Cat Dads! A SHIELD Codex Short

. . .

There was some sort of new-hire ruckus going on in the SHIELD facility's library, so instead of studying his latest collectible - a unique grimoire that studied and cataloged a number of otherwise forgotten cantrips and magic-fuel'd pranks - in the elegant privacy of his nook, Loki was thumbing through it while he sat at a faux-wood table in the communal rec room.

The downgraded surroundings didn't impact his fascination with the book. Whoever had written the thing knew and lost ways of bullshitting people Loki himself could barely dream of. The name engraved on the spine was an obvious pseudonym, an E. Trigan who wrote in dreadful rhyme when narrating the work from the point of view of his chosen persona, and then switched to a clean and formal tone when it mattered. This had been a man who knew he was going to get his arse kicked when his identity was discovered, but forged on anyway. Loki respected the hell out of that.

It was a tome that had started a war a long time ago, admittedly over something stupid and, in his opinion, stupidly funny. Heck, Loki was probably breaking several ancient planetary truces just by owning the thing.

So he wasn't what anyone would call interested when someone else sat down at the table with him, although a crease bent his lips downward as he realized by certain movements and sounds who his visitor was. Just to be an arse, he kept flipping pages, pausing at an intricate knotwork rune that did nothing more for its user but create inappropriate sounds at a plausibly deniable distance. A magical whoopie cushion, invisible and untraceable. Ten year old Loki would have killed a man for that rune. Centuries old Loki was still pretty godsdamn impressed by it.

His visitor shifted, attempting to call attention to himself.

"Last April Fools," said Loki, memorizing the rune in case he was forced into anymore undercover dinner parties, "someone signed me up for a handful of magazine subscriptions. Joke's on you, Fury, I've rather been enjoying the National Geographic."

Nick Fury grunted at the recognition. "Not Good Housekeeping?"

"The recipes aren't very exciting." Loki flipped the cover of his new grimoire shut and pushed it away from himself with a sigh, looking at Fury's one good eye. "Coulson's in the office. I'm sure you were aware."

"Saw him first. Asked where you were. Had a question for you."

"Oh, gods," said Loki, and he was unable to keep the weight out of his voice. "Is it the anniversary of something else terrible I did? Found something new to interrogate me for?"

Fury stared at him, his face otherwise unreadable. "Long week?"

Loki's gaze slid off that one eye and stared into the distance. "I liked it better when no one knew I worked here. Team-ups with normal people used to be rare. SHIELD's gotten used to my particular nonsense so they leave me alone. Lately I end up with CIA agents and journalists in my hair whenever I turn around. Do you know how many 'Do you know what you did?' conversations I've had lately, Fury? Don't get me wrong, I'm aware I'm not the victim here, but I'm also vaguely adjacent to mortal, and I'm tired."

Fury's face remained impenetrable. "Was a different kind of question, anyway."

"Thank gods." Loki breathed the words like a prayer. He reached out and poked a finger at the spine of his book. "What is it?"

"You know anything about flerkens?"

Loki's face did a thing that Loki's face was not supposed to do, sucking and squinching inward as if smacked with a rubber mallet coated with particularly tart lemon juice, and as if that mallet was wielded by the physical incarnation of the knowledge of just how much strange eldritch bullshit was in the universe, and how it would never, ever leave him alone. "Not to answer a question with a question, but how, in forty-five distinct Hells of a dozen different worlds, do you know what a flerken is?"

"Been cat-sitting one for some twenty-odd years."

"Why is this planet so weird?" Loki buried his face in his hands. "All of space where I've walked, and every day I rediscover that this planet in particular is a Celestial shithouse of crazy." He uncovered his face and stared, wild-eyed, at Fury. "You have a flerken. You're certain? It's not merely a cat and you had a bad dream about it once? Those happen with felines. A lot."

"Even if it was, the reaction you're having is worth everything I've gone through in life." Fury smiled at Loki with the sort of grim implacability he specialized in. "But no. It's a flerken. Galactic high threat level, burps tentacles. I've got a funny story about the tesseract, actually, but it's not one I tell people. Especially people I trust 'bout as far as I can throw."

