Title: A Lane to the Land of the Dead chapter 1/14
Pairing/Characters: Teamfic. No Pairings. Loki, Thor, Avengers, Original Male Character. Brief non graphic mention of OMC/OMC
Tags: Gore, violence, strong language, angst, self harm, torture.
Note: There is no major character death in this fic.
Summary: 5th part of the Teamwork series, but this is written like a standalone fic, so if you haven't read the others you will still be able to understand it.
Loki has been an Avenger for two years, but as a new threat pushes him away from the team, they begin wonder just how much they can trust him.
NOTE: If you haven't read the other stories in this series you only need to know a couple of things. Coulson is alive because Loki brought him back from Valhalla, and Loki once taught Tony a bit of magic, but he wasn't terribly good at it.
"Darkhawk, this is Houston. Encryption protocols are running at 100% integrity. How are you looking?"
"I read you loud and clear, Houston, we are looking good. Beginning descent on my mark. Mark."
"Angle of descent is looking good on our end, Darkhawk."
"Roger. Stand by."
"Say again, Darkhawk. We lost you for a second there."
"Roger. Copy. Looks good."
"We have you loud and clear."
"40 feet. Kicking up some dust, but looking good."
"20 feet. Drifting a little to the left. Faint shadow."
"Contact light is on. Engines all stop."
"We copy you down, Darkhawk."
"Be careful out there."
"I hear you, Houston."
Roger Harker had dreamed of this moment since he was a small boy, so when the mission came up he jumped at the chance, even though it sounded like a hoax or April fool's prank.
He was warned that it was top secret, not even his wife of 12 years was allowed to know where he was going, and an elaborate cover story was drawn up of a posting overseas that was so mundane no one would ever question it.
His hands shook as he pulled his suit on, wracked by conflicting feelings of excitement, curiosity, and pure terror that the thing out there might really be what they thought it was.
He knew it couldn't be, deep down in his heart. It was impossible. It was all a mistake, a misinterpretation of some slightly blurry pixels, and wishful thinking on the part of some scientists.
What if it wasn't? Would they really spend this much money on a mission if there were a single chance that they might be wrong?
As he clicked his helmet into place and checked his suit once more he knew he had to hide how he was feeling. His men, Brooks and Weaver, were looking to him for leadership and he had to set an example for them. He would show no fear.
"You ready, Brooks?" Harker said, as he moved into the airlock.
"Ready?" Brooks asked, his jaw taut. "Would anyone be ready for this?"
"Just keep your cool, don't think about it, and we'll let them worry about what it is when we get home."
"Let's just get out there already so we can get off this godforsaken rock as soon as possible."
Harker smirked. "You know, most would people would give their right arm to be in your place."
"Yeah, and most of them don't know what I know."
"Safety checks?" Harker asked, wanting to make sure that everything on this mission went without a hitch.
"OK, let's get moving," Harker said, as he pulled the large white pod towards the door. "Weaver?"
"Commander?" a voice said, over the comm link.
"De-pressurise the airlock."
There was a hissing as the air rushed out, and Harker asked, "We good to go?"
"All readings normal, Commander. Opening airlock doors now."
The doors opened slowly and Harker took his first step on the surface of the moon.
They had landed the craft some distance away, not wanting to take the chance that the engines would damage the mysterious object that the satellite image had picked up, which left Weaver and Brooks trekking across the desolate lunar surface, walking alongside a motorised pod which would soon hold a precious cargo.
"Are we close?" Harker asked.
"It is dead ahead of you. You can't miss it," Weaver replied.
"I see it, I see it!" Brooks said loudly, as they finally reached their destination. "Oh man, it is even creepier than I imagined."
Harker laughed. "I am so glad the transcripts of this will be top secret."
Brooks shot him a poisonous look, and then keyed a sequence into the buttons on the side of the white pod, which opened to reveal a chamber inside.
"Let's get this over with," Brooks said, as he bent down to look at the humanoid skeleton that lay among the moon rocks.
The skeleton had been easy to retrieve. They had archaeological tools that would have allowed them to dig it out should it have been trapped inside the moon rocks like a dinosaur fossil, but they had not been needed.
The skeleton simply lay on the surface, which only added to Harker's unease. It was not ancient, but it was not the discarded body of a mystery astronaut from some Earth mission gone wrong, as it showed absolutely no evidence that this person had died while wearing a suit.
A dozen questions ran through Harker's head. Who was this person? How did they die? How long had the body been there, and most importantly, how did they come to be on the surface of the moon?
