[personal profile] dragonofmemory
Of Whiskey and Whiskers
By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to.
Characters: Pepper Potts/Tony Stark (break up), Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, Clint Barton, Thor, Rhodey, Bruce Banner.
Warnings: PTSD, both kitty and human.  Drinking as a coping mechanism.
Rating: PG-13
Summary:  As if breaking up with Pepper wasn't bad enough, AIM is back and Tony has been made team leader.  Not to mention Steve has been turned into a cat.  Tony needs way more alcohol before he can deal with this.
Thanks: Many thanks as always to narwhale_callin, who still gets me fic even if it is rather late.  XD
Notes: First of all, if Pepper/Tony is your MCU OTP, then this is probably not the fic for you.  A good half of this fic is dealing with the fall out of their break up.  However, this fic is protesting two things.  The first is that in slash fic, the break up with Pepper either happens long time before (and they are now friends), they break up and Pepper is never seen or heard from again, or they break up and Pepper is more okay with this than Tony is.  Which is all well and good, but I wanted a fic where no, she's also not okay, she doesn't just disappear, and the break up hurts both of them a lot before things can start to get better (which it does, because I like happy endings).  The second thing I protest is the fact that Tony is always turned into a cat.  Again, all well and good (and believe me, I adore Tony as a cat fics.  They are a weakness of mine), but someone else needs to have a turn to be cat-i-fied.  In this case, it is Steve's turn to suffer and be adorable.  I think I've only seen him as a cat once, and that was in Ultimates fic, so obviously this is A Thing and it needed to be rectified.  So I wrote this fic.  Because that's how I roll.

Finally, this is pre-slash, because Tony's not jumping into a new relationship and Steve spent most of the fic as a cat.  However, the potential is there and (rather vaguely) discussed, even if they've settled on friends for now.  So if you are wondering about the relationship tags, it's friends with an understood option for something more later.  In other words, Mem fails at slash yet again and no one is surprised.

~

Tony Stark was in the middle of a board meeting when Natasha called, because believe it or not, Tony didn't actually leave everything to Pepper. It wasn't the Avenger emergency line, but a normal call. That didn't mean it wasn't important, but it meant he could ignore it and check his voice mail later. Just because he was being responsible didn't mean that he wanted to drag out this meeting any longer than he had to by taking a call.

She called again.

He sighed, motioning to Pepper that he'd be back in a moment. When she glared at him, he waved it off. "Ms. Rushman," he said quietly.

The glare turned to a worried nod, which Tony also waved off. Stepping out of the room, he answered the call. "If it's important, make it quick. I'm in a board meeting."

"There's been a problem."

"Always straight to the point, Natalie," Tony said sarcastically as he watched her roll her eyes at him on the small screen.

"AIM has reorganized."

Tony went completely still, fighting down the rage that nearly overwhelmed him. "Killian?" he asked curtly, forcing his fingers to relax out of a fist.

"Still dead," Natasha confirmed.

"Well, there's that at least." It wasn't much considering how AIM had hurt Pepper and Happy and stolen one of his armors, but at least the bigger monster was still dead.

"A few of the other scientists have regrouped, and they're calling their new leader the 'Scientist Supreme'," Natasha said. "Cap and I were sent to confirm it."

"And how's taking a walking flag for stealth missions working for you?" Tony asked, leaning against the wall nonchalantly despite the panicking urge to grab one of his new armors and stay in it. "And 'Scientist Supreme'? Isn't that a bit egotistical? Even I wouldn't be caught dead with a name like that."

Natasha ignored him. "Just get back soon. There's been a complication with one of the weapons they were using."

"Roger that," Tony said with a sigh. So much for being responsible today. He cut the call and went back into the meeting, sliding back into his seat just as the budget was brought up. Except now he couldn't concentrate. All he could think about was AIM. He kept sneaking glances at Pepper, just to make sure she was okay.

When the meeting ended, everyone filed out but Pepper. She stood awkwardly, because they still haven't figured out what they were to each other now. The wounds were still too fresh. "Mr. Stark-"

Tony flinched at the name, at the reminder that he'd still failed even when he was trying so hard to make it work. "Don't..."

Pepper closed her eyes and took a deep breath. His name still came out a little pained, but it was an improvement. "Tony, what did SHIELD want?"

Tony looked away. Their working relationship was strained as it was without this added on top of it. "AIM is back."

"AIM!" Pepper nearly shouted. "Is Aldrich-"

"Someone new." He didn't say Killian was dead, but Pepper looked down at her hands anyway. She would know. She was the one who had killed him, and Tony would take that burden from her if he could. "I can't..." she said, taking another deep breath. "I can't deal with this right now. Not from you."

"Okay," Tony said. He reached out to touch her, but halted midway. "Then I'll-"

"I've got to go," Pepper said, cutting him off as she gathered her papers. "I'm sorry. Have Natasha give me an update, but I can't... I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too," Tony whispered to her retreating back.

Break-ups suck.

Tony sank down into the chair, pressing the heel of his hand against his eyes. He wanted a drink badly, ever since he and Pepper called it off a week ago. But things were so busy that there hadn't been time for getting Break-Up Drunk. And now, he had to go back and look at whatever weapon Natasha insisted was his problem. "I don't even do weapons anymore," Tony told the empty room. At least he could pour himself a drink when he got back to the tower. Natasha never said he needed to stay sober for this project.

* * *

The project needed scotch. Lots and lots of scotch. No, delete that. This called for something stronger. He was stealing Natasha's vodka she and Bruce kept brewing in an attempt to get Steve drunk, because this was not something Tony was prepared to deal with.

"Why is there a cat in my living room?" Tony asked. The cat was in his chair, getting cat fur everywhere.

"I told you there was a problem," Natasha said as she perched on the arm of the chair and stroked the cat's head. It started to purr loudly.

