Things I Hate:
2. Drinks that aren’t coffee or scotch
3. Key lime pie
4. Pie in general
6. Boring meetings that accomplish nothing
7. Porn with guys in it
8. Debriefings with Fury
9. Did I mention Loki?
“Am I boring you, Stark?” Fury’s voice snaps, and Tony looks up guiltily from the list he’d been idly doodling on the iPad in front of him.
“No, please, keep going.” He waves the stylus vaguely in the air. “I’m fascinated.”
“Now, about the upcoming benefit for Make-A-Wish,” Fury continues.
“I can’t believe you volunteered us for a bake sale,” Clint says, shaking his head. “We’re The Avengers, not the Harper Valley PTA.”
“It’s so wrong,” Natasha agrees, rolling her eyes.
Fury glares around the table.
“Since you crazy motherfuckers are so fond of pastries, I figured a bake sale would be right up your alley!”
Bruce sighs. “We’re never gonna live that down, are we?”
“Hell no,” Fury replies. “Not while I still have breath in my body!”
“I think it’s a great idea!” Steve chirps happily.
Tony rolls his eyes.
“Nothing more all-American than a bake sale, right Cap? Bet you’ll be up all night making apple pies! Apple pies with baseballs in them.” He frowns. “Not mom, though. That would just be weird. And wrong. Mom pies. All kinds of wrong.”
“I don’t know how to bake anything,” Bruce admits. “I’m better in the lab than in the kitchen.”
“Just don’t confuse the two,” Tony says. “The world does not need huge green radioactive sentient pies rampaging around New York… but I gotta admit, that makes a pretty awesome mental picture and I kinda wouldn’t mind being in on that kind of action.”
“And what are you making, Tony?” Clint asks, smirking.
“I bought Magnolia.”
“Oh, you bought cupcakes?” Natasha asks.
“No, I bought Magnolia.”
Bruce is incredulous. “The Magnolia Bakery? You bought the Magnolia Bakery?”
Tony shrugs. “Seemed simpler.” He leans forward in his seat. “And you know, I can think of something even simpler: Let’s call off the bake sale. It’s a stupid idea anyway.”
“Oh, and do you have a better idea for doing something nice for this very good cause, Stark?” Fury demands.
Tony smirks. “Sure do!”
Loki watches as Pepper clips a plastic badge reading “The Avengers’ First Annual Day in The Park for Make-A-Wish Foundation, sponsored by Stark Industries/VIP All Area Access” to the collar of his emerald green shirt.
“Just remember, ignore Tony,” she’s telling him “Do not engage!”
Fury walks up as Pepper is clipping her own badge to her shirt.
“Hey, there, Miss Potts.” He nods at Loki. “Laufeyson.”
“Director Fury,” he murmurs.
“Nice day for this,” Fury says. “Glad the rain held off.”
Loki smiles. “I sense my brother’s hand in that.”
“Right, God of Thunder. I should’ve realized.”
Behind Fury, Pepper can see Tony approaching.
He’s wearing black pants and a black commercially available Iron Man graphic t-shirt, but she sees that the graphic design of the arc reactor has been cut out to allow the real arc reactor to show in its place.
“Remember, do not engage,” Pepper whispers to Loki.
“Mmm,” is the reply.
“Pepper!” Tony exclaims happily, opening his arms.
She gives him a look.
“What, no hug? Really?” He sighs, allowing his hands to drop to his sides. “All right. Whatever.”
“Stark,” Loki says, expressionless.
“Laufeyson,” Tony replies, not even looking at him. And then, to Pepper: “Still doin’ the Loki Pokey, huh?”
Pepper gives him another look; she had perfected quite a large repertoire of them while working for and living with Tony.
And Tony – always a paragon of maturity – is singing, “You do the Loki Pokey and you turn yourself around – ”
“What did I tell you, Stark?” Fury asks in a warning tone, pointing a finger at him. “Behave yourself,” he says, and walks away.
Tony looks Loki up and down, taking in his black pants and emerald green button down shirt. “Been shopping at the Gap, huh?” he finally asks.
Loki frowns. “I know of no great yawning chasm in New York.”
“Aside from the place where your sanity should be…” Tony retorts, and then frowns. “Did that make any kind of sense? It sounded better in my head.”
“I can’t believe you rented Central Park for the day,” Pepper says, very obviously changing the subject. “Who knew that that’s a thing that can even be done?”
