Full Title: Cadence of the Heart; Mirrored within the Soul
A/N: I know there are some fics like this out there but I wanted to add my own. Some are a little short and I'd love to see more from them when I realized I could write my own as inspiration! I will say that my choices for the daemons is what I see from each of the Avengers (and various Marvel characters that happen to be in this fic). It might not match your views of them but to each his own. Enjoy the story and REVIEW! Writers need encouragement now and again too!
DISCLAIMER: NO, I DON'T OWN THEM. *sobs* I could wish on a billion stars and still not come up with that amount of awesome in that short of a time... I'd also like to have a daemon (instead of this palace full of Muses) too but that's not happening unless the Dust settles here. Nope. I also don't own the song I put in here. It's not a song-fic by any means but... It suited where I put it, okay?
WARNING: This is a slash fic. If you have a problem with that, click the back button or exit out of the window. When you read past this line, I have not coerced, forced nor compelled you in any manner to continue this fic. However, that being said, if you enjoy a good story despite the pairings/trio mentioned please continue. Contains Stark Spangled Banner, Clintasha (with Coulson) and Thorki. ALSO HOLDS PIECES OF OTHER MOVIES BECAUSE IT WON'T WORK IN MY MIND IF IT'S NOT LIKE THAT. Other Marvel characters mentioned in odd little ways. You'll be surprised where they show up.
P.S. READ ME FIRST! The concepts of Ferals, empaths and Courting are entirely MINE. PM or send a review if you'd like to see more of them in future stories. The explanation is in the fic but it's also at the end for anyone who's interested.
P.P.S. READ ME SECOND! Any science in this fic is COMPLETELY MADE UP. My knowledge of the subject is rusty beyond belief. I'm not even kidding. Ignore my poor remnants of science if you please.
-Cadence of the Heart-
Steve's daemon settled into something that unnerved people. It only compounded the fact that while he was small, his daemon was deadly. Thrace was a leopard and a large one at that; they had agreed that he was possibly an undiscovered type.
"Hey, Steve did your daemon set-Oh." Bucky's (her name was Hope) had settled naturally at the age most folks did into a German Shepard. "Is that Thrace?"
"Yeah." he murmured as he sank his fingers into the lush white ruff covered in rosettes. "He's beautiful, right?"
"Beautiful? Shoot, he's gorgeous. Look at that fur." Steve grinned at his best friend as they slowly eased out of the alley where Thrace had settled. Trust Bucky not to care about the wild animal part of his daemon. "Hey, is he as fluffy as he looks?"
His Mother and her daemon George (a blackbird) weren't shocked so much as in awe of Thrace's new form. George was busy grooming Thrace's fur with his beak as his Mother combed his hair away from yet another bruise.
"It wasn't my fault and they were picking on a dame's daemon. Low-down dirty if you ask me." he mumbled as she wiped the blood away from his lips.
"This has got to stop, little one." she sighed as she bandaged his slightly bruised knuckles.
"I don't like bullies." he said in a firmer voice.
"Then you are mo laoch beag.*"
"Mother..." he blushed, hugging Thrace to him with a huff.
"Steve, you're squashing my tail." Thrace's deep rumble made him laugh before he pulled the fluffy tail out from under his leg.
"Sorry. Better now?"
"Yes." his daemon purred. He was glad he didn't have to explain to Thrace why he fought so hard; his daemon knew exactly why they did it.
The times he applies to get into the Army are met with longing, almost lustful stares at Thrace. The Army needs big strong men with even bigger and stronger daemons. Steve knows Thrace is ridiculously large for such a small man as himself. But niether of them care when the stamp unwaveringly choses the F4; almost getting caught for being a fraud if Steve had frequented these areas. When the doctor appeared from behind the dull olive curtain, his hand curled into Thrace's lush ruff on instinct.
"So, you want to go overseas. Kill some Nazis." the rough, Germanic accent makes him curious.
It's the tone in which the man says what he says that makes him and Thrace slightly defensive, "Excuse me?"
"Dr. Abraham Erskine. We represent the Strategic Scientific Reserve." Steve spots the fox slinking into the curtained area and smiles when it sits at the Doc's feet. "This is Tabatha."
"Thrace." his daemon says quietly, darting teal eyes over the simple red fox in curiosity. She is the first daemon to greet him so casually since his settling. Steve's fingers relax in Thrace's ruff for the first time in a long time.
"Steve Rogers. Where are you from?"
The doctor smiles at his question, "Queens. 73rd Street and Utopia Parkway. Before that, Germany. This troubles you?" He suddenly sees how his question could offend the man.
"Where are you from, Mr. Rogers? Is it New Haven? Or Paramus? Five exams in five different cities."
He swallows sharply and Thrace speaks for them both, "That might not be the right file."
Dr. Erskine waves off their fear easily when he speaks again with another of those odd half-smiles. "No, it's not the exams I'm interested in. It's the five tries. But you didn't answer my question. Do you want to kill Nazis?"
The feeling makes him blurt it out before he can take it back, "Is this a test?"
In this, Steve knows his answer well. "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies. I don't care where they're from."
Another one of those smiles and Steve's smiling back.
"Well, there are already so many big men fighting this war. Maybe what we need now is a little guy. I can offer you a chance. Only a chance."
"We'll take it." They said together, united in this and all other things.
"Good. So, where is the little guy from? Actually?"
The doctor picks up the stamp and thumps it down on the paperwork, leaving behind a big 1-A. "Congratulations, soldier."
He rescues Bucky, only to lose him and Hope weeks afterward on the train. Schmidt catches him, they battle and it's him at the controls of the Valkyrie.
"Steve, is that you?" Peggy's voice is like a balm but he swallows sharply before answering. Declan (her falcon daemon) asks right after, "Are you alright?"
"Peggy, Declan, Schmidt is dead!" Steve wants to say nothing of the flayed daemon that creeped him out even more that Schmidt did.
"What about the plane?"
Thrace answers this one, "That's a little tougher to explain."
"Give me your coordinates. I'll find you a safe landing site." Her strong tone wobbles a bit and it hurts Steve to hear it.
"There's not gonna be a safe landing. But we can try and force it down."
"I'll get Howard on the line. He'll know what to do." she protested.
"There's not enough time. This thing's moving too fast and it's heading for New York. I got to put her in the water."
"Please don't do this... We have time. We can work it out." her tone is hurt and now the soft scree of Declan as they realized what was happening.
"Right now we're in the middle of nowhere. If I wait any longer, a lot of people are going to die. Peggy, this is our choice." He pulls the clock with her picture out and places it on the control panel. "Peggy?"
"I'm gonna need a rain check on that dance." he says to lighten the mood.
"All right. A week, next Saturday, at the Stork club." He sets the date in his mind, knowing deep down that only one of them will make it to that dance... It certainly isn't him.
"You got it."
"Eight o'clock on the dot. Don't you dare be late. Understood?" Steve laughs at her severe tone and says, "You know, I still don't know how to dance."
"I'll show you how. Just be there." Now it's back to their playful banter from his days in Basic.
"We'll have the band play something slow. I'd hate to step on your-" He never finishes his sentence as the ice cold water closes around him and all is black.
Bruce was shocked when Merlin settled as something that technically didn't exist. Merlin merely trilled at him as he spun in flashy, flaming circles on Bruce's fifteenth birthday.
"A phoenix." Merlin's voice is matter of fact, like Bruce's gets when he's right.
"But... Our bloodline doesn't have any Witches. Oh God no. He's going to kill us." Bruce whispered as he hugged Merlin to him.
"Let him try." This time his daemon is fierce, the flames flaring out a startling shade of blue before settling again into harmless flickers.
Father choked up at the sight of Merlin on his shoulder. Helena looks at both of them with burning golden eyes and her paws flex before she tackles his daemon off of his shoulder without touching him. Merlin flares up again, brilliant tongues of flame going blue, green and bright white; burning Helena and startling the man they unfortunately have to call Father.
"Never touch me again." Bruce says coldly as he soothes Merlin with a gentle touch. "We're done with you."
What he doesn't understand, of all things, is how other daemons treat Merlin. The hesitance to touch him even if it's just a greeting between daemons. He's surprised to find out that he's not the only one with a male daemon; Bruce quietly thinks that the theory of them liking the same sex is unproven until he sees two of his Professors touching each other's daemons. The moment is uncomfortable in the manner that Bruce knows no one wants to touch Merlin like that and they'll probably never get touched like that. It helps that they have each other, though, and always will.
Agony. That's what Bruce is feeling as the gamma rays penetrate everything. He's lost the sense of Merlin and that is the most frightening thought.
"Merlin!" Bruce yells with fear, his fingers flexing as they reach for nothing.
"I'm here." When he hears the words his senses expand and of course Merlin was there. He's always there. Bruce's eyes roll back in his head and the last thing he remembers is that Merlin's taken on a richer color scheme than normal.
It's when he awakens from this darkness that he sees what damage he's caused as... well, someone else. Betty refuses to even look him and Merlin in the eyes. He flees to South America, Rio Di Janeiro, and realizes that he transforms when his pulse rockets. Merlin's rather good at calming him. The phoenix song puts him right to sleep; him and half a city block of whoever's close enough to hear Merlin's ethereal voice. Sometimes it doesn't work though and that's when he transforms into the Hulk. It's a difficult sensation to process as Merlin tells him after they revert back.
"It's like you're muffled. I can feel you."
"You can still feel me under him?" he presses as he gently cards his fingers through ever-warm feathers.
"I can feel both of you. He is you, Bruce, and nothing changes that." comes the stern response. "I wish you'd meditate more."
"Meditating only gets us so far."
"Idiot. I mean deeper than just calming yourself." Merlin snarks as he stretches his wings in same beginning pose as Bruce.
"I am not-What? Deeper than just calming myself?" The thought after his initial indignation is certainly one he's had before.
"Yes. Where your heart rate is the same as the life forms surrounding us, when you sink below the surface of inane thoughts."
"We've thought about it a lot, haven't we?" he muses as he slides from one yoga pose into the next drawing on the contented peace of the abandoned temple in Cambodia. Ross hasn't been around at all, meaning they are safe at the moment. "We'll have to give it a test run."
"Do you want me to sing?"
"No. I think I've got to do this without your help." he murmurs as he sits in the lotus pose, relaxing his muscle groups one by one.
Tony waits patiently as Valerian switches forms several times as if deciding carefully. He'd gone through all kinds of birds, reptiles and amphibians in the last week. It seemed his daemon would end up as some sort of mammal. Valerian was now going through the Panthera genus; his body shifting smoothly between a tiger and a melanistic jaguar (not a panther, as most idiots would assume) before settling as a tiger with much lighter stripes than a regular tiger.
"A golden tabby tiger, Val." He shoved his now half-a-ton tiger daemon in front of their huge mirror. "Look at you. Gimme a twirl."
"Tony, you sound ridiculous." Val's tone isn't the least bit serious.
"I know." the low tone of his voice has Valerian rubbing his new body along Tony's thigh and toppling him onto the soft plush carpet.
