Chapter Sixteen: The Dream Walker
The next day: Natalie went to Stark Tower and promptly went to the kitchen to make Thor's cake. Loki was bringing the present they had gotten him later.
By the time noon rolled around, everyone was in or near the kitchen, where Natalie was putting the finishing touches on the cake. She had made pasta salad as well, and set out some chips and salsa. Finished with the cake, she covered it and went to eat with the others.
After cake, Natalie went to the living room, and got Thor's presents, then went back and handed them to him. "The long box is from me and Loki, and the other one is from Tony," she said. "I would suggest opening Tony's first."
"Thank you," Thor said. He opened Tony's present, and his face lit up. "Pop-Tarts!" he said happily. "Thank you, Tony."
"Sure," Tony said.
Thor opened the box from Loki and Natalie, and looked puzzled. "What is this?" he asked.
"It's a leash for your pet hammer," Loki snickered. "Natalie's idea."
"But why is it this bright shade of pink?" Thor asked.
"Oh, that would be because I turned your hair that color," Loki said casually.
The others were all snickering- except for Tony and Clint, who were laughing their heads off as Thor looked at his hair in a panic. He looked relieved when it was still blonde.
"Why exactly does Mjolnir need a leash?" Thor asked.
"To keep it from breaking things," Natalie explained. "So, do you like our prank gift?"
"I cannot think of a polite answer to that, so I will remain silent," Thor said.
"Oh well," Natalie said.
The day after Thor's birthday, Natalie went back to Stark Tower. Her laptop supposedly had new software on it, so she was picking it up. She had also devised a schedule for talking with the Avengers, which she planned to run by them today.
Of course, it couldn't be that easy. When Natalie got inside, she was met by Steve, who said, "Tony hasn't come down yet; can you check on him?"
"Sure," Natalie said. "I hope he's okay; it's almost ten already." She went up to Tony's room, and knocked. She didn't get a response, but she heard what sounded like coughing, and tried the door. It was open, so she went in. She found Tony sitting up in bed, coughing. He looked up as she came in, and asked, "Natalie?"
"Hey," Natalie said. "Did you come down with something?"
"I just had a tickle in my throat," Tony said defensively.
Natalie went over and put her hand on his forehead, then said, "You came down with something; you've got a fever. And that means you're staying in bed today."
"But I was going to work on my latest project in the lab today!" Tony whined.
"Is it more important than your health?" Natalie asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"….No," Tony said grudgingly.
"Then you're staying in bed, and working on projects when you get better," Natalie said firmly.
"Miss Bossy strikes again," Tony grumbled. He was surprised when Natalie seemed to freeze up for a minute. Then she turned and ran out- but not before Tony saw her eyes fill with tears. Confused, and kind of worried, Tony got up and followed her. He found Natalie curled up outside his door, crying, and knelt next to her. "Natalie, what's wrong?" he asked.
Natalie lifted her head, tears running down her face, and said shakily, "That was what Andrew said the first time I told him to stop drinking. Word for word, and the same tone of voice. That was one of his nicknames for me when I was little and he'd give me piggyback rides when my parents weren't home. I think I'm getting too attached to you."
"Meaning…." Tony said.
"You heard what my dad said about how I felt about Andrew," Natalie said. "He was the cool older brother that I never had. That's how I feel about you, Tony. Frankly, aside from my family and Loki, you're the most important person in my life." She dried her tears, looking slightly embarrassed.
Tony was looking at her, wide-eyed. "I had no idea you felt that way about me," he said finally.
"I'm not surprised," Natalie said, smiling slightly. "You can be pretty clueless sometimes."
"HEY!" Tony said indignantly- then started coughing again. Natalie's smile faded, and when Tony stopped coughing, she said, "Back to bed for you."
Tony sighed and got up, then staggered. Natalie caught him and asked, "Are you feeling dizzy?"
"Yeah…." Tony said.
Natalie helped him walk back to his bed, and tucked him in. She felt his forehead and said, "I'm getting a cool cloth; your fever went up."
