1: I Do Not Like the Thunder Guy
Dense lines of cars continued on along the open streets, dotted with yellow taxis. People go to work, they go home, earphones in their ears letting them live in their own little bubbles. People jog in the park, they go out for dinner, they buy groceries. Life goes on. Humans are a remarkably adaptable bunch; and four months after Loki the Norse God and his uninvited alien lizard guests had torn up New York, the ruins, the new state of affairs in the city had become the new reality for the people who lived there.
But for some people, Tony Stark among them, things were a little different. The damage to New York was still massive. He and Pepper had plans for the restoration of Stark Tower, but for billionaire Tony Stark to be re-tiling the granite floor of his penthouse apartment while thousands of New Yorkers had lost their homes, livelihoods and loved ones – well, that was not exactly great for PR. Their grand plans had been postponed in favour of temporary stop-gaps. The only letter on the side of the tower was A.
Tony, as Iron Man, had spent that day, like so many others, helping his fellow man. There was still debris to be cleared, heavy objects to be transported. As Iron Man, Tony could do the work of a hundred men, though he felt as if he had been doing the work of at least two hundred – and still, it wasn't enough. Nothing had been the same since the battle of New York. All Tony wanted to do was get out of the city, go back to his house in Malibu – but then even more people would hate him than already did. His great shining tower had become his prison.
So, that evening, Tony Stark stood alone in his apartment, drinking a glass of scotch. His eyes were idly surveying the darkened skyline, its lights twinkling through the haze of the steady drizzle that was falling. He stood next to the powerful telescope through which he could look out at the universe, a universe which had quite suddenly become far bigger and far more terrifying, but on that night no stars were visible above, no moonlight, nothing but the artificial lights of mankind.
The city was shell-shocked, the first month after the alien attack, as a sort of financial inertia carried New York City and its people forwards through time. It was clear, however, that this was utterly untenable and the beginning of a slow collapse. The insurance companies of individuals and corporations weren't paying out, meaning that many companies with unusable offices were in deepening financial struggle – and some of those who had been in trouble before had already folded. This led to a proliferation of unemployment and resulting poverty; it was only a matter of time before people started to default on their rents and mortgages. There was little the government could do about this.
The value of the damage done ran into billions, many times larger than Stark's entire fortune. And then along came a god damn hurricane. Most parts of New York were back to normal, but in lower Manhattan, Staten Island and a few other places, it was like something out of a disaster movie. The work seemed endless. The demands seemed endless. Whatever Tony did, it was never enough, there was always more.
While people suffered, the legal argument over whom should help them and how lumbered on. The insurers argued that if they paid out for everyone harmed by the Chitauri incursion, they would all go out of business: the losses were just too great. Besides, they generally did not cover against acts of God, and, well, Loki was an actual God –
There was a loud rumble of thunder above. Tony narrowed his eyes. Funny, that that should happen just as he was thinking about Loki, who had been taken back to Asgard by Thor. He felt uneasy about the thunder, for reasons he was not sure of. It felt wrong to him, somehow. There was a bright flash of lightning outside the windows, temporarily obscuring the view of anything beyond, quickly followed by another loud clap of thunder. And that was when the alarms started going off.
Tony felt oddly calm. Somehow, he had expected that to happen, though he could not say why. "Sir," Jarvis addressed him, "I am getting some very irregular readings from the roof of the building."
"I know, Jarvis," Tony said. He tried to sound casual, but it came out as world-weary, fatigued. He span the last of the drink around the bottom of the glass and downed it. "Better suit up."
Tony donned his iron man suit and within seconds was on top of the building, and lo and behold, standing there were Thor and Loki. Loki was in the chains and muzzle that he had been taken away in, and Thor was holding Loki's arm tightly in one hand, his beloved hammer in the other. Both of them looked much the same as he remembered, though in both cases their hair had got a little longer. Didn't they have hairdressers up in Asgard?Tony raised his helmet, and immediately regretted it. It was bitterly cold on the top of the building; winter was coming, and of course at that height the wind was extraordinarily vicious and biting. "Well if it isn't Cain and Abel. What brings you here?"
If anyone else were speaking, it would be a struggle to be heard over the wind, but Thor's booming voice was entirely audible. "My friend, is there somewhere we can speak?"
Tony nodded, keeping his Iron Man suit on just in case, and beckoned them to follow him down the service stairs into the building. The two gods followed in armour and their long capes, one red, one green. What was it with these people and capes?
