They met in rehab.
Getting clean, giving up the booze and the pills and everything else (not the guns), took time and effort and, finally, the two admitted to themselves, outside intervention.
And when you give things like that up, it helps to get new habits. Good, positive habits, like pet rescue. And that is how The Punisher ended up opening a pet rescue with Wolverine. They specialized in going into disaster areas and war zones, using their specialized skills to rescue dogs and cats as well as mice, gerbils, birds -
“Can’t they just fly away?”
“Their wings are clipped.”
“Barbarians. Some people should die.”
Frank nodded. “That’s just unconscious knowledge.”
Logan convinced Frank that the alligators in Florida didn’t need to be rescued, although they both really wanted to take the big guy home.
“Look at her, she needs me.”
“She’ll eat the bunny.”
“Not the bunny!” Frank clutched Killer to his chest. “Fine. We’ll let her go in the canal. But I hope she knows how to hunt for herself.”
“We’ll check on her,” Logan conceded. He liked it when Frank smiled.
So they took the birds home. Loud fuckers. Logan winced everytime he had to go near the enclosure. And they were constantly picking fights, pulling apart their cages, getting out and stealing food. And Frank thought counter surfing dogs were bad. Still, it put a smile on both of their faces every time they could both rescue an animal and place it with a good family. Inner smile. Couldn’t ruin their reputations by smiling like a loon all the time.
“Make sure you’re in this for the long term,” Frank would tell prospective families. “There’s a fee if we have to take the animal back because you just don’t want it anymore. It involves your face meeting that brick wall over there forcefully. Parrots like this one,” he stroked the beautiful feathers of the MacCaw on his arm, “can live 90 years. Did you know the parrot who appeared on the Ed Sullivan show before the Beatles lived to be over 90.”
People often opted for smaller birds after that. It was OK with Frank. He’d already taught Disaster the MacCaw to say, some people should die, which amused the hell out of Logan.
Over time, other people started to help. Deadpool regularly dropped off pooches. “They can’t just be left with that awful person,” he would say or something like that. He and Al would keep the cats. She had more than 20 living with her now, tripping her up anytime she tried to walk anywhere. Frank went over on Wednesday afternoons to help brush them, but he made Deadpool deal with the litter boxes. ...well, no he didn’t, but he pretended to Logan that he did.
Spider-Man used them as a resource too. “You have no idea how many kittens actually do end up in trees.”
“Do you accept children?” Loki asked, guiding an eight-legged horse into their over-crowdedts basement they’d taken over. It was already divided into areas for canines, felines, birds, bunnies and other small animals, and turtles and such. There wasn’t a lot of room left. It was just a basement after all. The pipes were exposed over their heads and the brick walls too. In the back was a door that led to a small kitchen with a table in it.
“Little big,” Frank admitted, looking the magnificent horse over.
“I cannot stand for my father to treat him like an animal anymore.” Turning to his child, he said, “Your other form?” Right in front of them the horse transformed into a teenage boy — given he had a ghostly bit about him where one could see extra limbs if you looked out of the corner of your eye.
Logan and Frank were a bit flummoxed, but Logan recovered first. “We’ll feed him if he helps out, but if you think for one minute we’re adopting the serpent guy, you’re mistaken.”
“Call me Slep,” the child offered, hesitantly, but putting out his hand with all the determination he could muster. They both shook his hand very seriously and introduced themselves.
“Good. I will see that you are protected,” Loki informed them.
Of course by the next week they ended up with a big talking snake, who asked she be called George (“I like the name George. I was always a Nancy Drew fan.”), and a wolf the size of a small pony. The wolf didn’t speak, but he could easily keep up conversation in his own way. He would sleep in front of the doorway—forcing people to step over him—and growl at people he didn’t like. Those people didn’t get pets.
And things seemed like they were magically going their way a few times, like when even when the electricity went out, the incubator for the bird eggs and bunny babies still worked, and when a huge storm flooded the streets, not a drop came in their place. Also, their fridge seemed to be perpetually stocked. Good thing, Slep ate like a teenage boy.
They did rehome as many animals they could, but Logan was quite strict about who they allowed to take an animal home, and insisted on home visits first, whereas Frank wanted to make every child happy by handing off the baby bunnies. Well, with the bunnies, Logan let him do it. There were a lot of them.
“But they aren’t like lollipops,” he warned Frank. “They gotta show me they got the stuff to take care of it first.”
“Couldn’t we just give them the stuff?” Frank asked.
He and Logan considered this.
