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: Happy (belated) Easter!
Chapter 37: Fury
For one moment, Loki wants to lie. About how much he knows, about how well he knows it. About everything.
It is irrational, he knows; a side-effect of keeping too many secrets for far too long. Fury was always supposed to know. Only he wasn't supposed to have to tell him because Hill was supposed to do that for him. Hill, and probably Romanoff. Which begs the question of why the director is currently glaring at him and resting his hand upon his gun. Lips thinning, Loki drags his eyes away from him, to Romanoff.
"How much does he know?"
"Enough. He knows about Polt, the serum and Banner."
"But not about me."
It's not a guess. It's certainly not a question, but Romanoff shrugs anyway.
"We prioritized. We only came down here ten minutes ago."
"You didn't believe informing me that you are apparently now working with a wanted fugitive who declared war on earth four months ago was a priority?" Fury demands.
"Not really. Is it going to be a problem?"
"It might be," Fury says.
Loki closes his eyes and opens them again, and wills himself to be patient.
It is harder than it should be. He blames Fury. Blames the room that is too small and so like so many other rooms owned by SHIELD. Blames the memories it stirs that grate at him, striking at what control he has left like a million needles of molten steel. He remembers his defeat. Remembers being cast into a cold room with bare walls like this by Thor to wait. Remembers Odin's coming, and Thor... not. The Allfather's disappointment. His disgust. Remembers trying to stand, to sneer, to listen, as Odin pronounced his sentence and Fury watched, face blank as it is blank now, and then not standing because he couldn't think, couldn't breathe past the metal so suddenly about his throat and then— hands. Pain. Blank spots, where memory should be. Mirrors. So many mirrors.
Don't think don't think don't think—
"And just when were you planning to tell him?" he snaps.
"When he'd acted on your information and Stark's, and we had time to waste proving we weren't lying or in need of cognitive recalibration."
Logical, he supposes, if inconvenient.
He glares at her anyway, just because.
"Speaking of priorities, sir," Barton is saying now, "Since it's come up, why didn't you think the fact that the bastard was being punished here and not in Asgard was something we needed to be aware of?"
Something flickers in Fury's eye.
Don't think don't remember—
"It was beyond your security clearance level. Beyond both your security clearance levels."
"But not Hill's."
Fury's eye darkens.
"Tasha's a ten. I know for a fact Hill's only nine. Why didn't she know?"
"I don't believe—"
Loki takes a step towards Romanoff. A calculated move, and one that succeeds in drawing Fury's attention. And also, apparently, his handgun.
He raises both hands and spreads them out harmlessly before his chest.
Fury's eye narrows.
"And just what do you think you're doing?"
It says something, Loki thinks, of his battered and miserable state that the mortal truly thinks his weapon might harm him. Or is it just the lack of armour, and the bare feet? He doesn't know. Doesn't know that he wants to know, though Barton would probably be only too pleased to tell him.
"I was planning," Loki says sweetly, "To tell Romanoff that we have successfully retrieved the serum, and are currently searching for a place that is safe for Banner to hide in, in case Polt has traced us to where we are. And, on the subject of Polt, that the shape-shifters in his service have abnormal regeneration rates and seem to require the complete destruction of some vital organ— their brain, perhaps, or their hearts— to succeed in killing them. I meant no threat. It was merely that I found your discussion with Barton so riveting, you see— enthralling, even— that I did not wish to interrupt it with such trivialities as these."
Romanoff's lips twitch appreciatively.
Abruptly, Fury lowers his gun.
"... You have the serum," he says flatly.
"Well, not me personally," Loki lies, "But Tony does. It will not take him long to destroy it, I think. He is working on that even now."
The suspicion is still radiating from Fury, but the outright hostility is fading. A small step, true, but a step in the right direction.
"Wait, what? How?" Barton demands.
To tell or not to tell?
"Is this place secure?" Loki says, hesitating.
"It's not bugged, if that's what you mean," Romanoff says.
Her face and her eyes say it is true, or at least that she wants him to think it is. It is... good enough, he supposes.
"Thor told us."
"Thor? As in, your brother Thor?"
He is not my brother.
"Are there two Thors?" Loki snaps.
