Chapter Twenty-Seven: Field Trip
Meanwhile, downstairs: Natalie was rinsing the dishes from breakfast and putting them in the dishwasher when Thor and Loki came downstairs, both grinning ear to ear. "I take it you worked things out?" she asked, amused.
"Yes, we did," Loki said.
Natalie smiled brightly and said, "I'm glad. I have to go find Tony and drag him to therapy, but after I'm done, would you like to go somewhere? I don't think you've seen much of the city, have you?"
Loki's face lit up, and he said, "I would like that."
"Great!" Natalie said. "See you later, then!" She skipped off, and Thor chuckled. "I believe I will go back to Asgard and ask Mother about necklaces," he said. "Have fun with Natalie."
"I will," Loki said happily. Thor clapped him on the shoulder, and left to call Heimdall.
With Natalie: Natalie found Tony in his lab, working on one of his suits, and waited as he looked up. "It's my turn today?" he asked.
"Yup," Natalie said. She set her confidentiality agreement on Tony's worktable, and he looked at her, puzzled. "Steve told me you don't like being handed things, so I figured I'd just set the confidentiality agreement out and you could sign it," she said.
"Thanks," Tony said. He got up and looked at the agreement, then signed it. Natalie signed it too, and set it aside before asking, "So what do you want to talk about today?"
"I don't know; do we have to talk about feelings?" Tony asked.
"That's generally the idea behind therapy," Natalie said dryly. "Have you talked to anyone about the battle with Loki?"
Tony flinched, and Natalie said, "I'll take that as a no. Tony, the only way I can help you is if you let me. You seemed to feel better after you and I talked the day after you got alcohol poisoning."
Tony thought about that, then finally said, "You're right, I did feel better. But why the battle with Loki?"
"You're having panic attacks as a result of that," Natalie said bluntly.
"Are you the reason Steve bought a nightlight?" Tony asked suspiciously.
"That was my suggestion, yes," Natalie replied. "Is being in the dark hard for you?"
Tony sighed. "It's been hard since Afghanistan, but after I took that missile through Loki's portal, and fully accepted that I was going to die, it got a lot harder when I ended up surviving," he said. "I can't be in the dark for very long without having a panic attack, which is why I often sleep down here with the lights on. But since I started sleeping with Steve, I have to be in the dark."
"Does the nightlight help?" Natalie asked.
Tony looked vaguely uncomfortable, and Natalie sighed. "You're not using it, are you?" she asked. "Really, Tony, it's fine to be stubborn about some things, but no one's going to judge you for having a nightlight- or if they do, send them to me and I'll set them straight for you."
"I don't know how you do that," Tony grumbled.
"Practice," Natalie said casually. "So are you going to try using the nightlight?"
"Just don't tell Clint; I'll never hear the end of it," Tony said.
"I won't tell Clint anything," Natalie said. "Do you think talking about the battle with Loki will help?"
Before Tony could respond, JARVIS informed them, "Sir, Miss McKenzie, Miss Potts is on her way to your lab; should I tell her you are busy?"
"If she's not waiting I'd say it means I forgot something like a press conference," Tony sighed. "Let her in."
Pepper came in two minutes later, and Tony asked, "What's up, Pep?"
"Did you listen to a word I said on the phone yesterday?" Pepper asked.
"You called me yesterday?" Tony asked.
Pepper groaned. "I scheduled a press conference for you, and you're supposed to be there in two hours!" she said exasperatedly.
"Why did you schedule a press conference for me?" Tony asked, puzzled.
"So you can discredit all the rumors I've heard that Natalie here is your latest conquest!" Pepper said.
"WHAT!?" Tony and Natalie shouted in unison.
Pepper groaned and said, "Someone saw you two in a mall, and assumed you were together, and the rumors are everywhere. Especially after the report on CNN after you got alcohol poisoning."
"Do I need to go too?" Natalie asked apprehensively.