Tony just nodded, already half-asleep. Natalie went to the bathroom and found a washcloth, then soaked it in ice water, wrung it out, and brought it back to Tony. He was asleep, and Natalie carefully put the cool cloth over his forehead, and left, cracking the door so she could get back in. Then she asked, "JARVIS, where is Bruce?"
"Dr. Banner is in his room, Miss McKenzie," JARVIS said.
"Thanks," Natalie said, and went to Bruce's room, knocking on the door. Bruce opened it a minute later, and asked, "Natalie? How's Tony?"
"He's sick," Natalie said. "I was wondering if you knew where I'd find fever medicine."
Bruce frowned. "Tony never gets sick," he said. "I'd better have a look."
Natalie followed him back to Tony's room, and waited as he examined Tony. Finally Bruce sighed and said, "Looks like you were right, he's just got a cold. I'll grab some Tylenol; can you get a glass of water from the bathroom?"
"Sure," Natalie said. She went to the bathroom and grabbed the glass on the counter, filling it with water. Bruce was coming back when she got there, and Natalie set the water down on Tony's nightstand. Bruce handed her a bottle and said quietly, "Give Tony two pills when he wakes up; I'll let the others know what's going on."
"Alright, thanks," Natalie said, her voice equally quiet. Bruce left, and Natalie settled down next to the bed, picking up a book on the way. Oddly, it was a book on Norse mythology.
Bruce came back half an hour later looking worried, and Natalie got up, going into the hallway with him. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Steve has the same thing now," Bruce said.
Natalie was confused for a minute, but then it clicked. "And he's supposed to be immune to every disease known to mankind, which is why you're worried," she said.
"Right," Bruce said. "And Tony almost never gets sick either. I don't think this is normal."
Before Natalie could respond, Bruce's cell phone rang. "Fury," he said, looking at the caller ID.
"Put it on speakerphone," Natalie said.
Bruce picked up and did so, then asked, "What's up Director?"
"Why are Agents Barton and Romanoff not picking up their phones?" Fury asked. "I know they're over there."
Natalie and Bruce exchanged glances, and Bruce said, "My guess is they got the unusual cold that Tony and Steve have."
"Rogers can't get sick," Fury said.
"Well, that's apparently untrue- or this isn't a normal illness," Bruce said. "Both he and Tony are running fevers, and Tony has a cough. I wouldn't be surprised if Natasha and Clint have the same thing."
"Why are you still healthy then?" Fury asked.
"I have no idea, but if I'm right, it's probably just a matter of time before I get sick too," Bruce said.
"Either that or whoever did this wants one person to still be healthy to figure out what's going on," Natalie said.
"Explain," Fury ordered.
"I have a feeling that someone is behind this, since it's been made very clear that Steve is incapable of getting sick," Natalie said. "If so, the most logical explanation for why Bruce is still fine is that they're toying with us, and want us to figure out what's going on- most likely because there's no way to cure them. Bruce has the best chance of figuring this out, and if I'm right, he'll be fine at least until he figures out what's happening."
"And if you're wrong?" Fury asked.
"Then he'll most likely have whatever this illness is by tomorrow," Natalie said. "Either way it seems we've got some kind of enemy after the Avengers, which means that you should get to work on figuring out who it is, and leave me and Bruce to take care of our friends."
"I don't like being ordered around, Miss McKenzie," Fury said warningly.
"That was a firm suggestion, not an order," Natalie said calmly. "Anything else?"
"No, but contact me if Dr. Banner comes down with this illness as well," Fury said, and hung up.
Natalie sighed and asked Bruce, "Did you tell Steve to go back to bed?"
"Yeah," Bruce said. "Should I check on Natasha and Clint?"
"Good plan," Natalie said. "I'll go see how Tony's doing. Where's Steve's room?"
"It's the one across from mine," Bruce said. "But I don't mind checking on him. And you should call Loki, he should know about this."
"Good idea," Natalie replied. She took out her cell phone and dialed Loki's number as Bruce left. Two rings later she heard, "Natalie?"
"Hey Loki," Natalie said. "All the Avengers save Bruce are sick with something, and I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I am fine- but I will be there soon, that does not sound good," Loki said.
