DISCLAIMER: I do not own the movie Captain America: The First Avenger or any of its characters, nor those of MARVEL'S The Avengers – I am just borrowing them for play.
Chapter One: Rites
The Avengers' return from the Realm Eternal was hailed with a lot of attention from SHIELD. The debriefings, explanations, and imminent paperwork filled the days as the organization noted every detail that had not been heard through Tony's earpiece as well as formalized a division for research on Ӕsir culture and hypotheses on directing the future negotiations to humanity's advantage. Pepper and Phil discussed the happenings of Stark Industries, production and issues theorized by the agent concerning the Board of Directors, Tony drawn to consult and sign the papers reneging SHIELD's control over the position in his company.
Loki, as stated, had fallen into a healing coma. Though the group was agitated at the turn advertising injury, Thor assured that it was the quickest way for him to regain his strength. Guard at his bedside rotated in his rooms on the 90th, one member of the team on watch at all times while the rest exhausted hours on the waterborne Helicarrier, Jarvis monitoring the god's state. Thor was demanded by Fury often, though was comfortable leaving his brother's side because of the general lack of threat now present, the lessened strain and therefore longer recovery period allowed, and his teammates' vigilant watch in his place in light of their own concerns. Aside from aiding with and explaining the culture of Asgard to SHIELD, the Director had use of the god for contributing to the generation of new terms of compensation for the contract with Loki.
With the Other, the Chitauri, and Thanos dead, and the Ӕsir renouncing their affiliation with him, the condition of defending Loki against them was lost in return for his services. Another point of persuasion had to be offered in exchange for the magic and advanced technology he had intimate knowledge of.
The belief held by Thor that Loki had nowhere to go and had bonded with the team was not a concrete enough situation for the World Security Council when dealing with the Trickster, no matter how weakened.
Almost a week of organization and reorientation was afforded before Loki stirred to the sound of a male muttering at his side. 'No, Tony- I said no! You can't use the Other Guy to clear the streets of skyscrapers… Because more would probably be torn down!...Tony, stop it – I'm busy… Yes, watching him…"
The god's eyes remained closed as he rose further into awareness, Bruce's voice recognized and his hearing now catching the billionaire's voice on the other end of the telephone line asking, "Has there been any change?"
"Not yet," he answered. "You have Jarvis ready to alert everyone when there is."
"I have him set for that if he worsens or no one's paying attention," he countered, advocating, "Do you think he'll wake up sooner if I threaten to throw glitter on him?"
"What are you, five?" Bruce hissed, failing to contain an amused tone.
"Do inform Anthony," Loki interjected, "that if I find a speck of glitter on my person he will find that his metal suit glows an obnoxious shade of pink."
"Loki!" he addressed in surprise as Tony swore, 'Fuck it worked – put me on speaker!'
The god's eyes blinked open to the semi-familiar surroundings of his suite in the Tower, Bruce in the armchair that had been dragged from the common room to the side of his bed.
"How are you feeling?" he questioned.
"A great deal better, thank you," he replied.
"Sure," Tony drawled in disbelief.
"When I have reached the point that I'm rendered unconscious so to heal, my magic doesn't exactly allow me to awaken without having recovered some measure of strength so to defend myself," Loki explained. "What are you even doing?"
"SHIELD's forced us into signing things and helping fix the city. Which, is stupid, as they've had, like, three weeks for this – and they're supposed to be this massive organization with unlimited resources, that come from my pocket, by the way-"
"He was trying to find an excuse to avoid it," Bruce clarified.
"I'm checking in – very worriedly," he objected. "And you just gave me a great excuse – so ha!... Shit, Phil's eyeing me…"
"Your interpersonal relationships are very interesting," Loki remarked as he slowly levered himself up. 'You've no idea how intimidating his emotionless-face-that's-fooling-nobody is,' Tony replied. When the movement upset neither balance nor pain ratio he shifted to move the covers from himself and place his legs over the edge of the mattress.
"Careful," Bruce warned. "Shouldn't you rest some more?"
