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?”
Moggy - a mongrel cat. Referring to Clint.
Molly - a female cat.
Tom - a male cat.
Destruction - a name for a group of wild cats. Used here in ironic sense.
Clutter - a name for a group of domestic cats.
The clinic was moderately busy when Thor arrived at quarter to eight. A young couple with an aged German shepherd was sitting in the waiting room along with a young boy that cradled to his chest something that was either a decent-sized chinchilla or the biggest rat New York has ever seen.
He nodded to the couple in greeting and went straight to the reception desk where Darcy pretended to do paperwork.
“We are not paying you for doing crosswords, Darcy,” he said in lieu of greeting, as he tried to squeeze behind her on the way to the staff room.
“You are not paying me at all,” she smiled back at him and didn’t move an inch to make his passage any easier. “I am here because of the bottomless goodness of my heart.” She looked at the carrier,” Hi, Tony! Is your girlfriend coming in today to see you?”
“Miss Potts is not my girlfriend,” Thor felt compelled to say; which earned him a smirk from the young woman.
“I was talking to Tony, you big lump of wasted dreams. If you were on the market, she wouldn’t get anywhere near you.”
“Oh, and why is that, my fair lady?”
“I called dibs.”
Thor couldn’t stop the laughter that burst out of his chest. He bent low to kiss the girl on the cheek and, at the same time, push her chair out of the way.
“I am honoured, lady Darcy. Now start the computer and do some actual work before our overlord arrives.”
Jane welcomed him with a tired smile when he closed the door of the staff room behind him. It was more like a bigger closet than an actual room, full of clutter and boxes with a tiny table in the corner that housed the coffee machine. Said coffee machine was easily the most expensive piece of equipment in the clinic. They (Thor, Jane and Darcy) fought for it tooth and nail until director Fury finally agreed to get them something that made a decent coffee instead of the industrial sludge that they’ve been forced to drink before. Of course he bought it with their (Thor’s and Jane’s) holiday pay, but they were able to forgive him. The machine made cappuccino!
Thor was a man enough to admit that a good cup of cappuccino was indeed a good thing.
“Pepper is coming to check on you today, then?” Jane pointed at the carrier he set on the bench under the wall. “Was the cat-terror behaving?”
As if on cue a loud meow sounded from the inside of the box making them both laugh.
“He was good enough. When he wasn’t trying to shred my curtains or hit on Tasha. Few times he almost forced Clint to kill him and I have to admit, I was rooting for the moggy*.”
Jane laughed again, as she almost always did when Thor told her tales of terror about his Little Destruction*. She wasn’t a cat person herself, always preferring dogs big enough to easily carry her off into the sunset, but she had a fondness for all four members of her friend’s clutter. If only because she knew of their personal stories; and some of them were enough to squeeze a tear out of a stone.
While Thor changed into his work clothes and revved the coffee machine, she went over to the carrier and pulled the cat out of it. Sleepy blue eyes blinked at her accompanied by a questioning meow. Tony was small for a cat of his breed, but he was bold and spirited, and absolutely loved women. Especially women with long hair.
Just like his late owner.
It took him less than a minute to end up snuggled into Jane’s arms, front paws circling her neck in a cutest little hug she’s ever seen; loud purring filled the room.
“Aren’t you the cutest little thing, Anthony? Aren’t you? Who’s the little kitty? Who’s the cute little kitty?”
“Jane, you are overreacting again.”
“Who’s the kitty with a mean daddy, hm? Is it my Anthony?”
Confronted with a thirty year old woman chirping like a teen on sugar overload, Thor could only sigh and retreat to the office and start on the paperwork. He stepped back into the reception area only to hear Darcy lecturing their first clients of the day:
“…ry nice to meet you. But I have to warn you first that we do not put down animals unless they are, you know, already dying from colossal amounts pain. Your dog doesn’t look like he’s on death’s doorstep, which is fine, I am happy for him, he looks okay for his age and we will do our best to keep him that way. Just so you know.”
The young couple stared at her with wide eyes, mouths open in terror. Each of them moved a step closer to the dog, both ready to defend him with their lives. Darcy was not finished yet.
“Okay, as we cleared that up, I can give you some forms to fill and … doctor Blake, if you move my chair an inch I will spike our espresso with sugar, I swear… you can put your details here and dog’s details here. And then we will see what we can do for you.”
Thor smiled; it seemed like a perfect beginning of a perfect day.
The thing with The Precedent, as Darcy started to call it after a while, was that it… happened. Thor took Bruce in (not adopted, a cat like Bruce couldn’t be simply adopted) because he felt sorry for the poor creature. The tom went through so much shit in his short life already and there he was: almost recovered, starting to trust humans again and just trying so hard… and they wanted to put him down - the people who worked so hard on saving him in the first place. It was some colossal joke of the universe and Thor couldn’t abide by it. Two days before the scheduled execution he’s made up his mind and went to fill the adoption papers. His then employer looked at him funny when he handed them in, she even commented that Bruce will cause more problems than he’s worth, but Thor stood by his decision.
He never regretted it. Not once.
From that moment it was easier and easier to make the same decision two more times.
Natasha belonged to Granny Romanov, an older lady living on the ground floor of Thor’s building. The old woman reportedly had a sister in another state, but after burying her husband the cats were her only constant companions. She was an angel of a woman, at least where animals were concerned. Thor met her for the first time when she came to the clinic three years ago with a bloodied bundle in her arms that turned out to be a young molly; unfortunate creature that got hit by a car just outside of the older lady’s window.
Granny Romanov was a sturdy woman, she didn’t cry over the cat, didn’t look shaken by its state – she just marched up to the reception desk and strongly requested to have the animal looked at.
That was Thor’s first operation on a creature smaller than a beagle. The kitten was not much bigger than a rat and the damage to her hind legs was severe. In the end he had to amputate her entire left foot and two thirds of the tail that has been crushed under the car’s tire. After the operation was over and the little thing was put into a cloth-filled basket to slowly come awake, Thor went out to find the older lady who calmly asked how it went and offered him a cigarette.
They spend the next half an hour sitting on the steps of the clinic smoking and cursing humanity as a failed idea of the Creator. It was an instant friendship. Two months later Thor was moving into the flat on the first floor that the Granny hassled over for him from an unmovable object known as Maria Hill.
Little Natasha made it out and grew up to be a graceful lady who took no shit from anyone.
When Granny Romanov died last summer it was not really a question of what will happen to little Tasha. It wasn’t easy to find a new family for a crippled cat, no matter how smart or agile it was. And Natasha, like Bruce, wasn’t a family cat. She liked her space and didn’t take well to children. She wasn’t also the most beautiful of creatures – all because of her coat that was a mesh-mash of black and red that was in some way not attractive at all.
There was no other option left to him, really.
Besides that, Natasha had a calming influence on Bruce. He seemed to take the presence of another cat as a guarantee that his new owner won’t kill him for fur just yet. It all was worth it in the end.
Then there was Clint, of course…
“I hope I am not interrupting anything, Mr Blake. How are you?”
“Not at all, Miss Potts. We were awaiting your arrival.”
Pepper Potts shook his hand and Thor marvelled yet again that such a slight woman can have such a strong and serious handshake. No, there has been nothing weak about this woman from the moment Thor has met her for the first time two years ago.
The redhead smiled at him and his slightly out-dated vocabulary and took the offered seat in his office. She also took the offered cup of a first-grade cappuccino with an expression that was beyond thankful.
“I remembered not to add sugar this time,” Thor answered with a smile of his own.
“You are an angel, Mr Blake. Are you sure that you can’t be convinced to be my secretary?”
They both laughed at that. It was an old joke in the clinic started by Pepper’s late employer who used to come in and offer the same position to every moderately attractive person his eyes rested on. And because he seemingly had a thing for the blondes, the job was offered to Thor and Jane almost on the daily basis. Well, Thor was also offered a position of a bodyguard, chauffer and an escort, but he took it all in the spirit it was given – as a joke between friends.
It was indeed a sad day when media reported the death of Howard Stark.
“I don’t really have much time to sit and chat, as much as I would love to,” Pepper Potts said with such honest longing that Thor believed her instantly. This was probably the first time she’s managed to sit down with a cup of coffee since her day began. And it was well after lunch-time already. “Let us see the main attraction and I will be out of your hair.”
As if on cue, the door to the office opened and Darcy’s smiling face peeked in.
“You will never guess… oh, hi, Miss Potts, nice to see you… you will never believe what he’s done.”
Pepper’s face took on that tired/resigned look it took often in the past whenever she had to come in and fetch her wayward employer from the unscheduled visit to the clinic.
“Do I even want to know?” she asked.
“Probably not, but I took photos so it will go viral as soon as I manage to put some text over them. By the way, here he is, have fun.”
Jingling sound preceded the entrance of Anthony Stark the Third who bounded into the room and made a bee-line for the lap of Miss Potts. The sound came from an elaborate harness that Darcy somehow managed to get for him from the internet. It was red and gold and had altogether too many buckles and shiny bits. It was also the only thing ensuring that Tony won’t disappear on them when no one is looking – fastening the thing to the reception desk’s leg was the best idea of their volunteer/apprentice/trainee/secretary up to date.
“How have you been, Mister Stark?” Pepper asked in full seriousness while letting the cat nose her face to his heart content. “I hope that the extended exile is not affecting you badly and that your jailer is more patient than me.”
Thor laughed silently and left them alone for a moment to get his own coffee.
The thing was that Tony, while wholeheartedly accepting Thor as his owner, was not his cat. He was Stark’s Industries asset and, if Miss Potts was to be believed (and she most certainly was) the last living relative of the late Howard Stark. Which was completely weird.
But, for someone who knew the man in the last months of his life, not at all surprising.
What surprised Thor more was the day when Pepper Potts came to his flat with a stack of important looking documents and announced that because she is allergic to cats and Donald “Thor” Blake is the most decent man Howard Stark has ever known, Anthony Stark the Third was left to him. Together with a sizable trust fund to cover all the costs of feeding and medical attention the cat will ever need.
It was crazy and Thor wasn’t even sure how it happened, but Pepper smiled at him with that steely resolve and he was signing the papers before he even knew it. Two days later she came back with a traumatised Tony and the first check. The amount written on the check was enough to make his knees go soft.
“Keep it, please, Mr Blake,” Pepper advised him when he stammered that he can’t possibly take the money. “You will need it to cover all the damages.”
As it turned out, she knew what she was talking about. The check was a godsend when it came to replacing the TV. And the couch cushions. And, later that year, the couch. Because Tony was the first cat in the history of the world suffering from ADHD and abandonment issues simultaneously – while being also addicted to coffee.
