Surprisingly, it had started off really well.
For an idea that had such potentially terrible consequences, giving Clint the mind-control scepter for him to take over Loki with had actually seemed to solve several problems.
Loki hadn't killed anybody, and Clint hadn't killed him, so everybody had been happy.
"What the hell are those things doing in my tower?" Tony definitely didn't scream. Nope. That was manly rage, right there. Totally manly, justified, rage. He was not screaming like a little girl. Not a chance.
"Agent Barton wanted them," Loki said like that explained everything.
It kind of did, since Loki currently did whatever Clint wanted. If Clint had wanted this abomination, Loki would have made it so.
But that begged the question of why, in the name of all that was holy, like double espresso shots and those Krispy Kreme donuts with the custard in the middle, Clint would want these?
"Did he now?" Tony said, turning to Clint. "Well, I want to know why my sacred space has been polluted by this atrocity."
Clint rested a protective hand on top of the offending box, and scowled. "Firstly, this doesn't go any further, and I will know who to kill creatively if I hear this anywhere outside this room."
Tony swallowed, doing his best not to appear completely terrified. "Deal. Now spill."
Clint sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "So I never went to high school, and I wanted to know what it felt like. What kids do, what they say, what they read… I just wanted to know what I missed out on."
"But Twilight!" Tony howled. "What's wrong with Harry Potter or, I don't know, Shakespeare or something, I read loads of Shakespeare in high school. But why did you want to read Twilight?"
"It wasn't Twilight specifically," Clint snapped. "And obviously, I've never read it so I don't know what your problem is with it. But I just wanted to experience something that I would have if I went to high school. That's all. No big deal."
"They're autographed," Loki said, smiling widely and apparently completely sincerely.
"Whoa, they? Just one wasn't enough? You have to read all of them?"
"Will you shut up about this already? It's not that big a deal. They're just some books, okay?"
"No, those are not books. Those are crimes against mankind. Those are forbidden under the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg Principles."
"Gotta say I doubt that."
"They will be," Tony grumbled. "I'll make it happen."
"There is no way you can declare a series of books a war crime."
"There should be no way you could ask for that series of books."
"I didn't ask for them."
Clint shifted uneasily, and Tony recognized the signs of an impending serious talk about when Clint was under Loki's control. "The staff, it doesn't just make you obey orders. You don't just do what you're told, you do what the wielder wants you to do, even if they don't say it. Right after Loki took me over, he didn't have to say a word, and I put my weapon away and warned him that Fury was trying to kill us all. Because he wanted to be warned of threats."
"He was very helpful."
"Shut up, Loki. The point is that I didn't have to ask. I just wanted something teenagery."
"I'm not sure I want Loki fulfilling all your deepest dark desires. Are we all going to wake up with arrows tattooed over our hearts?"
"Why would I want that? That's disgusting."
"So are those," Tony said, stabbing a finger at the elegantly-packaged set of books.
"I'm not exactly comfortable with this, either. It's not like I want my every wish put on display."
"Then tell him not to."
Clint squirmed again. "It doesn't work like that. I can't order him not to follow my orders. It's an all-or-nothing deal." He sat down heavily, carefully between Tony and the box of books. "Maybe this isn't working out."
"You're telling me," Tony said bitterly. "This used to be a place of purity and goodness, more or less, and first he had to invade it and then those did! And it's his fault! Again!"
"Maybe you should take the scepter," Clint suggested. "All you care about is robots, right?"
Tony snorted at the stupidity of that idea. "It's not like I've never fantasized about the whole taking-over-the-world-with-an-army-of-robots thing, every self-respecting genius has. I'm even less safe than you."
"Well, who would be safe?"
"Thor," said Loki.
"Thor is extremely simple in his desires. In every way, in fact. If he cannot pummel it or eat it, it does not interest him. All I could do for him would be serving food and wiping the blood from Mjolnir. Hardly actions that would cause Mister Stark such distress as this has."