"This is not a problem," Tony said furiously. "This is leaving. Now. Before there's more fur over my things."

Natasha was unimpressed with his tantrum. "The cat is Steve."

Tony blinked. Then he blinked again. Then he went straight to the bar and poured the strongest drink within reach and knocked it back like a shot. He was not near drunk enough to deal with this. He poured another. "He's a cat?"

"He's the cat," Natasha replied.

Which meant Tony couldn't actually kick the thing out, no matter how much fur it got on his favorite chair. Tony looked the cat over, the indignity of the situation rising further. Steve was huge. He was a white and orange-spotted massive monster of a cat. Jesus, Steve had to weigh at least twenty-five pounds. Tony was sure if their positions had been reversed, he would have been a small black kitten that every superstitious asshole in New York would kick, because the universe hated Tony that much. But no, it loved Steve. Steve looked like he could still take on Hitler, but with claws rather than a punch to the face.

Tony sat down heavily on Clint's side of the couch, because it was the furthest away from the chair with furry animals. "Okay, so that happened. No wait. What happened?"

Natasha started to scratch the cat's chin, and Tony could hear the damned thing purring from this distance. Seriously, purring that loud would give the front lines a run for its money. Tony was pretty sure he could hear it from the other room. "Is Cap this loud in the bedroom too?" he asked.

Natasha ignored him. "AIM was testing something called an Infinite Probability Drive. I'm not sure what it was-"

"Hold up. Infinite Probability Drive?" Tony asked incredulously. "As in Heart of Gold, sperm whales and unfortunate potted petunias Infinite Probability Drive? Seriously?"

Natasha obviously didn't get that reference. "You've heard of it? Can you remake it?"

"I..." Tony said, thinking over the implications of this. "Okay, they get nerd points for actually doing something awesome this time. Though taking ideas from Douglas Adams probably isn't actually useful." All the same, Tony was just a little gleeful to get his hands on the device. "I don't think I could reverse the polarity of it without seeing the one they made," Tony said, finally answering her question.

She got that reference, though she just rolled her eyes. "Then he's stuck as a cat until we find their blueprints. Some idiot shot at Steve just as they turned the machine on. It... turned into a redwood tree."

Tony shook his head sadly. "That's why it pays to have proper shielding." It was a hilariously brilliant idea until the machine itself wasn't there anymore to change things back because of its own programming. AIM really needed to work on their tech's fatal flaws.

He'd barely blinked, and suddenly Natasha was holding up an annoyed and sleepy-looking Steve from under his front legs, his back legs dangling in the air. The cat had startlingly blue eyes, and his orange-tipped ears flicked as he yowled his displeasure.

Tony scooted back on the couch, pressing himself as far away from the cat as possible. "Why are you bringing it closer?" he asked.

"Him. And Rogers left provisions for what would happen if he was incapacitated. He made you team leader," Natasha replied. "That makes this your problem."

Tony was so stunned that he automatically took the cat as she thrust him forward. "He what? Why would he..?" Tony sputtered, looking down at the cat. It stared back at him with a bored expression, flicking its ears again. Damn, he was heavy. Tony looked back at Natasha. "He doesn't trust my plans further than he can throw me, and that's in the suit, much less handling a simple mission with the team. Why would he make me the leader?" Tony asked, honestly baffled. "He always hates my plans. You've heard him."

Natasha's eyes softened for a brief moment and the cat's ears laid flat against his head as he hissed softly. Then Natasha shrugged. "That's what his instructions said."

"Huh." Looking down at the hissing creature he still held at arms' length, he wondered what the hell Steve had been thinking. The cat looked pissed, and Tony wasn't sure letting go would be a good idea. "He doesn't have fleas, does he? Wait, does he know how to use the litter box or-"

"Your problem, Stark," was all Natasha said.

Carefully, he put the cat on the ground as far away as he could. It turned its tail in the air and stalked off, curling up in a patch of sunlight. Tony was just petty enough to consider ordering JARVIS to darken the windows. "How much of Cap is in there?" he asked, eying the demon in distaste.

"He's more intelligent than the average house cat, but beyond that, we don't know," Natasha said. "We tried Morse code to talk to him, but he doesn't seem to be able to follow it."

"So we're stuck with a Kitty-Cap until you guys get the blueprints?" The cat raised its head, looking at the edge of the couch with what could only be called a calculating expression. "You claw my furniture and I will declaw you," Tony muttered.

"That sums it up. Clint and I will be searching," Natasha said. "Thor's looking for a more magical cure."

"And The Cat Who Saw Red, White, and Blue is my problem, I know." That earned him the ghost of a smile from Natasha. "You know, I don't know anything about pets, right? I've never..."

"You'll be fine," Natasha replied. "You have the internet. The internet's not for porn, it's for cat memes."

Well, she had a point there.

* * *

He had JARVIS order everything the internet said a cat would need from the local pet shop, then scanned for fleas, ticks, and anything else a cat might infect him with. At least the scans came out clean. And Steve appeared to know what a litter box was, even if he glared at it distastefully. The collar, on the other hand, was an entirely different story.

That was when Tony realized Steve had six claws in each paw.

"Jesus Christ, you would be a fucking Hemingway cat," Tony said as he held a towel to the scratch marks on his arm. What were Steve's claws made out of, vibranium? "Look, the law says you need a collar and you're a cat from Brooklyn now, Cap. I get fined by the city enough as it is."

The damned cat just laid his ears back flat and hissed from under the couch.

"Look, Kit-Kap, you're a cat. Cats wear collars. I'm not tying a bell to your neck or anything," Tony pleaded. But there was no response other than another hiss from a pair of glowing eyes.

"Fine, yes. Stay under there for all I care," Tony said, sitting on the floor and leaning against the couch with a sigh. He felt pathetic, and he hated feeling pathetic. This was the last thing he needed after breaking-up with Pepper. "JARVIS, what am I doing wrong?" he asked plaintively.

