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A Skin of Ice

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She's curled into a corner, arms wrapped around her knees as she waits for Clint to return, trying to figure out how the ice could have formed. Always she's been cold after re-ordering her memories so that she is no longer her lifetime but herself, but never this cold. Never wrapped in ice and melt-water. It makes her wonder just who her mother had been, and if when her father had said she left, he'd not been trying to soften the blow to a small child, but been entirely honest. That she had truly left, and not died as Angrboða had always thought as she grew older.

A shiver runs through her, and she lets out a shakey breath. If her mother had left, she was the source of Angrboða's long life, perhaps was the reason she'd always preferred the colder places of the world between one pretended mortal life and the next. A Jotun, she would have to be, for there were no others that Angrboða could think of from the tales of gods and monsters that could control the ice like this.

The door opens, and she looks up, meeting Clint's gaze with a lost one of her own, uncertain and looking for something, anything, that can anchor her. He gives her a smile that is as uncertain as she feels, coming over to slide down next to her, leaning against the wall between her and the door. Protecting her and guarding her from escape at the same time. It makes her smile.

"We don't know if Thor will even know to come." Clint sounds as if he hasn't slept in a couple days, and she wonders how long she's been here, chasing her thoughts in circles. "Tony's still trying to figure out how you could make ice on the doorway at all, much less that much of it."

"Magic." Her voice sounds thin, strained. "Not seiðr. Jotun magic, something inborn." Except that she's never known about it, never created ice like that in her long life. Something is different now, her mother's nature, passed on and lurking in her blood, brought to the fore.

Clint wraps an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close despite the potential for danger. "We kinda figured that out already. Tony just doesn't like not knowing how it works."

She lets out a brittle laugh, the sound like the cracking of rotten ice under her feet. "I have never done such a thing before. It should not have happened." She turns her head, burying her face in Clint's shoulder. "Seiðr I understand, but this is something I do not."

There is silence for a long moment, though it seems more a considering silence, a thoughtful one rather than something dangerous. "You said it was seiðr that had pushed you off balance before. Could it do this, too? Maybe change your DNA or something?"

Shaking her head, she turns enough so her words won't be muffled in Clint's shoulder. "No. It might give me the appearance, but it would not be able to give me the abilities of a Jotun." Which means this had to have been present before, but how could she never have noticed it, how could she have missed so great a part of her nature? "It could, perhaps, suppress the nature of a Jotun, but that would mean my mother did such a thing before I was more than an infant cradled in her arms. Wove it so deep into my being that I would never notice it as something strange, nor know I had been so changed."

That her mother had been capable of weaving seiðr, she'd already been certain, or she never would have the ability herself, for certainly her father and his kin had shown no skill in it. She could see, too, why her mother would do such a thing, to keep her safe from the dangers of a mortal world which might have seen her as a monster; as she had tried so hard to do with her own children, for all that she had failed in the end.

"And whatever is woven around Phil destroyed that?" Clint rubs her shoulder, hand warm and familiar against her skin. "Like it ripped out those barriers in your mind?"

"Likely." She closes her eyes, curling closer to Clint, and is surprised when he shifts away from her. Fingers under her chin tilt her face to look up at him as she opens her eyes again, confused.

"Will you let me see?" There's a guarded expression in Clint's eyes, a shuttered look that makes her worry.

"See what?" She's not certain what he's asking, though there's an inkling.

"You." There's a wealth of meaning to that one word, and it's something Angrboða flinches from, has flinched from for most of her life.

"I've never... been completely myself in most of my lifetimes." She doesn't want to let him pull away, but refuses to let herself cling too hard, wrapping her arms around her raised knees again when Clint shifts to face her more fully. "People feared me too much when I tried to be."

"I can't tell you no one will be afraid of you." A smile quirks up one corner of Clint's lips a moment. "I can't even promise I won't be afraid, just that I won't be afraid of you."

