A/N: Well, hello there. Been a while, huh? I'm so sorry about that. Really. Writers' block is all I really got to say. I made a post on tumblr with a screen shot of my conviction folder, actually, showing my seven attempts at getting through this chapter. I hope you enjoy it.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, or the Avengers.
It dawned dark and gloomy on the day that Captain America told the world that it might be well and truly doomed. The temperature hung only just above freezing, the clouds darkened the sky gray, and the rain drenched New York City in a hazy mist.
"He could have broken the news a little more gently."
"There isn't much time for 'gently', Professor."
"Half of my students are terrified, the other half want to fight."
"Let 'em fight, we need everyone we can get."
"Mr. Stark, I will not endanger the lives of my students unnecessarily."
"They're in danger, already, Professor."
"Tony, is this really as dire as the Captain said?"
"We're ready to fight with you; we will fight with you, but, what exactly are we to expect? Check, Professor."
"Neither my team nor Dr. Richards' were in New York last summer. These Chitauri are a mystery to us, and their weaponry, from the information we've received, of a terrible force. How are we to defend against something that disintegrates our very flesh? Check, Mr. Stark."
"Don't get hit."
"Not all of us are as quick as the Captain or as well armored as you."
"Then die knowing that you fought for your Realm, and that you have helped to destroy those who seek to destroy you."
"Tony, who was that?"
"No one. Check mate, Richards."
"No one," A snort, "Frankly, Anthony, I am insulted. Move your knight to-"
"I know, I know," Static, "Jeez, let me win my own game of chess. How was your night, Loki? Check, Professor."
"That is positively cruel, your involvement will not be forgotten, and that is not where I was going to-"
"Check, Mr. Stark. And check mate, Dr. Richards."
"You should have-"
"Shut up, Loki."
"Do you plan to poison me again, if I don't?"
"Fair's fair, cheekbones. Jane almost cried. Clint did cry. And poison? Don't be melodramatic."
"You forfeit, Mr. Stark?"
"You and I both know that I can't win from here."
"This Loki wouldn't happen to be the Loki that has anything to do with Thor, now, would he?"
"Indeed I am, Dr. Richards."
Xavier watched as the image of Tony Stark turned slightly to the right and began typing on something that the hologram did not include in its range. In the next second, the keyboard on which he typed was visible, along with an additional figure standing to the right and behind Tony. Charles kept a straight face, as the figure, Loki, dipped slightly at the waist.
"A pleasure to meet you both," he said politely, straightening, "I have heard much."
"So have we," Reed said, briefly drawing Xavier's attention to the left where his image now stood, chair pushed out of the range of the holo. Susan Storm stepped into the image, lacing her fingers with Reeds, pressed against him so that she fit fully in the image.
"I am here to help, Dr. Richards," Loki said evenly, drawing Xavier's eyes back to where the tall Asgardian stood and Tony slouched with his chin in his hand, "Despite what SHIELD may have said of my involvement in the recent invasion of your city."
"SHIELD says we shouldn't trust you as far as any non-green-rage-monster could throw you," Susan said tightly.
"Quite so. I would not trust me, either," Loki agreed, "However, there is little choice in the matter as of now. Winter is close at hand, and war follows it."
"We were told that there were attempted forward parties at certain locations around the globe," Xavier said, "Do we know if the attacks are still likely to begin there?"
"Thanos will see our knowing of his attack sites to be even more incentive to go on with his plans. He will not be seen as a coward," Loki assured.
"Then my X-Men will be prepared to join the fight in London," Charles said with a nod, "How many volunteers have you received?"
"Not enough, and most of them young," he said, "The number is steadily rising, but, not that quickly. How comfortable would you be splitting up your team a bit?"
"Not very," Xavier said grimly, "But, if necessary, we have enough that it would be manageable."
"Then I want you to split into thirds and cover London, Rome and Moscow with the volunteers," Tony instructed, "Reed you're still on Beijing with your team and the volunteers from around that end of the continent, Avengers sans Asgardians and SHIELD agents are on DC, Sif and the warriors are on Wakanda with King T'Challa who has offered help, and Thor, Loki, Clint, and Natasha are with a few volunteers in Bogota. There will be SHIELD agents with everyone, and military units. War Machine will be with the Air Force, keeping things contained in DC. Most of the military will be occupied with the civilian population, though. They'll be keeping them safe underground."
"Underground is not necessarily safe, unfortunately," Xavier said with a frown.
"It will have to do," Tony said grimly.
There was a low ring from Stark's end, and both Loki and Tony's heads spun to look behind. Loki's whole body then turned and he briskly walked out of range of the holo, as Tony turned back around and began typing.
"We'll be in touch," was all he said before the image flickered out of view.
The image of Nick Fury standing straight, with a grim look on his face appeared in his place in just a few seconds. Xavier raised a brow.
