It’s dark and fuzzy when he wakes, and his head feels thick and full of pain. He tries to move, sit up, maybe. There’s a sharp, angry noise and something smacks him hard in the face. It stings only long enough for blackness to take over completely.
He wakes again, sometime later. Feeling better, well enough to assess that his head still aches, his face is sore, and his hands are chained to something above his shoulders. It feels like there was a party last night, but he doesn’t remember it.
His eyelids are heavy, but he blinks them open. The first thing he sees is an ugly green plaid bedspread. He’s chained to a bed. That’s not all that surprising, but his bedmate has hideous taste in linens.
His bedmate is also surprising. It’s a guy, sitting at the foot. Wearing some kind of bizarre costume, and not the sexy kind.
“Uh…” he says, to get the dude’s attention. His voice sounds raspy and creaky to his ears.
Immediately, the man moves closer, sliding up the bed edge.
“Brother, are you with me?” the guy says. He leans over at head level, his eyes bright and his hair black and slicked back. Completely unfamiliar.
“Brother?” That’s among the weirdest things about this situation.
“Do you know who I am?” the guy says, earnestly. He makes intent eye contact and leans closer. This provides a whiff of sharp, floral cologne. Which maybe he bathed in.
“Not so much,” he admits, trying for friendly.
The man’s face falls and he leans back, just a little. “Do you know who you are?” he asks, with the gentleness typically reserved for the mentally unwell.
And that would be offensive, if it didn’t seem to be true. The last memory he has is of waking before, earlier, likely here, and someone smacking him in the face. The only memory he has. Coldness descends over his body as the realization hits. He doesn’t know this guy, or where he is, but he also doesn’t know his own name. And he doesn’t know if the dude with him is a friend, but the chaining him to a bed and hitting him earlier suggests that’s not the case. He doesn’t know if he should admit anything to this guy, who he spontaneously decides to name Stinky based on the eau de disgusting reeking off of him.
“You do not,” Stinky says. He looks dejected, briefly putting his head in his hands.
“Uh,” he says, and tests his bonds. He can’t see what’s holding him, but it’s to a pretty sturdy metal headboard. “I’m tied to a bed,” he says. “Which is normally cool, but not my favorite thing right now. Maybe you could let me go, if it wasn’t you who put me here?”
Stinky raises his head, keeping one hand to his face. “Brother, I did bind you,” he admits. “But I will release you if you are well.”
“Is my name Brother?” he asks, since amnesiacs can’t really make a claim towards certain definitions of wellness.
Stinky peers at him, distress clouding his face. “Your name is Stark,” he says. “And you are a lord of Midgard.”
“After you tell me who you are,” the newly named Stark says, “tell me what a Midgard is.”
Stinky rubs his temple, clearly not pleased with this response. “If this is one of your games, brother…”
“People who tie other dudes to beds don’t get to accuse those dudes of game–playing,” Stark snaps, yanking at his bonds. “You don’t have to tell me your name, and I don’t want your number, either. Just let me go.”
“I am Loki,” Stinky says, earnestly. “And I am your brother.” He reaches out and puts a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I did not wish our reunion to be an introduction. Thor will pay for what he has done to your mind.”
“Uh,” Stark says, still lost. “Who’s Thor? Is he the guy that tied me to the bed and gave me a slap, or was that you?”
Loki retracts his hand and stands, face turning from drawn to furious in an instant. “Thor is our brother,” he snarls. “And he did much worse to you. He robbed you of your mind and your name. He even took your realm.” Loki paces in short, angry strides. “My loyalty never wavered, Stark. I vowed to return and save you. Together we will be restored to our rightful places. And then we will cast him out.”
“I don’t remember brothers,” Stark says, honestly. “I remember being an only child. And it was awesome.”
Loki stops moving. “I knew they had warped your mind with untrue memories, but I did believe your true self remained.” He shakes his head. “They took your truth and poisoned it until it became wrong.”
“There needs to be untying,” Stark says. “Right now.” He has no idea who he is, but he’s clearly the sanest person in the room.
“You do not believe me,” Loki says, staring at him.
“Sure I do,” Starks says, unconvincingly. “Let me go, so we can…cast that guy out?”
“I rescued you from our wicked brother,” Loki says, emphatically. “He has filled your mind with lies and enslaved you in your own realm. He convinced you to fight me. I had to use force, and I was only trying to restore your mind.”
Stark yanks futilely on his bonds again.
“I shall release you, “ Loki says, “to prove that I am not your enemy.”
“Okay,” Stark says. “Do that.”
Loki doesn’t move, but suddenly Stark’s arms fall heavily on to the bed, released from the restraints. His limbs are sluggish and tingly, which prevents him from trying to deck Loki and make a break for it. Loki reaches inside his coat and pulls something out. Stark thinks it’s a weapon and draws back, but suddenly the room is filled with brightness and light.
“And I will show you,” Loki says. “What you have forgotten.”
