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HEY! I'm trying to have a vacation over here!

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Of all the beaches in all the towns in all the world, they had to plonk themselves down onto hers.

Fuckin' hell.

She had at least another fifteen years on this identity, fifteen years she'd been looking forward to spending quietly on her beach, listening to the surf and knitting socks. The music now was good, and the ability to play it any time, any where, was glorious as well. She wouldn't have to give any of those up when she moved on, of course, but she loved her little cottage on the beach, surrounded by fancier, more expensive, more palatial homes. She loved being the last hold-out, the last property that hadn't been 'improved'. Loved laughing in developers' faces when they came 'round and added another million on the last offer for her place.

When she moved on this time, she'd make a hell of a profit. Not that she needed it, but there was always some satisfaction in a big pile of money.

Her first sign of trouble came early one morning on the beach. It was her usual routine to watch the sun rise as she drank her tea, waving at neighbors passing by if she felt like it, before she went on to the rest of the day.

Then one morning the fuckin' demons showed up.

Well, technically not demons. They looked like gargoyles, but she thought they were fallen cherubs. Pretty sure. The Christian-structured portion of the cosmos really wasn't her thing. They ran up to her, making grunting, growling, whuffling noises, and when she froze, they backed off a little. Thankfully. She did NOT want to have to Do Something about them, especially not out in the open where it could be seen.

“Hey, sorry.” said an easy voice, coming up behind her.

That didn't give her any comfort either; she had NOT heard the guy coming.

She rose carefully and backed up a little so that she could keep the two gargoyles and the guy in her sights. “Hello.” She said cautiously.

“I'm Bucky.” The guy said, holding out a hand.

She shook it cautiously, and the tingle-buzz and scent of him told her, whatever was going on, he wasn't any more human than his pets. “Faye.” She provided. “Nice to meet you.” It BETTER be nice to meet him, she wasn't giving up her life here because something Other moved in. She'd kept drug dealers out of the area for ten years, she could handle this guy.

Probably.

She really hated assault rifles. They were so loud and messy.

Gods damn it, California alone had over eight hundred miles of beaches, why'd this... being... have to land on hers?

“Sorry about the dogs, they get curious about strangers.”

Dogs. Faye looked down at the WINGED creatures snuffling at her bare feet and hoped she wouldn't have to re-grow a toe. Dogs. “What breed are they?” she asked blandly.

“Mexican hairless fighting mastiffs.”

Faye stared at him for a second, impressed that he said it with a straight face. “Huh.”

'Bucky' smiled and called his critters, and they jogged off down the beach.

Faye sat back down, poured another cup of tea, and wished some brandy into it.

Fuck.

A few days later the... hell, she was calling them dogs, she didn't want to start a supernatural turf war with who-knew-what before she even knew if they were a problem. (THEY HAD PET DEMONS IN THE OPEN. THEY WERE A DAMN PROBLEM.) So far they'd been living quietly and the food truck people loved them both.

You could tell a lot about a being by how they treated food truck staff.

The dogs were back, this time with a short, slender blond guy. They raced over again, and this time instead of jumping up and away, she sat her ground and held a hand out cautiously. They stopped, looked at her a while, whipped their tails, then politely sniffed her fingers. “Hello.” she told them. They sort of danced around her, so she cautiously patted a head. The other pushed in for attention, too.

“Sorry, they won't do any harm unless you threaten one of us.” the blond guy said politely. “They're protective, but they're pretty nice.”

Ah. “Hello.” she told both the cherubs calmly. “I too mean no harm, but will protect my own. I hope we can exist together peacefully.”

One pushed its head into her hand, and the other leaned against her mooching for attention, so she supposed they had a truce, at least. That she could work with.

Mau the cat, her cat, appeared then. She pushed the dogs back, growling, and the dogs went. They sat by the guy's feet, watching Mau cautiously as the cat leaned against her human. Faye wasn't sure who'd win that fight, but she was absolutely sure she didn't want to know.

“Ah. I'm Grant.” He held his hand out.

She rose, shook it. “Faye. Nice to meet you.” There was no tingle-zap-scent like she'd gotten off 'Bucky', but there was something about this guy that seemed familiar. Which didn't bode well. She couldn't put her finger on quite what, yet, but familiar usually didn't mean anything good. There was a reason she was hanging around on a Malibu beach, and it was because most of the stuff 'familiar' to her was in Europe.

