DISCLAIMER: I do not own the film MARVEL'S The Avengers, nor any of its events or characters – I am just borrowing them for play.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Denouement
With the threat of Thanos rather anticlimactically removed from the picture, the Avengers could only imagine what direction SHIELD would want them to move in. Though, once Odin was informed of the titan's fate, the group was called into an audience with him and the Queen, the matter taken out of their hands.
They stood in a line before him just as they had for Loki's appeal; one modification was that they were gathered in the throne room of the first floor and not the open court below, the other that no spectators had collected along the sides to consider the decision that would be resultant. The Allfather sat in front of them on a raised pedestal base, Frigga just slightly behind on his right, and Thor halfway between his parents and his teammates.
"I speak on behalf of Asgard in these matters of discussion," the king began, "with the interest of furthering the peace of the Nine through cooperation with Midgard. You six represent the views of your people, being of superior strength and fortitude, and having had my heir, Thor, exposed to you.
"He will act as intermediary due to this relation to you, and, because of the targeted petition you made, Loki will hereby be acknowledged as your subject and therefore responsibility.
"You proposed that he be used in service of this Realm and yours to repair the damage he has wrought. Yet you also offered him as appeasement for the healers, who are not of concern now, and against Thanos, whom we have confirmed is dead."
"That's true," Steve conceded, "but Loki's magic is still a force that can reverse a lot of what has happened."
"-and ensures negotiation with Earth," Natasha interjected. "We can speak for the organization we're a part of in dealing with Loki, but – in terms of truce, aid, and trade between the two Realms – talks can now be organized with our superiors concerning the future."
"His healing has to be taken into consideration as well," Bruce added.
"The Bifrost takes precedence," Odin countered. "Its loss has severed much of our connection to news of others of the World Tree. He will remain here until it is functional again."
"He's our information and defense," Clint upheld, "and, as you said, our responsibility. We can't leave him here, but we're our world's only guard – we need to get back. Along with him."
"How long will the bridge take to repair?" Thor asked.
"Some progress has been made in its theoretical reconstruction," Frigga started, "and some of the designs for its framework, but it would take another year to complete."
'Yeah- no,' Tony snorted as Steve counter-proposed, "Loki's input will shorten that time, but you don't need him the entire length – building the machine will take just as long with him than without him, with the engineers you have here-" 'You only need him for conceptualizing the thing,' Tony remarked.
"We've been here a week already for his healing," Bruce added, suggesting, "Another week, two at the most, seems fair."
"The roots may be established for the Bifrost within that time, but nothing that ensures travel," Odin retorted. "Since the Tesseract was meant to be returned to our possession, in exchange for this leave-taking, we will keep it here and Loki can transport you back to Midgard."
'What?' 'Can he do that normally?' 'He's still healing!' they objected, but the Allfather raised his hand to silence them. "As of now, Loki is hereby a charge of Midgard and, at the end of the terms agreed and once upon said Realm, free from further obligation and punishment. Heimdall will be watching, but unless an intervening threat of sufficient magnitude attacks you, negotiations will resume once the Bifrost is rebuilt.
Compelled from the room, the group gathered to climb the stairs to return to Thor's chambers in dissatisfied, tense silence amidst their footsteps until Tony questioned,
"Is he honestly expecting Loki to teleport eight of us from one Realm to another while he's healing?"
"There isn't a choice, unless we're willing to stay here for the months it will take to fix the bridge," Steve responded.
"Even if we were, SHIELD sure as hell wouldn't be," Clint added.
"It's unreasonable, my father knows this," Thor said. "His repossession of the Tesseract and sending us from Asgard by my brother is the quickest and simplest way to be rid of us all, after challenging Loki's sentence as we did."
"It's his own fault for almost killing him and riling everyone up," Tony muttered.
