Chapter Thirteen: Graduation and the Decision
Saturday morning: Natalie and Loki headed off to her parents' house, and got there a little after noon. Her father opened the door, and said, "Come in; Kevin left a while ago."
Natalie and Loki went in, and they went to the living room, where Mrs. McKenzie was waiting. "So what's the news?" she asked as they settled down.
"First I need to tell you that this is a secret," Natalie said. "It's very important that you don't tell anyone, especially Kevin, and I'll explain why him in a minute. I need you both to understand that I got special permission to discuss this with you, and it's imperative that you don't tell anyone."
Her parents exchanged a glance, and finally her father said, "Alright; if it's that serious, we won't tell anyone. Now, why can't we tell your brother?"
"I have a new job offer," Natalie said. "It's a bit unusual, but I've been thinking, and since it wouldn't completely interfere with me also joining a clinic, I think I want to do it. You've heard of the Avengers, right?"
"They're well known, yes," Mrs. McKenzie said.
"The Avengers Initiative, which is a branch of SHIELD, has offered me a position as their team therapist," Natalie said. "After I get my degree, I would basically join their team- just not in fighting."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but why did they choose you?" Mr. McKenzie asked. "There are several therapists who deal with government agents."
"They chose me because they know me," Natalie said. "They all have trust issues, and they wouldn't go to just anyone to talk about their problems. I've apparently proven myself to be enough of a friend that they're willing to talk to me."
"Is there some reason we didn't know about this?" Mrs. McKenzie asked.
"Technically, you did know," Natalie said. "Remember when I came home last time? And Tony Stark came over?"
"Yes…" Mrs. McKenzie said slowly.
"Tony knew all that information we told you about the attack on New York because he is actually Iron Man," Natalie said.
Her parents both facepalmed, and Mrs. McKenzie said, "I can't believe we forgot about that…."
Natalie continued, "NOW do you understand the secrecy? If it gets out that I'm involved with them, it will put me in danger. They want to keep it a secret because I can't fight the way they do. And if Kevin knew, you KNOW he'd start bragging, which is why you can't tell him."
"Do you really want this job?" Mr. McKenzie asked.
"I've thought it over, and decided that it's a good idea," Natalie said. "I really want to do this, and I hope you'll support my decision."
"Of course we will," Mrs. McKenzie said. "If that's really what you want, we'll support you all the way, and we won't tell anyone what you've told us today. And as you said to your father the last time you were here, you're a grown woman now. Far be it for us to try to stop you from living your life. The only thing we want is for you to be happy and safe."
"Thanks Mom," Natalie said. "On another note, I ordered tickets for Grandma and Grandpa. And Loki and Tony want to come too, so I got tickets for them too. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all, it's sweet that they want to support you," Mrs. McKenzie said. "I see you've been doing a good job of feeding Loki."
"Mrs. McKenzie, are you plotting to feed me to something?" Loki asked suspiciously. "Because if so, I may stop coming here. I do not want to be fed to something."
"Of course I'm not planning on feeding you to something," Mrs. McKenzie said, confused. "I just want you to be healthy. The last time you were here I could almost see your ribs."
"Then will you stop talking about fattening me up?" Loki asked. "It makes me uncomfortable."
"I'm sorry, Loki," Mrs. McKenzie said. "I'll stop."
"So I take it the dragon in the basement is going to have to survive on steak?" Mr. McKenzie asked.
"Not funny, Dad," Natalie said dryly as Loki started looking concerned. "And I happen to know you do not have a dragon in the basement- unless you mean the toy thing Kevin had when he was seven. And we're going home now, before you scare Loki. Thanks for listening, and don't tell anyone."
"We won't," Mrs. McKenzie said. Natalie grabbed her purse and Loki, and left.
The next few weeks were uneventful. Natalie was busy with studying, and finally it was exams week. She had four exams; one for each of her three classes, and then one that would determine if she got her certificate to practice. By the time the week was done, Natalie was exhausted. The exams had been difficult, but she was pretty confident she had done well. The grades would be up the following Monday, and she was both excited and nervous.
