The Stark Tower always has space for them. There is technically space for all of the Avengers and then some. Tony Stark has a boatload of space and money to blow on them. But really, Maria thinks he is just lonely. A life of a genius can get lonely sometimes. She gets that.
Maria doesn’t live at Stark Tower but she might as well.
She is having lunch with Natasha one day when the assassin says, “There’s this black cat that’s been following me home.”
Maria has to swallow her club sandwich in a double take as she stares at the redhead in curiosity.
Natasha looks completely nonchalant as she takes another bite of her burger. The ketchup drips at the corner of her lips and she wipes it off with her thumb before licking it clean. “Can I borrow your jacket?” she asks suddenly.
This time the former Deputy Director raises an eyebrow at the assassin for her to continue.
“I need you to watch the cat,” Natasha begrudgingly says. “Stark doesn’t know about it yet but I wanna leave her with someone I can trust.”
“And you don’t trust anyone else in Stark Tower?” Maria asks with amusement. It’s funny. She’d never know Natasha much for her to care about small furry creatures.
There is a small smile that Natasha shoots her and Maria feels flattered. It’s interesting to know that the Black Widow trusts her. She smiles brightly back at Natasha to annoy her. “So why do you need my jacket?”
“I want Liho to get used to your scent,” Natasha says as she takes another bite of her burger. She looks mildly embarrassed as she continues, “Cats become more comfortable with people if they are used to their scents. Liho is not a normal cat.”
“She did follow you home,” Maria remarks in agreement. She smiles at her own joke and Natasha is about to say something when her phone starts to beep.
Natasha looks at her phone and frowns. “I’ve gotta go.” She stands up and reaches behind Maria to steal her jacket. “Come by this weekend to pick up the keys.”
With that the Black Widow leaves.
“Hey, I didn’t say yes!” Maria says, even though, she knows she’ll do it anyways. She stares at Natasha, who smiles through the door before slipping on her jacket and walking out into the sun. Maria sits back and shakes her head to herself. Across from her in the vacant seat, Natasha’s jacket sits on the chair.
At least that’s something.
When the weekend rolls around, Maria heads to Stark Tower to find Natasha. As she stands downstairs at the elevator, she sort of hopes that it’s just Natasha that’s there. Of course, there is no such luck because Tony catches her on his way up.
“What’re you doing here, Maria? Something bad happen?” he asks automatically as he presses the elevator to his floor.
Maria shakes her head. “Is there always something bad that happens when I’m around?” she asks. Maybe it is true but not always.
“Well, you are usually on point when it comes to getting us together,” Tony says holding the door for Maria to step into the elevator.
Maria nods in agreement before joining him. “I need to pick up something from Nat,” she informs, hoping he’ll press the button to her floor. For the life of her, she doesn’t remember and doesn’t really want to ask. Luckily, he does.
After catching up with Tony and hearing what he’s been up to recently, Maria finally ends up on the 29th floor. As she gets off, Tony says she should come around more often. His penthouse was always open for drinks as per usual.
Natasha opens the door slightly before saying, “You need to come in quick.”
Maria nods in confusion but does so anyways. She darts into the penthouse and sees a streak of black around her ankles.
The door clicks shut and Natasha sighs in relief. “Liho, no,” she commands to her ankles.
Maria looks down and sees the black cat slinking in and around Natasha’s ankles. She holds back a laugh as she realizes Natasha’s a bit flustered over letting the cat out of the penthouse.
Natasha glares at the cat at her ankles. “She’s a bit restless because she wants to go hunting, but there’s nothing for her to hunt in this house,” she informs Maria as she starts moving towards the kitchen.
As they move, Liho follows nonchalantly. She looks up at Maria a few times as they reach the kitchen island.
“So is there a list of things I am supposed to do for her?” Maria asks as she sits down on the barstool. Liho sits at her feet and smells at her ankles. Maria smiles down at the cat. At least she was a cutie pie.
Natasha takes off a paper from the fridge and hands it to her. “Just stick to the list.” She slides the keys across the table. “Come and go as you please. Liho spends a lot of time alone when I’m on mission.”
Maria nods at the list. It’s a basic set of things to do, feed, clean litter box, have fresh water, etc. Cats have taken so well to domesticity that Maria realizes it’s probably the only reason she agreed to it anyways. Natasha’s apartment is fully furnished but it still feels empty somehow.
Liho suddenly leaps onto the countertop and starts sniffing at Maria’s hand. Maria can only look at the redhead in confusion as she scratches the back of Liho’s head.
“She knows who you are,” Natasha says with a smile as she stops scratching. “I left the jacket on the couch and she likes sleeping on it.”
