No one had told GOB that relationships were actually really hard.
Okay, so maybe someone had told him once, after the drama with the roofies and the sexuality crisis had passed. It had been pretty much the best month of GOB's life after that, which was weird. Normally it would have freaked him out to wake up next to someone every morning, the same person, not to mention another man. (Even if that man could do things with his tongue that were pretty much inhuman.) But it had actually been pretty amazing, even when Tony wasn't doing the thing with his tongue, even when they were just watching cartoons or finding some other magician's act to heckle. (And oh man, that seventeen year old had been pissed.)
They hadn't even talked about living together, which was good, because GOB would have probably freaked out and said no. It had just sort of happened. And it felt right.
So, what - should the guy who's just fallen in love not brag to the brother who hasn't been able to make it work with a woman in basically forever? Come on! Maybe he could have gone without talking about the tongue thing, but with all the dumb crap his brother had asked him to do over the years, GOB figured Michael owed him one.
"You're living with him already?" Michael's lips had pursed in that annoying way where GOB just knew he was going to hear something judgmental. "He hasn't asked you for money or anything, has he?"
"God, of course not, Michael! Usually I ask him. Or -" GOB giggled. "You know the cool thing about dating another guy who knows slight-of-hand? He has all these tricks for shoplifting I've never even thought of-"
"I get it, I get it." Michael was sighing all heavy, pinching the bridge of his nose, and GOB wasn't sure what he was getting so pissed about. So intolerant, Michael. And to your own brother.
"Look," Michael continued, pausing for a moment to choose his words. "You've probably never dealt with this, but you're in what's called the honeymoon phase."
"What honeymoon? Is someone getting married? I'm certainly not, that would be - I mean, no one can decide if it's legal here, and I'm not even gay!"
"It's called the honeymoon phase," Michael pressed, ignoring him, "because everything feels so good and so new that none of the other stuff has sunk in. You know, living with another person is hard. You're not going to be the same about everything. And you can't just, you know, expect him to do everything for you. No more just lying around."
"Well, we don't lay down for very long, usually that leads to -"
Michael held up his hand in a 'stop' gesture. "Just... Don't be surprised if it's more of a challenge than you're used to."
"Such a pessimist, Michael. So convinced I can't do anything right."
"And if it is? A challenge? Think about if you want it badly enough. Because if you really love this guy, maybe you can -"
"Well of course I want it, we've been through this." GOB laughed nervously. "Are you saying this is just an experiment? God, so homophobic."
"I am n - you don't even identify - You know what, just forget it."
GOB had taken that as permission to forget most of the conversation. Which suited him fine, until the little things started creeping in. GOB wanting to go out when Tony wanted to stay in. How Tony's stupid hair care products took up three quarters of the sink. The thing about whose turn it was to buy the milk, mainly because GOB didn't realize they were supposed to take turns, or that when you're out of milk you buy more instead of stealing some of your mother's vodka the next time you're at her penthouse.
By the time Tony actually yelled at him for accidentally killing another dove, instead of just shrugging and saying 'it happens', GOB realized this was about the time all his other relationships started falling apart. If they'd even lasted this long, then slowly he'd stop making excuses, and she'd stop making excuses for him, and he'd start getting bored and twitchy and wondering if another woman's breasts were as big as they looked. And by then he was mainly sticking around because her house was a decent place to live, except GOB had a place to live, and Tony's house was nicer but it wasn't really that big a deal.
He wasn't wondering about other women's breasts. Tony didn't even have breasts, but he had that nice way he smelled even without cologne, and the way he trailed glitter everywhere. And how he wasn't all that cuddly, but when he knew GOB was in the mood for it he was short and skinny enough to drape all over GOB like some kind of spider monkey.
But then there was the milk, and the doves. And GOB knew Tony couldn't very well sneak out of his own house, but it's not like GOB had never been kicked out before. So he just sort of braced himself.
As it turned out, Tony didn't kick him out.
Something else happened.
GOB woke up around noon on a Thursday and realized he'd sprawled out across the entire bed. Usually he was more of a fetal position type, but sometimes when he hit a deep sleep he'd just start draping himself over the entire mattress. It didn't really happen anymore, because the last time it had Tony had basically prodded and nudged him until he woke up, and then they discovered that spooning was a really good solution. GOB really liked spooning.
So he was surprised to find one leg practically hanging off the bed, and an arm flopped over what was definitely Tony's pillow. It wasn't the first time Tony was up before him - it was an old habit, he'd said, something about his family's bakery, which he followed up with making the most incredible donuts that he'd produce as if from nowhere in a puff of smoke. But GOB always knew when Tony got up early, because the bed was warm and still smelled like him (and GOB absolutely did not curl up in the little indent just to feel the heat, it was just that one time). And that side of the bed was cool now, like it hadn't been slept in all night, and there wasn't the smell of anything coming from the kitchen.
