“Martin,” Jon called from his office.
Martin peeked into Jon’s office, and Jon handed him a few pieces of paper. He looked stressed, as always.
“I need you to check this book in Artefact Storage for similarities with this statement.”
Martin read over the Artefact Request Form and sighed. He didn’t like Artefact Storage very much, but Jon needed his help.
He got the book from Artefact Storage, no problem. It appeared to be a manga, and Martin started to leaf through the pages idly. Surely it wasn’t dangerous, if Jon had sent him down to read it. Still, it made him feel oddly itchy. Once he’d read a few pages, he checked the spine.
The book was titled: “Leitner That Makes You A Catboy.”
“Well,” Martin said as he stood outside the door to the Archives. “I’m sure that will be fine.”
He dropped it off at Jon’s desk.
“Thank you, Martin,” Jon said, even giving Martin a smile. It was small and awkward, but it sent giddy spirals through Martin’s heart nonetheless.
The rest of the day passed without incident, but “Leitner That Makes You A Catboy” prickled at the edge of Martin’s mind. It wasn’t a Leitner (there was no bookplate), and it hadn’t made Martin a catboy. So it was fine. No need to keep dwelling on it, except for how weird it was that the Institute had a manga in Artifact Storage.
Martin went out to an Indian place down the street for dinner, and when he came back, was disappointed to find Jon still there, working.
“Jon,” Martin said lightly, knocking on Jon’s door. “Go home and get some sleep.”
“Mmm hmm,” Jon hummed absentmindedly, in the tone Martin had learned to translate to “I am not going home or getting sleep.”
“Jon,” Martin said more firmly. “I swear I will carry you out of these Archives.”
Jon glanced up at him, irritated. “I’d like to see you try.”
Martin laughed and raised an eyebrow. “Would you?”
Jon glanced up again, but this time didn’t glance back down. “Martin, I’ll be done when I’m done.”
Martin strode over to the desk and picked Jon up into a bridal carry. Jon squeaked in surprised indignation.
“No more work for tonight,” Martin said sternly.
“I, ah.” Jon’s face was quickly flooding with red. “R-right. Um. Okay. I’ll go home.”
Martin set Jon back down on the chair. “All right. I’m going to bed. Good night, Jon.”
“Good night,” Jon muttered.
Martin woke up, yawned, stretched, and padded out of Document Storage. He peeked in to the Archives, and sure enough, Jon was snoring on his desk. His hair was an absolute rat’s nest, spiking up into two peaks. Martin smiled fondly as he left to grab some cereal.
When he came back to the Archives, Jon was still asleep and still snoring. It wasn’t typical snoring—Jon was rumbling like a motorcycle. Martin walked over to Jon and softly set a hand on his shoulder. He’d learned a lot of things about Jon since moving into the Archives, one of which being that Jon liked touch but would never in a million years ask for it. He did his best to give Jon little touches.
On one hand, Jon needed his sleep. On the other, his spine must be killing him.
It was pretty early—maybe Jon could still get some more sleep on the cot. Carefully, trying not to wake him, Martin gently lifted Jon into his arms. Jon nuzzled almost affectionately into his arm, continuing that rumbling snore.
Something brushed his leg, and Martin jumped and tried not to scream. He glanced about desperately for worms, but found none. What he did see, though, was something soft flicking against his thigh.
Martin was frozen with Jon in his arms. What was he supposed to do? What was that?
He slowly, very slowly, set Jon down on the floor. He was starting to wake up now, eyelids flickering open, and he made a little noise of protest as Martin’s arms left.
“Martin?” he muttered. “W’re ‘m I?”
All Martin could do was stare as he took a closer look at Jon. His breath hitched in his throat as he scanned the top of Jon’s head.
Cat ears. What he had mistaken for tufts of hair were cat ears.
His eyes traced downward, and he saw that Jon had a tail. An actual fluffy tail that curled cozily around his leg.
“What the fuck,” Martin breathed.
He remembered “Leitner That Makes You A Catboy.” Oh no. Jon was a catboy now.
It wasn’t fair. It especially wasn’t fair that Jon’s little ears were, frankly, adorable. They were fluffy and grey like the tail, and Martin desperately wanted to touch them.
Jon’s eyes finally opened, and he pushed himself into a sitting position.
“Why am I on the floor, Martin?” he snapped.
“Um,” Martin squeaked.
Jon glared up at him, ears flat against his head. “Martin. I was at my desk. Why am I on the floor.”
“So, ah,” Martin stammered “I was gonna carry you to the cot to save your spine, but...well.”
He gestured to Jon. Jon stared back uncomprehendingly.
“You have ears,” Martin blurted.
“Ah, yes,” Jon replied waspishly as he stood up. “I have ears. Any other revelations you’d like to share regarding basic human features?”
