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HR for the Heart

Chapter Text

You did not know what you were getting yourself into.

You really didn't.

You were careful by nature, and all you needed was a job. Just a job. You had recently graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in business management, though these sorts of entry-level positions proved to be difficult to find. In this economy, any job was difficult to find.

As you were looking for openings, a posting in your local newspaper interested you. It was strange that there would be a posting for a human resource manager without any extra information about the company and its specific needs.

You had taken a few classes about HR management and policies, and you were confident that you could execute... not to mention, you really needed a job.

So against your better judgement, you picked up your phone and called the number in the paper.

The interview process was a tedious one, and your potential employer ran a number of background checks on you.

A week later, you had a job.

Only, you had no idea that you were working for S.H.I.E.L.D.

On the first day you were to start, you were met by several men in suits. They were waiting outside of your house, and you blinked, taken aback at their presence.

"Miss _____, please come with us," one of them said. "We're here to escort you to work."

And that was all he was willing to tell you.

You were brought to the Helicarrier where you would begin your work.

Chapter Text

"Miss _____," Nick Fury said as he stepped forward and shook your hand. "Glad to have you on board."

"Literally?" you asked, as you nodded your head toward the vast window panes of the Helicarrier. Now you knew why you had to be escorted to work -- there was a helicopter involved.

"Well, yes," he said as he turned around, indicating you to follow. "Allow me to give you a tour. This will be your new home."

"What." It didn't even come out as a question. Just the result of your shocked reaction.

Fury eyed you carefully. He reminded you of a one-eyed, bearded Morpheus from The Matrix, and you didn't doubt that he could kick your ass either. "I had asked in your interview if you were willing to relocate."

You had said yes. Foolishly. Or maybe not. You believed that any sensible person would not think that relocating entailed moving into a hovering aircraft. However, you were in no position to argue -- what Fury was asking you to do was feasible, just not preferable. And you just really needed a fucking job.

He continued the walk down the steralized, metal-sheeted halls, glowing in flourescent lighting. You felt like you were in a movie. There were many buttons here and there and everywhere, and you had to resist the urge to push them. "The Helicarrier lands once a week to refuel and stock up on other supplies," he said. "You will be free to do whatever you want on those days, but during the week, I expect you to be here."

You nodded. "Very well. And what sort of work will I be doing? Interviewing, screening, recruitment? Payroll, benefits, training?"

"Glad you asked. You won't be doing the typical paperwork and processes that is asked of an average HR manager. I want you to fulfill a more specific role for S.H.I.E.L.D. You will be working with the Avengers in the realm of employee relations and coaching."

"...the Avengers?" You weren't sure how ready you were to coach superheroes.

Fury's expression did not change. "Yes, the Avengers. Our team of specialized soldiers, the Super Soldiers. They are in need of some mentoring."

Although the thought of working with the Avengers was a little intimidating, you wouldn't let that show. This was your new job, after all, and you needed to keep it until you could find something more suitable. "All right," you said. "What are your expectations?"

Expectations. You had learned that word and its subsequent consequences in your management classes. You figured you ought to ask Nick Fury what he needed from you -- the last thing you wanted to do was disappoint the man. You couldn't afford to lose this job. Or a limb, for that matter.

He looked thoughtful, though he knew exactly what he had hired you for. "I want you to develop their personal relationships, foster them so that they can successfully work together on the battlefield. The last time they worked adhesively as a team was due to the death of an agent. I don't want their successes to be triggered by catastrophes. They need to learn to collaborate now."

"Right. Anything else?"

"Don't let them walk all over you. They may be Super Soldiers, but you're in charge. I expect your authority to be prevalent."

Great. You had the wonderful chance of bossing around superheroes who could crush your skull with their pinkies. This was going to turn out well.

Chapter Text

"Born on July 4th... 1922?" You blinked, staring dumbfoundedly at the paperwork in front of you. "There must be a mistake. Maybe a typo. 1982, you mean?"

Steve Rogers grinned sheepishly at you. "I'm afraid not. 1922 is correct."

You stared at him. "...but that would make you..." You did the math in your head really quickly. "...ninety."

"Eighty-nine, actually. July 4th hasn't passed yet this year."

"Right... but regardless..." Your eyes returned to his profile, and you read a bit more on his history. "...I see. I find that a little hard to believe, but..." S.H.I.E.L.D. was no pansy organization. It was an espionage and secret military law-enforcement agency, from what Fury had said. The information here had to be correct.

"I understand," he said. "It's a lot to take in, but it's the truth. Even I had a hard time believing it."

"I bet." You placed the paperwork down on the desk, focusing on him. "I'm shocked as it is. I can't imagine how you felt when you found out you were in the 21st century."

He shrugged. "It is what it is."

You liked him. He seemed earnest, understanding, kind... all those traits you liked to see in people. Not to mention, he was handsome -- blond-haired, blue-eyed, and built like a true soldier. "So why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself?" you asked. It was your job to get to know all of the Avengers after all. Might as well start here, gathering information that you wouldn't be able to obtain in their profiles.

"Where to begin..." he said. "Well, let's start with World War II. I was a fine arts student--"

"Really?" You couldn't help interrupting. Fine arts for a brawny guy like him? You had been caught off guard. "What did you do exactly?"

He gave a small chuckle. "I specialized in industrialization."

"I didn't know industrialization had anything to do with fine arts."

"Not so much anymore, but it used to. Kind of like architecture nowadays. I also play the piano and harmonica if that better fits your criteria for fine arts."

You laughed. "I didn't think that superheroes played musical instruments."

"We're people too."

He had a point, you thought, and despite being a superhero, he was very human, which you liked. He did not hold himself pompously as you suspected he might. You glanced at him with a smile, wondering what other interesting tidbits you would learn about him.

If only the other Avengers were as amicable as Steve Rogers.

Chapter Text

"Mr. Clint Barton, pleased to meet you," you said as you held out your hand. "I'm _____."

He took it, his grip firm. "Clint's fine." He was dressed in all black, arms thick with relaxed muscles. "I would welcome you to S.H.I.E.L.D., but I guess you've already gotten that spiel from the director."

"I appreciate the sentiment nonetheless." You indicated for him to have a seat. "Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee? Tea? I have a good supply of refreshments." Despite how much you loathed the idea of working in a helicarrier a bajillion feet off the ground, you had to admit that the perks were quite nice.

"Strawberry daiquiri." He had a sense of humor.

You raised a brow and gave him a smile. "Not too early for alcohol, hm?"

"Never, but I'll settle for pulp-free orange juice."

"Coming right up." With a tug, you opened the mini-fridge that sat near the back of your office and poured him a full glass of orange juice. You walked back with a coaster and set it on your desk in front of him. "Anything else, princess?" you joked.

He crossed his arms, reclining back into the chair as though he were stretching his back. "I could do with a chocolate cream-filled doughnut and a bit of fruit cocktail -- and make sure you put one of those tropical umbrellas in it."

"Funny." You sat down across from him, opening the folder than held all of Clint Barton's profile information. "Well, tell me about yourself, Clint. If we're going to be working together, I'd like to get to know you better."

Clint gave a shrug of his shoulders. "Not sure what to say about myself, but if you have questions, ask away."

Fine. You could play that game too. "It says here that you were in the circus business?"

"For a little while."

"I take it performance wasn't really your thing or else you wouldn't be here?"

"More or less."

You glanced back at his profile and then closed it. "Sorry, I guess I shouldn't be poking around in here. It your private history -- I thought I'd look through it though, since that's what Director Fury gave me."

"It's fine," he said with a shrug. "I don't really make an effort to hide what I've been through."

"At least you're comfortable that way. I can respect that."

He suddenly leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. "_____, I think you've got a lot to learn about us Avengers." He did not say it in a demeaning way, merely as a statement. In fact, he grinned. "Might as well get started -- ask some more questions."

Chapter Text

Natasha was next, and she was waiting right outside of the door as Clint left your office.

"Come in, come in," you said with a smile as she entered the room.

"Our new HR manager," she said as she took a seat across from you. "How has work treated you so far?"

You held out your hand. "I wouldn't really know -- I've only been here for half a day. I'm _____ by the way."

She looked at your hand for a few seconds before extending hers. "Natasha Romanoff."

Truth be told, she intimidated you a little bit. She was beautiful, slender, well-built, and Fury had described her as the "Master Imposter." How were you to match wits with her?

"So," you said, "let's begin. I just wanted to set a little time aside to get to know you and the rest of the Avengers."

To your surprise, a small smile tugged at her lips. "You're going to have your hands full. Let me tell you something, _____. Some of us are rather easy-going and will not give you any trouble at all. But then there are others who will start arguments for the sake of arguing."

"And which of those categories would you stick yourself into?"

She did not offer even a small chuckle, but in her blue eyes, you could see that she was amused. "Bickering's not really my style. I prefer getting things done."

"Me too. Maybe we'll get along."

"Hm." She seemed thoughtful. "I like you better than our last HR manager at least."

You laughed. "I don't know if that's saying much, but thanks?" You had not heard anything about the last HR manager. Fury hadn't mentioned anything, though you assumed he or she did not do a good job or else you wouldn't be here.

"To be fair, it's really not, but it's a start."

"I'll do my best," you said. "Anything you'd like to tell me about yourself?"

"You already have everything worth knowing." Natasha nodded at the folders that sat on your desk in a neat pile. "You have everything about all of us."

You shook your head. "But there's so much more to each of you than just a brief history and summary of your missions. You're all people with emotions and thoughts, individuals with goals and ambitions. I can't possibly get to know you through a piece of paper."

She looked taken aback, though not in a bad way. "You know, _____, you're right. We might just get along."

You were pleased with that answer.

Chapter Text

You opened up the next profile. "Thor Odinson..." But wait -- what was this? Thor Odinson was a god? Perhaps you could handle superheroes, but this guy wasn't even human.

With a short sigh, you skimmed through his history.

He had been to earth on several occasions.

He was from a place called Asgard, where the Norse Gods lived and ruled.

Mjölnir was the name of his hammer -- and only the worthy could pick it up, apparently.

And perhaps what surprised you the most was that the crazy motherfucker, Loki, who invaded the earth a while back was his adopted brother.

Good thing Loki was adopted, hm? You wouldn't want to deal with his blood brother.

Interesting, you thought. Since Thor had not yet showed up for his appointment, you slid out of your chair and decided to take a short walk outside of your office. There were still many people you would have to meet, and you were eager to meet all of them at some point. Why not on your first day?

You opened the door, and took a few steps out before noticing a large man come toward you, heavily muscled, blond and bearded; he was garbed in armor of dark silver with a red cape flowing behind him. He certainly looked like a Norse god.

"Thor Odinson?" you asked as you neared him.

He looked at you, staring down at your comparatively small form. "Yes, I am Thor."

"I'm _____," you said. "The new HR manager?" You extended your hand in greeting.

He smiled and took it, almost a bit too tightly, and you winced. "Ah, I am sorry, _____. I forget how frail you humans are." He released his grip.

Perhaps you would have been offended, but it was much too true. "It's okay," you said, "no damage done." Even so, you rubbed your hand. "Do you want to meet in my office? Or would you prefer to go for a walk?"

"Your office will suffice," Thor replied. "I was told to come here by Nick Fury. Can you tell me what this conference will be about?"

You opened the door and invited him in. "It shouldn't last long. I'm the new HR manager, so I was hoping to meet you and the rest of the Avengers before starting my work."

"And this HR is?"

"Oh, human resource. I've been hired as a mentor of sorts to help with employee relations."

Thor looked as though he were amused. "I see."

You wondered why, but you supposed you would find out in the near future.

Chapter Text

"I was told to take time out of my busy day to drop by your office."

You looked up at Tony Stark, the wealthy CEO of Stark Industries, who had just waltzed through your open office door. You would have said something, but Tony continued without giving you the chance.

"I had expected a gruff man in his late forties as our new HR manager, but I am surprised that the position was given to a student fresh out of college. They're just getting younger and younger these days, aren't they?"

"Mr. Stark, how nice of you to come by," you said. "I'm--"

"_____, yes, I know. You graduated from Faroff University just this spring with a bachelor's degree in business management, and you've been job-hunting for a while now."

You blinked at him. "How do you know that?"

"Heard from Clint and Natasha. They say that you're better than our last HR manager."

"Natasha also said that doesn't mean much."

He came toward your desk, taking a seat and folding his hands in his lap. "Well, you're a woman, and an attractive one at that, so I'd say that we're off to a good start."

Oh, so he was one of those types. He had been in your office for less than a minute, and he was already flirting with you.

You rested your chin upon a fist -- you were partially flattered, partially unamused. Regardless of what sweet words came from his mouth, this was still a business, and you both were required to remain professional. "That's good to hear, Mr. Stark. Let's continue on that note, shall we?"

"You know, I think you're taking this HR thing too seriously."

"What's not serious about it? It's my job."

"Oh, by all means, keep Fury happy -- you'd be an idiot if you didn't. But you're dealing with superheroes here, so you really just have to roll with the punches. Pun intended." He stood up, walking to the side of your office to pour himself a cup of coffee. As he took a long sip, he peered over the mug at you. "So, _____, why don't we get out of this office and take a nice walk? The scenery is great. There's metal sheeting, fluorescent lighting, speakers around every corner, hi-tech evacuation systems, holographic screens, and more buttons than the average human knows what to do with."

Something told you that Tony was the wild-card in the group of Avengers, the one who did not play well with others and did things on his own agenda. However, for someone who came off as potentially abrasive, he was quite charming. "Sure," you said. "Lead the way, Mr. Stark."

Chapter Text

"Last but not least..." You smiled at Bruce Banner as he stepped into your office.

"Open or closed?" he asked, his hand still on the doorknob.

"Whichever makes you more comfortable."

"I prefer open spaces." He left the door open and sat down across from you. He looked a little tired, as if he had stayed up the majority of the night doing research and experiments and whatever else he was here to do. "Bruce," he said as he shook your hand.

"_____. Pleasure to meet you, Doctor," you replied. "I've heard about how you made yourself a life in India serving others. I'm very impressed that you would do that."

"I did it more out of necessity than anything, but thank you."

"Regardless, your efforts have made a difference for the people there, and I'm sure they appreciate it. Have you ever thought of going back?"

"Maybe," he said. "Maybe but maybe not. I have work here first." He seemed worldlier than the other Avengers, a little more detached, a bit older, even. He was a man of average size, his hair graying just a slight bit from stress; there was also a small amount of handsome stubble that had not been tended to in the past day, complimenting his brown eyes. And while his profile told you that he was an absolute genius, there was another part of his existence -- the Hulk. Should you have feared Bruce because of what he could become?

You shoved that thought aside, remembering your business. "What are you looking for in an HR manager?" you asked.

He exhaled in a dry laugh. "Look, I know I'm the one with the history of anger management issues, but don't make me your priority."

"I didn't mean it like that," you said. "I've been asking everyone. I think it's important to know what your expectations are of me. That way, I can do my best to help you."

"Isn't the HR manager supposed to say that?"

You tilted your head to the side and then back, thinking about what he said. "Well, yes, but I sincerely want to know. Nick Fury said he wants me to do some mentoring work, some employee relations work. If he expects me to do it well, then I need to make that concerted effort to get to know you all."

There was a short pause as he studied you, raising a curious eyebrow. He looked skeptical almost, and you couldn't blame him. He was a man of the sciences, and he had the right to doubt a stranger's promise. But he relaxed. "I'll take your word for it... for now."

Good. All you needed was that chance.

Chapter Text

Finally, you had met all of them.

They were all friendly enough -- none of them seemed terribly abrasive, but then again, you had not seen them interact with one another yet. Perhaps the dynamic would change once you saw them in their work environment.

You could imagine that it would be stressful for them. They protected the world. It was a great responsibility, but it was also a great risk. Whenever they stepped out onto that battlefield, they would have to trust each other with their lives, and until they could work seamlessly, cohesively with one another, they were putting themselves at more risk than necessary.

It was your job to close the gaps in their lack of trust and help them foster relationships that would be beneficial for the superhero work that they did.

Those were Fury's expectations.

And you had no intentions of disappointing the man.

That afternoon, Commander Maria Hill stopped by your office. Fury had introduced her earlier as one of his chief lieutenants. "Miss _____. I apologize for not seeing to this sooner, but I was busy handling another crisis. I'm here to grant you access to our security systems and database."

"I'll be privy to that information?"

"Of course, you're one of us now." She then led you through the winding halls to another office. "We're going to take scans of your irises, your hands, your fingerprints, and take photos for our facial recognition and biometric sensors."

You weren't surprised -- this was a government agency. The high level of security was necessary. "Being careful, eh?"

"That's just the beginning. We'll also be taking samples of your DNA, recording your voice for our speech recognition software, following your signature and keystrokes... finally, we'll print you an access card with a unique password and code. We do everything for the sake of security."

"Understood," you said. "And all of these security precautions are for access?"

"Yes," the commander said. "As the new HR manager for the Avengers, you'll want to see their live footage when they're working to track their progress. You'll also be able to access the archives and pull up older footage to gage their interactions with one another."

This would either make your life easier... or more complicated.

Chapter Text

You would start off with something that you were familiar with -- a product called StrengthsQuest. Fury had given you a generous budget for staff development, and you planned on using it.

That evening, you purchased the codes for the StrengthsQuest online assessment and emailed the six Avengers, asking them to take the assessment and send you the results before you met at 1pm the next day.

You had used StrengthsQuest before as an evaluation tool; in fact, your supervisor in college had given it to you and the rest of your staff. You found the results very interesting and though it might be useful if you gave it to the Avengers.

Within an hour (impressive because the assessment itself took about 45 minutes), you received your first email from Natasha:

DELIBERATIVE
INPUT
IDEATION
RESPONSIBILITY
STRATEGIC

Another hour later, Bruce:

RESTORATIVE
ANALYTICAL
DELIBERATIVE
INTELLECTION
CONTEXT

While you were organizing their results, a thought struck you -- what if Steve and Thor did not know how to use technology? They had emails in the database, but that did not mean that they checked them regularly. You were sure that Tony and Clint would respond eventually (and if they didn't, it was not because they lacked the ability to use computers), but Thor was a god from Asgard and Steve was born in 1918.

Fortunately, you knew that they were both on the Helicarrier, so you left your room to find them.

As you shut and locked the door, you made a sharp turn into the hallway, only to almost bump into someone.

"Pardon me," he said automatically.

"I'm sorry -- oh, Steve." You looked up to see the handsome Captain America, dressed in a nice collared shirt and slacks. "I was looking for you."

"Were you? I was actually looking for you too."

"That's convenient. I had sent you an email about StrengthsQuest -- the assessment we'll be going over tomorrow? I was wondering if you needed any help with getting that set up."

"If you would," he said sheepishly. "Still getting used to these computers."

Turning back toward your door, you opened it with the keycard. "It's no big deal. I'm sure they're nothing like what you were using in the 1930s and 40s. In fact, there are plenty of people alive today who are computer illiterate, so you're not the only one. You've just got to learn how to use them." You motioned for him to follow you into your quarters.

"Well, if you're willing to teach, I'm willing to learn."

"It's a deal." You showed him the access code that you had sent him and directed him to the StrengthsQuest website, where you taught him how to enter the code and set up the assessment test. "It'll take a little under an hour to do, so if you wouldn't mind taking it right now..."

"Of course not, Miss _____."

"_____ is fine, really," you said. "Now I need to find Thor and see if he's got his computer skills down, though I doubt that's likely. I'll be back in a bit."

You left Steve in your room, and knowing that the assessment would take a while, you wandered about the Helicarrier searching for Thor. After a few minutes, you found him standing in one of the larger rooms, staring through the glass panels at the earth below.

"Thor?" You approached him carefully, afraid that if you startled him, he would turn around and throw his hammer at you.

"Ah, _____. It is good to see you. Can I help you?"

You nodded. "You can, actually. You see, I just sent you and the other Avengers an email--"

"--emails are something that I do not understand. If people wish to tell me something, I prefer it when they come to me."

"Well, that's all right. I can help you learn how to use it. I think a lot of people on earth use emails because it's a quick way to communicate when we're not near one another. After all, we humans can't travel at lightning speed like you." Here, you smiled, hoping that he wouldn't blow you off completely. "Why don't you lead me to your quarters so I can tell you what I need from you for tomorrow?"

He did not seem eager to learn about technology, but he did not oppose your suggestion either. Instead, he said, "Very well, _____. Perhaps I shall learn."

Following the same steps that you used with Steve, you showed Thor the StrengthsQuest website and assessment, asking him to take it. "You just click on what you feel applies to you," you explained.

He caught on quickly enough, and by the end of the night you had earned Steve's results:

SIGNIFICANCE
DEVELOPER
ACTIVATOR
RESPONSIBILITY
SELF-ASSURANCE

And Thor's:

WOO
RELATOR
CONSISTENCY
ACHIEVER
BELIEF

It was not until the next morning that you received emails from Clint and Tony.

Clint:

MAXIMIZER
RELATOR
COMPETITION
ADAPTABILITY
FUTURISTIC

Of course, Tony also had to include a snarky comment:

MAXIMIZER
LEARNER
INTELLECTION
IDEATION
COMPETITION

What did I say about taking your job too seriously?

That was fine; at least he did it. Now that you had all of the results from the six Avengers, you did some analysis, hoping that your presentation this afternoon would be a meaningful one.

Chapter Text

With all of their StrengthsQuest analyses finished and their results compiled, you stretched your arms, dressed in your professional attire (Fury had arranged someone to fetch your belongings -- and it made you nervous that someone could break into your house so easily), and stepped out of your quarters to grab something for breakfast.

You navigated your way through the Helicarrier and to the cafeteria. The food here wasn't delicious, but it wasn't bad either, which might have been a good thing. It would mean that you wouldn't overeat up here, and you'd enjoy your favorites even more when you were able to return to solid ground every weekend.

You ordered your coffee and breakfast selection, settling down with a newspaper at one of the small tables to the side. Relaxing mornings were the best part of the day, especially once the caffeine hit your system.

It wasn't long before you heard a male voice, "Are these seats taken?"

You peered over your paper. "Good morning, Clint, Natasha. Please feel free to have a seat. I wasn't expecting anyone else."

They sat down with their breakfast choices -- bagel sandwiches and coffee (and Clint's pulp-free orange juice).

"No strawberry daiquiri?" you joked.

"Not this morning," he replied. "Said they ran out."

Natasha raised a curious eyebrow, and you laughed. "Clint likes to start his mornings off with a strawberry daiquiri. Pulp-free orange juice is only his second choice."

"I see. Well, that's unfortunate that he's stuck with his second choice every morning."

"Quite unfortunate," he replied as he finished the last of his orange juice.

"So what are the two of you up to this morning?" you asked. They were superheroes, so work probably came at unexpected moments. It was not like they could plan to work on specific days.

"Reviewing some footage and information for a mission," Natasha said. "Fury says he's been trying to give me some vacation time, but there is always something happening, it seems."

"The world's just full of problems, huh?"

She nodded. "That's the truth."

"That's what you get for being a spy," Clint said. "The rest of us don't have to work until a new bastard appears and starts tearing up Harlem."