"Could be," Barton says, unapologetically.
Loki glares at him too.
"How did he know?" Romanoff asks, and then, "How did he get here?"
"Heimdall, and Odin. Apparently, Steve called for him."
"And you're sure it's the real one?" Barton says.
"The serum or Thor?"
Loki flushes slightly.
"I assume you have some form of proof?" Fury bites out.
"It was where Thor said it would be. It also emits radiation at a frequency Tony and Bruce assure me is significant, and it was heavily guarded both by shape-shifters and by normal humans. And they were armed with the Chitauri's venom, and prepared to use it to shoot Steve. The combination was enough."
"Steve will be fine," Loki adds, "He is unconscious just now, that is all."
Barton swears again. Even Fury looks displeased now. Loki wonders if the mortal is fond of Steve.
Probably. Steve seems to have that effect on people.
Loki decides not to tell them he punched him.
"We were hoping," he says, glancing at Fury, "That now that the serum has been dealt with, SHIELD might act to stop Polt and his minions. Always assuming that this has been what has been stopping you, and Polt's actions are not, in fact, condoned."
Far too bland, but it is better than too much of anything else.
Fury is frowning now.
"We don't condone them," he says at last. "Arnold Polt is about as condoned as you are. Maybe less."
Don't think don't remember—
"Mm. Then I may tell Tony that you will act now?"
"What about the temporary directorial override?" Romanoff asks.
"If we've got the serum, I can get the council to revoke it," Fury says coolly, "Polt was only ever put in charge to draw it out."
"Clever of you," Loki allows.
"Necessary," Fury corrects him.
"Indeed. And can I assume you have a method for testing for and dealing with their shape-shifters?"
Loki waits, face a mask of polite expectancy.
Fury glowers at him.
"Explosives," Romanoff says, eventually. "And retinal scans. Evidence suggests they don't do too well in replicating the human eye in 3D when all they've seen is its surface."
Loki considers that. It might work, certainly. If they truly struggle with that, than for anyone with a retinal scan already recorded it might work, and that should be most of SHIELD's forces. And Tony's repulsors are mostly heat, so a powerful enough explosion, targeted properly, will probably be effective. And Polt cannot have that many in his service, surely? Not when if he succeeds they will probably die. They must know that.
"I wish you luck, in dealing with them."
Fury doesn't look like he appreciates the sentiment.
Loki wonders, fleetingly, how many of his friends he killed. More than Coulson, certainly.
"... Do you know of somewhere safe to which Thor can fly Bruce? Preferably somewhere far from any cities?"
"You realise we will be verifying this with Stark afterwards, don't you?"
"Unwise, if Polt can trace your calls. But it is your choice. I cannot stop you."
Fury's expression sours.
Loki folds his hands neatly behind his back, stares at nothing, and waits for Fury to decide if, at least for now, he can be trusted.
Apparently, he can be.
The place Fury describes is a small house on a small island somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean in the middle of nowhere. He gives him its geographical co-ordinates. Possibly Thor knows how to get there, but Loki suspects Tony will have to provide him with a map for it. Or an earpiece, with Jarvis for directions. In any case, there is nothing left to say. No reason to linger. No reason not to return, and warn them all that SHIELD is soon going to act. And yet...
And yet he lingers, posture careless.
"Thor knows nothing of what happened to me here," he says lightly, to a crack in the wall. "I have informed him that I was well treated by SHIELD."
Romanoff tilts her head to one side.
"Why?" she asks.
Because I will not have his pity, or his contempt.
Because I am a coward and I cannot speak of it, even now.
Because, blind as it is, he cares. And if he knows he will blame himself for all of it.
"Because I do not wish him to know. SHIELD is a useful resource and I have no wish for him to break it. He would, if he knew."
"And you aren't planning on using that to get revenge?" Fury asks sceptically.
Loki turns just enough to meet the mortal's gaze.
"Have I cause to seek revenge against all of SHIELD, director?"
Something flickers across Fury's face, gone before he can understand it.
"Does that matter?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not," Loki says, "But as I said, director, SHIELD is useful. Until I no longer have a use for you, you are safe."
