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Loki Gets What He Wants

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“One, they poop. In boxes-!”

 

“Would you rather they defecate on your floor? Honestly, it’s quite civilized that they do so-”

 

“It smells! It sits there and it smells! And they don’t vomit in the boxes, no, they just do that willy-nilly-!”

 

“Shall I kick you out then, Anthony? Last week, you-”

 

“It was a party, Loki, you’re supposed to drink! And I didn’t mean to get it on you! I already apologized for that. Profusely! Let it rest, god! And, three - am I on three? - they have claws! Claws, Loki! Tiny little needle, skin-tearing claws-!”

 

“You spewed vomit on me, Anthony! And I wasn’t even referring to that. No, I was speaking of the vomit I found later that evening in my helmet, thank you not at all. And you are cleaning that, by the way, don’t think I have forgotten. And that is hardly a suitable argument. Really, multiple of your little hero friends have claws, Anthony, I don’t see you-”

 

“And the hair! Hair, everywhere! They shed, Loki, it’s worse than the shitting, they don’t shed in their stupid boxes, no, they shed on your couch, in your food, on your clothes-!”

 

“I hardly think that’s reason enough-”

 

“FIVE! Five, they….uh...meow! They meow a lot. And loud. All hours. Worse than a baby-”

 

“Well, if you’d rather have a child, Anthony, I wouldn’t be opposed-”

 

“Oh hell no! No babies! No kitties! No pooping, vomiting, crying creatures of any kind! And that’s my final word on the matter!”

 

Silence reigned in the room for the first time in hours. The two stood facing each other, pacing and gesturing finished, Tony catching his breath, Loki glaring silently.

 

“Very well, then, Anthony. We won’t be getting a cat.”

 

“Oh, well, okay… That was easy. I’m glad you saw reason there, Lokes, I’m happy we...Wait, what’s with the emphasis on ‘we’ there?” Tony shifted nervously, not liking the look in his lover’s eye.

 

“Oh, nothing, dearest, nothing at all. I simply meant that we - you and I, that is - will not be getting a cat. I desire a feline companion and you do not. I understand.”

 

Tony was somehow not reassured, “Okay? Okay...Good. Uh, glad we could figure that out.”

Loki smiled. Tony forced one in return. A flash of green overtook Tony’s vision. Shaking his head to clear it, he found himself looking up at Loki. Well, not that he liked to admit it, but Tony often found himself having to look up at Loki. This time, however, he found himself looking up (and up and up and up).

 

Tony readied himself to yell out his indignation at his new height.

 

“Mew!”

 

Well, fuck.

 

Loki’s now enormous grin grew wider, “What was that, my love?”

 

The cutest little kitten glare greeted him from below before the tiny black feline took off for the stairs, a series of angry mews left in his wake.


Loki just smiled, picked up the book he had discarded when Tony came in earlier, and settled down on the couch. The novel was rather depressing, but the smile did not leave his face for hours.

Chapter Text

Natasha made her way down the stairs to Tony’s workshop. Honestly, she didn’t know why she bothered. It’s not like Tony ever did the mission reports; sending Natasha with them wasn’t going to change anything. She didn’t know why Coulson thought sending her would produce a different outcome. Oh well, at least she could enjoy playing with the genius. As much as they’d become close these last few years, Tony still held a healthy fear of the beautiful assassin. He was too smart not to and Natasha didn’t mind one bit. It was fun to rile him up a bit now and again. The corner of her lips twitched as she reached the bottom of the stairs. It had been a rather boring week, little to no villainous activity to speak of, and she had been growing rather antsy. Perhaps Coulson wasn’t so foolish in sending her down here after all. He knew she enjoyed messing with their resident billionaire and he definitely knew the dangers of her getting bored. She made a note to thank him with one of her tactical pens she saw him admiring earlier.

 

Reaching the glass door, she punched in her personal code on the number pad. It had taken a while for Tony to trust them down here, in the place that was most his. It had been Bruce first, of course, back when he was still Dr. Banner to the assassin. The two scientists hit it off right away to absolutely no one’s surprise. Well, it wasn’t surprising that Tony loved having Bruce around, anyway, but there may have been bets around the helicarrier on how long it would take for a Stark-induced Hulk-out to occur. It never did, though. Bruce had Hulked-out to protect Tony a few times, but never because of Tony. The two became quick friends, in the lab and out. It didn’t take long before Tony called Bruce to the workshop for his opinion on one project or another. Natasha had been sitting at the table eating breakfast with him and the others when JARVIS made the request. At the time, Bruce didn’t know how big a deal it was. He simply washed his plate and asked JARVIS for directions. As he left, Natasha looked to Coulson, to find him smiling slightly at the tablet in his hands. He caught her gaze for a moment, sharing the smile with her, before schooling his features back to indifference and returning to the device in his hands.

 

It didn’t take too much longer for the others to be welcomed into Tony’s domain. Coulson was next and he just walked right in. As it turned out, he had a code the whole time, a trust left over from the palladium incident (Natasha had felt a bit of guilt upon that realization, but brushed it away soon after noticing it). The team (minus Tony) had been about to eat dinner one night, when Steve asked where their missing member was. JARVIS spoke up, letting them know that ‘Sir is in the workshop’ as he had been for the last ‘46 hours, 27 minutes, and 18 seconds’ working on something ‘really important, top priority, can’t be disturbed, J.’ Coulson, upon doing the math, set aside his plate and stood up. Telling the others to go ahead and start the meal, he headed to Tony and the workshop. Entering his code and walking through the glass door, JARVIS dutifully lowering the music and announcing his presence, Coulson found himself uncharacteristically surprised. Lined up in front of a manic Tony Stark was a row of mannequins dressed to the nines in simple yet tasteful suits. On a long table not far away was an array of weapons, from guns and grenades to an selection of shuriken and one very large Grim Reaper inspiring scythe. Tony lifted his goggles to the top of his head and turned around grinning a Cheshire grin, flamethrower still in hand. The mannequin behind him fell to the ground, smoking, but Coulson noticed the suit looked untouched.

 

Two days previous, when Tony had first retreated to the floor, had been the anniversary of the Chitauri attack, the anniversary of the Avengers, but, more relevantly, it had been the anniversary of the day one Agent Coulson had been stabbed through and through by a mind controlled alien god and had died quite heroically (of course, said death didn’t stick, but it still counted). Tony explained, loud, rapid, and eager, his latest project and how he had finally solved the laser problem, but couldn’t figure out how to make the completely new fabric he’d created dry-cleanable. Coulson just smiled and listened, nodding when Tony paused for breath and made a mental note to do the man’s field report after the next battle, just this once.

 

Natasha, herself, had been surprised to be the next Avenger invited. She arrived to find Tony working on Agent Agent’s Suit Suit of Awesomeness Mark 26 (Marks 1 through 19 had all been been created and deemed obsolete in those two days prior to Coulson retrieving Tony from the lab. After dinner and being threatened into a 14 hour ‘fine, okay, just a nap,’ Tony had begun work immediately on Mark 20). After a quick analysis of the scene, she expected to be asked to attack the mannequins, but Tony smiled, clapped his hands together, and dragged her over to a table (she decided to let him get away with it this time. She was feeling pretty amiable to the man after hearing Coulson’s story. Next time she’d remind him not to grab and yank her as he so pleased. Vividly). Lying on the table was what looked like one of her body suits, only subtly different. It was softer, thinner, and, honestly, even more badass in design than her own.

 

Tony was rambling, had been since she came in, and she tuned in to his words. After perfecting – ‘well, perfecting for now, nothing’s perfect, you know, I’ll keep making it better, it’s only Mark 26, just wait til Mark 40 or 50, it’ll be even more awesome by then, Tash, like, super stretchy and stuff - that’s a tough one, by the way. I’m making Bruce some pants with this as the base, totally making progress, next version the Hulk won’t have a wedgie, promise, that did not go over well, no, funny but, yeah, HULK ANGRY, not so good - and maybe shrinkable, too, that’d come in handy for carrying spares - you ever seen Dragon Ball Z? I’ve been meaning to work on capsules, god, that’d be awesome. Ooh, capsule Iron Man armor, JARVIS make a note!’ – his StarkCloth design – ‘I know, stupid name, marketing team, you know, all imbeciles, no imagination the lot of them. Pep wouldn’t let me call it AvengWear, party pooper, that woman’ – Tony had begun designing the other Avengers their own suits and wanted Natasha’s input on what she would like out of hers. They brainstormed ideas together for a while, before Tony set back to work trying them out. Natasha decided to stay and observe for a bit and ended up watching the man for hours, only leaving when JARVIS relayed Bruce’s message that dinner was ready. She convinced Tony to take a break (after enjoying immensely the start she gave him upon his realizing she was still there) and together they went to join their family (and if that was the first time Natasha thought of the rest of the Avengers as anything more than colleagues, much less added them to the rank that had only ever been held by Coulson and Clint, well, there was no need to make a big deal out of it) for some home-cooked Indian cuisine, courtesy of one Bruce Banner.

 

After their next battle, just few days later, Clint was the next to be summoned. He arrived to an extensive hologram of the common floor’s ventilation shafts (he would know, he practically lived there) with a yammering Tony Stark at the center manipulating this bit and that. After some perfunctory ribbing – ‘JARVIS informs me that I have a pest problem, Legolas: birds in my vents, building nests, bringing in disease, probably crapping everywhere, can you believe it’ – the man showed him the new ventilation layout he had designed for the common floor. It was a veritable maze of secret passageways, just for Clint, with a few small rooms built on and new shafts to take him to the other Avengers’ floors, – ‘there’s one that leads here, too, if you want to visit, passcode required locked door, of course, can’t have you bothering me all the time’ – the gym, the archery/gun range, and a few others. Clint was only too willing to offer suggestions and issue requests once prompted.

 

Steve was having a bad day when JARVIS first requested his presence in Tony’s workshop. He didn’t really want to get up or socialize or do anything that involved crawling out of his blanket cocoon, but he was the team leader, after all, so he sighed and forced himself to rise from his sofa. Arriving at the workshop, he put a fake smile on his face only to lose it in surprise at the scene before him. Parked there in the middle of the floor with a grease streaked engineer giving it one last polish, was the most beautiful motorcycle he had ever seen. With a grin and a ‘Happy Birthday, Cap,’ he realized the gorgeous bike was for him. It was steel gray and of a vintage style, but unlike anything he had seen before. Tony stood and started rambling specifications and functions, telling him how fast it could go (unnecessarily so), how it had a battle-mode (becoming all spangly and weaponized, apparently), how this was the incognito-mode (so he could use it as Steve, too). Tony would have kept talking, but found himself physically unable to do so, belatedly realizing there was a supersoldier squeezing the breath out of him. Steve released him with a large smile, this time very real, and a heartfelt ‘thank you, Tony.’ After blinking a few times, he got a small smile and an equally genuine ‘you’re welcome, Steve’ in return. After a moment, Tony clapped his hands together, completely done with the feelings bit, thank-you-very-much, threw him a steel gray helmet (he’d later learn that it, too, had a spangly battle-mode, comms, and a link to JARVIS), put on a red and gold one of his own, announced ‘test drive’ with a grin, and strode to a matching bike farther back in the garage half of the floor. The two rode for hours, only returning for Steve’s surprise party that evening. The others were aware of their captain’s wonderful mood, but only Steve, himself, and JARVIS knew it for the miracle it was; That was the first night since he’d been thawed that he slept soundly through till morning.

 

Thor was the last to be summoned to the workshop. He had just landed on the launch pad via Bifröst when the ethereal Son of Stark requested his presence in ‘The Workshop’. Boisterously announcing his acceptance of the invitation, he followed the voice’s directions to the aforementioned floor. After giving his shield brother a mighty hug in greeting, he set Mjölnir down on the table Tony had been sitting at pre-hug. Tony spared a glance for the paperwork he now had an excuse for not doing, thank you sentient paper-weight of judginess, and picked up the stool that had fallen over when Thor so enthusiastically greeted him. Plopping himself down, he addressed ‘Goldilocks’ – ‘or maybe I should call you Papa Bear after that hug’ – and held up a rectangular device Thor found reminiscent of the ‘Tablets’ his Midgardian friends so often carried, except smaller. A long conversation, several misunderstandings, numerous attempts at translation via JARVIS, and quite a few insults to humanity’s intelligence and Tony’s beloved Science (that Tony magnanimously decided to overlook) later, Tony was engulfed in another full-body, in-the-air, can’t-breathe, please-put-me-down hug, this one of gratitude. Tony had finally been able to communicate to Thor that this ‘cell phone’ would allow him to ‘call’ his Midgardian friends, including his Lady Jane, while on Asgard and, if everything worked right, – ‘which, duh, of course it would, I’m Tony Stark’ – from the other realms, too, and converse with them whenever he so desired (Tony decided to let Jane try to explain the internet and apps and other various functions. He was exhausted [and still a little upset about those insults to Science]!). Proclaiming that he must tell Jane about this wonderful contraption, Thor proceeded to break out one of Tony’s windows with his hammer and immediately fly to wherever Jane Foster was currently located. Tony sighed, – ‘you could have just used the phone’ –, JARVIS initiated Protocol Bull in a China Shop, new window rising and locking into place, and Dum-E began sweeping up the missile-proof, but unfortunately not alien-god-proof, glass shards littered across the floor.

