It wasn’t that they didn’t travel for this many weeks and months in a row before. It was the fact that he knew exactly how slowly they were moving that drove him up the wall. It was also the limited space they had inside the ship with most parts in lockdown. Tony definitely had problems with enclosed spaces since his first captivity, so he was surprised that he didn’t feel like crawling out of his own skin sooner. Now it was like a constant itching in his brain and under his skin. He focused on the future and tried to distract himself with anything that caught his interest.
Now that he knew that Juyu and Bee had no qualms about coming with them all the way to Earth, he could make even more plans about what needed to be done once they got there. They had a lot of planning to do, even if they did not have to do it immediately. He didn’t believe for a second that walking back into his old life was going to be a piece of cake. On the contrary, he expected a lot of annoyance and headaches. Sure, he was absolutely 100% certain that Pepper – being a wonderful human being – was going to help sort things out. He was also about 85% sure about Rhodey too. His best friend only lost that 15% perfect in the first place because of his position in the Air Force. Fortunately, he had a few ideas how to push it back to 100%.
He didn’t even dare guess about the other Avengers. He simply did not know them well enough. Banner definitely got the highest percentage. Bruce was a bro, he had a willingness to listen, and he was smart enough to understand different standpoints. The Captain was a lottery, on one hand he was a hopeless goody two-shoes with a head stuffed full of noble ideas, but he was also a morally unwavering soldier who was bound to object to the presence of a war criminal. And while he knew that Natasha was going to consider all advantages and disadvantages, Barton was a big obvious 0%, which would probably sway even the practical Miss Romanoff against them. Now Thor… was interesting. He still did not know the full story about what went down between the brothers, and until he knew all variables he couldn’t predict him completely. One thing he could rely on; even when he was furious at Loki and ready to fight him, there was fierce resolute hope in his eyes. He still called him brother and would not leave him in Fury’s clutches. But still Thor… it depended on Loki, and he was really not looking forward to that particular confrontation. He did not have any siblings, but he heard enough heroic stories from his father about one Steve Rogers to get at least a tiny part of the roots of Loki’s problems. He still needed the full story. At this point he had more assumptions than facts and he couldn’t build anything on those.
Now, trying to ask Juyu whether they wanted to come with them or not opened up a can of worms he didn’t even know existed. Even after she was willing to speak up and tell him everything, he did not know how to go about fixing things. He had no idea how to even approach Loki about it. He was so glad that he didn’t have to do anything in the end. He noticed that Loki was training the girl in close combat a day after that first argument. Since he had his own experience with Loki’s teaching methods, he was not at all surprised about Loki’s hard-ass/smart-ass approach. But at least it made Juyu annoyed enough that she forgot to be worried about what she was saying to him. She had to learn that cursing or even yelling at Loki was not going to get her in trouble, especially if she had a reason to curse and/or yell. He was never going to disagree that Loki was a dick, and it would do Juyu good to learn how to stand up to him. Once she was tired and mad, it came naturally so it seemed. That first day Tony just stood in the doorway and listened to their conversation with amusement.
‘I thought the whole point of this was so I can hit someone!’ Juyu said, argued really.
‘You need to know how to punch correctly, yes, but that is never going to be the most efficient way to fight, because you’re a woman.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?!’
‘It means that your legs are your strongest limbs, which should be obvious. You have to know how to land a punch, but for the most part you need to use your hands to dodge, block and grab. Your legs are at least three times stronger than your arms and as a woman you have a lower centre of gravity as well, so stop trying to copy my every move instead of doing what I tell you. I have a height and weight advantage, if you try to fight like a man you will definitely lose. Always keep your physical advantages and disadvantages in mind.’
‘So you’re gonna teach me how to kick people?’ she asked.
‘Among other things, now get back to stretching. Don’t think I will keep pulling my punches indefinitely.’
It was not the last time he stopped by just to listen in. He suspected that Loki knew that he was there, but Juyu never seemed to notice. So yeah, things turned out well, all things considered.
