The spare key was in the usual place - an innocent looking discarded ceramic pot half-buried in the dirt of a neglected flower bed. A thousand times Xiaoxin had told Yaoyao that the pot was a horribly obvious place, and a thousand times Yaoyao had promised to move it. At least tonight Yaoyao's poor memory came in handy. Shifting the heavy paper bag in his arms to the side, he brushed the dirt off the key and slid it into the lock without a glance. The entryway was so littered with shoes that Xiaoxin had to struggle to shove the door open, grumbling the entire time.
But it was a good place to start. Try as he might, Xiaoxin couldn't help straightening up whenever he made these habitual visits. There turned out to not be that many shoes once he had them lined up; Yaoyao was an expert at taking up as much space with as little as possible. Once he was satisfied with the entryway, Xiaoxin unwound his scarf and set his own shoes beside Yaoyao's. The noise was enough to alert anyone inside to his presence, but he knew who he'd find inside. He didn't hear her approach - he never did - but he knew she'd be there when he looked up, her big grey eyes shining at him from the hallway.
"Hey there," he called quietly and she padded over to him and licked his extended hand. Somehow it always surprised him how small she was, the smallest cat he could remember meeting. Her fur was soft and a darker grey than her eyes, and even after living here for a few weeks she hadn't grown much at all. Xiaoxin assumed she wouldn't, and he didn't mind. Being small suited her. She peered at him in what looked like disappointment when he didn't pick her up right away, their usual routine, but he knew he couldn't manage as much with the bulging bag in his hands. She mewed at him quietly as they made their way to the kitchen, sitting at the edge of the tiled floor because she still didn't quite like how cold it felt on her paws.
The answering machine was flashing when he began sorting the contents of the bag. He was almost tempted to listen to the messages, but Yaoyao could handle that much on his own, at least. Not that Yaoyao would have minded if Xiaoxin started taking down his messages for him because it probably would mean Yaoyao would actually return some calls, but the last thing Xiaoxin needed was to start handling more parts of Yaoyao's life. While the kitten watched, Xiaoxin laid out the tiny cans of cat food on the counter. He'd probably bought too much, but he couldn't predict when Yaoyao would remember to buy some himself, and running to the store every time he came over was getting to be a pain. The last time Yaoyao had tried to buy the food he'd bought regular cat food, and Xiaoxin had just barely intervened in time to stop him from feeding it to the poor animal.
As he was working, Xiaoxin felt his phone starting to vibrate in his pocket. He grinned when he read the caller ID, winking at the little kitten as he pressed the phone to his ear. "Miss me?"
On the other end, Yaoyao chuckled, and then he groaned. "I forgot the cat again. Could you stop by my place?"
"Already there," he replied casually. "I went ahead and bought extra food, too. You were running low."
"How do you keep up with all of this?" His voice almost sounded exasperated, but it was the light kind of exasperated which usually came with Yaoyao's gratitude.
Xiaoxin clicked his tongue. "It's easy. I don't take on responsibilities I know I can't handle."
"Yeah, yeah, can you at least nag me in person, not over the phone?"
"Of course, just come home."
Yaoyao snorted. "On my way." There was a faint clicking sound as Yaoyao hung up, and Xiaoxin just shook his head and finished preparing the kitten's food.
By the time the front door opened, Xiaoxin was settled on the couch, the kitten climbing over his knees and swatting at his fingers as he dangled them in front of her face. He could practically hear Yaoyao kick off his boots and toss his coat somewhere in the hallway. Yaoyao would no doubt notice that Xiaoxin had cleaned, but that could never change his habits. No matter what, Yaoyao was Yaoyao. He was lucky that that was also his saving grace. Yaoyao grinned as he entered the living room, but first he made a stop in the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge. Yaoyao's fridge rarely contained anything edible when it had been a few days since Xiaoxin's last visit, but he always had beer. "So is this when I get to nag you?" Xiaoxin asked and sank down to stretch across the length of the couch, lifting the kitten so she could sit on his chest.
Yaoyao popped open his beer and shrugged as he took a sip. "Up to you. I didn't really care if you nagged me or not. Just wanted you to stay." He smiled and took a longer drink.
Xiaoxin rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the kitten. Every now and then Yaoyao's forward way of speaking caught Xiaoxin off guard, but after knowing him so long, those times were rare. "I would been here anyway with all the cleaning I had to do." His voice sounded annoyed but he couldn't help but smile, too.
Glancing around the apartment as if he were seeing it for the first time, Yaoyao raised his eyebrows in surprise and nodded. "It looks good," he said, honestly impressed. "But you know it'll be back to normal by tomorrow."
This time it was Xiaoxin who shrugged. "I doubt it'll be long before I need to come and feed your cat again anyway."
For whatever reason that seemed to please Yaoyao, though he didn't say why. Instead he looked at the kitten fondly and even moved over to sit on the arm of the couch and scratch her head. She bit his thumb lightly and he chuckled. "I still need to think of a name for him," he said thoughtfully. "I talked to Yuehan and he had some good ideas. I was thinking 'Hustler' or 'Killer,' but I'm still deciding."
Xiaoxin gaped in horror and pulled the kitten out of Yaoyao's reach. "She already has a name. Shit, can't you even tell the difference between a male and a female?" Though somewhat insulted for the sake of the kitten, Xiaoxin was also entirely too amused, and it crept into his voice.
"I can tell the difference just fine, thanks," Yaoyao replied with a vague smile. He moved from the arm of the couch to the floor, leaning his head back until it rested against Xiaoxin's arm. His grin was upside down and the kitten pawed at his forehead gently. "So what's her name?"
"Bao." Xiaoxin felt oddly embarrassed, even if he had struggled for two weeks to come up with the name. It was short and simple, but he thought it was cute enough for Yaoyao's kitten, anyway. "She's starting to respond to it, too, so don't you dare try to change it."
Yaoyao laughed and reached up to scratch Bao behind the ear again. She purred happily and curled up right beside his head, near Xiaoxin shoulder. "You're a good girl, Bao." Hearing Yaoyao use the name made Xiaoxin feel strangely giddy, maybe because he'd been the only one to use it for so long now. There was also something calm and warm about the way Yaoyao spoke to the kitten which he didn't use with anyone else, and Xiaoxin found it liked it. He knew he wouldn't like being spoken to that way, but he liked it when Yaoyao spoke that way to Bao. In many ways getting a cat had made no sense for Yaoyao, who was so unpredictable and resistant to routine. Xiaoxin had predicted how terribly it would go and that had made it easy to insert himself into the equation. He couldn't say he'd minded, either. He'd already been going over to Yaoyao's house often, and even if he hadn't adjusted perfectly, having Bao around had made Yaoyao slightly calmer, slightly more predictable. It was enough change for Xiaoxin.
After a few minutes, Bao was fast asleep. Xiaoxin's arm was starting to go numb, but he didn't mind. "I'll stay here tonight," he said quietly, half closing his eyes as he rested against the couch. Yaoyao sat up carefully so as to not rouse Bao too much, and grinned as he turned around.
"You say that like it's not what you do every time you come over."
Xiaoxin smirked and shrugged, but he certainly didn't argue when Yaoyao leaned in for a kiss.