Chapter Thirty: Reunion
A while later: Natalie and Steve got off the subway, and walked down the street. "This is a nice neighborhood," Steve commented.
"I agree, it was nice growing up here," Natalie said. "There's a playground at the end of the street, but my parents live well before that. I used to take the kids I babysat to the playground, but I stopped after a while, since I had to stop babysitting when I went to college. And there was also the problem I had with wanting to jump off the swings and do a flip, but I couldn't do that in front of the kids. I didn't want to give them any ideas."
"I imagine they'd try to imitate you; that performance yesterday was amazing," Steve said.
"Thanks," Natalie said. "I'm glad everyone liked it. Look, we're here."
"This is a big house," Steve commented.
"My parents are pretty well off," Natalie said. "They were able to afford it soon after I was born." She went up to the door and rang the bell.
They heard running footsteps a moment later, and the door was flung open by a very enthusiastic Kevin, who launched himself at Natalie. The two siblings hugged, laughing, and when they broke apart, Natalie said, "Kevin, you're taller than me!"
"I grew again," Kevin said proudly. He looked past her and said, "Hi Steve! Aunt Peggy's been nearly bouncing around ever since Nat called Dad to tell him you'd be coming. Dad keeps telling her to be careful, but she's not listening."
Natalie giggled. "Kevin, can we come in?" she asked teasingly.
"Oh! Sorry about that, of course you can," Kevin said.
Natalie and Steve followed him in, and took off their shoes. "No Loki?" Kevin asked.
"He's busy pranking Thor into oblivion," Natalie said. "I think he already painted Thor's pet hammer some ungodly color."
Kevin laughed. "I like Loki," he said.
"That's good, because I have a feeling that someday he'll be your brother-in-law," Natalie said. "Frigga's been dropping a few hints lately."
"COOL!" Kevin said happily, as they walked into the living room.
Sitting on the sofa were Mr. McKenzie, and an elderly woman with short, curly hair dyed auburn. They both looked up as Natalie, Kevin, and Steve came in. "Hello Natalie," the woman said, lifting an eyebrow as she got up.
Natalie cringed, to Steve's puzzlement. "Hi Aunt Peggy," she said. "I know, I didn't call when I graduated, and I should have told you I was working for the Avengers Initiative, and I should have told you I have a boyfriend, and above all I should have invited you to my graduation, and I'm really really sorry. Um…. you're not going to subject me to the 'and if I died the next day, how would you feel THEN' lecture, right?"
"As long as we're on the same page and you don't hide anything else from me, then I believe we can skip the lecture," Peggy said, chuckling. Then she hugged Natalie tightly. "It's good to see you," she said as Natalie hugged back.
"It's good to see you too, Aunt Peggy," Natalie said. "And I am sorry for not inviting you to my graduation."
Steve had pulled back a bit, feeling a bit out of place, until Kevin came up to him and said quietly, "Nat's going to drag you over in about two minutes."
"I heard that, Kev," Natalie said, breaking off the hug with Peggy. She brought Peggy over, and then ushered her father and brother out of the room, saying over her shoulder, "Aunt Peggy, try not to traumatize Steve; I'll be the one dealing with the aftermath."
Steve and Peggy barely heard her, looking at each other. Finally Steve said, "It's been too long, Peggy."
Peggy slapped his arm, and said, "Seventy years, to be exact."
Steve smiled a bit, and said, "You haven't changed a bit."
Peggy hugged him, and Steve hugged back as she said softly, "I always believed they'd find you. I'm just glad I was alive to see it."
"I'm sorry," Steve said quietly.
"You're alive, and that's what matters," Peggy said, letting go of him and pulling him to the sofa. "So how are you doing?"
"I've been good; I'm learning more about this era, and I'm dating Tony Stark," Steve said.
"I had wondered about that," Peggy said. "I had a feeling you might be gay, but as I'm sure you're aware, back when we met I couldn't say anything."
"Yeah," Steve said. "That wouldn't have ended well. Back then I didn't think I was gay though."
Peggy smiled, and then asked, "You're wondering about my relationship with the McKenzies, right?"
"Yes," Steve admitted.
