Tony makes a mental note to install a backup respiration system. Something that will deploy if the Iron Man face plate gets ripped off at a cruising altitude. It only needs to keep him conscious for as long as it takes to evade the threat or at least descend to a more survive-the-fall height. Maybe long enough to blast Loki one last time, if he’s feeling greedy, and he usually is.
But he can’t do any of that, and the hypoxia kicks in almost instantly.
He’s falling out of the sky, his vision tunneling. The last thing he sees is black and green, up close against his face, and he hears Loki laughing.
Tony wakes up in a cave. Of course. Because it’s always a cave. This one is damp and cold, and unnaturally illuminated in a way that makes him think he’s not necessarily on Earth anymore. Super.
The Iron Man suit lies in pieces beside him. Not just disassembled, because he could fix that. No, it’s been shredded into red and gold shrapnel. It looks like a litter of psychotic kittens had their way with it.
Tony doesn’t understand why Loki did that after taking it off him. Because that just seems exceptionally and violently crazy, but also mostly pointless.
Loki could have hurled him to ground. He could have turned the suit into a piñata with Tony inside.
But Tony himself is unharmed. He has the vague headache and respiratory unhappiness that accompanies losing his helmet at inopportune altitudes. That’s it.
He’s not even tied up.
Tony stands up, tests his legs. He’s a little stiff and sore in a way that suggests after catching him, Loki might not have lent much thought to how hard he was dropped to the ground or known how to get the suit off without violent pulling.
Tony’s t-shirt and jeans are poor insulation from the chill in the air. His suit is too pulverized to even wield an arm as a weapon.
The last one-on-one conversation Tony had with Loki ended in someone getting defenestrated, he remembers. This cave has no windows.
Loki also isn’t there.
Tony pokes around a little, moving quietly and slowly. He’s at a dead end, but he can see the cave’s gray walls forking off at the other end of the passage. Getting the hell out of here before Loki comes back is probably the best plan. He’ll bill him for the suit, later.
There’s an energy field at the other end. Tony can see it, so he takes his left shoe off and balls up his sock.The field incinerates Tony’s sock. It also doesn’t turn off at all while it’s doing so.
There’s no visible electronics. And although Tony could build something like that, he doesn’t think Loki can. This is magic, which is tantamount to cheating.
Tony puts his shoe back on and turns around. The cave is his cell, and while he appreciates the absence of chains and whips and car batteries, the lack of water or a toilet is going to get ugly soon. Loki doesn’t strike him as a decent jailer. Loki seems more like the guy who accidentally bashes the hostage’s skull in and has to get a new plan.
He sits back down next to the remains of the Iron Man suit, leaning against the cold cave wall. Deliberately, Tony stretches his legs out before him and rests his ankle on top of his knee. This is the posture of a casual and relaxed prisoner, who is not going to say anything provocative or obnoxious to his captor, and not going to end up in butchered pieces next to his armor.
Tony falls asleep before Loki comes back. He can hear the more…tactical… members of his team screaming against this in his head, but Tony is cold and tired and fighting off thinking about the last time he was held prisoner in a cave. Because that time sucked.
He’s woken by the sound of something getting dropped heavily to the floor, not far from him. Tony opens his eyes in time to see Loki standing halfway between him and the blocked exit. Loki looks him directly in the eye, then casually turns and walks back out. Right through the energy field.
The first thing Tony notices is that there are arrows in him. Three sticking out his back and a fourth one through his knee. All excellent shots by Agent Barton, but Loki is barely limping. Tony’s sluggish mind wants to know why the hell Clint didn’t use the ones that detonate, for fuck’s sake.
But then he wonders why Loki wandered in. Tony could have guessed arrows don’t bother gods all that much and he doesn’t find it intimidating beyond a visual reminder that Loki isn’t human.
Then he wonders what happened to the guy that did the shooting, and his gaze drifts from Loki to the floor.
Loki didn’t come into show off; he came into drop off another prisoner. Someone black and leather-clad lies in a heap where Loki stopped.