"At least we aren't another pair of bird daemon and Witch from the legendary Stark line." Val huffs as he uses Tony as a pillow.
"Ugh, you fatty, get off." he laughs as his daemon wraps around him in comfort. The little boy still hiding in his heart is pleased that his daemon is almost like Captain America's.
It's absolutely silent as he attends dinner. Neither of his parent's daemons are there, having been separated as a matter of caution. Valerian's velvet paws make no sound as they walk to the dining room.
"What is- A tiger." his Dad's voice is colder than ever. His Mother watches the scene with a disinterested gaze her mind on the wind and her daemon, most likely.
"Do you not like how I settled?" Valerian's response is quiet but just as harsh and unyielding.
"Any form but that one."
"Well can't change it now." Tony announced flippantly, "Pass the potatoes, please." Hard eyes stare him down until he can stand it no longer. Valerian rose up on silent paws and Tony followed him out, carrying his plate and snagging a fluffy pile of potatoes. He pauses at the door where he hears something that hurts to the core.
"Just like him, Maria. Can I not ever forget? He waltzes in with that tiger like he's innocent. It's like looking into an inverted mirror! The daemon of the man I still search for reflected back at me with those eyes."
"He is not Steve."
"I know that. He's forever a reminder that I failed." Tony ran, throwing the bone china hard against the wall as he slammed his door without hearing the last of the words. "...Yet he's the best thing in my life."
The funeral is a nightmare. The press crowds around them as Obe talks them down and manages to get them free of the rabid dogs.
"Are you alright?" Obadiah's daemon (Jane, such a plebeian name his mind mocks) is a respectful shade of deep black, her chameleon eyes still unnerving even after all this time.
"I'm fine." The response is automatic, kicking in years of formal training with interactions of the business kind. "We're fine." Hidden in his eyes are the tears that he'll probably snot all over Valerian after the media frenzy is gone. His daemon hasn't left his side once not even in sleep. Tony slips the mask of mourning back on, his hand in Val's ruff the only give-away that he's affected more than he lets on.
All of the unfinished products in the lab are out of it in less than three months. Tony's systematically tackling all of the inventions that his Dad had left behind with a stony facade that only melts with Pepper and her daemon (a black swan that goes by the name Orion). He carefully crafts a reputation that will stand up to public scrutiny and exaggerates Valerian's symbolic properties more than he thinks he should. One night eating ice cream with Pepper gives birth to his catchphrase.
"I need a name for all of my rumor-mongering awesomeness." It's hard to forget that he's only twenty; responsibilities have given him this aura of presence that is only magnified by how glossy Valerian appears. He scooped some ice cream onto a clean spoon and hummed at the taste of strawberry.
"Why?" She looked up from her bowl of chocolate and vanilla. Tony made a face as she swirled them together absently into caramel-colored gloop.
"So the media doesn't have to make up their own. They're terrible at making them." he hums as he tinkers with a miniature engine, grease down one cheek and a smear of oil on another. The AI in his mind is about to become the most beautiful of his creations... When he finishes the engine that powers JARVIS.
"Well, you're a billionaire. You give away tons of money..."
"Oh, Valerian! I have the perfect line. Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. How does that sound?"
"Stupid. But it'll work well enough." Valerian huffed as he licked Tony's spoon clean of strawberry ice cream.
"Val... That's the fourth spoon in three hours." He groaned.
He takes the phrase and hides the real Tony behind galas, fund raisers and 'party orgies' that never actually happen but are carefully coordinated events to spread the rumors. He pays the escorts well; they're happy to have intelligent conversations with him as opposed to awkward sex that neither of them wants. He takes up the mantle of Stark Industries and makes it the most successful weapons company ever. Rhodey makes things easier as they go for the demonstration of the Jericho missile. Selene (Rhodey's Siberian husky daemon) sits as Valerian washes her with broad swipes of his tongue on the private flight.
"Are you worried?" Another person to lower his shields around, Tony hums as Rhodey pets his hair absently as he pulls up the holographic specs of the missile he designed.
"No." Valerian proves otherwise making his calm words false by snuggling with Selene. "Of course not."
"Says who?" the bravado is back up as they step off the plane. Valerian is practically glued to Tony's legs, slowly inching away as they get into the presentation and become more confident. By the end of it, they're comfortable and chatty.
"Alright. Back to the jet, hmm?"
"Via convoy the same way we got here in the first place, Tony." Rhodey says firmly, his smile ruining the severity his expression.
"You did well." Selene says with a doggie grin.
"Uh-huh. You just want to get on the fun-vee."
The explosion literally comes out of nowhere as they're driving back to the base. It shakes the Humvee, making the blinding sight even worse for both Tony and Valerian. "Give me a gun!"
"You're safer under-"
There's the sound of gunfire as Tony slips into unconsciousness from the concussive explosions.
It's hell. Tony decides early on that had Valerian been any other animal, they could have restrained him and hurt Tony with the stresses of separation. As it was? Valerian went unhindered in his movement as he guarded the door, fangs constantly bared at their enemy. They bond quickly with Yinsen and his lovely Liánhuā (a miniature dragon that was so beautiful Tony sketched her out and hid the paper inside Valerian's plain leather collar). Niether one of them is disturbed by the shrapnel after Yinsen explains everything to them in concise details. The deadline is short but Yinsen helps him even though he's got a family.
"You are an honorable man Tony Stark." he comments softly as they weld the pieces of the suit together.
"Uh-huh, sure. Tell that to the people who tried to blow me to bits." Tony counters bitterly as his hands slide into Valerian's dirty fur.
"He's a bit of an idiot sometimes." Val's quick to tell them.
"I've just got this feeling." he counters as the last of the joints come together. "It's... bad."
"Bad is bad, good is good. Is there not something you should be doing?" Liánhuā is pragmatic at the best of times.
"Yeah. Gotta finish the arc reactor's outer rim." He flips his faceplate back down and pulls on his gloves, his heart aching as the feeling grows worse.
Blood; there's a lot of it as he tears through the Ten Rings camp. Valerian is carving his own path through the weaker prey daemons, the three inch claws and four inch canines seeing plenty of the life font. The burst of dust that precedes the strangled cry of a person dying doesn't faze him as much as it should. He's hanging in the back-seat of his mind, flinching as he crushes skulls of men who deliberately tortured him. Valerian is panting as he struggles to keep up with the suit and Tony thinks that after making his own suit, he needs to make one for Val too. It breaks down on the dunes as he tries move further away. He wriggles out, hugging Valerian to him as he cries raw tears for Yinsen and the dragon that will never again see daylight.
Flying with Valerian is an experience that they relish in. The clouds don't judge their failures nor find any fault in the adrenaline rush they get from it. Blowing things up was merely a bonus as far as they were concerned.
"Tony, we've got jets tailing us."
"Nuisances." he growls, dipping into the altostratus as the scrambled jets try to follow.
"They can't trace us back to Malibu." his daemon warned as they spiraled away from the jets.
"Watch. JARVIS, radar shield deflectors; 50% ratio." he commanded easily, grinning fiercely as the jets slowed around the edge of the Pacific Ocean. They landed back in his Malibu place with little fanfare. "Ooo, fun!"
"We're on the list of craziest pair ever with that stunt." Valerian laughed inside of his own suit.
"Hmm, gonna need to recalibrate your suit Val."
"What?" his daemon looked up from where he was laying with wide green eyes. The helmet automatically sank back into Val's armor (on voice command) because he didn't have opposable thumbs to remove it. "Why?"
"Your stride was a bit awkward. It caught in your fur, didn't it?"
"Exactly. We need to put the lining in as part of your suit. Voice-activated collar?" At the mention of collar, he reaches into the battered leather and pulls out the faded drawing of Yinsen & Liánhuā. "It's not fair."
"No. But we can fix that."
Natalia woke up to an animal resting on her chest. Tytus looked up at her with golden eyes, his face not like any animal she'd ever seen.
"What have you become, hmm?"
"I don't know." They took a close look and then hid his stripes with waterproof dye.
"We can't have anyone knowing what you are."
"Of course not." he knew exactly what she was talking about before she said it out loud.
"We must find out what you are so that others cannot take advantage of us."
"He's beautiful." says one of her targets brazenly. She's had a dozen aliases by this point in her training.
"Is it a hell beast?" another asks as Tytus growls, teeth bared over the throat of his weasel daemon. This one never knew what hit him.
"Miniature greyhound?" This one thinks he's being coy. Tytus rips his daemon in half with vicious force when they are told to kill him.
"I haven't seen one of those in a long time." The man says as they drop down from a hiding spot in the study. "Thylacine."
"What?" The old man smiles slightly as his cat daemon curls into his lap.
"Better known as the Tasmanian tiger." Tytus looks at her with astonishment. They'd never thought about extinct creatures. "You did not know?"
"It's none of your business."
"Oh, but it is. I know why you are here. I'd just like to help you out before I die." The eyes tell her everything.
"You are hiding something." she hisses at the same time that Tytus growls. His cat daemon pads up to the library shelf and jumps up onto a shelf; they've been separated then.
"No. I am old and I have done a great many things for which I need to pay. Perhaps this deed will go unnoticed in all of my other sins." the man sighs as the cat daemon bats a book down from the immense shelf. "That book has everything known about the species as of now."
The glacial blue eyes pin her as well as the arrow at Tytus's throat as her knife is mere millimeters from the hawk on his shoulder.
"This is no way to fight." his voice is too understanding, her past reflected back so easily.
"The same could be said of you." she spat as Tytus eyed the arrow with something akin to fear. "Release us or kill us."
"I... have an offer. If you'll hear it, that is." The man puts the arrow away with no flash, calmly stroking the chest feathers of his daemon.
"We'll hear you out." it's grudging and it makes the man's lips twitch in what seems to be amusement.
"I work for an organization called S.H.I.E.L.D. They can protect you and your daemon."
"For a price, I am sure." she murmurs as Tytus examines the dark hawk on the man's shoulder.
"Merely what you have been doing for them. In return, you will have a home, a paycheck and security." the light female voice makes her think as her fingers sheathe her knife.
"No." this time he answers instead of his daemon; she's breaking so many rules right now. "She does that all the time when we're on a mission. Hawkeye."
"I've got a feeling this'll be the partnership of the century." his tone is light and his eyes have melted into an odd shade of cerulean.
"You are a strange one." she murmurs as they follow Hawkeye warily.
"So they tell me." He laughs brightly and her heart feels lighter for having heard the brilliant sound.
She doesn't settle into S.H.I.E.L.D. easily, though Hawkeye (Clint) does make her less tense. He's an expert in his weapon and his marksmanship is more accurate than any other Agent. One of them has been called her 'handler'; she's seen him around but he leaves her to practice with Clint. He's yet to speak with her and she respects him more than she would like to when he takes down a newbie Agent for insulting Tytus.
