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kats (the k is intended)

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The woman was there again.

It had become a pattern for Darcy to see her matted and battered form sitting at the corner of the street, hoping for someone to give her something.

It wasn't unusual for homeless people and beggars to place themselves in that corner, and yet this woman screamed 'different' to Darcy.

She stayed a touch too stiff, a bit too guarded, and her hand would continuously twitch towards her bare thigh, but her eyes were lost and her shoulders slumped in defeat.

It made Darcy even more uneasy than the old man with the dog around the other corner.

Another few days passed and it was clear that the woman wasn't eating enough. Her cheeks were hollowing and her ribs were starting to peek out from the old torn shirt she wore.

Darcy watched her from the window and prayed that nothing happened to her.

Sometimes, the woman would disappear for a few days, but then she'd show up again.

This time, Darcy noticed on from her way back from campus, she was sporting a shiner and split lip. Dried blood dappled her shirt, but she didn't seem to notice the pitiful state she was in any more than the passersby.

Unfortunately, though, someone had noticed her weakened posture and decided to take advantage. Three men were crowding her in a corner of a nearby alley, while the people around them pretended not to notice.

Darcy didn't even think about it until she'd already pressed the button of her taser and one of them was down on the ground, pissing himself.

The other two reared back, surprised; they weren't expecting resistance, and before they could retaliate Darcy was screaming at the top of her lungs.

This time, people noticed.

Children pointed and mothers stared at her.

The two men could do nothing but take their fallen companion and beat a hasty retreat, so they ran.

Ignoring them, Darcy flung herself in the tiny alley and found the woman in the corner, curled in a tiny ball of terror, shaking.

She approached very slowly, like she would with a startled animal, and gently touched the woman's shoulder. The redhead tensed, curling a bit more into herself.

Darcy stayed there, not sure how long, gently petting the young woman's shoulder until her arms relaxed a bit and a green eye cautiously peeked up at her through a curtain of hair.

“Hi.” Darcy smiled kindly. “Are you ok?”

The woman sent her a surprised but wary look and didn’t answer.

“I don't know about you,” Darcy continued conversationally, “but I'd rather clean up and eat something warm, wouldn't you? My apartment is just across the street over there,” she said, pointing behind her. “Would you like to come over and clean yourself up a bit?”

At this, the woman tensed under her hand and curled away from her again.

“...” She muttered something, so low that Darcy might have missed it had she not been staring at her face.

“I'm sorry, what?”

“...I'm not for sale.” The woman tried again, and then repeated, stronger. “I'm not selling myself.” Her eyes sparkled with a defiant kind of strength that Darcy hadn’t known she possessed.

And yet, the young woman's words left her horrified.

“No, no no no! I'm not looking for that! Promise!”

The woman's eyes pierced her with a stare deep enough that although Darcy was wearing four layers and a scarf, she suddenly felt very exposed.

But then the woman nodded and Darcy moved to guide her to the apartment.

Not her smartest decision, Darcy knew, but she was done with watching this poor creature suffer for today.


 

“Come in, make yourself comfortable.” Darcy was babbling. She knew she was, but yeah.

There was nothing in her study manuals about how to take care of a woman you saved from an assault.


So she gathered a couple of towels and clean clothes and sent the woman to the shower. She had an awkward debate with herself over whether she needed to show her how it worked, but then she noticed the manicured hands--what was left of them anyway--and the fact that the woman was looking at the conditioners curiously and yeah, she had no doubts this woman belonged to the streets about as much as Captain America belonged to Hydra.

And boy, was she right.

This woman was stunning. All cleaned up, even with the black eye, this female specimen was as far from human or plain as possible, from her white skin to her shiny red hair.

What the hell was she doing on the streets?

All of a sudden, Darcy realised the full impact of the words she had said earlier. With those looks, her new houseguest must have received and fought hordes of stupid advances.

She couldn't help but appreciate the view, though.

“Boy, do you clean up well,” she said, motioning toward the kitchen. What? She made a mean soup, and she wanted to share.

The woman smiled shyly but was obviously still uncomfortable. Her eyes kept darting to the door.