The last one Thor could understand, as his own dependency on the wondrous drink became something of a running joke between his colleagues and friends.
“…and then I smashed the paperweight on his face and called the security. The end.” Pepper finished with a verbal flourish and nodded to the lazy-eyed cat snuggled into her arms. He eyes were overflowing with unshed tears and slightly red, but she held on bravely. “Oh, thank you,” she smiled when Thor offered her a tissue to blow her nose in. “I will be going now, before I start crying and people in the waiting room think you just broke up with me. Again.”
It was another one of the running jokes they couldn’t fight with. It was just best to laugh at it and move on.
“He looks great,” she admitted, handing Tony over. “Better than I’ve ever seen him. Howard loved him, but he was always so busy and with my allergy he was alone so often… You are taking great care of our Tony. I hope he isn’t a nuisance to your other cats.”
“Oh no, not at all,” Thor took hold of the struggling tom and held him tight with one hand, while offering another tissue. “Him and Bruce hit it off from the start and even Clint doesn’t want to eat him that often anymore. He is cleaning up nicely.”
As if on cue Tony made a spitting sound, as if he understood what was being said about him and wanted to protest.
“Oh my, he’s all Howard when he does that,” Pepper giggled and dabbed at her eyes with a corner of the tissue. Her eyelids started to swell up too.
Soon she left and Thor finally decided to pick up the envelope that was placed on the desk when he went out to get the coffee. It seemed less embarrassing to do it this way – for both of them. He didn’t like to take money for something that was, in his opinion, just a good deed towards a dead friend. She, being Pepper Potts and, as it goes a demigoddess of some sort, had to know it and didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.
Always smoothing over Howard’s Stark decisions, what an incredible woman she has to be.
“You are lucky you live with me, my friend,” Thor spoke to the cat that stared at the door mournfully. “You wouldn’t last a week with her.”
The park was marvellous, simply marvellous. All those squirrels to chase and bark at. Although Steve didn’t like him barking loudly, there have been few times when Phil has managed to get out of his eyesight long enough for a good, tiring chase. But never too far, never leaving Steve.
That would be unacceptable. It would set a bad precedent and bad precedents made bad dogs.
Phil always prided himself in being a good dog to Steve.
After park they went to some places that smelled like dust and old people; Steve searched for something in there so Phil waited patiently by the doors. Sometimes he was allowed in so he stayed close and was at his best behaviour. After all Steve fulfilled his promise of the park and squirrels (although there never had been a mention of the second part, but Phil was sure it was always intended), it was only fair that he now goes with him whenever his owner wants to go.
In the end they didn’t find what they were looking for – Steve smelled of disappointment, but it wasn’t too strong, so the matter wasn’t that important. No need for comforting, then.
On the way home they stopped by a little café where Steve ordered him a salty biscuit and a bottle of water to wash it down. Then he chatted to the lady behind the counter – who was very appealing and smelled nice. Phil didn’t catch her name, because he was busy with the biscuit, but he hoped that they would visit her again. She was obviously interested in Steve and didn’t smell of any other male human.
One could wish.
Back at the new place the good mood slowly left Phil. It wasn’t their proper home, but Steve called it theirs and his whole posture seemed to straighten up and fill out the place when they were inside. He was proud of it and Phil had to admit, it wasn’t a bad place. But it was small and old and smelled of a cat. A lady cat, thankfully. But still, cat.
Phil wasn’t adverse to cats, they never bothered him. And after seeing once how a homeless tabby sent the neighbour’s spaniel running home in tears, he had a healthy amount of respect for them too.
It was just the smell, he tried to tell himself, that got on his nerves, because the place wasn’t “his” and yet Steve felt happy there. Phil wasn’t the youngest anymore and he was aware that adapting to changes wasn’t as easy anymore as it has been few years ago when they moved from place to place. He was a middle-aged dog now and it was a high time to settle down.
The place wasn’t so bad, as far as places went.
He just really wanted to go and investigate the garden. The tree looked promising; there was a chance of squirrels.
“Okay, boy, I need to make a few phone calls,” Steve came over and patted him on the head. “I can let you into the garden from the back, but you have to promise me that you will behave.”
Phil was ready to promise anything as long as the hand scratching his scalp wouldn’t be removed.
“No barking and no digging up holes, understood? And no pissing on the rosebush, it’s not ours and I have no money to replace it. I have no clue on how to replace it, so, yeah, no.”
It was a hard bargain, but in the end Phil gave in. After all, the tree looked promising.
It was a good day in Tony’s opinion. Well, a fairly good day. He’s got to go outside, spent almost eight hours getting belly rubs from Darcy and Jane, and got to meet Pepper. Of course the last one was also what made the day only fairly good, because Pepper had to go before he even managed to mark her properly.
Pepper always had to go. She cried and then disappeared on him without a word. Tony had an unpleasant feeling that it was always his fault. After all, everyone always left him alone; even his father was no different.
Thinking about his father always put Tony into a foul mood so he tried to avoid it if he could. Now they were going home, so he concentrated on that: on seeing Bruce again and telling him all about the trip. Maybe Tasha would let him snuggle with her later if he made himself look pitiful enough.
He wondered if God would let him sleep in his bed today. It was always so warm and soft.
The swinging motion of the transportation module soon put him into sleep and the next time Tony opened his eyes they were already at home and God was taking him out, speaking to him softly and rubbing his chest between the front paws. Ooooh it was good. Tony couldn’t help, but purr loudly. When he was little Pepper used to do that. Before she started crying and avoiding him.
Bad thoughts, bad thoughts, go away.
The God would never leave him, Tony was (almost)sure. After all, he kept Clint –and if there was a cat that tried everyone’s patience it has been that bird brain.
Tony came to himself when the God placed him gently on the couch and went around his after-work routine of opening cans for them and taking a long soak under the water spray. Tony took his time stretching and yawning; he wasn’t a big eater, never has been. And he was fed well in the God’s work-place, by the lovely Darcy who shared her tuna sandwich with him.
He also almost got to her coffee before she took it away with a smile and offered him a fish cracker. It was a fair exchange.
“Where is Bruce?” he finally dragged himself from the couch and saw Natasha in her usual spot on the counter. “Did he eat breakfast?”
The molly looked at him and yawned.
“He did,” she answered after a moment. “Then they played hide and seek with Clint for the rest of the day.”
She stood up and jumped from the counter with grace that was only a little broken by a tiny stumble when she touched the ground. Tony could only imagine how hard balancing was when one missed not only one foot, but also a substantial portion of the tail. She, however, never mentioned it, so he kept quiet.
She came over and gently sniffed at him – at his ears and side, trying to get as many information as she could. It was impressive how much she could discover just from the smell alone.
“Did she cry again?” she asked, quietly.
Tony nodded and become very interested in the tip of his tail that kept flicking left and right. It was a… hard subject between them. It was one thing when an owner died and left you alone, and completely different when they just didn’t want you around. None of them, sans Bruce in some twisted and awful way, could understand what he was going through.
And Tasha was a headstrong molly, so she didn’t offer any empty words of comfort. She nosed his cheek and licked his brow and that was it.
“Just so we understand each other,” she warned as she turned into the direction of the cans. “I will not snuggle with you, Stark.”
“Oh come on, Tasha! Look how much I need comfort!”
“You can always ask Clint,” she winked at him over her shoulder. “I bet he would snuggle with you until you’re properly… comforted.”
“How can you even…” Tony shivered and spat, trying to chase unwanted images from his head. “Ugh, just, no!”
He was not that desperate. Not yet.
Who knew where the tom has been. Who knew who he’s been with, it was just – ugh!
With the sound of the falling water still loud in the flat and the distinct lack of snuggles from Tasha, Tony felt instantly bored. It was one of the things he hated most in the world – to be bored. He was always bored when father left him alone and with no one to play with. It always reminded him of those long days spend in an almost empty house where no one seemed to notice or like him.
Boredom brought in mischief in him and mischief always made God exasperated. Tony liked making the God happy and always shrivelled inside whenever he’s managed to achieve the opposite result.
As a means of self-preservation he decided that he has to find Bruce. Bruce was fun in a way completely different than hanging from the curtains was fun. Bruce was calm and collected and always listened to Tony when he was speaking. He was Tony’s first friend in the whole world.
His nose told him that Bruce spent some time on the couch and then decided to go outside – as was his custom. The big tom had a certain spot on the tree outside that he liked and could spend entire days in it, as long as it wasn’t raining. Tony didn’t really like the Outside Bruce and Clint were so hyped up about; he was a house-cat, he was never allowed into the garden for longer than few minutes and he considered it a good decision on father’s behalf. The grass was weird and scratchy, the earth was spongy and dirty and sometimes there was water and puddles and everything was wet! It was not an environment for a cat to live in. No wonder Clint turned out so strange.
Eating vermin, honestly!
But every once in a while Tony could brave his dislike for the outside world and usually Bruce was the reason. Like this time.
There has been a flap in the door leading to the balcony that the cats could use whenever they wanted. The balcony itself was small and high over the backyard, but God made them a ladder so they could climb down and up if the fancy struck them.
Tony sometimes wondered if there’s anything that the God couldn’t do. As of now he couldn’t think of anything.
He climbed down, steeling himself for the feeling of prickly grass that will soon poke at his delicate paws and searched for Bruce. Sadly the summer was in full bloom and the tree was covered in leaves that hid everything that could hide in its branches. Stupid nature, really.
“Bruce?” he called. “Hey, big guy, I am back and bringing stories. There had been this little thing that God had to heal. I tell you it was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It was all scally and changed colours! I mean, what the hell? And it had the strangest eyes! It could move… them…”
Tony fell silent as his ears picked up a strange sound from behind him. It was a rustle of the grass being stepped on, but also something else. Like a very loud… breathing? And the smell…
“Clint?” he called out, trying to sound more sure of himself than he really was. “Good one, man, but I hear you. If you pounce on me I swear, I will scratch your ears until they bleed. Come on, Clint!” he turned around and, “I am not afra…” his voice simply bailed out on him.
There was a dog in their backyard. A dog!
Tony knew what those were, but he’s never, ever, met one I real life. He’s seen them through the windows many times, and even few times managed to get a glimpse or two when he was at the God’s work-place. But he never stood with any of them face to face. Never from this close.
There was a dog in their garden and it was a bite-length away from Tony, and it was drooling, and it was BIG.