The images suddenly projected in the air are only vaguely familiar. Stark doesn’t recognize the place Loki calls Asgard. He doesn’t recognize the man Loki calls Father, or the giant, blond Viking known as Thor.
“Thor is the eldest,” Loki says, striving not to sound petulant and not totally succeeding. “And therefore the heir. But father knew the prophecy that his first born would betray him and seek control of so many of the realms, and so he sought to create protection.” He looks at Stark. “On Midgard, he fathered you, and on Jotunheimr, he fathered me.”
“That’s like the exact opposite of protection,” Stark says, shaking out his wrists. “That’s…conception.”
“War came to Jotunheimr,” Loki continues, voice becoming rote and unemotional. “When I was an infant, and all-father returned me to Asgard to save my life. He did not wish to raise us together, because he knew Thor was a threat to me.”
Stark watches images of Thor attacking Loki. Thor is big and mean, and he really likes to hit people with his hammer.
“All-father survived Thor’s betrayal,” Loki says. “And banished him to Midgard until the time of his succession to the throne. With the hope that we, his better sons, would find a way to prevent this from occurring, without bringing war to Asgard. Unfortunately, Thor came to discover your existence.”
He illustrates this by showing Stark images of Thor swinging his hammer at someone in a flying red and yellow metal suit. The guy in the suit is clearly awesome.
“That’s me?” Stark asks, distracted from his thoughts about kicking Loki in the head.
Loki looks over, assesses Stark’s face. He begins to look just a bit relieved. “Indeed.”
“I have magic, too?” Stark flexes his finger. He briefly imagines zapping Loki, but nothing happens.
“You wield the magic of Midgard,” Loki says. “I wield the magic of Asgard. Thor wields Mjolinar.” He notes Stark’s confusion. “The hammer.”
“What’s the magic of Midgard?” Stark asks.
“Metals and energy, largely,” Loki says. “You built that suit of iron, and many other weapons. None as potent as Asgardian magic, of course.”
“That suit around here somewhere?” Stark asks, hopefully.
“I was not able to retrieve it,” Loki says, apologetically. “Thor fears you and your magic, and since his arrival on Midgard, he has often prevented you from practicing it.”
“Asshole,” Stark says. “We got the magic, he got the home repair kit. I sense jealousy.”
“Brother,” Loki says, almost grinning at him. “Your mind returns.”
“It doesn’t,” Stark says. “He just sounds like an asshole.”
“He fears you,” Loki repeats. “He could not anger all-father by killing you, so he destroyed your mind and enslaved you. Instead of forcing him off Midgard, you fight beside him. Protecting him.” Loki scowls and flat out glares at him.
Stark suddenly finds Loki’s demeanor a little disturbing. “On account of the brainwashing,” he says, pointedly. “Well, that’s cheating.” Loki is still glaring at him. “Who’s the merry band?” Stark asks, mainly to distract him. “Is that actually Robin Hood?” He’s talking about the short glimpses of someone shown fighting alongside Thor, some guy with a bow.
“They are his minions,” Loki replies, with a careless shrug. “Various worthless Midgardians. All part of his plan to seize control of Midgard and enslave its populace. They assisted him in your capture and enchantment,” he adds.
“I thought you said Thor didn’t have magic,” Stark says.
Loki tilts his head and the corner of his lip tugs up. “Others are quite generous with theirs when threatened with Mjolinar,” he says.
Stark nods. Yeah, he can see how people would be inclined to obey a guy who looks like that and probably views others as impudent nails.
Loki takes a seat on the bed again. “You do believe me,” he says, plaintively. “My deepest regret is that your rescue was so long in the taking. I could not bear it if, after everything, I did not get my older brother back.”
“I don’t remember anything,” Stark says, honestly. He doesn’t. “But I’m also not finding this as completely crazy as, you know, it actually is.” Loki looks unsure. Stark had felt tickles of familiarity before the images vanished in a puff of Asgardian smoke. But now that Loki is leaning closer, the rancid cologne distracts him and it’s all gone. He remembers nothing but an unsettling blankness. And everything Loki just showed him, of course.
“I shall take victories in the small, then,” Loki says, resignedly. “You are freed and are not trying to murder me.”
“True,” Stark says.
“Not the case, were you still under the control of my brother,” Loki says, smirking. “And that is a victory.”
“That’s not really a victory,” Stark says. Loki tilts his head. “We’re going to, I don’t know, at least try to get him off this planet,” he says. “It’s my realm, isn’t it? Aren’t we going to kill him or something?”
Loki’s face lights up and his grin breaks his face. “Yes. We are, brother. We are going to kill him.”
Stark tries hard to remember. It’s very unsettling. He feels very strongly a sense of himself, but like it’s been hollowed out.
“Thor,” Loki repeats, whenever he catches Stark in thought. “Thor did this to you.”
Thor’s done a lot of shitty things to him.