“Yeah, I think I might’ve gotten overcharged on it… you know, a little.” He shrugs. “Oh well.”
“It’s really a wonderful thing you’re doing here, Tony,” she tells him sincerely.
“Well, I’m kind of proud of it, gotta admit it. I think we’ve got a few things going on here today that’ll make the kids happy. At least I hope.”
Pepper leafs through the program of the day’s events.
“I’d say you do, yeah. Aside from The Avengers, I see that at one o’clock, Elton John will be performing songs from The Lion King on the main stage.”
“Bruce said that the kids’ll love it,” Tony says offhandedly.
“At two o’clock, there’s face painting.”
“I heard somewhere that you’re supposed to have face painting at these kind of things,” he shrugs.
“Face painting being done by the PIXAR Studios animation team.”
“I got lucky… managed to catch them between projects.”
“At three o’clock at Tavern on the Green, there’s a ‘Magical Afternoon Tea with David Copperfield’.”
“Kids love magic,” Tony shrugs. “Right? I don’t know, someone told me that.”
“And at seven tonight, we have ‘Campfire S’mores and Scary Ghost Stories with Stephen King’.”
“It pays to know people who know people who know people.”
“And those are only the things that are scheduled in this section of the park! Tony, this is incredible! I’m just overwhelmed by this… it’s amazing!”
“All the kids’ll get Avengers action figures at the door, too,” he tells her smugly.
“That’s nice of you,” Pepper says.
“Well, you know, when we sell ‘em in stores all proceeds go to kids’ charities anyway, so I figured… why not cut out the middleman?” He frowns. “Middle kid? Oh, whatever.”
“Action figures?” Loki asks, puzzled.
“Yeah, you know, little toy versions of us.”
“Us?” Loki’s eyebrow quirks up.
“No, not you. Us, The Avengers. The kids can pretend to be us, you know, act out stories of saving the world or whatever.” He shrugs. “What can I say, the kids think we’re cool.”
“What, no little Doctor Dooms?” Pepper asks, smiling.
“Couldn’t get the rights,” Tony replies. “My lawyers said we’d be opening ourselves up to a huge lawsuit since Doom refused to sign off on it. So… yeah. Doom hates kids.”
“Doom hates everyone,” Pepper comments.
“Yeah, he’s a barrel of fun, that guy.”
He turns back to Loki.
“So we made up these generic villain action figures… you know, quote any resemblance to any real person, living or dead is entirely coincidental unquote.” He sighs. “Still, the kids want real villains. We keep getting letters. They want Doom. They want you.”
“Yeah, God only knows why, right?”
Pepper gives him her best exasperated look.
“OK, seriously, it’s probably because of that whole ‘tried to take over the world’ thing and maybe the whole ‘Brother of Thor, Prince of Asgard, God of Mischief’ thing… yeah, they really want to pretend that they’re us saving the world by kicking your ass.”
“Charming,” Loki says, rolling his eyes.
“It’s all in fun,” Tony says with a shrug. “You know. Kids.”
“Yes,” Loki murmurs. “Yes, I do.”
“Loki loves children,” Pepper puts in.
“I bet he does!” Tony laughs. “Lightly sautéed in olive oil and served with fava beans and a nice Chianti!”
“What exactly are you suggesting, Stark?” Loki asks, eyes narrowed.
Pepper intervenes before this can escalate any further.
“Tony, he’s the God of Mischief. You know, mischief? The kind of things that kids like to do?”
“Oh yeah, right. Hadn’t thought of that. Hmm.”
“Hey Tony,” Steve calls. “You ready?”
“Sure thing, Cap,” Tony replies over his shoulder.
He turns back to Pepper and Loki.
“Sorry, gotta go be Iron Man now.”
He begins to walk backwards, still talking.
“You know how it is. Mister Awesome, save the world, loved by everyone… just a regular day in the life. Catch you two crazy kids later – have fun! Hey, maybe go see that magic show! I bet you’d really love… oh wait… yeah, never mind.”
Pepper takes Loki’s arm and as they walk away they hear Tony calling, “All right, Avengers – assemble! Let’s give these kids the best day they’ll ever have, so they’ll have at least one great day to remember!”
Pepper and Loki are making their way to main stage to watch The Avengers’ “arrival.”
“What did Stark mean, ‘they’ll have at least one great day to remember’?” Loki asks.
