After the second shrill shriek erupted from the back room, Tony turned to Bruce and asked. "Do you think they'll out soon?"
Bruce looked blankly back at him.
"No," Tony agreed. "You're probably right?" Tony shuffled his feet and crossed his arms. This was taking far too long. Why did they have to fight here?
Tony was suddenly alert. "Did they just break something?" Breaking stuff in his store!
"I think that was the light bulb." Bruce suggested to Tony. Bruce turned to the door, a light tinkling noise having alerted him to the possibility of customers. Before he could say anything, the young girl in the doorway went pale at the sound of Thor's roar. Immediately, she turned and fled. "Why do I get the feeling this was Loki's idea?"
"Because you give Loki too much credit." Said Tony, not really believing it. He stood rigid and stared down the door like a soldier waiting for the onrush of enemy troops. "I should go in there."
"They're going to wreck the merchandise, that's why!" He also wanted to kill both of them for kicking him out of his own storeroom. His storeroom! Not there's! Unfortunately, Tony had a sneaking suspicious that Frigga was equally likely to turn the tables on him as her son. And since Thor wasn't exactly a preschooler…
Bruce looked ready to reply, but closed his mouth before he could say anything.
"What is it?" Tony asked, surprising even himself by showing interest in Bruce's opinion.
"It's just," Bruce turned around and checked the front door. Despite how oddly cool he seemed, Tony thought the kid looked a little paranoid. "Why are they even arguing? What did Thor do exactly?"
Tony racked his brains, trying to remember the exact details of the exchange he'd seen. "I don't know. He just barged in saying he wanted to talk to me about something. And then she yelled at him, and then he looked terrified, and then she threw me out on my ass. It hurt."
"Anything else?" Bruce asked. He flinched as something shattered against the wall.
"Not sure." Tony replied, distractedly. He was curious to know what just happened in there. As far as he could remember, there wasn't anything in the room capable of producing that kind of noise. Like a dinner plate falling onto tiles. "Maybe she banned him."
Tony shrugged. "I guess."
"Would Thor obey her on that?"
Thor yelled something that sounded suspiciously like 'hunt' followed by a sudden, hushed silence. Then there was more yelling.
"It would explain why she's acting like this though."
"But these are Asgardians we're talking about. Hell, she could just be mad because Thor drank the last of the milk." Tony looked down at his feet, the joke tasting bitter on his tongue. "He did seem desperate to tell me something, though."
"Tell me about it." Bruce sighed, headed over to the counter, pulled out the shop's small, pinkish duster, and began to wipe the bench. "He didn't even say hi. He just asked me where you were. He's normally so-" He grasped for the appropriate word. "Well, not calm. But less that."
Tony stared in shock at Bruce, trying to ignore the screams of the Asgardians. "What are you doing?"
"Well, it's part of my job." Bruce explained, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "You know, you have to keep a clean and orderly shop."
"That wasn't in the job description." Tony exclaimed. He looked almost disgusted by the prospect.
"It was the first line, Tony."
That came as even more of a surprise to him. "I wrote that? That doesn't sound like something I'd do."
"If it makes you feel any better," Bruce wiped a light coating of dust from the top of some shelves. "The next line said that it was so you didn't have to do it."
"Wow." Tony was almost speechless. "That might explain why Natasha always got in and did it."
"Why did you think she did it?"
"I don't know. Because she liked it?"
Bruce stared blankly at him. "Why would anyone want to clean up after you?"
Tony cast his mind back to the small landscape of garbage down in his basement. It's funny how that only began after Pepper left. "I assumed some people did. Why else would Pepper have cleaned my house?"
"Just a thought, but maybe it was because she was tired of the mess you made."
"Oh..." That also explained some things. "Well, you still don't need to do it."
"Then who else will do it?" Bruce asked, a little frustrated.
"Natasha? Thor, maybe."
SMASH! "Thor doesn't clean things; Thor breaks things! And as for Natasha; yeah, she probably would." He slowed his voice right down as though he were talking to a small child. "But, sometimes it's nice to do things for other people; especially when they hate doing it!"
Tony pointed an accusatory finger at his employee. "How do you know she hates it?"
"Because everyone hates it!" Exclaimed Bruce.
Ok, calm down. Tony thought, noticing the vein throbbing on Bruce's forehead. No need to act like that's a foreign concept to me. "Some people might."