One of those things has to be this tiny, gross studio apartment Loki’s using as a hideout. It’s dark and cramped. Stark doesn’t actually remember where he lives, but he gets the strong idea it was substantially nicer and bigger and less hellhole.
Loki confirms this after Stark comments on the size and quality of their abode a couple of times.
“We must remain out of sight,” Loki says. “Thor will not suspect either of us of living here.”
“Yeah, there’s a reason for that.”
“Our mission requires stealth,” Loki says, face severe.
“You call talking like you stepped out of Jane Austen and dressing like you’re late for Hamlet on Ice…stealth?”
For a second, Loki’s face is murderous. Then it smoothes out and he sighs.
“I am not your enemy,” Loki says, like a mantra. “Remember that. Remember our brother when you wish to lash out.”
As he speaks, he waves one pale hand. The bizarre getup shimmers and fades away, and suddenly Loki stands before him wearing black jeans and black t-shirt. It actually doesn’t make him look less weird.
“A little Goth.”
Loki doesn’t understand that, which is weird because Tony does. But he doesn’t understand anything else.
“And, no, to what you said before. I don’t remember our brother. I don’t actually remember you, either. But apparently I remember an entire arsenal of pop culture references. And I want to use them on you, like compulsively.” Stark squints at Loki. “Did we get along before?”
“You are of Midgard,” Loki says, evenly. “You prefer their ways.”
“We didn’t get along,” Stark interprets.
Loki’s shoulders lift. “We are brothers,” he says. “Our disputes were fleeting. We have always been united against Thor.”
“So, was dad slumming here on Midgard?” Starks asks, changing the subject. “Since you and Thor are like nine feet tall.”
“I know nothing of your parentage.” Loki is glaring at him again, and the murderous look is back. “I strongly suggest you not discuss mine.”
“Okay,” Stark says, backing off. Maybe this will make sense later. Maybe there’s some way to get his hollowed out mind back. Maybe Loki has serious mommy issues. “So what’s the plan, the whole killing Thor deal?”
“We require your magic,” Loki says.
“Your suit of iron,” Loki says, ignoring him.
“Which is where?”
“Thor keeps your magic locked away in your manor,” Loki tells him. “You must retrieve it.”
“Is that as easy as it sounds?” Starks asks. “My manor, my closet…”
“If your rescue has not yet been made known,” Loki says. “You should be able to infiltrate it with little effort.”
“Or Thor knows, and then?”
Loki looks at the floor, raising one hand to his face.
“Oh,” Stark says.
Loki can’t come with him. Apparently Thor has wanted posters about him all over the place. So Stark has to go alone, to the building he doesn’t remember, full of people he also doesn’t remember. All people who think he’s Thor’s mind-wiped little monkey.
This is an absolutely terrible plan.
If anyone asks, he’s supposed to tell them he went home with a girl.
“I thought you said…I was enslaved,” Stark says. “I get conjugal visits?”
“Before Thor arrived on Midgard, you were the lord of carnality,” Loki says.
Stark stares at him as Loki waits for a reaction. “That doesn’t sound wrong,” he offers, not grinning or anything.
“That was the gift from all-father. It does not endanger Thor and distracts everyone from what he has done to you,” Loki says. “They will believe your tale.”
“Sounds like I have a really rough life,” Stark mutters.
“It also occupies you,” Loki says. “Should the magic wane and you remember Thor’s true nature.”
“Yeah, I bet it would.”
“Before, you were also a lord of war,” Loki says.
“I feel like I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
“Thor took that magic from you, because you could have used it on him.”
“But I got to keep being a sex god?” Stark says, mostly to himself. Loki is not appreciative.
“You must retrieve the suit,” Loki tells him. “But be careful. The last time you acted against Thor and he stopped you…”
“What’d he do?”
“Lift your shirt,” Loki instructs.
Stark blinks at him, then obeys. He looks down, unsure what he expects to find.
What he sees is machinery, a strange glowing thing encased in metal centered in his chest. It looks terrible and alien, and the moment Stark sees it he starts to feel it, a strange weight and heat inside of him.
“What the hell is that?” he asks, trying to keep the tension out of his voice.
Loki smiles at him, pityingly. “You will not speak of it.”
“Thor did this.”
“Of course.” Loki nods. “I have often thought, he took your mind and your heart.” Stark touches the device, half wanting to try to rip it out. “If you do not recollect its function,” Loki says, “Perhaps you should not damage it.”
Stark yanks his t-shirt back down.
“Operation Kill Thor,” he says. “Let’s go.”
Loki gives a brief rundown of the minions that live with Thor in Stark’s manor. The archer shown earlier is Thor’s bodyguard. Oddly enough, he’s the only real danger. Thor is that overconfident. He employs a guy with weaponry out of the middle ages as his only protection.
“Seriously?” Stark snorts.
“He is arrogant,” Loki reminds him. “Above all.”