Loki shrugged. "All right," he said. "Fair. Why come to me about it, then?"

"You're also the space alien that knows things. So. You know if one is pregnant?"

Loki uttered a small, weak laugh. "First of all, due to a reputation that's worse than mine, flerkens are astonishingly rare these days. The females are even rarer yet, to keep the population in check. Their gestational period is marked in decades, Fury. You say this one's been with you for, what, twenty years?"

"About that."

"Then it would have been pregnant for several more years before that, ensuring it was safe and well-cared for before entering the critical phases where they like to rest as much as possible. I'm not an expert, Fury, much less a veterinarian, but it seems quite unlikely."

Fury reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone. He swiped through his photos until he found the one he wanted, set his elbow firmly atop the table, and showed the picture to Loki. "Took this photo a week ago. She'd been getting big the last couple of months. I thought it was the new kibble I switched to at first."

An orange tabby cat was caught curved in mid-roll on a shag carpet, front paws stuck up and out as it begged for belly rubs. The rear legs were stuck straight out, pink beans flexing as it did that particularly luxurious stretch cats liked, and its eyes were squinting contentedly. The collar around its neck and its attached silver tag told Loki that the cat - flerken, screamed his mind, oh gods it absolutely is a flerken - was named Goose.

Most importantly, the fuzzy, cream-speckled belly was distended like it had a cute little beer tub thing going on.

"Oh fuck," said Loki.

. . .

Goose wasted no time trotting up to the new guest when Fury let them both into the old house, her tail stuck straight up and her back arching happily as she slammed herself into Loki's black pantsleg, leaving a copious amount of creamsicle fur behind.

"Naturally," said Loki. Despite that, and despite himself, he reached down to scritch the top of her head. She enjoyed it for a moment, then bowled herself over onto the carpeted floor, belly up in silent demand. "Er."

"She actually digs a belly rub. Only turns into a trap once in a while. 'Course, you never know when that'll be, or if you're gonna get an extra surprise."

Loki gamely reached down to stroke the proffered fuzz, then hunkered next to Goose. He directed his question to the flerken instead. "I'm going to press gently on your belly, all right? I'm not going to hurt you, so please don't hurt me. I'm only doing this because I was asked to check on you by someone that cares, and that would race you to get my head off my body if I step out of line. All right?"

"Prrrp!" Goose's head lolled on the carpet, looking unconcerned by all of this. Her eyes were closed.

Loki petted down the belly, then pressed lightly around the rounder parts of her stomach with two fingers. Goose wriggled a bit under his touch, then, for one terrifying moment, gawped in an enormous, wet-sounding yawn. He froze in place, watching to be sure that all he saw was a catlike pink tongue. "Fury, ten years ago when you had me in a glass cage, you could have just led with this."

"She's not exactly the most reliable critter I know, plus, I didn't want to bring it up." Fury finished resetting the security on the door. "Way it turned out, Hydra infestation and all, think I ended up making the right call."

Loki finished prodding the rounded tum, then took his hands away to dangle at his knees, looking at the flerken while he thought. He pulled his head up to look around himself. "This is one of your safehouses?"

"The safehouse. My house. Used to belong to my mom. Had a lot of work done to it." Fury's voice had the distinct and airy casualness of a very real threat. "You understand?"

"I'm not going to tell you I'm defanged, Fury, and we're not going to film a buddy comedy together anytime soon, but I'm also not going to compromise your mother's house. I have some ethics, and probably a few family issues." Loki shook his head. "She would feel safe here."

"Guess so. She used to come the office once in a while, too. She'd lick the shit out of agents coming to visit me, curl up on 'em and stuff. She loves Coulson, he's thought this little relationship of ours is hilarious for years. The ones that she made a point to avoid, I'd run another background check on them."

"And?"

"I'd find a reason to cashier them to nowhere without making a big deal out of it. She's a lazy thing, but her instincts are damn good. Most of those guys turned out to be Hydra later. Too bad she can't speak English like we can, we probably would've avoided half that fuck-up." Fury frowned down at him. "Flerkens can't, right? I wouldn't be surprised to find she's holding out on me."

