It begins with the Cat. Well, actually it begins with a team of extraordinary people, as Fury put it, but that was well before the Avengers saved the world from an invasion of semi-cyborg aliens, and before Stark Tower became the Avengers Tower, and even before Coulson, first name Agent, came back from the dead and his assets almost killed him for dying in the first place. So yes, it begins with a team, but the Cat is where the story takes off.
The day in question is thoroughly unremarkable. Except that it’s stormy which is important because if it hadn’t been stormy, the Cat, or rather the Kitten at this point, wouldn’t have been slowly drowning in its back-alley home or mewing pathetically for someone to save it. Also, if it hadn’t been stormy, Thor wouldn’t have gone out to get more Cookies and Crème Pop tarts, his rainy day snack, because someone (i.e. the Man of Iron) had eaten them all without getting more. But as chance would have it, the demigod take a shortcut down the aforementioned alley, overhears a pitiful mewl from behind a nearby dumpster and goes to investigate.
What Thor finds is a four-and-a-half pound ball of wet ginger fur and two absurdly large, pleading green eyes. Without a second thought, he tucks the Kitten into his jacket, holding it close to his chest to keep it warm, and hurries back to the Tower.
Thor finds the team semi-assembled in the living room. Steve, Natasha and Clint all sit on the sofa as Coulson tries to run a briefing. Only Steve pays attention to their handler; Natasha and Clint watch TV over Coulson’s shoulder, sharing a bowl of popcorn and flicking the occasional piece at different parts of the room. Bruce and Tony stand near the kitchen, holding presumably fresh cups of tea and coffee respectively. Thor quickly takes a throw from the back of the sofa, shucks off his wet jacket and wraps the shivering kitten in the blanket.
“What’s that?” Bruce asks mildly.
“It is a baby kitten I found while wandering in the rain,” Thor replies.
Suffice it to say, the team is not impressed.
“Thor, you can’t just bring every stray you find back to the Tower,” Tony gripes when Thor presents the kitten to the rest of the Avengers.
Thor scoffs at his teammate. “Man of Iron, how could you not want to help such an adorable and lost soul?”
Bruce snorts into his tea as Thor holds the mewling animal swaddled in a blanket like a newborn babe. Tony raises an unimpressed eyebrow and Thor moves toward Steve, Natasha, and Clint who watch the confrontation from the comfort of the sofa, a bowl of popcorn shared amongst them.
“Captain, surely you must agree with me.”
Steve shifts uneasily in his seat, and Clint pegs him in the forehead with a piece of popcorn. Natasha promptly smacks him in the back of the head.
“I don’t know,” Steve says warily. “I’ve never been too fond of cat. They give me the willies.”
Thor kneels in front of his seated comrades and pushes the kitten into Steve’s arms. “Then you must bond with the creature to overcome these ‘willies.’ Lord Yngvarr the High is quiet patient.”
Unsure of what to do, Steve awkwardly holds the blanket-wrapped bundle and the kitten stares at him with its absurdly large green eye. Those eyes only make the Captain squirm more.
“Lord Yngvarr the High?” Tony asks. “That’s its name?”
“It is a mighty name for a mighty warrior.”
“That thing can’t weigh more than two pounds. It’s a ridiculous name for a cat.”
“Size does not matter,” Thor protests. “He will grow.” (That’s the first of many unintentional lies the Cat causes).
Thor turns back to Steve. Steve’s holding the kitten at arm’s length and looks like he can’t decide whether or not he’d be justified in dropping it. Clint chuckles at that and the barest hint of a smile touches Natasha’s cheeks. Thor looks at his friend imploringly.
Steve sighs. “You can keep it if I don’t have to touch it.”
Thor beams “Very well, Captain,” he bellows as he takes the kitten back in his arms. “It shall be done.” (That’s lie number two).
The demigod turns to Natasha. She fixes him with her impervious gaze.
“Will you feed it?” she asks.