Natasha didn't reply; instead, she looked as if she were giving a mental shrug. It was what it was.

You took a sip of your coffee. "Do you expect something to happen soon?"

"It's hard to tell," he explained, "but nothing has happened for a while... nothing major since Loki appeared anyway. I think we're all craving some action."

"You mean to say you like to fight?"

Clint chewed on his bagel thoughtfully and then swallowed. "It's better than circus acts." He then restarted, this time a little more seriously, "It's complicated, but it's all we know how to do. It's more than just the ass-kicking and mind-blowing prestige. It's who we are."

You were beginning to understand, and you looked to Natasha for comment.

"He's right," was all she said.

That gave you some perspective, and you would definitely take that into consideration when you were developing your team-building activities and other programs. "I have to finish getting ready for our meeting today," you said as you pushed in your chair. "It was nice talking with you."

"See you at one," Clint said with a small wave of his hand.

Natasha gave you a dip of her head.

"Bye for now."

Chapter Text

You had reserved one of the many conference rooms for your group discussion and presentation, and you arrived early to make sure that everything was set up appropriately. Earlier, you had finished compiling the StrengthsQuest results, making sure to print out copies for each of the Avengers.

At a little before 1pm, they began to trickle in.

Ever the punctual one, Natasha appeared first with Clint in tow. They took a seat, and you made small talk with them until Steve appeared. Then Bruce, and Thor, and lastly, Tony.

"Welcome, everyone," you said as you began passing out your handouts. You had found the StrengthsQuest description for each of the themes that the Avengers had been assessed with, allowing yourself to customize each copy for each Avenger. Along with that, you had provided a brief introduction to the StrengthsQuest assessment and everything that it entailed. "Thank you for sending me your results so quickly. I know it was kind of a last-minute assessment that I had you take."

They began flipping through the papers, scanning their own results.

Tony did not even bother looking through the entire document. Instead, he said, "Did you get my message about taking your job too seriously? Because I think you're swimming in the paperwork ocean right now. It's a dangerous place to be, the paperwork ocean."

"You said it yourself -- I should keep Fury happy, and he seemed to approve of my presentation." You took a seat at the head of the conference table.

"The man's not difficult to please. You just have to bring him his favorite triple shot espresso and make sure baddies don't break Lady Liberty's face."

"Shut up, Stark, and let her present." Natasha sent him a glare, and he said no more.

You mouthed her a 'thank you' before you continued. "What you have in front of you is a document that I've compiled for each of you, containing information on the themes you scored highest in. According to StrengthsQuest, there are 34 themes total. Now, it's important to understand that just because a certain theme is not in your top five, does not mean that you lack it. For example, 'empathy' is one of the themes. None of you had 'empathy' in your top five. This does not mean that you don't have the capacity to understand the emotions of others -- it just means that, according to the assessment, it would not be placed among your top five."

"So what are they then?" Clint asked, his eyes focused on the five descriptors. "Are they what we're best at?"

"Good question. I was just going to address that. StrengthsQuest is based on a theoretical foundation. Your top five should be regarded more as... potential strengths as opposed to what you're best at. According to those who developed this tool, they say that strengths are natural talents (talent being "a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior") that have been further developed. These 'strengths' are not necessarily inherited, but they start as innate talents, tendencies really. These tendencies to do something well can be nurtured into something great.

"On the other hand, it's entirely possible that one of your top five themes is a strength that is already in the process of being developed. You may feel that your top five describes you very well because these are themes you value."

Thor smiled and said, "I think my five are accurate. I am surprised that such an assessment would define me so well."

You were pleased with his response. "It's a very popular tool for businesses and universities... I would imagine that it is backed by years of research. Any other comments on your top five?"

"What are the other 34 themes, if I may ask?" Natasha said.

"I can send those to you, if you'd like. For now, I think it's best of we discussed the themes that you six bring to the table. I say that because you're a team, and as cheesy as it sounds, you have to work together. In order for your work to be effective, you're going to have to complement one another, which may or may not happen depending on how these strengths are addressed.

"Now, let's take a look at Tony and Clint, for example. Among both of their top five, they have 'competition.' If they were to, say, use their 'competition' solely as motivation to be better than the other, then your teamwork would quickly crumble. However, if they used 'competition' to their advantage and spurred each other to their utmost potential, then there may just be positive effect on your teamwork."

Steve nodded. "I see. This is all very interesting to me. I would assume that our differing strengths could also complement one another."

"Correct," you said. "In the end, each strength has a weakness, and in order to overcome that weakness, you have to be ready to pool in your collective strengths in hopes of finding the best solution." You searched through your paperwork for an example. "Let's see... ah, let's use this one. One of your themes, Steve, is the 'activator' theme. This means that you are always asking the question, 'When can we start?' You want to move forward, you don't like sitting around and discussing things -- you like to do, you like to see the results of your labor. While this is a strength by itself, let's think about a potential weakness--"

"--irrationality," he said.

"Perfect. Now, Bruce has 'deliberative' as one of his themes. This means that he's cautious. He thinks through things carefully before making a decision. He likes to plan, likes to consider all possibilities before taking action. This 'deliberativeness' could potentially save someone with the 'activator' theme by slowing them down, opening their eyes, and asking them to take certain aspects of a mission into consideration."

"Likewise," Bruce added, " the one with the 'activator' theme could encourage the 'deliberator' to actually move forward with a plan of action, especially if the situation were time-sensitive. They complement each other, as _____ was saying. Individually, there are both weaknesses and strengths in every theme, but collectively, ultimately, they create a strength."

"Exactly." They were understanding your reason for implementing this StrengthsQuest training. "I think you're all getting the hang of this. This is a really brief presentation, I know, but I'd like to open up the floor for discussion on how you think these themes could be applied."

"Oh good. Allow me to share my 'intellection' with you all, so we can 'maximize' our 'idealist' 'learning' opportunities... 'competitively.' That sound right?" Tony said, sitting up and announcing his top five themes in one sentence. "

You shook your head as you exhaled in a brief laugh. "If anything, Tony, I think your 'intellection' is getting in the way. Maybe go to Natasha for some 'strategic' advice." You did not think you were being terribly funny, but you managed to get a chuckle out of everyone.

Chapter Text

The discussion portion of your presentation lasted longer than you thought it would. You and the six Avengers stayed in the conference room until you heard a knock at the door -- it seemed that the next group of people who reserved the conference room had been waiting outside the room for a while. You quickly gathered up your things and left so that these people could have their meeting.

As you all exited and went your separate ways, Thor approached you and said, "This is all very interesting. I did not know that humans would develop something like this, but I wish I could bring it back to Asgard to show my father. Perhaps he would find it useful as well."

"Do you think the gods in Asgard would take well to something like this? I thought that the gods living there valued strength, courage, and individuality," you replied, looking up at him as you walked down the hall.

"Ah, but that does not mean that we do not place the ability to understand and work with one another in high regard. Especially now in these dark times, it is necessary that we learn to rely upon those we can trust. I have friends in Asgard whom I depend upon wholly."

It was strange thinking that a god would have to rely on others, but you supposed that it made sense. After all, Thor lived among gods, and surely the gods interacted with one another as humans did. Other than the culture differences, they must have been quite like the humans on earth -- they would develop relationships, bonds, and even enemies. "Really?" you said. "Tell me about your friends, Thor."

"There is Sif, with whom I've been childhood friends for as long as I can recall. She has helped me through many battles, both physical and emotional. And then there are the Warriors Three, Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun -- they are three companions I would trust with my life."

"What about your brother?" you dared to ask. They were enemies now, but it had not always been like that, had it?

Thor paused briefly, though the expression on his face did not change. "Loki... was once my greatest companion. He is now the God of Lies and Mischief. I grieve for him."

You longed to ask what had happened between them, but it was none of your business until Thor was willing to tell you. "I'm sorry. Losing someone that close must be painful... but he is still your brother."

"He is still my brother," he repeated with a slight nod of his head. "I am hopeful that one day, I may retrieve him from the darkness. It is my goal... a dream, as you humans call it."

"It's good to hold onto that faith, you know. I've been told that people who don't have dreams don't have much. Even the strong rely on dreams to survive."

"Indeed. Misfortune can be disheartening, but we must continue moving forward. Thank you for reminding me, _____."

"Any time, Thor."

Chapter Text

Later that day, you were on the lookout for Natasha. You had printed out the 34 themes from StrengthsQuest that she had asked for, and now you were scurrying about the Hellicarrier in an effort to find her.

You explored the vast corners of the Hellicarrier, places that you had not yet seen. As you made it to one of the top floors, you came across what looked like a research laboratory, lit with even more fluorescent lights than the hallways. You peeked into the lab, only to notice Bruce bent over a project, glasses slipped over the bridge of his nose. He looked hard at work.

"Bruce?"

He looked up from his work, peering over his glasses. "Oh, _____. What are you doing up here?"

"I was looking for Natasha," you said. "Wanted to give her something, but I can't find her."

"Well, she just left for one of her espionage missions, so that's probably why."

You sighed, defeated. "Oh. That's unfortunate. I've been looking for her for nearly half an hour. This Helicarrier it just too big for my liking." But you shrugged -- it was just a twist of bad luck, you supposed. No need to get upset over it. "Do you know when she'll be back?"

"Not sure. We're never sure about Natasha."

"I guess that's a good thing. She's a spy, after all." Your eyes wandered around the laboratory, in awe at all of the equipment they had up here. Some of them looked like state of the art technology, while others looked like advanced torture devices.

"Mmhmm." Bruce studied your behavior, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. "Like the toys we have up here? It's like a playground for scientists."

You laughed. "I don't think I could understand how to work anything up here. But then again, I'm not a scientist." You walked toward him, your shoes tapping against the polished floors. "What are you working on right now?"

"Gamma radiation research," he said. "After our run-in with Loki, Fury thinks that we should pull our resources together to work on gamma radiation detection in case he decides to pull a similar stunt. Not only that, but our research can also be used to further radiation treatment in the realm of nuclear medicine."

"I'm glad to have people like you on our side."

"Hm?"

"Gamma radiation's so dangerous. I'm glad that your knowledge and expertise is being used for S.H.I.E.L.D. as opposed to someone like Loki."

"Thanks." He looked somber as though he were not sure if you were being sincere or not.

"I'm serious, Bruce. S.H.I.E.L.D. is fortunate to have you. If it weren't for you, then who knows where the world would be right now?"

He didn't look at you, his gaze focused on his experiment, though he was obviously not thinking about his work -- his mind was elsewhere. "I think I'd attribute that victory to the other guy."

"Other guy or not, it was you who made the decision to fight. And because of that, countless lives were saved."

"I'm glad someone believes that."

"I think you should start."

His eyes met yours briefly, and even though he wasn't convinced, you knew that he was contemplating.

Chapter Text

You found yourself with Clint the next day at breakfast, sitting at the same table from the day before.

He had ordered his bagel sandwich again, the same one with bacon, eggs, and jalapeño cream cheese. And of course, he had also picked out his favorite pulp-free orange juice from the refrigerator.

"You're a man of habit, aren't you?" you asked as you nibbled away at your breakfast selection.

"You could say that. I just know what I like."

"There's nothing wrong with that," you replied. "I just find your obsession with pulp-free orange juice kind of amusing."

He took a sip of his juice. "It's not really an obsession, just a very strong like, hinging on love. As in... I might fight someone for the last bottle of orange juice."

You let out a small chuckle. "I'd rather not fight you at all. If we're ever down to the last bottle of orange juice, you can have it." Even if Clint was a trained sniper, you would still hate to find him hand-to-hand. He could easily snap your neck.

He gave you a quirky smile, a cute addition to his handsome face, and you couldn't help but smile back. "I'd rather not have to fight friends. It's not a fun experience," he said.

"No, I'm sure it's not." You remembered reading some profile information on what he was referring to, and your heart sunk for him. How terrible it must have been to be turned against those whom you love and care for. He must have felt tremendously guilty for it -- a crime that he did not willingly commit. You almost thought that of any of the Avengers, Clint had the biggest bone to pick with Loki.

"Can I ask you something about StrengthsQuest?"

The question was a random one, but you would answer it happily. "Sure. It was made as a developmental tool, so go ahead -- develop yourself."

"One of my results surprised me."

"Which one?"

"Futuristic."

"Why so?"

He looked at you, his blue eyes in an intense gaze. "I've never put much thought into my future before. I just go with the flow, you know? I remember back in the day when I joined S.H.I.E.L.D., I did it because I had nothing else to do. Sure, I wanted to help people, but I did it more out of the desire to do something, anything."

"People change, Clint. You can't always base the results you were just assessed with on past actions. Maybe your work here gives you purpose, and now you're most future-focused because of it."

He looked contemplative.

"And also -- just because one of your themes is 'futuristic,' doesn't necessarily mean that you're only concerned with your future. You could very well be concerned about the future of others, your friends, your coworkers, the people of earth." You hoped that gave him some perspective. "Really, I think you're far too focused on who you were as opposed to who you are."

Clint leaned back in his chair. "Maybe you're right."

Chapter Text

You had familiarized yourself with some of the Avengers' past battles, searching through the archive of their fights as Commander Maria Hill had instructed. Now, you were not well-versed in combat -- not even in the knowledge of it, but you found these battles to be interesting, even exciting.

What Clint had told you that one day when you were having breakfast with him was starting to make sense. It was a grueling, almost morbid, job that involved death and hurt, but it was also wonderful in that the work saved countless lives. You did not think that you would ever have the courage to become a superhero (nor did you have the strength), but you admired these soldiers for what they did.

As you left the office, you saw Tony standing a short ways away. He was talking to someone else, another scientist, and you did not want to interrupt, so you slipped past them.

"...so what you need to do is accelerate the oxidation process and fuse -- Miss _____, give me a little credit, please. You're really not that discreet."

You stopped, turning around to raise a questioning eyebrow.

"We'll talk about this later, Harrison," he said to the other man, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. Tony followed after you as you walked. "So how's work? You like swimming around in the paperwork ocean?"

"You know, there really hasn't been that much paperwork. The most tedious thing I've had to do so far was get security access."

"Oh, that. I designed this place to use every sort of security option available. It's infiltration-free. Almost. With the exception of that one time, but we don't talk about that."

You had read about that too. Poor possessed Clint had been forced to attack the Helicarrier not too long ago. That must have resulted in deaths and millions in damaged equipment. "The topic's a bit taboo, isn't it? That reminds me. I saw some footage of your fight with the aliens. That was some badass missile direction you did there."

"No need to thank me. Just blew up a colony of aliens and saved the earth, is all."

"Always the modest one." You rolled your eyes. "So what kind of work are you doing right now?"

"Mostly teaming up with our favorite green rage monster to work on radiation. But I'm also here to sketch out a new prototype for another Helicarrier."

"Sounds like fun," you said, stepping into the elevator.

"You know, it really kind of is." Tony came in after you. "But I can always do with a challenge."

Somehow, you thought there was more to that statement. "What floor?" you asked.

"Your floor."

Fair enough. As flirtatious as he was, all of the living quarters were on the same floor. However, as you stepped out of the elevator, he followed you. "Tony, what are you doing? The men's half of the hall is over there."

"Just wanted to have a heart to heart with my dear HR manager. Is that too much to ask?"

You sighed.

Chapter Text

"...it's like you wander and you wander, but no matter how far you go, you don't really feel like you belong."

Poor Steve. You sympathized with him. It must have been so inane and overwhelming for someone to be thrown seventy years forward into the future. The time had been successful in terms of technology and developments, which was great for the general population... but for the captain, it was simply confusing.

"How do you manage?" you asked, sipping at your hot drink. "I mean, I don't know what I'd do... what do you do to keep moving on?"

He shrugged. "It's difficult, I admit. I feel like I'm so old... so behind. And, really, I am." He had finished a slice of apple pie and was now picking at the crumbs with his fork. "I think Fury saved me. He asked me to join S.H.I.E.L.D., and that gives me purpose."

"You've always known that this sort of work was what you wanted to do, huh?"

He actually gave you a small smile, his eyes reflecting the memories of his past. "Always. I want to serve people, want to protect them and keep the demons at bay. There is always a sort of power-struggle in the world somewhere -- someone thinks they're better than the rest and manages to do damage to others in the name of whatever sick form of justice they preach."

You nodded. "That's why we're here, you and me, and everyone else aboard the Helicarrier." This work was far too grueling and difficult to not be a labor of passion. "Especially the Avengers. You're all here to keep the world from blowing itself apart."

"Or to keep a sick tyrant like Loki away from it."

The topic of Loki always seemed to float into conversation somehow. You supposed that his tirade had been the Avengers' greatest challenge, and that was the reason why they continued to refer to him. They did not want a repeat incident.

"What drives people to do that?" He did not look as though he were asking you directly. It was just a question that grazed his thoughts.

"To do what? To act like Loki?"

"To be a tyrant. Like Loki, like Hitler. To think that they're entitled to the world, that they can treat humans like dirt and somehow justify it."

You shook your head. "I can't tell you that, Steve. Maybe it's a common characteristic that they all share. Maybe there was an event in their lives that triggered it. I don't know. I don't think there's any realistic way to prevent them from thinking the way they do and acting on it either. The only thing you can do is stop them from rising to power when they surface."

"I guess that's what I'm here for." Steve looked determined, passion in his blue eyes. "It's what we're here for."

Chapter Text

You perused through your resources, all of the team-builders and activities that you had learned about through college, hoping that you would come across something that you found appropriate to give to the Avengers. You wanted to bring them together, make them realize how much they needed to rely upon one another.

They were superheroes, so much better at many things than the average people. However, you wanted to take them down a level -- and not in a bad way. You simply wanted to make them realize that they were human too, that they had the capacity to laugh and desire just like anyone else. So after a week of assessments, presentations, and discussion, you decided to have a little fun.

That Friday, you designed a series of team-builders. Some of them were purely for entertainment, while some of them were a little more communication-based. Either way, you had been clever about which activities you chose, for you knew that there were geniuses and athletes among them.

You started out with The Magic Carpet, a game that your supervisor in college had introduced to you. You had found a rug, a small one, that all seven of you could stand on. Of course, you wanted to make sure that it was a bit of a tight fit, just to make it all the more challenging. "Now, imagine we're on a magical carpet, flying through the skies," you said. "Halfway through this ride, things start to malfunction, and we discover that there is a button we need to push in the middle of the other side. The only way to get to it is to flip the carpet entirely over."

"That was very efficient engineering," Tony commented, sarcasm apparent in his voice. "Engineering 101: don't let idiots do it."

"Well, regardless of whatever idiot engineer designed this magic carpet, you're stuck, and you need to push the button or you're all going to plummet toward the earth. So we're going to turn the carpet over, completely over. If anyone steps off of the carpet, that means they've fallen off. Our mission is to make sure that no one suffers a miserable death."

"It shouldn't be too hard," Natasha said. "We should start with the corner..." She started working on flipping it with her foot -- you had found such a small rug that she could barely even bend down to flip it. She shuffled backward, only to bump into Steve. "Got anymore room, Cap?"

"Eh... no, not really. Unless you want me to hug Clint."

Clint had been backed into the other corner of the rug. "Please refrain."

Thor towered above everyone else, and he was thinking about the best strategy. "We need more room on this... magic carpet." He stood right behind you, and you then felt his arms around your waist. "If I may, _____, I think I have a solution."

You shrugged. "Sure." This was their problem to figure out, so you would let them figure it out.

He picked you up as though you were as light as a rag doll, and set you behind his head, sitting atop his broad shoulders. "There we are. A bit more room." Thor then shifted to the side to allow Steve to move, and in turn, let Natasha flip more of the corner.

"Clever," Bruce said, caught at the other end with Tony.

For a team of elite Super Soldiers, you were surprised by the slow progress, but you were glad that this proved to be a challenge. You had initially been afraid that these team-builders might be too easy for them.

Natasha had flipped enough of the rug over to stand on the fold, and she balanced herself as she shifted her weight into sliding the carpet further into position. "Steve."

There was barely enough room, but Captain America stepped toward her onto the folded portion. "I think we should pull a Thor."

She agreed, and he lifted her onto his shoulders as Thor had done with you. There was now more room on the rug, which granted easy access to folding it over completely as the remaining Avengers stepped onto the flipped portion one at a time. It was a bit of a tedious process, but they all managed, and the magic carpet had been flipped.

"Good job, everyone," you said, clapping your hands together, still atop Thor. "You've managed to flip the magical carpet, push the button, and now it's smooth sailing from here."

"Or is it?" Clint asked, raising an eyebrow. "I feel like you have more for us."

You gave them all a devious smile. "Oh, don't worry. I do."

Chapter Text

"Next, we're going to play an icebreaker called 'Baby, Do You Love Me?'" you said, extracting a few smiles from the group.

"Oh, I think I'm going to like this," Tony commented, wiggling his eyebrows at you.

"I think you all will." You situated the Avengers so that they stood in a loose circle, each of them facing the center. "I'll start by being the person in the middle. What I will do is go up to someone and ask, 'Baby, do you love me?' That someone cannot smile or laugh -- if you do, then you will wind up as the next person in the center. However, if you manage to answer 'Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile' with a straight face, then I move on to someone else. There is no physical contact in this game. If you're in the middle, you can make funny gestures, funny sounds, rephrase the question, but you cannot touch the person you're talking to. Got it?"

"Well, it looks like Natasha's got this one," Clint said, giving her a knowing glance.

Her lips turned upward in a smirk. "We'll see if this is anything like working in the field."

"It's going to be harder than you think," you advised, looking around the room to make sure that everyone was situated. "Ready? All right." You paced around the circle once, twice, and then came up to Tony. You were a mere few inches away from his face. "Baby, do you love me?" you asked.

"Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile," he said flawlessly. "Wish I could."

Good. That's what you would have expected of him. But then you sprung your secret plan -- you contorted your face into the silliest expression possible, tongue out, eyes bulging, eyebrows lifted, arms in the air. "You thur?" came your lisped question.

He stood still for a moment, just a moment, but then he cracked. His hand went to his face in an attempt to stifle the laugh.

The others chuckled as well, amused at how you had just bested the unsuspecting Tony Stark.

"Just this once. You'll rue this day, Miss _____," he said casually after composing himself. He replaced you in the center of the circle. "Who to subdue now?" As you had thought, Tony, being the ladies' man that he was, strode confidently over to Natasha. "Hey baby, think you could possibly love me?"

"Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile. Nor do I want to." She kept a perfectly straight face. In fact, she had a look of mock-annoyance.

"Not going do what _____ did, Stark?" Steve asked.

"No, I have more dignity than that."

You exhaled sharply in a laugh, though you erased that expression as Tony came toward you. "Uh-uh," you said, shaking your head. "I was just in the middle. Go find someone else."

"I don't think you understand that my sex appeal doesn't work on men."

"Oh, boo hoo. Try being funny instead."

He sighed, rolling his eyes, though he turned around and paced slowly around the circle. "Hey, Bruce boy. Wanna smile for me?"

"No thanks."

Tony continued around the circle nonchalantly. "What about you, Legolas? Baby, do you love me?"

Clint smiled on purpose. "Baby, I love you, and sure thing." Everyone laughed at his reaction.

