The thing about television, Charlie reflected, was that it never seemed to run out of new ways to deliver total and utter humiliation. For example, he'd been on this fucking show twice before, and though both of those occasions had been innocent enough at the time, in hindsight it's clear that they had simply been lulling him into a false sense of security in preparation for tonight's Smorgasbord of Being Punched In The Emotional Ballsack.
The grey kitten in his hands squirms, then resettles itself with its head peeking over the tops of his cupped fingers. Charlie wonders if he could manage to eviscerate himself without dropping it.
The audience cheers as Jimmy hops onto the stage. "Hello and welcome to the 8 Out of 10 Cats Feline Special!" he says cheerfully. "Tonight the producers have decided this show ought to live up to its name once and for all, so in addition to our usual contestants we also have an entire panel of feline contributors. On Jason's team, along with Chris and Charlie, we also have Greebo, Felix, and Whiskers."
Charlie reluctantly lifts up Whiskers up so that he's more clearly in view of the cameras. Whiskers yawns, prompting a wave of "awww" noises from the audience. Beside him, Jason's got Felix plopped onto the desk, and he's leaning back in his chair with a smirk on his face. Smug cat-wrangling wanker, Charlie thinks. On Jason's other side, though, he can dimly see Chris struggling to contain Greebo, who seems more interested in climbing onto Chris' shoulder and exploring his hair than in showing off for the audience.
Whiskers yawns again, then flops over on his side so that his ear is poking between Charlie's finger and thumb.
It's not that Charlie isn't susceptible to kitten power, that he's immune to the concentrated cuteness that Whiskers is genetically predisposed to exude. In fact, it's the opposite – just looking at Whiskers' adorable little nose makes him want to start burbling babytalk like a cretin. The thought is appalling.
I'm supposed to be a bastard, Charlie thinks in despair. I can't grow a soul now! I'm far too busy.
He jerks his eyes away from the cat, but apparently he must have kicked a grandmother recently because karma assures that his gaze lands on David, who's pink-cheeked and sitting rigidly in his chair, staring with faint horror at the black and white ball of fluff on the desk in front of him.
Charlie thinks, with the tiniest bit of hysteria, that David kind of has an adorable nose as well.
Thankfully Jimmy starts talking again, which means Charlie can make himself stop thinking about kissing David's nose.
"And on Sean's team along with Josie and David we have Boris, Spot, and Princess Snugglebutt."
This gets a big laugh, and David's face takes on an expression that would have been well suited to the victim of a vicious attack by terrorist clowns. Princess Snugglebutt rubs her head against his arm. Charlie stifles a wave of irrational jealousy.
"Now," Jimmy says. "Did you know there are approximately 9.2 million cats in the UK? Research has calculated that means 12.5 million moggie yawns per hour and 24 million catnaps per day. And a single pair of cats and their kittens can produce as many as 420,000 kittens in just 7 years, which is a truly staggering amount of pussy."
The audience groans, and Jimmy puts on his mock-offended face. "Come on now," he says. "You realize that's not going to be the last pussy joke you hear tonight, right? They won't even all be mine, I promise you. Anyway, let's get started."
As Jimmy's settling into his seat, Whiskers appears to get bored of sleeping and gets up, turning around within the bowl of Charlie's hands to look up inquisitively into his face.
"Aw, look," says Jason. "You've made a new friend."
The kitten licks Charlie on the nose. Charlie scowls and puts it down on the desk.
"I know my face looks like uncooked rump roast," he says, "but this is ridiculous."
"Anyway!" Jimmy interrupts. "Time for the first round. It's called 'What Are You Talking About?' and this week a leading polling organization asked the British public for their top five fictional cats. Jason's team, you're to guess first."
"Well, I reckon Puss in Boots..."
Charlie's bored already, but then he meets David's eyes across the room. David's still grimacing faintly, the corners of his mouth twisted sideways a little, but there's something warm in his eyes, as if with this glance he's sharing some wry thought he expects Charlie to understand. A bizarre, delicious feeling curls itself up in Charlie's stomach.
Then Greebo widdles in Chris' hair, which makes him curse wildly and toss the cat, hissing, over the desk into the middle of the studio. Josie laughs until she falls out of her chair, and Boris jumps over onto Jimmy's desk, knocking all his cue cards onto the floor. The front row of the audience is recruited by a crazed cameraman to catch Greebo, with little success.
Whiskers decides this is a good time to start gnawing on Charlie's thumb, and the whole enterprise becomes so delightfully chaotic that Charlie forgets about humiliation entirely.