When Jon returns from his Wednesday meeting with Elias to find Tim and Sasha huddled in a corner of the break room, cooing over what appears to be a stray cat, the first words to come out of Jon’s mouth are, “We're not keeping it.”
“I didn’t even say anything!” Tim protests, in a theatrically affronted manner, with an expression that suggests Jon has slandered him unjustly. His words are belied by the way he immediately hugs the bedraggled cat more securely against his chest. It’s quite a feat, considering the cat looks like it weighs more than Tim does. Tim's admittedly impressive arms are trembling slightly under the strain, but the cat is clinging around his neck in a way that makes Jon question whether putting it down is even an option.
“You were just complaining about mice in the archives.” says Sasha, in a cajoling sort of way, as she scratches the ginger tom behind one tufted ear. He really is a sizable specimen. He’s fat and freckled and slightly humidity-frizzy, with a mop of curly hair and a voluminous featherduster of a tail that looks a bit worse for wear from today’s drizzle. Also, it seems someone's put glasses on him, for some reason. What, were they expecting him to entertain himself with some light reading?
(He's also looking up at Jon with wide, watery eyes that are making Jon feel extremely manipulated.)
“The mouse problem can easily be solved with poison.” Jon replies, in his best attempt at a level, reasonable tone of voice. “Which I have already put down.”
Tim’s eyes widen with alarm. “Oh, shit, we should go pick that up, shouldn't we-”
“No! We shouldn't! Because we're not keeping him!”
“Ha! You said 'him' that time!” Sasha crows, pointing a triumphant finger in Jon’s face. Jon waves her hand away.
“Do we know it's a him?” says Tim, glancing down as if to check. The angle of the bridal carry and the generous amount of primordial pouch on display both obscure Tim’s view of the relevant parts, so Sasha reaches over to pull the cat’s tail aside and take a look from underneath, resulting in a startled yap of protest from the cat.
“Yeah, looks like it. He’s a big boy.”
Jon rubs his temple. “Wonderful. That's all we need. An un-neutered male cat in an enclosed basement. You do realize we'll never get the smell out if he sprays.”
In perfect synchrony, Tim, Sasha, and the cat shoot Jon scandalized looks. Jon truly is beset from all sides.
“Oh, don’t listen to him.” Sasha coos to the cat, now ignoring Jon entirely in favor of putting her fingers into the cat’s hair to scratch his scalp. The cat’s eyelids flutter appreciatively, all earlier offense forgotten. “You wouldn't do that, would you, pumpkin?”
“We're not calling him pumpkin.” says Tim, as if that’s the topic currently up for debate. Jon feels that he is rapidly losing his grip on this conversation.
“Why not? He's round and orange.”
“So is a basketball. Or a grapefruit.”
“Those are all terrible names.” Jon is obliged to point out, as the sole voice of reason in this scenario.
Tim scoffs. “You’re one to talk. You'd probably call him Captain Fluffypants, or General Gingersnap, or something.”
“Of course not.” says Jon, completely reflexively, out of some misguided desire to defend his cat-naming honor. “Does he look like a military man to you? He’s clearly a member of the pampered nobility. A duke, or a marquess, or something. If we were going to name him. Which we are not. Because he’s not our cat.”
“He doesn’t look like a Duke. And Marquess sounds like a girl’s name.” says Sasha, who seems to have developed a case of selective deafness, where Jon is concerned. “Ooh, how about Martin? Like from that statement! 'A marten is an adorable wee bear.' That's just what he is."
“He's hardly 'wee.'” says Jon, since it’s apparently now his job to repeatedly state the obvious while Tim and Sasha resolutely ignore him. “Whoever he belongs to, he must have been eating them out of house and home.”
Is it Jon’s imagination, or did the cat just give him a miffed look?
“We probably should at least check if he’s chipped.” Tim sighs, like the idea physically pains him. “Doubt he is, though. God, I hate it when people just dump cats. Fucking arseholes.”
Jon’s opinion of Tim reluctantly ticks up another few notches. “Yes. Do that. And maybe put up a post on craigslist, or something. Look into local rescues. See if you can find somewhere to take him that isn’t a shelter.”
Jon already knows better than to suggest that Tim or Sasha take the cat home with them. He’s aware that Tim’s landlord doesn’t allow pets, and is also an insufferable snoop who is prone to dropping in for “friendly chats” at unexpected times, renter’s rights laws be damned. Jon is also aware that Sasha has an asthmatic flatmate with severe allergies. The reason he’s aware of these facts is because this is not the first time they’ve pitched the idea of an official archival animal mascot, to remedy this particular deficiency in their respective living situations.