Pepper chastised, 'Tony,' as they arrived at the desired floor and moved to the double doors of the blond god's rooms. They filed into the large open space, their time in the area before evident in the chairs that had been called for and arranged in an irregular circular formation before the far wall, the high light of early afternoon streaming through the large, open windows. Cuirasses, forearm guards, shoulder pads, and greaves shone from their hung positions on the walls alongside a couple of swords or, as with some of the smaller pieces, on the long table that served as a desk. Maps and scrolls were lain overtop whet stones, vials of oil, and rags on the surface for the care of the equipment, some writing utensils atop a stack of texts beside.
"I meant to ask earlier," Bruce began as they seated themselves comfortably, "why your desks – yours and Loki's –are so untidy when you have servants waiting on you."
"It was insisted long ago that they not disturb the organization of the work usually left unfinished on desks," Thor explained, "unless it's a work table in a public room. However Loki cleans his own room, wards keeping servants from the area unless specifically called. His experiments and studies are almost never limited to the desk space."
"I can see that," Natasha remarked with a glance at Tony, Pepper allowing a smirk of agreement and commiseration.
"Don't judge!" Tony answered at the look. "With Loki, me, and Brucie here all being minds of inspired genius, we're gaining numbers in this clique."
"That just means we're going to have to separate you regularly," Pepper commented, "to make sure you don't all get carried away and don't eat or sleep for days."
"Speaking of," Steve opened, "I know we agreed to only two weeks, but we can't push Loki beyond his limits. We need to talk to him and see if it's feasible to deliver something workable within that timeframe, while he also takes time to heal."
"Fun times," Tony said sarcastically before pronouncing, "When we're back, Fury's going to lecture us on how we lost the Cube."
"It's likely my father would have had it returned no matter the circumstances," Thor illuminated with a shrug. "It brought much ruin to Midgard because of your hold of it, so he would lock it away."
"In the vault with all the other powerful artifacts, right?" Clint simplified with a snort.
"Keeping them all in one room, no matter how it's locked up, isn't the best choice," Natasha agreed.
"The enchantments upon the Vault are not easily replicated onto other places," he defended.
"But Loki knows how to bypass them," Pepper remarked, with Bruce contributing, 'And so does Thanos.'
"They are both uniquely powerful and specialize in obscure talents," Thor stated before pausing.
"What is it?" Steve prompted at the other's thoughtful frown.
"I just…" he started before he sighed with a self-depreciating smile, "I suppose I never gave thought to all my brother was capable of, the force that he is."
They sat in a moment of silent contemplation before a knock sounded at the door and it was pushed open assertively. Frigga entered with a smile, shutting the door softly behind her and moving to them to sit on the edge of the bed at the side of their gathering. "How are all of you? What did you think of my husband's terms?"
"Fair, but difficult," Steve answered honestly. "We know we can't stay, but we'd rather Loki have time to heal."
"He is strong," she comforted. "He will pull through this, and then you will have time to heal his mind and body on Midgard."
"How is he?" Bruce asked.
"He is asleep now," she answered, "but you should wake him soon for supper and speak with him of your future."
Tony physically grimaced at the spread of food arranged on the table before the group once again by the servants for the evening meal, Frigga having lingered with them before taking leave to resume her duties as queen. "You know, I think I've eaten more here than I do in a month," he said, pushing his plate away with a shake of his head and instead focusing on the drink that was much heavier in alcoholic content than the ones offered earlier in the day. "This on the other hand, is great – I think I've been buzzed since I got here."
"We are accustomed to it, but it affects you all more than intended," Thor surmised. "It can be mixed with water that way you taste it as we do, if that's acceptable?"
'I'm good,' Tony replied to Pepper rolling her eyes, but the others consented to the idea.
Loki sat with his chin propped up on his palm as he yawned before blinking, visibly waking himself further while he reached to amass food on the dish in front of him. Thor grinned with unabashed adoration at the sight before remarking, "This reminds me of when you were poisoned as a child."
"And that's a fond memory for you, is it?" Loki muttered drowsily in reply.