"Rule one: Never insult another Agent's daemon. I don't care what it is, you break that rule and we break you." This mild-mannered man smiles as he presses a bloodied dress shoe against the other's throat. He's quick, she'll give him that. It's always the quiet ones you have to watch out for on the field. They're wild-cards; always have been, in her experience. Tytus looks up at the owl daemon and cocks his head to the side.
"Hello." his words are never slurred but he doesn't speak much either. She follows Tytus's lead as her handler signals that they take away the offending Agent. "I am Tytus."
"Hello." her voice is smooth, ending with a soft churr. "My name is Lily." She flies down to the floor silently, the clack of her talons on the lacquered floor still quiet. He pads around her slowly, taking in her scent with quiet sniffs.
"I like you." He lays down and sticks his nose in her feathers as though he belongs there. Natasha is curious about Tytus's response to the owl. "He has our backs, Nat." he murmurs in their mother tongue, his normally wary golden eyes at peace. It's a strange expression on her daemon; it suits him in a way war and espionage does not.
The sight of Lily on Tytus becomes a common one in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier. Wherever Coulson is, so is Natasha followed closely by Clint. After missions it's all three of them curled into what they affectionately call a 'puppy pile.' They've never touched each other's daemons but they know that if one of them dies... It'll never be the same.
"Phil?" Clint asks as he's pillowing his head on Phil's t-shirt covered stomach. It's always soft cloths and flannel in the puppy pile.
"Hmm?" Gentle brown eyes look down as Natasha finds her spot on his shoulder.
"Don't die on us." she whispers. "I don't think we could stand another."
"I'll do my best." he says as he smoothes a hand over their hair and pets them to sleep like he does on all the pile nights.
"Promise?" Clint wraps his arms around Phil's waist, sounding like a child as he does so. Natasha wishes she had the courage to ask the same.
There is almost no footage of this particular practice save one disc. It's quickly stolen and the one responsible threatened severely. Hey, assassins have to have their vices and at least theirs is relatively harmless.
She doesn't like it when she's forced to go undercover without Phil or Clint and it shows in her smiles, more fang than simple expression. Stark's daemon seems to see right through them but doesn't say a word even when they're both dying.
"Why did you not say anything?" Tytus huffs softly as Stark's injected with the potassium nitrate.
"We didn't want Pep and Rion worried. They've... been good for us." Valerian sighs as they sit underneath the table. "Selene and Rhodey already knew."
"You're crazy, both of you." Tytus snorts as they think of Phil's much more practical advice. He snuggles up to the worn, ruffled tiger and stares at him.
"Already knew that. Genius, remember?" comes the self-depreciating remark.
"Still stupid in certain areas though." was his response. "Clean that fur. You will not die today."
Clint cradled Gracia in his hands, worry in his gaze as she shifts from one predatory bird to another constantly cycling through them as the sun sets. Just as the sun disappears, she transforms into a large hawk.
"Mmm, I like this form." She flapped her wings and waited as he scrambled up the tight-wire tower before letting her fly a rather far distance. The moment she stretched their bond too far, she let out an indignant scree before flying back to him. "The bond won't let me fly any further."
"Do you want to be... separated?" he swallowed sharply as she flapped towards him. Wide golden eyes looked at him in shock.
"What? Why-Oh. No, Clint. I'll always be by your side."
Laney groomed Gracia's feathers as Clint ate with his brother and the other circus performers.
"She's settled?" Buck asked as he fed Stacia (a beagle) scraps from the table.
"Beautiful isn't she?" He hums as Gracia's talons dig into his shoulder. "Gracia, give me a moment." He tugs on his leather glove and moves her from his shoulder to his hand. "We'll be right back." They dig through the circus gear and Clint makes a noise of triumph.
"Are my talons hurting you?"
"Nah. With this, they won't ever bother me." He wriggled out of his shirt and pulled on the leather (cloth-lined) black and purple performance vest.
"Nothing. You like to perch on my shoulder. Your comfort comes first." he laughed.
"I am you."
"Yeah." he says calmly, his fingers resting in the fluffy down in her chest. "Yeah, you are."
He watches dispassionately as they take away the Swordsmaster and his brother. A man with a Great Horned Owl daemon walks up to him, holding out his hand to shake. He stares at the man and feels Gracia fluff up her feathers to look more intimidating.
"..." His hand strayed to his bow, still assessing the man's posture and the way his daemon interacted with the police daemons. They were distant yet polite to everyone around them. Gracia silently observed them as well, shifting her talons in the event that she needed to defend Clint from this stranger. "Hawkeye."
"She's very beautiful. Do you know what species?" the gentle tone sets him on edge, making his shoulders tense.
"Would you like to find out?" A soft shudder runs down his spine as Coulson invades his personal space. "We... have that ability." Clint steps back his hand convulsing around the grip of his bow. They fled, not looking back as the calm stare of the Agent and his daemon bored into their shoulders.
Across the country, they avoided any visitors after their act; the Agent still found them. They'd taken to being hyper-alert, even when sleeping, noticing his entrance immediately. He and Gracia launched up into their Nest, silently prepping their weaponry with silent signals.
"Hawkeye." Silence was the Agent's answer as Clint slowed his breathing down. "We'd like for you to join us." He shook his head, wanting to flex his aching fingers but knowing that the cloth and leather glove would give him away. "Fury was impressed with your morales. He'd like to train you further." They tamped down the urge to respond, instead releasing the first of the arrow messages. It thunked into the ground as they moved on cats' feet to the second nest. "'We don't want his eye looking at us the way he has; like a piece of meat waiting to be slaughtered. We don't like it.' Well, I can arrange to be your supposed 'handler.' Can we agree on that?" Clint thought about it, trading glances with Gracia and nodding; the second arrow came down much faster than the one before it. "'There's something different about you. We don't know what it is. We don't like the feelings that you make us have.' I can't help that. Anything else?" They sighed softly, dropping down in front of the Agent.
"Why does standing this close to you make me feel like you're SAFE?" he hissed trembling in the close proximity of the man. A soft smile made him wrap his arms around the Agent and breathed in deeply, tension bleeding out of him like so much water from a sieve.
"I'm not sure why you're this comfortable but if you'd take your hands off of my... rear?" Clint swallowed sharply and pulled away suddenly, his fingers in Gracia's chest feathers as they backed away.
"My apologies." He turned again and fled back to his Nest. Gracia nuzzled his chest as he controlled his breathing to keep it from doing anything that would alert the Agent to his distress. "The answer is no to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s offer."
When S.H.I.E.L.D. sent other Agents in place of the gentle-eyed one, they were met with much greater resistance. They fled the circus and hid in the crowds. It worked well as they moved month by month through the Heartland and into South Dakota, landing in a bar where hawk daemons were common as the grass that grew on the Plains.
"Gimme a whiskey, neat."
"Coming right up." he said sarcastically as he poured the shot. Clint placed it in front of the customer and curled his free hand into a fist as his wrist was caught.
"You're a hard man to track down."
"Get off of me." his voice is clipped and cold, his eyes sharp. "I'll call in every favor owed in this bar if you don't, Fury. Wolf's not common around here anymore." The man slowly let go of his wrist. Clint massaged it under the bar and out of sight.
"I heard you refused our... Agency."
"I want nothing to do with your lies and slander." he growled lowly as he snapped the clean towel off of his shoulder to dry the clean, wet dishes. "Especially one liar in particular."
"Coulson." he spat, signaling that he was taking a break. "Walk with me, Fury." They breathed in the clean night air as Gracia lazily flew in circles under the yellow lights.
"What's wrong with my best agent?"
"I'm tell you for the last time; my answer is no. I want nothing to do with you or anyone from S.H.I.E.L.D., okay? Get over the fact that someone said no to you." he finally said, his tone so cold it could have killed. "There is nothing wrong with your secret-keeping bastards. I just don't want to be a part of them."
"You asked my Agent why, once."
"I'm done here."
"He's an empath." Clint ignored the twinge of genuine sympathy for Coulson. Empathy in a job that required apathy at the best and worst moments had to be hell on the Agent.
"Like I give a shit."
"He gives a shit about you, that's for damn sure. He's been sabotaging our every attempt to get to you."
"Fuck off." Clint tossed over his shoulder, carelessly flipping the man the bird.
"Raine, attack." Gracia screed as she gripped the ruff of the wolf and sliced through the thin flesh with her talons.
"Leave us alone!" she shrieked as she enforced each word with a sharp peck of her razored beak. Flying back to her regular perch on his shoulder she spread her wings, puffed up her primaries and hissed.
They spent nearly a year at the bar. It was Phil who convinced them to join S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Hawkeye." He looked up at the name almost unconsciously and the warm shudder traveled through his spine again.
"Look who dragged in the owl." Clint murmured with narrowed eyes, his shoulders tensed up and tight. He reached for his bow on his leg holster only to find that Coulson had it and was examining it with a curious expression. "That's mine."
"Take it back." He took his folded recurve, wiped it down with a moist towelette and sheathed it again.
"I told Fury I was done with his secret-keeping bastards; you especially."
"Why?" His words reflected back at him ALMOST made him reach across the bar and touch the oddly compelling man.
"... Nothing personal." he huffed as he wiped down the bar (it was near closing time). In his mind he added, Because you make us feel safe when we have no safe haven, a home where there never has been and a sense of family when we've been betrayed. Those thoughts he kept to himself even as Gracia churred lightly.
"Your daemon has no objection to Lily or I."
"Drop it Coulson." he growled. "Or I'll get Gracia to make it clear you aren't welcome here." The warm touch upon his wrist made him stiffen before his breath hitched slightly as he pulled away from it. "Get-" Coulson's fingers laced through his, making him look up into the warm tawny eyes with hurt in his normally cool azure gaze.
"Does my touch help you?"
"Yes." he looked away from their joint hands as he continued to wipe away crusted beer foam with one hand.
"In what way?"
"You feel like-" Gracia churred lightly before Clint cut her off.
"No. Don't you dare tell him that."
"He would understand."
Clint relented under the soft stare of his daemon, "... Not here, then."
After letting him into their loft/Nest, they tugged him up into the pile of fluffy blankets and let go.
"You feel like home." he says quietly, not looking anywhere near the portion of Nest Coulson sat in. "Warm, safe and so familiar it hurts us."
"My mentor told me that it occurs in one in every million. I never thought it would happen to us."
"What do you mean?" Clint looked up from where he was picking at the softest of his blankets.
"Fury probably shouted that I was an empath."
"... Thought he was messing with us." comes the mumbled answer.
"He wasn't. The thing about Fury is that he tries to bend the truth. I see right through him. I blocked him for a while. Empaths have mentors because if we didn't... We'd go mad. The event I just told you about is where one person will connect on an emotional level to the first empath they meet. They're rare and are born without being aware of the connection. Most of them never come across an empath; you and I are the exception to the rule."
"Is there a name for what I am?" he murmured as he mulled over the new information.
"Yes. It's not used often though. You're what empaths like to call a Feral."
"Feral?" Clint didn't like the sound of that.
