Excerpt: Behind Bars #InternationalCatDay

Pel stood tense where he was, trapped in a parent’s indecisive horror. Bruant’s an adult now. If he had a girl over, that was his right—or, for that matter, a boy; Pel himself had dated a few when he was younger.

But Bruant hadn’t mentioned being interested in anyone to him before, and when he’d passed by Pel on his way upstairs earlier, he’d been alone. The front door was still shut to anyone who didn’t have a key, so either he’d somehow missed Bruant smuggling someone past him, which would already be a concern, because why, or someone had come in through the window.

And that sort of behavior, happening on the second floor, still in (albeit dimming) daylight, was more likely to be demonic than human. Sure, it was possibly normal—he’d done it himself, after all—but cubants like incubi and succubi were famous for it. And surely there were other types of demons who could do likewise. There seemed to be more variety of the monsters out there than names he knew for them.

It’s probably fine, he told himself. It’s probably nothing.

But he’d be fucked if he’d let something happen to someone he loved a second time. Anxious, fretting, he turned and walked back to Bruant’s room. The sound was still there, muffled and indistinct. He’d have to put his ear up to the door to hear details, and if it were just a lover, that’d be a horrible violation of Bruant’s privacy.

Indecision gripped him briefly, and then he forced himself to make a decision. He wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t throw the door open. He wouldn’t do anything that he wouldn’t have wanted done to him back in the day.

But he still needed to know.

So he knocked.

Immediately the sound stopped. There was a silence, as if Bruant—and perhaps, whoever was in there with him—was waiting to see if he’d leave.

Shit. He knocked again. “Bru—?”

This time, he could hear Bruant’s voice through the door, raised to carry: “One minute, Dad!”

He strained to hear what was happening, but didn’t hear anything now. What should I do?

Bruant’s locked turned with an audible click. It was too soon for his window to have been opened and closed to let someone out; he must have got up from wherever he was and come right over. It didn’t entirely reassure Pel—he still had no idea what exactly he was going to see when the door opened—but it was still a damn sight better than the alternative.

But when it creaked open, Bruant not bothering to keep it closed but pulling it wide, all he saw was Bruant himself, shirtless and staring out at him in wide-eyed alarm from his perfectly normal messy room with its unmade bed and its unfortunate pile of laundry on the floor. “Dad? What is it?”

Pel looked past him, searching the room for anything unusual, but there didn’t seem to be anyone or anything there except Kip, sitting up on Bruant’s bed and looking curious about the commotion.

“Dad?” Bruant prompted again, brows furrowed.

Maybe I’m losing it. “I thought I heard… I thought I heard you talking to someone.”

Bruant stared at him, keeping himself almost unnaturally still, then abruptly stepped aside, holding his door open. “I was talking to Kip,” he said slowly and strained, like he wasn’t sure when his father had turned into a madman.

“To Kip,” Pel repeated blankly. He looked at the cat, who blinked back slowly, then flopped down as if it had tired of these shenanigans. “And… was the cat answering back?”

“What?” Bruant’s voice pitched up a bit, cracking. “That’s crazy, Dad. What the hell? He’s a cat! Cats can’t talk.”

Pel found himself embarrassed at the incredulity in Bruant’s tone. “That’s—no. I know that. I mean, I thought I heard two voices. Is that something you can explain, Bru?”

“Maybe you heard his meowing as another voice?” Bruant asked slowly, tense and uncomfortable, staring at Pel with the near panic of talking to someone who was acting completely unreasonable. “I was trying to teach him tricks. You didn’t hear any words, did you…?”

“No,” Pel admitted, hearing his voice come out just as embarrassed as he felt. “Just two different tones.”

Bruant let out a short, sharp breath. He blinked rapidly, looking down as relief washed over his features. “Way to freak me out, Dad,” he said. Then, seeming to perk up instantly in a surprising mood swing, “Look, it’s normal with him. I’ll show you. Kip. Hey, Kip.”

The cat flicked an ear in their direction but didn’t move.

Kip.”

Finally, Kip lifted his head, letting out a low-voiced complaint. “Mow.

The smile Bruant gave Pel was almost eager, like he thought he was in trouble and wanted to please. “He does that if I talk to him. He likes to chat back. Kip, who’s a good cat?”

Kip’s tail thumped on the bed a few times in agitation. “Mooooow,” he whined back.

“Kip, will you sit? Sit, Kip!”

“Meeeeeeeeeehh.” The cat was answering again but very definitely was not sitting, still flopped bonelessly on his side.

Bruant grinned at Kip, then turned the smile on Pel. Bruant’s anxiety had faded into something softer and more genuine, and Pel had to admit that it had been a while since he’d seen his son look at him with that kind of happiness. “Getting him to actually do the trick is the hard part,” Bruant admitted. “Anyway, you think that might be what you heard?”

It had been pretty muffled. It really could have been something as simple and stupid as a cat meowing back. Pel put his face in his hands, groaning. “I don’t even know what I was thinking.”

“You’ve been stressed lately,” Bruant said consolingly. He seemed to hesitate, then took two quick steps over, put a hand on Pel’s back, and patted it awkwardly a few times. “My fault.”

“No, you… like you said, you had the right to be angry,” Pel muttered into his hands. He scrubbed at his face, trying to will his embarrassment down. His protectiveness and fear had been suffocating; what they had turned into almost felt more so. “It’s all right if you’re angry with me. I mean, I don’t like it, but…”

Bruant’s hand paused in its movement on his back. “Thanks,” he said, and there was a guilty tone in his voice again that was horrible to hear. “I appreciate that.”

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