And something was...prodding his foot?
Headbutting his foot, it felt like. Like every ten seconds or so there'd be this little nudge against his toes, which sort of tickled, and GOB nearly kicked back in retaliation before deciding pulling his legs in was a better bet. He looked over the covers, still half-distracted by Tony's absence, just in time to see a tiny black ball rearing forward again without realizing his feet were gone.
The kitten crashed nose-first against the mattress, yowling in frustration, before popping back up to shake its head. It was black, mostly, the fur at the top of its head especially spiky and dark. But when GOB squinted he noticed two tiny patches of white against its chin, and bits of white on its paws and at the tip of its tail. There were these huge, beautiful eyes staring at him, blue-green, and GOB had just a moment to realize they seemed kind of familiar. Then the kitten mewed again, indignant, and sank its little teeth into GOB's toe in a gesture of revenge.
"Okay. O-okay. So we're - you're - and I'm - " GOB was trying to make sense of his own brain, and he figured that maybe if he said enough words fast enough, something would make sense. But it was a bit more like he was just saying word. "O-okay. Okay, this - this is - okay. Just - okay? Okay, o-okay. Okay!"
Tony meowed high and frustrated, like a banshee wail. At least GOB thought it was Tony. That was the most nerve-wracking part, because he had to be going crazy to even think that. This was some other kitten. Tony couldn't be a kitten. Tony was a person, and his boyfriend, and Tony was supposed to be up making donuts or styling his hair or getting ready to throw him out.
A cat couldn't throw him out, that part was good. But he couldn't make donuts either, or kiss him, and crap, a kitten was a small animal. GOB basically killed small animals, not on purpose or anything, but he really wasn't good with them. Their last fight had been about killing a small animal.
Maybe this was some kind of revenge thing. Yes, that was it! Tony had found a kitten with his eyes and his triangle soul patches and really bitey little fangs, and he was hiding somewhere in the house just to freak GOB out and teach him some kind of weird lesson where people's arms didn't come off.
Luckily, GOB had a foolproof way to counter this.
"Well, since Tony's shoes are here and his wallet is here, he must still be in the house," GOB announced loudly. "And obviously he can't have turned into a cat, because that would be stupid. I mean, that would be really stupid, Tony." He cleared his throat officially. "So I WONDER where he could be hiding!"
GOB waited a full 60 seconds.
The kitten sat on its haunches.
"...okay, so -"
Tony yowled impatiently again, and started climbing up GOB's legs. At least that seemed to be the plan, except his pouncing on them made GOB move them on instinct, and Tony didn't seem too steady on his paws yet. The kitten teetered and yelped, nearly falling off the side of the bed, before GOB swore and gently cupped his hands to catch it.
He was surprised at how neatly it - he - fit there, even more surprised when Tony bopped his head against GOB's palm and just rested it there, purring gratefully. GOB scooped the kitten up in his hands, feeling them tremble a little, and brought them up towards his face.
God, those really were his eyes. And when the kitten snorted out of his little nose, it sounded like a huff of frustration, like those times Tony would just sort of look at GOB and shake his head, but also be hiding a smile.
"Tony?" GOB asked incredulously.
Tony leaned forward to lick his nose.
"...okay," GOB said finally. He set Tony on his chest, carefully, making sure to keep still. As soon as he'd found his footing, Tony climbed his way upward, nosing at GOB's neck before curling up on his shoulder.
"I am totally going to fuck this up," GOB said.
Tony nuzzled his head against GOB's chin, and purred.
"Why do cats really love tuna if it's bad for them to eat tuna?" GOB muttered, hunting through another cabinet. "Not that we have tuna in the first place..."
Tony's sense of balance was improving, because he wasn't having as much trouble staying draped over GOB's shoulder as they hunted for something resembling cat food. Which, as a dozen pages of Internet research seemed to suggest, could only be some weird formulated gravy in a little can.
"It's a fucking conspiracy from cat food companies. Now I wish I'd actually bought milk, but oh wait. You can't have that either!"
Tony mewed impatiently, prodding GOB's cheek with one paw.
"Yes, I know I'm over-explaining everything. At least I think that's what you're saying." GOB sighed, shutting the cabinet and reaching over to scratch Tony behind the ears. "Looks like I actually have to get out of the house."
