Hello guys! I got so tempted to write an Avengers multi-chaptered story that I...wrote an Avengers multi-chaptered story. Since I'm in college, I can't say updates will be as steady as they were in the past, but I will continue writing nonetheless! I hope you enjoy...

None of this was according to plan.

Natasha was a veteran. At least, she considered herself at the level of SHIELD agent where hardly anything could surprise her, much less a minor inconvenience in the Way the World Ought to Work. But this was beyond breaking the plan. It was taking the Way Things Should Be, running it through a shredder, taking the scraps and pulverizing them under a laser. To put it in lighter terms.

"How much information do you have for me?" she said into the headset as she steered the quinjet over the towering dark evergreens. She could barely see anything even with the whitewashed headlights skimming the treetops in the midnight.

"Stark ought to be there already," Fury's voice said on the other end. "You just need to get the jet over there, collect the package, and get their asses back to the headquarters."

Natasha gritted her teeth, taking another dive to scour the forest ground for familiar figures. "Remind me again what package you're making me bring back."

"Trust me. You won't have forgotten them already."

Natasha flicked on a light in the pilot's seat to peruse the map. It would have been much more useful if she was at least fluent in Norwegian. "And what, whoever these people and Stark decided to take a vacation to Tromsø to admire the Northern Lights or something?"

"Something tells me those lights aren't much of a special sight to these people."

Natasha folded the map and threw it to the empty passenger's seat. "You don't actually think I'll jeopardize the mission if you tell me who I'm picking up, do you? I'm not awful at following orders."

"Your reluctant side might get the upper hand. Just fly the jet until you find Stark and a lot of other SHIELD agents on the ground."

She rubbed her head, feeling the sleep deprivation hang heavy on her eyes like sandbags, still mulling over the fact that she was minutes away—minutes away!—from signing out of SHIELD for the day and returning home before Fury lassoed her into this goose chase. Now she was across the ocean, her body cramping from sitting in one place for so long, and trying to steer a metal monster over a Norwegian forest at nighttime in search of who knows what. If this didn't warrant a raise or a fifty-two week vacation time for her, nothing would.

Her radar suddenly began beeping, a bright red light flashing as the green line spread across the radius continually.

"Sir, I got Stark's signal," said Natasha. "Half a mile north-west."

"See if you can contact him," said Fury.

Natasha fidgeted with her headset, static ringing in her ears. "Stark? Tony, this is Agent Romanoff. Do you copy?"

"Well, aren't you arriving fashionably late?" Stark's loud voice blared into her head. "What took you so long?"

"I'm flying a quinjet across the Atlantic Ocean. I'm sorry I couldn't juggle while doing so as well," she said.

"You might want to practice, because you'll think that easier than what's ahead," said Tony.

"So I've been warned," said Natasha. "Since when did you let Fury give you all the grunt work?"

"Hey, all I thought I was doing was meeting up with an old friend."

Natasha frowned. "Fly over the tree tops or something, will you? I can hardly see anything in this dark."

"Uh, kind of busy," said Tony.

"What are you doing, tweaking your laser guns?"

"That's not too far from the truth. Look, I'll flash a light and you follow it, all right? Can't let me do all the work."

Natasha gritted her teeth but gave her consent. Almost immediately after, a bright red light broke through the darkness like a bloodied arrow shot toward the sky. Natasha steered the quinjet toward the location, careful not to let the rotors snap the trees as she passed.

"Conveniently open area. Nice choice," said Natasha.

"That wasn't exactly the case earlier," said Tony.

Natasha lowered the quinjet, turning on the floodlights to aid her descent. From what she could see, a large crowd of SHIELD agents were encircling an open patch littered with snapped tree trunks and skewed branches. With the loose leaves flying about like a sandstorm she could hardly tell who was present besides Tony's garish suit of armor at the head of the crowd.

The quinjet landed on the uneven ground, sending dirt and twigs billowing at its wake. She moved to power down the quinjet and step out of the vehicle before Tony's voice interrupted her.

"Uh, might want to stay where you are at this point," said Tony.

"What, think this is too big for me?" Natasha said with a snort. "I'm a big girl, Stark. I can reload my own bullets and everything."

"Trust me. I'm aware," said Tony. "But we've got some stuff to bring into the quinjet that might need a quick getaway."

