Disclaimer: Nothing from this Marvelous universe is mine.

Summary: Three months after Operation Avengers all is well. Or is it? When Steve and Tony hack into SHIELD to find missing weapons shipments they find more than they bargained for in the form of a prisoner who should, by rights, have been sent to Asgard long ago.

Warnings: Moderately graphic torture, hints of non-con.

A/N: ... *throws chapter* *eyes update gap* *hurls self back into the Pit of Despair*

Chapter 36: Landing

He should not have cast aside the dart.

He should, Loki thinks pacing, water firmly in hand, have kept it. If he had kept it, he could have seen how much of it was left and used that to estimate how long Steve will lie there, white and motionless. If he had kept it, studying it now would have given him something to do. He still can, of course, but only if he risks Thor and he is not yet ready to risk Thor. Not when Thor will smile and care and thank them after—

The wall looms before him, stark and white.

It does that entirely too often in this tiny, cramped apartment. He stops, turns. Keeps pacing.

Stupid, of course, to blame Thor now.

Of course Thor is grateful that he is not trying to kill him, since he has so illogically decided that adoption does not matter and Frost Giants are no longer monsters. Of course he would say this, when Loki has himself told him he was treated well in his absence and that SHIELD cared. He knows this. He knows this, so why does the thought that Thor might think what happened worth the result hurt so much? He hates Thor, so why can he not stop?

He wishes Steve would wake. Steve would know what to say. Steve would know what to do.

"... Do you think we're safe here?" Bruce says, breaking the silence.

"I sincerely doubt it."

"… Right."

Belatedly, Loki wonders if the mortal was in search of a solution to the problem. Possibly. Probably. But what solution is there?

He has sent his projections here to people, not to places, and during his invasion he had relied on minions for transportation. He did not know how to get to them then, and he has made no study of Midgardian geography since. He does not even know how to get here. Teleporting might work, but he doubts he has the strength. If he cannot even heal his side without screaming, what chance has he of that? And even if he could, he does not know where is safe. He does not know where Polt's influence starts any better than he knows where SHIELD's reach ends. Bruce would be better off asking Tony this. Tony or Thor.

Still. Bruce has not asked them, and so:

"If somewhere was safe, Thor could probably fly you there," he offers, eventually.

It is the best he can do.

He wonders though, as he speaks, how many agents have the blue venom. Wonders how good a shot they are.

Wonders how many are watching this apartment, waiting for them to make a mistake.

"Not Tony?"

Loki shrugs.

"He would be better company, certainly. He has the disadvantage of not being able to set Mjolnir on your chest to stop your Hulk if you transform."


The suggestion is not that bad, surely?

"You do not have to. It was merely an idea," he says defensively.

"No, no, I just… I mean, it would actually stop me?"

Bruce sounds… Loki is not quite sure what he sounds like.

"Why not? It stops most people." It stopped me. "The Allfather has enchanted its weight to be infinite when those who are not," his lip curls into a sneer, "worthy, attempt to lift it. I doubt you are enough so to shift it."


"It is no insult. Fully half the population of Asgard would have difficulty doing so."

"From what I've heard about Asgard so far, the fact that any of them can is a surprise."

Loki snorts, and crushes the thing inside his chest that insists on being vaguely touched.

"You forget, Bruce, that 'worth' in this instance is defined solely by Odin."

"... Right. And just what does that entail?"

I could have done it.

For you. For all of us.

"You know," Loki says, and then he must stifle a laugh because this is hilarious, isn't it? Isn't it? "I don't actually know. I used to think it meant putting Asgard first and trying to protect her people. Casting aside all selfless ambition, protecting the Nine Realms, preserving peace or making it... But it isn't, of course. Or not only. The methods mattered. I never could quite work out how. I remember though, when Thor was in SHIELD's cells, trying to lift it. I was King then, you understand, and I thought— But I wasn't, of course," Why is he saying this? Why can't he stop? "It must have been so amusing for him lying there, watching me try."

Bruce isn't laughing.

His good hand is white where it's gripping the side of the bed.

When he speaks though, his voice is carefully neutral.

"I remember when I was a kid. I was six and it was Christmas, and I'd gone downstairs to open presents early. See if Santa had been and all, you know?"

Loki has both read and watched 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe', and so he nods.

