They all blamed T’Challa, which was ironic considering that he was the only one of them not involved in it in any way, but they said it was his fault regardless.
“A king must’ve been attuned to the needs of his people,” Thor had once claimed.
“Even though this wasn’t what he intended?” Pepper asked.
“We don’t know that,” Clint said – stirring the pot, who would’ve thought?
“We all know that’s not how the Dora Milaje work!” Steve butted in. “You can’t just assume things about T’Challa based on rumors about his bodyguards.”
“And what would you know about ruling anyway?” Loki asked – though Laura couldn’t help but notice that there was significantly less bite in the words directed towards Thor than there had once been.
“I was heir to the throne.”
“Which you abdicated!”
At which point Jane broke in with a “boys!” and a stern glare between the two of them.
Thor quieted appropriately, but Loki glowered until Jane gave him an indulgent smile and a kiss. Because they did that now. Practically every one of them did that now.
And they were definitely blaming it on T’Challa… even if that wasn’t strictly how Laura remembered the story going…
Technically speaking, they’d won. After the battle was over, after the dust had settled and Hell had been driven back to the underworld or wherever else it was supposed to belong – as long as it was not on earth, and as long as it took Thanos and all of his forces with it – the Avengers and their suddenly very expanded company had been the victors. Earth and all the other Realms were safe, but that was really all that Laura knew as she watched the now-large team pour through the gates into King T’Challa’s palace.
Miraculously no humans had died, but other non-humans had not been so fortunate. Peter Quill’s team had taken terrible hits, she’d heard, losing half of their numbers – Rocket, Baby Groot, and Drax. The names meant very little to Laura, but she saw the pain of their losses etched in the faces of Gamora and Nebula as they came in supporting a deathly-looking Peter.
Thor’s contributions to the growing team had also been cut short by a man – or woman, that was. Valkyrie. Before that moment, Loki had never seemed anywhere near small to Laura, but a part of her wanted to actually hug him when she saw him in that moment. She knew that look; it was the one Clint and Natasha got whenever the other one came home hurt… only so much worse. Then again, she didn’t think he’d appreciate the gesture at the moment, not when Thor and the two women Loki had brought to the party – Sigyn and Angrboda – were already surrounding him.
“This is gonna take a while,” Helen Cho muttered beside Laura, surveying the damage done to them all.
Laura merely hummed in agreement as members of T’Challa’s on-site medical staff began to wade into the group, helping steer them all towards the medical wing of the palace. Spotting Clint and Natasha in the group, Laura did the same. Her husband was on one side of Wanda, and Vision was on the other, while nearby Natasha was helping Dr. Banner. Laura headed to the latter even as Bruce protested weakly, “I’m fine. I’m not hurt.”
“Yeah,” Laura agreed. “I know you aren’t, which is why we’re going to get you to a quiet corner and get some food and juice in you. That way you can be back on your feet ASAP and we can have another doctor they trust looking after these guys.”
“I’m fine, then.” Understanding what her plans for him were, the doctor tried to shrug away even that idea, tried to straighten up and get to work like he hadn’t just been through a war that had spanned more than one planet.
“You’re going to listen to me,” Laura said, pulling out her “mom” voice with an effortlessness that made Natasha do a double take.
An elderly Wakandan nurse stepped up beside Laura too, looking for all the world like she meant to tongue-lash him into complacency, but a deeper, male voice spoke up before anyone else could.
“Perhaps, doctor, I could retire with you for a moment as well, then join you in nursing the others? Given a moment of the lady Sigyn’s time, I’m sure I could be as good as new and ready to help.”
Hearing her name, the blonde woman looked over as the man that Laura realized must be Dr. Strange glanced towards her. “I’m sure you could as well,” the lady said, “But I’m sure you’ll understand that my own people are my priority. You will, of course, want the best healers ready to go to work first.” She gestured indicatively to Loki at her side, and then continued on towards the medical wing.
They had only gone a few steps when Laura heard the black-haired Angrboda ask one of the nurses, “Is there a private room where the three of us could heal? We’ll care for one another’s wounds without any other help being remotely necessary.”
They were shepherded off, and a split-second later, Sam came over supporting Scott. “If one of you ladies have Bruce, can the other give Tic-Tac the same treatment? He stayed big most of the time, so he’s a little out of it, but otherwise unharmed. I wanna stay with Steve and Barnes.”
Frowning slightly at the emerging, awkward “division of labor,” as it were, that was appearing, Laura obediently shouldered Scott’s weight and watched as Sam limped off to join Captain America and the Winter Soldier. She tried to ignore all of the others she saw who needed help – only for as long as it took to get Dr. Banner and Scott situated – but it was even harder to ignore the discontented twist in her gut as she, Natasha, and the two guys were led off to yet another room away from anyone else.
And the longer that they were all in Wakanda, all confined to the palace, the more she saw why those divisions had made her so uneasy in the first place. They didn’t go away. In fact, they became all the more blatant.
The bottom line was that these people might’ve fought well enough together side by side, they might’ve won the battle, but they hadn’t won one another’s trust, and they certainly weren’t a real team.
And she was not, at first, sure what to do about it.
As a nurse and one of the medical professionals who were staying in the guest wing that T’Challa had assigned them all, she made a habit of “making her rounds” in the days following the war against Thanos, and she saw more than most what was going on at an emotional level between them all.
Loki and Angrboda hadn’t left the suite they’d been assigned. Which, Laura thought, was rather selfish of Loki given his healing abilities, but that was the one suite she’d never even entered, so she didn’t really want to cast stones… did she? But their self-inflicted seclusion left Thor in an odd position, because he wanted to be with both his brother and those he considered his teammates. And while Laura was not 100% certain of the relationship between Sigyn and Loki (though she had her suspicions) she noticed that it seemed to bother Sigyn as well because, like Laura, as a healer, Sigyn had taken it upon herself to check in on all of the others… though she also still clearly wanted to remain by Loki.