Monday morning: Natalie got up and after showering and dressing, she went to the NYU website and logged in. Loki wasn't home; he had spent the night at Tony's, working on some project with Tony and Bruce. Natalie looked up her grades, and her eyes widened. Then she grinned happily. She had gotten full marks on the class exams, and on the last exam, she had gotten ABOVE full marks. She got up, and put shoes on, then grabbed her purse and ran to Stark Tower. JARVIS let her in, and she practically skipped into the kitchen, where everyone was eating breakfast. "What's with the ear-to-ear grin?" Steve asked.
"My grades came in this morning," Natalie said happily. "I passed everything with flying colors, and that means I'll finally get my degree!" She was practically bouncing with joy, and the others all smiled. "Congrats," Tony said happily. "How does it feel?"
"It feels great," Natalie said. "I finally achieved step one of my goal, and I really couldn't be happier- which reminds me, I should call my parents and let them know the good news."
Loki came over to her, and she looked up at him quizzically. "I am proud of you, Natalie," he said, smiling. Then he kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing back. When they broke it off, they heard clapping, and turned to see the Avengers clapping. Natalie blushed, but she was smiling. She looked back at Loki, and commented, "That's a first."
"You two have never kissed before?" Tony asked incredulously.
"That's not it, it's just that usually I'm the one to kiss him," Natalie said.
Loki turned slightly pink when Tony snickered.
"I think I'll go call my parents," Natalie said happily. She took her cell phone into the living room, and called her home number. When her mother picked up, she immediately said, "Mom, I got full marks on three exams and above full marks on the fourth!"
"That's wonderful, sweetie!" Mrs. McKenzie said happily. "I'm so proud of you, and I'm sure your father will be too when I tell him. How does being done feel?"
"It feels awesome," Natalie said. "I have to pick up my cap and gown tomorrow, and I'll get the tickets to you soon."
"Great!" Mrs. McKenzie said. "I look forward to it. See you soon!"
"Yup, bye Mom," Natalie said happily, and hung up. Then she went back to the kitchen, still smiling.
~XXXX~ Time Skip to the day of the Doctoral Convocation ~XXXX~
Natalie waited with the other doctorate candidates, all of whom were several years older than her. Unfortunately, her friend Marie hadn't gotten the necessary grades to come, but Amelia and Katie had. Katie came up to her as they were about to go to their seats, and asked, "So, how's it feel to be the youngest Doctor of Psychology in ten years?"
"You have no idea how happy I am," Natalie said. "I worked really hard, and I'm finally graduating."
Amelia came up too, and asked, "Natalie, there's a rumor going around that Tony Stark is here."
Natalie smiled sheepishly. "He asked me for a ticket," she admitted. "Loki's here too, and my parents, Kevin, and my grandparents made it too."
"Wow…." Amelia said. "Sounds like it's starting."
The doctoral candidates filed out, and found their seats. The auditorium was packed to the rafters with their families and friends, all of whom were cheering. After a while, the cheering died down, and the Dean made a speech, followed by the President and the Doctoral Student Speaker. Natalie waited as her fellow candidates were called up, clapping as each one was hooded by their dissertation chair and given a torch pin.
Finally- "Natalie McKenzie!"
Natalie walked up to the stage, and was surprised when after being hooded by the chair, who had been one of her professors, the woman said, "Natalie, I am so proud of you."
"Thank you," Natalie said. "I really appreciate that." She walked offstage, and went back to her seat, waiting for the ceremony to be over.
Finally the ceremony ended, and a loud cheer went up from everyone. Natalie and the other new doctors walked out, waving at the stands, and went outside to wait for their families and friends. Amelia and Katie came up to Natalie, and they hugged. "I hope we can keep in touch," Amelia said. "Good luck, both of you."
"Thanks, and same to you," Natalie said. "I'm going to go find my family; are yours here?"
"Yep, and my fiancée got the day off work," Katie said. "I'm heading out too." She hugged Natalie and Amelia, and left. Natalie and Amelia looked at each other, hugged, and parted ways.
Natalie wandered around until she spotted her family and Tony, and went over. "Natalie!" her mom cried. "That was so amazing, we are so proud of you!"
"Thanks Mom," Natalie said with a grin, hugging back as her parents and Kevin hugged her together. When they broke it off, her grandparents hugged her too. Loki hugged and kissed her, and they broke it off when Tony said, "I don't get a hug?"
"Of course you get a hug, Tony," Natalie said, giggling as she hugged him. He hugged her back, and when they broke apart, said, "I convinced your family to let me take all of you out for dinner to celebrate. The others will be there too."