“Well, you know, their lives are so short and full of pain – ”
“They are mortal; of course their lives are short.”
She stops walking and just looks at him.
“You really don’t know,” she finally says.
“These children… here today… most of them are terminally ill. And the ones who aren’t are siblings of the ones who are.”
At his look, she elaborates.
“They’re dying, Loki. ‘Terminally ill’ means that they’re sick, and they’re dying.”
His brow furrows. “Surely you must have healers here on Midgard…”
“We do. But sometimes… sometimes it’s just not enough.”
He looks stricken.
“There is… no hope for these children?”
She smiles, though she feels like her heart is breaking.
“There’s always hope, Loki.” She reaches out and takes his hand. “For everyone. Never doubt it.”
As they walk she watches him furtively out of the corner of one eye, watches as he truly sees the children all around them for the first time and his eyes grow sadder and sadder, though he says nothing.
After a short walk, they reach the stage and find the special area that has been cordoned off for the VIP guests, where they will have an excellent view.
“What will happen?” Loki asks.
Pepper shrugs. “Given Tony’s flair for the dramatic, pretty much nothing would surprise me!”
“Excuse me, sir,” a new voice says.
They turn, dropping hands.
There is a young girl looking up at Loki with huge brown eyes.
“Look at her. She could be Heimdall’s daughter,” he murmurs.
“Who?” Pepper asks.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” the girl apologizes, suddenly looking sheepish. “My little brother thinks you look like – ”
“Annabelle!” a woman’s voice exclaims. “What are you doing? Don’t bother those people!”
The child’s mother is as dark as she, but the little boy that the woman is pushing in the wheelchair is paler even than Loki… from what can be seen of the child’s skin, as his face and one of his hands are hidden by a plastic Iron Man mask and gauntlet.
“Your brother is different from you,” Loki observes.
“Yeah,” the girl says. “He’s adopted.”
“Loki!” the little boy cries. “At last you meet your doom!”
The child raises his plastic gauntlet and fires the very destructive light and sounds at a puzzled Loki, who simply stands there, staring.
“Dying?” he murmurs.
“Probably,” Pepper replies.
“I am so sorry,” the mother is saying. “Lennie is so wrapped up in The Avengers – Iron Man especially! – and sometimes he just can’t seem to separate fantasy from – ”
Loki draws himself up to his full height, and his whole bearing changes.
“I am Loki, Prince of Asgard, Son of Odin,” he announces haughtily. He crosses his arms across his chest and sneers. “Do your worst, Man of Iron, for you will never – ”
The gleeful child raises his plastic gauntlet and “fires” again.
Loki disappears quite ostentatiously in a great puff of green smoke.
“Oh!” the mother exclaims, taking a step back. And then: “That really was him?”
Pepper nods. “In the flesh.”
“I knew it!” the little boy crows triumphantly.
Pepper turns away, smiling.
At exactly ten o’clock, Steve strides out on the stage. He’s dressed in his uniform and is holding his shield in one hand and waving at the enormous cheering crowd with the other.
He’s in his element, Pepper realizes. All those USO shows, I guess.
“I am Captain America, the First Avenger!” he tells the crowd unnecessarily, and Pepper smiles. They must have him mic’ed for sound, because there’s no way his voice could carry like that otherwise.
Natasha, dressed in her black catsuit, drops from an overhanging tree and onto the stage, where she does a few flips before coming to a stop right next to Steve.
“The Black Widow!” Steve announces, and the crowd goes wild as she takes a bow.
A woman dressed all in black runs out on stage and hands something small and red to Natasha, and then darts away.
When Natasha places it on her head, Pepper can see it’s an apple.
A second later, an arrow shoots through the air and embeds itself neatly in the apple.
“Hawkeye!” Steve cries, and gestures at the tree branch where Clint is positioned.
Natasha calmly takes the apple off her head and removes the arrow, letting it fall to the stage.
From her belt she takes a very sharp-looking knife that was quite clearly not made with any kitchen in mind, cuts up the apple and tosses the pieces into the cheering crowd.
Clint comes up and joins her on stage to thunderous applause.
Tony, still in his black pants and Iron Man shirt, strides out on stage. The crowd sees him and goes absolutely insane.
“Iron Man!” Steve announces, and even with the mic he can barely be heard over the ecstatic crowd.
