Tim has been lounging in the same position since he'd arrived at the institute about half an hour prior, leaning back in his chair with his legs crossed and propped up on the surface of his desk. It’s a display of unprofessionalism he wouldn't have made before everything in his life had really started going to shit, but at this point it’s honestly the least he could do to make it clear that he has no respect for the Institute and most of the people in it. In fact, he’s technically putting in more effort than what had become typical of him by showing up relatively close to when he was supposed to that morning- which only makes the elephant in the room (or lack thereof?) that much more obvious.
He isn't sure if Jon is still the first of them to arrive every morning, but he knows he was almost always there whenever Tim dragged himself into the archives. So the fact that he’s still nowhere to be found so late into the morning is… Well, Tim isn't so much concerned as he is annoyed. Not that he isn't also somewhat on edge. It was clear that no one was expecting Jon's absence and the tension in the air is frustratingly contagious. Martin has been clicking his pen idly for the last 15 minutes, only pausing to glance at the door to the archives at random intervals before sighing and returning to his clicking with renewed vigor. Basira had walked by a couple of times now, arms loaded with statements and who-cares-what-else. Both times she glanced at Jon's door, then to Martin, and huffed pointedly before continuing on her way. It’s amazing that even when Jon isn't present he still manages to make his day more excruciating.
"Martin." He tries to keep his tone from being too sharp, he really does. Evidently he didn't do a great job, because Martin lurches in his seat and sends the pen rocketing across the room.
"Oh! Oh, no, that's… Just a sec?" Martin chuckles, but it’s breathy, nervous. He hurries off to retrieve his pen, and Tim’s gaze follows him the whole way. “Jeez, I was probably starting to really get on your nerves, huh?”
“...Nah, you’re fine,” Tim lies, raising a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “I’m guessing you haven’t heard anything from monster boss today?”
“Ha,” Martin looks away, probably at least partly to hide the growing flush on his cheeks. He shoves the pen into a pocket in his trousers, ridding himself of the temptation to keep clicking it. “Glad to see what’s on my mind is that obvious.”
“Maybe I’m just picking up on it ‘cause I know you so well,” Tim suggests, almost forgetting to add a wink that he hopes came off as playful and disarming. Martin scoffs in reply, but he can tell that at least some of the tension in his shoulders seeps away with Tim’s efforts. It’s not quite as natural as it used to be, back when banter with his coworkers was a staple of his time at work that he actually looked forward to. Back when he considered any of them to be friends.
"Anyway!" Martin is sat at his desk again, and Tim manages a smile for him. "I'm sure I'm worrying over nothing. I mean, what are the chances he's been… I don't know, kidnapped again, or something?"
Tim hums, noncommital.
"Who knows. Seems to have a knack for getting himself into trouble, that one."
"Yeah, yeah, you're… You're not wrong." Martin starts fiddling with a button on his shirtsleeve, and Tim’s feeling a little bad about getting annoyed earlier when he was so visibly stressed.
"...But," he replies, "He's probably fine. Could be out for any number of reasons."
"Yeah. Might just have a cold or something.”
They lapse back into a silence that’s only minimally awkward. Tim considers doing some sort of actual work, but is honestly at a bit of a loss about what he can do. Martin at least seems to be keeping himself busy. When did it get so hard to talk to him? Well. Tim did have a pretty solid answer to that one, but in a moment of socially-starved desperation he forces himself to remember that Martin, at least, is a victim in this just as much as he is.
"Hey, Martin, I know that things have been… Well, you know how things have been," Martin is staring at him with wide eyes that look somewhere between panicked and so damn hopeful it makes his heart ache, and he clears his throat before continuing, "But I was thinking, maybe we can find some time to…"
If ever there was a perfect moment for the door to the archives to be flung open to reveal their rain-soaked head archivist standing before it with wild eyes and wilder hair, that sure wasn't it. Jon's gaze flicks between each of his assistants in turn, and when it lands on him the look of utter contempt he finds is enough to make him flinch and avert his eyes. He opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it, opens it again. Finally, his jaw snaps shut with an audible click and he ducks his head to avoid meeting the eyes of anyone else as he hurries into his office. The door shuts behind him quickly, but he’s careful not to slam it. The archives return to silence.