It would come to her.

Grant smiled politely, called the 'dogs', and they strode off down the beach.

Mau grumbled and methodically re-scent-marked her everywhere the 'dogs' had touched.

Faye wished more brandy into her tea. And conjured a hash brownie.

In the darkest depth of the night, she choked, flailed, and sat straight up in bed. “Jesus, Kali, and Morrigan.” She was living next door to Steve Rogers and Bucky fuckin' Barnes.

And Barnes wasn't human.

Damn it, all she wanted was to knit some damn socks and eat ice cream in peace for a couple decades, was that so much to ask?

And why the hell was Rogers wandering around in his pre-serum body? What fuckin' lunatic thought that was a great disguise? If she spotted him, others would. He looked exactly like his display at the bleeding Smithsonian.

Trouble followed the little shit around like a shadow, too.

Fuck.

Barnes took up surfing and looked extremely decorative in his wet suit, so Faye began sitting out on her porch with her knitting. Might as well enjoy the scenery. Rogers – Grant, whatever the hell he was going by these days – noticed her watching and she shrugged at him. “What? I have eyes.”

In revenge, he painted a beautiful watercolor of her on her porch and hung it in a local gallery. When she bought it, she told him he could have asked; he shrugged and said “What? I have eyes.”

Ha.

So they rubbed along at a sort of detente for a couple-six weeks, running into each other occasionally on the beach or at the farmer's market, and trying to ignore each other when the 'dogs' and her cat let them.

It's all a nice beach vacation until the assholes from your old life turn up to drag you back to it.

In this case, it wasn't assholes from her life. It was next door. (UNLIKE THOSE TWITS SHE KNEW HOW TO KEEP A LOW DAMN PROFILE.)

Mau woke her up a moment before someone passed through the outer set of wards at the edge of her neighborhood. Twenty humans, in several vehicles, with many modern weapons. Damn and blast. “Stay here.” she told the cat, who glared at her. Jeans and tee shirt from the floor, pulled her sword out from under the bed. Pulled her hair back quickly. (One of the best things about the modern world, hair elastics.) A glamour to make herself hard to see, and she slipped out the beach door and slid around between hers and the Grant-Barnes house. Knocked on the window of their bedroom once.

Barnes appeared before her, looming and... lavender? Ha, she'd known he wasn't human. “Three vehicles, twenty humans heavily armed, arrival any second now.”

He blinked, once. “How do you know they want us?”

Both of them, not only Barnes. Huh. “Humans don't come after me.” Not any more.

He gave a quick, coded knock on the same window. “What does come after you?” he asked.

Not much. Unlike these assholes she didn't run around pissing people off. “Please, Barnes, not on a first date, I'm not that kind of girl.”

He gave a short bark of laughter, and then the humans arrived.

“Hydra. Seriously?” She asked, and lopped the first guy's head off. “What is this, nineteen forty?”

The Captain America shield came out of the darkness, snapped a guy's neck, bounced off the side of HER HOUSE, DAMMIT, and disappeared into the dark again.

Barnes reached out and efficiently snapped another guy's neck.

“Other side of the house.” Grant said from inside, and Faye could hear him moving away.

“Go, I've got this side.” Faye told Barnes. She'd seen the two of them fight before, they would be more use together than separate.

Barnes gave her one piercing look, said “we're gonna talk later” and disappeared.

Literally. Poof of lavender sparks.

She was sure the sparks were to fuck with her.

“No we aren't.” Faye grumbled, dodged some gunfire, and in annoyance popped some veins in the guy's brain. She had a SWORD, they couldn't have the dignity to try and engage hand-to-hand?

Ugh, Hydra. What dignity? They worshiped a child of Tiamat, and even with her sympathy kept fucking things up. When you couldn't take over the world after you sell your soul, really. You need to examine your life choices and your skills.

Someone started screaming from the other side of the house, and she shook her head. The neighbors were gonna hear that. Couldn't these boys even kill a couple humans quietly? Barnes even had magic, for fuck's sake. Sloppy.

One of the DOGS leapt past her and tore the throat out of someone trying to slip up behind her. “Thanks.” She told it, and she'd swear it grinned at her. The other one showed up then and the three of them killed the rest of the infiltrators on her side of the house pretty quickly.

All over except the fuckin' DENT in the side of her house.