It’s showing his hand more than he’d like, but Tony immediately gets up. He tries to walk slowly and steadily over to the newcomer, because Loki has stayed in sight and is clearly watching them.
The person is too small to be Clint, Tony figures out within seconds. Too small to be anyone but the only woman on the team.
Gently, Tony untangles Natasha’s limbs, trying to find her face. Before he does, there’s blood on his hands. Her black outfit is coated in it, hard to see but sticky and red to the touch. Tony glances up at Loki, who is just standing there watching. Grinning now. Tony looks away.
Natasha has a head wound. Tony doesn’t look too close, because it’s bad. It’s the worst. There’s not just blood, but fluid coming out of her ears. He’s not going to turn her over, because he’s not sure how much of her head is actually there. He doesn’t want to know.
Tony leaves a bloody fingerprint on her neck as he searches for a pulse. It’s barely there. She’s breathing, but so shallowly it’s hard to see.
Loki brought her here so Tony could watch her die.
Deliberately, Tony keeps his face down. He’s not going to give Loki any satisfaction, if he can help it. He feels like he has to arrange Natasha. Just a little, so she’s not sprawled like a broken doll. He can’t make her more comfortable, because – because – because she’s all but gone. But he can lay her out like a person.
Tony crosses her arms over her chest and straightens out her legs.
Then he wipes his bloody hands on his pants, turns around, and walks back to the end of the cave. He feels Loki’s gaze on him the entire time and he continues to avoid it as he takes a seat.
This might be the longest time Tony Stark’s been silent since he learned to talk. But the inside of his throat is thick and angry.
He hears footsteps and finally looks up to find Loki has walked back in. He’s standing just over Natasha, peering down with something like confusion on his face. If Loki touches her – he decides abruptly – Tony won’t have to watch her die, because he’s going first.
“Remember those people who kicked your ass the last time you messed with Earth?” Tony says, coughing to clear his voice. “Killing her was the best way to make sure they kill you this time. Not even your brother will protect you now.” He pauses. “Also the Hulk is probably going to pulverize you, so I hope that jives with Asgardian death rituals.”
None of that is up to par, but it’s better than nothing.
Loki tilts his head, perpetual smirk on his lips. “She lives,” he says. He sounds smug, like he’s correcting a child.
Tony forces out a laugh. “I don’t know how much you know about human anatomy and physiology,” he begins. Loki’s eyes glint and Tony rushes on, “beyond the whole fragile and inferior thing, but that squishy thing in our heads is important. She’s gone.”
A series of infuriating expressions pass over Loki’s face. He’s mildly surprised and maybe a little irritated that Natasha is dead. He crouches down, briefly, as if to take a closer look. He winces as he does, glancing down at the arrow in his knee. He stands back up, reaching down and cracking the end of the arrow shaft off. He casually draws it out, and does the same with ones in his torso.
He keeps his eyes locked with Tony’s the entire time. This is showing off. Tony gives him no reaction.
“Her death is on the archer, then,” Loki says, as he pulls the arrows out. “His interference dropped her.”
Clint didn’t use detonators because Loki was carrying Natasha at the time, Tony answers his earlier question.
“You break it, you buy it,” Tony says. “And in this case I mean the swift and terrible retribution from her very violent friends, who already hate you.”
Loki takes out the last arrow and tosses it to the ground.
“And you,” he asks, mild and taunting. “What will you do?”
“Make popcorn,” Tony says. “Also going to roast marshmallows over your corpse, providing there’s anything left to burn.”
Loki doesn’t understand all of that, but he gets the gist. The smugness on his face is starting to give way to regal exasperation. But he’s looking at Natasha’s body again, so Tony keeps going to distract him.
“Do you ever do anything right?” Tony asks, pushing himself to a standing position. That gets Loki looking at him again, though less with exasperation and more with hostility. “Planetary invasions,” Tony continues. “Screwed that up. At least twice, as I understand it. “
“Do not seek to understand the actions of your betters,” Loki says. “My purposes are beyond your comprehension.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony says. “I’m sure you intended to lose twice. All part of your secret plan?” He goes on without stopping. “What about the part where you kill the hostage before making your demands? I thought they taught the order of things in Villainy School. Hostages 101: If you kill them first, no one is going to do what you say.”
