The cat was confused.
Someone had occupied her favorite lookout. That in itself would have been simply annoying, but at the moment she could make neither head nor tail of the one who did it. Experience had taught the cat a simple rule: Eyes that could be seen in the darkness, could see in darkness. Like her own. Dogs' eyes, too. And rats'. And a lot of other creatures'. But not humans'.
The problem was, the intruder had shining eyes that followed her movements, though its form and smell were that of a human. A male. Males were hard to judge.
Females out in the light would either screech at her sight and, when approached, more often than not, drop something edible before they run. Or, if they didn't scream, they were likely to hit the unwary stray with something hard. Females in the dark, that acknowledged a cat, did so with false, high-pitched cooing noises and ate the ones stupid enough to fall for them.
Males on the other hand… In the light they mostly showed indifference to the point of not looking where they set their heavy feet, while in the dark… you never knew. A long time ago, in her youth, there had been one that had fed her occasionally.
Unsure what to do, the cat sat down to preen herself.
oo oo oo oo oo oo
A few minutes later, on one of the unpredictable whims of her kind, she approached. Tiptoeing over a derelict rain pipe that sagged ominously even under the weight of the underfed stray, the cat made her way to the top of the building. Just out of range of the crouching human she stopped, tail swishing in indecision.
Now that she had reached the stagnant air surrounding him, she could smell blood on him. Not fresh, not his, a predator's scent. Her hackles rose. A predator of this size meant danger. She made a step back, front legs only, back arching furiously.
The human made a low noise. A noise some of them made when they thought something funny. A noise the cat had learned to associate with Trouble. Capital T. She retreated, another stiff-legged step. The noise stopped.
"Smart beast," the human said quietly. Meaningless sounds for the cat, yet the voice was – strange. Low-keyed, not as blaring as the usual human voice, but comfortable to her sensitive ears. Carrying a quality that seemed… familiar. Against better judgment the cat stayed.
Slowly, very slowly the human held out a hand to her. She eyed it suspiciously. It was huge, it could seize her with a strength she could not break and she had not survived five and a half years on the streets by walking close to grabbing hands. But he didn't clutch at her. The hand just stayed, palm down, motionless, a couple of cat steps in front of her, seemingly unthreatening.
The cat paused. Then she lunged. The leap brought her beyond the hand, halfway up the forearm. The human did not move. He did not even twitch when she used her claws to secure the hold.
"Really smart," the low voice said. Hot breath tickling her whiskers, the cat sniffed carefully. Not hungry. Maybe it was indeed safe to approach further.
She made a tentative step, then another one. Then she crossed the rest of the distance with another leap and crouched on his shoulder.
The silver eyes didn't change. Though easily within reach of her claws now, there was neither aggression nor fear detectable in them. The same went for the rest of the stranger. She relaxed slightly and sat down, swaying gently in the steady rhythm of his breath.
He was different from any human she knew and the cat decided that – just for a sliver of the night – she could like him. Gingerly she rubbed her cheek to his head. He turned at her and she could see his mouth move a little bit, but no teeth were showing, so probably it was not a threat.
They waited together, in amiable silence, the man and the cat on his shoulder, the image of a long-forgotten deity. The cat waited for the time when the human hubbub would die down, when the hunt was safe again. She could not guess what the man was waiting for, but they were holding the perfect vantage point to watch the dark alley and wait for a time when prey was plenty and foes were few.
oo oo oo oo oo oo
Outside the alley the streets were emptying, when a couple of human steps didn't pass the dingy passage but stepped inside. The cat could find nothing remarkable in them. Sure, they would pass a little closer than the rest but still safely down on the ground.
Nonetheless, beneath her paws the cat could feel thick muscles tense, the crouch deepened. Alarmed she tensed as well. Ready to pounce, that was the only parallel the cat could think of, yet humans didn't act like this. Cats might swoop down from a roof but never humans.
And then, he leaped. It took her completely by surprise. Screeching in fear and rage, she jumped clear, choosing the nearest spot to land that looked reasonably soft. One of the faces turned up by her screech.
She didn't make it. Momentum carried her on, even with all claws dug in as far as they went. The human squealed and she skipped again, landing on a dumpster, to whip round hissing.
The human she had landed on, had slumped to the ground, still squealing and the noise grated on her nerves, but out of the game. Another was lying very still in a growing puddle of blood; the third hung limply, nailed to a wall by the hand around its throat, feet dangling.
The cat had only very vague notions about the way humans behaved among themselves but she recognized the scene nevertheless. Toying with the mouse before the killing bite. The shiny eyes swept over her for a moment and she spat and crouched subsequently – making it clear that she would be no easy prey but had no interest in stealing his, either.
His mouth moved again, then he turned back to the human in his grip. It made gurgling noises.
"Huh, what was that? Can't understand you, Cliffie," the low voice drawled. "You want to know, who the lady is? Never asked for her name, you know. She's an alley cat, just like me, and like all alley cats she doesn't like nosey people." The drawl became a growl that made the cat flatten her ears though it was a few meters away and directed the other way. "Which is why I came to your 'discreet little hotel', as you call this sorry place. And now I'm really disappointed to find some mercs lurking in front of it. Misleading advertisement I'd call that. Maybe a change in management is in order." For some reason the prey started struggling at this point though the voice became softer. "Yes, I think it is."
It puzzled the cat a little bit, how the other human had known for long seconds that death was about to come, when she couldn't detect the killing slash until the arm began to move. A human thing, likely. A fast strike to the spine and the thrashing ceased. The killer dropped his prey, seized the whimpering human that had tried to crawl away blindly, and broke its neck with a fierce jerk. Then he wiped his weapon clean and, after the silver eyes had locked for a last time with the golden ones in the shadow, he left.
oo oo oo oo oo oo
The cat waited until he was well and truly gone, then she jumped from the dumpster to lap up the warm blood.