Barbara wasn’t entirely sure what happened.
One moment, she was watching the evening news and throwing pieces of chicken at Thor, Pietro and Clint. The next moment, all of the cats had started yowling at once and racing towards the television (with the exception of Clint, who snatched the last piece of chicken and ran straight for Natasha).
“Umm,” Barbara frowned, looking at the swarming cats. “Maybe I should just -” She reached for the television remote and was stopped by Tony, who turned and hissed at her.
“Right,” she muttered, scooching back. “I’ll just – kitchen.” Grabbing her empty plate, she made a strategic retreat into the kitchen. And hopefully, she thought as she watched the upset cats, I can eat my ice cream in peace.
“You don’t think -”
“ - it’s not possible, is it -”
“ - multiverse theory -”
“ - it clearly is, Doctor Banner -”
“ - the hell kind of name is Superman -”
“QUIET!” Phil hollered, jumping up onto the couch. The rest of the team turned to look at him, their voices dropping into low mutters. “The last thing we should do is panic,” he said calmly. Inwardly, Phil was at the precipice of a panic-attack because not only was he a CAT he was somewhere WAY beyond SHIELD’s reach but for the sake of the team, he had to hold it together.
“Phil’s right,” Natasha said, slinking her way up towards him. He sighed inwardly as she sat next to him, curling her tail around his (which was still weird, but also comforting, so he tried not to dwell on it too much). “The only thing panicking is going to do is alienate our roommate.”
“ - who’s from an alternate dimension,” Jane added. Thor was currently wrapped around her, and only her tiny, adorable head was peeking out from his sea of orange hair.
“An alternate dimension that we currently seem to also be occupying,” Bruce supplied. “This would be incredibly exciting -”
“ - if it wasn’t so terrifying - “
“ - and if we weren’t CATS!” Tony finished with an angry holler. That, of course, sent the rest of the group back to their hollering. Phil groaned and shot Natasha a look. Thankfully, she understood even his cat-facial expressions, because she cleared her throat and yelled over them.
“We need to FOCUS.” The group settled down again, turning to look back at her. “Look, people have surely noticed our absence by now, and they’ll start looking. If this was Loki’s doing – which I think is a very strong possibility – it's only a matter of time until Strange gets involved. He’ll figure it out.”
“Until then,” Phil cut in, “we stay here and lay low. You’ve heard the woman; until our ‘Potts’ comes to collect us, we’ll be in her care, and so far she’s given us no reason to doubt the integrity of her words. That doesn’t mean we won’t stay smart,” he added, when Tony looked like he was about to argue, “but we will play along and cooperate with her. Understood?”
“Loud and clear, boss,” Clint called from his spot next to Darcy. “Just keep playing kitty.”
“Let’s keep her under observation, just to be safe,” Steve finally nodded in agreement. “Two sets of eyes on her at all times.”
“We could work up a pair rotation?” Sam suggested.
“We’re in an apartment,” Natasha replied drily. “Not like she can really hide anywhere.”
“Speaking of hiding,” Sam piped up from the back, “has anyone seen Barnes?”
The cats were still conferencing in the living room by the time Barbara had finished her ice cream, so she’d snuck out while they weren’t looking, making her way into her closet to change into PJs, and was in the midst of questioning her own sanity when she found a pair of eyes staring up at her.
It was Bucky, the cat from behind the couch. He’d somehow gotten into her closet and was currently occupying her laundry basket. He stared at her, unblinkingly, although he shook a little as he did, and Barbara felt her heart instantly break.
“Hi there, sweetheart,” she murmured softly, slowly sinking to her knees. “It’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you.” Kneeling on the ground, she held out her hand for him to sniff her. “I’m Barbara,” she continued. “You’re safe with me.”
Bucky still stared at her, but he leaned forward slowly and butted her hand with his head.
“Do you want to come out of the laundry basket? The bed is much comfier, I can promise you that.”
He didn’t move, so Barbara slowly moved her other hand towards him. He hissed a little bit, and she froze. Once the hissing stopped, she started moving her arms closer. They did this stop-start a few more times before she grabbed hold of him. He tensed up immediately, and looked like he was about ready to draw blood, but she didn’t give him the opportunity.
