The room was silent, painfully so. Confusion, horror, disgust: myriad emotions hung heavy on the heads of the assembled group. In the end, it was Natasha who spoke first.
"How do we find him?" Her words startled the others from their shocked trances, echoing metallically against the walls of Stark Tower. All they knew was that Loki had changed hideaways, but hadn't the slightest idea where he might go.
"Did you consider he may not want to be found?" Bruce asked, scrubbing his hand down his face. He pushed back from his chair, heading for the computer. Typing quickly, he stared down the translucent screen, brows knitted.
"What is he doing?" Thor wondered in what was—for him—a hushed tone.
"Getting nowhere fast," Natasha said.
For a moment, there was only the sound of rapid typing, then a deep sigh. Had it been Tony doing the search and getting nowhere, there would have been muffled curses; Bruce did not have the luxury of frustration.
"I can't trace it," he said, eyes toward the ground, "The signature isn't like anything I've ever dealt with. It's not science..."
"It's magic," Thor finished.
"What do you suggest we do?" Steve asked, looking intently between the two Avengers. He leaned from his chair, facing the direction of the room that held his shield and suit, reading to launch himself into battle at a moment's notice. The constant sitting and arguing did not suit a man of action; he ached to move, to do anything.
"Step aside," he said, commanding the attention of the room as he raised the hammer that never left his side. A crystalline glow emanated from it, lighting the runes along the side with an unearthly light. "I may trace him yet." The faint glow magnified all at once, a vibrant searchlight of electric blue flaring up. The light seemed to solidify into a single beam from Mjolnir's head. "Come," Thor said in a booming voice, "We follow."
Before Steve could ask what he meant, the beam bent at an angle, as though refracted from some prism. It aimed through the tower's window, bending at an unnatural corner, down toward the streets.
The others—Clint, Natasha, Bruce, Rhodey—looked to Steve as their unofficial leader. Finally, something would happen. They would get Tony back, and this time, he would come home.
Loki spent the better part of the day preparing for company. For him, that meant weaving intricate traps of smoke and whispers, barricading the hideaway. Tony mostly stayed in bed, puzzling out his emotions.
On one hand, he keenly felt the nervous anticipation of another meeting with his team. They were certain to have questions after they became unwitting voyeurs, questions like "What the hell were you thinking?" and "Did he hurt you?" And maybe, just maybe, Steve would look at him with those eyes, half-knowing, half-confused, and ask "Do you love him?" The problem was, he didn't know the answer to any of them.
On the other hand, something within him knew that he could not live this way forever. Tony thought of the future with an even mixture of fear and curiosity. Regardless of what he felt, it would happen. It was inevitable. He only hoped there was a way to get out of this with his dignity intact, to say nothing of his and Loki's lives.
He made himself get out of bed eventually, padding into the wide, parlor-like room to grab an apple from the bowl on the table. Lounging in the chaise, he waited in semi-darkness for Loki to return, to give him some sort of direction.
There was no sense in telling Loki that he had underestimated the Avengers; Tony would end up punished, and anyway, he wasn't quite ready to turn against his team.
Loki's preparations had taken long enough. Tony set out to find him, tiptoeing through the cool dark that no longer resembled a prison in any way. He had his freedom throughout what may have been a mansion, though the Trickster always seemed to know exactly where he was.
"Looking for someone?" he asked. Just like that, for example.
"Master!" Tony exclaimed, sounding to his ears a little too eager.
"Our guests will be arriving soon. I require you to be on your best behavior. Is that clear, pet?" He strode over to lift Tony's chin in one gloved hand, examining him.
"Excellent." His hand drifted distractedly away, letting Tony see for the briefest moment the anxiety in his eyes. It wouldn't have mattered if Tony had pointed it out; Loki knew he was going to lose. "I sense our guests are soon to arrive," he said, snapping back to the moment.
Halfway down 8th Avenue, the team came face to face with a cement wall. The light from Thor's hammer drove bravely through the wall, presumably to the other side. Even Thor struggled to restrain Mjolnir as the weapon tried to follow, slamming into the cement again and again.
"It ends here?" Steve wondered, "There's not another way in from the other side?" He tested this with his shield, the vibranium clashing with the wall and sending tremors through his arm. Ordinarily, the shield could break through anything. The wall should have been concrete dust by now, but it remained standing.
"This is definitely the place," Bruce said. "Should I...?"
"Not yet. Magic is protecting this place. I have a feeling magic's the only way in." Just the same, Rhodey had the repulsor of his suit firing up.