"Not as I'm aware, but the only fellow who went to the original flerken homeworld to study their physiology and culture, ah, disappeared." Loki straightened up. "He's probably about a thousand dimensions away at this point, and driven out of his mind entirely. So. Are you ready for the big reveal?"

Fury examined his face, seeing there was a lot there. "Hold on." He gestured towards a narrow hall. "Kitchen's this way."

. . .

"All right." Loki leaned against a patch of painted wall next to the fridge, holding a vintage jelly glass with Snoopy the dog plastered around it, an artifact probably older than Fury himself. Inside was a heroic amount of vodka, at Loki's request. "Good news first. Your flerken isn't pregnant." He chugged the drink down to the halfway point. "The bad news is it's because she's already laid her eggs in this house and our next act is going to be to find out where."

Nick Fury didn't move. His hands rested atop the formica table, another jelly glass sitting untouched between them. This one had a picture of Woodstock the bird dancing on it, and it was full of whisky. "Eggs."

"Eggs, Fury." He finished his drink and took a gigantic inhale before continuing. "Flerkens lay eggs. A broodspawn, if you will."

"What if I won't?" He continued to not move.

Loki waved the glass at him. "Regardless. Reality won't change. There are a lot of eggs in your home. It will be in a dark and quiet corner, kept as warm as possible. The egg clusters will be swaddled by a disgusting amount of multi-dimensional sludge vomited up as a matter of casual biology. Here's the really fun part: The eggs mature much more rapidly than the original gestational period."

"Months instead of years?"

"Days. Maybe a week or two. Again, my facts are fuzzy, but you're on the verge of having a house full of blind, mewling kits that are going to be able to spit tentacles before they can get upright on all fours."

Fury picked up his drink, going for broke in one long, gulping shot.

Goose trotted into the kitchen and began a circuit of looping between table legs, human legs, and jotun legs, shedding hard enough to build a whole other flerken for, presumably, the sheer catty cheek of it.

"They don't speak in a way we can understand, but yes, by the way, I am pretty damned sure they understand us perfectly well." Loki looked down at a fresh layer of whitish fuzz on his dark socks. "But then, that's all felid-types in general."

"I have a couple rooms down in the basement. They're secure, least I thought, but I guess it's possible she could have gotten in there somehow." Fury reached down to rub Goose's neck when she leaned up to prop two paws on his leg in another demand.

Loki walked to the sink and rinsed his glass out like a proper guest, leaving it upside-down on a folded towel left next to the sink. "I can guarantee it, if these rooms suit her. The dimensional pockets inside a flerken obviate a lot of things, like locked doors. Need to threaten me again before we go take a look?"

"Think you got the point."

"I did, and besides, I've learned all too well to not to fuck with Earth." Loki watched Goose pad her way back towards him, trying to not freeze up again as she thunked her skull into his ankle. "You people keep flerkens as housecats, honestly."

"Mrp!" added Goose, cheerfully.

. . .

Fury's first secure room was, specifically, an armory.

"They made me watch John Wick," said Loki conversationally. He stood next to a wall that displayed a half-dozen high-impact rifles and one deadly-looking and custom sniper rifle. It was the least interesting display in the room, in comparison to the wealth of potential murder on show elsewhere. He touched nothing, as it was the sort of armory that meant little to him, yet he understood its impressiveness by human metrics. "I was unaware the silly thing had documentary aspects."

"Fun movie. Decent gunplay. Keanu actually went and learned how to handle his firearms. I admire that. Not many films bother, and it always takes me out of the show." Nick crossed the room to head for another door with even more stringent security welded into its keypads and personal ident devices. "I made it ten minutes into The Expendables before deciding I would have fired every single one of those dumbass motherfuckers." The eyepatch lifted into view. "Then I remembered I still put up with Tony Stark."

"To be fair, I'm not sure entertainment is oft going for realistic fidelity, but regardless. You have quite the personal supply." Loki felt his elbow bump into one of those tall craft carts on rollers. It didn't budge. Its plastic drawers were loaded with several pounds of ammo boxes. "If I were less surprised by this turn of events, I'd flatline. What's in the next room that deserves a lock of its own?"