Barbara pulled him close, gently tucking him into her arms, and stood, making her way into the bedroom. “See?” She said, setting him down on top of one of the decorative pillows Alfred had sent along, “this is much, much comfier. Now, wait right there.” She turned away, not waiting to see his reaction, and went back into the closet, quickly shifting into an oversized tee and sweatpants. She was gone maybe twenty seconds, and when she stepped back out of the closet, it was to find Bucky, still sitting stiffly on her decorative pillow.
Chuckling, Barbara threw her long hair on top of her head in a messy bun and crawled onto the bed. “You’re okay,” she said, pulling him onto her lap. “Just relax.” Leaning back against the mass of pillows, she began to run her fingers idly through his hair.
“So, Bucky, how about a movie?”
The closet was nice. It was dark, and cool, and smelled faintly like vanilla, and it was far away from the rest of the group, and from Stark's complaints. He’d been forcibly snuggled within an inch of his life earlier, and even though it was Stevie, it made his brain itch, so he’d snuck off after dinner and made himself comfortable.
It was only a matter of time until the girl – woman, she was clearly a woman – needed her closet, but he’d prepared himself for that. As soon as she walked in, he would just make a break for it (maybe hide under the bed) and stay far, far away.
That didn’t happen, of course. ‘Cause once again, the moment she laid eyes on him, he froze up like a popsicle. She smelled like vanilla, too, and even though she said all the words he’d heard from Steve and the others before – it's all right, it’s okay, I'm not going to hurt you, you’re safe – for some reason, he didn’t feel a twinge when it was her saying it. Maybe it was the cat-part of him now, or maybe it was because she’d been so gentle before, or maybe it was because she took her time and didn’t rush touching him, but when he looked at her, something inside him quieted down. And so, when she told him to stay put, he listened, and when she came back into the room – looking adorably tiny in her comfy clothes – he'd let her pull him onto her lap. And as she ran her fingers through his hair, he let his eyes drift shut in contentment, and he didn’t try to stop the low rumbling in his chest.
He knew the sound coming out of him was a purr, but he didn’t have the energy to be embarrassed. He just stayed there, in her lap, in her warm vanilla scent, and relaxed.
Bucky started purring about twenty minutes into Big Trouble in Little China, and Barbara felt her heart melt at the sound. She didn’t want to scare him off, though – the picture of him nervously shaking still stuck in her mind – so she just continued to pet him. She'd just queued up Alien on Netflix when her bedroom door opened with a thud.
“What the -” she sat up straight on her bed, just in time to see Steve pounce onto the bed, meowing loudly. Bucky sat up almost instantly and cocked his head at Steve, who made his way right over to Barbara and began patting at Bucky, as if he was checking for any sort of injury.
“Hey, Steve, no worries, he’s safe with me.” The cat just shot her a look before continuing his examination. Barbara felt Bucky exhale deeply, as if he was sighing, but he didn’t move from his spot in his lap.
Finally, Steve, appearing somewhat satisfied, sat back and looked up at Barbara, as if he was looking for an explanation.
“We just finished watching a movie, and we’ve got another one queued up. You and your friends are more than happy to join in.” Steve blinked at her once, twice, before turning around and leaping off of the bed. He began meowing as he padded out the door, and a few moments later, Thor come prancing through the doorway with Jane on his heels. Picking up the other cat by the scruff of her neck, he made a running leap and landed on the bed. He mowed happily and proceeded to lick Jane all over. Jane, for her part, looked put out by the entire situation.
A mournful cry started from below the bed. Thor whirled around and leapt down, returning a few seconds later with Darcy, who immediately made her way over towards Barbara’s decorative pillow and curled up next to it. Jane meowed twice and followed suit, and Thor happily trailed after them.
More paws skittered across the floor, and Pietro jumped up onto the bed next, followed by Wanda and Vision. They set themselves up near the foot of the bed, blocking Barbara’s view of the floor near the doorway. Steve returned soon after, followed by Sam and Clint. Steve pawed his way back over to Barbara and sat down next to her, ensuring that both she and Bucky were in his line of sight. Sam settled down next to him, and Clint bypassed the pair directly and instead made his way to the back of the bed, crawling up on top of Barbara’s headboard.
Bruce came next, silently leaping up onto the bed. At Darcy’s plaintive cry, the calm Maine Coon made his way over to her. She all but fell on top of him, and he allowed it.
Natasha, Phil and Tony were the last to arrive. Phil and Tony were quietly meowing at each other. Natasha made a beeline for Clint and jumped on top of the headboard to join him. Phil corralled Tony into the center of the bed before following suit. Tony, Barbara noted, looked incredibly put out, and nestled down alone in the middle, growling lowly in his throat.