"I need to bathe, and eat," he countered. "Are there any clothes I can borrow? I'm not going to waste energy conjuring or configuring anything."
"Don't worry about it – I'll find something," he offered as he exited, turning off the speakerphone on the cell he carried, "and there are a lot of leftovers I can reheat for you so you don't have to cook."
'Thank you' he heard as he shut the door behind him and raised the phone to his ear in the common.
"If I was sick in bed would you cook and help dress me?" Tony cooed.
"Well, you said you started carrying spare pants in your suit in case I transform, so it would be only fair," Bruce stated.
Tony laughed. "Speaking of lack of clothing, your wardrobes are sinful – I'm making a note to take you all shopping. No one in my tower's going to be without clothes – unless by choice, or vote, or Naked Tuesdays."
"Tony, there isn't going to be any public nudity," he argued with a flush.
"I'll concede to that so long as private nudity includes four people or more."
"No orgies either!"
"That that has to be said is fantastic – I'm going to have Jarvis record and print this and stick it on the fridge… Seriously though, I'm heading back. And Phil's stalking me with paperwork for Loki – just so you know."
He hung up and sighed, shaking his head before drawing his attention to Loki's needs. "Jarvis," he called, "are there any clothes that would fit Loki?"
"Both Mr. Odinson and Mr. Rogers' heights allow for a suitable replacement," the AI answered promptly, "though I would suggest the latter due to the more similar dimensions of their torsos."
"Thanks," he said before requesting, "Could you give me the number of the phone Tony gave him?"
"I believe Sir inserted it into your contacts' list, Dr. Banner."
After the Captain agreed to lend Loki some clothing and Bruce had received permission from him to move into his rooms, he ventured to retrieve the articles (only to ask Jarvis his opinion on what Loki wore and have to call Thor for consent to relieve him of a pair of his pants). He returned to the level above and left the clothes on Loki's bed before searching through the fridge on his half for something to reheat.
When Tony arrived on their floor, the door to Bruce's half was open and he poked his head in to find the two eating a late lunch of Italian. Bruce sat on one side of the island working through the leftover spaghetti he had ordered two days before with his pale shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Loki across from him eating the half lasagna spared the night before because they had ordered two for the group, grey t-shirt donned over black leather pants cut just below the knee.
"Grey cotton looks weird on you," Tony greeted as he joined them, detouring to the cupboards to grab a mug and then the coffeemaker Jarvis had turned on earlier to place it underneath.
"Steve doesn't have anything black," Bruce defended.
"It's only temporary," Loki reassured. "What's important is that I'm going to need more food – only a third of this is digesting, the majority converted into energy to more quickly heal my core."
"Okay then – pizza," Tony said. "Are we feeding you 'till you're full, or until your magic's healed up?"
"Both, though the second certainly won't be achieved today."
Fifteen minutes later, the time during spent with the two scientists avoiding interrogating Loki and instead conversing lightly with each other as he ate, the sound of the elevator signalled an arrival and Phil entered holding four boxes of pizza.
"Hey! Good call – I bet you're tipped more," Tony teased.
"The bill was sent to you," he retorted, placing the boxes on the surface of the island. Loki glanced lengthily at the additions until he finished the lasagna and was able to begin devouring the new fare.
After a few minutes, Loki asked searchingly, "What brings you here, Agent Coulson?"
"Director Fury sent me to check on you and ensure our end of the agreement was being upheld."
"And in hopes to renegotiate the contract, I assume?"
"What?" Bruce questioned. "What's wrong with it?"
"The one he signed before had SHIELD protecting him – but the Chitauri and Thanos are dead, and Asgard has thrown him to us-"
"-so there's nothing of substance offered for improving your understanding of magic, or my advancement of your technology," Loki concluded.
"Which is why SHIELD is proposing this," Phil professed, a pristine sheaf of paper removed from the inside of his suit jacket and held out.
