Title: Constricted Space
Author: Mir
Date: 19 June 2012

Author's note: Here's part two... Still a little bit of a scene-setter. I promise there is some action in my outline. It just... seems to be taking me awhile to get there.

... ... ... ...

Part 2

There are some things in life that are simply inherited. The byproduct of genetics passed laboriously down from generation to generation, the birthright of those fortunate few, the spontaneous burst of genius that results from the stars' perfect alignment... To Tony Stark - New York's infamous playboy genius billionaire - the 'why' or 'how' hardly mattered. The real sticking point was that this was his party (by God, he'd spent the better part of a week pulling everything together), and therefore, the only one allowed to make grand entrances was himself. This was genetics, this was karma, this was simply right.

The dust was finally settling around New York's newest pothole, and at it's center, stood the larger-than-life, hammer-wielding Asgardian monarch stealing his show right out from under him.

"Stark!" The voice boomed over the rising din of excitement as guests and bystanders recognized the arrival as a member of the Avenger's team (and the tall, blond, thunder-commanding, alien demi-god one at that). "Stark, my friend, we need to talk."

And so, it was with both annoyance and resignation that Tony flicked on the intercom and ordered everyone to clear out. "Party's over folks. Find somewhere else to lose your virginity." The crowd had complained piteously, and he'd almost been ready to unleash the sprinkler system on them to clear out the tower when suddenly the air filled with that unmistakable stinging pain of tear gas.

It was later, when just the six of them had reconvened in the top floor penthouse, and had simmered down to a mild roar, that he noticed the lines of stress and worry etched into Thor's face and the quiet, resigned way he sighed to himself when he thought no one was looking. He looked tired, exhausted even, which didn't bode well for the rest of the evening.

Tony poured himself a drink, knocked it back in one gulp, then refilled the glass and swirled the amber liquid as he surveyed his room. Pepper, looking only slightly the worse for wear after a full night of playing hostess, was offering Thor refreshments while Bruce sat nearby looking everywhere but around the circle people around him. On the other couch, Natasha and Clint had their heads together tersely discussing something or another in Russian... It had been the former who had dispersed his guests so expeditiously, though where she'd stashed a tear gas grenade beneath her cocktail dress was beyond his understanding. Try as they might to deny it, those two were truly thick as thieves.

In fact, the only one missing from the impromptu gathering was Steve. After the world had been saved, the captain had gone off on his own - ostensibly to acclimate to modern culture and reintegrate into society. Of course, it was equally likely that he was simply holed up in some crappy apartment just down the street reminiscing about long past decades and spending more time with himself than is clinically healthy.

"So, Odinson, I didn't realize you were one for crashing parties," Tony drawled as he leaned an elbow on top of the bar and set his empty glass down beside him. "What brings you back to to our planet so soon?"

"I'm sorry to say, friend, that it is not glad tidings." It wasn't quite sadness that colored the deep, booming voice but something closer to regret. "When we last parted ways, I took with me my brother and the Tesseract. We left your world using it's power to return to Asgard where Loki was to be judged for his crimes."

Where Stark relied on fast talking and loud soundtracks to drive his points home, Thor's allure as a orator was the raw power of a unshakable yet restrained self-confidence.

"The Tesseract is an artifact of immense power. Even I do not fully understand its workings." He paused, glanced once around the room, and then continued with a heavy tone. "We were traveling under its power when suddenly we were not, and I found myself standing alone on a planet I did not recognize. The air was warm and its weight pressed down upon my shoulders as I stood bewildered in the mud. In one hand I still gripped the handle of the Tesseract's casing, in the other, the Mjolnir. However, Loki was gone."

His audience was too familiar with worst case scenarios to gasp or at his admission, but Hawkeye and the Black Widow shared a tense look, and Tony reached for his glass again, only to find it empty.

"Believe me when I say that once I returned to Asgard, we searched high and low. Not a rock was left unturned or a path left unexplored." Thor shook his head, perhaps in frustration, maybe in apology for his failings. "It took us many days to understand what had happened."

In bits and pieces, the details of Loki's escape came together over the next quarter hour as the night sunk deeper into darkness and the crescent mood arched it's way across the sky. Somehow, Loki has managed to disrupt the flow of energy for just a fraction of a second (improbably but technically possible, according to the two resident physicists), which had interrupted the transport and dumped both Thor and the Tesseract well short of their intended destination. Assuming that Loki had let go of the casing just a breath before the interruption, he would have been deposited at a separate location an unknown distance away.

"We searched for weeks," Thor admitted with a wave of his hand. "But there was not a trace, not even the slightest lead to follow." Again, he looked from face to face around the room, meeting each person's eyes in turn. "We would have hunted him down, dragged him back from the far edges of the nine worlds, made him stand before the king and answer for his actions. Believe me when I say we would." And from the expressions of his listeners, no one doubted his sincerity.

"But let me get this straight," Tony began after a spell of somewhat awkward silence. "You lost Loki - or rather, after all the sweat and blood of catching him, he escaped and disappeared into the woodwork, and so you came here to..."

"To warn you, of course," was the immediate reply. A stern glare from Natasha was enough to make even the heir of Ashard look contrite. "Even my father admits that we do not know where to look for him. My brother harbors a grudge against your world. It is probable that he will return here eventually, if only to finish what he started." He sighed, shoulders visibly sinking as he continued. "Until then, I am to stay with you and do what I can to aid your search."

