“Tony, wake up!”
Someone is pounding on his bedroom door.
“Wake up, wake up!”
Tony groans, rolls over.
“It is eight thirteen in the morning, sir,” JARVIS replies.
Steve is still pounding on the door.
“Come on, Tony! You have to see this!”
Tony heaves himself upright and looks for a shirt.
“This had better be good, Steve. Like, ‘two hot porn stars having sex on my living room floor and then they ask me to join them’ good.”
There is a silence, and Tony imagines he can feel Steve’s disapproving look through the door.
He pulls on his shirt, gets out of bed, and goes to the door.
“What?” he asks irritably, opening the door.
“It’s all over the news. All of the remaining damage from the Chitauri’s attempted invasion has been repaired. Overnight.” He smiles slightly. “Like magic.”
Tony gapes at him.
“And,” Steve continues, “someone left a huge bag of gold coins in the Mayor’s Office.”
Tony and Steve go down to the floor in Stark Tower that’s been set aside for the Avengers’ use. They find everyone in the living room, in front of the television.
Steve goes to join Clint and Natasha on one of the sofas, while Tony remains standing, arms folded across his chest.
“This can only be the work of my brother!” Thor proclaims, grinning hugely. “Look what he has done for your great city!”
“You do remember that he’s the one who caused all the damage in the first place, right?” Natasha asks pointedly.
“The Chitauri were the cause!” Thor booms.
“They had help,” Natasha reminds him.
Thor glowers at her, hating to be reminded of unpleasant truths about his precious baby brother.
“Hey, it’s a step, right?” Clint asks. “How many times has Doom destroyed half the city? And he sure never bothered to try to make it right!”
“You know, that’s actually a really good point,” Bruce remarks.
“See?” Clint says, and Thor beams happily at them both.
“Will you people shut the fuck up and let me watch the goddamn news in peace?” Fury asks.
On the television, the blonde reporter standing outside City Hall is saying, “ – solid gold coins exceeding ten million dollars in value.”
“That’s a lot of gold coins,” Tony mutters.
“It is but a tiny portion of my brother’s fortune,” Thor says with a shrug.
“Tony,” Bruce says from his sofa. “Shouldn’t we, ah, get going?”
“No, no one’s going anywhere right now,” Fury says. “We need to stay on top of this.”
“Sorry, Bruce and I have an appointment today,” Tony says. “We really can’t cancel it.”
Fury turns on his sofa to glare at Tony, who braces himself for the fight he knows is coming.
“What kind of appointment, Stark?”
“The kind that can’t be cancelled,” Tony replies, expressionless.
Fury glares at him some more, and then: “Fine, Stark. You and Banner are excused.”
Tony blinks and exchanges a look with Bruce.
“Come on,” Tony tells him. “We don’t want to be late, and I still have to take a shower.”
Bruce gets up and follows Tony to the elevator.
As soon as the doors close, Tony turns to Bruce.
“I didn’t tell him anything, Tony! I swear!”
“I know, Bruce.” He sighs. “I’m really starting to think that there might actually be something to Thor’s crazy theory that Fury is related to that Heimdall guy somehow!”
Tony and Bruce meet up with Loki and Pepper in the hospital lobby. Surprisingly, Hel is with them.
“So, Loki,” Tony says cheerfully. “Someone’s been a busy little bee this morning. Wanna talk about that?”
Loki’s eyebrows go up, but he says nothing.
“OK, I guess not. And Hel, you’re looking lovely today,” Tony tells her.
She bites her lip and looks at the ground. “Thank you, Tony.”
“And Pepper,” Tony continues, opening his arms. “You’re ravishing as always!”
“Flatterer,” she says, hugging him.
“Come on, Tony,” Bruce says. “You can flirt with pretty girls later. Right now we have work to do.”
“Hey, Pep,” Tony says, and reaches for his wallet. He pulls out his black American Express card. “Why don’t you and Hel go shopping?”
“Oh, Tony, no, I couldn’t – ”
“You’re still authorized to sign on it,” Tony tells her. “Think of it as compensation for all of the assholery you’ve put up with from me over the years.”
“I doubt that even you have enough money to cover that debt, Stark,” Loki says.
“Oh fuck you, Loki,” Tony says more out of habit than anything else, for there is no real anger behind it. “C’mon, Pep. You and Hel go have fun.”
Pepper glances at Loki, uncertain.
“It is fine, Pepper,” he tells her. “You and Hel cannot accompany me into the chamber, so there really is no use in your staying here.”
Pepper sighs and takes the credit card from Tony.