"Good man." Tony switched spots with Clint, who stepped into the circle.

You shook your head, amused. If they wanted to play this way, then that was their prerogative. Either way, you were sure they'd get a good laugh out of this. They had already been smiling and giggling all along at the awkwardness.

Hawkeye swooped around with a determined look in his eye. He was planning on catching someone off guard. He turned to Thor, dwarfed in comparison with the god. "Baby, do you love me?" he asked in a particularly sultry voice.

Thor looked like he was trying hard to keep a straight face. "Baby, I love you, but I just can't..." He burst out in a hearty laugh, smiling from ear to ear. "Oh, Clint, you are too funny. Allow me to try."

They switched places, and everyone hardened the expression on their faces. Thor came toward you first, trying the line, "Baby, do you love me?"

You shrugged. "Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile." You were flawless.

"Ouch, ice woman," Tony commented.

Undeterred, Thor turned toward Bruce, and immediately, the scientist had to repress a laugh -- unsuccessfully, you might add. "All right," Bruce said. "Your facial expression caught me off guard." Everyone else chuckled.

With his hands in his pockets, Bruce walked toward Natasha. "Miss Romanoff, baby, do you love me?"

Her arms were crossed, amusement in her eyes. "Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"You know you want a turn in the middle."

She raised an eyebrow. "Not particularly."

"I'll buy you coffee."

"Deal." You couldn't help laughing at that -- Bruce did not like the attention, apparently. He was willing to buy his way out.

Natasha smiled and went immediately toward Steve. "Baby, do you love me?" Her hands were at her side, her eyes narrowed flirtatiously. She was intense.

Steve didn't even try. He let himself laugh, and switched with Natasha. With a strut in his step, he went toward Thor, standing up as tall as he could. "Baby, do you love me?" he asked in a deep voice as if he were imitating Thor's persona.

"Baby, I love you, but I cannot smile." You could see that Thor was straining, but he did it.

Captain American then tried the line on Clint. "Hawkeye, baby, do you love me?"

"More than life itself, Cap, but I can't seem to smile." Steve wiggled an eyebrow, and then Clint's lips curved upward in a chuckle. "Got some eyebrow action going on there. Good work, Captain."

Clint skated right over to you. "Hey, _____ baby, do you love me?"

"Baby, I love you, but I just can't... smile." You had to try hard there, for he had made a goofy, innocent expression.

"Not even for me? I'll give you orange juice. Pulp-free. No strings attached. Or maybe even a strawberry daiquiri for breakfast."

You couldn't hold it back any longer and burst out laughing. "Fine, but I want one tonight."

The game continued for several more rounds, each one becoming more and more ridiculous. This was the relaxed, the fun side of the Avengers, and you wanted them to see that in each other. You thought this game was rather successful.

Chapter Text

"So what's next on this lively agenda of yours?" Clint asked.

"I'm afraid this next one isn't as exciting as the others," you admitted, saving this one for last because you thought it was a bit more thought-provoking.

"Why not? There's never enough shits and giggles in a day."

"Oh, we've already had the shits and giggles fun. It's time to make you guys think, but don't worry -- you can still giggle, if you'd like." You sat them all down at the conference table. "This is a low-key exercise that I used to play with my coworkers. It's called 'Two Truths and a Lie,' and it's exactly what it sounds like. We're going to take turns giving three statements about ourselves -- two truths and a lie. The rest of the group must determine which one is the lie."

"I see," Thor said. "Then I will begin." He sat with his arms crossed, obviously in thought. "I was born in a cave in Norway. The Goddess Sif was my first love. And... I have tamed and made Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, my personal pet."

Natasha smiled. "I know which one is a lie. And not because of the statements themselves, but because I can determine that through your tone of speech and mannerisms."

You shrugged. She was a spy through and through. Who could blame her?

"Well, don't be a fun-sucker," Tony said to Natasha, his eyes on Thor. "Let's try to dissect this bad boy."

"You couldn't be born in a cave in Norway, could you?" Steve asked. "That's on earth. You're a god."

"The Norse gods have ties with the earth," Bruce said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there were gods born outside of Asgard."

Steve leaned back into his chair, thinking through the possibilities.

"Oh, forget about being born on earth," Clint said, "I'm more concerned about Sif. I thought Jane Foster was your first love."

"That can't be the lie," Tony commented, relaxed in his seat. "Love is volatile. I wouldn't be surprised if he moved from Sif to Jane to Fifi to Carmen Luncinda Dulce. On the other hand, I've never heard anything about this Jormungand beast of the deep or whatever it's called."

"You don't have to all agree," you said with a smile. "Thor, why don't you tell us your lie?"

"Tony Stark is correct. I have not tamed Jormungand... I slayed him."

You nodded, thinking over the two statements that were true. "I see. Well, that's interesting to know. I had no idea that a god could be born here on earth."

"Indeed," Thor said. "My biological mother is the goddess Jord. The woman who raised me, however, is Frigga."

"All right, it looks like I'm next." Clint stroked his chin. "I have a brother named Barney. I used to start my days off with scotch. My former mentor goes by Trick Shot." He stated everything smoothly as though he had did it on purpose to thwart the spy in the room.

"I know you have a brother," Natasha said, "but I don't believe you've ever mentioned his name."

Tony crossed his arms, still leaned back and relaxed in his seat. "Trickshot sounds like someone you would learn from, though who knows? You might have pulled the hot-shot name out of your ass."

You leaned toward him and tilted your head to the side. "I think you're too obsessed with pulp-free orange juice in the mornings."

"I could have converted. I'm a believer."

Now you weren't sure.

"I do remember you mentioning something about a Bernard, however..." Natasha started. "I think the first statement is true."

"Then we're stuck between the scotch and the mentor," Steve said. "I'm going with _____ about the scotch. Clint's too in love with his juice."

"Bull's eye." Clint affirmed with a nod. "I've always had a glass of juice in the morning. In fact, I prefer it over alcohol, even after breakfast." He turned to Natasha, who was sitting right next to him. "Looks like it's your turn. We'll see if the spy can outsmart us all."

"Very well. I studied as a ballerina for four years while working in the Soviet Union. I am a descendent of the royal Romanov family. I am certified in the art of hypnosis."

The room went quiet as the Avengers contemplated the possibility of the three statements she provided.

"The royal Romanov family... it was destroyed in 1918 by Bolshevik authorities... but it would not have been impossible for there to be distant relatives who survived," Bruce said, his chin resting on a hand.

"As rare of a feat as it is, I'd consider it a possibility," Tony agreed. "Now about Miss Romanoff being a ballerina or a hypnotist... that, I find less believable."

"Don't think I could hypnotize you, Stark?"

"Oh, it's not that I doubt your mesmerizing ability at seduction, but I do wonder if you're actually certified. Why would a spy need to be certified to hypnotize an enemy?"

She shrugged lightly, returning his statement. "Why would a spy choose to dance?"

"Most spies have two occupations," Clint said, announcing it everyone, "just to make sure their cover is well-hidden."

"That's one ass-kicking ballerina then," Steve said. "She certainly has the skill."

"And she has the stamina and strength," Thor mentioned. "I know little of your human dances, but I do know that the art takes energy and dedication. In Asgard, we have different dances, and some will train their whole lives to perfect it."

"But hypnotism would be useful for a spy," you said. "Maybe that's how she gets her information -- she hypnotizes people."

"You can't convince anyone under hypnosis to do anything that they wouldn't normally do." Always to go back to science, Bruce had spoken. "Even if it's given prestige in movies, what we know as hypnosis is actually quite useless."

"Then it's statement number three?" Steven asked. "We all doubt in Natasha's hypnotist certification?"

She smiled. "Well, you're right. I've done hypnotizing before, trained and developed the skill, but I've received no official certification."

"Working the minor details, huh?" You wondered if everyone else would follow suit.

Chapter Text

"Bruce? You're up." You looked over at the scientist, who sat next to Natasha.

He looked as though he weren't sure what to say, but he composed himself quickly enough. "When I was a child, I planted a bomb in the basement of my middle school. I met Stephen Hawking at Oxford after I had obtained my doctorate in nuclear physics. ...and I like extra lime juice in my fish tacos."

You chuckled. The last statement seemed a little out of place, but you recognized it as potentially either a truth or a lie -- you didn't know.

"Well, I guess nuclear physicists start early," Tony said, folding his hands together. "Did it work or was it a dud?"

"I don't think Bruce could make a dud," Natasha said.

"But he was only a child at the time," Clint reminded. "You know, third time's a charm? Maybe it was his first attempt."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he met Stephen Hawking," you said. "They're both scientists in the right time, both theorists who have made amazing discoveries."

"Then that just leaves Bruce and his fish tacos." Tony looked as though he were uncertain. "I know he likes limes and fish tacos... but together, I'm unsure. It's dangerous business, making food assumptions. ...especially with Pepper."

Steve shifted in his seat, leaning on the table. "I don't know. Can't tell with Bruce."

Thor was in the same boat. "I do not even know what these... fish tacos are," he said.

"Delicious," Bruce replied. "That's all there really is to know."

You laughed. "We can grab some this weekend when the Helicarrier lands," you offered. "I know a great place that serves tilapia fish tacos near where I live."

"I would enjoy that very much," Thor said.

"Now back on topic before we go about merrymaking and eating fish tacos," Clint continued, "I'd say that the last one is the one that's a lie. Anyone else?"

"Sure," Steve replied. He looked as though he wasn't sure.

"Well, Bruce?" you asked.

He shook his head. "It's the second one. Hawking studies at Cambridge, not Oxford, and it was at Cambridge where I met him. I thought Tony would pick up on that, actually."

"Details, Bruce boy." Tony then looked contemplative, knowing that it was his turn. "All right. I have nine doctorates. I inherited my dad's business at the age of 21. And I've beaten Reed Richards, not once but twice, at chess."

Natasha raised an eyebrow. "I smell, not one, but two lies."

"Pretty unbelievable, I know."

"That's not exactly what I was referring to."

"Always the joker, Miss Romanoff."

"Would Reed Richards agree with that last statement? Because I have a feeling he wouldn't." She was persistent. "It's a bold claim, especially against a chess champion."

"You can argue the details all you want," Tony said smoothly. "Isn't that the point of the game?"

Bruce was thinking through the facts. "I know you have at least six doctorates in a variety of sciences under your belt. It's certainly impressive... but nine? Now, forget personal chess tournaments, but I find that hard to believe."

"I'm going to have to agree with Bruce here," you said. Nine doctorates was a ludicrous claim, even for a genius.

Tony snorted, shrugging his shoulders casually. "It was worth a try. But truthfully -- I have seven doctorates."

Steve took a breath. "It's my turn, isn't it? Hrm... well, let's see. My closest friend in the army is a man named Bucky. I've played the piano for over seven years. I also graduated from New York University in 1941."

"I know you play the piano," you said. "You told me so the first time I met you, but I suppose we never talked about how long you've studied it..."

"I was saving it for this game." He gave you a grin.

"Convenient, huh?"

Clint pointed at him. "I know you've mentioned being born in New York, so it's likely that you attended college there."

"Many people leave the state for college," Natasha said.

"But not during the Great Depression," Bruce replied. "To have the funds to do that was very unlikely."

"Either way," you said, "there are many colleges and universities in New York... it might not have been New York University at all."

"True," Clint said. "But the name 'Bucky' is ridiculous. He couldn't have made that up." Everyone at the conference table gave a small chuckle.

Natasha's eyes were focused on him. "You were born in 1918. To have graduated at age 22, assuming the spring, is not a usual feat, but I know that graduation dates vary. Many students graduate in five years, perhaps even six. Some even graduate early. I think your last statement is the lie."

He smiled. "You're right, but for the wrong reasoning. I really did graduate in 1941, just not from New York University. I went to Columbia University for their fine arts program."

"Aha," you said. "Interesting facts about everyone. I feel like I've learned a lot today."

"What about you, _____? You should give it a try as well," Thor advised.

"Hrm... sure. I don't see why not." You had to think about it for a while. "Okay, let's try this. I was born in--"

Suddenly, the Helicarrier's alarm system went off, blaring lights and sound, startling everyone at the table.

"Looks like the Avengers need to assemble!" Steven said over the noise. "Let's go!"

Chapter Text

The Avengers rushed out of the conference room to suit up, while you wandered about the Helicarrier, unsure of what role you were supposed to play in this.

"Miss _____!"

You turned to see Commander Maria Hill indicating for you to come forward. "Commander?" you said.

"Follow me. I'll let you in on the footage. You can observe them and work off of how you see them interacting."

You did as she said, though as you chased after her quick strides, you couldn't help wonder out loud, "Don't we have to land the Helicarrier before the Avengers can start fighting?"

"No, we have several jets they can use for quick transport. They're already off." She slipped into a room with huge collection of computers, operators seated behind them, typing feverishly away and relaying messages. "How's it coming out?" Maria asked an operator, leaning over his shoulder.

"Just fine," he said, his fingers still flying. "You know our satellite system is state of the art. We can see everything."

Maria then stepped toward Nick Fury, who stood the center of this room. "Sir, I've found Miss _____."

"Good." He nodded at the screen. "This is where we want the fruits of your labor to show."

You looked at the large computer, a different battle sequence taking place in the many panels the screen had been divided into. Your eyes could barely follow what was happening. "What's... going on?" You didn't want to sound stupid, but if you did not understand, then you ought to ask.

Fury's eyes did not leave the screen. "There are always evildoers on the move. Usually, we leave a country's individual police force to deal with them. If these villains are too much for them, however, that is when we send in the Avengers. Right now, it seems that an unidentified group of reptilian monsters has taken to destroying Lima, Peru."

You nodded, watching these strange, almost lizard-like creatures fighting. They were strong, well muscled, and you winced when Steve took a hit from one of their fists.

"I do not think they will be much trouble for the Avengers," Fury admitted. "For their numbers and size, they are surprisingly low in intelligence. I expect our soldiers to be finished clearing the city within two hours."

"This is one of the easier battles, huh?"

He gave a dip of his head. "Usually, attacks are more organized, more cohesive." His good eye narrowed. "It makes me wonder if this is just the beginning of something greater..."

You did not like the sound of that. Even though this current catastrophe was in Peru and not the United States, and you were far from bodily harm, it was unsettling to watch this footage. People scattered, frightened and screaming, while some of their bodies were strewn on the ground. Rubble fell from buildings while these monsters ran rampant.

In one screen, Thor bashed at them with his hammer, while in another, you saw Clint shooting arrows from the rooftops. Steve fought his way through the crowd, and the Hulk angrily tore away at the monsters. Tony fired beams of lasers at the them as he flew through the city. Natasha alternated between martial arts and using her guns.

It was quite a sight. You hoped that they would all return safely.

Chapter Text

It was as though your eyes could not leave the screen. Even though you had only been on the job for a week, you had grown to like the Avengers. They had such unique personalities, all of them. They were humans, like you or anyone else you had ever met.

And yet, here they were, risking their lives in the most brutal way possible to protect people.

They fought, not for self-interest, but because they could. They were talented, certainly, and they used their talents for good, for justice.

You admired them for their courage.

It was well past five by the time that they had cleared the streets in Lima. Many of the lizard-men had scattered, retreating through a mysterious portal that sealed itself shortly after.

The Avengers secured the area and were on their way home.

"You wonder why your starting salary's so generous?" Commander Maria Hill said, looking at the time. "It's because you don't get paid overtime."

You shrugged. You supposed it was true. Partially too good to be true, especially since you had really needed a job.

"Everything's secured," Nick Fury announced. "Time to descend."

You gave a sigh of relief -- after this busy week, you were looking forward to the weekend. As you wandered back to your quarters, you looked about your scarce room, thinking about what things you ought to bring back with you on Monday to spruce up this place.

Before you had the chance to settle on any ideas, you heard a knock at your door. When you opened it, you saw Clint, leaning casually against the frame, and Thor, who stood proudly with his arms crossed.

"You weren't thinking about leaving before we settled on a time for fish tacos, were you?" Clint asked.

You laughed. His lightheartedness caught you off guard, especially since they had just returned from the catastrophe in Lima. "I thought it was just me and Thor. I didn't realize you wanted to come along as well, but you're more than welcome to. In fact, invite everyone else -- including Bruce, who apparently likes extra lime on his fish tacos."

"Tomorrow at noon?" Thor proposed.

"It's a deal." You indicated for them to come in, and you found a sheet of scrap paper. "Here's my number. You two and any of the Avengers can contact me whenever you'd like. I'll text you directions to my favorite taco place after I get your numbers."

"Ah, more of this human technology. I suppose it would do me well to learn to use it." The god grinned at you, accepting the sheet of paper. "You can teach me."

With a nod, you replied, "Of course. You can practice texting with me. Anytime you want." You then looked at the both of them, curious to see what they had to say. "I was watching footage of you guys in Peru. It was... intense. I'm glad you all came back safely."

Clint shrugged. "Hey, it's what we do. We wouldn't be the Avengers if we couldn't handle a few miniature Godzillas, but we can talk all about it tomorrow. It's chow-time."

"I think I'm going to head back to my place," you said. "I'm looking forward to sleep in my own bed again."

He raised an amused eyebrow. "I see. Already tired of us, huh? Only been here a week, and we're already wearing you out."

"That's not it at all!" you said with a laugh. "I just miss the peace and quiet of home, you know?"

"You live alone, _____?" Thor asked.

"I do. It's in a really safe neighborhood though, so don't you worry."

"Need a ride home?" Clint offered.

"...that would be great, actually," you said. You were planning on calling for a taxi, but if Clint was willing to drop you off, then you wouldn't need to pay for one.

"Dinner first, then I'll drive you home."

"Fair enough."

Chapter Text

Thor went off to his own quarters to do whatever he needed to do, while you gathered the remainder of you things -- of which, there was not much.

"You want to grab something from the cafeteria?" you asked Clint. "Or you want to go somewhere else?"

"Elsewhere," he said, waving a hand at you. "I eat off the Helicarrier as often as I can... the cafeteria food wears on you after a while. I know this nice pizzeria just a bit into the city. You down?"

Of course, you agreed.

Clint escorted you through the Helicarrier's entrance, the first time it had opened since Monday morning this week.

You felt almost ecstatic to be back on solid ground. You took a deep breath, relishing the fresh air of the ocean. The Helicarrier had landed on a large ship that was docked just off the coast of New York.

"We'll need to walk a bit to the parking garage," Clint said. "Shouldn't take long though."

This specialized military dock was full of soldiers and agents. You suspected that many of them were hurrying home for the night. As the two of you brushed past the crowd, you felt your stomach rumbling quietly. Freshly-baked pizza sounded amazing, and the thought of it made your mouth water.

"Well, here we are." He led you to a black Mustang parked in the corner of the garage.

"Nice ride."

"Thanks, but I'm not actually huge on cars. I bought it because Tony wouldn't stop whining. He said my 2004 Saturn wasn't cutting it."

You rolled your eyes. "He was probably just embarrassed going anywhere with you. The guy relies too much on public image."

Clint chuckled and motioned for you to get in. After you wound out of the garage and passed through security, you were on the road.

"Maybe we should have left a little later," you admitted, remembering how awful traffic was.

"Nah, it's fine. You're not the worst person in the world to be stuck in a car with."

"Gee, thanks."

"Just saying -- Tony's a lot worse."

You smiled. "That doesn't mean much, I'm afraid." You could imagine an impatient Tony throwing his snark around while caught in traffic.

"Touché."

It took about 30 minutes, but the both of you arrived soon enough. A table for two was easy to find, and the waitress came by to fill your order. You decided to share a pizza. Clint also asked for a beer.

"What?" you said after the waitress left. "No pulp-free orange juice?"

He chuckled. "Orange juice isn't the only thing I drink, I'll have you know."

"I suppose not..." You diverted your attention to the TV in the corner, where the news report was on, talking about the chaos in Lima. "So what happened?" you asked, looking at Clint. Meanwhile, the waitress returned with your drinks.

"What do you mean? Weren't you watching?" he said as he took a sip of his beer.

"Yes, but I don't understand why a hoard of reptilian monsters would spring out of nowhere like that."

"I don't either. We don't always have the convenience of answers, _____. We just have to get out there and do the right thing."

You nodded. "Do you think it'll happen again?"

Clint looked thoughtful, tilting his head back and forth. "I try not to think about that too much. I'm always on call. 24-7. I like to enjoy any free time I have."

You exhaled in a dry laugh. "I guess thinking about it doesn't do you much good either, huh?"

"No, it doesn't. Not when things are like this -- when they don't make sense. Like you've heard, the attack was incredibly sporadic. If there's a pattern to be found, then I'll leave Fury and his team to do the thinking; he'll call us if there's something we ought to know."

He really was a free-spirit. For all of his skill and willingness to use it, he was more lax than you thought superheroes would be, which was fine. You liked him that way. He was fun and outgoing, and you hoped that he would stay that way.

You continued to trade casual conversation until the pizza arrived, at which point the both of you fell to silence, devouring your dinner hungrily.

At the end of the night, he picked up the tab.

Chapter Text

After Clint drove you home, you collapsed on your bed and fell asleep.

The next morning, you awoke to the sound of an incoming text as the cellphone vibrated against the surface of your nightstand.

Groggily, you reached out to grab your phone, your eyes adjusting to the screen's light. It was 10:30 AM, you saw, and then you read the text:

[Arre youu awweake]

It was Thor. He had sent you his number, which you had added to your address book, along with Clint's. You rubbed your eyes, deciphering the text with ease, even though it had errors in it. You texted back.

[I am now.]

And thinking that you did not want to make him feel guilty for waking you up on a Saturday, you also added in a separate text:

[It's a good thing you woke me up, actually... I should be getting ready for today.]

You rolled out of bed, going about your morning rituals. As you stepped downstairs to grab a quick breakfast, you heard a loud rapping at your door. You wondered whom it could possibly be, and you scurried over to the front door, not even bothering to peek through your peephole first.

"Thor?" You raised an eyebrow. You had texted him your address the night before, which was where you would be meeting when your group gathered for fish tacos, but you hadn't agreed to meet quite this early. It was only 11 AM.

"Ah, _____," he greeted, flashing you a charming smile. "I was in the area and thought I would say hello. I did not wish to disturb your sleep, but it looks like you're awake."

You returned the smile. "Oh! Well, why don't you come on in?" you asked, widening the door. "What were you doing in the neighborhood?"

He followed you inside, a man of leviathan size, barely able to fit beneath your door frame. "Your human cities amaze me. They are nothing like what we have in Asgard. I often wander the streets, if only to see new things."

"Really? You never struck me as the touristy type." You led him into the kitchen. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Anything to munch on?"

"Some tea will do, thank you." Thor took a seat at your table. "You have a very nice home," he commented. "Small but good. It is very... cozy, if I may."

"Well, it has to be cozy if I live by myself," you replied, heating up some water in your electric kettle.

"Why do you live alone? Do you not become lonely?"

You shrugged your shoulders. "I don't mind it. Especially if I'm going to be working during the week, I wouldn't mind living by myself on the weekends. Besides, I have friends. We spend a lot time together, so it's hard for me to be lonely."

"I see," he said, his eyes wandering around the kitchen. No doubt he was curious of all the appliances you had.