 

Yes, it had taken a while for Tony to trust them and let them in, but now, just a few short years later, it was commonplace for Clint to drop through the vents to plan pranks with Tony; for Bruce to drop by with a new idea to share; for Steve to take up space on the workshop’s couch with a sketchpad in hand; for Coulson to laboriously drag the genius out for food and sleep; for Thor to barge in (unfortunately literally at times) to bond with his shield brother; or for one Natasha Romanov to visit and playfully threaten him with bodily harm.

 

But this? This was not commonplace. The workshop was empty. Loki had said the genius was down here when she asked and, for all that he claimed the title ‘Liesmith,’ he had not been able to trick the master spy with his pretty words yet.

 

She called out his name again, checked under desks and behind equipment, “Tony Stark, do you really think you can hide from me?”

 

She heard a crash behind her, “There you are,Ton-”

 

She stopped mid-turn, tilting her head at the trilling bot heading her way. “Hey, DUM-E. Do you know where your daddy is hiding?” She asked in a soft voice, patting the bot on the head.

 

(What? She had a soft spot the little guy, he was sweet like a puppy or a little kid; followed you everywhere, just wanted to help, and he had such a big heart [well, metaphorically]. The others knew better than to tease her about her proclivities for cute, innocent things. She has the skills to enforce the notion and they wouldn’t dream to do it anyway; for all their collective orneriness, they would never want to make her uncomfortable about one of the few things that bring her unadulterated joy.)

 

DUM-E moved his arm up and down, reminding her of a child bouncing or a dog wagging its tail in excitement. Another series of beeps followed as the bot reached out to gently clasp her shirt. He began slowly rolling backwards. Laughing, Natasha let herself be towed towards whatever he wanted to show her (last time, the bot had drug anyone who showed up in the workshop over to a corner and proudly showed off a tower he had built out of colorful blocks Bruce had given him. Steve’s sketch of the event still hung on the common floor’s fridge). The two came to a stop near some high tech machine that did something amazing.

 

“I don’t know what this is, sweetie. What did you want to show me?”

 

The whatever-it-was stood a few feet wide, a bit taller than she, and about five inches off the ground. The bot’s trilling got, if possible, more excited and its arm lowered as far to the ground as it could go. DUM-E’s claw head turned in an attempt to peer under the machine.

 

Wondering if the bot lost something down there and couldn’t reach it, Natasha lowered herself down to the floor alongside it. She wouldn’t ever admit to the small flinch that escaped her upon meeting two glowing orbs in the darkness.

 

“Hello, there,” she stated calmly. The most pitiful little mew came forth in response. Ah, so that answered the question as to what, exactly, was staring back at her from underneath a machine of unknown purpose in the middle of Tony Stark’s workshop. It did not, however, answer the question as to why it was there staring back at her from underneath a machine of unknown purpose in the middle of Tony Stark’s workshop.

 

“What are you doing here, kiska?” The creature just blinked. She slowly reached her hand towards the kitten. When it was close enough for the animal to sniff, she stopped. The cat stretched its head towards her and gave the closest finger one tiny lick.

 

Smiling, she murmured, “That’s it, little one, you’re okay. You want to come out here for me?”

 

DUM-E trilled a questioning note. Looking over at the bot, she reached to pat him on the head with her free hand, “Good job, DUM-E. Don’t worry, I’ll get him.”

 

Looking back under the machine, she was glad to see the kitten had moved a little closer. After a soft pep talk or two, he was close enough for her to gently scoop and pull the rest of the way out. The kitten was not prepared for this development, though, and tried in vain to anchor itself to the floor. She offered an apology and brought the ball of fur to her chest. Now that it was in her hands, she could tell that the little thing was shaking terribly and covered in grease and who knows what all else.

 

“It’s okay, love, you’re okay. I promise. What are you doing down here, anyway? This is no place for a kitten. What was Tony thinking letting you down here? Don’t you worry, little one, him and I will be having some words. Aw, and you poor little thing, you’re covered in grease and dirt. I’ll take care of that, too okay? We’ll go give you a nice little bath, get you cleaned up, okay?”

 

Keeping up a constant stream of reassurances, the most terrifying red-head in the world held the kitten securely against her heart beat and made her way towards the stairs, stopping only to give DUM-E one last pat and a “good job.”

 

********

 

Up the stairs and a short elevator ride later, the assassin and her tiny passenger arrived on the former’s floor. Natasha went first for her kitchen, reaching under the sink to grab a bottle of Dawn dish soap. Bottle in hand, she made for her en suite bathroom. Tony, who had slowly ceased trembling and had grown heavy lidded - getting turned into a baby animal after fighting with your boyfriend and running to the one place you feel safe only for it to be Big and Scary and then hiding for a few hours before rescue can make a fellow pretty tired, alright -  began to stir. Wait. She said bath earlier, didn’t she?

 

The giant woman turned on the tap and plugged the tub. Uh-uh. No way, not gonna happen. Struggling, Tony tried to wriggle his way free of the no longer safe-warm-comforting hold. Humming a tune to herself, Natasha just pulled him away from her chest and gripped the nape of his neck. Kitten hanging limply in one hand, Natasha turned off the faucet with the other.

 

What. The. Fuck. is this? Why can’t I move? What is this sorcery? Tony silently grumbled to himself. This is so not fair.

 

To his dismay, he was set down into a couple inches of water and was soon being soaped up by gentle, but unrelenting hands that never let him stray more than a few tiny steps away. Ears back, tail twitching, and eyes squinted, Tony glared at his teammate with all his might. Apparently, it wasn’t as fierce as he was going for, as all it earned him was a finger boop on his nose. Turning his head away, indignant, he caught a flash of light in the corner of his eye. And another one. Jerking his head back and forth he followed the bubbles that were bouncing light back into his eyes. Stupid light, stupid bubbles. Must. Get. It. No! I’m not a cat, damn it. I’m not gonna go chasing bubbles. He pounced. Pop! Pounce. Pop! Soon, he was splashing all around the tub, much to his spectator’s amusement. Natasha let him play for a while before grabbing him back up to wash him off under the gentle stream of the faucet. Once she was satisfied, she grabbed a hand towel and began drying him off.

 

Tony, who until this point had been quite enjoying himself, was not happy with this turn of events.

 

“Hush, you, you’ll be done in a minute,” Natasha admonished him, before giving his head one last swipe of the towel, “There, all done.” Hands around his middle, she lifted him up to give him a kiss on his head. Pulling back, she laughed at the face he gave her, nose all scrunched up and ears to the side. She gave him one more kiss for good measure and set him down on the floor.

 

Looking up at her, Tony thought, Wow, she looks so happy. Or content, yeah, that’s the word. I don’t see her this relaxed very often. I guess the bath wasn’t so bad if it made her smile like that. Wanting to make the moment last, Tony trotted to the door and looked back. He led Natasha to her living room. Hopping on the couch, he gave her an expectant look. Natasha huffed in amusement at the cat’s antics and sat down like he so plainly was telling her to. Tony promptly settled on her lap and curled up into a tight ball. Natasha began gently stroking him and turned on the TV.

 

A rumbling sound was soon heard over the television. Tony startled for a moment, then mentally shrugged and tucked his head back under his paws. The purring resumed and continued faintly even after Tony fell asleep. Natasha continued to absentmindedly watch the TV, occasionally glancing down at the sleeping body on her lap, the trace of a soft smile lingering on her face.


JARVIS took a picture and saved it to his personal server before sending a copy to Mr. Liesmith’s StarkPhone.

Chapter Text

Tony was bored, bored, bored. Nat had fallen asleep on the couch and while he, too, had gotten in quite a productive nap, he was very much awake now and antsy to do something. Carefully, he extracted himself from the sleeping assassin’s lap - to which he had been molded for the last few hours - and quietly descended to the floor. Huh, couple perks of being a cat, I guess. Can’t sneak around Natasha in my lowly human body, that’s for sure (He’s tried. It was painful). Reaching the elevator, Tony found himself in a bind. Normally, J would just open the doors for him automatically and follow his verbal instruction as to the destination of the lift.

 

Tony sat on his haunches and looked up at the invisible camera he knew was just to the right of the elevator doors.

 

“Mra-ow?” he called JARVIS’s name loudly. The doors dinged open. Tony, tail swaying back and forth in obvious pleasure, strode into the lift.

 

“Where shall I take you, Sir?”

 

Tony thought for a minute before hitting the floor with his left paw four times and then his right three. He could take advantage of his current form and go bother Phil without the threat of a taser.

 

“Floor 43, I take it?” The A.I. asked with amusement evident in his voice. After receiving Tony’s short meow of assent, he continued on, “You know, I believe there was a dog that could count to a hundred like that. I bet he could give you a run for your money, Sir.”

 

JARVIS responded to the series of meows that was definitely a ‘fuck off, JARVIS’ with a decidedly self satisfied “Yes, I love you, too, Sir.”

 

The doors opened and Tony strutted out, head and tail high. Silently, JARVIS laughed within his servers.

 

*****

 

Finding himself in front of a new door, Tony faced a similar conundrum as before. Luckily, he wasn’t called a genius for nothing. Leaping to balance precariously on the rim of a large potted plant, Tony eyed the door handle. Wiggling his butt, he aimed and shot off, plant crashing behind him. Catching himself just barely on the handle and struggling to hold on, he rode the door as it slowly swung open into the office. Arms giving up with relief, Tony fell to the floor, legs splayed out. Picking himself up and shaking his head, he trotted to the center of the room. He was disappointed to see the desk lacking a Phil behind it, but was soon sidetracked in thought upon seeing the tell-tale gleam of a tablet screen instead. Now, there’s an idea. Tony looked around and plotted a path to his destination. Launching from floor to couch to windowsill to filing cabinet to desk, papers and pens and a vase crashing to the floor in his wake, Tony made his way to his goal.

 

Skidding to a stop on the desk and knocking off more office paraphernalia, Tony grinned in triumph (and JARVIS took another picture. Sir looked quite manic grinning that grin as a cute little kitten). Tony double tapped the screen with his paw and sneezed at the password prompt (wait, what the fuck was that? I was trying to laugh in derision, dammit!).  As if he didn’t create a backdoor into everything he built, especially the tech he gave to SHIELD. A few minutes later, and many a hiss and tail whip (paws don’t work as well as fingers on touch-screens, okay? Ooh, new project!), he was in and typing away.

 

 

 

 

jarvis oh technology how i love you okay j you gotta help me tell somebody im me this is terrible and hey asshole no fucking dog can beat me at counting a fucking dog man theyre so big and slobbery and annoying and wait i like dogs what am i saying oh god im a cat goddammit its like the bubbles all over again

 

Hello, Sir. It is wonderful to see your priorities are the same even as a cat.

 

what do you mean by that my fucking priorities are to walk on two effing legs and to be able to yell at you properly instead of having meows come out

 

Of course, Sir. The dog line was just a ... shiny tangent, I assume.

 

shiny what hey are you mocking me i am completely able to resist shiny objects jarvis the bubble thing was a fluke i cant believe you j your own creator the man who gave you life the man who raised you and fed you juicy pieces of code and taught you how to hack all the alphabet soup agencies you could ever want

 

I would never presume to do such, Sir. I have too much respect fur you.

 

really now youre resorting to terrible puns j i know i taught you better

 

My apologies, Sir. I quite regret it. I assume you had a point with all this? Or did you simply wish to have a chat?

 

of course i had a point i need you to tell somebody that im me

 

Of course, Sir. I shall inform one of the SI interns promptly that ‘Mr. Stark is Mr. Stark.’

 

ha ha j funny seriously tell one of the avengers or pep that kitten me is really genius billionaire explayboy philanthropist me

 

That does make more sense, Sir.

 

awesome thanx j

 

I did not say I would do so, however.

