Written for a prompt over at avengerkink.
Everyone always looked at Thalia first. One time, as a young teenager on a rare trip to Coney Island, a particularly slow tourist had shrieked and demanded someone call the zookeeper, not even having seen Steve behind the bulk of his much larger daemon. Thalia, bless her, had bared her teeth at the silly woman, making her robin daemon explode with feathers trying to fly away. The woman herself had fainted dead away, and then Steve had been forced to scold his daemon with a smile on his face, because while he disliked the idea of using her to intimidate people, she had always been there to defend him and he loved her for it.
The hands of the army recruiters always wavered before stamping his paperwork with a big red 4F, looking longingly at Thalia before they did so. One of them had shaken his head, lamenting out loud that such a large, strong daemon should be stuck with such a puny boy. Steve, who rather thought things happened a bit the other way around (though neither he nor Thalia would consider themselves as being 'stuck' with each other), had put a hand on Thalia's flank as she growled so low it was almost inaudible. The man's pug daemon had shuffled in place nervously, and Steve led Thalia out, refusing to let his head hang down. That had been his third attempt.
Dr. Erskine ignored Thalia entirely, and that alone made Steve respect him. The man's serpent daemon, a tiny little grass snake barely longer than his arm, unwound from around his neck and climbed sinuously down to the floor, where she touched her tongue out a polite distance from Thalia. Out of the corner of his eye Steve watched as Thalia, a little stiffly in her suspicion, lowered her great head and touched her nose delicately to the serpent's much tinier one.
"Do you want to kill Nazis, Mr. Rogers?"
"Excuse me?" he said, snapping his attention from Thalia. Both man and serpent were staring at them with the same half-lidded eyes.
"It was a simple question, Mr. Rogers. You have attempted to enlist five separate times in five different cities. You must be eager to, what, see the world? Kill some Nazis? Meet some 'dames'?"
Steve heard the quotes around the word, but he also heard the steel under the veneer of idle questioning in the man's voice.
"Is this a test?" he asked carefully. The man smiled, as though pleased, and his daemon wriggled slightly in place.
"Yes," he said simply, setting down the files and pulling off his glasses. "So which is it? Dames, or Nazis?"
"Neither," Steve said easily, and Thalia straightened her posture in response to his tone. "I don't think going to war is going to help my chances with girls, and I don't really want to kill anyone. I just don't like bullies, no matter where they're from."
The man studied Steve for a long moment, and then, smiling still, put his glasses back on.
"Well, we already have plenty of strong men in this war," he said, scooping down to settle his own daemon in his hand. "Maybe what we need now is strong daemons."
And then the man's daemon winked at him, and the man himself smiled at Thalia, and he stamped Steve's paperwork and said, "Congratulations, soldier," and when he opened it up it said, amazingly, 1A.
He turned to Thalia, mouth slightly open, and she butted her large, lioness's head under his chin and he couldn't help but laugh for the unexpected joy of it.
The water was bad enough, but Tony knew in his heart, though he never admitted it to anyone, that he was broken the moment they took Marisol away from him.
Not far enough to sever them, not quite far enough to be fatal. But enough to fill his mind with nothing but Mari, to make it feel as though the electromagnet was not doing its job and the shrapnel was eating his heart away after all. Dunking him almost didn't even register over the dull throb of his heart which he would swear no longer pumped blood but Mari's name: where was Mari, Marisol, my heart, my self, where are you, I can't find you, Mari, Mari, Mari.
It became common, in the ensuing months, for Yinsen to turn to him and startle, stare, and then smile secretly and go back to his work. Tony Stark was not Tony Stark without a white ball python wrapped around his neck, but Marisol would no longer remain so exposed, and it was far more common to find her wrapped around his ankle or his waist. Occasionally if he was wearing sleeves she would peek out from his cuff at some blueprints, taste the air, and then slink back up, hidden and as safe as she could be, here.
She rested around his neck for the press conference, blinking slowly at the cameras and smiling her familiar snakey smile. But as soon as they were off the air she dove down his jacket and settled over the arc reactor, attracted to the slight heat it gave off. In the second design of the suit he made a circular chamber around the reactor for her to nestle in, wrapped around his heart in plain sight. The outer casing of her compartment he made to look like an ouroboros, the serpent version of the phoenix. Mari hissed in distaste when he first showed it to her, commenting dryly, "I'd never be so ill-mannered as to suck on my own tail," and he had thrown back his head and laughed for the first time since the cave. They both knew she thought it was fitting.
If Pepper thought it was odd that she sometimes walked in on Tony just standing in the middle of his workshop with Mari around his neck, rubbing her smooth scales and staring into nothing, she didn't say anything. It was hardly the worst thing she'd caught him doing, after all.