"Listening in on us?" He asked, disconnecting his holo chess set, erasing Tony's pieces from the board, and beginning to pick his own glass pieces off.
"Tony's on Loki's side," Fury said, "It's best to keep an eye on him as much as we keep an eye on Loki himself."
"There don't seem to be 'sides' here," Susan said.
"There's the side that is watching Loki's every move and accepting his help, but prepared for the moment he betrays us," Fury said tightly, "And, there's the side that trusts him."
"And your side's shrinking," Xavier observed.
"Loki snatched up Tony quick," Fury ground out, vein above his temple pulsing, "The Avengers follow his lead more than mine. Loki knew that."
"You think he has an ulterior motive?" Xavier asked.
Charles paused, brow furrowing for a moment before he spoke again.
"If you don't think he is deceiving you, then why are you so worried?" He asked.
"He's unstable," Fury said, "Mentally. We can't predict him. I don't think he has any schemes behind his assistance, but he could turn against us on a whim, alone. If he did have some other motive, I might even be more inclined to trust him. We can work with that. We can predict that. I especially don't like the sound of these Infinity Gems. On a guess, I'd say Loki has the one called Mind in his possession. He mentioned yesterday that Thanos, having gathered the rest, would have all 'save Mind'. I don't like it, and I don't want him to get his hands on the rest of them any more than I want this Thanos to."
"And your hands are so much better to hold them?" Reed asked icily.
"My hands haven't led an alien invasion on Earth because I was pissed off at my daddy and wanted to piss him off back," Nick said.
"And I told you not to trust him," Nick said, fixing Reed with an even stare, "Coulson will meet you in Beijing tomorrow."
Fury pressed a button off holo and Reed and Susan's images vanished. Fury then turned his lone eye seriously on Charles.
"You have to let your students fight."
"They have the right to choose to defend their world."
Fury's jaw tightened.
"Scott will be leading the team I'm sending to London, Logan in Rome, and Ororo in Moscow," Xavier said, "I'll be in touch, Colonel."
Charles cut the feed, but not before seeing Fury's face twist into a displeased scowl.
"Don't let the junior X-Men out there," a low, gruff voice spoke from behind him. With a sigh Charles turned his chair and he laced his fingers together, giving Logan a long, tired look.
"They are X-Men, and no longer students," Xavier said, "Old enough to decide for themselves, Gambit and Peitr especially."
"Kitty, Ice-boy, and Marie only just graduated," Logan argued, "They'll get themselves killed. They're still in training."
"I can't tell them no," Xavier said, shaking his head, "Rogue and Gambit will be with you in Rome, and Kitty and Bobby will be with Scott-"
"Who's still half a ghost-"
"Jean has been doing better," Charles said, "She may wake soon. In turn, Scott has been much better, as well."
Slightly startled, Xavier barely concealed it, keeping his face blank.
"Chuck," Logan pleaded, expression softening, "Don't let Marie out there."
"Keep a good eye on her Logan," Charles said apologetically, "She's a fighter. She'll be alright."
Logan's face was drawn and tired, but resigned, and he nodded.
Charles, it's rather childish to ignore me. I know you have kept this connection open over all these years. That hope of yours.
I am not ignoring you.
"Go see to your class, Logan," Xavier said. Tiredly Logan left the office, the door clicking shut behind him.
Ah, good. I have something of a proposition for you.
What is it you want, Eric?
Things seem rather dire, don't they, Charles?
Are you offering help?
Charles closed his eyes, smiling lightly.
"There is nothing that infuriates me more than that man," Susan fumed, turning away from the console.
"What about me, darling?"
Susan spun back around, scowling at the image that appeared in Fury's place.
"Victor," she hissed.
"Doom," Reed said uneasily, putting his arm protectively around his wife, "What do you want? We're a little busy dealing with a bit of a crisis if you didn't notice."
"Oh, I did," Doom said, with what must have been a cheeky grin under his mask, "That's precisely why I'm calling, you see."
"What do you mean by that?" Susan asked suspiciously.
"Why, Sue," Victor said, putting a hand to his heart and gesturing to them dramatically with the other, bowing slightly at the waist, "I want to help, of course."
Loki slowly walked over to where Steve was slumped against the elevator doors, vaguely hearing Tony's brusque farewell to Xavier and Richards before quick footfalls brought Tony past him and to the Captain.
"You did well, Steve," Loki said, "Do not be so grim."
"You didn't see them all," Steve said quietly, "They looked so scared."
"They should be," Tony said, putting a hand on Steve's shoulder, "We're gonna protect them, though, don't worry."
"Yeah," Steve said, jaw set, "We'll protect them. For as long as we can."
"And, if we can't save the Earth," Tony said, grasping Steve's forearm and drawing him up straight, expression grim and serious, "You can be damned sure we're gonna avenge it. Thanos won't be getting away from this. Whatever he does to our world, we'll unleash on him tenfold."