"Furnace. It's old, it's touchy, my ma used to threaten to beat the hell out of her friends when they complained it was cold and they wanted to come down and turn it up. She never really would, but my ma had the electric bill controlled down to the penny. Old habits. It's also where I keep a couple pounds of plastique, since it's temp-stable in here, but that goes without saying."

"Oh. Of course."

Fury glanced back at him, the handprint ID chiming as it finished processing his authorization. The door clicked, unlocking. "You know you sound sarcastic without even trying?"

"I had no idea," said Loki, dry enough to cut glass.

. . .

Goose slipped between the two sets of legs and trotted over to plop herself like a queen amidst her handiwork, which was a semi-stable dimensional pool of brackish green-black fluid that cradled several dozen eggs along its surface. The eggs themselves seemed translucent but weren't, exactly, and they emitted a low light that was a nauseating mix of something not at all pink but describable as only that, and a deep, aching blue. Her tail curled around her feet and she stared up at the two shocked men. She said, proudly, "Mrrrp!" and waited for a response.

"Oh, what the fuck," said Fury.

"Yeah," said Loki. "I knew, intellectually, but seeing it is a whole other bottle of mead."

Goose put her ears back, looking at Fury. "Mrrr."

"You are a beautiful, proud mama, and even though I'm surprised by all of this, I promise we're gonna take care of you and your babies," said Fury hurriedly, pitching his voice low enough to be adjacent to baby-talk, but without the condescending bits.

"No one will ever believe me," said Loki. He sounded like a headache was coming.

"Mrowp!" Satisfied, Goose licked down one shoulder and then settled in a loaf next to a dense cluster of her eggs. She gave them a lick, too, but not with her cat tongue. She did it with some of her other ones. The light in the eggs changed, turning warmer in response to a mother's love.

"I know what you said, Fury, but I've got to ask." Loki seemed unable to move. "What's the funny story about the tesseract? Because there was a period of time where I knew it had to be on Earth, but it also couldn't be targeted. Not until fairly shortly before the assault I, ah, led. I think I've got a theory about that, now."

"Short version? You got dried dimensional cat-barf all over your hand when you grabbed it."

Loki nodded, looking a bit more pale than usual around the lips. "Figures."

"If it makes you feel better, I never told the techs, either."

"Not really, but I appreciate the attempt." He exhaled. "I think you don't have much time before they hatch. You can see the light's solidifying in some of the eggs."

"I was trying to not stare, it messes with my brain." Fury shoved his back against the wall, fixing his eye on some pipes hanging from the ceiling instead. "How many eggs, you think? I counted ninety before something strained in my eyeball."

"Lowball, there's a few in the pool that are harder to see. You're looking at about one hundred and twenty, at least. I think I read a brood can get up to two hundred hatchlings, thereabouts."

Fury kept staring at the ceiling. "That's a lot of kibble."

"Yeah."

"Is there a galactic Humane Society?"

"No." Loki frowned. "I can make some inquiries."

"Mek?" Goose looked at Loki, the tip of her tail twitching ominously.

"Safely," Loki said to her, feeling a bit like an idiot but also remembering her second mouth and the three tongues and attendant tentacles that emerged from it a few minutes ago. "I'll start with people I personally know, yes? Besides, the way people react to your kind, you're going to want them homed widely once they're ready to leave your side. That's fairly quick, I recall. Not long after their eyes open." She continued to look at him. "But I'm sure you'll have the final word on that."

Goose tucked her front paws under her chest, eyes squinting in consideration. Loki waited, then relaxed when she said, "Merp," followed by a satisfied purr.

. . .

Four days later:

"They're hatching." The call, sent from an unknown number yet connecting directly to Loki's secure phone, cut out without a goodbye.

. . .

"Oh my God, they are adorable." Nick Fury was sitting crosslegged on the floor of the furnace-room, some of the soft towels he'd strewn around for Goose scrunching up under his butt. Flerkittens were tumbling out of his hands as he cooed at them. Blind, they were using their tiny maws to taste their way around, and itsy-bitsy paws patted around for stable purchase.

"Congratulations," said Loki in the deadest voice he could manage, just to be an asshole. "You're a father."

