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One Big Step

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There’s only one kitten in the box.

It’s eighteen degrees out and sleeting like inclement weather is going out of style. The sides of the box are soaked through and sagging, the corners are starting to dissolve. The whole thing’s going to collapse soon, if it doesn’t freeze solid overnight.

It’s sitting against the side of an empty storefront, right next to the entrance of an alley. It looks like trash and Tony would have ignored it completely if it weren’t for the words “Free Kittens” written in blocky black letters on the side facing the street.

“Pull over a second,” Tony says and Happy, long-used to such abrupt directions, immediately double-parks. It’s late and the roads are mostly empty by city standards - the weather is supposed to turn to freezing rain overnight and snow for the next few days, and half the city is already holed up at home - which means they only get honked at a half dozen times as the cars behind them switch lanes. Happy ignores them with the ease of any long-time city driver and turns around in his seat. “Boss?”

“Hold on.” The sleet hits him the second he opens his door and Tony grimaces as he ducks his head against the cold. He’s soaked through almost immediately and his Ferragamos slip in the layer of slush starting to build up on the sidewalks.

The box looks empty at first glance and Tony’s feeling a little silly at blocking traffic and getting soaked through for nothing. Then he lifts one of the flaps and sees the little ball of grey fur curled up in the corner.

For a second it’s so still that Tony thinks it must be dead. He hesitates, then reaches into the box. The kitten is cold and soaking wet and it starts violently when he touches it. But it does’t try to escape when he picks it up, just mewls plaintively and burrows against the warmth of his palm.

He cups it against his chest to shelter it from the worst of the rain, then double-checks the box, even picking it up to make sure no one was hiding behind it. He eyes the alleyway, but he can’t see anything moving.

“Boss?” Happy’s touch on his shoulder is light and he cranes his neck to see what Tony is holding. “Oh wow. Someone just left her out here? Harsh.”

“Here. Take her to the car. I’m going to just make sure none of her brothers and sisters are hiding somewhere.” Tony tries to hand the kitten to Happy, but she’s dug her claws into his shirt and wails pitifully when he tries to pry her free.

Happy pushes him toward the car. “I’ve got it. Go. Google an emergency vet and we can drop her off before we get back to the Tower.”

Tony gives up trying to untangle the kitten and just tugs his jacket over her little body as he climbs back into the car. He shudders with relief as the heat starts to sink into his skin and by the time Happy rejoins them - almost fifteen minutes later, having given the alleyway a thorough checking-over - he has the address of the nearest emergency vet pulled up on his phone and the kitten has clawed her way up his shoulder to curl up against his neck, shivering and occasionally crying.

****

“Very mild hypothermia,” Dr. Kelsey says. “And I don’t think she’s been fed or watered for at least a day or two.” She’d given Tony a very stern glance when she’d first seen the kitten, but after a hasty explanation she had warmed up. “One of my assistants is giving her water now and I’ll send you home with a pack of kitten chow to get you through the storm. The big thing now is to keep her very warm and dry, and let her eat or sleep as much as she wants until she gets her strength back.”

“Are we keeping her?” Happy asks under his breath.

“I’ve never had a cat,” Tony says slowly. “I’m not sure what to do - and I work twenty-seven hours a day and someone blows up our house every other month. One of the team’s probably allergic anyway.”

“We can surrender her to a shelter,” Dr. Kelsey says. “I have an arrangement with the local SPCA.”

“Yeah,” Tony says. “That’s… probably for the best.”

They watch Dr. Kelsey disappear back into the exam room again.

“You’re gonna donate a million bucks to that shelter aren’t you?” Happy asks.

****

Steve is sitting at the kitchen table, grabbing a late night snack, when Tony comes home.

“Hey,” Steve says. He slid his arm around Tony’s waist and tugged him in for a quick, soft kiss. Tony’s clothes are damp, and his hair has obviously been soaked and was now drying in wispy strands. “Did you get caught in the rain?” he asks.

“Sort of.” Tony is holding a towel in one hand, probably the one he used to dry off with. “I was afraid you’d have gone to bed already.”