“Of course.” (Lie number three).
“Will you clean up its messes?”
“Of course.” (Lie number four).
“Will you keep it out of my room?”
“Yes, Lady Widow.” (Lie number five, though admittedly that one was not Thor’s fault).
“Then I don’t care,” Natasha replies as she turns back to the TV.
Clint chuckles; a strained, half-smile wrinkles Coulson’s eyes. “Well,” Coulson says as he strolls toward where Thor stands, “strictly speaking S.H.I.E.L.D. has no provisions concerning employee pets unless they become involved in international incidents.”
“Lord Yngvarr the High would never commit such an action,” Thor protests, protectively holding the kitten to his chest. (Lie number six, also not entirely Thor’s fault, but he did bring Loki to visit so… it could go either way).
Coulson grins and extends his hand to stroke gently across the kitten’s head. “Oh I believe you. And besides,” he says as he pulls the kitten from Thor’s grasp and pulls away some of the swaddling to let the kitten move more, “she is too cute to do any real harm.” (Lie number seven).
Every member of the team stares at Coulson in astonishment (apart from Natasha who has a knowing glint in her gaze). Coulson simply shrugs. “Yes, I am a cat guy. So sue me.”
“You shouldn’t suggest it,” Tony babbles as he drinks from his mug. “I just might.”
Thor chuckles and turns toward Clint, the last of the Avengers to convince. At the moment, Clint is watching the kitten paw at the blanket in a meager attempt to escape. Its wide eyes hone in on the archer and the kitten mewls pleadingly.
“I don’t do cats,” Clint firmly states, his gaze locked on the kitten. “Dammit Barton! How can you not yield to the cuteness of this lovable face?”
The kitten is about six inches from the tip of Clint’s nose, and its teary green eyes are so big it looks like a cartoon. Thor presses the kitten further until Clint goes cross-eyed trying to keep his eyes on it. The kitten mews quietly and sticks out its tiny pink tongue, touching it to Clint’s nose.
Someone in the room “aww”s at that, and after the fact, every person in the room swears it was Thor.
“Winston is staying,” Bruce says from across the room.
“I veto ‘Winston,’” Tony counters immediately.
“You didn’t want to keep the cat in the first place,” Coulson points out. “You already removed your right to have any power over choosing the name.”
Tony huffs. “Fine, if you can settle on a name everyone agrees with, you can keep it.”
Thor jumps up and down in the excitement and exuberance that only a twelve-year-old girl could possess, but he’s the God of Thunder so no one calls him on it.
(Later that week, a video of the incident will appear on youtube and be spammed across the S.H.I.E.L.D. servers. The video gets upwards of 80 million hits. No one will step forward to stake claim as the videographer, but by that point, Tony Stark in his Outrageous-Behavior-of-the-Month will make a very, very drunk proposal to Pepper in the middle of a Dateline interview and “God of Thunder loses his shit over smelly rat of a kitten” will be lost to the void of the internet).
Clint cocks an eyebrow. “I still don’t do cats.” (Lie number eight).
“We’ll see,” Natasha quips without looking away from the television.
Surprisingly, the team can’t agree on a name for the kitten. Thor doesn’t let up on the name Lord Yngvarr the High but that gets shot down numerous times, most adamantly by Tony asking “How the fuck do you spell that? Seriously?”
Steve puts in his vote for something simple like Spot or Chance. You know, something easy to remember. Coulson quickly points out that those are dog names, and the kitten is probably confused enough for a tiny ball of fluff.
Natasha perpetually insists that she doesn’t give a flying fuck about what name the team chooses, so fucking choose a name already! However, she does veto every name Tony throws into the mix because a, he has no proper say in the matter and b, Optimus Prime, Wishbone, Tinkerbell, Watson, Simba, and Stormagedon: Dark Lord of All, are all ridiculous names for a kitten.
