Chapter Twenty-Five: Flashbacks and Rhodey
"What happened?" Natalie asked.
"Agent Barton apparently thought pushing Sir underwater would be amusing," JARVIS replied.
"Oh God," Natalie gasped, and ran for the door. Steve followed, asking, "What's wrong?"
"Have you read Tony's file?" Natalie asked as they ran for the elevator.
"Not much of it," Steve said. "Does this have something to do with Afghanistan?"
"Part of the torture he went through was being held underwater," Natalie said grimly. The elevator dinged, and Natalie and Steve ran out, headed for the training room. Natalie flung the door open, causing the others in there to look up. Tony was curled up on the floor, shaking, and Natalie went over, kneeling next to him but not touching him. "Tony?" she asked gently, keeping her voice soft. "Tony, can you hear me? It's okay now, you're safe." She continued softly reassuring Tony until he started to relax, and after about ten minutes, he looked up at her. "Natalie?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'm right here," Natalie said softly. "How are you feeling?"
"Like someone tried to drown me," Tony said. "Who was that, anyways?"
"Clint," Natalie said grimly. "Apparently he thought it would be amusing."
"How exactly is making me relive Afghanistan 'amusing'?" Tony asked bitterly, sitting up.
"It's not," Natalie said.
"How did you know?" Tony asked.
"JARVIS informed me and Steve that Clint had pushed you underwater, and that we were needed down here," Natalie replied. "But if you meant how did I know that Clint pushing you underwater would most likely trigger a flashback, it's because I have access to your SHIELD file."
"Oh," Tony said. "I think I'll just go back to the lab for the rest of the day…."
"Should I let you know when dinner's ready?" Natalie asked.
"Sure," Tony said. He got up and left, ignoring the others. Natalie got up too, and looked at Steve. "Do you want to continue our meeting now or another time?" she asked.
"Can we do it another time?" Steve asked.
"Sure, how about we continue tomorrow after Natasha's time with me," Natalie suggested.
"Sounds fine," Steve said, and left. Natalie turned back to the others in the room, and noticed Clint looked really guilty. She walked over to him, and asked, "What did you learn today?"
"That I should never push Tony underwater for any reason," Clint said gloomily.
"What brought that on, anyways?" Natalie asked.
"Tony was laughing his head off at Clint because Loki had turned his hair green, and apparently Clint wanted some form of revenge," Bruce said. "Natasha and I were at the other end of the pool, and didn't notice what was happening until Tony started panicking."
"Where is Loki?" Natalie asked.
"I think he went back upstairs," Natasha said.
"I think I'll go find him," Natalie said. "When do you guys want dinner?"
"I'll cook, don't worry about it," Bruce said. "Have fun with Loki."
"Alright, thanks Bruce," Natalie said, and left.
She found Loki in their room, reading, and he looked up as she came in. "Is Tony okay?" he asked.
"I think he will be," Natalie said. "Physically, he should be fine, but emotionally is a different issue. I saw that Steve went after him, so I decided to come find you."
"I am glad, I wished to speak with you," Loki said.
"What about?" Natalie asked. She knew he reverted to his old-fashioned way of speaking when he was nervous, and that's what he was doing at the moment.
"Do you really want to be with me forever?" Loki asked.
Anyone else probably would have been hurt by that question- but Natalie only saw Loki's self-esteem issues kicking in, and replied, "Yes. This isn't a trick or some plot, Loki. This is real, and I really do love you and want to be with you forever."
"How can you be sure?" Loki mumbled. "Forever's a long time."
Natalie sat next to him and said, "Let me tell you a secret." Loki looked at her, and she said, "Before I met you, I didn't want to live much past ninety. I've seen how most old people get by that age; they can't take care of themselves, and it's left up to their children to care for them or arrange to get them help. But then I fell in love with you, and decided that maybe living a very long life wouldn't be so bad, if I could make you happy. You being happy makes me happy too."
"You're amazing," Loki said after a minute, and kissed her.
Natalie kissed him back until they were both breathless, and they pulled apart to look at each other. Loki looked genuinely happy, and Natalie smiled. "Feeling better?" she asked.
"Much," Loki said, and captured her lips with his again.
Half an hour later: Loki and Natalie were still kissing, and therefore they got startled when there was a knock on the door. "Hey you two, dinner's ready!" Clint's voice called.
Natalie and Loki reluctantly got up and went to the door, opening it. "Having fun in there?" Clint asked, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Natalie blushed as Loki said, "We were kissing."
"Well, now you're coming downstairs to eat," Clint said, and headed for the elevator, followed by Loki and Natalie.
The kitchen smelled like Indian food, and Natalie noticed that Bruce had apparently made some kind of curry. She and Loki sat down next to each other, and Natalie noticed Tony was there, but he was pretty quiet, avoiding making eye contact with anyone. The others had obviously noticed, because everyone looked worried. "Tony?" Clint asked hesitantly.
"What, Barton?" Tony asked coldly.
"Are you okay?" Clint asked, sounding tentative.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Tony asked sarcastically. "Everyone's treating me like glass, and you tried to drown me. So yeah, I'm fine. Was there anything else, or can I go back to my lab?"
"I'm sorry," Clint said. "I shouldn't have pushed you underwater from behind, much less at all."
Tony stared at Clint for a minute before saying, "Thanks for apologizing. NOW will you all stop treating me like I'm breakable?"
The others nodded, and the rest of dinner was achieved without incident. As Natalie and Loki started cleaning up, Tony said, "Oh, by the way, Rhodey's coming over tomorrow. He'll be here for a few days."
"Did you warn him about the 'no drinking' thing we've got going?" Bruce asked.
"Uh…." Tony said.
"Thought so," Bruce said. "And what are you planning to do about that tradition you told me about?"