Tony was not known for his self-preservation instincts, not even a little, so the first thing that came to his mind might have been as well the last one. Surely, swiping his claws at the nose of the dog that was twice or thrice as big as him was not the smartest thing to do.
There was a dog in their backyard and he was close, and he was big, and his teeth were HUGE – Tony’s mind managed to note before his body powered him to start running.
But then a miracle happened. Right from heaven above the rescue came.
Steve was almost finished wiping off the cupboards in the kitchen when the wailing began. He almost split his head on the shelf he was under when he recognised it as the voice of his own dog. He was by the window in two steps and what he saw caused his blood to freeze.
Phil was fighting with a cat. It was the biggest cat that Steve has ever seen and it was also the most angry… creature he’s ever looked at. They were tousling and making enough noise to wake up the dead.
Without another thought he grabbed keys from the table and was out of the flat in an instant.
The racket from the backyard pulled Thor from the bathroom in shorts and nothing else in a matter of seconds. He was still wet and awfully underdressed, but it didn’t matter. He knew that voice – at least half of the voices coming from the backyard. Bruce had a very distinctive growl. Most of the people hearing it assumed that there’s a Rottweiler hiding in the next room.
Some days Thor would prefer a Rottweiler.
One look out of the window confirmed his worst assumptions. There has been a strange dog and Bruce was halfway to killing him. Oh God, he had to be stopped!
Without much thought, Thor opened the balcony door and jumped.
Steve was at loss. He’s never had to step in between two fighting animals and he completely didn’t know what to do. The sounds the two fighters emitted were enough to freeze him in spot. He tried to call Phil to him, but the dog was either ignoring him or too busy dodging the pouncing beast that wanted to kill him.
Oh God, what was this creature? It was some sort of a monster! How to stop it? How to make them stop?
Was he going to lose his flat because his dog attacked other tenant’s pet?
It was a nightmare!
“Bruce, cease this behaviour this instant!”
Steve almost jumped out of his skin when a strong voice bellowed over his head and then, he couldn’t believe his eyes, a man fell down from the sky. He landed in crouch in front of the fighting animals startling them both into momentary stillness, and then stood up to his full height.
It wasn’t a man, Steve’s brain decided when he could do nothing, but stare, it was a god. A wet, mostly naked, blond-haired and build like a Greek statue, god.
“Bruce, leave the dog alone!” and his voice... it carried. “Dog, step back for your own safety.”
And, Steve couldn’t believe his eyes, the animals did exactly that. Both tousled and worn out after a fight, they went into two different directions looking chastised. What was going on?
He was about to open his mouth and ask, when the god spun in half circle and snake-fast reached behind the rosebush pulling out… another cat. This one was smaller and obviously scared. It hung from the massive hand like a little miserable ball of misery.
“Anthony Stark the Third,” the god intoned in a voice of a disappointed parent. “What have you done this time?”
Steve decided it’s a good time to clean his throat.
When the bluest eyes he’s ever seen on a human being turned to stare at him, he kind of regretted it.
I just realiseed that I forgot to specify what kind of cats (and one dog) I am writing about:) Breeds and all.
So, in line:
Clint is tabby of mixed parentage, grey/tan and fairly coarse. (like so: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-jhm64UYfxac/TcvvvQLGlRI/AAAAAAAACgU/sESlrZWZ5tA/s1600/good_mother_cat.jpg)
I just realiseed that I forgot to specify what kind of cats (and one dog) I am writing about:) Breeds and all.
So, in line:
Clint is tabby of mixed parentage, grey/tan and fairly coarse. (like so: http://piccat.com/pictures/18/face_of_a_street_cat.jpg )
Tasha is a calico/tortoiseshell, also mixed, (like so: http://www.catfacts.org/tortoiseshell-and-calico-cat-facts.jpg ) yeah, not the prettiest, but wht a great camouflage!
Tony is a Bombay with a tuxedo colouring (like so: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Ber2QzIQMms/S31WMZLZvCI/AAAAAAAABVQ/KGlG5c9AesE/s400/TuxedoCat+.JPG with this kind of a "goatee" going onXD) he is smaller than other cats, because he is a picky eater.
Bruce is a Main Coon (like so: http://www.cat-breed-info.com/images/maincat.jpg with this kind of salt&peppr coat going on and, well, more battered) He is BIG.
Phil is an English Pointer (like so: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/45/English_Pointer.jpg/800px-English_Pointer.jpg woth this exact colouring)
Yes, Steve has A LOT of insecurities. And Thor speaks Old English whenever he tries to like someone.
It will be all explained in due time:)
It was probably the weirdest thing that’s happened to him in his entire life, Steve thought. Hands down, no contest. After getting attention of the godlike man his vocabulary seemed to disappear leaving him in mute stupor. Man’s eyes roamed over him for a moment and Steve was reminded of a lion he’s seen once on Discovery Channel that stood in front of a possible challenger, seizing him up and weighting his chances. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up and his stomach to tighten.
“I’m… um, well…” he gesticulated uselessly pointing at the monster cat then at Phil covering by his feet. “Phil isn’t usually like… that.”
That seemed to pull the man out of his battle-pose. He shook his head (like a real lion, with golden mane and all the works) and lowered the cat he was still holding onto his shoulder. It was a very wide and muscular shoulder.
“No worries, my friend,” he spoke kindly. Steve has never heard anyone in real life who could speak kindly. Until that very moment he was sure it’s just a literary term. “Your dog is probably not to blame, not when these two bandersnaches are concerned. I apologise, I am Donald Blake, but everyone calls me Thor.” He offered his cat-less hand for a handshake and Steve had no choice but to take it. He was glad that the situation was going back on somewhat normal grounds.
“Steve Rogers,” he answered marvelling at the way his hand almost disappeared under… Thor’s. “I just moved in, and, um, we didn’t know there are cats around, and, yeah sorry, again.”
Oh God, what was wrong with him? Usually he was more eloquent than that!
Thor waved the apology off with a regal looking gesture, but he visibly perked up at the other part.
“Oh, so you are the new tenant Miss Hill told us about. I regret that out acquaintance started this way,” he laughed pointing to his half-dressed state. “I live just above you, my friend; me and my Little Destruction.” He patted the cat in his arms fondly.
It was barely a kitten, Steve thought, it looked tiny hanging of the massive frame of his owner. In some (very girlish) way it was absolutely adorable.
Quiet whining reminded Steve that he had his own problem to deal with. Phil was curled behind his legs, shivering, obviously still shaken by the fight and Steve cursed himself for getting distracted with new neighbour’s good looks when he had a friend to take care of. He crouched by the dog and rubbed his head, checking for injuries and gasping in shock when he saw that Phil’s nose was covered in blood. Four deep scratches were running through the middle.
The sound had to be louder than he thought because one second later a shadow fell over him and concerned voice asked:
“Is your… Phil?... alright? Oh, a nasty wound.” Steve almost smacked face first into the ground when he was clapped on the shoulder. “Fear not, friend, I know how to take care of it. Give me a second to get my bag…”
The man trailed off, obviously just now realising the state he was in – still damp, barefooted and dressed only in shorts – he couldn’t just walk around to the front door like that, would he? And he didn’t look as if he remembered to take the keys with him when he decided to jump off the balcony.
Jesus Christ, he jumped off the balcony! In his shorts!
Steve was not sure if he should congratulate the man on his bravery or start laughing hysterically.
“Do you want to go through my flat? It will be less… conspicuous,” he offered instead. “I can go and get balcony the keys from Miss Hill…”
The man smiled at him again and Steve’s stomach did a perfect backflip.
“That was… very weird, even for this place,” Clint decided. He and Natasha had been sitting on the balcony and observing the situation in the backyard with interest. Usually their pragmatic natures made them pretty even-minded about things happening in the flat, and this time was no different.
“They are both idiots!” Natasha snapped and Clint agreed with a thoughtful purr. “Attacking a dog! I swear, the moment doctor brings Stark back I am biting his ears until they fall off!”
Clint flinched back hearing this.
“Whoa, a moment there! How do you know it was them? That dog looks shady; it could’ve attacked them first!”
“Clint, use your eyes, the dog has no clue what just happened. See his nose? Scratched to hell. Where was the last time you’ve seen Bruce scratch anything?”
Under the sharp glare of Natasha’s honey coloured eyes Clint had no choice, but to agree. She was right; Bruce was the only one of them that was unable to use his claws. Clint suspected that there were no claws at all to speak of, but they never talked about it. It was one of those subjects they simply didn’t mention – like Tasha’s hind leg or Tony’s bouts of depression that followed his field trips with big guy. Or Clint’s sight.
They both jumped at the sound of the door to the flat opening and closing followed by an exhausted sigh.
“I think I sprained my spine.” They found the big guy slumped in the kitchen, holding onto the counter as if his life depended on it. “If that’s even possible.”
Tony was sitting in front of him, held by the scruff of his neck and looking absolutely miserable. He meowed in apology, but the big guy didn’t pay him any attention. Clint was on top of the isle before he even knew he was going to jump, Tasha right at his heels. Big guy chuckled when they started nosing his face and hair and tried to swat them away – which ended in a massive arm gathering them even closer. For once in his life Clint didn’t really mind witnesses. Only thought his brain could process was “dog, dog, dog, dog”. Back in the day he’s got some harsh experiences with few of them and even if the big guy was, well, the big guy, Clint trusted dogs only as far as he could throw them. Damn, he trusted them even less than he trusted Stark, and that meant something in the grand scheme of things.
Speaking about Stark, the idiot somehow managed to free himself and use momentarily distraction to slip away. Probably went back to hide in the washing machine. Coward.
“Okay, okay, I am fine.” Big guy has finally managed to pull himself up. “Although that was the last time I jumped off the balcony. Next time I attempt such feat, you have free reign to bite my shin, Natasha. “
The molly in question straightened and pawed at the hand that was stroking her side. From her frozen expression Clint could read that if such situation occurred again, bitten shin will be the last thing big guy will have to worry about.
However, Clint was a 100% tom and big guy’s actions impressed the hell out of him. Decision to live with this particular human was taken on the grounds of his impressive physical fitness – no street-smart tom worth his salt would agree to follow some weakling. But there weren’t many leaders what would jump off the railings right into the middle of a fray to save their clutter-mates. From a stranger dog, no less. That required balls of steel and quick thinking that Clint could respect.
“Well, as far as meeting new neighbours goes, I couldn’t do any worse,” big guy chuckled, looking at his reflection in the fridge’s door. “Good thing is that from now on I can only build up. Luckily, Steve’s a guy or we would face charges for indecent exposure.”
