As always, Clint was the first one awake. No one knew how he did it, but none of the others have ever managed to catch him asleep. Sometimes he was drowsy, especially on rainy days, and then he liked to curl on the back of the couch and stare at the world outside the window as if it was guilty of personally insulting him. Sometimes he even allowed one of them to sit next to him without a word. But that was about it – Clint was always watchful, always prepared and always ready to pounce.
Tony kept repeating that Clint was some kind of a cross between one of them and a bird of prey – too easily startled, always watching them with hungry eyes. No one believed him, of course, but still, it was fairly distressing to watch him awake and bushy tailed at seven o’clock in the morning. Natasha was sometimes annoyed at him because of it – Tony suspected it was some kind of a pride-thing, but never voiced that thought.
They both belonged to the kind of creatures that are dangerous to cross. Like alligators or young children.
Clint never commented on the situation. He ignored Tony’s complaining and only smiled to Natasha when she decided to be cross with him. He never needed much sleep to begin with. Besides that, waking up early gave him an ample opportunity to catch the big guy unaware and…
“Clint! You are a God’s plague, you know that?”
Clint smiled and purred loudly, as if thanking for a compliment. It was a good jump, if he himself said so; the pray has been taken by a surprise and it was all that counted. Even swinging six feet over the floor in a grip of two giant hands was not enough to make him reconsider his stance.
“One of these days I am going to put glue on the top of the fridge, mark my words, friend,” big guy threatened while shaking him side to side. Clint loved the motion. Big guy knew about it because he laughed and hoisted Clint onto his shoulder. “You are impossible, Clinton.”
Now Clint was content. He would never tell anyone, but second reason for waking up with the birds was that five days in a week he could get his cuddles from the big guy without any interruptions. And any witnesses.
He shifted a little, arranging himself into a more comfortable position across big guy’s shoulders and watched him going on about his morning business. Toasts with jam, a cup of coffee strong enough to burn trough the counter top, some fruit – big guy ate surprisingly scanty breakfast and once or twice Clint considered bringing him something to make that diet more interesting. A mouse would be too small. A bird? Nah, pigeons in the area were all mangy and tasted like shit. Hm, that girl on the other side of the street has a pet bunny that she allowed to run around their garden. It was quite plump and looked healthy…
“Hey, don’t fall asleep on me, scrap.” Big guy’s voice ended Clint’s trait of thoughts. And then a piece of toast with jam on it was floating on front of his face. “Here, it’s raspberry today.”
That was as much convincing as Clint needed. Oh goodies.
Clint 3 : Others 0.
“Tasha, if I hear you scratching the couch one more time we are going to discuss de-clawing again.”
That was it, then.
Thor shifted slightly when Clint crawled off his shoulders and gracefully jumped on the counter of the kitchen isle; from there it took him three bounces to get to his usual spot on top of the fridge. It never failed to make the man smile – little bastard liked to see everything and never missed a chance to pounce on the unsuspecting victim. That time he almost took out Darcy was one of those precious memories that people kept in their hearts until death.
Subtle purring drew his attention to the floor beside his right leg and, of course, Natasha was already there, all grace and pointy ears and expectant stare. She wasn’t a cat that demanded attention – she always seemed to be too dignified to rub himself on someone’s shins. No, she was a lady in every inch. This didn’t get in the way of her keeping the rest of the male household under her paw, of course.
Thor reached down and lifted her up on the counter where she gracefully stretched and waited patiently for her morning scratch behind one ear, which the man provided without delay. When it was done, she nosed his hand in thanks and went to stretch on the stack of newspapers and mail that was placed strategically to cover only a half of the isle. That was her spot, just as the fridge was Clint’s; just by the window pointing at the west it was sunny and warm, which was just perfect for her back leg.
Thor finished his breakfast and went to do the plates. Some days his inner boy was urging him to act like a proper bachelor and just leave it lying about until he runs out of clean dishes; and sometimes Thor wanted to listen to that silent voice. But every time the urge struck his mother’s disappointed face appeared in the forefront of his mind and guilt-tripped him into being a responsible adult.
Besides, leaving anything breakable on the counter was a risk that Thor didn’t want to take. Experience led him to believe that having four cats in the flat cranked up the gravity in the place by about 300%. Especially, since the newest addition to the family who was just made of accidents and big shiny eyes that made it impossible to get angry at him.
And speaking of which…
The flat wasn’t big, but it was still full of places that were just big enough to hide a moderately-sized cat. Thor checked the living room and the bathroom first, he had a look in the laundry bin and under the couch. Bedroom was Tony-less, same with the hall. That left only one place. Thor went back to the bathroom and, voila, there was his loss: asleep in the washing machine. The man sighed and reached in to pull the tom out – and then backed out in a blink when an ominous growl sounded from the inside of the machine.
Of course, Tony wasn’t alone.
“Bruce,” Thor tried to sound reasonable. “It’s me, my friend. I am not trying to steal your cuddle-toy.”
A pair of ivy-green eyes squinted at him from the darkness of the bin for a minute before hostile growling subsided. Thor dared another try and this time he’s managed to get a hold of still sleeping Tony and pull him out.
“Thank you, Bruce,” he didn’t reach back in to pet the animal allowing it to have his space. “Come for breakfast when you’re ready, okay?”
A few years ago it would feel strange to him – talking to animals as if they were able to understand and answer, but that was before he took Bruce in. Poor thing belonged to some crazy old guy who mistreated it in every possible sense before it was rescued by a volunteer and brought to the animal shelter where Thor was just starting his practical training. He’s never seen a cat so big taking so little space as the day Betty opened the cage the animal has been transported in.