“You will do as I say.” Loki is no longer paying Natasha any attention. “You will grovel at my command.”
Tony snorts. “Or what? You’ll kill her again?”
“Are you not mortal?” Loki advances on him, stepping over Natasha’s body.
“What, you’re going to kill me? My corpse isn’t going to be any more cooperative.”
“Your corpse would please me far more.”
“Eww,” Tony says. “I knew you were a freak.” Before Loki gets it, he continues. “Well, at least the world is safe from whatever batshit plan you had today.”
“Your world is the most vulnerable it’s ever been.”
“Step one was kidnap us alive. You achieved 50% of that. But now you’re going to kill me because I’m not going to stop talking and you don’t have any collateral.”
“Perhaps I could remove your tongue,” Loki says, menacingly. But he’s stopped moving, arms crossed and posture sinking.
“You screwed up step one,” Tony says. “Because of an arrow. A weapon I’m pretty sure cavemen used. You couldn’t handle an arrow and a hundred pound girl. Back to the drawing board. This time take into account the unpredictability of stones and infants. You never know.”
Tony raises his index finger and takes a lecturing stance.
“So when you go back, Clint is still going to be there. So remember, arrows. And the other three, except they’ll be expecting you and now they’re angry. You’ve met Bruce when he’s angry.”
Loki suddenly looked bored. Not angry. Not about to take Tony apart. Just bored and ready for something new. It makes Tony worry, especially since Loki is heading back towards Natasha.
“What would you give for her life?” Loki asks, looking at him with bright eyes.
“I already told you,” Tony says, coldly. “Your life.”
“To restore her life.”
Tony laughs, mostly because he expects it will piss Loki off. He likes angry, distracted Loki better than calm, manipulative Loki. He takes his time sitting back down on the cold cave floor, pleased to see Loki frowning again.
“Is this the part where you offer me a bargain?” Tony asks. “Because Thor did warn me that you, you know, lie a lot. That you’re the god of lying, not the god of resuscitation.”
“My powers are numerous.” Loki gives a tiny, incredibly evil smile. “I can be persuaded to apply them to a fragile mortal.”
“Where were your powers when you dropped the fragile mortal on her head?” Tony says, “Because that seems much more useful.”
The smile is gone from Loki’s face. He’s getting angry again.
“Ask me to save her,” he prompts Tony. “Beg me to spare her. Promise me your soul and your allegiance.”
“I don’t believe you can,” Tony tells him. “And even if I did, you, ahem, did some serious overkill on the Iron Man armor. Also, I sold my soul several years ago in Tijuana to a very talented senorita. And secondly, even if I were willing to be your minion, which no, at most I could stand around and tell you when to duck. Spoiler alert: I’m going to betray you and help my friends kill you.”
Loki closes the distance between them in less than a second. He drags Tony to his feet by his t-shirt, and it tears under his grip. Next, Loki wallops him in the face, throws him hard into the cave wall.
Tony expects to be killed, not released.
He lies on the floor, stunned and with blood dripping over one eye. Loki storms towards the exit, but stops at Natasha’s body.
Loki kneels down and takes Natasha’s head in both hands. She looks tiny and broken, there on the floor. And Tony knows it doesn’t matter, now, but he yells at Loki to get away from her. Loki just looks back at him and sneers. He holds her head a second longer, then lets go and pets her hair, once.
Tony sees her chest rise, filled with a full breath, and then fall again. She’s breathing normally.
It’s a trick.
Tony knows that.
Loki stomps out of eye sight. Behind him, Natasha continues to breath.
Tony doesn’t believe it. He waits for it to stop, for her breathing to return to the shallow, deathly gasps, or maybe stop entirely.
He gets up, finally, stumbling a little. Between Loki’s fists and the stone wall, there might be a concussion in play now.
Tony drops next to Natasha, who just keeps breathing.
