Boston was quiet. The sky had just begun to lighten to a soft shade of gray and the morning rush has yet to begin. There were a few people running early errands but they are scarce. Every so often the metal casing was rolled up and a store’s lights flicker on, or a car rushes by, already late at 5 am.
And then, suddenly, Boston was not quiet. Boston was screaming. Several drivers lost control of their cars from shock. There was desperate wailing and the horrifying sound of fire, crunching, burning. In the middle of the heat one can barely make out a body, leaping and spluttering. No one moved to help it. They just stared.
Asgard was asleep. It was finally late enough that even the most dedicated night owl has settled into bed.
New York, however, was wide-awake and moving. Loki didn’t think he would ever get tired of the screech of taxis, the screaming of vendors, the dull monotone of businessmen talking into their blackberries. He didn’t think he would ever get bored of the strange sensation that was cigarettes— letting nicotine tickle his throat and the smoke twirl in his lungs would always stay a novelty. He didn’t realize how consistently cold he was until he held a white stick in his hand, slowly burning, letting the cancerous tendrils warm him throughout. Whenever he could slip out to the city, the first thing he would do is buy a pack of American Spirits— the more noxious the better. Loki didn’t think that frost giants or demi-gods were at risk of developing emphysema, but it was worth a shot.
Around him, New York buzzed pleasantly. There were teenaged girls in ugly plaid jumpers, giggling as they walked to school. Men in suits looked hassled and gray. Everyone had somewhere to be and no one spared a second glance at the young man in the dirty black sweatshirt.
Loki jumped, prepared to disable whoever recognized him as the city’s former attacker. His brother had let slip that S.H.I.E.L.D. or whatever that ridiculous organization called itself had teamed up with the media to “erase” him. If the people knew that there was one person who could be blamed for dozens of lost lives and millions of dollars of wreckage, they’d want to haul him off to some silly mortal court. Better for everyone that he quietly slip away to imprisonment in Asgard. Still, there was always a risk that someone would remember his face.
But no, his opponent didn’t look like a threat. She was short and painfully thin. Terribly dressed really, though he supposed he wasn’t one to talk. Her eyes were covered by two pane of glass. He had heard that such devices helped those mortals with weak vision to see.
Still, ever paranoid, he approached with caution.
“Yes?” Loki asked tentatively.
“Oh my God, finally someone my own age who looks normal. This is place is swarming with hipsters, isn’t it? No offense if you like PBR or whatever. Anyway, I am really lost. Like, really. I’m supposed to meet my friend at Stark Tower. I know, right, how dumb am I that I can’t find this huge skyscraper but I really need directions.”
The girl didn’t stop for breath once.
Loki paused. This girl was obviously as dumb as anything and it seemed silly to risk his nighttime escapes by killing her. However, she was on her way to Stark Tower. That could mean she knew Iron Man, that obscene “hero” that defeated him. It would be nice to send him a message. Still, it was equally possible that she was nothing more than a menial secretary whose absence wouldn't be missed. She was also very pretty, which shouldn’t have entered his radar at all and he hated himself for even thinking it.
A sharp burn brought him back to reality. A clump of red-hot ash had fallen on his hand.
“Shit!” He muttered, dropping his cigarette and putting his hand in his mouth to ease the pain. A crooked smile flashed on the girl’s face.
“Dude, are you okay? I smoked my freshman year of college until I realized I don’t do well with fire. I have some wicked burns to show for it.” She chatted cheerfully.
“I’m fine!” Loki muttered, angrier than he intended.
“Okay cool. But do you know where Stark Tower is? I’m super late.”
“It’s midtown. You’re not even close. Do you have enough money for a taxi?” Loki said. He winced as he took his hand out of his mouth. It still throbbed.
“Shit. Yeah, I guess I do. Anyway, thanks for help and I hope you don’t get like, a scar or anything.”
Just like that, the girl disappeared into the crowd.
Loki scowled. This was supposed to be his escape-prison-and-get-some-fresh-air-day, not deal-with-very-pretty-girls-with-sparkling-eyes-who-talk-too-much-and-can’t-find-their-way day.