"Alright," Natalie said, and hung up. Then she went to check on Tony. He was waking up as she went in, and she went over to him and felt his forehead, then bit her lip; his fever had gone up. Tony looked up at her, and she said, "Tony, you need medicine."
"You look grim," Tony commented, sitting up as she tipped two pills onto her palm and handed them to him.
"Everyone here except me, Bruce, and Loki is sick," Natalie said. "And since Steve is sick too, we're guessing there's something or someone causing this." She handed him a glass of water, and he took the two pills, then set the glass down again. "Why isn't Bruce sick then?" he asked.
"My guess is that either they want him to be the one to figure out what's wrong, or he's just getting it slower than the rest of you," Natalie said. "Loki's on his way over; maybe he can help us figure this out. In the meantime, try to get some rest, okay?"
"What's going to happen if there is some kind of enemy?" Tony asked.
"We'll worry about that later," Natalie said. "You need to focus on getting better, not worrying about new enemies. Fury's working on it, and he knows everyone's sick. Go back to sleep, Tony."
Before Tony could respond, there was a knock on the door. "Come in," Tony called- then started coughing again. Loki came in, and said, "I pinpointed the cause of this illness."
"What was it?" Natalie asked. "And can you fix it?"
"It targets specific people's energy signatures," Loki replied. "Therefore, this illness will attach only to the person or people who it's sent to, not to anyone else. It also manifests differently for each person, which makes healing basically impossible. And I am not good at healing sicknesses in any case; we do not have many on Asgard. Normally the only time Aesir get sick is if they are poisoned, and Jotun are not much different. I am skilled at healing injuries, but unknown sicknesses are not my area of expertise."
"So there's nothing we can do?" Natalie asked.
"Dr. Banner and I will work on figuring out a way to cure everyone- I have ensured that he won't get sick," Loki replied. "It will mainly fall to you to take care of the others. From what I have seen, though, Stark here seems to have the worst of it."
"What's wrong with the others?" Natalie said. "You mentioned this sickness is different for everyone."
"Natasha has a migraine that won't go away, Clint has stomach problems, and Steve has a fever," Loki replied. "Dr. Banner is, as you know, fine, and Thor is not here. Dr. Banner left medication with Natasha and Clint, but said you had the fever medicine, so I would recommend giving some to Steve."
"I'll go do that," Natalie said, picking up the bottle on Tony's night table. "You should go help Bruce, Loki."
"I will do so," Loki said. "The sooner we find a cure the better."
Natalie kissed his cheek and said to Tony, "I'd better find you sleeping when I get back, or at least trying to."
She rolled her eyes and walked out when Tony started grumbling under his breath. She did hear Loki say, "I see I am not the only one Natalie has wrapped around her fingers, Stark."
Natalie sighed as she knocked on Steve's door, and heard, "Come in."
Natalie went in, and said, "Steve, I brought you some fever medicine; do you need me to get you some water?"
"No, Bruce got me some," Steve said.
Natalie handed him two pills, and he took them. "Thanks," he said.
"Sure," Natalie said. She felt his forehead and said, "I'm getting a cool cloth too."
She went to the bathroom and came back a few minutes later with a cool cloth, which she put over Steve's forehead. "Get some sleep, I'll be back later," Natalie told him. Steve settled back down as she left.
Natalie returned to Tony's room to find Loki and Tony having a glaring contest, and sighed. "Boys, do I need to separate you?" she asked wearily.
"Reindeer Games is the one who wouldn't leave," Tony said sulkily.
"Loki, I hope you have a good explanation for keeping Tony up," Natalie said, crossing her arms.
"He said I act like a puppy around you," Loki grumbled. "And he's the one who started the glaring contest when I told him you had him wrapped around your fingers."
"So basically YOU started this with that comment," Natalie said. "You know what that means, right?"
"More time on the couch?" Loki sighed.
"No chocolate until you figure out how to cure this illness," Natalie said. "Out, please."
Loki drooped and left, and Natalie looked over at Tony, who was snickering. "You're not sleeping," she said.
"Your point?" Tony asked.
"You're not going to get better if you don't rest," Natalie commented.
