One solid day and the following morning is what it takes for Tony to get the suit up and running. As expected, he has to strip the legs down to a bare minimum to transplant spare parts into the right arm, but after all's said and done and bolts are tightened and wires are tweaked, he can toss a plum off the balcony and shoot it right out of the air. Weapons systems in the arms are a go. He'll have to make do with one missing plate segment on the forearm, too badly warped and cracked to be reinstalled, but as long as he's careful not to let anything touch the exposed circuitry underneath it should be okay. Meaning that it'll have to be okay, because it's not like he has any other options at the moment.
The pared-down legs let him walk, but not fly. He might be able to manage a short, straightforward flight with just the upper body repulsors, but that's not something he's about to try by jumping off the balcony just yet. It can wait until he has access to a large open field at ground level.
And then there's the helmet. The big problem. It'll take a lot more than cannibalized wire to fix his helmet, with its fried processor and shattered optical display. In short, there's no hope in hell of getting it back to anywhere near its original condition. Best he can hope for is to throw together some kind of rudimentary audio-based system to keep tabs on operating status and power levels. It's better than nothing (better than what he had in Afghanistan for sure), though a disappointment all the same. But he'll just have to learn how to cope.
He flexes his fingers as he reaches for the faceplate. His knuckles still hurt. They still hurt a lot, even after – or maybe because of? – Thor's insistence that they visit some bullshit metaphysical homeopathic new age buzzword etcetera healer, who did nothing but poke and prod and feel around and ask Tony, in front of a large group of rubberneckers, a lot of invasive questions about exactly how he hurt his hand. Which Thor answered loudly on his behalf. Asgardian reiki with a side of shame. Big surprise that it didn't work, and Tony's knuckles are still mottled with ugly bruises in a ring around a scabby cut.
Looking at it makes him feel like shit. Which is probably a good thing. Clenching his fingers in certain ways sends a bolt of pain up his entire arm. Also probably a good thing. He picks up the faceplate, flipping it over to the sight of splinters of sooty glass on the backside, and grabs a screwdriver. Nothing to do today but get to work.
It's not that he's forced to stay in his room, exactly. Nobody said that. Nobody told him he had to stay in and wait for Thor to come and see him, the way things were when he first arrived. The door isn't locked. So he's not a prisoner, exactly. Not like Loki.
But there's a feeling. It sits in his gut like an internal ball and chain, keeping him where he is out of fear that maybe, just maybe, it would be in his best interest to keep his behavior in line and not to rock any boats. There are guards outside his door again. Four of them. With weapons. And while nobody said outright that he had to stay put, their presence is a pretty clear indication of what Tony should do. If he's smart. If he knows what's best.
He should sit tight and stop trying to see Loki, because that door's barred anyway, even if his conscience is screaming with a need to act. He should stay in his room. He should keep himself out of trouble. He should work on fixing his armor. (Just in case.)
Because there's also a feeling, deeper and darker and heavier than that chain binding him to the room, that something's about to happen. And if he steps out of line, he'll only get caught up in its storm.
It starts with a nauseating twist in his stomach just as he's finishing his dinner. Then it works its way up his spine, walking like prickling little insect legs, turning his skin hot and leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. People are coming. He can sense them. There are seven in total, moving quickly up the stairs towards his bedroom. Too quickly to be on a pointless social call, and their energy shines with purpose. So that would make seven people coming for him.
And no time to manually put on all his armor.
Instead, he forces himself to be calm. He wipes his mouth with the napkin and sets it down neatly on the table. Sets his knife on top of it. Slides his chair out. Stands up. Pulls down his shirt to smooth the front. Runs his hand through his hair and takes slow, deliberate steps to the middle of the room, facing the door with a wide stance. Folds his arms across his chest. Breathes in. Holds it.
The door bursts open without a knock, but that's to be expected, and Tony doesn't flinch. It's Thor. Thor and two guards. Thor and two guards and...
"Bow before Odin Allfather, king of Asgard and protector of the Nine Realms!" says one of the two before stepping aside.
