Chapter Twenty-Four: The Library
Natalie nodded, picking up her purse. She looked at Natasha and said, "Фил собирается отвезти нас в библиотеке; пойдем с нами." Phil is going to drive us to the library, come with us.
Natasha willingly went to Natalie, who was telling Thor, "You have my word no harm will come to your brother."
Thor still looked a bit wary, but nodded. "Loki, behave for Lady Natalie," he said.
"I will!" Loki said happily.
Natalie took his hand, smiling, and then took Natasha's, leading both children out to Phil's car. She helped them buckle in, patiently answering Loki's questions about the seatbelt, and then got in the passenger seat as Phil started up the car. Phil drove them to the nearest library, and Natalie helped Loki and Natasha out of the car, taking them both by the hand and leading them inside, saying over her shoulder, "Thanks Phil. Can I call you when we're done?"
"I'll pick you up at five; you don't have my number, do you?" Phil asked.
"Good point, see you at five," Natalie said. She took the two kids inside, and asked the librarian at the front desk, "Where is your children's section, please?"
"Next floor up is the children's floor," the woman said. "Hannah can help you with anything you might need; she's the children's librarian."
"Thank you," Natalie said. She led Loki and Natasha upstairs, and asked, "Loki, what kind of stories do you like?"
"I like stories with magic," Loki said. "I wish at home that there were more stories where people won by thinking rather than smashing things."
"I can think of plenty of stories like that," Natalie said. "I have one in mind right now; let's go see if they have it."
Loki nodded eagerly, and after a brief explanation to Natasha, Natalie went up to the children's desk with her two charges, then asked, "Excuse me, do you have any copies of Jack and the Beanstalk?"
"I'm sure we have at least five," the woman laughed. "Would you like me to look it up?"
"That'd be great, thanks," Natalie said.
The woman typed something into her computer, and waited for it to load as she asked, "So are those two yours?"
"No, I'm just taking care of them for a while," Natalie said, smiling. "I thought they'd enjoy the library as a little outing."
"Here we go," the woman said, looking back at the computer. "We have seven different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk; three of them are out right now, but the other four are here, and I can give you the authors' names; we alphabetize all our books by the author's last name."
"Okay, that would be great," Natalie said. The woman wrote down four names, and Natalie took the paper from her. "Thanks," Natalie said, and led Loki and Natasha into the picture books room. There were a few other kids and parents in there, but they were busy reading and playing with the toys, so Natalie went over to the bookcases and started looking for the books. She found one version of Jack and the Beanstalk in the C's, and showed it to Loki and Natasha. "Do you want me to read this to you?" Natalie asked, then repeated the question in Russian.
"You'd read to us? Really?" Loki asked.
"Of course," Natalie said. "I'm going to read each sentence in both Russian and English, though, so I hope you don't mind."
"I don't mind; it's been a long time since anyone read to me," Loki said. "Mother and Father both say since I can read on my own, I don't need them to read to me anymore."
"Well, I'm happy to read to you anytime you want, regardless of how old you are," Natalie said. "Come on, let's go find a place to sit down." She repeated that in Russian to Natasha, and they found an unoccupied sofa. Loki and Natasha curled up on either side of her, and listened attentively as she read each sentence of Jack and the Beanstalk first in English, then in Russian, using different voices for the different characters.
After finishing the book, Natalie noticed she had gathered a few more children around her, and that they had been listening as she read. "You do great voices!" one little boy said.
Natalie smiled. "Thank you," she said.
A woman who looked like she might be the boy's mother came over and said, "I noticed you were reading in two languages; may I ask what the second language was?"
"Russian," Natalie said. "Natalia here doesn't speak English yet, so since I'm fluent in both English and Russian, I can translate the book as well as read it."
"Is she adopted, then?" the woman asked.
"No, I'm taking care of her and Loki here for their respective families," Natalie said. "They both seemed interested in the library, so I took them here for a bit. By the way, do you have any recommendations for stories where the hero wins by outthinking his or her opponent?"
The woman blinked, startled, and then said, "Not offhand, but there's a section for fairytales over in the corner by the window."
"Thank you," Natalie said. She looked at Loki and asked, "Loki, would you like to choose a book this time?"
"It's okay for me to pick?" Loki asked shyly.
"Of course; why wouldn't it be?" Natalie asked.
"Last time I wanted a story, Thor said it was boring and Mother said we could read what he wanted instead," Loki said. "When I protested she sent me to my room." He sounded sad as he said, "My parents don't have time for me."