Turned out Peter had the answer the next time he brought a lost kitten in. “Stuck in an oak tree,” he informed them. “You know how tall oak trees are? Mr. Stark actually rescued him. I was just there and told him there was a good place to take her. Is it a her?”
Logan grunted in response.
Just then Tony Stark strolled in. “This is what you’re ... this place?” He asked. “Are you even zoned for this? Don’t answer, I don’t care. Well, I do care in that if you’re not I’ll move you to a new facility, but seriously, this place? It’s a dump.”
“I’m gonna deck him,” Frank casually informed them. Logan nodded in agreement.
“Mr. Stark could help with the money issues,” Peter piped up. “Sorry, I overheard you last time I was here and you had just given that little girl the bunny. I overhear a lot. People think I don’t matter because I’m a kid and they talk in front of me.”
Frank grabbed his shoulder. “You always matter.”
“Thanks, Mr. Punisher.”
Frank wasn’t sure what to think of that.
“I can help with what?” Tony asked, tired of being ignored.
“We need money for the bunny kits,” Frank told him. “We want to send people home with what it takes to care for the small animals.” He paused. “Financial help.”
“Consider it done. Now, I’m getting out of here before I catch something.”
Peter was already in the kitty cage petting a huge grey striped cat who graciously put up with it. “Aw, I wish I could take you home, Merlin.”
“Merlin?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, Merlin is the best,” Peter told him. “I wish I had more room, but the apartment with Aunt May is kinda small.”
Tony groaned. “Fine. What does it cost?”
They all looked at him.
“We give them away to people who are capable of taking care of them,” Frank told him. “Are you capable of taking care of a cat?”
“I’m probably not capable of taking care of anyone, including myself. Pepper tells me that.”
“I can help,” Peter told them eagerly. “Slep, you’ll vouch for me, right?”
“I can help too,” Slep said, eagerly. He and Peter had formed a fast friendship upon meeting.
“Nope,” Logan told him, “You, kid, don’t go anywhere near the Avengers.” He thought a moment. “Except Peter.”
“I’m not an Avenger. I’m just a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Logan grunted in response, but it was a positive grunt.
“All right,” Frank decided. “You can take him if Peter promises to come over and feed him. We’re visiting in one week and I had better find a happy, healthy cat.”
“Yeah, yeah, I won’t like you when you’re angry,” Tony snarked.
When they stopped by a week later, they found a very content Merlin watching Tony’s latest cat toy creation race past him, back and forth, and occasionally batting at it to amuse Tony.
“He looks great,” Frank conceded, grudgingly.
“Good, because I’m sending over automatic litter boxes and some robots to make your lives easier,” Tony informed him.
“Fine.” Frank didn’t want to admit he liked the idea of not having to clean out the litter boxes by hand. He certainly wasn’t against the idea. “I guess. They gotta be pretty silent or Logan will end them. No whir of gears or shit.”
Tony perked up. “Silent running? Interesting.”
“And you listen to me right now, you do any surveillance with them and I will rip off your balls and feed them to Elvis.” OK, so they did bring home an alligator later, but it was a small one, in their defense.
“I can’t spy?” Tony whined.
“Nope. Micro will check that shit for me.”
“You think he’s better than I am?”
Frank face-palmed. “Well, I just stepped in that shit.”
“What are you worried about?” Tony asked, quite seriously.
“It’s our secret to keep, so fuck off.”
Tony smirked at him. “Sure thing, twinkle toes. Am I cleared to keep the cat?”
“And take him away from Peter? I’m not insane.” Frank turned to the cat. “Take care of your new people.” He got a long look in response. Frank nodded. “Oh, and send a couple bots over to Deadpool’s place? He’s a serious cat lady.”
“Yeah.” And Frank walked out.
Deadpool sent the decapitated robot heads back in a box the first time. Which was kind of him to box them. Logan dropped by and explained, so he accepted the next ones.
Red stumbled into their place about a week later, tripping over the step, but accepting Fenris’ help when the wolf rose and guided Red down the aisle between the cages. “So I need a cat?” He asked Frank. He held up a handwritten card that said, “Adapt and adopt. Cat’s make you feel better.” It was conveniently copied in braille below.
“Cat’s are great for the spirit and the soul,” Slep told him. “But so are dogs. Can I introduce you to some canines?”
“You’re not up for adoption, big guy?” Red asked the big, shaggy wolf. Frank sat back, watching, a little smile on his face. The wolf shook himself and then nosed Red’s palm. “I understand, but I didn’t catch your brother’s name.”
