his name.

A sharp slap cracked across Avi's face, setting off a deep throbbing that spread outward from his nose.

"Your name is Josh II. You're a slave now, and a lucky one. You could've easily ended up sold to a brothel where you'd be used day and night until no one remembered you ever used to be soft and lovely. You're pretty and you're young and you've been bought by a rich, handsome master who likes to pamper his pets. If you're smart, you'll forget you were ever anything else."

Avi sniffled. "I didn't mean to replace anyone," he said, forcing the words out through his choked-up throat. Patches had been so nice a few seconds before.

Patches petted his hair in a conciliatory gesture. "I know. I know you mean to be a good boy. I needed to correct you, but I didn't need to be mean about it. The slap was a bit much." His hand stilled for a moment, before Patches whispered, "I'm just sad."

Trying to ignore the trembling of his hand, Avi reached up and petted Patches' hair in return. It was soft and fluffy, and petting it almost felt better than being petted. "What was Josh like?" he asked, the question slipping out before he could consider whether it was a good idea.

"Nerdy," Patches said, after a bit of thought. "Whenever he earned a reward he'd want another book with a cheesy spaceship on the cover. He was smart, and well behaved, so Master Hawthorn let him take some online classes. He studied estate management, not because he liked it, but because he thought it might make him useful when he got older."

There was a pause, followed by a quiet sob. Patches pulled Avi tighter into his arms, tucking his chin on Avi's head. Avi let his hand follow, now stroking his shoulders. "He didn't do much these last few months," Patches said, speaking through his tears. It made his voice sound throatier, but not in a sexy way. "He was in a lot of pain, and had been for awhile, and he wasn't able to hide it anymore. He was so thin. Not the way you're thin. Like his body was starting to eat itself. And then the vets said he wasn't going to get better."

When Patches stopped talking, Avi tightened his arms around Patches' shoulders, feeling Patches' gasping breaths through the press of their bodies against each other. He hadn't meant to make the other catboy cry, but he couldn't help being curious about Josh. You couldn't replace a person, but here Avi was being slotted right into Josh's place. He should at least know who the guy was.

At least he didn't sound like Avi. Avi wasn't cool enough to be a nerd. He'd never really had any interests to define himself with.

Patches stilled in Avi's embrace, gathering himself. "I'm going to go get you food. A light dinner shouldn't keep you up too late. We need to get you adjusted to the house schedule. Stay in the room; you'll be punished if you leave, and neither of us want that."

After Patches exited the room, Avi stood up to explore. The duvet was too heavy to carry around, so Avi stripped the bed of its sheet and tied the soft cotton around his waist in a draping skirt. He wasn't that good at knots, so he held it closed with one hand to keep it from coming undone.

There wasn't much to the room. There was the door Patches left from, plus another door that led to a giant bathroom. Avi didn't go through it, unsure of whether that counted as leaving the room. But he hoped Patches returned soon, because the sight of the toilet reminded Avi that it had been a long time since he'd been able to go and now that he was aware of his need it was hard to think of anything else.

There was no closet; just a dresser that was mostly full of what looked like a bunch of scraps of cloth. Really nice scraps, silky and light and bright, vibrant colors, but scraps all the same. Was that really all Patches had to wear? Without realizing it, Avi clutched his bed-sheet skirt even tighter to himself. It was one thing to see nearly naked catboys walking next to their owner, and another to realize that he was expected to spend the rest of his life without real clothes. Would he be expected to stay inside all winter? Or freeze? Maybe icicles would complement his fur.

Next to the dresser was a desk, clear of all detritus on the top except for a journal. Avi didn't even reach for it. He didn't lie to himself. He was tempted, but Patches had little enough and reading it would be a reminder that Avi no longer had any privacy either.

With that cheery thought, Avi returned to the bed and left the exploring alone. It was hard to waddle around with the butt plug in his ass, anyway. He hugged an orange pillow to himself. Then, impulsively, he screamed into it. His tongue pressed into the cotton, which tasted disgusting and made his piercing ache, but he didn't want to press too lightly and have someone come running to see what was wrong.

When Patches came back, Avi was still screaming.

He didn't even realize Patches was back until the other catboy touched his hands and guided them and the pillow down to Avi's lap.

Patches reached out and gently pushed the hair that was not sticking to Avi's forehead out of his face. "You're all sweaty and red now," he said, and the words seemed disapproving but he didn't sound upset with Avi. "You need to think about how you look now. Got to keep that face looking pretty."

He reached toward the tray he'd set down on the desk. Avi kept his watering eyes on Patches' face. He looked amused, perhaps. Not mad, so Avi hadn't actually done anything wrong.

