The Asgardians put Loki inside of some kind of mystical sieve, it turns out. Thor insists it was a prison, but since Loki got out just about instantly and also immediately returned to Earth, Tony chooses to believe it was a mystical sieve in orbit over North America. He asks Thor to communicate to daddy that Iron Man thinks he is an incompetent asshole.
Loki doesn’t have an army this time, which is good.
Loki has magic that takes away all of the Avengers’ superpowers, which is bad.
Tony isn’t even sure what happens. One second he’s flying through the air, trying to blast Loki’s magical ass out of the sky. The next second, Loki is right up in his face, grinning like a maniac, and blowing a palm full of powder at him. But he’s in the suit, which has its own biosphere. So none of it touches him. He doesn’t breathe it in.
“As you were,” Loki says.
Tony’s suit disintegrates. His face plate goes first, and all of a sudden, Tony can’t breathe. He hears Loki laughing, feels cold air against his skin. His thrusters gone, he’s falling. And suffocating. He makes one desperate grab for Loki, and then his oxygen runs out.
Tony wakes up not dead. That’s interesting, because the fall to Earth should have killed him. And if not –before that – Loki.
He wakes up on the ground, not dead and not all that injured. His chest kind of hurts, and he has a head ache. All very weird.
Tony doesn’t know where he is. It’s a wide open space, and the geography is disturbingly reminiscent of Afghanistan. Super.
He’s not alone. Next to him is a little kid. Unconscious or dead, and curled in on himself. Tony nudges the kid’s arms down from his face, idly searching for a pulse. He doesn’t really expect to find one, though he does realize that the kid isn’t a kid. He’s just a really tiny, really skinny dude. A live dude, at least.
This still isn’t making any sense.
Loki is nowhere around, at least not to the eye. Tony has no weapons, unless he uses the unconscious dude as club.
He pokes the sleeping guy in the shoulder.
It takes a while, but finally the small man opens his eyes. He seems to be in the same conditions as Tony; alive and not bleeding, but still feeling gross.
The guy grabs his head and moans.
“Ow.” He looks Tony in the eye. “Tony, what happened?”
Tony stares down at him. “You know who I am?” he asks. “We’re on a first name basis?”
“It’s me, Steve,” the guy says. He looks down at himself and gasps, clutching his chest. “Oh, no.”
“Steve?” Tony echoes. “I don’t think so. You’re about the size of Steve’s left calf, little guy.”
“He shrank me,” Steve says, almost to himself. He sounds horrified. “He turned me back.”
“Yeah.” Tony sighs, because of course. “This is what you looked like before Captain America?”
Steve nods, miserably. His narrow shoulders are hunched above a chest the width of a soft-cover book. They’re sitting, but Tony can already tell Steve can wear dresses from the Petite section. And he’s so skinny.
“Loki blew powder at me, said “as you were,” and then punched me in the head,” Steve recounts.
“Same here,” Tony says, more or less. “And the Iron Man suit fell apart.” He frowns. “But not, you know, my skeletal structure."
Steve is repetitively patting his chest, like he can’t believe what’s happened to his body.
“Why would you take out Iron Man and Captain America,” Tony asks, “and not kill us?”
Steve shakes his head, shrugging.
“C’mon,” Tony says. He rises, dropping a hand down to Steve. “Let’s go find the others.”
“Others?” Steve allows himself to be pulled to a standing position. For the first time, Tony can stare down at him.
“Unless you think Loki didn’t try to share this with everyone else?”
“Yeah,” Steve says, but his expression suggests he’s so focused on his new condition, he might not care.
Tony understands, but he also pats the new tiny Steve on the head.
They find Natasha and Clint, first. More or less in the same condition as Tony and Steve.
“What could he take away from them?” Steve asks.
“Puberty?” Tony guesses.
Natasha still looks fully-developed, and she also tries to kick Tony in the face when he wakes her. Both the reflexes and strength are still there.
Clint, similarly, is strangling Steve before either of them notice he’s awake. He stops quickly, though, because he probably thinks he’s trying to kill a child.
This is where they find out that tiny Steve also has asthma. He can’t breathe and for a couple of minutes, Tony thinks Loki isn’t even going to have to come back to kill Captain America.
Nothing has happened to Clint and Natasha. They had a 2-on-1 encounter with Loki, who did try the trick with the powder. He also tried the old ‘club-over-the-head’ trick, which worked.
They’re both silent by nature and tactful enough not to say anything about Steve’s miniaturization. Natasha’s even schooled enough not to stare at him. Clint, however, is not.
“Loki broke my suit,” Tony explains, with brevity. “And turned Steve here into Thumbelina.”
“With the powder,” Natasha says.
“I’m sure Thor knows an antidote,” Steve says, evenly. “We just have to find him.”
It’s nice that even pint-sized Steve has that idiotic optimism.
