Natasha checks her phone. It’s Tony, again; ever since he’s finished rebuilding the Stark Tower (now dubbed the Avengers Tower by the press - a name which Natasha absolutely will not be using any time soon) he hasn’t stopped bugging her about moving in. She’s resisted thus far, but as Clint moved in last week, she was starting to run out of excuses. She is curled up on the couch of her tiny apartment, when she hears something crash in the kitchen behind her.
Immediately she’s on her feet, gun that had been stowed on the underside of the couch cushions in her hands and raised. She pads slowly towards the kitchen and rounds the corner, finger poised on the trigger when –
She very nearly laughs in relief. An overhead cupboard is open, cans of food have spilled from it onto the floor, while a cat, small and black, is sitting on the kitchen island, its head tilted sideways, looking at her with huge yellow eyes. Natasha twitches her head in a small imitation, and it rises onto all fours, trots over to the edge of the counter nearest to her, and neatly sits down, crossing its paws over one another delicately.
‘How did you get in here?’ She asks as she walks over to the small thing and picks it up gently. None of the alarms or booby traps scattered around the apartment have been set off and the kitchen window is unopened. The cat merely purrs in answer, rubbing its head against chest. She carries it to the open cupboard, and finds a tiny hole in the top corner. She makes a note to get that fixed, and places the cat back on the countertop. It waits patiently while she stacks the cans back into the cupboard, placing them so it won’t be able to get back through the hole.
Natasha turns back to it, arms crossed. A quick check determines its gender (female), as it meows again indignantly. She raises an eyebrow at it, and it draws back, stretching its paws onto the countertop, back end raised. She huffs – it was a good thing she was having fish for dinner.
They eat in silence, and when Natasha eventually goes to bed, the cat trots into the bedroom after her, tail raised into the air in happiness.
'Don't even think about,' she warns, but to no avail, and the cat leaps up onto the bed, then paws at the blanket for a couple of moments before curling into a tiny ball of fluff. Natasha considers the tiny creature for a moment or two, then decides against moving it. She settles into the bed, enjoying the warmth at her feet. The cat begins to purr, and Natasha falls asleep.
‘Whose cat is this?’
Natasha plonks the cat onto Coulson’s desk, and it gives an undignified squeak of protest. He looks up from his paperwork with mild interest as the cat looks up at him, then, as though she had seen something she shouldn’t have, starts batting a pen around the desk. Coulson’s mouth twitches into a small smile before turning back to Natasha.
‘And you expect me to know why?’
‘Well, not you specifically. Can I borrow a microchip receiver?’
‘Do I look like a vet?’
‘I can always break into the storage bays, but I thought you’d prefer I go through you.’
Coulson sighs and he places both hands on the edge of the desk to heave himself up.
‘You’re probably right. Shouldn’t that thing be in a cage?’
Natasha crinkles her nose - she has never liked cages. In response, she picks up the cat from the desk, and before she can respond, it scrambles up her torso, placing itself on her shoulder to gaze around the room imperiously. She doesn’t react to its presence, there’s something oddly comforting about the weight on her shoulder, and she adjusts her stance accordingly. All Coulson does is raise an eyebrow at her and when she shows no acknowledgement of the motion he walks from the office.
It turned out the cat isn’t microchipped so, technically, it’s hers now. Natasha considers putting it up for adoption, but there’s something so endearing about the way it follows her around her apartment as she walks from room to room, something so unspeakably heartbreaking about the way it mews plaintively from behind closed doors, or whenever she leaves for SHIELD. So Natasha does something she isn’t prone to doing: she caves.
The next day she returns from work with a litter tray and enough cat food to last through another Cold War. She takes it to the vet, has it microchipped herself and gives it shots. She takes the belled collar the vet gave her and places it in a drawer, soon to be forgotten.
A week later, the cat has well and truly settled into her apartment. After much trial and error, Natasha has to accept that yes, that side of the sofa was the cats, and that attempting to take that spot would result in a) scratch marks, or b) an unexpectedly large black furball contorting itself the most uncomfortable position possible on her lap.
a few months later
Natasha doesn’t tear her eyes away from the now smoldering building, thankful that Coulson had volunteered to take Bolshoi when they had evacuated the entire block. She hears, rather than sees, Tony land next to her, and as the mechanized noises filter into her ear, she hears a low whistle emerging from her teammate.
‘Isn’t that your building, Nat?’