"No, Tony just needs to tell everyone that he's not in a relationship with you," Pepper said, smiling at her. Then she looked at Tony and said, "Go get cleaned up. NOW."
Tony slumped and sulkily left. Pepper sighed, and said, "Sorry for interrupting his therapy; I thought he'd have listened."
"It's fine, I think I got my point across," Natalie said. "This just means I can go out with Loki sooner. I said I'd show him around a bit, since he's never really seen much of the city."
"Sounds like a good plan, I'm sure he'll enjoy it," Pepper said. "I'd better go make sure Tony's not dawdling."
The two women walked out together, and Natalie took the elevator back to the kitchen, while Pepper continued up to the penthouse floor.
Natalie was surprised to find Loki sitting at the table with another woman, and they looked up as she came in. "Hi Natalie," Loki said. "This is Jane Foster, Thor's girlfriend."
"It's nice to meet you," Natalie said, holding out a hand.
Jane smiled and shook her hand, saying, "You too Natalie. I hear you're a therapist; how'd you choose that career?"
"Bad family history," Natalie said. "Most therapists go into the field due to similar reasons. I have to admit, when I started out, becoming the Avengers' therapist was the last thing I expected."
"So why'd you get the job?" Jane asked.
"I apparently impressed Fury enough that he agreed to it as sort of a last resort to get these guys help," Natalie said, sitting down next to Loki. "By that point, though, I was actually really into the idea. My original plan was to join a clinic, and work there. As the top of my class, I had a LOT of opportunities."
"So what changed your mind?" Jane asked.
"I found Tony with alcohol poisoning, and when he woke up, I told him that I was going to save him," Natalie said softly. "I was already pretty invested in helping Loki, but when I realized exactly how broken these people are…. I guess I just couldn't let them down. I promised myself from the start that I would never be the type of therapist who just asks "And how does that make you feel?" over and over. I know how much therapy can help people, but you can really only help someone if they let you. And sometimes getting someone to let me help them is really hard. I had to have Agent Coulson almost drag Clint out of the vents to get therapy, and I can tell he's going to take a lot of work before he can really start talking to me. And Thor's initial reaction was basically, "Warriors don't need therapy," more or less."
"Thor needs therapy too?" Jane asked.
Natalie nodded. "I admit I didn't think of it at first, but on second glance, he's gone through a lot," she said. "When Loki basically jumped off the Bifrost, that was really hard for Thor. Then he found that Loki was alive, and then Loki attacked New York, and since Thor didn't notice that Loki was under mind control, he had to fight him. And it wasn't until I came along that anyone actually realized Loki had been mind-controlled, so Thor went months thinking that Loki was evil. And now Loki's back to normal, and I'm sure that threw Thor way off as well. First he thinks Loki's dead, then he thinks Loki's evil, and then it turns out Loki's actually a victim, and Thor couldn't see that. I think this morning's talk was helpful, though."
Jane sighed. "I'm glad you can help him; I'm not very good at picking up on emotional cues," she said. "I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about science, and not much time in the here and now."
"To be fair, Natalie is very good at analyzing people," Loki said. "Within ten minutes of meeting me, she knew that I had had a hard childhood and sibling rivalry issues."
"I just thought of something that was intriguing me earlier," Natalie said. "Loki, when Thor went into our room this morning, he seemed to relax, even though outside the door he was tenser. Is there something about our room that would do that?"
Loki thought for a minute, then said, "Your aura has been left in the room, and you have a very welcoming, relaxing feeling to you. It's why I trusted you almost immediately, even though I had never met you before. I imagine the reason people trust you so easily is that your aura projects a sense of calm and trustworthiness. I think Thor probably picked up on that feeling when he went into our room. Going there calms me down too."
"Huh," Natalie said. "So where is Thor, anyways?"
"He went back to Asgard to ask Mother a question," Loki said. "He should be back soon, and then we can go somewhere. Where did you have in mind, by the way?"
"I was thinking Central Park; it's pretty there this time of year," Natalie said. "Is that okay?"