Steve, Bucky, Sharon, and Sam hadn’t budged from their suite either.
Jane and Darcy stayed sequestered in T’Challa’s on-site labs, but they were sequestered away from the others nonetheless. Thor, at least, spent his days wandering between certain suites, trying to ensure his friends’ wellbeing.
Scott and Hope had stayed in their suite, but Dr. Strange, who was sharing the space, had done the occasional round, too, while just as infrequently wandering into the labs.
Pepper and Rhodey stayed in a suite while Bruce and Tony stayed in the labs.
Clint, and Natasha stayed in their suite, though they ostensibly had a trio of children-needing-babysitting to blame for that.
Vision and Wanda stayed in the suite they shared with Dr. Cho, but the doctor at least kept busy between the labs, her rounds, and keeping in touch with her team in Seoul.
Daisy, Elena, and Joey, too, stayed in their rooms together, and Laura never would’ve seen any of them if she hadn’t invaded their suite to check on them.
Nebula, Peter, and Gamora didn’t leave their suite either… not that Laura particularly blamed them, given the losses they’d suffered, but, she’d thought more than once, wasn’t there supposed to be strength in numbers, in having others to lean on?
But no one really seemed to want to lean on anyone else around here as long as it meant actually having to be in the same room with them, and Laura felt at a loss concerning what to do about it.
“Maybe it’s a good thing that we’ll all be leaving soon,” Clint murmured to her late one night where she lay between him and Natasha in bed.
“Will we, though?”
“M-hm.” He nodded in the darkness. “You know the Accords were shredded through this; there’s no way any superpowered anyone could’ve waited for permission – waited any time at all, really – and the world still be as in-tact as it is even now. We’re the good guys again, and we can go home. T’Challa said today that we should be good to go day after tomorrow, actually. You didn’t know that?”
“No,” though she felt perfectly happy with the news, she sighed as something a little more nameless worried her and she said, “How are we supposed to hear things when nobody talks to anybody around here?”
The next morning, she met Sigyn in the hall as they made their individual rounds, and the other woman looked so… troubled that Laura stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm, asking only, “Hey, are you okay?”
Sigyn seemed startled to have been spoken to – and, to be honest, Laura wasn’t sure whether or not they had talked before; everything was always a whirlwind of many faces, these days – but she put on a smile and nodded. “Yes. Why would you ask that?”
“Because you look upset?” Laura suggested lightly, raising an eyebrow.
Sigyn glanced away, her smile becoming a bit more grim. “Not that it’s any of your business, but since we appear to share the same interest in all of these people and their wellbeing, I will tell you. I just now apologized to Dr. Strange – for being so cutting towards him when we first came here after battle – but I do not think he knew how to… take what I said.” Almost to herself, she said, “I don’t think anyone here knows what to do with one another.”
“And on that we agree,” Laura said, falling into step with Sigyn with an ease that surprised her. “But I’m sure he’ll come around.”
“I am not normally like that to those in need,” Sigyn seemed compelled to continue explaining now that she had begun to. “It was only that we were in mourning for one of our own… and I suppose we still are. She had been with us for so little time, and then to have her taken by the being who had so tortured my h—Loki in the first place… it…”
“Would’ve made anyone out of sorts,” Laura said with an air of finality. “I’m sure we can all understand when you put it like that, at least given time.”
Sigyn smiled at her a little uncertainly still, before she asked suddenly, “What is your name? I’ve heard you identify yourself as others to Laura, but that is all, and most, to my understanding, believe you are on T’Challa’s staff unless they’ve known you previously.”
Laura paused before saying with an air of teasing in her tone, “Then for a bunch of superheroes, they don’t pay a terrible lot of attention; I’ve been retiring to Clint and Natasha’s suite each night for a reason. I’m Laura Barton.”
“Related to Agent Barton, then,” Sigyn said haltingly, something going on behind her eyes that Laura couldn’t translate. “How, though?”
“His wife. And you are, I suspect, Loki’s wife?”
That wasn’t something that she – or anyone – had said to anyone else, but… Sigyn smiled thinly at her. “You’ve read the Midgardian mythos surrounding us, then.”
Laura nodded. “And Angrboda…?”
“Is more than the myths portray her to be… I’m no shrinking violet fit only to stay at home, after all, and she, too, is more than a mistress in a cave.”
“Clearly. You caught Dr. Strange’s eye.”
“That was because I did what I could to heal our team on the battlefront. He saw what I was capable of… and he was not here previously, when other things happened, to be predisposed against us.”
“A lot of these people weren’t around for Manhattan.”
“No, but the vast majority of them still seem to have loyalties to… those most effected.”
“Coulson,” Laura realized softly.
“And your family as well. But,” Sigyn drew herself up into a strong, straight line, her tone brightening as if she were determined to put the darkening tone of the conversation behind them. “At least we are all capable of rallying together when it matters.”
“Are they really?” Laura asked before she could stop herself. “Members of this so-called ‘united’ team are grieving terrible losses, yet they’re left alone to do it. It matters that people care for one another right now, and it’s not being done – not nearly as well as it should be. And,” suddenly she realized why their disconnectedness made her so uneasy. “If I can’t trust them to look after one another in the lap of luxury when everything is supposed to be healing back up, then how am I supposed to trust them with my spouses when the world goes to hell again?”
Sigyn opened her mouth and closed it again, once, then twice, then settled on a change of subject. “Not that I’m disagreeing in the least, but… did you say ‘spouses’? I was under the impression it was the Midgardian norm to take only one spouse.”
“It is, but, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of these people live well outside of the ‘Midgardian norm’. Clint and I aren’t legally married to Natasha, but we count her as ours regardless.”