Steve gripped Tony's shoulder briefly, giving him an uneasy smile, before walking towards the couches and collapsing on one. Tony tapped Loki's arm, and then beckoned him toward the elevator.
"C'mon, Loki," he said, "I got something in the lab that I need your help with."
Loki nodded, and with one last glance back at the Captain, followed Tony into the elevator, that then took them down to Tony's lab.
"So, I have a theory," Tony said, stepping out of the elevator and putting in the code for the lab.
"Do tell," Loki said as they stepped beyond the glass door. He spared a glance at his scrying center, to ensure nothing was out of place before turning back to see Tony standing, facing him, with hundreds of calculations and readings hanging in the air behind him. Tony tapped his arc reactor.
"This thing blocked your Glow-stick of Destiny," Tony said, "So I've been doing some tests, and I think that it should do the same with your magic."
"You've decided to let me test-"
"No," Tony cut him off, tapping his arc reactor again, "Not on this baby. This, however-"
Tony turned and slipped on a heavy glove and picked up some tongs. With the tongs he grabbed hold of a large piece of the same glowing metal in Tony's chest, curved as if it were a bracer, and very thin.
"Knock yourself out with this one," He said with a grin, face lit by the glowing material.
Immediately Loki fired a blast of raw energy at the metal. Tony swore as it went flying out of his hands and clattering to the floor nearby, completely unscratched.
"Not nice," Tony said, before grabbing the metal from the floor with the tongs, inspecting it. After a moment, he grinned.
"JARVIS, start lining the Mark VIII," he said, excitedly.
"Shall I work in the patterns you've been working on?" JARVIS asked.
"Not yet, Jarv," Tony said.
"Patterns?" Loki asked.
"Patterns," Tony confirmed, turning back to face Loki with a bright grin, "Patterns that I've been studying in your magic, and trying to recreate physically as... circuits would be most accurate."
Tony turned back to the screen, pulling up an image of a slightly different Iron Man suit than the one Loki knew and pulling it apart, tinkering with it. Loki slowly walked forward, and Tony flicked his wrist, sending an image of a, as Tony said, circuit-like pattern up in front of him. The pattern looked familiar, and it only took Loki a moment to place why. He summoned his magic to him and closed his eyes, seeing in his mind the flow of the energy as he teleported.
Nearly identical. More rigid, but still terribly similar.
He opened his eyes to see Tony's surprised face looking up at him.
"Uh, you're sort of blocking the-"
"You're mad," he hissed, eyes flicking around, scanning every inch of Tony's face, trying to decipher how a man can be so magnificent and so foolish, "Cease this attempt to recreate my magic with your science before you kill yourself."
Tony's jaw was slack for a second before he regained himself, brow furrowing and arms folding across his chest.
"I won't be the first to say I'm completely right in the head," Tony fumed with a scowl, "But, I know what I'm doing-"
"No, you do not," Loki reprimanded, "These forces are not to be trifled with. Your science is structure. Magic is not. The Tesseract is one thing. It is not true magic, and even after years of study, even though you could pick it apart and force it to activate, you still couldn't explain it! Not with science!"
"Everything can be explained with science," Tony maintained, "I can explain this, too."
"No you cannot!" Loki hissed, "I am sorry, but you cannot. Jane Foster will try and fail as well, with the idea of the Tesseract and Bifröst. I do not say that it is impossible for you to accomplish with science what we have with magic, but you cannot treat them as the same."
"So... what?" Tony faltered, looking at Loki imploringly, "I'm supposed to just accept that there's no explanation out there for... for magic, for a hole in space, for an army of aliens connected through one mind, for you?"
Loki blinked in surprise, searching Tony's face. In his eyes was something... desperate? That couldn't be right.
"How long have you wrestled with these thoughts?"
"Since I woke up on Earth after hand-delivering a nuke into space, and then falling back down through a worm hole feeling like every part of my body was being squeezed to the breaking," Tony grit out, with a twitch.
"Sir, there is an urgent call from Nick Fury," the JAVIS interrupted.
"I'm busy," Tony barked.
"I can see that, sir," JARVIS said, dryly, "However, I must stress the urgency of this call."
"Turn your mind from it, and if you decide to let me experiment more with that metal, let me know," Loki insisted, miffed at the interruption, and gathering together the energy to teleport away. Before he could, Tony gave a tug on his jacket, and held out his hand, eyes still angry.
"Sir, this really is quite important."
Loki huffed and with a small swell of magic, pulled the AC Prototype from his pocket dimension and materialized it in Tony's hand. In the next second the room faded away as he teleported into the communal kitchen, startling Jane, who sat at the counter. He ignored her, as he usually did when they were alone in a room together. He could not shake his resentment of her, and acknowledging her would accelerate his already sinking mood. Tony Stark. The man was ambitious, fascinating, astonishing, but, not even he can do the impossible. Unfortunately, Loki could see that that very thing was driving the man mad.
