"Did it have to be Bethesda?" Tony sighs. "Too many feelings here, Thor, too many feelings."
"Every world in every realm has points where the flower of positive energy blooms strongest," Thor replies as he leads Loki across Terrace Drive. "This is the strongest in the area, and one of the strongest in the world. Also, it’s very pretty and the hot dogs are particularly good. I have tried many in my short time here and I can say this with great conviction."
"Listening to you talk is like Shakespeare," Steve says with genuine awe. "You talk great. Loki, too, when he’s not… you know. Actually talking."
"Yes? What is it?" Thor asks as Loki tugs Thor’s sleeve for his attention.
Loki rolls his eyes with all the condescension of a 12-year-old Tony Stark and motions with his hands—first something like a wave, then a negation, then—
"Fireworks? Did you plant a bomb here?" Natasha asks as she goes for whatever deadly thing she’s concealed on her person today.
Loki narrows his eyes and looks down at his bound wrists, then back to Natasha, then back at his wrists, then back to Natasha because he believes, still, that she’s an idiot.
"We can still screw that muzzle into his jaw, Thor. Not too late to change your mind," she says.
"Hold on, I still want to guess what he meant," Steve says. He’s so much cheerier than he should be about this guessing game the murderous would-be absolute ruler of Earth is playing with them right now. "Do the hand thing again. It’s not magic or anything, is it?"
Thor looks concerned for a second, but he’s intrigued by whatever Loki is miming, too.
Now everyone looks, so Loki does the hand signals one more time. First he makes his hand move in the instantly recognizable sign for "wave", and then he shakes his hands to mean "no", and then the final signal: he puts his fists together to create a round shape, then slowly makes his fingers extend and bloom—
"Energy flows, not flowers," Bruce realizes, clapping his hands together as everyone says ohhhhhh. Loki points and nods, then gives his brother a look that could wither the park around them.
Thor is looking at the sky, thinking back to some Asgardian science class, clearly, and then says, "Yes… that would make more sense. I was never one for the spiritual mechanics—science, as you call it—of our realm."
Loki closes his eyes and exhales sharply; as he does so, Tony smiles to himself. It seems a lot of things translate from galaxy to galaxy, realm to realm, planet to planet, and the exasperation at being the smartest person among a bunch of idiots translates perfectly (even if, at the moment, that’s not exactly true for Loki).
"The flow," Thor says, correcting himself with a wide, proud grin to Bruce, "Shifts, my friends, and we must return to Asgard. Farewell, all of you; may we meet in better circumstances. I will bring the art of shawarma to my people."
"I might literally fucking cry right now," Clint says, his voice dry and rough like sand.
Thor gives them all a final nod, Loki grabs onto the handle of the tesseract’s traveling container, and the brothers disappear in a pulse of blue light that has them all take a step back—just in case, because one step will protect them from the potential havoc it doesn’t wreak on them, right?
"Thor is gonna go down in Asgardian history for bringing shawarma to them. Seriously. Shawarma. How did I go this long without it? How am I gonna live without it ever again?" Tony asks. "Let’s get together there next Thursday, huh? Then you all can come over to the tower, catch up on some Mad Men—"
"Training exercises," Natasha says as she glances to Clint. "We won’t be around for a while."
“You’re not getting any leave?" Steve asks. "I mean, we have just—"
"We like staying occupied," Clint says, closing the door on their part of the conversation. In case it’s not clear, though, he crosses his arms over his chest and sets his jaw again.
"If you need to get in touch with us, go through SHIELD," Natasha says. She gives them a nod and touches Clint’s elbow, feather-light, and he turns on a dime to head back towards the car.
"Their next handler better be a secluded forest and a case of tequila," Bruce says when they’re 30 feet away and actually in their car with the windows rolled up. Just in case, he also mutters it because they’re spies and Natasha probably planted four bugs on each of them while they stood there.
"And then they can upgrade to LMD Coulson 2.0," Tony adds. "Then they’ll live happily and murderously ever after."
"Oh good, you guys think Coulson’s still alive, too," Steve says with a sigh of relief. "I didn’t know when would be a good time to tell Fury that their synthetic blood needs a lot of work if it’s gonna convince anyone. Guess I should be glad he didn’t actually rub a bunch of cards on a dead man, though."
"Yeah, way to taint—literally taint—a hundred years of progress against germ contamination and—” Bruce stops and then turns to Tony, elbowing him as he asks, “Wait, you think Coulson was a droid?"
"Now that I’ve gotten over my thunderous grief: nah, not really, he was pretty human,” Tony replies. "But that’s because I think a Stark-model android would have better taste than Supernanny. Also, more hair. Coulson’ll be back, probably a little balder and with a couple new Dolce suits courtesy of our tax dollars, and then he and all his spies can live polyamorously ever after."
"That sounds kinda nice, actually," Steve says.
"Big softie," Tony laughs, lightly hitting Steve’s bicep. "Where you headed?"