GOB figured it wasn't a good idea to go to his usual pet place. For one thing, it was a bitch to come up with a new disguise every time after they'd put him on that ban list. And he really didn't want them calling PETA or whoever because they thought he was going to accidentally kill the kitten perched on his shoulder.
Which he totally wasn't, he kept telling himself, if he stood clear of doors and didn't let people bump into him or anything. Because it was really, really important that Tony turn back into a person. At some point, anyway. And also killing his boyfriend was probably a bad idea.
The store he'd looked up had to be three times the size of his usual. There weren't as many squawking birds or terrified mice, but where he was used to seeing cages, there was row after row of food and litter. And that was just the cat half of the store. This was going to be exhausting.
"Excuse me!" He turned to the first clerk he could find, and turned on a megawatt grin that he knew was just a little too tight. "Could you tell me what you'd recommend for this little fuzzball right h-"
But the girl was already cooing, eyes glued to Tony's makeshift perch on GOB's shoulder. "Oh, he's adorable!"
"Yeah, uh. Little guy just sort of fell into my lap." GOB found himself grinning sheepishly. "So I thought, y'know, I'd get a meal in him, but I don't know too much about - "
She wasn't paying attention. "Those little spots on his chin! Oh, you just have the prettiest eyes ever, don't you baby?"
Tony was purring very, very loudly for such a tiny body, and then he licked a paw and started grooming. GOB could hear it all right by his ear. Showoff.
"Bet I'd be a cuter kitten than you -"
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Nothing!" GOB laughed haltingly. "Nothing. Precious, isn't he? So, uh, can you show me where the best stuff for kittens is? Something that won't make him puke all over the bed or whatever?"
GOB tried not to zone out as she led him over to the food aisle, explaining the promotion they had for this one and the vet recommendations for that one, and how apparently you couldn't just leave stuff out in a bowl for days because it would go bad. It sounded like a ton of work, which was depressing, and GOB briefly wondered what he'd done to deserve this before deciding he'd better not think about it. There was probably some kind of subconscious montage to remind him of exactly what he'd done, and when - if - no, when Tony changed back he'd probably cheerfully join in.
Well, probably. That's what most people liked to do.
On the bright side, kittens got way more female attention than that time he'd stolen a one year old Maeby from Lindsay to pick up women at the park. That could've been because Maeby was bawling at the time, or because Lindsay was chasing after him threatening to crack his head open, but either way - this time he was surrounded by cooing, infatuated girls nearly every time he turned a corner, and that was after he figured out which ones were the lesbian cat ladies.
He just had to figure this out after he entered a relationship, of course. But the clerk still seemed to be hypnotized, too. So he seized an opportunity.
"What's his name?"
GOB figured he should start practicing the cover story in case he ran into someone embarrassing, like Tobias. Or God forbid, Michael.
"Tony...a. Antonia. But Toni for short."
She frowned in confusion. "I'm pretty sure that's a male -"
"We'll agree to disagree. So." He leaned forward, flashing his most charming smile. "When do you get off work? Maybe we'll put the old employee discount on this purchase, then we can see if there are two naughty kitties around h - OW!"
In hindsight, he should have remembered that Tony had some sharp, bitey ways to express his displeasure. And now the little shit was rubbing his cheek against the curve of GOB's jaw, purring aggressively, like that made up for it.
"Oh! That's so cute!" The clerk seemed to have forgotten GOB's advances entirely, watching Tony with delight. "He's scenting you!"
"Wasn't going to actually do anything," he was still muttering, "the canned stuff's just goddamn expensive, and you expect me to pay for -" GOB blinked. "He's what?"
"They spread their scent through their cheeks, so they rub against things to mark their territory."
"Ew." GOB wrinkled his nose. "Like how dogs pee on things?"
"It means he's saying you're his."
GOB imagined she'd never seen someone react to that little factoid by blushing. In fact, he was pretty sure he'd never actually blushed before. But he suddenly felt hot all the way up to his ears.
Usually he was the jealous one. Sure, he was also the one to feel suffocated and run around on his girlfriends, to watch them look up at him with disgust or disappointment. But jealousy was different than disappointment; it felt more raw, more honest. More than some big, scary word like 'relationship' or 'commitment', GOB himself was something to be kept.
He knew that in terms of how he was supposed to feel, he probably had that backwards. But still, maybe that did make up for it after all.
"Look, I promise, I was just going to use her discount and bolt. What, you think I'm going to cheat on you while you're sitting on my shoulder? Because first of all, gross, we're not doing the voyeur fantasy while you're a cat. And it's not even your birthday."
Tony flashed him a tiny glare, before nipping affectionately at his fingers.
"And stop biting me. I'm going to start telling my family you're abusing me."
