Actions

Work Header

And Let The Future In

Chapter Text

He can't get back to sleep and Bucky's not helping. It's not Bucky's fault, and Steve immediately feels really bad for thinking it. This time it's Bucky who is sick, feverish and tossing about in their narrow bed, Trix curled up against his neck in ferret-form. She's been spending more and more time like that, and Steve's pretty sure that's what she'll settle as, but it's rude to say anything. And he's got visions of her just exploding into light because Bucky's died, because Bucky's never sick and Ma's doing night shift and so's Uncle George, and if anything went wrong he'd have to wake up Mrs. Edsel, and-

Steve feels his daemon's teeth on his arm, a warning mouthing. Sometimes he thinks she likes being a pitbull just so she can do that.

“He's gonna be fine,” Gladys says, pitching her voice low so they don't wake anyone else. “Then he's gonna get annoyed at you for spendin' all night watchin' him. And Trixy'll nip me.”

He makes a face at her. Even if she can't see it, he knows she'll know he did it. It's probably better that Ma's working, because she'd try to get him to sleep somewhere else while Bucky's sick. And Steve's not abandoning him of his own free will, nossir.

“Worried, are ya, Glad?” Steve's not that worried. “Just turn into a lioness and yell back.”

“Um.”

“...um?”

Gladys' tail thumps against his legs. A thumpy tail means she's still in her dog-form, except normally she'd shift into a hare if she's being shifty, and...

'Um'.

Oh.

Thump, goes Gladys' tail.

His hand goes to her head, spreading his fingers wide to see how it feels. She twists her head to lick his hand, kind of cautious. He's not sure what his feelings are doing – he's all still in his chest, as if things aren't quite real – but she's his best friend, even more than Bucky and Trix. She's Gladys. She shouldn't be so worried.

“I'm not an eagle,” she says, sounding a bit sorry.

“Never wanted to be an eagle,” Steve says fiercely. “Too big to carry about. You're perfect.”

He can't think about what her choice actually means – except that everyone likes pitbulls, and they're reliable and loyal and brave as anything, and they work and they're on Army posters from the Great War, and they aren't flashy but only little kids really want flashy – but, she's Gladys. Of course she'd do the right thing.

Bucky mutters something, voice a whimper. Trix shifts into a small monkey and clings to him, and she's also making little distressed noises. All thoughts of settling and growing up gone, Steve rolls over onto his side as Gladys sits up.

“Hey, hey Bucky. Trix.”

“Steve? Steve, where's Ma, we gotta go flyin',” Bucky mumbles.

“She's just workin'.” Aunt Winnie's been dead for years, but hell if Steve's saying that. “It's okay. We're not leavin'.”

“Promise?” Bucky asks as Trix flows into cat-form and briefly tries to peer about the dark room. She ends up just burying her head against Bucky's neck, pressing herself against bed and human like she's afraid she's going to fall off.

“Promise,” say Gladys.

Chapter Text

If she looks at the sky, then it's a perfectly normal day. Blue, some white clouds. If she looks to the river, then all of the cargo boats are moving like it's a normal day, everyone just working. If she looks to the west, then all she can see is Stalingrad and roads and countryside, rolling out as far as she can see.

She can't see the German planes, or the tanks, or any armies which she knows are there. Her country has been invaded, and really, it's better to watch the sky. There are no people in the sky. She can pretend it's just her and Ilariy, and that everything is normal.

“Natasha! Natasha! Nataliya Alianovna, get down from the roof!

“She sounds worried,” Ilariy mutters, and Natasha clenches his long fur in her fingers.

“And pissed off,” she mutters back, and then takes in a deep breath. “Coming, Mama!”

It's easy to get down, but when they land on the balcony, Mama grabs her. Her monkey-daemon does the same to Ilariy, his little hands alternating tugging Ilariy's fur and grooming him.

“You're going to break your neck one of these days, Natasha,” Mama snaps. “Swinging on the gutter like that.” Despite the sharpness in her voice, Mama's holding her too tightly. “You need to stay safe.”