"You relax completely in the empath's presence and often snuggle the way a wild animal would their mate." Well, if it was put that way... "That doesn't mean the Feral is naturally violent. Most often, Ferals are the ones who've been betrayed."
"Yeah, well, I had a lot of that." he huffed, scooting closer before catching himself and retreating back across the Nest.
"It is safe with me, you know."
"You didn't like it. If it makes you uncomfortable then I'm not going to touch you. It's... wrong to force anyone." Clint sighed as he slid his fingers along Gracia's wings and groomed them. "You're more than welcome to leave." Everyone else has, one more person shouldn't hurt much, he mentally finished as he continued to groom his daemon and she to groom his hair when he lets her go to his shoulder. Therefore he's surprised when arms wrap around his waist and he's going limp in the man's solid grip.
"You're hurting more than you let anyone else know." The reassuring words make him wrap his own arms around the Agent.
"What's your name? Your first one. I keep calling you Agent in my mind." he murmurs into the warm shoulder.
"I'll join S.H.I.E.L.D. on one condition."
"Only one?" is the amused response.
"Mmmhmm. I want... this after missions."
"You know, you can say cuddle."
"Puppy pile. It's what my Dad called it." For the first time in years, it doesn't hurt to mention the warm distant memories.
He encounters a beautiful woman with nearly the same past. It's not long before he shares his attachment to Phil; only three years of working together, so it's a record by anyone's standards.
"Is that why you're so close to him all the time?" her voice is quiet but sure.
"It's a part of it. We puppy pile after missions. Wanna join?"
"I have nothing to do at the moment." They shed their gear and Clint shows her the set they picked out for her. "You were anticipating my answer?"
"Sort of. Sometimes the other empaths like to cuddle too."
"What does that make you?" Her tone implies that he's some sort of teddy bear. He grins and shakes his head.
"A Feral; we relax completely in the presence of our particular empath and that relaxes the other empaths because that's the only emotion I'm giving off." She's obviously read up after encountering several passives.
"Even with others around?"
"You'll see. Can I call you Nat?" he hums as he pads into the pile of blankets that he'd carted from home. Of course, these weren't from his primary Nest, but one that was out of the way and non-accessible to most people and daemons.
"I don't see why not." this time her tone is a little more friendly. Tension bleeds away from his frame as he gets closer to Phil. He pillows his head on Phil's stomach and inhales the scent of his empath. Natasha worms her way up and hesitantly places her head on Phil's shoulder.
"Comfortable?" at the warm voice, Clint relaxes completely, snuggling as close as possible. "Ms. Romanoff?"
"It's... peaceful. I think I understand why you do this now." she's also relaxed, her daemon curling up near her feet. Lily and Gracia are intertwined, Gracia's beak buried in Lily's soft feathers. She's told him it feels like Phil's skin does under his fingertips. He shifts and slips his hand under the warm, old t-shirt Phil wears, his palm flat against the corded back muscles of his empath.
"Mmm?" he's drifting off to sleep as Phil speaks again.
"I think you started something new."
Steve gasped as hot water was sprayed over him, reaching for Thrace even as he struggled with the shackles around his wrists.
"...ace. Thrace." Steve worked his throat a few times before he could speak properly.
"Shh, we're alive."
"... Peggy?" he rasped, knowing with a sinking heart his daemon's next words.
"We missed the date."
He's recovering slowly, pounding out his pain, his heart into every single punch, wanting to find Peggy and apologizing. She hasn't moved from her home in seventy years, although she's got grandchildren now.
"Should we go?" he whispers, curling his fingers into the familiar ruff of his daemon.
"Yes. We should at least honor our word to meet her. Even if we are seventy years too late."
"You have a way with words." he laughs, feeling lighter than he has for a while. "We'll go see Peggy soon."
England feels like it did in his day, except Thrace now garners looks of admiration. She's down a small country road and Steve knows he's probably tipped the taxi driver more than he should have. The man had been helpful since their arrival to England. He probably worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. It's beautiful, this tiny cottage by the sea, and Steve's heart aches at the thought of meeting her again.
"Grandma, there's a stranger outside. He's got a pretty daemon."
"Sharon, that's silly. No one comes to visit us besides your Mum and Da."
"Well he's still there." The girl was insistent and Steve smiled at the enthusiasm of meeting someone new. At least that hadn't gone from the world quite yet. "Should we go see who it is?"
"No, baby, I got it." the strong protective streak made him grin as Declan put in his words.
"Do not even think about sneaking out the window." He waited patiently for her to open the door. It swung open to reveal a vibrant woman still dressing in 40's fashion, all of the auburn hair gone and replaced with silver and grey. Declan's feathers also held streaks of deep silver.
"I don't know what you want-No."
"Is that any way to... greet an old friend?" he murmured, his hand sliding back into its familiar spot in Thrace's ruff. "I'm sorry about our date." Brilliant ochre brimmed over with tears as she looked him over with disbelieving eyes. "Peggy?" She fainted and Steve caught her while Thrace caught Declan as he fell from his perch on her shoulder.
"Mister?" The warm brown eyes of the little girl peeped from the doorway. Steve smiled at the girl who looked like a smaller version of Peggy.
"I'm an... old friend of your Grandma's. Mind if we come in? I at least want to get her comfortable." He set her down and pulled smelling salts from his jacket pocket; grateful that no one had rummaged through his gear after he'd crashed the Valkyrie. "Peggy. Hey, Peggy." She groaned lightly and Steve sighed. "Did you ever fondue with Howard?" Her eyes snapped open at his question, suddenly awake.
"No. Ugh, why would you ask me such-Oh dear. I fainted?" He laughed at her expression and she took him in again, her eyes straying to Thrace every so often.
"Only a little. I caught you before you touched the ground." Steve said lightly. "Your granddaughter is very open."
"Sharon's a fiercer version of me." Peggy chuckled as Sharon's daemon, a snow leopard cub at the moment, played with Thrace's tail.
"I'm Sharon and this is Peregrine."
"Hello, little one." Thrace purred, absently grooming the cub as a matter of habit from his days of meeting children's daemons when they were performing monkeys. "I am Thrace."
"Hey... Declan does that too." the little daemon huffed as he wriggled away from Thrace's much larger paws.
"Well, Declan and I are good friends." Thrace hummed as he lazed in front of the banked fireplace.
Steve places a hand over Peggy's much more wrinkled one and looks her in the eye, "I'm sorry for missing our dance at the Stork Club. What did the band play?"
"They played Andrews Sisters before they played Doris Day."
"I'm caught up to the 70's in music. It's the one thing I can still understand." he laughs lightly, his lips thinning faintly as she glances out at a grave under a massive apple tree. "Is that him?"
"He made me forget you." The brutal honesty was one thing he remembered well.
"Good fella then. Still want that dance?" he offered as his eyes landing on a record player.
"Oh, why not? Sharon, sweetheart, we're going to teach Steve how to dance." She carefully stood up gripping his arm for support until she was steady.
"Isn't he the one who wanted to wait for the right partner?" They looked at each other and burst into laughter. "Well?"
"Yes, Miss Sharon, I am. Care to teach an old man some new tricks?"
Bruce swears he's in love the moment he meets them. Rogers smiles, shakes his hand and nods politely to Merlin like nothing's wrong.
"I've heard a lot about you."
"Not all of it good, I'm sure." he sighs as they look over the edge of the ship. The silent snow leopard daemon wraps the thick tail around its paws and looks at him with a knowing glance.
"We heard that you could help us find the Tessaract." the smooth, cultured tone coming from the leopard is a stark contrast to Rogers himself that Bruce almost does a double-take. "That's all we need to know. Did you expect something different?"
"Yes, we did." Merlin answers, preening his fiery feathers with more subtly than before. "What do we call you?"
"Well, first impressions are usually correct and all that jazz. Oh! This is Thrace and you can call me Steve if you don't mind." The brilliant smile has him blushing faintly and Merlin's flames to go a bit higher before settling.
"Bruce and this is Merlin."
"Merlin, huh? It suits- Him?" The blue gaze is shockingly intelligent.
"Most assume he's female." he hummed, delighted that someone wasn't assuming for once.
"I'm more... sensitive than most people." the smile is back as they follow Agent Romanoff and her daemon into the Helicarrier.
"You're an empath?"
"... Feral, actually. My empath's Peggy." He remembered the name from files that had been thrust upon him while flying from India straight onto the helicarrier. Bruce noticed the flinch as if the man expected to be judged now for what he'd been born as; something Bruce could understand all too well. He kept the conversation going, giving the uneasy man a faint smile in return.
"Mmm. She comes from a family of alerts but essentially, yes."
"The missing Agent?" This question's softer as Romanoff tenses visibly.
"He's another Feral. I never thought I'd feel so welcome here. It wasn't so good to be a Feral back in my day." Steve's tone darkens as his mind appears to go down memory lane. "Well I, uh, don't know where the labs are but... See you soon?" The smile is back as they follow Romanoff out of the Command Room.
Oh, how Fate loves to rub it in that not one, but two gorgeous men who could give two shits about the Hulk are on board this massive machine. Tony Stark is both everything and even more than he'd imagined.
"Sure." he doesn't take it and Tony shrugs, eating the berry nonchalantly.
"Tony?" the golden tabby tiger is massive, on par with Steve's Thrace and a forbidden thrill races down his spine. What was it with him & men with big daemons? "Are you going to..."
"Oh! Oh, yeah. Umm, Bruce, this is Valerian, Val for short."
"Merlin. Bruce knows that most of you mind when we speak for ourselves directly to you." Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose at his daemon's tone before realizing that Merlin is still very much a part of him and excises all of their snark as best he can. "But you do not."
"Of course not." The charming smile should be illegal, he thinks as they calculate the Tessaract energy read-out. "You're quite the pair."
"Bad or good?" he jokes with a confidence he doesn't quite feel.
"Good, obviously. Wanna blueberry?" It hits him then that he's conversing with the topmost genius in mechanical engineering and he weakly takes the berry, popping it into his mouth without complaint. Merlin's flames flare higher as they wrestle with emotions that could be unwanted. "Is it just me or is he flaring higher?" Bruce wants to thunk his head against the bullet-proof glass in frustration. Of course he's an observational genius as well...
"He flares higher in response to my emotions." he answers, his times before transforming making his tone bitter. "It's when he starts turning green, blue and white that you have to worry."
"Actually, I'm a big fan of how you turn into a giant green rage monster." The tawny eyes wrinkle at the corner as that stupidly attractive smile is flashed his way again.
"You don't want me to do that. I ruined Harlem the last time I did." It surprises him that banter between them is so easy that he fears slipping up.
"Dr. Bann-Stark." At Steve's voice, he looks up and then frowns as the two square off. Something in their posture says that he doesn't want to get involved in that level of sexual tension. "Nevermind."
"I've hacked S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury's up to something."
"Yeah? How long is that going to take?" the sharp tones have him gripping the console in front of him to keep from calm.
"A few minutes."
"Bruce?" His head snaps up at Thrace's concerned tone and realizes that Merlin's flames have gone blue.