"What?" Natasha lowered the power until the rotors slowed so she could see what was going on. Over the agents' heads she could barely make out the familiar blond mane. Her heart jumped.

"What's Thor doing here?" she said. It had been three years since he returned to Asgard with the tesseract and Natasha had honestly believed she would never lay eyes on him again, and yet here he was, pressed against a tree, surrounded by SHIELD agents—why would he of all people be considered dangerous to them?

"Uh, Thor's not the only tourist," said Tony. "Open up your back, will you? The easier we can ship these guys in and out, the better."

"Plural?" said Natasha, pressing the button to open the back door of the quinjet. A gust of wintry Scandinavian wind crawled down her back and through her hair. She kept a wary eye at Thor. "Stark, what's Thor doing on Earth?"

With the back door pulled down, she could hear everything that occurred outside over the rumbling roar of the whirring rotors. Thor looked positively livid, his hammer held aloft and his other hand clenched behind him, as if he held something.

"Thor, put the weapon down and stand aside," an agent's voice shouted over the din.

"You come a step closer and I will not hesitate to fight back," Thor said, his voice grating with anger.

Natasha furrowed her eyebrows. Thor was their ally, last time she checked. What could have possibly occurred in the numerous hours it took her to fly?

"Listen up, Big Guy." Tony. "You should have thought of this before you crash-landed on Earth. Just give him to us. We aren't going to maim him or kill him, so just—"

"Don't you dare," said Thor, clenching his teeth. "That is a promise I know you cannot keep. We are not here to play games or to start wars."

"Thor, just step aside. Natasha—help me out here, will you?" said Tony.

Natasha swallowed down a groan. Leave it to Tony to not give Natasha any details of what was going on and expect her to have all the answers. She adjusted her headset until her own voice blared through the quinjet's speakers, joining the earsplitting ruckus.

"Thor, please lower your weapon so we can talk," said Natasha, rising from her seat as much as she could to try to see behind Thor. His shadows carefully obscured whatever it was he tried to keep so close.

"If I do so, your men will come and take him from me mercilessly," said Thor, tightening his grip on the hammer's handle.

"Who is he talking about, Stark?" said Natasha.

"Might want to see for yourself so you won't shoot the messenger," said Tony.

Natasha rolled her eyes before finally craning her neck to see further. She could barely see the figure behind Thor, so swathed in the night. But Thor shifted back a step, forcing the figure to sidestep to avoid him, forcing himself into the sliver of light.

Natasha's eyes widened.


Three years did no crime to her memory of him. She knew him immediately, with the same chill down her spine and the clench of her heart like the first time she approached him. His hair was shorter, crudely cut as if slashed with broken glass, and his cheeks were so hollow that his cheekbones cast shadows upon his face. He looked worn and weathered, as if a single breath would shatter him. She nearly felt sick at the sight of him from both the bitter memories and his wretched state.

But something was off about him; even she knew this without truly knowing him. His eyes, though still bright and sharp, were fixed dazedly on nothing as if he dreamed without sleeping. She was no stranger to how he favored one leg over the other and how gingerly he held himself, however prideful and tall his composure stood. He was a hollow statue, towering and menacing, until a single nick could send him toppling.

"I swear to you, my friends," Thor said, his voice rising. "I swear to you that I do not mean to keep Loki here. I do not mean to linger. I only am passing."

"You shouldn't have brought him here at all," said the head agent. "SHIELD rules are rules. Your people promised we would never see him anywhere near here again and if we did, we were allowed to take action."

"I had no choice," Thor said. "Please, leave us be, and in a short while we will be gone and away."

Loki didn't appear to be listening. The exchange between Thor and the agents did not shake him, as if the words passed through him effortlessly and that they were meant for someone else beyond him. For a moment Natasha wondered if he was just another one of his projections, a reflection of Loki in another time, another scene, playing in the wrong place.

"You've already been here for several days by the looks of it," said the head agent. "If you were going to leave, you'd have done it already. Just drop the weapon and step aside."

Natasha had to hand it to Thor; considering their past experiences with him, it must be taking a lot of restraint that he didn't lash out on them here and there.

"I cannot move him so soon," said Thor, his voice almost breaking. "The travel will kill him if I do. Please, I'm just waiting for him to rest so I can bring him home. I beg of you."