Loki paused before accepting the item, Bruce and Tony conspicuously leaning over to read the revised segment under 'Compensation':
-The impossibility of any and all reprimand/action by the Company in regards to affiliations and/or deeds against the party, its allies, their interests, property, and/or assets prior to the date of the Agreement first above written.
-The aforementioned includes the defense of his person against the Company's competitors (i.e. those who would seek to terminate the covenant of this Agreement), any of whom might desire the enforcement of a penalty for the above activities.
Tony choked as Bruce gaped, Loki tilting his head in intrigue. They are releasing me from any of the consequences from my part in the invasion? Loki construed. He perused the rest of the document at a glance, the only other aspect modified a slight addition to 'Services' reading that he 'shall aid the Company in repairing any damage caused by either the direct or indirect action' of himself.
The advantages for them with my continued aid far outweigh those otherwise, it would seem, he thought, especially now that I've a lessened number of enemies hostile towards me. Maintaining their prejudice towards how I arrived would only prove a hindrance to them, so they are offering a renewal of the relationship in hopes that it will be more than a temporary arrangement.
The subtext of the added clause to my services to them indicates this… It may seem to be ensuring that I provide aid in repairing the damage the city has already sustained, but the tense covers all time periods. It's against this very agreement that I bring harm to anyone, so what are the circumstances in the future that would necessitate destruction and yet be of use to SHIELD? Well, working with the Avengers in defending Midgard, of course. Any property damage would decrease in significance if I was on hand to reverse it with my magic.
"Very interesting," Loki murmured.
Tony and Phil stared at him in the tense silence of consideration while Bruce fidgeted, returning to his seat to feign occupation with the crusted remains of food on his plate.
The god eventually exhaled a heavy sigh, proclaiming, "I should keep a pen around for things like this," as he held out a hand.
Phil departed for the Helicarrier after indulging Tony's inquisition concerning the relationship between Loki and SHIELD as now perceived by the Council, the god separating from the two as well to return to his rooms to rest. The rest of the team was led into Bruce's half when they were freed from the duties Fury had them occupied with, and notified of the circumstances of the new agreement.
"Cleared of all charges, can you believe it?" Tony asked incredulously.
"When the option was to lose another Ӕsir fighting with us and not knowing anything about magic? Yes," Natasha replied.
"Thank you for all you have done, my friends," Thor declared.
"He hasn't made it easy," Clint remarked, "but from that first disc we've all been thrown off."
"That he's been attacked and almost killed has changed things too," Bruce added with a shrug.
"Gotta hate that hero complex," Tony said with a smirk.
Primarily left to their own devices the following day, there was time for each Avenger to muse on the changes of schedule that would have to be applied now that Loki was conscious. "He is still healing, so he cannot display anything for Anthony and Bruce," Thor uttered, Steve having joined him.
"I'm sure Tony's thinking of simple questions for him," he sighed, "but you're right – he does have to rest."
"And eat – apparently they didn't expect him to consume as much as he did yesterday," he laughed.
"Loki probably isn't even up yet," Steve remarked after a glance revealed that just-before-noon was displayed on the kitchen appliances. "Do we have to wake him up so he eats?"
"We do – we should all dine together!" Thor proposed enthusiastically.
"Okay – I don't like that we're always separated anyways. Jarvis?"
"Yes, Mr. Rogers."
"Could you tell everyone we're cooking lunch and to join us, please?"
The resulting parties cooking ended up being Steve and Bruce, with Thor contributing to prep work. Because of the large group and impromptu gathering, it was decided that a couple of mass stir-fries would be easiest, utilizing most everything in the fridges of the floor. Chicken and vegetables in a teriyaki sauce was served first, followed shortly by a beef, potato, and onion barbeque combination. Clint, Natasha, Tony, and Bruce selected the former while Steve, Thor, and Loki chose the latter, though everyone tried each, and Loki intended to finish all that was left over.
"So, whose idea was this family-style thing?" Tony asked, having ceased eating first and was now sipping a glass of whiskey.
'Thor's,' Loki muttered as the god pronounced, "It was mine!"
"I wanted to talk to you all though," Steve commented. "Hold on."