He was a massive cat, even for a main coon, but one look at him brought tears to Jane’s eyes and even Thor wasn’t unmoved. Poor creature has been all skin and bones, he missed half of his right ear and the left one was covered in cigarette burns. His long coat was tangled and dirty, covered in fleas. And he was so, so scared. Every louder sound sent him scrambling for cover, almost clawing his way out of the cage – almost, because someone decided to de-claw him at some point in the past. Someone who didn’t know what they were doing.
They managed to save him – medicine and good food did wonders to the battered and bruised part of the cat, - but soon it became obvious that finding someone to adopt him would be downright impossible. Regardless of the abuse he went through Bruce wasn’t an ugly cat – he healed up nicely, sans the missing ear; he gained weight and his coat grew back soft and shiny. The problem was his broken psyche than never seemed to recover from the years of terror. One moment he was sweet and friendly, a perfect lap cat, in the next he clawed at the walls and didn’t let anyone close to him. That made him unsuitable for a family pet and completely undesired by people who looked to have a cute, friendly kitty. He couldn’t stay in the shelter forever, though, and finally the only option left was putting him down.
Something Thor couldn’t stand seeing.
So he did the stupid thing and took the beast home with him. And that set a stupid precedent.
“Tony, wake up, boy, we’re going on a field trip.”
Tony ignored him and kept on sleeping. Thor lifted him up and shook him gently, trying to keep his hold without breaking the cat. Tony, when awake, was one gene away from turning into a living spring – always curious, dashing from place to place, playing with the kitty toys that Darcy gave him for Christmas (because only Darcy could come to the conclusion that one thing a cat needed in his life was a set of miniature transformer figurines), and making a nuisance of himself whenever occasion presented itself. But asleep, Tony was a cat in liquid form; he didn’t slump or slip, he spilled. It was quite possible to pour him from hand to hand like a balloon half-filled with water.
Without any success at waking the tom, Thor decided to admit defeat and simply poured Tony into earlier prepared pet carrier and closed the lid. The cat purred in his sleep and curled tighter hiding his nose under one front paw.
Well, at least one of them wasn’t making a fuss when packed into a carrier. Trying to put Clint in anything smaller than the living room was just asking for trouble.
“Okay, I am going,” Thor announced, shrugging his jacket on. He picked up the carrier and pointed at Natasha with a key he held in his other hand. “Try to keep the other two from destroying the flat, okay my lady?”
Natasha looked at him with bored eyes and started to wash the claws of her front paw. It looked serious and official. It looked dangerous.
Thor felt reassured when he closed the door behind him.
“She makes it look so easy, doesn’t she?” he spoke to Tony, lifting the carrier to look into his sleepy blue eyes. “Keeping Bruce from eating Clint is not an easy task, my friend. And God only knows how she’s managed to keep Clint from suffocating you in your sleep. You wouldn’t even notice, right?”
Tony blinked at him slowly and meowed softly.
“I hope Pepper will find your morning attitude as charming as I do.”
Completely ignored by his cargo, Thor skipped the last four steps on the way down, opened the front door… and almost collided with a stack of boxes on legs. He’s managed to side-step them at the last minute, which almost caused him to drop the carrier which, finally, woke Tony up.
“Sorry,” he apologised. And then he apologised to the boxes, “Sorry, friend.”
Steve set the boxes on the floor, silently cursing himself for taking more than he should and simultaneously thanking God that his flat was situated on the ground floor. He wasn’t a weakling, but even though, he would think twice about braving the stairs with an armload of art supplies and zero visibility. Like earlier, when he almost run over another tenant – at least he thought it was a tenant, he couldn’t really see. For all he knew it could be a walking gummy bear who happened to talk.
But that has been the last of it; all of his meagre possessions were stacked in front of him, some in boxes, some in bags, all of them precious and irreplaceable. All that mess took over the living room and Steve was sure that he’s never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life.
Quiet whining shook him out of the stupor and when he looked down, he saw a dog sitting at his feet and staring at him with the most soulful look ever known to man.
“That’s ours, boy,” Steve spoke softly, patting the dog’s head. “It’s smaller than the old home, yeah, but it’s ours.”
It was his. Not the biggest flat, no, not even close to the town centre; it needed a lot of work too. But it was Steve’s.
He wandered to the kitchen area to feed his eyes with the look of out-dated cupboard and a fridge that has seen better times. Everything in the flat was old, true, but it was kept in shape, clean of stains and in perfect working order. Someone loved this place and took care of it, and it warmed Steve’s heart to think about it.
He was such a sentimental fool.
A bark from the living room caused him to go back.
“What is it, boy?” he wandered to the window and looked out, searching for something that alarmed the dog. He’s found nothing. Well, nothing besides a nice looking backyard that had green grass, a rosebush, and a weeping willow that looked creepy and fascinating at the same time.
“What is it?” Steve asked again, scratching the dog behind one perked up ear. “You want to go out and investigate the yard? Is that it?”
The dog looked at him with soulful eyes and pawed at the glass doors separating him from the three and possible squirrels that lived on it. Steve knew that look. Unfortunately, they lived on the ground floor and beside the glass balcony doors there has been another set – this one made with steel bars, accessorised with a padlock almost as big as man’s hand.
“I still don’t have the key to that, boy,” Steve explained, pointing at the padlock. “I will call Mrs Hill about it later, okay? Now we need to focus on getting this place up to speed. Let’s start with finding a couch, alright?”
The dog still didn’t look convinced, still glancing at the great outdoors that has been denied to him with almost tangible disappointment.
“And we need a bed for you, of course,” his owner mused. “With a proper pillow and maybe even a blanket.”
That caught his attention. But, still, the tree…
“We can pop in to the park on our way; I’ve seen one from the car. It’s fairly close, on the way to the stores.”
A park. With trees. And probably squirrels. And then a bed.
It was a pretty fair deal.
“So, are you going with me, Phil?”