"Open," he said, then lowered a strawberry into Avi's mouth.

The tip of the strawberry touched his tongue, disappointingly tart. "Bite," came the next command.

As Avi chewed the slightly under-ripe fruit, Patches' expression changed to something more pitying. Avi quickly swallowed, and tried to sit up straighter. "What?" he asked.

"You look like a cow. Chew daintily."

"I wasn't opening my mouth!" Avi protested, feeling insulted. He had manners.

"You don't have to open your mouth to chew like a lumbering beast. Try again."

Avi grabbed his own piece of fruit this time, a peach that tempted him with its perfect coloring. Avi bit into the soft flesh, and felt some of the juice spill down his chin, so he quickly swiped it away with the back of his hand.

"No," said Patches. "Leave it."

"Why?" asked Avi.

"Take another bite."

Avi obeyed, and this time when juice spilled down his chin he didn't touch it, even when it dripped onto his neck, cold and sticky.

Then Patches was there, in his face, and a warm tongue licked a stripe up his neck, right where the juice had trailed down it. "Tilt your face up to me," he murmured, then licked the juice off of Avi's chin with a few shorter licks. He licked up to Avi's lips, then his tongue was in Avi's mouth and his lips pressed to Avi's and it was sticky and sweet and Patches' tongue tickled as he explored the crevices of Avi's mouth bit by bit.

As Patches pulled away, Avi sank backwards until his back rested on the bed, and wiggled a bit to get his tail resting in a comfortable position. He'd kissed the man on the bus, but it hadn't felt so overwhelming. If nothing else, Patches tasted far better.

"You okay, kitten?" Patches asked. He sounded rather pleased with himself. And did he have to call Avi kitten?

Then Patches was on top of him, straddling Avi's chest and thankfully putting most of his weight on his knees and not Avi. He leaned down, dangling a bunch of grapes over Avi's mouth. "Bite one off," he urged.

Avi couldn't push himself up, not without knocking Patches off, so he reached out with his tongue to draw a grape towards his mouth before biting it off the stem. The thin flesh parted beneath his bite and the sweetness of the fruit filled his mouth. He opened his mouth for another, but Patches had lifted the grapes just out of range.

He pouted, exaggerating the expression to convince Patches to give him another grape. It had been perfect, unlike the strawberry.

"Do you want another grape, pretty?"

Avi nodded.

Smirking, Patches lowered the bunch again and watched as Avi bit off and ate a few more.

"Slower with your tongue," he said. "Caress the berry first. Focus on the show, not the utility."

Feeling rather silly, Avi complied. The skins of the grapes were bitter and left his tongue feeling slightly dry, until he bit into the fruit and washed the taste away. He tried for a third one, since Patches seemed to want him to keep going, but this time he couldn't chase away a grimace of distaste when his tongue touched the skin.

Patches sighed and let the bunch drop with a thud on Avi's chest. He picked one off the bunch and pressed the end to his red lips, sliding it slowly in. He bent down to kiss Avi again, and Avi willingly opened his mouth as he came closer.

To his surprise, Patches pressed the still whole grape into his mouth, pulling away quite quickly as Avi sputtered and spit it out.

"What the hell, dude? That's covered in your spit!"

Patches arched an eyebrow quite eloquently. "You've had my tongue in your mouth; is now the time to worry about my spit?"

"But why would you put a grape in my mouth that's been in your mouth? That's gross."

"Oh dear god," Patches said, rubbing his brow in circles. "You're an absolute child. It's sexy, okay? It's food, which is sensual but primal. It's intimate. It's—"

"Seriously, it's a grape that was in your mouth." Avi had all sorts of fingers and plastic up his ass today, and he had to draw the line somewhere about what went into his body.

Patches rolled his eyes, plucked the fallen grape of the bedspread, and shoved it into Avi's mouth. When Avi tried to push the slightly fuzzy grape back out again, Patches held his jaw closed. "Get over it, and eat it, you brat."

Avi chewed, but he frowned as much as he could around Patches' firm grip to show that he wasn't happy.

When he swallowed, Patches loosened his hands and lightly stroked his throat. "There's a good boy," he said. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Mulishly, Avi stayed silent.

"At least you're still young enough to look cute when you pout, if you're going to do it so much."

"Hey!" Avi cried, wounded.

"You're here with me to learn," Patches said, his bright brown eyes intent. "Master Hawthorn's tastes don't run to pain, but that means it's my job to ensure that you'll enjoy everything he does to you. I'm starting nice and simple, with something completely harmless. In fact, food is necessary. You need it to live, and you're going to be eating plenty of it until you're up to weight. And, more importantly, you're going to look tempting when you eat. You're going to bite into a peach and make a man want to bite into you when you do it. You're going to be delectable, devourable."