Natasha doesn't actually answer, just nods awkwardly. Normally she'd say...something. Except now her words are stuck in her throat, all of the ones she should be saying and all of the ones she shouldn't and all of the ones she wants to. She just nods, again, and picks up Ilariy when Mama lets her go.

Mama's eyebrows arch when Ilariy keeps his heavy cat-form, but she doesn't say a word about it. With Afon back on her shoulder, she bustles them out (apologising to Maksim Pyotrovitch as they walk out through his apartment), keeping a strong hold on Natasha. Ilariy has his claws hooked into her dress, and occasionally bumps his head against her shoulder and chin. He's too stressed to purr, but it's comforting.

No one says anything until they are in their room, two floors down. Then, Mama reaches out and takes Natasha's face in her hand, peering at her closely.

“So,” Mama says. “Ilariy's settled.”

Natasha feels a small flare of shame. The announcement of war shouldn't have meant anything, she shouldn't have settled just because of that, because of course they are going to win. And it'll only worry her parents, and she never, ever, ever asks where they were during the Revolution, but on the other hand...

“I like being a cat,” Natasha blurts out. Ilariy is a solid, reassuring weight in her arms. He's not delicate like Svetlana Borisovna's daemon, but all heavy muscle underneath that long, pretty fur. He's a proper Russian cat, and Mama is smiling oddly. Proud, and sad, all at the same time.

“Good. You should always be comfortable...but ah, Natashenka, you're growing up.”

“We'll bake you something soon,” Afon adds, an anxious note in his voice. Tradition is that it should be today or tomorrow, but the Germans have invaded, and nothing feels real.

Except Ilariy. Ilariy with his head tucked under her chin, Ilariy with his claws hooked into her dress, Ilariy with his tail gently hitting her legs in solidarity. Ila, who is never going to change because she's finally stepped out of childhood.

War has arrived, but at least she knows who she is.

Chapter Text

“A rattlesnake,” Bruce says.

Odette shifts her coils a little sulkily as he stares at her.

“A snake.”

“A rattlesnake,” she insists, and then shoves her head underneath her coiled body. Conversation over.

His stare turns into a glare as hot disappointment bubbles up. A bear would have been great. Or a tiger. Or a wolverine, or, or, or something that'd get people to leave them alone and not pick on them. Not a snake. Snakes are weird, or end up being nurses or shrinks or other people like that. He doesn't want to be a nurse.

Odette refuses to move, so he turns back to his math homework, shoulders hunched. Fine then. She won't talk to him, he won't talk to her. Like he even wants to.

At dinner, they're still ignoring each other. Mom and Gideon look worried. Normally when Dad is working late it's easier, but now Odette is just curling herself into a pile, occasionally rattling her tail.

It's Gideon who makes the first move. As Mom and Bruce wash the dishes, the cheetah-daemon stands up on his hind legs to put his front paws on the kitchen bench, and gently nuzzles Odette. Odette uncoils just enough to lift her head, tongue tasting the air. She slides her head underneath Gideon's, and Bruce feels something in his chest ease at the affection. He takes in a deep breath, and ducks his head.

“Bruce,” Mom says, touching his shoulder. “You'd...tell me, if I could do anything.”

“Yeah. Of course.”

And Dad's not here, and Odette's settled, and Mom's looking so worried, and it's as safe as it's going to be. Bruce suddenly turns and hugs Mom, and he's probably hanging on too tight, but she just wraps her arms around him anyway. She doesn't say anything, just hums a little, rocking him gently as he clings. He wants to explain everything. Odette's a snake, she's always going to be a snake, and people aren't ever going to listen to her warning rattle, and Dad is going to be so disappointed in him, and he can't explain anything. It's not fair on Mom.

“You okay, kiddo?” Mom asks, and he nods into her shoulder before forcing himself to step away. He's not crying. He's not even about to start. He's not.

