Phil was barely into his second cup of coffee when Clint walked into his office, covered in dust and carrying something small. "Whatever you're about to ask, the answer is no," he said without looking up from his paperwork.
Clint scowled. "Maybe I was going to see if you wanted breakfast from that little Cuban place downtown." Phil looked up and raised one eyebrow. "Okay, I wasn't, but I could have!" Phil went back to work. "But this is even better- I got us a pet!"
"Come on Phil, look at how cute he is!" Clint waved the gray kitten around until it let out a small growl.
"Absolutely not." Phil didn't even look up from the paperwork he was doing.
"I can train him to guard the apartment while we're out!"
"We already have a security system."
"The security system won't cuddle with you while I'm away on missions."
"It also won't shed on my suits." He signed off on the last page of the report and transferred it to another pile, then looked up and glared at the the two of them. "Lose the cat and get back to the gym for training, Agent Barton."
The Avengers were getting the hang of their weekly shifts at the diner, but Phil and Pepper had gotten into the habit of taking their own work down there to keep an eye on things and didn't see any reason to stop. The team had been called in for a lunch shift, so the two of them headed down for a few hours of work.
"Son of Coul! Lady Pepper!" Thor stopped the story he was telling to a waiting family to greet them. "I believe your booth is free. And Agent," he said, stopping Phil as he walked by. "I hope you will reconsider about the small lord. We will speak more on it later. Right now, I must get back to these fine young warriors!"
"The small lord?" Pepper asked.
"I have no idea, and we're probably better off that way," Phil responded as they settled in at their usual booth- tucked in the back corner near the counter, for at least the illusion of privacy.
Before they could even flip through the up-to-the-minute specials list, Bruce was at their table with a cup of coffee and a sparkling water. "Hello and welcome to Earth's Mightiest Diner," Bruce said with a smile. "I'll be your server this afternoon since I'm guessing you won't want to eat anything Clint hands you."
Phil sighed. "Feeding me cat treats won't convince me to adopt one, which I explained to him last night."
Bruce laughed. "I think he discovered catnip this morning. Anyway, check out the specials, I have customers at the counter. And don't worry- we hid the tequila as soon as Tony decided it was Taco Tuesday."
"Agent Barton got a cat?" Pepper asked as Bruce walked away.
Phil sighed again and shook his head. "He wants me to adopt a stray he found."
"Adopting the rest of the Avengers wasn't enough?"
They ordered their lunches through the menu's interface and chatted while they waited for their food. Phil kept expecting Bruce to come back over, but he seemed occupied by something at the counter.
Their food arrived a few minutes later, despite Clint's yells across the diner about how Phil couldn't have any tacos. Pepper's tacos looked like tacos, but with extra lime slices and a tiny Iron Man carved out of a pepper standing watch over her plate. Phil's plate, on the other hand, had "Meow!" scrawled across the top of it in hot sauce. The tacos and taco-related condiments all had cat ears and whiskers.
"If any of this is made out of cat food, I will personally make sure Stark lives long enough to regret it."
Bruce shrugged. "It should be safe enough, since Steve is back there with him," he said with a laugh. "Give me a yell if you need anything else."
After they finished eating, Pepper pulled out some work and Phil went to the counter for another cup of coffee. "Dr. Banner, are you keeping a kitten behind the counter?"
"Absolutely not," Bruce said with a straight face. "It wasn't specifically mentioned in the rigorous diner training you put us through, but I imagine that violates a health code or two." Phil stared at him until Bruce lifted his hands above the counter in a show of innocence. The plaintive mewing started just a few seconds later.
"Yeah, you're real innocent," Phil muttered as he leaned across the counter to scoop up the kitten. The cat led out a loud purr as soon as Phil picked him up, and then tried to butt his head against Phil's chest as soon as he was close enough.
Tony stopped on the other side of the window that separated the kitchen from the counter area. "Aw, Coulson, I think Lord Meowington likes you!"
Phil made a face. "I am not adopting a cat named Lord Meowington."
Clint popped up behind him. "So you'll adopt him if we change his name?"
Phil jumped, which the kitten did not appreciate. "No," he said. Phil thrust the cat back into Bruce's arms, took his refilled cup of coffee, and went back to his booth without saying another word.