"If others are afraid, they will want to lock me away." She rests her chin on her knees. "And they won't let you stop them from doing so."

"Even SHIELD can't get through all of us and JARVIS without making a mess." Clint meets her gaze steadily, a conviction in his expression that she finds both comforting and worrying. He trusts these people more than she does, and more than she expected him to. "Besides, I think Fury will listen to Phil if he says it would be a bad idea."

"And will he?" She hadn't been able to really meet Coulson, and isn't entirely comfortable trusting him with her safety, any more than she's comfortable trusting anyone else here other than Clint with her safety.


She's quiet for a long moment before she shifts, reaching out to touch her fingertips to Clint's cheek, watching his expression soften just slightly. "I do not know if this will be as it has been in the past, where I am chill, but nothing more, or if it will do more, with the ice that I called today without even thinking about it or wanting it."

"There's an observation room where the camera feeds are sent." Clint reaches up to catch her hand, holding it tightly for a long moment. An unspoken promise that he'll still be around when she - when Angrboða - wakes.

After the door closes behind Clint, she draws a deep breath, leaning back against the wall. Sinking into herself and letting the outside world slip away with each slow, deep breath. Dismantling the walls that defined Anna's life, that distinguished a mortal guise from the underlying being. She draws out memories, letting them settle into the framework, and waiting for everything to work itself out.

Clint knows he should have someone else down here with him, to share the burden of watching Anna while she does whatever it is she does to become... all of herself. He doesn't want to share this - if he could, he'd even have shut off JARVIS' connections to this part of the tower - perhaps especially because he hadn't been certain why he'd come down here until Anna had curled into his side, seeking comfort he hadn't felt quite sure he could provide.

On the main screen of the observation booth, set up as if it were a window into the other room, he has a view from the camera with the widest view of the corner Anna's settled in, with feeds from other sensors on a smaller screen on the desk below the large one. He watches as the temperature of the room drops along with Anna's, as Anna's heartbeat slowed along with her breathing. Not stopped, but as slow as a hibernating bear.

Ice crystals form on her skin, on her hair and clothes, and spread delicate patterns across the concrete floor and walls. Clint wants to go in there, to wake her up and break her free of the growing ice, but keeps himself still with long practice and sheer force of will.

He doesn't know how long he's been watching when the door opens behind him, and Clint reaches for a side-arm that isn't there. He spins the chair to face whoever's invaded the quiet of the observation booth, only to see Pepper watching the screen with an expression he could only describe as horrified.

"Anna's not dead or a monster." He probably should feel some regret for the harsh tone of his voice, but he can't bring himself to do so.

Pepper gives him a sharp frown, stepping further into the room so the door closes behind her. "I know that, Agent Barton." He gaze slides from him back to the screen. "I doesn't mean she's all right, however, nor does it explain why she's like that." The gesture she makes encompasses both screens.

Clint almost wants to tell Pepper all of it, that he'd asked Anna to be simply herself, not to hide so much of who she was and is and could be. How he'd pushed at her, made her reassurances, promises that he didn't know if he could keep. That maybe Anna had thought he wouldn't - couldn't - trust her as she is anymore. He wants to see how she'd react, but at the same time, he wants to keep the details that he's not really certain of yet to himself.

So he doesn't say anything, just turns back to the screens to keep his own watch. He ignores the look Pepper sends his direction, focusing on Anna - he has to get himself to think her real name, Angrboða - instead. Waiting for however long it takes her to come out of whatever this is that she's in that she says will leave her without the mental barriers that made her Anna instead of Angrboða.

He registers Pepper's movement before she puts her hand on his shoulder a moment, and nods when she asks if he would mind her bringing down dinner. He's not particularly hungry, but if he's handed food, he'll eat - and he suspects Pepper knows that sort of state entirely too well. Clint had heard from Natasha about Stark's long periods in his workshop when he wouldn't sleep or eat unless he was forced to.