It was two in the morning when they first arrived on Midgard upon leaving Álfheim. Tony had been awake, drinking. A man not haunted by something would not be in such a state. The man slept as little, if not less than Loki, himself, he thought, filling a kettle with water and beginning to heat it magically. Yggdrasil's energies are not for mortal sciences to command, or to be understood by. Surely a man as intelligent as Tony could see this? If he wished to understand magic, he could not look at it as if it were science.
"So continues the pattern of you ignoring my existence."
"I do not ignore you," Loki said.
"When anyone else is in the room, sure," Jane retorted.
The kettle began to whistle, then, and Loki summoned a cup from the cupboard and a pack of tea, pouring the water into the cup and dropping in the tea bag. He put a plate over the top of it to let it steep, and spun on his heel to face Jane, with a pointedly innocent expression.
"I've no idea what you're talking about, Miss Foster," he said.
"Why do you hate me?" She asked, as their eyes met.
Loki's expression faltered, and turned somber. He turned his back to her and brought the kettle to the sink, turning on the faucet and putting the kettle under it, causing steam to rise.
"I do not hate you."
"Look me in the eye when you say that."
Loki turned off the faucet and put the kettle down with a loud thunk, spinning back around to look Jane in the eye, expression slightly sad.
"I do not hate you."
Jane seemed relatively surprised.
"When we met," she said, "You gave me this look. It was only for a second, but... it was... cold? Troubled? You ignore me whenever no one else is around, and whenever you see me with Thor it's like the temperature in the room drops twenty degrees. Excuse me if I think you hate me."
"I tried for decades, you know?" Loki said, turning back to take the plate off of the cup and pull out the tea bag. He turned back to face her with the cup resting securely in his hand, brushing the rim lightly with a finger, "to lessen his arrogance, to show him the potential of your realm, of all realms, to teach him restraint and compassion, to make him care about something other than his own glory. To make him into someone who could be king, someone I knew he was under it all. Thor has always been a good man, albeit a stupid one much of the time. When I could not, I resorted to desperate means to keep him from the throne until he was ready. Then, you bat your eyes at him for a day and he comes back claiming he's changed. He comes back condemning me for something that, two days ago, he would have done himself."
"You tried to kill him," Jane said, expression angry.
"Yes," Loki admitted freely, "I was angry, and... hurt. I lashed out, and the consequences might have been dire, were Thor any other. I regret them deeply, but I'll have you know that it is not the first time that one of us has nearly killed the other. I suppose I resent you, a little, for your part in all that happened. I do not hate you, though. You make my brother happy, and, though slightly frustrating that you are the cause, the change you brought in him was for the better. I could not hate you. I'm sorry if I have offended."
"That's not all there is," Jane said, folding her arms across her chest defiantly, "Half-truths don't work with me. What is it? That I'm human? Not good enough for your brother?"
Loki frowned in annoyance.
"No," he said, setting his cup on the counter and leaning forward over the counter, palms against the marble, "I do not think you unworthy, certainly not because you are human. I find you to be intelligent and perceptive, kind and thoughtful, yet still more than a match for my brother when he is being... Thor. What troubles me is the thought of the day Thor loses you."
For the first time since he appeared in the kitchen, Jane averted her eyes, looking down at the counter.
"Either you leave him or, sooner or later, you die, for that is what mortals do," Loki said, standing straight again, as Jane looked back up with sad eyes.
"This one thing," she said, smiling sadly, "I let myself have this one stupid thing."
"Love is not stupid, nor is it for children," Loki said, eyes flicking to the doorway where he had noticed Natasha standing around the frame of, listening in, before he fixed them upon Jane again, "Take that from someone much older than you."
Natasha left silently, nothing but the shift in the air and energy indicating it.
"Just because it will be short," Loki said, "it does not mean your time together will be meaningless. It only makes each moment more precious."
Loki picked up his cup and decided that it was time to retreat, and banish the sad thoughts provoked by the topic from his mind, "but, understand that seeing you only reminds me of how hurt Thor will be when he realizes that he will not have you forever."
He lifted his cup to take a sip, only to realize that he had lost the desire for it and vanished it from his hand to the sink, and made for a quick exit, leaving Jane to her thoughts as he teleported away. It was not malice that prompted him to tell her the truth of her relationship with Thor, though she was no doubt now contemplating the pain that she will inevitably cause Thor. There were times when he wished someone had told him that when he was with the first mortal to catch his attention, all those many years ago; that simple farmer who had caught his eye in the market upon his first visit to Midgard in the guise of a woman and called him the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
"Stark, are you listening to me?"
"No," Tony replied, staring at the holographic map laid out in front of him, downloaded from the AC Prototype.
"Well start listening," Fury growled, "Because we have a problem."