The rest of the household is mostly servants. There’s a broad-chested Blond dude, almost as big as Thor, who dresses kind of retro.
“His manservant,” Loki says. “Name of Steve.”
“Yeah,” Stark says, “manservant, my ass. His ass.” There’s only one reason to hire a man who looks like that for domestic duties. And it’s not to buttle.
“Focus,” Loki instructs, although finally, visibly amused. “The apprentice, Banner.”
He produces an image of a dark-haired man, with glasses. He looks a little disheveled.
“Apprentice what?” Stark asks.
“You,” Loki says. “Thor has him trying to learn your magic, so that it might be at his disposal.”
Stark frowns. “Cheater.”
“You have nothing to fear from him,” Loki reassures him. “Your magic came from the all-father. He is a mere Midgardian scientist. He learns nothing.”
“Thor doesn’t realize this?”
“No,” Loki says, simply.
“He’s an idiot.”
“His ignorance is our advantage,” Loki says, with a small smile.
“That it?” Stark asks.
“Yes,” Loki says, then pauses. “Well, there is your concubine. But she is of little concern in this.”
“Concubine?” Stark perks up. “Oh, I beg to differ. Show me.”
With an eye roll, Loki produces another translucent image. This one is of a slim, red-haired women in a black cat suit. Stark reaches out to touch it, but his hand goes right through.
“Hey, you should make these interactive,” Stark complains. “What’s her name?”
Stark looks at the image. And he does feel a pang of familiarity. Something about the hair. “Pepper as in salt?”
“You named her,” Loki says, accusingly.
“I like it,” Stark retorts. “So, she’s on my side?”
“She is unlikely to be present where your armor is kept,” Loki says. “But yes, she may be an ally, provided Thor is not there to influence her.”
Stark nods. Then a question forms in his head. “Hey, if daddy made me the god of sex and war, what’s Thor? And what’re you?”
Loki vanishes the picture of Pepper, and Stark looks longingly at the empty space it leaves. “I am the god of truth,” he says, almost reverently.
“Hmm. And Thor?”
“Ah, the hammer.” Stark laughs. “I got sex and war, you got truth…wow, I’m beginning to understand where this sibling rivalry came from.”
Before Stark departs on his mission - retrieve the Iron Man suit, not get captured by Thor or any of his minions, and maybe kill some of them – Loki insists on spritzing Stark with the terrible cologne.
It stinks more, up close and personal. Stark also takes the opportunity to slap Loki back, for earlier. He’s a little surprised that Loki takes the smack with little more than a glower, then steps back.
“Remember what I said about stealth?” he asks, almost gagging at the odor. “There are more efficient ways to gas them.”
“I would forgive your ignorance, “ Loki says, scowling. “But little has changed. You have never understood the magic of Asgard.”
“Mm, Asgard must go through a lot of Febreze.”
“This will protect you from Thor’s hammer,” Loki says. “But wash it off if you insist.”
“You know what, I suddenly think it’s lovely.”
Getting to the Stark manor isn’t a problem. Stark remembers how to navigate this city, oddly enough, even while unusually smelly and not particularly mentally sound. He feels like maybe he’s done this before.
It’s not actually a manor, though. That’d be disappointing, but it’s a giant tower. Stark spends some time staring up at it, admiringly. Now, that’s a structure worthy of a monument to a sex god. The only improvement he can think of his name at the top, where the solitary letter A sits. He wonders what that stands for.
Getting inside the tower isn’t a problem, either. All of the employees recognize him and are appropriately reverential. And also discreet, pretending he doesn’t smell. The various technological security measures all grant him entry. He vaguely remembers creating all of them, too. So of course he passes through.
Nothing else comes back to him, though. For instance, once alone in the elevator, he doesn’t know where he’s going. Stark doesn’t remember where the Iron Man suit is. Providing Thor hasn’t relocated it or given it to that apprentice dude.
The elevator also doesn’t have any buttons. Aesthetically, it’s sleek. Practically, to the disoriented amnesiac, very unhelpful.
“Welcome back, sir,” a disembodied British voice says. “The others are waiting for you.”
“Uh,” Stark says. He looks around for a speaker or a camera, but doesn’t see anything. “Where?”
“Level 18,” the voice says, and the elevator starts climbing. “Your absence has caused quite the disturbance.”
“I was fulfilling my carnal duties,” Stark tells the elevator. “As we sex gods do.”
For a moment, there’s silence. Then: “Very well.” For a robot, that sounds highly judgmental.
“The others can wait,” Stark says, hoping the elevator’s on his side. Maybe not, if it’s a prude. “I want to work on the Iron Man armor.”
The elevator dings, and climbs past the 18th floor. Stark half expects a hammer to bust through the doors, but nothing happens. So far, so good.
“I want some privacy,” Stark tells the elevator, when the doors open. “Disable yourself.”
“Sir?” Now the elevator sounds offended.