"I succeeded in getting to the tree; no one really watched me much then," Bruce continues, still carefully casual, like his tale is no more important than the latest news or the weather. But something in his eyes is wrong. "I can't remember what I was building now. Something with the mechanics set I'd gotten, I know. My father... He was a scientist, before he lost his job. Advanced physics. I think I thought he'd be proud of me if I showed I was like him too."

Loki remembers Bruce's file. 'Anger issues', Barton had said, clipped and professionally detached. 'Low self esteem. Father killed his mother in front of him when he was a kid, apparently. Court records say they might have been trying to leave him.'

"He wasn't?" he guesses.

"Not really. He was paranoid about me having mutant genes. Hated them. Kind of like Polt seems, in a way, only up until me my dad was content to quietly hate. But he took my little construction as proof that I was— twisted, somehow, since he felt no normal kid would have been that smart that young. He smashed the thing to pieces. I think I was too shocked to cry. Mum tried to stop him. It was the first time he'd ever hit me. Hit either of us, I guess. Happy Christmas, hmm?"

Up until me.

Loki swallows, and wonders what there is to say.

"Your father sounds worse than mine," he says at last.

"Maybe. Maybe not. I guess what I'm trying to say is, fathers can be hell. That doesn't make them right."

But you are no monster. You proved them wrong where I only ever managed to prove them right.

He doesn't say it. Just forces his head to nod and continues pacing.

He wonders if Steve would be proud.

It is a minute or two before Bruce once more breaks the silence.

"So… Assuming you're right about the— worthiness thing. Why didn't Thor do it before?"

Why does Thor do or fail to do anything?

"I assume he did not think of it."

"He's had a hammer for nine hundred-odd years that can pin down anyone and he... didn't think of it?"

Loki makes a vague gesture with one hand, and then winces as water splashes over the carpet.

"It was not always so. It used to just be heavy; even I could lift it. It was only when Thor was exiled that the 'worthiness' enchantment was placed upon it." Only Thor set it upon my chest mere hours after regaining his powers, so Thor must have thought of it, surely? "Then too," he adds, "It is possible Thor does not find you unworthy; I do not think he shares the Allfather's scorn for the mortal race." At least, not anymore. "And even if he had, it would have been unfair to obtain victory by those ends. If he could not defeat you fairly, it would have been cheating to end the fight thus."

"Cheating," Bruce echoes flatly.

Loki gives up.

"I am merely guessing, Bruce. I am not Thor. Maybe he simply could not. If it truly bothers you, you can always ask him. I am sure he will look suitably sorry and have a flawless excuse at hand to present you with that absolves him of all blame."

Bruce tilts his head slightly to one side.

"Does he often do that?"

"Sometimes. When he can remember what he has done, or if it is severe enough. Otherwise he just looks noble and resigned and apologises for the fact that you are angry or upset, and asks that you forgive him for whatever part you seem to feel he played in it and stop doing whatever you are doing to inconvenience him so he can get on with his life."

Too much. Too bitter.

When did this become about you?

He waits for Bruce to tell him he is being unfair. He knows he is, at least a little.

"I can imagine that would get old fairly fast," Bruce says instead, almost gently.

The vision of a tiny, compressed Bruce with hand-shaped bruises across his face, his chest, dances before him.

If the gentleness is pity, he supposes he can bear it. For now.

"It matters not. I had my methods of reminding him, and making him suitably miserable in turn."

Like taunting him, tormenting his friends and killing him, or trying to.

"You never tried just... telling him?"

"Sometimes. When we were younger."

"… What made you stop?"

"I grew up. My problems grew with me, and Thor stopped being able to fix them. It grew ever more humiliating begging him to try. I wanted to be seen as an equal, not merely as Thor's helpless, whining, irritating younger brother. I like to think it worked. Certainly Thor never tried to leave me behind the way he did Baldur."

"You found Baldur irritating?"

"He was irritating."

Bruce snorts.

"He was. He was like," Loki searches blindly, "Like Oliver Twist, from the movie."

"Sweet, cute and a really good treble?"

"Overly virtuous and annoying," Loki snaps.

Why are they talking about this? They should not be talking about this.

SHIELD and Polt and safety are what they should be worrying about, not how well Baldur used to sing. He does not want to think about Baldur. Golden, beloved Baldur, who should never have turned, whose fault it was for turning, and whose face had looked so shocked when the dart had pierced through every protection and buried itself straight into his heart. Baldur who every creature could cry for but him. Why can he not focus? Why can he not think?

He can feel Bruce looking at him, like he wants to say something and isn't quite sure what. He doesn't care.