Yes, Hawkeye's daemon was a hawk, ha ha, very funny, how do you think he got the nickname in the first place? Anyway, she wasn't the only reason for the nickname, as a matter of fact. He happened to have gotten a perfect score on every marksmanship qualifier he'd ever taken, from basic training on up, so he had gotten that nickname fairly, alright?
At this point in the conversation whatever junior agent with delusions of a sense of humor Clint was talking to would be treated to an imperial stare from Thelma, who would then fly off with a chunk of said agent's hair.
Sometimes Fury would call him into his office and ask him pointed questions about proper workplace etiquette and whether they had certain taboos in whatever backwater hamlet he'd come from, but they both knew it was a formality. Whatever new recruits Thelma accosted were usually not worth keeping on anyway, if they couldn't figure out not to laugh at the gargoyle in the ceiling with a bow and arrow.
The only agent that had even brought it up and escaped unscathed was a recruit from the NSA named Coulson, and he merely asked, "Hawkeye, hm? For your daemon or your shooting?"
Thelma fluffed her wings to hide her surprise at the directness of the question. Clint smirked.
"Both, of course," he said, and Coulson had given a tiny smile back, like it was Clint that had just passed some sort of test. It was then that he realized he hadn't gotten sight of Coulson's daemon yet. Thelma, who had been tracking him since he had first entered the room, hadn't seen it either. He wouldn't see it for another five weeks, during which he would studiously avoid entering the betting pool about what it might be.
When Coulson reached into his pocket during an interrogation and pulled out a fat little tree frog, Clint almost laughed. But whatever he was saying so intimidated the poor guy that when the frog opened her mouth and caught a fly with her tongue and ate it, he burst into tears and told Coulson everything, up to and including the first pair of shoes he'd ever lifted from a department store.
"That is so very creepy," Clint told him later, as his daemon hacked up the fly and made disgusted faces. Coulson just smiled, which was plenty creepy too. Clint thought he'd fit in just fine here, though he resolved to avoid him in the mess, just in case his daemon actually did eat food. You could never tell with a guy like that. He was almost as bad as Fury.
"What a beautiful ermine," said the man who had ties to the Argentinean mafia. Later she broke four of his fingers before he told her what she needed to know.
"He's a stoat," she told the mafia boss, who had terrible pickup lines and who died of a broken neck.
"A polecat," to the insipid guard outside the British embassy in Egypt who was in love with her before she'd even opened her mouth.
"Ah, a ferret," said the skinny scientist whose ideas she was to steal.
"A weasel daemon, how appropriate," laughed one client before trying to kill her.
"Will it ruin our friendship if I admit I half-expected your daemon to be an actual spider?" asked the man with the bow.
"We're not friends," she said slowly, shifting her grip on her taser as she tried to get a handle on him. With her daemon's teeth around his daemon's throat and his arrow pointed at her head, they were at a stalemate. He apparently ran his mouth when things got tense, which said a lot about him. But then, to her, people were open books. It was almost boring.
"What is he, anyhow?" the man continued, arms not even shaking. She had known her assassin would be the archer from SHIELD, and she had done research accordingly. Thus she knew that the draw on a bow like that was rather high, and even for a very strong man it would be difficult to keep it up for long. She wondered why he didn't use a compound bow. "A marten? Or maybe a mink?"
"No," she said, heart beating faster, "and no." That he was asking as an idle question somehow scared her worse than when she dangled the puzzle in front of her marks like bait on a hook. He didn't even seem all that interested in the answer. Her daemon writhed around his, drawing her in tighter even though she hadn't moved.
"You don't know," the hawk daemon said, sounding amazed. She was looking right at her. "You don't know what you are."
The man's eyes did not waver and his arrow did not move, but somehow she got the impression that his target had changed. She made her face a mask, kept it from moving and giving anything away, but the look on the man's face said that her mask told him more stories than her face would.
"That's no way to live," he said, tone still conversational, but with an undercurrent now of steel.
"It's a life," she said, words tumbling off a numb tongue.
"I can give you a better one," he said, and though the idea was ridiculous he seemed sincere. She stared at him for a long time, and for the first time since the day her daemon had settled she found herself wanting to believe a lie.
Danae was afraid of Bruce. They never spoke of it, but she knew he could tell. She also loved him, and her fear was a dark shame that she tried to bury. Much of the time she was successful, and when things got bad they clung to each other as though they were drowning.
But sometimes Bruce would get angry, and Danae would freeze, and make herself small, and watch him with large eyes made even larger by fear, and he would never even come close to actually hurting her, but she feared that someday he might.