"According to Loki I'm not going to get better unless he and Bruce find a cure, so why does it matter?" Tony groused. "I hate sleeping. Sleeping means nightmares."
Natalie sighed. Before she could say anything, though, Tony started coughing again, harder this time. By the time the coughing fit ended, Tony was gasping for air. Natalie gave him the glass of water, but noticed he was shaking, and helped him drink the water. After finishing it, Tony lay back down and was out like a light.
Natalie decided to go to the kitchen and see if they had ingredients for chicken noodle soup, and left. Halfway down the hall to the elevator, JARVIS said, "Miss McKenzie, Dr. Banner asks me to inform you that Mr. Laufeyson has collapsed."
"Does he know the cause?" Natalie asked.
"No," JARVIS said.
"Where are they?" Natalie asked.
"In Dr. Banner's lab, I can lead you there," JARVIS replied.
Natalie followed his directions, and knocked on the door of Bruce's lab five minutes later. It was opened by Bruce, who said, "Loki just collapsed, and he's not sick as far as I can tell."
"What were you two doing?" Natalie asked.
"Examining a blood sample we took from Clint," Bruce said. "I can't figure out why he collapsed."
Natalie went and put a finger on Loki's forehead. Bruce watched, puzzled, as her eyes turned ice blue, and finally she said, "He's been trapped in his own mind, forced to relive the torture he went through when he was held captive by the Chitauri. Whoever our new enemy is, they're not taking chances on him being able to help. If I can't stop this, it will break his mind."
"What do we do?" Bruce asked. "And how did you know that, anyways?"
"I'm going to go in and take him out of his memories," Natalie said. "I need your help getting him to our room."
Bruce picked up Loki, and carried him out, followed by Natalie. When they reached Natalie and Loki's room, Bruce set Loki down on the bed, and Natalie said, "You should go back to researching; I need absolute silence or I could damage Loki's subconscious." She looked at the ceiling and said, "JARVIS, no matter what, don't interrupt me, even if it's an emergency, until I tell you it's okay to speak."
"Understood," JARVIS said. Bruce simply nodded and left. Natalie closed the door and then sat down with Loki. She put a hand on his forehead, and closed her eyes, then took a deep breath and concentrated. A minute later she opened her eyes, and found herself in what was obviously a torture chamber. There were no windows and not much light, but Natalie could see that Loki was strapped to a table, his body covered in cuts and bruises. His clothing was shredded, and from the looks of things he had a broken arm. Natalie went over, and freed Loki, then helped him up. He looked at her, and asked, "Natalie?"
"We're getting out of here, Loki," Natalie said- just as an enormous creature appeared and started towards them. Loki was shaking, and Natalie just looked at the creature as it purred, "Leaving so soon? You know I can bring him back anytime I choose."
"Then I'll just have to get rid of you," Natalie said calmly. She made a hand sign, and the creature's eyes widened. "Los ntawm qhov kev txiav txim ntawm lub Npau Suave Yamntxwv qhov no ntsuj plig yog kuv li," Natalie said.
The creature gave an unearthly wail, and started to shimmer. "Kuv ntiab tawm koj mus ib txhis!" Natalie shouted, and the creature screamed before vanishing altogether.
Natalie turned to Loki, who was staring at her, and held out a hand. "Shall we go home?" she asked.
Loki took her hand, and smiled softly. "Yes, let's," he said. Natalie clasped his hand, and they both vanished.
In the bedroom, Natalie opened her eyes, and noticed Loki stirring too. Then he opened his eyes, and looked up at her. "Natalie?" he asked. "What was that?"
"You were stuck in your mind and I got you out," Natalie said. She looked at the ceiling and said, "JARVIS, please inform Bruce that it's okay if he wants to come back in."
"Yes Miss McKenzie," JARVIS said. "You should know that Sir and the others have gotten better, and Dr. Banner is puzzling over exactly why they're not sick anymore."
"Thanos was the one causing the sickness," Loki said. "He was trying to get me back."
Bruce came in at that moment, and asked, "Natalie, what was that about?"
"Are the others up? I only want to say this once," Natalie said.
"Yeah, they're all going to the living room," Bruce said. "Loki, are you okay?"