"I believe it might be best to let Captain Rogers calm down before you try again, Sir," the AI replied.

"Clint was in the circus, wasn't he?" Tony lifted the towel to look at the scratches. They were a vicious shade of red, but the bleeding was slowing.

"Agent Barton is looking-"

"For the blueprints, I know," Tony said, really wishing he could get another drink. But if he had too much more, he'd be in no shape to pilot the armor if his teammates needed back-up, and he wasn't desperate enough to risk that, not when they were already down Captain America.

"I just... I don't know anything about pets, JARVIS! Even the dog I made when I was a kid was a crappy robotic knock-off." His dad's exact words, and Tony hated himself a little for repeating them. Tony looked down at the collar he'd dropped on the floor. It was blue with little stars, which must have been JARVIS's idea of a joke. If Tony had been in a better mood, he'd have approved.

Tony reached out for it with his good hand, sighing lightly. "Tell me when our furry leader decides to stop clawing everything. I'm going to..." Tony hesitated. In normal circumstances, he'd call Pepper. He closed his eyes, taking a shuddering breath. He could do this without asking her for help or asking (begging) her to give it one more try. He could. "I'll be trying something down in the workshop."

"Very well, Sir."

Tony glanced at the couch before heading down. His workshop was home. A place he could find his footing, so long as he didn't think about all of the times Pepper had come down to get him to sign something or curled up against him as he showed her a new schematic. Thankfully, the memories weren't as strong here as they would have been if his house in Malibu had still been intact.

Putting the collar on the table, Tony regarded it carefully before starting to program the fabricators.

"Sir," JARVIS said fifteen minutes later. "Captain Rogers is coming out from under the couch. Would you like to try again with the collar? If so, I would suggest having a treat in hand for a distraction."

"You saw how he turned his patriotic pink nose up at the cat food, J," Tony said, putting the newly made name plate in the water to cool it off. "I had to cajole a cat from the Depression era into not wasting food before he even went near it."

"Very well, Sir. I'll stock up on more plasters and antiseptic."

"Your faith in me is overwhelming," Tony said as he reattached the name plate to the collar and headed upstairs.

"I do try to be supportive of your endeavors to the fullest of my abilities, Sir," JARVIS said with the right level of sarcasm to make Tony wonder if he'd given JARVIS too much personality.

"Take two," Tony said as the elevator opened. He strode out into the main living area, expecting to find an unruly cat to deal with. He wasn't quite expecting the 'I just broke a potted plant and please don't hit me for it' look the cat was giving him though. Steve's ears were low to his head, but he didn't hiss and his tail was curled around him pathetically as he tried to duck his head behind it.

Tony immediately looked around to see if there was any destruction, potted plants or otherwise. "Okay, did you just find out cats can't live off of apple pies and freedom? Or did you break something? Tell me you didn't break something."

At the sound of Tony's voice, the cat ducked his head lower. "Jesus, it's just a collar. Looking pathetic won't get you out of wearing it."

Steve's tail whipped about angrily, but it soon returned to its earlier position so he could hide his cute little nose in shame. Tony approached the cat cautiously. His arm had stopped bleeding, but it still smarted like a bitch, and he was in no mood to get a matching set on the other side. He kneeled down, eying Steve's polydactyl claws with trepidation. "This is for your own good, okay? If someone attacks the Tower and you somehow make it down to the street, we need to be able to find you again."

The cat just pushed himself further into the ground, looking miserable. Tony sighed, holding the collar up for Steve to see. "I put your shield on the back of it, even. You like your shield, right?" He turned the name plate over so that Steve could see the small star circled by red and blue on the back.

Steve lifted his head a little, leaning forward to sniff at the metal. If the little bastard hadn't nearly clawed his arm off an hour ago, Tony would have thought it was cute. "So can I put it on you this time without getting mauled?" Tony asked.

Steve just went back to pressing himself into the floor.

Well, it was now or never. Tony braced himself, then reached out to slip the collar around Steve's neck. Steve's ears twitched, but he didn't lash out this time and Tony was able to fasten the collar and make sure it wasn't too tight before he got thwapped by an angry tail.

"See? Not so bad," Tony told the cat, who proceeded to look absolutely miserable as he gave a pathetic mew. "No, don't give me that look. You clawed me and - fine."

Sulking and miserable Cap was bad enough to deal with. His kitten counterpart's eyes were even worse. Ignoring the fact that Steve's paw could probably go all the way around his knee and dig in, Tony scooped up the fur ball of misery and went over to the couch. He sat down, leaving the cat in his lap. "You claw me again and I'm taking you to the pound," Tony muttered darkly.

Steve's ears flattened, reminding Tony a little of the Scottish fold that one of his girlfriends had owned. That had been one of the saddest cats Tony had ever seen.

"Oh, come on," Tony said, starting to pet the cat with long strokes. "You're a cat. Life's not that bad. You can sleep and eat as much as you like. Free vacation."

Steve mewed again, a sound that would make even the happiest clown sad. Hesitantly, Tony scratched behind Steve's ears. Cats liked that, didn't they?

Steve didn't scratch him this time. After a moment, he pushed up into Tony's hand and the genius switched to scratching under Steve's chin. Tony was slightly startled when a soft purr started. It wasn't as loud as when Natasha had been petting him, but Tony would take what he could get. "So you'll barely give me the time of day as a human, but you'll let the shady businessman pet you as a cat. I see how it is."

Steve hissed, and Tony immediately grabbed his front paws. "No claws," he said firmly, watching as the pathetic expression returned. He put Steve's paws on his chest, and the cat stood, leaning up to lick Tony's goatee with a rough tongue. "Watch it, Cap. You'll give me ideas. Ideas that generally require you to actually like me, which we both know isn't true."