She could fix it herself, but she was making Grant get out there with some spackle, damn him.

The guys came up, dragging a single dead body, as she finished the rest of the cleanup. “What's with him?” She asked.

“Gotta have an explanation for the screaming.” Grant said.

“Why?”

Barnes smiled. “Guy tried to break into our house, I popped up in the window and he was so surprised he had a heart attack and died.”

“People are dumb enough to believe that.” Faye mused.

“Well it's not like the ME is gonna look for traces of magic in the body.” He glanced around at the pristine, empty yard they were standing in. “Lucky for us. Where'd you put the bodies?”

“Handed them off to a friend of mine.”

They all looked at each other for a long moment.

“Don't worry, when they're done there won't be any remains.” She smiled, fake-cheerfully. Wasn't this the guy with two winged demons as pets? Why yes, he was. He could kiss her ass.

Police sirens started, far up one of the valleys east of them. All of them sighed, even the 'dogs'.

“I wasn't here.” Faye told them, turning to go back into her house.

“Sure.” Grant agreed.

“We gonna talk about this?” Barnes asked her.

Faye turned back at her door, gave Barnes a once-over. He'd been wearing a shirt when the fight started, and now wasn't. He was covered in scars and had a metal arm. Whatever he was, anything that was mean enough to cause damage like that would be... significant. Not to mention he'd tangled with something strong and tough enough to take his arm off at one point. You didn't just lop the arms off of beings who'd lived as long as Barnes while they held still for it. “I'll show you my true form, if you show me yours.”

Fine, she was getting mildly curious.

Barnes stared at his feet for a long moment, thinking. “Nope. I'm good.” he finally decided.

Uh huh.

“Grant, you are fixing the dent in the side of my house. BY HAND.” Faye called behind her, and went to run a bubble bath.

Fuckin' Hydra. Babylonian gods were such assholes.

After the raid on their house, or rather, after she played completely dumb about the raid on their house, things got slightly more friendly. “Grant” fixed the dent in her house, and then with permission painted tendrils of flowers around the doors to apologize. (He said he needed full artistic license, was a real prick about it, then painted plants and flowers from ancient Ireland he must have had to look up. They were beautiful, the little shithead.) They still weren't hanging out on Friday nights or anything, but they'd wave on the beach, or at the coffee shop, or whatever. Great, she had a World War Two mystery relic, an unknown being and his two pet fallen cherubim living next door. NO PROBLEM. Damn it, they were magnets for trouble. THEY WERE KEEPING TWO FALLEN CHERUBIM OPENLY AS PETS. They had fucking WINGS, for fuck's sake.

The leviathan, though. A fucking leviathan. That was the final straw. Popped up out past the wave line one night. Mau went completely bonkers, and the wards were screaming. She grabbed binoculars and looked out, and-

And there was goddamn BARNES, sitting on a surfboard, patting its nose and laughing. It looked like the two of them were talking and it was a friendly visit. Nice, but could he at least wait until dark? Anyone glancing out a window would see that damn thing and the questions would NOT be easy to answer. It was no wonder trouble followed the assholes around, they had no ability whatsoever to be discreet.

She waited until he came in off the water, shucked off the top of his wetsuit (very nice), and began hauling his board toward his place. “Yo. Barnes.” She called it casually, and after squinting at her a moment, he nodded thoughtfully. The board got shoved into the sand near his back door, and he trotted over to her place, joining her on the porch. “You know, I have the whole area warded.” She held out a drink.

Barnes took the offered Scotch and took a sip. “Ah. Whoops. Sorry about that, I'll try to warn you next time?”

There would be a next time a leviathan came to visit, sweet baby Buddha. “What's going on? Cards on the table. I need to know if weird shit is gonna keep happening.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I guess we should. Sorry, are we drawing attention to you? We can keep you safe, you know.”

“I can keep my damn self safe.” Faye told him, dry as dust. She was reasonably sure she was eons older than Barnes was. Nature spirits got created when the nature was, after all. “I'd rather do it with fewer surprises, is all.”

“Okay.” Barnes drained his glass, sat it on the table in front of him. “I'm a fallen angel. Pissed off Yahweh. Arch-demon now. You?”

So much information, and yet so little, all in that short statement. To be honest, she didn't want to know; Yahweh was a vindictive prick. “I'm one of the ancient British Isles nature spirits.” She'd been worshiped by multiple civilizations and societies, under many different names, from the time humans first arrived there.