"I might take a road trip,” Steve answers. “Got nowhere to be, so I thought I’d travel a little."
"On that thing?" Tony asks as he looks over the rim of his sunglasses at Steve’s bike. "Yeah, it’s a nice bike, but I’ve got jets sitting at JFK if you ever want to get somewhere without being murdered by drifters or at the Bates Motel."
"Thanks for the offer," Steve says. "I… well. If you guys wanna meet up, catch a ball game or something—"
"What, we’ll send you a telegram? Leave word with your landlady? No way. Here, take one of these," Tony says as he digs into the inner pocket of his suit for a thin, red mobile phone and a small bundle of cords. "Our assassin friends have already had this latest in Stark mobile technology smuggled into their camping gear by our trusted Dr. Banner—"
Bruce beams at Tony, so proud of his stealth right now.
"It’s got an extra battery pack already attached so you’re good for a few days without charging. I also loaded it with the best music from those seven decades you napped through."
"Billy Joel’s "We Didn’t Start the Fire" is a history lesson as well as really catchy," Bruce adds. "So’s the whole Bob Dylan discography. It’ll probably take a while to understand what he’s saying, but you’ll catch on."
"Gee, guys… thanks?" Steve looks at the phone in his hand with more suspicion than he did the tesseract, but he does pocket it and give Tony and Bruce a smile. "How about you guys? What’ll you do? I bet you’ve got all kinds of important stuff to work on—one of the SHIELD interns said something about global warming? Is that a thing that’s happened? Are you gonna fix it?"
"Oh, wow," Tony says.
"Yeah, don’t," Bruce says with a quick touch to Tony’s arm before he answers Steve. "Tony’s generously given me my own lab in Stark Tower that I’m free to destroy, so I’m gonna take the time to answer a question I haven’t really thought about except ten or fifteen times a day: am I sterile?"
"I mean, it’s a valid question," Tony says. "Frankly, I’m curious. Imagine if he put a baby in me. How cool would that be?"
Steve stares. To his credit, he doesn’t seem disappointed or disgusted; rather, he stares and nods because what else can he do?
Bruce cuts him a break and says, a little more genuine, “SHIELD’s paying me to research the big guy and my body, our tenuous connection, since I haven’t really had access to a proper lab since it happened. I don’t know why that other thing was the first thing I said.”
“It happens,” Steve says. “Don’t put a baby in Tony.”
"And I,” Tony says because he hasn’t said anything for about 15 seconds, “Have got to make a couple of million dollars of repairs to Stark Tower because, well, you know—"
"It was the place to be that time the world almost ended," Steve says.
"Grand slam, Cap," Tony replies. "Have fun on the trip, huh? Don’t forget us when we’re finally out of your hair and you can breathe that sweet polluted air we’ve inherited from your peers."
Steve shakes Tony’s hand, smiles, and says, "Tony, don’t change, okay?"
Tony tightens his grip on Steve’s hand, but he’s pretty sure that doesn’t begin to convey what he’s feeling: the pure astonishment of hearing something out of someone’s mouth that he has never, ever heard before. It’s happened a lot lately, but in the course of his life, not nearly often enough. So Tony grips Steve’s hand tight for a few seconds longer than he should before he climbs into his car.
"Now," Bruce says after he, too, gets a genuine Captain America Farewell Handshake(TM) and climbs into the passenger seat of Tony’s car. "Where are you taking me? Back to the tower? It’s still early. I could eat."
“Then let’s eat,” Tony agrees. “And then: SCIENCE.”
“To science! For science! Whatever! Science!” Tony glances over for a second to watch Bruce laugh because he kind of loves it, the way he laughs with his whole diaphragm, with his whole chest and body, throwing his head back and basking in it like it’s the best feeling in the world. Maybe every laugh is precious to their Dr. Banner—lucky for him, he’s stuck with Tony for a while and Tony’s the funniest person any of them know.
“What?” Bruce asks, and maybe Tony stared for a second too long.
“What, nothing,” Tony stammers. “JARVIS, call Pepper, maybe she wants to meet us.”
This isn’t anything new, Tony thinks as he puts the car in drive. He’s wearing an expensive suit, driving one of his beautiful cars, heading to lunch before he spends the rest of the day in his new pet project, designing and planning and doing stuff, stuff he loves. It feels different, though.
“Hi,” Pepper says. “Where are you? Did you drop off your Norse gods already? I thought it’d take longer, shipping them off to their realm.”
“I got this,” Bruce says as he plucks the phone out of the dashboard. “Hey, it’s Bruce. Operation Get That Killer Cube Off The Planet is complete, so we’re going to lunch. Can we pick you up? I think I can pack myself into the glove compartment or one of Tony’s pockets so you have room to sit.”
There’s a stop sign and Tony turns his head so he can watch Bruce banter on the phone and this, he thinks, this is the difference. SHIELD and this disaster turned on a particle accelerator in that Helicarrier lab with him and Bruce—suddenly, there was a new element and Tony has to find a way of storing it, keeping it, before it disappears.