Thor and two guards and Odin. Right. Thor and two guards is what Tony thought he might see, but Odin? Here? Something about that doesn't sit right, knocking all of Tony's theories out of alignment. Odin wouldn't come to arrest him. Odin wouldn't come to boot him back to Earth. Odin sends Thor to do his dirty work. Odin would only show up if-
"Tell me, Tony Stark," Odin begins, cutting off Tony's train of thought before it even has a chance to form half a hypothesis about this bizarre visit. He saunters in to the room like a lion, golden and fierce and utterly secure in his power, and pauses at the foot of Tony's bed. "Are the rumors true?"
"Rumors?" Tony asks after stooping in a clumsily executed bow. What the hell does Odin mean? "Might be true, might not be. There are always a lot of rumors about me. What's today's story?"
"My son tells me he has finally uncovered the true reason behind your presence here in Asgard. A reason which, I must tell you, I have been eager to learn."
Stunned, Tony glances over to Thor, whose neutral face looks a little too... tensely neutral. Trying too hard neutral. Did he really not tell Odin about Tony's whole sideways fairy tale of the quest to save the magical prince until now? Except no, that makes no sense. Thor had nothing to gain by hiding Tony's intentions from Odin, and why reveal anything this late in the game? Why not three days ago when Tony petitioned for Loki's release? Why not when Tony first arrived?
No, something else is going on, and Tony's not dumb enough to screw it up by opening his big mouth and confirming his ignorance. So all he says is, "Oh, yeah?"
Odin frowns. He must have been fishing for something better. But still he continues. "It is no secret in this realm that Thor will be king one day. And that day will come very soon. As such, I entrust many of my decisions and responsibilities to his judgment. When you first arrived, it was Thor who allowed you to stay. It was Thor who deemed it necessary for you to see Loki in prison. But now we have come to a decision that I believe to be above the authority of a prince of this realm. As it was I who pronounced Loki's sentence, I will be the one to uphold it... or break it. If you can convince me that your demands hold merit."
Tony can feel his eyebrows slowly rising, though he keeps his mouth shut. Demands? Since when did he demand anything? He asked Thor. Asked him pretty nicely, too (by his standards, anyway). No demands. Requests. Entreaties, even. That's all. Whatever Thor told Odin, it definitely wasn't an accurate play-by-play of their conversation. Or did Odin misinterpret something and jump to conclusions?
Forcing himself to resist the urge to look back at Thor for clues, Tony nods. "Yeah, well," he says, playing along with whatever this is for now, "I think my demands are very reasonable. Given the circumstances."
"And what, exactly, are your demands?"
Oh, fuck. Is it really too much to hope Odin will just spell everything out for him so he can agree and pretend he knows what the hell is going on? This time he does steal another peek over at Thor, but that tight-jawed expression still isn't telling him a single thing. The best he can do is guess.
What would Thor have said? If he went to Odin to report on Tony's activities in Asgard, but he wasn't telling the truth, what would he have said? Is it possible that for once he was on Tony's side? That he was actually helping instead of trying to drive a solid steel wedge between him and Loki? If Thor went to Odin with Tony's imaginary demands...
"Everything Thor told you," Tony says. Loudly. With conviction. Blaring out over the unease still churning inside. "I hope he reported it all to you accurately, because I have some pretty specific demands, but they all boil down to one key point: I'm here to take Loki back to Midgard."
Slowly, Odin nods, and Tony lets himself exhale a long, silent sigh. Looks like he guessed right. "And?" Odin asks. "Why should I listen to you?"
"Because in the view of Midgard, Loki is a criminal," Tony replies, sliding right on into guess number two. "He attacked our land and murdered our people. He needs to answer for what he's done. We had him in our custody after the failed Chitauri invasion, but Thor insisted on returning him to Asgard before he could stand trial and face punishment. With all due respect, Thor had no right to do that. The citizens of Midgard are angry at the perception that Loki evaded justice." Probably.
"I asked why I should listen to you," Odin repeats. "You, Tony Stark. Why are you here, when by your own admission you regret your role in Loki's downfall? Why did your realm not send one of its many kings or chosen leaders to seek custody of Loki?"