The time before humans had been really, really nice.

She preferred knitting on the beach. When people worshiped her she felt obligated and it was a never-ending job. Eventually one of these neo-pagan boneheads would start up and she wasn't looking forward to it, but for now, she was free.

“Huh.” Barnes thought for a while. “We don't have any fundamental conflicts I'm missing, do we?”

Thank goodness she pre-dated Christianity by millennia. “Live and let live, I always say. At least until someone tries to kill me.”

“Were you Morgan LeFay? Been curious since I heard your name.”

No one was supposed to GET the joke, dammit. “...yes.”

Barnes chuckled, the rat bastard. “Sometime I'll want to hear that story. We good?”

“Arthur was a dick, Merlin was worse. Yeah, fine, whatever. Go away.” Faye scowled and waved him off, and he went back to his own house, laughing uproariously. Asshole.

And then came the invasion.

It had been Zywie's century to keep an eye on the news, and Faye had been enjoying it quite a lot because ugh, this century was a mess. It should be impossible to have a worse century than the last, but the humans were working at it. There was already discussion among the gods about getting involved; if what she saw in the water came to pass, one of the immortal assholes running around was going to start a plague or a natural disaster out of sheer annoyance. Fucking humans couldn't see themselves repeating the same cycles over and over and-

Anyway.

She was at the coffee shop, and Reece Whosis, the asshole who liked to go after his housekeepers (and had a really mysterious case of erectile dysfunction no one could figure out, it was so ODD), was there insisting he'd seen Barnes with a 'giant monster' out beyond the surf. Yeah, how about that plausible deniability, Barnes? How about that common sense, Barnes? HOW ABOUT NOT BEING A DUMBASS, BARNES? She realized she was glaring at him when Grant started glaring at HER, and she GLARED AT HIM TOO THE TWO ASSHOLES.

Her phone lit off, her end of the world ringer that only got called for things gods considered emergencies. As she lifted the phone to her ear, someone in the cafe screamed and she turned, to find an incomprehensible image on the news feed. “What?” she asked.

“Planetary Level. We're setting up in Union Square Park, triage for evacuees from Midtown. If you're popping in, use the corner behind the parking lot, and look out for traffic.”

“Copy. What IS that.”

“Space aliens.”

“Fucking SPACE ALIENS.” Faye repeated, staring up at the sky.

“I know. Romulus is in charge, as always, good to see you, Dea.”

Faye sighed. Ah, to be among the people who knew you. For good or ill. “Thanks, Artemis. You too. Call me if you need me for defense.”

“And call me, if I'm needed for healing.”

“Let's go save the world, then.”

Faye had teamed up with a couple very well-trained veteran corpsmen and they were working on stabilizing 'the easy stuff' – simple broken bones, cuts, all mid-level trauma – to get them evacuated on ambulances that were running like clockwork between the park and hospitals in the outer boroughs. Only the cases that couldn't be moved further were going to local hospitals in an effort not to overwhelm them.

This had all been settled within minutes when a tiny Chinese man stormed into the center of the transport area, told them they couldn't organize a children's pizza party, and took over.

“It's Master Sun. Be advised.” Artemis told her under her breath as they passed on news to each other.

“What's he doing here?”

“He lives in Chinatown.”

Ooooooh, shit. How many pissed-off beings were they going to have swarming in here?

Speaking of, Captain America in the flesh AND spangled uniform, jogged into the park, carrying a small child. “Is anyone able to-” his eyes landed on her and he smiled in relief. “Hey. It's good to see you.” He caught himself, shook his head. “You know what I mean. Can you take her?” The girl he held out was maybe two, a small two, splattered with blood and deeply in shock. “German?” He asked in German, glancing at the kid and back to her.

“Ja, go ahead.”

“That's someone else's blood on her, a woman she was with. Mom, aunt, whatever. It was grim. Falling masonry. I got her ID.” He rummaged in a pocket, handed it over.

She took the kid and the ID. “We'll take it from here.” She leaned in, said under her breath “We've got Confucius on re-uniting families. He's got strong opinions on that, and a few extra abilities to make it happen. He's taken on the entire city.”

