Chapter Twenty: First Day of Work
Later that night: Tony drove Natalie and Loki to Natalie's parents' house, and they got out of the car. Natalie rang the bell, and the door was opened a minute later by Kevin, who immediately hugged Natalie as soon as they were inside. "Good to see you too Kevin," Natalie said, amused.
"Thanks Nat," Kevin said happily. He looked past her and said, "Hi Tony, hi Loki! Mom has dinner almost ready- and yes, there is chocolate for dessert."
Loki perked up as Tony snickered and said, "Nice to see you too Kevin. Should we take our shoes off?"
"Yes please," Kevin said as Mr. McKenzie came in. He nodded in greeting to Loki and Tony, and then looked at Natalie. "We'll be discussing your message over dinner," he said. "Loki and Mr. Stark know that talking about your ability too much is a bad thing?"
"Yes Dad," Natalie said.
"And can you please call me Tony?" Tony asked. "Mr. Stark is too formal."
"Alright, Tony," Mr. McKenzie said. "I'm Tom. Dinner should be ready, please come in."
The others followed him to the dining room, and found Mrs. McKenzie setting out a large dish of homemade macaroni and cheese. There was a salad on the table as well. She looked up and said, "Nice to see all of you; come sit down."
They all sat down, and started passing the food around. When they all had food on their plates and had started eating, Mr. McKenzie said, "Natalie, you realize the message you gave me earlier means not only that your powers are needed, but that you are in grave danger, right?"
"I'm aware of that, and until this threat is dealt with, after tonight I won't be over again," Natalie said. "I know Loki, Tony, and the other Avengers can fight, but you guys can't, so it's better that I don't hang out here too much, or you'll be in danger."
"How bad is it?" Mr. McKenzie asked.
"I stripped this guy of his ability to take over people's minds, and now he wants me dead," Natalie said. "Actually, I think he wanted me dead before that, because I kept interfering with his take-overs of people's minds. But we have confirmation that he's actively looking for a way to kill me now, which is why I alerted you."
Her parents and Kevin looked scared, and Mr. McKenzie asked, "Do you need the Book?"
"No, it's better that you keep it," Natalie said. "I've been able to use my powers through pure instinct, so I don't really need the Book."
"Book?" Tony asked.
"There's a book about the Dream Walkers and their powers that has been passed down through the centuries, and since Dad is technically the head of the McKenzie family now that Aunt Marian is dead, the Book is in his possession," Natalie explained. "And since it contains dangerous knowledge, I don't want it to leave Dad's possession. I shudder to think what would happen if somebody like Fury got their hands on it."
"Fury?" Mr. McKenzie asked.
"Yeah, he's a creepy stalker," Natalie said.
Tony choked. Loki started pounding him on the back until he could breathe again, and said, "Stark, I admit that that was funny, but you could at least chew your food."
Tony just snickered. "I'd love to see Fury's face if he heard that," he said.
"You can tell him, if you like," Natalie said.
"I think I will, and record his reaction," Tony said gleefully. "I love blackmail!"
"Tony, did you ever actually grow up?" Natalie asked.
"Of course I did!" Tony said in mock hurt. "I just choose to act like this."
The rest of dinner was fun, and they had chocolate frosted brownies afterwards. After saying goodbye, Tony drove Natalie and Loki back to the Tower, and they ended up watching a movie with the others.
The next morning: Natalie went up to Bruce after breakfast, and asked, "Ready?"
"My turn today?" Bruce asked.
"Yup, where would you like to do this?" Natalie asked.
"My room would be nice," Bruce said. "By the way, why is Coulson looking at you like you're about to do something crazy?"
"I'll tell you when we get to your room," Natalie said. Bruce sighed and led the way.
When they got to Bruce's room, he shut the door and waved Natalie to a chair, then asked, "So what's up with Coulson?"
"He thinks I'm insane because my plan for the day was to talk to the Other Guy, and I asked him if there was a good way to make you angry," Natalie said.
"I would agree with his assessment," Bruce said dryly. "Most sane people AVOID making me angry."
"Anime fans are rarely completely sane," Natalie said, shrugging.
"Aren't you worried about getting hurt?" Bruce asked.
"Not particularly, since I don't think the Other Guy would perceive me as a threat," Natalie said.
"And why do you want to talk to the Other Guy?" Bruce asked.
"I'm just curious as to what his feelings are," Natalie said. "If you're not comfortable with the idea, I don't mind, or if you want time to think it over, that's fine too. We can talk about something else."
"I need time to think it over," Bruce said.
"That's fine," Natalie said. She picked up a piece of paper, and a pen, and handed them to Bruce, saying, "Read that over, it's the agreement I told you about last time."
Bruce took the paper and read it, then signed it and handed it back. Natalie signed it too, and put it in a folder. Then she looked at Bruce and asked, "So what do you want to talk about?"