“Yeah,” he says, and smiles at her. She ruffles his hair, and then goes still as Dad's car pulls up in the drive-way.

“Why don't you take an early night? You've got a test tomorrow.”

He hesitates, ashamed by his relief when she excuses him. He picks up Odette, and she curls herself around his arm before they retreat to their room. Odette glides onto their bed as he quickly finds his pajamas, and then she settles herself on him once he climbs beneath the sheets.

“Doesn't mean I'm talking to you,” he mutters, and she flicks her tongue against his ear just to make him jump. Pain in the ass, he thinks, and forces himself asleep.

They both flinch awake when something hits a wall.

Mom cries out and Dad shouts; Bruce curls in on himself, hands over his ears. He doesn't want to hear, he doesn't want to hear, he doesn't want to be here. Odette slides around him, and he shifts his arm to let her get closer. Then all he can hear is her warning rattle, telling the rest of the world to leave them alone.

Chapter Text

Control your daemon, control your daemon, Clint why won't you control your daemon...

“I hate them,” Winona mutters, pacing on the floor, shifting angrily from hawk to street-cat to porcupine to hyena to hawk to wolverine and back again. “We were taking care of everything fine. It's not like we're little kids.”

Clint doesn't answer, just methodically bounces his ball off the furniture and walls. The ball will make marks, and he really doesn't care.

Thump.

Thump-thump.

Thump.

They won't let him see Barney and Tammy. They split them up, and Barney's settling in, and they don't even mention Tammy. Tammy had her tail between her legs last time they saw her, and all of the adults and kids out here treat their daemons like pets. Sit down, don't talk, don't fly, don't run. Like hell is Winona gonna do any of that.

Thump-thump-thump.

“I'm gonna run away,” Winona announces.

Thump.

Clint catches the ball, and glares at her.

“You can't leave me behind. We're not witches.”

Winona swoops up to land on the back of the chair, her talons scratching the wood some more.

“So duh, you're gonna have to run away too.”

“Where?”

She sidles along the chair, and then flies over to the headboard of his bed (it's not really his, he's going to be kicked out again anyway). Like the chair, it already has talon-marks.

“The circus that was here. It should only be a couple days away, right? And they always need people to do odd-jobs. We could help take care of the elephants! It's a brilliant idea, Clint,” she adds, defensively.

It is a brilliant idea. If they could get some jobs, then they'd be back to being their own people again. Not treated like little kids who don't even know how to use the microwave when he's been making meals for him and Barney since-

“What about Barney and Tammy? We can't just leave 'em.” Yeah, yeah, Barney and Tammy are the oldest, blah, blah, Clint and Winona have been looking out for them since forever. It doesn't feel right running off without them. From the way Winona shuffles awkwardly, she agrees.

“We don't know where they are,” she says, voice all angry and hurt. “And we can't do anything.”

“We gotta come back later, then,” he says, fingers clenching around his ball. “We'll get some money, and then we'll be able to find 'em. Deal?”

“Deal.”

They work quickly, Clint shoving clothes and his stolen money collection into his backpack, Winona hovering near the door on look-out. They really should go and steal some food, too, but Clint hesitates. If they get caught...and honestly, he's as itchy as Winona is to get the hell out.

They can't get caught.

He climbs out the window, wishing he could grow wings and fly like Winona. But by the time they hit the back streets, he's starting to get twitchy with how big she is. Red-tailed hawks aren't little. She stands out. And it's what she does, draws all the attention and barely anyone notices him, but they are running away.

It calls for sneakiness.

“You know, if you turned into a spider you could hide better?” he says, finally.

“Nope.”

“Nope what?”

“Not shifting anymore.”

Clint stops and stares at her. “What, ever?

She lands on the nearest fence, and bristles her feathers. “Nope.”

She's a red-tailed hawk. This shouldn't be surprising, because she's been a hawk tons lately, but she's always gonna be a hawk now. Forever. Clint feels a thrill at it, kinda scared and kinda proud, all at once. Everyone can see what they are now. He can see what they are.