He hoped that when the answers were discovered he would be kept in the loop on the findings of the scientists, but with a mission of this importance and secrecy, there was a chance he would never find out, and would be left guessing about the origin of the bones for the rest of his life.
The astronauts took their places in the capsule, strapping themselves in securely for take off, and Weaver breathed a sigh of relief. This was it; they were heading home.
"Houston, this is Darkhawk," Harker said, as he flipped the switches above his head, preparing the engines.
"We read you, Darkhawk."
"Cargo is secured."
"Darkhawk," the voice came over the comm, filled with trepidation. "Is the cargo… what we expected?"
"Can confirm that cargo is as expected."
"Roger that, Darkhawk."
"Houston, we have prepped for take off. All engines are in the green and we will begin ascent on my mark. Mark."
The engines roared into life, shaking the craft gently as they powered up.
"Looking good, Darkhawk. All readings are within normal ranges."
There was a dull thump from the back of the craft and Brooks and Weaver both turned to Harker.
"What's going on?" Brooks asked, as an alarm started to sound. "We've got red lights."
"I've got a red light on engine three," Weaver said, frantically tapping at his keyboard. "Houston, I've got a red light on engine three."
"Roger that, Darkhawk."
"Whoa," Weaver said as the spaceship started to shake violently. "Mechanical failure in engine three, shutting down now."
"Houston," Harker said. "We are shutting down engine three due to massive mechanical failure."
"Roger that, Darkhawk."
"Can we break out of the gravitational pull with only two engines?" Brooks asked.
"We're gonna have to because I am not staying here," Harker replied.
The craft lifted off from the surface, they left the moon in their wake and headed back towards home. They busied themselves double checking fuel calculations and angles of descent, as they prepared for re-entry, trying to keep their minds occupied.
As Earth grew larger in the view screen, Harker started to feel better and less like this mission had been a mistake. They could do this. He was going home.
"We have you, Darkhawk. Everything is five by five."
"Copy that, Houston," Harker said.
A strange sound came from the back of the ship, a repeated banging, followed by a muted wail.
"What the hell was that?" Brooks asked, his eyes growing wide in panic.
"Another fault?" Weaver asked.
"It didn't sound like a fault to me," Brooks replied.
"Nothing on my instruments. Get back there and check that out."
"Aye, Commander," Brooks said, as he stood up and moved towards the cargo hold.
"Houston, we may have to abort re-entry," Harker said over the comm. "I hate to sound all cliché, but I think we have a problem."
Brooks checked the instrument panel on the wall, noting that the cargo hold was still fully pressurised, and tapped a code into the screen to open the hatch.
Nervously he entered the hold, but everything appeared to be normal and where they had left it. The space suits were still in their racks, all the containers of equipment were still strapped in position, and then he moved over to the white pod and peered at it.
The glass was misty and he wiped his hand over it to clear the condensation from the surface, but was surprised when nothing happened. The fogging was on the inside.
He raised his hand, touched his ear and said, "Commander, we definitely have a problem."
"What is it?" Harker asked, over the comm.
He ran his hand along the black edging of the pod, feeling the hiss of air moving against his fingers. "The seal on the pod is broken. Might have happened in the turbulence when we shut the engine down. The plexiglass is all misted up on the inside."
Brooks moved his hand against the glass again, wiping it, and then moved his face closer, using one hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the lights.
Something moved inside the pod.
The glass shattered, driving shards into Brooks' skin, and as he tried to scream a hand grabbed him by the neck, gripping him tightly with skinless, blood damp fingers.
The glass in the top of the pod fell away, and Brooks looked into the lidless eyes of the body that lay inside.
"Brooks, get your ass back up here. We're about to start re-entry and we need you," Harker shouted over the comm.
Static filled the cabin of the ship, then a gurgling sound came over the comm, and a voice choked out, "It's ali-"
"Say again, Brooks. Say again. You're breaking up," Harker shouted desperately.
The static cleared, and a voice shrieked, "It's alive!"
"Brooks!" Harker shouted. "Get back up here now! Brooks!"
The hatch of the cockpit slammed open and the two astronauts screamed as a half formed body lurched in towards them, leaving bloody footprints behind it.
"Darkhawk, this is Huston, do you copy? We can't see you on tracking, Darkhawk. Repeat, do you copy? Sir, I think we lost them."
"What's up, twinkle toes?" Tony asked as he walked into the main room of Stark Tower carrying his laptop, and found Loki sit on the sofa glaring out of the window at nothing in particular.
"Do not call me that," Loki snapped, his head whipping round, and his scowl deepening.