She doesn’t bother to amend his use of the nickname, but the hard line of her mouth does it anyway. Mentally she counts down the floors, and her eyes settle on where she knows her apartment is. It’s still standing, she notes, maybe all isn’t –
Her train of thought is interrupted a loud crashing noise as the top fifteen or so floors crumble away. She scrunches up her dignity, shoving it into a tiny box, and turns to Stark, whose eyes dance with the question he knows she’s about to ask.
‘Don’t suppose that room is still free, Stark?’
'You know she has a pet now?'
It's the day Natasha's meant to move in, and Tony, Clint and Bruce are having breakfast together. Steve is off somewhere destroying innocent punching bags, and Thor never rises before noon. Clint's still sulking about Natasha for some reason, and Tony's determined to find out what that reason is. If he pisses off Clint as much as possible in the process, well, it’s an added bonus.
'What, apart from you?' Tony prods. He shoots a glance at Bruce, whose mouth quirks into a small smile over his coffee.
Clint just growls, buttering toast with a tad more aggression than should be necessary.
'See - pet! Bruce, doesn't Clint remind you of a dog, when he does that thing.'
Bruce barely glances up from his coffee, making a noise that Tony could only approximately translate to ‘Yes, dear.’ He’ll deal with that later.
Tony huffs. 'Oh, you're no fun. Anyway, what kind of pet? I bet she has a viper - as long as it doesn't get out, I am completely, one hundred percent-'
'It's a cat.' Clint savagely bites into the toast, still scowling. All Tony can do is laugh.
'A cat? Well that's boring.'
'You clearly haven't met Bolshoi.'
'After the ballet?'
He shrugs. 'Probably.'
'Yes, Stark, after the ballet.' Tony whips his head around so hard he hears something crack. Somehow he's missed the elevator pinging open, and Natasha now steps out of it. 'JARVIS showed me my rooms, thanks. Please tell me there's coffee.' Bruce waves miserably towards the coffee maker in the kitchen, and she smiles her thanks, while Clint deliberately ignores her. But Tony cannot take his eyes off the impossibly small, impossibly cute, impossibly fluffy black cat that is perched on her shoulder. She reaches the kitchen, walking around the back of the counter and she grabs a clean mug. As she pours herself a cup of coffee, the cat hops off her shoulder onto the kitchen counter with a little purr. Tony leaps up immediately, walking to the front of the counter to say hello.
'You didn't tell me you had a cat.' He tries to shape his statement into an accusation, but it doesn't quite work. Bolshoi takes the opportunity to turn her huge yellow eyes onto him as she walks towards him.
'I didn't think it would be an issue,' Natasha replies, dismissively, 'None of you are allergic.'
'Me! I'm allergic!' Clint appears to have finally given up ignoring the newcomers, and is standing up, waving an arm in the air.
'No, you're just overdramatic,' Natasha replies, barely missing a beat.
Tony smiles, but he's only half listening, and he holds his hand out to Bolshoi, who immediately rubs the top of her head against it. She purrs, and flops onto her side, fluffy tummy exposed. He reaches down to muss up her fur, and her eyes drift shut in happiness.
‘Bruce, we should get a pet,’ he muses. Bolshoi snaps her eyes open, then grabs his hand with all four paws, claws exposed. ‘Ow! Okay fine, no more pets!’ He yells, as she brings his hand up to her mouth. ‘Natasha! Call off your animal!’
‘Bolshoi, enough,’ Natasha calls, and Bolshoi stops, Tony’s hand seconds away from her mouth. She lets up, then leaps off the countertop onto the dining table to say hello to Bruce. Bruce glances up as she comes nearer, and reaches out a hand to rub her under her chin. Natasha smirks at Tony, who, coffee in hand, is going back to sit at the table. ‘She’s a little…’
‘Psycho?’ Tony supplies.
Tony clasps Clint on the back. ‘I feel you, bro.’ Clint glowers. Natasha just laughs, and joins the rest at the table. She takes a sip of her coffee, not taking her eyes off the cat, but Tony notices that she’s smiling. When Bruce is finished, Bolshoi turns back to Tony, and nudges the top of her head against his clasped hand. Tony can’t help but smile, just a little.
‘Can she have a codename too?’
A croissant hits him squarely on the head before he sees who threw it. What he does see is Natasha’s eyebrow raised at Clint, whose pout softens, just a tad.
Natasha returns to her bedroom to unpack after breakfast. Bolshoi’s wandering around the apartment somewhere, exploring her new surroundings. Natasha has sent a quick request to JARVIS to make sure she doesn’t get herself in any life-threatening situations – she can’t put anything past Tony’s R&D department – but otherwise doesn’t spare a thought for her cat. Besides, a cat can’t set up camp in a new building without finding the best places to hide first. Natasha nearly laughs aloud at the thought – she and Clint are very similar in that regard.