That is the way the world works, is it not? And anyway, revenge is illegal here. Regardless of what he wishes to do, it will be Tony or Steve who make sure those responsible for all of this are legally punished. Loki has no intention of subjecting himself to the mortal courts, to grovel there while his humiliation is made known to all who attend it and whine to them that the mortals he so remorselessly slaughtered dared to hurt him back. If they are not punished without that, than he will find a way to induce them to attack him or someone else again and so make it fine to slaughter them in retaliation, that is all.
He will not lose his friends over this.
"I suggest, if you share my opinion on SHIELD's usefulness, you do not tell Thor either."
Barton is looking at him strangely.
Fleetingly, Loki wonders why.
But it doesn't matter. He has asked that they do not tell, and given them a reason for why it will benefit them to listen. He can do nothing more.
These are his allies, not his friends. He will not lower himself to beg them for this.
"Is there anything else I should know or do, or that you would advise, before I leave?"
"Prioritize Dr. Banner's removal," Fury says, at last.
"And don't tell anyone where you are, after this," Romanoff says. "Not even us."
Loki inclines his head.
"Make sure Polt doesn't kill you all?" Barton offers.
Wholly desirable, and utterly useless. And yet, he feels his mouth tugging into a reluctant smile.
"I will try."
"So, why now?" Tony asks.
It's a non-sequitur and predictably, Thor frowns in confusion.
"Why'd you turn up now, as opposed to before Steve called you?" Tony elaborates.
It's not that he blames Thor, or thinks he should have. Loki aside, SHIELD's issues aren't the responsibility of anyone but earth. But still, Thor has showed up, so he obviously cares to some extent, and Tony is bored enough waiting just now that he can make the time for answers. He's already fixed his pauldron. Well, bent it back down, anyway. Perfect it is not, but it's the best he can do inside Pepper's disappointingly underequipped apartment.
"I am afraid I did not know until he did that you were in need. I have not been to Heimdall to ask of this realm for some time."
"Earth struggling to compare to the Land of the Space Vikings?"
"Midgard compares well, my friend, for variety if nothing else. No, I have merely been absent from the city for a few months, that is all."
"Did you know Loki was here?" Pepper says.
"Of course. When I realised I had not taken my brother home, I confronted father. He told me everything."
"Oh?" Tony says, "And just what did he tell you?"
"That his punishment would echo mine. He was to be exiled here without his magic until such a time that father felt he had proved himself worthy, and in the meantime, SHIELD would treat him in a manner befitting of your justice here. Father deemed that our own had failed too many times in the past to be worth trying again, and had he chosen simple execution Hela would have treated him as an honoured guest, and released him."
"SHIELD really isn't a shining beacon of American Justice," Tony feels impelled to point out.
"... Perhaps," Thor allows, "But it turned out for the best, did it not? My brother is better, now. Or at least, better than he was before," Thor corrects himself.
"Yeah. I guess," Tony says lamely, and wonders just how badly Thor's going to maim him if he ever learns the truth.
Pepper's hands are very white where they're clasped in her lap.
"What did you mean by past justice?" she says, with forced calm.
"Punishments, for the most part," Thor admits, "My brother often broke our laws; sometimes by miscalculation or through malice; other times, I think, merely to see if he could. But I would prefer not to speak of them. They were long ago, and too often they were dealt with in anger."
"Can't say I disagree with you there. Assuming his punishments were even close to what they were in the myths."
Thor has the grace to wince.
"Selvig showed me those stories. They are inaccurate, but not as much so as I would like.
"So, the one about you getting dressed up as a bride to get your hammer back. Did that one happen?" Tony asks, suddenly curious.
Thor reddens slightly, and says, more forcefully.
"I would prefer not to speak of it."
True then. Tony snickers.
"It is no laughing matter," Thor protests.
"You in a dress will never not be a laughing matter," Tony counters. "What color was it?"
"Tony," Pepper groans. "I'm so sorry, Thor."
"No, do not apologise, Lady Pepper," Thor says, "In truth, I should be used to it by now. Once, stories of that adventure were outlandish enough to be a universal jest and even when they were not my brother never tired of summoning his illusions to relive the event. Especially when he was drunk."