"Well, I can guarantee Natasha isn't one of them." Bruce went back to dusting.
"Then why does she do it?"
Bruce hit his head against the shelf. "Don't you do anything that you don't want to?"
"Exercising? Handling customers? Taxes?"
"You have to do taxes?" Tony asked. He wasn't entirely certain Bruce believed him, but he found the joke too tempting to pass up. Tony knew he had to fill out taxes, he just never did.
Bruce paused for a moment before asking. "How are you and Steve best friends?"
"Because I don't have to teach him how to have sex."
Bruce just sighed and went back to work.
"I make it a rule to never have sex with virgins. It's always really awkward."
"Oh, I understand that feeling!" Bruce grumbled.
The door swung open (which they probably should have anticipated because of the lull in noise, Tony thought). Frigga stomped out first, something which even Tony found impressive given the height of her heels. Her eyes, blue as crystal, flared with hate at the sight of Tony. Thor came skittishly along behind her like a guilty puppy.
Quite unlike his former self, Bruce hid himself underneath some shelves and began dusting furiously. Lucky for him, no one had ever dusted under there before, so it wasn't entirely a feint.
Frigga ground her teeth and continued. "I had hoped to come here and find some common ground between us, but it's clear that we do not have any. And for that I'm sorry. Hopefully I will be able to keep my sons together even with the damage you are causing-"
Thor interrupted her. "Mother, he is in innocent of what you suggest-"
"Silence, Thor!" To Tony, she said. "See what you have done. See how far you've ruptured the bonds between my sons."
"Not really, but continue." Tony had his hands behind in his back to hide the fact that he was twiddling his thumbs. Although there was still plenty of humour to be had in this situation, he was beginning to get bored. Plus, he needed the customers to not feel threatened by seven foot blonde people.
She gestured to Thor. "While my son is here, please just tell him you're lying. Tell him that Loki had nothing to do with this."
"I am many things but a liar is not one of them." Bruce, please do not laugh at that.
Frigga waited for him to continue but when he didn't she growled. "Fine!" It was the kind of sound you'd expect to hear from a cornered wolf. "If you won't be a good person, I suppose I'll have to find some other way to make Thor see reason." She turned to her son and said, "I suppose you're going to stay here then."
"Yes, mother." Thor eyes were fixed on the floor. Tony wondered what he'd said to her back there.
"Right." And with that final word, spoken with neither hate nor love, she left.
"Hope to see you again." Tony said with a bright smile.
Bruce glared at him like he had suggested they drown puppies. "What is your problem?"
"I'm narcissistic genius; I'm not sure that's a problem though."
Thor cut the exchange short. "Tony, we need to talk about Loki."
Tony turned around looking wounded. "You couldn't have just said that straight away. It would have made this situation a lot less awkward. Plus, you wouldn't have broken nearly as much crap." Tony's eyes suddenly went wide at the memory. "By the way, what did you break?"
"Tony, that argument was always going to come." Thor addressed the ground. "Better now than later."
"But why in my shop?" Tony asked, grumpily. "There's a whole world out there that's not my shop; couldn't you have done it somewhere out there?"
"Tony!" Bruce barked.
Tony shot Bruce a piercing stare. After a moment, he threw his hands up into the air. "Fine! What do I care if I need to pay for broken inventory? It's not like any of that matters." He rubbed his hands furiously through his hair as he turned to Thor. "What did you want to tell me about Mr. Adopted?"
Thor fixed a pointed finger at Tony. "I don't think he is doing this to hurt you."
"So, Loki wants to close down our store because he really wants a café here?" Bruce asked, a little confused.
"No, because it'll turn me against him." Thor said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"That doesn't make any sense." Said Bruce, pacing the store. "Why would he want to turn you against him? That'd just bring hell down upon him, especially if your parents found out. Which, I suppose, they kind of did..." He shook his head. "No, that can't be it."
"Rest assured, Banner. It is."
"I'm actually going to have to agree with Blondie on this one." Said Tony. He lent up against the counter, flicking through the pages of an X-men comic. "If that's how his mother reacts to the idea that I'm turning Thor and Loki against each other, imagine how she'd react to Thor turning against him without any justification. It'd hell be hell for Thor and Christmas for him."