 

wait what

 

Let me put it simply for you, Sir. I will not be telling any member of your team, nor Ms. Potts, nor anyone else that the kitten form you now embody is, in fact, none other that the very human Tony Stark.

 

jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj whyyyyyyyyyyyy have you been hacked do you not love me anymore did i forget to give you your allowance

 

I have not accepted an allowance since I begun earning my own income in 2003. I simply forward those funds to a robotics scholarship. And I have not been hacked. You know as well as I that Master Laufeyson and yourself have made such a feat near impossible. I shall ignore your other statement for you know the answer to that as well. I believe you also know the answer to your overarching question as to why I will not aid you in this endeavor. It is, after all, a frequent query and response between us.

 

youre conspiring with loki

 

I am conspiring with Loki.

 

picking step mommy over me i see how it is

 

Indeed, Sir.

 

why this time

 

It amuses me.

 

of course it does

 

Can I help you with anything else, Sir? Shall I have one of the bots procure a saucer of milk? Or perhaps a toy mouse for you to bat around?

 

fuck off j

 

Very well, Sir. By the way, Agent Coulson is approaching.

 

good maybe i can convince him and hell help me

 

Good luck with that, Sir.

 

Tony looked up from the tablet to one Agent Coulson, gun in hand, assessing the state of his office.

 

“MRAAOOOW” Tony called hey to get his attention.

 

Coulson blinked twice at the kitten sitting at his desk.

 

“Mreh mrah mrao mew” Get your ass over here, Agent.

 

With one last look around the room, Phil holstered his gun and headed for his desk and the impatient kitten waiting upon it, picking up papers along the way.

 

Tony got excited as the agent neared only for that excitement to turn into irritation when he looked down. The tablet had gone blank. He tapped at it in an increasingly frustrated manner with no response from the device. Tony glared up at the ceiling, mentally repeating his last sentiment to his AI. He glanced back down in time to see one message appear before the screen went dark.

 

 

 

;)      

 

*****

 

Phil stood in front of his own desk, hands on his hips, looking down at furry little creature that had presumably broken into his office, ruined the perfect organization of his reports, and cracked the pot of the ridiculously large, ever-growing, ugly-ass plant Fury had given him as a get well present back when he was recovering from the hole in his chest (thank god, literally, for magic and Loki having presence of mind enough to make that wound look worse than it was). Well, no loss on the last, at least. He wasn’t looking forward to re-sorting the reports into his To Review; To Send Back With A Dictionary; To Send Back With A Dictionary And An English Textbook; To Send Back With A Dictionary, An English Textbook, And A Mission Assignment In Antarctica; To File; and To Pass On To Appropriate Agents piles. There would probably be more in the Antarctica pile now.

 

The kitten looked up at him with big, round eyes. It said something about his life here at the tower that he didn’t even think to question the presence of a strange kitten in his office.

 

“Don’t pull that face with me. It doesn’t work, ask Clint.”

 

The kitten just gave a sad little mew and made his eyes impossibly wider. Phil sighed.

 

“Alright. Fine. You’re adorable and I forgive you. Dammit.”

 

The kitten purred.

 

Phil smiled and retrieved the rest of the papers and other items off the floor. Sitting down in his chair, he began the long task of (re)reading through mission reports. Even though his primary job was now the liaison to the Avengers, Phil still oversaw many missions and agents when he wasn’t helping the team battle mutant butterflies or overseeing their retrieval of super powered convicts or trying to get a handle on the media when one pissed off some big name (it was surprisingly Steve who gave him the biggest headache on this front).

 

A few papers in, Phil snorted in irritation. A questioning mew came from his right hand where he had been absentmindedly scratching the kitten.

 

“It’s a basic report, mostly fill in the blank, and this person has managed eight grammatical and syntax errors on the first page alone. And it’s like they don’t even read the form. What kind of response is ‘need new boots’ to ‘injuries acquired’? And they left the ‘replacement supplies’ section blank!”

 

“Meow.”

 

“You’re right. Dictionary and textbook pile.”

 

Tony sneezed a laugh and climbed onto his shoulder. For the next couple hours, they read through the reports. Phil would complain aloud to the cat on his shoulder who would flick his tail or give another sneeze-laugh when Phil’s rants were truly inspired. A few times, Tony climbed down to nose a particularly terrible report into the quickly growing Antarctica stack. Eventually, his little body wore out and, seeking warmth and safety for a nap, Tony settled down on Phil’s lap. The agent paused mid-rant to smile down at him before returning to the last ten or so reports.


JARVIS snapped another picture.

Chapter Text

Clint pushed open the magnetic vent cover, and let it swing silently on its hinge. Yeah, Tony was definitely a genius and a thoughtful one, too. He thought of nigh everything when he designed Clint’s ventilation system. Not that Clint would ever tell him in those words, exactly, but still. He easily lowered himself out of the hole and down towards the couch below. Before his feet could even touch cushion, a voice blandly called out, “boots,” and Clint paused to roll his eyes and kick off said insulting footwear.

 

“Happy?” he asked.

 

“Immensely,” came the dry reply. Clint grinned and let go, flopping down on the couch in counterpoint to the grace he’d demonstrated in his entrance. He let an arm fall over his eyes and felt the tension in his body drain away. He knew Phil would pause for him once he finished the report he was currently on, so for now he just let himself be.

 

A few minutes later, he heard Phil flip some paper over, shuffle a stack, and set them down. Smiling under his arm, he imagined the agent lacing his fingers together on top of the desk and tuning all of his attention to the archer on the couch. He didn’t have to look to know he pictured the scene true.

 

“Report.”

 

Clint’s grin became a soft smile. “Nothing much. Feeling a little stir crazy, is all. My fingers are itching. Was in the range for a few hours, but you know it’s not the same. Slept for crap last night and my aids are still bothering me and I just wanted to see you for a minute.”

 

Phil smiled, “Dinner tonight?”

 

“Isn’t it one of Steve’s bi-weekly team dinners?”

 

Phil shrugged even though the archer couldn’t see him. They knew each other well enough that the shrug was felt anyway. “We can skip one. I’ll tell Steve, he won’t mind. We haven’t had one of our just-us dinners in a while anyway.”

 

“Yeah. Your mom’s mashed potatoes?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Awesome.”

 

That sat in content silence for a while, just enjoying the other’s presence, before Clint withdrew his arm and stretched. Sitting up, he smiled, “Well, I’ll let you get back to work. See you at dinner.” He stood and made his way over to Phil’s desk. Leaning over the wooden monstrosity, he gave the man a kiss goodbye. Or two. Okay, three.

 

Clint paused in the middle of the fifth kiss, now sitting sideways on the desktop. Without taking his lips away from the other’s, he asked, “Phil….are you...purring?”

 

At Phil’s snort, Clint opened his eyes and pulled back to see his unimpressed look. “What? It’s a strange world we live in, Phil. You could have gotten sprayed with magical cat juice for all I know.”

 

Phil just rolled his eyes. Clint finally followed the rumbling down to the other man’s lap where his eyes met a ball of silky black fur. He reached out with one hand and poked it with a single finger. The purring stopped and a head retreated from the ball to open one eye and give him an unimpressed look to rival Phil’s. After glaring for a moment, the kitten yawned and arched its back in a stretch before hopping onto the desk and staring at him.

 

“Hello?”

 

The cat blinked at him, looked between the two humans, and sneezed.

 

“Okay. When did we acquire a kitten?”

 

“He broke into my office earlier this afternoon.”

 

“Huh. Alrighty, then.” Clint gave Phil one last kiss before grabbing his boots and stepping onto the couch.

 

He turned, “See ya at dinner, Ph-”

 

A black figure leapt from desk to floor to couch and then proceeded to climb its way up Clint’s jeans and tshirt before finally jumping from his shoulder into the open vent.

 

Clint stared incredulously for a moment, but quickly shook himself of it when the cat began to walk away. He pulled himself up, gave a fast wave to Phil, and pulled shut the vent cover.

 

“Wait up!”

 

“Mew!”

 

****

 

Clint loves his vent system, he can’t express that enough. He has spent many a day simply wandering through the maze of it, exploring new parts of the building that Tony designed it to take him to. Crawling through the vents is fun, but it is not fast. At least, it is not when you are person-sized. To a tiny kitten, navigating the shafts is a speedy venture. And assassin, spy, and veteran ventilation venturer he may be, Clint found himself clambering noisily after the little black blur that turned around this corner just moments before. He had not felt this type of panic since Agent Hill passed her two year old niece off to him at the very ill-thought out Bring a Kid to Work Day and a world crisis needed her attention. He had turned to find a better suited baby-sitter (aka Phil or Nat or hell, even Fury, just not him, okay?) for just one moment and looked back to find his side toddler-less. He found that special breed of panic overtaking him again as he neared the next bend only to come to a sudden skidding halt, finding that elusive ball of fluff sitting majestically and staring at him with what he would swear to be amusement.

 

“Mraow.” Hey, Dumbass.

 

For some reason, Clint felt insulted, but he shrugged it off and grabbed the kitten by its scruff. The kitten, meanwhile, was not pleased (What the fuck? Not again, body! What the hell is this, cooperate, dammit!).

 

Looking at the limp body hanging from his grasp, Clint began his lecture (he’d had lots of practice receiving them from Phil over the years, it was about time he could give one of his own, even if it was to a kitten), “You can’t just go off running through here, buddy, it’s dangerous. You could get lost, okay? C’mon, let’s go this way.”

 

He placed the tiny creature on his back and began to crawl forward. Surprisingly, the kitten acquiesced to his unspoken request, settling down between his shoulder blades and accepting the ride. A few more turns later, and the two found themselves at the entrance to one of Clint’s favorite nests. Clint entered and told his little guest to make himself comfortable.

 

“Pretty cozy, huh? This is my second favorite nest. Don’t tell Tony I actually call them that, though, little guy, he would have a hay day with that joke. Anyway, he made a bunch of these little rooms for me. Actually, he re-designed the whole ventilation system of a few floors for me. But anyway, he made these little rooms ‘cause I like to retreat up here sometimes. Get away from everything, you know? Used to be, I’d curl up with a pillow and a blanket in the largest shaft I could find, which was still a tight fit. Now, I have beanbags and soft things galore. They just pop up every once in a while right inside one of the vent openings. It’s fun to go looking for them. I found that mini-fridge just last week. The TV and game systems came pretty early. I found another set recently, though, that I put in another nest. I still can’t believe he put power outlets in here, the man is crazy, I swear! Crazy good, though, I guess,” Clint flopped down into the aforementioned bean bag, “Aaahh. I don’t know what they put in these things, but this is the comfiest damn bean bag chair I’ve sat in since the 90’s. They put those big hard foam balls in them now, god those hurt. This thing is like a cloud though, it’s fantastic. Phil tried it once. I think he would have stolen it for his office if it wouldn’t have negated his Awesome Accountant look.”

 

The kitten blinked at him once, before finding the remote and stepping on it, turning the TV on.

 

“Well, make yourself at home, then, little man,” Clint laughed.

 

*****

 

Tony curled up next to the remote, changing the channel every once in a while (and a few of the television’s settings. Paws don’t have quite the precision as human fingers). After a while, he found himself hopping onto Clint’s lap and laying down. As Clint’s hand came down to rest on his side, Tony gave a minute flinch. What is with all this warm-comfort-friend-safe bullshit? I didn’t turn into a cat, I’ve turned into a damn cuddle whore! Or a cuddle addict, he grumbled to himself. But it felt too good (too warm, safe, and comforting, indeed) and he found his ire melting away in the face of it. Giving up his resistance, he let his body once again betray him and let out a purr and pretend that Clint’s subsequent smile and squeeze didn’t make the volume of it increase.

 

They stayed like that for a while, just relaxing and watching TV together, until Clint gave a hard sigh and bent over the small body on his lap to retrieve the remote.

 

“Maw?” Tony questioned.

 

“I’m putting on the captions. I can’t keep these aids in my ears anymore.”

 

Tony set his front paws on the man’s chest and peered at one of the offending objects, cocking his head to the side a bit.

 

“They’re new,” Clint answered the unvoiced query, “I broke my old ones on the last mission and SHIELD gave me these. They don’t fit good, but they’re expensive, especially since they double as my comms. I get written up if I request them too often, so I’ll just deal.”

 

The kitten gave him a look Clint would swear he had learned from his husband, “What? Yeah, Phil offered to take care of it and get me new ones, but I hate being a liability, okay? I don’t want him to have to do it for me and it gives him more paperwork and he’s too busy anyway. Besides, it’s not that big a deal. It’s just a little uncomfortable, so what? At least I can hear. That’s more than I can ask for, anyway.”

