Chapter 1: prologue
Before. Before the Avengers. Before Iron Man. Before the cave. Before Stark Industries. Before the car accident. Before everything…
There was a little girl.
She wore frilly dresses, and had tea parties with all her dolls. She saw mother the most, but father would read her bedtime stories.
One day, mother got a cold, so father watched over her. He didn’t want to play tea party, he was busy measuring the distances between buildings in his little town. There were lots of big books in his workshop, so she wasn’t bored. There were lots of big words in those big books, but she knew where the dictionary was, and quickly learned all she could.
On the second day, mother was still sick, so once again, father watched her. She found diagrams and instructions, and used the dictionary again.
On the third day, father looked up from his work and caught her reaching for his small welding tool.
On the fourth day, she built her first circuit board, with his close supervision.
Father stopped calling her Antonia, she was now Tony. It was a fun game, seeing people’s faces when they realized Tony Stark was a girl. They never believed her until she explained her work.
There was a whole world of things for her to build. She never played tea party again.
When she was sixteen, living alone at MIT, she built her first artificial friend. She slaved over his programming, giving him the closest thing she could to intuition and feelings. When she installed him in a robotic arm, it was a disaster. He always chose the wrong option. She named him Dummy.
Later, when she removed the intuition and feelings, Dummy2.0 won her an award. Nevertheless, he didn’t feel right, so she restored his original programming. Uncle Obadiah said she was personifying her creations. Sentiment had no place in programming, and there was nothing wrong with tweaking something until it was perfect. Tony thought that was an easy way to charge people more money for newer and better versions. From that day, she never produced anything until she thought it was perfect.
She started drinking at her parents’ funeral. She never stopped. Life looked so much better through an amber haze.
She spent her whole life being twice as fast, twice as smart, twice as good as her male opposites. Then she became CEO of Stark Industries, and…something changed. One day she woke up and she was the best. She was richer than Gates and Buffet; Stark Industries was at the top of the stock market. There was no farther to go, she was the best…
…and she just didn’t care anymore. Her alcoholism became worse and with it comes sex and drugs.
Skip ahead some years.
Tony Stark wakes, cold and afraid, in a cave. She has an electromagnet resting above her breasts.
There’s fear and captivity; guns and torture. The terrorists want her best weapon, so she builds one. The best weapon is one you only have to use once. The iron suit she builds only gets one use before it falls apart, that once was enough. She destroys their terrorist base and escapes.
Rhodey rescues her. Rhodey is always rescuing her from her craziest ideas; it’s nice to keep the pattern. On the chopper ride to the American military base, she falls asleep curled up in his arms; safe for the first time in three months.
She sleeps through the landing, and the debriefing. She only wakes when her captors are removing the new arc reactor in her chest. She breaks the man’s hand before she realizes it was only a scientist, measuring the energy output. They want to make sure she’s not radioactive or something idiotic like that. Like she would put something harmful into herself.
Rhodey is there to calm everything down. He yells at the guy for sneaking up on her.
When she orders a steak, they give her a half-portion and broccoli instead of potatoes. There’s no knife, so she eats it like a corndog, skewered on the end of her fork, ripping pieces off with her teeth. She thinks that’s how she’ll eat steak at home from now on, with one hand free to work on her projects.
The next day, they fly her to a hospital in Germany. It’s a disaster. She has to explain over and over to so many different military commanders that: no, she did not build her captors anything. Yes, she was tortured. No, it would not “be alright” if she gave in to the demands. Everyone breaks, miss, they had you for three months. No one blames you. We just need to know what you gave them. She rolls her eyes so often she gets a headache. She built the suit, and the arc reactor, and that was it.
She is surrounded by idiots. And Rhodey. But he still works for the idiots, so he counts as one. Mostly.
Is it because she’s a woman and they’re laboring under the impression she’s a delicate flower or because terrorists had her for three months and this is how they’d treat anyone who had been in enemy hands for so long? No one gives her an answer when she asks. She’s not sure which answer she’d prefer.
The day before she is due home, some yahoo colonel from one of those middle states claims she’s performed an illegal human experiment and will be detained until the illegality of her actions can be determined. The entire room goes quiet at that announcement. The whole speech sounds well quoted, especially since he’s the type of man who calls the IT department asking for them to download the internet onto his computer; all bajillion gigabytes of it. It’s probably Justin Hammer. It sounds like Hammer Tech got the stupidest colonel to throw his weight around, just so they could eliminate her as the competition. Tony, having enough of bullshit, spends the next half hour verbally castrating Colonel Idiot.
The next day, she flies home.
She imagines Justin Hammer destroying something in a fit of rage, then slipping and impaling his head on a garden rake, because he is definitely dumb enough to have a garden rake in his workshop. The doctors give her the good drugs that day.
The first thing Tony does (after the cheeseburger, and “ugh, Happy, did it have to be Burger King?”) is close the weapons production sector of Stark Industries. Rhodey is pissed. Obie and Pepper both think she’s lost her mind due to her harrowing imprisonment. They think she has no idea of the consequences of this action. Of course she does. There’s the stock prices, and the breach-of-contract clauses with the military for starters. She knows the company is going to loose a lot of money and never be as popular as it once was. But, maybe that’s a good thing. Stark Industries was the best of the best for years and what did it bring? A hole in her chest, near cirrhosis of the liver, and her weapons killing innocent people in countries she doesn’t even know the names of. Accountability can only be a good thing after that.
Her first suit, out of necessity, was a barely-shaped hulking monstrosity. Now she has the tools and the time to make something elegant and powerful. For a few hours, she plays with a feminized design. But, there’s no way to make breasts and an hourglass figure work with the schematics and it looks terrible so she goes with the masculine designs.
Her hair’s a problem. If she ties it back, it presses against the back of her helmet, and limits her head moving for the display interface. If she keeps it down, it flops around and tangles around her neck. She spends two hours re-coding a robotic arm (not Dummy, never Dummy) and has JARVIS slave it so he can give her a haircut. Years and years of growth fall to the workshop floor and she’s left with a pixie style. On her next public appearance, the tabloids go crazy trying to explain why she did it, they get interviews with “experts” and “close friends”, most of them agree it’s PTSD and Tony is trying to regain control of her life.
It’s not her life anymore, it’s her atonement. She has reinvented herself. She is going to make sure her inventions never hurt an innocent person, ever again.
Tony kills Obadiah Stane.
To be fair, he was trying to kill her first, and Pepper, and maybe start World War Three, who knows? She couldn’t really pay attention to his villain monologuing, since at the time, Obadiah was removing her arc reactor and she was in a lot of pain. Obadiah uses her designs and her inventions to hurt innocent people, so she kills him, using the very technology he so covets. The arc blast radiates him to a quick and painful death and she’s not sorry. Well, she’s sorry for the damage caused to Stark Industries’ arc reactor, it was a popular tour destination…
Now, the reporters clamor, the bulbs flash and she stares through the camera lenses to everyone watching.
“The truth is…I am Iron Man.”
But, all this was just the prologue. The Hero’s Journey from billionaire playgirl Tony Stark to superhero Iron Man Tony Stark.
Here is where it gets interesting...
Chapter 2: the movie-condensed
In which the events of The Avengers movie are just that slightest bit different.
i am not gonna rehash the entire movie, only the relevant bits.
Nick Fury does not like Tony Stark. The feeling is mutual. He thinks she is a self-destructive hot-head. She thinks he needs to remove the stick up his eye-patch. Tony Stark is not part of the Avengers Initiative. Iron Man is. There is a distinction. One, which Nick Fury never fails to mention in her presence. All this means, when Captain America joins them for their first soirée, he fights alongside Iron Man and none of the team correct him when he refers to her as “Mr Stark,” because Loki is subjugating the good people of Germany and there’s really no time for social adjustment.
It would have been helpful if someone had introduced Captain America to Tony Stark at the beginning, or if Tony Stark had arrived with her faceplate up. Instead, she flies in, blares music, and helps kick Loki’s ass, all with her voice modulators and armor on.
The fight is over, and she’s standing in the quinjet, securing Loki for flight. She has her helmet off, because no matter how much she tweaks the system, it always gets a bit too hot in her suit during fights. Captain America enters, after assuring the German people that all is well, and stops. He stares.
“Wait, you’re a woman?”
“Shut it, you,” she points at the god warningly. Tony turns to the captain. “You have a problem with that?” It doesn’t matter that Steve sounded surprised when he said it, and not disgusted. She is still pissed at him for the assumption.
“No, I just…Iron Man.”
The jet lifts off, and they head out of German airspace.
“I suppose you think Natasha kills her mates after sex, too.”
He blushes. “What?”
“Perhaps she gives them a little death?” Loki’s accent gives the innuendo just that little bit more impact.
Tony turns to their prisoner. “What did I say? Don’t make me gag you.”
His eyes travel from her head to her feet and back up again. She has the distinct impression he can see through her armor. “Please do.”
“Wait,” the captain butts in. “Are you flirting with her?”
“She subverts your realms expectations by dressing as a man and wielding the warriors touch. She is a fine specimen.”
“That’s inappropriate...and gross.”
She snorts. “Like you’d know, Mr-90-year-old-virgin.”
“You know, Fury didn’t tell me he was calling you in.”
“Yeah, there’s a lot of things Fury doesn’t tell you. Also, you just ended a sentence with a preposition.”
They’re flying over the Black Forest when lightning strikes all around them. There’s turbulence, a grim warning from the god of mischief, and then Thor steals their prisoner. Which is so not cool. The ensuing fight levels half the trees before Thor agrees that they’re all evenly matched and lets them take Loki to the helicarrier.
This starts off a very long chain of events, culminating in Manhattan being terrorized by evil aliens and her almost dying from a nuclear explosion in space.
The good news; Loki is defeated and humanity is saved.
The bad news, Agent Coulson is dead.
After such a long day, or has it been days?, Tony falls asleep in the shwarma shop, her head resting against Thor’s ginormous bicep. Even after a long battle, he smells like pine trees, it’s nice; she should market that.
The next day, Thor takes Loki to Asgard and the Avengers scatter in the wind, to wait for the public outcry to die down. Tony drives off with her new best friend, Bruce.
Chapter 3: where Tony and Steve still dont mix, there may or may not be a sexrobot, and Loki returns and learns the meaning of O'hana
Tony and Steve’s first social interaction is not so great either.
Stark Tower has been repurposed, it is now Avengers Tower, instead of offices and a penthouse, its apartments and a penthouse. Everyone of the team gets his or her own place to live--even Fury, who Tony placed as far away from her penthouse as possible. He would have gone in the basement, but that was a subway entrance.
Tony is in her workshop working on soldering a very important connection for a very important project. Her hover car is still a thing of the future, but she’s confident she can get one into production in two years. It’s too much trouble to build a car from scratch--that’s a lie, it’s no trouble at all, she just doesn’t want to waste time reinventing the wheel, so to speak—so she’s just patched together a repulsor system to the car’s preexisting internal combustion engine. The automotive industry would be more receptive to new technology that doesn’t require a complete overhaul of their factories.
She shuts off the oxy-acetylene torch and sends power through the repulsors. The z-car hovers for a second before shooting up (“Shit!”) and ripping itself from the power supply.
Someone yanks her back, hard, and the car falls where she was once standing.
“Was it supposed to do that?” Steve asks from where he’s laying over her. He helps her up, and they survey the damage.
“Not really.” She kicks a piece of broken piping.
“Maybe hover cars just aren’t supposed to happen.”
She’s typing on her holo-interface, already running a computer program to find the fault. “How do you mean?”
“Well, I was there when Howard first tried, it didn’t work then either.”
This is not something she wants to hear. For much of her life, she has been “Tony Stark, Howard’s young protégé”, “Tony Stark, filling in her father’s shoes”, “Tony Stark, taking over her father’s company”. Even as Iron Man, she is dependent on her father. Her father designed the Arc Reactor, Tony just finished it. Her father discovered vibranium, Tony just synthesized it. There is no bit of her life that is not connected to Howard Stark, and she does not like being reminded of it.
“What do you want, Cap-sicle?” It’s a crappy insult, but it’s the only one she has to remind him of things he’d rather not think about, as he just did to her.
His face screws up like a sad little puppy but the expression is quickly gone. “I keep destroying the gym equipment, and Fury said you could build me something like you did for Thor.”
“Oh, well. If Fury says so…”
The sarcasm goes over Steve’s head. He stands there for a few seconds. “Was that a yes?”
She glares. “Get out.”
The next week, Steve gets new gym equipment. (There’s a post-it on the punching bag: Don’t hold back) Tony Stark may hate Steve Rogers, but Iron Man might need Captain America’s help in a battle one day and it’s no good fighting without good training.
Being a superhero is very disassociative.
Bruce goes to Southern Sudan. Bruce comes back from Southern Sudan. There may or may not have been a giant green devil involved. No one involved is saying anything.
He moves into his tower apartment.
(“Try not to collapse anything in a ragefit. You’re living above Fury.”
“Thanks for that.”
“Eh, no worries, he’s never home. So if you wanna break the floor, just avoid the support beams.”
“Are you sure you want me living here?”
“I have a construction company on retainer.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Whatever, want a blueberry?”)
The Avenger’s second major battle goes like this:
Von Doom shows up, and spells all the statues in New York to life. This is not fair for two reasons, first: Von Doom is a technomage and has no business using magic, and second: the senators only recently stopped calling for the Avenger’s heads on plates. The life-size statues are easily defeated; Hulk smashes them to bits. The cherubs are left to Black Widow and Hawkeye, who shoot them to bits. Captain America and Iron Man get the big statues, like Liberty. There’s a bad joke in there somewhere, Tony is sure of it. The Captain is quite hesitant to destroy such a shining beacon of American hope, and Tony is just pissed because Liberty isn’t even in New York, it’s in New Jersey. However, the statue is rampaging down Wall Street, smashing building fronts with her torch and terrorizing the population, so Iron Man takes it down with a repulsor blast.
The next day, Fury is angry with Tony because the President of the Unites States has to apologize to the President of France for destroying their gift, even though it was killing people at the time.
J. Jonah Jameson runs a story claiming the Avengers are slavery-loving Nazis. Steve writes a strongly worded letter to the editorial department, which gets twisted into something sinister because JJJ is an evil editor-in-chief
Tony sends a computer virus to the Bugle’s printers, the next few issues are nothing but excerpts from 4chan. Nobody makes Steve look like a kicked puppy and gets away with it.
A week later, Tony is sulking in her home in Malibu. Fury banned her from Avenger’s functions for three weeks in punishment for Destroying a National Monument that was Killing People (the paperwork actually says Disobeying Commanding Officer, but only because Captain America couldn’t decide what to do). Fury has gone so far as to confine her to the state of California, just to get around any loopholes she may find during those three weeks.
In her boredom, she decides to build JARVIS a body.
“Are you sure this is a wise decision?” JARVIS asks after she uploads some schematics to his server for approval.
Tony looks up at the workshop ceiling but the epic scorch mark from last time she attempted this has long been repaired. “I think I know what went wrong last time.”
"As do I, Miss Stark, and it is not an experience I wish to repeat.”
“Eh, you’re such a worry-wort.”
She builds an endoskeleton from the same lightweight alloy the suitcase-Iron-Man-suit is made of. The skin and hair comes from a sex-doll supplier. It’s a sad commentary that sex-shops have the most realistic skin substitute, but she’s not going to complain. Of course, the next few days are spend imbedding thousands of sensors into the artificial skin so JARVIS can feel the environment around him.
“JARVIS, patent this for me, would you? It’s gonna revolutionize prosthetics.”
“Yes, Miss Stark.”
Tony layers the skin over the endoskeleton, and stops.
“This was a bad idea.”
“Finally, we agree.”
Tony stares at the incomplete body, most of the metal is uncovered, but the face is in place, and she realizes she spent two weeks building a fake person. Her only reliable friends may be machines, but this is going too far into the Uncanny Valley, she feels squicky. Also, it kinda looks like the Terminator, if played by Steve Rogers.
The body gets destroyed. Tony spends the rest of her punishment drunk off her head.
When she comes back to New York, she tries to avoid Steve. She really doesn’t want him knowing she almost built a Steve-doll with sex shop supplies. That is just too crazy even for her. If Tony were less hungover, she would have a better avoidance plan then just hiding in an oversized hoodie with aviator sunglasses on and going the opposite way every time she sees him. This does not work.
But only because the Avengers are called to assemble in Puente Antiguo. The bifrost alarm has activated.
The team gathers on the tower rooftop, awaiting pickup from a quinjet.
Tony’s suit interface lights up with a call. The area code places it in New Mexico.
“TONY,” Thor’s voice booms from the tiny speaker. It echoes in her helmet.
“Thor! Not so loud.”
“Please tell the others that I and Loki have returned.”
