Walking on Sunshine
"Alright-y, welcome home."
Loki cocked an eyebrow. "You have a mansion in New York City as well?"
"Father invested in real estate. It was going to be a place for all the Avengers to hang out and stuff. It'll serve us well enough as a base of operations. It's also close enough to Stark Tower if we need any equipment to do any actual testing."
"You just wanted to keep a building with your name on it," he noted.
Stark shrugged. "Caught me there."
"As much as I can understand the sentiment, correct me if I am wrong, but your thinking computer still controls this house, does it not? I fail to see how this is any more safe."
Tony sighed. "Right. That. Give me a sec." He tapped a few buttons on his phone. "Jarvis, Code Overlord, Initiate Red Rum Protocol."
There was a moment of silence, then: "At once, sir. Goodbye, sir."
Every single light in the building shone for one blinding second, then the whole thing went dark, and a fizzle of blue, a distortion in the air, settled from the crown of the building straight into the ground. Eyes less observant than Loki's would not have been able to notice the sheild-like phenomenon whatsoever, but he could taste the electricity in the air. "And that was?" he asked.
"First rule when creating an AI is keep a protocol to make sure it doesn't go all SkyNet on you."
Loki nodded understandingly; he could pick up from context what pop-culture would see flying over his head. "So this entire building is now protected."
"Yup. Cut off from all wireless, all television, all signals, and pretty much anything interesting. But protected."
Loki nodded again, but his eyes were far away, lost in the distance of his own thoughts. He had to come up with a way to use this to his advantage. Surely, there was some angle...but no, his mind just kept returning to the fact that it could have been him.
"Loki?" A soft hand lay on his shoulders. Natasha. "If you don't feel safe, we could go to the S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker." Now that had been an interesting argument to watch the two Avengers hash out.
Loki sighed. Maybe it was the fact that he hadn't slept in a while, or maybe it was the godsawful kindness that both Pepper and Natasha seemed intent on showing him. Well, Pepper, at least. Natasha's was beautifully calculated, something he could usually aesthetically appreciate. He was having a bit of a hard time remaining removed, though. Maybe it was just the fact that he was going to be expected to work with these people, or that he depended on them. Regardless, he felt just a few centuries old, almost like after his first battle, when he had first seen blood on his hands.
"You killed it," he said.
"You killed your A.I. Your friend." For me.
"Uh-not really," Stark babbled. "I've still got my Jarvis at the mansion, the other mansion, and my Jarvis in all my suits, and...no, Jarvis at Stark Towers has probably been erased. But they're even all connected wirelessly. So it's more like I just...extracted him."
Again, Loki let a parade of emotions flit across his gaze. Fear, anger, horror, timidness, terror, determination, sorrow, then a bone-deep weariness. "So this place is safe?" he said.
"Safe as can be."
"Then I would much desire to sleep for a few hours."
"He's completely zonked out."
"He's acting," Natasha corrected.
"No one can act that well. He's asleep." They were sitting in the central security room, observing the camera feed from the bedroom Tony directed Loki to. Tony had greatly resisted the urge to just reboot Jarvis, because he didn't like having to do things himself, but Natasha had shot down that idea, pointing out that they would lose their chance at Loki's trust.
"I'm talking about before."
"He seemed pretty sincere to me," Tony said.
"He was manipulating you. Don't trust him."
"I'm not stupid. But I think he was actually upset at how quickly I got rid of Jarvis from this building."
"Don't make the mistake of believing that sincerity indicates a lack of scheming," Natasha said. "You're going to have to stay on your feet with this one."
"Are you actually asking me for help?" A grin split across Tony's face. This couldn't be happening. He wished he could get a recording of it or something. The historic moment, when Natasha Romanoff asked Tony Stark for-
"I'm asking you to do what you do best. Get under his skin. It might get me some answers."
"From what I see, he's completely dropped his supervillain persona to instead play us by the pity angle. I can assure you that it would work perfectly on a certain Norse god. You've seen Loki as crazy, delusional, and power-mad. But how long do you think you'd be able to stand if he played young, vulnerable, and misguided?"