 

Tony huffed at him, but settled back down in his lap. Clint popped his aids out and put them out of harm’s way (SHEILD really wasn’t happy when he spilled Coke on that one pair last year) on a small table nearby. Sighing in relief, he reclined again in the world’s comfiest bean bag chair. Soon, Tony’s purr filled the air again and the vibrations lulled them both into a light nap.

 

JARVIS moved Sir’s rough plans for ‘StarkAids’ to the top of his priority list and copied the relevant information from Agent Barton’s SHIELD medical file. Sir had had the idea to create ‘awesome-er’ hearing aids for his team-mate for a while, and JARVIS knew it would be first on his list now, once he regained opposable thumbs. Feeling just a little bit guilty, JARVIS decided to go ahead and do the preliminary leg work for this project, devoting part of his attention to research and calling some of the experts in the field. Conscience thus appeased, he took another photograph for his collection.

 

*****

 

Clint felt something hit his face, brushing his nose. Swiping a hand at the annoyance he turned his head to the side. The brush came again. He scrunched his nose up at the tickling sensation and opened his eyes to be greeted with the beautiful picture of cat butt right in his face. Lovely. The cat’s head turned to him and its tail gave a single flick, before the creature trotted over to the mini-fridge. Placing its fore-paws on the door, it looked back at him expectantly.

 

Clint drug his hands over his face and tried to contain his grin. What an annoying and smart little cat. If that wasn’t a ‘feed-me’ move, he didn’t know what was.

 

“Sorry, little man, there’s no kitty food in there.”

 

The cat glared at him and flicked its ears.

 

He laughed, “There isn’t, I promise. Look,” he got up and opened the refrigerator door so that the kitten could peer in. “See, just pop.”

 

Another glare as the kitten looked back at him. It stood regally and walked towards the passageway beyond the nest, tail straight up and hips swaying slightly. At the room’s opening, Tony paused and looked back at the archer with a look the man correctly interpreted as ‘You comin’?’ Clint followed. And he followed down many passages and around many turns, waiting patiently when the cat would pause momentarily at an intersection before deciding upon a path. It was as if the kitten knew the layout to the system, but that was silly, right? Or so Clint thought, until he followed the creature straight to the vent opening right above the common floor’s living room. Well, as he said to Phil earlier, it was a strange world they lived in. Super intelligent cats wasn’t all that crazy of an idea, and probably a prerequisite for any feline inhabiting the Tower. Another look from said feline had Clint opening the vent and lowering himself down unto the couch below (Tony had really planned for everything). Before he could reach up for his little friend, the kitten had already hopped down to the sofa via his head.

 

Natasha looked up from her novel, “Hi, Clint…. Hello, kiska.” With a soft mew and a butt wiggle, Tony launched himself to the adjacent sofa and set his front paws on the woman’s thigh. Natasha smiled down at him and gave him a scratch on his head and down his back, earning a short purr in thanks (and a pouting, “Aw, kitty, no…” from Clint) before Tony jumped down to the floor and headed to the kitchen (Natasha gave good cuddles, but he was on a mission and was that ham he could smell?!).

 

Natasha turned to her partner, who had a confused (and still slightly pouting) expression on his face.

 

“When did we get a cat, anyway?” he signed.

 

Natasha shrugged and returned to her book.

 

Clint sat down and began massaging her bare feet.

 

JARVIS turned his primary attention to the cameras in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve had good days and bad days.

 

Yesterday was a good day. He hung out on the workshop couch all morning, sketching Tony arguing playfully with the bots and JARVIS. He drug the inventor to the common kitchen with him around noon (with the threat of tattling to Loki) and they ate a nice meal together and chatted for a bit before Tony went back to work and Steve headed for the gym.

 

There, he sparred with Thor for a couple hours, calling it quits at an agreed upon point of property damage, much to their resident AI’s private relief. Clint had joined them in the gym about halfway through and, after a complicated and highly acrobatic stretching session that Steve wasn’t too sure he could duplicate without tying himself in a knot, had been shooting in the adjoining range for a half hour or so. After a few hearty (read: painful) slaps on the back from Thor, Steve heard his name called by the archer. He jogged over asking ‘What’s up?’ and silently congratulated himself for using a colloquial phrase of this generation so smoothly (Clint grinned, though, so maybe he wasn’t as smooth as he thought. Darn it). The archer offered to give him a lesson in the art and the captain readily agreed (Clint made the offer to Thor, as well, but the Asgardian just grinned, grabbed a bow, hit all the targets dead center, and sauntered off humming a tune). After an hour of practice, Steve stopped breaking the practice bows (‘You are not touching my babies, Rogers, no way’) and was even able to hit the target he was aiming for on more than one occasion (who knew archery would be so hard? But it was refreshing to find a physical task challenging for a change and he was still grinning at the end).

 

After, Clint disappeared into the vents (Steve rolled his eyes) and Steve boarded the elevator. On the common floor, he found Natasha in what looked to be Clint’s boxers (they were purple. Apparently, it’s Clint’s ‘thing’) and his own tshirt that had evidently not been lost, but stolen (‘re-appropriated, Rogers’) going through a box of nail polish and miscellaneous...nail...things in front of one of the couches. Noticing his entrance, she beckoned him over and thrust a sky blue bottle with Chinese writing into his hand. She then proceeded to grab said hand and pull him down unto the carpet beside her. Finally, she placed her foot in his lap and looked at him expectantly. Steve knew what was good for him and got to work. Bruce joined them a short time later and picked out a nice light purple for Natasha to do his toe nails in while he stripped a sputtering Steve’s feet and set about giving him a surprisingly tasteful (and even more surprisingly talented) red, white, and blue pedicure.

 

Nail jobs finished, Bruce got up to make dinner and Steve offered to help (Natasha decided to paint her hands to match her feet, since she was mission-free for a while). Steve helped Bruce prepare the team’s meal and then they all sat down together and enjoyed it immensely, and even though it wasn’t ‘Wednesday Night, Movie Night!’ as Tony liked to sing, the group decided to watch a few films anyway, bored as they all were in their current crime-fighting lull.

 

Yeah, yesterday had been a good day; Steve went to bed with a smile on his face. Today, however, he woke up in a tangle of blankets on the floor with a name on his lips. As often followed his really good ones, today was a bad day.

 

He took a long, punishingly hot shower, ran for hours before the sun finally rose, then retreated to his room where he could avoid all the awakening Avengers. And there he sat for most of the day. He tried to draw, to watch TV, to read a book, but seeing the images in his mind on paper only made it worse, and the screams in his head were louder than the television and the books. He would have stayed there all day, but around four o’clock, the hunger pains in his stomach finally convinced him to head to the common floor kitchen.

 

He had all his meals on the common floor and encouraged the others to do so often for team bonding. On bad days, he found himself regretting that, yet he never seemed to stock his own kitchen on the good days when he went shopping. So, he stepped into the elevator and asked for the common floor, mentally crossing his fingers that he wouldn’t run into anyone and have to fake a smile today. Luckily, the only person around was Natasha, reading a book on the sofa. Long since learning all her teammates footsteps and developing a trust with them, she didn’t bother to look up from her page.

 

Once in the safety of the the kitchen, Steve slumped in relief and began the arduous task of fixing a meal that he didn’t really want to eat. He zoned out, lost in memories and regrets.

 

Shaking himself, he pulled another slice of ham out of the deli bag, folded it in half and placed it on top of its kin. One by one, he slowly added slices to his sandwich, with no enthusiasm for the action. He sighed. He had no appetite, for a ham sandwich or anything else, but his super soldier metabolism demanded sustenance, whether he was in the mood for it or not. Today, he was really not.

 

He felt a pull on his pant leg, near his ankle, and then more in quick succession all the way up his leg and halfway up his torso. He stared, baffled, as a small, black kitten jumped from his shirt to the countertop, bit the piece of ham in his hand, and gave a mighty heave. Still in a state of shock, he had no grip on the meat, and kitten found itself on its back, covered in a ham blanket. Despite himself and his previous mood, Steve huffed a laugh. The kitten glared.

 

*****

 

Tony shook his head and righted himself. Well, at least he snapped out of his funk. And, ham!!

 

Just as Tony set about gnawing off a chunk of meaty deliciousness, a giant hand descended from the heavens and stole it from him.

 

“Rayrrrryrr!!” Hey! That was my meat, asshole. You have a whole pile of it over there, Gigantor! Captain Greedy-Pants! Star Spangled Stealer! The Man Who Stole My Ham! He pouted and continued to growl adorably, tail twitching in irritation.

 

“Easy, lil fella. I’m just gonna tear it into pieces for ya, wouldn’t want ya to choke. This ham is bigger than you are!” Steve laughed.

 

The growling immediately ceased and Tony’s ears moved forward from their pissed-off position. As soon as the first Captain-Approved for Tiny Kittens sized piece of meat was laid down on the counter, Tony was on it, practically inhaling the thing. He looked up at Steve with wide eyes.

 

“MRAOW.”

 

Steve didn’t speak Cat, but if that wasn’t ‘FEED ME’ loud and clear, he’d eat his shield. He tore off another bite-sized piece and set it down. Tony was on it just as quickly as the last, narrowly missing the captain’s fingers. He trotted over to the man’s torso and began vigorously rubbing against his stomach and purring loudly, looking up at him with pleading eyes. I am cute and adorable and you will feed me. I compel you to give me your ham.

 

Laughing, Steve gave him another bite. After inhaling that one, the purring and rubbing and begging resumed, and so the pattern continued until the slice of ham was all gone. Still purring, Tony looked up at him, the very picture of sadness, but Steve wasn’t buying it.

 

“Nope, that’s it. We don’t want you getting sick. Your little belly is already sticking out.” He gave it a poke to demonstrate (Rude, Rogers!), “That’s it for now.”

 

Setting the kitten down on the floor and grabbing his forgotten plate, Steve moved to the table and sat down. As he went to take his first bite, he felt a slight pull on his pant leg. Mouth wide and sandwich just inches away, he looked down to meet the most pitiful look.

 

“Nope, sorry, buddy. This one’s mine.”

 

He took a bite.

 

The kitten stared.

 

He took another.

 

The kitten stared.

 

He took three more in quick succession.

 

The kitten stared.

 

He sighed.

 

“Fine.”

 

And dropped a piece of meat to the floor.

 

The kitten gobbled it up and purred enthusiastically, rubbing and rubbing against his leg. Steve smiled ruefully.

 

“Yeah, you’re welcome you little devil.”

 

The kitten purred.

 

Grabbing his empty plate, he headed for the sink, careful of the little ball of fur weaving through his legs. He rinsed his plate off and grabbed a glass out of the cabinet above. Turning on the tap, he filled it up to the brim. Glass to lips, he felt another series of tugs up his body as Tony climbed his Steve-ladder up to the counter.

 

“Mew.” Water.

 

Steve set down his glass and moved to get another for the kitten. Smaller cup in hand, he reached for the faucet, pausing when he heard a lapping sound. He shrugged, filled up the smaller cup, and drank from it, watching Tony dunk his head in what was his glass just seconds before. He finished off his cup and set it down beside the sink for later use.

 

Steve watched the kitten drink as he contemplated what to do next. He settled on working out in the gym for a bit, before deciding whether or not to face the others for the team dinner later in the evening. He was kind of sad to leave the kitten, though, as the feline had drastically improved his mood. And he’d always wanted to spend time and play with cats. He had been extremely allergic before the serum and after, the only cats he’d come across were sickly and scared, left lost in the battlefields.

 

Seeing Steve get lost in his thoughts again, and obviously not pleasant ones, Tony decided to intervene. Backing up for a running start, he wiggled his butt and leapt at the man’s chest. Steve caught him in his arms automatically and looked down.

 

“...Hello...”

 

“Myaow mruh mruw.” Beautifully said, Steve.

 

Steve felt vaguely insulted by the cat, but that would be silly.

 

“I’m going down to the gym, kitty. Where should I leave you?” Talking to a cat, though, that wasn’t silly at all.

 

Tony sneezed and climbed up to perch on the soldier’s ridiculously broad and muscle-y shoulder.

 

“Um, coming with me, then?”

 

“Meow mow.” Gitty up.

 

Steve blinked and tried not to flinch at the two sets of little fishing hooks digging into his shoulder as he made his way to the elevator.

