Some mornings, Tony wakes up and it’s just one of those days.
No, not the terrible, I-woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-gimme-a-bottle-now kind of a day.
No, he means for it as one of those sickening, cloyingly perfect sort of a day that has him wondering if it’s real. Where he doesn’t wake up with his head pounding away like it’d taken a hit from Mjölnir; where he isn’t awoken by a sardonic British voice that recites the weather report loudly, caring not a whit for whether the morning call comes as a shock that throws Tony off the bed – he is, however, on occasion, more amiable to a different voice that does sound ever so British. (Though if it were up to him, he’d much prefer less groggy murmurs and more body heat curling snug around him. Warm and familiar. Not that you’d ever hear him attest to this.)
Tony feels the comfortable warmth of sunlight across his face, streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows, and his eyes twitch a little. Then, there’s a whisper of a touch as long, elegant fingers ghost his side, tracing his ribs, his bicep, meandering to his jawbone. He feels the faintest of kisses against the nape of his neck, and then nothing. The blanket shifts as the body next to him backs away.
Tony finally opens his eyes and turns over, getting in a good stretch as he goes because he can multi-task like that. On the pillow beside him, there’s black, black hair that shimmers auburn in the sun, splayed in a botched halo about the pale face of sharp lines and aquiline features. Dark lashes are pressed stark against the porcelain skin and those eyes he knows to be an ever-changing storm of green and silver twitch beneath closed lids. It is a poor attempt at feigning sleep and they both know it, and it’s enough to fill Tony with a worrying, hopeless sort of affection.
Some mornings, Tony wakes up and he cannot believe Loki’s right there.
And then he remembers, grudgingly, that he has, maybe, on some stupid level, those sons of bitches to thank for the way things turned out. And yeah, it does make his mood –
(Tony finds himself staring into brilliant celadon eyes, distracted by the deliciously wicked smile that curls Loki’s lips.)
No, everything’s still pretty much perfect.
It begins with a startled gasp in the midst of battle – not something terribly uncommon by far, gasps are in fact, rather terribly easy to incite. A well-placed punch to the gut, an unfortunate skid on black ice (Clint will rail like a little boy against that being true), a perfectly executed kick to the back, the Hulk falling onto you…
But it begins with a gasp that interrupts the God of Mischief whilst he’s in the middle of spellcasting, an interruption that leaves him with barely enough time to dart puzzled glances at seemingly random places before he vanishes in front of the Avengers.
Suffice to say, Thor hadn’t been all that pleased. Nor the Hulk, for that matter. It just wasn’t acceptable by their battle standards and etiquette to disappear in the middle of a fight. In Fury’s words however, “I don’t give a fuck if you two didn’t manage to finish your wannabe-pro-wrestling properly with a medal and applause and fuck. Loki’s gone – yes, Cap, I know it’s only for now, thank you very much for pointing that out – and the city’s still standing and that’s all I care about right now. Why? You wanna know why, Agent Barton? Because I can see from your face that you wanna know why. I’ll tell you why. Because I don’t see any of you having to deal with the motherfucking council about property damage and fucking repair costs!”
And that had been that.
Time just passed after the little incident, a month, then two, then six. Six months without so much as a peep from Loki or his sometime-minions. If Tony weren’t as free a man as he was – paperwork notwithstanding – he might have been content with leaving the proverbial gift horse’s damned mouth alone like the rest of the team seemed fine with doing, praising the high heavens like he knew Fury secretly did that there was one less supervillain to deal with. As it were, Tony mulls over the absence of the Trickster (not that he misses the bastard – the hell?) and mourns the decline in witty banter in his sad, scotch-filled life.
It’s a relief, he supposes, to find out that he isn’t the only one to take particular notice or interest in Loki. Even if the other person is Thor, Loki’s brother, who therefore has a legitimate right to be concerned over the god, but whatever. Wouldn’t want the gang to think I was pining, is what Tony explains to himself one day, or maybe his reflection. (The details of that night are a little fuzzy with the number of shot glasses.)
Except, the conversation that pops up between Thor and himself isn’t quite what he has had in mind.