Patches resettled his weight onto Avi, solidly pinning him. "I want us to have fun with this and be silly. But if I have to, I will throttle you until you have to take ginger, mincing bites to get the food down your sore throat." Like a promise, his hand settled heavily around Avi's neck. "Do you understand?"

Avi nodded, the motion pressing Patches' index finger into his larynx. He choked, more from fear than the actual pressure.

"You look so scared right now, you know," Patches murmured. "That's not really the look we're going for, but the big eyes are cute. Keep those. We can practice having you hold them wide open."

He rubbed Avi's ears with a talented hand. It made his ears perk up, and he realized that sometime during their conversation he'd flattened them against his head, trying to make himself smaller. "That's it," Patches said, keeping his voice low. "You're all right. A little shook up, but now you know if you listen to me everything will be all right."

"Can I use the bathroom?" Avi asked in a small voice.

Patches looked startled. "Of course," he said. "You don't have to ask."

Avi nodded, and waiting for Patches to slide off of him before he sat up. He pulled his sheet covering back into place before he stood, wincing a little as the butt plug pushed deeper into him. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Patches circled him.

"Oh, you're plugged," he said. "Well, you've had that in long enough for the first day. Do you want me to help you take that out first?"

"Yes," Avi said, with feeling.

"Okay. Go bend over the toilet. I'll grab some lube, and then I'll meet you there."

That sounded good to Avi. If Patches was busy he wouldn't be watching the swaying gait Avi was forced to adopt due to the thing holding him open.

He bent over the toilet and let his sheet drop past his butt, which also had the benefit of letting his tail sway free. It twined up along his back and brushed his neck, the fur a soft whisper. Avi didn't want to admit to himself how much he liked the tail. It was everything that came with it that he hated.

"Isn't that a picture," said Patches from somewhere behind him. Two hands palmed Avi's ass and squeezed, gently testing the firmness. "You should try to stand up more, or maybe perch sideways on things. You've got to show off your assets, and this is an asset," he said, squeezing again.

Red flooded Avi's cheeks, and he tried to pretend to himself that he wasn't pressing back into those boldly wandering hands. "Can you take the plug out, please?"

"I'm getting there." Gentle fingers pulled lightly on the base of the plug, making Avi whimper. "Oh, you are all swollen, kitten. Let's make you feel better." Those same fingers swiped copious amounts of a cool liquid around the rim of Avi's asshole. "Push, now," said Patches. Avi pushed, and felt Patches pulling at the same time. He leaned more of his weight onto his arms as the thickest part of the plug stretched his rim, whining unselfconsciously.

"The worst bit is out," Patches said, patting his flank with his free hand. "You did good. Stay there for a second. I've got a bit of cream that will help you and your pretty little hole." He wiped away the excess lube with a bit of toilet paper, then warned Avi that the cream would sting a little on his raw skin. It really did, and Avi flinched a few times, but mostly managed to stay still.

"You're a virgin, Master Hawthorn said?"

"Yeah," Avi confirmed.

"That was too long for your first day. I'll let Master Hawthorn know he needs to leave your hole alone for a bit. He doesn't want you damaged; he's simply not used to boys who haven't already been broken in by the center. You're a treat, but there's always a learning curve with new things."

Avi nodded, not sure how to respond.

"I'll leave you alone to do your business. There's extra towels in the cupboard if you want to take a shower. You're free to use any of the toiletries. You'll need to reapply the cream after, if you do." Patches paused, and took a little sniff. "No, definitely shower. You need it."

"Gee, thanks," Avi muttered.

"Do you not want to get clean?" Patches asked.

Avi started to say something smart, then thought about the fact that Patches might deny him the shower if he pushed. And, if he weren't feeling contrary, he'd have admitted immediately that a shower sounded wonderful. He could wash away all the hands that had touched him today and be alone with himself.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I want the shower."

Patches stroked his shoulder blade, that secret little spot that made Avi purr. He didn't even need to say it. He could be nice, if Avi was good.

Scarce moments after Patches shut the bathroom door behind him, Avi dropped the sheet to the floor and relieved himself. He stood there for a few moments after, doing nothing but enjoying the silence.

Perhaps privacy was a better word. There was a faint thrumming emanating from the walls, as if someone in another room were running water. He hurried over to the taps to start his own shower, suddenly worried that someone else might use all the hot water. He didn't like it to be blazing hot or anything ridiculous, but he liked warm water.