"...Well," Martin is the first to break the spell, "At least he hasn't been kidnapped?"
Basira huffs from her carefully organized workspace, not bothering to add anything else before returning to whatever task she'd been in the middle of. Tim’s pretty sure he hears Melanie grumble a snappish "if only," but no one presses the issue any further. Tim… Is livid.
He isn't completely sure why, but that’s getting more and more commonplace. He has no reason to care if Jon is late to work, but it isn't what any of them expect from him and that means that he could have been up to all manner of dreadful things. His dramatic entrance and lack of explanation only added to Tim's suspicious. And... Well, the fact that he'd made Martin worry didn't work in his favor, either.
"Was it even raining out there?" As everyone contemplates Basira's question, they’re interrupted yet again by a sudden crash and a muffled "shit" from Jon's office.
Before he's even decided to take any sort of action, Tim finds himself striding purposefully over to Jon's door. He’s obviously up to something , and even though he clearly wants to keep everyone in the dark like he always did Tim isn't having it.
Obviously he doesn't knock. And fortunately, the door is unlocked when he turns the handle. What he really isn't prepared for when he enters, though, is for Jon to be kneeling on the floor in the corner of the room peering frantically behind a bookcase.
"What in the hell are you doing?"
"Ah! Tim!" Astute observation. "Close the door, dammit!"
Tim's eyebrows shoot up towards his hair, but he does just that. And as soon as he processes that he'd been snapped at, the anger he'd lost track of in his confusion bubbles right back up to the surface.
"Do I need to ask you again, or are you going to give me a straightforward answer for once?" He snaps right back, barely processing the fact that the question ended in what could easily be described as a growl.
"What?" Jon turns to face him again, brow furrowed in obvious confusion. When he meets his eyes for the second time that day, he freezes at the intensity he sees in them. His own eyes flick toward the door, and Tim realizes that he’s regretting his decision to demand that he shut them into the small room together. He can practically (literally?) smell the fear in the air as Jon processes his position, and it sends a sadistic shiver through him. "Tim, I was just…"
"Just what, boss? When are you ever just doing anything?"
"Tim, that doesn't–”
"You're always hiding something, Jon, and one of these days it's really going to screw the rest of us over. You're just as dangerous as any other–"
Jon winces, and Tim's tirade lurches to a premature halt. He gapes at the spot the sound came from, and a tiny black face with the widest green eyes stares unblinkingly back at him.
"I, uh… Jon. Is that, yours?"
Jon doesn't answer immediately, instead opting to lean forward and scoop the little thing into his arms with a whispered “hush, now, it’s alright.” He rubs his thumb over its head until the cat (is it a kitten? It’s so small…) closes its eyes and starts purring, utterly content.
"It's, ah, not mine," he answers, finally. "As far as I know it's not anyone's, but it's so well behaved that it may have just escaped from some loving home, and, well… I'm not sure."
"So you found a stray cat on your way to work and decided the best course of action was to bring it into the archives?"
"Well, when you say it like that!" With the way Jon's bristling, he seems even more cat-like than the slumbering creature in his arms. "I was running late because I had to catch the poor thing, and by the time I did… I didn’t have much choice!”
“Alright, well, we can’t just keep it here,” Tim steps forward, trying to get a better look at the little cat that had caused his boss so much trouble. Jon reflexively jerks away as Tim gets closer, clutching the cat closer to his chest and casting a suspicious glare in his direction. Tim falters, not at all ready for that reaction.
“What do you suggest we do with it, then?” Jon’s speaks slowly, and Tim takes a moment to wonder why he sounds so damn accusatory. There’s no way… Jon doesn’t think he’s going to hurt the cat, does he? But after watching the way Jon is shielding the poor thing, the way his eyes never leave his face as if he’s waiting for a change to indicate the other shoe has dropped… The worst part is, he understands where the fear is coming from. He feels more than just Jon’s fear, now; the tension in his limbs and the determined set of his jaw make it clear that he’s ready to run if he has to, and the anticipation is making his head swim. All he would have to do is take another step forward, and then…
Tim takes a breath. And then he takes a step back.
“I dunno, boss,” he replies, crouching down to place a hand on the dusty floor as he lowers himself to sit cross-legged across from Jon, “But I’m sure we can think of something. Do you do this sort of thing often?”