"We all have problems, Nick," Tony murmured, stalking around the map.
"My problems involve about ten different people on SHIELD's most wanted offering help, including the vigilante known as Spider-Man," Fury stressed, "Do yours?"
"No," he said, with one last glance at the map before looking up to where Fury's scowling face regarded him, "But, then, that doesn't really sound like a problem. That sounds like a good thing."
"We already have one wild card to look out for," Fury said, "We don't need more. But, I know how desperate we are, and if we don't coordinate with them, they're likely to fight anyway, and get more than just the Chitauri hurt."
"So, what did you call me for?" Tony asked, "JARVIS said it was urgent, and I was kind of in the middle of something."
"All the world's scum suddenly wanting to play buddy with us not urgent enough for you, Stark?" Fury demanded.
"No, it really isn't," Tony said, making a shooing motion, "So, if you don't mind?"
Fury's expression steeled.
"Victor von Doom will be joining you in Washington," he said, then the line went dead.
"Fun," Tony said to himself, turning back to the map.
Tony slowly sat in the chair behind him, threading his fingers and leaning back. He swallowed thickly and took a deep breath, closing his eyes. Images flashed before him and he flinched, opening his eyes.
He'd distracted himself, with the tower and with the Avengers. Even then, it was hard to sleep, as if his body knew that if it stayed in oblivion for so long he could not help but think of all these... things he couldn't explain. Aliens, gods, and magic? Tony always knew that there was a possibility that all of these things existed out there somewhere, but he didn't think that one day it would just come crashing into his life and then four days later be gone, and he still wouldn't be able to explain it. Then, there was that gnawing, grasping void on the other side of that worm hole, where he felt like it would tear apart his mind if it didn't tear apart his body first. And Loki, Loki, this alien creature that he saw so much of himself in. It was all too much. So, he distanced himself. He focused on other things. He fixed the tower, he asked Pepper to move in with him, he asked the Avengers to move in with him.
Then, he and Pepper fell apart. Tony wondered if she realized that most of his nights were spent in the lab or at his bar instead of sleeping next to her. Then, HYDRA disappeared and Steve and SHIELD got on edge. Then, the Fantastic Four happened, and the incident in Canada with Xavier's kids. Then, Thor, Loki, and their entourage appeared in his tower and everything he'd pushed aside slapped him in the face.
Of course, solving other people's problems is a lot easier than solving his own (even if the other people in question are a part of his own problems). And, finally, he thought he might be able to put some logic to it. If they could figure out how to trace the energy, maybe he could figure out how it worked. Maybe, he could stop avoiding it all and put some sense, some science to it all.
All he's done is reopen the floodgates. Suddenly he couldn't just sit here. He wished that the war will just start already so he could get out there and just shoot at the things that he can't explain until they save the world or he gets killed by aliens. Tony stood and waved away the map, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"JARVIS, new file," he said, "Iron Man Mark IX."
Back to distracting himself, then.
No one had seen Tony the previous night, and only had a glimpse of him in the morning as he darted ahead of the Quinjet taking them all to the Stark Industries building in DC. JARVIS said he was working in the lab. Thor sat on a couch with Jane under his arm, waving his other arm expressively as he conveyed a tale of time long past to her, Dr. Banner, the Widow, and Captain Rogers. Sif was not present, having already been taken to Wakanda via Quinjet with the rest of the warriors.
Barton was glaring at the back of his head.
They were all waiting. The whole world was, really. Loki opened his eyes and stood, looking out over the silent city, usually so full of life. It was almost as if the world had come to a stand-still. Loki was a bit miffed by his assignment, and his watchdogs. Thor being with him was the only comfort. Soon, Loki would be teleporting Thor, Barton, and Natasha all to Bogota, where they would rendezvous with the military, civilian superhuman volunteers, and a couple...
Not-so-civilian superhuman volunteers.
SHIELD was arranging these types among the target cities as well as they could, keeping those that hated each other the most away from each other. Thus, Victor von Doom was to be in Washington shortly, and Loki would be meeting a man called Magneto, along with a Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in Bogota. More of this Magneto's "Brotherhood" were to meet the Fantastic Four in Beijing. They were only waiting for the alarm to go off, for JARVIS to tell them that the scanners picked up the Tesseract's portals opening.
Loki was waiting for something else.
This war? Secondary. Loki would not allow himself to be distracted. He kept a firm link to his scrying center back in New York that had yet to pick anything up. The scrying had encompassed Midgard within an hour of setting it up, struggled to grasp all of Muspelheim from so far, and only just began Svartalfeim. All the favors he called in the get ears the the ground had yet to turn up anything, as well. There was no word from Angrboða, either. Loki was becoming impatient.
Of course, that would be the exact time that he felt a tug at his senses. Yet...
"Tibet," he said suddenly, interrupting Thor's story, but, then-
Wait. Not possible.
