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Momentary Paws (or, DO NOT WANT)

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Momentary Paws (or, DO NOT WANT)
Part 1

Tony wakes up almost suffocating under the weight of his covers, far too warm. It takes him far too long to claw his way out of the tangle, and it's only when he emerges at the edge of the bed, blinking in the morning light, that he realises something is wrong. The floor is much further away than it was last night, and the bed seems much larger than it should be.

He brings up a hand to rub his eyes and clear his vision, and freezes as he sees a paw instead of fingers.

He closes his eyes, shakes his head, opens his eyes. The paw is still there, and obviously he's hallucinating because he hasn't had his requisite three cups of coffee, which he is going to fix right now, thank you very much.

He gets (jumps) off the bed, landing with much more grace than he usually displays this early, and marches his way across the room. Thankfully the door is open a crack, and he wriggles his way through and darts down the corridor. He doesn't meet anyone along the way (oh, that would be a great conversation starter - 'hi, Peter, am I a cat?' 'No, Tony, are you feeling alright? Also, you might want to put on some clothes' - Tony resists the urge to look down and check, he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts when he stumbled into bed last night and therefore should still be wearing them when he stops hallucinating) and the kitchen is empty.

The coffee is normally kept on the third shelf in the cupboard. Tony sits on his haunches and stares resentfully at the closed cupboard doors for a good five minutes before realising that there was probably a tin on the bench next to the kettle.

He looks up at the towering height of the kitchen bench, and takes a run-up.

His flying leap knocks over two mugs (only one of them breaks) and almost sends him skidding into the sink. Tony ignores the shattered china in favour of heading straight to the coffee tin. The lid is hammered down pretty solidly but he has claws, and when it comes clattering off he knocks the can over and starts licking, rich aroma of coffee rising around him, almost overpowering.

His brain hasn't quite kicked into gear by the time he hears footsteps coming down the hall, and he ignores the noise in favour of eating more coffee. The footsteps cross the kitchen and the fridge opens, and then Steve exclaims from right behind him "There's a kitten in the kitchen!" and Tony skitters sideways, knocking the coffee tin right off the bench and onto the floor.

"Sorry-" Steve apologises immediately, hands out and making what Tony's sure Steve thinks are non-threatening motions. "Sorry there, little guy, shouldn't have startled you. Where did you come from?"

Tony backs away down the bench, leaving coffee-stained pawprints in his wake, and Steve follows, not letting him get further away.

"Come on," Steve says. "Not trying to hurt you, little guy, just trying to find out who you belong to."

"It's Tony, idiot-" Tony goes to say, but it comes out as a plaintive-sounding yowl, and he's shocked enough by the sound of his own voice that Steve moves smoothly forward and catches him up in big hands before he can get out of the way.

"Easy," Steve rumbles, cradling Tony against his chest. "Well, no collar on you, huh? How did you get in?"

"I live here," Tony snaps at him futilely, and the meow that comes out of his mouth has Steve scritching him gently behind the ears.

"Well, I think you've probably had enough coffee," Steve says, shaking his head at Tony's mess. "Why don't we see if anyone else knows who you belong to?"

Tony isn't happy about leaving the coffee, but at least the stuff he has eaten is starting to coax his brain to take up higher function. He's had his coffee, and he's still a cat; ergo, he's probably not hallucinating. ...On the other hand, Steve is still cradling him against his chest, and Steve is very warm. There doesn't seem to be a pressing need to work out a way to communicate.

Steve heads back down the corridor towards the rooms, the place looking almost normal from Tony's vantage point.

"I wonder if Tony knows where you came from?" Steve rumbles softly. "Be like him to pick up a kitten and then leave it to eat coffee on its own."

"It is not!" Tony yowls angrily, and Steve shakes his head.

"Coffee is bad for kittens," he says solemnly. "Don't let Tony tell you otherwise."

"I would not leave a kitten on its own," Tony mutters to himself, but Steve is already outside Tony's room and pushing open the door gently.

"Tony?" he calls softly.

Tony squirms around in Steve's hands so he can see the room. The bedding is rucked and twisted, but there's definitely no-one in the bed.

"Up early, or staying up late?" Steve muses, and pulls the door to. "Let's try the garage."

The elevator takes them straight to Tony's basement, and Steve enters his security code, voice print and retinal scan before the doors grant them access. Apart from the humming of machines, soft but incessant, the lab is quiet, still. One disassembled-then-rebuilt jetboot stands forlorn on a bench where Tony left it last night, surrounded by tools and smears of grease. The air tastes faintly stale, heavy with machine oil and a tinge of exhaust.