Slep offered his hand. “I’m Slep.”
“And I’m George,” a big snake told him, dropping down from the ceiling. Although, as far as Frank could tell, Red couldn’t see that. He gave a little shake and said:
“You’re very tall, George.”
She hissed a bit in a snake-like giggle. Slep led Red over to the dogs. He ended up going home with both a cat and a dog, a little terrier of fierce personality and a tabby who curled up to him upon meeting him. Frank came over just as he was leaving.
“Need any help with supplies?” He asked.
“I thought it was you,” Red told him, looking him in the eye for a second before concentrating on a spot right above Frank’s shoulder. “No, I’ve already texted Foggy. He may be angry with me, but he’s still Foggy. But you do want to do a home check-in? Correct?”
“How about next Thursday? Say 8 o’clock? Bring a bottle of wine.”
“I’m...” Frank thought that over. “Are you asking me out?”
“I think you asked me out first.” Red waved the card. “See you then.” He strolled out, not tripping over anything, his terrier leading the way and the cat sitting quietly in his arms. No sign of his cane.
“What the fuck is that guy?” Frank asked no one.
“Probably your next fuck,” Logan told him.
“If you’re lucky,” George teased. Fenris lolled his tongue in a silent laugh.
“What?” Slep asked.
“We’ll tell you when you’re older,” they chorused.
“I’m only 800 or so,” Slep grumbled, but he still blushed and they laughed and ruffled his hair.
Frank went on his date and came back rather mellow. No one teased him about it.
Clint adopted a parrot he taught to say, “Nice shot,” and “Hey one-eye!” He and Natasha also gifted Coulson with a squirrel.
“It can’t be less trouble than you two.” And it was a surprisingly good pet after Coulson taught it to steal shiny things like ear pieces and ammo.
Bucky came in one day and wandered through the enclosures in that way he had, a beautiful woman strolling behind him. “They’re nice,” he said. “Natasha told me they’re nice.”
The woman took Bucky’s elbow and then offered her other hand to Logan and Frank. “I’m Shuri.” She had an exotic accept Frank couldn’t quite place.
Slep stepped forward and shook their hands. “Welcome. Would you like to check out the cat enclosure? Peter just brought in some new kittens.”
“I ... yes, a cat maybe.” Slep towed Bucky away. Shuri was going to follow, but she spied the alligator enclosure. Hurrying over, she squealed at the sight of Elvis. He was floating along, his eyes and nose just above the water. Elvis eyed her warily.
“He’s so big!”
“Actually not a big gator at all,” George informed her, dropping out of the ceiling. “About 9 months old, but the cutest in the world,” George informed her, cooing over Elvis like an older sister fascinated with her sibling. Elvis flicked some water at her with his tail.
“And you are?” Shuri asked, not missing a beat.
“I’m George. I’m a sea serpent.”
“Not much of a sea around here. Do your scales dry out?”
“Yes, it’s quite a problem. When they do, I have to retreat or rest here with Elvis.”
“Well, it’s complicated, but my body is simultaneously here and also encircling the world. My given name is Jörmungandr.” George said. Shuri nodded thoughtfully. “Please don’t tell people. I’m told the Avengers would not be happy with me being here, except Tony seems to be OK with it and I suppose that’s OK.”
“It’s so nice to meet you, George. What the both of you need is more space. I think I can help.”
“I’m not entirely sure yet, but I haven’t met a problem yet I can’t solve,” Shuri told her, grinning from ear to ear.
“Look, I found a kitten,” Bucky told her, walking up with a tiny thing in his arms, black with a tuxedo and white spats. “I’m going to call her Belle.”
“She’s beautiful.” Shuri scratched the kitten’s chin. The kitten arched into it, lifting her head, clearly enjoying it, displaying a white triangle that narrowed from her nose to the bottom of her chin.
“I found a puppy too, but I’m told we can’t take him home,” he said gesturing behind where Fenris stood. Fenris shook his shaggy head. “He has to stay to take care of the others, but he says I can visit.”
“Well, we’ll have to visit often while I’m building a new space for George and Elvis,” Shuri assured him. Bucky smiled back at her. Belle yawned big enough to show fang and then settled to sleep.
The first big decision was where to build. Should it be on the outside of the building?
“Some kid is going to fall in and Elvis might eat the postman,” Frank said.
Should it be around perimeter of the inside of the building?
“Have you looked around?” Slep asked. “We’re pretty cramped as it is.”