Awesome,” he breathes, and grins at her.

Nobody is gonna force a hawk to be a well-behaved pet.

Chapter Text

Mistletoe is one of the greatest things, Tony decides right then and there. One of them. He's going to have to do some more tests, just like he's going to have to test out kissing again. And again. And maybe again just to make sure, because wow.

“Um,” says Charlotte, cheeks pink. “I should, um. Go? Probably head back before Mum sends a search party.”

“...or we could...do that again?” he offers, and that sounded so much smoother in his head. Her accent distracted him, that's it. Charlotte crinkles her nose in a giggle, then shakes her head. She scoops up her spotted not-exactly-a-polecat daemon (she said what he is, some kind of Australian animal?), and runs back to the party in a swish of red hair and blue skirts.

Well. Fine. Tony's just going to, you know what, he's just going to sit here, because his parents' parties are boring anyway, and he needs to think. Think, think, thinking is good, the world has altered just a bit, and that's not logical because of a kiss (fantastic as it was and oh, man, does he get the hype around them now).

Zenobia lands on his knee, then pecks him.

“Hey, what...” Tony stares at her. She ruffles her feathers and shifts her weight from side to side, and she's all glossy feathers – blues, greens, brown on her wings, speckled yellow underneath – and brilliant blue eyes, and she's beautiful and aerodynamic and...settled.

Settled. Never going to shift again, never going to be, well, anything else.

Ever.

“Interesting,” he says, finally, feeling kind of unsettled himself. “Why that shape?”

“Because.”

“...That's not very scientific. Zeeeeeeeeeeen. Zen, Zen, Zen.”

“Because I did,” Zenobia says, except she can't turn into an anteater any more to stick her tongue out, so she just ruffles her feathers. “It felt right. So there.”

From the main hall of the house comes laughter, and Tony doesn't really want to go back. People will oooh and aaaaah and make snide comments, probably, because that's what everyone does. And Mom'll make a fuss, and Dad won't, but Mom's going to be so pleased he's a bird like her (except Zen's nothing like Liberato, because she's not a swan, she's cooler than a swan, even if she can't shift anymore and be a dragon), and people say all kinds of things about bird people, but Mom's not really 'flighty', and a kestrel-daemon lands on the rail and stares at him. At him and Zen. Then the kestrel nods a little, and swoops out of sight.

Tony gets to his feet, Zenobia launching herself into the air, and walks over to the railing. Down in the courtyard is Aunt Peggy, Pol settling himself back on her gloved hand.

“Young man,” Aunt Peggy begins, “the only way I am taking those stairs is if they turn into an elevator.”

“Stairs are boring!” he agrees cheerfully, and he doesn't need to be watching her to know that she's rolling her eyes as he starts climbing his way down. He's only a storey up, he could jump it, really, but then Aunt Peggy would lecture him about not landing right.

He jumps the last couple of feet, and turns his momentary stumble into a flourishing bow. Zenobia flares her wings dramatically before swooping onto his shoulder, and Aunt Peggy smirks.

“Don't feel like joining the party, Tony?”

He shrugs, folding his arms in close. “Boring. Don't want to.”

“I see.” Aunt Peggy's eyes are sharp, but they always are. “Would you mind keeping an old lady company?”

“You're not old,” Tony says, and Pol laughs. “I mean, you are, but not old-old, and, and, Zen decided to settle.”

“It's not my fault,” Zenobia mutters, fluffing up her feathers.

This time, Aunt Peggy's smile is almost gentle. “I can leave you alone, Tony, if you want to be.”

He shrugs again, and kicks at the tiles. “It's not a big deal,” he mutters, staring at the ground. He can see Aunt Peggy's feet and walking stick move, and Zenobia launches herself off his shoulder to follow them.  He sighs, and falls on the bench next to them, feeling like he's got static under his skin

“We can just sit here until you're ready,” Aunt Peggy says calmly.