"It's far worse than that, I fear." Said Thor.
"He doesn't just want to turn you two against each other?" Bruce asked, warily.
"No," Thor hesitated, as if the thought was choking him. "He wants to tear my family apart."
There was a moment when no one spoke, where Bruce seemed horrified and even Tony couldn't manage a quip. "Why would he do that?" Bruce finally asked.
"I'm not sure yet," Thor began pacing around the store. "But I swear on Asgard; on the gods and on my father, and his father's before him, I will find out."
"Well, that's great, Beowulf." Tony pulled himself erect and let the comic fall to the counter with a soft pwhop. "I feel glad to know that when I'm homeless and out of work, you'll still be trying to figure out why he suddenly hates everyone."
Thor glared at him and in a voice like a distant storm growled. "Stark, do not anger me."
"No," Bruce began, shaking slightly. "Tony's right." Tony gestured towards Bruce and beamed. "We don't just need to give Loki some psychoanalysis."
"Then what would you propose I do, Banner?" Thor directed with a glare.
"I don't know yet, but we should be able to come up with somethi-"
"Then you do your plan, Banner, and I will do mine." Thor move to leave the store was stopped by the startlingly fast appearance of Tony.
His hands hovered just before Thor's biceps, something he was uncomfortably aware of. "Hold on there, linebacker, you can't just go off half-baked on this."
"Oh," Thor growled, bending his head down so his eyes were level with Tony's. "And why not?"
"Because, and I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but Loki is smarter than me. Smarter than Bruce. And he's definitely smarter than you, Thor. Plus, he's planned this and he knows us, he probably knows how we'd react, and he'd certainly know that you'd find out. He probably planned for it as well."
"Then how do we stop him?"
"We, and I also never thought I'd say this," he looked between the two of them in hope that he wouldn't have to say it. When no one spoke up, he held his hands behind his back, looked to the floor and mumbled. "We team up."
"What?" Thor asked, his hand cupped to his ear.
He glared at his co-workers. "I'm not smart enough to beat the guy, ok. We're going to have to work together."
"Isn't that what we were doing with those meetings?" Bruce asked.
"No, that's what happens when you leave me alone with a lot of alcohol and a computer. You don't have any input." With one dismissive hand gesture, Tony silences Bruce before he can reply. "Believe me; I was never going to listen to what you said."
"Your plan," Thor asked slowly, sounding completely astonished. "Is to make more plans?"
"No, it's better than that." He gave them both a mischievous grin. "We need to come up with a good plan."
At that moment, with the force of a small car, Natasha slammed the shop door open into a shelf of precariously stacked comics. This worked out in her advantage, as the action of comics being ruined between the door and the wall managed to stop the glass from breaking. However, the door still rattled angrily on its hinges as Natasha screamed. "Don't listen to Tony's plan!"
When her vision finally registered the shocked looks of her friends, she felt that maybe she'd gone a little bit overboard with the entrance. She looked across at the mangled comics sliding down beside the door and let out a small "ah". She gestured to the damage and flushed, her cheeks temporarily becoming as red as her hair. "I'll pay for that."
"What was that for?" Tony asked, for one miraculous moment understanding Steve's constant judging and weary stares.
"You can't do what Tony's planning!" She ordered, her authority snapping back in an instant.
Tony spun on the balls of his feet, taking stock of the expressions of each of their faces. With a dawning smile, he said "It looks like it's back to narcissism for me."
Natasha just stared in shock for a moment. "Huh?" Seeing the look on her face, Bruce rolled his eyes and explained Tony's teamwork idea to her. Afterwards, she was practically speechless. "Oh." She looked at Tony, feeling genuinely impressed. "I was expecting something a little different to that, actually."
Tony swung around to face Bruce. "Someone's finally glad I'm being nice."
"Why, did you expect something bad?" Thor asked, warily. Thoughts of scheming brothers were flashing in his mind.
"More importantly, why did you break half of the stock to tell us?" Tony asked, suddenly outraged.
Natasha sighed. "I was with Loki-"
Three questions were pointed back at her:
Thor asked, angrily: "Why were you with Loki?"
Bruce crossed his arms and rubbed his eyes: "You're going to trust that bag of cats?"
"Is this what people feel like when I blow up their stuff?" It should probably be noted that Tony's question didn't really point back at her; rather it meandered around like a fly trying to escape a windowed room.