“I’ll take the stairs down,” Stark says. “Take the elevators offline.”
“Yes, sir,” the elevator says, still with considerable more emotion than it should.
The floor Stark steps out on is obviously a lab. And an enormous one at that, with a striking view of New York City out the panoramic windows. It feels very familiar, but the Iron Man suit isn’t sitting out in the open, or anything.
Stark is pretty sure that the elevator thing bought him, at most, five minutes. He all but runs through the lab, yanking drawers open as he goes.
He doesn’t find the Iron Man suit, but he finds pieces. Either Thor dismembered it or these are replacement parts.
One is an arm, and a glance tells Stark there’s some kind of projectile weapon onboard. The firing mechanism wires into the overall mainframe, of course. But there has to be a back-up manual trigger, and Stark finds it shortly.
Now armed in more ways than one, he instantly feels a little better.
It’s just in time, too, because suddenly Stark’s not alone in the lab.
“Hey,” a voice says behind him.
“Learn to knock,” Stark snaps, cursing himself for not even trying to lock the door. He glances over his shoulder. Of course it’s Thor’s bodyguard, the archer.
Stark flexes his fingers inside the armor. He really hopes it’s juiced. He feels like usually he’d have some useful visual display with that kind of information.
In his peripheral vision, the archer walks closer.
“Every time someone knocks, you lock the door,” he says.
“Mm, wonder why,” Stark mutters, watching him out of the corner of his eye. The guy’s wearing his quiver, but Stark doesn’t see a bow. Again, he wonders what the hell is up with that choice of weaponry. “Get lost, William Tell. I’m busy.”
The archer puts one hand behind his back, menacingly touching something Stark can’t see.
“No,” the archer says. “Thor wants –”
And that’s when Stark blasts him. Or tries to, anyway, because the archer dives out of the way and rolls. Behind him, the window glass shatters noisily. So much for the whole stealth thing.
Stark fires again. He misses, again. The archer’s some kind of freaky gymnast and flips out of the way.
Except, he flips once more and goes right out the broken window with a startled cry.
Stark’s standing far enough away that he doesn’t have to watch the guy splatter.
Well, that wasn’t so hard. But it’s probably not going to be long before someone notices Thor’s bodyguard had a base jumping accident or something.
Stark spends another desperate minute looking for the Iron Man suit. He should just make a run for it, but he wants his damn suit.
It’s a minute too long, and he gets more company.
It’s Banner, Thor’s scientist. He seems to have come from within the lab; he’s not near the door Stark or the archer came through.
Stark remembers Loki’s dismissal of Banner as any threat. He certainly doesn’t look threatening. In person, he’s just a scruffy as in the images Loki had showed Stark. The guy doesn’t seem to know his shirt size. He’s also not armed. At least, not with arrows. Stark eyes him for a gun.
“Hey, Tony,” Banner says, looking around at the shattered windows. “What happened?”
He doesn’t sound threatening, either. He sounds friendly. Stark feels a weird urge about not shooting him.
“Uh.” Stark lowers his arms and belatedly hides the one with the weapon on it behind his back. “Misfire. I hit the wrong button.”
Banner smiles at him and raises his eyebrow. “The mayor’s going to fine you for that.”
“Oh no,” Stark says, dramatically. “A fine.” He rolls his eyes and moves on. “What’d you do with my armor? I can’t find it.”
Banner stares at him. “I didn’t do anything with it. You have a tantrum if anyone else touches it.”
“Because it’s mine,” Stark says. “And you should keep your eyes on your own paper.”
“Okay,” Banner says, slowly. His expression shifts, subtly. He still doesn’t look aggressive, though. “Why don’t you ask JARVIS?”
Now that’s someone Loki didn’t mention. Great. Stark wings it.
“Haven’t seen him,” Stark says. “Where’s he at? I don’t want him touching my stuff, either, by the way.”
Banner crosses his arms. He’s abruptly frowning. Somehow, Stark answered that question wrong. The scientist doesn’t speak, just exhales loudly.
“What?” Stark snaps, irritated.
“So, that was Clint I saw go out the window,” Banner says, more matter-of-factly than upset about it.
“As God is my witness, I thought elves could fly,” Stark returns.
Banner actually laughs a little at that, which is weird. Stark brings the weapon out from behind his back.
“You gonna shoot me with that?” Banner asks. His voice stays mild. This guy has a very, very weird temperament.
“Seems like I probably should,” Stark says.
“That would probably make me angry.”
“Tell me where the Iron Man armor is and I won’t?” Stark offers. “I’ll just take it and tie you up, and you can tell Thor I enchanted you.”
“Enchanted me how?” Banner tilts his head, not quite following.
Now, Stark is being deliberately distracted and delayed. “Just tell me where the armor is,” he asks, raising the weapon and pointing it at Banner.
“I feel like that would make the situation worse,” Banner says, quietly. “So, let’s go with no.”