Natasha suddenly felt a rush of sour resentment toward the head agent. Thor never begged. Thor shouldn't beg; he was their friend who helped them in their time of need even if he didn't have to, Loki be damned. She powered down the quinjet and stepped out into the cold Norwegian air, sliding her way through the crowd to stand before Thor.

"Sir, I think I should take it from here," said Natasha.

"You do not have the authority," the head agent said, trying to step in front of Natasha.

"Maybe not, but I think I have common sense," said Natasha.

"Get back to the quinjet and prepare for takeoff once we round these two up—"

"These two up?" Tony interjected. "You're telling me you're going to lasso up Point Break as well?"

"Leave Thor alone, he's guiltless," said Natasha.

"I am far from innocent," Thor said. Natasha turned sharply to his stubbornly set face. "I was the one who brought Loki here, not the other way around. I will not leave my brother in the hands of captors."

Natasha took this moment to step closer to Thor. Thor tensed, his knuckles turning white from the strain of gripping his hammer so tightly. She clenched her teeth; if Thor was so instinctively willing to defend himself against her, SHIELD was going to have a hell of a time trying to let him give up Loki.

"Thor, you know us. You know SHIELD," she said. "We're fair. We're doing our job to keep Earth safe."

"We bring no harm," said Thor, nudging Loki to step behind him. Loki did not budge. His green eyes were fixed on Natasha as if she was a painting to be scrutinized. She did all she could to ignore his presence. "Neither does Loki. He can do nothing to you. I promise."

"I trust you, Thor," Natasha said in a low voice. "We trust you. But we can't trust Loki. It wouldn't be fair to our people if we let him walk around here without supervision or anything. They'll be afraid, and live every moment of their day fearing for their lives."

Not that SHIELD would ever reveal that their three-year-past supervillain was making an encore, but Thor's eyes softened nonetheless with guilt and sympathy.

"I cannot let Loki away from my sight again," Thor said quietly. "Not even to you. I didn't want to frighten anyone, coming here to Midgard. I only wished for a place for him to rest. Please, Agent Romanoff—please."

Natasha discreetly bit the side of her tongue. She didn't particularly know Thor well, especially with the three year gap between now and their last encounter, but she couldn't find it in her to reject him when he was so desperate. This was why friendships were so dangerous in this line of work, she thought bitterly. Once someone caught sight of the soft spot, they'd have too easy of a time to bruise it.

"If it's rest you need," she said quietly enough so that only Thor could hear, "then we'll give him rest. Look around you, Thor. It's all wilderness. Wilderness or civilian territory. If anyone except us walked in on you and Loki, do you know what they'd do? They'd report you to the police. They'd send people that have no idea what you are on you. They'll realize you two aren't from here and they're going to take Loki away from you. They'll think you are aliens, or something entirely dangerous, and they'll try to attack you, or capture you like monsters to study. They'll hurt Loki that way even more because they don't know what he is."

Thor's breath hitched at her words. Natasha braced herself and her voice became steely.

"But SHIELD knows who you two are. They know the situation between you two all too well. They'll make sure you won't be separated from him. Hell, that cage they kept Loki in back in the hellicarrier will be nothing compared to what other forces could do to him. In fact, SHIELD has proper medical teams, agents, everyone to protect Loki. Help him." She let her eyes glance briefly at Loki, taking in his unnaturally ashen face and sunken eyes. He looked like a walking plague. "You—the both of you—come to SHIELD, and everything will be better off."

Thor hesitated before licking his lips nervously. "You mean it, Agent Romanoff?"

"Yes." She never understood how amateurs had such a difficult time saying such a word when it came to uncertainty.

Thor pressed his lips together before turning to Loki, no doubt taking in his brother's frail state and desperate need. Natasha held her breath.

"All right, Agent Romanoff," he said softly. "All right."

Natasha dipped her head before sharply turning her heel and walking back toward the head agent.

"Take him," she said under her breath.

Without another word needed, the head agent stepped forward and pulled Loki away from Thor. He shoved Loki down to his knees as other agents surrounded him, forcing Thor away as he shouted and thrashed for his brother. Metal clamps were immediately fixed on Loki's wrists and Loki's energy dropped considerably. He slackened, nearly slumping to the ground had it not been for some agents holding him upright.