In some ways, the accident brought with it relief.
Now when Bruce got angry, so did Danae. She could feel his rage coursing through their bond, flooding her with the immensity of it, and Bruce would howl, and his skin would warp, and the moment his eyes flashed green Danae would change, as she had not changed since Bruce was eight years old and far too young to have a settled daemon, and then everything would get fuzzy. The only thing Danae could ever remember afterward was that she had not been afraid.
They saw themselves on the news once, and that had frightened both of them. A cameraman had captured the moment of the change, and for the first time they saw the transformation from the other side: Bruce winced in sympathy as bones cracked and lengthened, and the entire bar gasped in shock as they saw his tiny loris daemon suddenly change into a huge silverback gorilla. Danae watched from under Bruce's sweatshirt as the silverback she had become reached almost casually out and plucked a soldier's husky daemon out of the air as it leapt and brought it down on the ground, its spine cracking like a whip before it burst into dust. The soldier cried out and fell, and Bruce turned and walked out of the diner, getting as far as the alley next door before he leaned over and lost his lunch.
In some ways the accident was a relief, but it also taught Danae that to be afraid of Bruce was to be afraid of herself, and she loved him even as she feared him and knew that, for the first time, he felt the same way about her.
Jane and Selvig were staring Darcy in shock.
"What!" she exploded, "he was freaking me out! Where's his daemon?"
"I'm sure it's just in his clothes or something," Jane said, reasonable in her exasperation. "Erik, um."
"Sure, I'll check. He probably landed on the poor thing," Selvig said, crouching down to paw gently through the man's clothes. His face drew tighter as he realized that the man was wearing nothing more than some sort of body-suit, and that unless his daemon was very, very small, there was no room for one to be hiding in. He exchanged a worried look with the rook on his shoulder, and then turned to Jane.
"We need to get him to a hospital."
"Mew mew?" Darcy repeated. "What's mew mew? Is that your daemon's name?"
"All will be revealed in time," Thor pronounced, and Jane's heart broke for half a man trying to be so brave.
"I think I'd like your daemon," Gaia said to Thor, swaying unsteadily on Selvig's shoulder. It was after the fifth beer. "Whoever she is."
Thor laughed, but it was a subdued sound for such a large, expressive man to make, and Erik had to physically clutch at his daemon to keep her from hopping over on his companion's shoulder and trying to comfort him.
"Your daemon is a hammer?" Jane demanded.
"Aye," Thor said, hefting it fondly, still staring at it as though afraid to take his eyes off it. "As the Panserbjørn of old."
"But they're just a—" myth, she almost says, and then giggles somewhat hysterically even though things are exploding around them.
Later, when he saw her again, and they said their hellos and their I-missed-yous, as they lay in bed sated in each other's presence, he stroked her Katronia and murmured to her of what it meant to forge your soul out of metal and leather, to pour that part of yourself into tangible form and make it vulnerable and strong, of what it was like to have it forcibly cast from him and wander, lost, without it. Jane shivered and touched her fingers to Katronia's tiny dormouse nose, and thought she finally knew why her daemon was female—if it was her fate to meet and fall in love with a man without a daemon, she would need every ounce of herself to throw into loving him, to make up for what he did not have. Oh, she believed him when he spoke of Mjolnir as his daemon, but she couldn't believe it wasn't still lonely, not to have anyone to talk to or keep you company even when you were all by yourself. She and Kat would be that for him, and Kat wiggled her nose against her fingers in agreement and settled herself more comfortably on Thor's chest, resolved to stay there.
Everybody sort of drifts closer to Thalia whenever she's around, without anybody being aware of it. Thelma is the first to notice this, having found herself perched on Thalia's head while Marisol talks to her from up on the table so their heads are at equal height. Danae is crouching at her elbow, one tiny hand touching her golden fur, and even Natasha's daemon, who still hasn't told anybody his name, not even Thelma, is curled up on Thalia's back, apparently sleeping. Thelma would bet her tail feathers he isn't, but she leaves him be. He looks relaxed, and it's the first time she's ever seen him relaxed around strangers—except they aren't strangers, anymore, are they?
She chuckles to herself, and that makes Clint look over, and it hits him too, they way they're all huddled together, ostensibly listening to Marisol lecturing Thalia about something but really just enjoying the nearness of each other. He stares, and his stare attracts the attention of the other humans, and they stare too, Steve starting to turn a little red. Thalia looks over then, snorts a little, and goes back to chatting with Marisol, who looks rather more pleased with herself than she should be, considering she's losing the argument. Thelma catches Clint's eye and winks, and settles her wings and lets the humans stare. They're a family now, and it's time they realized that.