"Tony?" Clint called.
The man in question appeared behind him. "What?"
"When did we get a cat?" he asked, eyes fixed on the long haired ginger cat that was perched on their counter, lapping milk out of a saucer.
Tony blinked. "How the hell should I know," he grumbled. "Not like it's my tower or anything, nope." He shrugged. "We can ask the rest of the team when they get here for breakfast. Speaking of which, give me that coffee."
Clint obliged, knowing how dangerous Tony was without his early morning caffeine.
Bruce emerged first, and he began cooking, since Tony was not allowed to use the stove without direct supervision, and it was just best if he didn't, period. Steve was next, arriving back at the Tower after his morning jog.
None of them knew where the cat was from.
Thor appeared last, on his way through the kitchen to the balcony, because Tony had convinced him to not take off from inside the Tower anymore.
"Hey, Thor, before you take off, is this your cat?" Tony called.
Thor paused for a moment, his cape slowing behind him, no longer billowing out.
Thor laughed. "No, she is not mine." With that, he continued on his way, and took off a moment later, a blur of red and gold.
"Show off," Tony muttered to his cup of coffee.
Clint shrugged. "Must be Tasha's then. I suppose she's not back from her mission yet, which would explain why this little guy came out. Hungry probably."
Clint moved closer to pet it.
"Hi Natcat," Clint chirped. "Want some bacon?"
The ginger cat mrowed in response, and Clint grinned. "Thought so."
"The bacon needs another minute," Bruce called from his place at the stove. "Do you think it can make it until then?"
Clint scratched the cat under its chin, and grinned as it purred in response.
"Pretty sure," he replied.
After everyone had been fed, including the cat, they all wandered off to separate parts of the Tower.
Tony headed to his workshop, Clint to the range, Steve to the gym, and Bruce to his lab.
The cat curled up in the sun in the living room, and was bathing itself contently last anyone saw.
It was only hours later that Tony wondered where the cat had gotten the saucer of milk from.
Natasha appeared that evening. Clint attempted to ask her about the cat, but she only shot him a threatening look, and no one else asked after that.
The cat showed up a few more times, usually after Natasha had been away for a longer mission, but right before she appeared. It was like the cat knew she would be home, and was waiting for her.
They called it increasingly ridiculous names, until Clint recalled what Thor had said before he left (and had yet to come back, which was weird), that the cat was a female. After that, they tried to come up with equally ridiculous, but either gender neutral or female names.
"Catasha?" Clint offered.
"I still like Natcat," Tony replied.
"Crookshanks?" Steve offered.
"Aw yes Capsicle," Tony cheered. "You're catching up on pop culture references. I'm so proud of you."
Bruce smiled slightly when Steve blushed.
"It was at the top of my list," he mumbled.
"We're totally going to watch the movies soon. When Natasha gets back from her mission," Tony added. "Because who even knows if she's seen them?"
The four of them received a text later that day (since Thor still wasn't back, and Tony really needed to work up interdimensional communication for this exact purpose) from Natasha.
Of course I've seen them. Watch them tonight.
"We all agree this is creepy, right?" Tony asked later, when they were all seated in various positions on the couch, waving his phone at them.
They nodded in unison.
"Good," Tony sighed. "Popcorn should be almost done, because I am capable of using the popcorn maker on my own. Or rather, Jarvis can work it for me." He smirked.
Steve shook his head, but went to fetch the popcorn, and in his absence, the cat appeared out of nowhere to take his spot.
When Steve returned, his super soldier arms full of popcorn and drinks, he shook his head fondly at the cat. He handed out the snacks before returning to his spot, and lifting the cat gently.
She hissed at being awoken, but settled quickly once she realized who it was. Steve took his seat back, part of the couch warmed by her, and sent her back down carefully on his lap.
She stayed there for the first two movies, purring as Steve stroked her. They all drifted off somewhere in the middle of the third movie, and when they woke up, she was gone.
Natasha was there, perched on a stool in the kitchen with a cup of coffee.
"Fun movie night?" she asked, a slight smile tugging at her lips.
Tony only blinked at her, and made gimme hands for the coffee.