He settled into the couch, petting Steve until he could put a motorboat to shame with the noise of his purring. It was surprisingly soothing to Tony as well. Steve would have been a much better dog, Tony thought. There'd be less claws that way. Privately though, Tony was glad the Infinite Probability Drive had given him a cat for a teammate. Tony wasn't all together sure he could handle a non-mechanical dog. The noise would be-

"Ow!" Tony grabbed Steve's paws where they'd been kneading his chest. "I'm pretty sure I saw a claw clipper in the bag JARVIS ordered," he said threateningly.

But Steve merely rubbed his head against Tony's cheek. He should go back down to the workshop and work on upgrades for the repulsors. But this was the first time Steve was willing to spend time with him. The cat could have gotten up by now, but since Tony was the only human around to give him affection, he was apparently making due.

"Well, this is a low even for me," Tony said softly. "The one time I get Captain America's approval, it's because I'm the only one in the room to - Hey!"

Tony pulled back his hand, sucking lightly on the finger Steve had bitten. "Right," he said flatly, resuming his petting carefully. "Next time I know better to assume."

He didn't know which hurt more - the bite, the scratches, or the fact that even as a cat, Steve only barely tolerated him. Tony still didn't go down to the workshop though, because with Pepper... with Rhodey on a mission and Bruce somewhere in South Africa, he was pathetic enough to take what physical affection he could get.

* * *

There was a pressure on his chest and he couldn't breathe. The arc reactor wasn't working, and he couldn't...

Tony woke up screaming, violently pushing the weight off his chest as he fumbled with his shirt. But as he pulled it up, there was no blue light bathing the room. "JARVIS," he choked out. "Pep-"

"You took the arc reactor out last New Year's, Sir, and you are in New York, not Afghanistan. Ms. Potts no longer stays at the Tower. Your heart is fine."

Pepper wasn't here anymore. His heart was not fine.

Still, it was enough to pull Tony out of the nightmare's grip. His heart proved how fine it was by beating loudly as he shook, but he could barely make out the sound of hissing over the noise.

So that had been the weight on his chest. Kit-Kap.

Tony sat on the couch, shaking and trying to catch his breath. Eventually, the hissing was replaced by plaintive meows. Steve was a moody cat. Tony thought the internet search JARVIS pulled up said it was female cats who got mood swings.

"Sorry," he said finally when he had the breath to speak. His voice trembled. "That was... I... Christ."

Tony nearly jumped half a foot as Steve pushed against his arm. Steve didn't hiss this time, but continued to rub against Tony's unscratched arm, purring. Tony reached a shaky hand to pet Steve, who crawled into his lap again. When had he fallen asleep? Tony didn't even remember feeling tired, and now his neck was stiff.

"You - You're quick to forgive as a cat," Tony said, his voice only slightly hysterical. "Do cats hold grudges? I'm pretty sure some cats do."

Steve just purred louder.

His hands didn't stop trembling, even as he pressed the heel of them into his eyes. He needed a drink. Or Pepper. He wanted Pepper more.

Tony picked Steve up and set him to the side, making his way to the bar. His hands only shook a little as he poured a glass of straight whiskey without ice, and he threw it back like a shot. The whiskey burned his throat as it went down, the fiery pain nothing like the water that had burned his lungs. "Yup. That was what I needed," Tony said, this time getting some ice. He brought the bottle back with him, flopping down on the couch. He'd needed this for the past couple of days.

Steve looked at him with those eery, unblinking cat eyes that glowed faintly in the dark. He meowed.

"What? No stern disapproval from Captain Americat?" Tony asked. "No rousing lecture on the evils of drinking to a poor, lost soul?"

Steve just looked at him with an extremely unimpressed expression that only cats could ever fully master. His back arched as Tony pet him after downing his drink.

"Yeah, meowing probably wouldn't be as stirring, but here I thought everything I did rated the Cap Frown of Disapproval," Tony said.

Steve's ears lay flat against his head as Tony poured more whiskey. "There we go. I'm always ready to be a disappointment. I've had so much practice at it."

It didn't take long for the whiskey to replace the adrenaline flowing through his blood, not when it'd been more than a few hours since his last meal. He smiled as the alcohol quickly made its way to his head, slowing all the nightmares and other thoughts down.

He raised his glass to Steve, whose ears were still flat. "To being an eternal fuck-up and disappointment. What's the use in trying when I'll never get it right in the first place?" He drank his toast, smiling faintly as the nightmares failed to grasp his increasingly slippery thoughts. Being sober for Pepper had been so over rated.

He managed to finish about half the bottle before a furry impediment started to block his way. "Sorry, Kapka, but cats can't have alcohol. I'll get you some 'nip later. Did you get that reference? One day, Steven Rogers woke up to find himself transformed into a monstrous feline!" Tony said, trying to remember what years Kafka had been writing. Then he decided it wasn't worth drunkenly chasing after.

"You're a bit precious when you get a reference," Tony confided. Then he leaned back. "Is that a thing I say? Precious? Hm, only if there's rings involved. Forget I said that."

He reached for the bottle again, but pulled back uncertainly when he heard hissing. Tony was a pretty happy drunk though, and the cat wasn't in a suit of armor that could hit back, so he pouted. "Caaaaaap. Come on. Don't be a spoilsport. Be a cool cat."

When he reached for it again, Steve nipped at his hands in a clear threat. "See if I get you the good kitty drugs."

Tony, however, was not going to be cut off by a cat. He just had to have a new plan of attack. If he stood up, he could get around Steve (or simply get a new bottle). That was a good plan.

But as he started to stand, a twenty-five-pound furry missile hit him right in the chest. Balance is apparently a thing only sober people have, because Tony was knocked back on the couch with a small 'oof.'