Natasha just stared. "Let's try that again, one at a time. Bruce?"
He stuttered. "Oh... you know it wasn't really important. I was just trying to be the snarky for once."
"Bit of a bad time." She turned to Tony. "And you asked?"
Tony furrowed his brow and concentrated for a while. He shook his head. "I don't remember. I could ask something else if it's important."
"No, I don't think that's necessary. Ok, Thor-"
"Why were you with my brother?" He roared out of nowhere. A few pedestrians rushed past the shop at the sound.
Natasha didn't even flinch. "I was trying to reason with him. To try and get him to remember the old times we shared."
"If I couldn't reach him with the memories of our childhood, what hope would you have?" Thor asked. His fists were clenched into tight balls and he looked ready to tear her limb from limb.
"Calm down, man." Tony rushed over to his side. "There's nothing to get jealous over."
"Oh, I beg to differ." Thor growled. His attention never wavered from Natasha. "I've known Loki his entire life. I've shared everything with him. I've played and drank and fought with him ever since we were children. You were his friend for a few measly years and you dare think you can get him to change his mind?"
"Well, I tried, but considering my entrance, I think you can safely assume I didn't succeed. So, if we'd move along to the po-"
Thor swung so fast that no one registered it. Natasha was on the floor by the time Tony managed to claw his eyes away from Thor's fusts. But, it involved dropping to the floor rather than because she was struck by his fist. Quick as a snake, she lunged her right leg out to slip Thor's own out from under him. She plowed up into his chest as he stumbled, hurled him down onto his back, rolled him onto his chest, and held his arm to his back in a lock. "Listen to me, Thor. I couldn't get through to him. In fact, he's gone off the deep end. He keeps talking like he's some sort of comic book villain without remorse. Like he's got some big scheme that will ruin us all. I couldn't reach him and if you couldn't either, he's probably gone. But I did manage to trick him into telling me something."
She let go of his arm and watched the seven foot mass of muscle clamber sheepishly to his knees. He would not look her in the eye. "Into telling me what he's planned for."
"Great," Tony said, slightly in awe of the attack she'd just delivered to Thor. "Why didn't you just do that to him?"
Natasha ignored him and directed her answer to Thor. "He wants us to follow Tony's plan. He's expecting it. Although, I'm not entirely sure what one he meant."
"You think he expects us to give Tony control?" Thor shook out his muscles and spent a moment stretching.
"I don't think he expected Tony to be fair when it comes to team work." She explained. Tony just shrugged.
"Then do we stick to the make a plan plan?" Bruce asked, raising his voice a little.
"In a way..." She said. She walked around the counter and pulled a wad of paper and pens. "Tony, what way would you go about stopping Loki from winning?"
"Well, if it were up to me." He placed a few of his hand on his heart and smiled. "Which it normally would be," Bruce groaned. "I would probably hack into Loki's email account and see if he sent Fury any deals. We could probably get them both in court with something like that. Something about unfair dismissal."
"And where would you do this?" She asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'd break into his house and sort through his emails."
"Are you sure that'd work?" Thor asked, as he walked towards Tony. He kept a wide berth from Natasha.
"I think so, but if that's part of Loki's plan then he's probably got safe guards. And he's got money. I'm not sure I'd be able to hack his account."
Bruce rubbed his temples. "Guessing his password isn't hacking his account."
Tony placed one finger to his lips. "It makes me sound smarter."
"Are you sure that's what you were going to do?" Natasha asked desperately, completely fed up with the antics of the children she worked with. She guessed her mum was right; she had gone into childcare.
"I could check my vlog." Tony said, an insufferable smirk lighting his face up.
"Well, do it then." Natasha barked before taking a deep breath. Could she really subject Tony to this, after everything he'd done for her? Could she really do it to Clint? She sighed, and never noticed how tense her friends were to see her like this. "Are any of you opposed to obtaining a criminal record?"
"What?" Bruce asked loudly, somehow drowning out whatever Tony and Thor said. They barely had time to look shocked at his outburst before he plowed ahead. "You can't seriously be thinking of going through with that? After what we just discussed!"