"Don't hurt him!" Thor said. "You shan't hurt him—you said you would not!"

Natasha closed her eyes, trying to strain the guilt out of his words as they entered her ears. She swiftly turned back and boarded the quinjet, buckling herself into the pilot's seat and switching on the vehicle. The rotors gradually picked up their speed.

"Looks like you never really lost it, huh?" Tony's voice piped up behind her. She caught his reflection in the windshield, his mask lifted from his suit. "What did you tell Point Break that made him back off so easily?"

"Let's just say he might not be too chummy with me later," she said, watching the agents take Loki to the quinjet. Thor looked as if he was about to pummel every single living soul in the approximate area, but was doing everything to cap his violence.

"No surprise there," said Tony. "Ah, welcome, welcome," he said as the agents pulled Loki into the quinjet. Loki was barely supporting himself on his own feet as the agents roughly dragged him into one of the chairs. "Oh no, we don't need extra body guards, do we? Don't you all just stay in Oslo, or wherever it is?"

"Stark," said Natasha. She saw Thor enter behind them and she pressed herself tighter against her seat, as if thinking if she fixed herself in her place it would be harder for Thor to wrench her out and throw her across the galaxy, which she wouldn't be surprised if he was considering.

"You dare treat him like the kill of a hunt?" Thor said, wrenching the agents away from Loki. He caught Loki before Loki slid sideways from his seat. "Loki, are you all right?"

Loki raised his muddled eyes to Thor, a hint of hostility still evident in his eyes. Thor took no heed of it and stood up straight. He turned until he caught Natasha's eyes in the rearview mirrors. Natasha could almost hear the confession of hurt betrayal in his gaze and it took a greater deal of self-control than she reckoned to keep herself from looking away. She shut the door and powered the quinjet, steering it over the trees and back into the air.

"Well," said Tony, when everyone was silent. "It's nice to see you around again."

Thor said nothing, never taking his eyes off of Loki. Loki did not make so much of a sound as even a sigh. Should Natasha look away, she could have forgotten he existed.

"So," Tony said in his second attempt to break the awkward silence. "How about you take a kip in my tower while you're uh, staying around? I mean, it's a lot more comfortable than wherever SHIELD will take Loki, anyway—"

"I will not be away from Loki," said Thor.

"Okay, okay," Thor said, raising his hands in surrender. "I'm just saying—I've got better service and I'm served by artificial intelligence. You'll see Bruce too—you remember Bruce, don't you? He's got a floor to himself, and the other guy seems to like it a lot too. He'd be—er—happy to see you again."

"Save me your formalities, Son of Stark," said Thor with a heavy sigh. "We both know my reappearance is not of pleasantries."

"Fair enough," said Tony, leaning against the wall. "Natasha, keep your eyes on the road, won't you? Or whatever it is we're on."

"What are you talking about?" Natasha said, narrowing her eyes and concentrating on a dark wisp of cloud.

"You keep looking at the rearview mirror. Loki's not going to jump up anytime soon and shank you."

Natasha didn't deign to give Tony an answer. She gripped tighter on the steering levers, trying to clear her mind. The fact that Loki was behind her turned back, perfectly capable of doing anything to her, did not sit well with her. She didn't care what his story was, the fact remained that the last place anyone wanted him was here on Earth, if anywhere.

"Where are we headed to? The base in Washington D.C.?" said Tony.

"New York City," said Natasha.

Tony made a sound of disbelief in his throat. "Are you kidding me? We're dragging this pathetic ass to the place he tried to decimate? What sort of twisted humor is that?"

"Washington D.C. has its hands full with Doom's lackeys," said Natasha. "If we throw Loki in there, we would have a worse problem than if they were all set loose."

"Thor, what's up?"

Natasha let herself steal a glance at the rearview mirror. Thor was on his knees before Loki, his face drawn with pure anxiety.

"Loki," said Thor.

Loki was shuddering, his face so pale she thought she could see the thinned life flowing through his blue veins under his skin. His lips were almost translucent as they gulped for air, completely soundless. His limbs jerked and he craned his neck so that his head pressed against the metal wall.

"Loki!" said Thor. "Loki—he's hurt. He's ill. What's wrong?"

Even Tony was concerned and he crept carefully closer toward Loki. "What's going on with him?"