He’s in the kitchen, slumped over the countertop, tracing idle fingers around the rim of his mug, yes, mug of hot cocoa because Pepper’s one scary woman and she’s basically strong-armed him into this detoxification schmuck. Tony hears the heavy gait of the Norse god, recognizes it inevitably, as it draws closer to the same counter he’s draped over.
“It’s not alcohol. It’s a cold winter night, someone messed with the damned thermostat – ”
“It wasn’t me, Sir,” JARVIS chimes in helpfully.
“ – It was so you. Don’t interrupt – and I’m having hot cocoa. See?” Tony dutifully tilts the half filled mug towards the blonde who’s pulled out a stool beside him. “Not even a drop of brandy.”
“I wasn’t going to speak of your beverage choice, Tony Stark,” Thor says quietly. And that is what catches Tony’s attention. ‘Quiet’ is and has never been known to appear in the same sentence as ‘Thor’, save for when shit is on the verge of hitting the ceiling and the realization sets Tony on edge.
“Well, what’s up, big man?” he says, trying for nonchalant.
“I fear my brother’s gone missing.”
“Missing? Loki not popping up on our radar for a couple of months doesn’t mean he’s missing, bub. It’s happened before,” Tony remarks, taking a tentative sip of his drink.
“Not without a single sighting or word. Not for this many months,” Thor says with a frown. Tony doesn’t like that look, it’s a look the man’s always gotten right before smashing something. Tony inches fractionally away in his seat.
“Really? Not even back home? The way you speak of him sometimes, it’s like he’s been known to just up and leave on some spontaneous Asgardian roadtrip… thing. When you two were still speaking, anyway.” He winces a little at his words. That hadn’t come out as tactful as he might have hoped for.
Thor’s expression turns stony.
“You are not wrong. He has gone unheard from for many, many months on end in our youth. That is the truth. But he has never before missed a meeting with Mother.”
Tony raises a brow. “Meeting? How – ”
“Every month, Mother just informed me, they meet in their minds, dreams. It keeps her from worrying. It is unjust that I do not share their telepathy.”
“Just? What do you mean ‘just’?” Growing trepidation aside, Tony thinks it’s kinda sweet that Loki’s a momma’s boy. Not so much surprising, though, what with the major daddy issues.
“I was sleeping and Mother spoke to me in my dreams.”
“I thought you said you can’t do the whole telepathic high tea – ”
“I cannot myself reach out to anyone, but Mother can. But that is not the point, my friend. She told me that Loki has not sought her all these months.”
“Maybe he’s just sulking and doesn’t want to talk to your mother?” Tony suggests warily.
“No. No, Loki would never ignore Mother like that. He loves Mother too much to hurt her feelings so pettily,” Thor says, looking decidedly like a kicked puppy. “And Mother tried to reach him instead, but could not. She says it was as if Loki’s mind was too scattered for her to centre on long enough to form a connection.”
Now, that, was interesting.
“So…,” Tony drawls into his cocoa. “What’re you gonna do?”
“I… do not yet know,” Thor sighs heavily. He looks so dejected with the slumped shoulders and honest-to-god pout that Tony is compelled to offer what awkward comfort he can with a hesitant pat to the blonde’s back.
“Cheer up, big man. He’ll show eventually. People like him, they can’t tear themselves away from troublemaking that much longer.” Tony’s speaking from experience, but Thor really doesn’t need to know that.
But another month flies by without a sign of the Trickster and things do not get better. In fact, it goes in the distinct opposite of better as the Avengers watch Thor get increasingly antsy, which translates into missions becoming stress-relief sessions where every single one of their enemies look like punch bags to the thunder god.
As a testament to the insane, clusterfuck odds that enshrouds life as an Avenger, it all culminates in a personal visit from the freaking Queen of Asgard one morning.
“Sir, you have a visitor. All Avengers have been ordered to assemble. In the kitchen.”
“What the hell, Jarvis – What’s the fucking time?” Tony whines into his pillow, lazy and dazed.
“It is just after four in the morning, Sir.”
“Son of a bitch,” Tony swears viciously. “Did you say ‘kitchen’? Who the fuck’s the fucking visitor that we meet in the kitchen?”
“Queen Frigga, Sir.”
Frigga. Frigga. Tony trundles through the disorganized crap in his head to place a face to the strange name.