Clint meowed approvingly and big guy looked at him in surprise.
“I made an ass out of himself, didn’t I?”
That was beside the point – it was still an impressive way to go about it.
Another meow sealed the deal. Big guy went to his room chuckling all the way and only limping a little.
“You go and check on Bruce,“ Natasha ordered, preparing to jump off the counter. “I will give Tony some stern advice concerning any future stunts.”
She probably didn’t even realise that she used tom’s proper name instead of “Stark”. This could mean that she was more worried than she tried to let on. But Clint was not about to call her on it, he liked his ears where they were.
“Oh my God, I am so sorry, Phil. I really didn’t know there were cats around.” Steve kept apologising and he didn’t even know why. It’s not as if he was the one who baited Phil to attack the monster cat, but he still felt guilty. Add to it nerves the situation brought up in him and he could barely stop himself from shaking. Instead, he hugged Phil to his chest and stroked his head and tried to come with an idea as to what to do with the still bleeding nose.
He was hopeless. He was really hopeless and not at all prepared to live on his own, what was he thinking! He should’ve never listened to Peggy and got this flat, he was a walking catastrophe! Now the nice hot new neighbour will report him and his dog for being a public danger and they will probably take Phil away to the pound or something.
Oh God, he was useless. Here he was, on a brink of losing his first flat and still letting his dick do the thinking.
Jesus, he really needed a cup of coffee. Pity his kitchen was in a state of un-usability and his express was still buried somewhere under the mess in the living room.
Oh no, his flat looked like a gas explosion has taken place in it and the man told him he will be back in few minutes. The same man who bravely jumped off the balcony in his shorts (that point needed to be underlined) to save Steve’s dog from a crazy monster cat, yet had the superhuman ability to still look cool and posed. That man was going to see the state of Steve’s flat and he will be disgusted for sure; Steve was disgusted himself – even if just this morning he was almost impossibly proud of the place. Even if Thor has already seen the flat when he passed through it on his way it to the door.
Steve was not made to be an adult, simple as that. At this rate he was going to end up back in Houston and this time his father will lock him up in the basement and starve him to death. And this time Bucky won’t be there to help him.
A knock on the door snapped the man out of the panicked daze in which he tried to tidy up the kitchen. Said attempt consisted of moving the salt-shaker behind the toaster and pushing groceries on the counter against the wall. The ridiculousness of it made him flush from embarrassment and giggle nervously before the second knock sent him scrambling to open the door.
“Hi,” was everything that his brain managed to come up with on the run. “Um… Again, I mean.”
The neighbour smiled and the power of that smile sent Steve’s stomach into happy little flutters. At least he was dressed properly this time: in a pair jogging pants and a t-shirt.
Good, that was good; Steve could take that over almost-naked and dripping-wet any day of the week.
Well, maybe just on Fridays it would be okay to…
“As I promised, I came back,” Thor said. He pointed to the official looking bag in his hand and Steve pretended to know what it means. “Now I have supplies to help your… Phil?”
“Phil?” Steve repeated. Then his brain registered the expression on the man’s face as expectant and finally kick-started into gear. “Oh, Phil! Yes, of course, Phil. It’s Phil, my dog, yeah. Hm… come on in, sorry, come in.”
Thor’s eyes followed the hand that invited him into the flat with a grand gesture and even if he’s found a presence of the salt-shaker strange he didn’t mention it. For what Steve was unbelievably grateful, his ears were red enough already. He knew he was going to make a fool out of himself and he couldn’t do anything about it as the process has already started. What was left was just trying to not humiliate himself too much.
Thor stepped into the flat and the room seemed to shrink around him. All the ugly and old parts of the flat suddenly jumped into sharp contrast and Steve could’ve sworn he’s heard the glass screen of a picture on his bedroom’s wall crack from pure self-loathing. The man radiated some kind of inner light that had only a little to do with how blond his hair has been.
Or Steve was just overly poetic. He blamed all the romance novels he was forced to read in his life.
“Where is the patient?”
Steve shook himself out of the stupor and turned to the living room only to find Phil standing on alert just few steps behind him.
Now, Phil was a tolerant dog. He wasn’t the kind that mistrusted strangers on principle and barked at every sudden sound from behind the door/wall. He was a rather self-assertive creature, he allowed contact only when he wanted to, but wasn’t violent about denying it – no biting and growling, he would just stand up and get away from the person he didn’t care about. He wasn’t bothered by an off-chance pat on the head, but he prized his space and no stranger was allowed to take any part of it.
Also, Phil was not a defence dog – he didn’t have a habit of protecting his master from every stranger. Steve liked to think that Phil simply trusted into his ability to protect himself and it made him a bit proud of them both.
But on the same note, Phil was not a pushover and didn’t take to strangers easily.
That was the reason Steve’s jaw almost hit the floor when Thor simply kneeled and reached out with one hand saying single, kind “Come here” and Phil listened. Seeing his dog sniffing at the offered hand, then licking it and just sitting down in front of it brought a number of feelings into his owner’s heart. Jealousy, of course, because it was his damn dog! Awe, because the man has to be some kind of animal whisperer – first the monster cat and now Phil. And a little bit of something strange that made Steve want to sit in front of the man and get a pat on the head too.
“Brave warrior you are,” Thor complimented Phil while Steve was re-living his little mental crisis just few steps away. “I have to apologise for Bruce’s behaviour, he is a… troubled soul. And Tony is just a goofball, he was probably scared. I think that he’s never been so close to a dog in his entire life and he just lashed out. Please take my apologies, my friend.”
The strangest part was that Steve was not sure if the man is speaking to him or to the dog. Well, compared to what happened earlier, it was only a little bit strange, but still.
Nevertheless, he decided to man up and start taking part in the conversation.
“It’s nothing,” he leaned over to see better when Thor opened his bag and started pulling out things. It looked professional – both the bag and its contents. “Phil has never interacted with cats, so it was a shock for both sides of this mess. I have to thank you, tough; I didn’t know what to do.”
Admitting it was hard, but Steve couldn’t not do it, he was entirely too honest for his own good and not thanking the neighbour for the intervention would haunt him forever.
Great, now he will think you are a coward and a pussy and he will laugh at you. Just wait. Three, two, one…
“That’s okay,” Thor said instead. “I don’t blame you; most people don’t know how to react in the situation such as this. Sometimes it’s safer for all involved to just stand clear… or get a bucket of water.”
At that last the man smiled and Steve couldn’t help, but follow along. It was a really nice smile.
“Okay, it should be enough,” Thor pushed the bag way. He was left with a large plastic bottle in one hand and a wad of cotton in the other. “Do you have a bowl we can use to wash the wound? Or maybe we should move to the bathroom if you prefer?”
The bathroom was in even worse shape than the kitchen, so of course Steve had a bowl in the kitchen. Even if it was a complete lie. But surely by the strength of his silent prayers the bowl will magically appear in the cupboard – that or sheer desperation will make a bowl happen.
No matter which one worked, Steve has managed to find an old, empty plastic fruit bowl in the first cupboard he’s opened. A feeling of relief almost forced him to kiss the thing, but he was too busy scrambling back around the isle to give into it. He will kiss the damn thing later.
“If you could hold him,” Thor asked, placing the bowl on the floor between himself and Phil who was looking at the humans with calm curiosity. “I need his nose over the bowl so I can wash it with antiseptic. It will sting a little.” Them he looked into Phil’s eyes and said very seriously; “You are a brave warrior, my friend, please be brave for a little while longer.”
This should’ve been on Hallmark postcards – Steve realised. Or Ann Geddes’, or something. Looking at it made him weak in the knees and he was happy that he had to sit on the floor anyway. He simply couldn’t stomach the cuteness of a grown man talking to a dog as if the animal could understand him. He leaned into Phil’s side to hold him in a loose embrace, unaware that his face was starting to hurt from smiling.
“It helps to keep them calmer during procedures,” the neighbour explained and maybe even blushed a little. “Animals are much calmer when person tending to them is calm.”
“It makes sense,” Steve had to admit. “Wait, are you a vet?”
Then he wanted to slap himself in the face because of course the man was a vet! Look at the bag! And the professional way he was going about cleaning Phil’s wounds! And the way he knew how to act around a wounded animal.
Will you ever stop embarrassing yourself, Rogers?
“Indeed, I am,” Thor smiled with pure pleasure and pride. Steve appreciated the fact that he was concentrating on the procedure and didn’t see how much appreciation that smile brought out. “I work for the animal clinic nearby. You are lucky, my friend, that I have a clutter of my own to take care of, otherwise I wouldn’t have supplies to help you.”
“It’s how we call a group of cats. Mine is four-strong and it seems to grow every time when I am not looking. Hold him now, please.”
Hm, a cat person, Steve thought while trying to hold Phil’s head over the bowl so Thor could wash his nose under the stream from the bottle. His moves were gentle and careful, even if his hands were almost large enough to crush the dog’s head with ease. The next two minutes Steve has spent imaging these same hands holding a tiny little kitten. It almost gave him diabetes.
Phil whined, unhappy that the situation turned against his favour, and tried to move away from the stinging water, but his owner held him fast and talked to him soothingly. After a while the pain subsided and the man in front of him smiled again, showing all his teeth, and he stopped struggling. The man was impressive and as much as Phil loved Steve, he knew with certainty that this one was not someone to mess with. The sheer size of him was enough to awake some grudging respect in otherwise self-dependent dog and the way he carried himself reinforced the feeling that this creature feared no one. If there ever was a perfect alpha of any kind this was it, the final link of the evolution’s chain.
Add to that, he was a kind man and from the way Steve reacted to him (finally, oh my) Phil had a feeling that he was a good investment. In conclusion submitting to the power-above-him wasn’t really that hard; whatever made Steve happy was the right thing.
If only the man didn’t smell like cats… but at the moment all Phil could smell was the stinging water anyway, so he could afford to be gracious and not react.
The sacrifices he’s made for his human.
“There, it’s all clean,” said the man as he gently dabbed his nose with a soft pad. “All we have to do now is to put some ointment on it and we’re done.”
Steve scratched his ears in reward and, well, it was something at least. For that he stayed still as some smelly, sticky stuff was applied to his sore nose.
Really, the sacrifices.
“He should be okay now. Scratches weren’t deep so it should heal in few days’ time. All you have to do is to take care that he doesn’t reopen them and re-apply this ointment twice a day. If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to give me a shout. You know where I live.”
Steve stood up when Thor did and dutifully took offered tube of medicine, nodding to every advice and rubbing Phil’s head absentmindedly.