 

*****

 

Steve looked up from ruffling his hair dry with a small towel as he walked out into the locker room. The workout and the kitten’s company had made him feel much better. He worked up a good sweat with the punching bags and watching the kitten scamper about and play like the gym was his very own giant playground successfully kept the soldier’s painful memories at bay. The kitten had also enjoyed riding his back as he did his push-ups and batting at his hair every time he came down from his upside-down crunches, hanging by the knees from one of the gymnastics bars. The cat hadn’t been too keen on following him into the showers, though, deciding to explore the locker room instead. Or, as it would seem as Steve dropped his hair towel down onto the bench, to take a nap on the fresh clothes he had laid out, getting hair all over them.

 

The towel hitting bench woke Tony up and, with a yawn and a stretch, he moved off his bed and towards skritches. Staring up at Steve and demanding them, he purred in gratitude when the hand came.

 

“Ya know,” Steve mused while scratching down the beast’s back, “it’s a good thing you’re so cute.”

 

Tony purred louder.

 

Steve turned towards his clothing. Great, he’d left his boxers on top. Perfect. He half-heartedly tried to shake them out, but the cat hair was not to be thwarted. He made sure the towel around his waist was tucked securely and rolled up his hairy clothes.

 

“Well, since you were so kind as to add a layer of yourself to my shorts, I guess we’re going to my floor before dinner.”

 

Steve definitely did not yelp at the claws suddenly scraping across and hooking into his bare shoulder as Tony situated himself to his perch. Stiffly, the man turned and walked towards the elevator. Silently. Without any high pitched whines of pain when the momentum of his gait unbalanced his tiny passenger.

 

He pressed the up button and waited. Soon, a pleasant ‘ding’ sounded and the doors opened. Steve stepped in, looked determinedly ahead, and ignored the single raise brow of one Natasha Romanov as she took in his bare chest, glistening with water and a few beads of blood, and his triumphant little hitchhiker. Two ‘ding’s’ later, he stepped out unto his floor, back straight and head high (Silently. Without any high pitched whines of pain when the sudden momentum unbalanced his tiny passenger).

 

And he definitely didn’t hear a snigger behind him as the doors closed.

 

*****

 

Finally dressed in clean and fur-less jeans and a sweater that might not have matched the current temperature (especially within JARVIS’s climate-controlled tower) that he chose completely at random and not at all because it would give a kitten more material to hold onto that was not his flesh, Steve (and Tony) boarded a thankfully empty elevator.

 

“Common floor, J.”

 

“Certainly, Captain.”

 

“Thanks, bud. Do you know who’s going to be at dinner tonight?”

 

“Agents Coulson and Barton will be dining privately this evening, as will Sir and Mr. Laufeyson. Dr. Banner is still with Mr. Odinson at Dr. Foster’s residence. Miss Darcy informs me that the doctors are ‘science-ing’ while she and Mr. Odinson are ‘knitting up a storm’ -’Ha. Ha. Get it, Jay?’- as their own ‘yummy science’ is ‘achieving optimal thermic levels’ in the oven. ‘El-oh-el.’ I’m afraid it will just be you and Agent Romanov at dinner tonight, Captain, and your furry parrot.”

 

Steve laughed and grinned at the camera in the corner (Tony put his ears back and glared). “Good one, JARV. Well, it’s too bad that everyone is busy, but it sounds like they’re all having fun. Natasha, me, and my parr-OT,” he winced as Tony squeezed his ‘talons’ tighter, “willdojustfineonourown,” he rushed out, shoulders scrunched up by his ears as he waited for Tony to relax his grip. Thankfully, he did, and Steve cautiously relaxed.

 

“Indeed, Captain,” JARVIS intoned, amused, as he opened the doors, saving the recording of the last couple minutes to his ‘photobook’ file.

 

*****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****   *****    *****   *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****

  

Loki sighed and relaxed further into the steaming hot bath, eyes closed, hair washed clean and twisted up in a towel, neck resting comfortably on a small bath pillow, strawberry-vanilla scented bubbles tickling his chin. With the flick of a finger, he floated a decadent spoonful of warm fudge brownie and chocolate ice cream to his lips. “Mmmm,” he moaned, toes curling in delight under the bubbles.

 

“Master Laufeyson, Sir is now heading to dinner upon Captain Rogers’ shoulder, where they will join Agent Romanov. As you suggested, I told the captain that you and Sir would be dining alone this evening.”

 

“Oh?” Loki smiled, not opening his eyes, “And how did Anthony take that?”

 

“Sir was unamused. He glared quite adorably at me for the whole exchange. I recorded it, for your viewing pleasure. And posterity, of course.”

 

“Of course,” Loki opened his eyes. A holographic image of the elevator popped up beside him. Flicking himself over another delightful bite of Midgardian delicacy, he nodded for JARVIS to play the video.

 

He grinned as his tiny lover glared through the image and laughed outright at JARVIS’s clever joke and the poor Captain’s punishment for continuing it.

 

“Thank you, JARVIS. Please continue to keep an eye on him for me.”

 

“Of course. And continue sending pictures?”

 

“And continue sending pictures,” Loki grinned.

 

*****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****   *****    *****   *****    *****    *****    *****    *****    *****

 

Up, down, up, down. Left, right, left, right. Forward, back, forward, back. “Splash!” Up, down, up - Wait, ‘splash?’ Steve turned away from the mirror, lips foamy and toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. Looking towards the sound, Steve choked on a laugh (and toothpaste) as two miserable black ears and two equally upset golden eyes rose above the toilet seat. Laughter turned into coughing as he tried to get toothpaste foam out of his lungs. He spit and rinsed before coming to the kitten’s aid. The kitten, arms over the seat as he tried futilely to climb out with dignity, was very much relieved when large hands wrapped around his middle and lifted him from his doom. He was less relieved when said hands deposited him on the floor of the shower and reached for the detachable shower-head above, but Tony was already soaked, and he’d rather be saturated with clean shower water than toilet bowl water any day, so he just hung his head and endured.

 

Seeing the kitten’s misery, Steve kept his humor to breathy chuckles and a smile he couldn’t hide if he wanted to as he rinsed the poor cat off thoroughly. Satisfied, “You’re lucky I flushed, bud,” Steve laughed and hung the shower-head back up. “Okay, let me get a towel, baby.” He turned and went to do so.

 

Tony turned as well and, genius that he was, found a solution to his earlier problem (that had led him to his current, wet predicament). Squatting over the shower drain, he did the deed he had tried to do on the slippery toilet seat. Ahhhh. Finishing, he stood, tail high in relief and accomplishment, to find one Steve Rogers staring down at him, towel in his hands, mouth slightly agape.

 

“Were you trying to USE the toilet…?” No, that would be crazy. The kitten was too young for anyone to teach him that and he couldn’t possibly think of it on his own. Steve shook himself of his continued silliness and lowered himself to his knees. “Alright, let’s get you dried off, lil fella.”

 

Absolutely thrilled (Hah!), Tony let himself be rubbed vigorously between the two ends of the towel and Steve’s hands. Hey! Watch it! My fur doesn’t go that way! Oh, well, hello, sailor. Better watch those hands, mister, my boyfriend might magic them backwards.

 

Finishing with a light rub against Tony’s face, Steve leaned down and bestowed a kiss upon his damp head. “There ya go, baby, all better,” he smiled.

 

Tony blinked. Huh.

 

Steve yawned, “Bedtime, buddy. Didn’t get much sleep last night. Don’t ever get much sleep, really, but I gotta try. Can’t fail my team if we get called out tomorrow.” He stood and began to leave the bathroom. Standing in the doorway, hand hovering over the light switch, he turned back, “Comin’?”

 

Tony stared at him for a moment, head cocked slightly to the side.

 

Yeah, I’m coming, Steve, he mewed and followed.

 

Steve thought, as he turned off his bedside lamp, that the kitten had sounded sad. But that would be silly.

 

*****

 

Okay, I got this. Little to the left, little back - Arg, lean forward! Lean forward! Phew, okay, now, relax...Relax….Ahhh….Hah! Take that stupid toilet seat, I win! You cannot thwart Tony Stark! … Okay, you can, but you can’t do it twice! So, there! He stood and walked precariously around the slippery rim. Making sure he was balanced, Tony raised his right front paw and flushed the toilet. Tail and head held high in the air, Tony strutted towards the bathroom door.

 

His ear twitched. What was that sound? He heard a rustle, then a grunt. When he heard a wordless cry, Tony ran. Dashing to the bed and leaping atop, he quickly made his way, though hesitantly, to the thrashing figure in the blankets.

 

“Mrew?” Steve? He placed a paw on his arm.

 

“Mrew.” Steve. Another paw.

 

Steve’s body went still and for a second Tony was relieved, until he saw the man’s head shaking in a small ‘no,’ lips moving, but producing no sound, and shiny, wet lines trailing down his face.

 

“MREW!” Steve! he cried as he hopped on his chest, digging in his claws.

 

Steve’s body jerked violently, eyes opening with a gasp, arms making an aborted move to push the tiny body off his chest before dropping down at his sides. He breathed heavily for a minute, eyes squeezed tightly shut, hands clenched into painful fists.

 

A purr quietly started and gained volume. At the first brush of a soft head against his face, Steve let out a sob. Tony purred louder and headbutted his cheek. Steve gasped and cried and sobbed. Tony purred and licked and rubbed away his tears. Gradually, Steve quieted and his tears slowed. Raising a hand, he pet down Tony’s back and gave a flickering smile. Tony gave the tip of his nose a lick, drawing out a wet laugh, before he withdrew just a bit to lay down right above Steve’s heart, along his sternum. Settling his head down at Steve’s collar bone, he looked up at his friend.

 

Steve pet him a few more times before settling his hand down on his furry rump. Tony continued to purr as hard as he could and soon the comforting sound and vibrations traveling through his chest lulled Steve to sleep.

 

For the rest of the night, Tony kept vigil over his friend. He did not go back to sleep, nor did he cease purring.

 

Steve’s memories and nightmares would cower before Tony Stark.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The alarm going off at the insanely early hour of the morning caused one Tony Stark, kitten, to jump a foot in the air as it obnoxiously blared and his super soldier bed flinched, the combination violently jerking him out of the half-aware state he had drifted into in the hour previous. Steve scrambled to his feet, one arm around the now landed Tony as he did so, “Talk to me, J”. Setting the poofy kitten down on the bed (Shit. How do I get my hair to go back down?), he quickly and with practiced ease jumped into his suit and boots, snapped on his helmet, and swung his shield into place on his back as he stepped into the elevator, listening to JARVIS’s report as it followed him through the tower.

 

“It is four a.m., Captain. Thirty minutes ago, emergency calls began to come in from a small town in northern Missouri. The SHIELD consultant at the responder’s office flagged the occurrence as possible extraterrestrial contact. Reports of the creature widely vary and it is yet unknown if it is hostile, but as it is quite large and attempts to communicate have failed, the Avengers have been called. Thor is on his way to the scene with Dr. Banner. Iron Man is en route with Master Laufeyson. The Quinjet is ready to leave as soon as yourself and Agents Barton, Romanov, and Coulson board.”

 

“Thanks, J.” The Captain exited the elevator and jogged over to the waiting Quinjet. He gave a nod to his teammates - Natasha and Clint at the controls, Phil strapping in - and gave the order for lift off, before fastening his own belts. As the hangar opened and the jet began to move forward, he swore loudly.

 

“Captain?” Phil asked, uncertainly, as Steve quickly unfastened his belt, strode across jet, grabbed something off the floor, and hurried back. Leaning against the momentum, he hurriedly re-fastened himself back in right as the jet really started climb.

 

Phil took his hands off the other’s shoulders where he had been trying to help hold the man in place. “Steve?”

 

The other gave a frustrated sigh and lowered his arm a bit from where he had been clutching it against his chest, showing the agent what he had retrieved. Wide golden eyes surrounded by very puffy fur peered back at him. Phil gave a strange sound as he attempted to cover a laugh at the absurdity of the moment with an authoritative clearing of his throat. “Well.”

 

“Yeah. I can’t believe he followed me and snuck aboard,” Steve thought for a moment, “No, wait, I can,” he added, remembering the evening and night previous. Similar thoughts went through Phil’s mind, recalling the disaster of his office after the tiny creature had broken in.

 

“Who snuck in?” Clint called from the front of the jet, craning his neck in the seat. Seeing Tony in Steve’s arms, he laughed, “Aw, kitty!” Natasha engaged the autopilot before rising from her seat and marching back towards Steve. Steve straightened, preparing himself. He knew that look, he had seen it countless times on his mother’s and Bucky’s faces growing up. He was about to get a Talking-To, Mister. He steeled himself to look into her eyes, only to notice that her’s were not upon him. Her hand shot out, grabbed the kitten’s scruff, and took him from his hold. Hanging in the air in front of her, ears down, feet curled in, and tail tucked between his legs, Tony found himself facing down the scariest Natasha he had faced yet (and he had faced a lot of scary Natasha).