"We missed the harvest festival," he continued. "You were bedridden and half-asleep the whole time while I refused to leave your bed and my watch over you, ordering the servants around."
"I remember that, vaguely – you were screeching every hour."
"I was young," he conceded, "every time I thought your fever had worsened I panicked and thought you were dying."
'I'm getting a cavity listening to this,' Tony said as Natasha asked, "How did you get poisoned?"
"An unwise venture into the armoury," Loki explained with a slight shrug. "We weren't supposed to have been in there at all, but we snuck in when the guards changed shifts. My magic was erratic then, but I managed to cloak us for the few seconds we needed running from the corner through the doors behind them."
"I think you threw camouflage over the doors too, since the guards suspected nothing," Thor added. "If Heimdall's gaze hadn't been caught by that then the healers wouldn't have been there as quickly."
"They would have arrived soon enough, given how you dragged my body from the place bellowing that it was cursed and evil spirits were out to devour us."
"What was I supposed to think when you merely touched a spear tip to fall unconscious?"
"You just passed out?" Clint questioned skeptically.
"I was drawn to the enchanted weapons kept along one side," Loki described as he tore the meat from the small bones of a pheasant wing. "Some magically-enhanced poisons move swiftly through contact rather than any physical cut."
"The view on magic here doesn't make sense," Bruce interjected. "How can these powerful weapons be kept out of use?"
"Weapons are different," Loki began. "If there is the potential to be useful in war, then it is trained with for future conflict – but in terms of poisons, physical aids, and other magicks, they are seen as 'cheating' in a 'fair, honourable' bout in the training yards."
"But in war, anything goes?" Clint clarified.
"You would think so," Loki retorted, "but because of the connotations of this preparation, most are loath to pick up a magical weapon for fear of being thought of as too weak to achieve anything without it."
"What about Myl-Mjolnir then?" Steve asked, stumbling over her pronunciation.
"Thor's heir – he can do whatever he likes," Loki said.
"The King is responsible for magical charges and creatures as well," Thor illuminated. "Mjolnir could be seen as training for my eventual hold of Gungnir," he suggested to Loki's agreeing, 'True,' around a sip of his ale.
"You're seen as weak then?" Tony probed brazenly of Loki.
"That's always been the case when next to Thor," he answered, "as I'm slighter, have a more effective and restrained – rather than wasteful – fighting style, and yes, because I'm a sorcerer. But it's always easier to get the best of others when you're underestimated."
Clint and Natasha nodded in agreement as Tony smirked in concurrence as well. "Can't wait till we have that fight back home."
"How long do you think it'll take until you've fully recovered use of your magic?" Bruce asked.
"I'm not sure, it's quite reliant on a number of other factors," Loki replied before his eyes flicked up onto him. "Why?"
"We have about two weeks here," Steve stated.
"Us as well," Thor commented. "They don't believe SHIELD will allow a lapse in defense for any longer."
"And how are we returning?" he interrogated shrewdly.
"Through your magic," Natasha responded.
"Of course," he uttered as he picked at the remains on his plate. "And what else have I apparently volunteered for?"
"Fixing the Bifrost," Bruce admitted.
"In a fortnight?" he snapped with a raised brow.
"Not all of it-" Tony interrupted, "just helping out with the blueprints so the guys here can build it."
"We can help," Pepper offered.
"You can't, really," Loki objected as he stood, stepping away from the table and exiting the room to return to his own.
Steve sighed and proclaimed with furrowed brows, "He's not going to get any better this way."
There was no way to prove Loki was concentrating on the Bifrost more than his own healing, as neither the Avengers nor any of the servants saw anything of him in the days that followed, but from what they had grasped of his knowledge of how long it would take to fix it and his horror at it being broken in the first place it seemed obvious what he would spend his time on. There was also the deadline they had impressed upon him, and, as Thor had explained, his own eagerness to distance himself from the palace walls.