"Public or private? I'm reserving my sympathy here."
"Private, naturally. He would not have humiliated me so in public."
Thor grins a bit, eyes lost in memory.
"You know," Tony says, eying him, "I wouldn't really have pegged you for the cloak and dagger type."
Thor raises an eyebrow.
"Tricks. Disguises. Not smashing. You know, that sort of thing."
"We smashed," Thor assures him, "Once I had Mjolnir back, we smashed the Jotnar there in great abundance."
Pepper rises abruptly.
"I'm going to get another coffee."
Tony knows the feeling.
"But not before," he says, "Mjolnir can't be the only weapon you're capable of wielding."
"That is true," Thor allows. "It was Loki's idea."
"But you went along with it."
"Why not? Father said it was my mess to fix, and it is not as though they were—" Thor stops abruptly, frowning.
"It does not matter," Thor says, still frowning, "Only... I believe I may owe my brother a second apology. For this and... other things."
Tony stares at him blankly, but Thor doesn't elaborate.
Just keeps staring off at the closed doorway, suddenly abstracted.
From the kitchen, there's the clinking of cups, spoons and the soft creaking as the fridge door opens and is shut again.
"How did you know it wasn't him in your dad's cells? Loki, that is. I'm guessing Odin didn't tell you?"
"He did not," Thor says.
If he finds anything odd in the subject change, it doesn't show. But maybe he's just relieved they're not talking anymore about dresses.
"No, I knew because he called me his brother after his muzzle was removed. My brother... no longer uses that title. But even if he had not, I would have known. I have fought beside my brother for over eight centuries in battle, and I know that Loki has courage. He has borne whippings in silence many times, and taken blows deep enough to reach the bone and still laughed at those who dealt them. He is no coward, to cry out or weep at the fall of a few lashes, nor weak enough to beg for company after a mere handful of days being left alone in his cell."
"You don't say," Tony says weakly.
He feels sick.
He's felt sick before, true, when Loki talked about Asgardian justice, but to hear the passing scorn in Thor's voice when he describes someone crying and screaming while being whipped, to hear the careless dismissal of days in solitary confinement, is to understand why Loki is so defensive whenever he's hurt. Why he always looks so shocked whenever he doesn't manage to hide it and they still care. And he'd known, has always known, that Loki's level of pride was kind of screwed up but he'd thought it was more unique. A sort of specifically Loki thing, the result of months of being screwed over in Asgard and the void. He thinks now it isn't. Thinks, watching Thor, that maybe it's something everyone there has. Worse, is just expected to have. He wonders if Thor just expects himself to bear torture in silence too. Wonders if he ever has. Wonders just how young it was that the training for that started.
In the kitchen, Pepper has raised her hand to her mouth, and her face is white.
"Who... who was it in there?"
"A guard. A volunteer, enchanted to act as my father wanted and paid well in advance. Father himself disguised him."
Tony feels sorry for every guard in Asgard.
"Being whipped?" Pepper says, horrified.
"Well, yes," Thor says, blankly, "But not often. Only enough to keep up the pretence that father is punishing him back home."
There's an awkward silence.
"He did volunteer for it," Thor says again, like he is trying to work out what the problem is here. "And Fandral told me mother visits him often."
"Bet that makes him feel loads better," Tony mutters.
"What?" Thor says.
Silence, for another while. Pepper is frowning at nothing, and Thor is back to staring at the bedroom door. Tony taps his fingers on the side of his mug restlessly.
Dimly, he's beginning to understand just why Loki might be so obsessed with hiding the fact that he needed help, that he asked for help, from Thor.
"What'd they do to Loki in the void?" he says abruptly.
Thor's face closes.
"Has he truly told you nothing?"
"Essentially. 'Not kind', he termed it, from memory. That was about it."
"He is not lying," Thor says, frowning.
"Tasha said he told her that what happened was a fair price for getting rescued."
"He is wrong."
"Yeah. Probably... " Almost certainly, knowing Loki. "Why didn't you mention it? When you told us about the army?"