"Come on," Tony asked as he sidled across the room. "Who's upset you?"
"The tall blond who my father always favoured over me," Loki sighed. "Thor subjected me a thorough telling off not half an hour ago."
"I have a similar problem myself," Tony said, and Loki looked at him inquisitively. "Steve gave me a good long lecture. Said what happened was my fault."
"Steve is very perceptive. I blame this on you as well."
"Hey, Hey! It wasn't my fault," Tony said, as he sat down on the sofa. "I wasn't the one who suggested a night out, that was you."
"No, but you were the one who suggested the drinking game."
"And I wasn't the one who got so drunk he couldn't find the bathroom," Tony said with a grin, as he opened his laptop and turned the screen so Loki could see the headline on the news site. "Caught with your pants down. Quite literally, as it happens."
"It was hardly my fault! How was I supposed to know that door led to the alleyway? If the bathroom had been clearly labelled I wouldn't have needed to relieve myself in the street like a common vagrant!"
"I always thought you'd end up behind bars again, but I never thought it would be for pissing on a one of New York's finest," Tony said with a laugh.
"I didn't even know he was there till he spoke, it was hardly on purpose! I simply turned… while I was unfortunately still in the act," Loki hissed. "It takes a lot to sneak up on me, the man must walk like a panther."
Tony sniggered as he clicked on a few links, and said, "Don't worry, the Internet will be gossiping about something new a few days. I'm already over it. Check this out." He turned the laptop.
Loki's eyebrows knitted together as he observed the image of a fleshy blob laid on sand. "What is that? Is it a creature?"
"I was hoping you would know. I figured it had fallen through some mysterious portal from another realm."
"I've never seen anything like it."
"Shame, because that, my friend, is a Montauk monster, and aside from people who claim they are dead Raccoons no one has ever really proved what they are. You could have had that honour."
Loki examined the photo closely, then frowned again. "That is disgusting. I will never understand why you mortals have such an interest in vile things."
Tony went to speak, but JARVIS said, "I am sorry to interrupt, sir, but there has been an incident, and Director Fury is requesting the presence of the Avengers."
"Tell him to send over the details and we'll be right there," Tony said, and then he turned to Loki. "You coming?"
"Dare I even show my face?" Loki asked.
"Sure," Tony said. "There might be some fires that need putting out."
"Oh, very amusing," Loki replied sarcastically.
"Your brother's in a bad mood, huh?" Clint asked, as the Avengers stood by, watching Loki repeatedly slam his fist into the face of the man who had proclaimed himself the most powerful sorcerer on Earth, but had been floored by a single bolt of Loki's magic.
Once the man was on the ground Loki jumped on him, pounding him viciously, leaving the Avengers with little do besides provide an audience, and even Bruce hadn't felt the need to let the other guy put in appearance.
"My brother does not take kindly to boasts that are not backed up by actions," Thor said, as he leant against a smouldering car. "Especially ones that call his own prowess into question."
"I fail to see the problem," Tony said. "We let Loki get himself all tuckered out on that guy's face, then take him home, put him to bed, and have a mischief free night."
"Get up an fight me!" Loki shouted at the crumpled body in front of him.
The man raised his arms defensively, looked at the Avengers, and said, "Can someone arrest me already?"
"Call yourself a villain? Begging for your enemies to protect you?" Loki growled. "You are a pathetic disgrace!"
"Please, can someone get him off meeee," the man wailed.
"OK, that's enough, I think we're done here," Steve said, as Loki stalked in a circle around the sorcerer, barely able to contain his rage.
"I thought our job was to defeat the villains?" Loki barked.
"He looks like he's been defeated enough already," Steve said as he pulled the man to his feet. "You can't go round beating the crap out of someone who already surrendered just because you're in a bad mood."
"I am not in a bad mood!" Loki shouted as he took a threatening step towards Steve.
"Loki," Thor said, with a note of warning in his voice.
Loki paused; his teeth almost bared as he cast a sideways glance towards his brother, then he turned back to the sorcerer and said, "Well, this must be your lucky day." Loki whipped round, his cape flaring out behind him, and he teleported away in a flash of light.
"Who rattled the stick up his ass?" Clint asked.
"He's pissed off his mug shots got leaked on the Internet," Tony replied.
"He never even got charged. Why's he so upset about it?" Clint said.
"Apparently the lighting made his skin look terrible."
"Oh," Clint said. "Do we need to take the photographer into protective custody?"
"Might be a good idea to suggest it to SHIELD."
"When you two have quite finished your gossiping," Natasha interrupted. "Get the jet fired up, we're going home."