Though having done nothing but heal over the past several days, Loki had behaved somewhat differently, and it was noticed by his brother. Or, Thor was beginning to think, he had come to realize a change in behaviour that had existed for many years. Whereas he could remember the Trickster dashing through the halls away from those he had harassed, cloaking himself in corners with a smirk as shrieks sounded in the halls as a result of something he had planned, eagerly demonstrating his newest achievement in magic, speaking with the healers, sparring with the guards, or keenly proposing quests to distant lands, there had been an absence of his presence that Thor had not thought of until faced with it again. Before his exile to Midgard, Loki had often not been by his side, a rarity that had been overlooked in his carelessness. He would ensconce himself in his chambers to study, would eat alone, and sometimes mentioned in passing ventures to Realms to which Thor had not been invited.
It seemed clear now that Loki's self-imposed isolation was in a desire to remain detached from the other Ӕsir – those that had repeatedly mocked his studies, neglected, hurt, and used him. And Thor had gradually become one of them in his arrogance, taking advantage of Loki's powers when it was beneficial and spurning them when in the company of his friends. The events of the last year would only have worsened the connotations of their home in Loki's mind, and after having had his brother vulnerable on Midgard and gradually becoming more amiable with the company he was forced to keep, the distance now was all the more palpable.
After a week of no contact because of one of the defensive wards on Loki's doors being activated and sealing them shut, among his troubled teammates, Thor advocated attempting to contact him again. Though the suggestion did not hold promise in any of their minds, they sent him from the lounge on the guest floor they had usurped to Loki's chambers with some measure of faith. He knocked upon the surface of the wall beside the doorframe, calling out, 'Brother.'
At the lack of reply, he struck a series of knocks again, beseeching, "Brother please, not even the servants have seen you – you need to eat and rest! Take a reprieve of some kind-"
"Shut up," Loki hissed, the rebuke heard distantly through the barrier before he continued, snapping, "I've work to do and you're. Not. Helping! Leave off!"
"Please- You're still healing," Thor tried again, but there was no other response. He remained at the barred entrance for a few minutes more summoning him, but still no answer arose.
Combatting her incessant anxiousness as the second week passed without word, Pepper had displayed persistent optimism such as suggesting that, in the later days, they might be approached by Loki or see him dining having finished the plans for the Bifrost earlier than expected. On the day of the deadline, she proposed that Loki might not have emerged from his rooms because he had fallen unconscious after finishing what was requested and was sleeping it off. What the group was torn between was their familiarity with behaviour exactly like what she was describing and the knowledge that the magical reparations Loki was tackling were entirely beyond their comprehension.
Just as early afternoon passed and the Avengers took to loitering in Thor's rooms, their attempts to access Loki's chambers continually thwarted by the wards and lack of response, a servant knocked hastily on the doors. She was beckoned inside and reported, "Prince Loki has moved to the Queen's study."
'What?' the varied tones of expression questioned immediately, the number clambering to their feet as they poured into the hall. "When?" Thor asked.
"Not five minutes ago, my prince."
She was dismissed as they dashed down the grand staircase, entering onto the fourth floor below and pausing before the closed pair of double doors. Thor laid his hands on the handles for a ward to be illuminated over the surface.
"Goddamn it!" Tony cursed. "These wards… You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to replicate this tech, then put it on things that will piss people off – like chocolate bars, and tea, and rolls of toilet paper."
Bruce sighed at the man's mutinous muttering, crossing his arms over his chest as he prepared to patiently wait for permission to enter.
"Couldn't we try knocking?" Steve queried.
"The intellect and ancient knowledge displayed through the reparations of the Bifrost isn't something that can be accessible to the masses," Thor explained. "My mother will hide and protect the plans for the duration they are worked from."
"It's not like we can do anything with them," the Captain countered.
"Speak for yourself," Tony interrupted.
"It's valuable information," the god opposed, "it is more the matter of drugs or spellwork that could retrieve it from our minds. The lesser number involved, the better. It is easier to seal the chambers than try to protect all who would enter."
"So what are we waiting for? What are they doing?" Pepper asked.