Natasha was asleep when the alarm went off. She’d been taking advantage of the current lull in dangerous missions by sleeping late and wallowing around in her bathrobe, watching Bridezillas. Not the most dignified way for a super-spy to spend her time, but she deserved a break. And then she heard the shrill ping of the alarm and she knew her vacation was over.
Tony Stark had made coffee in the conference room and appeared to be trying to drown himself in his mug. Before 10, none of the Avengers were at their best.
Clint had his head on the table. Natasha smiled at him and he smiled back and she felt suddenly not very tired.
Fury, to his credit, looked wide-awake and ready to go.
“Now that we’re all here…” Fury said, beckoning at Steve, who had just shifted in miserably. Natasha wondered why he wouldn’t be more used to early morning, being in the army and all.
“’Orry.” Steve muttered, collapsing into his seat.
“You should be. Now, if anyone of you got up at a decent hour or bothered to turn on the news today, you’d know we have big trouble.” Fury said.
Tony raised his hand. Fury sighed. “Yes?”
“Where is Thor? I don’t see how we can fight evil without our resident Norse god.”
“We are currently working on getting him over to our realm. Unlike all of you, who we can pull out of bed, he has an excuse for being late.”
Tony seemed appeased by this response.
“Anyway, as I was saying, there was a terrorist attack.” A flurry of murmurs. Steve was suddenly sitting up very straight. Natasha bit her lip and strained to memorize Fury’s every word. This was serious.
“At 5:02 a.m. this morning, right outside of Boston, a number of civilians caught on fire. We aren’t sure how the fire started. Eyewitnesses say that suddenly there was just a ball of flames. There are two casualties.” A projection on the wall showered a pretty woman with short blonde hair and freckles and a teenaged boy with big brown eyes.
“Polly Owens, 33. A kindergarten teacher with two kids. Literally not a single enemy in the world. Ryan Burn, 16. Got suspended for smoking dope behind his high school last year but otherwise seems to be a good student. As of now, they seem unconnected. YES, TONY?”
The Iron Man’s hand was in the air again. Once called on, Tony cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mr. Fury, I just have a small, erm, consideration for you. We are not, or at least I am not, a detective. If you tell me who to beat up, I’ll do it, but I’m not going on a wild goose chase for an arsonist.”
Sometimes, Natasha reflected, Nick was truly terrifying.
“We are not asking you to play Sherlock Holmes, Tony. Now, let me finish. While Thor is not here in person, we have communicated with him. As soon as he got news of the attack, he went to check on his piece-of-shit brother and would you believe it, the cell was empty.”
“Ah.” Said Steve.
“Since then, Loki has returned and is denying all knowledge of the attack. Claims he stepped out for a bit of fresh air. On his possession, Thor found some street clothes and a lighter.”
“So… case closed.” Tony said.
“I wish. We’re bringing both gods here for questioning. Meantime, Natasha and Clint, you go to Boston and ask around. Maybe someone saw him. Bruce, I need you to inspect the area. Our scientists didn’t find the tiniest speck of carbon, but maybe you’ll be luckier. You’ll get to take a look at the bodies.”
Bruce nodded grimly.
“Now, strangely enough, Thor’s human girlfriend, Jane Foster, has a cousin who was a few towns over at the time of the attack. Rebecca Foster was totally unharmed but we can’t rule out the possibility that this was some kind of fucked up revenge. We’ve brought Jane and one of her close friends who was in New Mexico last year, Derby, or something here. Cap, I need you to keep an eye on them. We want them to be guarded but we’d prefer if it didn’t look that way. Maybe Loki will get cocky and get out of hiding to make a move.”
“We’re putting them in danger? As bait for a psychopath?” Steve asked, looking a little green.
“They won’t be in danger if you do your job.” Fury said stiffly. Steve still looked uncomfortable but nodded.
“Tony, you’re handling Thor and Loki. Thor’s been letting his brother off easy. When I asked how Loki managed to hide so much shit in his cell, Thor let slip that he wasn’t staying in so much as cell as a guarded apartment. We need someone who can be tough.”
Tony let out a genuine smile. He might be the only one who was visibly pleased with his job. Natasha, for one, just wanted to get back to sleep.