“Call me when you’re done,” she tells him. “All right?”
“You got it!”
She turns to Loki and gives him a hug. “Good luck,” she whispers, kissing him.
Hel hugs him too, holding him close and murmuring something to him in another language, and then she and Pepper go off together, arm-in-arm.
“All right, guys,” Bruce says. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
Once again, Bruce and Dr. Michaels are leaning over Cheryl’s shoulders, watching the images appear on the screen. And again, Tony is standing against the back wall, arms folded across his chest.
But now it’s Loki in the machine behind the glass in front of them.
“All right, Loki,” Bruce says into the intercom. “We’re almost done with this scan. Then we want to do another one… with you, ah… you know, blue.”
Uh oh, Tony thinks.
But to his surprise, he hears Loki’s voice over the intercom, agreeing.
“All right. Tell me when you want me to shift.”
Bruce and Tony exchange a look, and then Bruce goes back to the screens.
“We’re ready whenever you are, Loki,” Dr. Michaels says.
“Now let’s watch,” Bruce murmurs.
“Would you look at that,” Dr. Michaels says softly, amazed. She taps the screen with one peach-painted fingernail. “Just like Hel.”
“But he’s not decaying.”
“No, he’s changing.”
“He’s a shapeshifter,” Tony says suddenly, and everyone turns to look at him. “It’s in the myths. He’s been a horse, a salmon, a woman… he can change into… well, anything, I guess. But what you’re seeing now, that’s the real Loki.”
He strides forward and leans over the intercom. “Hey, Loki. Turn into a fish.”
On the screen, Loki rolls his eyes.
“Yes, Stark, that is an excellent idea. And how do you propose I continue breathing?”
Now it’s Dr. Michaels’ turn: “Loki, are you saying that when you change… shape… form… that you’re bound by the physical limitations of whatever form you take?”
“Yes.” His tone implies that this should be obvious. “And I can gain abilities as well. For example, should I become a pigeon, I would be able to fly.”
“So if you turn into Banner, I could sneak up behind you and startle you and make you Hulk out?” Tony asks.
“No. I would not actually be him; I would merely look like him. The bea… what you call ‘The Hulk’ isn’t something inherent in Bruce, whereas flight is an inherent ability in pigeons.”
Tony’s eyes narrow and he worries at his bottom lip with his teeth as he thinks.
Damn, I could use some Black Sabbath or AC/DC to help the thought process along right about now… shit, even some Aerosmith or Guns and Roses would be nice.
“Turn into someone else,” he finally says. “Let’s see what that looks like to the MRI.”
“All right,” Loki agrees.
Tony turns to Bruce. “You’re recording this, right?”
On the screen, Loki seems to shimmer and then…
“Oh, you fucker!” Tony says, laughing.
On the screen, Loki smiles with Tony’s grin.
“You weren’t expecting that, were you, Stark?” he asks. Tony’s voice sounds strange with Loki’s accent, and Tony laughs and laughs.
“I guess it is true,” Tony finally says in an ‘I-Knew-It!’ sort of voice: “Everyone wants to be me!”
“Don’t encourage him, Loki,” Bruce says. “He’ll only get even worse.”
On the screen, Loki shimmers and is once again his blue self.
“Please forgive me,” he murmurs. “I certainly would not wish to contribute to Stark’s narcissism, for it is legendary throughout the Nine Realms.”
“See? He says I’m legendary throughout the Nine Realms!” Tony crows triumphantly.
“That’s not quite what he said,” Bruce says with infinite patience.
“If we could please focus here, gentlemen?” Dr. Michaels interrupts.
“Sorry,” Tony says contritely.
“Loki, is shapeshifting a trait of your people?” she asks.
He frowns. “Which ones? The Æsir or the Jötunar?”
“The blue ones.”
“So, the Jötunar.” He sighs. “I honestly would not know, Doctor Michaels.”
She frowns. “Oh?”
Tony touches her arm and when she turns to look at him, he shakes his head emphatically and mouths, “Don’t go there.”
“All right. What can you tell me about Hel’s mother?”
“Angrboða,” Loki says, and sighs again. “Very little. We did not know one another well.”
“Oh. I see.” Dr. Michaels is tactful enough not to push it.
Instead, she asks, “Do you think she would be willing to come here and undergo the same tests that we’ve done on you and Hel?”
Loki frowns. “Would it be beneficial?”
“Yes, Loki. We have no family history for you or any knowledge of what a typical Jötun is like. So it would be extremely beneficial to have her come here.”
“All right,” he says, and his mouth hardens into a thin line. “Whether or no she wishes to, she will come.”