Loki squeezed his eyes shut, his teeth bared as he slammed his clenched fist against the wall behind him. He was the epitome of agony—Natasha could see it coursing through him in agonizing silence. She realized with a jolt that his chest was not rising—he was choking.

Thor reached out and took Loki's wrists. The heavy metal bands were clamped tightly over them, encasing shaking hands. Realization dawned on Thor's face and he turned sharply to Tony.

"Are these restricting his magic?" he said.

"Well—somewhat," said Tony. "We don't exactly have technology that considers magic in the mix, but these babies prevent an energy flow from making their full course around him, so it'll hinder it a lot—"

"Take them off," said Thor. "You must remove them. They're killing him."

"No," an agent piped up immediately. "That's against our orders. We take them off, he'll have his powers back and could send this plane flying into an Icelandic volcano."

"You do not understand," said Thor. "His magic was keeping him alive! He's been poisoned, poisoned by the Chitauri, and without his magic he'll die!"

Thor tried to rip the bands from Loki's jerking wrists himself, but the metal proved stubborn and deadly. Loki's eyes flew wide open as if he was immersed in a nightmare, his lips turning a shade of blue as he was slowly strangled by the unknown.

"Chitauri? Poison? What the hell is going on?" said the agent.

"Tony, move!" Natasha finally said. Loki's eyes were rolling back and he was falling forward. Thor caught him immediately, his own hands shaking with absolute fear as they tried to revive his brother.

Tony finally threw his hands up in the air as if in a what-the-hell sort of gesture before striding forward and ripping the keys from the agent's hands. He bent down next to Loki, pulling a writhing hand away from Thor's grasp and digging the key into the thin keyhole. With a small pop, the cuff fell from Loki's thin wrists and clattered on the floor.

The effect was immediate. Before the cuff even fell to the ground, Loki's body stilled, falling limp in Thor's arms as he took the quietest gasp of air. Thor held Loki tight, easing the smaller man back onto the seat. Loki pressed a white hand against Thor's shoulder as if trying to shove him away, but had no strength to do so. The resentment was not unapparent; his eyes glinted with aggravation and his lips were pressed together as if to bar his lashing tongue from attacking.

"I thought none of you were going to hurt him," Thor said quietly.

Natasha dug her nails into her palm. Guilt was a nuisance, banging at her door every night like a desperate caller.

"Sir, you did not have the authority to do that," said the agent.

"Well, boohoo, I had the responsibility of less than half of a decent person," said Tony, tossing the keys back. "He's got one cuff still. Just give the asshole enough to survive before Fury sees him, that's all. You there, agent with the keys, call Dr. Banner over to the HQ, won't you? It's about eight in the evening back home, he's probably not busy. So he can check on Reindeer Games and make sure he doesn't die or Thor's going to fry the place."

"Are you all right?" Thor said to Loki. "You don't—you don't have to speak. Just nod or shake your head."

Loki sat up straighter, finally mustering the strength to nudge Thor away from him. His gaze on Thor could probably skewer him if it were made of metal. After a while he tore his gaze away and stared down at his hands upon his lap, his face hidden. Thor resignedly retreated to the seat across from Loki, never taking his worried gaze from him.

The rest of the trip was in silence. Even Tony didn't try to interrupt the radio signals with spurts of heavy metal music to ease the tension. By the time the quinjet soared over the garish lights of New York City, Natasha's ears were itching from the silence filled only by the whirring of the plane engines. She directed the quinjet onto the SHIELD runway at its headquarters, careful not to jostle the plane as it touched the ground. Loki closed his eyes, his jaw tensing for a moment. His hands closed into fists and Natasha's fingers itched to hold her handgun, but he did nothing as the quinjet slowed to a stop and the doors opened. The agents immediately hauled Loki to his feet; they carried more of his weight than Loki did as he stumbled on unsteady feet out. Natasha unbuckled herself from her seat and made to get out before a large hand clapped down on her shoulder. She tensed immediately, spinning to find herself facing Thor.

"Oh," she said.

Thor's face was grave, but far from accusing. His sadness made something twist inside of her, the familiar sensation she knew she couldn't afford to remember.

"There is nothing for Loki's safety here, is there?" he said.

Natasha set her jaw. "Bruce will do better patching him up from whatever he went through than if you camped out in the Norwegian wilderness anyway," she said.