"No," Loki paused, furrowing a brow, "New York, Greenwich."
His eyes widened at the implication and he spun to meet his brother's eyes as understanding dawned in them.
"Space," Thor said, hefting Mjolnir, "We must retrieve it quickly. Lead us there, brother."
"How come you didn't find it already with your magic thing, if it's on Earth?" Clint asked suspiciously.
Loki grimaced, the pull stopped.
"Someone must have been shielding it from scrying," Loki said, "A sorcerer. It was in Tibet, then it was in New York. Whoever has it, must have used it or exposed it to Yggdrasil, allowing me to see it. I don't feel it anymore."
"We must go to where you last felt it," Thor said, "If we do not find it there, perhaps there will be some clue."
Loki nodded, holding out a hand.
"Come, then," he commanded, "Quickly."
All at once a bow was drawn, two guns were cocked, thunder struck, and shield was raised. Loki was the only one who remained calm as he turned around to see Angrboða, disguised as she once was when he knew her in Álfheim, her features like the finest Æsir or Vanir lady, and hair of a fiery red draped over her shoulder, falling to her waist. Her fur lined robes swept along the floor as bare feet padded toward Loki.
"Angrbođa," he greeted, stepping forward, "Have you found it?"
"You know her?" Natasha asked.
"Yes," Loki assured, "I asked her to search Jötunheim."
"When was this, brother?" Thor asked, lowering his weapon, sky clearing. Loki ignored him in favor of the Jötunn.
"I have found it," she confirmed, eying the tensed Avengers warily, "It is in the heart of Útgarðar, unknowingly guarded by the Storm Giants that dwell in the stronghold."
Loki mentally swore.
"Thanos knows it is there, as well," Angrboða continued.
This time the curse passed Loki's lips. He turned back to his brother.
"Thor, go with the others after Space," he commanded, summoning a map of New York and marking where he had felt Space, "Whoever has it, knows how to use it. Angrboða and I must take a stealthier approach. We will go to Útgarðar and-"
"I'm going with you," Clint lowered his bow, glowering at Loki.
"Nay, friend-" Thor began.
"Very well," Loki accepted, and once more held out his hand, "We must leave as quickly as possible. Thanos will send in a Soul puppet or attack head on with an army. We will sneak in and retrieve the Gem before he has the chance."
"Loki, no," Thor bellowed, "You will not take a mortal into Jötunheim-"
"I'm sorry, but we don't have time for this," Loki apologized, stepping forward and placing his hand on Thor's shoulder, sending him through Yggdrasil to New York. He turned to the others, handing the map he conjured to the Captain, then held out his hand, "Find Space."
Steve hesitated only for a moment, before putting his hand in Loki's, then reached to take hold of Natasha's wrist, who then turned to Bruce.
"Uh, no," he said, waving his hands and backing away, "New York doesn't need another helping of the Hulk. Besides, someone should stay here with Tony in case the alarm goes off."
Loki nodded, then sent the Avengers off after Thor.
He turned to Clint, then.
"You have everything you need?" He asked.
Hawkeye nodded. Angrboða stepped up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, and Loki offered his to Clint.
"Off we go then."
For a second, Clint couldn't breathe. A second later, he was in another world.
That was pretty cool.
Except Loki did it, so it wasn't pretty cool, and he should stop smiling at how not-cool it is and start scowling at Loki again.
"There," Clint looked over at the red haired witch as she pointed, "The Útgarðar stronghold."
Clint followed the line of her hand and his jaw dropped. It was a mountain. A mountain city. A city in the mountain. The yawning entrance was visible in the distance, as well as a tall, thick wall surrounding then entire lone peak. Dark gray clouds blurred the top of the mountain and lightning flashed around it.
It was like something straight out of the fucking Lord of the Rings.
"I dare not use magic to teleport closer," Angrboða continued, "They have sorcerers of their own, and this is the last stronghold of the Storm Giants. They have held it against the Frost Giants for millenniums, ever since the Frost Giants first came here from Niflheim. They would notice someone walking Yggdrasil's branches so near to them."
"We will have to cross the plains on foot, then," Loki said, he turned to Clint, then, "I can conceal us from them, but you must not draw any attention to us. I allowed you to come because I know that you are skilled enough in stealth to be more a help than a hindrance."
"Don't act like it was fucking charity bringing me here," Clint snapped, "If you hadn't brought one of us with you, we wouldn't have let you leave."
Loki tutted, making Clint's scowl deepen.
"I sincerely doubt you could have stopped me," he said, smugly.
Yeah, he could have.
"Let's go," Clint grumbled, then began to stalk off toward the Lord of the Rings mountain-city.
The walk was long, and Clint never looked back at Loki and the red-haired sorceress as they followed, conversing lowly in a language that Clint couldn't place. Probably something alien.
Or old Norse. Could be old Norse.