“Thank you,” he finally managed to get out as the man was ready to leave. “I am, damn, sorry. I have to pay you for the ointment and…” But Thor waved him off.
“Do not worry about it. I have two more tubes in store. Between Clint and Tony, and Bruce and walls we go through it at the speed of light.”
“But you came over and… it was your own time,” Steve didn’t have a clue of what he was trying to do here. “Are you sure you don’t even want a, I don’t know, a coffee in thanks?”
Rogers, stop this right now! Stop it before he thinks you are creepy and decides that he never wants to deal with you again! Right about now he will look at you strangely and walk out through that door never to come back and you will be left…
Oh God, he smiled again!
“It was the least I could do for poor Phil after my cats caused him distress. However, an offer of coffee is most appreciated. Whenever you have time, I will accompany you with pleasure. Have a good evening, my friend.”
When the door closed behind him, Steve was still standing in the hall with one hand raised in silent wave and a sick feeling clawing its way up from his stomach to his throat. He desperately wished he had a couch to fall back on, but only thing at hand was a small uncomfortable kitchen chair.
Phil came over to him, whining in worry, licking at the hands he was covering his face with.
Rogers, you’re doing it again –silent voice in his head warned him, and Steve nodded in agreement. He knew, but it was already too late.
Outside the door Thor finally allowed himself to breathe out and ordered his body to get a goddamn grip! His limp came back with doubled force and he struggled up the stairs trying to make as little noise as possible.
Jumping off the balcony didn’t make him any good. And trying to show off in front of new neighbour certainly didn’t help either. Now he wished for a hot shower (another one, because the first one didn’t count) and an evening spent on the couch in front of a TV. His workout schedule will suffer, but his spine will thank him later.
“Clint, I won’t even ask how you managed to get out this time,” he spoke tiredly to the cat that waited on him on top of the stairs. It was one of those things that were better left unknown. “But your concern is appreciated.”
He thumped the cat lightly with his foot and let him rub on his shin. Just once; Clint wasn’t a gushy creature, he was perfectly happy with taking affection in small doses and on his own terms.
“And I just made an ass of myself for a second time.” Thor admitted unabashedly. “He will surely think that his neighbour is some kind of a weirdo who reads too much Shakespeare.”
Clint meowed seemingly in protest and the man laughed softly.
“I know that Darcy thinks it’s cute, but she is not a staple of normality around these parts.”
Clint sniffed at that.
Well, fuck them. Big guy was awesome in his opinion and nothing else really mattered. And if some dog-loving looser was going to preach otherwise, Clint was ready to teach him a lesson.
I apologise for the wait, RL demands more attention than ever>_>
But, you see? Another cat to the collection:)
“I made a fool out of myself, Peggy! Oh God, I was a complete creep and now my new neighbour won’t ever want to know me! And he was so nice too!”
“Steve, if you won’t slow down and explain everything from the beginning without spazzing out on me, I swear I will put the phone down.”
Phil listened with one ear to the conversation Steve had with his lady friend. He knew how these calls went and wasn’t interested in eavesdropping. Steve talked to Peggy at least once every couple of days and Phil was all for it – when his human was in the state of high agitation she was the only one capable of calming him down.
And Steve was agitated; since that fateful day in the garden (it was no more than two days ago, but dog’s minds worked in mysterious ways). Phil was not really sure what was the reason for it – yes, the battle with that monster-cat was slightly traumatic, but everything ended up well. His nose has been taken care of and the scratches were healing nicely – and even that smelly sticky stuff his human insisted on didn’t get in the way much. Moreover, they’ve got to meet the man who ruled over cats in the upstairs flat! A formidable man that knew how to take care of scratched noses. He also knew how to make Steve’s heart thunder in his chest with just one smile.
All in all, the situation wasn’t that dire.
“And it was some kind of a monster, I swear, Peggy. The cat was huge and hairy, and... And he made the most horrifying sounds I’ve ever heard in my life!”
Phil kind of regretted that this new place didn’t have a couch. If there was a couch, Steve would be sitting on it instead of walking up and down the flat and gesticulating wildly. Then Phil would be able to sit at his side with a head on the man’s lap, calming him down with his presence.
Now, however, all he could do was keeping one eye on his distressed human and other one on the balcony door. He was just being careful – he needed more data about the strange clutter that lived above their heads. Till now he hasn’t seen any of two toms in the open yet. Sometimes he could hear sounds from above the ceiling – sounds of steps and a human voice talking to someone who never answered. Sometimes he could hear hushed murmurs that were too hard to understand even for him. Although he knew that there are more cats than just those two – when the man upstairs called for them to get their food, Phil heard sounds of pawsteps from more than two directions.
He guessed three or four. It was hard to state anything more from just sound alone, but at least he didn’t hear that monster’s wailing again. Just remembering it raised fur on the back of his neck.
“And he told them to stop and they did. Like some kind of a Tarzan or something. “
“You want to tell me that a half-naked man jumped from the first floor’s balcony to save your dog from his cat?”
“Well, yeah, exactly that. But it was only because he just got out of the shower when they started making noise…”
“Wait! You want to tell me he was half-naked and dripping wet? Was he handsome too?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s not the…”
A heavy sigh from Peggy momentarily grabbed Phil’s attention. He turned his head to see Steve standing still by the kitchen counter, fiddling with the saltshaker. His face was surprisingly red. Peggy could always make him red and silent, and Phil was of opinion that this look was kind of adorable on his human.
“Steve, how do you live this life?” Peggy asked after a moment of silence. “How do these things keep happening to you?”
“I don’t know,” Steve’s voice bordered on despaired. “It just… happens.”
“One of these days I will write your biography and it will overthrow Forest Gump, I swear. They will buy rights off me and you will have sitcom based on your life.”
“Please, don’t even joke like that.”
“I am deadly serious.” She wasn’t, she was trying to stop the giggles from escaping. “This kind of thing can only happen to you. Tell me now that he’s a young, promising doctor.”
“Well, he’s a vet, actually.”
“Oh my God! Steve Rogers, you are impossible!”
Steve ducked his head, embarrassed, as if Peggy was standing right in front of him, and picked up walking to and fro again. Phil snorted quietly and shook his head. These two were acting like children most often than not – not that he minded. He loved them both anyway.
Sudden movement in the window momentarily ripped his attention from Steve.
There was a cat sitting on the windowsill outside.
Not one of the two Phil has already seen – that fact alone stopped the angry growl that was about to slip past dog’s teeth. This one was a lot smaller than the beast, but bigger than the one with sharp claws. He, because it was a tom without any doubt, was grey and tan in colour and could be easily taken as a stray – only a collar around his neck denied that assumption.
He also reeked of self-confidence, glaring at Phil from behind the glass with suspicion, his pale grey eyes cold and calculating.
Phil had a moment to feel cowed by the sheer strength of regard that look exuded. Then he remembered that he was on his ground, that the flat and the human in it were his and no stranger was going to threaten him there!
It forced him to bond towards the window and stand nose to nose with the cat, their glowers separated only by a thin glass panel. To his credit, the tom didn’t flinch. He stayed perfectly still, only the tip of the stripped tail flicking gently.
“What do you want?” Phil asked, trying to calm his nerves. Cats were strange; he thought he understood them once before only to be proved wrong.
“I am keeping an eye on you,” the tom spoke back, voice harsh and gritty. He started appraisingly at the healing scratches, as if he was admiring the handiwork. “You keep your nose to yourself and no one will have to get hurt. Again.”
Phil bared teeth at the blatant threat. Not in his house!
“Keep your clutter in line and there won’t be any more accidents,“ he growled back.
“Tough words for someone who needed our big guy to fix him after one little scuffle,” grey eyes flashed with amusement. “And most of the days Stark doesn’t remember that he even has claws.”
The insult was obvious and Phil was on the verge of… he didn’t know what; he could do very little from behind the glass. But he suddenly felt angrier than he was in a long while.
“Listen up, dog,” the tom leaned even closer, his pink nose almost touching the glass. Phil was surprised to see that the nose was marked with old scars. “Stay away from the clutter. Next time big guy won’t be there to save you, I’ll make sure of that.”
Before Phil’s mind managed to come up with an answer to that, the cat jumped from the windowsill to the railing, from there to the small ladder on the side, and then disappeared. Phil looked after him, feeling unexplainable rage twisting his stomach while, even more unexplainably, a spark of wary respect towards the boldness of the creature ignited next to it. He doused both with a bucketful of common sense he always prided himself with. It almost worked.
“No, Peggy, I do not agree to be a heroine in your next novel. Not even if you pay me. It’s enough that I draw covers for them; I will not be taken advantage of. No, not even in exchange for royalties. And I am sure that Thor… I mean, Mister Blake won’t be happy about it either.”
“Mister Blake? Steve, you are an adult, act like it from time to time. And don’t think I didn’t hear your spluttering. Thor? What an interesting name…”
“Peggy, stop it…”
Phil turned back from the window and trotted after Steve to the bedroom – maybe his human will finally sit down on the bed so they can snuggle together. Looking at the state of affairs, they both needed it at the moment.
The thing about Clint was that he wasn’t really a house cat – which didn’t get in the way of him spending a major part of the day indoors. He didn’t consider himself a house cat and that was really all that mattered. Cats were all about self-image and being obvious. Of course, only from the perspective of other cats – a random human or a, God have mercy, dog wouldn’t understand the way they choose to declare themselves.
Big guy was a creditable exception and Clint was grateful for it. The man was one of those rare humans that saw the moggy for what he was – a loner, a cat who was grateful for a place to stay, but didn’t let said place define him. He came and went on his own, and big guy never tried to stop him, he trusted Clint to find his own way home – even as handicapped as he was. That meant a lot. Just like the way big guy took in stride Natasha’s disability or Bruce’s mental instability, and even Stark’s destructive ways – and kept on treating them like normal cats. That meant a whole lot more than the best fluffy bed and fresh meat served every morning. Clint would never settle down with a human that wouldn’t understand this simple fact. Hell, he wouldn’t even think of settling down at all if the fates didn’t decide to kick him in the ass one time too many.
He hated being pitied. But in the house full of cripples – physical or mental, or in Bruce’s case, both, – there was no chance for pity from any quarter. Tasha snorted, Tony sniggered, and Bruce simply went berserk when emotions tended to run too high.
No, they were not an overly affectionate bunch. No, Bruce snuggling with Tony on every occasion they’ve got did not change that fact. Stark was too messed up emotionally for anyone to apply one clear, straight-forward intention to any of his actions. And Bruce was… Bruce. As far as the moggy was concerned this clutter was a tight, mature club that simply felt comfortable with each other.