Sigyn grinned at her suddenly. “I like you, Mrs. Barton. I think we could become friends… or at least moan about our shared troubles over drinks every once in a while.”
Laura nearly laughed. “All of this sounds familiar to you, then.”
Sigyn nodded before saying in a more subdued tone, “And I do understand what you mean about not wanting to trust your spouses to a team that seems so fractured. That is most of the reason that I insisted I accompany Loki. He did not even want Angrboda to come, but so many centuries together have taught him that argument with united wives is often fruitless, so… here we are. But if you have any suggestions on how we might endeavor to solve the issue, I… believe the Midgardian saying is ‘I’m all ears?’”
Laura shrugged, sighing. “Short of doing a sharing circle and making them talk about some things… I don’t know.”
“What is that? A ‘sharing circle’?”
“A technique usually used on little kids. My daughter’s preschool teacher used it at times. You make them sit on a floor in a circle and each of them say something to explain themselves to the other kids involved. Sometimes, if they were willing to at the end of the conversation, the kids were asked to hug to make up after their argument.”
“Maybe we could adapt that idea to suit our group?” Sigyn suggested with a thoughtful smile flickering at the edges of her mouth.
Laura couldn’t tell whether or not she was serious, but she chuckled anyway, not really meaning it herself as she agreed, “Maybe we could.” Then she stopped by a doorway, telling Sigyn, “Well, this is my stop. It was nice talking to you, though. We should do it again before we leave.”
“We should,” Sigyn agreed with a nod, waiting until Laura had slipped into the suite and joined her family before she moved on.
Laura never even thought to consider where she might be going, or what she might be doing.
Sigyn had been serious, was Laura’s first thought when one of the palace staff stopped by their suite – as she seemed to be stopping by every one – saying that T’Challa had asked for a mandatory team meeting before they all went their separate ways. Their presence was apparently requested immediately in the common room that connected all of the guest suites in their wing.
Not that anyone had bothered with going in there, except for maybe Thor, Dr. Cho, or Darcy. Nevertheless, they went now.
There was a huge crew in here – twenty-seven in all, she counted, notwithstanding Vision and Wanda, who Dr. Cho had insisted could stay out of this. They were, in their own ways, still so young, and Laura was glad that if this was going to become a shouting match, then at least they could be spared that.
Despite her worries, T’Challa stood in the middle of the room like the proud king he was as the others all took their seats around him. Some crowded themselves onto chairs and recliner-arms, couches and the backs of couches, sitting on the table and counters. Eventually people just started folding themselves onto the floor.
“It has come to my attention,” T’Challa began. “That this new team has less fluidity to it, less trust, then any previous to it, and I’m sorry to say that that’s quite an alarming idea, if those of you here who were there recall the state the Avengers was in when I was first thrown into the mix. Now, truthfully, unless the next fight directly involves Wakanda, I can’t see myself getting involved. I’m afraid I simply have other priorities. That being said, I don’t think I can, in good conscience, allow all of you to leave tomorrow knowing that this is the state of things between people you are meant to be able to trust with your life. So I propose a rather… unorthodox way of team bonding – the same that the Dora Milaje and I employ from time to time, and we manage to have quite a lot of fun with it, actually, if we can allow ourselves to relax appropriately. We,” he began to grin like he knew this was a ridiculous idea, but he was going to enforce it anyway. “Have sleepovers – all of us crowded into one room all night long, watching movies, talking – by now I even know how to braid hair quite well. They’re like sisters to me, and the downtime together is quite beneficial to us all.”
Bucky started objecting first, Loki objected loudest, everyone else followed suit, but T’Challa quelled them all with nearly murderous glares. “This is an order from the man and king who has thus far been what I would consider a very gracious host to you all. You’ve all managed to heal quite nicely from your injuries to my understanding, I would hate for this to become so fraught that more are caused.”
“This is nuts!” Joey said.
“Perhaps. But it’s happening nonetheless.”
“I am not closing my eyes with that in the room.” Loki pointed to Nebula, who glanced away from them all even as Gamora glared daggers at him. Peter put a hand on her arm before she could rise to her feet.
“No one’s really asking you to sleep,” T’Challa allowed. “You’re being asked to talk. To get to know one another. That is all. And maybe a lock-in of sorts is the only way some of us can see to accomplish that.”
“’Some of us’ being who?” Angrboda asked peevishly.
T’Challa raised his eyebrows at them, nodded towards Sigyn who was sharing a couch with them, sitting on Loki’s other side.
Both Loki and Angrboda looked shocked, quelled, and perhaps a little angry all at once.
It was Steve who sighed deeply and said, “Fine, T’Challa, one night – but only because we all owe you so much.”
“How is this supposed to work anyway?” Colonel Rhodes asked. “Where do you plan on putting all of us?”
“Right here.” T’Challa gestured to the room around them. “Move the furniture however you wish; your toiletries and a change of clothes and pajamas, as well as a number of sleeping bags – as I’m sure they’ll be necessary – will be coming shortly. The only rule is that no one is allowed to leave this common area until tomorrow afternoon to prepare for your departure. I’ve even asked FRIDAY to keep an eye on you to ensure that my wishes are followed, and she has agreed.”
Tony muttered something indistinguishable under his breath, somebody else – Laura thought it might’ve been Hope Van Dyne – muttered one more time about this being crazy, but nobody really put up anymore disagreements. Resignation seemed to have fallen over them all – twenty-seven adults coerced into a sleepover – and after another moment, T’Challa exited the room looking just a bit too pleased with himself.
Their delivery of sleeping bags and essentials came, and still no one said much, or really moved.
“Okay.” Miraculously, it was Clint who spoke first once the delivery people were gone. “Sleepover.” He slid from where he had been sitting on the back of a couch, landing practically in Nat’s lap as he did so. “How ‘bout some good old-fashioned hair-braiding, Laur?”