Her head wound is gone. The blood is still there, coating her clothes and the floor. But the hideous gash he’d refused to look at is definitely gone. He touches her hair; it’s not an illusion. Her hair was wet with blood, but now it’s dry and soft under his fingers.
“Stark,” Natasha says. “What are you doing?”
Natasha moves under his hand, rolling into a lithe, tensed crouch. Tony blinks at her, not fully able to process how she went from down and gone, to upright and back.
“Whose blood is this?” Natasha touches herself, searching her own head for injuries. “Where’s Loki?”
When Tony doesn’t answer immediately, she grabs hold of him, running her hands over his scalp. Her touch stings and he tries to duck away.
“You have a head injury,” she says.
Tony can’t help but laugh. “Don’t steal my lines,” he says, and shakes her off.
“Where’s Loki?” Natasha moves one hand automatically to her empty holster.
Tony sits back on his haunches. “He left,” he says. Presumably to watch Tony deal with this mirage of Natasha. Probably mostly for kicks, too, not even a devious interrogation tactic.
“What does he want?” Natasha asks.
“Um, to be worshipped,” Tony says, which makes her frown. “Also, for his daddy to love him more than Thor.”
“Oh,” Natasha says, slowly. “That’s helpful.”
“Everybody likes Thor better, though,” Tony says, watching Natasha’s face for signs of Loki losing his temper and dropping the puppeteer act. “He’s definitely my favorite god. And also the true heir, and not adopted, or anything.”
“Is Thor here?” Natasha asks him.
Natasha rises quickly to her feet and covers the length of their prison in long strides. The blood is still glistening on her clothes, but its origin is gone.
“There’s an energy field blocking us in,” she says, returning to Tony.
“Magic,” Tony says. “Cheating, as usual. I fed it my sock.”
“What did Loki hit you with?” Natasha asks.
“His fists and the cave,” Tony says. She’s trying to get another look at his head, and he knocks her arms away. “I’m fine.”
“You have a raging concussion,” Natasha says, flatly.
“You might be dead,” he retorts, “let’s call it even.”
Suddenly, their cave shakes. A distant noise, thunderous and destructive, rings in the airs.
“I think your brother’s here,” he says to Natasha. “And I hope he brought a green friend.”
“I don’t have a brother,” Natasha tells him. “I do have a green friend. Let’s go meet them.”
The magic field has fallen, a sign that Loki might be otherwise engaged. Natasha has not fallen.
She helps him stagger to his feet, balance and coordination not working so well for him right now.
As he stands, he grabs one of the arrows Loki had removed, making sure he has the pointy end. Natasha glances at him and his new weapon as she wraps a supportive arm around his back.
“Stark, do you think I’m Loki? In disguise?”
“I’m saying it’s a possibility.”
“Are you going to stab me with that?” she asks, as they stumble towards the exit. She makes no move to take it away from him.
“Okay,” Natasha says, but keeps propelling them forward. “Thanks for the warning.”
Getting out of their prison doesn’t actually set them free. They’re in some kind of cave labyrinth, miles and miles of identical stone. It looks exactly the same, just more of it.
Natasha wants to keep moving, but Tony’s sluggish brain wants to stop and eventually successfully sends that message to his legs. He sends them lurching to a halt, almost knocking Natasha over in the process. She’s tiny and he can feel the effort she’s expending to keep them both upright.
Or she’s an asshole god, and he’s faking.
“We’ll take a break,” Natasha finally says, when it becomes obvious Tony can’t get back up. She listens for the thunder again. “They’re definitely here.”
“Good,” Tony says. “I promised they’d kill Loki and I am a man of my word.”
Natasha smirks as she props him up against the cave wall.
“You lie more often than Loki,” she says, gently.
“Okay.” He shrugs. There’s a curtain of blackness, and then Natasha slugs him hard in the shoulder.
“Stark, you have to stay awake.”
He opens his eyes, which is exhausting.
“Loki smashed the Iron Man suit,” he says, since if he’d be wearing that, his head wouldn’t be feeling like this.
“I saw,” she says.