Just like any wild clutter should be where everyone’s got their part to play in the grand scheme of things. Even if this one was hopelessly unbalanced with only one molly and entirely too many toms. Even if said molly wasn’t even remotely interested in expanding their numbers.
…even if she stared at him now as if she planned to scratch his eyes out.
“Clint,” Natasha purred softly in greeting as he stepped into the flat. “Were you bothering the dog, by chance?”
“Of course not,” he snorted, bypassing her on the way to the kitchen. “I simply made sure the fleabag knows what he’s dealing with.”
He did not expect an attack, that’s why when sharp teeth closed on the tip of his tail Clint almost jumped over the couch.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” He wailed from the top of said furniture; all bristled-fur and tense muscles. “What was that for?!”
“For being stupid,” the molly answered calmly. “I don’t want you going there, bird brain.”
She looked to the side to find Tony and Bruce observing them from the safety of bathroom door. Which made the situation even worse, in Clint’s opinion, because far it be from Stark not to mock him for days to come.
“I don’t want any of you going down there until we know more about the situation,” Natasha spoke with authority. “You will not bother the dog, nor will you get into positions where he can bother you.
“Oh, come on,” complained Stark.
“I am serious!” she shut him up with a look. “What happened two days ago? Doctor almost killed himself because of you two morons! You know his leg is not good and that it will take days for it to stop hurting.”
Mention of the pain that befall their human silenced all three toms in an instant. Tony looked away guiltily and Bruce hanged his head in shame. Clint bristled slightly at being counted in with them, but in the end ordered himself to calm the hell down. Tasha was right, they could not risk big guy’s life over stupid pride.
“Now,” molly straightened up, knowing that she won. “Doctor went downstairs and helped the dog; that means it’s not a bad one.”
“God would help anyone,” argued Tony. “Cat, dog or a pigeon, you know it; it makes no difference to him if the patient is good or bad.”
“That explains why you’re still here,” mumbled Clint loud enough to be heard.
“Hey! Mind your own tail, birdy!”
They fell silent again, but this time it wasn’t Natasha’s rebuke that caused it.
“I agree with Natasha,” Bruce spoke calmly. “We can’t risk our tails, and we can’t expect Him to come to the rescue every time something happens. It’s best to just observe for now; if the dog turns violent, we will deal with it.”
Natasha inclined her head gracefully and even Stark nodded reverently so Clint had no choice, but to agree with them. There was no point in making an outright enemy of the dog; there was always time for that. Want it or not, Clint was now a part of a clutter and had to pick up his game a little to keep them all safe. Tasha was a though molly and Bruce was downright terrifying, but they were still housecats and Stark was pathetically inept at all aspects of the life outside of his golden cage. Clint was the most experienced of them and should know how to pick his fights. This one, in retrospection, didn’t seem worth worrying his cluttermates.
And there was no way he was standing up to Bruce and Tasha combined – they still scared him on most days.
“I will leave the fleabag for now,” he promised. “If he behaves, I will too.”
“Very well,” said Natasha. “Dismissed.”
“Is your leg is still bothering you?” Jane asked, when he came into the staff room. Coffee machine was already working and godly aroma of freshly ground beans filled up the tiny room from the floor to the ceiling.
“It is nothing,” Thor tried to brush the inquiry off with a wave. “It will get better in few days.”
Jane smiled and handed him a cup of fresh brew. She looked radiant this morning, happy. Sometimes Thor wondered if they still had a chance. Surely, against all odds, they would make a good couple now, as they both grew and matured, and wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes again.
And then he remembered how it has ended and all the reasons behind it, and he was forced to admit that no, they were better off as friends. They would have to change too much to be anything more and none of them wanted that for the other. The twinkle in Jane’s eyes told him that she was familiar with that train of thought and that she also came to the same conclusion. They were both hard headed idiots, there was no chance of it ever changing.
Though, Thor kind of missed having someone who knew him so well.
“That will teach you not to play the hero when stairs would do,” she teased him, sipping on her own latte. “And to show off in front of the cute new neighbour.”
“He wasn’t cute,” Thor insisted. “He was awkward and flustered, and completely horrified. I think his blood pressure hit the roof.”
“And you find it cute,” Jane concluded. “I know you, Don Blake, you have no secrets from me.”
“Assumptions are unbecoming, my lady!”
“You find everything that’s flustered and horrified cute, that’s the reason you’ve become a vet in the first place.” She tapped her nose lightly and winked at him. “Woman’s intuition never fails, don’t argue with me, my lord.”
He also missed having one person who wouldn’t ridicule his original speech patterns and word choices.
All in all he missed not being alone.
But it was an old song in the life of one Donald Blake. Thor Blake was okay with having his space; he had his Little Destruction and on most days it was enough. Really.
“Let’s get to work, then,” Jane elbowed him in the stomach as she passed by him. “You can tell me all about your cute new neighbour later.”
“He was not cute,” Thor tried to protest for the last time, but the woman only smiled at him.
It took one day for Phil to come to the conclusion that his life was suddenly going in a very strange direction. He always thought cats were simply animals, like dogs, or pigeons, or something similar. He didn’t have much experience with them and was reluctant to believe when his sire used to tell him stories about them. Surely, no creature on earth was so devious and crafty to wreak havoc and spread chaos instinctively. Surely nothing so small and graceful.
But here he was, looking at the second cat in the span of one morning.
His head was still reeling from the last meeting, emotions running high – and yet there it was, another feline sitting on the same window and looking at him with cold eyes in the colour of honey.
“Give me a break,” Phil mumbled to himself. Then he straightened his back and had to bit back a growl when all it gained him was one gentle snort from the cat. He had no patience for that. “What do you want now?”
Up close he could see it was a molly. Gracefully perched on her hind legs, tail out of sight. Wait a moment, there was something… strange about her. Something…
“I take that the airhead that was here before tried to threaten you,” she said calmly. “I came to apologise.”
That was, well, unexpected.
“Apologise?” Phil repeated just to make sure he’s heard right.
He could feel the headache coming.
“Yes, that,” the molly narrowed her eyes a little as if the thought he was an especially dull smail. “He had no right to do it. This whole matter is just a foolish misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstanding? Those two started it!” Phil tried to defend himself. Weird, under her stare he felt like a pup that just peed in the carpet - something he haven’t experienced in at least few years now.
“I know they did. But you have to understand that Stark is an idiot with no concept of self-preservation and Bruce has… issues. We didn’t know that the new neighbour was a dog person,” she admitted softly. “You scared them.”
Phil thought it was wise not to mention that they scared the hell out of him, too. He had a feeling that it wouldn’t get him any points with this cat. But there was also something else in her last words, another meaning.
‘You scared us’ it said. That’s why she came, to make sure nothing like that will happen again. Phil was all for this idea; he had enough trouble with Steve as it was, he didn’t need a hostile clutter after his hind.
“I am willing to forget about it,” he made the first move.” We seem to be sharing the backyard and it would be awkward to do so in the current state of affairs.”
“I agree,” the molly inclined her head. “I have enough trouble with keeping them in line as it is.”
“My name is Phil.” He stood up on his hind legs to see her better and almost touched the glass with his nose. He regretted that they were separated and couldn’t share smells; the whole thing seemed awkwardly un-courteous like that. “And my human’s name is Steve Rogers. He is a good one.”
“Natasha, from the house Romanov.” Her pink nose also touched the glass. She didn’t offer anything else, though, besides: “Our doctor did a good job on your nose, Phil.”
He felt his tail swaying from side to side and had to consciously stop it from moving. It was just embarrassing. She was a strange molly, that was for sure, but Phil had a feeling that he could like her without problem. If only the rest of her clutter was so direct and sensible.
“I am glad we understand one another,” Natasha nodded appreciatively, as if she also found him adequate. “Have a good day, Phil Rogers. And may your boy have a good one too.”
Then she stood up and Phil almost did a double take when he finally realised what was wrong with her. The lack of the hind leg, not really obvious when the molly was sitting, was shockingly striking. And even more was the grace and fluidity of the movements that she still possessed – as if the handicap was non-existent. She jumped on the rails and then the ladder, much like the other cat did earlier that day, and it hit Phil how hard it was for her to come down in the first place. The ladder was sturdy, but it was narrow and the angle of it wasn’t exactly gentle.
“Phil, come on boy! We are going out!”
Steve’s voice came from the kitchen and the dog bounded to the source to tackle his human’s knees and rub his nose into the warm hand. Following Steve was the priority, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make him forget about the strange way the day has started. Even as the man clipped the leash to his collar and rubbed his ears, Phil couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that lately cats seemed to jump out of every corner just to mess with him.
Maybe there was a seed of truth in his sire’s stories? Maybe those little furballs were the actual agents of chaos?
“We need a new coffee machine, boy,” Steve was talking to him as they left the flat and went down the short flight of stairs. “And we need that couch. My holiday will end soon and there won’t be much time to dig through second-hands.”
But that was just silly, wasn’t it? Natasha looked and acted like a level-headed creature. Intelligent and calculating; a little condescending, but that could be forgiven given the company she kept.
Surely, sire was exaggerating on that account. Otherwise it spelled interesting times ahead.
Just as that thought ended, Phil’s nose was assaulted by an array of smells that caused the hair on his back to stand along with his ears. When they stepped out of the building he dashed to the side, pulling Steve along…
“Phil! Get back, boy! What’s the matter?”
It was there, there, there…
“Phil? What is it?”
To the left of the entrance, just behind the corner, in the mouth of a narrow alley leading to the backyard. There was a dark shape curled under the wall, slightly behind the trash bins, partially-hidden from view. It was small and jet-black and it smelled of blood and things Phil could not recognise. It smelled like a dog too, but that was just plain weird, because…
“What did you find, boy? Phil, what is… oh, God.”
Steve kneeled by the dark shape as Phil moved to the side.
“Oh, this poor thing…” the man whispered, reaching out to touch the creature.
It hissed at him, but it was such a pathetic little sound, that both dog and human felt their hearts clench. The thing moved its head – without strength to lift it, just enough movement that one eye could peer at them both. It was a very green eye. And very unhappy one.
“…lumbering…,” the shape hissed out with the last of its strenght. “…oaf…”
Phil would feel slightly aggravated, if he wasn’t already exasperated. Trust a cat to use his last breath to insult him.
Darcy was not a number one volunteer in the district by sheer chance. She wasn’t the only one volunteer that managed to season director Fury’s brand of humour and doc Blake’s brand of effortless beauty, and few months of godawful coffee because she was weak of heart. She was though and quick-witted and knew how to keep her cool in every situation. Working in this particular pet clinic prepared her for the life of situations that muggles would find hard to brave.