The cat bumps her head against Maria’s hand and awaits patiently for her to scratch. Maria assumes this and does it anyways. With a few well placed scratches, Liho starts to purr.
“She likes you,” Natasha beams subtly before rounding Maria. “Come on, I’ll show you around. You can use whatever you like while you’re here.”
It takes Maria a few days to realize how lonely Liho must feel when it’s master is gone weeks at a time. To be honest, Maria is surprised Natasha even warmed up to the cat. She wonders where the little thing even came from. Then again, Liho must’ve gotten used to it to a point.
The first few days that Maria had come through the door, Liho didn’t appear. It was only when she rustled the cat food bag a bit that Liho would come trotting from wherever she was hiding. She’d quietly eat and Maria would stick around a bit.
While Natasha’s penthouse felt empty, Maria knew that her apartment was far more utilitarian. She had very little need in technology and games like Tony had set them all with. However, she had to admit on occasion, she could indulge. So whenever she comes around, she plays a bit of PS4 and watches television for a couple hours.
Liho would occasionally come by and lay around her feet or next to her on the couch.
It was pretty nice.
She’d leave a small snack and fresh water to tide Liho overnight. When she would stand at the door to make sure everything in the penthouse was cleaned and organized, she would see Liho perched on the countertop staring as she left.
After she closed the door, she’d hear a low meow.
By the third night, Liho was actively engaging her as she was trying to leave. She would walk and accidentally kick Liho slightly. But the cat wouldn’t mewl or anything, she’d continue to follow Liho to the door.
“Hey, shoo,” Maria says as she carefully climbs around the cat, losing her balance a couple of times. “I gotta go back home.”
Liho continues to slink around her ankles.
Maria sighs and looks down at the cat. Feeling her attention, Liho looks back up at her. “What do you want?” she asks, feeling like a crazy woman, but how else is she supposed to communicate with it? Meow?
The cat meows in return and Maria shakes her head. It sounds like a sad and longing meow.
It’s late and Maria is pretty tired. She nods and takes off her jacket. “Fine, I’ll stay,” Maria says and makes her way back to Natasha’s room.
There is a reason she doesn’t like staying at Natasha’s place. There’s no food. Even watching Liho during the day is eating at her wallet because she’s ordering take out. As much as she enjoys crappy chinese food and pizza, Maria enjoys cooking her own meals.
“Does she even eat?” Maria asks before closing the door to the fridge.
Liho is sitting on the counter next to her licking her paw. She just looks up at Maria and wonders how she should answer.
Maria shakes her head with disapproval. “I’m gonna get some groceries if you keep coaxing me into staying here.”
Liho yawns before standing at the edge of the counter and batting her hand for Maria to pick her up.
“Little brat,” Maria says as she picks the cat up.
When Natasha comes back from her mission she is only a little bit tired. She took a nap on the plane and could go for a run. But first she needs to eat something.
The smell is perfection as she walks in. It’s lasagna and meaty too by the smell of the oils. She stares into the kitchen and sees Maria hovering over a pot on the stove, wearing her workout shorts and tank top.
Natasha quirks her head. “This is a surprise,” she says as she drops her bag on the ground.
Suddenly Liho jumps from the couch and darts towards her. Natasha crouches down as Liho excitedly sniffs around the bag and Natasha’s hand.
“You have zero food here,” Maria remarks with a slight pout. “Liho wouldn’t let me leave so I took her to go grocery shopping with me.”
Natasha hmpfs at this and picks up her cat. She gives her a gentle hug which Liho reciprocates with a lick. “You’re needier than you let on,” she teases. Liho looks off at Maria before letting her body go slack in her owner’s arms.
A click goes off and Natasha looks up to see Maria with her phone out. She gives her a dark look.
“What?” Maria exclaims innocently. “It’s not everyday you see such a maternal side of the Black Widow.”
Natasha just shakes her head. “I’m hungry,” she returns instead.
“Foods almost done, go unpack and shower.”
Natasha nods in agreement.
A few weeks later, Natasha sends Maria a text asking her to come pick up the keys again.
Maria is at the door and Natasha opens it up in full uniform.
“I have to leave now,” she says with a slight tone of annoyance. “I’ve got a mission in the Black Sea.”
“Do I even want to know?” Maria asks dubiously.
Natasha shakes her head. “I don’t even want to know,” she says as she hands the keys to Maria. “Hopefully, I’ll be back in a few days.”
“Same,” Maria says in agreement as she steps into the apartment. She doesn’t know what else to say or do. Natasha and her were close but not in the touchy feely sense. She just firmly grasps the redhead’s hand and gets a nod.