"I don't pity him. I'm not Thor. He's dangerous, I get it."
Natasha sighed. "I am worried because of how you treated Bruce Banner. He was smart, but had a problem, so you decided to take him under your wing. I don't want you getting any ideas that you can do the same thing with Loki. Bruce Banner was a stable individual trying to do good for the world. Loki wants to get into your head and destroy you." She watched him very carefully, as if trying to see if her words had any affect whatsoever. Tony shifted uncomfortably, refusing to admit that she might have a point.
"I don't like him."
"But you could. You have enough in common that he-"
"Oh, for god's sake, we came here to get away from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s paranoia." Tony stood, shoving his chair back towards the table. "Scheme all you want. I've got some experiments to design."
Natasha silently turned back to watching Loki sleep. Tony was so easy to maneuver. Two down-well, three, if she could count on Thor-which meant only two Avengers left to convince.
Clint stared at his the text message on his phone: 890 Fifth Avenue. Stark's got a building that takes up the entire block. Wireless is completely cut off, so I'll have to get out to get you any updates. I'd give it a day before they get too frustrated. Until then, I've got them contained.
He turned to Fury. "Natasha's got it contained."
The Director nodded. "And what's your take on all of this?"
Clint gathered his thoughts. "I don't like it. Not just because I don't like Loki, and I don't like how he already made it so personal. There are too many people who think that they're in control of this situation, which means that none of us are."
"But you think Natasha can pull it off?"
"I think we'd all be safest in the short term with him dead. But I'm a soldier. You're the one who's going to worry about how Asgard will react."
Fury sighed. "This 'Asgard' is causing us enough trouble already over the fact that we haven't turned Loki over immediately. They certainly do not know the...full extent of the situation. But I'm not sure they had any more handle on the one Loki than we did."
"This way is best," Clint said suddenly.
"If it's being treated as a rogue mission, taken on by the Avengers. Means we won't have to fill out any paperwork. Less people to answer to."
Fury laughed. "Well, god forbid Loki cover us in paperwork."
"I wouldn't put it past him, sir."
"What should we watch out for?" Fury asked. "Any insight? You're my eyes here."
"Loki nearly forged us into a team. He was a common enemy. Now he's something we could all fight over. Something that could wedge us apart," Clint said. "If he wants us to turn on each other, then more likely than not, we'll turn on one another. But he hasn't seen us fighting as a team. He might be underestimating us. Or we might be overestimating ourselves."
"Anything you can tell us about his head?"
"He doesn't know what he wants. Not really. And it's likely to get more people killed." Clint flipped his cell phone closed and tucked it in his pocket. "This is Natasha's project."
"Hmph. Either way, you're going to be invaluable. You and Selvig were the two who were under Loki's control."
Clint's eyes flashed. "Where's Selvig?"
"Recover Room B36. We've got him monitored."
Clint let out an unsteady breath. "Don't think it's under control."
"Oh, I know all too well. But I've got a goddamn Council to convince that it is all under control."
Bruce Banner slouched, his thumbs twiddling nervously, as he glanced around his small room again. He should probably be packing. The Tesseract was gone, and so S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't need him anymore. He remembered vaguely something about Tony saying something about Stark Tower R&D floors. But that was before he lost his temper. Before he nearly killed his teammates and tore S.H.I.E.L.D. out of the air. He hadn't heard anything from Tony about moving in again. Then again, he hadn't heard anything from S.H.I.E.L.D. about being allowed to stay. He just assumed.
A click of heels sounded down the hallway outside, and he pushed his nervousness away. He could at least talk to someone, maybe get a handle of what was going on.
Stepping out of his doorway, he nearly ran into Pepper Pots.
"Um, hello," he said as her eyes flitted past him as if looking for an escape route and her hands smoothed non-existant wrinkles out of her pencil skirt.
"Bruce! I, uh-" She fell silent and glanced aside one more time.