The Captain exited to exchanged, questioning looks between those at his back before those still eating finished and stacked their plates on the counter, Loki drawing the remaining food onto his dish so the rest of the cookware could be removed from the surface of the island as well. Steve came back to his seat to place a slim object in front of them.
"What the hell?!" Tony cursed as Clint swore under his breath.
"Where did you find it?" Natasha interrogated.
"The first was made by my mother and the Norns, the second, the Other," Thor reminded.
"Frigga gave it to me before we left Asgard," he answered.
She pulled him aside, pressing a slim case into his hands. "You can see all that has been accomplished through knowledge of the past," she started, "this is yours.
"It is your choice what will be done with it, but each of you has a beginning that defines who you are and what you bring to each other. Yours also shows that of the Tesseract, HYDRA, and SHIELD – and what escalated into the future of heroes and villains that Midgard now divides her powerful forces.
"Reliving all that happened will open old wounds, but it will help them to heal. And help others in aiding you."
"What does it show?" Loki asked.
"My past, apparently," he responded, a wariness in his expression when his eyes flicked onto the disc. "I'd rather SHIELD…not be a part of this one," Steve tentatively implored. "If anything important is told we can report it later."
"We don't have to watch it," Bruce offered.
"It's here," he objected. "Besides, we saw a lot of you two," he said with a gesture to the two gods.
"More team bonding, yay," Clint griped mockingly as they uncertainly moved into the common area, a long L-shaped couch situated in front of the flat screen television mounted on the wall across. Loki claimed the long chaise at one end, Thor beside him before Steve, Natasha folded in the corner. Clint perched on the arm of what served as the shorter end that Bruce sat on, Tony inserting the disc to the system for Jarvis to control before he nudged Bruce closer to Natasha and sprawled on the cushion left between him and the archer.
A strong breeze whistled through the air before gathering into a howling wind that tossed heavy snow over the blanketed tundra.
Confused expressions overtook the faces of the group, the ambiguity of the setting unhelpful in marking time and place.
Bright high beams shone weakly through the white-out, briefly illuminating a dark figure that began waving in front of the vehicle. The large truck slowed to a halt before the man insulated within an orange hooded, thick parka, gloves, and goggles, who propped up the staff he held topped with glowing orange mark to call attention to his stance.
A door on either side swung out to allow the departure and approach of two others similarly dressed, though in black, and he asked them, "You the guys from Washington?"
"You get many other visitors out here?" one questioned rhetorically before the other interrogated,
"How long have you been on site?"
"Since this morning," he answered. "A Russian oil team called it in about eighteen hours ago."
"How come nobody spotted it before?"
"Really not that surprising," he explained, "this landscape's changing all the time. You got any idea what this thing is, exactly?" Another surveyor of the area strode in the same direction some distance to their right.
"I dunno – it's probably a weather balloon."
"Haha, I don't think so," he laughed. "You know, we don't have the equipment for a job like this."
"How long before we can start craning it out?"
"I don't think you quite understand – you guys are going to need one hell of a crane!"
A sharp curve stuck out of the drifts, the wingtip of what was unmistakably an aircraft protruding from the buried remains. Orange markers dotted the air above the five walking its base, barely reaching the half point of the length revealed, a blue light swivelling from the explorations of a man that had climbed to travel the top running over the rim. The two newcomers gaped as they stared up at the size, marks set in the snow further behind in the outline of a behemoth, triangular plane.
Steve crossed his arms over his chest in recognition of the Valkyrie, the aircraft he had crashed, while the human viewers pursed their lips at recollecting the aftermath of the Captain's deeds. The two gods noted the others' reactions, but were unaware of the details of the timeline the disc would be moving between.
As the sun set, bags of equipment were laid nearby to supplement constant work. The vehicle was parked and a mechanism overhanging from the back was distended to spin around, and around, pointed down and slicing gradually through the surface of the craft with a teal laser. The metal supports of the interior stretched cold and ice covered as the laser spun to imprint on the floor below, the circle of the ceiling finally falling to collapse with a clang, its edge smoldered and followed by flurries of snow and a cylinder of reflected daylight. The two repelled down one after the other, safety suits donned with enclosed visors and breathing apparatuses, powerful lights in hand.