"That's odd," Steve says.

Tony twists his head up and mrows.

"I guess he must be upstairs somewhere," Steve says, but he sounds uncertain.

When they step out of the elevator, back upstairs, noise is coming from the kitchen. Steve strides over, stopping in the doorway.

Peter and MJ are fetching bowls and cereal from the cupboards, and Jarvis is kneeling on the floor, cleaning up the spilled coffee. The china shards of the mug Tony had knocked over are stacked in a neat pile on the bench, awaiting disposal.

"Morning," Steve says, always polite, then, "has anyone seen Tony?"

"Good morning Sir," Jarvis says from the floor as Peter looks up and blinks.

"You have a kitten," he says. "Since when do you have a kitten? Can I have a kitten?"

"You don't want a kitten," MJ says to him, and then shakes her head. "I haven't seen Tony this morning, but I heard him stumbling down the corridor at some god-awful hour. Maybe he's still asleep?"

"I didn't think so," Steve says. "I'll check again."

He turns back to the corridor, Peter sounding petulant behind them, "Maybe I do want a kitten!"

Steve walks down the corridor quite a bit faster than last time, pushing open the bedroom door with less attempt at silence. "Tony?" he says, moving into the room. "Tony?"

He sounds, not worried, because Captain America doesn't worry, but, maybe, concerned. "I'm right here," Tony meows, going for reassuring and coming off as - probably - depressingly cute.

Steve tosses the bedcovers, in case Tony has somehow managed to curl himself up like a pretzel under them, and discovers Tony's discarded shirt and shorts from last night, shirt still grease-stained.

"Well, I guess I am naked," Tony says. "Okay."

"Where is he?" Steve mutters, poking his head into the bathroom (empty) before heading back to the kitchen.

Peter and MJ are eating their cereal now, coffee tin back in its place next to the kettle and china shards vanished from the bench.

"Okay, Tony's vanished," Steve says.

Peter looks up, swallows his mouthful. "You still have a kitten," he says.

Steve looks down, surprise on his face like he'd forgotten Tony was there, and shrugs. "I found him eating coffee on the bench this morning," he says. "I was going to ask Tony where he came from."

Peter levels his spoon threateningly at Tony. "Fess up," he demands. "Who sent you?"

"It's a kitten," MJ says. "I don't think he can understand you."

"I am perfectly capable of understanding you," Tony yowls, but no-one is paying attention.

"Why don't you just call Tony?" Peter asks. "He is a cell phone, right?"

Tony blinks, and blames the lack of sufficient coffee for being so slow this morning. He might be a kitten right now, but his brain works just fine. And his brain is Extremis-powered.

Steve juggles him as he fishes out his cell phone one-handed, and Tony reaches through the Extremis and dials.

Steve's phone starts playing the Star-Spangled Banner, and Steve says "It's Tony," something a lot like relief in his tone, and answers. "Tony, hi," he says. "Where are you?"

*You are holding me,* Tony says through the Extremis, and Steve is so surprised that his fingers slacken far enough that Tony has to scramble to avoid a several-foot drop to the floor.

"What?" Steve says, looking at Tony, finally, and Tony looks up at him and waves one tiny paw.

*Hi,* Tony says. *I appear to be a kitten.*

Steve just stares at him, Tony fidgeting under his gaze. *What?* he says finally. *Say something.*

"I'm hallucinating," Steve says.

"I'm real," Peter says. "Well, I think I'm real, but then again- ow!"

*Give the phone to Peter,* Tony says, and twists in Steve's hand to make a flying leap onto the table. *Come on, phone, Peter.*

"Tony says he's the kitten," Steve says, and hands the phone to Peter. "He wants to talk to you."

Peter takes the phone, looking warily at Tony. "Tony?"

*Hi,* Tony says. *Tell Steve he's not hallucinating. I seem to have been turned into a cat. Somehow.*

"Tony says to say you're not hallucinating," Peter says to Steve. Then he frowns at Tony, and covers the mouthpiece of the phone. "Prove you're Tony," he says.

*With what?* Tony says, and paces across the table to him. *It's not like I can type with paws. At least I finished my armour maintenance before I went to bed.*

"Point," Peter says. He holds the phone out to Steve. "The kitten may be Tony," he allows.

Steve takes the phone. "Tony," he says, "why are you a cat?"