"Is it strange for women to live by themselves in Asgard?"

"It is unusual, though not unheard of. But goddesses are not humans either."

You agreed with that. In the grand scheme of things, you were only a human. If something happened to you, would you be able to defend yourself? You weren't sure. Luckily, the police station was right down the street.

Shoving that thought aside, you paced to your pantry, digging out a few granola bars. "Want one?" you asked. Without waiting for an answer, you threw one at him.

He caught it with one hand. "And this is..?"

"It's a granola bar, silly." You tore through the wrapper of yours, trading it with Thor's unopened one. "Try it. It's good."

He bit into the crunchy bar, his eyebrows lifting a bit as he tasted it. "It's not bad."

"There are so many other foods I have to show you, Thor."

"Like tacos?"

"Like tacos and pizza and chocolate and all those delicious things you probably don't have in Asgard. For a god, you're missing out on a lot. No offense, of course."

"None taken." Thor stood, removing a phone from his pocket. "You can start by answering a question."

You leaned toward him. "About texting? I noticed that you seem to have some issues with the letters-- oh." When he brought up the keyboard on the screen, you realized why he had made so many typos, and you laughed.

"What's so funny?" he asked well-naturedly.

It was hard to stop your giggling. "Your thumbs... they're too big."

Chapter Text

"Just you three?" you asked as you grabbed your purse, looking through it briefly to make sure you had everything that you needed for this outing.

Thor had shown up at your door first, followed by Clint, and then Bruce.

"I believe Tony is spending the day with Pepper," Clint said. "Steve has a meeting with the director, while Natasha is no where to be found." When he saw you frown, he added, "Oh, don't worry. Natasha being gone is normal. She doesn't always tell us about her missions."

"She seems like the busiest of you all," you said as you made your way to the front door.

"Officially, perhaps," Bruce explained. "She certainly is assigned the most missions, especially since she's so well-suited for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s espionage purposes."

You opened the door, letting the three men through before you shut it behind you and locked it. "I've always wondered what it would be like to be a spy..." you mused aloud.

"Probably not as romantic as you think it is," Clint replied.

"A spy's work is dangerous work," Thor agreed. "We have spies in Asgard. Those sent to gather information risk never returning. In fact, many of them do not."

That was true. Natasha was risking her life every day. Fortunately, she was skilled enough for her attempts to be successful. Of course, that only meant that she would be sent on more missions. No doubt, that was the reason why Fury assigned her so many.

"So whose car are we taking?" you asked. Thor apparently walked here, and you could see the motorcycle parked out front that could only belong to Bruce. That left only two options -- Clint's Mustang or your old car.

"We can take mine," Clint offered.

Bruce, however, paced toward his motorcycle. "I may have to leave early, so I'll follow you."

Fair enough, you thought, and you rushed toward the black Mustang to steal shotgun away from Thor. Luckily, he was well-natured about it -- you wondered if he even cared. You directed Clint to the taco place, a mom-and-pop restaurant called Café Pacifica. It was only a few blocks away, and other than the bit of traffic you got caught in, it was a pleasant drive.

"We're here!" you announced as you hopped out of the car, excited for tacos and nachos and burritos and whatever delicious goodness you would be able to get your hands on.

As you walked in, you were offered menus and ushered to a nearby booth. You sat next to Thor, across from Bruce, and diagonal to Clint. All the while, salsa music rang clearly in the background, setting a festive mood.

"I must have your recommendation," Thor said as he perused through the menu, probably discovering that he did not know what anything was. You figured that quesadillas, enchiladas, and tortas were not common fare in Asgard.

"Tacos, of course," you said. "Unless you want to try something else." Looking at him, however, you figured that he would definitely have to eat more than a serving of fish tacos. The man was huge, and you imagined a god to have a healthy appetite. "In fact, it might be better if we ordered a few appetizers too."

When the waitress appeared, you took care of ordering the appetizers -- chicken tostadas, cheese-stuffed jalapeños, and nachos with salsa and guacamole. Your mouth watered simply thinking about how delicious these items would taste.

"How long have you been coming here?" Clint asked after ordering his lunch of choice.

"Forever," you replied, looking around at the familiar decor. It was a colorful restaurant, pictures placed carefully on the yellow walls. "I grew up in this area, and ever since I was a kid, my family and friends would come here to eat. It's like a piece of my childhood."

Bruce raised a skeptical eyebrow. "So you might be a little biased when you say that these fish tacos are amazing?"

You nodded your head back and forth in thought. "Maybe. But I'm serious. These are the best fish tacos ever. And you can have all the lime juice you want on them."

Chapter Text

"And here you are, chicos," the waitress said as she lifted bountiful plates of food onto the table. "Fish tacos, chicken fajitas, chimichangas, carne asada torta, and chicken poblano enchiladas. You all have good appetites. We're all very happy _____ brought you along. Please enjoy, and shout for me if you need anything."

"Thank you, Martita," you called after her as she left. "She's my favorite waitress. Always working with a smile on." You looked at everyone else at the table, whose eyes were fixated on the dishes in front of them. Men, you thought. Stomachs always in charge.

Bruce, of course, had ordered the fish tacos (with extra limes on the side), Clint had ordered the chicken fajitas, while you and Thor decided to share several dishes because you were not picky about the food here, and he wished to try everything he could. All of these dishes came with a generous serving of rice, refried beans, and salsa.

"Well, dig in," you said, wondering what they were all waiting for.

The table was then engulfed in silence, with the exception of your explanation of the food to Thor and his brief replies. The chefs here were masterminds, you decided, for they were able to cook such perfectly-flavored foods -- everything had rich, intense flavors, layered so well that they brought the food together as the cohesive dishes you loved.

It looked like Thor was beginning to develop a taste for Mexican food, which you were pleased to discover. He particularly enjoyed the chimichangas, which did not surprise you. Fried foods were always popular.

After taking a few bites of a chimichanga, you looked toward Bruce and Clint as you wiped your mouth with a napkin. "How is everything?"

Clint, who had his mouth full, gave you a thumbs up and a nod. It was an entertaining image, seeing him do that.

"I approve," Bruce said, drizzling his tacos with more lime juice. "These are quite good. Better than most I've had, actually."

You smiled, glad that these three were enjoying themselves; you would have been disappointed if they did not like the food here.

By the time you had all finished, there was nothing left. Even the rice and beans were all gone. All that remained were the jalapeños on the side of some of the plates.

"What is this?" Thor asked as he picked one of them up by the stem.

You blinked. "Oh, that's a--"

"--it's a jalapeño," Clint interrupted, "which translates as 'dessert fruit' in Spanish. It's delicious. They put it on the side for you to eat after you're doing with the main course. They're super sweet and tangy, so you should try one. Go on. Take a big bite."

"Wait..!" Your hand went to your mouth as Thor put the jalapeño in his mouth immediately, biting the pepper in half.

The sated expression on his face changed immediately, his eyes widening, his lips frowning in disgust. He quickly grabbed a napkin and spat the jalapeño out; he then reached for his water, chugging the entire glass.

Meanwhile, Clint and Bruce were both laughing, especially the former who looked as though he had tears in his eyes.

Although you were also amused, you had a little more sympathy for the god. "I take it there are no jalapeños in Asgard?"

He coughed, sputtering, "No, none at all." With the look of a good sport, he glanced at Clint. "That was a mischievous trick. ...but I admit, it was a clever one."

"Oho... I 'm glad you're taking it well," the archer replied, wiping one of his eyes. "Sorry, pal. I couldn't help myself."

It was then that Martita came over, her tight curls bouncing as she walked. "How are you all doing? Does it all taste okay?" Obvious, it was a rhetorical question because the plates were everything short of being licked clean.

"Delicious," you replied, and the men at the table agreed.

When you received the check, you insisted that this was your treat -- even though the bill was going to be a large one, you would receive your first paycheck next week (and it would be a generous one). You did not mind one bit.

As you made your way out the door, waving goodbye to the staff, you looked toward the three Avengers. "So what do you all think?"

"How about next weekend?" Clint replied with a silly grin.

"One of the more authentic Mexican restaurants I've been to," Bruce said. "I'll have to remember this place."

"And you, Thor?"

He looked thoughtful. "I like Mexican food. But not jalapeños."

Chapter Text

"Where to now?"

You looked toward Clint with a surprised glance; you hadn't put any thought into what you wanted to do after lunch. In fact, you did not even think that they would want to spend so much time together, but you were definitely willing. "What about Coney Island?" you suggested, thinking of all the places you had explored in the past.

"I've been there once," he replied. "It's a bit of a drive away, huh?"

"Not terribly far. Maybe thirty minutes with traffic. And if you guys don't want to go to the beach, we can just walk down the boardwalk. It's a nice day, and there are always performers and shops to explore."

Thor stole the front seat this time -- you had completely forgotten about calling shotgun in advance, though you figured that this was fair and let him have it. "I would like to see this Coney Island," he said. "Is it a place humans visit for recreation?"

"Yeah, it's one of the more popular ones," Clint said. "Well, I'm down. I've got nothing better to do for the rest of the day."

"What about you, Bruce?" you asked, hopeful that he might oblige.

He shrugged, his helmet under one arm. "I don't know. I've got a lot of work to do."

"But it's Saturday. You should enjoy your weekends, not work through them. Save that for the rest of the week and have some fun with staff bonding."

The man raised an eyebrow as he placed his helmet on. "I thought you just said that we shouldn't work through our weekends."

"Yeah, but this is fun staff bonding. Not like those discussions we have during the week." You gave him a small smile. "Besides, I think we'll all really enjoy it. We can get ice cream or something. And trust me -- I know a place with the best ice cream."

"Where have I heard that before?" He slipped a leg over the motorcycle, though he looked as though he was entertaining the idea. "Fine, you win. I'll follow along, but I'd like to be back at the lab before five or so."

Victory. "See you there," you said as you hopped into the backseat of Clint's car.

"To Coney Island?" Clint asked as he released the brake.

"To Coney Island."

Chapter Text

The drive was a pleasant one. Clint rolled down his windows, and you felt the cool breeze whip into the car, tousling your hair as it went.

You were right -- in about thirty minutes, Clint was rolling through the parking area, trying to find an open spot. "Right there!" you pointed as you noticed another car pulling out.

"Good eye, you've got there," he said as he parked.

"Living in New York, you have to have one," you replied, "or else you’ll never get anywhere."

Clint stepped out of the car and fed the meter a few quarters before looking toward the boardwalk. "Wow."

There were people screaming in delight as rollercoasters zoomed in the distance, the jovial beats of circus music floating around the carousels and ferris wheels. People bustled everywhere, holding onto hotdogs, cotton candy, and popcorn. To the east, there was the beach, where visitors played volleyball, made sand castles, and lay down to enjoy the sun.

Even Thor looked impressed. "I have never seen such a place in my life. Is it... real?"

"Of course, it's real," you said with a grin. "It's like Disneyland in New York." Then you remembered that you were talking with a Norse god who had likely never seen an amusement park in his life. "Oh... don't worry, I'll show you around. It's a lot of fun."

Bruce appeared, walking from the motorcycle parking, staring at the large crowds of people in front of him. He looked a little apprehensive. "I feel like it's too crowded to have fun."

"I think an empty amusement park would be weirder," you said. "Parks like these are supposed to be crowded. Besides, we don't have to wait for the rides if you don't want to. There are plenty of other things to see."

Clint's attention was focused on a shop in the distance. "Like that," he said, nodding toward the Coney Tropical Ice Cream sign, painted in colorful letters above the door. "And who doesn't like ice cream?"

The four of you made your way toward the ice cream shop, ready for a sweet treat. However, a scream ripped through the air, soon joined by others, and you knew instantly that these were cries of pure fear and panic -- not something you heard as a result of rollercoasters.

"What's going on?" Clint asked, starting to peer around.

The ground shook for a moment, settling as more screams were heard.

Bruce seemed just as surprised, though he looked beyond the ice cream shop and toward the beach. "It's coming from the ocean."

Without another word, the three of them raced beyond the ice cream shop, toward the beach. You followed as quickly as you could, though there were many others who were running in the opposite direction, pushing past you as though their lives depended upon it.

And, indeed, that seemed to be the case.

A horrible monster had surfaced from the water. It was large, a beautiful purple in color, though its eyes were a glowering red. Spikes ran along its back, leading down its serpent-like body, while horns protruded from its head along its jawline and skull. A forked tongue slipped past its terrible fangs. Perhaps most terrifying was its sheer size, a draconian creature that towered above everyone else, possibly the size of a two or three-story building.

It slithered out of the water, hoisted on powerful claws, snapping at people as it went.

You were shocked at the number of bloodied corpses that were already strewn about the beach.

"Jormungand!" Thor cried, surprising you as he rushed toward the beast, hammer in hand.*

"Jormungand, the serpent? I thought you had slayed him," Clint said casually, as he strung his bow. "I knew that was the lie."** He let it his arrow loose before Thor reached the beast, and it hit its mark perfectly. It not only took out one of its eyes, but also exploded upon contact, causing the beast great pain and providing the Avengers with a brief moment while it was dazed in a breathless stupor.

Thor then leaped upward, smashing his hammer into its jaw.

You looked toward Bruce, who was standing just a short distance away from where you were. "You're not going to fight with them?"

"I prefer to stay out of fights as long as I can," he replied, though you could tell that there was an expression of anxiety written across his face. "Never sure what the other guy is going to do or how he's going to react."

Of course, you were in no position to argue with him. He knew what was best.

The serpent thrashed about, and to your surprise, it unleashed a torrent of seawater from its mouth. You had thought that you were safe standing where you were, away from the water's edge, but you were wrong. The water hit the ground, stirring up a huge blizzard of sand and mud.

You screamed, covering your eyes as quickly as you could, though you still felt the harsh bites of the sand as each grain hit you, perhaps even the sharper hits of smaller pebbles. You fell to the ground, waiting for this blow to pass, and when you could open your eyes again, sputtering with a mouthful of dust, you noticed that Bruce had done the same. However, there was another look in his eyes.

"Bruce..?" you said, crawling over to him. You had read in the reports that this was bad. "Bruce, no, no, no, stay with me. Calm down. Deep breaths. Don't let the rage take you." You were frightened by his behavior -- this accelerated breathing, the lack of focus on you, this strangeness that you had never seen before.

And then it happened. He snapped.

Green -- you saw green, and his body contorted, growing into this massive collection of muscle standing upon two large feet. This was the Hulk, and he was every bit as terrifying as you had heard.

You thought that he was going to attack you, but he immediately turned to the serpent, running after the beast with a speed that you never would have expected from something of his size. Perhaps he had kept some of his consciousness through the transformation.

The Hulk pounded his fist into the beast's neck, and it fell over, crashing into the ocean. Ocean water sprayed everywhere.

With a deep breath, you pulled yourself onto your feet, watching the battle from where you were. It never occurred to you to run, as odd as you would later think it was. You wanted to stay because you wanted to support the Avengers, even if that meant risking your own life.

The battle raged on, and you stood there, silently cheering for your comrades. It seemed that they had the advantage, especially since the Hulk now joined the fight.

"Tsk. What a foolish human you are."

You turned, albeit a little reluctantly, for you did not wish to remove your gaze from the battle ahead. "Who are you?" you asked automatically.

A man stood before you, his black hair slicked backward, his eyes a piercing green. He was dressed in clothing akin to what Thor was wearing. "You don't know? You should," he replied with a dark chuckle. He had a hungry look about him, but not for any sort of food or drink; he was hungry for something else. And that was what alerted you to exactly who this man was.

Your eyes narrowed. "Loki."

Chapter Text

Your eyes narrowed. "Loki."

"Do you like him?" he asked, ignoring your glare. He looked past you toward the battle scene. "My pet serpent, glorious in size and prowess. How fitting it is for Jormungand to be in the oceans of Midard, where there is prey aplenty."

"You sent him here?" You turned around, brief flashes of the fight coming into view. Clint stood a ways off, loosing arrows whenever he had a clear shot, while Thor and the Hulk fought with the beast hand-to-hand. And then you remembered the corpses, those who lay dead upon the sand, their bodies crushed by the serpent, blood seeping from their open wounds.

"Odin did not grant him a hospitable welcome in Asgard."

You had heard of the terrible atrocities that Loki committed. He was a ruthless killer, and you knew this, but for some reason, you were still surprised that he would speak casually about unleashing such a destructive beast in the mortal realm. Perhaps the expression on your face was telling.

He then turned to you, his eyes boring into your consciousness. You were intimidated, but you tried not to let it show; you would have to protect yourself because the Avengers were busy with the serpent.

"You have heart," he finally said, the words slithering from his lips in a low hiss.

It was then that you noticed the scepter in his right hand, and you stepped away defensively. "What would you know about heart?" You could not fight him and hope to win, so the best thing to do right now was to distract him until help came. Hopefully, it would soon.

He looked indifferent to your remark though he gave another dark chuckle. "You humans are so full of questions, when, really, you should be happy being led. Leave the questions to those worthy of the position."

"Like you?"

Loki began to pace, and if you had not known better, you would have thought that there was a look of sick amusement in his eyes. "I am a god. By nature, I am already far more worthy than any of you mortals. You were made to be ruled."

Now you knew why the Avengers loathed him so much, why they were afraid of him rising to power again. He was power-hungry with a superiority complex -- and what made him more dangerous was that he had the strength to back his threats. And yet, even though you were afraid of him, terrified even, you found courage to speak up. "Not by you. You're far too pretentious and cruel. Real leaders don't rule through fear and threats."

His face darkened, eyes narrowing, but his glance did not stay on you for too long. "Thor." He looked past you.

"Brother," Thor said as he stood behind you. His towering stance comforted you -- at least, you were now not alone. "Is this a game? Unleashing Jormungand upon the peoples of the earth is a foul deed." He placed a large hand on your shoulder, pulling you behind him as he stepped toward Loki.

"You said that the first time," the God of Mischief and Lies replied. "But Jormungand was hungry, and Odin did not permit him to feast in Asgard."

"I slayed the beast, Loki. And you breathed life into it again."

Loki nodded toward the still serpent, who was laying, exhausted and beaten upon the shore. "And it looks like you had some fun. Again."

"You should not be here. Return to Asgard with Jormungand at once."

"I think not. The place is far too dreary for me; I think I prefer your precious earth."

The expression on Thor's face was furious. "You have caused enough trouble, and you seek more mischief." The Hulk and Clint appeared as well. After making sure that Jormungand would no longer be of threat, they gathered behind Thor to face Loki. "I will bring you back to Asgard myself if I must."

"That won't be necessary. You have humiliated me enough." There was a hidden anger, a darkness that lurked in his words, like a bitter poison. The scepter in his hand glowed. "You have not seen the last of me, you lost creatures. I will return."

Thor lunged forward to grab his brother, but it was too late. In a flash of light, Loki vanished, leaving just footprints in the sand. When you looked behind you, Jormungand was already gone. The serpent either found the strength to crawl back into the water, floating out into the ocean, or Loki had whisked his pet away with him.

"This isn't good," Clint said, his eyes on the ocean. It was as though he was searching for the serpent and hoping that it was gone from earth.

"What do we do now?" you asked.

"We wait. But not for long." The sound of sirens echoed on the island. "The director should be here soon."

Chapter Text

S.H.I.E.L.D. agents showed up rather quickly, and they searched the area, looking for evidence, stepping over the corpses as they did so. They also whisked away the Coney Island Police Department away to deal with the citizenry and manage traffic.

Commander Hill directed a medic at you immediately, who asked you to take a seat in one of the many helicopters that had arrived. That was fine with you -- looking at the damage, especially the bloody bodies, made you feel sick to your stomach.

"Well, Miss _____, other than a few scratches, you look just fine. Are you feeling okay?" The medic had asked you this question several times already, and although it seemed redundant, you were aware that he was just doing his job.

"I feel just fine," you replied. "Thanks for your help."

As he left the helicopter, Clint brushed past him to climb into the seat next to you. "Exciting, huh? Had no idea that Loki would have an interest in Coney Island."

You sighed. "Sorry, I guess we probably should have gone somewhere else."

"No reason to be sorry," he said. "If we weren't here, a lot of others would have gotten hurt. I actually think it was a good thing we decided to come here." He had a fair point.

"So I hear Loki's back?" Steve, decked out in his uniform, appeared, taking the other seat next to you.

You were glad to see him, and you greeted him with a wave.

"Yeah, too bad we didn't save any action for you, huh?" Clint replied. "I know you're probably itching for a good fight."

Steve shrugged, shifting his large shield to the side. The expression on his face was a serious one. "I wouldn't say it like that... but I wouldn't mind throwing a fist at Loki if he caused trouble again."

"He'll be back," you said, staring at the ocean through the glass. You remembered the interaction between the two brothers. "He's got some unfinished business with Thor. Perhaps even all of you."

"We know he's bitter about the last incident," Steve said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he returned."

Clint nodded in agreement. "In fact, I'm quite sure he will. We just have to figure out when and where."

Thoughts raced through your head. "It'll be here, I think. New York. He doesn't want to destroy the world, per se. He just wants to rule it. And the Avengers are his only obstacle. He'll have to defeat all of you before he can pursue his throne."

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Clint assured. "Though I do think you make some good points. We can all meet up with Director Fury later."

You raised an eyebrow. "You want me to meet him with you? I'm just speculating. I don't know anything about war and tactics and that sort of stuff. I specialize in business management, not war and politics."

"Well, they all tell me that you're the one who had a five-minute conversation with Loki," Steve said. "So you've got the most insight. I think it'll be valuable information; speculation plays a huge role in what we do."

"All right," you replied. There was a brief pause in your words. "...this means my weekend is gone, doesn't it?"

Clint tilted his head back and forth in mock-thought. "I think the world's a little more important than your weekend, _____."

You sighed. They just didn't understand.

Chapter Text

You returned to your quarters upon arriving at the helicarrier. You had always thought that such a tragedy would leave you shaken... strangely enough, you were fine. Perhaps it was because you had not been hurt, and the Avengers were with you the entire time.

It would be false to say that you did not feel fearful, that you were brave throughout the entire ordeal. Loki and his pet were not harmless, and you fully recognized that. However, there were other emotions you had to place.

As you were wiping your face clean with a wet towel, you heard a knock on your door. "Just a sec." You quickly dried your face and paced toward the door to open it, only to find Captain America, who was no longer in uniform. "Hello, Steve. Can I help you?" you asked, leaning your head against metal frame.

"Director Fury wants to meet at seven in the main conference room. Thought I'd deliver the message. I also wanted to check up on you, since I know you've had a rough day." He really was a gentleman.

"Thanks for letting me know. And I'll be fine. Just a few scratches, but I'm still in one piece, aren't I?"

"I'm glad to hear that. When I heard that you were on that beach, I was... worried." His voice softened when he spoke that last word.

You couldn't help but smile. "You're so sweet," you said, opening the door wider. "Why don't you come in for a bit? I have some stuff to take care of, but I'd love to chat."

A light pink tinged his cheeks at your compliment, though he agreed, following you into your quarters. "So you're really all right? I think most people who run into Loki would be more terrified." He sat down on your bed as he awaited a response.