"Loki's probably explaining them," Clint proposed.
"And Frigga has to judge whether what he provided is enough," Natasha added.
They had arranged themselves standing in front of the doors, but as the hour passed Clint and Natasha leaned back against the wall, and Tony and Pepper sat off to one side, Bruce joining them after he had ceased incessantly shifting his weight and acquiesced to Tony's gesturing. Thor stood resolutely, Steve at his side with his arms crossed over his chest, the two indifferent to the strain of maintaining the stance.
At length the doors opened, Frigga stepping out and cutting short Thor's 'Mother,' embracing him. Loki leant against the doorframe as she held her eldest's hands in hers and wished, "Have a safe journey. I hope to see you soon."
She moved to bid farewells to the rest of the group as they gathered themselves, Thor stepping towards Loki, and suggesting, "We can take the night to rest and leave in the morn – you should eat something."
"We're leaving now," he countered, though he did not move from where his weight was braced. Then he unexpectedly whistled, and a couple of servants speedily appeared from around the corner. "Fetch all they brought," he commanded to their, 'Yes, my prince.'
"It feels like we're fleeing," Natasha stated with narrowed eyes, the servants scurrying from them and the Queen pulling the Captain aside.
"Obviously we're not," Loki replied.
Frigga spent several minutes communicating something to Steve in quiet tones before she returned him to the group, offering a final parting before a lingering gaze onto Loki as she left. Pepper tested, "She didn't say goodbye to you?"
"We took our leave of each other earlier," he answered, eyes fixed on her back until she disappeared from sight before he turned his attention to those before him. "What?"
Barely standing with dulled eyes bruised from lack of sleep, long hair lank about his shoulders, and layers of heavy material hanging from him instead of shifting with him, Loki's weary and wraithlike appearance was not encouraging. Steve affirmed, "We don't have to leave this second-"
"Well I want to, so we're going to," Loki stated, the servants arriving with each individual's bags. They were searched through briefly for the elements deemed of importance – weaponry, uniforms – before the team amassed in resignation.
"Where do you want us?" Bruce asked.
"Thor, behind me – the rest of you, closer, in a semi-circle facing me," he instructed, stepping into the center of the hallway.
"Do you need us touching you?" the blond god questioned as he obeyed.
"No, it's actually better if you don't," he responded. "Though gather tightly next to one other – Anthony, in the center there, Clinton, beside."
With their packs slung across their backs and elbows jabbed into each other's sides after arranging themselves, Loki held his hands out palms down with Thor at his back. He closed his eyes and centered himself, his core bright, though uncomfortably uncontained, extending his raw senses to the essences of those around him. The miniaturized reactor in the engineer's chest across from him drew attention immediately, as did the archer beside him whose mind was familiar, Thor's expected power accustomed to behind. Loki cast his magic around to catch the others along his sides, and then swiftly tugged to drag them with him through the dark paths between Realms.
They appeared in the center of the common on the 90th floor of Stark Tower after, to all but one of them, an instant of weightless breathlessness with flashes of light and tears of the abyss consuming their retinas. They blinked in disorientation at the suddenly apparent Earthly surroundings while Thor was forced to scramble to catch Loki as he crumpled to the floor.
The blond grabbed his brother about the torso as his legs sprawled forward, kneeling in support beneath him as his teammates let out exclamations of shock and interrogations regarding the wellbeing of the god. "You expected that," Thor surmised to the lessened din of the others' clamour.
"Practical placement for you," he replied with an attempt at a shrug as his eyelids drooped. "Don't be alarmed if I fall into a coma."
"Home sweet home," Tony sighed with a chuckle.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: THIS IS THE FINAL CHAPTER OF ENLIGHTENING NUANCES! The sequel, Cementing Heritage, is up! It features their watching of Captain America: The First Avenger as they learn more of the Tesseract and the origins of everything they have come to be involved in.
I hope you enjoy the next one just as much as this!
Drop a review and let me know what you think!