“I had to use my words,” he says. His head is throbbing uncontrollably. It hurt since before Loki slammed him into the wall, but running definitely made it worse. “Like you do.”
“What’d you say to Loki that made him hit you with the cave?” Natasha doesn’t look particularly interested, more like she’s patronizing him into staying awake.
“That he’s incompetent,” Tony ticks off. “And that killing you was exceptionally stupid and we were going to kill him extra hard this time.”
“When did he kill me?” Natasha asks, sounding curious.
She’s crouched in front of him, but she keeps looking from side to side, expecting company from either end.
“I wasn’t there, but I think he dropped you on your head,” Tony tells her, honestly. “You were almost gone and I didn’t want him messing with you.”
“Thanks,” Natasha says, neutrally. She’s not following him, and he’s going to sound nuts if he tries to explain. “Tony, when I use my words, the goal isn’t to get punched in the face.”
“Good goal,” he mutters. “It hurts.” He reaches out and grabs at her shoulders. “Stop rocking back and forth,” he orders. “Making me dizzy.”
Natasha moves from the center of the passageway to beside him. It’s less tactical, but he doesn’t care, because now he can lean against her.
They can hear what has to be the destructive symphony of Thor and the Other Guy getting closer. Tony is having trouble focusing, but he’s a little concerned they’re both going to die in a rock collapse.
“Hey,” he says to Natasha. “If you’re him –”
“Yeah?” she says.
“Everything from before still stands about killing you and making s’mores.”
“Okay,” Natasha says, reliably serious.
“But if you’re you –”
“Don’t die,” he says. “I’m not going to say please, because I don’t say please, but seriously don’t.”
Blackness threatens again. His grip on Clint’s arrow head slackens and it drops from his hand.
“Stark,” Natasha says, loudly. “Come on. Stay –”
“And if you’re you don’t hurt me for puking on your shoes,” he says, because he’s going to do just that, and then pass out.
Tony wakes up in a SHIELD infirmary.
He feels like shit, but also like awesome, awesome drugs are dripping through the IV in his wrist.
This is his designated recovery suite, though he doesn’t like to come here. SHIELD always acts like he’s another peon employee, and he is not. Also, he usually doesn’t have to come here, on account of being encased in an impenetrable superhero suit.
You’d think Iron Man would get his own room, but there’s another bed in there. It’s across the room, and Natasha is asleep on it with her head hidden in Clint’s lap. Hawkeye is asleep, too, sitting upright against the wall. He doesn’t have his bow within reach, so Tony feels safe moving. Startled Clint likes to shoot the things that startle him.
On the floor next to Natasha’s bed is a rumpled pile of clothes that looks like Bruce. Tony strains a bit to see his face, recognizes the weary, recent post-transformation set of his brow. Out cold, too.
By the time Tony’s gaze meanders back around, Captain America is standing at his bedside. Steve is in his normal clothes, looking weirdly vintage as usual. He puts a tablet set up to Skype Pepper next to Tony’s pillow. Someone did that for him, because Steve doesn’t know how.
“You’re going to be fine,” Steve says, softly. “Doctor said you have a very hard head.” He smiles, and Tony fights the urge to tell him those are ugly grandpa pants.
“Where were we?” he asks, cranking his bed into a sitting position. He’s not going to get up, and he is going to hit the happy juice button some more, but he’s going to sit up.
“Asgard,” Steve says. “Thor had some ideas where to find you.”
“Where is he?” Tony has serious questions for him.
“Debriefing with Fury,” Steve answers.
“Tell me we caught –” Tony begins, and Steve immediately shakes his head.
“But Asgardian forces were pursuing him,” he says, ridiculously optimistically.
“Fantastic,” Tony says. “They’re great at that.” He shows Steve his resolute faith in Thor’s people. “I need to talk to him,” he says, suddenly. “Thor.”
He doesn’t particularly want to tell Steve what it’s about. He really doesn’t want to tell SHIELD. Tony glances once at Natasha. She’s curled into Clint, so she’s hard to see, but it doesn’t look like she’s hooked up to any machines. Or wearing manacles.