"I was definitely terrified when he was there," you admitted. "I just... I don't know. I feel all right now. It's probably because I know that I'm safe." Meanwhile, you fumbled through the items in your suitcase, trying to find a place for them in your room. After the incident at the beach, Clint drove you back to your apartment to gather your things before heading back toward the Helicarrier. Perhaps it would have been wiser to accept a lift from the helicopter, but Clint needed his car, and you wanted to pack some essentials before returning.

"You're very brave. I admire that."

You looked at him after placing a few t-shirts in your small closet. "Oh, I wouldn't call it bravery. I just did what I had to do."

"That's what we all do." The corners of his lips turned upward in a small smile, a sincere gaze in his azure eyes.

"What do you mean?" you asked, deciding to ignore your suitcase for the time being, sitting down next to him on the bed.

"It's what we Avengers do. We do what we have to."

"But you're all so much braver than I am, fearlessly charging into battle every day. You're risking your lives for the sake of other people. Me? I just wound up in an unfortunate situation and got lucky."

Steve seemed to know exactly what he was going to say. "I don't think being brave and fearless is the same thing. I'm scared sometimes too, you know? It's a misconception that superheroes are fearless." This was something that he had obviously thought about before.

"I guess I forgot about that," you said, almost sheepishly. You were here to help them realize that they were not merely soldiers -- and yet, you had just made an assumption about them, founded on the idea that they were all superheroes. "You're human. Sometimes it's easy to forget because you do such amazing things. Regardless, you're a hero. Fearless or not, I respect what you do and the sacrifices you make to keep everyone safe."

"Since when were we talking about me?" Steve joked. "I was giving you a compliment."

"I'm not the one who has to step out in uniform when a man-eating serpent appears out of the ocean."

"You don't even have a uniform, and you stepped out."

"Well, I wasn't about to run away while the others were in danger."

"And you managed to distract Loki long enough to prevent him from causing anymore mischief until Thor threatened him. That's impressive."

You laughed. "It wasn't exactly hard. All things said and done, Loki really likes to hear himself talk. I just prompted him a little bit."

"Not everyone would have done that. I'm sure many people would have run away, but you didn't. You're something special."

Steve Rogers just called you special. You were the one blushing now.

Chapter Text

It was just a little past six. You had heard that Bruce was still recovering from his transformation, and you hurried to the sickbay, hoping to see if he was all right. Although it was likely thanks to the Hulk that serpent was defeated, Bruce paid a heavy price.

You had seen the transformation with your own eyes, and the image was disturbing. It was as though he were being engulfed by a foreign presence, something that he neither knew nor could control. And yet, strangely enough, he did have a bit of a hold on this other guy. Perhaps Bruce couldn't control him entirely, but they shared a portion of their collective consciousness.

"Is Dr. Banner in there?" you asked, pointing to the room that a nurse had just stepped out of.

She shut the door gently. "Yes, he's just resting," she said, her shoes clicking along the floors of the hallway as she turned and left.

You felt a bit of hesitation, but you decided to go in, turning the knob as quietly as you could. The room was dim, with just a little bit of light in the corner. In the center, lying peacefully on a hospital bed was Bruce, and you tip-toed toward him.

He stirred immediately; he must have been a light sleeper. "Who is it?" he asked, not even bothering to open his eyes. He sounded tired, and rightfully so.

"It's just me," you said. "_____. Sorry if I woke you. I just wanted to check up on you."

Bruce opened his eyes briefly and groaned. "At least you're not another doctor." He then sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and rubbing his temple with his fingers.

"Tired of being poked and prodded?"

"I feel like it never ends," he admitted. "God, I have a headache."

"Do you want some ibuprofen? There's a bottle on the counter right here." You reached for it, tapping two pills into the palm of your hand. "Here you are. And there's water right next to you."

"Thanks." He took the medicine with a big gulp of water. "Looks like Fury already cut your weekend short, huh? I didn't think he'd ask you to be at the meeting."

You shrugged. "I didn't think so either, but I guess he does. You don't really argue with Fury."

"No, you don't. Not even with the other guy on your side."

You exhaled in a dry laugh. "Did Fury bully you into joining the Avengers? Because I'm pretty sure that when he hired me, he neglected to give me some very important details. Like how I would be moving onto a helicarrier or how I'd be working with superheroes who could tear my throat out."

"That's how S.H.I.E.L.D. works... in order for it to operate, its dealings must be completed confidentially. Fury had to be sure you were capable for handling the job before giving away all of his secrets."

"Hrm." You thought about what he said, hoisting yourself to sit on the counter. "I suppose that makes sense. But we're off topic -- I came to check on you. How are you feeling?"

"I've been better, but if Loki's on the run, I suppose a headache and a couple of bruises don't really give me an excuse to miss the meeting. I'm glad he didn't decide to take his anger out on you, by the way. To be honest, I'm actually surprised he didn't."

"What makes you say that?"

Bruce stood up, one hand still on the bed as if he were afraid he couldn't keep his balance. "He's a very spiteful man, that Loki, and he has never hesitated to kill before. You must have spoken some words of interest if he didn't zap you with that scepter of his."

"No, I think I just prompted him enough to give me an explanation of how inferior the human race is. You're right though. He's very contemptuous." Here, you chuckled. "Anyone who says that you have anger issues obviously hasn't met Loki."

"That's nice of you to say, but at least Loki doesn't turn into 'an enormous, green rage monster,' as Tony so eloquently puts it."

"Your turning into 'an enormous, green rage monster' saved my life today. I can understand why you might, but I hold nothing against the other guy." You remembered back to when the Hulk first appeared on Coney Island. He could have easily crushed you, killed you, but he was not entirely blinded by rage; he went after the actual threat instead, effectively sparing those who escaped. "Really, I actually kind of like him."

He gave look of disbelief, though it was neither mocking, nor skeptical -- it was more like a surprised acceptance. "Thanks... _____."

Chapter Text

There was about half an hour before you would have to meet up with Fury and the Avengers in the conference room. You wanted to find something to eat before the meeting, so you headed toward the cafeteria to sate your hunger. As you stepped out of the elevator, you saw someone you did not expect to see. "Oh, Tony. Hello."

"It's been about 30 hours since we've last talked, Miss _____," he said, his hands shoved casually in his pockets. "And you had a run-in with the world's greatest villain. Some good fortune, you have there."

"I never said I was lucky," you replied, though before you could say anything else, your stomach rumbled noisily.

"Just hungry, apparently," he spoke for you. "Let's grab a couple of cheeseburgers before this assemblage, shall we?"

You hadn't expected to have this informal dinner with the Tony Stark, but you accepted his offer, as he didn't give you much of a choice. He had already begun walking toward the cafeteria, just a pace or two ahead of you.

"So I heard you were spending your Saturday with Pepper," you began, wondering about their relationship. It was your job to learn about the Avengers, after all. "Tell me about her."

"Oh, Miss Potts. My executive assistant, secretary, and ex-CEO of Stark Industries."

You found this information unsatisfying. "Is that all? Most CEOs don't spend a weekend with their assistants, no matter how personal."

"We may also have a budding relationship." He said this so casually that you weren't even sure if you ought to believe him or not.

"Well, that's exciting," you said, somewhat nonchalantly.

He tilted his head to the side as if thinking this over. "Only sometimes."

At this point, you set foot in the cafeteria, and you placed your order at the grill. Tony did the same. As the two of you stood there, you leaned against the counter, watching the cooks prepare your orders. "Only sometimes, huh? And I thought you were a ladies' man."

"I am a man, and I like ladies."

"So you're saying that you're afraid of commitment?"

"Don't accuse me of such absurdities. I commit to everything I do -- developing new technologies, expanding my knowledge of physics and mathematics, building the world's largest helicarrier, saving the earth from an alien race -- you name it."

You raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Just not women."

"Now that's a little harsh, don't you think? I respect women, especially when they're independent and intelligent. I've just never dedicated a huge amount of time to any one woman."

"But how many women have you devoted a little bit of time to?"

"Oh ho, that's a proud number," he said, crossing his arms and resting his chin on a hand in thought. "Depends on how you define that devotion of time, and I might be able to narrow it down for you."

"Good lord, I don't want to define it," you said. You had no desire to think about how many women Tony had slept with in his life.

He looked pleased with himself, as if he obtained some sort of odd pleasure from making you feel uncomfortable. "You were the one who brought up the topic of Pepper, Miss _____, or do you not remember?"

"Oh, I remember," you replied. "And I kind of regret it." That was the last time you would bring up women in a conversation with him.

Your food hand been prepared, and you picked up your order, bringing it to a nearby table. Of course, Tony followed you there with his double cheese burger and side of beer-battered fries.

"So to sum up our conversation," Tony began as he sat down, "it is not that I fear commitment. I just prefer not to commit. It opens up a wide expanse of possibilities, variety, and I don't need to feel tied down to only one aspect of my life. You should try it sometime."

"Should have kept my mouth closed," you mumbled, taking a bite of your dinner.

"No, don't do that. Men prefer it when you keep it open. Makes things easier for them."

You almost choked on your food.

The look on your face must have been what he expected, for he smiled, chuckling to himself like a teenage boy.

"This is the last time I'm having dinner with you."

Chapter Text

"As you all know, we're here to discuss our next plan of action," Fury said. "Loki has reappeared on earth, killing four and wounding eleven civilians on Coney Island. We were fortunate to have half of you conveniently present to counter him and his serpent abomination -- otherwise, more innocents would have died."

"My father, Odin, cannot restrain him," Thor said. "Loki will not listen to reason."

"Well, that's not news," Clint said. "We've known that all along."

Tony looked irritated that he had to be here; he shifted in his seat and said, "What has Odin tried to do in terms of controlling Loki?"

"When I brought him back to Asgard, my father had magicians cast an array of spells on him, hoping to keep him from returning to earth. ...but Loki is far too clever a sorcerer. Even the King of Asgard, the God of War, cannot bridle his magic."

"God of War?" Tony repeated. "More like God of Failed Parenting if he raised a lunatic like that."

Thor bristled, and you could tell that he was trying not to let his temper show. "Loki may be beyond reason, but do not insult Odin. He has done what he can. It is my task to bring Loki back."

"Back to Asgard?" Natasha asked.

"No," the god said. "Back to the sunlight. He has tread in darkness for far too long." In his voice, despite his conviction, you sensed the sadness. You would have to comfort him later.

The room fell into an uncomfortable silence. The only one who cared about Loki's well-being was Thor -- they were brothers, albeit adopted. To everyone else, Loki was a monster. Even you had trouble seeing beyond the tyrant that he was, but Thor was not entirely biased, and his apparent thoughts brought you perspective.

It was Commander Maria Hill who then spoke. "Then what is our plan of action?" she asked. "What do we do now that we know that Loki is loose?"

The director looked across the table at you. "Miss _____." His voice was deep, cold, and as he said your name, everyone else focused on you as though you were the only one in the room. "Today, you and Loki shared a conversation. A brief one. Did you learn anything from it?"

"...not anything that you don't already know," you said.

Before you could say anything else, Clint spoke, bringing up the brief conversation on the helicopter. "_____ also mentioned that she thinks Loki's next attack will be in New York."

Fury raised a questioning eyebrow, and you had no choice but to continue.

"To clarify, I believe his goal is to take New York. It may or may not be the next place he attacks or appears, but New York is his ultimate resolution."

"And what makes you so sure of that? Did he say that he wanted to take New York?" Commander Hill asked.

You weren't sure if you could explain it. "It's not something that he said, not directly anyway. I just..." You took a breath, trying to compose your thoughts. "When Loki was talking to Thor, he wasn't just talking about taking over the world. That's not something that he has his mind focused on. Sure, he thinks that we humans are inferior in every way possible, but that ideal is not the reason behind his actions. He doesn't want to rule the earth because we're inferior, or so he says. He wants to rule the earth for another reason."

The director folded his hands together on the table. "What reason is that?"

"Underneath all of his anger, his belligerence, there's a very potent pool of bitterness, even sadness. He's a very... damaged person."

"While that's insight on his psych, Dr. Phil, that doesn't explain his obsession with New York," Tony said.

"I was getting there," you replied, sparing the man a knowing look. "My point is that Loki has another item on his agenda. He's very angry. I don't know what happened between the two of you--" Here, you gave Thor a glance. "--but I don't think he's going to forgive anytime soon. Furthermore, in his last battle with all of you, you humiliated him. He wants revenge, and if taking New York, a beloved, iconic city in the United States, will devastate you, then he'll do it. He wants to hurt because he's been hurt."

"_____ is correct," Thor said, his deep voice echoing in the conference room. "Loki was not always like this. We were comrades once, the greatest of companions. But when he discovered that we were not related by blood, a darkness swallowed him. He is angry at me, angry at our father."

"But that gives him no excuse," Steve said. "He might be damaged and bitter, but he's still hurting other people."

"Oh, I'm not excusing his actions." You understood where Steve was coming from -- the bottom line was that Loki had done some terrible things, and no matter how hurt or angry he was, he had no right to harm others. "I'm just saying that he might not be as calculatingly evil as we think he is. He has a rational based on emotion. It's wrong, but it's there. Perhaps if we understand what plagues him, we can better form our own plan of attack to counter him."

"Then what are you proposing, Miss _____?" Fury asked, his one good eye boring into you.

You felt nervous with him staring at you, but you calmly said, "Never leave New York unguarded. At least half of your forces should always be here, no matter how terrible an incident is outside of New York. I think he'll be looking to take the city when it is least protected."

Fury seemed skeptical of your suggestion, but he neither shot it down, nor praised it. "We'll see."

"Meanwhile," Commander Hill said, "we need to formulate something a little more solid..."

The conversation continued with ideas and proposals that you could not analyze due to your lack of experience in war and tactics, though it was all very interesting. It was not until about eleven thirty that Director Fury released you all for a good night's rest.

Chapter Text

You really would have liked to go to bed. The events of the day had left you utterly exhausted, and you were already thinking about your soft pillow and kitten-print bedspread. How wonderful it would be to finally be able to sink into bed and drift off to sleep...

As you bid everyone goodnight, you turned to head back to your quarters, but you noticed a very lonely Thor, who seemed to be just standing there. He stared through the glass of the helicarrier, looking down below. You could tell he was deep in thought. The look on his face revealed no emotion, though you knew that he was feeling very remorseful over what happened between him and Loki.

Your exhaustion faded, and you paced toward him quietly. "Thor? Are you feeling all right?"

He took his time to answer, lifting his eyes from the earth to look at you. There was a sadness in his gaze that you understood immediately. "I am contemplative. Wistful, I think, is a good word for it."

"This is about your brother, isn't it?"

He gave you a deft nod. "I wonder if things would be different had I been wiser."

"You can't change the past, Thor..."

"No, no, I cannot. But I can wish, _____. I can wish." He looked to the earth again as though watching the lands roll below provided him with some sort of comfort.

You reached up, letting your hand rest on his muscled shoulder. "I can't grant wishes," you said. "But I know some methods of dealing with sadness and stress... and they work. Come with me." You led him through the hallways and to the cafeteria.

It was dark. No one was working anymore, but that was fine with you. The door to the kitchen was unlocked, so you tip-toed inside, switching on the lights. You saw the large walk-in freezer, and went toward it. With both hands firmly on the handle, you gave it a tug. Huh. It wouldn't budge. You gathered your strength, throwing your whole body into it, and it popped open effortlessly.

You were proud of yourself... but when you peered up, you saw a thick arm extended above your head, hand on the upper part of the handle. "Oh. Thanks, Thor," you said, slightly sheepish for thinking you were stronger than you actually were. You slipped into the freezer. After a short bit of searching, you found what you were looking for, and you came out with both hands on the handle of a plastic bucket.

Without even being prompted, Thor took the frozen bucket for you, holding it in front of his face. "What is this?"

"The most marvelous thing ever created." You indicated for him to follow you, and you led him up the elevator to your room, where you fumbled through your suitcase for a particular DVD. "Here we are. Shut off the lights, will you?" You propped your laptop on the foot of the bed, balanced on several books, and inserted the DVD.

"I have seen the movie before," Thor said as he sat down next to you.

"The movie? This movie?" you asked, pointing at the DVD case.

"It did not have the same image..."

You laughed, remembering that there were many things you would have explain to him. "There are all kinds of different movies," you said. "Thousands of them. You might have seen one or two, but I don't think it was this particular one. Movies are... well, they're like books in that there is a huge variety of them. They're all movies, but there are different kinds with different sorts of content and stories."

He looked amused, though it was hard to tell due to the dim lighting. Your laptop was the only source of light in the room right now. "I see. Your analogy is a good one. Does it have a name, this movie?"

"It's one of my favorites; it's called Pocahontas. I grew up on this movie, and it always makes me feel better whenever I'm sad. It's incredibly inspirational." You tugged the frozen bucket over, popped open the lid, and handed Thor a spoon. "And this, my friend, is what we call 'ice cream.' Enjoy. It's not spicy, I promise."

The movie began with the chant of Englishmen as they boarded their ship to set off to the New World. You had to explain the pretense of the movie to Thor, but he watched eagerly, for he had never seen animation before. He was thoroughly captivated, not only with the movie, but also, to your pleasure, with the ice cream. He shoveled spoonfuls of it into his mouth.

You, being the wonderful dork that you were, sang with the characters as they burst forth in song. These melodies were all too familiar to you. "Too bad Judy Kuhn sings my pants off," you commented with a small sigh, watching Pocahontas stream down the river in her canoe.

When John Smith began his exploration of the New World. you looked toward Thor with a knowing gaze. "You know, you and John Smith are actually a lot alike."

He turned his head toward you with a raised eyebrow, as if prompting you to continue.

"You're both blond-haired, muscular men who are exploring a new place," you explained with a small smile. "You're both curious individuals who want to make a positive impact on the lives of others."

And you're both good-looking... you added as an afterthought.

Thor seemed to take your words seriously, and he asked, "Is this John Smith a character who does good?"

"More or less, yes," you said, thinking about the great lengths he went to in order to bring peace. "But we really should just watch the movie. Don't want to miss anything, huh?" You slipped a spoonful of ice cream in your mouth, wincing a little at the brain-freeze.

Despite how you advised just watching the movie, you still sang along with Pocahontas when the 'Colors of the Wind' scene rolled around, which seemed to amuse Thor. Maybe he'd be willing to learn the song so he could sing it with you. You would love that.

When the tense parts came about, the both of you stared at the screen, wide-eyed, hoping that no one would get hurt (even though you knew exactly what was going to happen). He seemed to be enjoying Pocahontas so far -- he appeared to be just as excited for the ending as a child who first saw this movie in theater.

When the movie ended with Pocahontas and John Smith's teary farewell, the ship sailing off into the distance, you gave a satisfied sigh. What a bittersweet ending. With the music playing over the credits, you looked at Thor. "So what do you think?"

"It's a good movie," he replied with a deft nod. "I found it enjoyable."

Thor was unadulterated by the American concepts of "manliness," and you took advantage of that. "You know, Pocahontas is just one movie in a collection, produced by a company called 'Disney.' I have all of my favorites here."

"_____, if you would like to view them, I will gladly join you."

That was what you wanted to hear, and you gave him a bright smile. Before you responded, you peeked at the time, realizing how tired you were. "Maybe some other night," you said. "We'll have more energy--"

"--and more ice cream," he finished for you, looking forlornly at the empty bucket.

You couldn't help but let out a small laugh. "And more ice cream."

Chapter Text

You woke up late the next morning, rolling out of bed with a yawn. Although you contemplated going back to sleep, you decided that you ought to get up before the day vanished entirely. Your stomach rumbled hungrily, and you took care of your daily rituals before heading out to find something to eat.

A figure stood in the lit hallway, waiting for the elevator. He spotted you, waving at you from a distance away.

You were wondering who this person was at first, but then you realized that it could only be Clint. Who else would have such keen eyesight? Your prediction was right, and you greeted him as soon as he was in earshot of your speaking voice. "Good morning," you said. "How'd you sleep last night?"

"I slept as well as I could. Truth be told, I don't sleep very much. What about you?"

"Like a rock," you replied. "I can't even remember my dreams."

He looked cheerily wistful -- a strange combination. "Ah, dreams. I feel like I remember every single one... they're all the same."

The elevator dinged, and the both of you stepped inside as its doors parted. "All the same? What do you dream about? Orange juice?"

Clint gave you a short chuckle, though he shook his head. "They usually involve my brother."

You remembered him mentioning his brother during the Two Truths and a Lie game. "Barney? Will you tell me about him?" You stepped out of the elevator when it opened on the first floor, and as you turned to head toward the cafeteria, Clint interrupted.

"Hey, let's get something to eat elsewhere. It's still the weekend, and the helicarrier hasn't left yet. It'll be our last bit of freedom before tomorrow."

You had no objections, so you followed him. Once you reached the parking garage and found his mustang, you were on the road. "Where to?" you asked.

"I have a little café in mind. It's one of my personal favorites. They have fresh-squeezed orange juice, and they even strain the pulp out of it for me."

"Well, aren't you something special?" You grinned at him. "But you never answered me -- what about this brother of yours? I've never head you talk about him."

Clint stared straight ahead, as if he were concentrated on driving, but there was a dullness in his gaze that you could not place.

"You don't have to tell me, if you're uncomfortable," you assured, wondering if you had brought up a sensitive topic. "I was just curious, but if you don't want to talk about it, that's perfectly fine."

"...it's not that," he admitted, his hands on the steering wheel. He came to a bit of a rough halt when the car in front of him braked suddenly. You lurched forward, though the seat belt caught you. "Sorry about that." This topic was obviously distracting for him, even from driving.

"Like I said, if you don't want to talk about it, that's okay. Or we can wait til we get to the café... that might also be safer."

"I don't mind talking about it," Clint said. "It's just hard sometimes. Barney... well, he's dead."

You were jolted out of your concern for driving safely. No wonder why you had heard nothing about his brother -- he was gone. "I'm sorry to hear that. He must have meant a lot to you."

He gave you a shrug, letting his eyes fall on you for a second before looking toward the road again. "It's not something that anyone can change. I've come to terms with it, but I just wish that it didn't have to be that way." He paused for a moment, and you allowed the silence to draw out his next sentence. "He is my older brother. Our parents died when we were young... but don't feel too bad. They weren't exactly good parents. Our dad was an alcoholic, and our mother was as apathetic as they came. They weren't meant to be parents; they died in a car accident."

You sat there, bewildered that all of this information tumbled so easily from his mouth.

"And Barney... he and I were close. We were all each other had. He was older than me by a year, so he often stood up for me. He was the one who demanded that we be put in the same orphanage -- even when he had the chance to finally be adopted, he wouldn't leave me in the orphanage by myself, so he refused to go."

"What happened after that?" you asked quietly.

"We stayed in that orphanage for about six years. God, it was an awful place. The caretakers were nice enough, but it was the environment that we couldn't stand. It was hopeless. Everyone was so negative, and no one seemed optimistic enough to lead their lives out of there. Eventually, we ran away. No one ever came looking for us, which was fine. That was when we joined the circus, doing all sorts of odd jobs for them."

You remembered reading about his circus life in his profile, though the story would be more genuine if it came directly from his source.