"Charlotte Harrison –Natalie's paternal grandmother- was my best friend from when we were three years old on," Peggy said. "When I came back from the war, she was married to Gordon McKenzie, and had a baby girl named Marian. When Marian was five, Tom, Natalie's father, was born, and Charlotte and Gordon insisted on naming me his godmother. Gordon, unfortunately, had a drinking problem, and soon after his youngest daughter Lily's second birthday, he died from alcohol poisoning. I stepped in to help raise the kids, since I knew Charlotte couldn't do it on her own, and she needed someone who could help her discipline the kids. Her oldest daughter, Marian, met a guy in college, and they got married. They had three kids, Andrew, Katie, and Edward. Marian was a drinker too, however, and eventually it killed her too. Tom never really recovered from his father's death when he was ten, and when his older sister went the same way, he swore on his family name that he would never drink alcohol as long as he lived. Tom won't touch alcohol with a ten-foot pole, and even though I don't drink much, I don't mention drinking at all around him. But to backtrack a bit, six years before Marian died, Tom found Eve Thayer, and they got married. A year later, Natalie was born, and she was the light in all our lives, because Charlotte had just died. I knew from the start that there was something special about that girl, and I spent a lot of time with her. When Marian died, I was the one who explained her father's behavior to her. Tom had become rather bitter towards the world, and while it didn't last, Natalie was worried. She'll have you believe that it was her cousin Andrew's death that set her on the path to becoming a therapist, and she'll also tell you that her first word was 'button'. I admit Andrew's death was a big part of what spurred her desire to help people, but it really started when I explained that the reason her father seemed so angry was really because he was sad."
Peggy paused, and Steve asked, "What was her first word, then? She told all of us it was button."
"She actually didn't have a first word," Peggy said. "The first thing she ever said when she was old enough to talk was 'help you'. Tom was looking at a picture of his father at the time, and Eve came in with Natalie. I don't know how she knew at that age that her father was sad, but she pointed to him and said, "Help you." Tom and Eve were ecstatic that she was so smart, and I actually had to sit them down at one point and tell them that no matter how smart Natalie was, they should raise her as a normal child. They were trying to plan out a future for her, and I knew that wouldn't make Natalie happy. As she grew up, I watched, intervening when necessary, but mostly just being the grandmother figure she needed. When Kevin was born, she was ecstatic to have a little brother, and that feeling was more then returned; his first word was 'Natty', and he'd cry when she'd leave for school. When Andrew died, though, and Natalie fell into depression, I started taking a more active role in her life. I asked around to find the best therapist I could for her, and I started spending more time with her. I taught her how to fight, how to use her skills to the best advantage, and how to downplay her abilities. I was the one who encouraged her to create her own fighting style based off of gymnastics. I also talked her parents into leaving her career choice to her, and she chose to become a therapist. She graduated high school at sixteen, and won a full-ride scholarship to NYU's psych program. Natalie is my granddaughter in everything but blood, Steve, and I have never been more proud of anyone than I am of her and where she is now. I know better than anyone that Natalie can take care of herself, but I want you to promise me something, Steve."
"Of course," Steve said.
Peggy looked at him for a minute, and then said, "I don't have more than a decade left to live, and I want to know that there will be someone looking out for Natalie besides her family. I want you to promise me that you and your team will look after her, and keep her safe."
"I promise we'll all look after her," Steve said. "I'm sure the others will agree as well; everyone loves her."
Peggy smiled. "Thank you, Steve," she said.
Steve smiled, and they fell silent until Natalie came in and said, "Dinner's ready; did you have a nice chat?"
"I'm sure you know the answer to that," Peggy said, amused.
"I don't ALWAYS eavesdrop on people," Natalie said. "I was in the kitchen making salad."
"Alright, let's go," Peggy said. She and Steve followed Natalie to the dining room, where Natalie's parents and Kevin were waiting. They all took seats, and Mrs. McKenzie started dishing out lasagna, letting the others get their own garlic bread and salad. As they started eating, Peggy said, "So Natalie, I hear you have a boyfriend."
"Yep," Natalie said. "Loki's amazing."
"Loki as in the Norse deity?" Peggy asked.