“He’ll come when he’s able,” Steve says. He sits down in a chair, leans closer to Tony’s head. “I think I know what it’s about.”
“Hair care products,” Tony says.
“We found a lot of blood in one of the caves,” Steve said. “And the Iron Man suit.”
“Loki has no respect for personal property,” Tony says. “Or personal bodies.”
“Natasha was covered in blood,” Steve continues, quietly.
“And I threw up on her,” he adds, inanely.
“It was her blood,” Steve says. “They tested it. But she didn’t have any injuries.” Tony doesn’t say anything. “She said that you told her Loki killed her.”
“Remember how I’ve been hit in the head?”
“We saw her fall,” Steve says. “Clint shot Loki and he dropped her on a roof. It wasn’t to the ground, but it was far.”
“So, that happened,” Tony says, finally.
“We need to know what he did to her,” Steve says, evenly.
“He smashed her skull open,” Tony tells him, suddenly pissed off. “There was a piece missing, a big one.” He says it louder than he intended, and the opposite bed creaks as someone on it moves.
Tony glances over, sees Natasha sitting up and Clint’s eyes abruptly open.
“Yeah, we’re talking about you,” he mutters. “Hey, Bruce,” he calls to the guy on the floor. “Wanna join the party?”
He waits until Bruce stands up and walks over to Tony’s bed.
“Hey,” Tony says.
“Hey,” Bruce returns, stretching a little.
“What did Loki do?” Steve asks. The others don’t ask him to clarify, so they were all probably just pretending to sleep. Tony looks at Bruce, reproachfully.
“Loki needs a remedial biology course,” he says. “I didn’t suggest one because I was afraid he’d get into vivisection.”
“Tony,” Steve says.
“He knows how to kill humans but he doesn’t get the nuances,” Tony says, finally. He looks at Natasha. “You were still breathing, but that was about it.”
“Brain stem function,” Bruce says, clinically. If he were standing closer, Tony would have kicked him, just because.
Natasha nods. She doesn’t look upset, though Clint kind of does. It’s nice someone else in the room has uncomfortable feelings about it.
“We had a nice chat about it, and he realized what he’d done was wrong and bad,” Tony continues.
“Really?” Steve asks, and both Bruce and Clint choke out laughs.
“No,” Tony says. “I made fun of him, and he got so mad, he decided to smash my head and fix hers.” He looks at Steve. “Really.”
“What did he do?” Clint asks. He has one arm slung over Natasha.
“Decked me. Grabbed your head,” Tony says to Natasha. “And then you woke up.”
“Magic,” she says. He nods. “They scanned me and didn’t find anything,” she says. “No sign of a skull fracture or anything else.”
But SHIELD doesn’t have machines that will detect Loki camping out in someone’s brain. And that totally sounds like something he’d do. Something he’s done before, actually. And everyone in this room knows it.
“We have to talk to Thor,” Natasha says, easily. She doesn’t sound worried, but she’s looking at Tony with concern.
Thor finally shows and it’s a dramatic and interminable production of theatric apologies to everyone. Tony finds it exhausting and wishes he could yank the covers up over his head until Thor’s done, but he knows that won’t go over well.
He settles for resting his chin in his hand while Steve puts on his command voice and gets Thor to focus on the questions at hand. That voice does not work on Tony, but Thor likes it.
Steve reiterates the story, which Tony is officially sick of hearing.
“Is that something Loki can do?” Steve asks.
“Bring someone back from the dead?” Natasha clarifies.
Thor looks deeply unhappy, but he manages to stay on the subject instead of launching into another regretful tirade about his brother. “No,” he says. “Even Asgardians cannot defeat death.”
“Okay,” says Bruce, in a tone that speaks for everyone else’s confusion.
“But there are many healing spells,” Thor continues. “I have never known him to use them.”
“On account of being more interested in the killing,” Tony mutters, which he can say without hurting Thor’s feelings on account of still having an imprint of Loki’s fist on the side of his head.
“Are these spells permanent?” Natasha asks, calmly.
“Or are they going to wear off?” Clint follows up.