Hmm. That actually seemed to work pretty well. Loki was right, Thor was a pretty simple guy. Almost Hulk-like in his focus. Smash and eat. And best of all, he didn't even know what Twilight was! Tony snapped his fingers at Clint. "Make it so, Number One."
Clint stuck out his tongue, but stood up anyway. "I had you pegged for more of a Kirk type."
"Patrick Stewart. End of discussion."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
Thor had been less than thrilled with the thought, but comforted when Clint had told him Loki had suggested it. For a while, it had seemed that Loki had had the right idea. He brought Thor Pop-Tarts and coffee, and even though he was technically responsible for introducing Thor to Red Bull, Tony was willing to consider that an unfortunate accident and not an open act of evil. The footage he'd uploaded to Youtube had already passed a million hits.
Aside from the whole Red Bull incident, Loki was being good.
"How many are there?" Steve asked, looking over Tony's shoulder. Tony had braced himself in the doorway of Thor's room, certain that without the support he would collapse.
"Thirty-four, sir," said Jarvis.
"Thirty-four. Goddammit," Tony hissed. "Where did he find them?"
"Could be worse," Natasha said, from behind Tony's other shoulder. "At least they're quiet."
Tony groaned. "My cleaning staff is going to love this."
"Thor loves them, that's the surprising part."
Three heads turned to where Thor was lying on his back, face showing an expression of utter bliss, his body a mattress for approximately a dozen bunnies.
They couldn't even be dignified by the name of rabbits. These were definitely bunnies.
Thor fed another carrot slice to the one nearest his face, a solid white one.
He hadn't even blinked an eye when one of them had settled on top on Mjolnir.
Thor raised his head to look at them and dislodged yet another bunny, a small brown-and-grey one. "My friends!"
"What is this?"
"Rabbits!" Thor said (liar, they were bunnies through and through). "Can you not see?"
"Yes, we can see," Natasha said. "But why are they here?"
"Loki arranged it. It seems that homes could not be found for them, and their current keepers could no longer care for them. As a warrior and a prince, I cannot turn any defenseless creature away from aid."
"Stark Tower is not turning into an animal shelter."
"I think you might be too late." Steve pushed past, and stood in the centre of the room, looking around. Tony followed. There were bunnies on Thor's bed, on top of the wardrobe, snuggled in his laundry, tangled in the curtains, and scattered across the floor, in addition to those on Thor's body. They were everywhere.
Natasha knelt down, and let a small black one sniff her hand. "They're adorable."
"I was allergic when I was a kid," said Steve, sounding wistful, and then he bent to pat one. Tony had to put a stop to this right now, because clearly it was an evil plot after all, Loki wanted the Avengers so distracted by the bunnies that they wouldn't notice if he escaped and ran rampant.
"Okay, no more bunnies," Tony said. "We're superheroes, not pre-teen girls who melt at the first sign of something small and fluffy. The bunnies have got to go."
"They are innocent victims," Thor said with a frown. Nobody should have been able to look that disapproving while lying on the floor covered in bunnies. "You cannot cast them out with nowhere for them to find shelter."
Tony sighed, and decided not to introduce Thor to French cuisine, even if it would have solved the bunny infestation instantly. "I promise, I will find good homes for all of them, but you're also giving up the scepter because I do not want Loki bringing in any more homeless animals. Or people for that matter." Philanthropy was all very well, and he did donate millions every year to homeless relief, but he drew the line at inviting them into his house.
Thor yielded, and the bunnies vanished, never to be seen in Stark Tower again.
Technically, releasing them in the middle of the Helicarrier's cafeteria during the lunch rush wasn't 'finding good homes', but even Loki, god of mischief, had complimented Tony for that.
Or maybe that was just because Tony had the scepter now, and he was a sucker for compliments.