Could cats roll their eyes? Sentient they-were-once-your-boyfriend cats could, apparently. But Tony was finally well-fed and, thank God, hadn't yet needed to navigate the litterbox. They were safe at home, cozy in bed again, without running into any family members asking awkward questions. And no one had been fatally injured! Maybe this didn't have to be a disaster.
Emboldened, he fished the last object out of the bag. He'd told the clerk he didn't need toys for little Antonia, because if Internet cat videos had taught him anything it was that cats could probably amuse themselves a lot more with an empty yogurt cup or a laser pointer. But she'd insisted that kittens needed a lot of playtime to use their hunting instincts. And laser pointers were expensive.
Besides, the toy was a little dangly scarf thing on a stick, and he could probably work that into a magic act sometime. Meanwhile, he didn't know if this was one of those situations like in the movies, where you're turned into a frog and you can still think and everything, but suddenly you have this burning need to catch flies. He figured it was better safe than sorry.
"Hey, so look, I got you a thing!"
"I know, I know, but you're supposed to be like a baby or something. You're all full of energy and curiosity or whatever, and you need to be stimulated. Except not what that usually means, because you're a baby cat and that's gross."
Tony very pointedly curled up, facing away from GOB, like he was contemplating a nap.
"Come on." GOB dangled the scarf so its ends brushed the top of Tony's head, tickling over his ears. He lowered it further, grinning, until it draped over the end of Tony's nose.
Tony sneezed, batting it away. It swung back, and he smacked it again, and suddenly his eyes were wide open again and his pupils were turning into little slits.
"Now see, that's not so ba - woah! There we go." Tony was on his paws again, instincts kicking in. He crouched and stared at the waving scarf, as if staring down prey, before leaping for it. GOB tugged it away, careful to keep Tony from the edge of the bed, grinning and dangling it just out of reach.
"C'mon, let's see you jump for it."
Tony lept in the air, batting at the fabric wildly with both paws. GOB laughed, lifting it higher.
"Man, cats have powerful little legs, but bet you can't reach -"
Tony's teeth caught it in midair. His tiny body actually hung there, jaws locked onto it stubbornly, before his weight dragged GOB's arm downward and he flopped back onto the bed, prize in hand.
GOB felt like he was laughing for a full minute as Tony preened, shooting him a smug look like this was just one more magic trick, and as always, his rival had outdone him. GOB had missed that look. It made him furious, sometimes, but it also kept him on edge, full of ideas and always grasping for his best work.
Deep down, part of him knew his best work only slightly outshone Tony's worst, but it still mattered. Especially when they'd fight about it, because whether it was play-fighting or the real thing it always seemed to end with Tony dragging him to the bed. Kissing him so breathless, making him feel so wanted, that he forgot what he was angry about and just reached out to touch everywhere.
A sudden, weird wave of sadness crashed over him. "Tony?"
Tony tilted his head, looking up at GOB.
"Do you...think you're ever going to change back?"
Even if he could answer in words, GOB wasn't sure what Tony could have said. Instead, he padded forward to curl up against one of GOB's hands, rubbing his cheek against each finger. He was so soft, so warm, and GOB ran his fingers through the dark fur as he thought out loud.
"I mean, I'd take care of you and everything. If I ever have another kid by mistake, I don't want to see him until he's 30, but you're different, you know? I almost kind of want to. Take care of you."
His thumb rubbed gently across the top of Tony's head, and he earned a soft purr in response.
"Because you've taken care of me up to now, kind of. Thanks for that. I know I'm not good with... working. Or being patient, or doing what I say I'm going to do. I'm not used to that stuff. No one's ever been around long enough for me to learn how." He paused. "Okay, I probably wouldn't have learned how. I still don't want to. Sick of everyone asking me to. But, I don't know. This is different."
Tony licked his hand, watching him with those big, bright eyes. GOB fought down embarrassment, kept going. Somehow, the silence seemed to prod him on, pulling everything up to where Tony could hear it and he could say it, and neither of them could run away.
"And I mean, I like you this way fine, but I miss...a lot of stuff, and it hasn't even been a day. I was thinking this would be like everything else, you know? I'd mess it up and leave, make myself forget all about it. But it hasn't even been a day, you're sitting right here, and I still miss talking to you, and touching you. ...I really love you, I guess."
Tony nipped his fingers once, gently, before climbing up onto his lap. He curled up in a spot on one of GOB's thighs, as GOB still pet him slowly, from ears to tail.
"So it's probably not up to you, but...try to change back? I just really want to see you. I don't know, is that stupid? It's stupid."