She nearly laughed. Clearly, her husband was not pleased, but he knew when he was beaten this time, and at least he was trying to go along with it. “Sure.” She settled onto the floor directly in front of the couch, pulling both Clint and Natasha down with her. Clint began to braid her hair as she kicked off her shoes and then began to braid Natasha’s hair. “Let’s just think of this as a night off from the kids, okay? Maybe a night out with the guys.”
“Okay,” Clint agreed, and Natasha made an only slightly disgruntled noise from in front of her.
They were left alone for a moment before Pepper wandered over, already having shed her shoes like Laura. “Hey,” she looked down at Natasha with an uncertain little smile. “In the spirit of things, would you maybe…” Natasha nodded, nearly pulling her own hair out of Laura’s hands, but Pepper sat down in front of Natasha, and both of the women chuckled as if they couldn’t believe this was happening. “Hi, Natalie,” Pepper said quietly.
“Hi, Miss Potts.” Natasha hesitated for a moment before adding, “And, ah, congratulations on the engagement.”
“Oh! Are we talking wedding plans?” Darcy all but bounced over, seeming perfectly content with this odd little plan of T’Challa’s.
“Not necessarily,” Pepper said.
“Well, we should.” Darcy sat down in front of Pepper, who began to braid her hair without preamble. “That definitely counts as good girl talk, which is a staple of any good sleepover. Janie, come here!”
“I’m talking to Dr. Cho, Darce,” Jane said absently, the two women pouring over a folder the doctor had brought in with her.
“Then bring her here too!”
With a look of exasperated adoration, Jane obliged, and Laura dropped her hands away from the braids she’d completed in Natasha’s hair to watch in fascination as Jane began to pull the bobby pins from Dr. Cho’s hair to braid it instead.
Dr. Cho sat silently for a moment, observing those still milling uncertainly around them before she did something miraculous. “Loki? I’d like to speak with you for a bit, if you don’t mind,” she smiled hesitantly as he looked over, adding, “And your hair is long enough if you’d like to join in here.” Sigyn grinned, catching Laura’s eye, as she, Loki, and Angrboda came over, setting up another link in their growing braid train of sorts. “You don’t scare me,” Dr. Cho explained to him. “I’ve already had that scepter in my head, and last I heard, that was the worst in your bag of tricks.”
“It’s not necessarily my trick in the first place,” Loki said, seeming a little in a daze as he split Angrboda’s inky hair into sections and began to weave it together. “But what is it you wished to ask me?”
“Thor mentioned last time I talked to him that you had a power that mimicked what my cradle can do. He said you… reformed his arm?”
Recognizing the onset of a scientific conversation that she was going to have trouble following, Laura pressed her lips to Natasha’s neck, informing her, “Now your hair’s all good to go.”
Clint flipped the braid he’d woven into her hair over her shoulder, saying, “Yours too,” as he similarly kissed her neck. Because Hawkeye, so what else was she to expect from him.
“Agent Johnson,” Sigyn called suddenly. “Come here.”
Warily, Daisy Johnson approached, though Laura couldn’t help but notice the look of “help me” that she sent Elena Rodriguez. The speedster was there in a split second. Laura pretended not to notice when Clint inhaled suddenly, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“Sit,” Sigyn bade Daisy. “I get the feeling you’re very used to looking after others. Let someone else do something small for you now.”
Smiling softly even though her eyes still looked far too alert for the circumstance – though most people’s still did, Laura noted – Daisy sat cross-legged in front of Sigyn, and waved Elena to sit in front of her. Elena smiled brightly before obliging, calling out, “Hey, Thor, you’re next. Come here!”
The Asgardian looked a little confused by what was happening when he turned to look at them, but – as Laura thought was usually the case – he was game, and approached. Elena laughed now, telling him to turn his back to her and explaining what she wanted to do.
“There,” Natasha patted Pepper between the shoulder blades, letting her know she was done.
“What?” Tony asked from where he, Bruce, and Rhodes had been sitting nearby. “No kiss for my fiancée, Romanoff?”
“Watch it, Stark, or I’ll kiss well enough to steal your fiancée,” Natasha replied drolly, not bothering to blink – or even roll her eyes, for which Laura felt rather absurdly proud of her.
Pepper chuckled, then turned just enough to kiss Natasha at the juncture between her neck and jaw. Clint hummed, letting his chin drop onto Laura’s shoulder as he watched.
“Pig,” Laura accused fondly.
“You know it…” Clint answered, an unabashed smile on his face.
Natasha snorted, shifted to kiss them, too, without a word.
“Is that… normal?” Tony asked.
Laura pretended not to notice the way Clint stiffened, sitting as she was between her lovers. “Of course it is,” Natasha answered, breaking away from Clint.
“Is nonmonogamy remarkable on Midgard?” Loki asked, combing his hair back out of it’s braid as he and Helen turned to face them.
“You know the answer to that,” Clint said quietly, watching him sharply. Laura wished he would just relax again, even though she understood why he wouldn’t.
“I know it’s unusual, but is it really that remarkable that a person can love and commit themselves to more than one other person? If the great monster Loki can do it, then certainly the morally upright Avengers ought to be capable of it.”
Angrboda slapped him in the back of the head for that comment, and Sigyn turned, kissing them both. She whispered something in her husband’s ear, and Loki kissed her knuckles.
“I’m sure at the very best we are the morally ambiguous Avengers,” Tony corrected, coming off of his seat to sit on the floor beside Pepper and Darcy.
“I wanna kiss people,” Darcy sulked pointedly, a sparkle in her eyes that made Laura want to laugh.
Half of them moved towards Darcy at once, but Tony and Pepper reached her first.