...and now Tim and Sasha are smiling at Jon like he’s made some kind of concession. Jon scowls back at them, needled by the unspoken implication that he’s softening his stance on the subject of pets in the archives. He isn’t. He’s just showing a bit of common decency, is all. Jon may not want the cat here, but that doesn’t mean he wants the poor thing dead.
“Just to reiterate: we can keep him here for a few days, while you two find somewhere to take him.” says Jon, with as much authority as he can muster. “He can’t stay.”
The cat stays.
Jon knows what Tim and Sasha are doing. He’s not an idiot. He knows when he’s being played. Sasha diligently refreshes the craigslist post, and Tim always manages to be in the middle of a half-hearted phone call with an animal rescue whenever Jon is in earshot of the bullpen, but Jon knows they’re not giving it their all. Sasha probably has a list of people she could blackmail into taking the cat, if she cared to. And Tim isn’t even trying to pretend he’s not getting attached. Jon keeps walking in to find Tim sitting at his desk with the cat snuggled up on his lap, office chair creaking precariously under their combined weights. It’ll serve Tim right if the chair breaks and dumps them both on the floor.
Anyway, the point is: it’s outright insubordination. That’s what it is. And there’s nothing Jon can do about it, because his only recourse at this point would be to bring the subject up to Elias, and thus admit that Jon’s assistants have mutinied against him mere months after Jon’s promotion to Head Archivist. Jon can’t quite bring himself to go to such desperate lengths. Not yet, anyway.
Meanwhile, the cat entrenches himself steadily more deeply, and proceeds to prove Jon’s point about the infeasibility of pets in the archives by making an absolute bloody nuisance of himself. He distracts Tim and Sasha from their work, he trills incessantly for attention when bored, he always manages to be sleeping on top of whichever papers Jon needs at the moment, and he wails pitifully when left alone. Tim and Sasha are extremely distressed by the last fact, and have taken it upon themselves to keep the cat well-supplied with shirts, cardigans, and other miscellaneous clothing items, so he can at least have the comfort of their scent during the night.
Jon firmly vetoes the idea of leaving the cat a heating pad to cuddle with, on the grounds that it’s a fire hazard. He does, however, concede to heating up a hot water bottle in the break room microwave every night before he leaves. While the cat stares at Jon as though Jon has personally ordered him to be thrown to the wolves. Of course.
“I’m not leaving you my shirt.” Jon mutters, more to himself than the cat, as he tucks the hot water bottle into the pile of laundry on top of the folding cot in document storage that is currently serving as a cat bed. The cat makes a pathetic churbling noise in response. Interestingly enough, it looks like he’s managed to put on one of Sasha’s jumpers, which is just oversized enough on her to fit comfortably on him. Jon vaguely remembers Sasha saying she stole it from one of her ex boyfriends.
“I’m not. You have plenty. And I need this shirt. They won’t let me on the tube if I’m half-naked.” says Jon, quite reasonably, while avoiding eye contact. The cat grumbles. Jon can clearly envision the unimpressed look that is currently being directed at him. The cat still steps aside when Jon heads for the door, though, which is good, because it saves Jon the necessity of giving him a nudge. The cat tends to react to being gently pushed out of the way as though he’s been kicked like a football. (Which is unfortunate, considering how often he’s in the way.)
“Right. Well.” Jon flicks the light switch and moves to close the door. He doesn’t know why he even bothers; the cat will just open it again if he wants out. Maybe Jon closes the door because he hopes it will muffle the sound of what’s about to happen next. “...goodnight, Martin.”
Jon grits his teeth against the sound of a long, unhappy meow, and turns to leave.
As the months drag on, Jon slowly comes to terms with the cat situation. It’s not that he’s given up. He’s just...adjusting. Until someone can figure out a better long-term plan. They can hardly expect to keep a cat hidden in the basement indefinitely, after all. At some point, Elias is going to come down from his ivory tower to check up on them in person, and it’s going to take some quick manuevering to justify themselves, when that happens. It’s only a matter of time.
But, in the meantime, they’ve got a cat. A cat whose presence Jon continues to resent. As far as Jon is concerned, the best thing that can be said about Martin is that he’s house trained, and that he’s not the kind of cat that requires a litter box, thank God for small mercies. Despite Tim and Sasha’s jokes about Martin earning his keep, he never catches a single mouse, as far as Jon is aware. Martin does, however, occasionally insist on catching live spiders. Which he then deposits, whole and unharmed, on Jon’s desk, seemingly for the sole purpose of sending Jon into apoplexy each time it happens.