Several of the flerkittens heard his voice and started stumbling his way. They took their mother's coloration, mostly, but a number of them had chocolate-black blotches of varying sizes, and they had baby-fat tummies and Christmas tree tails stuck straight up. Not made of stone, Loki hunkered at first as they began to surround his runners, and then gave up and carefully sat on his ass so they could clamber all over his legs. He put his hands down for the rangers to sniff. "Fine, they are, in fact, extremely cute."

One gave his finger a testing nip, then licked at it with a glistening tongue longer than its wee body. Loki arched an eyebrow. "Also, that tingles. Strangest damn sensation."

"Watch this." Fury offered a finger to one of the more enterprising kits, who licked the tip and then went for it as if seeking mother's milk. But the mouth widened more than it was supposed to, and the whole finger disappeared inside the flerkitten, who kept its tiny proportions. "You think that tingles, that feels weird as shit."

Loki looked down as one of the flerkittens, with its black tail looking like it had been randomly attached to its orange body, and its hazy, unaware eyes, attached itself to a knotted cord at the neck of his hoodie. It swung there, a furry Miley Cyrus, and it mewed with perfect happiness, right up until its claw began to slip loose. He cupped his hand underneath it, transferring it to his knee without incident.

From amidst a pile of kits she was busy washing clean of shell-goo, Goose looked up to give him an approving blink.

"You get any responses back?" Fury looked up from three wriggling flerkittens cupped in his hands. "I stocked up on kitten food and shit, I got this for a little while. But I counted one hundred and thirty six babies, and man, I can't keep up with that. They're gonna be teleporting all over the place by the end of the week."

"I have a few adopters lined up, plus something that may help. Some of my contacts are hesitant. One is going to be a hard sell. One faction are quite eager to meet the kittens, which I was struck by, we'll get no few adopted there. But I did discover a refugee organization, via a recent contact I made. Whoever we can't home immediately-" Loki paused, hearing he'd dropped a 'we' and realizing bonding with Nick Fury over kittens was now the weirdest thing that had happened to him all godsdamn year, at least so far. "I can introduce Goose to some of their operators, who will care for, guard, and adopt out the rest. Turns out there are some quite invested rescue networks out there, although I still wouldn't say I found the ASPCA for flerkens. That said, they don't believe the species is the threat other factions, such as the Kree, assumed they were."

"I'm not surprised."

Loki arched an eyebrow. "I am, so there's a twist. Admittedly, discovering Kree are wrong about something is like an ordinary Tuesday in the galaxy."

Fury shrugged. "Let's just say at some point over the last decade I realized someone out there hadn't picked only one group of marginalized space people to try and help."

As if underlining his words, Goose got up from her pile of kits and came over to lovingly jostle his elbow with her forehead.

Loki frowned, considering that and not coming up with any immediate theories. "More stories that aren't my business?"

"Just some stuff I keep under my jacket in general, until I think it's necessary." Fury had a flerkitten cuddled up under his chin, giving it an absurd, unbelievable hug. "Nothing personal, this time."

"Huh."

. . .

"Groot! I am, I am Groot!" Nick Fury watched the tree-man let the growing kitten scale him like, well… like a Groot. The black eyes set deep in the bark turned towards him, the entire face creasing in a deep-carved beam of delight. "IAmGROOT."

Fury, quite literally, didn't know what to make of Loki's first choice of adoptive parents. "Yeah, man."

"Fine, yeah, fine." Rocket had his eyes covered with one small hand. "Not to be the anti-flerken propagandist in the room, but I ain't never heard a story about these guys that didn't end with something fucky getting swallowed into who knows where. Stories used to give me the jeebies when I was younger."

Goose stood two feet in front of Rocket, staring at him with her eyes narrowed. He took his paw off his face to stare back at her. "I already gave in, lady, I ain't gonna hurt the baby. If you don't port across the galaxy to put half my ass in the dead zone, Groot'll put me in an airlock himself."

"Groot!" said Groot, in a tone that brooked (barked?) no argument.

