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…erm, I really have no excuse. But fanfiction lovers, rejoice! I have bunches of these that I haven’t posted yet. I just have to look around for them a bit…

Enjoy! (And please tell me what you think!)

Candles Against the Night

                None of them is all right.

The psychologists, the armchair critics, they all say, “You’ll be okay.” But that’s before. This is after. They don’t know what “after” is really like.

Have they seen Tony Stark gasping for breath after they’ve had to forcibly rip the half-crushed suit from his body, or wrapped a space blanket (obscenely orange, for shock) around Bruce Banner’s shoulders, post-Hulk, or dealt with the fallout as Natasha Romanoff screams her rage at a destroyed training room while Clint Barton sits nearby, sullen and silent and unresponsive, or watched Steve Rogers collapse on the couch, sore, with a migraine slicing cruelly through his customary level-headedness, or felt the agony of seeing Thor knocked like a rag doll from the sky?

Having to kill the second (the ninth, the ninetieth, the nine hundredth) time is only the second hardest thing about being a superhero.

Seeing your teammates in the aftermath is the absolute hardest. Because they suffer and there’s precious little you can do about it.

Every one of them understands this. They don’t talk about it. They all know how to read between the lines.

For Natasha, it was (is) a survival skill.

For Clint, a job asset he had to painstakingly develop under the careful tutelage of Phil Coulson.

For Tony, something that life had to smack him in the face until he had a concussion with.

For Pepper, it’s something she’s always been able to do (because who says Pepper can’t be on the team, and besides, they all love her like that, but not just because of that.)

For Thor—well, Thor is still learning. But he’s rolling with the punches.

For Steve, it’s a skill he developed while being kicked around by bullies and leading a team who were all better trained and more experienced than he was. Back in 1944. (Ironically, he’s still the youngest on the team.)

For Bruce, it’s something that he forced himself to learn, on his secretive tour of the world and his underground crusade for humanity.

All of them have their own dark sides, the skeletons (and the demons) in their closets. All of them have had the moments when they’ve shocked everyone (including themselves) with the violence.

There was the time when Natasha set fire to a car with their villain still locked inside.

The time when Tony punched clean through a pretender’s metal suit—and blood flowed out.

The time when Steve threw one of Bruce’s old enemies into the maw of an active volcano.

The time when Bruce nearly poisoned himself, deliberately, and Steve had to talk him down. (The Hulk can be controlled sometimes. Bruce’s darker side can’t.)

The time when Clint shot every man on the team sent to murder them, rather than apprehending anyone.

The time when Thor nearly killed a SHIELD agent in blind rage and grief.

Their darker moments have been more numerous than they would like to admit, more severe than they would like to count. Yet, they all have to keep counting.

It’s one of the things about being a hero.

Yet, at the same time, they all know they’ll always be there for each other, and they take comfort in that.

It was there when Clint sat down next to Steve and put his hand on Steve’s shoulder after that kid died when Steve was just a second too slow.

It was there when Natasha made a cup of tea for Tony after the mission when Stane’s legacy came back to haunt them.

It was there when Tony (wearing the suit) carried Thor from a battle that had gone horribly wrong.

It was there when Steve sat down next to Bruce after a particularly nasty loss of control and said, “I don’t blame you.”

It was there when Thor helped Clint recover from Loki’s mind control.

It was there when Bruce woke up in the middle of the night to make tea for a sick Natasha.

They’ve finally let someone else in, and they don’t care a bit—not the soldier, far from home and his own time, knocked off his feet by fate and forced to learn to trust, to make friends, again, or the spies and assassins, for whom trust is almost always a liability, whose pasts have scarred them so, or the inventor, shut out by a father whose mind had been shattered by the way his inventions were used, or the prince betrayed by one he had always regarded as his brother, or the physicist who, for so long, could not trust anyone, after the accident which had destroyed his career.

They may be only mere candles against the night, but they’ll burn together. For it is only when the night is darkest, that the stars shine through.