This answer might just take him deep into prime bullshit territory, but what other choice does he really have? "Legality. I was the one to defeat Loki. I might regret shooting him, but I don't regret stopping him. It had to be done, and I did it. Therefore, the responsibility of overseeing his punishment falls on my head. But more than that, he also defaulted on a debt of honor. Shortly after his arrival he was captured and tortured by a group of rogue soldiers who like to roam around making important people like me miserable. Thor and I worked together to free him on the understanding that he'd help us track down the Tesseract."
Odin's chin dips into the smallest of nods. He's heard this part of the story already.
"Anyway, I'm sure Thor's told you all about that. I saved Loki's life. He was honor-bound to me. But in the end he betrayed me."
"You think this broken honor-debt is sufficient to validate your claim?"
"No. There's more. A few days ago, I learned from the queen that Loki attempted to influence my mind and manipulate my free will by use of blood magic. He tried to turn me into a pawn clinging to the tail end of his crazy scheme."
"Frigga told me of this."
Good. Because if Frigga told Odin about the blood magic, she probably also mentioned how incandescently pissed off Tony was to learn about it, which can only help what he's going to say next. "And that's Loki's third strike. First he attacked my home. My home, my personal home: that's where he set off his portal for the invasion. That was my tower he messed with, not just my city and my country and my planet. My building. Then he betrayed my trust and his own acknowledged debt of honor. And finally, he tried to cast his web of blood magic over me. Me. So that's why I'm here. That's why I came. For every way that Loki wronged Midgard, he wronged me three times over. He owes me. And I want my goddamn payment."
Odin's final nod is sharply defined: purposeful and approving. He was expecting that. All of that. He walks back to the door with the gait of a man who's just concluded a tricky bit of business in a favorable way, which is a walk Tony's seen often enough before. Hell, Tony's sure he's done it himself. The smug, self-satisfied, leaving-the-boardroom-on-a-high-note walk. Only instead of leaving, Odin holds out a hand, and Thor passes over a rolled-up piece of paper he'd been concealing inside his cloak.
"These are the conditions I am prepared to allow," Odin says as he unrolls the paper and his single, pale eye scans its contents. "Loki is a prisoner of Asgard, and this he will remain. His debt to you does not free him from his crimes against my throne. But he will serve out his sentence with you for the remainder of your life, however long that may be. Forty years?"
"Sure," Tony mutters, trying not to read too much into the wisp of a smirk on Odin's face. Go ahead and rub it in, you immortal fuckhole.
"Loki's chains will belong to you until your death. At that time, he will be brought before the court of Asgard for judgment. If we judge him to have redeemed himself under your authority, he will be freed."
Fat chance, Tony thinks, but bites his tongue.
"If not, he will return to prison."
That sounds more like it.
"But beware, Tony Stark," Odin warns. "Loki will be your responsibility. You will answer for his every action, and should he escape your watch, or should he cause harm to any person on any realm under my protection, he will be executed without hope of mercy, and you will be tried for his crimes."
"Fine by me," says Tony, at which Odin frowns. Of course he was expecting Tony to balk at that. At least a flinch or a moment of hesitation, weighing options. But the thing is, Tony's in this for the long haul, and preventing Loki from returning to a genocidal intergalactic war criminal role was already on his to-do list. "Where do I sign?"
He meant that figuratively, but then Odin holds out the paper roll with a deepening frown, and of course, yes, that would be a contract or some kind of legally binding document. It's written in shimmery script that looks almost like an illusion floating on the surface of the page, making Tony's eyes hurt and forcing him to squint. When he scratches it, though, the paper shreds and tiny ink-stained fibers stick under his fingernail. Not an illusion.
"The magic allows you to read our script," Thor explains, speaking his first words of the evening and drawing Tony's attention away from the contract. Next to Odin's iron glare, he looks almost apologetic. "It may appear strange to your eyes, but there is no trickery in that document. I swear on my honor."
"...Thanks," Tony replies. But at least it sounds like he's not the first person to be mistrustful of magic writing. He has to focus and concentrate on each word one at a time to read clearly, while the others vibrate in his peripheral vision like an optical illusion. At least it's short: just a concise listing of all the points Odin relayed to him. Loki will live under the control of... until such a time as... following the death of... Tony Stark will be responsible for... It's all there with no hidden surprises or even sneaky, vague clauses. There are a few extra points, like a concession for Tony to surrender Loki back to Asgard if he proves to be too much of a handful and a reiteration that Loki will by no means be considered a free man even though he's no longer imprisoned, but those make sense in Tony's mind.