The cat became a semi permanent fixture in the Tower, only when Natasha was on missions. Clint didn't seem to get any information from her, or if he did, he wasn't sharing.
The many names that the ginger cat was known as could often be found at the breakfast table, especially if Bruce was the one cooking, as he would often toss her extra pieces of bacon. She'd spend lazy afternoons in various sunny spots throughout the common areas. She was particularly favoured at movie nights, where she would carefully select who to sit on, based on what type of movie they were viewing. When Natasha was at movie nights, the cat would not appear.
It was quite confusing, almost like the cat didn't like Natasha, and would hide every time she was home.
Bruce told them it was impossible to understand the ways of cats, and they gave up on understanding her near the beginning of her appearances.
Thor finally returned when Natasha was on yet another mission, and the cat had taken over the tower in the last day, before she was set to return home.
Thor quickly took to her, and she responded in kind by perching on his shoulder while he went about his day.
It was only when he was speaking to the cat within earshot of Clint that anything came to light.
Clint was slouched on a couch, playing games on his tablet, and was hidden from the line of sight in the hallway, when Thor walked by.
"I am glad to see you fared well, Lady Natasha. I worry for everyone when they venture on missions without their SHIELD brothers, or sisters, in your case," he added.
Clint perked up. "Tasha?" he asked. "I haven't seen her yet. Where is she?" he added, glancing around the room, not spotting her anywhere, even in any of the hiding places he'd scoped out as soon as he moved in.
Thor stood in front of him, the cat perched on his shoulder, where she could often be found in the last day, when she ventured out of wherever her favourite hiding place was.
"I do not understand your question," he said, looking genuinely confused. "Surely you know of Lady Natasha's current state," he said, gesturing to the smug cat on his shoulder. She was half buried under his hair, and looked to be thrilled with it.
Tony appeared at that moment, because he had some sort of radar for unusual events occurring in his immediate vicinity. "What about Natasha? Is she back? Is she hurt?" he asked immediately.
For all that Tony pretended not to care about (or fear) his teammates, he was hopelessly invested in them.
Bruce and Steve both appeared as well, because weirdness radar was practically an Avengers requirement. The sight of Natcat sitting on Thor's shoulder did not go unnoticed, and Bruce smiled at the sight.
"Oh wow, Thor, you two are getting along nicely. Did you feed her milk?" Tony asked, distracted for a second, before he circled back to his first train of thought. "Wait, right, Natasha. Where is she?"
Thor looked baffled for another moment, before smiling broadly.
"But... Natasha..." He glanced at the cat perched on his shoulder, who had managed to get herself out from under his hair somewhat. "Do they not know?"
The cat mewed.
"What the hell is going on?" Clint asked helplessly.
Thor looked amused that he knew something no one else did. "The cat. This is Lady Natasha. They are one and the same. Not all humans transform, of course, but I thought you knew of Lady Natasha's second form?"
The majority of the team was looking baffled now.
"You're telling me that cat is Natasha?" Tony asked, his arms crossed over his chest, like he could shield himself from the weirdness if he tried hard enough. (He didn't deal well with things that he couldn't science away.)
Thor bowed his head slightly, looking to the cat on his shoulder, as if for permission.
"Of course," he said after a moment, and the cat had given him a slight nod.
Clint, who was perhaps the one out of all of them who should have known, given his history with Natasha, looked completely horrified.
"Nat?" he whispered, peering at her, still perched on Thor's shoulder. "Are you trapped like that?"
Bruce had never seen a cat roll its eyes before, but Natasha did just that.
Thor laughed openly. "Of course not," he told them. "She chooses when to take this form."
He looked back to the cat, Natasha. "Perhaps you should be the one to explain this to them," he recommended.
Natasha tilted her head to the side and considered Thor before leaping gracefully off his shoulder and sauntering off.
"Was that a... yes?" Bruce asked awkwardly.
Thor nodded. "She has gone to transform, and will return shortly. Perhaps we could partake in a meal while waiting for her?"
Tony snorted. "Sure, why not big guy. Bruce, you gonna make something, or should we order in?"
Bruce blinked at him.
"Order in it is," Tony concluded.