A throne of black marble, smooth as ice, rose from the air, smoke congealing into solidness. Loki stretched himself upon it, confident and imposing, amping up the theatricality. Tony knelt at his feet, pressing up into the touch of his hand like a cat, seeking praise and attention. The god did not oblige, but merely held Tony in place, fist knotting in his hair.
The hideaway trembled, air filling with the sound of gnashing stones sliding against one another. Loki held firm, and so Tony did, too. He felt chill, but whether that was from the fact that he wore only a silk robe, or from nerves, he could not say. His heart was pounding.
Suddenly, the room went silent. He tried to look toward Loki for instruction, but the grip in his hair was tightening. The brief quiet collapsed with the wall, as a monumental crash shook the building.
And there they were, marching through the rubble. His team. Thor led the way, flanked by Rhodey and Natasha, with Steve and Bruce covering the exits. Mjolnir ceased glowing; Thor swung it menacingly in Loki's direction, barely restraining himself. Tony felt Loki shrink back in the throne, then think better of it.
"Enough of your tricks, brother. We have come to reclaim him."
"You're coming with us," Steve added, fixing Tony with an unreadable glare.
The hand in his hair released, but he didn't stand.
"Tony, come on," Bruce said gently, "It's time to come home."
He looked to Loki, who smirked. "Make your choice, pet."
He scrambled to his feet, clinging to the arm of the throne, glancing frantically between his team and his master. They reached out to him, trying to bring him back. Loki sat stoically, just watching and waiting.
Tony took one wobbling step forward and chaos erupted.
The battle clashed instantly, shield and hammer flying past his head, bolts of green-silver magic darting off the wall beside him. Rhodey, in full War Machine armor, backed him into a corner and stood before him, sheltering him from the fight. He could see Tony was weak on his feet and overwhelmed by the sheer noise. Sliding down the wall, Tony flickered in between consciousness and dreams, weeks of near-silence and constant darkness catching up to him. He finally left his body like an exhale, and saw no more.
He woke up in mid air, some 3000 feet above New York City. Forcing himself to look around, he saw that Rhodey was carrying him, repulsors of his suit humming steadily. He must have made a sound, because Rhodey just then noticed he was conscious.
"I'm taking you home Tony. Just relax."
Relaxing wasn't the easiest thing to do thousands of feet in the air and mostly naked.
"Loki?" His head ached and thoughts came slowly. Now that he was free of the hideaway, he felt far away from himself, and back in his own body, simultaneously.
"They've got him chained up in the Tower." They descended, the light of said tower coming into view. He was thankful the day was cloudy; this would be hard to explain to the newspapers tomorrow.
Just before they touched down on the upper deck, Tony tried to wriggle free. "I want to see him."
"Listen, Tony. I think it's best if-"
He didn't get to finish, for Tony was already breaking free of his grasp, falling the short three feet drop onto the deck and rolling.
"Tony!" Rhodey yelled, but he was already running (as best he could) for the center of the building, where he knew Loki would be. He skidded around the corners, unsteady but determined. Who knew what kind of damage the other Avengers had done to the villain while he was unconscious?
He managed to reach the center before anyone caught him, throwing himself through the doors. Inside, he found the god, reduced to a prisoner. Loki stood chained to the wall, hands twisted before him, locked in a way that prevented him from casting any illusions. He struggled against his bonds like a feral thing caught in a trap. He looked up when he saw Tony enter.
"This is the end, pet," he said, authority drained from his words.
"What are they doing to you?"
"I shall be sent back to Asgard, to await justice."
Tony flinched even though the anger wasn't directed at him. "Not if I have any say. You're staying here."
He chuckled at that humorlessly, all the while twisting in his bonds. His wrists chafed against the magicked manacles, frustration and shame evident on his face.
Tony watched, entranced by the way he moved. He shook himself mentally, the haze of his earlier unconsciousness not quite cleared. It must be the exhaustion, he thought, the stress probably. That was the best explanation he could find for his mind's flat-out refusal to think of anything but Loki in those restraints.
Without his permission, his mouth said his thoughts aloud. "Here's an idea." It was difficult to appear nonchalant when he could scarcely stand straight, but he did his best. "We could lock you up here until you learn some manners."
"What is the difference where I am a captive? I shall still be a prisoner."
Tony met Loki's eyes, fathomless green against deep brown. Tony's eyes held a new-flickering spark that caught the other's attention. "What if you were...my prisoner?"
A curious expression played over Loki's lips, half shock, half amusement. "You think I would submit to you? After I've had you begging at my feet?"
"I think maybe you want to." He managed a smile, going for wicked, but ending up just looking sincere. "I think you want to know how it feels to kneel."