Dinner turns out to be some sort of casserole that tastes like Clint likes to imagine childhood meals should taste. Not full of bright spices or odd flavors, just cheese and pasta and tomato and beef and maybe a little something more. He all but wolfs it down, his attention focused on a screen that hasn't shown any change since before Pepper left to fetch dinner.

"You don't need to stay." He scrapes the last of the food off the plate, setting plate and fork aside after he's finished, taking a second to glance at Pepper, trying to figure out why she's here.

"No." Pepper smiles, the sort of smooth and professional smile that hides everything. He's seen Natasha do it, and he knows Pepper doesn't have the training Natasha does. It's disconcerting. It slides into something more real, warm and almost gentle. "You shouldn't have to keep watch on Miss Boyd alone, and I've counted her a friend for several years now."

Clint blinks, taking a moment longer than he likes to parse that sentence. "Stark's one of her clients."

"Stark Industries, yes. Tony's never actually met her; he trusted me to hire someone who wouldn't steal company secrets while testing security on- and off-site." Pepper keeps her voice light, and since she's the CEO of Stark Industries, it's her prerogative to share information Anna wouldn't. She doesn't share why she came to see Anna as a friend, but Clint isn't really expecting her to. It's enough to know that he's not the only one who worries about Anna.

He reaches out to tug out the second chair from where it had been shoved under a desk, silently offering Pepper the chance to sit. The quiet is companionable and welcome, broken only briefly by JARVIS informing them that Stark is looking for Pepper, and asking if he should direct Stark here. Pepper leaves after a murmured negative, resting a hand on Clint's shoulder a moment, and taking the dishes with her. He doesn't know how long it is before she returns, but long enough that she's changed clothes, and Clint's starting to want a mug of coffee.

"Go sleep and shower. I'll watch Anna until you're back." Pepper gives him a look that probably works on Stark, and Clint finds himself wanting to listen, even as he wants to stay and watch over Anna. "I've already asked Captain Rogers to come fetch you if you're not upstairs in fifteen minutes."

Her smile is sweet, and uncompromising, so Clint grimaces, glaring at her for anticipating his reluctance even as he goes. It'll only be for long enough to shower - cold enough to wake him up - and get some coffee, or so he tells himself. He should have expected JARVIS to be in on it, like he had been last time. The shower is entirely too warm, and the coffee machine won't work.

"What the hell?" Clint glares at the coffee machine, and then at the ceiling, since there isn't anyone in the kitchenette of the guest room he's using instead of his own. "Did Pepper put you up to this?"

"Miss Potts asked if I would assist in ensuring you had adequate rest prior to returning to your vigil, Agent Barton." He could swear JARVIS sounds amused. "She did not specify how that aid would best be rendered."

He wonders if the door's been locked, as well, and the thought that it isn't is enough to make him draw in a deep breath to control the spike of fear. Clint has never really liked the idea of being locked in anywhere, but right now, he suspects his fear is less buried than he would like. "So long as you don't lock the door."

"I wouldn't lock anyone in, Agent Barton." It's mostly reassuring, and Clint waits a moment longer before giving up on the idea of getting back downstairs before he's had at least a nap.

Pepper leans back in the chair, her tablet almost forgotten in her lap, despite the work she needs to get done for Stark Industries today, even when she's not in the office. She'd already told her assistant to cancel any meetings that aren't life-and-death for the rest of the week, to give her the flexibility to work from the Tower. Between Phil being back from the dead, and this... situation with Anna, her presence here is more important than her presence there.

A smile crosses her face a moment at that thought. If she'd chosen otherwise, she doesn't know what would happen to the Avengers as a whole. Captain Rogers is clearly trying to help, but Pepper knows that Tony isn't entirely ready to deal with Rogers on a day-to-day basis, no matter that he invited him to move into the Tower. And Banner isn't comfortable around military types, even team-mates, while Natasha and Clint are very focused on their constructed family.