He glared at the cat who landed on his feet, still standing on Tony's chest. That was what had started the nightmare in the first place. The cat glared back. Finally, Tony's eyes watered and he blinked. There was too much intelligence in those blue eyes. Tony must be drunker than he realized to be imagining that.

Then Steve started purring loud enough to wake the whole Tower. He butted his head against Tony's chin gently, kneading his chest without his claws going too deep this time. "What? Did I miss Cap-cuddle time? You're cutting me off because you want attention?"

Steve didn't reply. He just kept affectionately nuzzling, determined to get his way. Stubborn bastard.

"I can pet you and drink at the same time," Tony grumbled, but it was admittedly a lot of coordination to pet Steve, so he didn't know if he could back that claim up. And now that he was lying down again, he didn't particularly want to go anywhere.

For the second time, Tony fell asleep petting a purring Steve Rogers.

* * *

His second awakening was just as unpleasant as the first, but this time it was a hangover, not nightmares, that plagued him. His mouth felt like something had crawled in and died there, and his head pounded furiously. Still, it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been, and he probably had Steve to thank for that.

There was a quiet hissing next to his ear. Speak of the devil.

"He's waking up on his own," he heard an amused Natasha say. "You don't have to warn me off."

Tony didn't open his eyes, but he moaned as cool fingers ran through his hair. "Any reason for Cap's literal hissy fit?" Tony croaked when Steve hissed again.

"He's been hissing at anyone who comes too close to you," Natasha replied. Tony cracked open his eyes to see her smiling wryly at him. She was holding a cup of water and a couple of pain killers.

Forget what he always said about Thor, Natasha was his new favorite.

He swallowed the pills dry and downed the glass. Theirs was an interesting relationship. After the battle of New York, he trusted Natasha Romanov with his back, but not his secrets. In return, she learned his secrets anyway, but kept the ones Tony didn't want others to know to herself, so long as he gave her the occasional password or authorization card for a shady organization SHIELD couldn't hack. She was the Black Widow, so she'd have gotten in regardless, but she did admit to him that it saved a lot of time and stress.

So when she asked "Pepper or nightmares?" Tony knew there was no point in denying when she could still smell the alcohol on him, and that this was something she no longer passed on to Nick Fury.

"Nightmares," he muttered, pressing the heel of his hand into his eyes in an attempt to stop the pounding. It was a futile effort, but he tried anyway. But just because he'd admit it didn't mean he'd talk about them. Time to change the subject. "Why is he hissing when someone gets too close?"

Natasha raised an eyebrow, but she let the deflection pass. "Usually he just bars everyone from entering the room if you've passed out on the couch."

Tony looked up sharply, regretting the motion immediately. "He does that?" he asked when his head was under control again.

"He thinks you don't sleep enough," Natasha said simply.

And yeah. Point. He'd gotten better though, especially with Pepper there to-

Tony closed his eyes. Pepper wasn't there anymore, and he'd taken at least two, maybe three steps back since then. Steve quietly mewed as Natasha carded her hand through Tony's hair again. "Is Bruce-?" he asked.

"Still in South Africa."

"Thor?"

"Looking for a magical cure."

"Clint?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"With me, doing recon." Natasha's smile was just a little on the sadistic side. "Still your problem, Stark."

He groaned as Steve crawled onto his lap, demanding attention. He'd never have pegged The Captain of All Things Patriotic and Cute to be an attention whore of a cat. That was usually Tony's job.

Natasha took pity on him, taking his arm that had been Steve's clawing post. "You put anything on this?" she asked, lightly tracing the red marks on his arm. In his lap, Steve's ears went flat against his head as he ducked down.

Tony tried to think back, but he couldn't remember so he waved it off. "It's just a few scratches. I've had worse from being thrown out windows."

Natasha hmm'ed, but let it go. Then she stood gracefully to leave, looking back over her shoulder as she got to the door. "Don't forget to change the litter box," she said.

Tony lifted his head and whacked it against the back of the couch. And that shit hurts when the painkillers were still kicking in, no matter how soft the couch was.

Once the pounding in his head receded, Tony got up to feed the fuzz butt. Then he brushed his teeth and changed, heading down to the workshop to create a robot that would change the litter box.

He was five minutes into the design when a mew interrupted his concentration. He looked down to see Steve sitting at his feet and staring up at him. "How did Cap-cat get down here?" he asked.

"I am under orders to let Captain Rogers and the other Avengers in when not in lock down, Sir," JARVIS replied.

"Yeah, but not without a code." Tony bent down and picked the cat up, reminded once again that Steve was too damn big for his own good. "You need to cut back on the kitty treats, Garfield. Also, no small furry animals in the workshop. Hear that, J? I don't need to explain to Natasha any of the numerous ways our furry leader could have himself killed down here."

JARVIS opened the door for him and he set the cat outside. "Stay," he told Steve. The cat looked about as impressed with him as he would be with the village idiot, but Steve stayed put when the door closed.

Five minutes later, there was another meow at his feet. Tony jumped. "What the actual fuck? JARVIS, did-"

"I did not open the door for Captain Rogers," JARVIS responded.

Tony glared at the door, then at the inexplicable cat that was staring up at him smugly. This time, Tony picked up the cat and took him to the living room. He returned to the workshop and put the lab in lock down.

He'd just finished the blueprints when a furry head rubbed against his leg. "JARVIS! How the hell is he getting in here?"

"I believe he came through the door, Sir."

"And why was the door open?" Tony demanded. "I put the workshop on lock down."

"He has authorization-"

"He does not have authorization," Tony cut in, pulling up JARVIS's code. Nothing looked amiss, but Natasha's access codes had been used to open the door twice. "JARVIS, where is the Black Widow?"

"Agent Romanov and Agent Barton have just left for the next stake out."

So she could have opened the door for him. She had the emergency codes that she kept stealing from Pepper, which would open under lock down. But she was gone now, which meant Tony could do as he pleased.