"... It's the tension. I'm fine." he waves it off with a gentle smile. "Really."
"Tension? Oh. Oh. I'm sorry." Steve's heart-breaking smile is flashed his way and he returns it without much thought. "I'm going to see if there's anything on this ship to support that theory, Stark."
"You do that." Tony's response is clipped, his hands clenching into fists. Bruce absently cards a hand through his greying hair and strokes Merlin's insanely long tail feathers that curl around his neck like a scarf. "JARVIS?"
"We're a quarter of the way in sir. My apologies for not working faster." The AI (what else could it be, this was Tony STARK in front of them) sounded... disgruntled?
"No, no, not your fault. Daddy just has to rewrite certain parts of your coding."
"Thank you, sir."
"You're the bestest friend ever, JARVIS. What kind of engineer would I be if I couldn't even maintain and upgrade my own AI?"
"Not a genius, sir?" the light teasing undertone make Bruce want to laugh.
"Language, JARVIS, before I stick you in one of the DUMI bots." came the lazy snark.
"The thought is horrifying, sir. Please don't." the tone is easy, the banter something apparently ingrained.
"Mmmhmm. That's what I thought."
He doesn't remember much after the bomb on the helicarrier to be honest. One moment he's stuck with Black Widow in a tiny shaft, the next thing he sees is a security guard with a bloodhound daemon holding out a pair of pants for him.
"Didn't think ye'd fit those till ya shrunk down ta a regular sized fella."
"Did we hurt anyone?" he asked as he pulled them on quickly.
"Nah. Scared the hell outta some pigeons though."
Bruce also has no idea what happened during the Battle of New York. That's what Thor and his coyote daemon (Sigrath) are calling it. He and Merlin are allowed a room at Stark Tower (Tony now refuses to call it that, claiming it's the Avenger's Tower instead) after it's been cleaned more. At the moment, they're in S.H.E.I.L.D. assigned quarters except for Tony, who has a pent house that houses most of his extraneous projects. It also has a lab and they've been granted access to everything.
"Hey, what are Sciencebros for if they can't share all of that awesome?" Tony says as he gestures to their side of the lab. Valerian's half-asleep at Tony's feet and Merlin's dangerously close to falling asleep as well.
"Can we look at this later? We're kind of tired."
Asgard was a hive of activity as they prepared to imprison Loki. It's when they examine Valdis that they learn that something is wrong. His green eyes are clouded over with the same blue that Loki's have and it's obvious they're in pain. Valdis' normally glossy black scales are white-tipped from the stress he's carried for them both. Healer Sigyn, when she sees to them, nearly growls when she pulls from their minds her daemon snarling in agreement. Loki pulls weakly on the bonds that hold him as the blue in his eyes flares brightly.
"By the gods I have never seem such... such a degree of mind damage. It is truly a strength to be envied for fighting so long against the commands placed." her tone is nothing short of murder. "When I get my hands on whoever did this; they will most certainly wish they had never set foot in any Realm! Thor, I will need you."
"Anything you wish, Lady Sigyn. I fear he is on his last bastion of strength." Thor states as they link hands with Loki and dive into the mental landscape.
Loki screams as he slams against the barrier that keeps him from accessing his mind and his Magic; distressed as he watches Thanos rip through his ice palace with no remorse.
"Get out!" he's suddenly bolstered by an energy that isn't his at all but feels so familiar. "Loki is not yours!" It registers suddenly as Thor's mental manifestation wields Mjolnir with wicked precision. The barrier shatters and quite a few pieces stab into the presence within his mind.
"Ah, yes, the precious piece of his mind that he shielded so carefully. Another Jotun?" the sickening purr makes him bare his fangs at the thing.
"You will not touch him!" he hisses as his Magic strikes viciously at the pseudo-construct that Thanos had placed.
"Says who, little Jotun? He wiped out most of your kind did he not? Defending the killer of your kind is low for you." it laughed, purple skin turning a deeper shade as the temperature dropped in his mental environment.
"He is mine. This place is mine. You do not belong! Unwanted scum, cease to exist!" He reaches deep within himself as well as for Thor's large palm. Warmth suffuses him as his chosen Mate clasps his blue hand and kisses it with a smile. "Begone!"
"Aye, leave us!" A terrible rumble rocks his mind landscape as deep blue and brilliant white lightning strikes the being. It roars as if in the deepest pain before it dies with a unholy shriek. Loki slumps on Thor as it disappears in a wave of purple smoke. "Did you mean that?" The pleasant warmth of his Mate makes him yawn.
"Every word." he sighs, all of the fighting for weeks suddenly draining right out of him. Loki leans on him as he coaxes his Magic into fixing his shields, Wards and Runes back into order. Thor is silent, looking at him with soft sapphire eyes that send tremors down his spine. "I know I have done some truly horrendous things. Please, just lock me away."
"They were clearly not your fault. Healer Sigyn says that your daemon is proof of that. She works to convince them of that this very moment." Thor's confident tone makes his heart ache.
"The Midgardians will not see it that way." Loki murmurs, too weak to do much more than direct his Magic while leaning against Thor. "They will demand recompense."
"The Son of Coul as a gift of good will? Perhaps his return will make them less likely to attack you?" Thor's normally booming voice is quiet but the suggestion is one well-made.
"Hela will likely have his soul since I killed him. Why are you not condemning me?" He asks warily as he limps over to his throne sitting down heavily on the cushions as Valdis materializes back into his mental world. His presence causes him to relax in his relief, his head in his lap once more.
"Perhaps because I feel the same as what you stated."
"What?" His heart thudded harshly against his ribs as he stared with disbelieving crimson eyes at the Thunderer.
"I feel that you are mine. Did I mistake your statement?" Confusion shone from the normally confident gaze.
"What about that Midgardian? Lady Jane?" he countered the question with a few of his own.
"Merely a good friend as Lady Sif is to me. Loki, you did not answer me." There came the confidence, a bright grin flashed his way as Thor knelt at his feet; capturing his hand and massaging it with sure strokes. Sigrath groomed under the cheek scales of his dragon daemon with her tongue.
"No you are not mistaken. After I rest, I shall retrieve the Son of Coul for the Avengers."
Clint wants to cry as he hasn't in years as Phil's body is displayed in the casket. He'd promised them. Natasha holds him close as they watch the lid close on their beloved's face. The ache in his chest makes it feel like he's distanced but it hurts too much. Their hands are intertwined as they listen to the Father giving the ceremony with a solemn tone, the day bright and sunny. They said that it only rained when great people died; they'd obviously missed out on Phil that day.
"If anyone needs a few moments..." the Father giving the service trails off and made people leave them alone. He chokes back his tears as he falls to his knees and speaks.
"Damn you Phil. You promised us. You puppy pile promised." Clint rasps as he puts a hand on the smooth wood. "It was supposed to be the three of us."
"It is the three of us." Clint turns around so fast that he nearly trips. It's Phil and he's wearing an arm sling. He's moving before he's even aware of it.
"Phil!" Clint picks him up and sobs, releasing the tears he'd held back throughout the entire ceremony. "Don't you ever scare us like that again..."
"Ow, ow, ow." Sapphire eyes widen as he realizes his grip is pretty tight.
"Sorry." he laughs, tears still evident in his tone. "Sorry babe." The cold realization of Phil's daemon strikes him hard. "Lily?"
"Right here. I swear you have noodles for brains." she laughed as she settled on Tytus.
"How?" both of them asked.
"Loki." The name made them silently snarl in unison. "His mind was affected by something. He's not that bad of a Demi-god."
"He brain-washed me."
"He was brain-washed by something far more forceful and damaging. Thor says he's lucky the Bifrost finished on time so that they could send a Healer here to help."
Clint swallowed at the thought that Loki had felt the same thing he had. "Fuck."
Phil laughed lightly as the rest of the Avengers stumbled onto their reunion.
"Agent Coulson!" Steve scooped up their beloved with gentle hands and hugged him. "... Glad you're back."
"Is this a talent we expect you to exhibit often? Because I will log my protest with Fury if you can't die." Tony's all snark but he's relieved. It's in his eyes. Bruce (he can now call them by first names because, hey, they saved the world together) smiles at their beloved understandingly when he sways a little after the second hug in less than thirty seconds. Clint lets Phil lean on him as he breathed in and out. He noticed that there were dark circles under the normally alert ochre eyes and that Lily was barely awake.
"Babe, did you come right here after they...?"
"Yes." the simple reply makes Clint soften as he picks their chosen 'handler' up bridal style.
"Lily, get up here." he knelt with Phil in his arms in front of Tytus. She churrs before flapping half-heartedly onto her human's stomach. The nuzzle she gives him is nearly his undoing, the oddly wonderful feelings building in his chest until he's burying his face in Phil's neck from the release.
"Mine." he murmurs fiercely against his beloved's neck, "Mine and Nat's and no one else's."
"Yours." Phil murmured, his eyes closing without any fear.
Steve lounges on the couch, his nose buried in a book, his fingers buried in Thrace's ruff as a matter of habit. His eyes are flicking over each page, his mind taking in each date and figure quicker than most would be able to. He's into the Cold War already. The world is much darker than when he'd crashed the Valkyrie. Steve scowls at the page before marking the page in the book to set it aside for further reading. His head aches and he wants something simple to soothe it. Nodding his head, he changes clothes to go out, jeans matching his sapphire button-up with a black tank top underneath. Leather boots complete his look as he takes out Thrace's collar.
"You want this?" he asks as he snags Bucky's black leather bomber jacket from his closet along with the plain collar that goes around his daemon's neck.
"Sure." Steve hums as he straps it on, making sure that he can get two fingers under it before patting Thrace. "Thank you."
"I know you like it when I fix the collar." They rummage around in the Avenger's fridge and he pulled out the fixings for a sandwich. His metabolism didn't allow him to rest for very long or get away with missing a meal; it just made it worse.
"Hey, you going out?"
"Yes." he answers absently before looking up and seeing the Black Widow. "I was thinking about going to Central Park. It's been a while."
"Why is your daemon wearing a collar?" she asked, her daemon giving Thrace an odd look.
"I didn't think anyone still did that." Stark commented as he snagged a piece of salami off of the stack and fed his own daemon. "I gave one to Val because he doesn't have opposable thumbs for his suit."
"Is there something wrong with it? It's so that people don't call animal control or the zoo. We've had it happen so often we just thought up this whole collar thing. A lot of guys in the squad had exotic animals and they adopted it. Does it carry a stigma nowadays?" he explained as he ate his sandwiches and put away the remaining food. Some things the books did not share, especially daemon etiquette.
"No. It's just people from the 40s, 50s and 60s are the only ones that do that anymore. It's a widely known fact wild daemons exist now."
"I am from the 40s." Steve sighed, picking up Thrace and settling him across his shoulders as he dug around in the hall closet for his motorcycle helmet. "I made the system in the first place. I don't mind if people stare at it." The left out words? They stare anyway.
"How heavy is he?" She asked, her stare boring into his back.