The showerhead looked vaguely futuristic to Avi; certainly, it was more expensive than the one he'd had in his bathroom at home. The water pressure was incredible and on most days he would enjoy the way it melted the tension from his muscles, but today he mostly contorted to keep the water off his new piercings.

He sniffed three shampoos before he found a mint one that didn't make him sneeze. The one he ended up choosing made his whole head tingle, particularly his ears. He'd figured the fur needed to be shampooed too, but the skin beneath seemed to be more sensitive than his scalp. He'd choose a different shampoo next time, because apparently Patches required a selection.

As for soap, he chose a bar that was purple and had leaves pressed into it because it was the only one that didn't somehow involve flower petals. Maybe he'd get lucky and that would turn out to be Patches' preference and not Hawthorn's, because Avi didn't want to smell like a flower.

The towels were nice, plush and warm. Avi buffed his hair dry with one before wrapping it around his head like a turban, and tucked a second around his waist after reapplying the cream. He tried to keep his whimpers quiet, in case Patches could hear him through the door. Then he kept quiet in the hope Patches couldn't hear him cursing to himself. It took a bit of trial and error to find a position where the towel sat beneath his tail but didn't immediately fall off. It did show most of his hipbones, but Avi didn't want to toga himself up again yet. He wanted to see if there was a comb and a toothbrush he could use, so he opened the bathroom door and leaned out.

He froze when he spotted Hawthorn sitting in the desk chair, Patches lounging at his feet.

"Didn't fall in, did you?" Hawthorn asked with a practiced smile.

Avi shook his head.

"Come on over here, Josh II. They finished the engraving on your collar and dropped it off." A vague wave of his hand drew Avi's attention to gleaming silver on the desktop.

Slowly, Avi stepped towards them, well aware that he was still slightly damp and leaving wet footprints on the carpet. He looked at Patches for direction, and Patches subtly tilted his chin down. Hoping he interpreted the message correctly, Avi knelt in front of Hawthorn. He was less graceful and more focused on keeping the towel in place.

When he felt suitably arranged he looked up and saw Hawthorn looking down at him with an indulgent smile. A gentle but firm hand tilted his head downward. Thus, he couldn't really see as the collar was fastened around his throat. He could feel Hawthorn's brisk hands brushing against his neck and sweeping his hair out of the way.

The collar didn't seem too bad, not compared to the one the agent had put on him. The chain was fairly delicate, and it looked more like a necklace than anything. It fit low on his throat, the tag falling between his collarbones, and didn't choke him. He could breathe in it.

"There you are. Now everyone knows you're mine."

A small shudder ran through Avi.

"Oh, you're cold! Why don't you help Josh warm up?" Hawthorn addressed his last statement to Patches.

Avi lifted his face up enough to watch Hawthorn through his lashes. The man was rubbing Patches' head affectionately.

"I have work to do, sadly. I only had enough time to collar him right now, but I'll be back in a few days to check his progress. I have high hopes for this one. He seems rather pliable, don't you think?"

Patches met Avi's gaze. Neutrally, he said, "Yes, he does. And very pretty. A little dim, perhaps, but very pretty."

Hawthorn chuckled as he stood to leave. "Good thing I'm not looking for scintillating conversation. Pretty and eager to please will do."

Avi wanted to plead with the man to let him go, but it seemed awkward to do it in front of Patches. Not that Patches seemed to worry about saying things that made him feel uncomfortable. Plus, Patches might get mad if Avi made it look like he didn't have things under control.

After Patches escorted Hawthorn through the door, he protested. "I'm not dim."

He started to stand and stumbled halfway up when the tinkling of a bell rang out. He groped along the collar with one hand and quickly found the bell, hanging from the link next to the tag.

"He belled me?" he asked.

Patches slinked over to him. It was like he had a few extra joints, and the way his tail waved behind him was mesmerizing. When Patches came close enough, he started to reach out to touch that swaying tip before letting his hand fall to his side, pretending that he'd been going to adjust the towel all along.

A breathy giggle sounded right in his ear, followed by a quick kiss to his temple. "You can touch," purred Patches, reaching up to do just that, lacing his fingers through Avi's collar and letting them rest against his skin.

Avi giggled in turn, more nervously than Patches had, unsure of how to react to the contact.

"He's certainly acting possessive of you," Patches said. "He styles each of us differently according to what he thinks suits us, and he's fond of variety. A few of the others have nipple rings, but no one else has anything as obvious as the septum piercing. And the bell," he rang it with a tap of a fingernail, "is new."