“Good. Good.” He looked back at the portal in the sky. “Can I send people to you? Personally? Buck's here, and there are a lot of other supers and mutants defending the city who might need help. If I tell them you can handle weird and won't ask questions, they'll believe me.”

“Sure. Tell them all to ask for Dea, I'll put the word out.”

“Dea, huh. Nice to meet you.” He clasped an enormous hand on her shoulder, gently, then ran off back into the destruction.

Fucking heroes, every damned one of them since the dawn of humanity has been an asshole JUST LIKE THAT. He had better live so she could kick his ass later. Be all kind and noble and then run into a wall of flames. Ugh. Humans.

Maybe a minute later, Spiderman swung in, a nasty burn high on one shoulder, calling “Is there a Doctor Faye in the house?” She waved and called to him, and he landed neatly. “Hi.”

“Hi. I'm Faye, a paramedic though, not a doctor.” She towed him to a cot, sat him down so she could actually see his shoulder, damn all these tall people. “Grazed by one of the energy weapons?”

“Yeah.” He sucked his teeth as she cleaned it as quickly as possible. “Some kind of plasma, it sort of sticks, but not like a napalm would...”

“We're all keeping each other's secrets today, aren't we, Spiderman?”

He stared at her, head cocked, for a moment. “You're helping, you're on my side, you're one of mine. What's up?”

“You've got enhanced healing, but I can do some things to keep it from hurting while it heals, then bandage it to keep it clean.”

“Deal. Thanks.” He glanced down when she started laying magic over his wound, like he could feel it. “Oh. Nice. Much better.”

Huh. She wondered if that was a mutant thing, or a spider thing, or- hell, whatever.

“You're good. Want a blessing?” What had made her say that?

Well, you know, other than the ALIEN INVASION GOING ON OVER THEIR HEADS.

“Yes ma'am.” Spidey said politely.

She kissed the top of his head and gave him a jolt of all the positive energies she had. Safety, healing, cleverness. Go with all the gods, kid. Come back home.

When he took off, she turned, and they had hauled in a dismembered body, piled on a gurney with swords, guns, and the torso. “I'm FINE.” it- he- said. “Just throw a sheet over me, give me a few minutes of privacy! We got aliens invading, if you hadn't noticed?”

Both her assistants, regular old humans from the regular old army, were looking wild-eyed at her.

And really? On a day like today? Give a man what he wants. “Throw a sheet over him. Who's next?” Even with everything she'd been, done, seen, lived, she had to shake her head a bit when the guy called a cheerful “Thanks!” as the sheet floated down.

What the hell, she blessed him, too.

Years and decades and centuries later, all the accounts and histories agreed that the First Great Defense of Manhattan, as it came to be known, only lasted about twenty minutes.

People who were there, begged to differ.

Many theories had been put forth, that the portal that opened into space had also opened into TIME, and caused things to flow differently than they were supposed to. All Faye knew for sure was, there had been several mages, a couple dozen gods, and an actual time lord in lower Manhattan that day, and NONE of them knew what had happened. But the one thing they all agreed on, was that the battle felt like it took days. Even those with active combat experience agreed it had been weird.

As soon as the last of the injured were evacuated and the Army moved in to take over, a lovely human, at their best they were amazing, had opened their restaurant next to the park. Wait staff who'd been hiding in the back room come out with food and drink for everyone. She'd had half a sandwich, three bottles of water, and she literally blessed the guy's restaurant because he sent out some really excellent wine with all the bread sticks he had and told them to wait while his ovens heated back up, he'd get them set.

When she saw he'd sent out crystal glasses to drink out of, she blessed the place again. Should be good for a couple generations of his descendants, at least. She made sure their home-made bread would always turn out, too, because it was fantastic.

“Excuse me, I'm looking for a Doctor Faye?” a diffident voice said behind her.

He was broad and stocky and had apple cheeks and from the laugh lines around his eyes he was probably a really nice guy on a good day. “I'm not a doctor, I'm a paramedic. But I'm who you're looking for.”

“It's nice to meet you, ma'am. I'm here to ask you to go to Stark Tower with me, Captain America says they could use a medic and you're the best.”

Huh.

“Sure. How badly are they hurt?” How much equipment did she need to haul, and should they drive like lunatics?

“Looked like a bumper crop of bashes and bruises, but it'd be good to have a trained expert take a look at them. I think Hawkeye said something about glass in his back.”