“Does, erm, Fury know about this visitor?” Tony asks absently, still groggy and preoccupied with the arduous task of sifting through the astounding amount of useless trivia that fills his head.
“No, Sir. Thor informed me a day ago that he should prefer if this was kept to the team alone.”
“Right, right – ”
Tony blinks rapidly. Because, oh, fuck, Thor and Asgard and Loki supposedly missing and the name ‘Frigga’ seems really familiar now. Holy shit. The Queen.
Tony throws himself off the bed and grapples for a pair of sweatpants and his well-worn hoodie, and he briefly considers if it’s entirely appropriate to dress like that before royalty. But he’ll be seriously late otherwise, and Thor’s a prince and he’s seen Tony in even sloppier states of dress so he figures in for a penny, etc. –
“Wait a sec. And you just thought it was a good idea to keep such an instruction from me? I did not program you like that, Jarvis!” He almost yells with a glower at the ceiling.
“It must have slipped my mind, Sir.”
“Slipped your mind. Sure, sure. You and I are having words later.”
Tony’s still trying to flatten his hair when he enters the dimly lit kitchen. He spots Clint perched on a stool by the countertop, his hair sticking in a million directions like he’s just gone six rounds with his stuffed hawk and lost (it’d been a gift from Natasha and Clint would rather suck it up and keep it than incur her wrath), wilting where he sits. Steve, being the well-raised boy he is, is already dressed in trousers and a plaid shirt, taking the couch opposite a regally poised lady with stunning blond hair the same shade as Thor’s. Beside her son, she’s seated with eyes cast downwards at clasped hands, wrapped in an inconspicuous navy blue cloak with intricately woven detailing along the hems.
At Tony’s footsteps, the Queen raises her head and even though Tony’s still not entirely sure about the big hoo-ha with the royal family, something to do with Loki being adopted, he’s met with a pair of familiar green eyes.
“Tony Stark. Mother, this is the man of iron – ”
Frigga makes to rise from her seat, elegant hand outstretched, but Tony meets her half-way. “Yes, yes, I’ve heard much about you from my younger son. I must apologize for calling on all of you at this hour. I’m afraid I wasn’t too certain about Midgardian time.” The team just gives a polite shaking of heads even if they do mind because sleep deprivation is not a funny thing – but self-preservation is an important trait and nobody offends the royal family, particularly one associated with a penchant for warmongering.
Natasha gives Tony the look from the corner of her eye, her wordless ‘Really. Loki’s been gossiping about you? What did you do, Stark?’ He ignores her in favor of plopping himself onto the available space next to Steve.
“Ma’am, your son’s told us about your concerns but we still don’t see any need to – ”
“Captain, I know that Loki has regrettably made an enemy of himself and I understand that you would scarcely feel the need to come to his rescue but – ”
“Ma’am,” Steve barrels on, as respectfully as one can in interrupting. “That was not what I was going to say.”
“No?” Frigga remarks, leaning back a little.
“No, ma’am. I was going to ask what has changed to make you certain this time that something’s happened to Loki. Why the personal visit?” Steve says in his best commander voice.
Frigga worries her lower lip, an act Tony never would have thought he’d see a woman as dignified as the Queen do. The tension in the room spikes.
“Fenrir came to me,” she says quietly.
Fenrir. It sounds like that werewolf in those wizard books for children that Natasha is secretly fond of – not that Tony reads them… he just googled the story, that’s all. But Tony digresses. He takes in the look of disbelief on Thor’s face and scrambles to decide if the disbelief’s good or bad. When it comes to Loki, though, Tony likes to prepare for the worst.
“Who or what is Fenrir?” Clint pipes up, looking marginally more alert.
“He is Loki’s son, Fenrisúlfr. The Great Wolf,” Thor says weakly.
“The fuck? – ow!” – Natasha appears behind him, slapping him hard on the upside of his head. Fucking ninja. – “Sorry, ma’am. But seriously? Loki’s a dad?” Frigga glances at Clint with a critical eye.
“Well, if the lore’s true, which in this case I guess it is, Loki’s supposed to have three children with the a jötunn called Angrboða. And Fenrir’s one of them,” Bruce says and it makes Tony jump in his seat.