Tony knew that everything was going to fall apart, because it was currently working so well. Everything had been fine with Clint, and then bam, his tower was swamped with Twilight. Everything had been fine with Thor, and then bam, his tower was swamped with bunnies.
Although retrospectively, the combination of the two had been kind of okay, because one of the bunnies had nibbled on all of the offending books. Tony had made sure that one went to a particularly loving SHIELD agent.
But here they were again, the calm before the storm, with Loki bringing Tony coffee and fetching various pieces of equipment, and it was actually pretty terrific to have a lab assistant who brought you things before you knew you wanted them. The coffee was great, the equipment exactly what he needed, and yet. Something was going to go wrong.
By now, the whole team had been briefed on the unexpected consequence of the mind control. The bunny incident had been laughed over, and everybody knew that 'something' had arrived for Clint that could potentially 'compromise team security'. For the sake of what remained of his dignity, Tony had kept a lid on the whole Twilight thing, but explained the rest.
Later, looking back, it would have been worse if the team hadn't known what was going on when Tony's most secret and powerful desire was fulfilled. But he could still wish it hadn't been in front of all of them.
They were watching the first James Bond movie when it happened.
It was Pepper's voice, but the first thing Tony saw when he spun around was Loki's big I-have-just-fulfilled-your-deepest-wish smile. Tony just had time to think Oh, shit –
And then he saw Pepper.
And, dammit, everybody else was seeing Pepper too.
Clint reading Twilight was nothing on this.
Because there stood Pepper, fists clenched, red hair held back, leaving the furious rage on her face plain for all to see. Said rage came about because she was…
She was wearing Loki's battle armor.
Her hair was held back because of the gold horned helmet, and he hadn't heard the tell-tale click of her heels as she approached because she was wearing Loki's boots. The dark green and black leather really flattered her coloring, a great offset to the red hair and pale skin, livened by the gold ornaments. Tony could see her slaughtering entire boards of directors and cutting through press conferences like a laser beam through butter.
Damn if it wasn't at once the hottest and most dangerous thing he'd seen in his life.
"Do you want to explain why I have been kidnapped from my office and shoved into what feels like a full-body corset?"
"Uh. Loki did it?" Tony tried.
"I know that, Tony, I was there when he put this stuff on me! No wonder he tried to take over the world, I'd try if it would get me out of this! How do you walk?"
"I'm a god, Miss Potts."
"Can I perhaps help you get out of it?" Tony flirted, already standing up.
"Don't even think about it," she snapped, and he sank back down like a deflating balloon. "I cannot even describe how pissed off at you I am. You turn that scepter over to somebody else right now, Tony Stark, or so help me-"
"Okay!" he said, before she swore to do anything he would regret.
"I'll take it," Natasha said, a smile daring to hint it might appear on her lips. "Men."
"Men," Pepper agreed savagely, and stalked away. Her voice floated back before she moved out of range, "God, this is heavy!"
"I knew this was going to end badly," Tony groaned, looking around the group for sympathy. Natasha and Clint were impassively blank, though Clint was probably gloating over getting revenge for the whole Twilight thing. Bruce was polishing his glasses so that he didn't have to look at any of them, and Tony could tell because they were already spotless. Steve was blushing bright red, but that was how he usually looked when any woman was in the room. And Thor was looking puzzled and Tony hoped the thunder god didn't think that Tony had the hots for his little brother.
Oh, god, Tony hoped Tony didn't have the hots for his little brother.
Ah, no, he couldn't, because if he did want Loki, Loki would have known about it and done what he wanted, and he would have found Loki naked in his bed by now, those long pale limbs on display, lovely lethal fingers reaching out to touch him…
And he had to hand the staff over to Natasha this second.
Everything had to go fine from here on in, right? Natasha was practically an android; she couldn't possibly want anything terrible, even something so relatively innocent as Thor's bunnies. Tony missed Loki being his lab assistant, but since the WTF, brain? moment when he'd tried to decide if he was attracted to Loki, it was kind of relieving not to see him around. He also hadn't seen Pepper in days, and supposed that was kind of fair. It had to have been a bit surprising, being grabbed by the crazy alien killer and dressed in his clothes.