"After that, we thought our lives would get better, and they did for a while. Swordsman, one of the performers, took a liking to me, making me his assistant. I think Barney grew... jealous of the attention. We started to become distant from each other. A while later, I caught Swordsman stealing money. He offered me a cut if I wouldn't say anything, though I refused, and he beat me up pretty badly. Trickshot, another performer, saved my life, though Barney thought it was wrong of me to go against Swordsman.

"Our relationship deteriorated after that. He left to join the army because he was fed up with circus life; he even asked if I wanted to go with him. I had to think about it, and when I finally decided that going with my brother was something worthwhile, it was too late. He had already left. I stayed with Trickshot and learned all that I could from him."

"Did you get to see him? I mean, Barney, before he passed?"

Here, Clint's lips curved into a small, sad smile. "I did. I fought against him once. I didn't know it was him, and I ended up injuring him with an arrow. He survived that blow, but he died later in a battle against Egghead."

You wondered if he had any more to say, but when the silence came, you decided that it was your turn to speak. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea that your past was so... dark. There are some things that even S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't know about, I guess."

"Fury knows the gist of the story, but he doesn't know the details. In fact, no one except Natasha knew for a long time... and now you."

"Thanks for telling me," you said. "I know it must have been hard for you. I can't even imagine how painful it must be to live the way you do, but I think you're very brave for doing it." As you spoke, Clint pulled into the parking lot of a small community. "If I were in your shoes, I would have lost hope a long time ago."

The both of you exited the car, and soon you were walking side by side toward the café. "You know," Clint began, "I've always thought that hope was really important. You gotta keep it with you, no matter how bleak things may seem. Hope is what kept me alive all these years. Sometimes, my life was terrible, even unbearable, but I've learned to keep looking forward in hopes that there would be a brighter tomorrow--"

You had reached out and wrapped your arms around him in a tight hug. You couldn't help it. Even though you were usually good about remaining calm, his words touched you... the ride over here had been emotional -- you could tell that this story was his most personal history. The fact that he so willingly shared it with you... well, it meant a lot.

Clint blinked, obviously surprised at your sudden embrace, but he didn't pull you away. Instead, he returned the hug. "Look, I appreciate your apparent sympathy and affection, but... I don't look that desperate for a hug, do I?"

You shook your head. "No, but you deserve one. And some pulp-free orange juice. All the orange juice in the world."

His expression eased into a smile, and you felt relieved to see it.

Chapter Text

"Back on your feet and working already. That's dedication." You looked at Bruce, who was bent over some sort of equipment, metal tongs in his hands, protective goggles over his eyes. "This really is your natural element. You look so... relaxed here."

"Well, it's either relaxed or excited, and if I'm the latter, the other guy comes out. So take your pick." He didn't bother looking up from his work.

You didn't respond, instead glancing over some of the equipment in the lab. "What's it like?" you asked.

"Hm?"

"What's it like when you transform?"

That was the right question to get his full attention. He set his instrument down, lifting the goggles off and placing them on the bench. Bruce still did not meet your gaze, but you knew that he was contemplative. "...it's like a hallucination. My mind churns through these intense sensations, but I can't place them. Even after he leaves me, I can't piece together the shards of what I can remember. It's too much."

You would never understand, but you could sympathize. "You hate it, don't you?"

He sighed, and his brown eyes found yours. They were deep, yet subtle, with a foreign longing in them. "I want to call it an abomination, but the fact of it is that it has saved my life."

"And mine too. And the lives of many others. You're an Avenger, a hero."

Bruce shook his head wearily. "But I'm not him." He said that with such intensity that you paused, entirely unsure of how to respond to that. "I'm not him. He's the Hulk; I'm just Bruce Banner. There's a difference, _____."

"But I think you share a consciousness. Somewhere in your mind, you're present, even when the other guy comes out. He doesn't just appear and tear through the city in the shell of your body."

He gave you a disapproving glance. "It's happened before, right here on this aircraft. I can't control him when he's unleashed. I don't want to control him -- I want to get rid of him."

"But what about all of those times when he has done good? It was because of you allowing him to come out that Manhattan was saved. You have to give yourself some credit. And what if you're more alike than you know? What if your consciousness is the same, and the transformation leaves you too exhausted to--"

"--damn it, _____!" He pounded a fist on the lab counter, standing up as he addressed you.

You jumped back at his sudden outburst.

"See? You're afraid of him too. You just recoiled, thinking that he might come out. He might, he just might."

Your eyes widened, and you wondered if he was bluffing. To say that you were unafraid? That would be a lie. Even so, you stood your ground, knowing that Bruce would never intentionally let the Hulk come out like this. He had more power than he thought he did.

"Like, I said, I can't always control him. Whenever my heart rate goes up, whenever my blood pressure rises, the barriers are lowered, and he has the chance of breaking through." He calmed, and a still melancholy could be seen in his expression. "It's like the dam of a river. Sometimes the flood gates are opened, and the water flushes out. I have no control."

"But sometimes you do have control, don't you? Like yesterday, when we were on Coney Island, you transformed, you went directly for the serpent. You could have easily crushed me, but you chose not to."

"Listen, I don't understand the other guy's methodology. I don't know how he thinks. It's not like we've ever sat down and had a conversation before. I'm glad he didn't turn against you or any other civilian, but he always fights the source of my anger and frustration. I have no control over who or how he chooses to fight."

"Bruce, I think you're evading him."

"The other guy? Right. I also think that's the best plan of action, considering things break when he comes out."

You pulled one of the lab stools over toward him and took a seat; he sighed and did the same. "Have you ever tried embracing the other guy? Just accepting him?" you asked. "You say that you can't control him, and you want to be rid of him, but that isn't something that has worked. Maybe there's an alternative. For years, you've tried to stem him, preventing him from coming out... but maybe if you accepted that he's now a part of who you are, you can finally come to terms with him."

That was the last thing he wanted to do, and he shook his head again. "_____, I don't think you understand..."

"...I don't think you do either."

Silence then engulfed the conversation, and the both of you sat there, staring at the floor, the walls, anything but each other. He was contemplative; you were cautiously inquisitive. Your words had obviously left him thinking, though you wondered if they would have a permanent impact on him. Hopefully, for the better.

Chapter Text

"So what made you want to do this?"

"This?" Steve looked at you for clarification.

You supposed that your question was a little unclear. It was a mere thought that had just occurred to you as you stared at the glowing sunset. An array of beautiful colors painted the sky, portraying a breathtaking tapestry above the ocean waves

The both of you stood on the dock where the helicarrier was landed. You leaned against the railing of the dock, chin resting on your arms. "This. Becoming America's Super Soldier. You've devoted your whole life to serving others... do you regret it at all?"

"Never," Steve replied, leaning on the railing right next to you. "I feel like it's my calling. There is no greater pride than in defending your country and the innocent civilians that live there."

"As patriotic as ever, I see. You really are Captain America."

He grinned, exhaling in a short laugh. "You could say that, but I think I blind patriotism is a poor service. I love this country, but justice and honor are values that I hold even closer to my heart."

You nodded. "That's very obvious with you, I think... in a good way. It's comforting knowing that we have people like you to depend on when things go wrong. I remember I was in the university library when Loki appeared in Germany... it was all over the news. In fact, the librarians even projected it onto one of the screens so us students could watch what was happening. It was really devastating, you know? Even though the attack was so far from home, it really left an impression on all of us."

Steve was quiet, and he listened intently at what you had to say, his eyes on you as you watched the vast ocean and told your story.

"...I know we were all relieved. Every single student at Faroff University was relieved that the invasion was in Germany and not here. But at the same time, we were all concerned and afraid. Those poor people. How could Loki treat them like that? Bend them to his will and then humiliate them? But then you appeared with Natasha and Tony, and we all knew that everything would be okay."

"I'm glad that our presence gives you a feeling of comfort and security. That's why I do what I do. It's so important to me that people have their freedom, their dignity, and their rights as human beings. And... you know, I could never live with myself if I let anyone hurt someone like you."

You turned to him with a small smile. That was very kind of him to say, you decided. Really, Steve was a very sweet man with a compassionate disposition. You had never met anyone like him before -- perhaps he was unlike the men of today because he grew up in the early 1900s.

"...it's not something that I understand," he continued as he noticed several seagulls fluttering in the orange sky. "I know we've had this conversation before, but it's never made sense to me." He shook his head slightly. "I'll never understand what makes Loki tick."

"He's done some terrible things," you agreed, "and at this rate, he probably will continue to do terrible things. I'm sure Thor could probably explain his train of thought better than either of us. Has he?"

"He actually hasn't said much. It's a very touchy subject for him, so that's why he's reluctant to elaborate. But at any rate, we're left with making guesses at the situation."

You nodded solemnly. "You can't force him to talk, and I'm sure that if there's something that we really do need to know about Loki, he will make sure to tell us. Maybe Thor feels that what happened between him and his brother is irrelevant at this point."

"Do you think that's true?"

With a shrug, you said, "I can't really be sure until I know what secrets they've buried in Asgard. Ideally, he'd give us that information, but we can't expect him to share everything about his past. A lot of that experience is personal, I'm sure. We'll just have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

"You're so... perceptive," Steve said. "I think that's your superpower. Perception."

You couldn't help but laugh. "I feel like that's a pretty lame superpower compared to what you've got." You touched his arm. "Just look at those muscles. No matter how perceptive I am, I'd never be able to do what you do."

"I don't think I could do what you do either. It's only been a week, _____, but I feel like you've done something for us that we've needed all along. It's... it's hard to explain the impact you've had on our lives."

"You're speaking for all the Avengers?"

He let out a sheepish chuckle, and in the pale, orange light of the sunset, you couldn't tell if he was blushing or not. "Eh. Well, mostly me. ...is that so wrong?"

You shook you head, a small grin on your face. "Not at all."

Chapter Text

"What's this? Here on a Sunday night? That's boring."

You looked up from your book in bed, only to see that Tony had appeared at your doorstep. "Hello, Tony. Didn't expect you to be there on, as you said, such a boring night." You had propped open your door earlier to see if anyone would come visit. It seemed like everyone was busy, but you would not mind the company -- really, you just wanted to have a relaxing night, maybe chat with some fellow staff members.

Without an invite, he stepped in, studying the decor that you had put up on the walls and shelves. "No, I didn't say the night was boring. The night's fine. I was merely commenting on the method you chose to spend the night."

"Well, some of us like our quiet time." You let your eyes fall back on the book, though you weren't reading its pages.

"Quiet time with the door open? Oh, you humor me." A particular photo caught his eye, and his took it from your desk, holding the frame up as he studied it for several seconds. "What's this shenanigans?"

"That's from my junior year," you said. "My friends and I were all trying to fit into one of those photo booths." As you thought about those memories, you smiled. "Didn't work too well because the booth was too small."

"Obviously. All I see is your eyebrow in this one."

"They're good memories, you know. I always hear that college is the best time of your life."

Tony set the picture back on your desk with a curious look in his gaze. "Everyone says that, but don't believe what everyone says."

"You didn't like college?"

"It was all right. Not nearly as life-changing for me as they all said it would be." He began to look at all of the other items in the room, from the books on your shelf to the items on your desk. "You're still young though. Fresh out of college, really, with your whole life ahead of you. I'd expect you to still think that college is the best thing that's ever happened to you, since you haven't experienced much else."

You shut your book and set it on the bed beside you. "What's the best thing to ever happen to you?" you asked, all of your attention focused on Tony.

"You mean other than the dashing good looks and charming persona?"

"I'm being serious."

"So am I." But as much as he joked, he looked genuinely thoughtful, a face that you had only seen on him when he was hard at work on his experiments and science-related projects. "I hate to say that it was the time that I spent being held hostage with less than pleasant conditions, little food, and no alcohol -- really, how hard is it to ask for a cheeseburger and a martini every once in a while?"

"Your experience in the Middle East must have resonated with you, though, to have dredged up those memories."

He tipped his head slowly back and forth. "Yes. I suppose being a captive was both the best and the worst thing to have happened. A gift and a curse. It made me come to the realization that Stark Industries needed a change, but it also opened my eyes to how appalling some people are."

"Hrm. Those do exist, appalling people. At least you made it out alive. I'm sure there were many others in your same circumstance that died in captivity, likely tortured and starved."

Tony quieted for a moment, and you wondered if you had said anything wrong to have struck a sensitive chord -- something so impactful that you actually left the Tony Stark speechless.

"You okay?" you asked.

He sat down on the edge of your bed, his usually bright, brown eyes staring dully at the wall. "There was a man named Yinsen, a talented engineer and physicist, who I was held captive with," he said.

"Mmhmm..." you said, prompting him to continue.

"He didn't make it. And while he helped me escape, he died. His family had passed -- they were civilians killed in a war that they had no hand in. I would have saved him. I would have brought him back to the US, but he wanted to lie there and breathe his last breath. He wanted to die. That's what the war did to him; that's what this violence and destruction brought upon him."

You were taken aback by his story. "I... I'm sorry." You didn't know what to say. In fact, you didn't think that there was anything to say.

He brushed off your apology with a casual wave of his hand, and he took a deep breath. "Ah, despite the tragedy, that was what prompted me to close the weapons division of Stark Industries."

"A gift and a curse, as you said. It's unfortunate that you had to experience this tragedy, but it brought about a good change."

Tony nodded, though a new expression came about his face. "No use waddling in the mud though. Just gotta forge ahead. Speaking of forging ahead and new beginnings--"

"--if you're inviting me to dinner, you can forget about it." You didn't want a repeat of last time, and you looked on as he snickered. He was back to himself.

Chapter Text

On Monday morning, you headed toward your office, ready to begin your second week of working at S.H.I.E.L.D. The first week, other than having to shuffle through some paperwork and introductions, was enjoyable. To be honest, you liked this job more than you thought you would.

Working with the Avengers was stressful. Overall, they were affable people, despite their social status and Super Soldier powers. The only one who was even slightly abrasive was Tony, and so far it seemed like harmless tension. Bruce was a tough nut to crack, but he seemed willing to work with you, while Clint was easygoing, though somewhat sarcastic. Natasha and you were getting along as coworkers, perhaps even as women. Steve and Thor were both fully cooperative.

You thought your exercises had been successful so far. At the very least, they seemed to enjoy them, particularly the Baby, Do You Love Me? game you introduced to them.

With a small yawn, you poured yourself a hot drink, settling down at your desk. You keyed in the password to the holographic computer, pulling up the agenda and schedule that you had made on Friday. Today you would be having one-on-ones with the Avengers, mostly just to see how you were handling themselves with regard to one another. It was something that Fury requested that you do, and you felt like you were slowly becoming the Avengers' personal therapist.

You shrugged. There are worse jobs.

As you sipped on your drink and flipped through the folder on your desk, your mind drifted to your run-in with Loki. It was so... strange. He was a god. He could do whatever he wanted, and yet he chose to terrorize the innocent civilians on earth. Perhaps that empowered him, gave him a sense of purpose. Or perhaps he was secretly a crybaby who longed for attention from his father.

You would never know. Even so, it seemed like important information. Intentions were everything. Your eyes traced the words on the profile in front of you, but you were not reading. You were thinking. If S.H.I.E.L.D. could figure out what it was exactly that Loki wanted, then they had the upper hand. You had already shared your thoughts on the matter, but it was easier said than done -- delving deeper into his mind would be a dangerous task.

You thought about it, and there were only two ways to go about it if you were to draw that information directly from the source. S.H.I.E.L.D. could send spies to find Loki, follow him, and wait for him to divulge these intentions. Of course, there was always the time invested into this process; there would also be a risk associated with the safety of the spies. Furthermore, who could be sure that Loki would actually provide this information before he unleashed his fury?

Then there was the idea of capturing Loki, which could be disastrous if the operation went wrong. Not only could it trigger the god and his bitter emotions, but there was also no guarantee that he would crack under interrogation. From what you had read of the previous case, it seemed like he was not the sort to talk -- not even under pressure, and bringing him onto S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier again was not a smart plan.

You knew what this meant. Going directly to the source was too risky. You would have to go somewhere else.

And that somewhere else began with Thor.

Chapter Text

"Do you have a minute?" you asked as Thor dropped by to bid you good morning.

"Of course, _____," he replied well-naturedly, "What can I do for you?" He stepped forward, taking a seat in front of your desk.

"I wanted to ask you something," you said, watching the expression on his face carefully. You needed to know how far you could press and still receive answers. It wouldn't do if Thor stormed away angrily or put up an emotional barrier. "It's... I think it might be a bit of a touchy subject for you."

Thor was not stupid; he knew immediately what you were talking about. "This is about my brother, is it not?"

You nodded, actually thankful that he seemed to be taking well to the topic so far. "I think we need more information about him. I understand that you and Loki were very close before he broke away from you... is there anything that you feel that we ought to know about your relationship?"

"We were brothers, not by blood, but in companionship and soul. We were inseparable -- where I went, Loki followed, and where he went, I would go. Those were happier days, but now only fond memories."

This was not new to your ears. You were familiar with Thor and Loki's preexisting relationship -- it was a good one, a friendly and loving brotherhood. However, you wanted to dig a little deeper. "But what else?" you prompted. "Was it the mere fact that he discovered he was adopted that drove him to this path of destruction? Or do you think it was something else?"

Thor paused, his eyebrows furrowing in thought. "...it was triggered by that sudden news."

"Triggered? Then you mean the tension had been building all along?"

"I was young and foolish, and I did not see it then." His voice was filled with a forlorn regret, as though he sincerely wished he could go back in time to change what had not been done. "Loki, for all of his intelligence and gifts, did not possess the strength of an Asgardian god. Although he was given the title of Odinson, the public did not hold him in high regard because of his lack of strength and fighting skill, values that we hold dear to the throne. I wish I could say otherwise, but he was not treated as an equal, not with the respect that should have been granted to him."

This was the information you had hoped to gather. You leaned forward in your chair, giving Thor another nod. You wanted him to continue, to speak from his heart all the stories and emotions that would be so relevant to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mission.

"I only ever wanted to be your equal... that was what he told me when we fought. It angered me at first, and yet, it filled me with a great sadness as well. I believe he spoke the truth as he saw it. He only wished to be acknowledged, and had I provided him with the support and encouraged everyone else to do the same, perhaps he would not be so lost."

"It's not fair to blame yourself," you said, trying to comfort him. "From what I'm hearing you say, I think the fault lies with every Asgardian, if any fault should be dealt. No one understood Loki, and maybe that was because he never let anyone understand him."

The expression on his face was a grave one. "Even so, I feel as though I should have known."

"You can't live this way, Thor." You shook your head gently. "You couldn't have known if he never told you -- guilt is such a heavy burden, even for a god."

"Heavy or not, it is my burden to bear." He stood, now towering over your seated self.

Although he was looming above you, you knew that he did not stand to intimidate you. He merely needed his time and peace. He looked as though he wished to take his leave, but there was something you wanted to make clear, so you stood as well (even though he still was quite a bit taller than you). "I understand that you're feeling upset, Thor. But the fact of it is that it's not just your burden -- it's not just the Asgardians' business anymore. Loki is now our business too. He's laid waste in our home, killed hundreds of innocents, and the people of this earth have to come together and fight him."

He was quiet, obviously not pleased at your stance because this was something that he did not wish to hear. He knew it in his heart of hearts, but he was not ready to come to terms with it.

"I know you want to protect him. As furious and saddened as you've been, you want to protect your brother, but you may not have that luxury when push comes to shove. If he does something disastrous again, S.H.I.E.L.D. has to consider the people first. There are countless lives depending on this organization and its mission, and we don't want to give Loki a chance at striking again--"

"--I will stop him." His voice was firm, low, and he looked at you with a determined stare.

You glared right back at him, telling yourself to remain strong, despite whom you were talking to. "...but what if you can't?" you replied. "You haven't been able to so far. Loki has killed hundreds of people, and even if you try your hardest to defend them--"

"--that's enough," he barked, his intonation rising just slightly. He wasn't angry yet, but if you continued to push his buttons, he would be.

Did you care? No. He could be angry with you; that was all right. You would take the blame if you had to. You weren't sure if the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had exhausted this alternative because Thor was unwilling to relinquish information or because they were too terrified to try. You highly doubted that no one else had thought of using him as a resource... it seemed so obvious. But, to be fair, an angry Thor was a very intimidating prospect.

You took a steady breath. "Do you really think you can prevent him from killing more people?" you asked. "Do you think you know enough about him and his intentions to protect civilians on earth from his wrath?"

Thor said nothing.

That was fine. Your questions were meant to be rhetorical anyway. Hopefully, however, you managed to strike a sensitive chord that would make him come to the realization that the Avengers could not defeat Loki without his cooperation. You continued, "This is a battle that we've already lost. Once a single innocent person dies, we've failed. We've failed them. Do you understand that? We can't go back and reverse the damage, but we can end this battle now and minimize the casualties that would have followed."

Still, he was quiet; he did not dare look you in the eye. Instead, he just turned away, and walked out of your office, his pace a brisk one.

"I know you love you brother," you said after him, "but, please. Remember the innocent people. They did not ask for this invasion, and they have loved ones to protect too."

Chapter Text

"Our demi-god didn't seem too pleased when he walked into the cafeteria this morning."

You looked up from your work to see two figures standing at your doorway. "Oh, hello," you said, acknowledging Tony, and behind him, Steve. "I know. Thor's a bit upset with me, but we had a conversation that had to happen."

"And what was this conversation about, if we may be so nosy to ask?" Tony sat down immediately, making himself at home.

Steve took a seat as well, folding his hands across his lap. "Thor's not un-prone to anger, but he is not usually so aloof about his problems. When he stormed out of the cafeteria as soon as he saw us, we knew something was wrong."

"Hrm." You pursed your lips, wondering if it would be wise to divulge this information. There would be no harm done, you decided -- if anything, these two might actually be able to help you with getting Thor to relinquish the information that S.H.I.E.L.D. might find useful. "I asked him about Loki," you said. "I thought there might be something that we failed to understand about him, something that might help us defeat him."

Tony raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren't you? Going from HR policy to superhero status. That's fresh."

"The director asked me for my input. I gave it to him."

"And now you feel the need to assert your correctness. I get that. But pissing a demi-god off isn't a good way to do it."

"It may be the only way to do it," you replied, adamant that you may have tapped into this goldmine of a resource. Thor was reluctant -- that was how it always had been. But if you could nudge him a bit more, push him a little further, then he may provide you with the necessary information.

"_____," Steve began, looking as though he were choosing his words carefully, "This is a sensitive subject for Thor, and many of us have tried asking him in the past..."

"And no one has been successful. I understand fully that Thor may not be willing to talk, but I think he has to. He has to. So many people have died because he's been unable to rein Loki in. Think about what happened in Germany, on New York, on Coney Island. Think about what might happen next. We need to be able to stop Loki, and we need Thor's help."

"Oh, I see. An advocate of tough love." Tony shifted in his seat. "You're well-intentioned, sure, but try to convince a god that. He's had everything served to him on a golden platter and now a mere human tries to tell him how he should think? Ludicrous."

Steve looked slightly amused, tipping his head sideways toward Tony. "He learned that the hard way when he first met Thor."