Shuri hmm’d. She made measurements. She did calculations. She asked questions about lighting and watering schedules and where sinks and drains and such were needed. Tony started to visit when he found out she was there and occasionally tried to interfere, but she ignored him. Literally ignored him. It drove him nuts.
Finally Bucky said, “I don’t see why floors are a factor. Why can’t you build anywhere?”
Shuri just looked at him, blinked, looked at him, blinked, and finally, “You’re brilliant!” she cried, hugging him and kissing him thoroughly. “After all, alligators are good climbers.” She set off to work, building a transparent tank that dipped into the floor under the rabbits, but then climbed into the ceiling where George made her home. It allowed Elvis and George to have more time together, which they both appreciated. George said that Elvis’ goal was to grow up and eat ships.
“I used to do that,” she babbled to Shuri as they both worked on the waterway. George would lift the heavy building materials and hold them in place so Shuri could weld. “That was how I found out about Nancy Drew. I ate this freighter with books on it and after that I looked for the smell of books. Finally, about 50 years ago or something, bingo! Cargo ship full of Nancy Drew novels. I’ve been in love ever since.”
“I love Nancy Drew too,” Shuri gushed. Putting down her things, she threw her arms around George and hugged her tight.
“We should never have let them meet,” Slep murmured to Peter (who was visiting that day). Peter nodded in agreement, clearly terrified.
Elvis loved the new space. There was a corrugated floor so he could climb up into the rafters where George hung out. “It’s nice to be able to keep watch over the place from up here,” George told him. “I can see everything this way.” Elvis smiled.
“If I buy the building, will you let me help you renovate?” Tony asked Shuri.
“Please,” he begged. She pondered it.
“He already bought the building anyway, like ages ago,” Peter informed her as he and Slep ambled past. They were both eating ice cream. Peter had discovered a local place that made apple cinnamon ice cream with salted caramel swirl that Slep adored.
“Traitor!” Tony called after him.
“I think it’d be fair if everyone got a chance,” George said, dropping out of the ceiling so she could be part of the conversation.
And that’s how the Great Pet Rescue Building Renovation of 2018 began, much to Frank and Logan’s despair.
“You remember when this used to be our place?” Frank muttered.
Logan grunted in response.
The first thing Tony did was to expand the canine area and create variable level gates so the puppies could play and the adult dogs could visit, but they also had their own area where they could relax without a wriggling mass of fur-things attacking them all the time. Fenris could also step over the adult gate, so he could visit with the other dogs and with the puppies. He actually spent a lot of his down-time in the puppy area, just laying there and letting the pups play on top of him, occasionally mock growling at one or another as they attempted to conquer him.
Peter created the little robots that went out and scooped the poop and then disappeared the droppings to somewhere. He and Ned and Slep cheered their victory.
Tony could not figure out how the fuckin’ things worked and it bugged the hell out of him. He finally stole one and took it to Bruce so they could reverse engineer it.
“Unless it’s magic,” Bruce told him, “I got nothin’.”
“Well, yeah. Or something.”
Bruce poked at it with a screwdriver and it poked back. “Maybe. Honestly, just as much, it reminds me of you.”
Tony stared at him, horrified.
“Are you saying that if Loki and I were to create things together, they might be this awesome?”
“Well, I ... uh ... huh?”
But Tony’s mind was already off and running. He returned to Logan and Frank’s Fifth Avenue Pet Rescue the next day. Slapping the little robot down on the counter in the breakroom, he said, “So, how does Loki fit into all this?”
Frank just stared at him and continued eating his bagel. Logan was off in Southern France (he’d lost the coin flip) rescuing animals from flooding there.
Flopping down in the chair, Tony continued, “because this? Magic. Where is the magic coming from? Because it looks like Loki style magic, as much as I - do not actually talk to hear myself talk. Gonna answer the question?”
“I just want to know when Loki made them and who he was working with.” He waved the little robot. “This has Doctor Doom written all over it.”
“Loki didn’t make it.”
“Then who did?”
“I got shit to do.” Frank went to pet and feed Elvis.
“You cannot just ignore me,” Tony complained, following along behind.
“Watch me,” Frank said. Elvis generally ate squirrels and fish. He was about the right size for it and Frank never cared for squirrels. They were just rats with tails as far as he was concerned.
“Tell me, tell me, tell me, please!” Tony begged.
“Tell you what, Mr. Stark?” Peter asked, walking up. He had one of the little robots in his hands.
“Did you make that?” Tony asked.
“Well, umm, yes.”
“Who helped you?”
“Helped?” Peter asked, suddenly cagey.