The only thing that doesn't make sense is... "And then what?" he asks, looking up again.
Thor answers, because Odin's still too busy looking foreboding and grim. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, what exactly is going to happen? I sign this agreement and... what? What are the next steps?"
"You sign that agreement, and Loki belongs to you," Odin answers in a voice every bit as irritable as his face. "What else would happen?"
Golly, who knows? Maybe something that completely fucks Tony over? Because this can't be it. This is too easy. This is too quick. This is too convenient. All he does is ask, and Loki's handed over to him, just like that? No, that can't be right. There has to be something else. Has to be. Some catch or trick or weird little thing he's overlooking. A clue he's missing.
He shifts his gaze from Odin to Thor. Thor's head slowly ducks down, and then, just as slowly, rises back up again. Was that a nod? Some kind of sign? Is Tony supposed to take that as the all-clear, despite the fact that his trust in Thor right now is about as strong as generic paper towel in a Bounty ad?
On the other hand, though: what choice does he have?
"Okay. Give me a pen."
Odin reaches down to his belt and hands over a knife. "Your thumbprint."
Right, signing a contract in blood. That's neither ominous nor cliché in the least. But he's come this far and again: what choice does he have? So Tony pricks the pad of his thumb with Odin's blade, smears the blood, and presses a sloppy print onto the bottom of the page on the line below his shimmering, magical name. "All yours," he says as he gives the paper and the knife back.
All Odin says is, "Bring the prisoner."
There were three more, Tony remembers. He felt the presence of seven bodies approaching, and now he knows why as the other three make their appearance. It's not three guards, like he assumed.
It's two guards and Loki.
They haul him in, one guard holding each arm, and it's all Tony can do not to lunge forward to catch him as they shove him down to his knees on the floor. He lands hard and struggles to keep his balance at the impact. Almost falls forward. His wrists are chained, locked up in something that looks an awful lot like the shackles Thor had back in Atlantic City, and he's wearing the same filmy green shirt and sarong Tony last saw him, though the shirt's been ripped so far down the left side the sleeve's barely still attached. Somebody put up a fight.
The thing that really makes Tony's stomach drop, though, is the fact that Loki isn't putting up a fight any more. He kneels in front of the guards, swaying a little and blinking at nothing. Doesn't say a word. Doesn't make a sound. Not even a snarl of disgust for his mistreatment, when he should be screaming and raging.
"Come," Odin says, beckoning to his guards, who immediately turn and exit Tony's room as smoothly as they came. Odin himself leaves with them, throwing a handful of words back over his shoulder. "You may remove his bonds once we've gone, Tony Stark."
Only Thor lingers, staring down at Loki, then glancing to Tony before turning back to Loki again. He doesn't make a sound, either. He just shakes his head and gives Tony one piercing, pointed look before hurrying out the door after the others. Leaving Tony speechlessly confused as to what just happened, standing in the presence of... Is he sure that's even Loki? Is this Odin's scheme? Illusion somebody (or something) else to look like Loki? Send in an impostor? Except what purpose would an impostor serve? Unless Odin wanted to assassinate Tony and blame Loki, which is... honestly preposterous and Jesus Christ, Tony needs to stop overthinking and just assess the situation. None of this makes sense. But spinning through increasingly unlikely scenarios in his head won't clarify a damn thing.
"Hey," he says, taking a few careful steps over to Loki. It gets him no response, and he knows that's a bad sign, but he keeps on walking until he's right in front of Loki and can crouch down. Face to face. "Hey," he repeats.
Blank. Loki's eyes are glazed and blank, but not in his usual way. This time it's not the mask of hidden emotion. His wide, crystal-blue stare is as open as Tony's ever seen, only there's nothing behind it. An absolute blank, clear as glass and eerily calm. No fear, no worry, no pain... no recognition.
"...Okay," Tony says, heart sinking even further at the sight. What the hell is going on? What did Odin do? (Is this even Loki? It can't be Loki...) "Are you... Are you under some kind of magic spell? Did they drug you? Do you think it means I've been in Asgard too long if 'magic spell' came to mind before 'drugs' to explain your whacked-out condition?" He tries to smile when he says that, but it feels forced, and Loki isn't smiling in return anyway. "Can you even talk?"
