"Six against one. Afraid to face me alone, like a man?"
"Funny you should talk about being a man, RuPaul. Tell me again about that time you lived on Earth as a milkmaid?"
"Nothing but tales. As fanciful as the tales of your own sexual prowess. Iron Man should rightly be called Disk Man."
"…Okay, you're going to have to explain that one."
Loki paused to deliver a flawless roundhouse kick to Captain America's face, then looked uncharacteristically uncertain. "Three and a half inches and floppy?"
"Ha!" Stark chortled. "Nineteen eighty-five called, they want their joke back. And their bad hair."
"You know," Clint said, to no one in particular, "I'm not sure which of them I want gagged more."
And that, plus several million dollars' worth of property damage, was pretty much what it was like to fight Loki.
The thing about being superheroes was that none of them were actually indestructible, much as they liked to pretend otherwise. So it was kind of inevitable that one day, when Loki was blowing up large swathes of the Bronx, only five Avengers showed up to kick his scrawny ass.
After a few minutes of cheerfully hurling large chunks of masonry at them, Loki seemed to notice they were one down. "Where is your metal man?"
"Not really any of your business," Cap told him.
Loki scowled and kicked a car aside like a disturbingly strong toddler having a temper tantrum. "I don't merit your full attention now? Insolent creatures, I will crush your pitiful city under my foot. How dare you--"
"Oh my god, someone tell him to take a chill pill." Clint could feel a migraine coming on. He shot a few more arrows with extra viciousness, unsurprised but bitterly disappointed when Loki dodged them all.
"Where is Stark?" Loki demanded again, blocking a hefty swing from Thor's hammer.
Hulk loomed up from behind him and announced, "TONY HURT," as he punted Loki a good distance down the damaged road.
Loki picked himself up and looked up at the rooftop Clint was perched on. "Hawk! I see you still fight from a distance, cowardly mortal."
Nat's voice came through his earpiece loud and clear. She sounded amused. "Aw, look, you're his substitute Stark."
"Oh, hell no," Clint said emphatically. "I am way too good-looking to be Stark. Somebody else do it."
"I have an idea," Steve said. "How about no one do it?"
"That works too," Clint admitted.
Loki tossed a few more insults and heavy objects around, but when it became obvious no one was taking the bait he threw his hands in the air angrily. "You are all pathetic. What use are you?"
"He will be well again soon enough," Thor said, but Loki glared at him and then vanished.
"Did… did he just leave?" Cap asked.
Clint blinked. "Does anyone else feel weirdly rejected?"
Even Hulk looked a little forlorn. "SMASH PUNY GOD?"
"It seems that he misses his flyting partner," Thor announced, as if that answered everything.
"His what now?"
So Thor explained.
They found Stark in his workshop, trying to upgrade the Iron Man suit. Cap stood over him with folded arms and a stern expression until Stark put the tools down and his sling back on. Then they told him why the fight had been so short.
Once Stark was done laughing, he said, "He really wouldn't fight you because I wasn't there to insult him? That's awesome."
"Flyting was one of Loki's favorite pasttimes, on Asgard," Thor said. "Most likely, in some small way it reminds him of home."
"I can't decide if that's cute or creepy," Clint said.
"It can be both," Stark said, trying to poke a soldering iron under his cast to scratch his arm. Steve took it away from him, prompting a protest. "Hey!"
Banner said curiously, "What does flyting involve, exactly?"
"It is simply an exchange of insults," Thor said, looking over at him. "Most often, insults that would not be tolerated at any other time, such as accusations of cowardice and certain… perversions." He glanced back at Stark and added, "It is traditionally performed in rhyme, but I believe Loki has been making allowances for your scant experience."
"Has he now," Stark said, and there was something deeply worrying about the gleam in his eye.
The next time Loki showed up, it was in Yankee Stadium with some kind of giant rampaging hell-beast. There was a lot of screaming and a rather disorderly evacuation.
Stark had demanded to come along, and they'd all flatly refused him, or at least Clint thought they had. But as the non-flying Avengers piled out of the jet, he saw Thor dropping Stark in the middle of the ball field. Unarmored. Just a moron inventor with one arm in a sling.
"What is he doing?" Cap asked in horror.
"Loki," Stark bellowed. "Put that thing away and get your skinny ass down here!"
"He's not dying again, is he?" Clint asked Nat. She shook her head, frowning a little.
Loki left the hell-beast rampaging, but actually did show up in the middle of the field to fold his arms at Stark. "You dare face me, so exposed?"
"This is how it's going to work," Stark said, ignoring the question. "You cut this shit out right now - stop attacking my city, stop trying to rule us, all of it - or I will never flyte with you again."
"Oh my god," Banner said, having not been given the cue to go Hulk yet. "Oh my god, he's actually insane. I mean, I thought he was a little, but he's actually insane."
"Wait," Nat said. "Look."
Loki was actually standing there, arguing with Stark instead of breaking him in half like a really annoying twig. "You cannot command me, you insignificant creature. Only a coward would hide behind words when his lands were under attack."
"Nuh-uh," Stark said firmly. "Not happening. No insults until you stop throwing your tantrum."
Loki arched an eyebrow. "Need I remind you that I lay with a horse?"
"Not gonna happen," Stark repeated, sing-song.
In a voice filled with wonder, Steve said, "I have never been so convinced that the future is an elaborate practical joke."
Loki glared at Stark for several seconds, then snapped, "Fine," and waved a hand. The hell-beast disappeared.
"There, was that so hard?" Stark said cheerfully. "By the way - you're a chicken and a fraidy-cat and everybody knows, while the real men are fighting you'll be dressed in women's clothes. You're so desperate for a dicking that you'll even take a horse, and when all the mounts have mounted you, you'll still crave a second course."
Loki looked like all his birthdays and Christmases had come at once.
"They're both insane," Banner said.
"You're not wrong," Clint agreed. They weren't even good rhymes.
And that was how Stark saved the world through insults.
(Later, Loki drew an elaborate picture of a penis on Stark's cast.)