"Tradition?" Natalie asked.
"Ever since we met at MIT, Rhodey and I have had a tradition of getting drunk every time one of us falls in love," Tony said. "It's basically so we can loosen up enough to actually talk about our feelings."
"You're not going to nearly kill yourself again, though, right?" Natalie asked.
"Wasn't planning on it," Tony said.
"Fine…." Natalie said.
Tony looked startled, and asked, "You're not going to tell me not to get drunk?"
"No," Natalie said. "All I ask is that you and Rhodey don't drink around me. And that you don't get alcohol poisoning."
"Okay!" Tony said, perking up.
Natalie and Loki went upstairs soon after, and when they reached their room, Loki asked, "Natalie, are you really okay with this?"
"No, but I don't want to make Tony and his friend unhappy," Natalie said. "I'll be fine if they don't drink around me."
Loki sighed but didn't pursue the issue.
The next morning: Natalie got up and showered, then came out, noticing Loki was waking up. "Loki, I'm going to make breakfast," she told him.
"I'll be down soon," Loki said sleepily.
Natalie smiled; he was cute when he was sleepy. She left the room and went down to the kitchen, where she found the coffee brewing, but no one there. Sighing, she got out the ingredients for French toast, and started making some for everyone. Steve was the first to come in, followed by Tony, Bruce, and finally Loki. "Natasha and Clint got called out," Steve said.
"Okay," Natalie said. She put the last piece of French toast on a platter, then took it to the table. Steve had set the table, and Natalie got out maple syrup, cinnamon, and powdered sugar. She set all that on the table, and then sat down with the others to eat. Suddenly she remembered something, and said, "I guess I'll have to reschedule with Natasha if she's gone."
"Her turn was today?" Tony asked.
"Yep," Natalie said. "Is your friend's name actually Rhodey, or does he have another name?"
"His real name is James Rhodes, I just call him Rhodey," Tony said. "He should be here soon."
Not even ten minutes later: "Sir, Colonel Rhodes has arrived," JARVIS announced.
Tony's face lit up, and he got up as a tall black man came in. They hugged, and when they broke apart, Steve saluted Rhodey and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Colonel Rhodes."
Rhodey saluted back, and said, "Likewise, Captain Rogers." Then he noticed Natalie, and looked at Tony. "New addition to the team?" he asked.
"This is Natalie McKenzie, our team therapist," Tony said. "And her boyfriend Loki."
"It's nice to meet you, Colonel Rhodes," Natalie said, shaking his hand.
"You too, Natalie," Rhodey said. "And please call me Rhodey; Tony does. Having any luck with him, by the way?"
"Yes, actually," Natalie said. "He's much more open now than he was when we first met."
"Oi, I'm right here," Tony said indignantly.
"Sorry," Natalie said. "I've had more luck with you than anyone else on this team aside from Bruce, so you should be proud of yourself."
Rhodey groaned. "That's an open invitation for him to start gloating," he said. "And why is the guy who tried to destroy Manhattan and take over the world here?"
"Loki was under mind control during that time," Natalie said calmly. "He's not anymore, which means he's perfectly safe. He and Tony get along really well. Clint's the one you want to watch out for- he apparently doesn't like being pranked, and keeps trying to shoot Loki. Which is very hypocritical, given his penchant for pranking the hell out of anyone who catches his eye."
"Is there a reason the military doesn't know about this?" Rhodey asked.
"SHIELD knows," Tony said. "And Fury made Natalie responsible for Loki's actions after she threatened to castrate him if he took Loki away. You really don't want to get Natalie to go into overprotective mode- it's kind of scary."
"I'm going to the training room," Natalie announced suddenly. She left, and when she was gone, Loki sighed.
"Something wrong?" Tony asked.
"Natalie's not doing well with your plans for the night, but she doesn't want to make you unhappy," Loki said.
"You mean getting drunk and talking?" Rhodey asked.
"Yes," Loki said. "Natalie is terrified of drunk people, alcoholics, and alcohol itself. And the last time Tony got drunk, he nearly died of alcohol poisoning. He stopped drinking altogether after that, but I think that now that you two are planning on getting drunk, it's bringing back bad memories. I can tell that she's scared, and that's probably why she's in the training room right now; she's trying to work through her feelings through gymnastics."
Rhodey looked at Tony, and asked, "You nearly DIED?"
"Natalie saved my life," Tony said. "She was the one who noticed something was wrong, and she kicked down my door and called 911. Much later, and I probably would have died, according to the doctors. I've been sober since then, and so has everyone else living here- not that they had my problem."
Rhodey was silent for a few minutes, and then he said, "Maybe…. we should rethink the drinking part of tonight. We can talk without drinking, right?"
"I'm getting better at it," Tony said. "I don't think there's any alcohol in the house anyways. The others go out to bars if they want a drink."
"Then let's skip the drinking part and just talk," Rhodey said.
"Okay," Tony said.
"You should let Natalie know what the new plan is," Loki commented.
"You're right," Tony said, and headed for the training room, followed by Rhodey.
They found Natalie doing gymnastics, and as they watched, she launched herself into midair and did two perfect front flips before landing. She noticed them as she turned, and came over, then said, "Hi, what's up?"
"We decided that we're just going to talk tonight, not get drunk or even drink at all," Tony said.
Natalie sighed. "Loki told you, right?" she asked.
"Yeah," Tony said.
"I don't want to make you unhappy," Natalie said.
"We'll be fine," Rhodey said. "After hearing Tony nearly died, I'm not too big on the idea of him drinking either. Especially since if we get drunk together, I won't be able to help much if he gets alcohol poisoning. We really don't mind, Natalie."
The relief on Natalie's face was obvious, and Tony said, "I'm sorry for scaring you again."
"Thanks," Natalie said softly.