“Mine,” Jane complained, turning so that she could be third in line, but Laura saw the way she hesitated when she realized what she was about to do.
It was Angrboda who crawled over to Jane and Darcy, murmuring, “I swear it’s not as large a thing as you think it is.” She tilted Jane’s face to hers, kissed her with more care than Laura had, for some reason, thought she would be capable of.
“Some of the best partnerships in the world come from people who are intimate off the field,” Natasha added, moving to pointedly kiss Clint again. Then she bit her lip, thinking something she wouldn’t say, but Laura could see the moment Natasha realized she was being watched.
She met Bucky’s gaze across the room like she knew he had been the spectator, smiling at him in a way that made Laura’s breath freeze. “Come here, moya lyubov.”
At that moment, Laura wasn’t sure if he could’ve resisted her even if he had wanted to. He certainly didn’t look like it.
Steve and Sam came with him, the latter sitting down beside Clint as he muttered, “I’m not sure this was what T’Challa had in mind.”
“We’re all adults here, and I’m sure it’ll help something,” Laura said.
“You’re sure about that?” Steve asked.
“Yes.” To prove her point, Laura moved and kissed him quiet.
Someone chuckled behind her, and Laura felt Steve’s heartrate speed up underneath her hand as Sharon said, “Oh, Rogers, you are going to be so defiled by the end of this.”
What was this, precisely? Laura wondered, but she didn’t waste the breath asking… or caring. Everyone was being so gentle and kind to one another right now, and they were adults, so who cared.
Bucky paused his make-out session with Natasha to say with a slight smirk, “He’s not quite as innocent as you might think.”
“I had noticed that, in fact,” Sharon leaned down to kiss the Winter Solider, grinning back at him as she said, “Thanks for that, by the way.”
“It was my immense pleasure.”
“Shut up, will you two?” Sam said, coming up behind Sharon and turning her to face him instead.
Darcy stole the words from Laura’s mouth as she told Steve, “You are thinking way too hard, Spangles.” Which he was – looking around at the growing mass of them all with ghosts behind his eyes that Laura didn’t want to begin to try to translate… at least until Darcy kissed him firmly.
Laura had a fine view of cleavage, and she kneaded said cleavage experimentally, grinning when Darcy gasped in surprise. “You wanna be a helpful captain looking after his guys?” Darcy suggested. “Go drag somebody else over here.”
“Nicely,” Laura suggested, watching him move towards where Joey was still managing to remain in a corner alone.
Which reminded her… Clint had taken up with Elena a minute ago, but Daisy was trying to slink off, and that just wouldn’t do. She bypassed Helen and Thor exploring one another, got caught up in a kiss by Tony, and then managed to grab Daisy’s wrist gently just as she reached the edge of their little group.
“You deserve this… love… too, you know,” she said as Daisy’s eyes snapped to her face.
Daisy opened her mouth, closed it, and tears sprang suddenly into her dark eyes.
Seemingly just as suddenly, Natasha and Bucky were on either side of Laura. “A little bird told me you’ve had a rough time of things,” Natasha said, pulling Daisy into a one-armed hug.
Bucky added, “But we can personally guarantee that none of what happened to any of those people means you are to blame. You’re not cursed. Promise.” He tilted her chin and kissed her, giving her plenty of time to move away, but instead Daisy melted into the two assassins, and Laura was content to let them be. She glanced back over to Rhodey – who seemed quite content with Pepper, at the moment – before she realized that Bruce was still keeping himself to the counter by the kitchenette.
Her shoulders lowered in a sigh that she would not allow herself to verbalize as she considered going over there herself and drawing him in. It would be easiest if Natasha did it, but maybe that was the point. Maybe that was where she needed to challenge herself, too. If she wanted to trust this team with her spouses, she had to trust every member, particularly those with a, perhaps more… personal interest in them and their wellbeing. She started over, glancing over her shoulder when she felt someone watching her go – Sigyn.
Laura got the feeling she would like to sit down and have a proper conversation with the healer, but today might not be that day.
“What are you doing?” Laura asked Bruce, leaning her arms onto the counter, purposely placing them over the file he’d left there.
He raised an eyebrow at her over the rim of the mug he’d been sipping tea out of. “Just watching.” And he went back to doing exactly that.
“You could join in if you want…” she suggested, following his line of sight to where Steve had now intertwined himself with Bucky and Natasha.
“No,” he shook his head. “I really can’t.”
She took his hand, pulled gently. “Just sit on the edge and steal kisses. Like this.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips, and his cheeks colored, more from surprise than anything, but when Laura tugged on his hand a second time, he went, muttering something under his breath about “this… ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous but nice,” she agreed, sitting him where Rhodey and Tony had been not long ago. She kissed him again, and laughed when a second later they felt a rush of air and Bruce was left stuttering in confusion. “Elena,” she explained with a grin, picking out Clint with Sharon and Sam, and Elena running between people, stealing kisses and touching at will. Rhodey had wound up with Hope and Scott, and Dr. Strange and Nebula were sitting together, exploring one another.
Laura felt a pang, wondering how long it had been since someone had touched Nebula with any sort of kindness in mind, let alone whatever they were doing here.
“You are thinking very loudly.” It was Gamora, of all people, who came up and wrapped her strong, green arms around Laura’s middle, pulling her close from behind.
“Don’t,” Peter admonished, bracketing her from her front and giving her a whiskery kiss.
No one was having sex, not yet; there was just a lot of kissing and explorative touching and seeing who was okay with who and who wasn’t. Laura had to agree with Sam – this wouldn’t have been what T’Challa had in mind – but she also thought she was right – this would lead them somewhere as a team. Whether good or bad, that remained to be seen, but—
“Stop. Thinking.” Peter kissed her after each word. When Gamora began to kiss what exposed skin she could see while her slender fingers moved down Laura’s body, Laura listened to him, letting her eyes slide closed as she gave into feeling instead of thinking.