"Do you mind?" Tony said casually, "You're trailing water all over my floor. You're making the place look untidy." In truth, the place was not the least bit tidy. Tony was working on modifying his suits, and every surface in the apartment was littered with scraps, circuits and sketches. If Pepper were here, she would not let the place fall into quite such chaos. Loki glared at Tony for his remark with a silent, seething fury, and Tony realised that the prisoner looked pale, drawn, and ill – scratch that, he looked like hell. Tony had no idea what four months of punishment Asgard style involved, and looking at Loki, he didn't think he really wanted to.
Thor requested a secure location in which to keep Loki, at least temporarily. Jarvis interjected, "Sir, may I remind you that Loki is listed as a wanted war criminal by the United Nations. Harbouring him would be a criminal offence for which you be liable to be sentenced to –"
"Duly noted, your honour." Tony responded, silencing Jarvis, leading the way for Thor.
Thor remained where he was. "Who was that?" He asked. "And where is he?"
Loki rolled his eyes. Tony explained the computer to Thor, and then took them down to some apartments reserved for highly important guests, with had no shortage of security measures. Thor led Loki into one of the bedrooms, and commanded him to stay in there, Tony watching curiously all the while.
"Uh, if he did what you said all the time, that whole Tesseract incident would have been wrapped up a lot quicker."
Thor released Loki from his muzzle, and his chains, though Loki did not choose to say anything. Thor backed out of the room, and reassured Tony, "Do not worry. Our father–"
"Your father," Loki interrupted, his voice hoarse and thin.
"Odin All-father, King of Asgard," Thor went on, "has him under an enchantment. He is bound to obey all of my commands."
Tony raised his eyebrows. "An enchantment, well, that sounds like a solid plan. If that works then did you guys not think of this earlier?"
Thor looked uncomfortable, and Loki maintained his resolute, resentful silence. Thor explained, "It is no easy feat; it takes much power. And to put an Asgardian under the full, direct control of another is... distasteful."
"Distasteful?" Tony enquired. "And what do you call running amok with an army of alien lizard people killing hundreds of people? A bit of a faux pas?"
Thor crossed his arms. "We all know the horror of what Loki is done. But he is my brother, and he is of Asgard–"
"And I am still here." Loki interrupted, the venom clear in his voice at being spoken about as if he was not present.
Thor closed the door, and Tony eyed it sceptically. "Jarvis, if Loki does anything in that room, I want you to tell me, okay."
"Yes, sir," the computer responded. "He is currently pacing."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Just the important stuff, like if he makes any kind of effort to get out."
He and Thor moved to the living room of the open-plan apartment, beautifully decorated in a luxurious, modern style, all black, white, and glass – and all entirely unlived in. Tony offered Thor a drink, to which he replied, "Do you have coffee?" Tony raised his eyebrows and set to making coffee for his friend, the Norse god.
"So, this is a turn up for the books," he said, handing Thor a mug. "I'm gonna need an explanation for this magic and light show."
Thor leant back on the black leather sofa, and over the course of about half an hour they established the details of Loki's situation. Odin had decided that the best thing to do, in an attempt to rehabilitate Loki, would be to send him back to Earth to repair the damage he had done.
Tony sighed. "Look, that's a lovely thought and all, but I don't think you entirely understand the situation. No one here is going to take kindly to the very man who ruined their lives turning up again to fix things with magic. People fear things they don't understand, and they definitely fear things that they don't understand and actually tried to kill and enslave them. Anywhere he goes, there will be a violent mob just desperate to tear him apart if they got the chance. And, as you may remember Jarvis saying earlier, if I keep him here, I am liable to go to jail. All things considered," he concluded, "I think you should probably take him home."
Thor thought about this for a long time. "No," he said earnestly, "this is important for him. He can be of great help to your people."
Tony scoffed. "They're not my people. Believe me, they're anything but right now, which is odd, considering I already saved all their lives from a damn nuke." He stopped, trying not to lose himself to bitterness. "Why didn't you come sooner?"
"We did not want to interfere with your politics," Thor told him.
Tony was silent for a moment before he realised what Thor was even talking about. "What does the election have to do with anything? No one's going to vote for Loki..."
"We have but a little understanding of your procedures," Thor admitted. "All we knew was that we did not wish to interfere, so we waited until it was over."