One of the mothers who had come over looked at Natalie. "If this little boy is being neglected, is there a reason you haven't done anything?" she asked.
"His parents aren't U.S. citizens; legally I can't do anything," Natalie said gloomily. "Believe me, if I could, I would have adopted Loki myself by now. There's literally nothing I can do, or I would have done it already. The best I can do is try to give him a normal childhood when they leave him with me- which is fairly often."
Her cell phone rang then, and she said, "Excuse me a minute." She picked up, and heard Phil say, "Natalie, I'm coming to get you a bit early; can you pack the kids up and meet me out front?"
"Sure," Natalie said.
"Thanks," Phil said, and hung up.
Natalie put her phone away and said, "Looks like our ride is on his way; we'd better get going." She repeated this in Russian to Natasha, who nodded and slipped off the sofa. Natalie got up too, and Loki followed suit as she said to the woman she had been talking to, "We have to go."
"Alright; take good care of them," the woman said.
"I will," Natalie said. She gently took Loki and Natasha by the hand, and led them outside. Phil pulled up a minute later, and Natalie got the kids into the car, then got in as Phil asked, "How'd it go?"
"I read them Jack and the Beanstalk, and gathered an audience with my storytelling," Natalie said. "So what's the urgency?"
"Frigga is at the Tower," Phil said. "And apparently Odin came with her."
"What did HE come for?" Natalie snapped.
"I believe he is needed to help break the spell," Phil said. "But considering I don't know much about magic, I could be wrong."
Natalie sighed as Phil parked the car, and they got Natasha and Loki out before going up to the living room in the elevator.
They found all the other kids in there, looking at Odin warily. Even Thor looked somewhat unsettled, and Natalie asked in a tone of forced calm, "So, what did we miss?"
"Let's just say I was less than pleased that Frigga brought the man who kidnapped my son to use as some kind of offering here," Mrs. McKenzie said bitterly.
"So can you two fix this or not?" Natalie asked Frigga.
"I can fix it; Odin is here to collect Amora and ensure she doesn't give you all anymore trouble," Frigga said.
"Then why is he still here?" Natalie asked bitterly. "Frigga, I've pretty much come to terms with you, but there is no chance I will EVER forgive or even try to forgive Odin for what he's done. He's a monster, and nothing anyone can say will change my mind on that."
Frigga sighed. "I know," she said softly. She turned to Odin and said, "Go find Amora, and bring her back to Asgard. I will handle things here; it has been made abundantly clear that you are far from welcome."
Odin sighed, and then vanished. Frigga sighed again and said, "I will turn your friends back now, but it would be easier if they were all in one place."
Natalie repeated her words to Natasha in Russian, and Natasha and Loki headed over to the other kids. When they were all standing in one place, Frigga went over and waved her hands, muttering under her breath. As Natalie, her mother, Pepper, and Phil watched, the Avengers and Loki began to grow, slowly at first, then faster until they were back to normal. They looked around, confused, and finally Tony asked, "What just happened?"
"You and everyone except me and Phil got changed into children by someone called Amora, and Frigga just changed you all back," Natalie said.
"How did you manage not to get turned into a child as well?" Loki asked.
"I was out buying more strawberry Pop-Tarts at the time you all got hit with Amora's spell, and Phil was at SHIELD headquarters," Natalie said dryly.
"We have more strawberry Pop-Tarts now?" Thor asked excitedly.
"Yes, but say thank you to your mother before you start eating them," Natalie said.
Thor smiled and said to Frigga, "Thank you for turning us back, Mother."
"Yeah, thanks," the others chorused.
Frigga smiled and said, "You are most welcome." She looked at Natalie, and asked, "Natalie, may we talk in private?"
"Alright," Natalie said. "Is mine and Loki's room okay?"
"That is fine," Frigga said, smiling slightly. Natalie nodded and led the way to the elevator, and then to her room. She let Frigga in first, and closed the door behind them. Motioning to the sofa, she said, "Please have a seat."
Frigga gracefully settled down on the sofa, and Natalie sat on the bed, waiting for Frigga to speak. Frigga finally sighed and asked, "Were you aware that Loki and I have been in infrequent telepathic contact?"
"No, he never told me that," Natalie said, surprised.
Frigga smiled slightly, and said, "He mainly wanted ideas on how to court you, but recently he asked me a question that I was surprised he hadn't asked sooner."
"What was it?" Natalie asked.