She wonders how much more work it's going to mean when - or perhaps if - Thor returns to Earth. He's from a culture that's in many ways alien to those the rest of the team are accustomed to, and from a position of power that Pepper isn't sure any of them know what to do with. It's not like there are many royal families left on Earth who have the sort of power and authority that she would expect Thor does.

Sighing, she looks down at her tablet, shifting aside the Stark Industries work for a document that holds her notes on the Avengers, mostly compiled since the attack on Manhattan, and finds the name she needs, with a phone number attached. "JARVIS, would you place a call to Doctor Foster?"

If she can convince Doctor Foster to come to the Tower, then she'll at least have someone who'll be able to distract Thor when needed, and another ally in the job of herding superheroes - a task that is a full-time job in itself with just one, never mind six. She glances at the screen, where Anna still hasn't moved, and is still surrounded by frost and the beginning layers of a heavier skin of ice. Superheroes and more, and she's not sure where Anna will fall when this settles out.

The first thing Angrboða registers when she wakes is the quiet beeping of hospital equipment, steady and almost soothing, in time with her heartbeat. She doesn't open her eyes at first, listening to the room around her, for sounds beyond the monitors. There is someone asleep next to her, their breathing as slow as her own, heartbeat almost in time with hers. Clint, most likely. Beyond that, there is the barely-audible hiss of air moving through vents, and nothing else. A room well-insulated to keep outside sounds out and noise in the room within.

She opens her eyes, waiting a moment as she adjusts to the low light of the room. Turning her head, she smiles briefly when she sees Clint where she expected. Beyond him, there is a window that shows the skyline of Manhattan, glowing with the lights of humanity, familiar from the memories of her latest foray into a mortal life. It's the source of the light in the room, reflecting off the white ceiling and walls to create soft-edged shadows.

Drawing in a slow breath, she looks away from the window, pushing herself upright, and reaching for the machines to find the switch to turn them off. No need to have the alarms sound when she removes the sensors.

"Hey." Clint's voice is rough-edged with sleep, and she looks over to meet his gaze. He's watching her with an uncertain expression, as if he doesn't know what to expect; he knows not to expect Anna, but he doesn't know what to expect of her.

"When did you move me from the other room?" She draws her hand back, leaving the machines to call out the steady beat of her heart. "Are you certain it's safe to do so?"

"No." Clint shrugs. "Tony says this room should be able to stand up to almost as much as the one in the basement, though, and it's closer to help if something goes wrong." He pauses, tilting his head slightly toward the window. "And unless you can fly, it's a long drop to the ground, anyway."

A smile tugs at the corners of her lips, and she chuckles quietly. "My shifts of shape are entirely of a human sort. It is not a skill I have much desired to expand." She pauses, tilting her head. "I am still here, and if you still would have me, you do."

Even when she's walked away from mortal lives, she's loved those she's left behind. Sometimes wished she could stay, but she has never wanted to risk the fear of those she loved if they discovered she was more than they thought. Even now, she's not sure she wants to risk it, but better that than to be certain of losing Clint because she won't take that risk.

Clint is quiet for a long moment, holding her gaze - searching, she thinks, for something - and after a moment, he reaches out a hand to take hers, lacing his fingers through hers. "Yeah. I just want to know more." About her, about who she is, and about what she will share of her past that made her who she is. It's not entirely different from Anna, but she's not the same, either.

Angrboða tugs gently on his hand, shifting over as much as she can on the bed. "Come to bed? To sleep?" She's not sure she really needs to sleep right now, but it's an echo of how the adventure that had led this far had begun.

A brief grin, amused and acknowledging the parallel, is his response, and he slips into the bed beside her, shifting so she can curl into his side, her head resting on his shoulder. More can wait for morning.