He glances at her. “You hate sitting still.”

Aunt Peggy smiles. “Oh, I do. But I can use this time to plot.”

“Plot? What kind of plots, world domination? I could build you robots,” Tony offers, and means it.

“I have every bit of faith in you,” she says, and Pol snaps his beak loudly for emphasis. And that's the thing about Aunt Peggy, she never seems like she's just saying things for the hell of it. She means them. So he's going to sit here next to her, with Zenobia occasionally tugging at his hair, and think about what kind of robots he could design.

He knows what he thinks about robots.

Chapter Text

He's thrown down the Bifrost, tumbling and unable to stop himself, unable to control it.

He feels something inside him rip.

It's more of a shock than the human girl's strange burning weapon, and as he falls to the ground, Thor swears he hears something-that-should-be-him roar.

Then there is nothing but darkness.

When the light returns, his circumstances are no less confusing or threatening. Humans, humans with their strange outside souls, pinning him down, stabbing him with needles, and when he comes back to himself, he's not alone. A strange gold cat remains, and she is familiar, even as her form is not. She's much larger than Asgard's mousers, although so much smaller and short-haired then Freyja's chariot-cats. How he is sure that she is a 'she', he does not know. But he does.

“We must away,” she says, and her voice sounds like his.

He thinks about the humans, the mortals, with their souls precariously outside their bodies, and then centuries of discipline flow back over his mind. This is not the place to wonder.

“Agreed,” he replies, and she knocks her head against his hand before they cautiously move out into the hallway. His clothes have been removed, but this is not the first time that has happened to him. He can escape.

The second time the scholar Jane Foster hits him with her metal carriage, he thinks that the Norns are trying to tell him something. She offers assistance, clothes, and he accepts. That the clothes fit surprises him. He walks into the main area of Jane Foster's residence without pulling on his shirt, and is eyed by his hostess and her friend. Normally, he'd wink, flirt a little. But his state of exile – even if Father surely wasn't serious – and the presence of the gold cat is distracting.

“Hey,” calls out Darcy. “Sorry I tased you!” Her soul is in the form of a strange animal, stocky and covered with sharp spines. Jane Foster's soul is small and sleek, somewhat akin to a weasel. Only Erik Selvig's soul takes a form Thor is familiar with – a red squirrel with bright, suspicious eyes that match its human's. The residence is full of strange technology and objects, and without thinking, he picks one up.

“Excuse me, excuse me!” Jane Foster is small, darting, her soul fierce on her shoulder as she takes the object out of his hands. The gold cat sneezes a laugh.

Fine. First clothing, and then gaining his bearings.

“What is this?”

“Oh,” Jane Foster pulls a face, and rips the name off the shirt. “My ex. Good with patients and ba-a-a-ad with relationships. Uh. They were the only clothes I had that would fit you.”

“They will suffice.”

Her eyebrows arch as he walks past. “You're welcome.”

“This mortal form grows weak,” Thor begins, and then the gold cat catches his eye again. She has her paws on one of the chairs, and is peering at both Darcy and Erik Selvig. She's a confident creature, but uneasy. He can feel her uneasiness inside his skull. “And I require answers,” he finishes. “These forms your souls take, what is their meaning?”

Jane Foster had been vibrating with energy, but his question stops her, tilting her into confusion.

“Uh,” says Darcy. “Okay, I'll bite. It depends.” The gold cat stares at her, the tip of her tail twitching. Darcy's soul stares back, raising its back spines subtly but pointedly. The woman herself just looks unimpressed, and Thor remembers the bite of her weapon. He keeps his tongue, and the gold cat sits, her impatience contained. “It depends,” Darcy repeats. “Basically, the best theory is that it has to do with which shape feels best for you and your daemon. Different cultures assign different attributes to different animals, which has a big influence. And there's a lot of social bias and assumptions, and a l-o-o-o-t of stereotypes. Like, a lot of people think I have to be a jerk, because Josiah's covered in spikes. Which is totally ridiculous, I'm actually pretty chill and nice.”