A knock on the door makes her start, and she looks up to see Clint standing sheepishly at her door.
‘Speak of the devil,’ she murmurs, amused. When Clint tilts her head, she says more clearly, ‘Never mind. Come in.’
Clint acquiesces, walking carefully into the room. Natasha places the shirt she was folding in the drawer and then turns around to look at him. Clint has this odd look on his face as he pauses at a close but not uncomfortable distance away.
He nods at the open drawers. ‘I see you making your stay more permanent.’
Natasha shrugs, the two of them have always been more than comfortable to live out of suitcases, but something about moving in here has made her want to unpack properly. ‘I see no harm in in,’ she says dismissively. ‘Besides, living here is cheaper than my old place. Also I don’t get to miss out on all the team gossip.’ She smirks at this, and Clint smiles carefully back at her.
‘And you’re sure you’re okay with this?’ He begins, carefully. ‘I know you hadn’t wanted to move in, and I know it can’t be fun moving in with a whole heap of guys.’
Natasha smiles at Clint and rolls her eyes. ‘Don’t be silly; I’ll be fine. Besides, Pepper’s here most of the time anyway, and Bolshoi can keep me company when she’s not around. Or had you forgotten?’
Clint roll his eyes right back. ‘I couldn’t forget about the cat.’
‘What is your problem with him, anyway?’
Clint shrugs and snakes his arm around Natasha’s waist, leaning closer. ‘I don’t know, maybe I just don’t like sharing.’ He leans down to kiss her, and Natasha laughs softly into his mouth.
This was nice, just the two of them. Maybe moving in wouldn’t be all bad, after all. She kisses him harder, and a moan escapes from his mouth as he fist grips on her t-shirt. She grabs the edge of his shoulders, turning them around slightly, angling towards the bed.
A soft knock on the door breaks them apart. Natasha shoves Clint to the other side of the room, and she pats down the invisible flyaways on her hair. She shoots him a look before opening the door to see a slightly bewildered Steve holding Bolshoi on his open palm.
‘I was told this was yours?’ He says, sounding amused, but confused. Natasha smiles at him, opening the door wider and ushering him in.
‘Oh sorry, were you-‘
‘No, nothing. Clint was helping me unpack.’
Steve looks between the two of them for a moment, then smiles at them both. He crosses the threshold, holding his palm out in front of him. Bolshoi is sitting steadily on it; she’s only as big as his palm so she fits comfortably on it, and she looks on all the world like it is her domain. Natasha smiles at her cat, and scratches her behind the ears; Bolshoi purrs, but does not jump onto her usual position on Natasha’s shoulder.
‘She likes you,’ Natasha smiles at Steve, impressed.
Steve looks mildly abashed, and shrugs with the arm not attached to the small ball of fur. ‘I’ve always been good with cats. Anyway, she came downstairs and was watching me train for a while, but was a little bit apprehensive with Thor. I think the whole Norse God thing threw her a little bit.’
‘Throws us all a bit,’ Clint says from the other side of the room.
Steve laughs sympathetically. ‘I’ll give you that one. Anyway-‘ he offers his palm out to Natasha, but she shakes her head.
‘Take her - she likes you, I’m not going to stand in the way of that.’
Natasha can tell Steve is trying to hide his glee at being allowed to stay with the cat, and he gives her a small smile. ‘Oh, thanks. I just wanted to make sure.’ He leaves, and Clint steps back closer to Natasha.
‘See, Steve likes Bolshoi.’
‘I never said he wouldn’t, I just said that Bolshoi didn’t like me.’
She wraps her arms back around him, and says warmly, ‘Well, that’s a shame.’
He laughs and kisses her softly. ‘Well, maybe I can make an exception, for you,’ he muses.
Natasha laughs softly. ‘Fine, but we’re not telling Stark about us. He’ll have a field day.’
‘What, you expect him to not find out when we’re living under his roof? You know his AI has eyes and ears in every room.’
‘JARVIS and I have reached an understanding,’ Natasha says smoothly. Without missing a beat, the disembodied voice fills the room.
Clint shudders slightly, though he looks impressed. ‘That is creepy. But alright, if you say so.’ And he leans down to kiss her again.
Thor and Clint are in one of the tower’s many living rooms, waiting for everyone else to get there. It’s their mandated Thursday movie night, but they’ve gotten there early to find Bolshoi spread out over the sofa, showing no signs of movement. Clint doesn’t even try – he’s had that thing hiss at him enough to last a lifetime.