He pushed lightly with his fingers, encouraging Avi to scoot back a little. "It suits you, I think," he said. "You've got that little lost kitten thing going on." He slid his hand down Avi's chest to rest it on his hip, possessive in his own way. "You look like you want to be found."

"So what kind of kitten are you?" Avi asked, trying to sound unruffled.

"I'm not a kitten," Patches said, tilting Avi's chin up with a sharp fingernail. A self-satisfied smile split his face when Avi looked into his slitted eyes. "I'm a cat."

Avi decided to try being bold like Patches. "Those aren't the only piercings," he said, undoing the towel and letting it pool around his feet.

He promptly picked it up and tied it back on when Patches burst out laughing. "I said 'lost little kitten'! Go for sweet, beguiling. Let him come to you. Also, it will be more convincing if you don't look like you want to hurl when you attempt to seduce someone."

He kissed the tip of Avi's nose. "You're turning red, now. It's a much better look than green for you. A blushing virgin is classic for a reason."

Avi stomped to the bed, giving into his petulance to ignore that he'd wanted Patches to at least take a look at his body. "It's what I'm supposed to do isn't?" he asked, flopping onto the nest of pillows. "Act sexy?"

"There are a lot of ways to act sexy," Patches replied. "Besides, Master Hawthorn is fairly traditional about things. You're a naif. He's not going to want you to take the lead."

"What does that even mean?" Avi asked, frustrated.

"You're a skinny, angelic-looking, blond, barely legal virgin slave. He wants to despoil you. Claim you." Patches straddled Avi and opened his towel, one side at a time. "Unwrap you. Undo you. Lay you down on silk sheets and soothe away your nervousness and then fuck you hard." He ground down, his hardness rubbing along Avi's hip through the thin fabric of his sarong.

Avi's penis remained soft, nestled against his thigh, skin slightly reddened around the new piercing. Of course, now Patches was looking at him.

"We'll have to make sure you look more eager when that happens," Patches commented. "Either way, you have to learn to act slutty without acting slutty. You've got to let him know you'll let him have his wicked way with you without saying it."

"Why not?"

"Because he has a sense of subtlety and class and it's what he wants so it's what you'll do."

"So, don't undress myself?" That had been what had made Patches laugh, hadn't it?

Patches closed his eyes. "We'll work on it."

Glad that Patches seemed done with the conversation, Avi squirmed a little to encourage him to get off.

A mischevious smile crossed Patches' face, making him look younger. He stretched his arms to the ceiling, showing off the trimness of his waist and broadness of his shoulders, before he slinked back down to cover Avi. "Yes, that's good. That's the sort of invitation you want to send."

Avi blinked. "I want you to get off."

"I really don't think you do."

"Do you have a toothbrush and comb?"

Now it was Patches' turn to be confused.

"I want you to get off of me so that I can brush my teeth and comb my hair."

"There are new toothbrushes in the middle drawer of the counter," Patches said as he rolled off of Avi and stretched out on the sliver of bed next to him. "Come back out here when you're done and I'll do your hair."

Avi grumbled that he could do it himself, but he didn't really care that much. He left his turban in the bathroom since he no longer needed it and because it looked silly when he wasn't even wearing another towel, and tried to use his fingers to comb his drying hair a little so that it wasn't quite so fluffy before he left the bathroom and Patches could see it.

He sat on the floor while Patches sat on the bed, and he didn't want to admit it, but it felt rather nice to be pampered. Patches groomed him with deft strokes of the comb and light, comforting touches. Each stroke of the comb felt like Patches was drawing weight away from Avi, pulling his worries right out of his head. He found himself moving toward Patches' touch, and by the time his hair was done, he was nuzzling Patches' knee with his cheek. While he rested there, Patches reached to turn off the lamp by the bed, which turned out to have been the last light on in the room.

Patches drew him up onto the bed and beneath the covers, holding him securely to his chest. "I know I scared you earlier, Josh," he said. "I don't want to do that. I don't like threatening you. You're practically a child. But I'm a working cat, and I've been ordered to do a job. I think we'd both like to do well and earn some coddling. This might not be the home you envisioned for yourself, but I'm not the stray cat type and I don't think you are either. Let's both do better tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay," said Avi, pulling Patches' arms slightly tighter around his waist. He could like Patches. He ordered Avi around, sure, but he talked to him rather than at him. And he liked the way Patches touched him, even when he wasn't trying to make Avi purr. If Avi was good, he didn't have to worry about Patches' getting angry. So he would be good. Patches hadn't asked that much of him, and he was right that it could be much worse. He was lucky, he told himself.