Tony holds up his hands, and Pepper can see the silver bracelets on his wrists. His lips move and though she can’t hear him, she knows what he just said:
A few seconds later, something comes screaming through the air and lands on the stage just behind Tony. The red and gold metal object begins to disassemble itself, beams locking onto Tony’s bracelets.
The device reassembles itself around him, and now Iron Man is standing there in front of them.
Pepper thinks that if the cheering gets any louder, all of the windows in New York will shatter.
And speaking of shattering windows…
The skies darken, and lightening flashes.
Thunder rumbles in the distance.
The lightening flares grow brighter until suddenly Thor is standing between Steve and Tony.
He’s in his Asgardian armor with the red flowing cape, and he’s got Mjölnir in one hand and in the other… a tray of danishes?
“Greetings, Midgardians!” Thor cries in his booming voice. He doesn’t even need a mic to be heard. “I am Thor Odinson, Prince of Asgard, and today I bring you pastries from the All-Father’s very table!”
“Uhhh,” Tony says, his voice now amplified by the armor. “We’re… ah… we’re not actually doing the bake sale.”
Thor looks puzzled.
“Yeah, new plan. You really should read your e mails.”
“I know not of e mails,” Thor says.
“Well, there’s the problem right there,” Tony replies.
The woman in black who had brought the apple to Natasha reappears, takes the tray of pastries from Thor, and walks off again.
“We are the Avengers!” Steve cries, obviously trying to get things back on track.
A few kids in the front are brandishing huge green foam rubber fists in the air. “Hulk, Hulk, Hulk!” they chant.
“Yeaaaaahhh, that’s not gonna happen,” Tony tells them, and the crowd moans in disappointment.
“Doctor Banner has decided it’s for the best that he sits this one out,” Tony continues. “We wouldn’t want any accidents… there are a lot of breakable things around here… you know, things like trees and marble fountains and and buildings and stuff.”
And suddenly Loki is there, right there between Thor and Tony. He’s dressed in his emerald and gold armor and his gold helmet and a long flowing emerald cape.
“Jesus Christ!” Tony exclaims, and Natasha says something that can’t be heard, but from the way her lips move it looks like Language, Tony!.
What the hell is Loki doing? Pepper wonders.
Loki passes a hand in front of his lips, and then:
“No, Man of Iron. I am Loki, Prince of Asgard, God of Mischief!”
As they weren’t expecting him, he’s obviously not mic’ed. Nevertheless, he can be heard clearly all the same.
He must have done something to amplify his voice, Pepper realizes.
The crowd is booing.
More than a few children are aiming toy Iron Man gauntlets at Loki, “shooting” him with the harmless lights and sounds. He stalks the stage, glaring ominously down at the crowd.
Thor is grinning from ear to ear. “Welcome, brother!” he booms.
“What the fuck is going on around here?” Tony asks in what he must think is sotto voce, but really isn’t thanks to the armor.
“Tony, language!” Steve yells.
“Uh… yeah. Sorry, kids. Sorry. My bad.”
“Man of Iron, you think yourself so… awesome,” Loki says with a sneer.
He strides over to Tony and reaches out with one long finger to tap the arc reactor where it shows through his armor.
“But now you will witness true power.”
Behind him, Natasha and Clint are conferring, their heads bent close together. Every once in a while, they steal glances at Loki.
Steve is clearly at a complete loss.
If Thor’s grin gets any bigger, his face will split in half.
“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” Tony finally says. His fingers twitch as though he’s trying to decide whether or not to raise his gauntlet.
Loki turns slightly, but Pepper can clearly see it when he winks at Tony.
And then Loki and his brother exchange a look, and Thor raises Mjölnir to the sky, calling down the thunder and lightening and finally, the rain.
Loki turns to face away from the crowd and takes a few steps toward the back of the stage so that all of The Avengers are behind him.
Slowly, dramatically, he raises his arms skyward.
It takes Pepper a moment to notice that his hands are dark blue, and she suddenly realizes why he positioned himself so that no one could really see him.
And then the rain begins to turn to snow.
In New York City in July.
Crazy, absurd, impossible snow, great huge flakes as big and fluffy as cotton balls, falling thick and heavy onto the delighted crowd.
“Well, holy fucking shit.”
“Language, Tony!” Steve, Natasha, and Clint chorus together.
Loki finally lowers his arms and turns around, and his skin is as pale as ever.
“Uh…” Tony says, and then: “Hey, everyone, how about that? Looks like we’re having a snow day! Give it up for Loki, kids!”