“Got your text that you were on your way home. Decided to wait for you.” Steve slid his hand under Tony’s jacket and pressed his palm flat against Tony’s back. “You’re cold through.”

Tony smiles down at him and runs his fingers over Steve’s cheek. “Want to turn in? You can warm me up.”

“I like warming you up,” Steve said.

Tony kissed the top of his head. “Finish your soup. I’m gonna make us some cocoa to take to bed. Here.” He plopped the towel down in Steve’s lap and that was when Steve realized there was something alive wrapped up in it.

“Who’s this?” Steve hastily cupped his hands around the little kitten as she wriggled her way out of the folds of the towel. She was a light gray tiger with vivid teal eyes and she was too small to have been put up for adoption. He carefully lifted her out of the towel and saw that there was a small heating pad wrapped up in there with her.

“She’s ours now,” Tony said. He was very carefully not looking at Steve as he poured milk into a saucepan. “Or she’s mine, anyway. Someone left her out in the cold and then the doc at the vet said that the shelters won’t adopt animals over Christmas to prevent people from giving them as gifts so she’d just sit there till next year and it’s not like I can’t afford some vaccinations and a few toys so so I figured what the hell. It’s probably dumb, I’m never home and - and someone’s probably allergic to cats but it’s a big house so - I don’t think she’ll get in the way and Dani would probably like to play with her so-”

Steve bundled the kitten up in the crook of his arm and walked over to stand behind Tony. “She’s ours, huh?” he said, letting the rest of Tony’s nervous ramble wash over him. “That’s a big step, getting a pet together.”

Tony shrugged. “Well I figured we already have like, a dozen super-powered kids, so what the hell.”

Steve kissed the back of his neck. “I like big steps. I like hearing you say the word “ours” even more.” He leaned against the counter so he could see Tony’s face. The kitten mewled and wriggled under his arm, trying to climb down his shirt. Steve scooped her up and held her against his chest. “What’s her name?”

Tony was blushing, a light pink flush that made Steve want to kiss him breathless. “I thought we should pick that out together, you know?”

“Like a kid,” Steve says, just to watch the way Tony’s blush deepens.

“You’re just teasing me now,” Tony says without heat. He stirs the chocolate and vanilla extract into the milk and the whole kitchen smells sweet and warm and comfortable.

“A little.” Steve tickles the kitten’s belly and she bats at his fingers hesitantly, as if to see what they’ll do next. “Antonia.”

“No. Asshole.” Tony pours the cocoa into two mugs. “Sarah.”

“Maybe. But if we ever have a daughter I’d like to give her my mother’s name and it might be hard to explain that we named her after a cat.” Steve watches the way Tony’s hands shake, once, before he steadies himself. “Fluffy? Whiskers?”

Tony pulls a face. “Oh, no. No. We can do better than that.”

Steve grabs his soup bowl and drinks the rest of the broth in a couple quick swallows, then drops the bowl in the sink for later. “Come to bed. I’ll warm you up and we can brainstorm something better for our girl.”

Tony pauses in the doorway, his suit rumpled and his hair disheveled, and smiles back at Steve with soft fondness. “You know, I think I like it when you say “ours” too.”

“It’s nice, right?” Steve drops a kiss on his mouth. “Let’s go to our room and drink our cocoa and name our kitten and then we can make love in our bed.”

“We need to keep her warm,” Tony says. “Grab her heating pad will you? We can make her a little bed. I’ve got some food for her too, but the roads were too bad to get her a catbed or any toys, so we’ll have to get some when the weather cleans up. I was thinking we’d get one of those cat tree things too and maybe some of those robotic toys so she can amuse herself while we’re out on a mission. Oh, and the automatic water and food bowls - Jarvis will feed her when we’re gone but better safe than sorry, after all. And I may have already bought her a bunch of different collars and sweaters off Amazon on my way home.”

“You are going to be one spoiled princess,” Steve tells the cat as he follows Tony down the hall.

“Yeah, but she’s our Princess,” Tony says, and Steve has to kiss him again as they wait for the elevator.