"And you learned a tough lesson when you first met the microwave."

You couldn't help but laugh at Tony's comment; Steve looked slightly sheepish, though he took the joke well. It was probably the truth.

"But my point is, Miss _____, that Thor took your conversation very personally. Born with a golden pacifier, swinging Mj�lnir around since he was in diapers, he's not used to such blunt demands."

"I don't think it's just that," you said -- you weren't even that hard on him. "I think the idea that he might have been able to prevent Loki from taking the path he did gnaws at him... it must constantly wear away at his conscience. He's probably suffering more than we know."

Your office went quiet. Even Tony, who always seemed to have something to say, stared at your desk silently.

"So what's the plan?" Steve finally asked.

You shrugged. "I'll just keep chipping away at the walls he has raised up. I think that's the only way to go about things."

The two men nodded.

"...I'll wait a little while before talking to him again though." You wanted to give Thor a bit of time to calm down and digest everything that you had discussed. "Maybe he'll change his mind."

Chapter Text

"Here, I thought you could use some coffee," you said, sliding the mug over the laboratory counter. "You've been working all morning. And all night too, if I know anything about you."

Bruce looked surprised that you would take the time out of your day to see him, but he accepted the coffee gratefully. "You know you're not supposed to eat or drink up here in the lab, but I think I'll make an exception."

You grinned. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone."

He took a sip of the hot drink, eyeing it carefully. "How did you know I like my coffee black?"

"Because that's how you drink it every day. I notice these things."

"Hrm," he grunted, his gaze falling back to his research. He was very introverted. In fact, you would deem both Bruce and Natasha to be the two most introverted members of the Avengers, but this was something that you would discuss with them all specifically at another time.

"So tell me what you're doing," you prompted. "Still working on gamma radiation research?"

"Yes, these sorts of things take time." He brought up the holographic computer screen next to his work space, pressing several keys before turning toward the tools on his work surface. "There are many properties and uses of gamma radiation... and the more I learn, the more I want to know."

"That drive to gather knowledge is strong, huh?" Oftentimes, you felt the same way -- perhaps not with the sciences, but with other matters. That was how you felt about relationships, both in your personal life and the workplace. The more you learned about a person, the stronger your desire to find out even more.

Bruce took another sip from the coffee mug. "Knowledge and truth. They are the only two consistent things in my life."

His words struck you somehow, rang deeply in your core, and a strange sadness filled your heart. Did he mean that he had nothing else? Was this the reason why he was so obsessed with his work and studies? Had all of his personal relationships failed him?

"Don't feel sorry for me," he added quickly, as if he had read your thoughts. "I'm satisfied with my situation right now."

You knew he was lying. Perhaps he was okay, perhaps he was indifferent, perhaps he understood that matters could be worse, but he was certainly not content by any stretch of the imagination. "You're not happy, are you?"

He paused for a short moment. "No. Can't say that I am." There was a gleam of thoughtfulness in his eyes, and he continued. "When I'm hard at work, I don't have to think. My mind is like an automatic engine. When I turn it on, it just goes..."

"...and you don't have to think about other things?"

"Mmhmm."

"The sciences, the pursuits of knowledge and truth, are your haven, then."

"That's correct."

"Well, if that's what works for you, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Bruce tipped his head to the side, turning toward the computer screen once again, swiping through several graphs and data tables. "You might be right."

"But I'm not?" You could never hope to fully understand him. Bruce was a complicated person, whose thoughts and emotions were possibly the most obscure and tangled of all the Avengers you worked with. His very existence had been distorted when the Hulk entered his life, and he had never been able to escape the creature's haunting presence. The man lived in constant fear that this other presence would surface and wreak havoc upon those whom he cared about...

...and that was why he chose not to care.

"I wouldn't say that you're wrong," Bruce replied. "Truthfully, this sort of work is what keeps me sane."

"Is that why you chose to help the needy in Calcutta? To escape the life that you knew, so you could bury your consciousness in your work and studies?"

"You can't blame me for wanting to do that."

"I don't," you assured. "I think you chose the best route, given your circumstances. I don't know what I would have done."

He gave you a skeptical look as though he were asking you if you were just saying that to make him feel better.

"Really. I mean it. I'm very impressed with how you took control of your life, even through all of your trials and tribulations. You've handled those experiences well." You hoped that your sincerity was apparent.

The very corners of his lips lifted into the smallest of smiles, and he shifted in his seat as if inviting you to peer over his shoulder. "Would you like to hear about my research?"

Chapter Text

"So now both the gods are angry and bitter?" Clint chuckled, finding this realization funny for whatever reason.

"On different accounts, obviously," Natasha confirmed. She seemed to be thinking over this problem seriously, pondering the possibilities. "It's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if this is a sort of revelation for Thor. We've been wanting him to share more of his knowledge for a while now."

You sighed, staring at the platter of cookies that Clint had offered you -- they were tempting, and Clint claimed that he could cook. "It's such a demanding issue... and it's tricky."

"That's the nature of our work. There are no clear-cut answers."

"That's to be expected," you said. "That's life. People like to think in terms of black and white, but that's not how it is. Life is really in shades of grey. Sure, there are extremes, though those are few -- really, we're dealing with a gradient of possibilities."

The spy nodded carefully. "It's natural to want simplicity; I've seen it in my work and interactions with others. However, simplicity is not realistic. To simplify is to deny these complications in life exist, and when you do that, you lose perspective."

"Hold on a second," Clint cut in, shoving the platter of sweets even closer to you. "You don't think simplicity is important?"

You finally gave in, taking a cookie from the plate. "It's not that. Simplicity has its time and place, but you can't make the assumption that something has a clear-cut solution just because that's what seems logical at the time. You have to consider all elements, like people, for example. People aren't yes and no, black and white -- they're people."

"And all people are complicated?"

"Yes," Natasha said. "That's human nature. Although there are some hot-button topics out there, most people actually don't think in extremes. Subjects of discussion often have different levels of importance and affiliation. That's what molds us into complexities, regardless of how simple we may want to make things. And even so, humans still seek out this idealistic simplicity."

"I think I see," Clint replied, taking a bite of his chocolate chip cookie. He chewed and swallowed. "But really, don't you two wish that life were simpler?"

You thought that was a silly question. "Of course. We're just saying that life isn't like that, not that we wouldn't want it that way. And, you know, perhaps life is meant to be simple, but we humans complicate it."

Natasha exhaled in a dry laugh. "Funny you should say that when our greatest challenge revolves around two gods."

Oh, the irony.

Chapter Text

"Maybe you should approach Thor first."

You were reluctant. "You think so?" You looked upward at Steve, who purposefully kept his strides slow so that you could keep up with him. Even in the fluorescent light, he was very handsome, you noted.

"I don't know, actually. It's just a suggestion. You're the one who understands people."

"People, maybe. Not gods." You thought about the situation for a moment and then added, "Not gods who can snap my neck if I say the wrong thing."

Steve gave you a sympathetic smile as he opened the door to your office for you. "You know Thor would never do that."

You sighed, brushing through the door and setting a stack of papers on your desk. "Truth be told, I'm a little intimidated by him."

"You never were before."

"I've never made him angry before." You were so confident about how to approach the situation when you were in the heat of the conversation -- now, as you were going over what had taken place in your head, you were no longer sure. Perhaps you had been too harsh; maybe Thor had every right to be furious with you.

Steve seemed thoughtful as he sat down across from you. "You might be over-complicating the situation, _____. I think you should trust in your abilities more."

"I am fresh out of college," you said. "I don't have that much experience, as Tony so graciously pointed out the first time we met. And if I don't have experience, that means I have to trust my intuition. Right now, my intuition is kind of... scattered, like I'm not really even sure how I'm supposed to feel."

"Hrm." He relaxed, leaning backward into the chair and staring at the ceiling of your office. "That's how I've felt for a long time."

You looked at him, an expression of surprising realization. You understood that Steve was trying to sympathize with you, but his comment turned your thoughts around. How disheartening it must have been to wake up every single day and be so confused about how he was supposed to feel. He had been torn between two worlds. It was true that he remained in the United States, but the 1930s to present day was a huge transition for any man.

"I'm so sorry," you finally said after a brief moment of contemplation. "I guess my complaining doesn't do your situation any justice."

He gave you a small chuckle, his wonderfully blue eyes now on you. "Don't apologize. There's no point in comparing these negativities... they are what they are. We just have to move forward."

"That's a very optimistic thing to say."

"Sometimes optimism really helps," he replied. "We should recognize our problems, but then we have to work toward changing what we can and accepting what we can't."

You raised a questioning eyebrow. "I've heard that from somewhere before."

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
"

Steve recited the prayer without blinking an eye; it obviously held a lot of meaning for him. "It's something that my father taught me when I was young."

You nodded, wary of the question you were about to ask. "Do you miss your parents?"

"I do." Steve's eyes, although still their brilliant blue, darkened, if only a little. "But I have no regrets. By the time I served in the Army and agreed to participate in the Super Soldier experiment, they both had already passed. My father died when I was very young, and my mother was taken by pneumonia right after I graduated high school."

This was new information, and as interested as you were, your heart also ached for him. "...how do you do it? How do you live the way that you do, with such a sense of duty and courage?" You stared at your desk, wondering how much pain a person could truly withstand before he collapsed.

"You know, it hurt for a while. A long time, actually. The shock of losing everyone and thing that I knew and loved... it was a heavy burden." He had his hands folded neatly across his lap. "But I had to sink or swim, and I chose to swim, to continue what I had started doing decades ago."

"You're so brave." Your eyes lifted to meet his. "I don't think I could have done what you did."

"I'm glad you don't have to, _____. I would never wish that kind of burden on anyone, least of all someone like you. But you have another challenge ahead... it's a good place to start."

You dreaded the idea of it, but if Steve could brave a seventy year time difference, then you could sit down and have a civil conversation with Thor. "All right." You took a deep breath and stood up. "I'll go find him right now."

Chapter Text

Sure, there were times in your life when you had to make a decision to say the truth -- sometimes the truth hurt more than others. You were usually good about being honest with other people, even if you knew that they wouldn't like what you were going to say.

...but you had never angered a god before.

You had thought long and hard about this last night. Thor had missed his one-on-one in your office, no doubt too furious to speak with you. Maybe that was a good thing; maybe now he wouldn't let his anger lead to any rash decisions.

You had given him twenty-four hours to digest his feelings and sort everything out. Twenty-four hours was not ideal in your mind, but there was work to be done, and you did not want to tell Director Fury that you had angered one of his strongest Avengers.

Although you made sure to grab something for breakfast, for both Thor and yourself, you had very little appetite. The lady in the cafeteria gave you a funny look when you had asked for a dozen donuts, probably wondering how much you could possibly eat. Apparently, providing refreshments during conferences here were rare. You couldn't blame them -- apparently, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s work was just that serious, so serious that there was no use talking over breakfast.

With a heavy sigh, the box of donuts in your hands, and two cups of steaming coffee balanced atop the box, you did a bold thing and knocked at Thor's door.

It was quiet. It was about 10am, so he really should have been awake. After several moments of waiting, the light beating of butterfly wings in your stomach, you finally backed away. Thor had to be on the helicarrier somewhere, right?

You began your search, starting back in the cafeteria. Thor was a heavy man who had to eat a lot to make up for that muscle and bulk... surely, food would be tempting for him. But, to your dismay, you could not find him, and when you asked around, it seemed that no one else had seen him all morning.

You walked through the hallways of the helicarrier, double checking to see if he was in his quarters and you just happened to miss him. No luck.

What about the conference rooms? You knew you would not know who was behind each of the doors if they were closed, but the conference rooms were entirely empty this morning.

You swallowed the lump in your throat, wondering where the god could possibly be.

...was he no longer on this aircraft? Had he left in complete anger, ready to return to Asgard where he wouldn't have to deal with you?

The coffee was getting cold. You passed off the donuts and coffee to two other agents who were chatting nearby, thinking that breakfast with Thor was a lost cause at this point. They thanked you, but you did not have the heart to reply. Instead, you shuffled off, determined to continue your search -- you would ask all of the Avengers and not come to a conclusion until you searched the entire helicarrier.

You dropped by your own office first to make sure that Thor had not left you a note or message, but you couldn't find anything.

However, someone else came by as you were searching through the papers on your desk.

"Something on your mind?" Nick Fury asked, taking a step into your office.

You looked up. "Oh, sir. Hello." You weren't sure if you wanted to reveal everything that had happened. You could lose your job; or worse, Fury might become angry with you. "I'm just looking for something." It wasn't a lie.

He gave you a deft nod. "I see. You strike me as an organized woman. If it's not where you think it is, it's likely not there."

You felt a little defeated, and you replied with a sigh, "You're probably right, director."

He looked at you with his good eye, studying you intently. "How are you doing, Miss _____? Since our last meeting, everyone has been quieter. It seems that they're all thinking over what you had proposed."

"I'm... well. I've just been busy. I'm hoping to meet up with everyone again soon with new team-building exercises--"

--at that moment, the sirens went off, flashing both light and sound.

Fury's expression changed immediately. "Report to the Communication Room in ten minutes. The Avengers should have their assignment, and our footage will be live." He turned around, ready to leave, but you had something to say.

"Sir!" you said, you mind racing. "Please consider what I said in our last meeting. Don't send more than half of the Avengers out. You need some of them to stay here in case Loki decides to strike." You had a particularly bad feeling about this situation.

"We'll see." That was the exact same response he gave you days before.

Chapter Text

You struggled with what was to come, mostly because you did not know what would happen. Would Nick Fury take your advice into consideration? Why should he? You had no evidence backing up your suggestions -- really, you were working off of intuition, and while you felt very sure of yourself, you couldn't shift that feeling onto someone else and convince them the same.

After all, who could afford to work off of mere hunches when so many lives were in danger?

Certainly, not Nick Fury.

The sirens had stopped their incessant wailing, though you still felt their cries blaring in your mind. Your heart beat steadily, quickly, and you hoped that whatever the director chose to do, he would make the right decision for the Avengers and for the countless civilians whose lives depended on it.

With a deep breath, you began your way toward the Communication Room as directed, making note of the various people racing through the helicarrier. They were delivering information, passing along news, running tests of the Avengers' statuses and equipment from afar. You almost envied them -- they had something to keep their minds busy with, while yours was free to wander and worry.

As you swiped your security card and entered the room, you already heard the blasts of weaponry through the audio systems. The fight was already in progress as Fury had predicted. He stood with his back turned to you, watching the Avengers on several large screens.

"Sir?" you said as you approached him from behind.

"They're at it again, those reptilian aliens. This time, they're in the Netherlands." His voice was gruff and matter-of-fact.

You frowned, watching them closely. You saw Steve as he curled his shield in and dashed it into the face of an in-coming enemy, who stumbled backwards with a hiss. "Do you know anything else about them?"

"No. We've been performing studies from the last battle, but we have little information. All we know is that there has been a distortion in the area, a rift in our dimension. We believe that this is where they are coming from, but we have yet to pinpoint an exact location or what is causing this distortion in space."

You were no scientist, but even you knew that this was not a common feat. "...how is this possible?"

His eyebrows furrowed, and there was no mistaking the frustration upon his face. "They're goons. Blind soldiers. Unintelligent. They take orders and that is all. We tried questioning a captive -- it knew nothing."

"You sure it's not the language barrier?" Tony flew by on one of the screens, blasting at a group of the reptiles from above. Sparks and rubble were sent into the air.

"It spoke broken English. It was taught what to say in the face of capture and interrogation."

Clint climbed atop a nearby building, and his arrows soon came forth, knocking down the beasts, one by one. "Maybe it's just loyal."

"Either loyal or very stupid."

"The former is far more dangerous."

"_____ is right, Director Fury. You can't just assume them to be witless, thick-headed creatures until you know for sure. They may be up to something. In fact, I don't doubt it." Natasha appeared beside you, her arms crossed, eyes focused on the battle ahead.

You were surprised and pleasantly so. "You're still here, Natasha?"

"She and Dr. Banner," Nick Fury replied in her stead, "until further notice."

For a moment, you fell silent, thinking that his trusting in your advice was enough. Perhaps he really did think that you had a good point about Loki. However, your thoughts stirred, and you chanced to ask, "What about Thor?"

"I could not summon him. He is not on the helicarrier."

That was bad news.

Natasha spared you a side glance as if asking you to confirm what Fury just said.

You could not read the expression on her face, though you reluctantly nodded. Thor had left at the moment, and with him gone, the Avengers were more vulnerable. If Loki wished to strike, now would be a good time for him to do it... surely, he would not figure out that his brother was amiss, and if he did, you hoped that Thor would know that it was time to return.

Fortunately, the Avengers seemed to be doing well. These creatures were not particularly strong -- the only problem was that there were so many of them. Only time would tell how the heroes would fare.

Chapter Text

Buildings crumbled around them, and the earth shook, lifting dust and debris to the air. The sea of reptilian aliens came forth relentlessly, hissing, biting, spitting -- their numbers were immense.

Steve, Tony, and Clint fought well. None of them were injured, but it seemed that they were tiring quickly as this army wore them down. You could see the beads of sweat on Steve and Clint's foreheads, while Tony's armor was dented and bruised. And still, they bravely fought on, knowing that the fate of the earth was in their hands.

It was hard enough risking one's life to defend innocent civilians.

It was even harder sitting back and watching. At least, you certainly thought so.

You crossed your arms nervously, eyes glued to the screen.

Two reptiles came at Steve, and although he managed to knock them out of the way, several others replaced them. They lashed out at him with their clubs, and Steve had to retreat a few feet before he was able to land a blow. And even then, more reptiles came forward.

Tony and Clint were having a bit more luck, for they preferred to stay off the ground; they found an advantage in height and used their positions to help Steve ward off the enemies. It didn't seem to deter the reptilian aliens, however, and they continued to pour into the city, causing destruction and strife wherever they went.

"Sir." Natasha's confident voice rang out loud and clear. She looked at Nick Fury with a very serious, telling expression -- she wanted to join her allies. Somehow, she knew she would have to. They needed more fighters.

Fury did not bother sparing you a glance, and he gave her a single nod. "Very well. Take Banner with you."

She turned immediately, her steps silent but quick, and she headed toward the hanger where her jet was. There was no doubt in your mind that if she thought the Avengers needed backup, then they truly did.

Of course, you could not blame Fury for granting her that permission. It would have been foolish of him not to, especially if more lives were in danger. A small voice in your head nudged at you to have him reconsider, but you knew that this was even out of his control. All you could do now was hope that your hunches were wrong -- and you would never be happier to be proved wrong.

It all happened so quickly. As you stared at the screen, the minutes ticked by -- it only took a little over twenty minutes for Natasha to arrive on scene with Bruce in her jet. This was the sort of amazing technology that Stark Industries invested in, and you were thankful for that.

During that time, Steve, Tony, and Clint had taken a significantly more defensive approach to fighting. While their individual skills were obviously far superior to those of the invaders, the aliens outnumbered them at least a hundred to one.

Thus, Natasha and Bruce's arrival was a very welcome sight to the tiring Avengers.

"This should even the playing field," Nick Fury said. "Finally, we'll see some results."

Natasha landed her jet on the roof of a still in-tact building close to where the rest of the Avengers were, and exited without a moment's delay. From the opposite side of the jet, Bruce came out, and before you could even clearly focus on his face, his body grew in size, contorting into the green Hulk. While she took a more careful route down to the ground, the Hulk was not so cautious. He stomped down the side of the building, breaking windows and dislodging bricks, with a frightening roar.

You knew what Nick Fury was thinking. He had a moment of relief now that his last two Avengers had arrived, and he was thinking about where Thor could possibly be. Surely, if the god were around, this battle would be over even more quickly, thus reducing the casualties.

But, to your dismay, his disappearance was your fault. You would have to own up to that... and you would, once this battle was settled and over. For now, you were focused on the five Avengers who were on the battlefield.

The Hulk's very presence was a huge intimidation factor, for the reptilian aliens scattered immediately when he bounded to the ground. If the earth shook before, it was quaking now, and the Hulk began his work, punching, tearing, throwing every one of the beasts out of his way. Natasha followed soon after, firing her handguns at those who were running away from them.

You might have thought that the Hulk was who scared the invaders away -- only ten minutes after his raging through the streets, they ordered a retreat. Perhaps it might have been over entirely, but the director had some other plans.

"Follow them," he ordered into his microphone. "Find out where their portal is."

Your curiosity was piqued, and you wondered where these aliens had come from and why they were here. That was a question that S.H.I.E.L.D. was obviously desperate to qualify. If the Avengers could move quickly and intelligently enough, they might be able to discover an answer.

As exhausted as they were, they raced after the invaders. Some of the aliens remained hostile, trying to trip and hinder them as they came, but that did not stop them in the least.

They eventually came to a large, multi-level parking garage that was relatively undamaged. The reptilian aliens were crowding in, occasionally shoving each other to make room for escape.

"Sir, that looks like a deathtrap," you said, eyeing it warily. "What if it collapses?"

"Exactly what I was thinking." He told the Avengers to stop, and they obeyed, likely because they sensed a threat as well. "Stark, scan the area. Report any strange fluctuations in energy."

"A rift in the fabric of space just as Banner had predicted days ago. It's small, but there is a high concentration of energy, some of it in the form of heat, toward the center of the garage. Our fanatical velociraptor friends are crowded around, some of them disappearing into it. Must be a fun party."

"Shame we can't crash it," Clint added. "Wonder who the host is."

The expression on Fury's face did not change. "I want to know the same thing, but it's too risky to send someone in after them. Collect what data you can, and report back to base."

For now, this battle was over.

But, you thought, the war was just beginning.

Chapter Text

You weren't sure if you should have been embarrassed or not. After all, your prediction was wrong -- nothing happened in the United States, much less New York, while the Avengers were away. Perhaps you had merely been too suspicious of Loki.

You were no psychologist, after all. You were a business woman, who had no qualifications in making predictions about a madman's behavior.

...but that begged the question -- was he even mad? Some would certainly say so. You knew, however, that if you and Thor could agree on anything about Loki, it would be that he was not insane. He was merely troubled, a tormented soul that could not find happiness. That did not excuse his behavior, but that might have explained it.

The thought of Thor made you wince. Luckily, Nick Fury had not yet come to you for an explanation, though that did not solve the problem. The fact of it was that you had angered a god. Surely, you would suffer the consequences sooner or later, whether it was from Fury's wrath or Thor's. And honestly, you did not know whose you feared more.

You sighed when you entered your room, tossing your key ring onto the desk as you flopped onto the bed. Fury had given everyone the day off, minus those who were working on tracking the portal; they had quite a bit of work ahead of them, but they were likely used to working with data for long periods of time and at odd hours.

You definitely wanted to talk to Thor, but as you had learned this morning, even your best attempts were useless without his cooperation. You knew that if you didn't find him soon, the whole team could suffer with another alien encounter. Yet, you had no idea how to contact the god. He could anywhere, and if he had returned to Asgard, then there was nothing you could do.

It really was a chance, but you were surprised that you had never tried calling or texting him before. You looked at your cellphone, wondering for a moment if it would be too invasive. The potential fate of the world was in your thoughts, however, so you took breath and sent him a quick text.