“Would it work on Thor?” Clint asks. “Like Asgard shrinking powder?”
Tony snickers. He can feel Steve’s gaze burning into his back, or maybe his ass or knees, both of which are more level with Steve’s face. Natasha’s expression lets him know she judges him, but the mental image is still hilarious. “I hope so,” he says, because he’s honest like that.
They find Bruce, next. And Tony hadn’t even thought about that, honestly. He’d been imagining mini-Thor and preparing appropriate insults.
Bruce is already awake. He’s sitting cross-legged on an old abandoned pick-up truck bed, disheveled as always.
“Hey,” he says, as the foursome approaches him. He does a double-take at Steve.
“Steve,” Tony clarifies. “After a bad trip on Asgard angeldust.”
“Loki found you all,” Bruce says. “But didn’t kill any of us. Is that just bad follow-through?”
“No,” says Natasha.
“Seen The Other Guy lately?” Clint asks, next.
Bruce gets the awkward look on his face that he always does. “No,” he says, slowly. “I guessed he smashed Loki for blowing the fairy dust in my face.” He shrugs. “I didn’t like that. I don’t really like him.” He twists up his face. “But I didn’t wake up naked, so.”
“Did Loki say anything to you?” Natasha says.
“As you were,” Bruce says. “Why?”
“He said that to me,” Steve volunteers. “And it turned me back into what I was before.”
“Before,” Bruce repeats.
Bruce is smarter than this. Bruce is playing dumb.
“Loki may have gotten rid of The Other Guy,” Tony says, saving them all some time.
Bruce doesn’t react. “Why would he do that?” he asks.
“I don’t think he really likes The Other Guy, either, Doc.” Clint says.
“If he’s Doc,” Tony says, pointing at Bruce, “can Steve be Dopey?”
“Only if you’re Snow White,” Steve mutters. “Loki’s powder disintegrated the Iron Man suit. Tony’s in the same boat.”
“You’re in a dingy,” Tony tells him.
“Is the arc-reactor gone?” Bruce asks.
Tony touches his chest. “I’d be dead by now,” he says, automatically. “I’ve been walking around Neverland with Tinkerbell for a while now.”
Natasha rolls her eyes. She reaches out and pulls Tony’s t-shirt up.
“Ooh, handsy,” Tony says, as he tries to back away. Natasha doesn’t let go.
“It’s gone,” she says.
Tony thinks she’s fucking with him, except that’d be funny and Natasha has never had a sense of humor about anything.
But Clint nods, and Tony looks down to see his chest, his chest the way it was before he’d ever been to Afghanistan or faced his own mortality.
“Not Snow White,” Steve says. “Tin Man.” He looks proud of himself.
Clint gives him an appreciative grin, so Tony yanks his shirt back down. “There are munchkins in that,” he reminds Steve, whose face immediately drops.
“Let’s go find Thor,” Tony snaps, because they are all staring at him. “C’mon, Bruce.”
Thor is awake when they find him, sitting stooped on the ground next to Mjolinar.
“Can’t lift it?” Tony guesses, as they approach.
Thor shakes his head, raises his eyes from the ground.
“Have you seen your brother?” Clint asks, looking around pointedly.
“He is the one that did this,” Thor admits.
“Yeah, we’re shocked,” Tony says.
For the first time, Thor notices Steve. His face quirks in confusion, “What…”
“Steve,” Steve says, tiredly.
“Steve, original recipe,” Tony corrects. “Your brother did something with the leavening agent or something.”
“He took away our…” Bruce trails off. “Issues,” he decides.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on here?” Natasha asks.
“It is a spell,” Thor says. “A very powerful one, and I do not know how Loki gained access to the…”
“Because he’s so respectful of boundaries and rules,” Tony interrupts.
“Is this permanent?” Steve demands.
“Yeah,” Bruce says, quietly. “I’d like to know, too.”
“I cannot know,” Thor answers. “He did not tell me.”
“You had a conversation?” Clint asked.
“How’d that go?” Tony wants to know.
“We battled,” Thor says, raising his chin. “Fiercely.”
“Did he win?” Bruce asks, mildly.
“We drew,” Thor retorts.
“Does that mean he can’t…be Loki anymore?” Bruce follows up.
“You got him with his own magic powder?” Natasha clarifies.
“We were intertwined,” Thor says.
“You frolicked in his magic powder,” Tony says. “Both of you.”
“Is he here?” Natasha asks.
“You are unchanged,” Thor answers, which is not really the point.
“I have no issues,” Natasha says, and Clint immediately makes a choking noise.
Natasha glares at him. “We still have our weapons,” Clint moves on smoothly. “If you could point us in the direction of your brother.”
“He fled,” said Thor.
“Crying like a little girl, I hope,” Tony says.