“Oh, come on,” Stark snaps. “Give it.”
“Shooting me is also going to make the situation worse,” Banner continues. “The Other Guy is definitely going to show up.”
“Good,” Stark says. “It’s about time Thor showed his face. I have words for him. And also projectile weapons.”
“Not Thor,” Banner says. “Can you please take that off and surrender?” He sounds oddly sad, grimacing.
Stark points the weapon more solidly at Banner. “No.”
Banner doesn’t like being told no.
It turns him into a giant green monster.
Loki definitely didn’t mention that.
Stark remembers a lot about the layout of his tower as he’s desperately fleeing the Banner-monster that’s smashing the hell out of it and chasing him. Shooting him with the Iron Man arm does nothing. Well, it actually seems to make him madder.
Destroying the tower wasn’t in the plans, but the part of Stark that isn’t preoccupied with his own imminent death, and also the part that doesn’t want to turn around and demand that the enormous green creature stop trashing the place please, thinks that indirectly crushing Thor inside Stark’s hijacked house with his own bizarro monster has a certain finesse.
Stark tumbles through a hole that appears beneath his feet, because the monster is literally tearing the building apart. He falls hard, landing on his hands and knees, and immediately takes off again. The crashing noises get farther away as Stark runs blindly down the hallway. It sounds like the monster is going the wrong way.
Stark runs as fast as he can for another ten minutes, until he has to stop and try to breathe.
Every time he takes a second longer than he should, he gets company.
“Stark! What’s going on?”
It takes a couple of seconds for Stark to respond. Not just because he’s composing a lie, but because he’s baffled by what he sees:
Steve, Thor’s manservant, in the most ridiculous costume Stark’s ever seen. It leaves no doubt in his mind that manservant is a classy euphemism.
“Uhh,” Stark says, staring.
“We need to get to Hulk’s room,” Steve says, seriously, like he isn’t wearing spangled spandex.
“Do you guys have a thing for flags?” Stark asks, finally. “That’s a weird fetish. Do you have others? Or is it just Old Glory?”
Steve frowns at him. That’s when Stark notices he’s carrying a round metal shield-like thing. It matches his outfit. Of course. Stark stares at it for a little bit, baffled.
“Stark, did Hulk get you in the head?”
“I’m a sex god,” Stark says, and Steve makes an aggravated noise. “And even I don’t know what that’s for.”
Steve approaches him, completely unconcerned about the Iron Man hand. He’s trying to examine Stark’s head. “Maybe you should have put the helmet on first,” he says.
Stark grabs Steve’s shield, partly out of curiosity and partly because at this range, it might be easier to smack him over the head with it than shoot him. Steve lets him take it. Also, Stark doesn’t really want to shoot the poor little gigolo. But the guy’s had enough humiliation. Concussing him with his own Asgardian sex toy just seems mean.
The circle is a shield. It’s also unexpectedly light. It’d work as a Frisbee.
That’s when Dr. Banner arrives. Considerably smaller and less green than the last time Stark saw him. Also, completely naked.
Stark seizes up when he see him, and Steve looks over.
“Bruce, what happened?” Steve asks, remarkably calm.
“Step away from Tony,” Banner says, frowning. “He’s not who you think he is.”
“Says the guy who turns into a giant green monster,” Stark retorts, clutching the shield for actual protection now. He’s a little bit cornered. He’s also not sure that Steve isn’t going to turn into a red, white, and blue monster. Maybe that’s a thing.
Steve looks confused more than alarmed, and takes a small movement sideways.
“You want to surrender now?” Banner asks, a little pleadingly. “I promise I’ll stay this color.”
“Tempting,” Stark says.
With Mr. Flag-o-philia to the left, he has enough space to get through the next doorway, which his struggling brain tells him will take him to another stairwell. He really wishes he hadn’t disabled the elevators.
But he needs a distraction. Thor’s star-spangled little boyfriend isn’t actually little and Stark doesn’t have a chance if the green monster comes back.
“Catch,” Stark says, as he wings the patriotic Frisbee at Banner’s head and makes a run for it.
He hears a roar of anger, but doesn’t stay long enough to see what happens.
“No, no, no!” Steve’s shout of terror drifts down after him. “I didn’t throw that at you!”
Stark is pretty sure that the angry green thing and the red, white, and blue man are making all the colors of the rainbow somewhere upstairs. His thought, based half on guesses and half on maybe a little bit of memory that’s coming back albeit incredibly slowly, was that the green monster might not have the best cognitive skills. Hopefully, he’s trying to smash the guy whose outfit is clearly missing the accessory that hit him in the head.
All the same, Stark runs until his legs give out and he trips down the last two stairs. This is ridiculous. This is why he flies.
He’s panting on the floor when someone else shows up, opening the door on this stair level.
It’s not the green monster, and it’s not Thor or his American boy doll, so the only thing Stark feels is relief.