"I was wondering-" "Tony said-"
They both stopped talking at the same time, then Pepper laughed nervously. "You first."
He was wishing that he could step back into his room, though. Her fear twisted straight into his gut like a cold knife. Was he really such a monster? "I...I was wondering where Tony was."
"He's at his mansion. He's really sort of...busy...right now. And you..."
"Because I wanted to talk to him," Bruce blurted. "About the opening. With research and development. Because I would, you know. Like to work. Help people. If he..."
"Oh! I am so sorry! I was under the impression that Tony asked you and you said no!" Pepper laughed, and her whole demeanor changed. "He and Natasha actually wanted your help. I think."
"Well, that would actually be really great. I'd like something useful to do."
Pepper glanced at her purse but for some reason didn't take out her phone. "Well. It's complicated. If Tony didn't tell you..."
"Please." Some of the desperation must have made its way into his voice, because he saw a flash of pity in her eyes. "I don't belong here. I just want to help."
"They're..." She took a deep breath. "They're-testing-Loki-to-figure-out-his-weakness-to-help-him-defeat-himself."
Bruce winced. "What?"
"They're helping Loki." She looked as if she wanted to scream and run or at least flinch away, but made no move to do either. Bruce was grateful. He had a cap on his anger. Control.
"Why don't you tell me this story from the beginning."
And Pepper, still looking extremely uncomfortable, began to explain.
Loki glanced up to see the mortal who usually wore the flying metal suit looming over him. As of now, said mortal was wearing some black T-shirt and Midgardian pants. It did not matter; he had interrupted Loki's sleep. The grumpy god resisted the urge to swat the idiot out a window. Somehow, he didn't think defenestration would go over too well.
He bit back a groan and stretched instead, doing a mental scan of his body. Plenty of aches and pains, a few bruises that had started healing, and-
only five hours of sleep?
"What is the meaning of this Stark," he grumbled in monotone. Fifty hours would have been the minimum acceptable to recover from everything. Considering that he had barely slept at all in a year-
"You had your nap! Come on, lazy kitty cat, get up."
Loki growled at him and rolled over.
"We can go get food!"
At the mention of food, his head perked up. He hadn't eaten in well over a year as well; he didn't really need too, and the Chitauri had no offerings fit for his palate. Not that Midgard would be able to live up to his expectations as well. But it was a fairly interesting notion.
"Come on, surely you're a bit hungry."
Loki shook his head. "We have better things to be doing. I'm trying to concentrate on not dying. I can tolerate your frivolity as long as it is channeled into something useful. And despite the temporary pleasure that food might provide, it does not serve my goals. Gods forbid I encourage you."
"You woke me up."
"You want to know a secret?"
"Not-dying is sort of useless if you're not going to be living."
That one gave Loki pause. "What do you know about death?"
"We're mortals, remember? It kind of looms over everything we do." Tony glanced down. "Most of the time we just pretend we're immortal. But I had a...a bit of a crisis. My suit was...poisoning me. It would be like is your sorcery drained your life force, but you still had to-"
"Sorcery does drain life-force. The same way that running makes you tired and hungry. As an immortal, the life-force regenerates with rest and patience. As a superior being, I have access to far more power in the first place, and the physiology to withstand it. The reason why you mortals don't have sorcery is that it takes far more energy than you can regenerate, so it would take your life." Loki scowled. "I do hope you are taking notes. If...if he decides to possess any mortal's body and uses magic, the body will be drained dry quite quickly."
"Way to change the subject. Come on. Get up. You could use some outside air. And food will help you recover your energy, right? We eat after we run. So it would be useful."
Food would give him a temporary boost to his energy, although it was far less thorough or enjoyable than sleep. But it was quicker, and time was of essence here. And besides, ever since Stark mentioned food, his hunger had been gnawing on the back of his mind. Annoying enough to keep him from full concentration. The easiest solution now would be to concede and go eat something.
"What do you have in mind?"
Stark's eyes lit up. "I am going to introduce you to a whole rainbow of Earth food."
"We need to tell Clint and Steve."