Bruce likes Winston, but he’s willing to acknowledge that the kitten needs to be about twenty-five pounds heavier with a bushy mustache, a cigar, and a monocle to properly embody the name. He’s probably the most flexible member of the team.
Clint mostly stays away from the proceedings, occasionally walking into the kitchen to grab food after a workout or archery practice. When he does walk in on the team bickering mercilessly over the merits of different names, Coulson mitigating the discussion, Clint will throw in a suggestion like Little Rat or Flea-bag. Coulson always shoots him Death Glare Number 3 and hisses “Dammit Barton,” and Clint scurries away for fear of having paperwork thrown at him.
After three days of negotiation, they’re no closer to settling on a name than they were at the beginning and while Thor and Natasha are screaming over some absurd detail, Coulson pipes in a break “Why not just call it the Cat?”
Tony scoffs that that’s unoriginal, Bruce shrugs, Steve contemplates it a moment before agreeing, Thor insists that Lord Yngvarr the High is a far superior title, and Natasha stares at Thor like she wants to rip out his tongue. Clint’s at the archery range, so it’s clear he truly doesn’t give a fuck.
No one likes the name (except maybe Coulson), but regardless, the Cat sticks.
No one knows why Clint Barton adopted the Cat. He doesn’t particularly give of the I’m-a-cat-guy vibe, but he also doesn’t seem to mind having his uniform covered by bright orange cat hair. But when it became clear that Thor knew nothing about taking care of a kitten, Clint stepped in to make sure the little rat at least had food and a place to poop.
The first night, he walks out of his bathroom and finds the kitten curled up on his pillow. Barton sighs before grabbing the animal and tossing it out into the hall. The kitten looks up at him with those pitiful green eyes, but Barton turns away and closes his door.
The second night, Clint finds the kitten perched atop his weapons locker, though he can’t quite figure out what acrobatic maneuver it had to do to get up there. Still, it’s not staying. He picks the cat up deftly and once more puts it out into the hall. Barton sighs when he inadvertently meets the kitten’s teary gaze.
“How the fuck are you doing puppy dog eyes?”
The kitten mewls in response. Clint closes the door.
Clint is sent out on a mission to Somalia for the next two weeks (He asks Steve to feed the kitten while he’s away, because he doesn’t really trust any of the others to remember). It’s hot and sandy and generally unpleasant. Particularly since the op runs a week longer than anticipated because his target is a paranoid agoraphobic diplomat who thinks he sees enemy agents on every street corner. Silly diplomat-turned-arms-dealer. He should have been watching the rooftops instead.
When Clint gets back to the tower, it’s late, he’s covered in debriefing-grime, and he’d give his left eye for a shower with proper water pressure. Luckily, his bathroom is already equipped with that.
After an almost ungodly amount of time spent under a steamy spray of water, Clint returns to his bedroom to find one of his combat boots lying on the ground beside his closet, a good three feet from where he left it. He sneaks away consciously and takes the bow and arrow he keeps beside his nightstand (yes, he is paranoid) and nocks an arrow, waiting for the intruder to show himself.
The boot moves again, jumping a few inches, and a soft mew sounds. Clint’s brow furrows, and he watches as the kitten peaks over the tongue and blinks at him.
Clint relaxes and he can’t stop himself from grinning. He sets down his bow, picks up the kitten and sets it on his bed. He pulls back the covers and settles in for the night. Before he turns the light out, he gives the kitten a stern look and mutters “Just for tonight.”
The kitten sidles up next to Clint and nudges his hand with its nose. It purrs loudly when Clint gives in and strokes under its chin.
When the kitten wakes him up at 5 in the morning, scratching at the door and mewling urgently, Clint grins as he sleepily opens the door. The kitten weaves in between his legs before it scampers out into the dark hallway.
No one knows why Clint Barton adopts the Cat…except maybe JARVIS who watched the whole scene silently, but it’s not his place to say so. And if the security footage of the hallway that night disappeared from Stark’s mainframe, well, JARVIS isn’t going to mention it.