Darcy understood. “None of that--no surprises, promise. Now, food, and then I'll get you a quilt so you can sleep a bit.”

They started to eat in silence. Her new companion was ravenous, but was hiding it quite well, all things considered.

“So, uhm, not to be rude, but what's your name, by the way? I can't keep calling you 'the woman' in my head. I'm Darcy.” She offered a tentative grin.

Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say, because the woman slumped in her chair and her eyes filled with tears.

“I don't know,” she whispered brokenly. “I don't remember.”

And, finally, the mystery of such a beautiful and noticeable woman with manicured hands reduced to begging for food made so much sense.

Of course, she'd be a poor lost soul who was probably a rich heiress somewhere.

The thought brought Darcyrelief, sweet relief. Surely, someone was already looking for her.

She'd be safe and warm and as far as possible from those men and others like them.

And Darcy told her that because a trip to the hospital or the police station would solve everything.

But the woman became panicked to such an extent that Darcy was forced to promise that she would not involve any authorities, ever. The woman conceded that Darcy could discreetly look into missing person's reports, though.

“I still need to call you something, though...Do you want me to give you a name?”

“...I'm not a cat.” She grumbled, insulted by the idea.

Darcy agreed and yet in her mind, the woman had become 'Kat.'

From Katherine, of course.


 

Living with Kat, Darcy found out quickly, was exactly like living with a cat.

The wom-Kat, had tried to leave the next morning at dawn and Darcy almost had to tackle her to convince her to stay. Instead, she wandered the house aimlessly, as if trying to memorise every nook and cranny.

She didn't speak much and didn't ask directly for attention. Her entire being, though, commanded it.

She effortlessly became the centre of Darcy’s attention whenever she walked into a room, even when she was trying not to. And she was curiously clumsy.

It was like whatever had happened to make her lose her memory had also switched off all of her stealth cables.

She seemed extremely frustrated by it, but couldn't explain why exactly.

And she was clean. Meticulously so.

Darcy was by no means a slob, but with college and a part-time job that paid her bills, she readily admitted that cleaning came in second or even fifth place. Kat had no such compunctions, and within a week the apartment looked entirely different.

She was obscenely fond of baby pink and liked soft textures under her hands. She was a tactile person as much as Darcy was.

“It reminds me of ballet,” she'd admitted on an occasion.

“You were a ballerina? Cool!” And Darcy could just see it, now that Kat’s face was back to its original splendour and she no longer sported a black eye.

But Kat only looked pensive and said nothing more about it.


 

For a while, Darcy toyed with the idea that someone might notice Kat's absence and that her family would come and get her, but nothing happened.

Missing person reports didn't change either, and Darcy started to worry for her friend.

Kat seemed content to simply exist in the safety of the apartment they shared, but sooner or later Darcy knew that the status quo would start to chafe at her.

A friend of hers who worked at the hospital had told her that amnesia was a tricky thing and that if Kat refused to go to a hospital because she didn't want to take the necessary exams, there was no telling if or when she'd recover.

“And so, no mysterious prince reported your kidnapping, I'm sorry.” She jokingly said one evening, while they were in the middle of eating dinner.

Kat raised her head and stared at her, confused. “Why would it be a prince?”

Darcy choked on her fried aubergine. She could never tell when Kat was messing with her--she had a very sarcastic streak.This time, Kat looked genuinely curious. “Because you're the embodiment of everything a princess should be?”

Kat pinked slightly on her cheeks and looked away. “I wish,” Darcy told her seriously, “that you'd see yourself like I do, just once.

Kat's eyes snapped to hers. “You think I'm pretty?”

“I think you're the most devastatingly beautiful woman I've ever seen,” Darcy told her sincerely.

If Kat’s face was pink before, now it was now full-blown red. She averted her eyes and stammered unintelligible words.

Darcy didn't catch half of it but decided not to stick around for Kat’s rejection. Instead, she blushed and busied herself with cleaning the dishes.

That evening she discovered reason number five Kat was actually a feline in disguise.

Her guest was cuddly.