Clint just couldn't wait for this whole thing to be over. He's an optimist. Things will turn out alright. They'll beat the bad guy and save the world. Either Loki will leave, then, or, if he's lucky, Loki will pull a fast one and Clint will have the pleasure of turning him into a pincushion. Until it's over, Clint just feels... wrong. The last time Loki was here, he stole Clint's mind. It took a lot to get himself sorted, to feel... right, again. Ever since Loki showed back up, though, he hasn't been himself. Something inside won't let him be himself.
Then, Loki went and made him think JARVIS had gone all HAL 9000 on him. After the sheer terror and anger, he almost – almost – found the humor in it. And, he shrunk all of Jane's clothes. He played childish pranks on them. Briefly, as he held in his laughter as Thor said "I cherish you all the same," he felt right again. Then, he remembered, and felt wrong again. Even Tasha commented on his dark mood. Thinking about it made him seethe. She should understand that he can't just get over something like that. He can't feel safe, right, himself, while sharing a roof with the person who did this to him.
The most himself he's been since Loki showed up was when he got some time alone in the archery range. Clint looked up at the fortress drawing ever nearer.
Maybe he'll be lucky and get to shoot a giant or a Loki.
Okay, so this looks bad.
Clint dove out of the way of a large stone hand, rolling behind a pillar, only to look up and find himself about to be crushed by yet another giant. Clint dropped, the stone hand crashing into the pillar, and grabbed hold of the huge wrist, vaulting himself up and onto the arm. He pulled out an explosive arrow and stuck it in a crack in the rock-like skin before leaping off and heading toward where Loki and Angrboða stood back to back, surrounded by three giants, as the explosion rang behind him. Clint drew another arrow, set to grappling, and sent it flying into the back of one. It stuck and Clint drew the rope around a nearby pillar and pulled as hard as he could. The giant tipped back, off balance, and Loki was upon him, staff glowing green, prying the creature's head from its shoulders.
Everything had gone smoothly until they reached the chasm where the witch-lady said the Gem was. Yes, chasm. Chasm being a deep dark pit that you can't see the bottom off. It was right over there, on the other side of Loki and Angrboða.
Naturally, the Gem was at the bottom.
Naturally, there was a bunch of Soul-controlled giants about to head down and snatch it.
Naturally, Clint wasn't about to let that happen.
Naturally, Loki blamed him for the ensuing fight.
Another giant went down before Angrboða, as Hawkeye turned to the other giant he had been fighting, now making its way back toward him, stepping around the one he'd downed earlier, writhing on the ground without an arm. Clint drew another explosive arrow as it advanced on him, and fired it. This giant was quicker, and knocked it to the side, and it exploded against the wall. Clint moved to dive out of the way of a strike, but the stone fist still glanced his shoulder, sending searing pain through him. His bow fell from his hand and clattered to the ground as the giant scooped him up in his hand. Hawkeye heard the crunch, as the giant stepped on it.
The giant grinned down at him and began to squeeze, shoving the breath out of Clint, electricity moving down its arm toward the very mortal, very conductive Clint Barton. Suddenly, the giant dropped him and fell backward. Hawkeye coughed, regaining his breath, and took stock of his condition. Nothing broken, but, he got a dislocated shoulder. He looked up to see the Storm Giant smoking and sparking, Loki's staff protruding from its chest, pouring raw energy over the creature. Clint struggled to his feet as Loki retrieved his staff, looking around to see that the final giant had been felled. He looked back at Loki, and spoke grudgingly.
"It would not do me well to bring back your corpse, Agent Barton," Loki drawled, "and it would be such a terrible waste."
"Loki," Angrboða called, "We must hurry. Thanos will send more-"
Angrboða was silenced as a bright beam of energy struck her in the back, sending her skittering across the floor limply.
"Enough!" A voice boomed.
Clint turned to see a huge figure, easily as large as the giants, hovering over the chasm.
"Thanos," Loki hissed, and Clint cursed.
"I only needed them to show me the way," Thanos remarked, "Thank you for disposing of them, as they had outlived their use."
Clint reached for an arrow, only to remember that his bow had broken.
"You lose this one, princeling," Thanos grinned, and began to descend.
Loki cursed, and charged toward the chasm. Before Clint realized what he was doing, Loki had already leaped from the edge. Clint rushed to the edge, to see a small glint of gold disappear into the darkness.
"Fuck," Clint breathed.
He looked back at Angrboða, who was groggily pushing herself off the ground, then to the thin path that lead down into the abyss.
"Fuck," he repeated, then took off at a sprint down the path.
It wasn't long before he could no longer see in front of his own face. He had to slow to a jog, using his hand to feel along the cave wall, so he did not fall. He stopped for a moment, and sucked in a breath before shoving his injured arm back in its socket. He bit back a yell, as pain laced through him, and pushed himself forward along the wall. A moment more and he heard voices, another and he began to be able to see again. He looked down into the center of the chasm to see a light. Clint picked up his pace, and nearly tripped as the cavern trembled, along with a cry of pain.
