“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Martin holds the leather collar in his hand, its little silver bell jangling cheerfully as he fidgets. “I mean, Helen gave it to us.”
Jon sighs for the hundredth time that morning. Though he was apprehensive at first, it’s long since worn off in the wake of his hunger and exhaustion. At this point, he’s just too numb to be scared. He sits on the edge of the squeaky mattress ready to accept any fate that doesn’t involve him sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to compel statements out of unsuspecting villagers, which is exactly what Martin caught him trying to do last night, and the night before.
“Helen said it was harmless,” Jon says.
“No, she said it’d make you harmless.” Martin pauses, chewing his lip. “And I quote, ‘as a little kitty cat.’ Ugh.”
“So, worst case scenario, I turn into a cat?”
“It’s an artifact of the Stranger, Jon, I hardly think that’s the worst case scenario -”
“I think I’m well acquainted with worst case scenarios where The Stranger is concerned.”
Jon sighs again and rubs his temple. His head aches and he can’t remember the last time he ate actual food. “We’re running out of options. Maybe it’ll just have a binding effect on the Eye, like the Web table.”
“Maybe.” Martin clips and unclips the collar, as if testing it. “I guess if it goes wrong, I can just take it off?”
Jon nods, eager for something - anything - to happen that could distract him from his monotonous hunger for a statement. He closes his eyes, and feels the leather come soft and pliant against his neck. The collar clicks shut.
Then it opens again. Jon cracks one eye and gives Martin a look.
“Just testing,” Martin says with benign exasperation. The collar clicks shut again.
Jon lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and fiddles with the bell. Nothing feels any different. Their cabin bedroom hasn’t altered in any way; he hasn’t changed size or grown fangs. He seems to be generally himself - still starving, still tired.
“That seems anticlimactic,” Jon notes.
“It does. Which is sort of worrying.”
“At least you know you can take it off.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Martin kisses his forehead, and Jon leans into the touch. Now that the anticipation has cleared, exhaustion takes over, leaving him a little wobbly.
“I think I might take a nap,” Jon says, surprising himself.
“Really?” Martin cups his chin to appraise him skeptically. “You definitely need one.”
“Considering I haven’t been sleeping at all?”
“Well, yeah.” Martin lets out a little laugh and gives Jon a proper kiss, soft and precious on the lips. “You rest. I’ll get us some lunch if you’re up for eating.”
As soon as Martin shuts the door, Jon flops back into the bed, and falls asleep faster than he ever has in his life.
He wakes to the sound of Martin setting something on the nightstand, and a warm hand stroking his shoulder.
“Hey,” Martin says, with a poorly-concealed note of concern in his voice. “Feeling okay?”
“Whaswrong?” Jon mutters, still blissfully drowsy. His nightmares feel far away already, scattered by the daylight.
“Nothing - nothing,” Martin replies, waving his hand a little strangely. “Just, two things. I brought you some soup, and I think the collar is working.”
Jon blinks his eyes, suddenly more awake. “What do you mean? How?”
“Well, like - “
Jon feels Martin’s hand pet up the side of his head, where ear should be. Instead, the sensation extends towards the top of his scalp as Martin’s hand caresses up farther than it should, and Jon realizes with a jolt of fear that is his ear. He shivers, and runs his hand up alongside Martin’s to find that he’s grown a pair of fuzzy cat ears as he slept.
The shiver slinks down his spine and down to his toes and also -
“Also you have a tail?” Martin says, with a little squeak.
Jon springs up in bed, and it’s true - he does have a tail, in a dappled orange and brown tabby pattern, starting from the base of his spine and pushing out over his pants, swatting itself against the bed.
“Good lord,” Jon murmurs, not sure what else to say. “I guess it works?”
He looks back to Martin, who feels palpably afraid. Jon’s scared, too, and the emotions tangle refreshingly in his mind, like a crisp drink of water on a hot day. It’s not quite enough to feed him, but it’s something at least.
“Do you think it’s going to get worse?” Martin asks.
“Does it look that bad?”
“N-no? I mean, wait, is that what you’re worried about?”
“What are you worried about?”
“I don’t know,” Martin says, taking a careful seat on the edge of the bed. “That this is awful for you? Terrifying or painful, or just stressful?”
“It is,” Jon admits. “Not painful, but stressful. But so is you tying me to the bed so I can’t go terrorize the village every night.”
“I guess you have a point,” Martin replies.
They eat their soup in bed. Jon picks at his sparingly, sitting awkwardly to accommodate the tail, which swishes and twitches despite his best efforts to hold still. Eventually he changes into one of Martin’s larger sweaters that hangs nearly to his knees, forgoing pants so his new appendage can sway as it will. It’s a bizarre feeling - the sudden, unconscious movement of fur brushing his backside and against his legs. He runs his fingers up his ears and they twitch strangely, but it doesn’t feel bad. In fact, it’s sort of relaxing.
He lays his head in Martin’s lap on the couch that afternoon as he often does, and Martin strokes his hair absently, fingers scratching around the fur, and Jon has to admit it’s nice. He’s always envied cats a little for their ability to accept when something feels good; to stretch out and claim a patch of sun or a friendly hand when they want it.
“Oh,” Martin says delicately, looking up from his book. “I think you’re growing fur.”
“What?” Jon startles, feeling Martin’s fingers trail down his neck.