This time, Tony locked Steve in the bathroom. Steve was not happy with this arrangement, and you could hear his yowls from half a floor down. But Tony was the only one in the Tower today, and he'd left the furball with a litter box, food, and water, so he could deal.

Tony put a sign on the door in case someone did come back early that said "Bad cat, no biscuit," and went back down to the workshop.

He was nearly finished with the robot when he heard a loud crashing sound from the air ducts. Tony looked up to see the grating fall to the floor and Steve jumping out, gracefully landing on his feet. "What is this, The Cat Came Back?" Tony muttered darkly.

"I suggest trying not to find more creative ways to get rid of Captain Rogers, Sir."

Which told Tony all he wanted to know about the state of the bathroom door. "You're paying for that," was all Tony said.

Steve's ears twitched, which was the only sign of the cat's displeasure. It was the ears that gave Tony the idea. "Hey, JARVIS, turn on playlist 3, full volume."

"Sir, that might not be wise. It could permanently damage a cat's more sensitive hearing."

"Fine. Then as loud as you can make it without doing lasting damage to our furry friend," Tony replied, grinning as the sweet, dulcet tones of heavy metal started pouring from the speakers all over the room. Steve immediately started hissing, his fur standing up on end as his tail puffed up. "You don't like it, you can leave," Tony said smugly, turning back to his robot.

At least, that was the plan. It worked up until he had a set of claws digging into his leg. "Christ, JARVIS, stop the music!"

The music stopped. The cat hissed and spat, but stopped clawing at Tony's leg. Which was good, because while Tony didn't like hurting small animals, he'd been about to kick Steve across the room.

"JARVIS, give me a list of surfaces cats don't like to walk on," Tony snapped.

"Sir, perhaps-"

"This is a workshop. A dangerous workshop. He pushes over the wrong thing and this whole room could explode, taking me and him with it. Hell, he wouldn't even need to do that, not if he knocks over a soldering iron and gets burned if it accidentally turns on. He is a clear and present danger. I don't know what game this is, JARVIS, but we need to keep him out." Tony took a deep breath after his outburst, looking at the cat who stared back curiously.

"Perhaps he wishes to spend time with you while the others are missing as well," JARVIS said in a reasonable tone that never quite worked on Tony.

Tony ran a hand through his hair. "And this is why I've never gotten a pet. I have work to-"

"With all due respect, Sir, you are ahead on eleven projects, both for Stark Industries and SHIELD, and you've completely finished nine others four weeks ahead of schedule. Ms. Potts doesn't even have paperwork for you to do."

Okay. So he'd been hiding in his workshop rather than dealing with the fact that he and Pepper had broken up. It wasn't the end of the world. Well, the thing with Pepper felt like it was the end of his world, if he were going to be melodramatic and teenager-y about it, but overworking himself wasn't the worst thing he'd done.

Steve meowed, rubbing against his legs shamelessly. Like he hadn't just been clawing it. Tony closed his eyes, feeling tired. "Alright, whatever. Just give me an hour to finish this, because it's for my own sanity. Then I'll come out of the workshop and play with His Royal Hairiness. Can you keep him busy until then?"

"That can be arranged, Sir," JARVIS replied. The AI sounded happy for once, and was probably far gentler than he should have been. Tony didn't need gentle. He just wanted to be left alone.

But as long as Captain Cat Burglar was his problem, he doubted he'd get his wish. Tony leaned down, picking Steve up again. He went to the living room (because, Jesus, he doesn't need to replace another bathroom door) and set up a toy mouse and a few other toys at JARVIS's direction. When Steve crouched down in preparation of pouncing on a feather that dangled invitingly from a crude robotic arm, Tony slipped out of the room to finish his litter box changer.

He didn't give it personality (because that would be kind of cruel, when its job was to clean up cat crap. Also, he only had an hour. Mostly, he only had an hour), but it did have a rudimentary AI to enable it to perform its pooping scooping requirements. Making it took a little over an hour, but it was working. He set it down near the litter box to let it do its duty (ha), then went off in search of the attention-starved cat.

A cat who was ignoring all the whirling things and sleeping on the couch. Tony glared, wondering if he could go back down to the workshop while Steve cat-napped. But the last thing Tony wanted to do was go out and buy crappy commercial batteries just to make the damn toys run again. With a sigh, Tony flicked them off, mentally tallying how much time it would take to modify each toy to a SI level of clean energy.

It was, predictably, enough to wake Steve up. To buy himself more time, Tony made sure the cat still had food and water as he rummaged through the kitchen for himself. A can of ravioli and some hot chocolate later, Tony settled down for dinner.

Except it was too empty in the kitchen. With everything gone, the room was too lonely. Usually there would at least be Pepper to...

Tony stared into his mug of hot chocolate, debating if it was worth spiking or if he could get more work done after showering the resident cat with attention. Steve looked up from polishing off his meal as if he had a sixth sense for Tony-angst. Either that, or good timing.

"So, this is depressing," he said, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to try to control the hurt of Pepper-less-ness. "Let's go to the living room. The living room sounds good. We can... JARVIS, what can we do in the living room?"

"You can watch a movie, Sir," JARVIS replied.

"Yeah, that'll work." Tony picked up his plate and mug, snagging some grapes on the way. "I can do cat playing things after dinner. Is that good enough for you, Captain Cat?"

Steve's tail flicked back and forth, neither disagreeing nor agreeing. Intelligent cat or not, Tony really needed to stop expecting him to answer.

Tony walked into the living room and flopped on the couch, putting his food on the coffee table and ignoring the patches of fur that littered the fabric. "Okay, JARVIS. Let's go all out. Maybe movies about other felines will keep him occupied. Cue up every cat movie known to man." Tony paused, then added, "Except Milo and Otis. Stark Industries doesn't support animal cruelty."

"Your choices are impeccable, Sir," JARVIS said dryly, cuing up Gay Purr-ee.