"He asked me if I was amenable to the idea of giving you a chance to be with him forever," Frigga said. She smiled when Natalie looked shocked, and said, "I told him that if that was truly what you both wanted, I would be happy to give you one of Idunn's golden apples. We retain our youth by eating them, and if you were to eat one, you would become immortal." She sighed, and said, "I have made too many mistakes in the past to not offer you this chance, Natalie. You are the only person to every have made Loki this happy, and I would be a fool to let this last chance for him to be happy forever slip by."
Natalie was completely shocked. "He loves me that much?" she asked.
"He does," Frigga said, smiling. "Do you love him?"
"I do," Natalie replied. "I was worrying about this topic, though, since I knew from the start that one day I'd die, and he'd be left alone again. I never want to leave him alone again."
"Then do you accept?" Frigga asked. "I was planning on giving you the golden apple for your birthday."
"I would be honored to accept," Natalie replied, smiling.
Frigga smiled back, and said, "Then I will speak with Loki, and I will be back to celebrate your birthday with you. Two weeks from tomorrow, correct?"
"Yes," Natalie said. "I'm impressed you remember."
Frigga smiled and said, "I have a very good memory. Shall we rejoin the others so that I may talk with Loki?"
"Of course," Natalie said. She stood, and Frigga did the same, following her to the elevator and then back to the living room.
The others were waiting, and Loki looked at Frigga with hope in his eyes. She smiled. "She said yes to the idea," Frigga said. "I will return on her birthday."
"Your birthday's coming up, Natalie?" Tony asked.
"Two weeks from tomorrow," Natalie said.
"We should have a party!" Tony said excitedly.
"I can make the cake," Mrs. McKenzie said.
"Great!" Tony said. "Are we having it here or at your house?"
"Natalie?" Mrs. McKenzie asked.
"Here might be better, considering the amount of people," Natalie said. "You don't mind bringing the cake here, do you?"
"Not at all," Mrs. McKenzie said. She looked at Frigga, and asked, "What was the idea you mentioned that Natalie said yes to?"
"Loki asked me if it was possible to make Natalie immortal," Frigga said. "She told me she would be honored, so that will be my birthday present to her. I've got a pretty good idea of what Loki's planning, but I'll keep that bit a secret." She tilted her head a bit, and said, "It seems it is time for me to return. I will be back for Natalie's party- and this time Odin shall not be accompanying me."
"Thank you," Natalie said.
"It is I who should thank you," Frigga said, smiling before vanishing.
"Natalie, who's turn is it for therapy today?" Steve asked after a minute.
"It's yours," Natalie said. "Did you have something to talk about?"
"Yeah," Steve said. "Where are we doing this?"
"Wherever you're most comfortable," Natalie said.
"Can we go to my room?" Steve asked.
"Sure," Natalie said. "Let me just get the form I need you to sign, and then I'll meet you there, okay?"
"Okay," Steve said. They went to the elevator, and took it first to Natalie and Loki's floor, where Natalie got out and went to her room. Steve went up another floor, and Natalie joined him soon after, with a pen and the privacy agreement. When they were both settled, Natalie handed Steve the paper and pen, saying, "Read this over; it's basically an agreement stating that I will never tell anyone what's said in here without your express permission, unless you tell me you plan to hurt yourself or someone else."
Steve read the agreement and signed it, then handed it back to Natalie, who also signed it before setting it aside. "So what did you want to talk to me about?" she asked.
Steve looked slightly uncomfortable as he said, "Tony's having panic attacks, and I want to know how I can help him."
"Do you know what's triggering them?" Natalie asked.
"I think it's the darkness of the room, since he's having them mainly at night," Steve said. He blushed a little as he said, "We've been sleeping together."
"Tony's afraid of the dark?" Natalie asked.
"I don't think that's it, exactly," Steve said. "During the battle we had with Loki, Tony flew a missile into the portal Loki had opened into outer space. Frankly it's a miracle he came back; we all thought it would be a one-way trip. Even Tony thought that he wouldn't be coming back, but he fell out of the portal just before it closed. I think that experience is still haunting him, though, and being in the dark isn't helping. He wakes up gasping for air, and when he sees that it's still dark, he panics until I turn the light on and start talking to him."
"I think the simplest solution there is to get a nightlight," Natalie commented. "It'll make the room less dark if Tony wakes up."
"That's a good idea," Steve said. "I'll talk with him about it."
Before Natalie could reply, JARVIS said, "Miss McKenzie, Captain Rogers, there is a situation in the communal training room; the others could use your assistance."