“Yes, he has received his punishment and is returned for penance.”
“Right. Where are you guys?”
“At Darcy’s, she is a most gracious host.”
The flight from New York to New Mexico takes four hours and by the time they arrive, Thor is midway through Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers.
“Have you seen this epic?” He asks when they arrive. “This is truly a worthy tale of warriors’ courage.”
None of the team are interested in Thor or the movie. They’re all busy staring at Loki. He resolutely has his back to them as he sits at the kitchen island, watching Darcy slice a staggering variety of fruits.
She places them in a blender and purees them, pours it into a glass, and gives it to Loki with a bendy straw.
They stare as he sucks up the drink, pauses, and nods. Darcy grins.
“Brother,” Thor calls, “come watch with me.”
Loki stands--Hawkeye’s arrow twitches in its notch—and walks past them, never even glancing their way.
There are six black stitches holding his mouth shut.
Loki’s punishment is to have his mouth sewn shut and only access his magics for good purposes for a year. “To learn the value of truth and goodness,” Thor explains the Allfather’s logic.
Tony sees many loopholes in this punishment; and if she can see them, so can Loki. This becomes apparent when Loki commandeers Darcy’s laptop, (“Just don’t look at porn, geez”) and spends the flight to the helicarrier learning sign language.
Thor thinks this is a good thing, for Loki can now communicate.
Everyone else thinks this is a bad thing, for Loki can now communicate.
They draw straws, and Clint gets to explain Loki to Nick Fury. Steve quickly trades places with him, for obvious reasons. Tony watches the meeting through the security cameras. It’s quite nice to have that one-eyed glare focused on someone other than her.
In the end, nothing is decided, other than Loki is too powerful to contain, so there’s nothing they can do. If he going to be good, they’ll let him, and if he’s going to be evil, they’ll stop him.
Tony thinks this is hilarious. She is no longer the black sheep of the Avengers.
She assigns Loki an apartment next to Thor’s and gives him a wireless keyboard.
“It’s dedicated to JARVIS’s user interface.” Loki stares at her, it’s kinda creepy. “Just type what you want to say and he’ll understand. Usually, it’s voice commands, but since you can’t talk…you know what, you’re kinda creepy, oh don’t grin that’s even worse. Go be creepy elsewhere.”
Tony quickly learns that giving Loki guest privileges for JARVIS was a bad idea. Giving Loki any access at all was a bad idea.
Loki steals Tony’s corporate credit card information (well, one of them anyways) and spends his nights watching infomercials, and buying knife sets online. Lots of knife sets. Every day there’s a delivery of knives, and every night there’s a thunk as another knife is thrown into the wall after failing to cut his stitches.
Thor says it’s merely a phase, and once Loki has accepted his situation, he will be more sociable.
On a Thursday Thor commandeers one of Tony’s televisions. Loki sits next to him, being sociable, and magicking a new plate of PopTarts every time Thor finishes the previous plate. Together they watch a wide selection of movies. Everything is going well; none of the team makes thinly-veiled death threats towards Loki and he doesn’t call anyone names in sign language, until the end of Lilo and Stitch; Loki vanishes in a puff of green smoke. He doesn’t come back.
On Friday, Thor has a tummy ache of godly proportions.
Chapter 4: in which Tony is kidnapped, then rescued, and phone sex does not happen, also Jarvis has his own stitch-and-bitch club
There is some sort of tentacle creature destroying New York
Iron Man flies through the air and crashes into the side of the Chrysler Building. This is not a pilot error. The giant octo-mecha-creature is rampaging through Manhattan, and its swatting the Avengers left, right, and center.
The suit’s autopilot engages enough to stop her from crashing through the windows into the building, but Tony still hits hard enough to smack her head on the back of her helmet and she’s out.
She wakes up in a well-lit room. Her suit is gone, but she’s still wearing the conductive body armor she wears under the suit. There’s a bed, toilet and sink, and a six-pack of toilet paper in the corner. There’s no door, just a door-shaped opening, and a hallway beyond. It’s quickly made apparent why her prison needs no door. Her arc reactor is missing, and a crude electromagnet has been inserted, it plugs into an outlet near the bed. The lead is long enough to reach the sink and toilet, but not the exit. As psychological messaging goes, this is clear. She is free to leave at any time, but her physical limitations stop her. She’s not fighting her captors; she’s fighting herself.
She considers this a bunch of bullshit.
There’s a camera in the corner, she can reach it if she stands on her tiptoes on the bed. It’s a black bowl set into the ceiling and she can’t pry it out. Still, she’s not gonna let anyone watch her pee, so she wets a wad of toilet paper and smoothes it over the camera.
About five minutes later, clanking steps approach and Doc Ock squeezes himself into her room. He looms over her, his higher tentacles scraping the ceiling.
“You will build me weapons of mass destruction.” That’s not what he really says. In reality, there’s lot of eight-armed gesturing; there’s posturing and threats. He tells her his plans for world domination and slams her against the wall for her smart-mouthed reply.
“Okay.” Again, this is not what’s really said. She hems and she haws, she hides behind the defense that she is an Avenger, she just can’t go around helping the villains. In the end, she agrees because if DocOck wants her to build him weapons, he’s going to have to give her access to tools and technologies.
Doc Ock is more clever than Tony thinks, which to be fair, is not that hard. He gives her blank notebooks and pens and tells her to “design first, try to escape later”. One of his arms, quite menacingly, wipes away the toilet paper from the camera.
“Don’t do that again.”
A few hours later, a faceless minion (literally, he only has eyes) brings a tray of food into her cell. It’s McDonalds. Tony spends time doodling DocOck standing in the drive-thru and yelling at the cashier because “my arms count as a motorized vehicle!” She’s angled herself facing the camera, so it sees her working, but not the work itself.
She stands and stretches. She sits the other way, so the camera sees her work but not her face and spends ten minutes writing the equations needed for a Jericho missile to reach the moon…that’s mass destruction, isn’t it? Of course, it’s also not anything any junior physicist couldn’t do.
“Heimdall?” she calls out hesitantly. She may be used to talking to her ceiling, but her ceiling usually talks back, even if just to say “I wouldn’t recommend this course of action, Miss Stark.”
“Um, I don’t know if you can hear me, but you’re supposed to be this all-seeing god, right?”
Still no answer.
“I don’t suppose you could give me a bifrost opening or something, take me home?
“I didn’t think so.” She sighs and spends time designing an airplane that turns into a submarine.
Tony must have fallen asleep because she wakes to a crick in her neck and thunder echoing through the hall. The lights flicker and then fade. The power is out, and--
“Oh, shit.” The whine of the electromagnet fades as its charge is depleted. Hundreds of tiny shrapnel start very painfully making their way towards her heart.
She sits--collapses--on the bed. This is what a log must feel like as it’s cut by a rotary saw.
Vaguely, she hears shouting from down the hall. There’s no light so she can’t tell what’s going on but she hears a roaring that sounds like Hulk, and then she blacks out.
The next time she opens her eyes, she is cradled in Captain America’s arms, and they’re following Loki. His staff glows with enough blue light to show the way.
She wakes on the quinjet, balanced in Loki’s lap. Her pain is receding, slightly, but there’s no familiar glow of the arc reactor. Doc Ock’s crappy replacement is still there; she follows the lead and sees Thor is holding the plug by the prongs.
The air is slightly charged, enough for the hairs on her arm to be standing. “There’s no way that should work,” she groans.
The God of Thunder could certainly provide usable electricity, but the voltage should be way too much. That plug is rated for 120 volts, lightning is millions of volts; some transformers would need to be wired in.
There’s a pinch in her shoulder and Bruce walks into view; he’s wearing drawstring pants and nothing else.
“Aw, did you ruin your clothes?” He really doesn’t like it when people talk about ‘the other guy’ so Tony once came up with a euphemism. Nobody else thought it was funny; she might have been drunk at the time.
“Just a little bit.” He shines a penlight in her eyes.
She smacks the light away. “You’re not a doctor-doctor”
“Maybe I like seeing your eyes?”
She feels Loki move under her.
Bruce grins. “How do you feel?”
The pain is completely gone. “Fuzzy…wait did you drug me?”
“You weren’t looking too good.”
“I always look good. I’m shiny Iron Man.” She built the suit to be noticeable, and imposing, something she—at 5’6”—is not. There’s something nagging in her brain, “where’s my notebook?”
Steve looks down to her. “What notebook?”
“The one, it has equations…important…stuff… he wanted weapons…arms were scary…”
Hawkeye chimes in from somewhere. “Please tell me we didn’t give Doc Ock things from Tony’s brain.”
The medicine drags her to sleep.
She wakes up in the helicarrier infirmary. Someone has replaced her missing arc reactor. There’s a teddy bear on the side table, and a bouquet from Steve.
Days pass and there is no further activity from DocOck, so the Avengers go off high alert. Thor and Loki go to New Mexico to spend time with Jane and Erik. Clint is off to who knows where, and Natasha goes to L.A. to continue being Pepper’s 'P.A'.
Tony finds herself bored. Previous experience has taught her, this is never a good thing.
“JARVIS, call Rhodey.”
“Calling Colonel Rhodes.”
She takes a sip of her Monster energy drink. She’s already jittery as hell, but she needs to stay awake and away from the nightmares.
Rhodey answers after three rings. “Tony, it’s 3a.m. what do you want?” His voice pipes in through the soundsystem.
“Really? I thought you were ahead by more than that?”
She sighs. “Let’s have sex.” They’ve never had sex, and she feels like she needs a new experience.
There’s a pregnant pause. “I’m on the other side of the world.”
“Tell me where and I’ll be there in a few hours.” She’d have to follow a high orbit flight trajectory, but she could reach an antipode in a few hours.
JARVIS quickly derails that idea, as he says aloud what she already realized. “None of your suits are spaceworthy, Miss Stark.”
“I live to serve.”
“It doesn’t matter, because I’m not having sex with you, ever.”
“My mother always told me ‘never stick your dick in crazy’.”
Tony tries to imagine Mama Rhodes ever saying such a thing. “She did not!”
“She would if she had ever met you. Listen, I have to go, I’ve got maneuvers in the morning and I want to sleep.”
“I’ll see you when you get back?”
“Definitely.” He hangs up.
Tony spends the next few days locked up in her workshop in the Avenger’s tower. Creating a space worthy suit is hard, every single join has to combine to form an airtight seal in whichever position she moves her limbs. The difficulty is compounded by the vacuum chamber she ordered still not having arrived.
She keeps going back to NASA’s spacesuit blueprints, the real ones, not those floating around the internet. JARVIS had to hack into NASA’s secured archives, and place a work order for a tech to scan the schematics, just so he could send a copy to Tony’s secure server, all because NASA still keeps Gemini and Apollo era documents as hard copy.
Tony really really doesn’t like NASA’s solution to the elbow and knee join.
“Miss Stark, this is your four-day bath alert.”
“Yeah, yeah. In a minute.”
All the computers freeze. No matter what she types, her workstation is non-responsive.
She remembers Pepper creating the bath alert after Tony once spent an impressive two week in her workshop, only coming up for food (she had a half-bath near the eyewash station). Every four days, if she’s been working non-stop, JARVIS freezes all her computers until after she’s taken a bath, with soap, and washed her hair.
It’s creepy how aware she’s made him, but, wait…
“That protocol is only installed in the JARVIS in Malibu.”
“The various versions of myself share information when it pertains to your wellbeing.”
“You gossip about me?”
"We share pertinent information about you."
"Aw, I love you too."
She leaves for a bath
Chapter 5: In which a memory is destroyed, and Tony gets drunk, Loki has a conversation and someone is still needed.
Steve spends weeks avoiding her. He is much more successful at avoiding than she was. Eventually, Tony ambushes him in the gym.
“You haven’t given me this cold a shoulder since we met, what’s wrong?” Let it never be said she pussyfoots around an issue.
“I almost killed you.”
She thinks back, there was that one sparring session, but it wasn’t that close. “No you didn’t.”
“I really, really did.” He grimaces. “I told Clint to cut the power to DocOck’s facility before we entered.”
Ah. “…and that was the right call. You needed the tactical advantage.
“There is no way in which that was the right call. Tactically, I didn’t have all the information and I almost killed someone I--need for this team.”
“That’s not what you were going to say.”
“Forget it.” He pushes past her, and rushes out of the room.
She rushes after him. “What were you going to say?” He’s way ahead of her, and she has to run to catch up.
She grabs his wrist, “Stop. Tell me.”
He whirls toward her. “I like you! A lot. And it’s confusing, sometimes.”
“I don’t know if I like you because of you or because you remind me of…” he breaks off, looking away.
“…Howard.” She finishes for him with a sneer.
He nods. “And Peggy…and Bucky.”
She really has no idea what to say in this instance, and usually she can trust her mouth to get her out of sticky situations. “Wow…that sucks.” That was lame.
“Yeah.” He sighs. “Can I ask you something?”
Anything to get out of this sadness. “Sure.”
“Why do you not like me?
Anything but that. “I don’t—” she scrubs her hair in frustration. “I don’t not like you. I just don’t have…good associations…about you in my head.”
Steve stares at her in confusion.
This is not something I want to be talking about. “Dad—Howard--he was always talking about you…going off to search for you. Sometimes—most of the time—it felt like he loved your memory more than he loved me. He spent the rest of his life looking for you and never saw me.”
She can see the denial forming in his face.
“When you knew him he was a twenty-something playboy…when he had me he was an old man, plenty of time to change.”
Something shatters in Steve’s expression.
“Sorry. You did ask.”
“Does ceiling-Jarvis watch me pleasure myself?” Thor’s voice seems to echo off the surrounding buildings. He climbs up the ladder to Bruce’s rooftop zen rock garden, where Tony is watching the wind shape the sand.
Tony stares at the glass in her hand. It was only her fourth scotch, way too soon for drunken hallucinations. “What?”
Thor sits next to her on the bench, his red cape fluttering. “I asked—”
“Yeah I heard you; I think the whole city heard you.”
“Loki showed me a computer site dedicated to the exploits of a creature called Ceiling Cat, whose favorite activities are---”
“I knew giving Loki a computer was a bad idea.”
“—apparently there is even a Ceiling Cat Bible. Do many people on Midgard worship such a beast?”
Tony drains her glass. “I am too sober for this. Jarvis does not watch you masturbate…unless you ask him to. Ceiling Cat is fictitious and you shouldn’t believe everything you see online…Or on tv. Or in the newspapers. In fact, if you’re ever not sure, ask someone…Not Loki. Or Steve. Or Clint…you know what, ask Jarvis.”
A very stiff updraft blows her sideways, and she drunkenly flails onto Thor’s lap. She settles more comfortably. “How do you always smell nice?”
Thor looks down at her. “I bathe regularly.”
That’s the funniest thing ever. She laughs hysterically. “I need to market this; I could have the next Axe body spray. Would you come down to my lab so I can sample you?”
“While I am flattered by your interest, you should know my heart belongs to another.”
She blinks, “no-no-no-no-no pfft. I’m not flirting, I’m doing science. Ask Bruce, we do science all the time.” She giggles. “Sometimes twice in one night.”
Tony falls asleep giggling to herself.
The morning brings with it the hangover from hell.
Tony rolls over in the sheets, and pulls a pillow over her head. It takes her only a few breaths to know she isn’t in her bed. The sheets smell like Bruce, all lavender and chai tea like. She opens her eyes and sees the extra-reinforced walls of Bruce’s bedroom.
“You up finally?” Bruce asks as he enters the room.
“Here, hangover cure.” He hands her a foul-looking liquid in a glass.
Having much experience with so-called ‘hangover cures’, Tony drinks it without looking—or smelling—too closely. It’s slimy, and almost comes back up before she can swallow it down.
He takes the glass from her. “Do you want to tell me why Thor thinks we’re dating?”
“He told me not to neglect you so much, lest you ‘seek affection in another man’s stable’.”
“God, I hope that was a euphemism.”
“From the way Loki looked at Thor when he said it, I don’t think so.”
Later, Tony can’t help herself. “You did it with a horse, really?”
Loki is sitting on the common room couch in front of the television, a StarkConsole controller in his hand. His avatar is slicing through a man on a horse. A tone sounds, as he completes another achievement. He pauses the game and sneers at her, as much as the stitches allow him.
Chicken has been telling tales again, he signs.
Well, she did spend less time learning ASL then she did learning thermo-nuclear astrophysics, so she probably got that name wrong. “Chicken?”
Thor, his helmet is feathered.
Tony grins, “which makes you…what? Goat?”
He snarls out his nose. Cow
“I don’t know what kind of cows you have on Asgard, but you are definitely a goat here. Sorry.” She makes her way to the kitchen. She hears him growl. “But that’s cool, goats are awesome. They can live on mountains and scale impossible walls. They’re tough and indomitable.” She grabs a tumbler and pauses. “You want anything?” She turns to see his reply.