Okay, a lot surprising.
And Tony could see where Pepper was coming from in blaming him for that. If he hadn't wanted it, after all, it never would have happened.
Tony regretted nothing. She had looked fantastic.
Did look fantastic. Tony blinked.
Because Pepper was standing there, in the doorway, flanked by Loki, as the Avengers sat around the kitchen island tossing popcorn at each other, and she was wearing Loki's armor again.
"Tony Stark, I thought I told you to hand over the scepter!"
Heads turned his way.
Heads turned to Natasha.
The redhead didn't even blink. Just stood up, handed her bowl of popcorn off to Thor, and walked over to Pepper.
"I'm very sorry, I had no idea," she said. "I didn't mean to drag you into this again. I'll turn over the scepter right away."
Pepper's face had softened. "No, it's… Let's talk about this in my office, shall we?"
Pepper and Natasha turned back from the doorway they'd started to walk through, arm in arm. "Do you have a problem with this, Tony?"
Tony looked into the eyes of the two women who had more than enough reasons to kill him. "No."
Their smiles were edged, and he'd known Natasha could smile like that, but when had Pepper learned? Well, probably through years of dealing with his bullshit.
Besides, he wouldn't miss out on the surveillance tapes of this for anything. They even already had popcorn.
"Agent Romanoff," Loki said as Tony pulled out his phone and started to set up a link to the feed from Pepper's office, "Mister Stark intends to view your activities."
"No I don't!" he lied, flinging away the incriminating phone. He was going to pick it back up as soon as they couldn't see him anymore, but it was the thought that counted.
Natasha looked at Loki, and oh dear, he was still under the scepter's control, her control, and Natasha had to be pissed right now…
But Tony was still alive a few moments later, just overshadowed by Loki standing calmly behind his chair. "What are you doing?"
"Agent Romanoff wishes me to stop you if you try to view the footage from Miss Potts' office."
Well, at least she hadn't wanted him killed outright. "Stop me how?"
"She left that up to me."
Dammit. He had to get someone less lethal to take the scepter.
And then watch the recording.
Natasha returned some hours later and agreed to hand the scepter over to Steve. Clint's argument had been that it was unfair to disrupt Pepper's schedule to this extent, and Steve could be trusted to not involve her. Clint's motivation had been a promise from Tony that he would be given access to the tapes.
Tony walked around the tower with baited breath for days, because even under Natasha's control, Loki had done something awful. Natasha wasn't supposed to even want things, she just went where Fury pointed her, but nooo, she was apparently human.
Steve was human too, but for all Tony thought about it, he couldn't see anything horrible in Loki providing art supplies and easy-to-read summaries of the years Steve had missed. Another plus, Loki had become a fan of The Beatles through his research, and their music could only make him less evil.
True, he now walked around humming Yellow Submarine, but he could carry a tune, so he was one up on Tony there. And there was worse music in the world. Tony shuddered at the thought of some of today's modern so-called music. Much worse.
But. The other shoe had to drop. This could not go well.
He almost wanted it to happen now, just so he didn't have to keep worrying about it. Though he had to admit, it was kind of fun to think about what hidden fantasy Loki would satisfy for Steve. Pose nude as his model? Start a trend of 40's-inspired fashions? Get Tony to buy the Dodgers and move them back to Brooklyn?
As long as he didn't bring Tony's dad back from the dead. But there were some things even Loki couldn't do. Right?
God, he hoped so.
And then. The other shoe dropped.
It was a red stiletto.
In Steve's size.
Tony looked up from his gutted robot and set the screwdriver down. Blind engineering had interesting, just generally useless, effects. "Yeah? How can I help? Microwave too much for you again? Still discovering the virtues of an electric kettle?"
"There's. Um. There's something in my room. That I want to not be in my room."