“All right.” She turned to gather up supplies and her things and each time she picked up a bag or box, it was taken back out of her hands and carried for her. “Whatever Stark pays you, it can't possibly be enough.” End of an interstellar invasion, and the guy's in a pristine suit and tie, driving a fancy SUV and carrying her things for her.

“I'll be sure to pass along your recommendation to Mister Stark.”

She chuckled, and poured herself another glass of red to take along for the road.

“Right.” Faye surveyed the five heroes sprawled out over the slate floor of what used to be a really nice penthouse. (Thor was missing.) “Any of you think to triage yourselves, or do I start there?”

Everyone pointed to Steve.

Shocker.

“Of course. What did you do?”

“Why's everyone always assume-” Steve started, and his entire team jumped in to shout him down. It was good to see he was working with people wise to his bullshit.

“He got shot by one of the energy weapons.” Bucky provided. Everyone sort of froze and fought the urge to duck when Barnes spoke, which given they'd fought space aliens and couldn't possibly know he was an arch-demon, was pretty funny.

“Shot, or grazed?” Faye stepped forward, took a quick, assessing look at his uniform, and started pulling the top off.

“Wait, let me help, that's compli-” Stark stepped forward to help, blinked, and stood there. “Familiar with space-age fabrics then?” he asked as she unhooked the body armor.

“You're adorable. This is nothing compared to the Victorian era.” Faye pulled on some gloves for form's sake and grinned when Steve choked out a laugh. “Okay. Turn your head and cough.”

Steve looked blank, but everyone else roared with laughter.

After she shut down Steve's pain and wrapped him up and piled some cold packs on him, she turned to the rest. “Anyone else actively leaking?” Head shakes. “Then find me an empty room and send me each of you one on one, starting with the squishy fragile baseline humans, first.”

“Right this way. What else do you need?” Stark was limping, had bashed his face a couple times, and smelled like-

“Why do you smell like another dimension?” she demanded.

“Smell?” Tony said blankly, standing in the office he'd shown her to. “You can SMELL that?”

“It's a thing.” It was like trying to explain aurora borealis to a blind person.

“Huh. I, uh. I went through the wormhole today.”

May she save herself from dumbass, over-brave humans. “You have got to be kidding. Of course you did. With a nuke.”

“You can smell the nuke, too?” Stark asked, about half sarcastic and half curious.

“YOU MEAN THERE WAS ACTUALLY A NUKE?” The folks she hung around with had their history's first summit meeting in 1945 after Hiroshima. They'd had them every decade since, and they only needed two more votes to turn all of the planet's fissionable material into lead.

An actual fucking nuke.

“I'm not the one who thought that was a good idea, I only stuck it where it would do the most good.”

Yes, of all people, she could depend on Tony Stark not to nuke a civilian population. He'd learned a lot from his father, whether he knew it or not. “Nice work, then.”

“Thanks. Wait-”

She pushed him down to sit on the desk, checked his pupils, went through everything she'd do for a car accident victim in too much shock to feel any injuries. He had a minor concussion, a few cracked ribs, and loads of contusions. And then there was the actual healing. “You'll be fine if I don't do a single thing. I suggest cold packs and painkillers.”

“Or?” Stark asked, hearing a deal in the making.

“Or you let me put out the fire in your liver from all that palladium, and you don't ask too many questions about how I do it.”

Stark met her eyes and they stared each other down for a long moment.

“Steve says you're a friend of his.” Tony observed.

“He's delusional. He dented my house with his damn shield. I hate him. He's an asshole. I'm only here because humans make a horrible mess when they bleed. If his alleged dogs don't stop bothering my cat, I'm going to let the cat EAT THEM.”

He started to laugh and then cringed and held his ribs. “Your word?”

“Look, I've got a lot of personal rules about this kind of thing, and I could do it without you knowing at all, but I don't because I respect everyone's agency. To heal you I have to ask permission, and to ask permission I have to expose my own secrets.”

He stared a little longer. “Go ahead. Thanks.”

She nodded and laid her hand on his side, shut her eyes. While she was there she maybe gave his ribs a boost, too. Hell, he said she could heal him, right?

After that it was Hawkeye's very large, callused hand around her throat as she removed glass from his back.

“Nothing personal, but it's been a bad couple days.” he said as politely as possible, his thumb on her carotid artery.