"You have that 'I'm so innocent I might as well be an angel' look on your face," Natalie said, smiling. "You didn't blackmail them, did you?"
"Actually he did," Mrs. McKenzie said.
"Why is Kevin looking sulky?" Natalie asked.
"I could have gotten a welder if it wasn't for Mom and Dad," Kevin said sulkily. "And THEN they told Tony he'd regret it if he gave one to you to give to me!"
"Why do you want a welder?" Natalie asked, puzzled. "Sheets of metal are expensive."
"I could totally make the best Iron Man costume if I had something to use besides cardboard!" Kevin said.
"You'd set off the alarms at Comic Con," Natalie commented.
"Oh, fine," Kevin said sulkily. "I'll stick with the cardboard- for now."
"Until you get over the pyromaniac phase, you will not be allowed near fire," Mr. McKenzie said.
"Let's get going, the others are going to meet us at the restaurant," Tony said. He flinched when Mrs. McKenzie gave him the 'Mom Look' and asked defensively, "How was I supposed to know your son was a pyromaniac?"
"Never mind, let's just go," Mr. McKenzie said wearily. "Natalie, we took two cars, so you, your brother, and Loki are going with Mr. Stark, and we're taking your grandparents."
"Okay," Natalie said. "Where are we going?"
"Mama Rose's," Mrs. McKenzie said. "And I baked a cake for afterwards."
"Great," Natalie said happily. They walked to the parking lot, and split up. Natalie took the front seat of Tony's car, and Loki and Kevin sat in back while Tony drove.
They reached the restaurant about half an hour later, and went in. Steve, Bruce, Natasha, and Clint were there, sitting at a large table that was actually a bunch of tables put together. Natalie went over with Tony, Loki, and her family, and said, "Hi guys, thanks for coming to celebrate with us!"
"Sure Natalie," Bruce said. "You've done so much for us, it's the least we could do."
Natalie smiled and sat down next to Loki. Tony sat on her other side, and Kevin plopped down next to him. The others found seats too, and a waitress came over to start taking drink orders. Natalie was mildly surprised when none of the Avengers, even Tony, got alcoholic drinks. Her father noticed too, and asked, "You don't drink either?"
"We do, but Natalie told us some of her family history, and we decided we'd respect that by not drinking around at least you," Bruce said. "And Tony knows better than to drink any more than a glass of wine around Natalie."
"That's very considerate, thank you," Mr. McKenzie said.
"Sure," Steve said. "We don't drink around Natalie at all anymore, actually. She gets nervous when we mention it."
Natalie's parents looked at her. "Thanks, Steve," she said sarcastically. "My parents did NOT need to know that simply mentioning alcohol now gives me flashbacks."
"What-" Mrs. McKenzie started, but Natalie said, "Forget it, I'll tell you another time. Can we talk about something more pleasant?"
"Nat, are you coming to Comic Con this year?" Kevin asked.
"Of course, you're still too young to go on your own," Natalie said. "Loki might come too. How's the costume coming along?"
"I've got it done, but I'm having trouble finding the right shade of red," Kevin said. "On the bright side, I think I figured out how to make the chest plate glow."
"How?" Natalie said.
"Battery-powered Christmas lights," Kevin said. "It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing. Hey Nat, I just had the best idea!"
"What does it involve?" Natalie asked warily. "It better not be like that skimpy thing you blackmailed me into wearing two years ago."
"This is different," Kevin said. "You should totally go as the Black Widow!"
"If I do that, I'll have every guy ogling me," Natalie said. "Besides, you're going as Iron Man, not Hawkeye."
"Then who are you going to go as?" Kevin asked.
"Riza from Fullmetal Alchemist," Natalie said.
"You did that three years ago," Kevin said.
"I LIKE that costume," Natalie said. "I like her character too."
"You said the main problem is me going as Iron Man, right?" Kevin asked.
"No, the main problem is that I'm going to have guys ogling me if I wear that," Natalie said.
"Well, Loki's going too, right?" Kevin asked.
"It sounds interesting, yes," Loki said.
"So we dress him up as Hawkeye, and problem solved," Kevin said happily.
"No," Loki said. "I refuse to go as Hawkeye."
"Then who are you going as?" Kevin asked.
"Myself," Loki said flatly. "I have no interest in this cosplay."