“Pepper,” he says, grabbing her leather clad shin. “We have to get out of here. Someone stole the Jolly Green Giant’s peas and he is pissed.”
Pepper stares at him for a second. “What happened?” she asks.
“I have no idea,” he admits. “But we have to get out of here. My brother’s monster is on the rampage and he’s going to bring the building down.”
“Should we warn Thor?” she asks, eyes wide.
“No!” Stark says, all but yelling. “We have to get out of here without him noticing.”
“Okay,” Pepper says, just as obedient as he imagines a concubine should be.
“But the monster hit me in the head a little,” Stark lies. “So, I’m not thinking so clearly.”
“I’ll help,” Pepper says, eagerly. She reaches down and pulls him up from the floor. “Let’s go.”
Pepper guides him in the right direction and together they run down more endless flights of stairs. The monster doesn’t show up behind them and Stark can’t even hear him anymore. That doesn’t mean the Tower isn’t going to come down on their heads, though.
“Exit this way,” Pepper says.
Except it’s not. They come out of the stairwell, face to face with Thor.
“I am never having sex with you again,” Stark hisses at his scheming, disloyal concubine.
“I am okay with that,” Pepper says. She stays standing next to him, though, while Thor’s giant form blocks the way.
Stark is exhausted. His chest is heaving and blood is pounding in his ears. All the same, he raises the Iron Man hand and points it at Thor.
“Hello, brother,” he says.
Thor looks at him, face hard. In the second after the greeting, his expression flickers. He hoists his hammer over his shoulder, looking enormous and evil.
“Loki,” Thor says, alarmed.
Beside Stark, Pepper takes a sudden step sideways, moving further away.
“No,” Stark says. “But he sends his love. Or his deep, abiding hate. Whatever.”
Thor frowns. He shifts his hammer on his shoulder. Thunder rumbles outside the tower, abruptly close and loud. Stark can see storm clouds gathering outside the windows just down the hallway, lightening flashing. Synapses in Stark’s tired, hollowed out brain take that moment to reconnect on a particular topic.
“Thor,” he says, aloud but not really speaking to anyone. “God of Thunder.”
Thor inclines his head. He seems to be waiting for Stark to take the first shot, which is oddly honorable and doesn’t really go with everything else Loki said.
Seems like Loki was wrong about an awful lot.
“So, is my awesome cologne going to stop hammer time?” Stark wonders.
Thor shakes his head.
“Pepper,” he begins, ready to tell even the traitor to take the opportunity to get out of the way.
“No,” she says, and something sharp stings in his neck.
Stark jerks away, stumbles to one knee, and looks down in time to see a hypodermic needle on the floor. She just stabbed him and injected him with something. Thor pins his Iron Man hand to the floor with Mjolinar before he can shoot her for it.
“You’re fired,” he snarls at her, as the sedative takes effect.
“I still don’t work for you,” she says, peering down at him. “And I’m not Pepper.”
Stark wakes up tied to another bed. This one is a lot nicer, a lot bigger, and the sheets have a respectable thread count.
None of that really makes this better.
He’s also oddly wet, this time. And he smells of his own shampoo, not Loki’s magical stink.
Stark’s surrounded by way more people. Thor’s unmistakable figure is stooped at the end of the bed. Beside him, strangely enough, is the guy Stark definitely saw go out the window. Pepper, or the lady who claims not to be Pepper, is half-sitting on the bodyguard’s lap. Hmm. All kinds of a traitor, that one.
Spanglepants stands behind them at the foot of the bed. Stark almost doesn’t recognize him, because he’s lost the outfit and put on some oddly out of fashion pants and a button down. He looks a little battered and bloody, but way less ridiculous.
Further back, standing by the window, is Dr. Banner. Back to his human form, and clothed. There’s not a scratch on him.
“I hope you washed behind my ears,” Stark announces his waking to the room. “And I hope it was a bubble bath with rubber duckies.”
“Rubber ducklings?” Thor whispers, and Pepper shakes her head.
“What part are you going to take this time?” Stark dares them. This is mostly bravado. He’s pretty sure Thor’s going to take the rest of his mind. If they were going to kill him, they probably wouldn’t have bothered to clean him up.
“We’re not your enemies, Tony,” Steve says, walking to the side of the bed. “We’re not taking anything from you. ”
“We’re going to give something back,” says the bodyguard, shockingly holding no grudge for the earlier defenestration.
“You,” Stark says. “Peter Pan catch you?”
“I bounce,” the archer says.
“There is no need to prolong this,” Thor says. His face is set grimly as he rises and stands next to Steve.
“Prolong what?” Stark asks, squirming in his bonds.
Thor produces a glowing jar from the inside of his cape.
“The memories Loki took from you,” Banner says, still keeping his distance.
“Yeah, that seems legitimate.”
Pepper looks at him from the foot of the bed, and he finds her face oddly sympathetic. For a second, he almost believes them.