"Yeah," Natalie said.
"I'm impressed," Peggy said. "So how did you meet?"
"I found him unconscious on my living room floor with the flu, and decided to take care of him," Natalie said. "His older brother Thor came and kidnapped him the next day, though, and I followed him to Stark Tower, which is where I met the Avengers. I stayed there for a few days while Loki was recovering, and things spiraled off from there."
"Describe Loki," Peggy said.
Natalie paused, thinking, then said, "When I met him, he was broken almost beyond repair. His older brother abandoned him, and his mother wasn't much better. He had severe PTSD, serious abandonment issues, and refused to trust anyone besides me- and frankly it's a miracle he trusted me at all. When I managed to get through his masks, though, even just a little, I found a very funny, highly intelligent person who loves learning and playing pranks. I've been working with him since then, and he's getting a lot better. He finally reconciled with his older brother, and his mother as well. He's a wonderful person; he just has trouble showing it. He's also very polite, and he gets along with Mom, Dad, and Kevin just fine- despite Mom's attempts to fatten him up from the moment she met him. He's still not entirely convinced that she's not planning to feed him to something, though. And he's a MAJOR chocoholic."
"And you're happy with him?" Peggy asked.
"Yes," Natalie said. "I love Loki with all my heart."
Peggy smiled slightly, and said, "Good. I'm glad you found your special someone. You'd better invite me to the wedding, though, you hear me?"
"Loud and clear," Natalie said. "And I will definitely invite you to the wedding."
"Good," Peggy said. "Have you been keeping up the training?"
Natalie looked a little uncomfortable, and said, "I've been focusing more on the gymnastics; I didn't want one of the others walking in on me, since I have a feeling that would lead to Fury learning the full extent of my abilities. I'm going to get back to it when I get back home tonight, though; judging by how crazy things are getting, I'll need the edge."
Peggy nodded, pleased, and then Steve asked, "Natalie, what's your full skill set?"
Before Natalie could respond, Peggy said warningly, "You'd better not be thinking of turning her into an Avenger, Steve."
"Natalie will get caught up in something sooner or later, and honestly, I'm just curious," Steve said defensively. "Does Loki even know everything you can do, Natalie?"
"No, he doesn't know most of it, actually," Natalie admitted. "Aunt Peggy trained me from the beginning to not let anyone know exactly what I'm capable of, since it would give me more of an advantage."
"Is there anything you can't do?" Steve asked.
"I can't shoot a gun; Mom drew the line at guns when Aunt Peggy and her friends were training me," Natalie said. "There's lots I can't do, but when it comes to fighting, I'm pretty versatile. I had good teachers."
"Can you use other weapons?" Steve asked.
"I fight with knives if I have to use weapons," Natalie replied. "Can we discuss this when we get home? I have a feeling the others are going to want to know too."
"Okay," Steve said.
The rest of the evening was spent with Peggy and Steve telling stories about the war, and at around eight o'clock, Mr. McKenzie said, "I'm going to drive you two back; it's too dark out for walking."
"That's much appreciated, thanks," Steve said.
They said their goodbyes, and Mr. McKenzie drove Steve and Natalie back to Avengers Tower. "Thank you for having us over," Steve said as he and Natalie got out of the car.
"Least I could do, Steve," Mr. McKenzie said. "Have a nice night."
"Thanks Dad," Natalie said, waving as she and Steve headed inside.
They found utter chaos when they got inside. Thor was chasing Loki around with Mjolnir, which was now painted spring green, and the others were watching and cheering for their favorites. "Jeez, what happened while we were gone?" Steve asked.
"Thor didn't listen when I told him Mjolnir wanted to be painted," Loki called as he nimbly dodged a swipe from the hammer.
"That is what you said about the last cookie, too!" Thor shouted. "You claimed it wanted to be eaten!"
Loki just snickered, and suddenly Natalie heard him say telepathically, Natalie, try calling Mjolnir to you.
Natalie shrugged and held up a hand, visualizing Mjolnir coming to her. Much to her shock, Mjolnir suddenly wrenched itself out of Thor's hand just as he attempted to brain Loki, and flew to her. Natalie stared at the hammer in her hand in dumbfounded disbelief. The others weren't much better; Thor especially looked stunned, and Tony said, "What. The. Fuck."