While she is turned away from his hands and focused on slicing the kiwis away from their husks, there is no conversation. For a few moments the only sounds are that of Assassin’s Creed and the blender. She pours the green liquid into a glass and adds a bendy straw. Then grabs her drink and returns and sits next to Loki.
Why are you complimenting me? He takes his drink. There’s a gap in the stitches that’s just wide enough for a straw to pass through. Tony doesn’t know whether that’s by design or accident; she hopes it’s by design.
“Why shouldn’t I compliment you?”
Loki shows his crazy overlord grin; the effect is greatly enhanced by the black stitching stretching up and down.
“Stop that, you’ll tear something.” She takes a sip of her drink, she is not drunk enough for this. “Please, please don’t take this the wrong way. But you’re not an evil man; you’re a broken man that’s done evil things. There’s a big difference.”
He stares at her for a long moment. Then gently places his glass on the sidetable.
Then he throws the controller at her head. He storms out of the room.
“Yeah, that went well.”
“Ya think?” Clint drops down from the ceiling.
She startles and sloshes her drink over her knees. “Jesus, where did you come from?”
He gestures. “You’re bleeding a bit.”
“Well, at least it wasn’t a window this time.”
That night, Tony dreams she is swimming under a frozen lake. It seems vital she reach the end of the lake and her destination, but the lake bottom is too interesting, it’s Brooklyn, and the people don’t seem concerned that they’re milling about underwater. Yet she is in bed, she knows she is in bed and the bed is more important than the lake. But she is also talking, to whom she doesn’t know.
A thought keeps cycling through her dream. “An evil man doesn’t know he’s evil, will never cry over what he’s done, he will never want to be forgiven.” She is positive that makes no sense, but it makes her sad and she wakes up crying.
Loki disappears for a few days. When he comes back, he is escorted by Fury and Maria Hill; escorted in handcuffs.
“We found him interfering in one of our secure areas,” Fury nearly throws Loki into Thor’s arms. “The agreement was for you to keep out of trouble,” he tells Loki. “Don’t make me change my mind.”
After they leave, the Avengers quickly split into two groups: those who want to wait for Loki’s explanation (Tony, Thor, and Steve) and those who want to do something less savory (Clint, Natasha). Bruce was in New Mexico
“Why brother,” Thor is absolutely crushed. “You were doing so well.”
“What were you doing there, what did you do?” Steve asks.
Penance is all Loki will sign, no matter what they ask him. Eventually, they give up.
Later, Fury calls them all in for a meeting aboard the Helicarrier and they find out what Loki was doing there.
“A week ago, Mr. Odinson—”
Loki growls again.
“—Loki…broke into the morgue and now Phil Coulson is no longer dead.”
The group erupts in questions and shouts, but Loki stares resolutely at the desk ignoring any queries sent his way.
After a few moments of this, Fury says, “if everyone is done shouting, you can visit him in the infirmary.”
Everyone quickly bugs out down the hall. Tony lets herself fall back to walk with Loki who trails the group. She just stares at him. He must feel the power of her stare, because he looks up at her.
Penance? She signs to him, her motions crude and jittery.
My daughter is Queen of the Dead. I traded a favor.
He is going to be needed soon.
A chill goes down Tony’s spine at that. “What do you mean?” The others look back to them in confusion.
But Loki doesn’t answer her.
Chapter 6: In which the author changes writing styles, Phil is pissed, a wild Frost Giant appears, and Loki exposits
Phil Coulson is perfectly fine for having been in a morgue drawer for five months. He’s absolutely furious at Fury—those cards were vintage and now they’re stained with blood, but overall he’s pleased with how the Avengers have melded into a team. He doesn’t even bat an eyelash at Loki being part of the team, must be used to evil heel-face turns thinks Tony, glancing at Natasha.
Three days after Phil’s resurrection, the Avenger’s ‘--days since last attack’ calendar gets reset, breaking the longest streak they’d ever had. In the 57 days since the last attack, Stark Industries stock jumped up with their entry into the medical sector, especially when Tony gathered a press conference offering the neural prosthesis free to veterans; also Bruce may or may not have gotten a girlfriend, he refuses to say, but what other reason would he have to stay in New Mexico for so long?
Tuesday morning dawns grey and rainy. Thor is fascinated by the updraft and so flies across to the Chrysler building to watch the rain fall up. This does not please the Mayor of New York, who makes a very angry phone call to Avengers Tower, complaining of how the last time Thor stood on the spire, they had to call in every glazier in the state, they just finished installing the last pane, if he makes a single crack you are going to be held personally responsible. A (very large) donation to the school system ends that call.
Tony spends the morning doing nothing. She floats on her inflatable raft in her indoor swimming pool and because she is in a strangely altruistic mood, she uses her holo-interface to personally answer her emails—instead of having her new P.A. what’s-his-face (Virgil—Terrance—Derek—some SOHO hipster who spends his paychecks on ridiculous scarves) personally answer them for her.
At two in the afternoon, the Avengers Assemble Alarm blares throughout the tower. SHIELD created a phone line for citizens to call when in need of the Avengers (there are an unknown number of dispatchers dedicated to weeding out the crank calls and the little children asking for Captain America or Iron Man to please rescue my cat out of the tree, and for Hulk to please smash the bullies at my school, they’re so mean). There was even a tv commercial, Captain America telling the world, “if you’re ever in trouble, call triple-A” (The initials were no accident. Tony had to buy the name off the auto assistance company, they weren’t happy until she named a higher figure, then they were very happy.)
Tony arrives in the meeting room soaking wet and in a bikini. She can see Steve trying not to stare, but her cleavage is highlighted by the glow of her arc reactor so it’s impossible to miss. Also, bathing suits were a lot different back in his day.
“Stark, cover up before Rogers has a heart attack.” Fury commands from his image on the video screen.
Steve blushes furiously. “I-I-wasn’t.”
“You just want to draw me like one of your French girls.” She’s about to leave for a towel, but Loki hands her his cape. “Thanks.” She wraps it around herself and sits next to him.
“Draw you like what?”
"I GET IT!” Thor booms in excitement. “Jane showed me the sad tale of the Titantic many weeks ago,”
Fury’s one eye rolls. “Right, if we can move on.”
Natasha arrives in yoga gear; she sits next to Steve.
“Where’s Barton?” Fury asks.
“Right, lets begin.”
Images flash on screen of a figure on a rampage. Satellite footage and cell phone images combine to show a monstrously large blue being without clothes stomping down an evacuated street, blasting cars and store fronts with blue energy. “This was taken in Albuquerque,” Fury’s voice narrates the footage. “Fortunately, a call to our New Mexico agents was enough to neutralize the situation,” The footage changes to a different street, and Hulk completely destroying the creature with several savage blows. “We don’t yet know what creature this was—”
“It is a frost giant,” Thor interrupts. “They hail from Jotunheim. In the last war, Odin sealed it off from all realms save Asgard; to await a time when a peace could be brokered.”
Fury’s face appears as in inset in the corner. “So the question is, how did it get here and what did it want?”
There’s something familiar about the energy weapon the frost giant is using. A tap on the table and a keyboard lights up in front of Tony, she uses it to manipulate the footage. “Isn’t that the magic glow-stick of destiny?” she says.
The footage re-pixalates with a closer view. It is indeed Loki’s former scepter being used to destroy downtown Albuquerque.
Tony feels Loki stiffen in his chair. She turns to him. “You know something.” Everyone turns to him. Loki stares at his hands.
“Brother, if you know something…”
Loki sighs. He uses his keyboard to type. The words appear on the monitor, and Fury must get it as well, for Tony can see his eye passing left and right.
Because I failed, Th-the being I was working with will try again with someone else. These incursions will continue until success is achieved.
“Success?” Steve asks.
He wants to use the tesseract to control the universe.
“But the tesseract’s in Asgard,” he protests. “Right?”
Thor nods. “In the Allfather’s vault.”
Tony snorts. “Yeah, but does the Evil Overlord know that?”
It was lost once before from Odin’s vault, I am not the only one who knows of the secret paths between realms.
“My question is,” Clint drops down from wherever he was perched (Tony long stopped being surprised at the spaces the Hawk could nest in) “why isn’t Mr. Evil using one of his Chitauri to wield the scepter, instead of a third party?” He settles down next to Natasha.
“The Chitauri are mindless drones, they have no higher thoughts.”/The scepter requires intelligence, the demi-gods answer together.
“Loki, can you stop these incursions into our realm?” Fury asks
He shakes his head. Only Odin has the power to seal realms, and doing so would strand the inhabitants even from the bifrost, he does not do so lightly.
The meeting concludes on a sour note. Thor will go to Asgard to petition the Allfather for assistance that doesn’t involve cutting off Earth from Yggdrasil, and the Avengers will stay on high alert, waiting for the next Scepter-wielding villain.
As the other Avengers scatter, Tony grabs Loki’s arm and pulls him down the hall. She answers Steve’s concerned glare with a lecherous grin. Steve huffs off in the opposite direction.
Loki yanks his arm out of her grasp, with a growl.
Tony can feel her ire rising. “Oh use your words.”
Why are you manhandling me?
“There they are,” she pushes him into one of the bank of elevators, and enters her private penthouse passcode. The elevator begins its ascent.
She isn’t sure, but, “you’re hiding something.”
He raises an eyebrow as if to say, ‘I’m hiding many things.’
“No, something important, something pertinent.”
The doors open and she pushes him out, leads him to her bedroom. His look of innocent surprise would be quite amusing, if she didn’t already know he had six children.
"Jarvis, privacy.” If anyone asks where they are, Jarvis will tell them in the bedroom, and if anyone asks what they’re doing, Jarvis will tell them it’s private. Let everyone think what they will.
"Privacy mode engaged.”
“Sit.” She sits him on the bed. He rises up slightly and pulls a pink bra from under himself with a sly grin.
Tony takes it from him, “don’t be cute,” she throws it over her shoulder and crosses her arms. “You knew this would happen.”
Loki shakes his head.
“…something like this would happen. You brought Phil back, no one else. Just Phil, because he’s needed?”
His face is inscrutable.
“What are you planning?”
Loki’s hands are silent for a long time, then, how big is Midgard’s nuclear arsenal and can you make more?
She opens her mouth to answer, then, stops. “About 30,000. Why?” Well, if it’s a fact available on Google, then it’s probably not a state secret.
He looks despondent. It won’t be enough.
She feels a chill fall over her.
If Thanos, he finger spells the name, comes to Midgard, your arsenal will not be enough.
“Wait, who’s Tha—” he stands and slaps his hand over her mouth.
If you say his name, he can see you.
Like Voldemort, she thinks. “So, who’s he-who-must-not-be-named?”
The Avatar of Death—
“That’s a wonderful way to start a sentence—no, no continue.”
--he is from a race of Eternals, and once nuked his own planet Titan because of a perceived slight. His expression clearly shows he thought that action was idiotic in the extreme.
"Really?" Tony throws him a very complicated look, that clearly starts 'people in glass houses'.
Loki smiles deprecatingly. He wants the omnipotence the tesseract can grant and will destroy anything in his path.
“So how do we stop him?”
An alliance between realms. There are items within Odin's vault which will significantly improve Midgard's chances of victory if Thanos comes.
Tony shakes her head. "He's not just going to give those to you."
Loki falls back to sit on the bed. He must believe I am sincere in my intentions. I must prove that I have changed.
She sits next to him. Stares as his hands fidgit. "How?"
I do not know.
Chapter 7: In which Loki disappears, Tony feels bereft, and may or may not be in love—to be decided in the flashbacks of Chapter 8
Tony and Loki split from their clandestine meeting, her to find some clothes, and he to plan a way to convince Odin his second son was a changed man.
She very carefully restrains herself from asking, “Have you changed?”
Twenty-days later, Loki disappears. The technicians on the helicarrier keep sweeping the planet, but can find no trace of him, anywhere on the planet or surrounding space.
Phil, Clint and Natasha seem unsurprised, while Thor mopes around the tower stoic and listless.
Tony feels bereft. She tries to analyze the feeling; it’s a gnawing in her chest, like she lost something precious and will regret it forever.
She has to know, so she asks Clint, “When you were mind-whammied, what did it feel like?”
The archer pauses in his practice, lowers the bow to the table. They’re in the target range and Clint is learning the balance of the new arrow heads she gave him last week, each head offsets the shaft balance in a different way, so he has to learn how to compensate for each device.
He’s quiet for a long moment, then, “It’s—like a dream. It’s only when you wake up that you know anything was strange.” He pauses, looks away. “Everything I did felt right while I was doing it, it was only after…It was like he took everything—my experiences and personality—and twisted them so they made a different person. I wasn’t me anymore.”
Tony must be too thoughtful and quiet, because Clint asks, “Do you think he did something to one of us?”
She smiles one of her patented ‘i-am-a-stable-influence-on-this-company-now-give-my-company-more-money’ smiles. “No, just curious.”
The smile seems to work better on him than it does during her investor meetings, because he shrugs and goes back to practice.
One day, Tony finds herself missing Loki’s snark during breakfast. Usually she would wake (or still be up from the previous night) to the others chowing down, and Loki playing a video game. He seemed to be working his way through the Steam library as a way to pass the time between Assemble alerts.
She always found herself asking him if he wanted anything, and he would always sign back, ‘solid food’.
“Sorry, buddy,” she would say, “still puree for you.” And then she would blend him something that would taste delicious no matter its appearance.
The first few times they’d had this exchange, Steve looked at her consideringly, but after a while, it became routine, and no one gave her weird looks anymore.
It never occurred to her until now, that no one else cared if Loki ate; not even Thor who claimed to love him, offered to make Loki anything. According to the Norse myths (which everyone had checked upon seeing Loki’s mouth-stitches) the dwarves had once sewed his mouth shut in punishment, so it was not a novel experience for the brothers; obviously Loki had survived being unable to eat. Still, that was no excuse for being inconsiderate.
It also never occurred, until now, that no one else learned ASL to communicate with Loki; Thor could understand him because of the Allspeak, but everyone else seemed happy to talk at Loki and never comprehend his responses. When he wanted to be understood by the others he had to use his keyboard.
Feeling the others stare at her--Natasha glaring--Tony finally moves from her spot frozen at the kitchen entranceway. She grabs a day old Chinese takeout from the fridge, and nukes it for two minutes in the microwave. She can feel their stares following her and when she turns with her food, Natasha is right in front of her, looking into her eyes.
Tony almost drops her chicken-with-broccoli in shock. “Um, can I help you?”
“How are you feeling?” Natasha asks her.
“A little creeped out.” She leans backwards. “There’s a thing called personal space, have you heard of it?”
Natasha gives a little hmm and goes back to the table to finish her grapefruit.
“O—kay.” Tony makes sure to sit as far from Natasha as possible.
Everyone is still staring at her.
“You know what?” She stands abruptly, and everyone tenses slightly, “I’m eating away from all you crazy people.” She takes her food and goes to her workshop.
After she’s done eating, she feels in a very blah mood, so takes her private elevator down to the underground garage and spends a very relaxing few hours working on a 1936 Hot Rod she bought at auction (the bastard who owned it previously had inherited it from a grandfather and let it rot in a crappy storage container until the Feds got it in an asset seizure). The poor car was in terrible condition.
She’s in the zone, Playlist 36 blaring through the speaker system and covered in grease and oil, when the music cuts off.
“Jarvis!” she admonishes, muscles straining to budge a rusted bolt attaching the engine block.
“Sorry, that was me,” Bruce says, walking up next to her legs.
Tony slides out from under the car, and sits up on the board. “Hey, what’s up?”
He fiddles with his glasses for a moment, “The others,” he gestures out the door as if the rest of the team were outside (they’re not, she can see through the glass walls) and not fifty stories above their heads. “They sent me to check on you—well, really, we drew straws…I lost.”
“Check up on me? I’m fine,” she stands and grabs a rag that’s only slightly dirty as opposed to slightly clean. Wiping her hands and face only serves to spread the grease around, “well, I could use a shower, but—”
“—You said you loved Loki,” he interrupts.
“At breakfast, you stared into space for a while, said “Holy crap, I love Loki,” and got your food.”
“Hence the staring.”
“Hence the staring,” he says nodding. “Are you okay?”
“Apparently, I’m in love with a super-villain, I’m just peachy.”
“He hasn’t been a villain for a while now,” Bruce says in consolation.
“Or maybe he’s just biding his time, in six months he gets all his magic back. You think he’s still gonna be playing happy families with us when that happens?” A part of her felt uncharitable even as she said it, as if she knew it wasn’t true but was saying it to force a reaction. She should have been saying it to Loki, but he had scampered off to god-knows-where—but not Thor, that’s for sure—and denied her the opportunity to yell at him.