*Like I know,* Tony says, walking back over the table towards Steve. *I went to bed like normal, I woke up like this.*

Steve puts the phone on speaker and then sets it on the table. "Did you do anything strange yesterday? Notice anything weird?"

*Steve,* Tony says, sitting next to the phone, and okay, that's weird, hearing his own voice come from the speaker like that. *We're superheroes. Strange is normal for us.*

"You know what I mean," Steve says, crossing his arms, and Tony sighs.

*No I didn't do anything or notice anything yesterday. I finished my maintenance, went to bed, and woke up like this.*

"Maybe you pissed off the God of Cats," Peter says, leaning forward and gesturing with his spoon. "Did you pass a kitten in the street and ignore it?"

*No,* Tony says, and then pauses. *Uh, guys? I have a problem.*

"What is it?" Steve says, uncrossing his arms, and Tony looks up at him and meows as plaintively as he can manage.

*I'm hungry.*

***

"Tuna," says Peter, already up, cereal abandoned, and poking through the cupboards. MJ is just watching, amused. "Cats like tuna, right?"

*I'm checking the internet,* Tony says, running three searches at once. *And no, I don't like tuna.*

"You've only been a cat for like an hour!" Peter says, turning to the table. "How do you know you don't like tuna? Maybe your new cat tastebuds like tuna."

Tony stares at him for a moment, then deliberately turns his back. *The internet says I should have some sort of special home-cooked food,* he says. *Fish and special milk and vegetables.*

Steve shakes his head, possibly in disbelief, although whether it's over Peter or Tony, Tony can't tell. "Okay," he says. "How about I go down to the store and buy some kitten food?"

*Kitten food?* Tony says. *Kitten food?*

Steve finally cracks a smile. "Yes, Tony," he says. "Kitten food. It's food for kittens. Which you apparently are."

"Kitten food," Tony mutters, and it comes out soft and plaintive.

"Don't make that sort of noise," Steve says. "I'll be right back."

*Take me with you,* Tony demands. *If I'm going to be eating kitten food I'm going to pick which one.*

Steve rolls his eyes. "Fine," he says, scooping up the phone in one hand and Tony in the other, "but I'm swapping this for my communicator. Much easier to talk that way."

"I thought my tuna idea was good," Peter mutters, returning to his seat and poking at his cereal with his spoon.

"Eat your breakfast," MJ says, patting him on the shoulder, and Steve steadies Tony against his chest and heads back to his room.

***

Steve picks his communicator off the nightstand and slots it into his ear, closing his phone. "Okay," he says, putting Tony down on the bed. "Say something."

*Something,* Tony says, a private channel straight to Steve, and Steve smiles.

"Okay, good," he says. He lifts his jacket from the back of a chair, sliding it on, and slings the first strap of his shield case over his shoulder.

*You're going to buy food,* Tony says, prowling down the bed and resisting the urge to pounce on a bunched section of blanket. *Not beat things up.*

"You never know," Steve says, slipping his other arm through the strap. "Also, why are you stalking my blanket?"

Tony immediately sits down and pretends he's been doing nothing of the sort. *I don't know what you're talking about,* he says. *Also, I'm riding on your shield.*

"Sure you don't," Steve says, but he picks Tony up and sets him on his shoulder.

Tony pads across Steve until he's settled in the hollow between the top of the case and Steve's neck, paws and chin resting on Steve's shoulder so he can still see. *Okay,* he says. *Food.*

Steve reaches up, blind, and brushes his fingers over Tony's head. "It is safe for me to take you out in public, right?" he says. "I mean, I don't want to have to chase a kitten around, say, a grocery store where they don't allow pets."

*I will be perfectly well-behaved,* Tony says, yowling right in Steve's ear to illustrate his point.

"I'm going to regret this," Steve says, and they go out the door.

***

Steve pours the kitten food into a bowl on the kitchen table and fishes Tony out from behind his neck. "Here you go."

*Thanks,* Tony says. *And if you pick me up by the scruff of my neck again I am going to bite you.*

Steve makes a 'hmm'ing noise and heads to the cupboard to put the packet away, and Tony sticks his nose in the bowl. He's glad the other Avengers aren't around - it's weird enough being a cat without having an audience while he does things like eat kitten food. Yes, he's a kitten right now, but he just knows that once he's back to normal Peter's going to be telling stories about that time Tony ate cat food for a week, and it's going to be hilarious to everyone but him.

The food is - okay, it's weird, but it's not bad. It's actually pretty good, now that Tony thinks about it, and sets about licking up every stray piece out of the bowl.