He runs his hand there, and feels downy hairs spreading up the base of his scalp, and then notices his forearms have begun their own tabby pattern as well.
“So it happens gradually?” He says. “So you have to experience it happening?”
“Seems like it,” Martin agrees, still looking a little worried. “I wonder what sets it off.”
“Maybe it’s -” Jon sits up, surveying his legs, which are also growing fur across the insides of his thighs. They feel soft and plush when he presses them together. “Behavioral?”
“You mean, the more you act like a cat,” Martin says, wrinkling his nose as he processes, “the faster you turn into one?”
“It sort of seems that way. Or maybe it just happens faster when I’m resting.”
“I guess cats do rest a lot,” Martin says. “Should we test that theory somehow? Just to know how it works?”
Jon considers this, and a fresh wave of fear laps at him from inside. “It might help us better control the process if we know what sets it off.”
“Right.” Martin squares his shoulders and sets down his book, marking his spot with an old receipt. “Well, what are things cats do?”
“Are you - actually asking me?”
“What? No, I just mean, the topic is now open for discussion.”
“Oh, good, I thought for a moment you didn’t know anything about cats.”
Martin narrows his eyes. “Ok, there’s one. Pretentious superiority - cats definitely do that.”
Jon rolls his eyes in return, giving himself over to a smile, and Martin rewards his good mood with a kiss to the temple.
“Bleh,” Martin lifts his hand to his mouth and wipes away a few stray pieces of fur. “We’re going to have to brush you.”
Warmth floods Jon’s cheeks as he imagines that scenario - Martin’s warm, patient hands giving careful attention to every inch of his body. It’s not usually the sort of thing that would be nice to think about but now - well, it’s not exactly his body anymore. At least, not as he’s known it. It might not be so bad, having Martin stroke his fur.
“I don’t think I’d mind that,” he admits in a small voice, leaning against Martin’s shoulder.
Martin raises his arm to pull Jon closer. “You know, cats aren’t as dignified as they think they are.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, are you going to actually act like a cat? Groom yourself and play with string? Lap milk out of a bowl?”
“Oh,” Jon says, startled. His thoughts go fuzzy and slip through his fingers as he reaches for them, and if Martin offered him a bowl of milk right now, he’s not sure what he’d do. “I don’t know. Is that - would that be weird?”
Martin sighs and rests his cheek against the top of Jon’s head, careful of how his ear bends back. “Everything about our lives is weird. At least this is sort of cute.”
“Is it?” Jon turns to him with a wry smile.
“Well, yeah, it’s not like cats aren’t cute, and you’re cute so it kind of makes sense,” Martin mutters, a blush spreading under his freckles.
“Do we have milk?” Jon asks, despite himself. Martin turns and looks at him with eyebrows raised very high. “I mean, in the interest of the experiment.”
“Uh, yeah, I think we do. But cats aren’t really supposed to have milk, are they?”
“I mean I’m not - you know. All cat. Not yet, anyway.”
“Wait a second, are you -” Martin studies Jon for a moment. “Asking for food? Are you actually hungry?”
“Huh,” Jon says, considering the tense, rumbly feeling in his stomach. “Yes, I think I am.”
“Wow, well, yeah let’s get you something to eat.”
Martin hauls Jon up off the couch, suddenly looking excited rather than nervous, which is a welcome relief to Jon, who can panic enough for both of them, privately.
Jon takes a seat at the kitchen table, careful not to sit on his tail, and pulls the sweater down to cover himself, though it isn’t really necessary. The fur has grown thick enough between his legs that modesty isn’t a problem. He swallows a lump of distress and keeps his hands neatly folded on the table, feeling a bit weird and dizzy all over. The fear that rises in him pours back on itself, rushing to his head.
“Okay,” Martin calls with his head inside the fridge. “We have some half and half, but that’s not really a meal. Oh - I could cook up some chicken?”
That gets Jon’s full attention. “Oh - yes, that would be great, actually.”
“Okay, but some cream in the meantime.”
Martin pulls a shallow dish out of the cabinet and sets the chicken on the counter, busying himself without looking back at Jon. He pours the half and half into the dish, and Jon listens keenly to the splash, the shells of his ears twitching at the sound. The bowl clacks on the table when set in front of him, and Jon eyes it warily, both very hungry and very embarrassed.
“Um, do you want me to,” Martin says, “Just leave you to it? Focus on something else?”
“I - I’m not sure. It’s just - weird.”
A funny moment passes as they both stare at the dish, and then Martin strokes his hand over Jon’s head, scritching a little at the side of his ear. Jon leans into it, and lets himself relax, focusing on the surety of Martin’s touch and the clean, sweet smell of the cream. He sags towards the table, drawn down by his hunger, and grazes his tongue across the surface.
It coats his tongue thick and cool, so lovely he leans in and laps up another taste, drinking it down so eagerly that his chin and the tip of his nose dip into the bowl.
“Okay, okay,” Martin says. “Not all at once.”
Jon hums an affirmative, but doesn’t really think on it too hard. Enjoying food is such a luxury, and Jon can hardly remember the last time something tasted this good. He lets himself get lost in the motions of it for a while, drinking and filling himself up as Martin cooks up the meat on the stove.
After he licks the bowl clean, Jon wipes cream out of his beard with the cuff of his sweater, and pillows his head on his arms, shutting his eyes.