Seeing the tension slowly start to seep out of Jon’s form is… Relieving. He adopts a position similar to Tim’s, and the kitten has to resituate itself before promptly falling back asleep.
“Rescuing strays, or sneaking them into the Institute?” Jon chuckles softly, and Tim can’t help but to smile back at him, if only for a moment. “Not either, if I’m being honest. It was more of a spur of the moment decision.”
“Right. And I'm guessing this spur of the moment decision has something to do with why you're soaking wet?" Tim raises an eyebrow, looking Jon over again and quietly reveling in his obvious embarrassment.
"It’s not like it was my fault , Tim,” Jon huffs, “It was on a bridge when I first saw it, one I walk by every morning... And you see, there was a car driving by that startled it and when it fell into the ditch I couldn’t just–”
“Wait, wait!” Tim is grinning, trying not to start openly laughing as his boss grows more and more distressed, “So you jumped into a ditch to save a lost kitten?”
“I didn’t jump in!” Jon’s tone is perfectly stern but Tim can see him fighting the smile forming on his face, “I’ll have you know that I waded into the water like any rational person.”
“And yet you’re soaked head to toe, boss.”
“Because I fell too, obviously!”
Neither of them can keep themselves from laughing anymore. Tim is the first to lose his composure, and Jon tries to maintain his own for a moment more before a single snort opens the floodgates. His eyes close and he halfheartedly covers his mouth with one hand, and, wow. Tim has never seen him laugh like that. His own laughter peters out into a lopsided grin as he watches Jon catch his breath, and it isn’t until their eyes meet again that he realizes he probably shouldn’t have been staring. Jon looks surprised, but instead of snapping at him, or running away, or any number of other things, he just… Smiles back at him. A bit awkwardly, mind you, and he turns away after a moment with another soft chuckle. It seems like he wants to say something else, not that Tim could even begin to guess what it might be, but the kitten in his arms takes their silence as an opportunity to let loose another plaintive mewl.
“Mm. You should probably go dry off a bit, Jon.”
“What?” Jon whips his head up to face him again, looking somehow even more flustered than before. “Oh! Yes, you’re right. Absolutely.”
“It’s too bad you probably don’t have anything you could change into, but at least–”
“No, ah, I do.”
“You do?” Tim tilts his head fractionally to the side, “...Why?”
“Why?” Jon echoes, “Because– Because you never know when you might end up needing that sort of thing, clearly! And it’s evident now that I was right to be thinking ahead.”
“Sure is. And now that we’ve established how totally right and not paranoid you are, are you going to actually change out of your sopping wet clothes?”
Jon inhales at this, rather sharply. He stumbles over his words for a moment, and Tim can’t fathom why he looks so aghast until he realizes how his own words may have been misconstrued.
“...In the bathroom, Jon,” he clarifies, raising an eyebrow as dramatically as possible. “I can watch the cat while you’re gone.”
“Right! Of course, yes, I think,” Jon clears his throat, rising carefully to his feet with the kitten cradled in his arms before continuing, “I think that would be for the best. I’ll just be a moment, but…”
He pauses, again. Tim decides to stand as well, and Jon’s eyes follow his ascent until he’s staring up at Tim, uncertainly. The kitten, awake now but surprisingly calm despite everything going on around it, reaches in his direction with one black paw and yawns. Jon chuckles fondly, but Tim can’t shake the feeling that he’s still nervous.
“It’ll be fine,” he assures him, as gently as he can manage. “You’ll only be gone for a few minutes anyway, yeah?”
“...Yes,” he agrees, and slowly transfers the kitten into Tim’s arms. “I know. I’ll, ah… Be right back.”
Jon hurries over to his desk, pulling a clean set of clothes out of one of the drawers before slipping out of the office. As soon as he’s alone, Tim lets out a weary sigh and looks down at the kitten in his arms. It’s small, but doesn’t look as young as he initially assumed. Its long, black fur is damp and sticking out in every which way and Tim hopes that Jon will bring some towels from the bathroom when he returns.
“You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble, haven’t you?” The kitten doesn’t respond beyond blinking slowly back at him, and he hums and scratches it behind the ear. “But it’s alright, I don’t think anyone’s going to hold it against you. Especially if you look at them like that.”