“Where’d you come from, Doc? Didn’t even see you there – oh, right, in that little corner again.” Tony can see the man purse his lips, just one inch away from rolling his eyes.
“Your lore has twisted and embellished the truth with time,” Thor explains, frowning. “They speak of things that have never come to pass in Asgard.”
“Back to the point,” Steve interjects again over the different voices. “What’s the deal with Fenrir?”
Frigga looks right into Steve’s eyes and maybe it’s just Tony’s imagination, but he could swear her green irises were swirling. “He is Loki’s son and therefore possesses the strongest of bonds with him. Fenrir has been the only one able to be in contact with Loki. And he came to me in a dream, telling me what has befallen my son.”
“He speaks now, Mother? I long thought him forgotten the ability after all these millennia,” Thor says.
Tony decides that Asgardians have already achieved for themselves a level of eccentricity that he can never hope to come close to understanding, so he says with his hands, “I’m sorry, what? A talking wolf?”
“Fenrir has not spoken since he was taken away all those years ago, and it has saddened my brother so. But this is good news, mother – ”
“No, Thor. He still does not speak. Fenrir showed me images that Loki has used to communicate with him. A final series before not even Fenrir could touch his mind,” Frigga says softly, covering Thor’s hand with her own.
“What’d you see?” Tony asks immediately. His hands are refusing to stay still, kneading his knuckles and tracing old calluses.
“A room. A prison. With faded lights that cast a rusty glow over his bound body. There are… a great many number of tubes, long and coiled like rope, attached to his arms and neck. And suspended above him… there drips a liquid into his eyes that makes him scream,” Frigga recites, eyes dilated and staring into an unfathomable distance.
There’s an awkward silence that follows.
“Er. If you ignore the lack of a snake and entrails, that sounds a lot like what Loki was supposed to endure until the onset of Ragnarok if you follow Norse mythology,” Bruce finally adds, his voice overly loud in the quiet.
“Entrails? Aren’t people creative,” Clint murmurs.
“Of his other son – Narfi.”
“That is a lie,” Thor growls. “Loki has but sired three children, and no others.”
Bruce raises his hands in placation.
“Look, if you ask me, let’s just say we stick to the Doc’s theory and there’s some sort of sick, Norse buff who’s decided to … re-enact the stories. Then, what?” Tony says, scooting to the edge of his cushion. The damn mental imagery that’s running through his head is doing nothing for his state of mind.
“If it is true, then we track ‘em down, get rid of the creepy mofo, then nab Loki out of there,” Clint declares as if it were the most obvious course of action. Ever.
“Loki’s the God of Mischief, Hawk. He’s not going to go walking into a trap. So we have to assume he was summoned or something, and for someone to be able to do that… well, we gotta be ready. We can’t underestimate the target.” Tony maybe more than loves Steve a little bit because he can always count on the guy to be all cool and calm and collected when Tony’s flipping the fuck out inside. Call it post-traumatic stress disorder or whatever, but anything torture-related is just a neon-lit trigger for him and he doesn’t need a total meltdown right now. He wouldn’t be able to live it down.
“How do we track him down?” Natasha’s voice cuts sharply into his thoughts. Her eyes are narrowed and she’s been absorbing every bit of information like she does with any info pack or battle tactic, absorbing and mapping out every single link in her mind. She may be a soldier these days, but she’s still a genetically enhanced world-class assassin.
“I can think of only one way,” Frigga says.
“Aye, that we release Fenrir, mother?”
Thor considers her with wary eyes. “Father would not have it,” he says.
“I shall speak to him and I shall convince him. There is no other way.”
“I know father. He would as easily leave Loki to this madness as punishment for disgracing the family. Love as he may my brother, the both of us know I speak the truth.”
Judging by the look of restrained horror on Steve’s face and the way Bruce was attempting some sort of meditative exercise, Tony isn’t the only one to think that the Allfather’s perhaps missing a few screws. And the whole Rumpelstiltskin shenanigan with Loki… Tony’s beginning to find it hard not to feel for the guy.
“Captain, will we have the co-operation of the Avengers?” Frigga asks urgently, one hand staying Thor’s protests. “None of this will succeed without your team.”