"Only behind bars and chains," said Thor.

"That's not exactly how we usually do it in SHIELD," said Natasha.

"I am not cross with you, Agent Romanoff," said Thor. "I know that you were doing what you felt you needed to do."

Natasha bowed her head slightly, as if to accept his reply but knowing fully well that he did not mean it as a compliment. His hand felt heavy on her shoulder.

"But that means that you will understand," said Thor, "that I will do anything to keep Loki safe. Even if your SHIELD will abhor me for it."

Natasha pulled away from Thor's hand and stepped out of the quinjet. It had taken a good six hours to fly to Norway and then another six hours to fly back; the hour was already late in the night in New York City and Natasha felt the heavy effects of sleep deprivation settling in her.

"What is it that you're hiding from, anyway?" Natasha said as Thor followed her to the insides of the headquarters.

"I am not hiding," said Thor.

Natasha snorted as she shoved the doors open. Immediately, Fury was upon them like a vulture that had waited long enough for its prey to croak.

"Thor, what is the meaning of this?" said Fury the moment Thor stepped through the doors. Thor almost took a step back in surprise. "I thought you and Undesirable Number One were supposed to be back in Asgard and that'd be the end of the story."

"We did return to Asgard after the battle," Thor said. "Where is Loki?"

"Where he shouldn't be—here on Earth," said Fury. "Why isn't he serving his punishment? Or are you Asgardian types content with a slap on the wrist and that's it?"

"Come on, Fury, give the guy a break," said Tony, taking off his armor. "We just came back from a six hour flight, can't you give us some slack?"

"Where have you taken my brother?" said Thor.

"He's locked up, all right?" said Fury. "Now tell me, what the hell are you two doing here?"

"You've imprisoned him?" Thor said, his eyes sharpening.

"Technically speaking, that's more than what you've done to him, it seems," said Fury.

"Banner's checking up on him," Tony said, saving Fury before Thor's anger could rise even more. "That guy couldn't even stand on his own two feet, so Bruce is—well, you know—making sure he isn't going to kick it in the second hour or anything."

"I must go to him. Please," said Thor. "He served his justice. He truly did. He served even more than that. Please, just let us be at peace and we will leave you alone."

"Served his justice? It's only been three years," said Natasha. "If anyone from Earth did such a thing, they'd be locked up for their entire life. Correction: they'd be dead by now."

"Time passes differently in various branches of Yggdrasil," said Thor.

"Okay, now we're dragging all that mythological voodoo spirit stuff into this," said Tony. "That's enough for me. Unless you're going to talk English and something more palpable, I'll pass listening to this."

"Please, let me just see him," said Thor. "He would not feel safe around you, even Son of Banner. Especially son of Banner."

Tony cracked a grin, apparently still reminiscing about how the Hulk threw around Loki like a toy the last time they were together.

Fury heaved a sigh, evidently reluctant of letting Thor and his big-brother instincts anywhere near Loki at this time.

"I will not break him out, if that is what you fear," said Thor. "I'd rather have him heal, even if it means—" He hesitated and glanced around. "Even if he must be kept under tight supervision."

"Down the hall, third floor, room seven hundred. That's where Banner is," said Fury. "Any funny business and I won't hesitate locking him up, and even you won't be able to get him out nice and clean."

Thor didn't need a second word before he rushed down the hall, disappearing up the stairs. Natasha exchanged a wary glance with Tony before tailing him to the third floor. The higher they ascended the louder shouts from various places above their heads rang out, bouncing off the linoleum and whitewashed walls. Natasha's hand was secured around her handgun, already picturing Loki tearing all the agents apart before whisking off, having tricked them all and especially Thor once again.

"You know," said Tony. "Maybe we should have just let them alone so we wouldn't have to deal with all this."

"Always looking for the easy way out, aren't you, Stark?" Natasha said.

They caught up with Thor at the third floor, the shouts dying down almost immediately. Natasha looked around, searching for splotches of telltale blood or agonized agents littered on the floor. It was completely still, save the frazzled medics rushing to and from room seven hundred. Bruce was outside the door, his face etched with weariness and his hair sticking up on its ends as if he went through a windstorm.

"Banner," Thor said. "How is my brother?"