“Was this his entire plan?” Natasha asks. “It’s not his style.”
“Idiotic plan that backfires literally into his face,” Tony objects. “Exactly his style.”
“Take away your powers,” Natasha says, “and then?”
“Narcissistic taunting?” Bruce offers.
“Are we talking about Tony or Loki?” asks Steve.
“I’d have a better plan,” Tony says. “Take away your powers, transport you to the middle of nowhere…”
“Check, Check,” says Clint.
“Kill you all,” says Natasha, unclear if she’s suggesting it as Loki’s plan, or just endorsing the idea.
“Too simple,” Tony says.
“Too sane,” Steve adds.
“He would arrange a spectacle,” Thor says, finally. “Something you could not defend yourselves from. And he would watch.”
“Yep,” says Clint.
“I know my brother,” Thor says.
“I hate your brother,” Tony counters.
“I have extremely mixed feelings at the moment,” Bruce says. The others look at him. Steve, in particular, disagrees. “Not that I can be much help right now, anyway. I can lecture him on science, maybe lull him into complacency.”
“My strength remains,” Thor says. “I am still stronger than him and you all.”
“Thumb war later,” Tony says.
“We could just shoot him,” Clint suggests.
“I agree,” Natasha says.
Thor bristles. “I will defeat my own brother my way.”
“You keep saying that,” Tony mutters.
“We must protect the small one,” Thor continues.
“Did you just call me “small one,” seriously?” Steve demands, disbelieving.
“You must not get underfoot,” Thor continues. “I will crush you.” He’s not joking.
“I’m still down with the shooting,” Clint says.
They don’t get to shoot Loki.
It’s about this time that Loki’s ‘spectacle’ shows up, in the form of a herd of ridiculous Asgard beasts. Angry, hungry, carnivorous, Asgard beasts with prehensile limbs and antlers.
There’s lots of running, after this. Clint and Natasha shoot things. Thor actually picks up the ones that get too near and tosses them.
Tony raises his arm like he has a cannon on the end of it, except he doesn’t. So, he runs. Bruce is beside him, and they’re both dragging Steve.
They find the only geographic protection in the area, a topographic exception that looks sort of like the badlands of the American Midwest.
Thor grabs hold of Steve by the back of his shirt and lifts. Steve twists and screams, and Tony doesn’t think he’s ever seen Steve this angry. It’d be funny, if they weren’t about to be eaten. Thor tosses Steve up, aiming for the dark mouth of a cave just visible above.
Thor’s aim is true, and Steve is thrown to safety.
“Go with him,” Clint orders.
Tony recoils. “You’re not the boss of me,” he begins.
“Go,” Natasha says. “Thor.”
“Go or get tossed,” Bruce says, and they both decide to scramble up the rocks to Steve’s cave.
Natasha, Clint, and Thor stay outside.
“They’re going to run out of ammo eventually,” Tony says, watching the chaos.
“And I’m going to kill them,” Steve says, fuming. “I’m not kidding.”
“Go for the artery in the ankle,” Bruce suggests. Steve turns and glares at him, and Bruce shrugs apologetically.
“Thor would be very sad if he broke you,” Tony says, as they watch the God of Thunder pick the beasts off with rocks. “The moping would be unbearable.”
“Clint is taking trick shots,” Bruce says, after a moment. “He’s just showing off.”
“Jealous?” Tony asks, because he is. A little.
“If The Other Guy was around,” Bruce said, “he’d have shown up after that zombie sheep-monkey thing tried to bite me.”
“They’re Bilchsteim,” comes a haughty voice from the back of the cave. “Moron.”
Loki is psychotic, but he’s not stupid. He’s taken refuge from the Bilchsteim in the cave, too.
Tony puts one hand on Steve’s shoulder, because the little guy is just about vibrating with aggression. Loki might not have his sneaky God tricks anymore, but Steve is the size of a four-year-old and looks like he’s made of porcelain.
“Our gracious host,” Tony says. “Is there a reason you’re hiding back here with mushrooms and the bats?”
“It was to watch the Bilchsteim kill you,” Loki answers, bluntly. “They would rip you to shreds.”
“Our team is doing most of the shredding,” Bruce points out. “You forgot to disarm Clint and Natasha.” He has hold of the other side of Steve’s shirt, Tony notices.
“And your brother,” Tony says. “I think now he’s just bench pressing them. Next time remember that muscles and bullets, you know, exist.”
“And arrows,” Bruce adds.
“Let me go,” Steve says, not to Loki.
“I want you to know that I’m not angry with you,” Bruce says. “I’d actually like to have a conversation about making this permanent.”
Loki raises his chin in confusion.
“But,” Bruce continues, “We are going to hold you down while Steve hits you.” He looks to Tony for agreement.
The fight doesn’t take long. Loki can’t vanish on them or pull any of that mirage shit. It’s also two and a half against one, even if the one fights dirty.