"I am fine now," Loki replied. He got up, and Natalie did the same, following the two men to the living room where the others were waiting. Tony, Natasha, Steve, and Clint looked up as they came in, and Tony asked, "So any idea what that was about?"
"The leader of the Chitauri wanted you all out of commission so he could capture me," Loki said. "Thanks to Natalie, I believe he will no longer be an issue."
"What does that mean?" Natasha asked.
"This is a bit of a long story," Natalie said. "It's technically a family secret, but since you've all put your trust in my family, I might as well tell you. My father's family has never been normal- each generation, a child is born with a special ability. The ability is both a blessing and a curse, and it's up to the family of the child to raise that child so they know how it's supposed to be used. The main focus of the ability is the power to walk in another person's subconscious. Each generation, one child from my father's family, the McKenzie family, is picked to be the Dream Walker. When the family first began, it was during a time period when everyone knew about and believed in the supernatural- demons, earth spirits, angels, etc. Dream Walkers were chosen as a means to regulate the influence supernatural beings had over human dreams. If a demon or something was possessing someone, the Dream Walker of that generation would have the power to go into the possessed person's subconscious and throw the demon out."
Natalie paused, then continued, "Over time, things changed, and the position of the Dream Walker was no longer needed. Eventually the Dream Walker position faded into myth and superstition, except in my family. We still remember that position, though there usually isn't a need for a Dream Walker in this day and age. The power is more instinctive than anything else, so training isn't necessary to control it or make it work. I only need the knowledge that I CAN do it. Nowadays, the power I have would be used to purge nightmares from a person's mind, as humans have taken over the Earth. I can also sense when someone is possessed by something, which is what happened to Loki. The leader of the Chitauri had basically infiltrated his mind, and trapped him in his memories. I went into his subconscious, and when the creature appeared, I claimed Loki as mine, and banished the thing from his mind. With my protection, Loki can't be harmed mentally by that thing, and I think whatever that creature is, it's not going to be a problem for a while."
"What was it you said?" Loki asked. "I have never heard that language."
"I said, "By the order of the Dream Walker, this soul is mine," Natalie said. "And then I said, "I banish you forever."
"Is this power why my nightmares stopped soon after we started sleeping together?" Loki asked.
"Probably," Natalie said. "Since you were holding onto me, my power most likely stopped the nightmares. I wasn't originally chosen to be the Dream Walker, but in the case of the previous Dream Walker dying of unnatural causes, or before their time, the power shifts to the person in their family they are closest to. The original Dream Walker for this generation was my cousin Andrew. When he died, the power was passed to me, as I was his favorite family member. I never had cause to use it before today, and most Dream Walkers these days don't even use the power once before their deaths. It's a mostly forgotten power, and I don't really care about it unless I can use it to help someone."
"Does this have drawbacks?" Tony asked.
"Any power, whether magical or otherwise, has drawbacks," Natalie replied. "In my case, the drawback is that I can mentally and physically exhaust myself if I spend too much time in someone else's subconscious. And throwing something out of someone's subconscious is pretty tiring too. Luckily I only spent fifteen minutes in Loki's subconscious, and whatever it was that I threw out was so startled that it didn't fight back. If it had fought back, I'd be sleeping right now instead of explaining this to you."
"Do you have any other abilities besides going into someone's subconscious?" Bruce asked.
"I can form telepathic connections with anyone I choose, and the bond will allow the person to respond whether they have power of their own or not," Natalie said. "Other than that, no. It's pretty useless in the real world."
"Actually, the telepathy connection thing would be useful," Clint said thoughtfully.
"We have com links for that, you know," Natasha said.
"Yeah, but we have to speak out loud for them to work," Clint pointed out. "Telepathy would mean we could talk and no one would hear us but us."
"Something we should know about you and Natasha, Legolas?" Tony asked, smirking.
"Zip it, Stark," Clint grumbled.
Natalie suddenly noticed Loki had an evil grin on his face, and asked, "Loki, what are you plotting now?"