“Chicken’s ready,” Martin says, setting down another dish that smells salty and savory and wonderful.
Jon smiles as he leans up into the smell.
“You’ve still got some - there,” Martin says, reaching out to smooth a bit of the mess out of Jon’s beard. “Oh - you’ve got whiskers now.”
Jon’s eyes widen and he brings a hand up to his face to check. Sure enough, there are long, delicate filaments poking out of his cheeks on both sides. Running his hands down over his beard, Jon finds that it’s gone a little softer, as if the fur has started to claim his face as well.
“That was quick,” he says. “I guess we were right about acting like a cat.”
“I guess so,” Martin says, that worried look back in his eyes. “Do you want to do this one with a fork, just to make sure it doesn’t all happen too fast?”
“Yes, that’s probably a good idea.”
They make an effort to avoid any particularly catlike activities after that. Jon takes his tea on the sofa with a book, tangling his feet with Martin’s. They do a crossword puzzle. They consider taking a walk, then think better of it. Jon paces the hall for a bit, unable to tell if that’s one of his usual behaviors or something from the collar.
“Should we try removing it?” Martin asks. “Just to make sure it’s not, um, permanent?”
“Oh. Yes,” Jon agrees. He’d been trying to avoid that thought, but suspicion is probably smarter.
Martin comes up behind him and unfastens it, and Jon raises his hand to his throat. The fur is still there, but slowly thins over the next couple of hours as his skin turns back to its usual state, along with the hunger pains that come from everywhere but his stomach.
“You should put it back on,” Jon says, and Martin obliges.
At the end of the day he stands in front of the bathroom mirror, finally facing his new reality, and takes off the sweater. His fingers graze over the soft leather of the collar and the plush fur that springs up around it. It covers his neck, and creeps up to his chin and down his collarbones. His face remains human, save for the whiskers, and the fur seems to be sprouting in places that were always hairiest: across his chest, between his legs, and over his arms, petering out at the wrists.
He wears the sweater to bed that night, feeling a little sheepish at the thought of Martin witnessing this. Martin was never meant to see him looking like a monster, and this is a kind of monstrosity. Jon’s traded one horror for another, one that hurts him instead of other people. If it frightens him, it’s only because he’s so much less scared than he expected to be - than he should be. Mostly the world just feels soft and warm around him, whispering to him to shut his eyes and give in to all the parts of himself that feel traitorously good.
“That sweater is really cute on you,” Martin says.
“Yeah.” Martin shuffles in closer and wraps Jon in his arms. “Sorry for being so freaked out about everything. I know this is difficult and I don’t want to add to that.”
Jon nuzzles into Martin’s cushioned chest, covered with its own soft hair, and sighs contentedly at his own exhaustion. It’s been so long since he slept through the night, and distressing transformations aside, Jon has to admit, it feels good to be well-fed and drowsy.
“It’s alright,” he says. “It would be weirder if we weren’t scared, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Martin says. His hands stroke over Jon’s back until both of them fall completely asleep.
In the morning, little has changed. The furs spreads a little thicker down Jon’s arms and legs, but nothing more alarming seems to have transpired. They go about their morning routine as usual, with the only difference being that Jon accepts and eats all of his breakfast.
Jon tucks his tail into a pair of sweatpants, pulls a hoodie up tight around his face, and goes with Martin to walk some less traversed paths. Thankfully, they don’t pass anyone. The air is fresh and specked with a gentle rain that Jon would wrinkle his nose at on any day, but he does nestle a little deeper into the hoodie to avoid it, and tries not to be frustrated at the way his ears are too swaddled in fabric to hear the sounds of birds in the trees.
“So we’re taking it slow, then? With all the changes?” Martin asks as they fix dinner side by side, cooking up more plain chicken for Jon.
“I suppose,” Jon says. “I suspect at some point we won’t be able to control it.”
“How far do you think it’ll go?” Martin slows his knife as he chops a bunch of carrots. “I mean, do you think you’ll, um, shrink? Like to the size of an actual cat?”
“I - I honestly have no idea,” Jon says softly. “I really hadn’t considered it. It’s certainly possible.”
“Then at some point - you might not be able to talk?”
Jon’s heart pounds hard against his ribs, and he freezes as he runs his cutting board under the faucet, only flinching when the water hits his hand, cold and shocking. He flings it off, insulted, panicking at the thought of being trapped in his own body and mind, unable to communicate.
“Hey, hey,” Martin says, coming up to place a hand on his shoulder. “If it comes to that, I’ll take the collar off right away, okay?”
“What if I like it?” Jon says, wrenching his eyes shut. “Everything that’s happened so far - it doesn’t hurt, Martin. It feels - I mean, I’m eating, I’m sleeping. I haven’t even needed a statement since you put this on me.”
“Does it feel,” Martin pauses, his fingers trailing inquisitively up the base of Jon’s skull to play with one of his ears. “Good?”
Jon leans into his hand, nuzzling his nose against Martin’s palm, and lets the cutting board clatter into the sink as the answer drops plainly from his lips.
“Okay,” Martin says, gently kissing his lips. “I’ll take that as a win, honestly.”