"I should see if Tony has destroyed the serum," Loki says, abruptly, "And ask if he or Thor know of anywhere safer than here to take you."

There is a heartbeat of silence. Then:

"You could," Bruce allows, "Or I could do it."

Loki hesitates. Swallows. Temptation wars within against pride.

If he leaves, he faces Thor.

If he does not, he will not have to but it will be a tacit acknowledgement that he does not wish to.

Fool. He already knows. He saw you run.

That is why he offered.

"Might as well, actually," Bruce says, rising, "I'm not sure I'm doing much here but distracting you. Besides," a slightly self-deprecating smile, "I need to ask Thor why he didn't pin me down on the Helicarrier, and if he thinks he actually can now. See if I can get my share of guilty kicked-puppy looks too."

It isn't even a battle, in the end.

Gracefully, gratefully, Loki inclines his head.

"Very well. Do so. And... Bruce? Stay away from the windows."

"I'm not an idiot, Loki. I will."


Thor's suggestion, bluntly spoken, is to just blast the serum with Mjolnir to destroy it.

It's not a bad suggestion, Tony thinks. Assuming there's nothing magic-y about it which would make it resistant to being blown apart, and assuming that it is going to be sufficiently demolished by an influx of energy roughly the equivalent of a few dozen tank missiles. Assuming. But it's not like he has any better options, and being careful's never been what he's best at. He, for one, is prepared to take the risk. It's the size of a thumb joint, and that's with the needle. How hard can it be?

"I'm just worried about its potency," Pepper says.

She's the only one against this move.

"Even small amounts were supposed to be lethal. If you blow up that thing, can you be sure that none of it will get out? Bruce is one room away."

Unfortunately, that is also a good point. Which is why Thor is frowning down at nothing, arms folded across his chest, and Tony's sipping coffee and wishing he came here often enough for Pepper to start stocking scotch. The dart is sitting on the table, between them.

"We've got to do something with it, Pepper. They're probably tracing it. We did, and they've had a lot longer to practice it than us."

"You tracked the absence of radiation, not its presence."

"It's presence registered though."

Thor clears his throat.

"We could inject it into me."

Tony eyes him, and wonders if suicidally self-sacrificing heroics run in the family.

"It's intended use was to be injected into someone," Thor persists, "Since that is so, why not use the fact I contain neither the secondary serum nor this mutant gene to our advantage?"

"Could work," Tony says, turning the thought over.

"Or it couldn't," Pepper says firmly. "For one thing, that would require firing it and we don't have a tranquilizer gun. And you are not flying back there to get whatever they were planning to use. And for another, what if it had some side effect that did hurt you?"

Okay, so maybe it couldn't work.

Tony frowns at the evil little thing and wishes it was possible to destroy it with his eyes.

"It is a risk I am prepared to take. And I could retrieve the weapon," Thor says, apparently not yet convinced.

"So could I. Point is, it isn't a risk we're prepared to take with one of the only two people who can fly if things go south, and even if we were it isn't safe. Unless you're more resistant to the venom or poison or whatever it is that hit Steve than him and Loki are, in which case, be my guest."

Thor's frown deepens.

"Thought so."

"I do not fear the weapons of the enemy, Stark."

"Good for you. I can't fly four people though, so unless you're sure we aren't going to exercise our flight vs fight instincts while you're out, I'd prefer it if you didn't go."

"I am not Heimdall. I do not know what our enemies plan for us."

Which is pretty much the point, but Tony resists the urge to crow.

Crowing takes energy and he's kind of short on energy right now.

Finally, Thor offers:

"Loki could hide it, if you trusted him with it. Ever has he been gifted at such tricks."

"We trust him," Tony says, automatically.

"How?" Pepper asks.

"Magic," Thor says simply.

Right. Magic. Because that's a thing.

But Pepper's nodding, apparently satisfied.

"He is watching Steve though..." she trails off.

"That is no matter," Thor says mildly. "One of us can take it to him."

True. Not Thor though.

Tony's just opening his mouth to say so when, just like that, the door to Pepper's bedroom is opening. He knows a brief moment where he's half rising and his stomach flips weirdly and he thinks, Is Steve up already? And then Bruce is stepping through the door and closing it with a firm 'click' behind him. He seems to notice them all staring at him, because he shakes his head almost immediately.

"Not awake. Loki'll tell us if he does."

Right. That's—right.