“Jon,” Martin said. “I don’t mean—you didn’t read that Leitner I gave you, did you?”
“Leitner?” Jon demanded. “What do you mean?”
“The catboy manga.”
Jon’s tail twitched. How hadn’t he noticed it yet? Was Jon really that oblivious?
“I didn’t realize it was a Leitner,” Jon said. “I thought Tim had just left me a manga. Yes, I read it.”
“You read a book entitled ‘Leitner That Makes You A Catboy,’” Martin said flatly.
“Well,” Jon scoffed, “it’s not like it made me a—” He froze as his flicking tail brushed his leg. He looked down to see it, and a frantic hand leapt up to brush his head. “Oh, no.”
“I-it’s not all bad!” Martin rushed to console him. “I mean, as far as Leitners go, you got off pretty easy!”
Jon ran out of the room, tail waving in his wake. Martin hesitated before following. Jon banged through the door of the bathroom and stared in horror at his reflection in the mirror. He reached a hand up and tentatively ran a finger over his new ears.
“Well,” Jon said, “this...isn’t ideal.”
Martin privately disagreed.
“What do we do now?” he asked.
Jon straightened his button-up. “Back to work, I suppose. I see no reason why this should impede my work in any way, and I really should find a way to reverse it, so...I’ll go over any statements regarding this Leitner.”
“You are incredibly calm about this,” Martin remarked.
“There’s not much to panic about,” Jon said. “At least I’m not a spider person.”
“Can I, ah,” Martin asked, “can I touch them? The ears?”
Jon whirled around, ears flat in aggression.
“No,” he hissed, and Martin realized his canines were needle-sharp.
Martin put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, okay. Just curious.”
“Take your curiosity somewhere else,” Jon snapped. His tail flicked in irritation. “For instance, it could be more productively used helping me find a solution.”
“Agreed,” Martin replied quickly. “Should we...bring in the others?”
Jon sighed. “I suppose we really ought to. Though I shudder to think of the comments Tim will make. I would prefer to keep Elias out of this, though.”
“Because you don’t want him to know you accidentally read a Leitner?”
Jon scowled and didn’t respond.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Tim said gleefully. “Or no, wait, you’ve got to be kitten me.”
Jon frowned at him. “Tim, it’s already been a very long day without your comments. I need your help, not your mockery.”
“I’m gonna help,” Tim promised. “But first I need some time to take this in. You’ve got adorable widdle ears, Jon!”
Jon’s frown deepened.
“They are adorable,” Sasha sighed. “I just wanna…” She reached out a hand, then quickly withdrew it at Jon’s glare.
Jon’s tail started higher on his spine than Martin would have expected, so they fortunately didn’t have to cut a hole in his pants or something. His tail was free to wave and wiggle, and it emoted far more than his face. Martin found it fascinating.
“I need to find a way to reverse this,” Jon stressed. “I was hoping you could help me.”
“Okay,” Sasha said, “but first we need data.”
“Data?” Jon questioned.
Sasha produced a notebook. “On what cat traits you’ve adopted. First: ears and tail. Pretty obvious.”
“And teeth,” Martin supplemented. “Sharp canines.”
“What about behaviors?” Tim asked. “Have you pushed any glasses off counters? Any cravings for salmon?”
“What happens if someone touches the ears?” Sasha asked. “Do you purr?”
“He was purring when he was sleeping earlier,” Martin told her.
Jon blushed furiously.
“I do think we need data on the ears,” Sasha said. “To help us determine if they’re merely cosmetic or are complex enough to feel sensation.”
“Fine,” Jon grumbled. “I suppose one of you can touch them.”
“I’ll do it,” Martin volunteered.
Tim and Sasha nodded, both suppressing a snicker.
Martin hovered a hand over Jon’s head. “Just tell me if you’re uncomfortable, okay?”
Jon gave a jerky nod, and Martin settled a hand on the top of his head. He started gently scratching behind on of Jon’s ears.
The response was instantaneous. Jon’s eyelids fluttered, and he nudged his head into Martin’s palm. A slow purr started swelling from his chest, and Martin noticed the eternal tension start to leave his shoulders. It didn’t last long, though. Jon’s eyes snapped open as he remembered himself, and he batted Martin’s hand away in an extraordinarily catlike gesture.
“I think that’s quite enough,” he said.
Sasha scribbled furiously in her notebook.
Jon sighed and ran a hand over his face. Martin awkwardly put his hands in his pockets. Jon had looked so relaxed a moment ago—maybe he’d let Martin do it again at some point. Martin longed to banish that eternal tension for good.
Not that Jon would ever let him. Martin felt the odd urge to laugh. Really, Jon was already very much a cat—longed for touch but wouldn’t ask for it, snappy yet soft, sometimes knocked things off desks and just stared at them. The ears and tail were just the icing on the cake.