I had so much trouble with writing this. It started as Clint's chapter, then I gave up and tried writing Natasha's. Then I got pissed off and gave up. But I need something to read at my writer's group tomorrow so I had to get my ass into gear. This happened. I don't like it, but here we are.
There are days when the others think Thor might finally snap. Days when they think today Thor will get up, take off in the fastest car and wind up standing at the Bifrost site in New Mexico screaming at Heimdall. Screaming at Loki, and at Odin. Tearing his throat to shreds shouting until the gateway opens up and swallows him whole. Some days, even Thor himself begins to think it. He waits, as he has become so good at doing, for the day this fragile life breaks and everything comes crashing down.
Natasha is the one who catches him. That flaming red hair glows under the dim lights, and she sits down wordlessly at his side to watch stars. Thor knows better than to talk; to tell her of Asgard or the Nine realms. What care does she have for Yggdrasil? None.
He wonders what she looks for in the stars. When he stares up and maps out Asgard in the constellations, what does she look for?
"He is still my brother," he tells her, because she is there and because it has eaten away at his soul until there is so very little left. "I know the terrible things he has done. The lives he has ended. But there was good in him once. I saw it."
Pausing, he draws upon his fondest memories of Loki. Lets them dance in his mind, play a fool of his heart. And then he closes them out and whispers, "Did I not?"
The flame-haired woman purses her lips; thinks back to the helicarrier. Allows Loki's voice to echo through her mind. Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red. She stares at the sky, remembers standing in the midst of a thousand nuclear missiles and watching her closest ally threaten to end her life. The Dreadnought destroyed, Ivan dead, and sometimes she still hears his voice in her head. "People aren't always who we think they are."
"There was," he says. Resolute now, utterly believing the words. "There was good in him. And we tore at it and beat it from him until there was nothing left. Whatever cruelties my brother has inflicted, it is I who have caused them. It is I who did not see my brother's heart breaking. I who stood by and did nothing as he was driven mad."
"You aren't the only one responsible for terrible things," Natasha tells him. Her fingers curl against her palm, her mind steeled against the memories that try to clamber in and nest there. "You aren't the first and you won't be the last."
The asgardian frowns at her. Perhaps...perhaps he had expected false pretences. Expected to be told that none of this was his fault. Natasha sees the furrow in his brow and her lips twitch. "Did you want me to lie?"
"No." His fingernails dig into his palm, curl longingly around Mjolnir. "No, I would have the truth. Better to realise mistakes made than to deny them."
"What happened to Loki? After you took him to Asgard?"
The change draws over Thor with frightening speed. Natasha's eyes, carefully trained, pick up on the tension that glides up through his body. His breath hitches in his throat. Tears brim in his eyes. Then, suddenly, he roars. One mighty arm hurls through two inch thick plate glass, and shards explode into the air. A harsh wind bites through the exposed side of the mansion.
Their eyes meet, the outburst already forgotten, and he shakes his head brokenly. It is Steve who bursts into the room, wearing his pyjamas but dutifully bearing his shield. Quickly, he assesses the room and the situation. "What's going on?"
"I apologise," Thor says quietly. "It is I who caused the disturbance. I was not myself."
Steve glances at Natasha, wordlessly asking Are you alright? and earning a nod.
"Whatever you have done in the past," she pauses, haltingly catching her breath, "whatever wrongs you believe you led Loki to, they are not what define you. We each have our demons, but they are behind us now."
Rising, she leads Steve from the room. Thor falls to the ground, amongst the shattered glass and cold, harsh wind. If he can see Asgard now, hear Heimdall whispering in his thoughts, it is but an imagined comfort. "Brother. Please, forgive me."
There's a crash, a bang, and then Thor is staring at a sheepish Clint Barton and the powdery remains of the ceiling vent. Hawkeye clambers to his feet and scratches his ear. "So, uh, couldn't help but overhear."
"Because you spied upon us?" Thor snaps.
"Occupational requirement," he retorts.
"What is it you want?"
"To tell you to get your head out of the stars. Damnit, you're one of us, Thor. Which means you screw up and you don't always get it right. It means sometimes you know the right thing to do and you run like hell in the opposite direction anyway. But we accepted that about each other a long time ago. Tony gave me the kick up the ass I needed, so now it's my turn. Loki screwed up, not you. Loki. Whatever you think you did to turn your brother dark side - hell, maybe you did, we just don't know - that is still on him."
"This comes from a man who would welcome the hand raised against him!" Thor shouts. The insult echoes through the room, over the howling wind. The moment Thor hears his own words he despises himself for them.
Clint pales. His hands fall limply to his sides, flex once and then drop. He laughs dryly as his head dips. "Gee, Thor, tell us how you really feel."
"That was r..."
"No. No, you're right. I let my past fuck with my head. People treat you like a punching bag long enough you start to think that's all you are. At least I realised I was wrong. You have a chance here, just like the rest of us, to have a place where you belong. If you let your past fuck that up, the only person you have to blame is yourself."
"I should not have said that," Thor says, head bowed.
"No. You shouldn't have. But we all say things we regret when we're pissed. So, I'll forgive you for it anyway."
"Do you believe what Stark says of us? That this is a family?" Thor asks him.
Hawkeye shrugs, and as his shirt twists Thor catches a glimpse of yellowed bruises scrawled up his side and across his chest. To see them, as proof of Barton's suffering, sends flares of anger bursting up through his body. Clint catches him looking and says, "There'd be more if it weren't for the Avengers. Worse, too. And..in the end, that's what family should be. The people who stand up and tell you to stop fucking around, but are still there to catch you when you're falling down. Do I think this is a family? Maybe not, but it's the closest I might ever come. So hell if I'm letting it go."
Thor considers this, then nods. "You are wise."
"I am a bit," Hawkeye says, grinning from ear to ear. "So you are going to get your ass downstairs and let me cook you pancakes. And you're going to put this nonsense to rest once and for all."
"It it night," he says. "The time for breakfast foods is not yet here."
"Thor," Clint says, clapping him on the shoulder lovingly, "buddy, there is always time for breakfast foods."
Thanks for reading.