Eventually they wandered off into couples, or groups of three or four, but, outside of the bathroom, there was no doors or walls separating anyone from the others. Laura was pretty sure that Helen, Rhodey, and Thor had ended up somewhere on the other side of the kitchen counter, and that was about it.
The miraculous, even more ridiculous part, was that they had all been perfectly sober. It was like they had all come to some sort of conclusion to just let their guards down for one night, and this was what had happened.
Waking up where she had, with Gamora at her back and Scott curled into himself to play the little spoon at her front, she couldn’t say she minded. Trying to find her clothes from the night before was, she knew, a wholly useless effort, so she stepped quietly to where neatly folded stacks of things had been left by the door the night before, arranged in groups by the different suits they’d come from. She unfolded her own clothes and changed right where she was, thankful for so many reasons that there were no windows in this room.
She was being as silent as possible, but when one was surrounded by superheroes and assassins, people woke up anyway. Gamora had woken the moment she had, and as she’d moved around, Steve, Natasha, Bucky, Nebula, Angrboda, Daisy, and – oddly enough – Bruce, had stirred too. Loki sat up behind the couch, looking in mild alarm at whoever he realized was back there with him.
I need coffee for this, Laura decided when she realized that she was smiling at the trickster god’s bedhead. She stepped around the counter, and around Thor’s outstretched arm, to get to the coffeepot and the canister of grounds set next to it.
Natasha and Bucky were right behind her, heading into the kitchen the moment they realized what she was making. Steve – who had been wrapped around Bucky, who had been wrapped around Natasha – moved a little slower. He located his clothes amongst the piles and dressed where he was, tossing boxers and a pair of sweatpants to Bucky where the assassin had been standing at the bar, by all appearances perfectly comfortable in the nude. Laura wasn’t sure that she minded that, though she was really still focused on watching Bucky’s interactions with her girl.
The way Natasha’s arm looped comfortably around Bucky’s shoulders, fingertips playing with the edges of his hair, the fact that – after dressing at least from the waist down – Bucky sat on a barstool and put his head on Natasha’s shoulder… considering who they were, it all spoke of a previous comfort around one another. Laura wasn’t sure she wanted to know how they had met, or how they had reached such a comfortable level of intimacy with one another in whatever setting they had been in at the time. Given their pasts – both separately and where she could guess their paths had intersected – it wasn’t likely to be a story she enjoyed.
And she did want to try to enjoy this morning.
Steve kissed both people at the counter as Laura watched the coffee brew while watching Nat and Bucky in her periphery. Looking just as comfortable in his surroundings as he did in the pajamas that had been meant for last night, Steve rounded the bar, glancing at Laura with a question in his eyes.
She smiled sweetly, rising on her tiptoes to kiss him. “’Morning.”
“Good morning,” he replied, rooting around in the cabinets until he found a skillet and began to make a large batch of scrambled eggs.
Cooking. Probably a good plan.
She abandoned the coffee to do its thing unsupervised and began to root through the fridge, pulling out both packages of bacon and the bag of sausage patties that she found in the freezer.
“Here,” Daisy spoke up, taking the meats from her. “Let me.”
When Laura turned away from the kitchen, Bruce and Clint were both at the coffee pot, and Angrboda was getting out a couple of pans for her to cook the bacon and sausage in.
“Your coffee’s ready for you, Laur,” Clint said, still blinking sleep from his eyes even as he took a long drink from his own cup of what Laura knew would be straight black coffee. He gave her a quick kiss before moving to set a third cup of coffee in front of Natasha. The redhead, even with her hand still in Bucky’s, was treated to a longer kiss from the archer.
At first, Laura fought against rolling her eyes, but when Natasha ran her free hand up Clint’s neck to scratch at the fine hairs of his hairline, she frowned instead. She knew that gesture between her significant others, knew that it was Natasha’s way of reassuring Clint even in a crowded room, be it at home or on a mission. Was he really concerned about being “replaced” by Bucky, perhaps? Because Laura, for one, was pretty sure that wasn’t how Natasha’s brain worked. Once you were one of her people, once she decided to trust you, you were hers, come hell or high water. And Laura didn’t think it was boasting to say that she and Clint ranked top on that list; maybe the redhead just had room enough for the sergeant on that list and in her heart too.
Thor shifted on the floor, waking slowly as Angrboda deftly stepped around her brother-in-law; well, as much as Laura cared to consider their relationship, she figured that shoe fit. Opening the door to the fridge and getting out gallons of milk and a small collection of juices, she asked curiously, “Is nonmonogamy the norm on Midgard?”
“No,” Bruce answered, ignoring the way Clint suddenly choked on his coffee.
“I thought not,” Angrboda hummed, helping Daisy set out glasses and mugs for drinks as others started to rouse and dress. “But one can never tell what another might be doing behind their closed doors.”
Loki snorted from behind the couch, finally disentangling himself from whoever was back there with him as he stood. “Romanoff and Barton have never been much of a secret, my dear, at least not in my experience. She couldn’t even interrogate me properly due to her clouded emotions.”
Natasha raised an eyebrow as he came into the kitchen, tracking him with her gaze as she asked, “Do you really want me to go there?”
Thor rolled quietly on the floor, smiling teasingly as he reached out and grabbed Angrboda’s ankle, squeezing just to annoy her as he pointed out, “In my experience, no one is very good at hiding their ‘nonmonogamy.’”
Angrboda kicked him, trying not to smile, and Thor rolled away and stood on his feet, chuckling.
“Except for us!” Darcy’s head popped up from behind the couch, and Loki’s eyes fluttered closed as Sigyn made an indistinguishable noise of what Laura was pretty sure was amusement. Bruce and Thor headed over to the clothes together, Thor for his own and Bruce for Helen’s, as Darcy continued while her eyes never left Thor, “I don’t think anyone has guessed I… got in on Jane and Thor.”