"Because I did not know," Thor says, eyes haunted, "You must understand that I never would have spoken as I did, had I not believed that he was conquering this realm solely to satisfy his rage against me. I assumed that he had found allies in his exile for whom he had chosen to betray Asgard. To betray me. I thought he possessed the magic to walk the branches of Yggdrasil, and had simply decided not to return to us. That he had ignored the grief every one of us felt at his loss merely to slake his thirst for power, and for vengeance. I was so angry. I thought—," Thor breaks off, "It matters little what I thought. I was wrong. Wrong, and a fool, and had I but taken five minutes to ask Heimdall ere I left what reason he had to muster an army here, I would have known better."
Pepper makes a noise that sounds sympathetic.
"It's not your fault, Thor."
Thor makes an impatient gesture.
"So... what did happen?" Tony says.
Thor hesitates, eyes clouded with pain, and for a moment he wonders if the demigod won't say. But he is speaking.
"Heimdall said... He told me Loki was mad, when they found him. Mad, starving and frozen. He had forgotten how to speak. They taught him to scream first. Then, to listen and to obey. When he could understand once more, they asked him questions: How had he lived through the void? Where had he come from? Did he know where Midgard was? Could he get to it. Always, they were interested in this realm. How to get here, how well it was defended, how easy it would be to take the tesseract from it. The punishment for not answering was pain; the reward, sleep. Heimdall said they used to play strange, shrieking melodies or cut him with claws dipped in their venom to keep him awake unless his answers pleased them. They did not please them often."
Thor's voice is flat and factual.
Tony feels a cold horror sweeping through him.
"It had been centuries since last we visited this realm. He knew enough from visiting me during my exile to tell them a little, but no more than that. He tried anyway. Tried, when he could not answer, to satisfy them instead with lies. Heimdall said his spirit pleased them enough to offer him a choice. To come to this realm, to retrieve the tesseract for them and be free of them, or to be cast out once more, back into the void. They did not hate him, they said, but if he was useless what point was there in wasting their food and their shelter in keeping him? What point in risking him telling their enemies of them or trying to take the tesseract for himself first?"
"That's—," Tony chokes, hand clenching.
He can almost see Loki now, the strange smile and the shuttered eyes and, 'My allies were not kind'.
"Yes," Thor says bleakly. "Apparently, he did not take long to decide. Or to force them to help him win this realm, once he was free of them."
"Tough little bastard, isn't he?" Tony says, eventually.
"He is," Thor agrees.
Pepper's returning now, coffee in hand.
She seats herself next to Thor.
"It's not your fault," she says again, more forcefully.
"Is it not? Had I but asked— But I never did. And then, within two days of his theft of the tesseract, I returned for him," Thor says, lip curling. "I returned, speaking of brotherhood. Of mourning, and the fact that I missed him. I cannot blame him for hating me, then and now. How empty my words must have seemed to him, when my first act after seeing him was to demand the tesseract mere moments after I had stolen him from your vessel and cast him on his back to the ground."
Tony is silent.
He feels for Thor. He feels for Loki. Hell, he feels for Heimdall, stuck seeing that with no one bothering to ask.
"Wait, why didn't Heimdall just tell you anyway?" Tony demands.
"He was forbidden to do so. Odin told me that he felt it would be best if none of us knew the truth, to save us the guilt of failing to rescue him. He had not the strength to send anyone beyond the known realms, or take them back. That burden is one he bore alone."
Bore alone his ass.
"I do not know why he did not allow Heimdall to tell me later. I can only assume they thought I no longer cared."
"How could I not care?" Thor demands, "He is my brother. I thought I would have time once we returned to Asgard, once I had stopped him, to reason with him properly. I thought that once he was returned to us all would somehow make sense. And now," Thor says unhappily, "Now, you have seen him. He refuses even to call me 'Thor'. I am 'Odinson' when he deigns to address me by a name at all. And I do not know what to do to fix it. I assumed that he must have always wanted the Throne of Asgard. I assumed he had waited like a coward until I could do nothing to defend myself against him before acting to destroy me and my friends, and even then had not the courage to own his actions but used my mother and my father as a shield. I never asked why he might be so suddenly desperate to prove himself, or what part of the guilt lay with me, that the moment he knew he was not my brother by blood he assumed I would immediately turn against him. And then, after the void, I assumed he had told no one that he lived by choice, and that he was the one who had offered them a way to the tesseract and so made this realm their target. I assumed—And none of it was right. I was not there when he needed me, and I cannot fix it because he refuses to openly hate me. There are only polite deflections that I cannot shatter and a look he has that says he would like someone to hug him but will stab me if I try. I have tried to ignore it, to treat him as though nothing has changed, and it is not working. I begin to fear perhaps it never will. I do not know how to fix this."