Tony was also really not surprised that from that day on the most often heard phrase coming from Juyu’s mouth was “I hate you” when it came to Loki. To be fair, she looked like a very-very sore sack of potatoes at the end of training days. She didn’t want to stop though; she never once said anything about not wanting to keep going. She just complained about Loki’s sadistic tendencies, and that he was a very-very evil man who enjoyed Juyu’s suffering. Loki always just smirked and told her not to be so overdramatic.
With Loki preoccupied for many hours almost daily Tony found himself in Drongo’s company a lot. Before this little training thing started he and Loki spent many days in their room. Seriously, Tony didn’t have this much sex since before his pre-Iron Man days when he was still living the full-blown playboy life. So yeah, Loki was busy, Tony was bored and Drongo was surprisingly smart. So he noticed that already of course, but the more time he spent picking his brain, the more obvious it became. As it turned out the big man spent over four decades wandering the Andromeda Galaxy. So he picked up a lot about all kinds of things. He knew a lot of races, their strengths and weaknesses, knew about different weapons and ships. Tony was mostly interested in technology of course and once again he missed his workshop badly. Loki helped with the suit a lot, especially with the crystals and crystalline wiring, but now Tony really wanted to get Drongo to give some input too.
He also noticed that since Juyu was busy Bee spent a lot of time with Drongo as well. Mostly she just wandered in and sat down next to the giant silently to listen to what they were talking about. Other times she was already there when Tony knocked on the doorframe interrupting whatever story Drongo was telling. He had a lot of stories about his travels and Bee liked to listen to him talk. She also didn’t mind being close to him, dare he say maybe she even enjoyed it. She was of course fine with Juyu being close and she did not mind Loki’s closeness either, but usually only in battle situations. She still kept her distance from Tony, even if it was a lot smaller distance than at the beginning. Drongo was different though. She sat close to him, even if it meant that their sides brushed together. Drongo never acknowledged the proximity, just like he never bothered with her silence. Maybe that was what made her so relaxed.
Lately, he also noticed an improvement when it came to his control with the DNI system. He didn’t think that he was clumsy with the ship before, but now he couldn’t help but realize that he actually was. His control was so much more smooth and precise now. He couldn’t wait to test out the hacking system some more. Things just seemed sharper and clearer whenever he activated the band and while he did not have the chance to truly experiment on it, he doubted he was going to get anymore headaches. The improvement was astonishing. He really had to thank Loki… thoroughly.
So yeah, there was peace and understanding on the ship and all that jazz, nobody was angry with anyone, they were all… bonding or whatever the hell and things with Loki were better than ever. So he had every reason to feel pretty damn good. It also made him a little worried, because they were bound to run into some fucking trouble again and he really did not want to deal with that shit. But even that couldn’t ruin his good mood. Not today.
He turned on the internal communications and ceremoniously cleared his throat before speaking.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Commander speaking. I hope you’re enjoying a very pleasant day. I’m about to make it even better. I’m happy to announce that I’m minutes away from turning on our hyper drive again. Rejoice!’
He liked to imagine that the others applauded, but only because there was zero chance of that actually happening in reality… ever. Nobody answered, which also didn’t surprise him much. What did he have to do for a little recognition around here? Scandalous. He also did not expect everyone to come running either, but he was also not surprised when he heard Loki’s familiar footsteps approaching.
‘So, where are we going?’ Loki asked when he stopped next to him.
‘Tilnast System,’ Tony told him. ‘And I know… Rule #7, but it’s not like there’s a selection.’
‘I think I can make an exception this time,’ Loki chuckled. ‘Planet?’
‘Sarka, third from its Sun. It’s supposed to have a suitable atmosphere, but to the very least we will be able to recharge our generators by orbiting it for a while even if we cannot land,’ Tony told him. ‘Sound alright?’