"Aw," Kevin said. Suddenly it looked like he had an idea, and Natalie groaned. "Kevin, please tell me you're not thinking what I think you're thinking," she said. "I thought we already established that I am not going to the con as the Black Widow."
"Oh come on, it'd be perfect, and Loki wears so much black anyways he wouldn't have to dress differently," Kevin said.
"Can one of you clue the rest of us in to what you're talking about?" Tony asked.
"Kevin once wrote a story about the Black Widow having a twin brother, and they both wore roughly the same thing, and had the same job," Natalie said. "In other words, he wants Loki to play the part of that character while I dress up like the Black Widow."
"What was the character's name?" Natasha asked.
"Peter the Black Panther," Kevin said. "That story was fun to write, but I think it was too based on the character I created, rather than the Black Widow. It got some good reviews on the site I posted it on, though."
"I'd be interested in reading it," Natasha said, eyeing him with curiosity. "What was the title?"
"The Assassin Twins," Kevin replied. "I posted it on a site called fanfiction dot net."
"I'll check it out when I get a chance," Natasha said with a slight smile.
Kevin smiled back happily and asked Natalie, "So what do you think?"
"Loki, do you want to dress in black and wear your boots to the convention?" Natalie asked.
"Very well," Loki said. "I am curious to see what you look like in a costume."
"So Nat, you'll go as the Black Widow?" Kevin asked hopefully.
"Fine…." Natalie said in defeat. "But I blame you if some idiot gropes me. And I am not bringing weapons."
"They don't ALLOW weapons anymore, Nat," Kevin said dryly. "Are you going to dye your hair?"
"I admit that would be a good way to complete the look, but I'm not sure," Natalie said.
"That's decided, then," Kevin said happily.
"So Kevin, what do you plan to do after high school?" Tony asked suddenly.
"I'm going to be a doctor," Kevin said.
"Any specific field?" Tony asked.
"I'm not sure yet," Kevin said. "Nat was my inspiration, though. When she decided she was going to save people, I was six years old. By the time I was old enough to understand what she was talking about, I decided that if she was going to be the one to help people with mental health problems, then I'd be the one she referred her patients to if they needed medical help. We were both inspired mainly by Dad's horror stories about alcoholism, and Nat's been my role model for as long as I can remember. We both decided to dedicate our lives to helping people, and I'm really proud that my big sister is the youngest Doctor of Psychology in ten years."
"That's really sweet of you, Kevin," Natalie said happily. "You're going to be great too, I'm sure of it. Just a warning about college, though- any friends you make will attempt to drag you to bars on your twenty-first birthday."
"I won't let them," Kevin said firmly. "I know how to stand up for myself, and if they want to ruin themselves with alcohol, that's their problem. I still haven't forgotten that contract we made when I was six, you know."
"Contract?" Bruce asked.
"Nat and I typed up a contract when I was six and she was twelve, to give to our dad for his birthday," Kevin said. "It stated that we both agreed to never drink a drop of alcohol as long as we lived, and that we'd never forget the lessons we learned about how dangerous alcohol can be. We both signed it, and we even added our thumbprints in blood, much to Mom's dismay. We gave it to Dad for his birthday, and he was really happy with us."
"Dad told us that day that he had never been more proud of anyone in his entire life," Natalie said.
"It definitely went a long way to ease my fears about my children ending up like others in my family," Mr. McKenzie said. "I admit I was nervous when Natalie went to college, but then she called me one Saturday night. She was nearly in tears because one of her classmates was drunk, and after I walked her through what to do with said classmate, I started thinking. It amazed me that not only did Natalie realize the dangers of drinking and getting drunk, but she was actively avoiding people who behaved that way. I also admit that I do feel guilty for telling my children horror stories, because both of them are now terrified of drinking anything if they don't know what's in it. Even that time my younger sister came over with a bottle of sparkling cider had them running to me. I guess it looked like champagne or something, and I'm starting to regret some of my actions, because now Natalie's traumatized by the mention of alcohol and Kevin's wary of bottles."
"To be fair, my problem isn't totally your fault, Dad," Natalie said.
"Then why are you so afraid of it?" Mr. McKenzie asked. "I thought it was just our family history- and your cousin's funeral."
"It's my fault," Tony said gloomily. "I'm probably the main reason Natalie's so afraid of alcohol and alcohol addictions."