Back at the tower, after they handed the prisoner off to Coulson, Steve decided to go for an evening bike ride and took Clint with him, clinging on for dear life as they blasted down the street. Natasha took a long bath, then disappeared off into the night, leaving Bruce and Tony to baby-sit a dejected Thor.
"I wouldn't worry about Loki," Bruce said, noting the tenseness in Thor's shoulders. "I'm sure he'll come back when he's had time to cool off."
"His moods lately have been… strange," Thor sighed, as he ran his finger across the condensation that had beaded on the surface of his cold beer bottle.
"Strange?" Tony asked. "I can't see much of a difference myself. I've never known if a joke will make him laugh or get me a smack in the mouth."
"He seems… unsettled."
"Maybe he needs a holiday," Bruce said. "A break would do all of us good."
"I could take him Las Vegas for the weekend," Tony suggested.
"I meant a holiday, Tony. Not 48 hours of poker and strip clubs," Bruce chided. "You could take him somewhere quiet, relaxing, where he can just chill out on the beach."
"Does everything that doesn't involved high powered explosives sounds boring to you?" Bruce asked.
Thor drained the last of his beer and stood up. "If you will excuse me, my friends. It has been a busy day, and I am tired."
"Night," Bruce said.
"See you in the morning," Tony said.
"Good night, my friends."
Thor padded down on the corridor on weary legs, and found himself wandering not towards his own rooms, but towards his brother's instead.
As he reached the door he hesitated for a second, almost feeling nervous, and then tapped on the door gently. He was disappointed when all remained quiet, but he worried that perhaps Loki had returned and was brooding alone, and pushed the door open.
"Loki," Thor said, when he saw his brother standing in the dark, illuminated only by the lights of the city outside the window.
Loki contained to gaze out across the skyline. "If I'd wanted your company I would have asked you to enter."
"I am glad you have returned," Thor said, as he slipped inside the room.
"And where else have I to go?" Loki asked, finally turning.
"You know you are welcome here," Thor said. "Bruce suggested that perhaps you should take a break. We have been very busy lately. Now that the Bifrost is repaired perhaps we should go home for a while?"
Loki laughed softly. "Asgard. Oh, yes. That's exactly what I need, a journey to glorious Asgard!"
"Brother, what is bothering you?"
Loki sighed, and clasped his hands together. "I'm just tired. I don't seem to be able to do anything right, and the people judge me. I had hoped that Midgard would be different to Asgard, but it many ways it is not."
"In what way?"
"You lived in a very different Asgard to me, Thor, you really wouldn't understand."
"Explain it to me, brother," Thor said, as he took hold of Loki's shoulders. "You know it does you no good to hold these things inside. Make me understand."
"The people loved you," Loki snapped, as he pulled away from Thor's hands. "It must have been far easier growing up in a place where your natural talents are prized over all others, than one where magic is dismissed as mere trickery."
Thor frowned. It had been a long time since Loki had spoken this way, and he had come so far in the time he had been on Midgard.
Bruce had explained it to him once, that sometimes it was easy for a person to fall back into old habits and old ways of thinking, even when they were feeling better. They had spoken at length many times, and Thor had allowed Loki to say how he felt without interruption, without contradicting him, and Loki had allowed him to speak in return.
They had listened to each other, for the first time they had heard each other, and understood the hurts they had both suffered. It had brought them closer together, and while Loki was still prone to tantrums and outbursts over strange things, Thor loved his brother more than he ever had.
"We have spent hours discussing this," Thor said, as he placed his hands on Loki's shoulders. "You know it was not always easy for me either, growing up with all that expectation, knowing that one day I would likely be called upon to be king, and that I alone would be responsible for the safety of the realms."
"I know," Loki sighed. "I know that it was not easy for you either, and yet sometimes I cannot stop myself thinking these things. Perhaps you cannot paper over the cracks of a damaged mind with kind words and good deeds."
"You perform mighty acts of heroism that will be talked about by the people of Asgard for years to come. Everyone loves you."
"I do not feel it," Loki said dejectedly, pulling away.
Thor reached for Loki again, this time pulling him into a tight embrace. "We have lived for over a thousand Midgardian years, and we have been here for only two. You cannot expect to heal so quickly."
"I know," Loki said, burying his nose into his brother's neck. "I will apologise to everyone tomorrow. I should not have allowed myself to become so angry."
"I am glad you came back, brother," Thor mumbled. "I pray you never leave me again."
"I have no plans to go anywhere," Loki replied, as he gratefully accepted the hug for a little longer.