Like, octopus level cuddly but I also don't want to tell you how much I enjoy you petting me cuddly.

She'd sit on the sofa as close to Darcy as possible and then sink lower and lower until she was moulded to Darcy’s lap. She would then lay stupidly still until Darcy started playing with her hair.

Kat could stay still like this for hours, simply breathing and accepting whatever gesture of affection came her way.

And while at first, she followed Darcy’s movements with her eyes, untrusting, now she focused on the TV or whatever Netflix series they were watching.

She wouldn't move until Darcy headed to bed, at which point she'd stand with the grace of a model and retreat to the bathroom to get changed.

Two weeks into their new cuddling discoveries, Kat graduated from the lumpy sofa to the bedroom.

The first few nights were a little bit awkward.

Darcy wasn't used to sharing (she didn't invite people over often, and they definitely didn't stay after) and her guest wasn't either.

In the end, it was mutually decided that sharing a bed wasn't all that different from their sofa arrangement. Kat still wasn't looking for serious intimacy, but Darcy didn't mind. Somehow, when morning came they always woke up in a tangle of limbs.

Slowly, Kat regained her footing.

Her clumsy accidents stopped, she became more open with Darcy, and steadily regained the composure and poise worthy of a Lady (with a capital L).

And yet, still, no one came looking for this lost cat.


 

A month passed and Kat gave no sign of recovering more memories beyond her ballerina days.

Nothing had come up at the police station either and Darcy wondered why no one was looking into the weird college student that religiously asked about missing person reports.

For her part, Kat had gone from 'content to exist' to 'happy to stay' and was now contributing to the house economy by visiting the farmer's market and haggling like a champ. For that, Darcy was glad; Kat ate like a kitten, but it was still two mouths to feed instead of one and Darcy’s wallet was feeling the strain.

A part of her brain told her that this couldn't go on forever.

“I like this,” Kat said suddenly.

Darcy raised her eyes from her laptop and turned to look at her.

She was sprawled across the floor, lying on a patch of floor directly beneath the sunlight pouring in from the window.

“Of course you like it, you're basically a cat.”

Kat scoffed. “I'm not a cat.”

“Of course you are. You're too graceful to be completely human.”

The young woman didn't reply but stared at her hands.

The silence stretched and it eventually became apparent that she wasn't going to reply.

Darcy got back to her work. Shut up, brain.


 

“This is so stupid.” Darcy looked at her in question, and Kat flicked a hand toward the TV screen.

They were seated together on the lumpy green sofa in the living room, watching a movie.

As soon as the movie had started, Kat had assumed her usual position, ready to bask in Darcy's ministrations.

“Oh, yeah?” Darcy challenged. Her hand stilled its movements and Kat turned to look at her.

“Mh-hm,” she affirmed, nodding and closing her eyes. Darcy went back to lightly scratching her scalp.

“How so?”

The movie wasn't even that bad. Okay, some of the special effects were ridiculous, the plot wasn't strong and the morality of the characters was debatable, but Darcy was really enjoying the action scenes.

“You can't do something like that without breaking your pelvic bone, Darcy. And if you punch that bad? You're dead. Dead.”

“Huh.” Where had that come from? “How do you even know that?”

Kat froze, surprise flashing across her face. “I... I don't know.”

“Maybe in your previous life you were a super spy or something.” Darcy tried to lighten the mood, but her friend slash maybe-lover didn't respond and didn't uncoil her tense muscles for the rest of the movie, not even for a second.


 

Things never went back to the way they were before.

Darcy could feel something had shifted between them, but for the life of her couldn't understand what.

Kat became more and more silent--withdrawn, even. The time she spent cuddling on the sofa with Darcy became much, much less often, which yeah, was partially due to the fact that finals were getting closer, but Darcy's stomach twisted with worry anyway.

And then one day, Darcy noticed that the hot water she had gotten used to fighting for was no longer a luxury. Instead, she had plenty of it.

She confronted her roommate about it because she couldn't possibly--

“I'm not using hot water for my showers anymore.”

Darcy was taken aback. “Why? There's enough for both of us! Cold water is called 'cold' for a reason!”