‘We’ll have to wait and see,’ Loki shrugged. Tony nodded. It’s been a very long time ago since he was worried about landing on a planet, but in a way he was reluctant to break the relative peace they had right now.
‘Let’s get this show on the road then,’ he said and turned on the hyper drive. They still had a ship to repair, their generators were in dire need of recharging, not to mention their lack of supplies and provisions. It didn’t feel right, not having an option, but they’ve been through worse. A lot worse. They just have to hope for the best.
‘So… energy levels? Any chance we can open up the cargo hold again?’ Loki asked. Tony chuckled.
‘So you miss it too, huh?’
‘A few more weeks closed-up like this and I’m afraid we are going to start murdering each other,’ Loki informed him. ‘Bee actually growled at me yesterday.’
Tony smirked. ‘I think Drongo’s temper is getting worse too.’
‘He frowned and his lips tilted down, I think he may have even narrowed his eyes.’
It was Loki’s turn to chuckle. ‘How long until we arrive?’ he asked then.
‘About two weeks,’ Tony told him. ‘You think we can survive that long?’
‘We have good chances,’ Loki answered. ‘Now come,’ he instructed.
Tony took off the DNI gear and followed him out. ‘Any chance we can celebrate the successful activation of the hyper drive?’
Loki snorted, but did not say no.
They did open up the cargo hold again, which was a little anticlimactic all things considered, because there was stupidly cold in there for hours and Tony couldn’t power up his workshop again. They were not doing that well with energy. Not that he didn’t have plenty of things he could do even without some, so he was still glad to have his workshop back in a way. Juyu and Loki needed the extra space for their training, so they relocated from the storage room as well. Juyu’s curses and Loki’s firm snappy instructions gave Tony quite an interesting background noise. Then Drongo and Bee took up the habit of spending time there as well. Most of the time Drongo just kept telling his stories while Bee listened, sometimes she would watch Loki and Juyu and then Drongo always migrated closer to Tony’s workshop to inquire about his work. It was good, but the way they approached the next planet still felt like a countdown.
That reminded him of a certain Rule #8 he wanted to add to their list of “Rules and Regulations for Planetary Expeditions” for quite some time now. He calmly walked over to the Drake’s dock, careful not to disturb Loki and Juyu in their training, because they could throw such a fit about that. He was thinking about how exactly to phrase the rule he had in mind when he realized that there was already a Rule #8 written on the bottom of the list.
8. Always search through the loot.
He felt his eyebrows lift then he started laughing. Yeah, that was definitely aimed at him and it was definitely written by Loki. It was even fair after the fiasco with the maps and the warp drive blueprints among them. He shook his head, but couldn’t stop chuckling as he added the new rule he had in mind.
9. Never use real names outside of the ship.
He was thinking about it since Aakar, when Drongo suggested the same thing. They were getting closer to Earth, he did not need any potential enemies knowing who they were or have any means of following them there. Better safe than sorry and all that.
‘And what exactly are we supposed to call each other then?’ Loki asked and Tony startled pretty damn embarrassingly. He didn’t even hear him approaching.
‘Jerk,’ he grumbled, Loki was unfazed. ‘Well, we did a pretty good job on Aakar,’ Tony pointed it out.
‘You just want to be called “Commander”,’ Loki concluded with an unimpressed look.
‘Yes, I do, but it’s also a reasonable precaution,’ he explained.
‘I suppose so,’ Loki contemplated. ‘We are getting closer to the Nine Realms, my name might be known in some places.’
‘My point exactly,’ Tony nodded.
‘And what names do you suggest for the rest of us… Commander?’ he asked. The way his tongue curled around that one word did very nice things to Tony’s lower section.
‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,’ Tony shrugged.
‘You already have a name for everyone, don’t you?’
Tony grinned. ‘Oh, you know me so well.’
‘Alright, let’s get it over with. Please, tell me it’s not “Mage”.’ Tony laughed again.