"You waited," Tony repeated. "People have been dying down here; there's been no power, no clean water, in New York City..." he took a deep breath.
"We have not been blind to your plight," Thor said, reassuringly. "Many in Asgard say we should have no more to do with Midgard, but the All-father insisted."
"Why here?" Tony asked. "Why me?"
"This seemed like the most secure location," Thor told him. "I hope you do not mind."
"No, it's cool," Tony replied, absently. "Hosting Norse gods – I should be honoured. I'll talk to Pepper. I'll ask her to get the public relations ball rolling on this, I'll see what I can do."
He left Thor, and stood outside the guest apartment in the vacant, spacious hallway. He stared at his phone for a long time. It was nearly 10pm, and Pepper would not appreciate being called at this hour. At least, not by him, not anymore. Finally, he called her, and explained the entire situation. The story they decided on was that Tony had received a message that Thor and Loki would be arriving the following day. Certainly, saying they were already on Earth would not be advisable. But of course, this information could not be released until Tony had called SHIELD. He knew how those guys could get when he kept things from them.
All of this done, it was only a few minutes before a helicopter carrying a small group of anonymous SHIELD agents arrived, led by Agent Maria Hill, demanding to see Loki, and guard him. When the door to his room was opened once more, he appeared in equal measure amused and annoyed at being studied, like a caged animal in a zoo.
"We have a big problem here," Agent Hill said.
"Oh, do we?" Tony replied, blithely. "Everything seems like sunshine and rainbows to me."
"Loki is wanted for war crimes. We can't let people know that he's staying here. Can you," she addressed Thor, "maybe help out during the day, and take him back to Asgard at night?"
"No." Loki interrupted, and smirked at the way everyone reacted to him; instantly tense, on-guard, scared. "Oh, are you only talking about me, not to me?" He asked, bitterly. "We cannot go to and from Asgard that easily; the Bifrost is still broken, since Thor destroyed it. We will have to remain here."
Maria looked uncomfortable. "The press will tear us apart. No one wants to know that Loki is in New York again, they'll be scared he might escape –"
"He cannot escape," Thor assured her.
"Still," Maria went on, "There's going to be a lot of panic in case he does, people know about his tricks."
An idea suddenly occurred to Tony. "A trick," he said quickly, "that's exactly what we do." Thor looked nonplussed, so Tony went on, "The people out there, they don't know that you can't leave Earth. So tomorrow we need to prove it to them that you can; summon a little lightning, whatever."
Thor frowned. "What you saw tonight was a discharge of electricity; it is not by lightning that we travel to Asgard now–"
"But no one else knows that," Tony said, sounding more snappy exasperated than he intended.
Loki spoke again. "It's called lying, Odinson." He smirked.
"It does not shame me to admit that I am not as accustomed to lying as you, brother." Loki dropped his eyes to the floor.
Thus they agreed that this was what they would do each evening; pretend to return Loki to Asgard and just hope that people believed it. Time seemed to drag interminably as SHIELD demanded their official statement of him, one from Thor, and even one from Loki. Agents made plans and decided on guard positions in the hallways outside the apartment, the floor above, and the floor below.
Tony returned to his own apartment much later, struck be the contrast: how silent and empty it was. How alone he was.
"Jarvis," Tony spoke to, at present, his only companion.
"Set up a tracking algorithm for all things Loki on the internet."
"All things, sir?"
Tony smirked. Loki, like all high-profile psychopaths, had his share of fans online. "Give priority to real news. It's not that I suddenly care what people think, but I need to know what the hell is going on out there."
"Indeed," Jarvis replied. "You have missed a few things, sir. Apparently, even Asgard had better coverage than this apartment of the election this November."
"Is it November?"
"Hmm." Tony had been rather losing track of time. It had flown past him, largely irrelevant to him and his daily grind: get up, attempt to put New York back together, drink heavily, go to bed, repeat.
Routine dulled everything. It withheld from him time that he may use to think, to reflect, to dwell on the chaos and carnage of the battleground of New York city four months ago. But it also dulled Tony's creativity, his initiative, his sense of fun, even his ability to relate to anyone and anything else around him. When Pepper had advised Tony to take things one day at a time, running himself into the ground day after day and pushing everyone out of his life had probably not been what she meant.
At least the company of a couple of Norse gods and a media fire storm would make for a change of pace.