"If you want it, why doesn't Loki do it?"
"Um. I think I don't want it quite hard enough."
"He put it there."
Tony felt a grin split his face. "Loki's fulfilled your deepest wish?"
"Um. Please don't tell anyone else. I really don't want-"
"Oh, no, I swear, Capsicle, this stays between you and me. Unless it's really good. And Natasha or Clint could probably torture it out of me. Not to mention Coulson."
"I don't think he's up to torturing, he's still in SHIELD's medical facility."
"That just gives him unlimited access to needles and scalpels. The guy is terrifying."
"Tony, could you please just… help me with this?"
"Sure thing." Tony stood up and clapped Steve on the back as he steered them towards the elevator. "I have got to see what straight-up Steve Rogers secretly wants and is too embarrassed to admit to."
They went up, Tony jittering uncontrollably, desperate to see.
Outside his bedroom, Steve hesitated before opening the door. Tony rushed in the second the gap was wide enough to get through, and looked around eagerly.
No sex toys on the bed – dammit – no porn tacked on the walls – dammit. Loki's only apparent effect was the mounds of fresh art equipment, paper and charcoal and… stuff.
"C'mon, Steve, where's the business?"
"In the closet."
Tony turned and faced it. Two doors, simple and unassuming, apparently hid Steve Rogers' most shameful desire. "Hit me."
Steve took a moment, sucking in a breath, and whatever this was, it had to be good. Then he reached out, and flung the doors wide.
"Wow, Steve…" Tony said, mind momentarily blank. He couldn't really do any better, when faced with a closet filled to bursting with frilled, lacy, revealing dresses and sequined leotards that looked like they belonged in one of the better Prohibition-era movies. They were the sort of thing that Al Capone's hookers would have worn. The sort of thing that the less morally rigid dancing girls would have worn.
There were accessories, too. Belts and necklaces and shoes, high-heeled lethal-looking things. There were several headbands with giant plumes attached, white ones and black ones, and those were definitely peacock. Feather boas hung down from the shelves like fluffy pythons.
And it all looked to be Steve's size.
"Steven Rogers, you are a transvestite."
"No, I'm not," he said, blushing furiously. "It's just… it's stupid."
"Can't be stupider than Clint's. Gimme."
Steve sighed. "It's… I've always admired performers. Dancing girls. That sort of thing. What they're doing is so… revealing. Exposing. But they always look completely confident. Like they're loving every minute. I just thought maybe if I tried it, I could find where they get that confidence from."
"And who exactly," Tony said, reaching out a finger to run down a red silk number, "did you picture yourself performing for?"
Damn. Tony was perfectly willing to be Steve's appreciative confidence-inspiring audience. But only if Steve was okay with it.
And apparently, he didn't want to share.
What a shame, because this looked terrific. All of it.
Actually, there was rather a lot…
"Did this all come from one of my accounts?" Tony asked.
"I think so."
"I hope Pepper doesn't think they're for me."
"Can you just… put them somewhere else? Please? Somewhere more… private?"
Tony did not go weak at the knees. Nope. "Somewhere accessibly private?"
"I'll find a room on one of the unoccupied floors, and let Jarvis know you're the only one permitted access, how about that?"
"And when you're willing to share, let me know."
Turned out Steve really was kind of set on the idea, because Loki kept moving the outfits back to his room. It ended when Steve turned the scepter over to Bruce, and Tony still set up extra security countermeasures on that floor anyway.
Tony wondered what would happen when Bruce wanted to get rid of the scepter. They'd gone through all of the Avengers, and none of them could hack it. Who could they give it to? Even Captain America hadn't been as pure and innocent as was needed.
Tony went to bed that night hoping that Bruce would be able to keep the scepter for a really long time.
Turned out the universe really hated him.
Because when he woke up, the PA system had been hijacked.
"And I was like, baby, baby, baby, ohhh-"
He didn't even think about it. "LOKI!"