Tony hadn’t even thought of that. He tilts his poor, aching head back against the pillow and thinks about how much he hates Loki.
Instantly, Thor shakes his head. “No,” he tells Natasha earnestly. “You are healed forever.”
“Good,” Natasha says, shifting on the bed.
The relief in the room is palpable, and Tony will admit he gets a little thrill out of completely destroying it.
“And he didn’t do anything else while he was in there?” he asks Thor, pointedly. “Plant a little Asgardian Manchurian Candidate in her brain?” He would prefer not to say that in a room monitored by SHIELD, but it’s important.
Thor and Steve look at him in confusion.
Bruce sighs, and jumps in to clarify. “Mind control,” he says. “Loki seems fond of it.”
Thor shakes his head again. He actually looks a little pleased that he can deny these accusations against his brother. “That,” he reminds them all, “is not subtle.”
“I could have killed you all in your sleep ten minutes ago,” Natasha points out. She doesn’t sound concerned.
“You’re creepy,” Tony tells her. He turns back to Thor. “So, you have any idea what Loki’s plan was? I didn’t get that out of him.”
“We played in those caves as children,” Thor says, a little wistful.
“When I was a kid,” Clint says, “I used to rip the heads off my sister’s dolls and leave them where she could find them.”
Natasha rolls her eyes, but Tony buys it. Loki might have the powers of a god, but he has the temper of a spurned adolescent.
“Let’s hear it for being an only child.”
“I’m going to make a report to Fury,” Steve says, rising from the chair. “Maybe we should let Tony rest.”
“Yes,” Tony says. “Get out of here. I have sleeping and explaining to Pepper to do.”
It takes a while, but eventually the team files out. Natasha is last, and she murmurs in Clint’s ear as she sends him out the door. Clint immediately reaches back and pulls the door shut, with Natasha still inside.
Tony looks up at her, watches as she pulls an electronic thing out from somewhere. She shields it with her hands, so he can’t see it. It makes a whiny noise as she turns it on.
“You just promised you weren’t mind-controlled,” Tony accuses her.
Natasha walks up to his bedside. Her face is serious. “This turned off all the SHIELD surveillance in this room,” she says.
“Not finding that comforting,” Tony says, not actually afraid of her. Loki would rather kill him on the Megatron at the Super Bowl.
“I want to know what you offered him,” she says, sitting down on the edge of his bed. “What deal did you make?”
“What?” Tony demands.
“For my life,” Natasha says, making intent eye contact.
“Wait a second.” Tony figures it out. “You think I’m compromised! You think I bent over for Loki?” He’d be outraged if it wasn’t so funny. “You’re the one that’s compromised! He stuck his fingers in your brain!”
“Stark,” Natasha says, not seeing the humor. “He would have offered you a deal.”
“Yeah,” Tony exclaims. “He did. I declined and promised him an ass-kicking. That’s when he bashed my skull into the wall.”
“You’re telling the truth,” Natasha says. She sounds surprised.
“I wouldn’t make a deal for you,” Tony says. “You’d just be pissed.”
“Yeah,” Natasha says, her face settling into a strangely open expression. “I would.”
“Thanks,” she says. “For that.”
“Welcome,” Tony mutters, shifting on the bed. “Also,” he tells her. “You’re replaceable. I can build another you, worst case scenario.”
Natasha turns off the little device in her hand and secrets it back away. She looks like she wants to laugh, but won’t let herself. She rises and walks towards the door.
“Robo-Natasha would have a sense of humor chip,” Tony adds, picking up the tablet to call Pepper. “And not accuse me of being compromised.”
“You did it first,” Natasha says, as she opens the door.
“Not the point,” Tony retorts, watching the back of her head as she runs a hand through her hair before pulling the door shut.
He dials Pepper, though it’s instantly harder to stay awake without the company.
“Hey,” he says, when her face appears. “I’m fine, I’m okay.”
Pepper gasps in horror at whatever she can see of his head, but she thankfully takes him at his word. “Oh my God, “she says. “What happened? And is anyone dead?”
“Loki,” he says. “And not anymore.”
~please feed the author~