By the time he's finished destroying the remains of the food and starts paying attention to things that aren't his breakfast, Steve is sitting at the end of the table with what was once a full glass of milk.

"So, not too bad then?" Steve says, and Tony mrows at him.

Steve downs the rest of his milk and picks up Tony's bowl, standing and putting the dishes on the sink. Tony stretches, trying not to put claw marks on the table, and then realises he has another problem.

*Steve, I need to, um.*

"Tony?" Steve turns around, leans against the bench.

*Uh, nevermind.*

"Come on," Steve says.

*Bathroom,* Tony manages, curling into a little ball of embarrassed kitten.

"We could get you a l-"

*You say the word 'litterbox' and I will claw you in your sleep,* Tony says. *Just, put me in the bathroom and close the door.*

"I just don't want you to fall in," Steve says.

*The internet says I'll be fine,* Tony says.

"Because the internet is never wrong," Steve says, but he picks Tony up and sets him on his shoulder as they go down the corridor.

***

Steve only has to dry him off three times before he gets the hang of it.

***

Steve spends a big chunk of the day in the gym. Tony curls up in a corner on Steve's jacket and spends his time researching via the Extremis, trying to find anything he can about people being turned into kittens. Cats. Felines of any description. He's not fussy, really, as long as he can find something.

He finds a lot of nothing, and after several hours he's hungry again, tired, and has a headache. He's not really sure if cats are supposed to get headaches, and he'd run another search to see but his head hurts too much.

"I'm hungry again," Tony announces to Steve, who is currently stretching in the middle of the mat, film of sweat on his skin.

"You have to speak English," Steve says, face against his knee, and Tony uncurls from the jacket and shakes himself out.

*I'm hungry again,* Tony says, head throbbing. *Isn't it lunch time yet?*

"Probably mid-afternoon," Steve says, switching legs. "You're the one with the clock."

Tony flops over onto the edge of the mat. *I have a headache,* he admits.

"Can cats get headaches?" Steve asks, and Tony groans plaintively. "Okay," Steve says, "I'll take your word for it."

He holds the stretch for a few more moments and then relaxes back up, shifting to his feet. He scoops Tony up in one hand, his jacket in the other, and heads back to the kitchen.

The bowl from earlier has been rinsed and is sitting back on the kitchen table; Steve puts Tony next to it and pulls out the packet of kitten food again.

"I'm going to grab a shower," Steve says as he fills the bowl. "Don't go anywhere."

Tony mrows his agreement and sticks his nose in, vaguely registering Steve's footsteps going down the corridor. He's a kitten on a mission, and he can't believe he just thought that sentence. Being a kitten is frying his brain, obviously. Anyway, he has food to eat.

Once the bowl is empty, Tony curls up in a ball next to it. Apparently being a kitten involves a lot of eating and then feeling sleepy. He tucks his head on his paws and closes his eyes, and then Steve is carefully picking him up, trying not to jostle him too much.

"What time is it?" Tony mumbles, verbalising as some sort of pathetic whimper, and he would care more about that but he's really kind of tired.

"Go back to sleep," Steve murmurs, easing gentle fingers down the back of his head, and Tony does.

***

Tony wakes up cold, curled in a ball on a chair next to Steve's bed. The room is dark but he's a kitten - he can see just fine, no need for a light. Steve is sleeping on his back, blankets up to his armpits, his communicator still in his ear.

Tony uncurls and stretches, claws snagging at least two fabric threads, but Tony's pretty sure Steve doesn't care about the chair upholstery. He glances around, and notices that Steve has left the bathroom door ajar. He leaps down from the chair, padding over, and eels through the gap. Inside, Steve has set up a bowl of water and another bowl of kitten food on a little mat for him.

Tony eats and drinks, checking the time via Extremis. It's getting towards midnight, so he's slept for a fairly long time, and yet he's still sleepy.

"Kittens," he snorts out loud, and then freezes to see if Steve heard.

Nothing from the bedroom, and he takes another few laps of water before heading back. He jumps back on the chair and curls up, but he's still too cold to be really comfortable. He eyes off the bed for a moment, then mentally shrugs and leaps across the gap. He doesn't think Steve will mind, and if he does, Tony will apologise tomorrow.

He pads up the blankets, tiny paws stepping lightly up Steve's arm, and curls up on his chest. It's much warmer up here, and Tony puts his head down. Steve's heart throbs steadily under his ear, and he lets himself go.