But Thor, ever optimistic, tries his luck. He extends a hand towards Bolshoi’s head, in an attempt to gain her trust, but she pulls away from him, drawing her head so far into its body that it resembles a ball of black fur. Thor withdraws his hand, eyes doleful.
'Loki was always better with animals than I,' he says. Clint claps him on the shoulder in a jovial manner, but his eyes don't leave the cat.
'Don't worry about,' Clint says, 'I'm pretty sure that little monster would eat me for dinner if it could.' At this, the cat extends itself up again, its head reaching for the ceiling and looks indignantly at him. 'Yes, I am talking about you.'
'Barton, are you tormenting her again?' Clint starts at the voice at his back, turning around to see Natasha leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. She clicks her tongue, and Bolshoi leaps off the sofa, dashing past Clint and jumping up onto her shoulder. Natasha doesn't flinch, but her mouth quirks into a small smile.
Clint scowls as she enters to the room, sitting on the spot that Bolshoi had warmed for her, and he swears he hears her croon softly to the cat, 'Yes, he's just jealous, isn't he? That big silly man.' And the cat, that godforsaken animal, purrs.
Clint hates that cat, he really does. It's always looking at him funny, and has a annoying habit of interrupting him and Natasha at the worst possible moments. But these things are funny, and eventually something has to change.
He’s going for one of his midnight strolls around the tower – his sleeping hours have always been irregular. But, as he gets closer to Natasha’s quarters, he’s surprised to hear the faint hum of the TV. Her door is ajar, the flickering light from the TV reflects onto the corridor wall. He pads towards the door, pushing it open slowly. He sees her red hair tucked into the nearest corner of the couch, but she does not rise to look at him as expected. Instead Bolshoi – appearing from God knows where leaps up onto the armrest. She looks at him reproachfully, but remains silent.
Clint walks towards her, surprised at the lack of noise from the small animal. But he soon realizes why: Natasha is curled up, impossibly small, in the corner of the couch, and she’s fast asleep.
Clint remembers long, restless nights, when they first started working together. Nights spent sleeping in shifts, one of them always keeping an eye open. It had always been for her benefit than his, but Clint had always been more than happy to oblige. But even once the missions were over, Natasha still slept fitfully, starting awake at the slightest jolt of the Helicarrier. Things had changed, slowly but surely, but about two years in she could sleep straight through the night when they were together. When he had asked, her reply was simple – ‘I know, if anything terrible happens, you’ll wake me up. I trust you.’ And while Clint appreciated the sentiment, he knew, knows, there will always be nights when he’s not there – and what then? She’s an adult, he knows that, but he can’t help but worry.
But now, in the blue light of the television, her face is smooth, free of cares and worries, and Clint can't help but smile. Her lips are gently parted, tendrils of red hair fall around her face and move back and forth with every breath she takes. He turns the volume of the TV down before turning it off completely so not to wake her. He offers the animal a small smile, and Bolshoi lightly hops back onto the main part of the sofa. She pads in a circle a few times before settling back down in the crook of Natasha’s legs. Slowly he reaches down to her sleeping figure, acutely aware of Bolshoi still looking at him, and he gently tucks some of Natasha’s hair behind her ear before kissing her gently on the temple. As he stands back up, Bolshoi closes her great big eyes, placing her head on her front paws, and Clint goes back to his quarters.
Natasha comes to breakfast the next morning to see Clint sitting at the breakfast bar, Bolshoi resting on the counter next to him. Clint’s tipping the milk jug so Bolshoi has her head extended, and is lapping slowly at it. Her eyes are fixed on Clint, but she seems happy enough to stay there.
‘That is so unhygienic.’ Natasha says with disgust. ‘What are you even doing?’
Clint smiles, pushing the newly made coffee towards Natasha with his free hand as she sits down next to him. Bolshoi turns her eyes to Natasha, then closes them, purring in contentment.
‘Feeding Bolshoi,’ Clint replies naturally.
‘I thought she didn’t like you?’
‘Oh, she doesn’t. But we’ve managed to reach an understanding.’
Natasha snorts in derision. ‘Oh yeah, and what’s that? You wait on her hand and foot and she doesn’t scratch you?’
Clint opens his mouth, then pauses, thinking better of it. ‘Ah – yeah. That’s basically it.’
She laughs, taking a sip of her coffee. ‘Well, good.’ Natasha reaches out her hand to scratch the side of Bolshoi’s cheek, she stops lapping the milk, and leans into Natasha’s touch. ‘I’m glad. But please wash that jug.’