"Sedated, at the very least," said Bruce, giving a sigh. "The guy threw a fit once they took him up here. If his bones weren't so broken I think he could have thrown some people through a wall."

"Was all that shouting from him?" said Natasha.

"No, that was the medical team," said Bruce with a wry smile. "He looked as if he was torn between running the hell out of here and zapping a couple people. Not going to deny he tried both at the same time. It took practically a gallon of sedatives in his veins to calm him down."

"Did you treat him roughly?" said Thor, his eyebrows furrowing.

"Of course not," said Bruce. "I never treat patients that way. Someone tried to pull up his shirt to check his ribs, since he was holding himself up pretty gingerly, and he snapped."

"Prude, much?" said Tony.

"You say that he has fractured bones?" said Natasha, raising an eyebrow. True, Loki definitely didn't look like he was in the best of shape, but even the way he moved didn't betray a traumatized bone.

"Left arm's almost completely shattered. If he was just another human we'd probably have to amputate it," said Bruce. "He's fine now. I mean, it's set and on its way healing," he added quickly when Thor opened his mouth to speak. "We're using in X-ray on his ribs and legs right now."

"Thor, what exactly happened?" Natasha said. She knew the question was lingering in everyone's mind, but no one was sure how to tactfully word it to the distraught god of thunder.

"It is a lengthy tale," said Thor, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I wish not to speak of it just yet. May I…may I at least sit with him?"

Bruce pursed his lips before nodding. "Go ahead, Thor."

Thor bowed his head in thanks and quietly retreated into Loki's room. Once the door closed behind him, Tony let out a sound between a groan and a sigh.

"Remind me again why Fury wanted us to take in the god of Crazy?" said Tony. "Seems to me he got more violent after we took him in than when he was off running amok in some snow forest."

"Last time Loki was out in the open, a little more than a couple buildings got destroyed," said Natasha.

"Last time Loki was under SHIELD's captivity, the other guy ran loose and the hellicarrier nearly fell from the sky," said Tony.

"Lesser of two evils, maybe?" said Bruce mildly, cleaning his glasses with the hem of his shirt. "Honestly, what I kind of want to know is how he got all those injuries. When the other guy was finished with him that one time, Loki was still walking normally like it was just rugby practice a day or so afterward."

"Whoever did it was probably Loki's enemy," said Tony with a shrug. "Ergo our best friend."

"Thor said something about the Chitauri," said Natasha.

"Those alien Transformer things that tried destroying New York City? They were the ones working with Loki in the first place," said Tony.

Natasha gave a shrug. The less they needed to know about Loki, the better. In fact, Natasha was entirely willing to buy dinner for whoever was responsible for his tussle.

"You know what surprises me?" said Tony. "That Mr. I-Love-the-Sound-of-My-Own-Voice hasn't made a peep for all I know."

"Really? And here I thought you were quite chatty tonight," said Natasha. Tony rolled his eyes at her.

"Okay, fine, touché. But I'm serious," said Tony. "He doesn't do so much as sniffle."

"I noticed that too," said Bruce, rubbing his chin tiredly. "Even when he was trying to get away and fight off everyone, he didn't even gasp, or grunt, or say a single word."

"Sore throat?" Natasha said with a snort.

"He doesn't even make a sound when he's breathing," said Bruce. "When we sedated him, I was starting to panic because I thought we killed him. I think we literally might have put a gallon of sedatives in him."

"So he happens to be pulling the silent treatment on us," said Natasha. "If you ask me, he does a lot less damage when he's silent than when he's talking."

"It is not that he will not speak." Thor had reemerged from the room, looking no more comforted than when he ran to his brother's side. "He cannot speak."

Tony raised his eyebrows skeptically. "What did you guys do as a punishment? Cut out his tongue? Pull some Little Mermaid contract on him?"

"Even I do not know what has happened to him in the Void," said Thor, quietly shutting the door behind him. "But it has shocked him into silence."

"The Void?" said Bruce. "I thought you all were in Asgard."

"We were, originally," said Thor with a very grim smile. "But there were…complications."

Tony cocked his head to one side for a moment before walking a little ways off to a small kiosk in the open hallway of the medic centre. While the others watched him bemusedly, he brewed a strong cup of black coffee and returned to them, handing it to Thor.

"Well, we've got time for you to spill," said Tony. "I love story time."