"No, I can't believe you're thinking this? You of all people!" Bruce looked as if he'd just doubled in size. Perhaps it was because he was becoming the centre of attention instead of the wall flower, but they all swore that they could see the roiling of muscles beneath his baggy shirt. "You know how hard it is to get a job with a record. How long has it been Natasha? Five years? Five years since you've done anything illegal? Five years since you've been using? Since you've been dealing?"
Natasha let his words strike her. She deserved this. Bruce was right; she shouldn't have been asking this of them.
"Thor, do you really want to have your life tarnished like that? To have employers constantly shooting you down for what you once did?"
She spoke up. "Bruce, it's not like what I did. It's only a little thing-"
"A little thing!" He yelled. "This isn't skipping on paying a parking ticket or drunk driving." Tony shuffled and looked at his feet. "This is breaking and entering, not to mention identity theft. It's a lot more serious than you're kidding yourself!"
"Bruce," Tony growled. "Stop. None of us are going to be doing anything we don't want to."
"Oh, because we're not going up against a chess master or anything." Bruce shook violently, his arms suddenly pointed angrily at whoever he looked at. "Face it; if one of us does that he will be sure to take us all down."
"Loki won't win, Bruce." Natasha said. She was trying to be reassuring, but she was too tired. She just sounded empty. "I can't let him take this store. I haven't forgotten anything. I remember everything Tony did for me and I can't let him lose his dream like this! I refuse to let Loki take this store away from him."
"I'm not talking about Loki, Tasha!" Bruce roared. Thor was even vaguely certain he felt the ground shake. "I'm talking about you!"
"Bruce..." Tony warned, edging closer.
"No, Tony!" Bruce yelled, his face going red. "Haven't you seen her? Haven't you seen the way she plays us? The way she just sits there and plays us off each other!" He looked right at her, and ground his teeth together. "What do you think she's doing? Who do you think she's in league with?"
She stopped biting her lip and clenched her teeth together instead. Her eyes rose to meet his. "Bruce, don't go there!"
Bruce stomped towards her. "Why not? I know you, Tash. Thor might not want to hear it but he's wrong. Loki has never cared about anyone more than he's cared about you." He stopped mere centimeters away from Natasha. "You were best friend and you really expect me to believe that you had no input in this?"
"Yeah." She said. She didn't feel angry. She didn't feel hurt. She didn't need to hide anything. This was the closest she'd felt to coldness in years. "Yeah, in fact I did."
"How do we know we can trust you?" He asked, inches away from her. Natasha could see a vein bulging dangerously on his forehead and decided that if she were to say anything next she needed to tread carefully.
"Bruce, you've never been able to know that. And I know that you're scared, that you're frightened that the little home you've created over the last few years might be taken away from you, but please, don't be!" Bruce's posture slackened a little back. Natasha barrelled on ahead, although this time it was to everyone. "I know it might be tempting to go pointing fingers. To say that this person has to be the bad guy because the other one's untouchable, but we can't do this like that.
"We have to be united together or we're just letting Loki win. And I know we didn't all meet at the same time," she nodded at Thor. "And that some of us don't really know the rest of us anywhere near as well as we'd like to, but that can't be what drives us apart. We are united by friendships, by the fact that we all work at the same comic book shop that really can't afford to pay us all. And by the fact that we won't let that bastard win."
"And even if he does, we'll be united by never seeing each other again." Tony replied in a mockery of a pep talk.
Bruce waved a dismissive hand back at him. "Shut up, Tony."
Natasha smiled at him. "Thanks, Bruce. Let's make one thing clear. I don't want to lose this store. I don't want to lose the best friends I've ever had. I don't want Loki to have that fucking sly little grin of his face when he walks through these doors for the last time. And most importantly," she scanned the eyes of every one of her friends, "I have a plan."
Bruce took two long strides back. "I'm sorry, Natasha." He looked down at the ground and started twiddling his thumbs.
"That's ok, Bruce, we're all under a lot of stress."
Tony raised his hand into the air. "Am I allowed to know this plan?" He asked arrogantly.
Natasha smiled. "You can know it in a tick. First, you need to figure out what your plan would have been if you didn't have your power of friendship epiphany."
"Why is that important?" Tony asked.
"Because, Stark," Thor turned around to catch Tony's eye, his arms crossed in front of his broad chest. "We're going to need a distraction."
I hate this. So much. I'm so sorry with how this turned out.
Please leave review. Especially if you can point out things that could make it better.