"Mmm, 170 lbs. Heaviest he can be without being obese." Thrace's thick tail dropped to about his waist, his paws loose and floppy. He steadied him with one hand as he found it on the top shelf. "Ah-ha."
"Well, if you're going to Central Park, I wanna come with."
"... Paparazzi follow you everywhere." he whined knowing he sounded like a child. He just wanted some time with just his daemon and the presence of other people he didn't know. "I would like some air without any of the other Avengers." His Mam would have slapped him for his blunt wording but he found that it worked best with the team he had now. "Can you stay quiet, keep your incessant thoughts to yourself and not picture every stranger as a threat?"
"... No." Natasha scowled as she thought about it.
"No?" Stark's expression deflated instantly.
He did end up taking an Avenger. Bruce was quiet, explained what he didn't understand in words that he did and didn't question Thrace's simple collar. They sat sipping coffee (tea for Bruce) under one of the thicker trees he remembers being really scrawny as a kid. It made him smile at the similarities he shared with the tree. Thrace is napping on his thighs, using them as a pillow as Bruce reads a book. He people watches from behind his cup and reaches for his satchel, pulling out his sketchbook & pencils, flipping through a few sketches of long passed soldiers to draw the children playing in the park with their daemons.
He moves on to draw Bruce and Merlin as they relax in the sun before someone blocks his light. Steve looks up to see a woman on a bicycle with what looked to be a bullet-proof vest labeled with POLICE in bright white. Her daemon was a large dog that also wore a POLICE vest.
"Can I help you, Officer?" He was nothing if not polite.
"We don't get many artists here."
"Really? Well, this is only because I've been taking online classes. They demand daily sketches." the lie rolls off of his tongue even as he absently finishes the drawing of Bruce and Merlin with little thought. Taking another sip of his coffee he flips to a blank page before speed-sketching the police officer and her daemon, carefully erasing his mistakes and presenting it to them for inspection.
"Steve and the R is an abbreviation of my last name." he's casual about it even as Thrace stirs, looking at the other daemon with an tired stare. Bruce is now looking at her with wary ochre eyes as he strokes his fingers through Merlin's chest feathers. Steve knows when she sees the harsh charcoal drawings of dying men and vanishing daemons. It's a visible flinch that draws the eye as she flips through them only once.
"Have a nice day, sir." she says as she hands it back.
"Here." he carefully tears out the sketch of her and her daemon handing it to her with a slight smile. She folds it carefully, placing it in the fanny pack with a smile of her own. Well, at least he made someone's day a little better…
It's a slow realization. He likes spending time with Bruce and eventually migrates to where he spends most of his time, which was near Stark and in the lab. Bruce even flashes him a smile when he tries to keep up with the technical jargon.
"So, take the sample's speed up to 56 joules per second. It's gonna do something." Tony argued (he'd gotten tired of referring to Howard's son as Stark because it brought back unwanted memories) as he stared at the sample of Bruce's blood.
"At that speed? We don't even know what it'll do." Something in the back of his mind kicked in at their tech wording.
"Explode." Both dark heads shot up in astonishment as he spoke. "I heard Dr. Erskine and Howard talking about that while they were calibrating the Vita-Rays... It'd explode."
"Vita-Rays? What are those?" Bruce asks, confused.
"It's what Dr. Erskine and Howard used to infuse us with the serum. It's not in my file?" Tony drew up his SSR records and in Dr. Erskine's hand-writing were the initials VR next to Serum Activant. "There. The VR. It's his hand-writing."
"Why isn't this anywhere else?"
"Hold on. I think I might have something." Holding up a finger as his mind went reeling back flicking through his memories as he found the right one. Steve hummed as he wrote down the exact conversation between him and Peggy; what he was after was the undercurrent of talk that he hadn't paid much attention to until Howard had stated that they were ready.
"56 joules per second would make anyone explode. Vita-Rays concentrated at 34, leading to the blue color."
"Didn't they almost shut it down?" Tony asked, suddenly interested.
"Yeah. It hurt a heck of a lot. I was a stubborn one." he shrugged, passing the pain off as though it hadn't hurt too badly. "You want to try that instead?" He was pushed out of the lab as was Tony, both of them told to stand as far away as possible. The lab glowed blue and then faded out. Steve twitched but didn't move as he heard Bruce's excited yell.
"You can come back in! I think I found it!" He shot forward, opening the door and striding over to see what Bruce was seeing in the microscope. The cells had clumped together and were a uniform color.
"It doesn't look any different." he ran a hand through his hair before he looked again. The cells rippled and turned green before fading back to normal. "Oh. Did you do that?"
"I thought at them as crazy as that sounds. You're a genius, Steve."
He blushed and scratched the back of his head, "No, it was Dr. Erskine and Howard's pet project. I just listened."
"You have eidetic memory." Tony huffed, looking slightly upset.
"Huh?" He had no idea what Tony was going on about.
"Photographic memory. You see and remember things most people wouldn't be able to in a million years."
"Most people didn't pay attention to a scrawny kid from Brooklyn back then. I got good at listening." he licked his lips and picked up Thrace, a nervous habit he'd developed after realizing that he could pick up his daemon. He fled the labs, his blush darkening as he heard the conversation after he left. Super hearing could be a curse sometimes...
"Is it just me..." Bruce muttered.
"Or is that an incredible turn-on?" Tony finished with awe in his tone. Steve winced as he heard a smack. "Ow! What? You were totally thinking the same thing."
"At least I have the decency not to say it to a man from the 1940s! In Steve's time, thoughts like that could get you killed! Hung, even. You'll just scare him even more." Bruce lectured with a severe tone. Steve heard the underlying, yes, but I'm not going to say it out loud.
"I think we like them." Thrace murmured, looking up with teal eyes full of confusion.
"I think so too."
He thought about it as he brushed Thrace's coat, humming an old melody his Mam had sung when he was little.
"Which one?" he sighed as he pillowed his head on Thrace's stomach. "Are they already involved with one another?"
"It would explain a lot of things. But they aren't touching each other's daemons..." his daemon huffed, his claws kneading Steve's feather duvet with care.
"I don't even know if that's a sign anymore, Thrace. This place has changed so much. I don't know."
"Mr. Rogers, if I may?" he twitched at JARVIS's voice but responded as his upbringing demanded.
"Touching daemons is still considered a monogamous action. Niether Master Stark nor Dr. Banner have initiated that particular intimacy nor are they showing the typical patterns of a couple." Steve's brows furrowed, his arms wrapped around Thrace's body as he turned the odd thoughts over and over in his mind.
"Mam would know what to say... She and George always did." Expressing his thoughts out loud, he realized something. "Oh."
"Well, that would definitely work... If they were willing." Thrace said, catching onto his thinking pattern.
Steve rolled over and sat on the edge of his bed brow furrowed as his mind worked the problem over, "Umm, JARVIS? Is Courting still done?"
"It is rarely done anymore, Mr. Rogers, and even then it is only used with Royalty. However, it is not entirely unheard of to offer Courtship as opposed to marriage. It is defined less rigorously and often allows partners of the same sex to have the same rights as any other couple."
"So it can be done. But I don't know who the primary is and who the secondary empath is. Peggy's link is weaker now." he muttered to himself, checking the links with both empaths.
"That makes her the secondary." JARVIS answered promptly.
Standing outside Barton's room, he holds onto Thrace's ruff to give his flailing confidence a boost.
"What? I swear if this is a mission, I'll kill whoever's on the other side of this damn door." the sleepy tone makes him worry. "Oh. It's you? Look, I'm not interested in a Challenge-"
"It's not that." he says quietly, allowing the other Feral to lounge in his presence, waving away the offer. "I intend to Court and I need Phil's permission."
"Huh? I thought Carter was your empath..."
"She was seventy years ago. Who do you think we bonded with after our coma?" Steve sighs as he leans on the wall across from Barton's room. "Is this a bad time?"
"No, no. Phil just got back from a mission and we fell asleep..."
"Oh." He and Peggy had slept on shared mattresses after missions because the harsh environment made it so that he couldn't sleep without her. "Should we come back?"
"You're welcome to join, you know, if Phil's your empath." The tired smile is one he's never seen before but it suits the archer of his team quite as well as the intense scowl he sported during the Battle of New York.
"He's my primary now. May we?" He'd changed into his pjs, an old SSR shirt and black yoga pants. They were comfortable enough so that he followed Hawkeye with interest. Thrace padded along behind them, taking in the scent of Phil mixed with Black Widow along with their daemons. A rumbling purr sounded as Steve saw a pile of blankets and pillows galore. Phil was in the middle, Black Widow pillowing her head on his shoulder.
"Bringing in strays, Clint?" the gentle teasing had him smiling at the now fully-recovered Agent. "Who is it?"
"Oh." At that, Phil frowned and Steve felt a gentle pressure from his end of the bond. He hummed as he brushed back with a sense of quiet worry. "She's not the primary."
"I bonded with you when we woke up." he reiterated, settling at the end of the circle, hugging Thrace to him as a matter of habit.
"Come here." the tone is soft, Phil patting the spot above Hawkeye's head. He curls around them both, his arm draping over Black Widow as he inhaled the scent of his empath. "You're bigger than I expected you to be."
"That's what Peggy said." Steve huffed a warm breath against the shoulder he'd pillowed his head on.
"Clint gets cold sometimes with the puppy pile. You're the only blanket we'll need tonight, I think. Nat?"
"He's ridiculously warm, Phil. Tytus says that his daemon is too." comes the grumbled answer. He hums as Clint worms his way directly in-between them, Phil on one side and himself on the other. Feral instincts kick in as he rumbles to soothe the younger Feral cuddling close. It's also instinct that makes him brush cheeks with Clint; the younger man squeaks and he rumbles again, lower this time as he finishes making his greeting. "What was that?"
"Feral greeting, Nat. Steve's just saying hello." The tentative cheek brush from Clint makes him happy enough to chuff.
"That's hello? Then what's with their daemons?" Thrace was swiping his tongue down Clint's daemon with a happy purr.
"Ferals are like big cat prides. Think of it as nothing more than something between good friends. Their natures won't allow much else."
"Actually, Phil, I did come to talk about something important." he sighs heavily. "I want to Court Bruce and Tony."
"Ah. Do you have the first Gift?"
"We can present it tomorrow. Clint's already laid claim to Natasha and I."
Tony woke to the smell of bacon and a note hanging above his face. It had Steve's ridiculously neat handwriting printing out his name. He opened it and his eyebrows rose at the shortness of the missive.
Come down to breakfast, we need to talk.
Tony met Bruce in the hallway, surprised to find a note with his Sciencebro as well.
"You too? I wonder what he wants to talk about?" Bruce murmured as they entered the kitchen together. Steve was there already, dressed neatly in a short sleeved black turtleneck and pressed tan dress pants; his feet were covered with house slippers as he flipped the pancakes with a smile.
"Morning. Sit, eat." he directed, "Bruce, I gave you turkey bacon. You don't mind, right?" Tony looked at Bruce for a second before settling down with a faint thump.