Tim makes his way over to Jon’s desk, careful to not spook the kitten as he sits down in his creaky office chair. Once he’s settled he sets it down on the surface of the desk, smiling when it makes itself comfortable and starts licking at its messy fur.
“Hmm. I’m not sure what Jon’s planning on doing with you once he has a moment to stop freaking out, but it wouldn’t hurt to give you a name. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the honor of naming a cat before,” he informs the kitten who doesn’t bother pausing its grooming to reply. “So, I’m not really sure what proper protocol is. I had a dog, growing up– And wow, he had a silly name. Barkules, I think, like Hercules but–” The kitten meows at him, a little sound that’s closer to a chirp than anything. “I know! I told you it was bad, but Danny was the one who named it. See, he was never the funny one, but in his defense he was just a little kid and we were really into Greek mythology at the time! So I hope you’ll find it in you to forgive him.”
The kitten meows (chirps?) at him again and strides forward to press its tiny head into the palm of his hand. Tim laughs, leaning forward until his chin is resting on the desk and the kitten can can bump affectionately into his face.
“Oh, you’re a sweet one. Alright, let’s see if we can think of something in the same spirit…” He strokes its black fur thoughtfully as he thinks and is absolutely thrilled when it starts purring again. “How’s about… Mewpiter? I know, Jupiter is Roman, not Greek. But it has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
Tim is fully engrossed in snuggling the newly named kitten when the office door opens with a quiet click. Jon is wearing a fresh button down and slacks, and his wet clothes have been stuffed into a grocery bag he’s holding loosely at his side. His hair, while still clearly damp, has been tamed and forced into a loose bun. He takes in the scene before him for a minute, and Tim ignores the fluttering he feels when a subtle smile forms on his lips.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” he says as he closes the door behind him, “But I did bring something I thought might be some help.”
Tim exhales dramatically in relief as Jon hold out a roll of paper towels that he’d had lodged under his arm, gladly tearing off a few sheets to start drying off their new friend.
“Did I miss anything?”
“Oh, not much. I did name him though, I hope you don’t mind.”
“O-oh?” Jon replies, and Tim frowns when he sees the smile on his face falter. “That was… Fast.”
“Yeah? What, had you already given him a name?” Jon only shrugs halfheartedly. “Well, come on then, what’d you name him?”
“The… The Lieutenant.”
“Lieutenant?” Tim blinks. “Lieutenant what?”
“No, just– The Lieutenant.” Jon is starting to look flustered again.
“...Well, I have to say I think my name is better.” Tim replies, ignoring Jon’s affronted gaping. “I’m calling him Mewpiter.”
“Mew… What?” Jon balks, “Is that a pun ?”
“What, you’re too good to appreciate a pun?”
“No! Tim, don’t be an ass, I–”
“You could just use both, you know.” Both of them jump as Basira’s muffled voice comes through the door. They share a quick pained look when they realize that their conversation had certainly gotten loud enough to be heard from outside, and then Jon whips around to face the entrance to his office. As he swings the door open, he’s mortified to be greeted by the rest of the archival staff, standing right outside.
“Sorry!” Martin chuckles, and at least he has the decency to look a bit ashamed about their snooping. “It’s just that, since you both came up with names… Well, Lieutenant Mewpiter sounds pretty cute, doesn’t it?”
Melanie snorts but doesn’t disagree, and Basira just gives them a look that says they were being dense by not coming to that conclusion themselves. Daisy, who Tim hadn’t even realized was in the archives before this point just nods along at the suggestion.
“...Yes,” Jon replies, tone perfectly measured. “That seems like a reasonable solution. Now, Martin, if you have a moment could you please help me find something we can feed to the poor thing? I’m sure he’s much more interested in that than in whatever we decide we want to call him.”
“Oh! Yes, of course!” Martin agrees, and the two make their way briskly out of the archives. Tim can hear Martin whispering questions at Jon the whole way, and Tim rolls his eyes fondly. He wonders again about what Jon is planning to do with their kitten, but after all the fuss that went into naming him he can’t imagine he plans to send him to a shelter. Ah, well. He’ll just have to talk to Jon again when he gets back, and… The idea isn’t nearly as appalling as it could be. Huh.