“You do realize this would result in one hell of a wrestling match if you tried to harm me, right?” and she ignored him after that because he was entitled to some crankiness after the week he'd had, and besides, that was a shitload of glass in there. It would take some concentrating to find it all.

When glass started falling out of his back and pinging on the surface of the desk, he didn't so much as blink. But when she was done he did mutter a 'thanks' before leaving.

Black Widow had a bruised knee – it looked like a kid's skinned knee, it was barely an injury – and a sprained finger. They traded fist-bumps and phone numbers, and then she braced herself.

“DEA! FINALLY A JOYOUS MOMENT ON THIS TERRIBLE DAY!” she couldn't quite hold back the 'eek!' when Thor pulled her into a giant hug. “It has been too long.”

It really had been. Asgardians were all kinda nuts, but Thor was a damn good-humored guy about it all. Unlike most of the rest of his people, he'd lost the smug superiority since she'd seen him last. “You look like you've been growing up.”

“Yes.” He sobered, fast and hard. “Today's invasion was masterminded by Loki. I was not here earlier to greet you because I was putting him in a cell.”

Oh, fuck. Loki on the loose not even pretending to be 'good' any more. “I'm so sorry, Thor.” Loki might have been the most annoying trickster god to ever exist, but Thor loved his brother in his uncomplicated, big-hearted way.

“Thank you, my friend.”

“So you injured anywhere, big guy?”

“No, I am... well. Hulk broke my nose earlier. If you could see it straight, perhaps make it throb a little less?”

It was nice to not have to be subtle with Thor. “Hold still.”

He did, shutting his eyes, and she fixed him up, leaving a few ergs of 'hello!' energy for Frigga to sense from her when she checked him over. And with that in mind... She shut her eyes, placed her fingers alongside his neck, and gave a quick search through his body, checking to make sure-

“Damn, Thor, you've got a STAB WOUND, here!”

“Yes.” he agreed sadly, sort of wilting, and he gave her a flash of Loki doing it.

“Aw, baby.” She finished healing his side, then pulled him into her arms and let him lay his head on her chest and cry.

Re-entering the penthouse, she gratefully took the fresh glass of red that Stark handed her. “Everyone okay, then?”

Those who were awake nodded. She gently checked out those who were asleep. “Where are Barnes and Rogers?” She still hadn't checked out Barnes.

“They left.” Bruce said, looking up over his glasses at her. “Poofed out of existence over there.” He jerked his chin toward a corner of the room. “As for where they are now, you probably know better than we do. Though we've got a phone number if you need it.”

“Nah, I'm good. Barnes is being shy, I'll run him to ground.”

“Good luck.” Bruce wished her sincerely.

She let herself smile, finally seeing the end of this shitty day. “Oh, it'll be fine. I know where he lives.” She raised her voice. “So y'all are fine, I can go, and you won't die, right? At least not right this minute?”

There were assorted grumbles she took as a 'we're all fine, thanks'.

“So what are you, exactly?” Stark demanded.

“Jesus, Tony, manners.” Bruce grumbled.

“You can turn him into a newt.” Natasha said cheerfully. “I won't tell. We can put him in an aquarium for Pepper.”

Pepper Potts seemed awesome enough, Faye really didn't want to turn her boyfriend into anything. Plus, Tony Stark. He was kind of vital for the survival of the planet. “For your purposes, I'm a magical being. We get a little hard to define after a while.” That seemed honest enough without revealing a whole hell of a lot.

"What's so hard to define? You are what you are."

Humans were so cute. Because it was Tony Stark, he got an answer. “My first conscious memories are of being mist hanging over the meadows and woods of the British Isles. That was before people got there. Identity changes a bit over the millennia.” Occasionally she still took her mist form. The form she was walking around in now wasn't her own, for that matter. For a while, she'd been a man. That had been interesting, though ultimately more bother than it was worth.

“Uh.” Stark was blinking, very obviously re-adjusting his views of reality. “How many of you are there?”

She let herself smile at that one, because she LOVED that answer. “We don't really know.”

The remaining Avengers glanced at each other nervously.

“Don't worry about it, mostly we want to be left alone to bake cookies and knit socks. Quit trying to destroy the planet and we won't bother you a bit.” She gathered her things. “Right then, nice meeting you all, Natasha has my number in case you need me for anything, or there's another fun event like today. Give me a call for mass casualty events, too, or anything requiring search and rescue. There's a bunch of us who pitch in when we can.”