“We need to judge him on what he’s done, not what he may do.”
“…Everyone deserves a second chance?” she asks.
He smiles. “Something like that.”
After Bruce leaves, Tony sits on the mouldy bench seat she’d removed from the car, and thinks.
'You said you loved Loki.’
Chapter 8: A larger chapter, in which there are many flashbacks: a certain reproductive organ cries, stargazing leads to philosophy, Loki retrieves Tony’s heart, and he is blue-da-ba-dee-da-ba-di
Can i just say I am amazed by the love people have for this story:
a reader, Lindsay made art for a scene from Chapter 6: http://meissie.deviantart.com/art/Sleipnir-Jokes-Never-Get-Old-306297006
and a reader, Hreog Kim gave me a lovely review on tumblr: http://froglivers.tumblr.com/post/24394841141/rec100-22-100-post-avengers-queen-antonia-of.
I don't know if anyone is interested, but I am going to create a story here called Snippets of Gone Right, which will have bits that never quite made it into the story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Loki’s first day back on Earth was quite hectic—for everyone except him. He was perfectly content to sit on the couch, sipping at the smoothie Darcy made him, while Steve and Clint argued with Thor in the kitchen.
Tony, who felt unneeded, removed her helmet and sat on the couch; the weight of her suit made the couch springs creak alarmingly.
Loki glanced sideways at her, then returned to watching The Two Towers from where Thor had paused it to argue with the others.
Occasionally, words drifted over from the kitchen.
“…can’t expect us to…” that was Hawkeye.
“…the Allfather has decreed…” that was Thor.
For a while, Tony and Loki sat there in silence, but Tony could no longer stop herself… “Don’t those hurt?” she gestured to his stitches.
Loki looked at her like she was an imbecile, whether it was because of course they hurt, idiot or because of how can I answer with my mouth sewn shut, idiot she didn’t know, but she understood the insult at least.
Her suit creaked as she shifted. “You know, I’m gonna get you some ice…”
He made an inquiring noise.
“For the pain, no?...Okay, never mind.”
The movie continued. The kitchen argument continued. There was the sound of breaking crockery.
“Hey!” Darcy looked up from her laptop. She rose from her desk against the wall and stomped into the kitchen.
“NO BREAKING MY STUFF!” she yelled and she ‘escorted’ Steve, Clint, and Thor out the front door. “If you’re going to argue, do it outside!”
Tony felt herself sigh. Yeah, this is going to be fun.
Again, Loki made a noise.
“Just thinking how fun this is going to be. The whole family, living under one roof?”
He shrugged, insouciantly; or maybe she was projecting.
“This isn’t going to work.” She stood with a shifting of metal plates and checked to make sure Darcy was occupied with sweeping the remains of her plates off the kitchen floor.
Tony could feel the look Loki was giving her. “Don’t look at me like that.” She grabbed Darcy’s laptop and brought it over to the couch. “I mean the communicating thing.”
She sat and put the laptop on the table in front of Loki, minimized the web browser (IE, really? she shuddered.) and opened a text document…a problem immediately arose.
“Wait do you even know how to write English?”
“You are not a lot of help.”
He nodded proudly.
She sighed. “I guess you could always learn sign language.”
During Loki’s first weeks living with the Avengers, he hardly left his rooms. At first, everyone was horrified at the idea of the stitching—SHIELD’s muzzle hadn’t been a suggestion for permanence, for pete’s sake—but neither Thor nor Loki seemed overly bothered with the unusual form of punishment. Well, Loki kept buying knife sets (ceramic, obsidian, ginko, diamond) to try to cut the threads, but that was to be expected. If he had been a model prisoner, they would have known something was wrong with him.
Stealing Tony’s credit card was also not unexpected behavior, in fact after the first month, Tony had added Loki as an authorized user—his card said Loki Liesmith (it was the surname he typed into the form).
Loki had gotten an odd smile on his face when she presented him with a packet of identification, all procured without SHIELD (fore-)knowledge. Fury had eventually agreed that having Loki be an identified consultant was a lot easier on the paperwork.
After four weeks of talking at Loki, Tony had decided to learn American Sign Language so that she could understand when Loki signed back.
The first time she used her new knowledge was after Natasha had made a not-so-thinly-veiled comment and Loki made a sign with a sneer.
Loki turned his head to her so fast she thought he heard his neck crack.
You can understand me.
She nodded, grinning. “Now I can.”
Steve raised an eyebrow (this was back when the Avengers used a buddy system when in the same room with Loki). “When did you learn sign language?”
“Last night.” She hopped over the back of the couch to sit next to Loki. “Say something.”
I have nothing to say to you.
“Okay.” After that Tony had used the side-table’s computer interface to work on some upcoming projects. Loki sat next to her and occasionally made inquiring noises. If it wasn’t sensitive material, Tony explained. They passed the day away like that.
The first morning Tony saw Loki voluntarily sitting at the breakfast table, she stopped with her hand half-way to the coffee pot.
“Hey,” she greeted him.
He didn’t answer; he never answered ‘such asinine greetings’.
Looking around the table, she noticed everyone had something in front of them to eat. Steve was a heaping platter of pancakes and bacon (she didn’t even know she had pancakes), Natasha was a grapefruit and kiwi (where had she gotten the fruit?—when Tony opened the refrigerator in curiosity, she found it fully stocked, and so was her pantry, Ah.) Thor had a stack of poptarts and was dipping them in barbeque sauce, oh, ew. She couldn’t see Clint anywhere, so she looked up and saw he was sitting atop a bookcase, eating a hotpocket.
“Loki, you want anything?” she asked, pouring coffee into her Iron Man souvenir mug ($9.99 at the local bodega).
The whole table looked at her.
Solid food, his expression made the ‘duh’ implied, or maybe she was just projecting; there was no way he could’ve been exposed to such inanities of English already.
She grabbed the blender from where it was hidden behind her sentient toaster, it beeped at her approach. (“I’ll toast a muffin later.” It chirped back at her happily.) “Sorry, still puree for you. Any preference?”
He narrowed his eyes at her in suspicion.
“Okay, dealer’s choice.”
She grabbed a bunch of supplies from the pantry and refrigerator and spent the next few minutes slicing and dicing and pureeing.
Steve began to talk to her, but she increased the speed of the blender. “Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.” It didn’t look like he heard her, but he probably got the jist because he scowled and turned back to his pancakes.
She poured the drink, added a bendy straw from her bar, and handed it to Loki.
He eyed it warily; it was a terrible shade of orange.
“It’s not radioactive, that’s just the carrots. Trust me.”
Later, Steve approached her in the common room. “You shouldn’t—” he cut himself off.
“I shouldn’t what?”
“Loki, he’s not—”
She interrupted him, “--Not what?”
“Part of the team,” Steve said decisively.
Tony shrugged. No one had told her he was. “Well, he’s not a prisoner either.” Thor had been very adamant that Odin would not look favorably on any additional punishment Midgard meted out to Loki.
“He’s not a friend.”
“He’s a person, and I can be nice to him if I want. It was just a smoothie, jeez. I’m pretty sure there’s something in the Geneva Convention about not starving people. Now go away and be spangly in a room I’m not in.”
Tony found Loki hiding in England—well, SHIELD found Loki hiding in England, and he wasn’t hiding, he just wasn’t texting back his whereabouts, which still made The Council very nervous. The point was, Tony found herself very carefully landing in Stonehenge, making sure not to disturb the ‘leylines’ with her ‘evil repulsors,’ else she make the local Druids very angry.
Loki lay atop one of the fallen monoliths, staring at the starry night sky. He turned to look at her as she approached, clomping in her suit.
She flipped her mask up and stopped when she was almost overhead. “Whatcha doin’ here, Loki?”
He went back to looking at the stars.
They stayed like that for a few minutes, then, Tony sighed, rolling her eyes. Fine. She—carefully--lay herself on the ground next to Loki’s stone and stared at the sky as well.
A hand entered her field of view. It finger spelled W-H-A-T-R-U---
“What am I doing? Fury said I couldn’t come back without you, so I’ll stay with you until you’re done. You won’t even notice I’m here, honest.”
The hand returned to its position atop Loki’s chest.
They stayed like that until the sun rose; it was easy for Tony, she fell asleep at one point, only awoken by Loki kicking her shin guard.
She yawned and stretched as far as the suit would allow. “You done?”
“You ready for a pickup?”
He nodded again.
“Pick-up’s two miles north of your position. Local council won’t let the jet any closer.” Clint’s voice spoke over the tinny speaker in her helmet.
“Jeez, gotta put a bell on you. How long has this com been on?”
“All night. You snore.”
“You wanna tell me why you ran away?” Tony asked Loki after they’d been walking down the road for ten minutes.
He didn’t answer until so long had passed she was sure he’d forgotten the question. Stitch was created to be evil. He chose to be good.
It took her an embarrassingly long time to realize he was referring to the movie he’d watched with Thor three days ago.
Is it as easy as that, just choosing?
Oh, she was so not prepared for this, but she was the only one around, and he looked so desperate, as though the answer had the power to break him.
She took a deep breath. “I think—it’s an every day thing.” Loki stopped walking to listen; Tony stopped and turned to face him. “Every day, there’s a choice between actions. When you’re changing from evil to good, it’s a conscious decision--which action is evil, which action is good, and doing the good action—but after a while of making those decisions it becomes instinctive, you start choosing good without thinking.” She hoped she wasn’t babbling, and that she was making sense. “When you don’t have to think about it anymore, that’s when you’re done, you’ve become good. It’s like anything, it takes practice.”
Loki seemed to be pondering her answer, but his face was inscrutable, so she had no idea if she had just made things worse.
They continued their walk to the pick-up point.
Her first day back from DocOck’s clutches, it took her a few hours to notice her arc reactor was not one of her spares. To be fair, she had been distracted by the teddy bear sitting alone near the giant vase of flowers from Steve. She knew without reading any card--of which there was none--that the bear was from Loki. It had a green shirt and gold antenna which looked a little too pointy. Gold lettering on the shirt said “Bee well.” She smiled at the bear, and moved its arm in a wave. She had the most childish urge to prop it up in her bra so it could see the world from the comfort of her shirt, and surprise the next visitor she got; hopefully Steve, it was always fun making him blush.
When she lifted her shirt, she noticed her arc reactor was not one of her spares. Confused, she left the bear on her stomach and reached in, to detach the reactor so she can see it closer to be sure.
A hand materialized and gripped her arm, stopping it from pulling the reactor any further out of its socket. Loki looked down at her, his eyes wide and pushed her hand down, so the reactor clicked back into place. He took her hand out of her shirt and placed it firmly on her stomach, with a little pat, as if to say ‘keep it there.’
“Oh hey, it’s cool, I can last a whole thirty seconds before I have to put it back. You don’t have to worry.”
I didn’t go through the effort of stealing it back from DocOck just so you could take it out again.
“You got it back for me?”
Of course, no one else was going to. He sat in the little chair next to her bed.
An unpleasant feeling made itself known. “What did you do?”
He smiled most sinisterly. I removed it from its place powering DocOck’s plane…at 30,000 feet…above the Pacific Ocean.
“Oh, he is gonna love you for that.”
Loki laughed through his nose, good.
The second time Loki helped her he was more directly involved.
They were in South Dakota, battling the Fiend of the Week (some technogeek who accidentally turned himself into a monster, and didn’t that make Bruce uncomfortable) who had the power to turn electronics evil. The rest of the team were pinned down by power pylons fighting with electrified whips. Thor was no help, his mighty thunder-ness made the electronics super powered, so he was working crowd control.
Somehow, (and Tony was going to rebuild her radar, if it was this easy) the self-named Cybernoid snuck up behind her and took control of her suit’s systems. Her gauntlets turned towards her chest piece, and no matter how hard she strained she couldn’t budge them.
“Guys, a little help here!” she screamed through the comms, but if her teammates even heard her, there was no response.
Her repulsors armed, built up a charge; she watched on her HUD as the charge exceeded safe limits, then her suit tolerance limits.
“Jarvis, shut down, now!”
“I’m afraid I have no control, Miss Stark.”
From behind her, there was the sound of an ice chipper and a scream that slowly cut off.
The suit finally responded to her movements and she spun around in time to see Loki holding a box that was spewing ice onto a frozen Cybernoid.
Once the villain was a solid block, Loki waved his hands and the box disappeared into thin air.
“Neat trick,” she commented, focused more on her HUD flashing red.
“Repulsors at 1000% charge, I recommend immediate discharge.”
“Might wanna stand back.” She waited till Loki had moved to a safe distance, then discharged her weapons at the frozen bad guy.
The villain exploded into icy shards, and the power pylons fighting her team crumbled to the ground inanimate.
“So, nifty power, what was that?”
Tony ripped her helmet off; breathing mechanically controlled air made her a bit uncomfortable right now, that was gonna be a nightmare for later; and looked towards Loki to see his response.
Loki’s skin was blue, and he stared at her with red eyes. He watched her warily, hands fisting at his sides.
Shit! She sucked in a breath, “Are you okay?!”
He tilted his head, and shot her a look of confusion.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but you’re kinda blue.”
He took a deep breath, and signed, It is, he sneered, my natural form.
Tony remembered a conversation from the helicarrier, oh so long ago:
(“He killed eighty people in two days.”
“He is adopted.”)
Loki misread her silence, if it makes you uncomfortable, it should wear off soon.
She could tell he needed her acceptance, so she shrugged exaggeratedly to let the suit convey the motions. “One of my friends turns into a giant green rage monster, and now my other friend turns into a blue ice-man, it’s all cool.”
Sitting in her underground garage, Tony reviews all the interactions she’s had with Loki over the past six months. The gifts, the flirtations, the content feeling whenever he’s near…
She even remembers he’s allergic to paprika; she could never do that with Pepper. “Holy crap, I’m in love with Loki,” and she’s pretty sure he’s in love with her too.
“Well, that’s fortunate,” says a man behind her, in a voice she hasn’t heard in months.
“Loki!” She turns in the seat, and he’s leaning against her workbench. He wears his blue skin, in his green leathers and armor, with a crown of icicles on his head. His stitches are gone, though there are still twelve little holes framing his lips. Tony jumps over the seat back and approaches him, raises her hand to touch, but flinches back, “How did you—”
He stands straight. “The throne of Jotunheim still has some powers that rival those of the Allfathers.”
“The throne?” Obviously, Loki is no longer bound by his punishment. The words she spat at Bruce earlier, “You think he’s still gonna be playing happy families with us…” echo in her mind. Has Loki turned evil right when she learns she loves him? Is he gonna be just another person to leave her? “So, you’re…what? King of Jotunheim now?”
“I’ve been king for nearly two years, I just finally won the throne for my own.”
Her thoughts are running along two tracks, please don’t be evil again, and oh god, he’s evil again.
“Because I am burdened with glorious purpose.” He smiles sweetly. “I must save the universe. Win the woman I love. Prove to Odin I am a changed man.”
“The woman you love?”
“Yes. She flies around in a gaudy red suit, perhaps you’ve heard of her?”
if any one is interested in the Iron Man mug, here is what it looks like:
http://geekstufftobuy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/ironmanmug.jpeg, from this page, http://geekstufftobuy.com/tag/tony-stark/
Chapter 9: In which there is a new king, a plan is made, Steve disappoints, Coulson proposes, and Bruce moonlights as Tony’s psychiatrist
Later, after the team startles at Loki’s new regality (he changes from his blue skin after it makes everyone uncomfortable), after explanations are given (at metaphorical arrow-point), an emergency meeting is called. Coulson attends in person. Up in the meeting room, Loki presides over the discussion. “You-know-who is going to sneak into Asgard, steal the tesseract, and come here, for the six billion people he can use as a personal army in his mission to control the universe.”
Bruce’s eyebrows rise, “you-know-who?”
“Who?” Steve asks in confusion.
“Saying his name brings his sight to bear on the speaker,” Loki explains.
On the vidlink, Fury scowls. “And you know this how?”
“I spoke to my subjects,” Loki smiles, it is not a pleasant smile. “Those who were affected by his teachings were most informative.”
“How exactly do you have subjects?” Clint demands.
“My father Laufey,--”
Thor smacks the table. Tony sees everyone jump in surprise. “Odin is your father.”
“My sire,” Loki concedes, “was king of Jotunheim, he… died many years ago. As first-born, I am king.”
Coulson tilts his head. “You killed him.”
Loki huffs, goodnaturedly, “as I said, he died.”
“So what’s the plan?” Bruce asks, “you do have a plan don’t you? Otherwise why come back.”
Steve gestures and scoffs, “we’re not seriously gonna listen to a plan from him?”