"Is this something that can be talked about when we get home?" Natalie asked. "Mom made a cake, right?"
"Yes, that's fine- but you ARE going to tell us what happened," Mrs. McKenzie said sternly. "Is everyone done eating?"
There was a chorus of agreement, and Tony paid the bill. Then they headed out, back to Natalie's parents' house.
The minute everyone was gathered in the living room, Mrs. McKenzie asked, "So what's the story?"
"I doubt Natalie told you, but like Loki, I have PTSD," Tony said. "I didn't handle it very well, and became an alcoholic. The CEO of my company, who's my assistant as well, contacted Natalie about this, and she agreed to speak with me about it. Unfortunately, the night before she came over, I was drinking again, and I overdid it. Natalie found me with alcohol poisoning, and called 911, then went to the hospital with me, and when I came to, she was there. I'm sure you heard the speech she gave me; it was broadcast on national television. But after she saved my life, I decided I needed to stop drinking altogether. I didn't realize until I took her out to dinner that I really scared her, and I apologized, but it's mainly my fault that she's so afraid of alcohol now."
"We got rid of all Tony's alcohol on Natalie's request, and we don't drink unless we're out somewhere anymore," Natasha said.
Mr. McKenzie sighed. "My older sister's eldest son had a drinking problem when he was old enough to do it legally," he said. "I think he probably inherited it from his mother, because they both drank themselves to death. Andrew, my nephew, was Natalie's favorite cousin, despite the age difference. Before his drinking problem began, he would take her to the playground, or out for ice cream whenever he could. We often asked him to babysit her, and she loved it when he'd come play with her. Andrew came to all her gymnastics performances, and was often the loudest one there, cheering her on. He was like her older brother, and he lived nearby. But then he went to college, and came back with a drinking problem. Natalie was the first to try to talk him out of it, but while he was still careful to be sober around her, he couldn't quit. When he was twenty-seven, he got alcohol poisoning, and his friends didn't get him to the hospital in time. Andrew died when Natalie was eight years old, and she was scarred for life after they did an open coffin thing at the funeral. She was old enough to understand that Andrew wasn't coming back, and from then on, she was absolutely terrified of that happening to someone else. She was five when my older sister died the same way, so it wasn't quite as hard. But Andrew was such a big part of her life that it devastated her when he drank himself to death, and she had nightmares for years. She went to therapy, and that's what really helped her. From then on, she dedicated her life to helping people with their problems, and now she's finally reached her first goal. Mr. Stark, I know that you had no idea what your actions would do to Natalie, but I would be eternally grateful if you tried not to drink around her. I, and the rest of her family, don't want to ever see Natalie in the state she was after Andrew died again. I recognize that my daughter is a grown woman who can make her own choices, but I still worry, just as any good father would. I understand that many people like drinking, and I admit that in moderation it isn't necessarily a bad thing, but especially to Natalie, it's what took her cousin from her, and often during her childhood made me somewhat bitter until I learned to control my emotions better. I have a feeling Natalie will probably run into more alcoholics during her career, but since you seem so close to her, I'd prefer that you weren't one of them."
"I understand, and I quit drinking a while ago," Tony said. "Wasn't easy, but I don't want to ruin a real friendship simply because I can't control myself."
"I believe we should change the subject," Loki said, causing everyone to look at him and Natalie. Both Tony and Mr. McKenzie cringed when they saw that Natalie had her face buried in Loki's shoulder, and was silently crying. Loki was hugging her gently and stroking her hair.
The others were a bit unsure what to do, but then Kevin stood up and went over, kneeling in front of his sister. "Nat?" he asked softly.
Natalie sniffed and looked at him. "I know that we can't bring Andrew back," Kevin said softly. "But you saved Tony. You finally achieved your first goal, and you made sure that what happened to Andrew wouldn't happen to Tony. I know it's hard for you to talk about this, or hear about it, but just remember, Tony's still alive because of you. Because you managed to work through your fears, and used your training to help him. I heard that speech too, and I'm really proud of you. I don't like seeing you sad, though. You're my sister, and I want you to be happy, Nat."
Natalie looked at Kevin for a minute, and then smiled, drying her tears. She reached out, and hugged Kevin, who hugged back as she said, "Thanks Kev. I couldn't ask for a better brother. You're really growing up, you know that?"
"That's entirely your doing," Kevin said. "You're my sister, and I love you, Nat."