Clint isn't certain how much Angrboða sleeps before the sun comes up, but he remains awake, staring at the ceiling and thinking over the last couple weeks. Ice had formed and then thawed within days, and Pepper had suggested they move Angrboða upstairs, in case she needed medical attention quickly, especially when she didn't wake up soon after the ice had melted entirely. Too soon after, Pepper and Tony had taken off for Malibu - Pepper still has a company to run, that needs her back on the west coast, and Tony doesn't want to leave her alone right now (that's Tony's story, and Clint isn't about to argue with him).

Of course, he'll be back if there's anything new; if Thor actually comes back, or if Phil starts to share information from whatever weird thing happens when he's asleep and dreaming. Clint worries about that a little, but there's nothing he can do about it, and Natasha worries enough about it for the both of them anyway. And she'll do better at coaxing information out of Phil anyway.

A cool fingertip traces down between his brows, and draws his attention back to Angrboða. She watches him with eyes that are different than they had been before the ice - pale, clear blue now - and an expression that's open and fond. "Have you been awake thinking this whole time?" she murmurs, raising an eyebrow a little, a smile curving the corners of her lips.

Clint shrugs, tightening his arm around her shoulder. "Couldn't sleep, and didn't want to wake you up." He shifts, sitting up a little more, and she moves easily with him, almost easier than she had before. "Feeling better?"

"Some." She picks at the edges of the sensors still attached to her skin, glancing over her shoulder at the machines still chanting out their beeps of a steady heart-rate and even breathing. "I'd prefer not to be attached to the machines any more - I'm not in any danger of suddenly dying."

"Nor of developing a skin of ice?" Clint smiles to take any sting out of the words, though he can't hide the worry that underlies the question, and Angrboða smiles, leaning into him a moment.

"I don't think so." She picks a little more at the sensors before pulling away, reaching over to search for the switch to turn them off, the silence almost deafening for a moment before she lets out a soft sigh of relief. "Better."

It takes a moment longer for her to peel the sensors off, and she drops each of them to the floor once it's free. After, she curls into his side again, softly humming.

Clint is quiet for several minutes, just listening, and cataloguing the differences in her since she emerged from the ice. Some are minor, like the subtle alterations in the shape of her face, and the timbre of her voice. Others are greater - she's taller, her eyes are blue instead of gray, her skin still holds an underlying blue tinge that makes Clint wonder if it really had always been there.

"You're thinking again." Angrboða tilts her head, looking up at him without taking her head off his shoulder. Watching him for a moment before she adds, "Ask me what you want, love."

"How much can you change your shape?" He wonders how different she could have been from the tall and pale woman she is now - and he wonders how she does it, but that's a different question, one to leave until later.

"I do not know." Angrboða looks thoughtful. "I have not tried to deviate much from what I knew in my youth. I pick humans who close enough to what I have looked like that they might possibly have a child who would grow to look as I do."

"And then what?"

"I spend two or three years hiding behind an illusion, giving them memories of a pregnancy, of a birth, of an infant. I refuse to be helpless entirely." She closes her eyes, turning her face into his shoulder a moment. "I become the child, small and young, and I build the walls in my mind to keep the life I live as a mortal separate from the rest of myself. I grow and I live, and eventually I slip away - the illusion of death, of a body to bury or burn, while I travel to colder climes and remote places to become myself once more."

Never telling anyone what she was, or letting on that she might live longer than most. Except maybe... "When did you start doing that?"

Angrboða is silent for a long moment, her eyes closed as she leans against him. She takes a deep breath, turning her face into his shoulder again to hide her expression, and it muffles her voice when she finally replies.

"When those whose lands bordered my own small holding burning me out of my hall in the name of their new god and their king, and called me demon for my long life." There is fear underlying her words, audible even with her voice muffled, and Clint instinctively tightens his arm around her. Silent promise that he won't let a modern equivalent to that experience happen, not while he lives. "Sometimes I am almost glad Loki stole away my daughter in the years before that. At least she could not be harmed in the destruction of our home, as too many others - faithful servants and friends alike - were."