He ran down the hall with his hands over his ears, but he had a really good sound system. Throughout the whole tower.
It was everywhere.
"Jarvis, turn that off!"
"I am afraid I have lost control of the audio system."
He spun around. Oh dear. "Natasha, it's not me, I swear!"
They had to shout to be heard. His ears already hurt from the volume alone, and his brain was starting to melt.
"Baby, baby, baby, ohhh-"
"Turn it off!"
"Jarvis says he can't!"
"Then who's doing it?"
Their eyes met, and as one they turned and ran for Bruce's room.
It was exactly the kind of appalling thing that Loki had been doing under the scepter's influence. But Bruce… Tony had had a better opinion of his science bro. Bruce couldn't like this stuff, could he?
Natasha kicked the door down and they burst in. Bruce was sitting there, calmly folding his laundry, completely unaffected by the auditory assault.
"Bruce, is this you?"
Bruce shrugged, and managed to speak almost normally and still be heard despite the unforgivable volume and choice of artist. "It's great at keeping the other guy controlled."
"How can you like this? How does it not make you really, really angry?"
Bruce shook his head at him like Tony was an idiot. "That's my secret."
Natasha groaned. "You're always angry!"
The intensity dipped slightly, apparently a quiet section of the song. Tony leapt to take advantage and speak without ripping his vocal cords out with the effort.
"I don't care, make Loki turn it off before I kill him!"
"That wouldn't actually help."
"Yeah, but I'd feel better."
"Not once Thor was through with you."
"Uh oh… what do you guys think the mixture of Thor and Justin Bieber involves?"
Natasha's eyes went wide. "Given the way he's taken to other forms of Earth culture… he'll probably be the biggest Belieber in existence."
"Why do you know that word?"
"Undercover op. I don't talk about it."
"Working for you was worse," she said with a smile that dared him to say otherwise.
He didn't dare. Not to her face.
"Bruce, you have to make Loki make it stop!"
"I don't know how I made him start."
"By wanting things, he does whatever you want. So want him to turn it off!"
"But I want to control the other guy. More than anything. And this… works. I don't think I can un-want it."
Natasha spat something angry in Russian, almost drowned out by the music.
"I'll get everybody earplugs," Tony said. "And find-" somehow "-someone else to take the scepter."
"Can't we just send him back to Asgard already?"
Bruce shook his head. "Thor said we'd have to wait a few days."
What Tony said next was definitely not appropriate for the stereotypical Justin Bieber fan to hear.
Tony's completely reasonable and not-at-all-panicked request for help was answered a few ungodly hours later by a stony-faced SHIELD team that took both Loki and the scepter of doom off their hands.
Tony was glad to pass it over, but, "So ultimate control over a god is just going to some grunt who shoots things?"
Said grunt was too professional to shoot him on the spot, but Tony thought it was a near thing. "Only for the transfer, sir. I'll be passing it off when we get there."
Well, that didn't answer his real question of who would actually be taking the scepter. At least they had Loki turn the music off before they left.
Hill called the next day to tell them that Fury had taken a month's leave in Fiji, so could they please not precipitate any major world conflicts in that time.
"Does that mean his replacement is less than capable?" Steve asked.
Her lips thinned. "He is perfectly capable," so it wasn't her, obviously, "but we'd rather he didn't have to prove it. Let's just have everything go smoothly."
"We'll do our best, ma'am," Steve said, and cut the connection before Tony could ask who was in charge and who had the scepter.
But given Fury's suspiciously-timed leave, he had a pretty shrewd guess for the latter. Who wouldn't want to get a month's vacation in Fiji?
Tony was one hundred percent wrong about this.
Coulson stretched out his legs, and let them rest on the shiny veneer of Fury's desk. He smiled at his scepter, mounted on the wall. It was good to be in charge.
Somewhat unexpected, but he was sure Loki would bring Fury back from Fiji.