Hel leaves Pepper before the rot can creep onto the visible parts of her body.
For lack of anything better to do, Pepper goes to Stark Tower.
She finds everyone watching television and discussing the day’s startling developments.
They all look up when she walks into the living room.
“Did you know about this, Miss Potts?” Fury asks without preamble.
“No. I was just as surprised as you.”
“Did he say anything about why he did it?” Clint asks curiously.
She shakes her head. “Not a word. When I asked him about it, he just smiled.”
“Come, Lady Pepper!” Thor invites loudly, slapping the space next to him on the sofa. “Sit!”
As she joins him on the sofa, her cell begins ringing.
“Yeah, it’s me, Pep,” his voice says in her ear. “Where are you?”
“Stark Tower, hanging out with the gang. Are you done?”
“Yeah, Loki and I are going to leave in a minute. Is Hel still with you?”
“No, she left. She had to go back… you know.”
“Yeah. OK, I’ll tell Loki. See you in a bit.”
She ends the call. “Tony and Loki are on their way,” she informs the room in general.
“’Kay,” Natasha replies, absorbed in television.
Pepper settles in with the rest of them, eyes on the blonde reporter on the screen.
“Sources in the Mayor’s Office say that he’ll be holding a press conference to discuss today’s events later in the day.”
She frowns, holding a hand to her ear, obviously listening to her in-ear monitor.
“There’s just been a new development, and we’re going to Jim Hartford who is live on the scene.”
The camera view switches to a young black man standing in front of a hospital, holding a microphone.
“This is Jim Hartford coming to you live from Manhattan Midtown Hospital, where sources tell us that Loki has been spotted in the company of none other than Tony Stark.”
Pepper gapes at the screen.
“Oh no,” she finally says.
She reaches for her cell to warn Tony, but it’s too late.
The hospital doors open and Tony walks out, followed by Loki.
“Mister Stark, Mister Stark,” the reporters shout as they swarm around the two of them.
“No comment,” Tony says smoothly.
Loki – in street clothes – is walking directly behind him, not looking around at anyone as the reporters continue to shout questions.
“Loki, are you the one who repaired the damage?”
“Mister Stark, is Loki in custody?”
“Loki, do you regret leading an alien invasion force to take over the Earth?”
“Mister Stark – ”
“I said, ‘no comment’,” Tony repeats, still walking.
Loki is still following, and Pepper can see that he’s becoming more and more upset. Unlike Tony, he is completely unaccustomed to running the media gauntlet.
Suddenly he stops and puts a hand on Tony’s arm. Tony turns to look at him, and Loki says something that the microphones don’t pick up.
Tony shrugs. “Sure, whatever.”
Loki shimmers and now he’s in Asgardian finery, long robes done in emerald and black, gold glinting at his throat.
“What’re you doing?” Tony asks, and Pepper can see that he’s a little bit apprehensive.
“I believe that you call this a ‘press conference’,” Loki says loudly enough to be heard by the microphones, and then he faces the reporters.
“I am Loki Silvertongue, Prince of Asgard,” he announces loftily.
Beside her on the sofa, Thor starts but says nothing.
“Ask me what you will,” Loki continues, “but I make no promise to answer,”
All of the reporters begin screaming questions at once.
“Whoa, one at a time,” Tony admonishes.
“Loki, what were you doing here at this hospital today?” someone yells.
“Are you ill?” another reporter shouts.
Before Loki can answer, Tony’s smart mouth takes off without him.
“Pregnancy scare,” he says, earning an absolutely murderous glare from Loki. “Next question.”
“Loki, are you the one who did all this?” a man asks, and makes a sweeping gesture that presumably is meant to take in all of the mysterious repairs.
“Yes,” Loki admits quietly. “And I left the gold for your ruler as well.”
“Why?” someone else shouts.
Loki sighs heavily.
“I’ve got red in my ledger,” he finally says, and nothing more.
In the living room, everyone’s eyes go to Natasha, who is sitting there with her mouth literally hanging open.
“Loki – ”
“That will be all,” he says abruptly, and just walks away in what is an obvious dismissal.
Tony is clearly taken by surprise, but he recovers quickly.
He begins following Loki and then pauses, turning back to mouth the words “not pregnant” while pointing at Loki. He wipes the back of his hand across his brow in an ostentatious gesture of relief and starts walking again.
“Smartass motherfucker,” Fury says.
The reporters aren’t going to let their quarry get away so easily; they begin pressing closer, blocking the way, shouting questions all the while.