"I'm not sure," Bruce said. "Do you have any questions?"
"I do, I just wanted you to have a say in what we talk about," Natalie said. "I'm here to help, not to push you to talk about things you don't want to- though sometimes that is helping."
"Can you do that thing you did to Tony?" Bruce asked. "Where you took one look at him and seemed to know everything about him?"
Natalie smiled. "You want me to analyze you?" she asked. Bruce nodded, and Natalie said, "From what I can tell, you're very emotionally repressed. In your case it makes some sense, because you have to control your emotions or you'll turn into the Other Guy. But you also seem to be under the impression that no one would ever want to be friends with you. You have trust issues, because you've been betrayed too many times. I think you have a big heart, but you avoid others because you're afraid they'll shun or betray you if you get too close to them. You're very smart, and you're also very sarcastic at times. You mainly use the sarcasm to hide your real feelings, because you're living in a constant state of near-panic, not wanting the Other Guy to get out and yet knowing that eventually he will. You also seem pretty modest, maybe even shy. It's a nice quality to have. Am I leaving anything out?"
Bruce was silent for a minute before saying, "No, you're right." He sighed and continued, "My trust issues probably started when I was a child; my father was an alcoholic who regularly abused me and my mother. He killed my mother when she was trying to protect me one day; I think I was about six or so. At that time, I was pretty normal, albeit smarter than most my age. My father always hated me for some reason; I never really knew why. I was bullied a lot at school, too, and I was eventually expelled because I planted a bomb I made in the basement. It turned out to be a dud, but I was expelled anyways. I later got a degree in nuclear physics, and started working at Culver University, in Virginia."
He took a breath and said, "I was working on a project that would supposedly make humans immune to gamma radiation. It failed, and that's when the Other Guy was created. And ever since then I've had multiple people out for my head. I constantly had to move around until I met Tony, and I'm really grateful to him for letting me stay despite my anger management problems. I've never really had friends before him, and honestly I still get nervous that someday he'll abandon me too."
"I highly doubt Tony would ever kick you out or abandon you," Natalie said firmly. "It's clear to me that he really likes you, and you're the only person here who can keep up with him anyways. I don't understand science the way you do; it's good that you both have someone who understands what the other is talking about. And Tony's never really had friends either; I imagine he's happy to have you around. You don't want to be his friend because of some ulterior motive; you actually like him for who he is, and I'm certain he feels the same way."
"Thanks," Bruce said. "I'm still not sure about letting the Other Guy out around you, but I'll think about it."
"Good," Natalie said. "Do you have anything else you'd like to talk about?"
"No, I think I'm good for right now," Bruce said. "Can we end it here?"
"Sure," Natalie said. "Did you have something you wanted to do?"
"Nothing in particular, but I started a book that's pretty good yesterday," Bruce said. "I think I'll stay in here and read."
"Alright, I'll go find Loki," Natalie said. She got up and left, closing the door behind her. She nearly ran into Steve on her way down the hall, and said, "Hi Steve. Have you seen Loki?"
"He's being used as target practice by Clint, who now has electric blue hair," Steve said dryly. "Phil's trying to stop him, but not having much luck. They're in the training room if you want to help."
"Okay," Natalie said. She took the elevator the rec floor, and went to the training room, hearing shouting. She entered the room, and found Loki dodging arrows while Coulson shouted at Clint, "Agent Barton, I order you to stand down!"
"Why are you protecting HIM? He almost killed you!" Clint yelled back.
"You're destroying that wall because you can't hit him," Coulson said dryly. "So I'm not protecting Loki, I'm protecting the building."
"If he would stop turning my hair different colors, this wouldn't happen!" Clint growled.
"Do you always shoot people when they make you angry?" Natalie asked mildly.
"No, just my targets and Loki," Clint said. "Everyone else gets scared out of their wits or pranked. Why are you here?"
"Because Steve told me you were attempting to shoot my boyfriend and Coulson wasn't having any luck stopping you," Natalie said bluntly.
"He turned my hair electric blue!" Clint said defensively.
"That isn't a good reason to kill him," Natalie said dryly.
"What about the fact he took over my mind and made me attack my comrades?" Clint asked.
"I apologized already," Loki said sulkily. "Are you still on about that? You sure know how to hold a grudge, Barton."
"Mmph," Clint grumbled. "Can you just turn my hair back to brown and we'll call it even?"
"Oh, very well- but next time it'll be green," Loki said, snapping his fingers. Clint looked at Coulson, who said, "Yes, it's brown."
Clint sighed with relief and went to collect his arrows. Natalie went over to Loki and dragged him off. They saw Tony on the way to the kitchen, and Natalie noticed he appeared to be searching for something. "Looking for something?" she asked.
Tony looked up and said, "I was looking for you. Bruce said you had finished talking with him, but he didn't know where you went afterwards."