... ... ... ...

In the end, they contacted SHIELD, and Fury himself arrived just as the haze of pre-dawn was seeping up from horizon and consuming the fading stars. The clocks read 0512 (or thereabouts), and Tony was admittedly dead on his feet. Not that he was a stranger to stumbling red-eyed around his quarters after a sleepless nights of... pleasurable diversions. But the guests moping around his living room was a sullen, long-faced lot, and not even Pepper's offer of coffee (a good nutty, strong-bodied roast, not that acidic black water that government dispensers spit out) and cranberry scones could get a reaction out of the bunch.

Fury swept smoothly through the elevator doors in his trademark black leather jacket, serious, all business despite the eary hour. With an icy glance, he evaluated the scene before him and dismissed most of the room's occupants as too exhausted to be of much use. "Barton, report."

To the archer's right, Thor, who sat in a sea of scattered scone crumbs looking uncharacteristicly contrite, offered a second retelling of the Loki saga, but Fury's flat one-eyed frown showed that he'd already heard the news.

"Nothing new of note beyond what we already relayed to you. Jarvis scanned all available media and restricted reporting. There are no signs of Loki yet, sir." Clint's reply lacked any of his usual dry sarcasm, but he looked all too alert after a night without sleep, even after ceding his share of the breakfast to Thor. Tony looked up from where he was still sliding news clippings from screen to screen and pressed his lips together in thought.

"But the algorithm points to the Bay area as the most likely location for Loki to appear," he commented with a forced smile to no one in particular. "That is, if you normalize the equation to factor in weather and the Lady Gaga concert scheduled for next Saturday."

Fury was less than impressed and conveyed his opinion through not offering his host even a nod in response. "I want all of you to come back with me and stay on the helicarrier until we have more information. We're dealing with a serious situation here, and we don't have much to go on. Romanoff, Barton, I want both of you two to-"

"Now wait just one minute." Tony's loud interjection cut through the heavy stillness, and Fury (not a man accustomed to being interrupted) pivoted sharply.

"It's one thing for you to order those two around, but I've a multi-billion-dollar company to run here and shareholders to think about, and if you think for one moment I'm going to run back with you all and hide on that inefficient, vulnerable sitting duck of a carrier of yours, well, think again-"

"-I suppose you've a better plan," Fury replied magnanimously.

"Seeing how well the 'huddle on the helicarrier' one worked last time..." Stark let the insult hang in the air between them as he quickly scanned the room to take inventory of which Avengers would likely take his side. Barton was a military man and would follow orders... Romanoff was an enigma and a toss-up. Bruce would probably do anything to keep himself out of SHIELD's hands, and Thor...could usually be counted on as a fellow man of action, but his behavior since arriving had been decidedly lackluster.

"Well maybe I don't, but there can't be much worse than simply waiting for the enemy to come to you," he said with perhaps more rancor than he'd intended. But then again, he'd been in the arms business for far more years than not.

Eventually, Romanoff had backed him with a look that clearly read - 'You might be right this time, but remember I can kick your ass any day of the week' - and Fury had relented and left the Avengers to figure out a plan among themselves (at for the time being).

... ... ... ...

When Steve appeared later that afternoon looking sheepishly like he had indeed been holed up in a crappy apartment just down the street, no one was particularly surprised.

The penthouse had become something of a high-tech command center with bits of digital clippings scattered on tables and walls around the room, but Bruce (who happened to be the only one not sleeping or otherwise indisposed when the Captain arrived) casually flicked a stack out of existence on the far end of the bar and asked the remaining Avenger if he'd line anything to drink.

"So, are you the resident bartender now?" Steve quipped, taking in Banner's wrinkled shirt and unruly mop of dark hair, which was even more of a mess than usual. The room still bore the remnants of the previous night's activities with blankets and breakfast crumbs strewn across the floor.

"They're all either out or napping," Bruce commented with an indifferent shrug. "You migh as well find somewhere to make yourself at home. Thor's claimed the first room down the hall, but the one next to it looks pretty good. Some kind of library with a couch." Hospitality duties fulfilled, he turned his attention back to the nearest news display.

"Now wait a second here, Banner. All I know is that Fury, looking seriously put-out, arrives on my doorstep and says I'd better get myself over to the tower on the double or he'd drag me here himself." Rogers, who'd had the sense to pack his gear (shield included), dropped the bag on the ground with a smack. "Then I get here, and there's no one around-"

"-except me?" Bruce helpfully finished.

Steve offered a tight smile. "You know that's not what I meant."

"Tony's good at sounding the alarm but not at leading the calvary's what you mean." Bruce shrugged indifferently. "He took off with Pepper to do God know's what. Probably another one of his crazy yet brilliant projects. Natasha and I were here doing research until she went to find Clint. Thor's just down the hall..."

And after that, there was nothing to do but wait until the cast had reconvened and the next course of action set.

... ... ... ...

Well, that wasn't quite what I'd been expecting... and I really need to work on making Thor... less wimpy. Anyhow, thanks for reading part two. I'll aim on finishing the third part within a week.

[m]