Tony plants himself firmly back on the couch.

"Is Loki alright?" Pepper asks, "And are you?"

Bruce shrugs.

"I'm okay, aside from stress and the hand. Hard to say about Loki. He's worried, I think, and he looks like death warmed over, especially in your clothes, Tony. No offense. But he doesn't look as bad as he did in the Tower, so I think he's getting better."

"My clothes are wonderful," Tony says automatically.

Bruce snorts. He doesn't argue though. Possibly because he's wearing them himself.

"Actually... I had a question for you, Tony. You and Thor," Bruce begins.

Tony makes a sweeping gesture.


"It's kind of dual, really. The question, that is. The first part is, do you know of anywhere safe from Polt I could hide in now, before anything goes wrong? And secondly," Bruce turns to look at Thor, "Is it true that your hammer weighs enough to stop the Hulk?"

It's Thor who answers first, in the affirmative. But Thor got the easy question. Tony doesn't have a clue how to answer his.

He needs Clint. Needs someone on the inside, because short of 'hey, fly high to Fiji and hope none of Polt's agents are on vacation' he's got nothing.

Though actually, that plan has merit. He could use a trip to Fiji.

"Though it would be difficult," Thor is qualifying now, "Your Hulk is a powerful warrior, strong and agile, and I doubt he would stay still long enough for me to do so. But I believe that when Mjolnir was set upon his hand by chance when we fought, he could not shift her."

"Right. And the reason you didn't leave it there was...?"

"There was an inch of space between the handle and the floor," Thor supplies obligingly, "The Hulk was trapped, but he was pulling free on his own; it did not seem prudent to wait. But even had he not been, I would not have left it there. Such tactics would not have been fair."

Bruce closes his eyes, then opens them.

"Okay. Fair enough. But if I Hulked now, for whatever reason, you could set it on me in time to stop me?"

"Possibly. But why would I? Your Hulk is a friend, even as you are."

Okay, so Tony might be warming up to Thor a bit. Just a bit.

"Sometimes. Sometimes, he's a friend," Bruce says, eyes haunted, "But other times he does what he did on the Helicarrier. It's nice, the sentiment, but I don't want to wake up naked and find that because of me, people are injured or dead. It's not— When I choose to change and there's something I can tear to pieces, he's better. I can control him, a bit. But that isn't now."

Thor still looks doubtful.

"Why do you not choose, then? Would that not solve your problem?"

"No, because there aren't any convenient Abominations and Chitauri around to smash."

"There are buildings. Mountains."

"Mountains I'm nowhere near, and buildings with people in them."

Thor looks like he's giving up.

He also looks like he's swallowed vinegar.

"... Very well. If you truly wish it, I shall do so."

Bruce cracks a smile.

"I do. And... Thanks, Thor."

And then he's turning to Tony, and Tony raises both hands in the traditional pose for surrender.

"Fiji?" he offers. "Tahiti?"

Bruce groans.

"Question: Can Loki do whatever he did to contact Clint last time again?"

"... Maybe. Why? You think it's worth asking?"

"If you don't want to fly in the super-cold, freezing atmosphere in circles, it's worth asking. Might even motivate SHIELD to get up and give Polt the proverbial kick in the ass, if Clint tells them, assuming this serum is the reason they haven't been acting."

"And the serum?" Pepper asks.

"Give it to Loki," Tony says.

"And if for some reason my brother cannot hide or destroy it for us, I could keep it for you until I return to Asgard and get my father to destroy it there," Thor offers.

"No offense, but I'm not sure I trust your father with that stuff," Bruce says.

Thor's eyes flash.

"Seconded," Tony backs Bruce up, because, come on, Odin.

Besides, Bruce shouldn't be the only target if Thor loses his temper. Not that it looks like it'll come to that, quite; Thor seems to be wrestling himself back under control.

"My father is honourable."

Or not.

"I'll accept that you think so," Bruce says, carefully neutral. "But accidents happen to everyone, even to people who are honourable, and I'd prefer to know where it is and see the stuff destroyed myself. Paranoia, and all that. It's not just me that will kill if it gets out."

"He would not allow it to escape. He has the Odinforce, and our vaults—"

But here Thor stops, frowning.

"Very well," he concedes, after a moment or two, "Perhaps you are right to have reservations about our security."

Tony wonders what the story is there.

Not relevant. Don't ask.