It's like watching a kicked puppy. Even Thor's hands are radiating bewildered misery.
"If it helps, I'm pretty sure the fact that you were fairly openly anti-frost-giant for a millennia or so is also a factor in the hate."
Pepper shoots him a 'not helping' look.
"I have told him I no longer despise their kind."
"Okay. That's probably a step forward. I'm also eighty-six percent sure he does still care about you. I mean, when he talked about you, it always sounded like he missed you. And he definitely called you Thor."
Thor looks wistful.
"You think he can forgive me, then?"
Maybe? If you were apologizing for remotely the right thing.
But then, if Thor's right, maybe this is something that needs forgiving too.
And if it's not... well. Loki has to know he would be sorry. That has to factor in somewhere, right?
"Sure of it," Tony says.
Thor smiles a bit, before looking glum again. Tony gives up.
"To messed up families," he says, raising his coffee, and drinks.
"Fury was there," Loki says, when the room stops blurring.
Everything hurts, and his hands are shaking again. Lovely.
He can hear Thor talking to Tony and Pepper, in the other room. Can hear his voice, low and serious, and wonders what it is that he is saying. Wonders—
"He was?" Bruce says, sounding concerned.
It should be concern about the plan, but Loki suspects that it is for him. He would mind, but his head aches too much just now to truly care.
"Amusing, isn't it? But he was. He didn't shoot me. I think, perhaps, he may even come to tolerate me, eventually. I wonder if the clothing helped."
"Did he know? About your— Could he have stopped it?"
Thor is sounding unhappy.
Why is he unhappy?
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. I do not think I asked."
"Because I am currently his ally and until I can afford to not be I do not wish to know. And anyway, I was busy discussing more important matters. Tell me, Bruce, how do you feel about—"
Loki stiffens, suddenly, every sense screaming a silent warning.
He lurches to his feet, drunkenly reaching for— what?
Bruce's arm, and Steve's, and his hands are closing about them like a vice.
"Get on the floor."
"Loki, what is it?"
Loki doesn't answer. Doesn't have time to answer, because he's on his knees, dragging Bruce down with him, as above them something small and blunt slams almost soundlessly through the walls, passing through the air mere inches from where Bruce's chest had been. Bruce's arm freezes beneath his, and he can feel the pulse there fluttering wildly.
Loki swears, fluently, in dwarven.
"Get to Thor," he hisses.
Two more bullets slam through the walls above them.
Do not lose control, Bruce, don't lose control please do not lose control—
"Get to Thor."
"How?" Bruce demands.
"Run. Crawl. Does it matter? Just—"
And then the window is shattering and a small, round, silver ball rolls innocently into the corner.
They are out of time.
Loki knows it, feels it, and he is reaching for the threads of magic before he even begins to ask himself if he has the strength for this. And even when he does think of it, the thought is fleeting, lost in the jumbled mess of rage and fear and need that churns inside. And then he is moving and it is working and the world wrenches from beneath him, and he is flying or maybe falling and he should not have done this because he's taking them somewhere and he doesn't know where, and it is as though his tongue and eyes are melting while a white-hot knife inside him tears everything apart.
One moment, everything lasts. And then they are gone.
Behind them, the room explodes into molten light.
Thor's on his feet and summoning Mjolnir seconds after they hear the glass shatter.
Tony's before him because he hasn't got a weapon to delay him, and he's about to open the door when Jarvis reports spiking heat levels and incoming force waves from the other side. He's got just time enough to blast himself backwards because Pepper is here and she's the only one who isn't protected by anything and won't get up if anything goes wrong before the explosion throws him sprawling across the room. The heat sears his shoulder, where it's exposed, and later he'll probably feel that but not now.