The crowd goes wild.
Steve claps Loki on the shoulder, and Clint goes over and shakes his hand. Thor is grinning with delight, and Natasha is catching snowflakes on her tongue.
Loki inclines his head at the crowd – the gesture of a prince acknowledging his subjects – and vanishes as though he had never existed at all.
The snow continues to fall for another twenty minutes.
Pepper is standing in the “backstage” area talking with Clint and Natasha when Loki reappears, back in his street clothes again.
Fury looks over at him. “Nice work today, Laufeyson,” he says, and then goes back to the conversation he’s having with Tony, who is back in his regular clothes, and Steve.
Pepper grins. “That was amazing!”
“Do you think the children enjoyed it?” he asks.
“Are you crazy? Of course they did!”
“Brother!” Thor shouts from his place at one of the catering tables. “Come, you must have one of these pastries I brought from home. They were always your favorite, were they not?”
Before Loki can reply, a blonde woman comes running up to them, hotly pursued by security people who are shouting, “This area is restricted!” and “You can’t go back here!”
“Loki!” the blonde woman says. She grabs his arm, and her blue eyes are desperate, pleading. “Loki!”
Loki nods, and Pepper calls out, “It’s OK. Let her in, all right?”
The security people shrug and abandon the chase.
“Is there a problem here?” Tony asks, and Pepper realizes that they’re suddenly surrounded by The Avengers and a glowering Nick Fury.
“Yes,” the blonde woman replies. “Nichole… my daughter. She’s dying.”
She turns back to Loki.
She’s still gripping his arm so tightly that Pepper thinks her fingers will probably leave bruises.
“Please, Loki, you have to help her. You’re a god, right? You can…” Her voice trails off.
Loki takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
The tears are running freely down the woman’s cheeks now and when she speaks again, her voice is trembling.
“Please. I’m begging you. I’ll give you everything I have.”
Loki opens his eyes, and they are wise and ancient and so incredibly sad that Pepper wants to weep.
“It is a hard thing to lose a child,” he murmurs.
The woman looks at him, and comprehension dawns.
“Oh God. You… oh God. God. I’m sorry.”
He reaches out with his free hand and touches her cheek lightly.
“Yes. So let us be kind to one another.”
“Will you – ”
“I truly wish that I could. But there are some things that are beyond my power. Though I was worshipped as a god here on your world, I am not one; at least not the way you think of it.”
She nods and closes her eyes.
“So I have no hope.”
“A very wise woman once told me that there is always hope,” he replies.
She releases his arm and steps closer, reaching out and pulling him into an embrace. He puts his arms around her and for a moment they just stand there like that.
Finally, they part.
“I am truly sorry,” he tells her.
She nods. “I know.” She wipes at her cheeks with the back of one hand. “Goodbye, Loki.”
“Goodbye,” he says softly, and watches her walk away.
For a moment, no one says anything.
Amazingly, it is Tony who breaks the silence.
“Hey, Loki, that’s… ah, wow. I’m really sorry, man. About your kid, I mean. And… well, yeah.”
“Yeah, that really sucks,” Clint agrees. “Sorry.”
Natasha doesn’t say anything; she just pats his arm and walks away.
“I didn’t know, Loki,” Steve says. “I’m sorry, that’s terrible.”
"You have my deepest sympathy, Laufeyson," Fury says quietly.
Loki nods, not looking at them.
Thor lays a huge hand on his shoulder. “Brother, you know that I still grieve your loss.”
“Come on,” Pepper says softly. “I think this has been enough for one day, right?”
She takes his arm and leads him away.
Later, at the special premium VIP party for the big-name donors, Tony approaches Fury, scotch in hand.
“Great day today,” Tony says. “Well, for the most part, anyway.”
“Yeah, I think we did good,” Fury agrees.
Tony sips his scotch and regards the other man steadily.
“I know what you’re doing,” he finally says.
“I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about, Stark,” Fury says placidly.
“Oh, I think you do. I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Fury just shrugs noncommittally.
“And when this shit backfires, when this whole goddamn house of cards falls down around your ears and an enraged Loki comes looking for the person responsible, that’ll all be on you.”
He takes a sip of scotch, and continues.
“And if Pepper gets hurt or killed because of this, first I’ll deal with Loki. And then, I’m coming for you, motherfucker.”
Fury watches him walk away.
“Goddammit,” he says quietly.