There's a moment of silence, where Pepper offers to take the dart to Loki, and where Bruce tells her it's fine because he's handling it with a couple of tissues and even if he wasn't, only the very vulnerable were going to be killed by small doses. It's true, probably. It doesn't stop Tony from feeling kind of relieved when Bruce doesn't instantly do anything dramatic like collapsing to the ground or frothing at the mouth or screaming.

"Shall I accompany you?" Thor says, too hopefully, as Bruce retreats with it back towards the bedroom.

"No. But thanks."

Good man.

And then Bruce is gone.

Thor stares wistfully at the closed door.

Don't ask.

"So," Tony starts, loud in the sudden silence, "What happened with your dad's vault?"


Loki is still pacing when Bruce returns.

He is not surprised when the mortal does so. He has not been listening—not quite. His own thoughts and Steve have distracted him enough from that. But Bruce did not close the door fully behind him and Thor's voice caries well and a small, treacherous part of him cannot stop himself from hearing.

"You were right. I can't blame him," Bruce says, apropos of nothing.

Loki sends him a slightly crooked smile.

"Not that it makes a huge difference, since I wasn't especially trying... How much did you hear?"

"Enough. Is that the serum?"

A rhetorical question, but Bruce nods anyway.

"Thor said you might be able to hide it? Tony isn't sure how to properly destroy it."

He can, of course. Hiding things is easy, or it had been. A simple case of opening a dimensional pocket, reaching in and putting the thing away. A part of him wonders, even as he nods, how much this will hurt. He will have to conceal it, of course. His stomach turns, vaguely nauseous, and the weakness burns him.

Wordlessly, he extends his hand.

"We were also wondering if you could contact Clint again."

"I am capable, certainly. I doubt he will be pleased to see me."

The dart feels cold in his hand, and cruel.

Such a small thing, to hold the power to end an entire race.

"He will be when he hears you've got the serum," Bruce says with confidence. Maybe even accurately, though Loki doubts it. He was never pleased on Midgard knowing the scepter forged a permanent link between the Other and him. "We were also hoping he might know of somewhere safe."

"I will ask him," he promises.

He reaches for his magic, to hide the serum.

And then he must bite back the pathetic whine that threatens to escape him as the too-familiar pain crashes through him.

He blinks, and the world blurs before his eyes. Odd.

"Are you okay?"

"Yes," Loki says flatly.

A moment later, things slide back into focus.

Bruce is hovering next to him, brow furrowed.

When did he move?

"The serum is safe," Loki says automatically, "I have just sent it into storage. I used to do it with anything I had no wish to lose. It was the only place I could be sure I would never forget and where no one else would find it."

"I'm worried about you, not the serum," Bruce says bluntly. "Well, maybe a little bit about the serum. But something triggered that."

He could play dumb and pretend he does not know what Bruce means. He could, but he doubts that will serve. 'I am fine' is a lie he has used too many times today.

"Nothing triggers them," he lies smoothly, instead, "At least, nothing I am aware of. They have been happening periodically ever since my collar was cut. I expect they will wear off after an hour or two of rest, and in the meantime there is nothing I can do about them." Except not do magic. He offers Bruce his most sincere, most charming smile. "They will pass, eventually. Do not concern yourself with them."

Bruce doesn't look like someone who isn't concerning himself with them.

Irritation spikes inside.

"I said do not concern yourself with them," he says more sharply.

"It's your magic, isn't it?" Bruce says slowly, "That's why you didn't heal your side until Thor came."

Loki glares at him, furious and more furious that he is feeling so.

He feels... open, somehow. Exposed.

"My magic is fine," he hisses.

"No, it's not. Why didn't you say something?"

Because Bruce called him brave, and he does not wish to lose his respect. Because it is a weakness, and admitting ones weaknesses is not wise. Because he is in the habit of lying and he cannot stop. Because magic is what sets him apart from all the other people who can spy and lie and fight and even now he isn't sure what will happen to him when he is no longer of use.

But they are your friends, something whispers. They care. You would have told Steve.

But would he?

No, he thinks. No. Not even Steve. Not until the supersoldier had actually asked. He rips his gaze from Bruce's and glares at the carpet because it is there and it exists and it has no eyes with which to stare back at him.

"I would contact Barton," he says flatly.

Silence. Then:

"We've got Clint's number. Tony can call him."

"If he had wanted to risk that, he would not have asked you to ask me."

"If he'd known using magic hurt you, I don't think he would have."

"Then see to it that he does not know."

"Loki," Bruce groans.