“I…– ” Steve stutters, looking helplessly at each Avenger with a silent plea for help. It’s probably gnawing at his conscience that he’s going to have to lie. “I guess you will, ma’am. But I cannot guarantee that Director Fury will not catch wind of this. He… erm, he has a way of finding out stuff nobody wants found.”
Frigga suddenly beams like fucking fairy lights on a Christmas tree and claps her hands together. The sharp sound makes Tony wince. “That will more than suffice. We shall cross that bridge when it comes.” Steve takes that comment and doesn’t bother covering up his expression that begs that by ‘we’, the Queen means ‘she’ and she alone. The Lord knows that Steve’s something of a rightfully God-fearing man, but Fury is a close second.
“Thor and I shall excuse ourselves and return to Asgard where I shall speak to the Allfather and release Fenrir,” Frigga announces, getting to her feet.
“I will return and we’ll then seek out my brother.”
Decisions made, there’s a flurry of activity that leaves the Avengers eyeballing the sudden commands and bright flash of light as something called the Bifrost is activated by some invisible dude (Tony just assumes it’s a dude. Unless it’s an unfortunate lady named Heimdall, in which case, Tony wouldn’t mind meeting her because chances are she’ll have to overcompensate for such a name with a gigantic rack or somesuch.)
In the aftermath of what felt like a concentrated tidal wave of air, goddamn Asgardian teleportation mojo, the team stands around the two couches awkwardly.
“So… I have a question,” Tony says, because for reasons nobody has been able to uncover, he just cannot shut up sometimes. “They kept saying they had Fenrir trapped or locked away somewhere. What’s all that about?”
Bruce lets himself fall onto a seat with an impressive huff, massaging his nose bridge impatiently. “Well, according to the stories, Fenrir was bound by an unbreakable chain and left in isolation on an island called Lyngvi, anchored to the earth by a large slab of stone because the gods feared his overwhelming power would grow out of control. He’s said to remain there until the time of Ragnarok when he breaks free and kills the Allfather before getting slain himself by another of Odin’s sons.”
There’s that pregnant pause again. But, honestly, what was one supposed to say to something like that?
“Awesome,” Clint grumbles into the countertop.
Tony supposes there’s that.
If there is anything he’s learnt from being a part of this merry ragtag band of crazy people, it’s to purge oneself of whatever it is that helps register surprise. He’s seen a cyborg-alien invasion, a flying cloaked guy who took The Man in the Iron Mask way too seriously, a red-faced (all the puns intended) walking dead thing from Cap’s past, a guy who’s got the whole Rob Zombie look going for him and who proclaims himself Mandarin – Iron Man’s archenemy (Pfffft) – and a whole list of other weird little shits.
But even with that much exposure, Tony’s not ready for the sight of him growling and snarling in the damn kitchen (again!). There’s a fucking mammoth of a wolf, with a thick, ruffled pelt of midnight black fur crouched in the middle of the room with his hackles raised and nobody forgets that the thing’s got a name. Fenrir. Fenrir the fucking wolf who’s got at least several inches or so on Thor.
“We all here?” Steve calls out, worry tingeing the edge of his voice. There’s no reply, but they’re all assembled in a circle around the beast, a good few feet away from it. Thor’s the only mad man who’s taken to standing right beside Loki’s son. With one large hand, the Norse god sinks his palm into the generous coat of fur and ruffles it good-naturedly.
It’s only the lingering scent of Loki clinging to Thor from the many years that they’ve been brothers that spares his life. Tony watches the wolf’s nose twitch with morbid fascination before Fenrir finally calms down, ears expressive and instinctual as they flatten themselves. The wolf sinks to the floor in a tired slump, whining and whimpering pitifully.
“What did your father say, Thor?”
The smile that previously occupies the god’s face slides off instantly. “He was as I’d expected. Mother did her best but Fenrir must return to the island once my brother is well. He will then have to make a choice.”
“Regarding what?” Steve asks.
“That I cannot say. It is only for Loki to know,” Thor answers firmly.
“Thor, if this matter has any bearing on the Avengers or earth in general – ”
“I can assure you, Captain, that it does not. Please, question me no further on this. We are already wasting time.”