Tony mewed reassuringly, arching against his hand. Then he put his paws against GOB's chest, and slowly climbed back up onto his shoulder. He licked the curve of his jaw before nosing against it again, purring soft and low. 'Mine.'
They wound up falling asleep like that, Tony curled against his shoulder, GOB stroking his fur. Touching him in the only way he could.
GOB woke up to heaviness and warmth, to soft puffs of breath against the curve of his neck. Tony smelled like magic smoke and yesterday's hair gel, and he was naked, chest against chest and thigh flush against GOB's thigh.
GOB was awake instantly, exhaling a wordless noise of relief. He wrapped his arms around Tony, tight and a bit too hard, feeling him wake up with a start.
"Whatth'fu- Nhh. Hey." Tony smiled sleepily, patiently, and GOB just hugged him tighter.
"You're you. You're-you're back! You're okay!"
"Yeah, of course." Tony's brow wrinkled, his eyes still sleepy. "This is hot and everything, but I'm still a little -"
"It's fine." GOB kissed him slow and lingering, still holding on. "Go back to bed."
Later, Tony made pancakes from scratch. He was practically drowning GOB's in syrup, the way he liked it, when he asked "Why is there a cat box in the living room?"
"You, uhm." GOB hadn't actually thought of a cover story. "You don't remember?"
"I think I lost a day. Did we do something that needed roofies? I thought we said we were getting rid of those."
They had, right when they got together, and maybe that was what made GOB tell the truth. Maybe the truth was better, these days, considering everything. "You were a cat for 24 hours. A kitten, kind of. You could ride on my shoulder and everything."
Tony just stared at him.
"It was super adorable," GOB reassured.
"Serves me right for asking. We can get one if you want, let's just talk about it next time? Before we buy all the stuff?"
And normally that would have freaked him out, not just because of the dove thing. Because it was like having a baby, a weird, yowling baby with sharp little claws, one that could climb into the cabinets. It was new and strange, unpredictable. It was something GOB could fail at, and something they'd fight over if they ever split up.
"S-sure. That'd be great."
"Hey, I just realized." Tony stopped garnishing his own pancakes with blueberries to look at GOB, impressed. "I never said thanks for buying milk."
"Uhm, you're welcome. There's eggs, too, but I guess you found those. I had to step out yesterday anyway, so ..."
Tony had actually been asleep by then, unable to discreetly point a paw to the things he'd need. Unable to use them in the first place, too, but GOB stepped from aisle to aisle trying to remember anyway. Because there were few things he'd wanted more than Tony mixing batter in the kitchen again, hands dexterous and working expertly.
"Hey, you know, about that - I'm sorry."
"You're - what?"
Tony sat across from him at the table, fondly bumping GOB's foot with his before starting on his breakfast. "I know I'm not the easiest guy to live with. Like we're late for everything because I'm fucking with my hair for an hour, or I get all pissed off if something's in the wrong cabinet. Or that time I did the Wonder trick at the bar, because some guy was paying more attention to your story than to me, and we had to go home early."
"Well, you had all that dust and crap on you from the air vents."
"Part of the trick," Tony insisted, then paused. "No, no it wasn't, that place is a fucking health hazard. Anyway, it's... I'm working on it. Because the thing is that I've never actually been with someone this long before? I didn't even know I liked the whole relationship thing." He looked up from his pancakes, smiling at GOB guiltily. "I guess you're different."
"Uhm. S-same." GOB was just smiling really wide. Definitely not blushing. He didn't do that.
"So, uhm. I love you too, you know?"
It was a minute of peacefully eating breakfast before GOB said "Wait, 'too'?"
"Uh, yeah?" Tony laughed nervously. "Didn't you - uhm, didn't you say - ?"
"Well, I did -"
"There we go, then."
"But I said it last n-"
"You must've forgotten. Happens to everyone." His eyes looked down and left, his smile crooked and guilty again, and the truth was awesome. But GOB had always thought Tony looked especially hot when he lied.
GOB considered protesting, but really, he was too happy to make an issue of it. At least until that night, when he pushed up against Tony's smaller frame, and started pressing tiny kisses along his jawline.
"What are you doing?" Tony whispered, feeling GOB start to stir and grow hard against his backside.
"What do you think?" GOB purred, rubbing against his jaw, nipping softly at the curve of his ear. He reached into Tony's robe and wrapped a hand around him, listening to him moan.
It was the best sex they'd had in weeks, but like hell, GOB decided, he was ever going a day without it again.
They found her at the shelter about a week later, a grey, blue-eyed ball of fluff that reminded them of smoke, and of new, fledgling things.
They named her Magic.