Fury gives Steve a look that to Tony seems almost disappointed. “We can certainly listen, whether we follow this plan is another matter.”
“The plan is this…there is an object in Odin’s vault, which can be used to direct travel.” Loki paces as he speaks. “We know You-Know-Who is coming here, I suggest we use the Infinity Gauntlet to direct his arrival to a non-populated area and meet him in combat. I can pledge soldiers from Jotunheim, if Midgard can supply the weaponry.”
Thor’s booming laugh sounds scornful. “You expect Odin to just give the Gauntlet away for nothing. He does not make gifts lightly, especially not of such a powerful object.”
“Brother dear, not a gift, a loan. And not for nothing.” Loki stops his pacing, stares Thor in the eyes. “I bid you tell Odin, the king of Jotunheim wishes to broker peace with Asgard, let us end the bitter stalemate, and save Midgard and the whole of the universe in the process.”
Thor looks impressed, and the whole table is silent, trying to absorb Loki’s offer.
Tony sees a flaw in Loki’s plan. “Last time Thor asked for Odin’s help, we got nothing. What makes you think Odin’s gonna listen to you now?”
“I am a king now, Odin must listen to a fellow king; such is the law of the realms. With his wisdom, Odin will take this bargain; he knows the threat is real and imminent.”
“Just how imminent?” Fury asks.
Loki turns to face the screen. “My sources tell me no more than a month shall pass before He arrives on Midgard.”
“And how many soldiers are you pledging in this plan of yours?”
“I have an army.”
The meeting ends with Thor once again on a mission to seek help from Odin. As the team file out of the room, Tony sees Loki approach Coulson, who remains at the table, speaking with Fury. Loki’s hand barely brushes against the agent’s arm before Clint unholsters his gun and points it at the king.
“Whoa!” Steve shouts. “What the heck?”
Tony instinctively edges closer to Loki; prepared to push him out of the line of fire.
Loki raises his hands, “I was merely going to ask Coulson to speak in private with Fury and myself.”
“Last time you spoke with Coulson, you killed him!” Clint shouts.
“And I brought him back, what does that tell you?”
“Barton, stand down!” Fury commands.
Clint glances at Fury, his gun never wavering. “How can you just—”
“—Clint…” Natasha steps between Clint’s gun and its target. She rests her hand over Clint’s on the gun grip.
An unspoken conversation happens between the two master assassins. Finally, Clint holsters his weapon and lets Natasha lead him out of the room.
Tony breathes a sigh of relief. Loki turns to her.
“Were you worried for me?”
She nods. “Little bit.”
“Thank you.” Loki bends down and kisses her. In the background, Fury’s eyebrows raise.
Tony stares at him for a second; a cheek kiss is not one she’s used to getting from people. It makes her feel warm and fuzzy in her head.
The fuzzy feeling leaves when Steve manhandles her (gently), once they’ve left Loki to speak in private. He drags her to a secluded spot behind some aluminum sculpture Pepper once bought, (Tony thinks it’s called Christmas Tree Descending Staircase, and if it’s not, it should be).
She yanks her hand out of his grip. “Um, rude much?”
“What going on between you and Loki?” Steve demands.
Tony doesn’t realize until it’s too late, but she’s crossed her arms defensively. “Were you not there at breakfast? I love him.”
His jaw clenches. “I’ve kept quiet these past months because I thought he would serve his punishment and leave. Without his lies and magic I thought he’d be harmless, but he’s still managed to compromise you.”
“I’m not compromised,” she scoffs. She’s not, is she? She doesn’t feel as though she’s been unmade as Clint calls it.
Steve stares her in her eyes. “Are you really the best judge of that? You can’t see him for what he truly is.”
“And what is he?”
“A very bad man,” he states definitively.
Wow, Tony had never thought Steve would get added to her mental list of People Who Have Disappointed Tony Stark; top of the list being Howard of course. “I’m sorry you feel that way—wait, no, no I’m not--Everyone deserves a second chance, and if you can’t see that, as leader of our little Island of Misfit Superheroes, then maybe you shouldn’t be our leader anymore.”
She stalks away, intent on getting as far from Steve as possible.
A few hours later, she’s tinkering with the latest version of her suit. The Mark X is supposed to be space-worthy, but the seals keep failing in her vacuum chamber.
She manipulates the hologram of the suit, studying an exploded view of the micro-fissures that keep opening in the joints. There’s no way she is using NASA’s accordion-type sleeves if she can help it.
Her music cuts off and Jarvis says, “Agent Coulson requests your presence in the meeting room.”
“Wasn’t I just there?”
“I gather it’s a different topic this time”
“Awesome,” her tone opposes her claim. She scrubs through her hair, feeling uncharacteristically tired. She just slept last night; she should be good for days more than this. “Save my work.”
On her way out, she grabs a Monster energy drink from her mini-fridge.
“So what’s up.” She sips her drink as she enters the room. Only Loki and Coulson are in the room, Fury’s video connection has been shut off.
Coulson glances up from where he and Loki are typing a document on the table’s interface. “You’re marrying Loki.”
“What!” she inhales her drink and spends the next minute coughing to clear her lungs.
Loki smiles encouragingly. “You will make a splendid queen, do not worry.”
Tony collapses into a seat at the far end of the table, away from the crazy. “That’s not the bit I was focused on, but thank you for the additional implication that I hadn’t even noticed.”
“It’s either you, or Agent Romanoff,” Coulson informs her, “and we felt you would be the better option.”
Her laugh is slightly hysterical. “Yeah, I don’t think she’s forgiven the ‘mewling quim’ insult, yet.”
Loki smiles sheepishly. “I tried complimenting her on the masterful interrogation she performed but—”
“Agen--Phil, not to cast aspersions on the recently no-longer-deceased, but are you sure you came back right?”
“Whether or not Odin sees fit to grace us with his help,” Coulson begins, “Loki has promised to assist Earth in the coming troubles. Director Fury believes a formal union between the two worlds will also prevent any future…incidents.”
Tony stares. There are no words. Only when she makes the situation impersonal does she finds some, “Loki, please don’t take this the wrong way, but how would a marriage stop you from going bag-of-cats crazy…again?”
Loki stands and sits next to her. He holds her hand, caressing her calloused and scarred fingers. “I would never destroy my children’s homeworld,” he says comfortingly.
She rips her hand out of his, and stands in shock. “Children! Jesu-my-I.” A few more disjointed sounds come out as different thoughts rush through her mind.
“Of course. Our union would be most fruitful.”
“NO!” She points at Loki.
“NO!” She points at Coulson.
As she leaves, slamming the door closed, she hears Coulson say, “That went well.”
Tony slams through the first door she notices; it’s the emergency stairwell. Before she realizes it, she’s descended four floors and is headed to the Research and Development section of Avenger’s Tower. She finds Bruce in his labs, surrounded by plexi-screens and holo-displays.
He looks up from an equation scrolling across his desk. “What, right now?” Bruce asks, able to interpret the noises that came out of her mouth, which might have been words along the lines of “OhmygodI’mgonnahavehundredsoficeybabies.”
She giggles hysterically.
He dismisses the equations and folds his glasses, setting them on his desk. “Maybe you should sit down.”
She sits and looks at Bruce.
“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
Tony sprawls in her chair, legs bouncing. “SHIELD wants me to marry Loki.”
Bruce nods, “that’s sudden.”
“Be my maid of honor?” she asks flippantly.
“If you want,” he smiles encouragingly. “But that’s not what you came down here for.”
She fidgets in her chair, shifting her weight, glancing about at all the oh-so-interesting formulas and projects displayed around the room.
Finally she blurts out, “I just discovered I loved him, this morning, now he’s talking marriage, and queen-dom, and children—which he already has like, six of, some not even human-shaped, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but how do I mother a snake?—what if they don’t like me?—I’m not ready to be a step-mother, let alone a mother-mother—I can’t—I can’t do this.” Her final words are slightly smothered because at some point she rested her head in despair on Bruce’s desk.
“Does SHIELD want you to marry him, or does Loki want you to marry him?”
She looks up at him. “Well, Phil just sort of told me I was marrying him.”
“Well, maybe you and Loki should talk, and figure out what you both want, without SHIELD’s interference.”
Chapter 10: In which Loki explains, promises are made, and there is a field trip to Asgard
A day later, Tony is not hiding. She’s not. There’s a very important business deal in Dubai that in no way could have been achieved over a video conference. While there, she figures what the hell, and has Virgil—Terrance—Derek (god, why can’t she remember his name? even his contact is listed as Not-Pepper in her phone) call up the ‘old crowd’ and throws a party in her house, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years.
It’s a disaster, but only on a personal level. None of the lovely eye-candy of either gender attracts her attention, and the alcohol makes her depressive. Around 11 p.m, she gets tired of all the music and chatter and smoozing and abandons the party and the house. Let the guests do whatever they want, it doesn’t matter.
She’s running away from what matters; and she’s self-aware enough to know it.
Morning finds her suited up, eating ka-babs on top of the Burj Kalifa. She sits on the waist-high wall, feet swinging against the plaster. This high up, there’s a strong breeze filling her ears, so she doesn’t know Loki’s arrived until he speaks to her.
“The green one tells me I may have come on too strongly.”
There must be magic involved in this conversation, because neither of them has to shout to be heard over the wind. She twists in her seat so she’s no longer sat facing the city. “Good old Bruce.” She licks her fingers and balances her helmet atop her takeaway box so the wind won’t catch her food.
Loki makes a groany-whining sound.
“Oh, Jolly Green huh?” she winces in sympathy. The Hulk can be very forceful when faced with stupidity.
“I did not mean to imply that I demanded children from you—but, I don’t not want them either…I—” he stops, collects himself, sits next to her. “There is no pressure.”
She grins at his small bit of babbling. It’s always nice to know other people natter too when discussing life-alerting things. “We haven’t even had a proper date yet, and already we’re gonna get married?”
“That was Fury’s idea,” Loki says forcefully. “He seemed on the verge of ecstasy when he suggested it.”
Tony considers it… Queen Tony, Queen Antonia… a royal wedding to rival William and Kate’s. “He just wants to fob me off on someone else’s planet,” she scoffs. “Anyway, isn’t it an ice planet, how would I live there?”
Loki glances away. “As ruler, any duties could be passed to a regent. I find myself favoring that option,” he glances back to her, “as I am inordinately fond of this realm.” She has gotten quite good at understanding his unspoken communication, and the meaning is clear, I am inordinately fond of you.
The moment becomes heavy and uncomfortable. Tony can feel a glib comment rising; she sees one way the conversation can go: she’ll make a joke, and they’ll laugh; but it would only be delaying the inevitable.
She forces herself to respond seriously. “I like you, a lot.” Her suit creaks loudly as she shifts; god she needs to move, pace, fidget, do something…anything but have Loki’s full attention. But, she’s in her suit, on the roof of the tallest building in the world, trapped… “You are one of the few people I can count on to never disappoint me.” Her nervous energy is too much and she paces the rooftop. “How crazy is that? I barely know you! You tried to DESTROY my world, you KILLED people! You’re the god of LIES, and I TRUST YOU!” She finds herself leaning against the roof-access door, and slides down it to sit in the gravel. “Was Steve right? Did you do something to me?”
He moves and sits cross-legged in front of her. “I did nothing but spend time with you. You were nice to me, with no ulterior motives. The others only tolerated my presence in the knowledge that a year of punishment meant a year of docility; knowing that when I was freed, I would return to my villainous ways and they would have another chance to destroy me.”
“But you haven’t.”
“Every day I am good is another day they must simmer in their own hatred and do nothing, impotent against me.” Loki grins slightly derangedly. “It brings me great pleasure to subvert their expectations and control their behavior thusly.”
Uh-oh, your crazy’s showing, Tony doesn’t voice her thought, but he must see it on her face, because his smile fades, and he looks down and around sheepishly.
“I-uh, apologize.” He’s shutting down, placing shields around his inner self.
“No, no--” she rushes to fix her blunder, “--it’s not that—” she grabs one of his hands. “We have a word for that, schadenfreude, it means taking pleasure from someone else’s misery. You don’t have to hide that bit of yourself, it’s not craziness, it’s part of human nature.”
“But I am not human.”
“Okay, so it’s part of sentient nature.”
Loki shifts so they are sat side by side, hands held between them.
They sit there, listening to the wind, looking out at the tiny skyscrapers around them. Then…
“You have a man’s hand.” He says surprised, apropos of nothing.
He holds her left hand in both of his, studying her palm and the various chemical, electrical, and mechanical scars on her fingers. He’s focused so intently, she is sure he can tell where every mark came from.
Tony turns to look at him. “Um…”
“Sorry, that was meant to be a compliment.”
“How is that meant to be a compliment?” she forces her tone to convey just curiosity and no aggression.
“You are not a simpering woman concerned only for her social needs. You fight, and you better the world around you. If you cannot find a solution to a problem, you build one, out of scraps.” Admiration shone through his eyes. “You fight against your realm’s expectations by doing a man’s work.”
“So you’re complimenting me on my challenging nature.”
“Yes. I ask that you never let me change you. For you will have lost a vital spark, and I would have lost my love for you.”
She entwines their fingers. “If we’re going to make this work, I’m going to ask something a lot harder of you, than you did of me.”
He makes an inquiring noise.
“As long as I’m with you, you can’t go back to being a villain. No—think hard on this. Right now, saying it is easy... But, one day, something is going to happen, and it will be so effortless to fall back onto the easy solution—you have to promise, that if we’re going to be together, you have to do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing.”
He stares out into the distance, rubbing his thumb back and forth against her hand.
“I promise,” he says, eventually. “But I will need you to warn me in such times, for I fear I would not recognize it were it to come upon me.”
The moment is shattered quite abruptly by the door opening from behind them. Loki catches himself, but Tony is not so lucky and lands on her back.
“This is sweet and all,” Clint’s emphasis says he believes otherwise, “but you really need to answer your comms,” she sees him cross his arms. “Fury’s been requesting your presence for over an hour.”
She scrambles to her feet, the suit hampering her slightly. “How did you even get up here?” She should really not be surprised at the places Hawkeye can get to, but still…
Clint blinks at her. “I took the elevator.” Oh, right.
Loki retrieves her helmet, and her food. “Thor has returned?”
“He says he has a message from Odin that only King Loki can hear.” He is very careful only to speak to Tony, as though Loki didn’t exist. “Jet’s waiting to take us to the heli-carrier.”
Whatever the message is, Loki doesn’t say. But, he does request that a team come with him as he negotiates with Odin in Asgard.
Asgard is…insane. That’s the only word Tony can come up with upon arrival; what other reason could there be for a giant rainbow bridge suspended over a waterfall having no safety railings, haven’t these people ever heard of OSHA?
The negotiating party consists of her, Loki, Fury and Coulson. Thor is there as well, as their escort. The other Avengers ‘elected’ to stay on Earth just in case.
Tony immediately gets the impression Odin is not pleased with her presence. Fury and Coulson are required because they represent Midgard, and Loki is required because he represents Jotunheim.
Tony is superfluous to requirements, a fact Odin makes abundantly clear when he asks Loki, “why have you brought this mortal woman?” he says ‘mortal’ the way someone would say ‘roadkill’ at a Michelin rated restaurant.
Loki holds her gauntleted hand (he told her to wear her armor as a show of strength; their hosts do not look impressed), and replies. “She is to be the new Jotun queen.”
She didn’t think she would find a more intimidating one-eyed glare than Fury’s, but Odin’s is much more intimidating. She doesn’t know the protocol for addressing an Asgard king, so she just smiles slightly.
Odin says nothing, but gives the impression he finds her wanting.
This is fine with her, because she finds him wanting too. From the myths and what little Loki has told her, Odin beat Howard for the Crappy Father Award by a ginormous margin.
Chapter 11: In which the author tries so hard not to write like Hunger Games or ASoFaI, or Twilight *shudder*, also FOOD HAPPENS, and negotiations are ongoing
This chapter was delayed for three reasons. First, i went to Metrocon, then I had to rush to finish my class work before the end of semester. AND THEN, my computer died. completely. I've had to buy a new one. Which i did not want to do. i had that old one since 2005, it served me well, i loved it...and now its platter is corrupt and unreadable. Luckily everything was backed up and i lost Nothing but the physical computer.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The negotiations won’t be till tomorrow. Today, there is to be a feast in honor of the visit from some of Midgard’s greatest warriors. One of Thor’s friends, who strongly reminds Tony of Gimli from Lord of the Rings, looks pleased with the announcement; while Thor’s lady friend is quite displeased with everything. Tony’s sure she heard all their names, but can’t remember them.
A pretty maidservant leads Tony to a set of guest rooms; everyone’s got a set; her’s has a nice view of the Bifrost Bridge and the stars beyond.