"Okay, what happened to the grumpy face from last night?"
"Hmm? Oh, I just needed to see Phil." Brilliant blue eyes looked at him with contentment shining through.
"The resident empath? What for?" he asked ignoring Bruce's slap to his thigh. Typical Rogers, smug without meaning to be so.
"I'm a Feral." the matter of fact tone coupled with his shoulders tensing meant that he didn't reveal the fact casually. "You didn't tell him?" The gaze swung to Bruce, something in them showing gratitude.
"I keep what secrets aren't mine, Steve. Thanks for the turkey bacon." That earned Bruce a beautiful smile, the sun favoring Rogers with a golden glow. Tony pouted as he stabbed absently at his pancakes. He wanted to make him smile like that, not just Bruce.
"I'm sorry." the words came out of his mouth before he thought to censor it. Both of them turned to face him, Steve pulling the last of the pancakes off the stove quicker than he was able to see and plopping the last of them onto the 'sharing' plate. "What? I can apologize if I feel like it. What if I accidentally blew something up and just remembered it?" he huffed, hiding his face behind a holographic projection as he snagged another piece of bacon.
"Thank you." Steve laughed softly as he pushed the projection aside to ruffle Tony's sleep-mussed hair.
"Hey! I worked hard for this. Leave it alone." Tony whined, batting away Steve's much larger hands with a flick of his wrist.
"You fell asleep on your lab table. So did Bruce. I asked JARVIS to pause whatever project was down there at the moment and I carried you to bed." came the wry response as Steve ate his own breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, sausages and coffee in a ceramic mug. It was labeled 'Guardian of Freedom' in childish handwriting and Rogers sipped his coffee with a small smile.
"Who sent you that?" his curiosity got the better of him for the moment.
"I saved a little boy's mother. He sent me this cup as a thank you." Rogers murmured after he'd swallowed his bite. "Wait here." He stood up, still holding his cup, and sauntered out of the kitchen. Tony looked at Bruce, confusion on his face as he watched their leader leave.
"I thought he needed to talk to us."
"That's what the note said." Bruce hummed thoughtfully as he drank his tea out of a green and purple cup labeled 'This is Hulk's cup. Hulk smash if you take.'
"What's with the cups?" Tony asked, leaning forward to see little pairs of purple shorts on it. He was definitely interested now...
"You have one too. If you ever opened your fan mail, you'd know. Yours is already washed and it's in the cupboard." was the reply as Bruce took another mouthful of tea.
"'Best Hero Ever', huh?" Tony couldn't deny the warm feeling in his chest as he turned it over. Engraved in the bottom was a kid's name: Peter Parker. "Gee, didn't know I was that popular." He filled the red and gold cup with coffee, sipping it as Rogers returned with two packages wrapped in twine. "Is one of those for me?"
"Yes, actually, but before you get it..."
"We have to talk?" Bruce finished as Rogers trailed off.
"Exactly. Have either of you ever heard of Courting?" The sapphire gaze is serious, looking at both of them steadily.
"Wait, like the process the remaining Royals go through if they want to marry?" Why was he procrastinating? Tony wanted whatever was in that little package.
"It's really rare. Why?"
"I'd... like to Court the pair of you." The silence that dropped in the kitchen was sudden and hung in the air as Steve sat back down.
Bruce sat back in his chair, his mind struck dumb as his heart thundered quietly in his chest.
"Court us... together?" the breathless words tumbled from him, his breath shuddering as he drew in air.
"Yes." The honesty shone bright in the brilliant sapphire eyes.
"I accept your Suit." he stated, standing up and walking over to Steve's side. "May I have my Gift now?" Steve wordlessly handed it over, still staring at Tony with softness in his eyes. He gently peeled off the packaging and something warm fell into his hands. Bruce looked down and saw a sweater. Stitched into the wool were the words, 'My heart is yours, beloved.' On the back were the words, 'Keep it safe.' He nearly cried at the amount of trust Steve had put onto that sweater.
Tony glanced at Valerian only to find his daemon purring as Thrace groomed him with a raspy tongue. Oh, hell, who cared what anyone else thought?! He opened his mouth and no sound came out save for an embarrassing squeak.
"Is that your yes?" Tony nodded yes, the blush not fading from his cheeks no matter how hard he tried to control it.
"Yes! Yes I would love that." he found his voice finally and eyed the Gift Bruce had been given. "What's mine?"
"Open it." The package is stiff and unyielding to Tony's stare. "It's not going to bite, Tony." He carefully peeled off the red wrapping with the gold ribbon. What stared back at him was a photo and a set of keys. The keys were to what looked like... No. That was a concept car with skin as opposed to metal. It wasn't possible! He'd made a bid on the car.
"How?" Tony blurted, unable to keep his enthusiasm for the car from spilling over.
"Coulson helped me set it up. Apparently you can offer it as a Courting Gift free of charge. No one's ever thought to ask." Steve chuckled. "Umm, before you drive it around... There's a song I think you should hear. JARVIS?"
"Of course, Mr. Rogers."
I stare at my reflection in the mirror
Why am I doing this to myself?
Losing my mind on a tiny error
I nearly left the real me on the shelf
No, no, no, no, no...
Don't lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing.
It's okay not to be okay.
Sometimes it's hard to follow your heart
Tears don't mean you're losing
Just be true to who you are
Who you are, who you are, who you are
Who you are, who you are, who you are
Who you are, who you are, who you are
Brush my hair, do I look perfect?
I forgot what to do to fit the mold, yeah
The more I try the less it's working, yeah
'Cause everything inside me screams
No, no, no, no, no, no...
Don't lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing.
It's okay not to be okay.
Sometimes it's hard to follow your heart
Tears don't mean you're losing
There's nothing wrong with who you are!
Yes, no, egos, fake shows, like WHOA!
Just go and leave me alone!
Real talk, real life, good love, goodnight
With a smile, that's my home!
That's my home, no...
No, no, no, no, no, no, no...
Don't lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing.
It's okay not to be okay.
Sometimes it's hard to follow your heart
Tears don't mean you're losing
Just be true to who you are
Yeah, yeah, yeah
The silence after the song is broken by Bruce and Tony hugging Steve with tears falling unbidden.
Steve takes them out on old-fashioned dates. He pulls out their chairs, holds the door for them and they understand that he knows what he's doing. When someone hits on Bruce he's gentle but firm.
"Hey, that's a beautiful daemon." the man's obviously just looking for a one-night stand. "Wanna take that fire back to my place?"
"He's taken." Steve gently takes Bruce's elbow and seats him next to Tony before blocking the man's view of his Intended. "Find someone else."
"What makes you say that? He was interested." the tone of scorn makes Thrace snarl lowly and Steve's shoulders tighten as he stops slouching.
"He's not interested because he's my Intended." he states firmly, a low rumble coming from both of them as the man suddenly pales.
"..." He can't stave the urge to stare the idiot down and doesn't because Tony's also caught his attention.
"I don't do that anymore, pal. Buzz off." Tony's very good at sending them packing. The guy finally gets it as Steve's stony expression doesn't change and leaves the diner.
"Bruce?" his tone is gentle as he brushes back a stray curl.
"I've never had anyone express interest and now... It's a little overwhelming." the familiar tawny eyes are confused.
I never did understand the lure of a taken man. Steve nearly jumps at the casual tone from one of the other patrons. At least, he thinks they are. I am another patron. Forgive me, but I couldn't help but notice.
Who are you?
Ah, yes. Charles Lensherr. My Intended and I recieved much the same treatment during the sixties.
Steve Rogers, but I guess you already knew that. Fury warned me about you.
Fury?The mental voice is amused and Steve scowls.Yes, well, I am harmless. I wish he would take me off that ridiculous list of people to kill. I will say nothing more than good luck. You'll need it.
"-eve! Steve come on. Bruce, I think you broke him."
"I'm fine, Tony. I just had a conversation with someone named Charles Lensherr."
"Oh." was the response from both of them.
"You know who I'm talking about?"
"Know? He's only the lead scientist on genetics." Steve figured this was one of those things he hadn't quite caught up on just yet. "Right... You have no idea."
"I think I can pick what it is from context."
"You're more intelligent than you let on." Bruce hums as he and Tony launch into a debate that he can barely follow.
Fury calls him in for a meeting and stares at him for a full five minutes. Steve's unfazed, having faced down a madman an alien invasion and being frozen in ice for seventy years. Thrace even licks his paws ever so casually.
"You called me in, sir?"
"This... business with Stark and Banner."
"What of it?" he counters softly, his fingertips casually scratching under Thrace's muzzle as a sign of absolute ease.
"End it. I won't have inter-fraternization interfere with-Barton." Fury's voice is even as Clint glides into the room like he owns it, Gracia's head held high.
"You want to try that again, Fury? Interfering with a Courtship is punishable by death." Clint's tone is flat, bordering on deadened with the amount of apathy in it.
"The Concordant of 1476." Clint's tone didn't change as he slid a thin folder across the table to Fury. "There's a version for Ferals as well. Read the fifteenth line out loud."
"Read it." Clint is implacable as he stares Fury down with frigid azure eyes.
"Whosoever interferes with the process of Courtship shall die by the hand of the Feral seeking the favor of his or her Intended."
"Should a Feral not seek the Death Penalty, a price must be paid by the one who interferes. Steve? You're well within your rights." He mulls it over carefully, picking Thrace up with one arm as he digs in his pocket for his simplified phone. "Thinking?"
"Mmmhmm. Gonna need to call Bruce and Tony before I make the decision." Steve walks off for a bit and dials Bruce's number first. He knows that the shier genius will pick up if he's on the other end.
"Steve? JARVIS, turn down the music. Tony's going to want in. I'll put you on speaker."
"That's fine. Fury tried to interfere." he says with an even tone.
"WHAT?!" Tony's furious, probably pacing to keep from doing anything else. "Ooo, I'll hack every file he has-"
"Tony, not right now. He what?" Bruce's tone is incredulous. "You told him you were Courting us, right?"
"I did. I sent notification via email, letter and courier. I don't understand how he didn't get it." he hummed thoughtfully before walking back over to Fury with a curious expression. "Sir, did you get any of the memos or notifications that I was Courting them?"
"I'm supposed to send out word of the Courting to my superiors or the highest in the chain of command. It's more recent than the Concordant."
"I get nearly a thousand messages a day." came the gruff response.
"I sent it via email, letter and courier." He reiterated, thinking that if the postal service messed up, maybe the infraction wouldn't need to be so bad.
"Courier? I didn't know people did that anymore. Now that you mentioned it, I did see one a few weeks ago. He was escorted off the premises before he was allowed to speak." Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"And they called me crazy. Here." He pulled out the sealed envelope, an exact duplicate of the one he'd sent to Fury in the mail a week ago. "Read that, sir, if you please." Steve handed it over, going back to his conversation with Tony and Bruce as he stepped a few feet away to give Fury space in case he exploded. "It seems he didn't get any of them. I wonder who is interfering with our Courting."