"Yes," Loki answers.
One step in the right direction. At least that's Loki's voice. "Can you stand up?"
He can. But he's shaky, and he sways as he rises to his feet, staggering from one side to the other. Tony holds out a hand to steady him, grasping his upper arm.
But then there's the magic. Which Tony had almost forgotten about, and hadn't even thought to expect: the lightning-strike of Loki's inert magic charging up his arm and curling through his skin. Immediately, he jerks his hand back. The magic stays with him a few seconds longer, pulsing through his blood before finally diluting itself into nothing more than a feeling of warmth. He stares at Loki with his mouth hanging stupidly open. Loki, stumbling backwards, stares at him in return.
"What the hell was that?" Tony asks. Even though that's a dumb question, because he knows exactly what it was. What he meant to say was, why the hell was that? What in the world did Loki do that he could have used so much magic, enough to cause that kind of electric shock, in such a short timeframe? The way his shirt is ripped it's obvious he fought against whoever came to take him out of prison, and fought hard with all the magic he could throw at them. But other than the ruined sleeve, there's no sign of any damage on him. No cuts, no scrapes, no bruises. Any fight that may have gone down wasn't done hand to hand. So again, that begs the question:
"What did Odin do?"
Quietly, Loki looks down at his ruined shirt, as if that's what Tony's asking about. Doesn't say a word about anything else.
The disheartening silence isn't giving Tony a good feeling about the answer. "Okay, let's... let's take this one step at a time," he says "Why don't you sit down. Here. On the end of the bed."
Loki follows his gesture, awkwardly sitting, bending his arms out away from his body as far as the shackles on his wrist allow. Maybe it helps him balance. He sits, and leans oddly to the side, but manages to find his way upright again.
Don't think about it, Tony tells himself. Just don't. Because the last few minutes have been too much of a surreal blur and his mind's still working to catch up and make sense of what he's seeing. (Loki.) It's Loki. It's really Loki. That one touch of magic threw his impostor theory right out the window. He knows the feel of Loki's magic by now, and no way that was anything else but the real deal. So that's a positive to focus on. Loki's here. He's out of prison and he's here. Completely messed up, but Tony's seen him worse, right? When they teleported out to the desert and Loki was magic drunk, he was in rough shape, but it was only a short-term problem.
"Why don't we just have a chat for a sec," Tony says, pulling up a chair so he can sit facing Loki. "Maybe... maybe work on your memory." And pray to anybody who'll listen that this is only a temporary glitch. A side effect of whatever they did that Loki fought so hard against. They couldn't permanently destroy his memory. It's not possible. Is it? Fuck, Tony won't even think about that.
"Do you know where you are?" he asks. But asking such a simple question, like somebody might ask a stroke victim, makes him feel worse.
That Loki doesn't roll his eyes and sigh in his usual long-suffering way at being treated so delicately makes him feel even worse still. Expressionlessly blank, Loki looks over to the darkening cityscape visible through the open balcony doors. "Asgard," he says after a moment.
Tony bites the inside of his cheek before forcing himself to ask the next question. "Do you know who I am?"
Loki looks back at him, head tilted to the side as if he's thinking. "I don't remember," he says. Casually. Inconsequentially. Like his words don't hit Tony in a cheap blow to the gut.
"Don't remember or don't know?" Tony pushes.
"I don't remember. Perhaps I know you. You are... Tony Stark. Of Midgard."
"So you do know me," Tony sighs in relief.
"Yes. I think so. Perhaps. I don't remember your name."
"You just said my name."
Loki frowns. "No. Why would I know that? I've not seen you since..." His voice trails off and his frown deepens, like he's thinking. "You live in a city called Phoenix."
"Yeah, I have a house in Phoenix. You remember that?"
Loki has to remember. The memories might be slipping in and out, surfacing and then hiding again in some blocked corner of his mind, but they haven't disappeared altogether, and that helps Tony relax a little. Thinking of Phoenix is good. It means something, to both of them, and somewhere inside Loki knows that. His memory isn't gone. It's just hindered.