Steve does back down but not without slapping on his unhappy bitchface. Thor smoothes the tangled fur of Fenrir’s scruff absently as he explains that Fenrir will be able to pick up Loki’s scent now that he is here on Midgard. And although traces of Loki’s magic has turned meager, it is sufficient for the wolf’s over enhanced senses because despite his appearance, Fenrir is still a god.
Tony eyes the massive wolf with warped curiosity and contemplates how a game of fetch would ever pan out. He could suit up and hurl a lamppost like an Amazonian and watch the wolf barrel through the streets, tongue lolling by the side of his impressive jowls, dangerous and adorable like a deranged Lassie. Yeah, that’d be tons of fun.
So, as far as missions go, Operation Save the Reindeer – as Tony calls it in his head since Cap shot it down as the official name – proceeds with suspicious ease. Admittedly, it was something of a novelty to put a tracker on a gigantic wolf that’d bitten off a god’s arm in its younger days, then watch a creature that large just vanish into thin air before appearing as a red, beeping dot hopping all over a world map.
Fenrir’s in all fifty states of America, Fenrir’s popping in and out of eastern Europe like a pinball, Fenrir’s in freaking Antarctica… Fenrir’s stalled at Norway.
“Yep, already on it.” He taps his tiny, waif-like phone and drags the GPS onto the large screen displaying the map. “Jarvis, I want thermal scans on that warehouse.”
The red dot is magnified and identified as Bergen, Norway. On the outskirts close to the snow covered mountains, the Avengers can make out the darkened blur of something huge nestled amongst the trees. Tony gestures at the screen with one hand and the crosshair flitters away from Fenrir and toward the general area in front of the wolf. There, smack dab in the middle of a small clearing, is an old, unremarkable cabin.
Clint lets out a low whistle. “Me thinks the villain doth seen too many horror films.”
“Please. Don’t speak like that,” Bruce mutters, squinting at the live feed.
Tony frowns at the thermal imaging, watches Jarvis run scans over what seems like a basement. There, reclining on a table is a figure bathed way too much in blues to be human, and another blob moving around the room, all orange and red hues.
The general consensus was for Cap to stay behind to deal with the almost certain shitstorm once Fury was alerted, while Bruce remained nearby aboard the Quinjet as back-up. Tony had enough firepower to provide cover and to secure the perimeter as Natasha and Clint got their ninja-skills on and infiltrated the cabin. Thor, on the other hand, had to grudgingly accept his role as dogkeeper, making sure Fenrir didn’t go rabid on their asses. It was simple, really.
But halfway to the assembly point, Steve radios in sounding confused. “Iron Man, the hostile’s gone. The thermal scan just showed one less body in the cabin.”
“Our villain-nabbing villain’s hightailed? Seriously? Jarvis?”
“There is no error, Sir. It appears that Loki is the only being present.”
“Be careful,” Steve says through the intercom. “Our target could be waiting somewhere close by.”
“Copy that,” Natasha’s voice sounds in, jerky with static.
It’s another hour before Tony is flying overhead, and his sensors pick up Thor’s heat signature, along with Fenrir’s. He circles back a distance, lowering altitude and the noise of the suit’s jet boosters before scouting the perimeter. Tony settles himself on the ledge of a nearby cliff as he waits for Clint and Natasha to head in.
With winter in full swing, the entire area is straight out of National Geographic, most every surface blanketed in pristine white snow, untainted and pure. Against the perfection, it is easy to spot the two figures camouflaged in white gear as their foot prints chart their progress towards the cabin.
Tony hears the door creak open through his suit’s speakers. Natasha and Clint crouch low on either side of the doorframe and when there is still no movement, she darts in, Clint immediately covering her back. The first floor is covered within minutes, Natasha’s impassive voice radioing in, “All clear.”
“There’s fucking nothing here, guys,” Clint whispers harshly into the comm. “It’s like a showroom.”
“Hit the basement,” Steve answers.
As expected, there’s a trapdoor at the far corner and the two assassins slip through it. Tony sees the two of them land in a crouch, pistols raised a second later. They push past a door and into the room that supposedly houses Loki –
“Hooooly motherfucking sonuvabitch!”
“Clint!” Steve’s voice calls out over the intercom.
“What has happened?” Thor demands.