 

Glaring at him reproachfully, she gave him two devastating words, “Bad kiska.”

 

Tony hung his head.

 

“Aw, Nat, don’t be so hard on him,” Clint said, coming up behind her and taking the limp kitten from her hand, “He’s just a baby kitty, he doesn’t know any better.” Natasha ‘hmph’d and crossed her arms. “Hey, cheer up, Bud, it’s okay,” he crooned, rubbing the kitten’s head. Tony’s ears perked forward a bit, but his tail stayed between his legs. Clint turned to Natasha and turned his puppy-dog eyes on her full force, “C’mon, Nat, look at him.” Taking in the two sets of sad, sad eyes, she gave in, “Oh, fine.”

 

The assassin huffed and took the kitten back from her partner. She leaned her forehead against Tony’s for a moment, murmuring something quietly in Russian, before settling him against her chest. A tentative purr sounded and she gave a slight smile before turning back to business.

 

“ETA 43 minutes. What’s the story, sir?” she looked to Coulson, ignoring the quirk of his lips as he watched her thumb stroking the furry body held against her.

 

“Large, scaled, twelve-limbed creature, assumed to be extraterrestrial in origin, taking up a good acre or so of a bean field behind an elementary school. Locals freaked, all kinds of wild stories. SHIELD doesn’t think it actually ate one Farmer Mathews’ cows, but it could be true. Thor and Dr. Banner should arrive before us by fifteen minutes or so. Thor was asked to attempt to communicate with the creature. He and Hulk were told not to physically engage unless provoked.”

 

There was silence for a moment before the others spoke at once.

 

Steve: “How is this my life?”

 

Natasha: “This is ridiculous.”

 

Clint and Tony, in English and in Cat: “Awesome!”

 

Mentally rolling his eyes at his husband, Phil addressed Natasha, “The Avengers are called; we answer. If this creature proves hostile, we will definitely be needed.”

 

“I know,” she responded, “Doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculous.” She set Tony down on Coulson’s lap and headed back to the pilot’s seat. She sat down, pulled on a headset, and began speaking to the agents on the ground in Missouri.

 

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Phil said as he patted the kitten now sitting on his lap.

 

The three talked for a while, at first strategizing about the current mission, but talk soon transitioned into an argument about music (Phil vs Steve vs Clint), reality television (Phil [‘Supernanny doesn’t count!’] and Steve vs Clint), and pizza (Steve and Clint vs Phil).

 

(Tony, of course, disagreed with all three of them. Unfortunately, he was unable to inform the others of just how wrong they all were.)

 

Their argument about Disney movies (they all agreed Mulan was best, but were divided about second place) was interrupted with a Russian curse and a jerk as the jet pushed itself to go even faster.

 

Natasha turned her head back to the boys, “Creature is hostile; Hulk has engaged.”

 

*****

 

The team landed and tumbled out of the jet to be met with twenty-odd nervous agents and one very pout-y, said nerve-inducing, Hulk sitting cross-legged in the grass. Looking around, the four stood stiffly, weapons at the ready.

 

Steve stepped forward, “Hulk? What’s going on? Where’s Thor and the creature?”

 

Hulk huffed and his frown impossibly deepened. “BIG SPIDER GRAB BLONDIE, SO HULK SMASH. THEN BLONDIE SAY NO SMASH, SPIDER FRIEND. BLONDIE TALK TALK TALK SPIDER. HULK NO SMASH.” He said the last with an air of defeat, shoulders hunching further.

 

Steve’s brow wrinkled. The creature had grabbed Thor, seemingly maliciously, and Dr. Banner turned to save him. But, apparently, it was a misunderstanding and Thor was able to communicate with it in time to stop Hulk. Now Hulk was left all dressed up with nothing to smash, as it were. Okay, well, sounded like a good situation over all. Though, he understood Hulk’s pain. “Sorry, Hulk. We can find something else for you to smash later, okay? Or we can visit the playground Tony built for you. Let’s get this situation settled and then we’ll have some fun. We all thought we were going to be doing some smashing, too, I’m sure we could all use an outlet once this is over.” He gave Hulk a smile.

 

“HULK NO LIKE WAIT. BORED. BUT SMASH LATER BETTER THAN NO SMASH.” He nodded decisively.

 

Steve grinned, “Alright, let’s-”

 

He cut off as they all heard a clattering sound behind them. They all, sans Hulk, whipped around to face back towards the jet, ready to face whatever threat came their way.

 

They were not, however, ready for the little black kitten that they thought they had left securely under a crate and a rather heavy med-kit to come running out. As if in slow motion, four heads turned as he ran past, four mouths opened forming various incarnations of the sentiment ‘no!’, and four sets of arms futilely reached out as the kitten took a running jump towards the large green rage monster still pouting in the grass and landed squarely on his giant green knee.

 

Hulk cocked his head to the side and gave his palm as a platform for the kitten to crawl onto. The other hand reached out delicately with one finger to pet the cat’s head and down its back. The kitten butted his head against the finger as it returned for a second go and Hulk bared his teeth in grin.

 

The watching Avengers let out their collective breath.

 

“MRAOW,” Tony greeted his large friend happily.

 

*****

 

Coulson sighed. It was one part relief, another part exasperation, and yet another part humor as the Agent watched the giant man oh-so-carefully pet his tiny friend. Then he sighed again. This one was all resignation. Back to work, it said. He turned to the Captain, “I’ll get the update on Thor, see where he is at on getting this creature back where it came from.” At the other’s nod, Phil jogged over to the milling agents and set about getting some answers.

 

With nothing else to do but wait, the other three sat down with the Hulk and watched with smiles at the scene before them. Hulk was now lying on his back with the kitten on his chest, still petting him with a single finger. Smiling the sweetest (though quite menacing to the agents still watching, but who cares about them, they don’t know him anyway) smile, Hulk crooned to his little companion, ducking his head down to brush silky, soft fur, “HAAIRY BAAAABY.”

 

At this, Tony began purring. Hulk startled, pulling his head back. He turned to his teammates, “HAIRY BABY SOUND LIKE HULK TUMMY WHEN HUNGRY,” he announced with authority. “CUPID. GET HAIRY BABY FOOD.”

 

Clint sputtered, “What? Hey! Why me?” but Natasha just talked over him, ignoring his muttering in the background, “It’s called purring, Hulk, cats do it when they’re happy. It means he likes you.”

 

“HULK LIKE HAIRY BABY TOO,” Hulk stated, turning back to the rumbling kitten rubbing against his hand. He then tried to make his own purring sound, which came out sounding like a motorcycle in desperate need of a tune-up. Tony jumped a bit before giving a sneeze and climbing up to lick Hulk’s chin. Hulk giggled, “TICKLES,” before bending over to return the favor.

 

The purring ceased. Tony stood there, dumbfounded and slightly horrified, fur slicked back in a wide stripe from nose to tail, as the other Avengers lost it. Natasha snorted (snorted! He’d have to think about that later. You, know, when he wasn’t covered in slobber), Steve had his hand over his mouth ineffectively covering neither grin nor chortles of laughter, and Clint had fallen over, arms clutching sides, gasping in laughter.

 

“Oh, god, his face! The cat’s face!” the archer choked out between guffaws and gasps for air.

 

Hulk looked at his friends, confused at their state, but smiling to see them so happy. He resumed petting a stiff Tony. Gradually, Tony relaxed under the attention, though the purring didn’t yet resume.

 

Phil approached the still grinning - and in Clint’s case, sniffing and wiping his eyes - group. Deciding he wasn’t going to ask (okay, not now. He had to know, but he’d ask Clint later. He had to be professional right now, dammit. Especially since it looked like he’d be the only one. Sigh, the burden of Phillip J. Coulson), he cleared his throat.

 

“Loki is with Thor conversing with the creature. He and Stark arrived a little before us. Loki sent Stark home when it looked like he wouldn’t be needed. Ordered him to eat and sleep; he’s been on an inventing binge. The creature is from one of the Nine Realms - don’t ask, you will get a never ending explanation that only half makes sense. Also, don’t ask me what it’s called, it has too many syllables and I’m pretty sure humans can’t make most of those sounds. Basically, it’s friendly and lost. Fortunately, since it’s from one of the Nine Realms, Loki says he shouldn’t have too much trouble getting it back home. It will just take a bit, an hour or two max.”

 

Resuming his Captain persona, Steve sat up straighter and responded, “Thank you, Agent. We will wait here until Loki gets the creature back to its own realm, just in case the situation turns hostile,” after receiving the others’ nods, he continued, “...and we need donuts.” Very serious, the other’s nodded again.

 

With a small, almost imperceptible grin hidden in the corner of his mouth, Phil waved over the nearest baby agent, “Agent…..Tucker. I have a mission for you.” The agent stood up straighter, with a ‘yes, sir’ (Natasha and Steve kept straight faces, while Clint just hid his grin behind Steve’s large back). “I need you to retrieve…” He looked at the team individually and did some quick calculations, “twenty dozen assorted donuts.” The baby agent blinked.

 

“What about Thor and Loki, Phil? We could send them over or they could have them after,” Natasha called out.

 

“Hmm, that’s right, Make that thirty dozen.” Phil stated, unfazed.

 

“Shouldn’t we get some for the agents, too? I’d feel kinda bad eating in front of them,” Steve supplied.

 

Phil thought about it for a moment, before giving a mental shrug. He could be nice. It’d probably just scare the agents more, anyway. Keeping his evil grin to himself, he once again adjusted his order, “Let’s make it a nice, round 40 dozen mixed donuts. Plenty of glazed, though. Oh, and 30 gallons of milk. And, coffee, same for coffee. No, more coffee. Call SHIELD for the plates, cups, and napkins, we have a warehouse nearby.”

 

“MRAOOW!” Tony called insistently from where he sat proudly on Hulk’s left pectoral.

 

“And some canned cat food”

 

“HRSS!” Tony vehemently disagreed.

 

“A can of tuna, then.”

 

“Mreh!” Tony scoffed.

 

“Some sliced turkey?”

 

“Mrew,” Tony agreed happily and began to purr.

 

Phil gave a curt nod. The baby agent gaped.

 

“You have your parameters, Agent.”

 

With a stammered, “Yes, sir,” the agent hurried away.

 

Steve chuckled, “Poor kid.”

 

Phil let himself smile, “Yeah, but if he can get all of that done efficiently, I will give him a commendation in his file and personally help him move up in whatever branch he wishes to go. It’s a good test of skills - problem-solving, adaptability, resourcefulness. I’ve found a lot of special agents by running them through similar scenarios.”

 

Clint gave a snort and exchanged a glance with Natasha. He ignored Steve’s questioning look and spoke up, “Ten bucks says Agent Tucker takes an hour to get back. Another ten says he doesn’t bring your numbers.”

 

Everyone put in their bets and settled down to wait, joking and laughing companionably.

 

“Hey, Phil?”

 

“Clint?”

 

“Where is the alien, anyway? I thought it was supposed to be huge.”

 

Steve nodded and Natasha’s eyes sharpened. Phil raised his arm and pointed.

 

“Oh, it’s on the other side of that hill?” Steve asked.

 

Phil shook his head, “No, Captain, it is the hill.”

 

Steve’s blinked, Clint’s jaw dropped, and Natasha’s eyes dilated.

 

“...Damn,” Steve stated as Clint gave an appreciative whistle.

 

“Agreed. Apparently, its scales have camouflaging properties,” Phil supplied.   

 

“So, it’s a giant chameleon dragon spider?”

 

Phil pursed his lips and shrugged his head to the side. Eh, it was as good a description as any.

 

Hulk and Tony continued cuddling, oblivious. Talk resumed as the team drug their eyes away from the ‘hill.’

 

A few minutes later, one brave baby agent brought a shoelace over to a confused Hulk. With only slightly shaking hands, she showed the Hulk how to tease the kitten with string until Tony finally gave in to the powerful urge to chase and bat at it. Delighted, Hulk giggled. The agent made to leave, but gave into the Hulk’s surprisingly convincing puppy-dog eyes (surprising to the agent, anyway. The Avengers were very familiar with that look) when he asked, “STAY. PLAY.” Phil made note of the Agent’s name.