That evening Jon gives in and curls up against Martin on the couch, resting his head on Martin’s thigh. When he checks the mirror before bed, the fur has spread up to frame his face, sweeping back from his cheeks and temples in graceful points of orange and brown, fading into his hair. It looks a bit strange, like an elaborate costume, and he turns to check his back, finding it completely covered all the way down his backside and over his thighs.
The fur has left his torso somewhat bare, circling his nipples and spreading thinly over his ribs and down in a line to his belly button, thickening when it reaches his groin. Feeling a little sick with nerves, he pets one hand down the small of his back and over his thigh, and finds it smooth and inviting.
In the middle of the night, he wakes, unsure why. Martin sleeps soundly beside him, looking comfortable and peaceful. Jon lies down again, turns one way and then the other, the sweater bunching awkwardly under him and sticking to his fur. Growing agitated, he shucks it, and hopes Martin won’t be too alarmed when he wakes. He curls into a ball as Martin’s little spoon, and finally falls asleep.
Martin doesn’t say anything in the morning at all. He only snuggles closer and pets through the fur on Jon’s back, rendering him loose-limbed and content.
Afternoons grow a little mushier over the next few days, as Jon lets himself nap more frequently, finding sunny spots on the couch and reveling in the golden heat that makes him stretch and sigh. He doesn’t even dream anymore, which is a startling and intoxicating luxury. Between his lazy afternoons and Martin’s continued petting, fur covers his body in a few days, taking over for his hair and leaving only his face, his palms and fingertips, and the bottoms of his feet. It grows in white and silken over his belly, which Jon could swear looks a little fuller than it did before.
Wordlessly, they agree the sweater is no longer necessary, and Jon slowly lets himself acclimate to strolling around the house without clothes. If Martin feels odd about it, he doesn’t say anything. He hugs Jon and kisses him and gently pets his fur and scratches his ears, and generally makes him feel loved and appreciated. Under that onslaught of tenderness, Jon loses sight of his fear. At any moment, he could take the collar off. He could, but he doesn’t. Mostly, he just sleeps.
“What’s this?” Jon asks, as Martin dangles a shoelace towards him while they rest on the couch one afternoon. He rolls onto his back to swat it away when it tickles his cheek.
Martin holds back a laugh. “I thought you might be bored? All you do is sleep lately.”
“Sleep is important,” Jon says absently, reaching to grab the string. Martin pulls it up and away at the last minute, then dangles it again.
Jon keeps reaching for it, batting absently as Martin lowers and raises it. A few times he catches it, only for it to slip out of his grasp. Slowly, his focus zeros in on the point of movement, and the rest of his world darkens, narrowed onto this one simple thing. He should feel hypnotized, or foolish, or afraid, but he’s only half aware of what he should be feeling, and much more interested in catching the damn string.
Martin laughs, standing to make the game more challenging. Jon rolls over and sits himself up, stalking the trailing string onto the carpet on hands and knees, his tail twitching behind him. Finally, he pounces, catching it between his teeth and dragging it from Martin’s grasp. Without standing up, he wanders off to the bedroom to celebrate his victory.
“Jon!” Martin calls over the sound of stifled giggling.
Jon blinks down at the string on the floor, rights himself, dusts off, and says as stiffly as possible, “I’m going to take a nap.”
Martin at least has the good sense to cover his mouth while he laughs, and Jon curls up on the bed with heat behind his cheeks. Lapping up milk from a bowl was one thing. Lazing in the sun, letting Martin pet him, that was all fine. Crawling around on the floor, chasing shoelaces - if that’s how he’s going to act, he’d rather not be aware of it.
The bedroom door squeaks open and Martin pads over to the bed, curling himself around Jon and wrapping an arm around his waist. He pets over Jon’s belly, humming appreciatively at its softness, and Jon feels himself blush. It’s hard to notice himself gaining weight under all that fur, but the steady diet of cream has certainly been doing its work.
“I love you,” Martin says, and kisses the top of his head.
“I love you, too,” Jon says, “even when you let me act ridiculous.”
“I happen to love you when you act ridiculous.” Martin runs a finger along the collar, as if testing it. “Was it fun, at least?”
“Until I made a fool of myself? Yes, I suppose it was.”
“Fun is good,” Martin says. “If it feels good to you, I promise I won’t think it’s foolish. Alright?”
“Alright,” Jon says, feeling a little patronized, but also relieved. “Are you still okay with all this?”
Martin pauses, giving the question the consideration it deserves. “Could I try taking the collar off? Just to make sure?”
“I suppose,” Jon says, though he doesn’t really want to be without it.
Martin unbuckles it, and it comes loose with no argument. He secures it again and smooths down Jon’s fur. “Well, it still comes off at least.”
“Yeah.” Martin nestles them a little closer together, petting Jon’s fur in gentle, calming strokes. “So long as it’s not hurting you. So long as you still feel good.”
Jon lets himself laugh a little. “Only my pride’s injured.”
Martin strokes back over Jon’s forehead and down his neck, in a way that makes Jon sigh and arch into the touch.
“How very catlike,” he says.
Martin, because he is a considerate and intelligent boyfriend, breaks out the string again the following afternoon, and doesn’t say a word as Jon loses himself in the game, diving and pouncing on all fours. He laughs kindly, hiding his smile behind his hand, and afterwards pets Jon until he’s loose and mindless, stretched over Martin’s lap.
“I hope you know I wasn’t laughing at you,” Martin says.