"From his mouth to your ears." Rocket gave Goose the hairiest look he could muster. "He broke me down, alright? Doesn't matter what I think. He wants the kitten, he's gonna take care of the kitten, and I'm gonna shut up and deal with it. We good, lady, or you wanna just eat me right now and be done with it? I got debts, I won't wiggle much."

Goose stared at him, her ears going straight back. Then she swiveled her head to look at Groot, who was smiling and nodding at her. She resettled all four of her paws, looking no less noble and serene, but said, clearly enough, "Mewp."

"Iam Groooot," said Groot to Goose.

"Merp!"

Loki continued to pinch at the bridge of his nose as the conversation between flerken and tree continued without translation. "She's only a week old. That's another month to full maturity."

Rocket flapped a hand at him. "Yeah, yeah. Milk and the soft shit, and then transition to the baby kibble, yeah. Groot wrote it all down, it's uploaded onto every datapad on the ship and he already posted it hardcopy on the walls of his room."

"I'm not responsible for what happens if Goose decides to inspect the home."

Rocket rolled his eyes.

"But Fury will probably shoot you."

Rocket winced. "Saw the other room. Some good stuff in there." He looked at Nick Fury, who was trying to look like Nick Fury usually did, but also like a piece of his mind had also ascended due to an overdose of weird. "You selling?"

"No."

"Damn."

. . .

Over a dozen flerkittens were adopted as ship's cats to Ravagers with flight routines stable and safe enough to satisfy Goose, one was picked up by some exiled Kree kid named Jat that Loki appeared to know, another handful went to merchanter and rim-runner ships connected to that same source, and more than a few were packed off for delivery by Loki for people that couldn't arrive personally, but were vetted by Goose and Fury via cobbled together vidcoms. These were usually scientists in hiding or other people who understood on a personal level the bad reputation flerkens had, and didn't mind the idea of a few more of them being out there in the universe.

One was picked up by a cyborg woman named Nebula. Goose took an immediate liking to her, even as she seemed to emit an aura of perfect hostility, even as she cuddled off with a male flerkitten that took a liking to her. Loki shrugged it off, telling Fury in an aside to not take it personally. It would work out.

One went to the Hong Kong sanctum sanctorum, under Wong's recommendation. Goose seemed particularly pleased by this.

And then there were the Frost Giants.

. . .

"They're beautiful." Queen Farbauti beamed down at four half-grown flerkittens purring sleepily in her arms. Gymir, her silent shaman advisor, stood close by with a fuzzy handful of delight of his own.

A handmaiden was originally scheduled to represent the Jotunheim adoption delegation. Loki was not privy to why things had changed last minute, and he was busy keeping his face under control as Fury stared up at the tall Queen, and then at him. At the tall Queen… then at him.

A large part of him wanted to stare Fury dead in the eye and snap the obvious at him, but he adamantly refused to give in. If for no other reason than it would cause the secured backyard full of flerkittens - their jotun visitors were far too large for the furnace room - to scatter across the neighborhood and a dozen local dimensions, putting him immediately in the shit with Goose. He cleared his throat instead, getting a wry and knowing look from Gymir for it.

"The direwolves are used to feeling like they own the place, and they don't mouse for a good godsdamn," said Farbauti, looking down at Nick Fury. "We've undergone a few… troublesome… eras where our natural ecosphere has been somewhat altered. Surface predators are out of joint. Adding a handful of flerkens to our home won't solve all of these problems, of course, but it will go towards the vermin troubles we've started to have with the new food imports. They will be treated with great care and respect. Our shamans are delighted at the prospect."

"Egyptians used to worship cats," said Fury, at a loss at what to add to the formal address.

"They must have been extraordinarily wise." Farbauti sounded pleased. "Lady Goose, I hereby offer sanctum and asylum to no less than thirty-five of your honored kittens. They will have our hearths and our laps, and they will be fed as finely as our own children."

Goose got up from the sunny blanket she'd been laying on, trotted over towards the feet of the Queen, put a single paw upon her shin to stretch herself up towards the knee, and made haphazard eye contact. With a regal, rolling purr, she said to Farbauti, "Mrowppp!" and then dropped free to bob her head twice.

"Excellent," said the Queen, one noblewoman to another.

Fury and Loki shared a glance, this one in alignment that nothing in their lives was normal or would be normal ever again.