“Unless you take her coffee,” Jane Foster mutters, with a fond exasperation.

“Unless you take my coffee,” Darcy says, her smile sunny. “And then you get a face full of spikes.”

“A big cat. Such as...this one. What would you say that means, Darcy?”

There is another incredulous pause. In Erik Selvig it's sharpened with suspicion, and Jane Foster is looking at him like Loki would a complex book. Darcy just taps her stylus against her hand.

“Well, you're gonna have a bit of 'king of the jungle' going on in assumptions, but lionesses live in prides. So it generally means that you, or people who have lions and lionesses, are way more comfortable in groups than being a loner. There's a tendency for 'us vs. them', too. And they're not exactly afraid of taking up space, or being the centre of attention. I mean, it's a really noticeable daemon. After that, it's more about cultural attributes? Yeah,” she finishes, a little awkward under his gaze.

For all Thor does not think himself a complicated person, and for all he is used to people knowing his name and reputation, this maiden doesn't know him at all. And yet, what she says echoes around his head as only the truth can.

“Thank you,” he says as the gold cat – his lioness – walks over to him to knock her head into his hand. He isn't sure what to think, and so he again puts it aside. “I still require sustenance, I have not eaten in a while.”

He eats, he regains (some) of his strength. He gains the location of Mjölnir from a human with a stocky lizard perched on his shoulder, and strides off into the streets. Even without Jane Foster's metal carriage or a beast on which to ride, he makes good progress.

And yet, the lioness remains. Lacking distraction, all the questions Thor's been putting aside make their move.

Her voice sounds like his; what she feels, he feels. The maiden Darcy could look at the cat, and make a judgement on him.

He felt his soul rip.

The lioness butts her head against his leg, once and then twice. “I would like a name,” she says.

“I'm not entirely sure you're going to stay,” he replies with a laugh. A weak laugh, even he can hear that. He felt his soul rip as he fell, and no matter how much he tries to deny it, he still feels the ache of it.

The lioness gives him a look. She springs in front of him, turning with a fierce grace. “I refuse to go. And I would like a name.”

Thor walks around her. “You are being absurd.” He's arguing with himself. Is that what the mortals' lives are like? Forever fighting with their independent souls? A possible future stretches out before him, and it is not a pleasurable one.

From the corner of his eye, he sees her sit beside the road. Very well, if that is the game his suddenly unruly soul wants to play, then this is a game that he will win.

She remains seated, and he walks.

He walks until the newly-made wound in his self starts to burn. Every step drives the pain deeper, darkens his mind with unease rapidly morphing into panic and agony. He's gasping with it.

With a final yell, he turns on his heel and runs back to her. She's faster, tackling him when she crashes into him, whimpering and growling. He buries his face in her fur, hands clutching her. They're, the both of them, shaking.

“It would be better if we were one again,” he says, and she growls, the sound vibrating through her solid chest.

“When have we ever courted safety? Do you plan to start now?”

“Father cast us out,” Thor says, still running his hand over her. She's a magnificent creature, and so precious. He would not see her harmed for all the world. And yet, she is him, and she has taken the form of a hunter. Her coat blends in, her teeth long and her lines powerful. This is not a person who stays in the shadows, unless it is to stage an ambush.

He marvels at how the mortals can stand the vulnerability.

“He did,” the lioness acknowledges, and then bats at his arm with one of her heavy paws. “Yet we must try to retrieve Mjölnir. The Allfather would not send her after us without a reason. But I am staying,” she adds.

Thor finds himself smiling at her. “Then you must have a name,” he says. “Eylidr. Does that suit?”

“Eylidr,” she says, rolling the name in her mouth. “It does.” Then she cocks her head suddenly. “Thor! Someone comes.”

It is Jane Foster in her carriage, as determined as any scholar Thor has ever known. This time, he waits, standing well clear of the road next to Eylidr as if she's been by his side all his life.