“So, if we’re all settled,” she began. Fourteen pairs of eyes turned to look at her instantly. Yep. Isn’t getting less weird. “What are your thoughts on sci-fi movies?”
Tony all but launched himself at her, meowing happily as he pawed for the remote.
“Alien it is then.”
If Barbara didn’t know better, she’d say that the cats were actually watching the movie. And understanding what was happening. That was crazy talk, and she knew this, but on the other hand, Steve gave a full body flinch during the chest-burster scene (which had Tony and Sam hiss-laughing), and he’d hunkered down behind Bucky’s tail for the rest of the movie. Clint meowed loudly anytime Ripley did something particularly inspiring, and Pietro hissed anytime the alien jumped out of a shadowy-area.
At the end of the movie, the Netflix screen rolled over onto Alien 2, and Barbara had to practically wrestle the remote away from Tony. “The sequel is great, but we’ll save it for tomorrow, all right? It’s probably way past your bedtime. And mine,” she added, shooting a look at the alarm clock next to her. “You’re welcome to curl up here, or -”
With a sharp meow from Phil, each and every one of the cats leapt off of Barbara’s bed and made their way out of the door and back towards the living room. Bucky, still curled up in her lap, seemed loathe to leave it, but the combined force of a hissing Steve and Sam was enough to get him to his feet and slink after the others. He turned to look at her in the doorway, and it almost seemed like his expression was apologetic, but before Barbara could contemplate that, he was out the door, and Barbara was alone.
Bucky couldn’t sleep. And not for lack of trying. After being scolded by Steve into abandoning the perplexing comfort of Barbara’s lap - “we’ll be safer together at night, Buck” - he’d hidden himself underneath the sofa, ignoring Steve’s attempts to get him to lay in the giant cat-pile on the couch. It had finally taken Sam tugging Steve away twenty minutes into his own pleas before Bucky was left in peace, and he curled himself up into a small ball, hoping for the serenity of sleep to wash over him.
He had no such luck.
Maybe it was the fact that, even underneath the sofa, he could still hear each and every one of his – well, whatever they were to him – breathing above him. Maybe it was the fact that his hiding spot smelled a little bit like mothballs. Or maybe it was just the knowledge that he was stranded, as a cat, in a completely unfamiliar place and world. Whatever the reason was, Bucky was on edge, and sleep remained entirely elusive.
So, as he watched the digital clock in the kitchen flick over to 3:17 A.M., he quietly stole out from under the sofa and made his way towards Barbara’s closet. At the very least, it smelled better than the underneath of the sofa, and at best it was a more secure location away from Steve and them and the mess that was his continued part-ness of the group.
It didn’t take much of an effort to paw Barbara’s door open. And the desperately quiet squeak that sounded from its hinges thankfully didn’t disturb the other cats, although Vision’s eyes blinked in his direction a few times before the android – no, cat, - shut his eyes again.
The same couldn’t be said for Barbara.
Barbara was a light sleeper these days. Well, she’d been a light-sleeper even before taking up with the Batfamily, but since her indoctrination into vigilantism, she always, without a doubt, woke up at the slightest noise, whether it be the ticking of a clock or the scratch of a tree branch outside her window.
This time, however, the noise that drew her back into consciousness was the almost imperceptible squeak of her bedroom door, followed by the scritch of nails on her hardwood floor.
Blinking blearily, Barbara pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Hello?”
Two light-blue eyes blinked at her from the darkness.
Frowning, Barbara quietly slid out of bed and made flicked on her bedside lamp.
Bucky was staring at her, frozen, mere steps away from her closet. He looked exhausted – well, as exhausted as a cat could perceivably look.
“Oh, sweetie,” Barbara cooed. She slowly stepped towards Bucky, who stayed frozen, staring at her approach. Upon reaching the Siberian cat, she quickly scooped him up into her arms. “Let’s get some rest, okay?”
Bucky didn’t resist her embrace this time. Instead, his body went surprisingly lax at her touch, and when she tucked him into the bed, he almost instinctively nuzzled close to her, his head nestled against her collarbone. Smiling, Barbara signaled for ORACLE to shut off the light, and she quickly drifted back to sleep, lulled by the sound of Bucky’s soft breaths and the feeling of his heart beating against her own.