"Um…. Sorry?" Natalie offered sheepishly. "I wasn't expecting that to work."
"I was," Loki said, startling the others. "I had quite the interesting conversation with Mjolnir while painting it. Apparently Mjolnir thinks Natalie might be able to use its power. It obviously finds her worthy to hold it." He turned to Thor and said, "Mjolnir also mentioned that it would appreciate it if you'd talk to it more often. Natalie was the first to realize it was sentient, not just an inanimate object."
"So Mjolnir LET you paint it?" Tony asked.
"It said if I had to paint it, it preferred green to the hot pink I was planning on," Loki said.
"So…. Mjolnir is sentient and thinks Natalie can call lightning like Thor does?" Steve asked.
"Yes," Loki said. He looked at Natalie, and noticed the uncomfortable expression on her face. "Natalie, are you hiding something?" he asked.
Natalie sighed. "I've always been hiding something," she said. "And it's not because I don't trust you, or didn't want you to know."
"What are you hiding, and why couldn't you tell us?" Tony asked.
"I had to get permission from my instructor before I was allowed to tell you anything," Natalie said. "I was taught from the beginning of my training that I needed to downplay my true capabilities. Sometimes I wonder if Aunt Peggy can see the future…."
"And I take it the reason you're telling us this now is that you got permission?" Tony asked.
"Yes," Natalie said. "I don't really want to, because it seems like bragging to me, but Steve asked for my full skill set, so I might as well." She took a breath, and continued, "I was trained from age ten to be a fighter. I learned military hand-to-hand combat techniques, several different martial arts, and a few weapons. Unfortunately, my mom drew the line at guns, so I never learned how to use one. I eventually decided to settle on one weapon, and chose daggers. I can technically fight with most kinds of blades, but I never learned how to use a sword; I prefer fighting with shorter blades. I was encouraged to create my own fighting style, so since I had been doing gymnastics since I was five, I based my style off gymnastics moves. I was told from the beginning that this was for self-defense and the defense of others only, and I was encouraged to act on my overprotective streak if need be. I'm very defensive of those I care about, and while I'm probably not as good at fighting as the rest of you, I'm planning on getting back to it. If I'm going to be a target, I'm not going to make it easy for people to hurt me. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys any of this sooner, but I knew I had to wait for Aunt Peggy to give the okay; she always has a good reason for telling me to do things, whether I understand it or not."
The others were silent for a few minutes, but finally Tony said, "You seemed reluctant to tell us even with the knowledge Peggy was okay with it."
"I find it's easier if people don't know everything about me," Natalie said. "And the more people who know that I have unusual skills, the more worried I get. I've been wary of people in positions of power for a long time, because I'm not exactly normal, and frankly I don't want to be turned into a weapon. I like helping people, not hurting them. And honestly, I don't think what I can do is really that important. What matters to me is that I can use my skills to help people."
"So you feel like telling us this is bragging?" Tony asked.
"Yeah," Natalie said. "I don't like bragging about myself."
"I think it's good that you're able to defend yourself," Natasha said in a neutral tone. "If we ever need to fight together, it'll be good to know what you can do."
"Thanks," Natalie said. "Is there anything else you wanted to know?"
"May I have Mjolnir back now?" Thor asked plaintively.
That lightened the mood, and the others snickered as Natalie looked sheepish and handed Mjolnir back to Thor. "Brother, can you PLEASE take the paint off?" Thor asked.
"Do I have to?" Loki moaned. Before Thor could respond, Loki got an expression that suggested he was listening to something, and then looked sulky as he said, "Oh, very well." He gestured, and the paint on Mjolnir vanished. Still looking sulky, Loki grabbed Natalie and teleported them to their room.
"Bedtime?" Natalie asked.
"Yes," Loki said. "I thought that was a nice paint…. but Mjolnir said it was 'itchy'!"
"Oh well," Natalie said as they started getting ready for bed. "Next time let's turn Thor's cape neon yellow!"
Loki perked up and kissed her.