"I went to the training room because Steve said Clint was trying to kill Loki for turning his hair electric blue," Natalie said. "Did you want to talk about something?"
"Yeah, can we go to my workshop?" Tony asked.
"Sure," Natalie said. She looked at Loki, and said, "Do NOT set off the smoke alarm if you're hungry while I'm gone."
"Oh, very well," Loki said sulkily, and vanished.
"Wait… he sets that thing off on purpose?" Tony asked. "I thought he was just a horrible cook!"
"He likes chaos," Natalie said. "And he doesn't listen to instructions like 'you have to watch the bacon, not leave it for ten minutes and go do something else.' Bad combination, apparently."
"Great…." Tony said as he led the way to his workshop. When they got in, Tony motioned to a couch, and Natalie sat down, while Tony sat in a desk chair. "So what's bugging you?" Natalie asked him.
"I think I'm allergic to Steve," Tony said.
Natalie lifted an eyebrow. "Symptoms?" she asked.
"I get really hot and short of breath when he's close to me, and it feels like there are butterflies in my stomach," Tony said.
Natalie burst out laughing. Tony looked at her, puzzled, and she managed to calm down enough to say, "That's not allergies, Tony. Those are signs of being in love with someone. I thought you'd know that by now!"
"Why me?" Tony moaned.
"Something wrong with being in love with Steve?" Natalie asked mildly. "He seems like a nice guy to me."
"He's from the 1940's! Back then being gay or bi was a crime!" Tony moaned. "And even if he's not straight, he probably has homophobia."
"Somehow I doubt that," Natalie said. "Steve seems pretty open-minded to me, and I'm sure he's aware by now that being bi or gay isn't illegal anymore. Why not just ask him out, and see what happens?"
"And if he says no, or it turns out he is homophobic?" Tony asked.
"I'll talk with him," Natalie said.
Before Tony could respond, they heard a CRASH from upstairs somewhere, and Tony asked, "What the hell was that?"
"Mr. Odinson appears to be possessed, sir," JARVIS said.
Tony and Natalie exchanged a glance, and then ran for the elevator. They found Steve, Loki, and Natasha attempting to hold Thor down, and Natalie noticed his hammer was lying on the ground. "What happened?" Tony asked.
"Thor came in here and attacked us for no apparent reason," Natasha said. "It looks more like he's been brainwashed than taken over- his eyes are still blue, but they're blank."
Natalie walked over to Mjolnir, and put a hand on the handle. "What are you doing?" Tony asked her.
Natalie concentrated briefly before saying, "I was right; Mjolnir is sentient." She wrapped a hand around the handle, and stretching her senses toward the hammer, asked telepathically, What happened?
At first she thought it hadn't worked, but then a deep voice said in her mind, Thor is under a hypnosis spell.
How do I break it? Natalie asked.
Channel your power into me and touch Thor's forehead with me, Mjolnir replied.
Natalie picked up Mjolnir and went over to Thor, then channeled her energy into Mjolnir and touched his forehead with it. She felt something snap, and Thor's eyes returned to normal. "Did that work?" Natalie asked out loud.
"What happened?" Thor asked, puzzled.
"You came here under some kind of hypnosis and attacked us," Steve said. He nodded to Natasha and Loki, who got off of Thor, letting him up. He looked shocked to see Natalie holding Mjolnir, and asked, "You can hold Mjolnir?"
"Your hammer is sentient, and it told me how to break the hypnosis spell that was put on you," Natalie said.
"What exactly did you do?" Loki asked.
"I used Mjolnir as a channel for my power, which broke the hypnosis spell," Natalie said.
"Were you talking to it?" Tony asked. "You looked like you were concentrating before you picked it up."
"Yes," Natalie said. "I had a feeling when Loki told me Mjolnir chooses who wields it that the hammer itself was sentient, so I decided to see if that was true and if so, if it could help me get Thor back to normal."
"Thank you, Natalie," Thor said.
"Sure," Natalie said, handing him back Mjolnir. She looked at Loki thoughtfully, and he asked, "What?"
"Can you turn yourself into a cat?" Natalie asked curiously. "I know you can turn others into cats, but can you turn yourself into a cat?"
"Only if you pet me," Loki said, smirking.
"Sure," Natalie said. "I don't mind petting you. If you like being petted, you should have said so earlier." She sat down on the sofa, and Loki turned into a cat, then jumped onto her lap. She started petting him, and he settled down, purring.
Natalie looked up at Tony as Loki practically melted under her touch, and asked pointedly, "Don't you have something you need to do right now?"
Tony sighed and asked Steve, "Hey Cap, can we chat? Alone?"
Steve looked a bit confused, but said, "Sure Tony." They left, and Natalie continued petting Loki as the others moved off too, Natasha in the direction of the training room and Thor mumbling something about needing Pop-Tarts.