*is waiting for you on your sofa with a guilty smile and fresh cup of tea with your name on it* Despite numerous rumors to the contrary, I am not dead. Shocking right? It's been an inexcusable amount of time since I last updated, I'm ashamed of my unreliable nature, but good news, dear public! I'm gonna finish this beautiful bitch out if it kills me AND I'm going to re-upload edited versions of all previous chapters. No more annoying amateur typos! So this story may be under maintenance, but if things look a bit wonky, its because I'm in the process of fixing them. I'll try to be as inconspicuous as possible. We're coming up on the end, darlings mine, but not before a thunderous finale. So find your seats and buckled yourselves in, if I haven't lost your interest; it's going to be one helluva ride.
The happy contentedness of the room was shattered so fast you could almost hear the tinkling of glass. All the color drained from Tony's face and Loki suddenly felt very weak, bracing himself on the arm of the couch.
"Loki?" Sigyn breathed, reaching out for him. "What troubles you?"
He could not answer her. Bruce stepped forward, squeezing her shoulder gently.
"Everything's going to be alright, Sigyn. Would you please go fetch Steve for me?"
"But my husband-"
"Needs a moment. Please."
Sigyn rose reluctantly and disappeared down the hall to rouse Steve from his afternoon nap. Bruce turned to Loki.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course," The god snapped testily. Tony tried to take his hand and sit him down, an unprecedented display of concern for the billionaire, but Loki wrenched his arm away.
"I am not a child, Stark."
"Suit yourself. What did he say?"
"I…I don't know; something about collecting on a debt. It made no sense, I…You said this was going to solve our problems, I knew it would go awry! You have no idea what you've started, Stark, your mortal hubris is going to reign destruction down upon you and your house-"
Tony had heard enough. Loki was working himself up into a rage to hide his fear and Tony wasn't in the mood to listen to a super-villain monologue. He stepped forward and gripped Loki's arms tightly, ignoring the god's uncomfortable squirming.
"Christ Loki, shut up and let us help you."
"I h-hate you," Loki spat, still trying not to hyperventilate from the phone call. His hands were shaking.
"Yeah, I know," Tony muttered, rolling his eyes and yanking Loki into a hug.
"Let me go."
Breathe, Lokes. If you pass out I'm gonna take pictures, so don't."
Loki caved. He hugged Tony back, winding his fingers into his shirt and hanging on for dear life the way he had when Bruce had comforted him after one of Tony's tricks brought on a panic attack. He choked out a sob, allowed Tony to awkwardly but sincerely soothe him, then shoved the mortal away. Loki's face was smooth and untroubled, as if his sudden display of emotion had never happened. If anything, he was angry.
"I want very much for this to be over and done with."
"You and me both," Tony sighed.
It was then the pair of them noticed a faint electronic murmur, like music being pumped through speakers in the next room. Bruce figured it out first.
"The phone. You never hung up."
"The shade's still on the other end."
Loki's eyes fell to the cell phone lying harmless on the carpet, assessing it like a venomous snake.
"You don't have to," Tony said quietly.
Loki took a deep breath, then strode to the phone, picked it up, and snapped it to his ear.
"I swear on Valhalla that is this is not genuine I will hunt you down, skin you like a basilisk and leave your carcass for the dogs to fight over."
"Getting right to it," Tony muttered, pouring himself a stiff drink.
For a moment, Loki heard nothing but static. Then a voice came through.
"So violent, dear. I was wondering where those tendencies came from. A pity the man of iron and his friends have you tamed. You have a deliciously dark imagination."
Loki was so full of hate and confusion that his magic burned and buzzed in his skull, gathering at his temples to produce a throbbing headache.
"Kindly cease and desist your efforts to incite me with petty wordplay. I would not have contacted myself without reason and can safely assume that you haven't either."
"Oh so you believe that I am who I say I am? No agog and aghast denials? No stuttering 'but hows' and 'impossibles'? Oh you're no fun at all, dear."
Loki's teeth ground together as resisted the urge to snarl like an animal.
"I tire of your games! Of course I'm the tiniest bit curious as to how you managed to escape, but I did it once so it isn't illogical to assume-"
"That you did it again! You're sharper than I had hoped. Would you like to know how many Chitauri I killed in my daring escape?"
"It hardly matters!"
Sigyn reappeared tugging Steve behind her by the sleeve, and while Tony quietly explained the situation to his commanding officer, Bruce smoothed the shaken elf's hair as he would a child, insisting in his gentle tones that all would be well.
Over in his corner, Loki had his forehead pressed against the wall and was doing his best to maintain his composure. He knew himself, he knew his buttons. Demeaning the shade would inevitably result to violence, while speaking to it with respect and sincerity might make information more forthcoming.
"I…Am certainly grateful you managed to escape, however. The Chitauri-"
"Are what?" The shade snarled, suddenly vehement. "A fate you would wish on no-one, brutal beyond comparison? And yet you made me live through it twice, malignant bastard that you are!"
Loki felt like he had been slapped. He straightened suddenly.
"I…We had no other choice! It was a shot in the dark, we had no idea how sentient you would become. I'm so sorry, please. You of all people must know I am sincere."
The shade scoffed low in his throat, a distinctly Loki quirk. "Now I know why they call you the Liesmith. But you know something, brother mine? That's not even what I'm truly enraged about. Do you know what really has me livid? The way you've allowed yourself to be declawed by these writhing insects you call humans. I have your memories, you'll recall, I know what a thrill it is to be worshipped as a god and feel chaos coursing through your veins. When's the last time you reigned down destruction, hmm? Have you tasted power at all since you went cowering to the Avengers with your tail between your legs?"