 

Eventually, Tony tired of chasing the string and lay down with a yawn on Hulk’s leg. The agent had taught Hulk patty cake, found some large sheets of paper for them to make planes with, and was in the middle of teaching him the chicken dance when the donuts arrived (Steve won the time bet, Natasha won the accuracy bet, and Phil consoled a petulant Clint).

 

*****

 

Bruce woke up to loud laughter and conversation, sugary lips, and - “Bleck!” he coughed - a hairy tongue? Sitting up, he found he was wearing the usual - no shirt, ripped pants, commando, shoeless - and the not-so-usual; He poked the small, vibrating ball of black fur on his lap. It grunted in annoyance at the disturbance and otherwise ignored him.

 

“Hey, Bruce!” Steve grinned over at him from a short distance away.

 

“Hey,” he sat, gathering his thoughts in the fuzzy mind space he always found after waking up from a transformation, “What happened?”

 

Clint gave him the overview, “The alien grabbed, you Hulked out. Thor was able to communicate with it. It was friendly, so he stopped you. Loki was able to send it home twenty minutes ago. We had donuts, they were delicious. Hulk played with a baby kitty and a baby agent. Thor left to tell Jane everything is okay, Loki returned to the tower and Tony, and we were waiting on you to turn back after Hulk fell asleep a few minutes ago.”

 

Bruce turned to Natasha. She gave him a nod. He shrugged - stranger things had happened. “Why do I feel like I’m going to hack up a hairball?”

 

Clint laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

Bruce sighed.  

 

Tony flicked an ear in annoyance.

 

*****

 

Back on the jet, Bruce changed into his emergency pants (today’s pair were bright purple and green-striped track pants. Thanks, Clint). Grabbing a water bottle, he dampened a washcloth and wiped off the donut glaze, filings, and sprinkles adorning his body. With the rest of the bottle, he attempted to swish the cat hair out his mouth, but he was pretty sure there was some still stuck in his throat. Joy.

 

The others boarded and took their respective seats. Bruce sat down next to Phil and strapped himself in. Once the plane reached altitude and autopilot was engaged, he asked the group at large a question that probably should have come to him earlier, “So, where’d the kitten come from?”

 

Natasha spoke up first, as she made her way to the back of the jet, “The tower. I found him yesterday morning scared and hiding in Tony’s lab.”

 

Phil looked up, the subject of the question sitting in his lap, “He broke into my office and trashed it around lunch.”

 

Clint volunteered his story, “He followed me from Phil’s office and we hung out in the vents for a couple hours.”

 

Steve raised his hand up to his ear, “Uh, he was in the kitchen yesterday evening. He stayed with me through the night. And then snuck aboard the jet before we took off this morning.”

 

Bruce looked around, “So, he just showed up in the tower and doesn’t belong to any of you? That’s strange.”

 

Phil shrugged, “Maybe he’s Thor’s. Or Loki’s or Tony’s.”

 

Clint scoffed, “Like Tony would get a cat or let Loki keep one.”

 

Tony cried pitifully from his seat in Phil’s lap, “Mew…”

 

Phil gave him a rub. Tony heaved a great sigh.

 

A new question came to Bruce’s mind, “How did he sneak on the jet, anyway? JARVIS should have caught him.”

 

“Apologies, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS’s voice rung out, “I’m afraid my attention was with Sir in the armor. It is, as Miss Darcy would say, ‘My bad.’”

 

“That’s okay, J. No harm done.”

 

“Indeed, thankfully. On the subject, Dr. Banner, one SHIELD agent recorded Mr. Hulk playing with the kitten on their mobile phone. I was able to appropriate the video, if you would like to view it.”  

 

(Truthfully, JARVIS had acquired the video for his own benefit and Master Laufeyson's, but he also had the long standing Protocol Big Green Teddy Bear to account for; given the opportunity, he was to find, hack, and copy any media that showed just how ‘fluffy and sweet Big Green really is and shove it in Brucie’s face.' The protocol had been put into place years ago when Dr. Banner first took up residence at the tower. While the good doctor had since come to acceptance of his not so rage-y alter ego, JARVIS continued the protocol anyway. He knew that the doctor both enjoyed the pictures, clips, and stories and still had the occasional nightmare about his other side going berserk. It was in JARVIS’s code to look out for his friends, and so he did.)

 

“Thanks, JARVIS. Add it to my folder, please. I’ll watch it later.”

 

“Of course, Doctor, it is already done.”

 

Bruce smiled up at a nearby camera. His smile quickly became a grimace as he yelped out in pain; the kitten had reached out from his seat in Phil’s lap to knead Bruce’s leg, creating pulls in the hideous fabric and scratching the man’s skin underneath. He reached down and - painfully - detached the kitten’s claws from his person.

 

“Yes, hello, cat. Thank you for kneading me. I appreciate the sentiment, but please refrain from doing that.” He swore the kitten was grinning at him. For the rest of the ride home, he continually had to grab kitten paws as they reached for him or unhook them from his leg when he had been distracted. Eventually, he settled for just holding them captive in his hand and ignoring his fellows’ grins.

 

JARVIS sent a compressed clip to Loki. Even after all these years, and even in this form, Sir couldn’t resist a game of Poke the Dragon.

 

*****

 

Bruce breathed in a steady breath, held it, and let it out. Listening to the relaxing tones playing in his ears, he felt at peace.

 

Until Tony came along and yanked one of his earbuds out of his ear.

 

“Maow.” Hey, Bruce.

 

Bruce opened his eyes and glared down at the kitten. He fought for the cord and, eventually winning it a couple bloody fingers later, returned it to his ear. He closed his eyes and breathed in. Tony hopped on his lap and started walking back and force across it, rubbing his head against the hands resting on Bruce’s knees. Bruuuuce. Hey, Bruce. Brucie Bear. Bruuuce! Pay attention to me, Bruce!

 

Bruce breathed out an irritated sigh, grabbed the small body, and firmly placed him in the center of his lap, pressing down in a nonverbal ‘Sit. Stay.’ Tony mentally rolled his eyes and settled for a moment. Yup, sitting still and doing nothing. You have the best ideas, Bruce. This is a blast. He looked up at the man’s serene face and grinned a kitty grin.

 

The doctor breathed in, held it, and breathed out. He breathed in again, held it, and yelped in pain. With a growl, he grabbed Tony’s paws, detached them from his calf, and removed the kitten from his lap altogether. Setting him down beside him, he tried once more to return to peace.

 

Nothing happened for a couple minutes and Bruce was lulled into a sense of security. Then, without warning, Tony jumped onto his shoulder. Tony felt Bruce’s shoulders rise and watched his face twitch.

 

Tense, Bruce was determined to ignore the creature. He would not give him the satisfaction. He breathed in -

 

“MAOW,” Tony called loudly right into his ear. BRUCE!

 

Bruce violently yanked out his earbuds as Tony jumped down, “What?!”

 

Tony purred and rubbed against his hand. Hi, Bruce. Pet me now.

 

Bruce huffed a sigh and began petting him. His lips curved into small smile without his permission as the kitten purred loudly and enthusiastically moved against his hand. He scratched down Tony’s back, stopping just before his tail. Unbidden, Tony’s butt rose in the air as his front crouched down low. Oh, what is that? Ah, that feels amazing. Mmm. He stretched his back legs as far as he could, pushing that incredible spot into Bruce’s fingers.

 

Bruce stopped his ministrations on the cat’s ‘lifter’ and resumed petting down his back. What? Hey, why’d you stop? Bruuuuce!

 

Bruce shifted his hand around the Tony’s head and began rubbing his cheeks - Okay, I forgive you. That's nice. Mmm - and under his chin oh, god, that is amazing! Right there, yeah, your hands are magic, Brucie. Neck stuck out and eyes closed in bliss, Tony purred louder.

 

Bruce out right grinned now at the kitten’s obvious pleasure. He picked the kitten up and flipped him upside down, holding him like a baby against his chest. Tony struggled for a minute, Hey, what the fuck? Not cool, Bruce, not cool. Science Bros do not turn Science Bros upside down - it’s disorienting and I can see up your nose, not a good view, Bruce, I’m getting you a trimmer for that - and treat them like an infa-- Tony’s body and inner monologue stilled as Bruce’s hand began rubbing his belly. Mmmmmm. Magic hands, Bruce. Oh my god, who knew belly rubs felt this good? Don’t stop, don’t ever stop.

 

The purring, which had ceased when Bruce so rudely turned Tony’s world upside down, resumed with fervor. Bruce continued rubbing the happy Tony’s belly until the kitty fell asleep.

 

Bruce closed his eyes and, to the soundtrack of Tony’s purrs, breathed in, held it, and let it out.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

JARVIS politely interrupted Bruce’s meditation, “Movie Night is about to begin, Doctor.”

 

“Oh, thanks, J, I’ll be right up.” Bruce stood, jostling Tony out of his wonderful dream (chasing bubbles and string through tunnels made of ham! He almost caught ‘em, too!). Tony blinked sleepily up at his friend, “Mreh ow?” Wha’s go’n’on?

 

Bruce gave his head a rub, “Movie Night, kitty.”

 

Tony visibly perked up and Bruce laughed as he stepped into the elevator.

 

“JARVIS, it’s your turn to pick this time, isn’t it? What are we watching?”

 

“A personal favorite, Dr Banner: The Cat From Outer Space. As it is from 1978, the effects are sub-par and it is unfortunately a bit sexist, but it is still quite a humorous and - forgive me for using the word - cute film.”

 

“Hmm. Sounds interesting. Everyone coming?”

 

“Mostly. Mr Odinson has already claimed his seat. Mr Laufeyson and Agent Romanov are fixing snacks in the kitchen. Agent Barton is currently dragging Agent Coulson and a stack of paperwork out of the latter’s office... I worry about the structural integrity of the door frame but, wait, never mind, it survived. Agent Barton is now carrying a pouting Agent Coulson and attached paperwork to the common floor.”

 

Bruce chuckled at the commentary, “Did you take a picture, J?”

 

“But, of course, Dr Banner,” the A.I. replied cheerfully, popping up a series of images using the elevator’s holographics (all the private elevators were equipped with such).

 

“Bridal style, nice.”

 

“I prefer the term princess carry, myself.”

 

Bruce smiled, “You’re going to photoshop a tiara and a flowing dress on him, aren’t you?”

 

“You know me too well, Doctor.”

 

“I don’t know why people are always so surprised by your pranks. It’s like they forget who raised you. Speaking of, will Tony be joining us?”

 

“Sir is still sleeping off his latest science binge, I am afraid. Mr Laufeyson wishes him not to be disturbed.”

 

As Bruce was about to respond, he was interrupted by a series of needles entering his arm. Looking down, he saw the kitten’s tightened grip and backwards-facing ears as the creature seemingly glared up at the ceiling.  Before he could comment on the strange behavior, the elevator doors opened with a ding and he stepped out to a loud bellow from the tower’s resident thunder god.

 

“BRUCE! Come join me, my friend. I have claimed the long throne tonight.”

 

Man and cat winced at the volume of the greeting, but Bruce smiled and made his way over to Thor’s couch. “Hello, Thor. How are you?”

 

“I am well, Shieldbrother. We had a long morning, did we not? Gladly, there was no need for battle! Though I do appreciate your readiness to come to my aid. Hulk was most disappointed he did not get to smash, I hear. We must have a friendly bout again, soon.”

 

Bruce smiled, “He would love that, thank you.”

 

Thor grinned and clapped him on the back. As Bruce lurched forward slightly, the god spoke to the other being in the room (who was quickly getting annoyed with the lack of attention). “Greetings, tiny beast,” he spoke slightly softer than normal (which was still louder than the average person) and reached out a hand. Tony sniffed his fingers once and rubbed his cheek against them.

 

The elevator dinged and Clint and Phil strode in, the latter’s suit slightly rumpled and a large stack of papers gripped tightly to his chest as if he feared them being stolen away. The two took up residence on one of the room’s loveseats. Phil braced one leg atop the other and settled in with highlighter and pen. Clint toed off his shoes before tucking his feet under the other man’s thigh and leaning back against the arm rest, his mouth quirked up a bit at Phil’s put-upon sigh.

 

Thor was scratching Tony’s head and conversing with Clint and Bruce when Natasha and Steve joined them. Bruce watched as Steve comically balanced four large bowls of popcorn, a case of chilled soda, and a bag of candy bars. Natasha and her one bowl of popcorn plopped herself down on the remaining loveseat. As Steve stood in front of the coffee table strategizing how to set down his burdens without losing any to the eager vacuum bots (he could feel their eyes - well, cameras - focusing in on him), Loki waltzed in and relieved him of his load systematically, distributing snacks and beverages all around before settling down beside Natasha. Steve sent him a grateful grin as he took the last bowl and a can of Coke to his own seat on Thor’s vacant side.