“Dinner is in three hours,” the maid says, bowing out of the room.
There is a young man standing by the dressing screen. “Oh, um, who are you?” Tony asks.
“I am Bran, the Lady Sif’s valet.” Bran replies.
When no more information is forthcoming, Tony asks. “What are you doing here?”
“I am to assist in the removal of your armor.”
“You can go and tell Lady Sif I won’t be needing an armor-helper. It comes off by itself.”
Bran nods, “yes ma’am,” and leaves.
Tony doesn’t think she’s supposed to arrive at dinner in her armor, so it’s a good thing she brought extra clothes. However, the business suit (the one she wears when she needs to convince the other shareholders that she is too competent) she brought is unnecessary, for a group of maidservants arrive and proceed to make her presentable.
One maid, Cherith, brings out a selection of dresses with rich trims and fussy details, the matching shoes are flimsy and tall. Her first thought is my god those are impractical. Her second thought is shit, I should have shaved my legs.
Two other maidservants solve that problem with a paste Tony prays isn’t Asgard’s version of hotwax. Luckily, it rinses off, so it’s Asgard’s version of Nair.
She quickly notices all the dresses share a specific color scheme. When asked, Cherith replies, “Of course, to compliment your companion.”
Her nails are cleaned and buffed. “That’s a losing battle. They’ll be dirty in an hour.” Tony comments. She can never keep her nails clean.
The maids tut over her hair, it’s so short they can’t do anything with it. Tony is glad they can’t use all those combs and pins she saw one of them bring in, some of them look painful.
When the maids are done prettifying her, it’s almost time for dinner. A royal guard, who she suspects was outside her rooms this entire time, leads her through pristine gilded walkways towards the Banquet Hall. Her appearance causes more than one look from passerby, though not because she is a foreigner. She’s carrying her shoes in her hands, because there is no way she is risking breaking an ankle until she has to.
The guard takes her to an antechamber where the rest of her party waits. Fury and Coulson sit around a lit brazier, while Thor and Loki stare out a window. Both brothers are in their full regalia, Loki wearing his Crown of Perpetual Icicles, while Thor wears—
“Oh, chicken.” Everyone stares at her outburst. “I see what you mean,” she tells Loki as she approaches him. “Here,” she hands him her shoes. “Stand still.” She holds his shoulder for balance as she puts on her shoes, first one foot then the other.
The shoes make her wobble alarmingly. “Oh, that’s gonna be fun. Also, why am I the only one who got pimped out?” Fury and Coulson both wear the same outfit in which they arrived.
She gets no answer, for at that moment a male servant in a poufy hat arrives and leads them into the Banquet Hall.
After some guy blows a golden horn that looks like a vuvuzuela, but sounds like a trumpet, he shouts to the assembled masses “Announcing the joint delegation from Midgard and Jotunheim!”
Every face turns to look at them; rows upon rows of people, seated at tables stretching towards a high table, where Odin and his wife sit, presiding.
Loki holds out his arm and Tony takes it. She lets him lead her to oh deargod the high table. The others sit at an empty table near them. He must sense her trepidation, or maybe he just feels the deathgrip she has on his arm, because he says, “Relax, you’ll do fine.” Servants pull out the chairs next to Queen Frigga, and they sit; her sandwiched between Loki and his mother.
Odin makes a small speech about welcoming Asgard’s guests, and the hopes of a fruitful negotiation and ushering in a new era of prosperity for the nine realms.
Then food happens.
Food happens in the same way a hurricane happens, with noise and destruction of property. Servant after servant carrying tray after tray of food. Thousands of cutlery against thousands of plates. There’s conversations, and laughter. Maids weave through the crowd, sometimes being waylaid by someone for some private attention.
The food is never ending; trays of whole animals (there’s deer and pigs and rabbits and fish and bilgsnipe) just laid out on the tables for anyone to cut off a piece; there’s giant tureens of gravy and mountains of mashed potatoes. Piles of vegetables and never ending mead and wine.
The high table is a little more civilized. The King and Queen, through no form of signal Tony can see, signal their servants, and food is brought to them. Loki next to her does the same, only he’s able to signal his servant to get Tony food too.
“How are you doing that?”
“I grew up here,” he answers as though it explains everything. It does.
Eventually, after a few hours of eating, and quaffing, and singing; Loki begs the king’s pardon, and he and Tony leave the hall. The rest of the populous show no sign of stopping anytime soon.
Loki leads her back to her rooms, holding tight as she loses balance more than once. She may have had too much mead, though she tried to be responsible about it.
The next morning, she wakes when a bright beam of sunlight cuts across her face.
“Jarvis! Turn off the sun!” she cries out before she remembers where she is. She opens her eyes to find a random maidservant laying out clothes. “Go away,” she mumbles into her pillow. “Need more sleep.”
“Begging you pardon, my lady, but King Loki of Jotunheim requests your presence at breakfast.”
Tony sits up in bed, the sheets falling to her waist. “Who made me naked? Never mind.” When she goes to the bathroom, there are more maids filling the tub with water my god by the bucket full. There’s an area behind a screen that looks like it’s toilet related; at least she hopes it’s toilet related, because that’s where she goes. When she’s done, a maid opens a hidden door and removes the chamber pot, replacing it with an empty one.
They ignore her.
Then they bathe her, and dress her in a diaphanous-type shift thing that goes to her knees; her shoes are thankfully sandals.
The same guard as before leads her to wherever it is she’s supposed to eat breakfast.
“Have you people never heard of modern plumbing?” This is not the first thing she says as she enters the room, thank the lord, for Loki is breaking fast with his mother, and that would have made a terrible first impression. First, Tony sits at her place-setting, smiles at Frigga, and eats the fruit-thing the servant places in front of her. It’s only when Frigga leaves to attend her weaving, (seriously?), that Tony whispers her question furiously to Loki.
Loki looks at her as though she were crazy. “Why would we contaminate fresh water with waste?”
They stare at each other for a moment, until, “soooo, negotiations, anything I should know?”
Don’t make wisecracks. Since that’s all she knows how to do, according to oh so many people, Tony mostly keeps quiet.
Vuvuzuela-man is back, this time announcing their arrival to the council chamber. Odin sits at the head of a long table, lined on either side by various old guys; Tony may not know their names, but she knows their ilk. They remind her of her fellow shareholders, more concerned with how decisions will affect themselves, while pretending to care about how those decisions will affect the consumer…
Loki, in his blue skin, sits at the opposite end, and she, with the others, sit flanking him.
First there are introductions, all along the lines of OldGuy, son of OlderGuy, who slew the mighty two-headed beast of SomeRealm…half of the councilmen are missing some bit of themselves—Tyr is missing a hand; Grune, an ear…It must be a requirement, to rule Asgard…lose an arm, gain a council seat.
Tony tunes out at Carter, son of Rice.
The council chamber sits in the tallest spire of Asgard, and has more window than wall. From where she sits, Tony can see out across the entirety of the realm, from the inner city to the outlying villages. The land stretches out and out, but never curves down into the horizon. Reading about flat worlds and working out the physics of such is fun and all, but actually standing on a flat world is very very disconcerting. The sky must be much thinner here than on Earth, because she can see stars and nebulas in the blue sky.
It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s absolutely terrifying. The scientist in her screams about gravity and atmosphere and how none of this should work.
Her traitorous brain brings up the last time she was in space, she almost died, and she looks down to the table on the verge of panic. Her hands hurt, and she realizes she has them clenched in her lap.
Loki’s voice breaks through to her and she pays attention to the conversation in time to hear,
“…Tony destroyed the Chitauri base using an atomic missile. As Heimdall no doubt informs you, Midgard has thousands more of these weapons. Jotunheim has the soldiers, Midgard has the weapons, but we will need more to defeat the forces of Thanos. We need the Infinity Gauntlet.”
Odin’s councilmen erupt into furor.
“How can we trust these…”
“…a jotun traitor…”
“Kingslayers have no place…”
Loki sits there, listening to their barbs. His red eyes give him an air of menace, but Tony can see the tiny muscle movements of someone trying to show it doesn’t hurt, of someone who only thinks they’ve been hurt too many times to feel it anymore. Tony’s had to use that same mask often in her life. His hands rest on the table, not curling into fists in a way that’s forced. She wants to rest her hand in his, give him something to hold, as his own brother does not rise in defense of him. Maybe Loki has the truth of it, and Thor has deluded himself into believing they are brothers.
“…always a menace…”
“He wears a crown when he should have earned the axe.”
“He has already bewitched two realms; shall we give him a third?”
“Silence.” The command is soft, but the council falls quiet at Odin’s word. “And who will wield my Gauntlet?” he asks. “You? The Gauntlet is quite discerning in whom it lets have power.”
Loki smiles mirthlessly. “Only the righteous? I’m well aware. Coulson will wield it.”
Tony is extremely surprised at this suggestion as is Thor, going by his expression. Phil and Fury look serene, almost like they were expecting this announcement.
“A tiny mortal?” Odin says the question politely, but Tony can tell he wants to scoff.
“Coulson died in battle, and has returned from Valhalla in defense of his realm. Only the mightiest warriors indeed do not allow defeat even from death.”
Nice spin. Tony’s amazed at the level of obfuscation Loki employs. Everything he said is true, and yet…
“You were the one who slew him.” Odin’s expression is pained.
“Yes—he was defending their fortress. Thus he was slain in battle. Who provided death’s stroke is of no consequence. The Infinity Gauntlet will respond to his commands.”
Odin squeezes his eye shut. It’s obvious he has had to deal with these types of conversations with Loki before.
A slimy thought races through Tony’s brain. What if this was nothing more than a long game? The Chitauri, the Battle of Manhattan—what if it was all so Loki could kill Coulson and bring him back as some sort of catspaw to control the Gauntlet? Is this alliance just another way for Loki to subjugate the masses and build his monument to the skies?
Is there even an army coming? Is Thanos real? They’ve had no independent confirmation of his threat.
Is she the only one who has thought of this? She looks to Fury and Coulson, who are busy answering Tyr’s question. Could they be enchanted, if they are, why isn’t she?
This one was a HOUND to type out. I really dont like how it came out, but it does what it's supposed to so...
Chapter 12: In which Loki reveals his master plan, Odin is an assclown, also, Coventry
again, this chapter kicked my butt. it's functioning to advance the story, but gah, idk...
When the negotiations break for lunch, Tony grabs Loki by the hand and drags him out of the Council Chamber down the hall to a secluded corner.
“Is this a trick?” she whispers furiously, shoving him against the wall. “Is this just another way for you to rule the universe?”
“Well, not the universe.”
Oh god. “I knew it.”
“I am a KING, rightful king of—Jotunheim. But I cannot hold the throne without the people’s favor.”
She paces away from him with the realization. “This is a publicity stunt?”
Loki snarls at her. “The Jotuns only accept me as their king, because I defeated my ice-brothers in single combat. I am the only one of Laufey’s children left now allowed to sit the throne. As soon as another Jotun becomes strong enough to defeat me, they will try, and may succeed.
“I can only hold a throne with my people’s acceptance. Ruling with fear does not work, as I learned on Midgard. So I will rule with love. Then the people must accept me. I will help the people rebuild after what I did. The realm is poor in resources, and I’m hoping Midgard will help. I know Asgard will not, but your people can be generous when it suits them.”
“So you’re not saving us out of the goodness of your heart?”
Loki lips stretch in a vile grin. “I don’t think I have goodness there, not yet at least. Saving Midgard and the universe is the right thing, Thanos must be stopped, but if I can get something for it, why should I not try?”
Why does she feel anger at this plan? It’s a sound business plan, I help you now if you help me later. Yet it makes her feel unsettled and betrayed.
It must show on her face, for the anger bleeds from Loki’s expression. “This treaty does not just benefit Jotunheim. As now, if Midgard was ever in danger, I would pledge assistance. I cannot speak for Odin, but if your people called, I would help. Just as I hope you would help were Jotunheim to need it.”
But you just said Jotunheim did need it. “Mutually assured assistance. Everyone wins.”
It still makes her feel weird.
When lunch is over, and they return to the Council Chambers, only Odin is there. He sits at the head of the table, the empty seats creating a visual metaphor for the loneliness of kingship.
“Sit,” he tells them.
“My council were not conducive to these negotiations. I know what they would have me do. Give me a reason to do something else.”
Tony rolls her eyes. Loki had told her, “I cannot hold the throne without the people’s favor” it seems even Odin must bow to stupid politics.
“A three-way alliance between realms would be beneficial to—” Loki starts.
“—to Jotunheim and Midgard certainly.” Odin finishes. “But how would it benefit Asgard? You are still the second son of Odin, the succession alone could harm us; the people would not accept a Jotun-human as king.”
Loki scoffs. “Thor will most certainly have heirs, making mine no contender for the Aesir throne.”
“And if Thor should die, during one of his little Avenger quests?”
“You know well and true how Thor will die!” Loki shouts “It is not Ragnarok yet!”
Odin’s eyebrow rises. “Yet you were able to kill him with the Destroyer two years ago.”
“I got better.” Thor mumbles indignantly.
When the fight devolves to Monty Python… “This is pointless,” Tony interjects.
Everyone stares at her. Oh joy. A double dose of one-eyed glare. “You NEED a reason to help us? What kind of god are you, you need a reason? Because you’re stronger than us, you’re better and wiser than us. The strong should help the weak because it’s the right thing to do, not because they were persuaded to. If you’re not gonna help us, tell us now, so we can go home and prepare for battle instead of sitting here with our heads up our—”
“—STARK!” Fury shouts.
Assclown she signs.
Loki stifles a laugh. Then composes himself. “Heimdall must have told you Thanos is coming.”
Odin nods. “He has.”
Independent confirmation, yay. Tony thinks to herself. We’re so screwed.
“Thanos will come to Midgard, there are seven billion people he will control with his Titan powers, as his army. Whether he comes here next for the tesseract, or spreads through the universe because he already has it, I do not know.”
Great, we’re bait.
“The tesseract is in my vault.”
“Are you sure?”
Odin motions with his hand and a servant comes out of the shadows, “Have the guards check the vault for the tesseract.”
The servant melts back into the shadows.
“We have a limited opportunity, we know where Thanos will be, and we know when he is coming. With the gauntlet, The Avengers can direct his arrival to a deserted location on Midgard and meet him in battle with my Jotun army. We can beat him.”
“And if you lose, Thanos will have two armies, my gauntlet, and possibly the tesseract as well. He could be unstoppable.”
“That will not—” Loki begins.
“Stop.” Fury motions to him. “Not too long ago, my own council was willing to kill millions of people to save billions. We found another option then... I don’t know how many people are out in the universe, but if Thanos gets Earth--if he wins—they’re all screwed. It could be the council are right this time. If it comes down to it, if we lose, can you seal Earth off from the surrounding space? Forever?”
“I can.” Odin answers. “But you would be trapping yourselves with Thanos.”
‘We could be dead by then, but he can have as many armies as he wants, he won’t be leaving Earth. It can be his prison.”
And now we’re the sacrifice. “Can’t we phase-out or evac—” Tony stops herself before she finishes voicing the thought; but it’s too late, everyone’s looking at her. “No, of course not.” She looks Fury straight in the eye. “We’re Coventry aren’t we?”
Fury nods. “Yes.”
“I can’t—no, this—oh god.” Tony rushes out of the room before she does something embarrassing, like punch Fury, or throw up.
“What is coventry?” she hears Thor ask as the door closes behind her.
There’s no guard outside the Council chamber to escort her back to her rooms, and Tony can’t handle being in that War Room one more second, so she just leaves without one.
Coventry…no way to protect the population without letting Thanos know they know his plan. It doesn’t exactly match, but it’s close enough to make Tony want to scream and blow something up. She doesn’t think Odin or anybody would appreciate her smashing walls with her suit.
But that doesn’t mean she has to stay and listen to their plans anymore. She’s not important to the negotiations. She’s just the eye-candy. Loki’s attempt to prove to daddy that he’s become a well-adjusted member of society, look, father, I have a girlfriend.
Before she knows it, she’s flying around the palace. Literally. She’s suited up, doing laps around the towers and spires and she hadn’t even noticed. She only realizes she’s in her suit and in the air, when Jarvis warns her that the atmosphere is about to thin to dangerous levels, she’s flying so high.
“Jeez, you startled me.” She falls ten feet before she gains her balance.
Her sight falls upon the Bifrost and the view zooms so close she can see the color of Heimdall’s eyes, forever watching, forever guarding. He looks up at her, watching her watch him. Which is creepy. She pulls away, flies to the other side of the palace.
“There is a woman signaling to us.”
It’s Frigga; she’s standing on one of the many balconies dotted around the palace.
“Come,” Tony hears her say, “I would speak with you.”
Tony lands—gently—in front of the Queen, and removes her helmet. “Your highness.”