(Jon strongly suspects that Tim and Sasha consider this behavior a feature, not a bug. So to speak.)
Martin is also developing a habit of sipping Jon’s tea whenever Jon takes his eyes off it for more than a minute, no matter how much Jon shoos and scolds him. Jon eventually resorts to keeping a second cup of chamomile on the far end of his desk, as a begrudging gesture of appeasement. And also because he’s not sure if the caffeinated kind is safe for cats. This new routine has the unintentional side effect of ensuring that Jon becomes much more well-hydrated than usual, because Martin is apparently of the strong opinion that mugs of tea are meant to be both full and hot, and tends to express this sentiment by slowly scooting any unsatisfactory mug towards the edge of the desk, like he’s threatening to push it off. While maintaining unblinking eye contact. He hasn’t smashed a mug yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time.
And the worst part of the situation is, for some unfathomable reason, and despite Jon’s best attempts to persuade him otherwise, Martin has decided to become inordinately fond of Jon. Martin seems to instinctively sense that Jon, under any other circumstances, does consider himself a cat person, and has apparently made it his personal mission to bring Jon into his fold of worshipers. As if having Tim and Sasha wrapped around his little finger wasn’t enough for him.
(They really are spoiling him abominably. Sasha has started getting an extra order of summer rolls every time she orders Thai, purely because Martin enjoys the shrimp. Jon likes cats as much as the next person, but eating a pile of rice paper and vegetables with all the shrimp picked out of it - for the sake of a cat - is taking things a bit far, in his opinion.)
Anyway. The cat has made it his goal to sway Jon to his side. In service of this goal, Martin often claims Jon’s chair whenever Jon leaves it unattended for too long, and rumbles happily when Jon struggles to haul his bulky weight off of it, which usually ends up moving the chair more than it moves the cat. Jon is aware that Tim and Sasha usually coax Martin up with treats whenever he does this with their chairs, which is just irresponsible pet ownership, as far as Jon is concerned.
Jon, out of a sense of pure, mulish stubbornness, and also a desire to not reward bad behavior, eventually drags a second office chair out of storage, so he has the option to simply roll aside whichever chair is currently being commandeered by a recalcitrant beast. Jon isn’t sure whether this counts as a victory.
“I see what you’re doing.” says Jon, in his best attempt at a stern tone, as he scoots Martin out of the way for the fifth time today, like some ridiculous version of musical chairs. “I see what you’re doing, and I’m not falling for it. Your tricks won’t work on me.”
Martin just sprawls back a little further in the chair, with a completely unconcerned expression. He’s been doing that a lot, too. Rolling over and showing Jon his belly, like he's trying to tempt Jon into petting it. Jon tries to tell himself it’s nothing but a claw trap, but he knows that isn't true. He watched Tim bury his entire face in Martin’s primordial pouch the other day, and all Martin did was purr tolerantly. Jon has never actually had a cat that would let him do that. Not safely, at least. Touching the Admiral’s belly was always a bit of a Russian roulette.
“I am not going to give in.” says Jon, with an admonishing poke to Martin’s chest, resulting in a brief blip in the rhythm of his purring. “I’m still the boss. Not you. You don’t even know how to use Excel, do you. I didn’t think so.”
Martin purrs, and purrs, and purrs.
Elias is at least kind enough to give them a bit of advance warning before he deigns to show his face in the basement. The email arrives just after lunch, informing Jon that Elias would like to check in tomorrow morning, if it’s convenient. “Just to see how things are coming along.” Why he’s chosen now, of all times, to start caring about the state of the archives, when he apparently had no qualms about letting Gertrude run the place into the ground for decades, Jon has no idea. At any rate, it gives Jon just enough time to go through the five stages of grief, as he reaches the inevitable conclusion about what needs to be done.
“I don’t suppose one of you can..?” says Jon, in a very tired voice, because he already knows what the answer is going to be.
“Sorry, boss. No can do.” says Tim, with the world’s most unrepentant grin.
“I’m pretty sure Martin would put my roommate in the hospital. I already have to change my clothes and shower when I get home, to keep from contaminating the rest of the house.” says Sasha, with a solemn shake of her head. “Looks like you’re going to have to take one for the team.”
Jon pinches the bridge of his nose. “How am I even going to get him home? I suppose I could call an uber, just this once, but he should probably have some sort of…”
“Oh, don’t worry.” says Sasha, opening one of her desk drawers and rifling through the controlled chaos within. “I bought him a harness ages ago.”