Phil didn't even make it into his office on Wednesday morning. He got through security, unlocked his door, thought It is too early in the morning for this, and left for the mess. After he picked up a cup of coffee and something resembling breakfast, he spotted Natasha and Steve sitting together at a table in the back corner.
Phil narrowed his eyes at them as he walked over. "Why haven't you two gone back to the tower?"
Steve looked startled for a moment. "We wanted to finish up the paperwork and get breakfast first. Care to, ah, join us?"
Phil pulled out a chair and sat down. "You were on a mission until dawn, and then chose to come back here and finish your paperwork instead of, say, getting breakfast at the diner inside the building where you live?"
"Yes, sir," Steve affirmed.
"Even though the tower was in between the location of your mission and SHIELD headquarters?"
"I believe in thoroughness, sir."
Phil nodded. "Do you have anything you want to add to this story?" he asked Natasha.
She arched one of her eyebrows and took a sip of tea. "You're always telling us how important our paperwork is, Coulson. Have a change of heart?"
He hmphed. "Is Agent Barton also doing his paperwork here at headquarters this morning?"
Steve's eyes widened just a bit before Natasha scoffed and kicked him under the table. "Hawkeye? Paperwork? I think you've been up too long, Coulson. Maybe you should head back to your office and rest for a while," she deadpanned. Steve choked on his juice.
"Where is he, Natasha?"
"Where is who, Coulson?"
"Clint. Or the cat. I assume the two of them are lurking around here somewhere."
"I believe he said he was going to hitch a ride back to the tower with Tony," Steve offered.
Phil narrowed his eyes. "Enough already! It's been a long night, and unlike the rest of you I have actual work to do today. Go undo whatever you did to my office so I can get some of it done."
Natasha took another sip of her tea. "I don't know what you're talking about."
He hurriedly took a bite of bagel.
"Fine. I'll just have one of the new recruits throw it all away."
Steve swallowed the bite of bagel as hastily as he had taken it. "You're not even going to read it?"
Natasha sighed. Phil grinned in triumph. "Read what?"
Steve blushed but didn't say anything. Natasha sighed again. "Barton thought that if you heard the cat's sob story you would give in and adopt him."
"If I just say no will you two undo whatever you did to my office?"
"No can do, sir. Agent Barton has already made it clear that he can break onto my floor whenever he wants."
Phil didn't lay his head in his arms and moan, but it was a close thing. "There are pictures of cats everywhere."
"Yes! We found them online. It's Thor's favorite website now."
"He likes it more than Cute Overload and Fuck You Penguin?"
Natasha grinned. "He spent half the mission last night making Tony jot down sayings so he could submit... What did he call them? Lolvengers?"
"Earth's Kittiest Heroes, Tony said."
Natasha nodded. "Thor likes the captions."
"Why doesn't he just adopt the cat?"
"Thor didn't want to take him to Asgard and Clint convinced him that the cat would pine for him whenever he left."
Phil sighed. "How very sad for the cat. I still don't want or need a pet. Can you clean up my office now?"
Natasha didn't even acknowledge the request.
"I'm sorry, but no. Agent Barton worked hard on the powerpoint. You should at least do him the courtesy of watching it. Besides, there's more."
This morning was turning into one of Phil's tougher negotiations. "If I promise to watch the powerpoint, will you get rid of the rest of it?" Steve hesitated. "You can use it all to decorate the locker room."
Steve beamed at him. "You've got yourself a deal!" He gathered all of their trash on his tray and stood up to leave. "Natasha, you coming?"
She finished the last of her tea and stood up as well. "Sorry Cap, I only signed up for the installation."
"Why can't you just train in the gym like normal superheroes?" Phil asked for what felt like the thousandth time. He was sitting shotgun in a van with the rest of the team spread out on the bench seats in the back and the kitten underfoot because Thor had declared that "tiny warriors must train as well!"
"The gym at SHIELD has some kind of infestation," Tony replied from behind him. He was accompanied by the sound of a small bell ringing. The kitten, which had been happily batting at a toy Clint was tossing around in the far back seat of the van, perked up and tried to see where the sound had come from.