She patted Stark's cheek twice, leaned in to kiss his nose. Then when the knowledge clicked in his head and he yelped, “WHAT?” she smiled brightly and poofed back to her living room.

She took a shower and changed into a long dress and nothing else; she was so tired her skin hurt. Then she went to check on her idiot neighbors.

Steve answered the door, shorter than she was again, holding an ice pack to his ribs. “Oh. Should have known, Buck just snapped back to his human form, he must have heard you coming.” He stepped aside, and motioned her inside. “Thanks for coming over, I'd appreciate it if you checked him out.”

“No problem.”

She stepped inside, followed him to a comfortable, casual sun room at the beach side of the house. There, Barnes was sprawled naked, face-down on the floor, covered in bruises, cuts, abrasions, and burns, half asleep. “Nice ass, Barnes. Peerless. You and Grant here are a real pair.”

“Pair of what.” Barnes said into the floor.

“Idiots, near as I can tell.” She sat on the floor near his shoulder, curled her legs under herself. “Come on, Barnes. It's been a shit day, and I don't know about you but holding a fake form is a pain in the ass on a good day. I'll let down my glamour if you will.”

“You go first.”

“You are such a child. Fine.” She closed her eyes, inhaled, and let the enchantment go with her breath as she exhaled.

“Wow.” Steve said from the couch. “You're incredibly beautiful. I'm babbling. I'm shutting up now.”

“Class act, Rogers.” Barnes snorted. “Did we meet once before? Germanic? Middle-ages, ish?”

Faye tried to cast her mind back, but that era of history had been a horror. “Maybe? I don't remember the Dark Ages too well. Fucking Romans.” And the fucking Church.

For a while it had been a group of nature goddesses against the full might and majesty of the entire Catholic Church. They'd won through in the end but not all of them had lived to see it. Fucking Romans. Fucking Church.

Anyway.

“So, you next, handsome. Don't worry about it, I've healed demons before.”

Barnes jolted at that. Why was that so hard to believe? “You have?”

“I'm a healer. You come to me in peace and ask for healing, I heal you.” She might then see them in a cell after, or a nice pocket dimension, depending. But she healed all who came to her. The demons, she always let go. They were like everyone else she knew – wanted left the hell alone more than anything, so of course she'd heal them and send them on their way.

“Wait, are you that one ancient Hebrew dealie that's a sewage monster? 'Cause that's fine, I'll heal you, but can we do this in the bathtub?”

Steve went off into gales of laughter and Bucky slitted an eye to glare at him.

That made Steve laugh harder, confirming everything she'd suspected about their relationship.

“Fine.” Barnes decided.

There was a sort of blurring that you could get when trying to watch shape-shifting, and then there was...

He was a pile of tentacles.

“You have got to be kidding me.” She stared. Barnes sort of cringed a little and she caught herself. “Really, this is the big reveal? You look like Cutethulu. But I think Cutethulu's a little prettier. She's got better camouflage for sure. Definitely not as cute, though.”

Who the hell is Cutethulu? Bucky demanded, seething with outrage.

“The Giant Pacific Octopus at the Monterey Bay aquarium.”

Steve laughed so hard he slid off the couch.

Then she put two and two together. “Damn, Rogers, you kinky fucker.”

Barnes' laughter in her head felt like champagne.

“Really, though. What's with tentacles, seriously?” She laid a larger one gently across a clean towel on her lap and began to remove bits of debris.

I was always very proud of my original form. When I displeased Yahweh...

“He decided to punish you by giving you the supposedly displeasing form of an adorable little Elder God.”

...yes, I suppose you could look at it like that, if I were adorable.

Steve was nearly choking.

“Yahweh has always been such a clueless asshole. Hate to break it to you, cupcake, but you're a lot more terrifying in your human form.” There was masonry ground into the flesh of one of his tentacles, as if he'd used it to shield himself, or someone else. “Okay, unless you have a good reason not to, I'm using magic to clean out these wounds because you, dude, are a mess.”

Thanks.

In the morning she woke up, stiff and sore, on the couch in the Barnes-Grant house, a fleece blanket thrown over her, and Mau sitting on her chest.

“She stood outside around dawn and wouldn't stop swearing, so I let her in.” Steve said from the door to the sunroom. “You want tea or coffee?”