“Knowing what’s going on and opting to give us our privacy are two very different things,” Jane said, sitting up beside Darcy behind the couch. “I’m pretty sure that’s what Loki and Sig have been doing.”
“Indeed,” Thor agreed, dressing and then bringing clothes over to Darcy and Jane.
Bruce headed back into the kitchen, crouching beside Helen and gently shaking her shoulder to wake her until she roused enough to be handed her clothes. “I thought maybe you would rather be dressed with everyone else roaming around,” he murmured to her, pressing a good morning kiss to her temple.
She hummed, backing further up under the counter – tiny enough that she didn’t have to bend her head and neck too far to do it – as she quickly slipped clothes on. Then she popped up, beginning to get plates out as Laura left the bacon and sausage with Angrboda and began helping Daisy make biscuits. Narrowing his eyes at the kitchen like he was considering something, Bucky came over to the stove, squeezing in between Angrboda and Steve as he began to make pancakes.
“Is there a waffle maker anywhere?” Sam asked, sleep still thick in his voice as he approached the kitchen.
Steve pointed him towards the appropriate cabinet, and Sam began to make waffles as everyone else began to wake in earnest. Pepper put together a fruit salad, Clint made a couple more pots of coffee, and then they all sat down to a buffet-style breakfast that was eaten in a mass of bodies sitting on the carpeted floor in the sitting area.
The white elephant of a conversation hung in the air between them, remarkably okay, but growing thicker until Tony spread his hands and asked the room at large, “What are we going to do now?”
“Hopefully you again, at some point,” Natasha said without missing a beat.
“Ah,” Thor hummed. “Ever the master at avoiding the question, Natasha.”
“Don’t,” Sigyn ordered softly, sitting up from where she was using Rhodey as a personal recliner.
She smiled sweetly, and Clint leaned across Sharon to kiss Nat and then Sigyn too. “Yeah, what she said.”
“Oh, but there’s so many questions you want to ask right now, Bartons, and I just…” Natasha shook her head, an only halfway teasing smile in place as she said, “Don’t want to deal with that.”
“Fair enough,” Laura agreed. “Let’s handle the big picture for now, though, if we can?”
“What’s there to handle?” Peter asked. “I kissed you, and I’d like to do it again, now and at other dates. Isn’t it as simple as that?”
“No,” came the small chorus, and Laura picked out her voice, Nat’s, Clint’s, Steve’s, Thor’s, Jane’s, Darcy’s, Loki’s, Sigyn’s, Angrboda’s, and Bucky’s.
Interesting… but to a degree only a hypothesis that didn’t, technically – at least for the most part – matter to her.
“Hey, are you here with us?” Helen bumped shoulders with her, and Laura nodded automatically.
“Yeah, just thinking.”
“A little bit of everything.”
“I thought we were talking about the big picture?” Hope asked, eyeing Laura like she was trying to see into her mind for herself.
“Yes,” Laura took a deep breath, drew herself up a little straighter. “Okay. Let’s do that.”
“You have suggestions then, oh wise one?” Loki asked her.
Laura gave him a look that was sharper than she would’ve given most people in the room, asking, “Well, do you have anything you wanna share with the class, Loki?”
“No, he does not,” Angrboda answered firmly, to which Loki sighed – probably at the both of them.
“What were you going to say, Laura?” Pepper asked, and it occurred to her then that the others might’ve been looking at her as an authority on the subject – because apparently everyone had, correctly of course, come to the conclusion that she, Clint, and Natasha were an item. So they must know how to make this work, right?
Swallowing a sigh, Laura decided that she would at least do her damnedest to make it happen if the others wanted it to… like she did. She moved so that she was facing everyone and began to speak. “Okay. Like we said, no, it is not as simple as I want to kiss twenty people while still being married – or whatever you are with your primary partner, or maybe even partners – so that’s what I do. Unless explicitly stated by everyone in your…” What’s the word I’m looking for here?
“Polycule?” Daisy suggested from the edges of the group.
Elena mumbled something in Daisy’s ear, but Daisy only shrugged and said, “What? I have a Tumblr, okay?”
“All right,” Laura drew everyone’s attention back to the real topic at hand. “’Polycule’ works for me; I live polyamory, but I don’t make a habit of studying it. Sorry. Anyway, moving along. Unless explicitly stated otherwise by everyone in your polycule, it is not generally considered okay to just go about sleeping with or seeing whoever you’d like. Polyamory takes real work and incredibly open communication, between all partners, and between each couple within your group. Meaning that – in my triad – Clint, Natasha, and I need to be able to function as a healthy triad, but, I also need to have a healthy standalone relationship with Clint, and a separate, healthy, standalone relationship with Natasha. Everybody following me so far?”
A couple people rolled their eyes, and Laura quickly called them out without missing a beat: “Angrboda, Tony, stop it. This isn’t as easy as I’m sure you’d like to think it is.”
“Her point is, I believe,” Sigyn stood and moved to stand beside Laura. “If I may interject for only a moment, Mrs. Barton?”
“Be my guest,” Laura waved the floor to her, and scooted aside for the time being. She had no doubt that she could’ve wrangled the lot of them into submission if need be, but there was just something about knowing that you were facing down an extraterrestrial with a sword that Laura had noticed seemed to make people sit up and pay better, quicker attention.
“Her point is one that is often missed when the general public views polyamory. Every single – or diad – relationship between each two involved parties needs to be invested in, at least in some small, positive way. My relationship – both as a whole, and as each individual one with both Loki and Angrboda – is considered a lifelong one by all involved. He is my husband, and, Norns help us all, she’s my wife. They are not just my ‘polycule;’ they are each my spouse, and must be treated as such, separately and together. Is that what you meant to say?”