Steve's forehead wrinkled as he sighed. Clint had a pool going on whether the super soldier serum would keep Steve from getting gray hairs and wrinkles, but even money said it wouldn't stand a chance against him both living and working with Tony Stark. The only thing stopping Phil from joining in was that putting money on Tony felt too much like admitting defeat. "Those were new agents, Tony."
"Collectively they're called an infestation though, like a flock of geese or an unkindness of ravens. You can check wikipedia." The bell chimed again, and the kitten hopped onto Steve and Thor's seatback and sniffed them both cautiously.
Natasha looked up from the magazine she was flipping through in the back corner. "Another demerit for wikipedia vandalism, Stark? At this rate you'll never get to choose what we watch on movie night."
Tony frowned and rang the little bell again. "Come on Meow-meow, come and get it!" The kitten scrambled under the seats and gnawed on Tony's shoelace.
Phil grimaced. "How did you somehow find the only name worse than Lord Meowington?"
"He was named by Lady Darcy when I was considering adopting him myself," Thor proclaimed.
"And you didn't all immediately declare it the worst name ever?"
"Oh no, we did," Bruce said. He patted the space between him and Tony and the kitten hopped up, still looking for the bell. "But since it was the only thing we agreed on it kind of, ah, stuck."
Clint momentarily stopped trying to regain the kitten's attention with the toy and caught Phil's eye instead. "Weren't you the one told me not to mock the names of people who have laser eyes?"
"Despite your report, I have not seen any evidence of laser eyes. When I set that policy for you though, there was plenty of evidence, most of it in the form of rubble raining down on us."
"Anyway sir," Clint said with a sly grin, "if we start to train at the regular SHIELD gym, all of those rumors about our super high tech training facility will die down."
"That's low, Barton, kicking a man while he's down." While Tony was distracted pouting, Phil twisted around, grabbed the bell Tony was fiddling with, and tossed it toward the back seat. The kitten raced after it, ignoring Tony's attempts at keeping his attention in a way Phil couldn't help but admire.
Steve looked back down at his phone, mostly to hide his grin. "Clint, that's one demerit for poor sportsmanship. Tony, maybe you could use this experience to learn a lesson about not bragging before you actually finish something."
Tony's sputters of outrage could barely be heard over Clint's laugh. The kitten tried to take advantage of his distraction to grab the toy, but Clint whisked it out from under his paws again. He tossed the toy up to Bruce and the cat went after it, hopping from Clint's knee to Cap's shoulder before taking the final leap up to Bruce's seatback.
"In Tony's defense," Bruce broke in, "the training simulator works. It's just buggy." He tossed the toy over his shoulder to Thor, and the kitten darted under his seat to get it.
Bruce nodded. "It's the only explanation for it taking 27 whole seconds to kick your ass last week."
Thor's laugh boomed through the van and the kitten, startled, ran to the relative quiet of the front seat and hid in Phil's lap. Phil absently petted him while the team continued to bicker behind them. "You're pretty cute," Phil murmured as he scritched behind the cat's ears. "But you'd be a lot cuter if you actually had laser eyes you could use on Stark once in a while."
"Good afternoon, Agent Coulson," Jarvis intoned as Phil stepped into the Avengers' secure elevator. "You're home early today."
Phil nodded in greeting towards one of the cameras. "It's been a busy week, so I decided to come back early and make sure everyone was prepared to leave for the mission tonight."
"Ahh, good choice, Agent. Would you like a status report before going upstairs?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Captain Rogers and Agent Romanov are fully packed, and are sparring in the gym. Dr. Banner is 90% packed and working in his lab. He asked me to tell you that his current experiment will be finished before take-off this evening. Thor and Mr. Stark both claim to be prepared to leave, and are playing video games in the lounge. And Agent Barton is asleep on a pile of clothing."
Phil sighed. "To the nest please, Jarvis."
Phil stepped off the elevator and was instantly suspicious of how still their floor was. Living with Clint (nevermind the rest of the Avengers) meant soundproofing your office and changing out the locks periodically, so coming home to peace and quiet was mildly alarming, even with Jarvis's status report. He wouldn't admit it, but usually when the team was away on missions he spent more time at the office. The quiet thrum of activity (or loud roar of arguing) had become white noise that he found it hard to work without now.
