The cat gyrated her hind paw in the direction of her chin, and only barely managed to bump her knee into the side of her head.
With a sigh Jon reached down from the couch to scratch her jaw. With a whuff of contentment Christiane Aman-purr leaned against his touch, at least until she got bored and trotted off to sniff Stephen's potted philodendron.
"Hey!" exclaimed Stephen from the desk, fur standing on end, as Christiane began chewing on the end of a leaf. "Is it okay for her to be eating that? Jon! Make her stop, before she contaminates me!"
"It's just a plant, Stephen," sighed Jon. "Who knows? A little vegetable matter might be good for you."
"I knew it! You've bought into Michelle Obama's insidious health-food propaganda. I'm telling you, all that junk is a marketing ploy concocted by Big Carrot."
Much as he thought Stephen was being ridiculous, Jon got up and gently nudged Christiane away from the plant. It was Stephen's right to decide what went into his body, after all, even if he wasn't occupying it at the moment. The cat tried to nose past Jon's hand; fortunately, she hadn't worked out that she was now large enough to bowl him over. After a moment of discouragement she wandered away, licking her chops.
When he caught a flash of movement, he didn't wait for eye contact. He just closed his eyes and swung the golden cup until it bashed the creature across the head.
"Boy, am I glad this was the last Harry Potter premiere," grumbled Jon (who hadn't been getting any work done at all), as Christiane wiggled her butt—which was technically Stephen's butt—in preparation to make a jump for the windowsill. "No more accidentally picking up curses at midnight showings."
Stephen flicked his whiskers. "Oh, like this is so hard for you! I'm the one without opposable thumbs, here—not to mention, spayed! Besides, it's not usually this bad. After Deathly Hallows Part 1 I just came back blue, and that was easy to clean up in chroma—Jon! Don't let her—"
It was too late. Christiane launched herself at the window, smacked face-first into the pane, scrabbled in vain to stay on the narrow ledge, and fell in a pajama-clad heap on the floor. When Jon tried to approach her, she yowled in distress and crammed herself under the desk.
Stephen padded over to the edge of the desktop and tried to tilt his head to see underneath without falling. "If she broke my face again, I'm charging you for the plastic surgery."
"Tell you what. If she broke your face, I'll waive my entire cat-sitting fee." Jon sank to his knees and pushed the chair aside to get a better look at the damage. The body looked fine, just tense and teary-eyed. Christiane swatted at his hand when he tried to stroke her hair.
"Fine, I'll leave you alone," he said crossly. "But I'll have you know this isn't my fault. Stephen, any idea how long the curse is going to last?"
"I sent Tad to pick up the ingredients for the counter-potion as soon as he got here in the morning. It involves the egg yolk of a basilisk, the freshly gathered dew from a fairy ring, and eye of newt that's been aged in a cool dark room for fifty years, so he should be back any minute now."
Tad called a time-out for a few minutes while he wiped his eyes with a borrowed handkerchief made of spun moonbeams, then showed the King how to tumble.
"Isn't that what we have caterers for?"
"The food's already here. But it's canned tuna, and I can't use the can opener, and heaven help us all of Christiane figures out how."
As Jon was cranking open the tuna, Christiane re-emerged to wind herself around his legs, meowing enticingly and nearly knocking him over. "Oh, hold on, I'm getting there," said Jon, pausing to rub her head.
Stephen flattened back his ears. "You're messing up my hair."
"You had bedhead in the first place. Did the switch happen while you were asleep, or what?"
"The curse was to switch me with the first creature I touched," said Stephen stiffly, as Jon spooned tuna into the bowl labeled Democratic Uprising. "I crashed here after the movie, and before I could get freshened up for the day, Christiane tracked me down with some pointed analysis of the political standoff in Yemen. Also, she was out of Friskies. Hey, how come you're feeding her first?"
Jon was relieved the cat couldn't understand Stephen's tone. "Would you calm down?" he demanded, placing the bowl on the ground and watching to make sure Christiane could get at the food with the current shape of her mouth and nose. (She could.) "You still have the brain of a human. You know perfectly well that I'll have this done in a second. She has no idea. She's just a cat."
"Exactly! She's used to it! I'm not used to being dependent on someone else for basic needs. I mean, sure, my lunch is always catered and brought to me on silver platters by toga-clad interns, but I always open it up myself! How am I supposed to cope if you fall and hit your head, and I end up locked in here alone and starve to death before Tad makes it back? And don't offer to let me eat your decaying body. I have standards, here."
It took some effort for Jon to get past that charming mental image, but when he did, it finally sank in that the situation was extreme even by Stephen's standards. Dueling a minotaur or being possessed by the mojo of Keith Olbermann was easy compared to having your mind trapped in a tiny, four-footed body that didn't even have eyebrows, let alone balls. "I guess you're probably a little freaked out by all this, huh."
"No." Stephen's tail swished so firmly it knocked his stapler to the floor. "Everything is purr-fectly fine. Where's my tuna?"
On the other hand, maybe on the inside Stephen had been a cat all along.
She decided that counted as passing the test anyway. It helped that he offered to fix her leaky sink before leaving with his prize.
She also managed to be resting on top of every sheet of paper Jon had brought to look over.
Jon tried to tug a few pages out from under her, to no avail. The look of unimpressed dismissal she gave him at the attempt was so at-home on Stephen's face that for a moment it was difficult to remember that Stephen wasn't in there.
Stephen, for his part, had worked out enough to jump down from the desk and up onto the couch without crashing into anything. "Don't get the wrong idea," he said, padding over to Jon's other side. "I just want to make sure you don't do anything indecent to my body while she's wantonly begging for skritch-scratchings like that with it."
"Believe me, Stephen, I have no interest in doing anything indecent with a cat. Even when it's in your body."
Stephen's golden eyes narrowed. "What are you implying, Jon? That you'd be interested in doing something indecent with me, even when I'm in a cat's body?"
"What? No!" Jon blinked. "And I'm pretty sure that doesn't even make sense."
"Doesn't it, Jon? Doesn't it?"
"No. It really doesn't."
"Says you," said Stephen, and butted his head against Jon's thigh.
"Uh...do you want me to pet you?"
Jon reconsidered the question. "Do you want me to pet Christiane's body while you happen to be in it?"
"If you want," said Stephen, plastering his small, furry form against Jon's side. "Besides, I hear it's good for your blood pressure."
The potion came together quickly; within fifteen minutes of pouring and mixing, it was potent. Not that Christiane understood the details. All she knew was that there was water in her dish again, and she was too thirsty to care that it was unusually mauve today.
"You know," said Jon under his breath, when Stephen didn't bolt straight over to drink his share, "if you ever want a hug like this some other time, all you have to do is ask. Even if you're not in a cat's body anymore."
Stephen squirmed. He wouldn't be needing this kind of emotional support once he had his proper body back, but just in case.... "Do you promise it's not part of a secret liberal cuddling agenda?"
An indulgent smile, that didn't raise nearly as much of Stephen's ire as it should have, flickered like a candle flame on Jon's face. "There is no cuddlestapo, Stephen. I promise."
"Well, good," huffed Stephen. "I'm not opposed to wholesome manly human/human physical closeness on principle, you understand. Just so long as we're clear."
And he wriggled free of Jon's embrace to prance off, tail straight in the air like a flagpole, to his dish.