Once she’s gone, Maria hears a meow from Liho. “Looks like it’s you and me again,” Maria says as she slips off her jacket.
What she learns this time around is that Liho loves climbing things. She climbs everything. More importantly, she climbs things to knock down other items. As she’s playing games, Liho jumps onto the top of the fireplace and skirts along it. Maria doesn’t think much of it because she’s not in the way of the game but she sees Liho stop in the middle to push off a picture frame.
“Damnit,” Maria curses as she pauses her game and gets up to fix the picture frame.
When she turns around she sees Liho climbing along the kitchen counter before jumping into the cabinet. She turns around from her perch and meows profusely.
Maria looks at the cat in disbelief. Liho literally jumped into the cabinet and she can’t get herself down. How is this cat real?
As she goes to bed, she realizes that there are very few items that Natasha has for Liho. There’s a small bed at the foot of her bed as well as a beaten up box that she sees Liho lie in sometimes while she’s getting ready for bed. Otherwise, there aren’t too many toys.
Maria purses her lips and starts looking up toys for cats and how often they should be playing with them. She’s learning so much from Natasha already, might as well.
Natasha gets back home this time with no trace of Maria in her apartment. It almost feels strange but she tries not to let it bother her. It’s late into the night anyways, Maria might’ve gone home when she got the text.
She drops her bag and expects Liho to come darting her way, but there’s no trace of her.
Struck with curiosity, Natasha moves around the penthouse and starts noticing little things that have taken up space. Near the window, there’s a stand that’s about three levels high up to her waist that is like a padded castle. She sees a variety of cat toys littered around it as well with little balls of yarn, little stuffed mice, and a dangling toy.
She snorts at the display. Maria seems to have been busy.
When she gets into her bedroom that’s when she sees Liho in the city lights. She’s playing against a new scratching post. It takes her a moment to realize that Natasha is there but she does regard her.
Then Natasha looks over to her bed and sees a lump under the covers. She moves closer to see Maria comfortably sleeping in her bed. She notices a raggedy tie dye colored shirt that doesn’t belong to her. Maybe Maria brought some clothes over.
Natasha smiles at this and strips out of her uniform quietly before climbing into the bed.
Maria stirs and turns in her sleep towards Natasha. “You’re back early.”
“Yeah, I sent you a text,” Natasha says as her head hits the pillow. “Thought you left already.”
Maria turns over to look at the clock. “What time is it? I can go,” she mutters sleepily. She even starts to get up until Natasha places a hand on her waist.
“Just stay, it’s fine, bed’s big enough for the two of us,” Natasha casually says. She’s tired and doesn’t want to think about her emotions anyways. Maria nods in agreement before snuggling under the covers again. Then Liho leaps onto the bed and takes her space right between them. “Make that three of us.”
Maria moans and nods as her hand comes up to pet the cat. “S’good.”
Maria starts to worry for Liho.
The cat is generally content. She’s even happy at some points, especially when Maria plays with her as part of her routine now.
Now, Liho is listless and tired. She doesn’t want to play. She barely grooms herself. And she doesn’t meow when Maria scratches her favorite spot.
Sometimes, she just lays on the ground in the sunlight, only moving when she needs to.
It worries Maria.
She didn’t know that cats could get depressed. Or even feel as connected to their owners. Then again, any connection with the Black Widow is a longstanding investment. Maria knows that. Liho knows that.
She’s starting to think that Liho knows when something is going wrong with her master after 2 weeks on the mission.
Maria decides to text Natasha to check on her.
Hey, Liho misses you. Just wanna let her know you’re okay.
Maria doesn’t really expect a text back. She just knows that maybe she should pick up more clothes because she doesn’t feel like this is going to be a short mission for Natasha.
It’s when she gets back with her duffle bag and groceries that she checks her phone again.
Liho is depressed without you. Text back when you can.
Maybe that’ll get Natasha to text back a little sooner.
After a week of no response, Maria looks over the languid cat batting at the toy dangling from her tower, she got Liho the last time she was over. Maria thinks the best solution is to do what she does, exercise.
She pulls out a yoga mat near the tower and starts stretching before doing some push ups. Her face is near Liho’s as she comes down. She playfully blows at the cat’s face to get her attention. She knows how much it bothers that cat.
It takes her 10 push ups before Liho starts batting at her as she goes up and down.
By the time she hits 25, she is sweating and Liho is sitting up. Another push up and Liho is stretching her body like Maria.
That’s a start.
At the end of the work out, Maria checks her phone.
Be home in a few days. Miss you both. -Nat