"All is not as you remember it, worthy shade, your recollection is stunted. Much has happened since they took me in-"
"A," The shade deadpanned eloquently. "I am not your "shade". I have a name, one you are no longer worthy of bearing, so you will refer to me as Loki if you wish to keep your tongue. B: I see right through your court courtesies, you serpentine brat, and they hold no sway over me. And C: I don't really give a damn what happened or who hugged it better or how much therapy you went to. I didn't come all the way back to Earth to listen to your excuses; I came to dethrone to false king and claim my title as god of lies. I believe you will find me quite the single-minded man, as you were before your "re-education"
"This is a coup, then? This is the thanks I get for giving you life?"
"This is revenge, darling, cold as Jotun steel and sweet as fresh blood in the water. And it begins now. Kindly look out your window."
Loki felt the blood in his veins congeal, then, swallowing, he strode over to the bulletproof glass that made up a wall of the common room. Across the bay and in clear view of Loki and the rest of the world, the Brooklyn Bridge was burning.
Within seconds, Sigyn and the other Avengers were crowded around Loki, looking on in horror as an American landmark sizzled and bowed in the afternoon sun. The entire structure was alight, with a thick, angry column of black smoke spiraling heavenwards above.
The cell phone slipped anticlimactically from Loki's hand, hitting the carpet with a dull thud. "It's the shade," He croaked. "He did this."
"Call Nat and Clint," Steve said brusquely, snapping everyone out of their horrified trance. "Get your armor, Tony. Loki, suit up, find your brother, and move out. We'll meet up on the Brooklyn side of the bridge."
Tony was already on the phone with Natasha and halfway to his lab, gesticulating wildly for Loki to follow. He did so reluctantly, with a dazed expression on his face, one once Tony was off the phone and shouting at JARVIS to get his suit ready, Loki voiced his concerns.
"I'm not positive I understood the captain correctly…"
"Sure you did. Or would you like it in Asgardian? Verily I say unto thee, rouse thine brother from his slacker slumber, don the armor gifted to thee by the metal angel who bears the name Stark, and get thy celestial ass to the bridge."
"So this is an assemble?" Loki pressed. "I'm to fight alongside you like a bother-in-arms?"
Tony shot him a glare. "Please don't tell me you're having one of your low self-esteem moments, because if you haven't noticed, New York is on fire. Again."
"And I set the fire twice over, once when I made that wretched creature and again when he exacted my darker tendencies on your world! This my doing, Stark!"
Tony didn't have to ask to know what Loki was feeling. Worthlessness. Guilt. Anger. Betrayal. Shame. He didn't have to ask to know how uncomfortable it was for Loki to appear in the public eye, team up with his brother, deal with the shade, or play with others, much less all at once, so he spared Loki the pep talk and cut straight to the part where shit got done.
"So are you going to let that abomination steal your limelight, or are you gonna school his ass on how a real full-tilt diva runs this bitch?"
It was unclear as to whether Loki grasped the entirety of Tony's slang but regardless, something about the set of his jaw and the glint in his eye clicked into place.
"JARVIS," Loki (who may or may not have wired the A.I. to respond to his commands as well as Tony's during the Tower's magic overhauld) said with a snap of his fingers. "I require my battle armor."
"Certainly, my liege," JARVIS said, and Tony was (reluctantly, maybe with a bit of surprise) in such anticipation of seeing Loki back in his element that his didn't even pass comment on the new programming.
Back in the living room, Steve turned to Bruce, who was wringing his hands and gaping at the damage with an anxious air.
"I my assumptions about gamma radiation are correct, then Loki's shade should have some sort of signature, yes?"
Bruce nodded. "The mixture of gamma signals, Loki's magic, and extraterrestrial radiation would be unmistakable."
"Could you trace it?"
"I could try."
"Good. You stay here, do your best to get a lock on the shade, and make sure Sigyn gets home safely. Miss," Steve said, indicating Sigyn and bringing her knuckles to his lips in a gentlemanly kiss. "Sorry to cut your visit short like this, but your husband has to work now."
Sigyn nodded, regal and put together as ever. "Completely understandable, captain."
"I'm glad. I leave you in Doctor Banner's capable hands. Bruce, I want regular status updates."
"Can do, captain."
Steve nodded in a military manner than strode off to suit up. Out the window, Bruce could see Clint and Natasha speed out of the Tower garage in matching matte black SHEILD motorcycles and weave through the street traffic towards the bridge.
Sigyn folded her arms underneath an oversized sweater of Loki's and watched the bridge burn, delicate eyebrows knitted together with a particular intensity. Bruce stared at her awkwardly for a few minutes, trying to think of what to say, then offered gingerly,
"Can I help you pack you things?"
Sigyn looked at him with the faintest smile on her lips. "Elves travel light, son of man. I'll manage just fine."
"…You have travel arrangements?"
"My magic is the only arrangement I need." She took a few steps toward him, looking up at him with pale, otherworldly eyes. "I know my husband has done something terrible, but you are his friend. You must keep his safe. This world is as alien to him as it is to me, and there are few of its people he respects as much as you. Do not let him die on a foolhardy mission to clear his name."
"I'll do my very best, Ma'am," Bruce murmured, trying very hard to look sure of himself.
Sigyn rose up on her tiptoes and pressed a rosepetal-soft kiss to his cheek. "You're a good man." She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Don't tell the others, but you're my favorite."
Sigyn let out a peal of chittering laughter, then promptly fizzled out of the visible spectrum. Bruce gaped at the empty air where she had once stood, then remembered his mission and sprinted into the lab to rev up his machines and hunt down the son of a bitch who had ruined their Sunday.
Up next week: Attack on New York mach 2! Hostage crises! A Loki vrs. Loki showdown! The full team at their ass-kicking best! Tune in!