‘No, don’t be obvious,’ Tony disagreed right away. ‘You get to be “Scout”.’
‘Well, if there is need for it, you’re obviously going to be the one doing reconnaissance,’ Tony explained to him. ‘Since, the rest of us totally suck at stealth, infiltration and sneaking around.’
Loki remained silent for a while, then nodded. ‘Acceptable,’ he agreed graciously making Tony smile again. ‘Juyu! Break is over,’ he said then and walked back to where the Skrull girl was getting up from the floor with an enthusiasm that suggested that standing up was the single most horrible thing she ever had to do in her whole life.
Bee was standing by his workbench just looking at everything scattered on top of it, while Drongo sat by the other end of it. It looked like he finished his latest story. Now he could’ve taken the long way to bypass the desk, but instead he stopped abruptly a few feet away from the girl.
‘Oh-oh, obstacle,’ he declared. Bee lifted her eyes at the words and Tony started to edge away from her in wide a circle. ‘Little Bee’s big personal bubble,’ he explained as he flattened his back to the line of crates on the side and pretended to squeeze himself forward as it was a narrow passageway. When he reached his other table, the one with mainly boxes and tools on it, he proceeded to climb over it. Bee’s eyes were still following him, with that special “what sort of strange creature are you” look. Then he jumped down on the other side, putting up his arms like a gymnast for a moment.
‘Tadaa,’ he added with a grin. Sue him, he was in a good mood.
A short quiet laugh bubbled up from Bee and several things happened one after another. Tony felt his eyes widen and he breathed out a stunned ‘Oh my god.’
Only a moment later he heard a loud crunch from somewhere further away, then something heavy hit the floor with a big smack. Juyu’s horrified ‘Oh Fuck!’ drew his attention away from the absolutely stunning phenomena that he just witnessed. He was greeted with the sight of Juyu standing with her hands clamped over her mouth, her eyes wide and shocked and Loki down on the floor.
‘What just happened?’ he asked loudly. Juyu looked at him and removed her hands from her mouth long enough to answer.
‘I kicked him in the face,’ she said hurriedly in a high, obviously alarmed voice. ‘So sorry,’ she added, looking down at Loki again.
‘Good for you!’ Tony told her cheerfully, which made Loki burst out laughing. It wasn’t one of his normal little collected chuckles either. No, it was full-blown uncontrollable laughter, with a little wheezing too, because now that Tony looked he could see that his nose and lips were bloody. He even rolled to his side after a moment. Totally unattractive, and yet Tony felt his lips stretch into a wide smile as he looked at him.
‘I don’t think he minds,’ he said when the god managed to quiet down a little. Loki sat up then and wiped most of the blood coming from his nose and his split lip in his sleeve. That was wow, quite a kick if it could do even this much damage in Loki. His nose was probably not broken, but it did bruise and the skin broke, it was impressive. Such a kick would have maybe broken Tony’s neck or at least would have given him a concussion.
‘It was a good kick,’ Loki nodded and huffed out a laugh again. ‘And the first one you managed to land,’ he said.
‘You were distracted,’ Juyu argued.
‘Not an excuse, everyone can be distracted, you would have been stupid not to take advantage,’ Loki told her, then grinned, which showed his bloody teeth nicely. ‘It was a good one, really.’ Tony could see from the way his nose looked that it was going to stay a nice deep purple for maybe a few hours.
‘Ugh, no, you’re nice. Did you hit your head? It’s creepy. Stop it!’ Juyu groaned right away, scrunching up her nose. Tony snorted then turned back to look at Bee again.
‘I didn’t forget about you,’ he said while pointing a finger at her. ‘That was a laugh Little Miss Bee, I heard it loud and clear. It’s going to be my new pet project to make it happen again.’
She was staring back at him with her familiar unimpressed expression, but her eyes were soft and calm, so Tony just smiled. Drongo sighed loudly and shook his head, like he did not understand how the hell he ended up here with them.