Laura nodded with a pleased smile, taking the “stage” back as she took her cues from Sigyn and stood, then continued. “But say I decide I want to take on…” she waved a hand, surveying the crowd, and settled on the example of, “Captain Rogers as a secondary partner. There is a level of emotional commitment to a secondary relationship alongside the assumption that we are having sex. That assumption may or may not be true, and if you’re not involved in that ‘polycule’ it is none of your business. The difference between a primary and a secondary partner is that the secondary partners aren’t involved in my life decisions the way my primary partners are. They have no say in how I spend my money, or raise my children. We go out, we have fun, we may have emotional support in one another, we may have sex – all of those things – but unless the status of the relationship changes to primary partners, we’re not looking for more – for a changed living situation or a lifelong commitment. Everybody still with me?”
No one dared to roll there eyes this time, and Laura grinned. “Good. Because that brings us to the last… kind of least, level of polyamory, for those who are comfortable with it—"
“The ability, permission, etcetera, to screw around!” Darcy said brightly.
Jane sighed deeply from beside her. “She agrees with Peter, if you can’t tell.”
“And you’re not?” Clint asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Jane smiled oh-so-sweetly at him. “Oh, I am. She’s just…”
“Darcy?” Thor suggested with an adoring smile for both of the women.
“Yeah,” Jane chuckled, drawing Darcy to her. “She’s definitely our Darcy.”
“So,” Laura regained one last second of control over her unruly “class.” “Now that we all have that information, I would suggest that – given the events of last night – we all square away where we would like to stand with whoever we would like… some standing with. But otherwise, I am not your councilor, and we are all grownups here, so let’s eat our breakfast and try and act like grownups about things, okay?”
“Sounds good,” Rhodey said.
Pepper muttered, “She’s underestimating us, isn’t she?”
“Oh yeah,” Rhodey nodded.
Laura pretended she didn’t hear any of that particular tidbit of conversation. And she definitely turned away, albeit with a smile on her face, when Tony approached Rhodey and Pepper with a halfway terrified expression on his face and said, “So… I feel like maybe this has been a long time coming anyway, but maybe… the three of us c—”
“This might be interesting,” Clint murmured into her ear, coming up from behind to wrap his arms around her waist.
“I think you’re right,” Laura observed, constantly scanning the room to see who was talking with who. “You’re two o’clock, hawk-ass. Bet you didn’t see them coming.”
“Would you mind if we steal him away for a minute?” Elena asked Laura, speaking both for herself and Daisy at her side.
“Not at all,” Laura said with a kind smile.
She made to move away, but Clint grabbed her wrist, double-checking an old decision they had long come to with one another. “No more primary partnerships for you and I right now? That’s still a thing, right?”
Laura nodded without a second thought. “I’m still good with that as long as you are.”
That agreement, however, hadn’t extended to Natasha, and Laura thought it was probably a good thing at the moment. All three of them had decided – equally long ago – that if Natasha ever found someone that she loved enough to actually, legally marry, then Clint and Laura would do their best to support them fully and welcome that fourth person into their home. Judging by the way that Nat had been around Barnes, and Laura’s own honed instincts regarding her understanding of the other woman… well, it was starting to look like James Buchanan Barnes might just be a very… well-loved man.
God knew he could use some support in any case.
As she had suspected they would, Nat and Barnes had made a beeline for one another, and they’d had a short but by all appearances very serious conversation. Laura watched as Steve pulled Natasha away as soon as she and Barnes appeared to be done talking, while Sharon came up and whispered something in Bucky’s ear. The super-soldier smiled at her, almost shyly, and then appeared to explain something while gesturing minutely to Natasha.
Oh, she was so right, wasn’t she?
Sharon smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and – judging by Laura’s poor lip-reading skills – said something that might’ve been “I’ll take it. Maybe the three or four of us can talk later?”
So, this wasn’t going to be something that was as cut and dry as one morning of conversation between everyone and everything was ironed out, but again, Laura was relying on the fact that they were all grownups here, and some things, she hoped, they could figure out without it needing to be said. Because, in her eyes, their whole time in this room had already been the basis for something amazing – or amazingly disastrous depending on what happened next – and she could admit to herself that she was actually a little excited to see what this led to.
This is a drabble that is a part of this universe, but not necessary reading for the story. I just now got around to typing it up from my notebook. Enjoy!
It wasn’t about the wild orgies, precisely. There wasn’t a Stark-funded whore house… precisely.
It was more about random meet-ups – for a luncheon, or a night or a weekend – and learning to care and protect and look after one another. It strengthened them all as a team – one that now went so far as to span the galaxy – and Laura liked to think that it made them stronger as individuals.
She could still feel the… friction between different members of the team from the “Civil War.” Personally, though, she was closer to distrust bred from even older conflicts, like the Battle of Manhattan, and whatever it was that Natasha and Bucky were dancing around.
The two assassins had never officially declared themselves to be “together” in any formal sense, but it was kind of… understood by those closest to the situation. Bucky officially lived with Steve and Sharon and their boyfriend, Sam, but he always managed to show up at the farm whenever Natasha was there, and Clint was “eighty-five percent sure” that Bucky and Natasha had their own apartment in New York somewhere. For whatever reason, the two of them struggled to discuss it with anyone, but when it mattered, they fit together perfectly on the field, in the heat of battle.
In a twisted sister, almost-opposite sort of way, Bucky and Natasha reminded her of Clint and Loki. It was clear that they had a background together, and issues that they refused to discuss. And yet, at least according to Natasha, they could work together in eerily seamless tandem in a battle.
Laura’s takeaway from that was that, despite how far they had all come with one another, there was always room for growth, but they were getting there. They were taking care of one another when life got tough, and that was good enough.