"That sounds like a good idea to me," Loki said. He looked up, and said, "I believe Thor is back."
Sure enough, a few minutes later, Thor came into the kitchen, and smiled when he saw Jane. "Jane, it is good to see you," he said happily.
Jane smiled back and said, "I'm glad to see you too. How are you?"
"I am very well," Thor said happily. "I apologize for not being here when you arrived; I was asking my mother a question."
"What did she have to say?" Loki asked.
"She will help me," Thor said.
"With what?" Jane asked.
"Loki informed me Natalie's birthday is coming up, and suggested I go to our mother for advice on what to get her," Thor said.
"When's your birthday, Natalie?" Jane asked.
"June 5th," Natalie said.
"Really? I'm June 9th," Jane said, surprised. "How old will you be?"
"I'm turning twenty-three," Natalie replied. "What about you?"
"I'll be thirty-four," Jane said.
Natalie nodded, and then said, "So that means Thor's actually younger than you; he just turned the Aesir equivalent of twenty-five."
Jane looked interested, and asked, "So what's the difference between their birthdays and ours?"
"We celebrate every decade as opposed to every year," Loki replied. "Though my birthday had never been celebrated until Natalie set up a surprise party this year." Then he looked at Natalie hopefully, and asked, "Can we go now?"
Natalie giggled and said, "Yes, just let me get my purse."
She made a quick trip to their room to grab her purse, and went back to the kitchen, where Loki was waiting. Thor and Jane were gone, so Natalie took Loki's hand, and they left.
When they reached Central Park, Natalie smiled. It was a gorgeous day, and there were flowers blooming everywhere. "Let's walk around, I can show you the sights," Natalie said to Loki.
"Alright," Loki said, looking around as they walked off hand-in-hand. "This is beautiful."
"I really like it here; there's not much by way of nature where I grew up, so coming here is one of my favorite things to do," Natalie said. "I also like the Museum of Natural History."
"What's that?" Loki asked.
"It's a huge building with different parts dedicated to different aspects of the Earth- like animals, plants, the ocean, and outer space, to name a few," Natalie explained. "It's not too far from here, actually."
"That sounds interesting," Loki said.
"Would you like to go there instead?" Natalie asked.
Loki's face lit up, and Natalie smiled. "Let's go," she said.
They walked to the museum, and Natalie paid for both of their tickets. Loki looked around in interest, and Natalie led him to the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals first.
They went to quite a few exhibits, including the Hall of Biodiversity, the Hall of Ocean Life, the Hall of Birds of the World, and the Hall of Asian Mammals. Eventually they left, and headed back to the Tower.
When they got back, they found Bruce in the kitchen, cooking something. Steve, Thor, and Jane were in the kitchen too, and they looked up as Natalie and Loki came in. "Did you have fun?" Bruce asked.
"I LOVE the Museum of Natural History," Loki announced.
"That's where you went?" Steve asked. "I like it there too; they've added a lot since I was a kid."
"I nearly had to drag Loki out of there when I realized they'd be closing soon," Natalie said, smiling. "Should I let Tony know dinner's almost ready?"
"He and Rhodey are talking in his lab; probably a good idea," Bruce admitted.
"Okay," Natalie said. She headed to Tony's lab, and found him and Rhodey talking. She knocked on the door, and it opened. "Dinnertime, guys," she said as she stepped inside.
Tony looked excited, and asked, "Did you cook?"
"No, Bruce did," Natalie said. "I was busy trying to convince Loki that museums have closing times."
"Where'd you take him?" Tony asked, getting up.
"The Museum of Natural History," Natalie said. "Come on, let's go eat."
Tony and Rhodey both followed her back to the kitchen, where they found the others waiting. As soon as everyone was seated, they started passing the food around; Bruce had made some kind of Indian chicken dish and rice.
"You're really good at cooking Indian food, Bruce," Natalie commented.