“I don't get cold.” Kat snapped. “I'm Russian.”

And her eyes widened at the revelation.

And Darcy couldn't help but be torn between excitement--this was some serious progress--and panic.

Because there was only one possible explanation on why an exceptionally beautiful Russian woman with amnesia was not being looked for by the authorities.

And the mob didn't like it when people took their toys.

Kat seemed to have reached the same conclusion because that night she slept on the sofa.

When Darcy woke up the following morning, her stray cat was gone.


 

The first few days she looked everywhere, and half hoped Kat would show up at her old corner.

When it was clear she wouldn't show up, the rational part of Darcy’s brain told her that she should be grateful the Russian mob wouldn't appear at her doorstep. Still, she felt the knots in her stomach twist more and more.

She wasn't religious (oh, her mother had tried and tried!), but she still found herself praying that somehow her cat had found her way home.


 

Three months later, Darcy’s student loans had been paid in full by an anonymous donor.

Darcy Lewis wasn't stupid. She knew that somehow a Russian prince had found her cat. She just hoped the prince was the right one, and that she hadn't just been paid a body price.


 

New Mexico was disgusting.

Dusty hot, and then dusty cold.

Three jackets wouldn't be enough one night, but then a t-shirt would be too much another day.

Jane was awesome, Erik was family, and then Thor happened and seriously, Darcy had so much experience with stray cats she was practically a professional.

And then the government goons showed up, spawning like mushrooms on the sidewalk, and they'd been ushered in some tiny, cramped room and questioned endlessly about their private lives.

Not that they had secrets.

“I'm sorry, Miss Lewis.” Son of Coul (that would never not be funny) didn't sound sorry at all. “I just need to clarify something. You see, looking at your expenses--” son of a-! Darcy started to panic. “--between February and May 2010 you made an unusually large amount of purchases.”

Sweat started to trickle down her back. They wanted Kat?! “I'm curious about the reasons for that.” OH, MY GOD, THEY WANTED KAT.

“I got a cat,” she replied as flippantly as she could.

“A cat.” the suit repeated, slowly.

“A cat. Cuddly, loves sunny spots, will scare the life out of you because it’s scarily quiet! But 100% adorable, yes.”

“And where is this... cat, now?”

Darcy summoned the best teary-eyed look she could manage, ignoring the look Selvig was sending her, and whispered, “She's dead.” And bless Jane, the tiny woman rounded on Coulson like a bloodhound and forced him to back off.

He wasn't fooled by her antics, but she felt a glimmer of victory anyway.

Her precious cat was safe a little while longer.


 

Thor went home, and Darcy watched as the jack-booted thugs manually brought back Jane's equipment. She watched the agents with morbid fascination as they repaired what was broken, and almost jumped straight out of her skin when one of them stopped right next to her.

“Hey, kid,” he said, and to his credit, his eyes didn't drop to the girls.

“Yes, oh jack-booted thug?”

The agent snorted, then looked around surreptitiously and lowered his voice. “I hear we have a mutual friend.”
Surprise made her spine stiffen. Was this a trick? It had to be. They had already tried to pry information out of her about her cat on five other occasions.

“I have no idea of what you're talking about,” she replied testily.

“Okay, okay, of course,” he placated, gesturing with his hands to indicate surrender. Before he walked away, though, he placed a scrap of paper in her hands.

“Just in case, you know, you recovered your memories...” he added meaningfully. The agent winked at her speechless expression, then sauntered away.

Glancing around quickly, Darcy rushed to the toilet. In the safety of the bathroom, she opened the paper with trembling hands.

Written inside was a single phone number.


 

That night, Darcy didn't sleep at all.

She kept turning the tiny scrap of paper over and over in her hands, hesitating.

Eventually, she had had enough hesitation. She swallowed, hoped and prayed that this was not a trick, and dialled the number.

“Romanoff.” Her cat’s voice was stronger, confident, and yet, unmistakable.

Darcy wasn't crying, She wasn't.

Well, maybe she was, just a bit.

“...Kat?”