"Do you know why you're here?"
Shrugging, Loki looks back over at the balcony doors. "I promised Thor not to say."
"Thor?" Tony asks, leaning forward. "You promised Thor?"
"Odin would be so angry if he found out," says Loki. Then a demonic grin widens across his face, he lets his head fall back, and he just laughs.
Odin would... Tony slumps in his chair, hitting the back hard. So this was Thor's doing. A crazy, convoluted, absolutely reckless plan to get Loki out of prison by convincing Odin that Tony had come to Asgard to collect a wanted prisoner. "Thor?" he has to say again, just to be sure. "Thor, god of not having fun and stating the obvious, Thor, decided to pull one over on everybody?"
Loki's laughing too hard to answer, choking on his breath and falling backwards onto the bed.
Well, on some level, Thor being the brains behind a devious plot actually makes sense. Because who in their right mind would expect Thor to do something like that? No, if Thor wanted his brother out of jail, people would expect him to make an impassioned plea, or just start busting down walls. He's not the type to lie and sneak his way through life. So when Thor tells Odin the best way to deal with their Loki problem is to hand him over to Tony... Odin listens. Nothing amiss there. Just sincere, trustworthy Thor.
"Holy shit," Tony mutters into his hands. It's the best explanation so far, better by miles than anything else he can come up with. But still not watertight. There's something else going on, he can feel it, like a quiet and distant warning in the back of his mind telling him to stay vigilant. There's more to this, but for now, the knowledge that Thor's the driving force behind Loki's release from prison is enough to set him at least halfway at ease. He can pry further and try to figure out the rest of the puzzle tomorrow.
For now? "Maybe it's time to go to bed," he tells Loki. "Have a good night's sleep, and maybe..." Maybe, in the morning, some of whatever's affecting Loki's mind will have worn off. It has to be temporary. If Thor was involved... Thor wouldn't allow anything worse.
"Yeah," he says, reassuring himself more than anything. "It'll all be fine in the morning."
Tony doesn't sleep, but this time it's not insomnia. It's cold fear and nerves pulled tight as a wire, lying in the dark with a head full of bramble-patch thoughts all twisted and intertwined so badly he has trouble figuring out where one ends and another begins. The dark chips away at the relief he felt at Loki's revelation that Thor was the one to mastermind the escape plan. Because now that he thinks about it, did Loki really say that? Or anything at all? No, all Loki said was that he promised Thor he wouldn't say why he was here. Immediately after a round of confusion over who Tony was and whether or not Loki knew him. Now that he thinks about it (now that he has too much time to think about it), who's to say that wasn't some grand delusion? Loki only imagining Thor freed him, when really...
With a grunt, Tony turns over in bed to look at Loki, who's now sleeping peacefully after a rough start. Huddled in a cocoon of every single blanket available, at least he's peaceful. He's stopped talking in his sleep. It was just names at first, 'Thor' and 'Tony' and 'mother' and more Tony didn't recognize. Then scraps of phrases and a few full sentences, both rational and nonsensical. Irritably telling Thor to put something down before he broke it, and complaining to Tony that he was cold. Hence the blanket cocoon.
Then nightmares. Pleading and begging with dream-phantoms Tony could only guess were the Chitauri who'd held him captive, until Loki woke up screaming. But he's quiet now. He's been quiet for almost two hours. Tony gently rests a hand on his shoulder, feeling the barest tingle of magic through all those blanket layers. He doesn't move. It's a deep and restful sleep. Good.
It's hard to say what's more infuriating: being separated from Loki by prison walls, or having Loki so close beside him and yet being unable to do so much as put a comforting arm around him for fear that Odin and will crash through the bedroom door at any second and learn the truth about Tony's intentions. And he's not about to risk a damn thing until he has a better understanding of what might be going on. A few more days, he thinks, and repeats those words over and over in his head: a few more days, a few more days, a few more days, a few more days. A few more days will give him a better understanding of where things sit. Whether or not he's being watched. How much he can get away with.
A few days will tell him if this is even real, or just a cruel trick on the part of some Asgardian bastards.
He rolls back over, facing the door to resume his watch. Turns his back on Loki for now. It's easier that way.
A few more days.