"I love you too, Kev," Natalie said. "And I'd stay happy just for you."
"No more crying?" Kevin asked.
"No more crying," Natalie replied with a smile. She looked over his shoulder, then added, "At least, not from me."
Kevin looked, and saw their parents and grandparents in tears, and noticed that the Avengers weren't exactly holding it together either. Loki was the only one who wasn't either outright teary or muttering about allergies while swiping at their eyes. He was simply smiling, and said, "Nice speech, Kevin."
"Thanks Loki," Kevin said with a grin.
"You did a better job than I did when I saw Natalie crying," Loki said.
"What did you do?" Kevin asked.
"He panicked first and then hugged me until I fell asleep," Natalie said with a grin. "I don't think Loki understands crying women."
"I do not understand women, period," Loki said.
That caused everyone to start laughing, and Loki pouted a bit.
"Mom, did you say you made a cake?" Natalie asked when they calmed down.
"Yes, I did," Mrs. McKenzie said. "Yellow cake with ganache."
"As long as there is chocolate, everyone should be happy," Natalie said. "Especially Loki and Clint."
"Clint is a chocoholic too?" Mrs. McKenzie asked.
"I am not," Clint said. "Natalie just thinks that because Loki and I had a fight over some chocolate that he was hoarding. I like chocolate, but not to the degree Loki seems to."
"I cannot help having a sweet tooth," Loki said disgruntledly.
Natalie giggled. "Your obsession is cute," she said. "Even if it is kind of strange. I don't think I've ever met anyone who can eat that much chocolate and not get sick of it, or at least switch to something else for a while."
"I'll go get cake," Mrs. McKenzie said before Loki could respond. "You all might want to head to the dining room."
Natalie and Kevin got up, and the others followed them to the dining room as Mrs. McKenzie went to the kitchen. Mrs. McKenzie came in with a large cake with "Congrats, Natalie!" on it in fancy purple letters. "That's really cool Mom, thanks," Natalie said.
"You're welcome," Mrs. McKenzie said. "It's not every day you get your doctorate."
Natalie grinned as her mother started cutting the cake and handing out slices. Soon everyone was eating cake happily.
When they finished, Steve was the first to speak, and he asked, "Natalie, have you made a decision concerning the offer we made you?"
"Yes," Natalie said. "I'd be happy to accept."
The Avengers all looked happy to hear that. "Fury still wants to meet with you, but other than that it looks like you've got the job," Steve said happily.
"I think I'm missing something here," Kevin said. "Nat, is there a reason you didn't tell me about this?"
"Classified information," Natalie said. "I barely got to tell Mom and Dad, much less you."
"And you were out when Natalie came over to tell us," Mr. McKenzie added.
Kevin looked sulky, and asked, "So other than the fact you're apparently meeting with that guy you tried to castrate, I don't get to know what your new job is?"
"We can tell him if he agrees to never tell anyone else or talk about it outside of this house, right?" Tony asked.
The others looked a bit uncertain, and then Kevin whispered in Natalie's ear. None of the others heard him, but Natalie looked at him, startled. She flicked her eyes in the direction of their parents, then looked back at Kevin. He whispered something else, and Natalie giggled. Then Kevin held out his pinky finger, and Natalie linked her pinky finger with his. Then she looked over at her parents, tilting her head slightly in the direction of her grandparents. They got the message, because Mrs. McKenzie said, "Mom, Dad, let's go back to the living room, we'll leave them to talk this over." Natalie and Kevin's parents helped their grandparents back to the living room, and Natalie closed the door. "So what was the whispering about?" Tony asked.
"Kevin reminded me that he's kept a certain secret for ten years, and that he'll never break a pinky promise," Natalie said. "And in case you're wondering, this pinky promise was to never tell anyone about my new job, including his best friend- and, he claims, his wife should he ever get married."
"Which is not happening anytime soon," Kevin added. "If anyone asks, my sister is a therapist, and I am not allowed to talk about her clients."
"Then I guess we'll let Natalie do the honors," Steve said after looking at the others for confirmation.
Natalie smiled as her brother looked at her expectantly, and said, "I'm joining the Avengers…. as their therapist."
Kevin looked shocked. It morphed into a thoughtful expression, and he asked, "So your new friends…."