“It’s just nice to see you enjoying yourself.”
Jon feels himself blush again, and leans into Martin’s warmth. “Would you - pet my head some more?”
Martin pets him in long, languid strokes, then short ones, then scritches under Jon’s chin in a way that makes him feel as if every nerve in his body somehow lives right where Martin is touching him. It’s wonderful - it’s really very good. So good that Jon doesn’t even think to question the gentle, soothing rumble that emanates from his own chest and soon lulls him to sleep.
No comment is made when Jon shyly pads to the kitchen on his hands and knees for dinner, and accepts his evening dish of cream on the floor. He’s aware of Martin watching from his seat at the table, curious and protective, and feels secure in the knowledge that Martin is guarding him.
“Here,” Martin says, and holds out a bit of cooked chicken in his hand.
Without a second thought, Jon takes it in his teeth, swallows, and licks the taste off Martin’s fingers.
He freezes, tail swishing in alarm.
“Sorry,” he says, “I don’t know why I -”
“Do you want more?” Martin asks, cracking a smile, his eyes wide and fascinated.
Jon can only nod, and allows Martin to deliver another bite into his mouth, and another. Eventually Martin sets the plate down onto the floor, and pets Jon’s head while he eats the rest. He even brings an extra dish of cream, which Jon downs with just as much enthusiasm, delighted to be given a treat.
When he checks himself over for changes later, he finds white fur growing thicker between his fingers and over his palms, where soft, raised pads of skin puff up into pawprints. His feet are the same. He rubs his fingers together, feeling the new textures, and then runs them down his thighs, arms, and chest, re-learning his topography.
In bed, he rests with a full belly and quiet mind as his chest rumbles and Martin scritches down his back and tail.
“Sorry this is so weird,” Jon mumbles. He really wants to convey this to Martin - that he knows adjusting to this behavior is a big ask.
“Yep,” Martin says with a smile in his voice. “You certainly are weird.”
“You really don’t mind taking care of me?”
“I love taking care of you.”
The next day Jon doesn’t bother with standing, and spends the day on his hands and knees. It feels good to be closer to the ground, not so off-balance. He gets to look up at Martin and appreciate the sure and solid size of him, and rub his cheek against Martin’s leg.
Martin makes sure Jon is comfortable, serving him double portions for every meal and taking extra care in petting him. He even leaves out a bowl of water and a dish of little crushed crisps that Jon can snack on like kibble, in case he gets hungry.
Their days develop a routine, though they hardly feel like days anymore. Time doesn’t mean much now that Jon can sleep and eat and relax whenever he likes. Sometimes they still cook or read together; sometimes they play with string. Jon lets Martin pet him all over and stretches and keens into every touch.
Martin seems to enjoy the petting, too, taking his time to study what will put Jon to sleep or wake him or make him purr. He kneads adoringly at the pudge growing around Jon’s waist and haunches and under his chin, and Jon almost feels as cute as Martin says he is. It’s a little absurd being the object of so much affection, but he really can’t complain - Martin has lovely hands, and he does such a good job, all while showering Jon with compliments.
“That’s lovely,” Martin says, squeezing a gentle handful of Jon’s furry belly after a particular indulgent lunch. “I’m so happy you’re eating.”
“I’ll have to get back my taste for vegetables once we’re through all this,” Jon says.
“I’ll just find a way to sneak cream into everything. That should do it.”
They do a crossword puzzle that afternoon, though Jon is a little too sleepy to participate. He watches the birds through the window when Martin leaves to go into town, and starts to chatter as he tracks them with his eyes. The sounds feel funny in his throat, but he can’t bring himself to stop. A fly zips overhead, and Jon commits himself to catching it for a while, but never manages to win. Eventually he picks a patch of sun on the couch and curls up in a cozy ball.
The rays of light are warm on his fur, Jon is safe, and all is right in the world. Except that his fur looks a bit dull. Jon considers this, and as he considers, he lifts his arm to his mouth and licks. He licks it again, and again, smoothing down the fur with his spit and nibbling a little where it needs extra care. He tips his head to reach his chest where he can, and by the time he realizes what he’s doing, he has his thigh bent up towards his face and is straining to bathe it.
Jon shakes himself, and swallows another mouthful of fur, deeply grateful that Martin isn’t here to see this. His heart pounds for a moment, and he wants to hide for shame of what he’s been reduced to, but - well, it still feels good. Fur needs grooming; that’s just the way of it. He puts his tongue back to work, ignoring the embarrassment flooding through him as he focuses on the gentle, calming motions, working over every inch of fur that he can reach, feeling more pleased with every lick.
He wakes to Martin walking up the path and pokes his head up over the couch to say hello, then looks down at his hands. At some point during his nap, his fingers have shortened into proper paws with thick, spongy pads and fluffy tufts of fur. It’s the same with his feet, which seem longer and daintier. He hops onto the floor and shakes himself out, trying a few steps in his new conformation. Feeling oddly confident, he trots over to wind around Martin’s legs when he walks in the door.
“Well, look at you,” Martin says, setting a bag of groceries on the floor. “What have you been up to?”
“Just sleeping,” Jon replies, leaving out the part about licking himself.
“Lazing about, hm?” Martin pets down Jon’s spine and Jon arches up into it stretching with delight as his tail flounces.