“...right. Of course you did.”
So that’s how, after a somewhat hair-raising trip through London, Jon ends up with a very large cat tip-toeing his way around Jon’s flat, ears twitching nervously, tail puffed out like he’s expecting to be set upon by ruffians at any second. Martin makes a thorough examination of the living room doorway, steps carefully over the threshold, and then, to Jon’s complete lack of surprise, immediately identifies the part of the couch where Jon customarily sits. Jon bites back the urge to shoo him off. It’s a good sign that Martin is calm enough to explore, instead of immediately darting off to hide, Jon tells himself. Jon had been worried that the journey might be a bit hard on him.
Martin gently pats the couch cushion, like he’s checking for land mines. Then he cautiously lowers himself to sit. When he tucks his legs under himself, leaning against the arm of the couch in much the same way that Jon likes to do, and slowly begins to relax, Jon isn’t sure whether he wants to smile or swear.
“Don’t get used to it.” says Jon. He’s trying to sound forbidding, but he mostly just sounds resigned. “This is a temporary solution.”
Martin, who seems very engrossed in the task of meticulously sniffing Jon’s couch blanket, ignores him. Jon sighs, digs out his phone, and begins tapping out an online order for his favorite sushi place, because if this is going to be Jon’s life, he might as well splurge on something nice to soften the blow. He makes sure to get an extra order of sashimi, because raw salmon, in moderation, is supposed to be healthy for cats, and Jon has never entirely trusted commercial pet food.
Later on, when they’re both full of fish and rice and feeling thoroughly exhausted from the day’s events, Jon turns on the living room TV, sits down on the couch, and surrenders to the inevitable. He leans back, holds his hands up in a “well, go on, then” sort of way, and allows his lap to be conquered by an enormous amount of heavy, purring, ecstatically squirming Martin.
“Well. I hope you’re happy.” Jon murmurs, as he strokes his hands up and down a soft, freckly, slightly vibrating expanse of chest and belly. “You’ve bullied me into it. This is all your fault, you know.”
Jon removes one of his hands, smiling wryly at the small noise of protest that earns him, and grabs the remote. As Jon starts to flick through the channels, Martin communicates, through a series of burbles and grumbles and hums, that he is not interested in catching up on the news, but a nature documentary would be acceptable. Jon briefly wonders if he cares enough to go through the motions of informing Martin that he will not be sleeping in Jon’s bed tonight. Instead, he tugs a blanket over them both, relaxes back, closes his eyes, and listens to the soothing sound of David Attenborough teaching them about sea turtles.
The next morning, when Jon wakes up with a very large, very warm cat sprawled face-down on top of his chest, he takes a moment to question how his life has spiralled so thoroughly out of his control.
Jon hears the trilling start before he even opens the door. As he fumbles for his keys, stubbornly trying to fish them out of his pocket without setting down any of his grocery bags, he wonders, not for the first time, what his neighbors must think of him. Martin isn’t excessively vocal, as far as cats go, but Jon is certain that whoever lives on either side of him must be able to pinpoint the exact moment Jon gets home every evening, as a result of the fanfare Martin insists on providing each time.
“Yes, hello, hello to you, too,” Jon grunts, as he shuffles through the door and heaves a slightly-too-heavy-for-comfort armful of grocery bags up onto the kitchen counter. When Martin doesn’t immediately come running, Jon glances in the direction of the second most likely location for him to be, and is satisfied to see Martin curled up against the arm of the couch, a book in one hand and a steaming mug of tea in the other. Martin has - through methods unknown to Jon - recently managed to get his hands on a copy of The Complete Poems of John Keats, and reading it has been his principle entertainment for the past two weeks. Apparently the glasses aren’t just for show, after all.
(Jon doesn’t question when the cat learned to use the kettle. That sort of thing is just par for the course, these days.)
(Jon also wasn’t the one who taught him to use a coaster.)
“Still on that, are you?” says Jon, as he starts shoving perishables into the freezer before they can get any meltier than they already are.
“There are other poetry authors out there, you know.”
“I could get you a nice Wordsworth. Maybe even some Shakespeare. Expand your cultural horizons a bit.”
“Come to think of it, there’s a book by T. S. Eliot I think you’d like. Might be a bit on the nose, though.”
“Mm. Quite.” Jon can see a ginger head peeking up over the back of the couch. And a pair of alert ginger ears. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in helping me tackle these tuna steaks?”
Jon hears the click of a mug being sat daintily down on the coffee table, followed by the thump of Martin’s feet hitting the floor, and smiles.