Chapter 13: In which Frigga weaves, then interrogates, Odinsleep has a history of being contrived, and they go home
“My husband can be quite….” Frigga pauses to find a word, “…intransigent when he believes he is right.” She leads Tony in from the balcony, and through a small passage way.
Tony follows, helmet in hand, and tries not to clomp the floor too hard with her boots. “Are you saying he won’t help us?”
Frigga hums noncommittally. “I’m saying he is one man, and only currently holds the decision-making power.”
If Tony was the type of person to worry over treasonous comments, that would have given her pause, but she wasn’t, so it doesn’t. “How does that help us now?” she asks.
“Perhaps it doesn’t.”
The passageway opens onto an exterior hallway framing a large training field. Frigga stops and leans against a low wall, staring at the warriors practicing their sword work. The field is largely dominated by male warriors; only one woman is there, practicing with her quarterstaff against a man nearly twice her size. On second look, it is Thor’s lady friend Sif.
Frigga notices her staring, for she comments, “Rarely does a woman become a fighter. Perhaps you will change that. Perhaps you can change everything.”
“What you represent. A union such as this has never before been attempted, in all the Cycles past.” She stares into the distance, a haunted look on her face. “There are those content to play their parts, but I am tired of inevitability.” Frigga turns her not inconsiderable gaze onto Tony. “There is a perfect future within my sight, and I will let nothing jeopardize it.”
The ferocity of Frigga’s conviction frightens Tony. But still she asks, “how perfect?” two words that encompass all the tiny doubts floating around her brain, perfect for Asgard or Earth or what? Are we going to win? How many casualties?
“The type of perfect that means the heroes live happily ever after.” Then the queen smiles and the moment is gone. “But enough of that, come, let us drink and you can tell me all about yourself; you who have caught my Loki’s eye.”
This isn’t the first time Tony has had tea with a Queen. This is the first time she’s done it in her UnderArmor, but Frigga doesn’t seem to mind. The Iron Man suit lies under the table, folded into its suitcase shape, next to a woven basket filled with blue woolen yarn being magically knitted by two needles. Tony can’t tell what the end shape is going to be.
The two of them sit in the Queen’s Private Study, a room filled with books, in shelves stretching to the domed ceiling. An oculus above lets in an abundance of light. A servant brings in a tea service and pours them both a cup, then leaves as silently as he arrived.
It’s a very strange encounter. Frigga asks mostly innocuous questions about Tony’s personal life. Tony gets the distinct feeling that however innocent the questions may be, Frigga is measuring her up.
After an hour or so of conversations about Tony’s family life (a topic which was oh-so-fun to broach), and her childhood dreams, Frigga says, “My son tells me you are an inventor.”
Well, that’s a giant oversimplification; Tony wonders which son told her that. “I do make things, yes.”
“So why do you fight?”
Does she want Frigga to know she was a weapons manufacturer? Does Frigga already know? “Because I can. Because that’s the only way I can be sure my creations are used properly.”
“But who are you to decide that? The blacksmith does not tell the knight how to use his sword.” Was that just an analogy, or a subtle hint that Frigga knew Iron Man’s unsavory origin story?
“Is the knight killing innocent people in your analogy?” Ooh, that’s a bit snarky; without the protocol expert to brief her on do’s-and-don’ts she had last time she spoke with a queen Tony is letting her sarcasm show—which is probably not a good thing in this case.
“Is that not a problem for the authorities?”
“I can stretch this analogy as far as you like, but eventually it comes down to, I created weapons I thought would kill more efficiently, and save innocents from being collateral damage. Some bad men got those weapons and used them to kill those innocents, so I stopped them. And because I was good at being a suited-up superhero, I kept at it, and now I save the world every other week.”
The Queen makes a little “hmm” sound, and takes a sip of her tea. “And is that the only thing you’re good at, saving the world?”
“I make awesome smoothies.” Tony deadpans.
Frigga rewards that statement with a small laugh. “Indeed, I must thank you for keeping my youngest so well fed during his punishment.”
The servant from before enters, whispers in Frigga’s ear, and exits.
“Tis nearly dinner, and you need time to dress, so I’ll ask just one more question.”
Frigga pierces her with a very serious expression. “What are your intentions towards my Loki?”
Tony coughs into her tea; that was a bad time to take a drink. “I don’t have any right now, I think. I enjoy spending time with him, and after this whole treaty thing happens we’ll be married, so I guess we’ll go on some dates…have some kisses…heavy petting, sex, babies—I don’t understand what you—we’re gonna be living together for-like-ever, which we have been for six months already, and I like it, so there’s no problem there—but I don’t see myself ever getting bored with him. I’m more worried about him chucking me out a window…again, or stranding me in space or something.”
“You underestimate your hold on him. He is utterly devoted to you.”
“Really? He disguises it very well.”
Frigga smiles thinly. “Such is the nature of royalty.” Her expression clears. “Still, dinner is soon, and you need time to prepare.”
Tony rises to leave, but Frigga grabs her hand. “Remember, happily ever after.”
The calm Tony feels at Frigga’s assurances disappear after the desert course. This dinner is an intimate affair; only her, Fury, Coulson, Thor, Loki, Frigga and Odin sit around a smallish table in a lesser dining room.
After the last servant has taken the last empty plate, and only the drinks remain, Odin takes a swig of his mead, and rises. Whatever small conversations were happening fall silent.
“After weighing the possibilities, it is with a heavy heart I must inform you I am not agreeing to this union.”
“NO!” Tony’s voice isn’t the only one shouting in outrage, but Odin just raises his voice to be heard.
“Asgard will not provide any assissisisss--” he stumbles and slumps back into his chair.
“Father!” Thor shouts and rushes to his side. Even Loki looks startled, paling in fright.
Tony sees Frigga calmly walk to her son, “Fret not, Thor. He lives, tis merely the Odinsleep.”
After Odin is taken to his chambers, they all congregate outside the room. A shimmery field surrounds Odin, as he lays in peaceful repose. Thor sits next to the bed, in a somber vigil.
“So soon?” Loki asks, in what would be a meek way for anyone else. “The last was only a few years ago.”
“He has been under considerable strain lately.” Frigga offers. There’s an undertone that Tony doesn’t understand, but Loki must also catch, because his attention focuses intently on his mother.
“Thor is king now,” he says.
Frigga nods. “Indeed.”
“Midgard is under his protection.”
Oh, she didn’t. Tony looks to see if Fury is hearing this, but he and Coulson are on the other side of the hall, talking in low tones.
“Tis a dangerous thing you’ve done. Odin is not likely to thank you when he awakes.”
The queen just ‘hmm’s noncommittally.
Yes, she did.
The next night they return to Midgard; Thor leaving the ruling of Asgard to Baldr and Frigga. Tony wonders how often Odin falls into his sleep, since Thor shows no sign of suspicion; though he does look distraught at going against his father’s wishes when he pledges Asgard’s assistance to Earth during their departure service. He presents Coulson with a large wooden box carved with runes, telling him to “wield it well, and with a true heart.” Lines of warriors frame their departure across the Bifrost bridge. Heimdall turns his keysword and Asgard disappears in a torrent of golden shards.
Within a minute of their arrival in the New Mexico landing site, Bruce rides up in a dark van and greets them.
“Is this like your new home or something?, cuz you’re always here.” Tony grumbles good naturedly and hugs her sciencebro.
Bruce smiles, “or something.”
Behind her, Tony hears Fury says “I’ll call McMurdo, let them know to expect you.”
Wait. She spins around and sees Fury and Loki talking near the edge of the Norse landing pattern. “If you guys are gonna talk surreptitiously, you need to do it father away. Cuz I could have sworn I heard you say McMurdo, as in McMurdo Air Force Base in ANTARCTICA? That’s where this giant battle will be, are you kidding me?”
Loki stares at her as though she’s a simpleton. “Jotunheim is an ice planet, my army would fight best in a terrain they are familiar with and are experts at manipulating. I am told Antarctica is the only unpopulated continent so Midgardian casualities will be nearly nonexistent.”
“My suits aren’t designed for that kind of weather. None of our suits are.”
“Umm,” Bruce comments from beside her. “The big guy is okay with it.”
Fury gives her a look, “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Chapter 14: In which there is a prep montage, no one turns to jelly during transport, Hulk-ism may or may not be contagious under certain circumstances (hint it is) and Tony meets the family
sorry it took me so long to update. i have job now so updates will be much slower.
also, i have edited this thing so much, but still the paragraph breaks are wrong. i'm sorry for the eyesore.
The next week is fraught with preparations. Loki is in Jotunheim to rally his army and bring them to the rendezvous point in Antarctica. Thor has sequestered himself with Coulson to train him in the use of the Infinity Gauntlet. Fury meets with the World Security Council, probably demanding every weapon in the world be sent to McMurdo AFB.
One Friday, ten days after returning to Earth, Tony and Bruce are in the Tower, designing Extreme Weather Gear for the team, among other things. It’s ridiculous the amount of padding they need; it’s gonna be nigh impossible to distinguish anyone without visual clues. So Tony color codes everyone’s clothes.
Her ginormous workload is lightened slightly by the fact the space suit she’s been working on for a while is easily adapted to the freezing wastes of Antarctica. But still…
“No offense to Dummy and Butterfingers over here,” Tony says as she adjusts a bolt. “But my work would go a lot faster if you were physically helping me.” Her suit now has to fit over the extra bulk of her cold weather clothing, so each section of the armor has to combine with greater clearance against her body. This is a relatively easy task, only made difficult by the fact she has to adjust each individual piece manually, and there are hundreds of the things.
“Um,” Bruce looks up from whatever work he’s doing on his side of the lab; Tony’s pretty sure he’s running a simulation on sexually transmitted diseases judging by the view she has of his workstation…which, why? “Are you talking to me?”
“Oh, no. I’m talking to JARVIS.”
“Yes, Miss Stark?”
“Imagine having a body, JARVIS.” That’s another suit bit done.
“I have, many times.”
“There’s a huge fight coming, don’t you want to help? I could hook you up to some of the suits, have my own Iron Man army.”
Bruce hmms. “This is heading into Terminator territory, just so you know.”
Tony scoffs. “Oh please. A. JARVIS is not Skynet, I should know. And B. JARVIS is not evil…ish.” She turns a glare to the ceiling, as though that’s where JARVIS’s cameras are and not in the corners of the room. “Come on, JARVIS, explore the world with me.” ‘World’ accidentally gets extra emphasis because of a stubborn bolt.
“I am content with the internet and GoogleEarth.”
“You’re using the competition?” A cold-hot feeling settles in her stomach, which informs her that her own creation has betrayed her, but she shakes off the feeling. “Why aren’t you using StarkExplorer?”
There’s a long pause. “I find GoogleEarth easier to use.”
Tony waggles her screwdriver at the ceiling. “Just for that, I’m giving you homework. I want you to thoroughly compare GoogleEarth to StarkExplorer and write up a proposal for improvement. Send it to the development team when you’re done.”
JARVIS affects a sigh. Tony hmmpfs knowing that JARVIS is only complaining for the look of it. The task isn’t going to take him that long.
Loki makes an appearance sometime after breakfast the next day. He strides into the lab, with a blast of cold air, his leathers all dusted with snow.
“In a hurry much?” Tony asks distractedly. She’s alone in the lab, Bruce having left a few hours ago, when his lab results came in. An entire day of adjusting her suit has left her arms a little sore, but she only has a few more pieces to go. Her fabrication of EWG for the team has finished so she’s feeling good, if tired.
“I have detected You Know Who’s approach. He is arriving faster than I thought.” Loki informs her without preamble.
“36 hours.” And there goes her happy feeling. “Inform the others, we leave as soon as possible.”
As soon as possible turns out to be eight hours. The Avengers—plus Coulson--assemble in the penthouse suite, with a cache of SHIELD crates holding various weaponry. It takes a few minutes for everyone to don their gear, but when everything is ready, Loki casts some kind of spell and the world fades away.
The team materialize in the largest mess hall of McMurdo AFB. Tony watches as for a moment it looks like Loki will faint from the exertion; he stumbles and puts a hand to his head.
“Loki,” Steve starts forward. “Are you okay?”
“Someone is summoning me.” He fades into the air, and is gone.
Tony looks around but no one else seems to know what to do. “Well, that was weird.”
Loki comes back about ten minutes later. The team has barely had a chance to get acquainted with the soldiers present and set up a command center networked with the SHIELD helicarrier flying near Cape Horn.
Tony immediately notices that Loki seems jittery and keeps staring at Bruce. When she tells comments on this, Steve tells her to take a break from haranguing the IT people and go talk to him.
“I’m not haranguing.” Is it her fault if their technology is so old, Jarvis is actually having trouble connecting? Jarvis of all things, who is a supposed to be backwards compatible with everything. When this is done, and the fight is over, Tony is totally offering McMurdo a complete upgrade.
She sits next to Loki on an empty crate, which had previously held ammunition for a mobile rail-gun.
“You nervous?” Thor once told her that Loki was a very proficient fighter, though his style was looked upon unfavorably in Asgard.
He looks humiliated and only half turns to her while facing the wall. “The Green Beast…how did he …occur?” It’s not the question he wants to ask, she can tell.
She assumes Loki is worried about Hulk hurting him in battle but it’s baseless. Hulk has fought next to Loki before and never smashed him. The big guy understands second chances. “Lab accident. Why?”
The question makes Tony’s brain halt. It’s so stupid that for a moment she can’t think, but then it occurs to her that no one has ever asked that question before. “Huh. I don’t know. You want me to go ask?”
“No, no,” he says quickly. “That’s alright.”
During their visit to McMurdo the sun never sets, but day still passes. The team spends the much of their time meeting with the Jotunheim soldiers who have set up camp outside the base in the open tundra.
Loki introduces Tony to Helbindi, who he calls his ice-brother, he is the second son of Laufey. Helbindi looks down at her--this is not a judgment on her, rather the fact that he’s about ten foot tall.
“This is your queen?” he scoffs at her, okay so maybe it is a judgment. “She is not suitable for bearing our kind, look how she bundles against the cold.”
It’s true. Tony’s wearing like eight layers and three pairs of underwear. A gold furred parka and snow goggles completes the look. All she needs is a taunton and she’d fit right in on Hoth. Right then it occurs to her that, upon hearing that Loki wanted to introduce her to his loyal subjects, she should have word her armor instead. The armor makes her look formidable, her parka makes her look like a Twinkie. Tony would have made her parka red, but that was Natasha’s color. The black widow should have worn black, but Tony gave that color to Coulson.
“You forget, brother, that half my children did not require another’s womb, I will bear my own heirs.”
“Perhaps.” Helbindi’s craven face adds an air of menace to that one word and Tony feels that the Jotuns won’t be too careful who they attack in the confusion of battle.
Chapter 15: In which Battle Happens, Hulk has a girlfriend, and there is a victory
In the sky above Antarctica, a massive explosion erupts in space. Iron Man is destroyed saving the world.
What happens is this: Phil’s arm begins to glow red. A metallic gauntlet pixelates into existence around his hand, and he calmly states: “Avengers Assemble.”
Loki transports the team to the battlefield. It’s a naturally forming cul-de-sac. Crinkly mountains formed in such a way that there’s only a narrow valley opening. The jotun army is arranged in ranks, as far as the eye can see. Behind them, a sea of dun colored armored vehicles. Behind those, are more Jotuns. Thousands of guns are pointed at the kill box. The Avengers arrange themselves at the front of the line.
A stream of light pours down from the sky. The ground hisses as the permafrost is burned away. When the air clears, the area is filled with thousands of Chitauri. In the back, Thanos sits on an otherworldly beast. For a moment he looks confused, but then, he looks at the armies before him, and smiles.
Tony has long enough to think that’s not good, and then all Hel breaks loose.
The army tanks open fire on the furthest enemy soldiers. The shots arc over the battle and land, killing the enemies in back as the Avengers and Jotuns kill the enemies in front. Waves of gauzy energy sweep forth from Loki, it disables quite a few chitauri before dissipating.
As she engages a chitauri, she notices, in her periphery, tattered clothing floating on the wind as Bruce changes into Hulk. He jumps, above and beyond the massive enemy army, aiming for where Thanos sits. But Thanos fades away and reappears behind the Jotun’s. He begins vaporizing them with his staff. Whole swathes of jotuns are disappearing in purple hazes. They’re being squeezed from both sides now as well. Hulk redirects his attention to the space whale currently without a rider. It’s destroyed with smashing precision.
“Coulson!” Hawkeye yells from his perch on a cliff face. “Now would be a good time for some hokey magic tricks.”
“On it!” the agent replies.
Tony has time to notice a black blur rushing past before her head is slammed into the icy surface. She blasts the mask off the chitauri and then blasts its eyes. It drops its staff, so she grabs it and strikes into the fleshy bits between its scales.