He toed off his shoes in the foyer, then slowly made his way through the apartment, careful not to disturb the silence. He stopped in his office to drop off some files and put away most of his weapons before padding towards the kitchen, loosening his tie as he went. Phil draped his suit jacket over the back of one of the chairs at the counter and poured himself a drink. He took a sip and absently sorted through the stack of papers sitting on their otherwise empty counter. Registration, vaccinations, a receipt from a pet store... He shook his head and wondered who on the team had made Clint actually register the cat.
Phil left the papers where he had found them, put his empty glass in the sink, and walked down the hall toward their bedroom. He stepped through the open door and let his eyes adjust to the dim light while he finished unknotting his tie. He smiled at the sight of Clint curled around the kitten in the center of their bed and crept toward the closet, where he hung up what was left of his suit.
He turned back to their bed and slowly made his way toward it, trying not to disturb either of the nappers. He was sure Clint had heard him come in even if the kitten hadn't, but he had fallen back asleep at some point while Phil had puttered around the apartment. He crouched down next to the bed and ran his hand gently over the kitten's back, eliciting a soft purr.
Clint opened his eyes and smiled sleepily at Phil. "You're home early," he said. His voice was still rough with sleep.
Phil smiled back and pet the kitten again. "I wanted to make sure you were packed."
"Believe it or not, I was packing before someone decided my warm laundry was a good place to take a nap."
They were keeping their voices soft and their movements slow in an unspoken agreement not to disturb the cat. "And he looked so comfortable you just had to see what the fuss was all about?"
"You know me, Coulson. I'll try anything once." Even in the dim light, Clint could see Phil's eyebrow arch. "Alright, at least once. Besides, we had a rough morning."
"I saw," Phil said. He stood up and walked around the bed so he could lay down with disturbing anyone. "Bureaucracy and needles and shopping- you two earned this nap."
"Damn straight, sir. I even filled out the paperwork all by myself." Clint craned his neck to follow Phil's movements around the bed.
"I hope someone got pictures," he said before dropping a kiss on Clint's shoulder and laying down behind him.
"I'm sure if you ask Nat nicely she'll send them to you so you don't brood too much while I'm away. Of course, then everyone on the team will find out about your twisted paperwork kink."
Phil's surprised laugh woke the kitten, but it just stretched lazily instead of running off. While the kitten prowled the perimeter of the bed, Clint rolled over and kissed Phil on the mouth. "Hi," he said, running his hands up Phil's back under the t-shirt he had left on. He could feel Phil's answering smile. Before he could get any further though, the kitten decided he didn't want to be left out and climbed over Clint until he was sandwiched in the small space left between the two men. Clint let out a frustrated growl.
"Are you sure you still want him?" Phil asked, barely suppressing a laugh.
Clint narrowed his eyes. "Yes." He turned his attention back to the small bundle of fur turning circles in the space between them. "No more cockblocking though, Meow-meow. That is definitely against the rules in this apartment. But I guess we can take another nap if Phil says you can stay."
"Hmm. His paperwork all seemed to be in order."
"It is. He even has a microchip in case he gets lost or catnapped."
"Is that a thing we have to worry about now? The bad guys stealing our kitten and holding him for ransom?"
"If people are still willing to deal with the hassle of kidnapping Stark, we have to entertain this as a possibility."
"Come on, Phil, say yes. I know you get lonely when I'm away on missions. Besides, our info's already on his collar."
While they had been debating his fate, the kitten had curled up and fallen back asleep. Phil leaned back until he could turn the collar around and read the tag. One side had the cat's name and their contact info, and the other just said "PROPERTY OF PHIL COULSON." Phil sighed. "Fine, fine, I guess we can keep him." Before Clint could start celebrating, he added, "On one condition."
"I'll always clean the litterbox when I'm home, I will lintroll you every day, and if he ruins any of your shoes I'll buy you two news pairs. What else?"
Phil leaned forward to kiss Clint again, then whispered in his ear, "You get one of these tags to match."