After Jarvis informed them that Natasha would prefer to have Japanese, Tony ordered, and they all pooled in the living room, where they had held so many movie nights.
"Is anyone else feeling awkward about this whole thing?" Tony asked finally, breaking the awkward silence.
Clint rolled over in his beanbag. "Oh god yes. She was purring. Purring," he hissed, sounding horrified. "I babytalked her. Oh god she's going to kill me. All of us. We are going to wake up in the morning, and we will all be trapped in some sort of cat torture device, and then she will kill us all!"
"I really won't," Natasha said wryly, appearing behind them without warning, which to be fair, was her MO.
"Natasha," Steve breathed, standing up as soon as he realized she was there.
She snorted. "Sit down Steve, don't be ridiculous."
Jarvis interrupted to tell them the food had arrived, and it was a little while before they'd all gotten settled in the living room again with their plates.
It was a bit uncomfortable when Steve went to sit in his usual spot, and Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.
"Would you prefer if I sat on your lap?" she asked.
Steve blushed bright red.
"I'm kidding," she added, because Steve could stumble over his words, or get up and attempt to offer her the seat.
She dumped Clint out of his beanbag in one swift move, and took it before he knew what hit him.
He wisely didn't say anything, the idea of waking up in some elaborate torture device obviously not far from his mind. Instead he perched on the couch behind Steve, like he would protect him.
"So..." Steve began, and stopped. Apparently he hadn't thought much further ahead.
"Lady Natasha, why don't you explain the nature of your other form?" Thor offered. "It is more common on Asgard for people to have more than one form, but apparently on Midgard it is quite rare, if your teammate's reactions are anything to go by."
She smirked again, but nodded.
"So, yes, I'm the cat," she said simply. "It's always been that way. I don't know if it was something that was done to me at a young age, or if I've always been this way, but that's just how it is. I didn't mention it because it doesn't provide any sort of advantage, or disadvantage in battle, and it is something personal. Although I thought that you might have figured it out by now." She rolled her eyes. "I mean, honestly. You never saw me at the same time, but never suspected?" She scoffed. "I fear for our planet."
Tony began to open his mouth, but thought better of it.
"Okay, so how did Thor know?" Clint asked.
Thor sighed. "You often forget about Allspeak. It does not simply extend to spoken languages that you humans see as languages, but also to animal languages, including those of the cat."
"So you... were talking to her?" Bruce clarified. "That's why you were asking her how her mission went?"
Thor nodded. "Of course. I assumed that in my absence, you also uncovered the truth, which was why she was such an accepted presence."
The four of them glanced between themselves nervously. "Right," Tony said. "Apparently we all just really like cats?"
"I used to be allergic," Steve offered.
Natasha sighed. "Whatever. It doesn't change anything. If anything, things will go back to being more normal around here, BC era."
"Before cat?" Clint hazarded.
She nodded. It went unspoken, the other half of her sentence, if you attempt to use this against me, I will destroy you, whether in the form of a cat or not.
"If I may," Thor interrupted. "I believe that Lady Natasha allowing you to see her in this form is a demonstration of a great deal of trust. You should be honoured to be allowed the privilege of sharing it with her."
Steve blushed slightly, and Bruce stared at the ground. Tony was still pouting, his arms crossed over his chest again, and Clint was looking thoroughly uncomfortable.
Natasha didn't say anything, and that was the best response they could have hoped for.
They finished their meal in silence, because what more could be said after that?
Anything else would only be a reminder of the events that had taken place while they were under the impression the cat was simply a cat.
The Avengers were aware of the enormous issues they had, individually, and as a group, but tended not to discuss them. But in the course of the weeks that the cat had appeared, each Avenger had found themselves alone with her. Of course, cats made excellent therapists, as they only responded with mews that sounded affirming, and occasionally a purr. And purring was scientifically proven to be soothing. So perhaps Natasha had a bit more blackmail material, had she been so inclined, but as it was, she simply had a better understanding of her teammates. And maybe their minds were slightly more at ease, even if hers wasn't, burdened with their memories and pasts.
She supposed it was the least she could do in thanks for all those belly rubs and extra crispy pieces of bacon.