. . .

The hot pink Xandarian refugee agent finished triple-counting the remaining flerkittens, her voice all business even as one of the kits was toying with her long braid. "So that's… seventy-two kits that need shelter and homing. You're satisfied with the adoptees the others have been settled with?"

"They've all passed their one week check," said Loki, sitting against one of the trees in the backyard. Out of some form of kindness, he didn't look at Fury. Fury had his head down, with Goose and a sleeping flerkitten curled together in his lap, and he was, privately, grieving the imminent departure of the remaining kits. "There's two more coming up for certainty's sake, and I'm sure if something goes awry, it won't be us settling the scores."

Goose purred in agreement.

Even a happy dad had to let go eventually. It was meant to be a good day, but it would also be a somewhat heartbreaking one, nonetheless. Goose, meanwhile, showed no signs of departing Fury's lap, nor leaving for good anytime soon. He stroked her back gently, now and again, to purrs that changed frequency in time with her pettings.

At some point Loki got the suspicion, based on things said without context or explanation, that Fury was one-eyed not for the more badass reasons he let people assume. But he didn't ask, as a courtesy for not treating Loki like a trespasser during most of this, and either way, Fury seemed too fond of Goose to hold any grudge.

"Not to give away too many details regarding other sanctuary cases, but there may come a date in the fairly distant future where my replacement gets to do all this over again on a couple of different worlds." The agent looked up, smiling. "Couple more generations, and their population will be all right again. Still thin, but no longer on the endangered list."

"Prrp."

"You're going to have to work on your PR, though," said the agent to Goose. "And tell your kids to not eat any more planets when their pockets get bigger. That's a bitch to explain to people, and your species rep can't afford another hit like that."

"What?" said Fury, looking up from Goose.

"What?" said Loki, equally startled.

"It was a while back," said the agent, and she didn't sound as if she intended to expand on it more than necessary. "They had a decent reason to do it, apparently, but you try spinning that."

Loki shrugged. "Been there."

The agent squinted at him, then let it go. "All right. I'll unpack the transport cubes and we'll sneak the rest of the kids out of here."

"Mrow." Goose rose from Fury's lap with a heroic stretch, arching her back and tail comfortably. Then she popped down and tugged at the dozing flerkitten's neck. It woke up with a soft peep, and she bit its neck, gentle, half-dragging it towards Loki.

"Oh, no," he started to say, putting a hand out. Goose was ignoring him, still hauling her cargo."Wait, hang on!"

She was a blotchy girl, blacker than some of the other flerkittens, with orange ears and a tigerlike camo across part of her face, and there was a patch of coppery stripes along one shoulder. She continued to peep, complaining about being forced awake, but accepted the frogmarching. Her black tail waggled, hitting the ground. Then she realized where she was going, green-gold eyes seeing Loki, and she stopped struggling. Goose let her go, and the flerkitten finished the route herself, happily popping towards him and wriggling her way under the protesting hand until she climbed high into his lap.

Then she curled back up, tail tapping her own nose, and she went, purring all the way, back down into sleep.

"No," said Loki, knowing he was already shit out of luck on this one. Goose sat by his shoe and stared at him, just stared dead into his eyes with all the silent emotive force she was capable of, until he reached down and began to pet his sleeping charge.

The kitten humped around without opening her eyes, making sure he got to the good part of her scruff.

"So we'll be sheltering and homing seventy-one kits," said the agent, making the necessary adjustment on her datapad.

"Seventy-one," said Loki, staring down at yet another responsibility he hadn't asked for. Worse, now he had to name her. How do you name a flerken? He didn't know.

Yes, he did.

"Frej," said Loki, to the kitten, the word sounding like fray, and a bit like some people once said Frigga, and like better things.

"Congratulations, Loki," said Nick Fury, in the most deadpan voice possible. "You're a father."

"Oh, fuck," said Loki, and he left his hand on a sleeping young flerken, to keep her warm and comfortable while she dozed in the springtime sun.

~ Fin

. . .

The strength and the fellowship of the Clan will always be with you, even when you hunt alone. ~ Into the Wild, a Warrior Cats novel