In the end, Loki is unconscious. They tie him up with strips of their shirts. And Steve sits on him, which makes him feel useful.
“That hurt more than usual,” Tony complains, when they’re done.
“Yeah,” Bruce says. He examines his knuckles.
“You’re not wearing the Iron Man suit,” Steve points out. “And you’re lucid.”
“Right,” Bruce agrees.
“How’s it feel?” Tony asks.
Bruce shrugs. “I don’t like to hit people.”
“Not even Loki?” Tony asks.
“Loki just did a really nice thing for me,” Bruce points out.
“Not on purpose,” says Steve, scowling.
“I feel okay,” Bruce says. “I feel comfortable in my own skin. It’s been a long time.”
Steve shifts uncomfortably, not sharing his sentiments.
“What about you?” Bruce asks. “Miss your headlight?”
Tony thinks about that. “Yeah,” he says, after a second. “It’s quiet and weird, without it.”
“You like quiet?” Steve asks, and snorts.
“It hums,” Tony says, ignoring him. “I’d gotten used to it.”
“Want it back?” Bruce asks.
“Yeah,” Tony says. “I’m going to break a nail if I can’t wear the suit anymore.”
“I want my body back,” Steve says. He pokes Loki in the chest. “Now.”
Loki might have been playing possum, because he wakes up now, to laugh at Steve. He says mean things, mostly revolving around not knowing humans came in this tiny size. He has a point.
“When’s your magic gonna wear off?” Tony interrupts. He also wants to know when Loki is going to get out of his t-shirt bonds.
“I will not kill this one until it does,” Loki promises. “I believe in fairness.”
“No, you don’t.” But then again, neither does Tony.
“I’d like to stay this way,” Bruce says, more an observation than a request. “I like me better this way, and I think you will, too.”
“I do,” Loki agrees, genially. “But I cannot believe you prefer this weak and powerless form. At least the beast has value.”
Bruce kind of grins, acts like that was pretty much the response he expected.
“How’d you do it?” Tony asks.
“What,” Bruce says, “You want to reverse engineer Asgard magic?”
“Worth a shot.”
Loki sighs dramatically. “I grow bored,” he says. There’s a jingly noise, like bells. And then Tony’s chest hurts. Not a lot, just a little. He knows without looking the arc-reactor is back. And then his chest really hurts, because Loki throws Steve at him. Full-sized Steve.
When they disentangle, Loki is gone. Bruce is still standing at the center of the cave entrance. Looking like Bruce, but also kind of green.
Tony draws back a little, wary.
“I’m gonna go find Loki,” Bruce mutters, and jumps from the cave mouth.
When Steve and Tony peer out, the Other Guy is making mashed Bilchsteim with Thor, who is swinging Mjolinar joyfully and filling the sky with thunder. Natasha and Clint have wisely retreated.
“Hey Captain Steroid,” Tony says. “Want to join them?”
“Looks like they’ve got it under control,” Steve says. “Do you?”
“I don’t actually carry a spare suit in my sock,” Tony says. “Though, maybe I should start.”
“There’s a box of junk over there,” Steve says, pointing. “Can’t you just make one?”
Tony follows his gaze to a bunch of cardboard boxes set against the cave wall. If he had to guess, they were somewhere in the American southwest, and this spot had been a stopover for drug smugglers.
“I can probably make a cell phone,” Tony says. “And ask our moms to come get us.”
Tony immediately finds electronics. A bunch of smashed cell phones, and he goes about making them unsmashed.
“So, I see why you agreed to be a guinea pig,” he tells Steve, who stays nearby. “You couldn’t ride any of the roller coasters, could you?”
Steve kind of gets the reference, or pretends he does. “It wasn’t that hard being little,” he says. “I was the same person.”
“You must have got your ass kicked a lot,” Tony says.
“Yeah,” Steve admits. “It was always everyone else who had a problem with me or what I wanted to do.”
“I know what’s that like,” says Tony, and Steve laughs. “Totally the same thing.”
The cell phone in Tony’s hand lights up. “Hello, Operator,” Tony says, to a baffled SHIELD employee.
“I already saved the day,” he tells Steve, who is oddly rifling through the remaining boxes. “What are you looking for?”
“Clothes for Bruce when he comes back,” Steve says, and keeps going.
Natasha and Clint join them in the cave, a little surprised to see that Tony already has their rescue underway.
“Thor is very excited to control thunder again,” Natasha says. “We should probably stay in here for a while.”
“Welcome back,” Clint says to Steve.
“He never went anywhere,” Tony tells him. “Version 1.0 had the same software.”
The lady on the phone isn’t appreciating Tony’s report, the way SHIELD never does, so he gives up.
“Phone home,” he says to Natasha, and hands her the cell phone.
~please feed the author~