"Look, grandpaw, this one even had Judy Garland. Someone you know," Tony called out.

Steve came out of the kitchen, hopping up on the couch next to Tony. Then he started to clean himself meticulously. "Find somewhere else if you need to lick your balls," Tony said. "Because that's just showing off. Also, no hair balls. I see hairballs, and you are going to the pound." Tony wondered if Steve was that thorough with his boots. Not licking them, obviously, though there was a mental image.

It took Tony's brain five seconds to reboot after that. Hello, boot kink. Maybe he and Pepper should try-

Tony clamped down on that thought, staring blankly at the screen. He wasn't even paying attention, not until Cap crawled into his lap and head-butted his hand in a clear command to pet him. "Someone's bossy. Captain America, the secret cuddler," Tony joked, but his voice sounded weak and it broke part-way through. Steve just went half-lidded, purring contentedly as Tony scratched him under the chin.

Gay Purr-ee turned into Aristocats, which turned into Oliver & Company, and Tony drifted off a little, taking note that the movie had changed, but not seeing what. When he felt a pair of feminine hands in his hair, he smiled brightly. "Pepper! Is it time for bed?" he slurred, opening his eyes when the hand paused.

It was Natasha standing there. Of course. Tony forced the smile to remain, though it became more brittle.

"Sorry," she said, looking like she genuinely meant it. "But it is time for little Starks to go to bed. This time you won't have a hang over to distract you from the crick in your neck if you sleep here."

Tony waved her off. "Nah, I've got some things to do in the workshop, so I'll just..." His eyes diverted to the screen for a moment, but that was enough. "Hey! Homeward Bound! Now Sassy was a cat with style."

"Bed, Tony," Natasha said firmly.

Tony tried to stand up to ramble off and find his coffee, but a weight in his lap kept him down. "Cat," he said intelligently.

Steve was sleeping soundly in Tony's lap, tail flicking every so often. Natasha picked him up and got an annoyed meow for her troubles. When Tony stood up to make his escape to the coffee machine, however, she handed the twenty-five-pound lump of fur back. Tony accepted him on autopilot. As Steve started to purr again in his arms, Tony could feel it against his chest.

"Go to bed, Tony," Natasha said, gently pushing him to the elevator.

"But I have to-"

"JARVIS, take Mr. Stark up to the penthouse," she said as he got in the elevator.

"Of course, Agent Romanov. It will be my pleasure."

"Wait a-" The door closed on him before he could protest, and the elevator started to rise steadily. "JARVIS, take me-"

"I believe you were the one who said cats should not be allowed in the workshop, Sir," JARVIS replied, almost too cheerfully. Tony was starting to suspect a conspiracy.

He got off on his floor, fully intending to drop the cat off and go find coffee. Except Steve started licking his neck sleepily, rough tongue soothing after a cold nose. It derailed his thoughts enough that he walked to his and Pepper's bedroom.

His bedroom. God, that was why this was a bad idea.

He sat down on the bed, wondering what he'd been thinking, getting such a big bed. It only reminded him of how empty the spaces were that Pepper had been intended to fill.

"It doesn't smell like her anymore," he said absently, putting Steve down so he could toe off his shoes. He'd been sleeping down in the workshop ever since the scent of her shampoo had left her pillow.

He looked at the bed, hating how pathetic it made him feel. He was Tony Stark. He'd handled rejection before. He'd handled Pepper's rejection before. This was not his first rodeo with heartbreak. Just because it hurt so damn much every time did not mean he should avoid his own bed. He lied down, pointedly not curling around the empty air of Pepper's side, and tried to sleep.

He woke up curled around her pillow.

Tony didn't open his eyes, cataloging all of the things he should have done differently. He should have gone out to Malibu more to help with the company. He shouldn't have been so clingy. He should have come out of the workshop more often. He should have-

Tony let out a small yelp as a cold nose poked at his ear. Scooting back across the bed (Thank God for the large bed, or he would have fallen off), he looked to see the cat staring up at him. He groaned at Steve, then flopped back onto his pillows, burying his head in it. "Go away, Whiskers," he said grumpily, not bothering to look at the time. He didn't want to get out of bed, not today.

He could feel the damned cat staring at him. It was unnerving enough that Tony couldn't go back to sleep. "-ll build a robot to feed you later," he muttered into his pillow.

The staring didn't let up, and he could feel Steve arching and rubbing against his back. Finally, Tony sighed. He sat up, rubbing his eyes and glaring at the clock. 5:13 am. Fan-fucking-tastic.

"Fine, let's get you some food. JARVIS, lights." Tony rolled out of bed, looking at the empty side out of habit. He looked down, then at the door. He walked out and Steve trotted after him, jumping off the bed with a graceful motion that reminded Tony of some of Captain America's jumps. He resolved to bring a cat bed in if Steve was going to insist on sleeping here. He didn't need cat fur on the sheets.

He cut himself on the can trying to get Steve's food open, glaring at it as he dumped the smelly mess on a plate. Then he changed the water and even set out some milk, because look at him, being all responsible at 5:30 in the morning.

While Steve was eating, he took a quick shower and put a band-aid on the cut. He glanced at the elevator. Pros of going down to the workshop: actually getting things done, avoiding the break-up. Cons: The Little Cat Burglar that Could.

He really didn't want to replace more of the Tower.

Tony sorted through the bag of cat toys, thinking of what would best tire Steve out. He came up with a laser pointer, rolling it between his fingers pensively. It had a fifty-fifty chance of working.

He pulled out his tablet while waiting on his fearless leader, ordering a dozen donuts. Because if he was going to be up this early, he wanted sugar and lots of it.

The resident mouse chaser eventually padded into the living room, but Tony was ready for him. Casually, he clicked on the laser pen. A little red dot landed on the ground a few inches from Steve's paws.