Now, he's firing up his repulsors to get up from the crumpled mess that used to be the sink because the wall's gone, the roof is partly gone, the sprinklers are going off and there's screaming now from above and below and—
The couch shifts, where it's been flipped one-eighty, and it's Thor.
Thor, not even a bit singed, which Tony might resent him for only he's holding an unconscious, bruised, but definitely alive Pepper Potts safely wrapped inside his cape. He's not shaking with anything and his hands are absolutely steady and Thor, sensibly, does not even hesitate before passing Pepper across. And then he's scanning for where that came from and nothing's coming up. Why isn't anything coming up? This is what Jarvis' cameras are there for.
"Loki!" Thor shouts. "Bruce!"
No life forms registering on the HUD either.
They must have, what, jumped? They can't have been incinerated. Not Bruce.
Please don't be them who screamed.
"Thor, we need to—"
"I need do nothing, Tony."
'Sir, another grenade is incoming.'
"Why didn't you do that for the first one?"
'They are firing from a blind spot, and I am afraid the walls interfere with my scanning protocols.'
Damn the walls.
"Thor, we need to leave."
"Then leave," Thor says.
"Thor, that room is empty. They're gone. Most of it is gone. The people upstairs need help getting out."
"You know what, if you want to stay here, stay here. But at least take this for me. Keep in contact. Try not to get blown up, okay?"
He doesn't wait for the reply. Doesn't even wait to see if Thor catches the earpiece he tosses him. Instead he focuses on blasting upwards and flying and on the little red blip on the radar that's moving towards them, and then he's out the hole where the window was flying high because it's better than low and he has no idea where is safe. Behind him, the room explodes again.
"You okay Thor?"
Static. Static's better than nothing, though.
Why didn't he give one of these to Bruce and Loki when he had the chance?
"I am well," Thor says, through static. "They are gone."
"I told you that. Didn't you hear me tell you that?"
Silence. Probably frowning silence.
"So, where are they? Streets below? Different floor? Talk to me."
"Neither. I believe they have teleported, but I could be wrong. Whatever they have done, it is my brother's work. What is left reeks of his magic."
"So they're going to be okay, right?"
"I know not. That depends upon where he has taken them. He was not well and our enemy has eyes everywhere."
"Not reassuring right now."
There's shouting from the other end, and maybe crying. Then:
"I am helping those trapped upstairs now. Do you know where they are striking from? This task would be easier if I could resolve that threat."
"Working on it."
He needs to plan. Needs somewhere safe to put Pepper to fly back and help. Needs—
"Jarvis? Call Clint. Now. And scan for where those things are coming from."
Seconds later, his own face is flashing before him, smiling. Tony keeps flying.
Come on. Don't be compromised, don't be dead. Take the call.
"Tony," Clint's voice says, seconds later, "Tell me Loki wasn't kidding, you're actually you, I haven't been hallucinating and you've got the serum?"
"Not got it. He has. And also several explosions: I thought SHIELD was going to step in before this."
"Yeah? Well, that makes two of us."
There's a low murmur on the other end of the line. Then:
"But Word of God is, we're moving now."
"Good. Late, but good. I'm out. Pepper's out. Thor's helping everyone else in the block out. Want him to help you out?"
"We could always use the muscle. We've got agents there mobilizing now."
"Okay, good. I'll connect you to his earpiece. And see if you can work out where those grenades are coming from."
"We'll try. Cover story's an act of terrorism, for the record."
"Because you know how I am with cover stories."
"I seem to recall a number of military training exercises you handled just fine."
"Rhodey. Rhodey handled them just fine."
"... Maybe just avoid the press then."
"I'm going to want a salary if Fury expects me to actually listen to him."
"I don't think he could afford you."
There's a moment of silence. Then:
"Is anywhere safe?" Tony asks.
"We got a couple of spots. Why?"
"Pepper. Got hit, just a bit, by the blast. I need somewhere safe for her. Preferably with a doctor."
And maybe a garage.
And in the meantime, he'll work out where Loki went.
Where he went, and where the hell he took Bruce and Steve.
Please be okay, Robbie.
Please be alive.
Please don't be found by Polt first.