"Tell me what?" Steve was holding his bag of hand-wraps, water, and other exercise paraphernalia. His hair was damp from the shower. It had been easy, if not a bit disconcerting, to fall back into his usual routine of gym, eat, and sleep. No one usually bothered him, but there were Pepper and Bruce, standing in front of the gym door. He frowned. "Is there another mission?"
"I really think-" Pepper began.
"Loki is in danger, and we're working to protect both him and the world from him," Bruce said.
"Loki is locked down," Steve replied. Concrete and lead that would block magic and they had been guarding the basement containment room. There was no way that Loki could have escaped.
And that was all Captain America needed to hear. "Is there anything that he doesn't try to- oh, the-" He took a deep breath. "Who knows?"
"Natasha is with them. It's a mixture of Loki seeking sanctuary and them using his knowledge. Enemy-of-my-enemy type alliance. I...found out by accident."
Steve closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He liked it when life was simple, when there was one clearly Right Thing To Do, and he could simply do it. "So the Avengers are all taking on Loki as our next project?"
"In more ways than one," Pepper cut in. "There are two Lokis. One is flat-out evil and trying to take over our Loki's head."
"And our Loki is only slightly evil and in need of protection," Steve said for clarification. He couldn't believe this.
"He's really not that bad when you get to know him. When he wants to be polite, I guess. I've been talking with him for most of the day, and he seems perfectly reasonable."
Steve sighed. "The body count is over one hundred now. Deaths that are Loki's fault."
"From what Pepper has told me, this other Loki has well over three billion deaths on his head," Bruce said. "And those were just humans. We don't know how much he messed with the rest of the universe as well."
"I'll go. I don't agree with you, but I'll go." Sacrifice and compromise, that was what teamwork was about, right?
Bruce flashed him a smile. "Thank you. It means a lot."
Going out for food. Might be a nice time to initiate Phase Two.
Clint glanced at his message screen, then quickly keyed in a reply. The rest of the Avengers may be hot on your tail. They want to help. It might get complicated.
He could imagine the spy swearing in Russian. Her response popped into the window nigh-instantaneaously. Then we're going to have to act even faster.
A/N: Thanks again to all the reviewers, people who favorited, people who alerted, and people who read. It's an honor, and I'm really glad you're having fun with this. I certainly am.
This is turning out a lot harder than I thought because I refuse to be fluffy and everyone else refuses to cooperate. So I might be slightly slow? But meh, I'd prefer to be slow and well thought-out to speed updates that leave you wanting.
Let's see, one of the things that I'm having fun playing with is the "nobody-is-all-powerful" dynamic. I've read too many stories where one character, be it Loki or Tony or Steve or Natasha or really anyone, is pulling all the strings. The whole fun here is that everyone thinks they're pulling all the strings, which as Clint so kindly pointed out, means it won't really go in anyone's direction. Kind of like trying to forge the Avengers into a team for the two thirds of the movie that they all spent fighting one another...
I do realize that I've got a few spelling mistakes and what-not. I do have my fair share of excuses as well: 1, I'm horrible at editing and even more horrible at spelling, so despite the fact that I go over them I will inevitable miss a few things. 2, No, I do not have a beta reader. 3, I'm doing this for Camp NaNoWriMo amongst other things, which means I am producing 1667 words a day to meet a fiction quota, which means that I'm generally working faster than I have come to expect from beta collaborations. I'm also a rather picky writer in that I do not mind people editing my spelling and grammar, but I do not have the time to hash it out about my storytelling style or character choices. If anyone vastly wants to beta for spelling and will keep up with the breakneck pace, I'm chill.
Also, on updates-I am going to be traveling soon, then the moment that the June 20's hit, I pretty much get sucked into a bottomless vortex of summer adventures that may or may not spit me out with enough time to write. So just warning you. Expect literally nothing for the entire month of July (I won't have a computer at all, let alone Internet connection, let alone even time to sleep), but I'll try to keep writing until then. And when August comes back, I, and therefore this story, ought to come back with it.