The change was immediate. Steve's ears flattened against his head and he scooted back as if the dot were a threat. When the dot didn't move, Steve's ears twitched. He flattened against the floor, tentatively raising a paw to tap at the dot.

Except Tony moved it away at the last second. Steve made a weird clicking noise in the back of his throat, trying to bat the dot that kept moving further away. He chased it around the room, then up the wall, landing with a very pissed-off thunk. "Technology, one. Stars and Spots, zero," Tony said, laughing as Steve's ears flattened again and his big, furry butt wiggled in the air as he prepared to pounce.

Tony had seen videos of cats chasing laser pointers before. Who hadn't? But he'd never realized how much fun the little game was. The fact that it was pissing Steve off that he couldn't seem to catch the little red dot had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all.

Okay, maybe it was that and making Steve try to scale the walls. That was pretty entertaining.

"Stark!" he heard as the elevator slid open. "What the hell is-"

"Little busy here, Robin Hood," Tony said, holding back a smirk as Steve fell to the floor with another thump. Clint stared in shock.

"Come on, don't be a sour puss," Tony taunted as Steve pretended to ignore the dot. "You know you want it. Super-serum soldier cat can't catch a little dot? I thought Captain America always gets his man."

"That's the Mounties, Tony," Clint said indignantly.

"Whatever. Cap's totally better than a bunch of Canadians." He wiggled the pen a little, making the dot dance across the floor tantalizingly.

"I was trying to sleep," Clint said, bringing them back to whatever point he'd stormed in to make.

"Catnap?" Tony quipped, inching the dot closer to Steve. "Just don't take a Cap-nap. Those take too long and you wake up with a stick up your- ha! You can't catch it, kitty-Cap!"

Tony cackled with delight as Steve raced across the floor, only half paying attention to Clint, who continued on. "I was trying to sleep, but every five seconds there would be-" Tony raised the pen to the wall, smirking as Steve leaped after it. The cat failed to get the dot, falling to the floor with a loud thud. "-this loud thud from the ceiling."

"Are you saying Cap is a fat cat?" Tony said, putting the dot on Steve's tail. Steve was not amused. "He's calling you fat," he told the cat, who was too busy batting at his own tail to listen.

"Sleep, Stark. Sleep is important!" Clint said.

"What are you, in kindergarten?" Tony asked as Steve hit the floor with another satisfying thump. "Super-cat is super active. It's not my fault he needs exercise."

"It is kind of hilarious," Clint admitted, flopping down on the seat next to him. "You okay?"

"Fine," Tony said curtly. "Why wouldn't I be?"

The look Clint gave him said not to push his luck. "I don't know. Our leader is a cat, the guys who tried to kill Pepper are back, and she's still broken-up with you?"

"Yup, and I'm just peachy," Tony said, flipping off the laser pen and standing. Steve growled, looking around frantically to see where the dot disappeared to. "And now I have work to do, so if you'll-"

"Happy's got new guards at SI," Clint said, kneeling down to try to pet Steve, who took a swipe at Clint's hand, claws extended. "Ow, hey. Cap, play nice."

"He's wound up, what do you expect?" Tony snapped. When Clint held his hands up in surrender, Tony looked away. "What about the new guards?" he muttered, not quite an apology, but admittance that he shouldn't have snapped.

"Nat and I hand-picked 'em," Clint replied. "And Happy approved of them too, after he put them through some tests. Pepper's as safe as she can be, and she promised not to go out without an escort until this is resolved."

Tony knelt on the floor as well, petting Steve from head to tail. The cat didn't look happy, but he allowed it. "Thanks," he said. Because he'd failed at protecting her last time. Hopefully SHIELD will do a better job, especially now when he couldn't be with her.

Clint nodded, but didn't push for more. "Oh, so he'll let you pet him, but not me?" he asked, changing the subject.

"He likes me better," Tony said, scratching under Steve's chin as the cat's tail beat against the carpet in an annoyed fashion. Tony stayed where he was, continuing the scratching. A few moments later Steve was purring softly.

"What do you know, so he does," Clint said. "Wouldn't have expected that, considering."

"Are you implying that the Captain and I don't get along?" Tony said in mock horror. "What is the world coming to?"

Clint snorted. "I'm just saying. Cap chasing laser pointers ain't the only noise that keeps me from sleeping. Your yelling matches are epic."

"I can't even tell what sets him off half the time," Tony admitted. "I'll say something, and he'll take offense, then he gets all 'Holier-than-thou' and-"

"And you don't respond any better," Clint summed up. Not that Tony would have finished his sentence that way, but it was true enough. Clint tried to pet Steve again, but Steve nipped at his fingers. He hastily pulled back. "You're an ass, sometimes," he continued.

Tony shrugged. "Believe it or not, I'm not always trying to be."

"Nat and I know that. Thor is more amused by you than offended. And Bruce is crazy, but he actually likes your pestering," Clint said with a grin. "Cap just needs to understand that you aren't being mean."

"Yeah, and if telling him that worked the first five times, I'm sure he'll listen on the sixth." Tony looked down at the cat, who rubbed his cheek against Tony's hand. Despite the claws, Steve was a lot easier to deal with like this. Tony kind of wished it was always this easy to please him. Too bad he couldn't get Steve's approval unless he was the cat-feeder.

Clint held out his hand, letting Steve sniff him. When Steve didn't bite, Clint carefully pet the cat's head. Steve's claws sank into the carpet, but he didn't take a swipe at Clint again. "So," Clint said, a mischievous glint in his eyes that Tony knew was nothing but trouble. "You got an extra laser pen? We could - Ow!"

Tony stifled a laugh as Clint sucked on his finger, glaring down at Steve. Tony wasn't an expert on cat expressions, but he could have sworn Steve looked smug. Tony finally understood the phrase 'the cat that got the cream.'

~TBC~

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