Loki didn't respond, instead going over to Clint and whispering something in his ear. "Go for it, this should be fun," Clint said, smirking at Tony. Loki clicked his fingers, and Tony was suddenly a brown kitten with dark amber eyes. Tony hissed at Loki as he and Clint burst out laughing.
Natalie went over and picked Tony up, cuddling him as she said, "Aww…. Loki, you made Tony into the world's cutest kitten!"
Tony actually purred. Loki looked somewhat sour, and asked, "You're doing that on purpose, aren't you?"
"Doing what?" Natalie asked innocently. "Cuddling Tony?"
"You wouldn't happen to have a crush on him, would you?" Loki asked suspiciously.
"No…. but making you think that was quite amusing," Natalie replied.
"Isn't that unfair to Tony?" Steve asked.
"I already told Tony I see him as family when Loki wasn't around," Natalie said. "He knows I don't love him the same way I love Loki."
"So you were trying to trick the Trickster?" Clint asked.
"Yup," Natalie said. "Loki is contagious."
"I am not!" Loki protested. "You liked pranks before you met me!"
"You're still contagious," Natalie said.
"Mmph," Loki said, and snapped his fingers. Tony turned back into a human, and since Natalie had been holding him, they ended up on the floor with Tony on top. Loki was cackling as they tried to untangle themselves, and finally managed it. Tony got up and helped Natalie up, and they glared at Loki, who was still cackling.
"I just noticed you and Natalie are the same height, Tony," Clint commented.
"What brought this on?" Tony asked.
"Loki's taller than both of you," Clint said. "I find it amusing that you have to look up to glare at him."
"And I find it amusing that you have a serious weakness for chocolate cream pie," Natalie said. "By the way, I came up with a rough draft of a plan for seeing all of you for therapy; now that everyone's here, I think I'll go get it."
Going to the kitchen, she found the papers she had written the schedule on, and went back to the living room. The others were waiting, and Natalie said, "This is a rough draft, so I can make changes as needed. I made a copy for each of you." She handed them out, and waited as they looked them over.
"So one of us each day?" Tony asked after a minute.
"Yes, I figured that would free up the rest of my time in case one of you needed help with something during a time that's not your therapy- and for cooking, because SOME people seem to think living on take-out alone is healthy," Natalie said. "I can also switch up the schedule if one of you has to go somewhere during the time we're supposed to be meeting. I want to wait till next week to start the schedule, since I have yet to get my laptop back, and I'd like to look at your files so I've got a better idea of what to work on. I think the file Fury has on me is creepy, though."
"Why?" Steve asked.
"How does he know about my cousin?" Natalie asked. "And how does he know I went through therapy? It's illegal for a therapist to tell anyone about their clients, past or present. Is he some kind of stalker?"
Tony fell over laughing as Natasha sighed and said, "No, he simply has a lot of spies and people who are good at information gathering. Not to mention hackers."
"Oh," Natalie said. She looked at Tony, and asked, "Tony, did you finish whatever it was you were doing with my laptop?"
"Yeah," Tony said. "I can go get it." He got up and left, glaring at Steve's kitten Evergreen as she came in.
Evergreen came over to Loki and rubbed his leg, purring. He picked her up and petted her ears.
"Steve, are you jealous?" Clint asked.
"No," Steve said. "Why?"
"You're staring longingly at your kitten," Clint commented. "Man, you're obsessed."
Steve's cheeks turned pink, and he said, "I'm not OBSESSED! I just like kittens, that's all!"
"That thing is a demon," Clint said. "It bit me the last time I tried to pet it."
"Evergreen is not a demon, stop it," Natalie said. "She's just a sweet little kitten who doesn't appreciate you tweaking her tail repeatedly."
Steve glared at Clint, who looked defensive. "You do realize that cats' tails are attached to their spines, and pulling their tails hurts, right?" Natalie asked.
"Uh…." Clint said.
"Thought so," Natalie sighed. "You have to be gentle with cats and kittens, Clint."
Tony came back with Natalie's laptop, and handed it to her. "Thanks," she said.
"Sure," Tony said.
Natalie spent the rest of the day going through SHIELD's files on her new clients, and then went back to her apartment. She and Loki had already packed most of her stuff and were in the process of moving it to the room Tony gave them.