“Why won’t anyone tell me!”
“I can’t,” Peter said. “I just ... it’s not bad, OK. It’s just a ... thing.”
Everyone’s head snapped up to see Thor in the doorway, a small goat in his arms.
“Look what I’ve found! It was loose and I am told you rescue things?” He stepped forward and immediately tripped over Fenris in the doorway, who snapped at him. “Excuse ... um ...”
“It’s not what it looks like!” Frank and Peter both yelled at once.
“I think that it looks like my brother Loki’s son.” Thor told them, setting the goat down, who immediately wandered over to the rabbit cages and began chewing on them.
“Dammit, Logan,” Frank muttered. “Fuck my life.”
“Why is Fenris in your pet rescue?” Thor asked. “He is not a pet. He is an Asgardian who will also destroy the world.”
“Leave him alone!” Slep yelled. Coming out of the back, he barreled forward, only to be caught in a fierce hug.
“My nephew! Look at you! You’ve been missed!”
“I would have been worried, but Loki didn’t seem worried about it, so I thought he rather had things handled.”
“Did I?” Loki elegantly stepped out of air. “If so, it is only because my children were well cared for and not imprisoned or used as pack animals for the first time.”
Loki’s glare cut him off.
“I’ve been taken good care of here, Uncle Thor,” Slep said quietly. “So has Fen.”
“And so have I,” George said, dropping out of the ceiling.
“And you were not before?” Thor asked.
“I was being ridden and treated like an animal. Did you even know I can speak, let alone the fact that I can do quantum physics?”
Thor looked absolutely horrified.
“They’re my children. Of course I taught them basic math,” Loki said. Plucking the little robot out of Tony’s hands he said, “I quite like it. Nice job with the fecal relocating, Slep.”
“Thank you, dah.”
Tony shook himself. “Just where is it being relocated to?”
“Thanos’ throne room,” Slep told him with a grin. “Behind the throne so he won’t notice until it really starts to smell.”
“Good kid.” Frank ruffled his hair.
“Now, you must not do that,” Loki began to lecture for the next ten minutes on parenting skills, Growth Mindset, neuroplasticity, and the Power of Yet. Loki had opinions about parenting.
“I didn’t agree to raise your kid,” Frank muttered, but he kinda liked the idea of process praise and from now on he always told Elvis, “you ate that so well” rather than “you’re such a good eater.”
“Well, it’s good to see you in the context of not throwing me out a window,” Tony said.
“That remains to be seen.”
Tony thought about that for a moment before going ahead with what he was saying anyway. “Have you ever thought about collaborating on a project?”
“With you?” Loki looked like he’d stepped into the canine enclosure before the PooScoop finished its duty.
“We got a thing going on here and it’s a competition and I think we could do something very cool. I don’t think you’re getting the bigger picture here.”
“I get that you’re losing this competition to my son and his friend,” Loki told him, snidely.
“I think Shuri is ahead. She and George built the moat,” Slep said.
“Look, I just want a look at the magic, OK?”
“You could ask any number of people.”
“First of all, Strange isn’t going to talk to me because he hates me and it’s kinda mutual. Second, his magic doesn’t look like this. This is interesting, OK? It’s ... mathy.”
Loki thought that over for a moment. “I suppose if it doesn’t work out, I could just throw you out the window again.”
“I have a suit for that.”
“Of course you do.”
“Do I need to mind the two of you?” Thor asked, highly amused.
“Please, brother. I have standards.”
“You made it with a horse,” Tony pointed out.
Loki did not end up throwing Tony out the window. In fact, he had news a month later. “So, it seems you’re getting a sibling,” he told Slep.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
Life was insane, but nice. Frank and Logan both continued their recovery with success so far. They helped make people happy, which neither had expected out of their lives. Loki’s children became like their own and Peter too. So much so that Logan and Peter’s Aunt May were dating, which drove Peter up the wall. George read books to Elvis and Fenris parented the puppies in his grumpy way.
Every other Thursday, Thor came round to visit his nephews and take bring them ice cream. Slep stuck with the apple ice cream. George liked seaweed ice cream and Fenris preferred the Pawfect Popsicles, bunny flavored. Loki grudgingly approved, “but don’t give them too much sugar. It’s not good for them. And make sure it’s organic.”
Every now and then Shuri or Tony or some other person would invent new things for the rescue and it grew to occupy the whole building. (Do not ask about the time Doctor Doom got involved! Let’s just say DoomBots also make good stock boys.)
The new baby was welcomed with much fanfare.
And Elvis smiled.