Ren purrs, scrabbling for my earlobe as we lay in bed. He latches on and begins to suckle fiercely, as though it’s the first meal he’s had in weeks.

“You’re such a messy eater,” I mutter as drool covers his chin, my neck. “You’re like a drunken prom date.” I keep telling him he’s never going to get anything from there, but he doesn’t listen. Instead, he eventually tumbles into a half sleep, suckling softly and purring—up, down, up, down, the deep, throaty rattle reverberating in my chest. My heart relaxes so fiercely that it hurts, like your lower back when you lay down after sitting in a stiff chair all day.

“I would have never been that messy when I ate,” Stan says, curled around my wrist and smiling sleepily.

“No, you were worse,” I grin. “You pretended to eat. Not just lick the bowl, but eat. You’d lean over your empty dish and pretend to crunch on little kibbles. It was the saddest god damn thing I ever saw.”

Stan shrugged, and I adjusted him a little so I could hold Ren’s hind feet—he never bothered tucking them under himself on his own. I paused, looking down at Stan.

“You’ll always have a special place for me, you know…” I lift him to my face, smelling old leather and bitter metal and his strange, unique musk. Again, my heartbeat slows. My blood pressure drops even as the tears well up.

“Of course I will,” he smirks, eyes half-closed, “I’ll always be your first—your only. No one can take that away from me. Or you.”

I nod, fingering the steel spikes, the clasp, the holes punched through the end.

Ren wakes up, and begins to gnaw on Stan. Neither of us mind, so long as he doesn’t make any new holes. He was already looking rough when he was new.

 

Later, Ren grows bored and mewls at me pitifully from the top of his tiny lungs. It sounds like a doll screaming.

“He’s hungry,” Stan says, and I nod irritably.

“I know that. I had you, didn’t I? You were always hungry—damn near ate me out of house and home.”

I walk to the bedroom and begin to look for Ren’s food. He had knocked his bowl down off the dresser, a few husked crumbles of wet food stuck to the inside. I’ll wash it later.

Rifling through the closet for a spare food bowl, I find Runty. It’s a bit of a shock—I haven’t seen him in a few weeks.

“He’s almost as dumb as I am, sometimes.” He grins widely, ears laying flat against his skull. “That running into the plastic bag pile—that’s cute.” His nose turns up a little. “Not as cute as me, though.”

“No,” I say, moving him to inside his kennel. He jingles slightly as I move him, but doesn’t otherwise protest. He smells not like leather, but yeast. Like his sickness. He sounded like love.

“No, but then again, Ren doesn’t eat tape dispensers.”

Runty pouts as I close the cage. “I liked the texture. And it cracked and smelled good and stuck to my teeth.” I pull the spare food bowl down from the shelf, and look at him through the wire gate.

“I know, Baby Bear, I know.” I smile, and gently shut the closet door.

“I know.”