“Guys, this is just fucking sick. Didn’t everyone sign the fucking Geneva Convention? Did the supervillains get to skip out on that? Because seriously, somebody needs to force them to sign the motherfucking Geneva Convention!” Clint rambles and he only ever rambles like that when he’s drunk or panicking or being a pain in the ass.
“The objective is secured, Cap,” Natasha says over Clint’s muttering because that’s really useful.
“I want visuals, Black Widow. Give me a status update.”
“Connecting a live feed now. Iron Man, meet us out front in ten. We need to transport Loki to the Quinjet.”
“Your chariot’s on its way, milady,” Tony answers, dark and mirthless for once. His HUD quivers just as he lifts off the ledge, a new screen emerging with a live streaming of a crude torture chamber. Natasha steps closer to the inclined examination table with the tiny camera and Tony sees Clint appear opposite her. Tony can hear the slide of sharpened metal as Natasha withdraws a dagger and tosses it over to Clint.
“Several chemicals have been pumping into his main arteries, moderate concentrations of known poisons. We’ve severed the tubes and will proceed to remove them from his body,” she reports, no inflection whatsoever in her voice and Tony is reminded of the snippets he’s managed to uncover of Natasha’s crazy, classified past. “We cannot identify what has been used to harm his eyes.”
“Thor, return to HQ with Fenrir. Now, please.”
It isn’t much but Tony’s suddenly relieved that Thor isn’t able to receive the footage.
Over the camera, Tony can hear a faint moaning and he cannot tear his eyes away from the stupid, tiny screen. He sees Loki, stripped to nothing, his skin pale and ashen, livid bruises and angry scabs peppering his arms and legs. Everybody knows that Loki’s always been lean if not scrawny, but what they’re being shown now – it’s the damn Holocaust revisited.
The camera shifts upwards toward Loki’s face and Tony is bracing himself for the mutilation when a gruff, frustrated voice growls through the comm.
“Would anybody like to tell me what the flying fuck you assholes think you’re doing? Would anybody like to try and save their asses?”
The shitstorm has hit.
“Sir, I can explain. But please let me give the team – ”
“That’s wonderful, Steven. Should I call for tea and biscuits while I’m waiting?”
“No, Sir! – ”
“My mother bid us rescue my brother, Director,” Thor explains, his voice muffled by the wind.
“Did she now? Did I not get the memo? Is Loki Odinson no longer on our most wanted list? Did it all change overnight?” Fury adds in that little chuckle of his that Tony has long associated with his aneurysm face.
“No, Sir, that has not changed. But we now have reason to believe that there might be something of even greater priority out there and – ” Tony gives a silent kudos to the Captain for that little bit waffling. It’s not that it’s not true, it just hadn’t really been the reason for this whole mission.
“If you would not trust us, Director, I would have you speak with my mother. Might you concede this rescue as a truce, perhaps?”
“Oh. Oh, I see. Are we gonna have those parent-teacher meetings, now? Are we?”
There’s a notice blinking on his HUD and Tony accepts the private line, smothering the shouting match for a moment.
“Get a move on. We’re almost at the door,” Natasha says with a grunt.
“Black Widow, be careful with his eyes. Make sure no snow touches the raw wound,” Bruce instructs. “Same goes for you, Tony.”
The three of them just stagger out into the open when Tony cuts the power and lands beside them. He takes over, slinging one arm under Loki’s legs and the other about his shoulders. The two assassins break into a sprint for the Quinjet, leaving Tony to gingerly arrange Loki’s blindfolded head until it rests against his chest-plate. He resolutely refrains from looking at the rest of the sheet wrapped body.
Tony sets the boosters to the third lowest thrust capacity and heads into the woods.
The Quinjet is already up in the air and hovering by the time Tony finds them. He passes the body back to Clint and Bruce and waits for the door to seal up before he tunes into the group comms channel.
“So…” He says intelligently.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You geniuses – shut up, Stark – are going to get your sorry asses back here and Loki’s going to the medic bay and he’s going to be considered our prisoner until we get this shit sorted out. And until then, not one of you is going to say a word to the council. Because if you do, and when I find out, you are going to be cleaning every motherfucking stinkhole in this city and clearing everybody’s goddamn paperwork.”
The response is immediate.
“And will somebody tell me what the fuck and why the fuck is there a slobbering, mutated dog in the motherfucking kitchen?”