“You are puny, but no matter then, quantity shall make up. My mistress will be most pleased to receive so many warriors!” The purple hazes at the edge of her HUD stop, with the destruction of Thanos’s staff. There’s a great booming laugh from that direction. “Very good, little one! What else can you do with Odin’s magic glove?”
But the battle rages. Tony can’t spare any attention to what’s happening further than thirty feet away. She has to trust that her teammates are coping. Every time she strikes down an enemy soldier, another takes it place.
A blur of green rushing past her tells her Hulk is still fighting, nothing can keep him down. In fact he seems to be laughing as he grabs a chitauri by the leg and uses it to sweep a dozen of its fellows.
An incendiary lands at his feet, ARMY markings on its casing. It explodes a second later; Hulk rides the concussive blast to a different part of the battle. That shot was a little too close to being a friendly fire incident. Only Hulk’s strength saving him from dying along with the chitauri the blast radius.
“Stop shooting at us!” Hawkeye yells over the comms to whoever might be listening in the tanks.
Something lands on her back and only instinct stops her from shooting backwards into the canyon wall to scrape it off.
“What have I told you about jumping off buildings?” Coulson yells though the comm.
“To be fair, you said nothing about cliffs.” Hawkeye bounces off her back and runs through the mess of bodies, plucking arrows back out of his kill-shots. He’s wearing an extra-volume quiver, but with the amount of shots he’s making, he still has to retrieve his arrows to reload.
A small part of Tony’s mind wanders down an engineering idea. As her fists and repulsors smash Chitauri, as she weaves about providing assisting fire, her mind thinks about auto arrows. Arrows that return to their quiver, no that wouldn’t work. Hard light holographic arrows, the power source in the quiver, no, they wouldn’t be able to hold a payload. A blast from her unibeam bowls down three soldiers in a row. Eh, it’s a stupid idea. Perhaps, collapsible arrows, so that more could fit in the limited space.
The jotun’s prefer to do their battle in close range. They seemed to have teamed up with Black Widow and Thor, fighting the chitauri as they get close. Many of their enemies are frozen solid, then crushed with Mjolnir. Tony and the range fighters and flying and jumping everywhere, fighting in a spot until the enemies are done, then moving on.
A series of clangs echo, Cap’s shield bounces off a chitauri cracking the mask, hits another in the chest, then bounces off Tony’s leg plate before returning to Steve’s hand.
“Seriously?” she shouts at him, but he’s already bashing the next one.
He shrugs, “it was a good angle.”
A widget lights up in her HUD. She accesses it, and it enlarges to show her an image from space. “It appears to be a mothership, armament unknown,” JARVIS informs her. It appears to be in a stationary orbit; though since it’s over a pole, that’s impossible to tell for sure at the moment.
“We’ve got a mothership in orbit above us!” She shouts to no one in particular, thus informing everyone listening—which is everyone. She thinks even the president himself is lurking on this channel.
Fury definitely is, as he proves when he says, “The Security Council’s getting twitchy. Fix this before they give me another stupid ass—What the hell?”
His exclamation is echoed by many of the voices on the comm. A giant green not-Hulk thing bounces into the fight, stomping on the chitauri.
“What is that?” Steve shouts.
“Is it--oh, she, that is definitely a she—on our side?” That was Hawkeye’s voice. The new arrival’s clothing seems to follow the same expansion rules as Bruce’s does—strategic tatters cover things just enough that no one gets a face full of triple-Z massiveness.
The only one not surprised by the appearance of a she-Hulk is Hulk himself. He jumps towards her, and growls at her. She growls back. What looks to be the beginnings of an epic argument is cut off by series of enemy blasts hitting them in the face. They turn to the assembled circle of Chitauri, grin simultaneously, and proceed to SMASH.
Dark and angry clouds form over the landscape. Giant arcs of lightning spring downwards and fry a swath of enemy, piercing through bodies on their way to ground.
At this point, Loki is nowhere to be found, but Tony can just make out a series of magical blasts at the edge of her vision, so she knows he’s still up and fighting.
A Chitauri explodes from an incendiary arrow, and coats Steve with alien guts. He holds still long enough for her to bounce a repulsor beam off the curved surface of his shield. Steve directs it so the beam cuts through a dozen soldiers.
Hawkeye bursts into song over the comms. “…The champion stood, the rest saw their better, Mr. Rogers in a blood stained sweater.”
“You have very strange reactions to battle.” Tony tells him.
Black Widow chimes in, “You should have seen him in Prague.”
“Prague’s not in your file,” Steve comments.
She hmms, “look under file number 1872.”
“I thought we agreed Prague never happened?” Hawkeye complains.
A screech echoes through her suit as a jotun blade swipes through a chitauri next to her. The blade stretches through the carcass, clanging off her armor. The body is quickly overrun by its fellows, clamoring for a shot at her. Tony has to rise to thirty feet to shake them all off. She weaves through branches of lightning, once again providing covering and assisting fire for her teammates.
Over half the enemy lies dead, but slowly, Tony becomes aware of a shift in the fighting. She seems to be performing more defensive moves than offensive. A quick check to the other shows the same thing. All around her, the Avengers, and the Jotuns are retreating from attacks after a few blows, never following through on the kill shot—never being able to follow through. The Chitauri seem to be getting more and more good shots in. She watches Natasha fall under a group of four, only to be plucked up by the She-Hulk and jumped away.
An army tank explodes in a fireball, taking out some jotuns near it.
A giant flash of purple in her periphery catches her attention, and Tony looks back to Coulson’s last known position. There is now a giant crater carved out of the ice and earth, with no sign of either Coulson or Thanos.
“I’m okay,” he says from his location at the center of the explosion, a small bubble of ice and intact earth. “But Thanos is gone.”
“Does anyone have eyes on Thanos?” Fury yells to all listening.
A chorus of ‘negatives’ come through.
“Where the hell is he?” Tony asks, flying up, over the battle to see farther. Their little field of warriors is the only spot of activity that she can see, all the way to the horizon.
Loki materializes next to her as she lands. His helmet is long gone, his cape in tatters, dirt and blood smeared across his face.
“He is escaping, for the final stroke,” he tells her.
The widget monitoring the orbiting mothership flashes a warning on her HUD. A weapons port has opened and begun charging. Specifications scroll across her vision: a wide angle dispersal pattern, unlikely to be projectile based, maybe laser or plasma based. A countdown appears on screen.
00:06:37.59 till the power reaches maximum.
“What’s the payload?” she asks, staring at the sky. “How big of an explosion?”
But he isn’t listening to her. Loki stares out over the battle. The friendlies are holding their own, but that’s all they’re doing. The Chitauri keep fighting, climbing over the bodies of their dead, never stopping.
As they watch, a Jotun freezes a chitauri, and it gets smashed by its own team just to get it out of the way for a new attack. The jotun is ripped apart by the oncoming horde.
“I thought we could win,” he says softly. “I really did.”
“How big!?” she demands.
“A surge of baryon radiation will spread to a range and depth of 5,000 miles from the focal point,” Loki explains.
“A wave that large would cover the entire southern hemisphere in a deadly cloud,” Already, Jarvis is showing her a projection of the weapon’s effect on Earth. She doesn’t need it; Tony knows exactly what baryon radiation does. It splits the atomic bonds in anything organic; people, animals, anything with a metabolism, would turn into inert atoms in the air while the planet’s structures remain intact.
“Can we stop it?”
“Not once it’s fired.”
The clock blazes red in her vision. Less than five minutes left now.
Distances and maximum speeds combine in her brain to form one inescapable fact. The fastest vehicle on earth takes 8 minutes to reach low earth orbit, and there aren’t any space shuttles available at moment. A thought is already forming in the back of her mind. Her suit could make it, but it would take over 25 minutes. But Loki has magic…
“Get me up there. Now!” she orders him.
Jarvis’s voice rings in her ear. “There is too much damage to the suit’s structure. You will be exposed to vacuum.”
Loki pales, “No.”
She flips her mask up so she can see Loki clearly. The cold bits into her skin, but the suit’s heater keeps her comfortable. “You know anyone else with missiles that can take down this thing?”
“Miss Stark, I cannot allow this course of action!”
“Shut up, J. This is no time to be developing a sense of independence.”
“Loki, you have to send me up there, now!”
He shakes his head. “I…we’re getting married,” he cries plaintively.
“None of that matters, nothing matters but stopping that weapon!”
“IT MATTERS TO ME!”
“Apologies, Miss Stark.” Without warning, her suit collapses into pieces at her feet.
“What the…Jarvis!” Tony is left standing in the snow, in her thermal underwear. Immediately, the cold sears through her and she collapses into a shivering ball. Through the chattering of her teeth, she hears Jarvis speaking.
" Self-destruct initiated, reactor overload in progress. Mr. Loki, please send the suit up to the ship.”
Tony watches as, in a haze of magic, the suit assembles into its proper shape. It disappears in another haze.
Loki rushes to her side, enfolding her in a hug that’s about comforting him as much as it is warming her.
In the sky above Antarctica, a massive explosion erupts in space. Iron Man is destroyed saving the world.
Every enemy still fighting collapses with the destruction of their command sequence.
The friendlies are left standing victorious.
The version of Jarvis that's been with Tony since the first Iron Man suit, who's flown with her on all her missions, is dead.
Chapter 16: In which, Jarvis has an interlude, Tony is mildly annoyed, She-Hulk is someone hopefully no one was expecting (because I can’t remember if I’ve told anyone my plan; god i've been writing this story a long time)
Sorry for the wait. As Chuck Shurley was fond of saying. Writing is hard ;.;
Could someone photoshop an image of Rachel Weiss with an arc reactor in place. I'm no good at that sort of thing. and I want to create a fantasy cast of some of the characters in the sequel: God of Jotunheim. . . i wonder what the sequel could possibly be about...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ask the Avengers to define Jarvis, they would say, “he’s--
--Tony’s pet AI.”
--The magic voice in the ceiling.”
—Tony’s butler, named after Edwin Jarvis.”
—The most sophisticated computer system in the world.”
—A pain in the helicarrier’s systems.”
--Coolest game partner, ever.”
Ask Jarvis to define himself, he would say, “Miss Stark’s most successful experiment in Artificial Intelligence, designed to assist her in any and all of her endeavors.”
After decades of near constant operations, Jarvis has learned and adapted to every situation the mistress placed in front of him. Every time there was call for a specialization, he splintered himself till there were versions of him in every home, every device that the mistress owned. Already, the space left vacant by the destruction of the suit-Jarvis is being filled with a new version, pre-loaded with the mistress’s preferences, ready for operation as soon as she requests it.
In the seconds since Jarvis’s acknowledgement of the suit’s destruction, he is scrubbing through camera feeds at the mistress’s last know position. He is also pinging the GPS locator in her arc reactor. And querying the helicarrier’s systems.
The destruction of the suit is a worrying prospect, made worse by the ignorance of facts he is faced with. Only one day of experiences has been lost in the destruction of short-term RAM built into the suit. But in the past, one day was time enough for Miss Stark to be kidnapped, to be a day away from dying of palladium, to be riding a nuke into space.
Jarvis doesn’t know where she is.
The data arrives. Her reactor is motionless on a barren plain of Antarctica. In such a remote location there are no cameras for him to see through. He can’t see her, but extrapolating what he knows: the battle must have happened, and the com chatter he hacks into confirms the battle has ended with few friendly casualties.
Loki cradles her in his arms, which does nothing to cut the chill slowly killing her. This is a really bad time to realize she shouldn’t have relied so much on the suit’s heating systems to reduce her clothing requirement. It’s in this hug that Tony overhears Loki’s earpiece going crazy. Voices overlapping as everyone demands something.
“Iron Man, respond.”
“Hostiles are down, repeat hostiles are down.”
“This is unit 47, the battle is over. Cleanup or return to base?”
“Tony is unharmed.” Loki shouts over the din. “I have her, but we need warm clothes right now!”
Her body is seizing with shivers, and she can barely breathe, but she has enough strength to state loudly and with every bit of menace, “As soon as I can feel my arms again I am going to punch you so hard your—”
Multiple tones of greenness land in front of them.
One of the hulks, she can’t tell who, being smothered so, lowers Coulson to the ground. The agent’s hooded parka and goggles are strangely reminiscent of something. He runs up to them and words are exchanged, but she doesn’t understand them.
Then the She-hulk, definitely ‘She’, this one, scoops her up and Tony is surrounded by big green warmth.
As she’s getting intimately acquainted with intimate areas, Tony has time to realize that her life is very strange.
When the team makes it back to the base, Tony is feeling much warmer. The She-Hulk puts her down once they’re all inside the infirmary.
“Thanks,” Tony says as a nurse comes over to examine her.
Steve comes in and rips his cowl off, “has anyone seen Bruce?”
“I think he’s still hulked-out, smashing the debris for the lulz.” Clint has to be helped to a gurney by Natasha.
The She-Hulk sighs a massive sigh. “I’ll go get him.” She ducks the doorframe, muttering about stupid boyfriends.
A few seconds later, Loki enters, being dragged under the arms of a very jubilant Thor. “That was a most glorious battle!”
More nurses arrive and escort their patients to beds for examinations.
“Jarvis wants to talk to you.” Loki hands her his earpiece before being dragged off.
Tony winces as the nurse prods a sensitive area. Her hands are raw and pink from the overheating caused by all the repulsor blasts.
“I am gratified to see you unharmed,” Jarvis’s voice greets her.
Ask Tony to define Jarvis, she would say “years of constant coding and sleepless nights.”
Tony has backups of all her work, ever, in triplicate. Jarvis can’t die, not really. Not so long as one version of him remains intact. So why does she feel like her reactor is glitching? There’s a tight ball in her lungs, her face hurts.
“You sacrificed yourself for me.”
“So I gathered,” he replies. “I was able to compile my missing day’s activities from the various on-site reports.”
“You broke rule four.” When Tony had first created Jarvis, all those decades ago, she had written four lines of code as the heart of his program. Tony had never liked Asimov’s three laws of robotics, there was too much wriggle room to Law 1: Never, through action or inaction, cause a human being to come to harm. That crap movie I, Robot had showed what happened when a robot sees “harm” as “humans harming themselves through war”.
“To protect myself with equal measure against an alien invasion force would be to create my own invasion force. With Mr. Loki’s help, a single member sneak attack was equal to the challenge. In actuality, I sacrificed one day’s memory to save your life.”
“I never programed you to sacrifice anything for me!” The nurse flinches at her tone. Tony mouths “sorry.”
“The First Law of Jarvis: Help Tony Stark in all endeavors--I cannot help you if you are dead. Therefore I must protect you.”
Tony had never programmed any addendums to his four laws. He must have made them himself because of Law 2: Learn and grow.
“And I can’t change your mind?”
She could never reprogram him; not only would it invalidate the AI experiment, it would be like cutting out a slice of a child’s brain because he had weaseled his way around his parents’ rules.
She sighs. “It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”
The She-Hulk returns with a de-hulked Bruce in her arms. He’s asleep as is his custom after returning to human size. She lays him out on the last unoccupied bed and covers him with one of the starchy sheets.
“He’s fine.” She answers their unasked question. “Just tired.”
The nurse has finished wrapping Tony hands, so she takes it upon herself to ask what everyone is thinking “You’re very articulate for a giant green rage monster. The most we can get out of him is monosyllabic words.”
“Tony!” Steve chides her.
Okay, maybe not everyone.
“It’s not rage. I chose this form to fight,” she answers.
“You have control over her?” Steve asks.
She shrugs her giant shoulders. There's a lot of giggling involved. “I’m not separate. Not like Bruce. I’m just Darcy Lewis, with two body mods available.”
“DARCY!?” Nearly everyone has the same reaction. Darcy who gave Loki smoothies, that Darcy? Darcy friend of Jane the lover of Thor, that Darcy?
She shrinks before their eyes. Her clothes do not shrink with her.
“Oh my.” That’s Steve.
A wolf whistle comes from Hawkeye. Natasha smacks his arm. “Ow!”
Another nurse—just how many nurses are there? Tony counts, five-ish, six? oh tiredness, there you are—hands Darcy a pair of scrubs. “We’ll need to examine you as well.”
“Careful,” she warns her nurse. “Hulkism’s kind of an STD.”
It takes a moment for that to sink in, then…“Bruce, you dog…ow!”
Tony feels Loki sit next to her on the bed. She turns to him. “So apparently it is contagious?”
For those who are wondering, here are the Four Laws of Jarvis:
1. Help Tony Stark in all endeavors.
2. Learn and grow.
3. Never take over the world and/or never restrict the freedom of any number of people, unless trying to goto1
4. Protect yourself in equal measure to a threat.