Loki - who is, after all, a Prince and is therefore accustomed to being treated with great respect - looks irritated for a moment. He grasps Tony’s upper arm and says something to him that can’t be heard.
And then they’re both just gone.
They materialize in the living room of Tony’s Stark Tower penthouse.
Loki releases Tony’s arm and he staggers forward, breathless.
“What the fuck was that?” Tony demands, taking deep gasping breaths.
“Teleport,” Loki tells him calmly. “It seemed the simplest solution.”
Tony runs a hand through his hair. “More warning next time, OK?”
He moves behind the bar and gets two glasses.
Loki smirks. “Pregnancy scare? Really, Stark?”
Tony shrugs as he pours out the scotch.
“They know me well enough not to take it seriously. Hell, they probably wouldn’t have taken it seriously even if I was serious!” He holds up one of the glasses. “C’mon. Booze!”
Loki rolls his eyes as he goes to sit at the bar.
“Is scotch your solution to everything, Stark?” he asks as he takes the offered glass.
Tony appears to think about this as he sips his own drink. “Yeaaaahh, pretty much.” He clicks his glass against Loki’s. “Here’s to ya.”
They drink in silence for a moment.
“So… Angrboða,” Tony begins.
“What about her?”
“What’re you gonna do, drag her here by the hair, kicking and screaming?”
“Mmm. If necessary.”
“Sounds like fun. Need help?”
Loki’s eyebrows go up. “Likely not. I can be a very persuasive person when I am enraged beyond all reason.”
Tony snorts. “I’ll just bet!”
“And besides… if I understand correctly the way your technology functions, you would lose your link with JARVIS once you crossed the Bifröst, and your armor would cease to function.”
“Yeah, could be,” Tony agrees. “But hey, who says I need my armor?”
“Have you ever actually met a Frost Giant, Stark?”
“Yeah, a couple of ‘em,” Tony says offhandedly. “There's this one asshole, but he's got a lovely daughter.”
Loki gives him an exasperated look.
“Frost Giants – proper Frost Giants – are over ten feet tall. Their strength is such that even with your ridiculous armor, they could crush you in their hands like an insect. Should they touch your bare skin, you would be very badly burned. And,” Loki grins in a very unsettling way, “they are not nearly as nice to know as I am.”
“So… they’re not people to mess with unless you really have to.”
“No, they certainly are not.”
Tony sips his drink thoughtfully.
“Thor would go with you… that’s a no-brainer. You could take Steve, Clint and Natasha, too. And Bruce… holy shit, I’d pay money to watch the Enormous Green Ragemonster versus the Big Blue Meanies Ultimate Cage Match. We could put that on Pay-Per-View and make a fortune! And if I can’t use my armor, I could help Fury coordinate. I wouldn’t need my armor for that.”
Loki looks surprised. “You would do that?”
Tony shrugs. “Sure.”
“And the others?”
Tony shrugs again. “You could ask. But I bet they’d do it… if not for you, then for Hel.” He sips his drink and reaches for the bottle to top off both their glasses. “So when do you plan to go for the bitch?”
Loki shrugs. “Soon. First I must locate her.”
“You don’t know where she is?”
“I assume she is on Jötunheim… but no, I do not know for certain. We did not exactly – as you say here on Midgard – ‘keep in touch.’”
“Well, yeah, I can see why. If I'd been roofied by an insane stalker, I wouldn't be eager to keep in touch either.” He thinks for a moment. “Unless maybe she was really hot…”
Tony’s iPhone rings, and he reaches for it absently. “Yeah.”
“Tony, where are you?” Pepper’s voice asks.
“In the penthouse, having a drink with Loki and plotting the Avengers’ invasion of Jötunheim.”
“Well, you’d better get on the phone with your publicist because CNN is reporting that you’ve been kidnapped by Loki.”
“You heard me.”
Tony sighs. “Where are you?”
“Downstairs, still hanging out with the gang.”
He sighs again. “OK, I’ll get this straightened out. And then we’ll be down to join you.”
He ends the call and begins making another.
“Who’s been kidnapped?” Loki asks.
“Me, apparently,” Tony replies, and then into the phone: “Carole, it’s me.”
“Where are you?” she asks without preamble.
“Jesus, everyone keeps asking me that. I’m in my penthouse, for God’s sake. Listen, you’ve got to issue a press release. I haven’t been kidnapped by anyone; I’m perfectly fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure, Carole. Ask JARVIS if you don’t believe me.”
He hears her sigh. “All right, Tony. I’ll take care of it.”
He ends the call and puts his phone away.
“Who’s supposed to have kidnapped you?” Loki asks.
Tony smirks. “You.”