Loki changes tactics. Lifting his gaze, he glares at the mortal.

"I know he would not, Bruce. I know you would not." Now. "I also happen to know that using my magic now is like strengthening an atrophied muscle." And it is just that. Of course it is. There are no alternatives he will allow himself to consider. "Just because it hurts now does not mean it always will. And I will not sacrifice centuries of work just because I was too weak to try once more to wield it. Will you never use that hand again because if it is stiff once it is healed?"

Bruce frowns.

"… I guess—I mean, of course I will."

"Of course," Loki agrees, mercilessly pleasant.

"It's just… You seem to have taken a team's worth of hits for us in the last three days. You and Steve. It doesn't feel fair. And I didn't even offer you Aspirin," Bruce finishes, somewhat obscurely.

"Polt isn't fair," Loki says, shrugging stiffly.

And Bruce still looks guilty, so he adds:

"I am not a child. Had I felt your sedatives would affect me, I would have asked for them. I knew they were there. But... thank you. For the sentiment."

It isn't a dismissal—not quite. Only he doesn't know what to do when people feel bad that he has been hurt. Has never known, really. He doesn't know quite how to say that he is not selfless and they do not need to because it is just logic, surely, that those who can best survive the hits should take them for those who will survive them worse and whom they actually care for. That he would not take a dagger to the side for the Hulk or for Thor, even when he had not hated him, but would for Pepper or Bruce.

They're quiet for a moment. Then:

"I should speak with Barton."

Bruce doesn't reply. Just keeps looking unhappy, and so Loki ignores him. Setting his glass on the table, he seats himself, partly twisted, on the edge of Steve's bed, legs dangling off the sides and back propped up against the wall. Uncomfortable, perhaps, but no more uncomfortable then what will follow, and decidedly less humiliating then waking up, boneless, to find himself sprawled across the floor. He wonders if Bruce would try to lift him, if that happened. Wonders, moments later, if with one hand he physically could. But it doesn't matter. Won't, now.

Closing his eyes, he draws his magic to him.

Once more, he hurts.

Once more, he grits his teeth and tries his best to ignore it.

And then the blue thread that led him last time to Barton opens up before him and he allows himself to fall.

And fall.

Until finally, finally, he stops.

He stops, and it is addictive, this lack of pain that follows when he has landed and his mind is no longer confined inside his body.

His weakness remains, true, and his abandoned body is defenseless as a child, but he does not hurt. For a moment, only this matters and he must fight the temptation to just... keep his eyes closed. To savour the sensation. He knows he cannot, of course. He needs this to be done because he needs to get back. And yet he wants. And then it doesn't matter what he wants because he hears the sudden click of weaponry, and instinctively he is wrenching his eyes open because what if Barton is not alone and they shatter this projection before it can speak? What if—


Barton has an arrow pointed at his chest. A reflexive action, he hopes, since the mortal saw no need to shoot him last time.

He smiles anyway, ghastly thin, because why not?

Barton scowls at him.

"Again? Are you planning on making a habit of this? Because it's creepy on a number of levels if you're going to make a habit of this."

"Almost, Barton, you tempt me."

"The fuck I do," Barton retorts, eyes narrowing. "You still look like shit, by the way."

"Thank you, Barton. I wonder, what would I do without your so-professional evaluations?"

"Use a mirror, probably. Is there a reason you're wearing Tony's clothes? I can tell you now they don't suit you."

"They were clean and they were dry. Function, not aesthetics, was my priority when I chose them."

"Uh huh. And you can't just," a vague hand-wave, "magic yourself up some leather."

"Tony's clothing is more comfortable," Loki lies flatly.

"… That is slightly disturbing. Just so you know."

"More or less so than the fact that you, apparently, know them well enough to recognise them all by sight?"

"Buddy, it's two inches short and your shirt has 'Black Sabbath' blazoned across the front."

Loki pauses, momentarily thrown, because buddy?

And then there is the sound of a cleared throat, and his brain stalls somewhere between not alone and why didn't you tell me? and he whirls about to see Romanoff, scuffed and dirty and leaning against a wall, eyes resting on Barton with a look that might be fond amusement. And then, moments later, the human standing behind her, eye narrowed, dark face blank save for one vein in his left temple which violently, rapidly, throbs.

Loki stares at Fury.

Fury stares back. Then:

"Would somebody," Fury says, with awful politeness, "Care to explain to me what the hell is going on here?"