"Base, we're in," the lead reported to an immediate, 'Copy that.'
His head tilted for his eyes to follow the ray of light, tall frames whose welders spared material by hollowing out the unnecessary centers of beams columning the space. "What is this?" his companion queried as he switched on his appliance and shadowed him in exploring. They stepped over to what had been the control center, the glass panes coating the surface before it facing the snow below the surface of the ground instead of the skies it was designed for.
They approached while keeping an eye on the play of light and shadow cast on the walls of the large hull, a stumble over a partially iced over hole prompting a 'Careful.' The empty chair of command was surrounded by a couple of feet of snow and ice, one of the men creeping closer with head tilted to the side in inspection of a patch alternating in colour. He crouched down and swiped his gloved hand over the surface to clear it.
"Lieutenant," he called to the other's turning behind him. "What is it?" he asked as he drew near, twisting to address him before turning back.
"My god," he uttered, light affixed on the object, stunned. "Base, get me a line to the colonel," he insisted. 'It's three am, sir,' was the reply before he proclaimed, "I don't care what time it is – this one's waited long enough."
A round shield was coated in ice on the floor, bright white star painted on navy blue, stripes of red and white circling around it.
"Do you think there's a reason the beginning is always separated from the rest?" Natasha asked.
"Showmanship," Tony muttered. "I have a feeling this is going to be depressing – and that we're going to need alcohol."
"I can't get drunk," Steve lamented. "And it's the middle of the day."
"If you cannot drink to ease your sorrow, then none of us shall," Thor decreed firmly.
Loki raised an eyebrow at the name of the site that had been visited by the Ӕsir before.
Gunshots popped in the otherwise serene night, clouded sky above shadowing the deserted cobbled streets, stone houses, and panting male that ran from the sounds of the fired rounds and a vibrating explosion. He darted through one of the wooden double doors of a monastery, locking it behind him as he warned in the native tongue, "They've come for it!"
Steve furrowed his brow and leaned forward at the new scene.
The bearded church keeper stepping down the stairs dismissed firmly in the same language, "They have before," as the younger man barred the entrance with a plank.
"Not like this," he replied with an anxious gesture over his shoulder.
The lit candles in the candelabra and torches dimly lit the area as he retorted, "Let them come. They'll never find it."
A grating sounded to the man casting his eyes over his shoulder, the elder glancing to the corners of the ceiling above as some pieces of stone broke from their supports and clattered to the floor. The younger backed away from the door as the building shook, chandelier, door, and artefacts rattling before the sound of a machine halted its movements outside. They breathed heavily in apprehension before scrambling back as the front wall and door within it were suddenly forced forward. The carved wood and slabs of stone crashed to the ground in clouds of dust, the man crying out as he was partially buried in debris.
The forward-facing wall of a large claw remained in the gaping hole now open to the streets before beginning to retract, the old man moving forward to lift a squared stone with trembling hands to reveal the blooded skull and vacant eyes of the corpse of the other. Outside, tanks with wide tracks and piercing beams of light rolled to surround the monastery, a grey, supercharged V16 Coupé rolling to a rumbling stop with a chrome skull and six elegantly curved tentacles as a prominent hood ornament.
Legs wrapped in leather boots stepped from the driver's side, thick coat snapping about them as they strode around the front of the car, the man's hands nonchalantly held behind his back.
Inside, three soldiers struggled to push off the stone slab topping a sarcophagus at the order of their superior, who stood at the head in uniform, shouting in English, "Open it!" The church keeper watched with furrowed brow from the floor where he propped his dishevelled torso from the ground with his elbows, additional armed infantry at his other side as he cast his eyes over the haste of the men. "Quickly, before he gets-" he continued before abruptly cutting himself off at the entrance of a figure through the opening. He snapped his heels together as the three working turned in respect as well.