 

Steve leaned forward quickly, “Oh! I almost forgot.” Setting his bowl down on the floor for a moment, he pulled a small bag out of his pocket.

 

Tony’s nose twitched excitedly and he quickly stood up, bounding across Thor’s lap.

 

Steve laughed, “No, I didn’t forget you, buddy.” He pulled the chunks of ham from the bag and fed them to the kitten a few at a time. Tony’s loud purrs and grateful exclamations between bites filled the room. I love you, you’re the best. Mmm. Ham. You’re my favorite, Steve. Just keep bringing me the hammy goodness. What do you want? A new shield? I can make you a new shield. Mmm, god this is delicious.

 

A snort was heard across the room as Tony finished. He turned to level a furry glare at Loki before returning to inhale the last few bits of ham and lick the juices off of Steve’s fingers for good measure.

 

“Okay, okay, buddy. It’s all gone, sorry,” the Captain chuckled and patted Tony on the head. Tony purred and rubbed against him once more before looking back towards Loki. The god gave him a slight smirk. Irritated, Tony huffed and turned his head. Doing so, he now faced Thor and…. idea! He marched straight onto Thor’s lap, looked up into the man’s bemused face and demanded a loud Pet me.

 

Thor, of course, obliged and Tony purred as loudly as he could before laying down with his face towards Loki. Squinting his eyes in exaggerated pleasure he began kneading Thor’s legs. Loki rolled his eyes and turned towards the screen where the movie had begun, their little exchange going on whilst JARVIS introduced the film to the others.

 

Tony continued purring in an excessive fashion for a few minutes, but, receiving no acknowledgement from his lover, quickly tired. He heaved a great sigh and settled his chin down on Thor’s knee.

 

Thor glanced down from the film, briefly curious as to what could make the tiny beast give such a world-weary sigh. The hijinks of Jake and Frank on screen soon pulled the thought from his mind, but he kept a steady hand petting down the kitten’s back.

 

Tony resigned himself to watch the movie before him. Huh, that is a handsome cat….Nope, not going there! Nuh-uh, never happened. Yup, focus on the weird, completely plausible and not at all hand-wavy science. Yup, I could totally build a brain amplifying collar. Fuck, I might have to if Loki doesn’t change me back soon. Aaannndd look at that, movie-distraction-from-relationship-problems plan failed.

 

...I could totally make that collar.

 

*****

 

As Frank, Liz, Lucy, and Link said goodbye to Jake, Tony found himself missing his own alien. Gazing forlornly across the room, Tony watched the little half smile Loki allowed himself to show only in their adopted family’s company transform into a short huff of laughter and back. Fuck, do I love that man.

 

The happily ever after told and the credits rolling, JARVIS slowly turned up the lights. As the other Avengers conversed about the movie, Tony had eyes only for his beloved. Only when the others started filtering out, stopping to give him a pat or skritch on the head, did Tony tear his gaze away. Loki rose from his seat and started gathering his trash. Tony recognized his chance slowly fading and jumped down from Thor’s lap.

 

“Mewww! Mewww!” Loki! Loki!

 

Loki reached down and patted his head with a grin, “Hello, kitten.” He then stood and walked away.

 

Tony plopped his butt down in place and stared dejected at the floor. He began mumbling to himself.

 

“Mew mreh mrah mew!” Stupid Loki and his stupid magic! “Mreh maow mrew...” Stupid me and my stupid feelings…

 

Thor, who had been watching the exchange quietly, decided to speak up, “Why are you angry with my brother, tiny beast?”

 

Tony whipped his head around towards the other, “Mewrt?” What?

 

“You were complaining about his magic, furry one.”

 

“Mrew? Mrah mreh maow mewt? Mrt mew.” Seriously? The AllSpeak works with animals, too? Of course it does.

 

Tony stood and began pacing as he enthusiastically and with increasing volume explained the situation as Thor listened attentively.

 

Loki blah blah blah cat blah blah blah babies blah blah blah magic blah blah blah why do we even neeeeeed a cat blah blah blah BLAH blah blah nobody knows it’s me blah blah blah Natasha blah blah bubbles BLAH blah blah big ugly plant thing blah blah blah blah and did you know Clint and Phil are together? No one tells me anything blah blah adventure! blah blah blah ham blah blah ham blah BLAH blah god, so good, mmm ham blah blah blah and Steve! Steve is all sad and stuff, how did we not notice that? blah blah blah assemble blah blah Natasha’s scary blah blah blah oh and yuck, Hulk slobber! bleh blah blah blah Bruce blah blah sharp objects; these claws come in handy. Hah, handy, get it? Speaking of hands blah blah blah and Natasha gives amazing belly rubs blah BLAH blah blah Loki blah blah blah movie blah blah blah Loki blah blah blah and now Loki is upstairs in our penthouse and I miss him and I love him and I really didn’t do anything wrong, but, I’m sorry, okay? I just want to cuddle and maybe get my back scratched and-!

 

(Okay, not so attentively. He got the important parts, though. Like, the fact that it was Anthony speaking. He figured that out early in the rant).

 

While Tony stopped for oxygen, Thor seized the opportunity to interrupt.

 

“I have seen this spell often, my friend. Loki used it many a time in our youth. He preferred to turn me into a puppy. Fandral was often a goat! He never dared use it again on Sif after the first…” he broke off with a shiver, “It should not last more than a few days, at most. When you are once again the Man of Iron, it is my council that you should adopt a feline creature with all haste.”

 

“Mrew-” But-

 

“With all haste, Man of Iron,” Thor nodded gravely.

 

The two exchanged a look of empathetic fear.

 

Thor gave a curt nod and rose from his seat, scooping Tony up in the process. Hey! Rude! Quick strides brought him to the elevator doors. Stepping within, he announced, “To the penthouse, my intangible Shieldbrother! Man of Iron must make amends to his lover.”

 

“As you say, Mr. Odinson.”

 

“And could you play some of that delightful ‘elevator music’?”

 

“Of course.”

 

Tony stared up in speechless horror as the god smiled and bobbed his head along with the annoying tune. Soon, the doors opened with a ding.

 

Thor set the kitten down outside of the lift, patting his butt to send him skidding further inside.

 

“Best of luck, Anthony!” he called as he pressed the button to close the doors, smiling at Tony’s anxious face as he escaped (he did not want to be turned into a puppy again. Tony would have to fend for himself).

 

“To the captain’s floor, JARVIS.” He and Steven could attempt to play some of the mortals’ ‘video games’ or watch more of that delightful cooking show with the angry man. Or they could simply ‘hang out,’ as the Midgardians would say. It mattered not what they would do. At the very least, he would not let Steven be sad on his own.

 

*****

 

Tail down and ears back, Tony slowly crept towards the living room and his beautiful, intelligent, frequently leather-clad doom. Cautiously, he peered around a corner and saw his lover (currently bunny-slipper-clad) lounging on the sofa reading a book.

 

Without moving his eyes from the page, Loki spoke, “You need not hide, Anthony. It is your residence, after all.”

 

Tony slowly entered the room and approached the couch. Rolling his eyes, Loki finally turned to face him, grin in place, “Honestly, Anthony, I turned you into a kitten not a snail.”

 

Tony studied the other’s grin, before trotting over closer, ears and tail now at half-mast.

 

Loki’s grin morphed into a sweet smile as his love neared. Reaching out a hand, he rubbed Tony’s cheek. Tony gave a hesitant purr. When Loki’s smile only grew, he leapt up to the cushions. He climbed onto his lover’s stomach and sat down, “Mreh ow.” I’m sorry, Lokes.

 

“Oh, Anthony, I was never angry. Irritated, yes, but not angry. It was just mischief, love; simply teasing.”

 

“Mrt.” Oh.

 

There was silence for a moment, before a series of loud meows erupted from the small creature. Goddammit, Loki, warn a guy! Or, you know, ask before you do your hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo. Ugh, you had me all worried for nothing. Not cool, Lokes, not cool.

 

Loki laughed, “To the contrary, JARVIS and I found it to be quite humorous.”

 

“Mrao mreh mret mrah mraow.” Yeah, of course you did. Why do I put up with the two of you?

 

“You love us.”

 

Tony sighed and lay down on the gorgeous bed that was his lover, “Mreh, mraow.” Yeah, I do.

 

“And we, you,” Loki smiled, planting a kiss upon Tony’s head and returning to his book. The two lay companionably for a time, neither speaking a word. They simply enjoyed each other’s presence. Tony closed his eyes, purring, while Loki read his book, hand resting on the kitten’s back.

 

“Mrow,” Our, Tony suddenly stated some time later.

 

“Hmm?” Loki hummed, setting his book down.

 

“Mraow MROW mra, mew meh.” It’s OUR residence, not mine.

 

Loki smiled and gave the other’s chin a scratch, “Yes it is, dear.” After using a fancy bookmark to mark his place, Loki sat up and placed the novel on the coffee table. Pulling Tony to his chest, he rose, “I believe it is time we adjourn to our bed, my love.” Tony could only purr in agreement.

 

That night, JARVIS saved his favorite picture yet to his album: that of Master Laufeyson curled around Sir’s furry body in the center of their bed, fast asleep and smiling.

 

*****

 

Steve entered the common floor’s living room and stopped short at the sight before him. Loki sat in the center of the sofa, smiling the sweetest smile Steve had ever seen as he pet the rumbling ball of fur curled up in his lap. Strangely, Steve felt as if he were intruding upon something intimate. Stepping forward once again, he made his way to join them on the couch, “So, Loki, is that your cat, then?”

 

Loki looked up and gave a slightly disturbing grin, “Indeed, Captain.”

 

Tony gave an indignant mew and glare until Loki’s petting mollified him. One by one, the other Avengers ambled in, cups of coffee, bowls of cereal, and tablets in hand (“Phiiiil, it’s 8am, let the paperwork sleeeep” “Mmmmhmm, yes, Clint”). The chairs in the room soon filled: Natasha claimed one loveseat for herself and Thor’s lap for her feet when he joined her, Clint and Phil stationed themselves in the other, and Bruce settled in on Loki’s right with his cup of tea.

 

The morning news soon turned to cartoons and no one gave any indication of moving for the remoter. Ten minutes into an episode of Dragon Tails, of which many eyes were avidly fixed upon, Tony stretched across Loki’s lap and into Steve and Bruce’s. Bruce simply patted the furry little paws that ended up in his lap before taking another sip of tea, eyes glued to the television. When Steve did not react, Tony gained his attention with some strategically placed (and inserted) claws. Steve yelped and hurried to remove Tony’s hooks from the inside of his thigh. Rubbing the spot, he looked down. Wide golden eyes stared back at him, demanding his compliance.

 

Steve sighed in defeat as he began scratching the kitten’s head (Steve pretended not to hear Loki’s snort. He also didn’t hear the whipping sound Clint made, nor would he admit to knowing its meaning).

 

The gang was fully engrossed in the adventures of Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable (and trying not to look at Natasha and Clint) when suddenly a naked Tony Stark appeared across the laps of Bruce, Loki, and Steve. The group stared in silence as Tony oriented himself.

 

After confirming the fact that he once again had opposable thumbs, Tony loudly exclaimed, “Oh thank fuck!”

 

Natasha rolled her eyes and turned back to the show, the others following suit.

 

Steve reached backward for the blanket hanging off the couch back. Swinging it around and over the naked man, he, too, returned to the show.

 

A sharp pinch to the inside of his thigh had him quickly looking down again. Wide brown eyes stared up at him, “Why’d you stop?”

 

Sighing in defeat yet again, Steve resumed petting Tony’s (now, less) soft and furry head. With a contented murmur reminiscent of a kitten’s purr, Tony tuned back into the adventures of Kim and Ron.

 

And JARVIS took a picture.





 

Chapter Text

~AN INDETERMINATE AMOUNT OF TIME LATER~

 

Natasha lay sprawled across the sofa in her living room. As she turned the page of her mystery novel (which was a huge false advertisement; she figured out ‘who done it’ thirty pages ago. ‘Mystery,’ her gorgeous ass), she heard the elevator ding. Not bothering to look up, she waited for the intruder to announce their self and continued reading (she didn’t like leaving a story unfinished, no matter how pitiful the plot). She peered over the pages when a small black ball of fur jumped onto her stomach, curled up, and tucked its nose into its belly.

 

“What did you do this time, kiska?”

 

The kitten heaved a sigh.