"My new friends are the Avengers, yes," Natalie said. "And before you ask, NO, I will not convince them to come to ComiCon with us."
"I wasn't going to ask that," Kevin said indignantly. "I was going to ask something else."
"What's that?" Tony asked.
"How do you deal with all the Spandex?" Kevin asked.
Tony immediately started howling with laughter, while Natalie buried her face in her hands and moaned, "Kevin…. Did you have to?"
"I was just curious!" Kevin said defensively. "I went to ComiCon as Captain America last year, and I hated wearing that costume so much I decided the next day that I'd just wear last year's Kurosaki Ichigo costume."
Tony was on the floor by this point, laughing too hard to stand up. Steve was glaring at him for laughing, while Bruce looked uncomfortable and Clint and Loki were smirking. Natasha just looked bored.
"Kevin, forget the Spandex," Natalie said. "Do you have any other questions?"
"Can I show Tony my costume?" Kevin asked hopefully.
"Provided he doesn't die laughing first, yes," Natalie said, eyeing Tony, who was trying to calm down- and failing miserably.
"Tony, quit laughing," Natasha said coldly.
Tony sighed and stopped, then got up. "That was hilarious, Kevin," he said. "Steve needed that."
"I did not," Steve said. "I also didn't need YOU laughing your ass off at me."
"Character building," Tony said nonchalantly. "You can kill me later, I think I'll go see Kevin's costume."
"Great!" Kevin said, and all but dragged Tony off. Natalie smiled as they disappeared up the stairs, and said, "I'm so lucky…."
"How so?" Bruce asked.
"I have the world's best little brother," Natalie said.
"You two certainly have a good relationship," Natasha commented.
"Yeah," Natalie said. "We bonded pretty early on. I always wanted a sibling, and even though we're ten years apart, we're very close. He and I bonded over basically everything, and since we like the same anime, that created more time for just the two of us. Our parents aren't into anime at all, so they left us alone when we'd start debating characters and other things. Kevin's really smart, too; he always has been. And he's always been really attached to me, sometimes more so than our parents. Do you know what his first word was?"
"Sister?" Steve suggested.
"No," Natalie said. "His first word was 'Natty'. The first time he tried to speak, he was trying to say my name, and my parents thought that was so cute, especially since I wasn't in the room at the time. I was actually at school, and he was apparently asking for me."
"That's really sweet," Bruce said. "What was your first word?"
"Button," Natalie said. "According to my mom, I kept trying to get into her box of buttons, and I guess I heard the word often enough that it turned out to be my first word."
Before anyone could respond, Kevin and Tony came back. Natalie looked at them, and Tony said, "Kevin's got talent; it wasn't easy to make that suit out of metal, much less try to recreate it out of something like cardboard and not have it fall apart. And the battery-powered lights are cool too."
"Thanks," Kevin said happily. "Nat, what were you talking about?"
"How lucky I am to have you for a brother," Natalie said. "And I told them your first word."
"I was trying to say Natalie, right?" Kevin asked.
"Right," Natalie said, smiling.
Mrs. McKenzie came in then, and asked, "Did you get things settled?"
"Yes, and I know not to tell," Kevin said.
"Good," Mrs. McKenzie said. "Your dad and I are taking your grandparents to their hotel, will you be okay on your own for a bit? I'm sure Natalie and her friends have to get home."
"Sure," Kevin said. "You do realize I'm fifteen, right? I'm old enough to be on my own for hours, and you'll only be gone about thirty minutes tops."
"True," Mrs. McKenzie said. She turned to Natalie, and hugged her, then said, "Natalie, we're really proud of you. I hope you'll be happy with your new job."
"I think I will be, thanks Mom," Natalie said. "I think Loki and I will head out, thanks for the cake and everything."
"Sure sweetie," Mrs. McKenzie said. "Why don't you go say goodbye to your grandparents and your father?"
"Okay," Natalie said. She left to do that, and after exchanging farewells, she, Loki, and the Avengers left.
"I can drive you and Loki home," Tony told Natalie on their way out.
"That'd be great, thanks," Natalie said. "When did Fury want to meet with me?"
"Tomorrow at 1 PM," Steve said, overhearing the question.
"Where?" Natalie asked.
"Just come to my tower, he'll show up," Tony said. "I'm sure he'll want to interrogate you before letting you in any secret bases."
"Alright," Natalie said as they drove off.