"How long do you think you can survive like this, princeling?" Thanos' voice thundered, "You are half a being. You are no match for me."
The light grew brighter as he neared it, and he could see the bottom of the pit. In its center was the source of the light. It was shining bright white, surrounded by glowing blue symbols.
Motherfucking Lord of the Rings shit, right here.
Against one wall was Thanos, holding Loki by the throat.
"Aim true, archer," Angrboða's voice sounded weakly in his ear, and he spun around to see her hold out his bow, whole, again.
Clint grabbed it and drew an arrow in one motion, letting it fly toward the hulking purple alien. It struck him in the back of the neck, latching on to his armor, and sent electricity running through it. Thanos snarled and dropped Loki, staggering back and grasping for the arrow. Angrboða ducked past him and ran for the source of the light. She stopped before one of the glowing blue symbols, and raised a hand. Her palm pressed flat against some invisible surface, and she turned to Loki, who was coughing on his knees.
"We must take down this barrier!"
Thanos stood straight and turned toward Clint.
"Shit," he swore, as Thanos yanked the arrow off of his armor, snapped it in half, and drew a blade.
"You should not have brought this mortal along, princeling," Thanos hissed.
Suddenly, Clint couldn't breathe. He knew this feeling; God, he knew this feeling. Clint fell to his knees, grabbing his head, trying to fight against it. No. He wouldn't let this happen, again. Suddenly, there was something else inside his head, and Clint screamed as he tried to shove it out. Then, there was a hand on his shoulder and it was yanked out. Clint gasped for air and the world righted itself. Something else was then present in his mind, but briefly, and the air was knocked out of him again and he doubled over as it did something.
"I'm sorry," Loki's voice spoke through a din of noise in his ears, "I did not think he would show himself here, and I did not think you would willingly allow me to cast a soul-binding on you. I should have done it anyway."
And, shit, did Loki just save him from getting mind-raped by the bad guy?
His vision cleared as Loki stepped away, summoning fire to his hand, gripping his staff in the other, and charged at Thanos. Before he reached the scowling beast, the world shuddered. Clint grabbed the wall to hold himself steady, looking up to see Angrboða glowing bright purple, and symbols surrounding the light shattering. The light shot upward, becoming a column, casting the entire chasm in bright white. Loki changed course, and ran for the light. The cave shook and Thanos charged for it as well.
Loki was quicker.
He reached the light and Loki's hand delved in and reached out the other side, grasping something.
Loki spun on Thanos, his staff sweeping in an arc, a trail of energy shooting out toward the titan. The energy struck Thanos and he flew back into the wall. Thanos pushed himself out of the wall and snarled, raising his sword and charging. Eyes seeping bright green energy, Loki grinned manically and sent another blast of energy. Thanos dodged and struck out with his sword as he reached Loki. Loki raised his staff, suffusing it with green energy, and caught Thanos' sword in the blades.
And, shit, Loki looked terrifying.
He grinned like a madman as he shoved the sword away and placed a solid kick to Thanos' side and the giant went flying into the wall once more.
And, shit, Thanos looked terrifying.
He just stood back up, not a scratch to be seen, and for a moment, he stared down Loki, who stared back, seething energy and power.
Clint pulled out an arrow.
"Don't make me do this," Clint whispered, drawing his bow back.
Loki held the red Gem to the light, still radiating power.
"You saved my ass, we're square," Clint whispered, "Now, drop it."
Loki closed his hand around the Gem. Angrboða backed away.
The arrow flew. Glowing eyes snapped to Clint as the arrow flew by Loki's hand. Loki grinned at him. The boomerang arrow spun back and knocked the Gem out of his hand. Clint drew again and fired as Loki looked at his empty hand in shock and the energy around him faded.
The arrow struck him in the gap between his shoulder pad and chest plate, and fifteen thousand volts laced through him.
Loki collapsed, twitching, to the ground.
The Gem chinked against the stone ground, bouncing toward him. Clint grabbed it, pocketed it, and stalked toward where Loki lay limp. He clicked a button on his bow, retracting the prongs of the arrow, and smoothly yanked it out of Loki. He turned toward Angrboða, who eyed him warily, slowly moving toward him. He put the arrow back in his quiver and put his hand in his pocket, grabbing hold of the Gem. He gripped it tight, and he could feel it seeping through him, and God, were his eyes glowing, now, too? They felt like they were glowing.
"Take us back to Earth," he demanded.
A/N: So, there we have it. I hope you enjoyed it, because when it got down to it, I enjoyed writing it. I love writing the fantastical part of this story that I get into.
Fights are fun, too.
That's it for now. Kudos to whoever knows who has Space ;)