“Not at all - I - well,” He laughs. “I almost caught a fly.”
“What a brave hunter,” Martin comments, and Jon blushes with a newfound sense of pride. “I got fish for dinner.”
Jon eats blissfully until Martin decides he's done. The fish tastes thick and oily on his tongue and he chases after Martin when he picks up the dish.
“We have to save some for tomorrow, alright?” Martin laughs, sounding a little nervous. “You’re eating so much lately.”
“What about the cream?” Jon asks, since he’s pretty sure he’s still hungry. He feels like he could do nothing but eat all day and enjoy every bite.
“Oh, come on.”
Throwing up his hands, Martin goes to the fridge and pours a little cream into a dish, then holds it out to Jon and lets him lap it up from his hands. Jon swirls his tongue around the bowl at the end, chasing every last drop.
“God,” Martin breathes, as he swallows down some emotion Jon can’t quite discern. “You really like that stuff don’t you?”
“Does that mean I get more?”
“Ha,” Martin chides. “I really have no idea how much I’m supposed to feed you.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Fine.” Martin pours a little more, keeling as he holds it out to Jon and petting his head indulgently..
“Full?” Martin asks, when Jon cleans the bowl.
“No?” Jon says, wondering what it would take for Martin to give him some more. He blinks and licks his lips, gaze darting to the carton of double cream waiting on the counter.
Martin heaves out a sigh. “Really?”
“Can I have more?” He asks. “Please?”
Martin purses his lips and runs a finger down Jon’s nose, and then cups his cheek, petting over the fuzzy place where his whiskers stick out.
“Please?” Jon whispers against his palm.
The sounds Martin makes is unreadable, but he stands and picks up the carton, watching Jon as he fills the dish even higher than before, nearly to the brim.
“Is that enough?” Martin asks archly, kneeling again when Jon nods.
A bit of cream sloshes onto the floor, and Jon laps it up eagerly before diving into the bowl with enough enthusiasm that Martin has to hold him back, fisting a hand into the loose skin and fur at the back of his neck.
“Not so fast,” Martin says, his voice soft and commanding. “That’s it.”
Jon slows his tongue, savoring the taste as it fills him. He swallows it down until his stomach is warm and heavy, but it’s a good weight - one that makes him feel lush and alive.
“Bed?” Martin asks, and Jon hums in agreement, nuzzling into Martin’s hand.
Without warning, Martin slips his hands under Jon’s arms, and lifts him up off the floor to cradle him.
“Hey!” Jon says, sticking a paw in Martin’s face. Claws slip out from where his nails should be, and he hastily tries to hide them.
“If you’re going to be my cat, you’ll have to put up with certain things,” Martin informs him, carrying Jon into the bedroom as if he weighs nothing at all. “Which includes me picking you up and snuggling you. I think it’s only fair.”
“It’s not dignified,” Jon complains, laying his head against Martin’s shoulder and studying his paws. The finger parts splay out when he flexes them, connected by skin and fur, but his thumbs aren’t as useful as they once were.
“That’s correct,” Martin says. “I have terrible news - being alive is undignified.”
He sets Jon gently onto the bed and pats his head, making Jon’s ears splay out to the side.
“You have more fur on your face, you know,” he says. “And the tip of your nose is sort of a little cat nose.”
Jon flaps a paw up to bat at his face, but can’t quite feel the difference. One downside of living on all fours is not being able to check his reflection, but it’s been a relief not to dwell on his transformation and simply let it be.
“Anything else?” Jon asks.
“Your eyebrows.” Martin traces over Jon’s brow and up his forehead, and Jon presses into the touch like he always does, eyes fluttering shut. “You’re just a little fuzzier all over.”
“Is it still - cute?” Jon asks.
“Yes,” Martin says, nearly a whisper. “You’re a very cute kitten.”
Martin presses a kiss to his nose, and Jon sighs, rolling onto his back and stretching luxuriously, kneading his paws against the air as the words hang on him like a diadem.
“Am I?” He asks with a smile that twitches his whiskers.
“Yes,” Martin laughs. “Do you still feel okay?”
“Yes,” Jon says, because he does.
He feels wonderful somehow, as if the world has finally ordered itself into something predictable and calm. The scope of the universe has been reduced down to only what matters: comfort and food and Martin. He can be a simple thing, in a simple world.
Flourishing under Martin’s praise, Jon dedicates himself to earning it on a daily basis. He keeps his fur looking neat, starting to groom himself where Martin can see, which earns him a “well done, kitten,” on several occasions. He becomes a master of the string game, striving in increasingly ridiculous positions to make Martin laugh as he catches his target. In a truly chivalrous gesture, he gives up complaining when Martin picks him up and nuzzles his fur.
These efforts earn him several cat toys that Martin picks up from the local pet shop, complete with feathers and bells that are far more satisfying to chase and chew. Martin buys fish more regularly, and also treats Jon to some fancy pâté, and catnip that sends Jon into an ecstatic, floating state of mind.