That’s why she wasn’t moved much when an agitated man with a dog leashed to one hand and the second one busy with a jacket-full of something black crashed through the entrance into the waiting hall. She just looked at him with raised eyebrows and smiled.
“Hello, how are you?” Darcy always believed that calm approach was enough to get through any situation. That and tasers, but it was a story for another day. The man looked frazzled enough without it. “Welcome in the Shield Clinic, how can we help you?”
The man was pretty fit, she noted on the side. Big and blond, he had a kind of male-underwear model thing going on.
Back to business, his dog looked okay, if a little miffed by the situation. English pointer, well taken care of, good; his owner obviously knew what he was doing. So the cause of all the rush had to be the bundle. Obviously.
“Um, I found him outside my flat,” the guy sputtered a little, but quickly pulled himself together. He leaned over the desk to show her the inside of the bundle. It was a cat. Very black and very unconscious. And a little bloody. “ I don’t know what happened to him, but could you… I mean ,can you help him?”
“Of course we can, we can do everything,” she answered, reaching for the phone. “Are you registered with us, mister…?”
The cute blond almost visibly shook himself.
“Rogers,” he provided. “Steve Rogers. I am new, I mean, I just moved in nearby and this is the closest clinic I was directed to… I am not registered, I mean. I can, if that’s necessary. He is not mine, but if you can help him…”
Oh God, he was so cute! All flushed and flustered.
“Okay, let me see if any of our doctors are free.” She dialled the office’s number and reached for the forms with her other hand. “You will need to fill those in the meanwhile. You can leave your dog in the waiting area, there’s a place to tie the leash to and water fountain, he looks thirsty. Also, I need to see your ID and… oh, hi doc Blake. I have a fine specimen for you to check out,” she spoke into the phone, while winking at the man. “And he brought a cat with him.”
Steve flushed red at that. If not for the desk between them she would jump him without a moment of doubt – to pinch his cheeks and coo.
It took exactly twenty seconds for the doors on the right of the desk to open.
“Oh, it’s you,” mumbled Steve Rogers.
Doctor Blake also looked rather surprised.
“Well, this is awkward,” Darcy spoke out to break the tension before it even managed to rise. “But, the cat, gentlemen, you can trade insults later.”
“Don’t be silly, milady,” Thor smiled at her. “This is my new neighbour, Steve Rogers. I told you about him. And this is…?” He looked questioningly at the bundle.
“I found him in the alley. I hope it’s not one of yours.” The sole thought seemed to genuinely distress Steve. “Miss Hill directed me here, so I… is he going to make it?”
The question was asked with so much honesty that Darcy could almost see the Hallmark moment come to life. Especially when Thor’s eyes softened in that special way they did when he was presented with something little and fluffy…
And then they narrowed suddenly on the cat.
“Can’t be,” he almost whispered, removing the jacket to bare a slender black head adorned with two distinctive tan stripes running on the edges of the ears. Unusual colouring, fact, but nothing to get excited about. But then again, Thor and cats lived in a separate dimension to the rest of Creation.
”Oh, you miserable wretch. “ The big man murmured to the bundle with unmistakable affection. “What have you done to yourself this time, Loki?”
Oh God, it was a long time since I updated this one. Apologies. :)
“Oh no, it’s the terror!”
Steve was startled by the loud exclamation from a petite blond woman who arrived uninvited into the office of Doctor Blake. She was a tiny girl and pretty too, and judging by her outfit, she was also a vet.
“It’s really him, isn’t it?” she sounded in equal measures disbelieving and resigned as she approached the table they were standing by; Thor was busy with cleaning cat’s wounds, while Steve was busy with being concerned and slightly worn out. It has been already a long day.
Thor smiled with pure happiness and Steve, yet again, felt his knees go weak. He felt even worse when the woman’s only reaction to that blinding smile was to slap the man on the arm and try to peep around his impressive stature at the mentioned stray. It looked kind of adorable, because next to Thor she seemed even smaller. She didn’t even reach to his shoulder!
“Oh, it’s him alright,” she shook her head in obvious disapproval. “Who would have thought?”
“Jane, please, don’t be unkind,” Thor asked politely, eyes never leaving his patient’s still form. His big hands were surprisingly gentle. “Granny was very fond of Loki.”
“And shame it is that he wasn’t very fond of anyone,” she concluded, but at this point her voice was more teasing than annoyed.
Also, she finally decided to grace Steve with a glance and minutely checked herself. As if she really didn’t see him until this very moment.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” she apologised, reaching over the table to shake his hand. “Jane Foster. You have to be the lucky man who has found this ball of misery?”
“Yes, that’s me,” Steve shook her tiny hand gently and even managed to smile as she daftly elbowed her co-worker in the ribs. “Steve Rogers, I am… well, I am Doctor Blake’s neighbour.”
“Please, call me Thor, friend,” the man in question asked, again without looking up from his work.
Steve felt his ears reddening and could do absolutely nothing about it. It was embarrassing enough as it happened when there were just two of them, but now he’s had an audience. Great.
“Oh, you are the new neighbour,” Jane’s face brightened. “The one with the dog? Ground floor?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged awkwardly. “I just moved in two days ago.”
“And you’ve already been subjected to Thor’s Destruction on the first day,” she looked at him with compassion. "You poor, traumatised man. How is your dog dealing with it?”
“Phil is okay, his nose is healing nicely…” Steve was not entirely sure when he began sweating under her sharp, but decidedly friendly stare and when it started to remind him of Peggy. He decided to move his focus back to the stray cat that quite obviously wasn’t as stray as it turned out.
“Is he okay?” he asked Thor with honest worry. It was lying so still.
“He will be,” the big man promised. When he finally looked up, his eyes were full of tightly controlled anxiety. “Little wretch is dehydrated and worn out. His right hind leg seems to be broken …”
“Again?” moaned Jane.
“…and he was in a fight from what I can see. With a dog, most probably. But these scratches are not a danger; they just need to be cleaned.”
“Okay, then,” Jane clapped her hands enthusiastically, which reminded Steve of Miss Parkson, his PE teacher from high school. She always clapped right before ordering boys to run ten laps around the track. “So: X-ray of the leg, IV, antibiotics and a horse’s dose of painkillers.”
“Jane,” Thor’s face was a picture of disapproval at the last proposition.
But the woman didn’t step back; she just crossed her arms and calmly started him down.
“We have to dumb him down as much as possible,” she said. “Otherwise who knows where he will be tomorrow.”
“I can… I can take him.”
Steve was completely unprepared for the way they both turned to look at him, as if, in their quarrel, they’ve really forgot about the presence of a spectator. He almost flinched back from Jane’s slightly-disapproving, slightly-pitying glare while Thor’s boundless admiration-slash-approval again made him feel somewhat weak. Somehow he’s managed to compose himself enough to quiet the little voice in his head that kept asking: What the hell, Rogers?!
“I mean… if he has an owner, I can take him to them.”
“His owner passed away last year,” Thor informed him sadly. “She was a remarkable woman. After her death Loki disappeared until now.”
Oh. Oh, it was… sad. Pretty sad all around.
And Doctor Blake kept looking at him in an expecting way that could only mean one thing.
“He will have to go to the shelter, then,” Jane stated evenly. And before Thor managed to get a word edgewise, she continued, ”You can’t take him, Bruce will eat him on the spot. He needs more attention than you can provide at the moment, Thor. Betty will take care of him just fine.”
“He can’t go to the shelter.”
It took just a moment for the kind, smiling man to turn into a displeased giant. Frown of his face almost caused Steve to step back from the table and, combined with the possessive way one of his hands came up to lay on Loki’ side… it was clear that anyone who wanted to take the cat from him will have to do it over his dead body. And it was a very large and strong body. One that could easily squeeze the life out of professional wrestler.
Doctor Blake has become very scary indeed.
Even Jane seemed to back down seeing the change. She raised her hands in a sign of peace, but her disapproving glare didn’t subside.
“I know your thoughts on cat-shelters, Thor, but I am speaking reason and you know it!”
And, just like that, the scary men disappeared, leaving behind him kind and somewhat sheepish doctor.
“Loki is unsuited to closed spaces,” Thor explained patiently. “Just like Clint, he will bite through his own tail to get out, and I don’t want to put this kind of burden on dear Betty. You know how he is.” His blue eyes threw her the most soulful look Steve has ever seen in his life. And he was an avid fan of Care Bears as a kid. “He will not get better in a cage.”
“He may if the cage is what’s needed to keep his ass in one place for long enough to heal. Thor,” Jane’s voice suddenly took on a concerned note. “You can’t save them all on your own,” she spoke gently, patting the big arm that still hovered over the cat. “There are already four you have to take care of, don’t forget that.”
And it was a sound logic, Steve could admit. It was okay, they would take care of the cat in the shelter. Those kinds of places were supposed to be good for stray animals, weren’t they? And with the previous owner of the cat gone, it made sense to put him in one. After all, Steve has seen with his own eyes the amount of trouble a cat could cause – and he won’t forget about it soon, oh no, the monstrosity from the backyard will star in his dreams a lot. He’s seen what kind of cats Thor Blake considered “harmless”.
Although this one didn’t look that… dangerous. It wasn’t really that big; a kind of a medium-size that would be expected from an average male, even if stick thin. But that could be fixed; he would round up nicely if someone fed him properly. His fur was black and strangely coarse – Steve’s fingers tingled after stroking it in panic on the way to the clinic, - but it was thick and healthy looking. And a little unusual, with those two stripes on the ears. Quite funky.
All in all, the animal, banged up and scratched as it was, looked miserable, but not tragic. It was all easy to fix, really, from what Jane said. Steve did his part, the rest could be safely left in the hands of professionals who could deal with this problem better. It would be okay.
‘There you go, boy…’
Except, it wouldn’t.
“I will call Betty,” Jane offered gently, turning to walk away, “and ask her when we can drop him off.”
‘There you go, boy, they will make something out of you...’
“That won’t be necessary.”
Steve wasn’t even sure that he vocalised those words before both vets turned to him with surprise. It seemed that he was forgotten again, the story of his life. But there was something rising in his chest that for once didn’t feel like blind panic. That gave him strength to repeat the words with more conviction.
“It won’t be necessary, Doctor Foster.”
He looked straight at her and nowhere else – enough that he felt a pair of sky-blue eyes boring holes into the side of his head, he didn’t need to see them.
