“Whatever their shortcomings, these mortals have certainly redeemed themselves with this beverage they call 'coffee'.”
From the dark, puffy bags under his eyes, Tony surmised that Loki had not slept well the night before. Now he was on his fourth – fifth? – cup of coffee, and his hands were shaking from caffeine overdose, his smile just shy of manic, and his words spoken a little too quickly. At least now Tony knew that human drugs seemed to affect gods as well as humans. He would have to remember that.
Tony considered telling Loki to slow down, but a part of him wanted to see what would happen when the Trickster crashed. So he held his tongue and smirked into is own coffee – his first cup, thank you, and yes, he had already checked it for poison after seeing Loki in the kitchen ahead of him.
Tony, Loki, Thor, and Clint sat around the table, since it was Steve's turn to prepare breakfast. Loki had volunteered to cook, but no one had trusted him near their food, especially not when he was wearing that smirk. Minutes later the Captain appeared with plates of scrambled eggs and sausage, and Tony allowed himself to ignore, for one moment, that he was sitting across from an enemy.
Then Tony made the mistake of looking up and saw Loki staring right at him, his tongue doing things to a sausage that had to be illegal in at least ten states. Tony choked on a mouthful of eggs, and Clint had to smack him on the back to get the food to go back down the right pipe. Thor glanced at Tony and then looked askance at his little brother, who was now innocently chewing on a bite of sausage.
Tony prayed to any god not related to these two that the Ultimi would be easy to find and destroy, so that he and Loki could go back to punching each other in the face. Tony glowered at Loki and, well – okay, really – no man should have a tongue that long. Next to him, it was Clint's turn to choke on his eggs. Tony wasn't sure he would ever be able to look at a sausage the same way again, let alone eat the one on his plate.
Each time Thor looked up, Loki went back to eating like a normal person.
“So,” Tony sighed so he wouldn't have to eat anymore, “Clint and I found the first warehouse where they stored the Ultimi.” Loki's self-satisfied smirk faded into a look of intense interest. “After the... issues with their first prototype” – now Loki outright scowled – “the lab powered down the Ultimi they had already built and threw them and all their spare parts into what is, to all outward appearances, an abandoned warehouse. It would be simple enough to wipe out the building. We do not even need to be there.”
“I want to see it.”
The Avengers as one looked at Loki, their expressions reflecting varying mixes of surprise, confusion, and concern. The look Loki gave each of them brooked no argument.
Tony stared at Loki in bemusement. Even all these months later, was the God of Lies still looking for closure? Either way, Tony knew better than to go against Loki's wishes in this instance.
“Fine,” he said, and Loki replied with the barest of nods in thanks.
After a pause, Loki looked up at Tony, his expression altogether far too innocent as he said, “Are you not going to eat your sausage, Tony? It's a good source of protein.”
This time Tony was sure he choked on vomit. Thor glanced back and forth between the two, looking extremely puzzled.
“You do not need to do this.”
Loki barely even blinked at his brother's words. “So you've told me. Twice, in fact.”
Thor stood at his side, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, while the other Avengers scurried through the building, rooting out the hobos that had called this dilapidated building their home. Tony had adamantly refused Loki's help in the matter, so now the Trickster stood alone with his brother, staring at the dusty, moth-eaten mess of sheets that obscured dozens – maybe even hundreds – of dormant Ultimi. In the wan light of Loki's magic, the sheets looked like ghosts.
Loki considered setting the building ablaze right then and there. With half a word, he could create an inferno to rival Muspelheim, swallowing whole the warehouse, the Ultimi, the hobos, the Avengers, and even Loki himself in one last whorl of chaos. He wanted to watch these abominations burn even if he had to burn with them.
Thor's whisper brought Loki back to himself. He blinked, staring at the sheet in front of him, tented where a man's head would be. He could still turn around, he knew, and leave without ever seeing what lay beneath that piece of cloth.
But he needed to know. He needed to see.
So he reached up and pulled back the sheet without another thought.
Loki had to force himself to breathe when he found himself staring once again at the slab of white flesh that passed for an Ultimus face. In an instant he could hear Abaddon's voice, feel the press of Abaddon's fingertips against his throat.
“How does it see?” he asked in a strangled voice, morbidly fascinated despite it all.
He reached up to touch the empty, faceless visage, but his hand stopped an inch away and began to tremble when he tried to will it forward. He could feel Abaddon staring at him, defying him to make that bit of contact. He forgot about Thor, and suddenly all he could hear was Abaddon's laughter in his ears.
The spell and the flash of green light startled Loki even as he reached for it, spearing Abaddon again and again until he had chopped the creature into tiny bits. A severed finger twitched, and Loki cast the spell again.
It took him a long while to register the weight of Thor's arms around his shoulders, pressing his back against his brother's chest. Loki dropped his hand and the spell. His breathing was loud and ragged in his own ears, drowning out his thundering pulse and the words Thor was whispering.
“It's all right,” his brother was saying over and over, keeping his voice low and soothing as though Loki were a frightened kitten.
Loki growled and tried to throw off Thor's arms, but his brother only tightened his grip.
“Loki,” Thor said in a warning tone, and Loki stilled, automatically obeying his big brother.
Loki stared out across the room, knowing that there were many more eyeless faces staring at him through moth-eaten sheets. Suddenly, Loki needed air.
“Get off me,” he grumbled as he finally threw off his brother's grip.
Loki felt like he was burning, boiling alive from the inside out, and he made for the exit, first at a brisk walk and then at a run, stumbling through the door and into the sunlight so he could vomit into the grass.
“Sausage not sitting well?”
Loki cut a glare at Tony, who stood waiting outside with Clint and Steve. He spat a few times to wash out the taste of bile, wiping his mouth on the corner of his cape. He made a note to himself to have it laundered later.
Thor finally stumbled to a halt beside him as Loki peeled off his helmet. Loki ignored him and the concerned look in those blue eyes. The breeze felt wonderfully cool against his skin.
“Destroy it,” Loki said, his voice unusually thick. He tucked his helmet under his arm and started to walk away from the building.
“W-Well,” Tony stammered, “don't you think we should –?”
“Destroy it or I will!” Loki shouted right in Tony's ear, loud and sudden enough to send each of the Avengers stumbling back a step. Loki breathed in harsh, shaky breaths, meeting each of their stares with a glare before stalking off again.
The others followed, and not a minute later, Loki felt the ground shake in another explosion. He neither slowed nor turned back.