Johann Schmidt made his way carefully over the debris with the headlights' illumination through the dust at his back as the troops under his command broke to either side before him and stood at attention. The church keeper stared silently with gradually widening eyes at the charged atmosphere developing with each step closer.
"It has taken me a long time to find this place," he declared, German accent rounding his unhurried speech as the HYDRA emblem glinted from his lapel. "You should be commended," he snapped in admittance to the effort exerted, head lifting to unshadow his face from the brim of his visor hat. "Pick him up." The man was hauled to his feet and set before Schmidt, breathing heavily. "I think that you are a man of great vision," he began, straightening the other's coat, "and in this way we are much alike-"
"I am nothing like you," the elder countered with a fleeting smirk as he shook his head.
"No, of course," he conceded, "but, what others see as superstition, you and I know to be a science."
"What you seek is just a legend-"
"Then why make such an effort to conceal it?" he questioned with a jerk of his head towards the sarcophagus. He turned to it and removed his hat as his boots sounded on the floor, handing the adornment to the officer to his right as he reached the sculpted stone. With braced stance and one forceful push of his palms the lid sailed off and toppled off the opposite side, skeletal remains revealed garbed in frayed clothing, rusted armour and sword, and a cube.
"That's not her," Thor observed.
He reached in to grab the object from the curled bones of the hands, pastel blue unblemished, translucent insides stilled mist. "The Tesseract was the jewel of Odin's treasure room," Schmidt announced as he stared, turning to the church keeper as he allowed it to tumble from his fingers. It fractured into pieces easily, appearing to be crafted of ice to the surprise of the officer at his side. "It is not something one buries. But… I think it is close, yes?" he concluded.
"I cannot help you."
"No. But maybe you can help your village," he posed. "You must have some friends out there, some little grandchildren, perhaps? I have no need for them to die." The man stared at him, appalled, before he turned to face the whir of the turret on top of the tank visible through the hole in the wall. He faced Schmidt again with resignation in his expression as he heard the gun lock onto some distant target, indicating with a motion of his chin the space behind the man.
Schmidt spun and stepped towards the wall. "Yggdrasil," he pronounced in name of the depiction of the carving of an intricate, large tree, "the tree of the world – guardian of wisdom, and fate, also." His gaze was drawn onto a section of her roots, a coiled serpent wrapped around one*. He ran an index finger gloved in leather over its neck before pressing the eye of the sculpture with his thumb. The section was released and protruded slightly from the wall, his hands grasping the sides of the box as he turned. The church keeper stared as he shivered, Schmidt glancing up at him before reverting his interest.
He lifted the lid with lips parted in anticipation, bright azure light streaming from within the confines. "And the Führer digs for trinkets in the desert…" he mused, awestruck at the power contained in the artefact now in his possession. He glanced up again before stating, "You have never seen this, have you?"
"It's not for the eyes of ordinary men," he declared.
"Exactly," he concluded, pursing his mouth and shutting the lid. "Give the order to open fire," he commanded as he retrieved his hat and situated it upon his head, the officer moving to relay the order in German to the others.
"Bastard," Tony cursed.
"Fool!" the church keeper yelled in anger, and Schmidt turned atop the debris. "You cannot control the power you hold. You will burn!"
"I already have," he announced, unimpressed, retrieving his gun from its holster. He shot the old man through the heart from his hip, returning the firearm in satisfaction before reaching to touch his jaw as he flexed it, a crack having sounded. Red blood had flecked onto the pin on his chest, the substance marring the silver and staining the material behind it as the fire of tanks echoed.
"Totally called it," Tony gritted again, finishing sarcastically, "the cheeriest of intros."
(*) Nidhogg: the serpent that chews on a root of Yggdrasil, the one connected to Nifleheim. This monster feeds on those guilty of murder, adultery, and oath-breaking – those who dwell in the Realm of the Dishonoured Dead, filled with mist and ice.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Published a bit early for you guys, who've been waiting so patiently. The beginning of Captain America!
Drop a review and let me know what you think!