Also, with a wordless but pointed look, Martin fills Jon’s snack bowl with actual kibble, for actual cats. Jon frowns, mortified, and refuses to address it. If Martin looks a little flustered at the prospect of feeding his boyfriend cat food, he only shrugs it off, and leaves the dish for Jon to peruse as his leisure. The food is ignored all day, until Martin leaves for a walk, and the smell finally gets the better of Jon. He sidles up to the bowl and sniffs it, mouth watering a little, then takes a bite. It’s not bad. It’s savory, and satisfyingly crunches against his teeth, which seem to be sharpening for the task. Soon the dish is empty, and Jon groans at the fullness in his stomach, shocked to have eaten so much unsupervised. He wavers a little climbing onto the couch, and grooms himself until he falls asleep.
Martin looks pleased when he arrives home.
“You ate all your food?” He says, ruffling Jon’s fur. “What a good kitty.”
Jon basks in the praise, rolling to ease the pressure.
“Did you maybe eat a little too much?” Martin asks in a soft voice, his hands massaging Jon’s fur, soothing his fullness.
“Not at all,” Jon lies. “I could eat more.”
Martin laughs. His hands trace dizzying circles across Jon’s plush underside, and Jon stretches and shudders a little, drifting in a well-fed haze.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you,” Martin says, sounding as dazed as Jon feels.
Martin scratches up to Jon’s chin until he’s purring loudly and lost to the world, kneading his paws into the cushions.
After that, the kibble becomes daily fare, as do tins of meat and gravy that taste too good for Jon to care if they came from a pet shop. He still eats right out of Martin’s palm whenever he gets the chance, and learns to act particularly cute when he asks for cream or bites from Martin’s plate, arching his back and tipping up his head with a little smile. A healthy cushion of fat continues to build under his coat, and he feels pleasantly plump everywhere and stronger, too, better able to pounce and chase his toys.
It’s strange, after spending so long starving and hunted, to be suddenly wrapped in softness from all sides. Every day brings a new and unexpected luxury as he gives in to the peaceful slowing of his mind, finding that food tastes better, touch feels better, and the greatest mystery in his world is why a ray of light wanders up the living room wall every afternoon, too high and ephemeral to catch. Jon tries to investigate, but always slips out from under his paw just when he thinks he’s trapped it.
“What do you think it is?” He asks Martin one afternoon, pillowed against his lap.
“It’s just light,” Martin mumbles sleepily, drawn out of his nap. “It’s nothing”
Jon nods towards it. “There - it keeps moving.”
“The reflection from the window? It’s just light reflecting off a glass.”
“What?” Jon says, only half aware as he focuses on the movement. “I’ll catch it later, I suppose.”
“Whatever you say, kitten,” Martin replies, and they both drift off to sleep.
Martin continues to praise him, to call him “kitten” and kiss the top of his head. He buys a brush, and spends long afternoons helping Jon groom himself and then lies down beside him to nap. Jon purrs, proud to share his unshakable calm with his boyfriend, and begins to suspect he could be good at this - good at being a cat. Every time Martin laughs and holds him and mutters kind words against his fur, Jon is a little more satisfied with his progress.
Strutting around the house with his head held high, tail gently swaying, paws neat and well-groomed, he feels just as perfect as Martin says he is.
Jon catches his reflection in a window and finds his eyes are larger, glinting in the light. Fur covers his face fully, with a streak of white leading down to his little pink nose. His upper lip puffs up making a plush white muzzle where his whiskers sprout, and the tabby fluff around his neck spreads in a fancy array over his collar. Raising a paw, he licks it, and wipes over his face and behind his ear, enjoying the simple pleasure of caring for himself.
“What a good kitten,” Martin murmurs against his ear at night, as they fall asleep, and Jon completely believes him.
Jon wakes in the middle of the night and lets himself slink off the bed to wander in the dark. He presses his head against the door to push it open, and stalks the hallway, checking the shadows for nothing in particular. The water in his bowl is still fresh enough to take a few sips, and he crunches down the last of his kibble, wishing Martin had set out more food.
With a sigh, he pads around the house, eyeing the darkened corners suspiciously and batting at the toy mice Martin left out for his amusement. He hears something rustling by the couch and darts towards it, moving faster than he knew he could. The disturbance stops, and he sits in wait, eventually giving up and grooming himself again to relieve the boredom. Testing his flexibility, he raises a leg high in the air to clean parts he couldn’t quite reach before. He stretches and preens when his bath is done, sauntering back to the bed to curl up in Martin’s arms.
Sleep falls over him like a heavy blanket, and when he opens his eyes again, the world is a little softer, a little hazier, painted in blues and greys. A body stirs beside him, and he presses into its warmth, knowing he’s safe. His person is beside him, petting him, and soon will feed him, and that’s all that matters.
Words are spoken, and he agrees with them, opening his mouth to let out a chirp. More words, in a different tone. He meows again in response.
A sigh. More petting. He chases the hand with his head and nuzzles against it, purring, until it reaches for something at the back of his neck. With a start he jumps up from the bed, swatting the hand away.
The person speaks to him again, and he meows back clearly. Another sigh, and the person heads out of the room with heavy footsteps. He follows, hoping there will be food.
He’s fed more fish, which is exactly what he wanted, and cream, which is exactly what he wanted. His food and water bowls are refilled; he watches to make sure. Then he curls up next to his person on the couch and dozes lazy as can be, purring loudly as those hands pet up and down his full, warm belly. He grabs a hand with his teeth, imagining it’s a mouse, and the other hand swats him a little.
It’s a good game, but not as good as the feather toy, which comes next. He’s going to eviscerate it. He pounces and stalks and eventually catches it, loses interest, and rewards himself with a snack from his bowl.