[Hey, Thor. Will you please talk to me?]

Your heart pounded when you hit the 'send' button. While you knew that getting a response from him would likely let you sleep better, it might also give you a heart attack from the anxiety of what could potentially be in that message. Maybe that was silly of you because you weren't even sure if he would get your text -- you doubted there were cellphones in Asgard.

But for your sanity, you really hoped that Thor was just wandering around on earth, preferably somewhere where there was reception. You would buy him a million fish tacos and ice cream cones if he'd respond.

You let out a heavy sigh, setting your phone down and burying your face into the pillow. It smelled of your shampoo, which reminded you of how relaxing a shower would be. Too bad you wouldn't have the luxury of your own bathroom at home -- on the helicarrier, there were only community bathrooms. Good thing they were co-ed or else Tony might have tried to sneak a peek.

As you gathered your shower caddy and towel, ready for a hot shower, you also made sure to grab your keys and access card -- it would be terrible to lose those. You were halfway out of the door when you heard your phone ring. Thinking that it might be Thor, you scooted back toward the bed to check.

[Party at Jessie's on Friday. It's his birthday. You up for it, girlie?]

To your disappointment, it was not from the Asgardian god, but from you friend, Rachel. You went to college together and stayed in contact after graduation. While you knew you would be available over the weekend, you hardly felt like going to a party... but then again, it would be nice to catch up with your friends and celebrate Jessie's birthday. You sort-of-reluctantly texted her back, confirming that you would

You then went off to the community bathrooms to take a quick shower, your change of clothes in hand. When you returned to your quarters, you had another text waiting for you:

[Can you bring any cute co-workers? ;) There must someone at this new job of yours. I could use a date.]

You groaned. You knew that you weren't supposed to discuss your work at SHIELD with any member of the general population -- not only was that policy put into place to protect the secrecy of the organization, but also to protect its employees. Although you had not met up with any friends since you were hired, it was hard enough talking around the subject over the phone. You hated the idea of lying, but that made things difficult. If you brought someone with you to the party, then that would make it even harder.

At that moment, there was a knock at your door. "Just a second!" You hurried to make yourself look presentable. When you opened your door, you were surprised to see Clint. "Oh... hi."

"You look disappointed to see me."

You smiled. "No, not at all. Just a little surprised to see you -- I thought you'd be resting."

"I thought about it, though I decided to come check up on you."

"On me? That's flattering, but you're the one who was in mortal danger. I should be checking up on you."

He gave a small chuckle, leaning against the frame of the door. "We all came back just fine, each of us in one piece. As far as I'm concerned, you're the one with the problem." He raised an eyebrow as if to ask you how that was going.

"Mm... still can't get in contact with him. I texted him a short while back, so we'll just have to see if he responds." You held up your phone. "Meanwhile, I got a text from a friend who invited me out to party on Friday."

"A party? Do tell."

"It's silly. They're a bunch of close college friends. Jessie's birthday is on Friday, and he's hosting a party over at his place. Rachel's asking around to see if I can bring her a date from my work since she apparently can't find anyone else." Really, she probably didn't try very hard; she just wanted some easy connections.

There was a mischievous look on his face. "Is she cute?"

"She's very pretty." You gave him a small stare. "Don't tell me you want to come party with a bunch of reckless college kids." The idea was absurd, and if they recognized him...

Clint leaned in closer with a small grin on his face. "I'm free Friday."

You immediately regretted telling him anything.

Chapter Text

It was hard to wake up on Wednesday morning.

Hump day... you thought drearily as you went through your morning rituals. By the time you were in your office, you were wide awake, though you wished that you could be somewhere else other than on the floating helicarrier. The scenery was tiresome.

You were looking through the agenda for the day, noting that you had a team builder scheduled for the Avengers at two in one of the conference rooms. You had completely forgotten about it, but that was not a huge deal. After all, you had plenty of team builders that you were familiar with and it wouldn't take a long time to find one that you liked.

Then, at four, you would be sitting down with Fury and the Avengers to discuss their performance in the last battle.

In only a few moments, you heard a dull knock at your door. "Oh, Bruce. Hello," you said. "What can I do for you?"

He stood casually in the door frame, a cup of steaming coffee in his hand. "Nothing, I just thought I'd drop by to say hi."

That didn't sound like something Bruce would do -- he was usually so wrapped up in his research and experiments in the lab. Nonetheless, you welcomed him inside the office, telling him have a seat.

"Nah, I won't be staying for long," he said as he sipped on his hot drink. "I thought I'd ask what you thought of the Hulk in yesterday's fight."

"He scared off a lot of aliens and beat the crap out of them," you said. "But you already know that. What else do you mean?"

"I know you're interested in him, which is funny because most others are terrified." He paused for a second, staring at the swirls of steam that floated up from the mug. "He's strange, the other guy. He seems to understand circumstances and intentions better than I give him credit for."

You nodded slowly. "Right. He's not a mindless creature. When he comes out to fight, he fights for you. I understand that sometimes he's confused and might cause unnecessary destruction, but that's not usually the case."

Bruce looked as if he were having a mental argument with himself.

"Isn't that obvious, Bruce?" you asked. "I thought you already knew that..."

"I do. It's just difficult to process and understand how or why."

You couldn't help but exhale in a small laugh. "You really do have a scientific mind. I think you need to relinquish this illusion of control and just accept things for what they are. Sometimes the hows and whys really aren't that important."

"Then what is important?"

There was a brief pause as you pondered his question. It was a good one. "You can't ask me that," you finally said, "because what's important to you may not be important to me."

The expression on his face shifted to one of curiosity. "Then let me ask this -- what's important to you?"

"With regards to self?" You pursed your lips together. "Acceptance."

"It's like you're tailoring your answer just for me."

"It may seem that way, but that's advice that I would give anyone. If you can't accept your weakness and your strengths, then you aren't accepting yourself. There may be a part of you that you don't like, and that is fine, but you must work toward accepting that part of you, especially if you can't fix it."

Bruce raised an eyebrow.

"I know that sounded really pointed, but you have to cut me some slack. It's Wednesday morning, and my ability to function drastically drops on hump day. It'll be back tomorrow."

"Hump day?" He looked genuinely puzzled. "Is that what you kids call it nowadays?"

"You've really never heard of it before? It's what everyone calls it." You noticed the skepticism in his eyes and sighed. "Fine. We'll take a poll with the rest of the team at two and see what they have to say -- however, Steve's vote doesn't count." There was no way people in the 1940s used the term "hump day."

To your surprise, he chuckled. With a shake of his head, he said, "That's all right. I believe you. I suppose you learn something new every day."

"That's right. People should anyway. Today I learned that you think too much -- it's not necessarily a bad thing though. No doubt it's the reason why you're so esteemed in your field of study, but I think it might create more obstacles for you than necessary."

"You're observant. Are you sure I'm the only scientist in the room?"

"If you're trying to convert me to your field of study, you can forget it. I hate physics."

He only looked at you with an amused glance.

Chapter Text

The team builder at two went just fine. You were feeling a little under the weather -- it seemed like everyone was, too, if only because Thor was still missing. Just as optimism and happiness were contagious, so was your anxiety. You felt bad for the rest of the Avengers because you knew that they were equally worried, though they had larger things to worry about.

You had to work on getting Thor back on the helicarrier, if not for your peace of mind, then for the Avengers' team dynamic. You sent him yet another text, but you still received no response, much to your dismay.

As you were dropping some paper work off in another office, you saw Nick Fury in the hallway. He was making his way toward you, the usual unreadable countenance on his face. "Good afternoon, sir," you said, as you stopped in front of him.

He dipped his head in greeting. "Miss _____, do you have a moment?"

"Yes, of course, sir," you replied, mentally wincing at the thought of the conversation you were about to have. "Would you like to meet in a conference room?" Those rooms were far closer than your or his office.

"Please." Nick Fury led the way.

Once the both of you were settled in one of the conference rooms, you took a breath and awaited your boss to start the conversation.

"Miss _____, I am sure that you are aware of Thor's disappearance."

"Yes, sir." The expression on your face must have fallen.

Director Fury looked especially intimidating right now, his eyebrows narrowing slightly. "I must ask you -- do you know why he left us unannounced?"

There were two things you could say -- you could either be truthful and risk Fury's wrath, or you could lie and also risk Fury's wrath. Either way, there was no golden solution. You decided to be brave, looked him in the eye, and said, "I do. I think I must have upset him."

"By doing what?" Strangely enough, the director did not seem angry... yet.

"I had a conversation with him about Loki," you admitted. "I wanted him to realize the gravity of the situation and that even though he loves his brother, he needs to think of the people on earth first. They can't be collateral damage all because Thor doesn't want to stress his relationship with Loki."

He was silent for a few moments, and you mentally braced yourself for whatever reprimand was about to come. But, instead, Fury's expression was a neutral one. "I admire your courage. No one else has spoken to Thor about the matter so fiercely."

You were quiet, having to repeat what the director had just said in your head. Was he really not angry?

"However, this is a real issue if Thor is not responding to us. He is a member of the Avengers, and we are relying on his help."

"I understand, sir. I take full responsibility for bringing him back."

"Good." Nick Fury stood, pushing in his chair. "As long as you understand. I expect you to have made contact with him by next week." He made his way to the door, his hands folded behind his back. "And Miss _____?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Keep up the good work."

You were utterly surprised by his compliment.

Chapter Text

Friday came along, and Clint seemed all too excited about tonight's party.

Although you were sure that he was a wonderful person to go to parties with and that he would be immensely popular with the ladies, you also did not want his appearance to blow you cover -- it was supposed to be secret that you were working for S.H.I.E.L.D., after all, and bringing your coworker, Hawkeye, would surely give that away. Your only saving grace was that Clint could keep a secret, and none of the other Avengers had heard about this party.

Maybe he just wanted it to be you two.

You gave a short sigh as you gathered your few belongings for the weekend, and stepped out of your quarters. The helicarrier had already landed, and all you had to do was get home.

Clint was waiting for you in the foyer, leaning casually against one of the walls. "So what's the deal?" he asked. "I take you home and pick you up later?"

"If you'd be willing to drop me off, that'd be wonderful, but my friend's place is actually really close by -- within walking distance of my apartment, really. We could just walk there. You can even just relax at my place before then. We'll order takeout or something."

"Sounds good to me."

The way home was rather uneventful, though the both of you share happy conversation. You were actually kind of glad that Thor was not brought up because he was the source of your week's frustration. Clint seemed to understand that well enough.

You ordered deliverable takeout from your favorite Chinese restaurant that night, and when it finally arrived, Clint flicked on the TV, turning to the news report about the most recent alien attacks.

"I can't believe you still watch the news," you told Clint as you played with your wooden chopsticks. "You were there for the whole thing, so why bother listening to others talk about it?"

He shrugged. "I guess it's interesting seeing what others think and perceive." He shoved a small mound of noodles into his mouth.

"Well, you certainly are enthusiastic about your job. I guess you weren't kidding when you said that you work 24/7, even after five."

When you finished your meal, the both of you continued watching the report. He was right about one thing -- the civilian speculations about the attacks were certainly... creative. There were some people who claimed that this was the first sign of Doomsday. Others thought that this was a conspiracy formed by their governments. And yet, others thought that radiation had leaked through the atmosphere and poisoned some lizards, causing them to grow and evolve at an alarming rate.

...at least it was entertaining.

It was a couple of hours after the sun had set, and you left Clint in your living room to get changed. You slipped into a tight, black dress and heels. You did your hair and put on makeup. Overall, you decided that this was an occasion as good as any to dress up your style a little bit.

As soon as you stepped out of your room, Clint waggled his eyebrows at you. "Looking sharp," he said.

"Sharp? Archer reference?"

He chuckled. "Not exactly, but it can be if you want it to be."

You led the way to Jessie's apartment, hoping that your feet would last the night in these heels. Along the way, you made sure that Clint understood that he had to keep his identity a secret.

He waved a relaxed hand at you. "Yeah, yeah, I know all about that. Fury's rules and all. I'm way ahead of you. I'm going to be Cliff, just for tonight."

"All right," you said with a smile. "Well, Cliff, as long as you understand, don't forget to have fun."

There was already the faint echo of music and the sweet smell of alcohol from inside as you climbed up the stairs to his apartment. You opened the front door, and the music became far louder. Your friends certainly liked to party hard, and while you would be there to celebrate the festive occasion, you weren't sure how long you wanted to stay. Really, you were more here for Jessie's birthday and less for the intense partying.

You introduced "Cliff" to your friends, including Rachel, who was the one who had asked you to bring a fellow coworker with you. They seemed to get along just fine, so you left them to wish Jessie a happy birthday. The two of you chatted for a very short amount of time before he was pulled away for some Jello shots.

You glanced toward the dance floor, which was more like Jessie's living room with all of the furniture pushed aside. To your surprise, Clint was actually dancing, and his moves were actually quite good. He was very attractive, you noted. You stared at him for several moments, when he turned around to look at you.

Though you tried to quickly glance away, it was too late. He walked to you and leaned forward so that you could hear him above the music. "You were checking me out, weren't you? Don't try to hide it."

Although you were about to oppose, he offered a hand. "Come dance with me."

Of course, you had to accept.

Chapter Text

The night wore on, and when you had had your fill of dancing, you retired to one of the sofas, letting Clint have all the fun, while you talked with old friends and classmates.

It was then that you felt your cellphone vibrating in your pocket, and you pulled it out to have a look at who had called. Surprisingly, Tony's name rang up on the caller ID.

You excused yourself from the party, stepping outside to take the call. "Hello?" you said, waiting for his gruff voice to echo on the other end.

However, it seemed that the caller was not, in fact, Tony because the voice on the other line belonged to a woman. "_____? You must be _____. This is Pepper. I'm sorry for calling you so late at night and without notice, but there seems to be a problem."

Pepper was Tony's personal assistant. You guessed that something must have really been wrong for her to have called you on his personal phone. "Yes, it's nice to meet you, Pepper. What's wrong?"

She sighed. "Tony seems to be throwing an emotional tantrum; he's locked himself in his private workshop and refuses to come out, and it has been several hours. I know he has a lot of respect for you as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s HR manager, so I was wondering if you would be able to come over and convince him otherwise."

"Right now?"

"Yes, I realize it's late, but he's never done anything like this before. He may be a grown man, but he can be immature like this sometimes."

You wondered how you would be of any use if his own personal assistant couldn't control him. "I don't know if I'll be helpful at all, Pepper..."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll do far better than I will. You know how to get to Stark Tower?"

Well, that was a silly question. Everyone knew where Stark Tower was. "I'll be there in a few. I'm actually not too far from it right now." You hung up, ran inside to tell Clint about your departure, and then hailed for a cab.

Upon arriving at the tower, JARVIS spoke with you, introducing himself as a product of artificial intelligence. It let you in and guided you toward Tony's workshop without as much as a hitch. You were surprised that it recognized you, but JARVIS was likely far more intelligent than you gave it credit for. When inside, you were amazed by this air of luxury -- beautiful furniture, the halls encased in the finest of marbles and glass.

"Here you are, Miss _____," JARVIS said as it left you in front of a metal door, heavily locked, a panel for a number combination on the side.

You sighed, wondering how long this night was going to be, and knocked on the door.

"Miss Potts, did I not make myself clear when I said I would like some me-time? You know? Time for me, myself, and I?"

His sassy comment didn't faze you in the least. "Tony, I am not Miss Potts. Now open this door."

There was a pause on his end. You had made him speechless. Good.

"What's the matter with you? You usually have so much to say." You knocked on the door again. "Now let me in before I start punching in random numbers into your keypad and persuade security to come up here."

Moments later, the metal doors slid open, and you stepped inside. A large creation of some sort, perhaps a new suit in the works, was propped up, while Tony was laying beneath it, clinking away at his invention. It smelled of oil, and you were hardly impressed by this disheveled version of Tony when he slid out to greet you.

"_____," he said, he eyes falling upon you. You were still dressed for the party. "Well. Certainly wasn't expecting you in that. I admire your fashion sense. Now, to what do I owe this disturbance of my private time?"

"Just heard you've been locked up in here for hours. You might have something to talk about."

"Why would you think that?"

If he wanted to beat around the bush, that was fine. However, you were going to be direct. "Because you look like a mess," you said. "There's obviously something that's bothering you."

It was at that moment that a robot approached you from somewhere else inside the workshop, greeting you with bits of gibberish.

"Oh," you said, blinking in surprise. "Who's this?"

"That would be Dummy." Tony covered his face with a hand, as if trying to wipe away his weariness.

"Is Dummy a she or he?" you asked.

To that question, Tony looked at you as if you had asked something inane. "All the robots around here are 'its.' Now, Dummy needs some extra work. I honestly thought I shut it off." He paced off to another corner in the workshop as if to check on something.

You decided the Dummy was a he. "Good boy," you said to him, reaching out to pet his head.

Dummy, of course, seemed so excited that you would actually give him attention, something that he was likely deprived of on a daily basis. He reached toward a work bench, offering you something from a pot by pouring it into one of the spare mugs lying around.

"Oh... thank you." Whatever it was, it looked like coffee. You were about to take a sip when Tony returned, snatching it out of your hands.

"Ah-ah! Don't drink that. Dummy is what I�d like to call... special." He placed the "coffee" on the bench. "Let's get out of here. Some fresh air would do us good, wouldn't it?"

You bid Dummy goodbye with another pat on the head. "I'm sure your drink is delicious," you assured him as Tony led you to an ascending staircase that curved upward to the roof.

It was a beautiful night, city lights sparkling in the distance, and you stared at the sight in awe as a cool breeze teased your hair. "Wow. It's beautiful up here. Do you come here often?"

"Don't have a reason to."

You glanced over at him. "So are you going to tell me why you locked yourself up in that workshop? Pepper seemed worried about you."

He was silent for a moment before saying, "Paternal woes. Nothing for you to be concerned about."

"I've never heard you talk about your father before."

"That's because I never do."

You decided to try another route. "I'm sure he was a great man to have built this empire. You've inherited a lot from him beyond Stark Industries."

"Smarts and dashing good looks, of course." His hands were shoved casually into his pockets, his grease-stained shirt of little consequence in the dim lighting.

Well, at least he was joking again. "Do you miss him?"

"You're wading into deeper waters, Miss _____. My father was an ambitious man, a great businessman and ingenious innovator, but he wasn't much of a people person. Didn�t have time for a son."

"It must be hard always being compared to him by fellow workers."

Tony's eyes narrowed, and he glanced at you as though you had pegged his very heart with your words. Of course, he would never admit to that, so he looked away, focusing now on the night sky.

You followed his gaze, hoping to see stars, but only caught the blare of an airplane as it flew by. With a sigh, you said, quoting a popular song, "Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?"

He exhaled in a dry laugh. "No, that would be like saying, 'I'm hungry. Let's pretend this brick is a hamburger.' Really, Miss _____, I never thought you were so whimsical."

"You're lucky I'm taking that as a compliment, Stark."

Chapter Text

You had filled a suitcase with more things that you wanted on the Helicarrier. This was what you had been doing -- you were slowly moving the contents of you home into your relatively new room aboard the ship. You would spend the majority of you week there, after all, so why not be comfortable?

As you wheeled your luggage behind you, you took a deep breath, bidding the city goodbye for the next five days. You didn't mind work, though you did miss having your feet on solid ground.

Your eyes were fixed ahead, and as you stood in line for security clearance, you noticed Director Fury exit the Helicarrier doors. He looked as serious as usual, though there was a strained concern on his face as well.

"_____," he called, noticing you as he paced through the layers of security. "I thought you would be with the Avengers."

Apparently, this really was a full-time job, especially if he expected you to be with them even on the weekends.

"I haven't seen them, sir," you replied truthfully. "But I can text them if you need to reach them."

Fury held out his hand as though he were telling you that the texts were unnecessary. "I've already alerted them to the situation."

"What's going on this time?"

He ignored your question, and he stood in silence, his mere presence daunting to the crowd around him. This seemed to garner everyone's attention. "There has been an invasion in this area, not too far from where we are," he announced rather calmly. "The Avengers are already on their way downtown. We must board the Helicarrier as fast as we are able to assist them," he said.

Without any further delay, the staff members of the Helicarrier began to move. Security brought them aboard as quickly as they could. You were one of the final people to be identified, and with your hand on your suitcase, you were able to step upon the ramp.

But then you heard a scream. You flashed around, only to notice a beast that you had never seen before -- it was massive, the size of an Asian elephant, covered in a thick pelt of grey fur. It snarled, saliva dripping from its jaw, its eyes a vibrant gold. This was a wolf, but it was not a normal wolf. This was something of a different caliber.

It came charging at some of the security guards, and while they unleashed their guns, the bullets merely glanced off of the wolf's pelt. Now even more furious, it attacked them mercilessly, blood spilling on the deck of the ship as he mauled through them.

You were stunned -- you hated the fact that you were, but you could not help it. Your heart raced, shocked at the sight that you saw before you. What kind of monster was this?

The wolf chased after the guards who had turned to running as more soldiers came from the Helicarrier to assist.

It was then that the lizards began to populate, almost as though they were coming out of nowhere. However, fortunately enough for your party, your guns did affect the reptilian aliens, and the battle raged on. They hissed and screeched, while many brave soldiers did their best to keep them away from the ship itself.

You veered to the side, knowing that you did not have a weapon. From behind the ramp. you could see that even Director Fury was outside, firing his gun with a calm anger that seemed to help guide his fellow warriors. Commander Maria Hill was also in on the action. Of course, you had never seen either of them on the battlefield, and although this was a frightening time to be so fascinated, you were amazed by their smooth direction and ability to remain level-headed in this heated situation.

The wolf must have noticed that you were distracted. From the side, it came bolting toward you. You had little time to react, but you did what came most naturally to you -- you ducked beneath the ramp as it made a leap for you, only for it to clash into the metal with a loud clang. Of course, it wasn't too happy about that, and it came after you in lengthy bounds of its paws.

Still, you kept on running, letting the adrenaline drive you forward. As you came toward the edge of the dock, you knew that you were doomed. Surely, this beast could outswim you, even if you cared to jump into the water.

Luckily, you did not have to.

He could not have arrived at a better time. Thor appeared, dashing in front of you protectively as the wolf neared. At the perfect moment, he swung his mighty hammer, violently knocking the wolf to the side. He did not waste any time as he continued his attack.

"Thor, you're back!" you said as you looked on in mild disbelief.

He did not have the breath to respond, but seeing him was enough for you; he fought the wolf bravely, and between wrestling with its mass and using his weapon, he had earned the upper hand. The creature had lost in its brawl against the god.

"_____, I hope that you are all right," Thor finally said, hoisting his hammer onto his broad shoulder. "This is Fenrir, another one of my brother's monsters. He will cause no more trouble."

"You mean Fenrir? Or Loki?" you dared to ask.

His lips spread into a thin smile. "Neither, my friend."

With Fenrir's defeat, the reptilian aliens retreated, and within minutes, the remaining Avengers had arrived to clear the area -- apparently the lizard-men on the other side of New York had also disappeared.

Everyone was glad that Thor had returned...

...even the mastermind who was lurking in the shadows.