“I can take him with me,” he offered.
But that sounded wrong. No, not like that.
Before Doctor Foster opened her mouth to question him, he corrected himself.
“I will take him with me.”
‘There you go, boy, they will make something out of you, because God knows I have no time for it.’
“Stark, what the hell are you doing?”
Tony swirled around so fast he almost stepped on his own tail, surprised and scared. Well, not scared, just shocked, yes, shocked. He was sure that he was alone in the kitchen, his nose told him so. Tasha was catching sun on the balcony, Bruce was occupying the God’ bed while he was out and… Clint.
The bird brain. Tony was sure that the tom has left earlier to hunt and kill some small animals Outside. Just his luck to miss out one bit of data that could send his whole carefully prepared plan of action packing.
“Are you trying your luck with the coffee machine again?”
Damn that tom and his stupid swagger and his all-seeing eyes. Well, not all-seeing, but close.
“Where did you get that idea?” Ton tried to play it cool, to look assured and calm. Like he had a right to be there and questioning him was stupid.
“Oh, you know,” Clint used a front paw to wash his whiskers. “From you lounging next to the power plug of said coffee machine. Exactly where big guy told you not to lounge.”
“You have absolutely no proof!”
“I don’t need a proof, you’re standing there, dumbass!”
“You have no witnesses, then!” Tony changed strategies, always quite skilled at thinking on his paws.
His smug look, however, was quickly wiped off as another voice joined into the argument.
“Stark, get away from there!” snapped Natasha from her spot by the window without even opening her eyes.
She was supposed to be asleep! Damn her! How could he miscalculate so badly?
“You know that big guy doesn’t want you drinking that stuff,” Clint felt the need to remind him. Then he made a face and stuck his tongue out in disgust, “Why do you even try?” If not the expression on his face, then the voice gave away how repulsive he’s found the drink.
Tony felt personally insulted by it.
“I’ll have you know it’s a marvellous drink that God himself prefers,” he snapped back. “He drinks it all the time!”
“But he doesn’t act like a spaz afterwards. You do.”
“Slander! I will not listen to that!”
Tony jumped off the counter with a huff, carefully arranging his limbs to land as gracefully as possible. He was a fit tom, but every once in a while his brain was too preoccupied to deal with such petty issues as gravitation. And he could not afford even a little slip in front of these two. Bruce would just look at him in concern and lick his ear, which was very nice, thank you; Tony appreciated every kind of affection directed his way. But these two were coldblooded and cruel and they would never let him live it down.
“Go play with your machines if you’re bored, Stark,” Natasha called after him.
He would do exactly that, but it was his plan before she mentioned it! As a matter of fact he was already on his way to his hideout behind the armchair, in the corner of the living room. Almost all his machines were stored there – little trinkets he’s got some time ago from lovely Darcy, ones the God decided to bestow upon him and few that came with him, from his old home… he didn’t play with these a lot. The rest was interesting enough. He could spend hours upon hours investigating them: figuring out the moving parts, mechanics behind the movement, behind the sounds. Some of them just wailed or played little tunes, like God’s phone, but some of them could speak God’s language! Some of them, when handled right, rewarded him with the show of colourful lights.
Well, sometimes they broke, just stopped working. But it was okay, it was enough to get God’s attention and indicate which one was in need of repair and he was taking care of it. Tony always observed him keenly during that process, eager to understand it and maybe, someday, be able to copy it and fix his machines on his own! At this point he felt that he’s not that far off the mark, - the repair process consisted mostly of God taking some little part out and replacing it with a new little part he kept in a kitchen drawer, - he’s got the theory, he just needed right tools. Like Father…
Father used to fix his machines too, sometimes.
Except that God was nothing like Father. God repaired machines when Tony asked him to, because Tony wanted them fixed; he always took time afterwards to sit with him and help him with his investigation, to make sure they worked properly. God didn’t give him things because he wanted Tony out of the way, because he was too busy with other things.
He did it so Tony would have something to do when the tom wanted to be alone.
Strange thought, but in Tony’s mind it made sense.
Clint kept an eye on the black tom as he sulked his way behind the armchair.
Such strange cat, he thought not for the first time. Completely out of context, acting like no cat Clint has ever met. Talking and thinking about things that only he found interesting… well, maybe Bruce too, but one could never tell with that one. It was either honest interest or god-like patience in dealing with Tony. Because: machines? Machines were for humans, not cats! Why would they need them?
Big guy really outdid himself with this one.
Clint couldn’t say that he disliked Stark, - far from in, the tom was entertaining like hell. But he couldn’t really relate to him in any way. Their different lifestyles could be blamed for it, but only partially. Clint has met a lot of pampered housecats in his years on the street, - heck, Tasha could be counted as such if one had a death wish, - and he could… get them. Understand where they stood in life. Stark was… something completely out of left field. Too slippery, too confident while constantly looking for approval. A fast talker that praised his selling points while being the first one to point out his own flaws. He was like a one-tom theatre.
Clint would find him annoying and pathetic, if he didn’t know about his numerous mental problems and the way they related to his human Father. He would pity him, if he didn’t find him so annoying. He would happily ignore him, if Stark wasn’t so fucking entertaining!
Just thinking about him caused headache! How Bruce deals with it?
Clint decided to end the thought there and stay on the sane side of the field, thank you very much. He prided himself on being the sensible one and wanted to keep that image as long as possible.
He turned his head when the sound of rustling paper signalled that Tasha woke up for good. He admired the graceful way she raised from the nest made of newspapers to wash her face and front paws. She was a sight – he’s never seen a molly like her, and his track record was pretty impressive. Pity she was never interested in more than an occasional cuddle.
“Listen,” Natasha stopped the toilet and froze with her ears pointed a little downwards. “They’re back.”
Clint leaned out from his hiding spot and listened hard and, yes, he’s heard the faint echo of steps on the stairs and then a sound of the opening door. Looks like their neighbours were back form wherever they went in the morning. Not that Clint cared. He was surprised that the molly did.
“Listen,” she repeated. “Something’s different.”
“What?” Clint couldn’t hear anything “wrong”, but then again, his ears weren’t his strongest weapon.
“Phil is strangely quiet.” Natasha observed and Clint almost chocked.
“Phil?!” he absolutely didn’t squeak. No! “What the fuck!”
When Tasha gave him nothing apart from blank stare, he jumped from the fridge to the counter and then on the isle, to stand in front of the molly, mouth open and eyes narrowed.
“It’s the dog’s name,” the molly explained in that tone of voice she often used with Stark. That tone of voice that has meant she’s talking to a moron. “And his human’s name is Steve Rogers.”
“Whoa, wait here! How do you know that?”
“Because, I have ears. And I am not some hard-headed kitten that does things without thinking.”
“That’s a betrayal, Tash!” Clint couldn’t let it go. “Conspiring with the enemy!”
That was apparently not the right thing to say, the tom realised that a moment later when a pair of honey-coloured eyes pinned him with an ice-cold glare.
“I will not have you jeopardise out safety!” Natasha growled out, standing in front of him on stiff legs with the fur on her back rising slightly. “For nothing, least of all for your goddamn pride!”
“We have to show him that we’re strong! Present an unified front!”
Why couldn’t she understand? He knew how these things went! He was the experienced one in the clutter, they should leave these situations to him. He would deal with the dog.
“Clint…” her stare softened in a moment and it was almost like a slap to the nose. “We are not living wild, not anymore. There are Bruce and Tony to think about.”
“We can’t scare the dog away, he lives here too, do you understand? He won’t go away and we won’t go away, so there’s no choice, but to coexist.”
He would argue – really, he would, - but her words were too true. They were not living wild anymore.
And he won’t go away. Even if he wanted to, he can’t.
The day ended on a strange note, in Phil’s opinion.
Well, it didn’t start normally, that’s for sure, but the end was distressing at least.
He stepped to the side so Steve could enter the flat and close the door behind them. He tried hard not to be in the way when his human struggled with the lock and for the first time in his life wished he had two of those hands to help him with the thing. But Steve was brave and strong, and most of all, persistent. After he finally locked the door, he made his way to the kitchen where he dropped the bags he was holding in the left hand on the floor and put the carrier, from the right hand, on the counter.
Phil decided it’s safe now to go to him and rub against his knees. He sighed with relief when that familiar, strong hand came to rest on his head and rubbed the spot between his ears.
“We’re home, boy,” Steve said with his own sigh. “Thought we will never make it. Wheew, those things are heavy.”
“Those things” being bags full of things that Phil mostly didn’t recognise, but apparently designed to help them with their problem. He recognised the smell of dry food, but it was not something he’s ever tried, it smelled weird. There was also a bag of sand, of all things. Didn’t they have dirt in the yard? And a plastic tub too small for him with a shovel attached on a wire. Strange. There was some other stuff that neither his nose not his eyes could identify so Phil decided to leave them for later. Steve will show him in time. The most important thing now was the box with holes on the counter that his owner was staring at with unusual mixture of apprehension and affection.
Phil was just perplexed and it was complex enough for him.
At one paw he was quite happy – the visit in the clinic wasn’t that bad when he wasn’t the one to be treated. He hatred needles wholeheartedly and it was always a struggle not to run or lash out at the doctor – both of which were shameful acts of cowardice, not to mention that the latter one would make Steve ashamed for him and that just wouldn’t do. The dark haired lady that took care of him while Steve went to the next room with the cat was nice and sneaked him a few tasty treats. She also knew how to rub his ears right and called him almost as adorable as his owner. Phil had to look away at that, feeling insanely proud of himself and insanely embarrassed.
And then he also got to meet the neighbour. The great big man who insisted on seeing to his nose once more and petted his head with unmasked affection. It was nice. And it was nice knowing that Steve yet again had the help from him – he was trustworthy and skilled at his job, Phil’s nose served as a proof of that.
It was an okay day until that point. But then things turned strange when Steve appeared with a plastic box in one hand that smelled familiar. And then they went into the corner store to buy even more things, and the box went home with them.
And there it was, standing on the counter in their new kitchen, bold and unapologetic.
Phil didn’t know what to make of it.
“It will be alright, boy,” Steve had to read his inner turmoil in some way, because he kneeled down and gathered him close. “We will take care of him and he will be alright, and maybe then someone will be willing to take him in. Just for a while, boy.”
Well, Phil couldn’t disagree, it was Steve’s flat and his decision. The cat was wounded and weak, how much trouble could he get into? They would nurse him to health (it was a while since Phil had someone under his care, it may be fun, who knows?) and they will help him find a new home.
Just like Peggy helped them.