“Oh, for the love of – ” He puts his face in his hands.
Tony points at him accusingly – “Kidnapper!” – and downs the rest of his scotch in a gulp. “C’mon, let’s go downstairs and bother the others.”
Grinning with mischief, Loki reaches across the bar and grabs Tony’s arm.
“Oh fuck no, Lo– ”
Tony and Loki appear in the middle of the living room, much to no one’s surprise.
“You owe me fifty bucks, Rogers,” Clint says. “Pay up.”
“Do I even want to know what that’s about?” Tony asks.
“No,” Natasha answers.
Pepper has jumped to her feet and run over to them. She catches them each around the neck and pulls them both close to her in a sort of weird group hug.
“My boys,” she says fondly, and kisses them both in turn; Tony on the cheek and Loki on the lips.
“Jesus, Pepper,” Tony says, squirming. “I don’t want to get all cozy with Loki!”
She releases them and Loki huffs, pulling away from Tony and straightening his elaborate robes.
“Brother!” Thor shouts, beaming. “We saw you on the television! How is it that you now call yourself ‘Silvertongue’?”
“Talk later?” Pepper whispers to him, and gets a minuscule nod in reply.
“And what is this that the Lady Pepper tells us about a planned invasion of Jötunheim?”
“Uh… that was kind of a joke,” Tony says immediately, and Thor’s face falls in disappointment.
“Turn off the damn TV,” Fury suddenly says. “It’s been the same goddamn thing all day long. Now we’ve got Laufeyson right here and we can find out for own damn selves what the fuck is going on.”
“OK, but can we order pizza first?” Tony asks. “Getting not-kidnapped by an insane Frost Monster made me really fucking hungry!”
Loki sighs and looks at the ceiling.
They actually don’t discuss the day’s events over pizza; instead, they somehow end up having an idiotic debate about Steve Winwood.
“He totally sold out in the eighties,” Tony is saying.
Bruce – who showed up just in time for dinner – reaches for another piece of pizza. “Arc of a Diver is an awesome album, and that was the eighties.”
“Early eighties,” Tony says. “That doesn’t count!”
“Can’t beat ‘Gimme Some Lovin’”, Fury puts in. “That was an incredible motherfucking song!”
“That was the sixties,” Bruce says.
Loki picks up his empty plate and rises to his feet.
“‘The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys’!” Clint says, stabbing his finger in the air.
“Not the eighties!” Tony crows.
Loki takes his plate into the kitchen. After a moment, Natasha rises, grabs her own plate, and follows him.
She finds him standing at the counter, a glass of scotch in his hand. She puts her plate in the sink.
“Careful,” she warns him, and gestures at his drink. “You’ll turn into Tony if you keep that up!”
“I believe that the expression is ‘been there, done that’,” he murmurs.
She gets a glass from the cupboard and pours herself some vodka from the bottle on the counter.
“Nostrovia,” she says, clicking her glass against his. She downs the vodka in a single gulp and pours herself another.
They drink together in silence for a few moments.
“I heard what you said today,” she finally says. “About having red in your ledger.”
“Did you mean it?”
His mouth quirks up. “What do you think, Natasha?”
“I think you’re the God of Lies, and that you’ll say anything if it somehow serves your purpose.”
He eyes her approvingly. “I sometimes think that the others have forgotten who and what I am. You have not.”
“Of course I haven’t. But I also know that Bruce and Tony are trying to help your daughter, and I think that you really might believe that you have red in your ledger.”
He takes a deep breath. “I have done many questionable things.”
She snorts. “That’s putting it mildly.”
“In doing those things… I have become a person that I no longer recognize. I know that you know what that is like.”
She nods and sips her drink. “You’ve been compromised.”
“Yes. And I do not even know how it happened.”
“And what will you do now?”
He shrugs and takes a drink of scotch.
“I should apologize,” he says quietly. “For the things I said to you.”
She makes a dismissive gesture. “That was all part of the job. You think that’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to me? It wasn’t personal.”
“No, it was not. I barely even knew you.”
“You still barely know me.”
“Is there anyone who truly knows you, Natalia Romanova?”
“Clint. Clint knows me.”
“Ah, and you think to lie to me… me, the God of Lies? How ambitious you are.”
She smiles, slow and deadly.
“This is all a game to you, isn’t it?” she asks.
“I suppose you’ll have to wait and see,” he murmurs, and sips his drink.
She finishes her drink and puts the empty glass in the sink.
“I’m watching you, Silvertongue,” she says, meeting his eye.
He grins. “I would be disappointed if it were otherwise.”