Then he gets chicken, hand-fed, and more kibble. He wonders if he could trick this person into leaving out the whole bag for him, so he can eat and eat until he falls asleep, and then wake up to eat some more.
He sleeps in the sun afterwards, warm and stretching and grooming himself absently. The person murmurs something to him, and strokes down the length of his body. He can only lean into it, pleased and drowsy, in too good a mood to protest when the person touches his paws. He flips himself over and lets the person scratch at the base of his tail, rising up into the touch.
At some point it gets dark, and he meows for another meal, pompous and demanding. His person laughs and pets him as he vocalizes, speaking in a playful tone as they wander toward the kitchen. He finishes the tin he’s given and meows for more, and with a sigh, his person provides, fooled into letting him eat until he’s full and then some.
Then the person picks him up and carries him to bed. He rests for a bit beside his person, until the noises of the night sparkle in his ears, compelling him to wake.
The house is dark and in need of investigation, but he takes some sustenance first from his kibble and water. Then, over his shoulder, something rustles behind the couch. He freezes as his ears twitch, straining for the tell-tale sounds of some creeping prey, and softly stalks towards the couch.
Something scuttles; he pounces, claws shooting out and into the wriggling body of a mouse. It squeaks and struggles, small and helpless in his paw. He bares his teeth, which feel sharp and powerful in his mouth, and sinks them into the thing’s belly. The mouse tastes of unadulterated victory, and only grows bigger as he chews, swallowing down every bite of bone and flesh.
He cleans himself when he’s finished, easily able to twist his head side to side and lap at the fur on his back. Reclining, he stretches to lick between his legs, cleaning himself thoroughly all the way to his tail. Then, sated and pleased, he slinks back to the bedroom, small and nimble in the dark. The bed rises up in front of him, seeming larger somehow, but he scales it easily, jangling the little bell around his neck. He curls up next to his sleeping person, luxuriating in the warmth, yawns widely, and falls asleep.
“Morning,” Jon says, stretching into the bed and against Martin’s chest. The sunlight is muted around them, and the blankets are warm and cozy.
“Jon?” Martin mumbles, groggy and confused. “Jon!”
Jon flops back as Martin wraps him in a crushing hug, and struggles to breathe under the force of it.
“Everything alright?” He manages.
“God - I just - you had me worried,” Martin says, nuzzling into the fur that still spreads up Jon’s neck.
Jon brushes fingers histhrough Martin’s hair, and is a little puzzled to find his hands are actually hands again, though still covered in fur.
“Did you take the collar off?” He asks.
“Yes,” Martin says, still not showing his face. “I told you I’d take it off if you stopped talking.”
“Oh,” Jon says.
“But then you wouldn't let me take it off, and I thought maybe you were still in there and wanted it on? But then -”
“But then what?” Jon asks.
“Well the next morning you were just a cat.” Martin takes a breath. “Like a whole, actual, cat-sized cat.”
“Oh,” Jon says.
“Yeah, and I just freaked out a bit. Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” Jon tells him, stroking Martin’s hair and wondering how long it’s been since they’ve had a conversation. “How - how long was I - you know -”
“It’s been almost a week.”
“A week? Good lord.” Jon blinks, trying to process the scope of so many days. He can hardly remember the last thing he was doing, and all the things he does remember bring a furious blush to his face.
“Yeah, and I just didn’t have anyone to talk to? I mean, you were still good company, but, one-sided conversation gets a little - well.” Martin heaves out a sigh and leans himself up to kiss Jon softly on the lips. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“Me, too,” Jon says, and kisses him again.
He lets Martin hold him for a while, sneaking glances at his own body to check on the fur, which hasn’t yet begun to recede. The swishing of his tail is both familiar and strange, distracting him from falling back into sleep. In lieu of a statement, he rifles through his memories of the past few weeks, letting the humiliation sting.
“You okay?” Martin asks, sounding like he hasn’t slept much.
“Yes, fine,” Jon says too quickly. “Just, sorry to put you through all that.”
“You had a good reason,” Martin says. “I mean, you went ages without a statement, and you finally gained some weight back, so it wasn’t all bad.”
“Still,” Jon mutters, thinking of bits of chicken in Martin’s hand, holding a string in his mouth, the purring. “I’m sorry you had to see me like that.”
“I mean, it was strange, but -” Martin’s nose wrinkles, and he looks up at Jon with a lecture brooding in his eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you you’re cute before you believe me?”
A blush rises in Jon’s cheeks with renewed fervor and he frowns through it, hoping to ruin the effect. “Nothing about this is cute -”
“Well, I think you’re cute,” Martin says. “And I’ll feed you bowls of cream forever if it means you keep eating.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jon mumbles, squirming at the thought, and the memory of Martin’s fingers under his tongue.
“You’ve always been ridiculous,” Martin scoffs. “You might as well be ridiculous and happy.”
Martin scratches at the fur under Jon’s chin, rubbing and petting until Jon lets out a soft noise and gives himself over to purring. He trembles, too comfortable to argue, and Martin kisses him again on the lips, and then across the fur still covering his jaw.
“There you go,” Martin says softly, “there’s my happy kitten.”
“Yes,” Jon whispers, and the calm, hazy feeling washes over him again.