"I lived in Calcutta for a while, so I learned there," Bruce said, smiling a bit. "Do you have time after dinner?"
"Sure," Natalie said. "I wanted to talk with you anyways, and we can put Loki on dishes."
"I don't LIKE dishes," Loki groused.
"I don't think many people actually like chores, but they're a necessity, and I don't trust Thor with breakable items, so he's permanently banned from dishwashing," Natalie said.
Thor drooped a bit, and Jane looked at Natalie quizzically. Seeing her look, Natalie explained, "I met the Avengers because Thor smashed my front window with his hammer and dragged Loki out the window. I saw him fly here, so I just followed."
"Thor, why didn't you just knock on the door?" Jane asked.
"Natalie lived in an apartment building at the time," Thor said defensively. "I did not know where the door was."
The others just sighed.
After dinner, Natalie and Bruce left to talk, going up to his room. "So why did you want to talk to me?" Bruce asked when they were settled.
"I wanted to apologize," Natalie said. "It was brought to my attention that transforming into the Hulk takes a toll on you, and I really should have thought of that before asking if you'd mind doing that just so I could talk with him. I'm sorry for being so insensitive."
"That's ironic, because I wanted to thank you for that," Bruce said. "No one has ever taken an interest in trying to get the Other Guy to cooperate with me- except Betty, and now you. And Betty didn't suggest what you did. I wanted to thank you for the idea, and I'll keep it in mind. I'm just not quite ready to do that."
"That's fine," Natalie said. "I don't mind either way, it was just an idea."
Bruce smiled and said, "Thanks. I'm going to go back to my lab."
"Don't stay up all night," Natalie said without thinking, then smiled sheepishly. "Sorry," she said.
"Why?" Bruce said as they both got up.
"I'm so used to Tony saying that that I accidently told you what I tell him all the time," Natalie explained.
"Don't worry about it; that reaction's probably ingrained in you by now," Bruce said, chuckling. "I won't take offense."
Natalie smiled, and they headed out. Natalie got off the elevator and went back to the kitchen, and was surprised to hear what sounded like Tony and Steve fighting. As she walked in, Tony shouted, "And what are you going to do about it, Captain 'Something Righteous Crawled Up My Ass And Died'?"
Natalie couldn't help it; the name cracked her up for some odd reason, and she started laughing.
Tony and Steve stopped fighting to look at her, and Steve asked, "What's so funny?"
"S-sorry," Natalie gasped. "What Tony just called you…. I probably shouldn't be laughing, but that was really funny for some reason." She attempted to calm down, and finally managed it, then asked, "So what happened?"
Steve looked a bit disgruntled, but said, "Tony is refusing to use the light I bought him, even though I know he thinks it will help. And I don't think I'm THAT uptight."
"That's part of why it's funny; you're not uptight," Natalie said. "I'm sorry for laughing at that. And Tony, that is an absolutely ridiculous reason to start a fight. Can you at least TRY using it?"
"Mmph," Tony grumbled.
Natalie sighed. "Loki has a nightlight too, you know," she said.
"I know; he was trying to help Steve convince me that it works," Tony said.
"Are you just being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn?" Natalie asked suspiciously. "Or do you have a legitimate reason for not using the nightlight?"
Tony looked sulky, and didn't answer. Natalie sighed again. "Would you at least TRY it?" she asked.
Tony still looked sulky, until Natalie felt a hand on her shoulder and heard Rhodey say, "Natalie's right, Tony. Panic attacks are bad for your health, and if the nightlight helps, use it."
Tony drooped and said resignedly, "Fine…."
"So how'd the press conference go?" Natalie asked after a minute.
"I managed to convince them you're just a close friend, but they're having a field day with the idea that I could actually have close female friends who I'm NOT screwing," Tony said. "I hate press conferences….."
"Sorry," Natalie said.
Tony shrugged. "Not your fault," he said. "Loki did the dishes, by the way, and then left, saying he was headed to your room."
"I think I'll go find him then," Natalie said.