“Give them back,” she says to Thor.
“Any way you can make him be nicer?” the archer asks, maybe discovering a few hard feelings.
“He’s not better like this,” Steve says.
“I was nice,” Stark objects. “I was so nice. I didn’t say one thing about your twilight’s last gleaming sex costume."
“Do it," Banner says.
Thor says a few words Stark doesn’t understand, and the jar of light pulses. Suddenly Stark’s vision is blindingly white.
When he can see again, he remembers everything.
If he could, he’d put his hands over his eyes.
“Oh,” he groans. Around him, the Avengers peer down, hopeful but cautious.
“How are we going to know he’s back?” Steve asks. “I had a really hard time telling the difference.”
“You destroyed my tower,” Tony snarls, finding Bruce’s concerned gaze. “You destroyed my lab.”
“Only four floors,” Bruce says, sounding a tiny bit guilty. “And I destroyed my lab, as well.”
“That was mine, too!” Stark rattles his hands.
“I think he’s back,” Natasha says. Natasha, who is definitely not Pepper. Natasha, who is not his concubine, and who has only malicious interest in his genitals.
“I didn’t even hit you!” Tony yells at Bruce. “And you hulked out!”
“You threw my friend out the window.”
“He threw himself out!”
“I rappelled down to get Natasha,” Clint says. “You seemed unusually homicidal.”
“You hit me the second time,” Bruce points out, like Tony should feel bad about that.
“Yeah, but you thrashed me for it,” Steve says.
“I said I was sorry.” Bruce crosses his arms, shrugs.
“Is anyone going to untie me?” Tony demands.
“Are you still feeling homicidal?” Steve asks.
But Thor is already reaching down and unlocking whatever is around Tony’s wrists. It looks Asgardian, which means Thor hides it under his cape.
“Thanks,” Tony says, since Thor is the only one not being a dick, presently.
“I-” Thor begins.
Tony waves him off. “Don’t,” he says. “If you’re going to apologize for your brother, just don’t.” Thor frowns, and Tony feels compelled to explain. “This was actually an assassination plot against you.”
Thor nods, his feelings about his brother flashing across his face.
“What did he tell you?” Natasha asks.
Tony isn’t going to share all of that. He’s pretty sure that none of them, magically brainwashed or not, would wake up and buy being told they were dethroned sex gods.
“That you all were evil and needed killing,” he says. “The usual.”
“And that I was Pepper,” Natasha says.
“Yeah, that was probably an assassination plot against me.”
“The magic Loki accessed to do this will be kept under greater guard,” Thor says, trying to sound comforting.
“I thought he needs his staff thing –” Tony begins.
“He used mere magic, old spells,” Thor says. “They are powerful, but fleeting. Precisely to prevent abuse.”
“The stink,” Tony says. “He reeked of it and he sprayed me with it.”
“Part of it,” Thor says. He looks disinclined to share the recipe. Like Tony might abuse it. Which he would, but for funny, not homicidal, tower-destroying purposes.
Tony sits up and puts his feet on the floor.
“I want a tour of the damage,” he says, looking at Bruce again. “Fair warning, I might start throwing people out the window again.”
Bruce rolls his eyes, but leads the way. Steve, Clint, and Natasha follow him. Thor hangs back, clearly seeking a moment.
“What?” Tony asks. “You want to know more?”
Thor nods. “Loki speaks only through –”
Thor opens his mouth, probably to remind Tony not to say mean things about his crazy, murderous brother, even while they’re dealing with the direct aftermath of his latest crazy, murderous actions.
“Look,” Tony interrupts. “He told me I was the third son of Odin. He claimed we were all brothers and Gods, but you were evil and needed killing.”
“He said you were the son of Odin?” Thor looks genuinely shocked.
“I focused on the God part,” Tony says, honestly. He pats Thor on the shoulder. “You know, murderous intent towards you aside, I think Loki actually really misses having a brother. He made up a completely ridiculous story, when I think he could have just scooped out my moral center – I do have one – and pointed me in your direction.”
“Loki enjoys long falsehoods,” Thor says, but he looks like he really wishes that he could believe Tony’s suggestion. “It is he who no longer wishes to be my brother. I will always think of him as mine.”
“Maybe he thinks you’d spend more time with him,” Tony says, “if all the Avengers were dead.” He pauses. “He set it up for me to set off Hulk. If he killed all the Avengers, and SHIELD kicked you off Midgard...”
“That would not make it as it was,” Thor says.
“No,” Tony agrees. “But he thinks if he kills all your –”
“Shield brothers,” Thor interrupts.
“I'm an only child and I now more than ever like it that way," Tony corrects. "But, hostage-chair psychology, killing us would make him feel better."
“I will not allow this,” Thor says, resolutely.
“Mm,” Tony says, heading out the door to see what exactly the Other Guy did to the tower. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t try the same plan with Natasha as his sister, huh?”
~please feed the author~