"I can hack the database to see who did it? We can pay them a... personal visit." Tony offered and Steve knew exactly which expression Tony had on his face.
"Exactly what I was thinking."
The address was innocent-looking enough, but Tony had hacked through all of the re-routing this teenager had done.
"Yes, may I help you? ... Oh." Steve had his arms crossed as he tapped his foot.
"I'm here to see your son, actually, Mrs. Scarlotti." he murmured as Thrace growled.
"What did Mark do now?"
"The worst thing he could have; he interfered with my Courtship." Her eyes went wide before her lips pressed thin. "Would you like to know how?"
"Via his computer. He hacks into places he shouldn't and I knew it would get him into trouble one day." the accent thickened with each word until Steve could barely understand her.
"Where is he now?"
"He's with his friends at the mall."
He almost vibrated with anger as he walked through the mall, the look on his face enough to frighten several people out of his way. Steve spotted the teen laughing as he told the other boys what he'd done.
"So I took the email and deleted it! Ha! Whoever that was is out of luck now for whatever that was... Dude, I would have loved to see their faces when they realized the just got played!" The boy's daemon was a spider. Thrace growled lowly and stared at it with narrowed teal eyes.
"I think he tracked you down, dude." Mark turned around in his chair so fast he nearly fell. Steve was in the new Army uniform and Tony had told him if he frowned hard enough he looked intimidating. The scowl on his face was pretty bad then because Mark did fall out of his chair with a squeak of terror.
"Mr. Scarlotti." he growled as he picked him up. "That email you deleted? It was rather important."
"What? Dude, I have no idea-"
"I just heard you and my Intended tracked down your computer even when you re-routed it. I also heard you. I'm sure your friends will be more than happy to escape a jail sentence for something you did."
"It wasn't that important anyway!"
"Yes, it was. You interfered with a stage of my Courtship. According to the Concordant of 1476... I could kill you with no repercussions." Steve shook him carefully with the first three words, not even using his full strength.
"It means I get off scot-free." The boy understood that and shook in fear.
"Exactly. You're coming with me."
With that cleared up Steve proceeded with the final stages of the Courtship. Having asked Phil for permission, he had to ask Peggy for final confirmation of his Intended. She flew in on a quinjet to the Avenger's Tower. He was not allowed to be present for the evaluation and it worried him.
Bruce shook her hand firmly with a smile.
"Call me Peggy. My, you're quite the pair." Tony blushed as he nibbled his lip, his fingers sliding into Valerian's lush fur. "This is Declan." The falcon looked at Merlin with a curious tilt of the head.
"Bruce and this is Merlin."
"Tony. Valerian's my daemon." He seemed to get that same charm that had wooed women to bed with him as he offered her a drink. "Did you want anything, Ms. Peggy?"
"A ginger ale would be nice." He winked at her and made her smile. Bruce swallowed sharply as he sat next to her at Tony's bar. "Did you know that Steve plans on adopting?"
"No." Tony answered, his eyes unsure.
"He did say that he loved kids." he replied softly. "But I don't think I'd make for a very good parent."
"Ditto." Tony's face was serious as he pulled up plans for Bruce's pants that wouldn't rip when he transformed.
"... Our pasts leave much to be desired." Tony finally said as he set the holographic projection aside.
"I see. Do you think you deserve Steve's Suit?"
Bruce glanced at Tony and they answered in unison, "No."
She rose an eyebrow in surprise. "Why not?"
"I'll be frank Ms. Peggy. I have breath-taking anger issues that can turn deadly in an instant, I run at the first sign of tension and I have people after my blood or the Hulk. I'm lucky to even be here." he snorted, stroking Merlin's tailfeathers as he stared her in the eyes.
"And yourself, Mr. Stark?"
"Tony. I drink, I have terrible sleeping habits, I'm selfish, rude and I don't share. The Iron Man can show you that. I honestly don't work well with others and I have no idea why Steve would choose me when there are so many better people." the rawness in Tony's gaze made Merlin trill softly in reassurance.
"Alright. I've finished my evaluation. Steve?" Sapphire eyes locked with her brown as Steve entered the room. "The living room, please."
Steve followed his old empath into the living room, apprehensive of her judgment.
"Unsure? Beautiful and they have no idea what I see in them?" he laughed sourly as he stared out at the now familiar skyline. "I know exactly what you saw."
"They're broken, Steve." she sighed as she sat down.
"I knew that before I went and asked them." came his response.
"Are you ready for that?"
"Peggy. I've wanted them since I met them. When I met the real people under the mask... There was no shortage of amazement. They're broken, yes, but they're stronger because of it. We'll fix that." he huffed stubbornly, not noticing her smile until it was almost gone.
"Good. You have my permission to complete the Ceremony."
The day dawned bright and early as they stood in a triangle. All of them held hands as their daemons hovered under a hand not belonging to their human.
"Do you, Steven Grant Rogers, take Robert Bruce Banner and Anthony Edward Stark as Companions for eternity?"
"And do you, Anthony Edward Stark, take Steven Grant Rogers and Robert Bruce Banner as Companions for eternity?"
"Lastly, do you, Robert Bruce Banner, take Anthony Edward Stark and Steven Grant Rogers as Companions for eternity?"
"May this Courtship be sealed if there are none who protest." Silence reigned in the wake of the question. The officiator smiled briefly before continuing the Ceremony. "The Courtship is now sealed. May your life be brilliant and full of love. You may kiss your Companions now Mr. Rogers." Steve kissed them lightly, Bruce first and then Tony. "I introduce you to Messrs. Rogers, Stark-Rogers and Rogers-Banner!"
Their guests moved onto the reception, as did the officiator, since not many people followed the last part of the Ceremony nor were there any witnesses for this intimate encounter. Valerian calmly sat under Bruce's hand as Merlin balanced under Steve's as Thrace was under Tony's. They nodded and touched each other's daemons until it left them weak in the knees; it was something not easily described nor necessarily shared. Walking to the reception, they shared soft kisses and laced fingers, their daemons brushing shoulders and linking tails as though it were completely normal. It might not have been the end, but it was most certainly the beginning of a road none of them had knew existed.
Ending A/N: I thought this would be small. I am now laughing at myself. This took nearly took two months to write and I nearly quit twice; I'm glad I didn't. Fuck... I couldn't do it. I couldn't write a funeral scene with Phil dead. Goddammit. I know he's dead in canon movie verse. I just- I have no excuses and I will say that I was tearing up as I wrote the first part of that scene. The second part made me happy. Ah, I'm a romantic sap under all of my snark. Phil grew on me after I went back and watched both Thor and Iron Man II. His line in Iron Man II made me crack up so many times I thought I was going to die of a giggle-fit. As for making a sequel or continuing this? Only if the Muses bite again in this manner or I get enough reviews... Which I won't tell you the amount of because I'm a bit of a mischief-maker myself.
Also, I know Clint is OOC but this is an AU fic in the first place! Besides, character development and all that jazz. You're probably thinking, what? Yeah. I wanted to do this thing where there's in depth comic related crap before I realized that not a lot of people do the research I did after the Avenger's movie. I'm a bit of a savant when it comes to remembering thing most people don't think should be remembered (like my odd little habit of singing foreign songs and still knowing every single word after nearly a year of not hearing it). I'm also a smart-ass. Well if you enjoyed that trip, leave me a review. Hell, even if you didn't. *laughs*
*Gaelic- my little hero
Daemons in the one-shot
Thrace- snow leopard; Steve
Hope- German Shepard; Bucky
George- blackbird; Steve's Mom
Declan- falcon; Peggy
Tabatha- fox; Dr. Erskine
Merlin- phoenix; Bruce
Helena- golden tamerin; Bruce's Dad
Valerian- golden tabby tiger; Tony
Jane- chameleon; Obadiah
Tytus- Tasmanian tiger; Natasha
Gracia- dark morph Ferruginous hawk; Clint
Loren- bald eagle; Barney
Stacia- beagle; Buck 'Trickshot'
Orion- black swan; Pepper
Lily- Great Horned Owl; Coulson
Damien- raccoon; Hill
Raine- wolf; Fury
Selene- Siberian husky; Rhodey
Sigrath- coyote; Thor
Valdis- dragon; Loki
Concept of Ferals and empaths: One out of ten people is an empath. There are two types of empaths; passive and alert. Passive empaths usually reflect their emotions outward and can read surface emotions. Alert empaths can control the emotions of those around them but only to a certain extent (they get tired if they are forced to shield and project at the same time) as they have to have some form of weakness.
Examples of passive and alert empaths in this fic are Peggy Carter (passive, it's how she motivates Steve) and Phil Coulson (alert but unable to shield himself from Loki's attack because he was trying to reach Clint at the same time he was stabbed).
Empaths are given mentors that match their specific type. The purpose is to inform them of various empath scenarios they can expect in the real world (Ferals, overwhelming emotions Etc.) as well as how they can help people around them.
Ferals are people who relax completely around the first empath they meet. Born without realizing their particular destiny, many never meet an empath. They are much rarer than an empath (one in one million) and are often betrayed in some form or manner, thus inducing the need for absolute trust. The trust that an empath inspires in that particular Feral is for a lifetime. If the empath dies or is disconnected from them, they revert to one of two states; auto-function, where they continue as normal or destructive, where they destroy anything within reach.
In the case of Peggy and Steve, when Peggy dies of natural causes, he'll be assigned a new empath or Coulson will fill her place. It is uncommon for more than one Feral to be born in the same generation. Steve and Clint are the first Ferals to meet in such a manner in over a millennia. Due to Steve's extreme circumstances, his link with Peggy is faint and his attachment to Coulson much stronger; Coulson being the first empath he sees upon awakening. It is in this circumstance that Coulson dies and leaves not one but two Ferals in a disconnected auto-functioning state. It's why Loki had to revive him.
... And I've out-done myself in explaining why I couldn't kill Coulson. Damn I'm good.
On Courting: When Steve asks JARVIS if Courting is still done, he means this in a purely informational guise.
Courting is an intricate process. To Court someone or more than one person, permission is needed. If the Intended is without parents or a Guardian, it is best to ask an empath close to the Intended.
Ferals initiating the process must register with their primary empath and a secondary. Since there are two Ferals in the vicinity, the Feral not in the Courtship must stake his or her claim on Companions. The Feral (person) initiating the process must then send the first Gift. It continues in the vein for at least two weeks if the first Gift is accepted by the Intended. If the Gift is not accepted, the Feral (or normal) must withdraw his or her Suit immediately. Another Suit is forbidden once the Court Initiator is rejected. There are no exceptions.
On Challenge: Ferals, when in close proximity to one another, often fight. That's where the rules of Challenge come from. They were a lot more common in Elizabethan England as there more empaths during that time.
A Challenge has three Unbreakable Rules.
First: The Challenger shall provide the time.
Second: The Challenged shall provide the place.
Third: Neither of them shall fight to the Death, only to first blood. Death fights cause multiple problems.