"Kids, back in 2012, New York was attacked by a Norse God. You’ve probably heard a lot of stories about it – what do you mean, you learned about it in history class? That wasn’t that long ago. God, I’m getting old. Where was I? Oh, right. As I was saying, there’s a part of the story they don't usually tell people..."
"Do you believe this traffic?" Lily pressed her face to the taxi's window, dismayed. "You'd think it was the Macy's Day Parade out there."
Ted fidgeted furiously, even after Lily swatted him and told him to stay still. "This is ridiculous," he said. "Why did we have to run that stupid errand, anyway? Now we're going to completely miss Junetoberfest."
"Junetoberfest was a sacred tradition in our group. We figured that Oktoberfest was such a wonderful celebration of German culture that we ought to do something like that every month. That June we were celebrating Austrian culture. Or was it Australian culture? Anyway, we were expanding our horizons and accepting all the different peoples of the world as our brothers and sisters and it was a beautiful day."
"I just know Barney's going to start doing shots without me," Ted complained.
"Would you quit it with the whining?" Lily said. "They won't start Junetoberfest without us. We're bringing the baguettes, and that much drinking on an empty stomach is not a good idea."
"Huh. So maybe it was French culture. The point is, it was a solemn and educational day."
"I can't take this anymore," Ted said, opening the door of the cab. "We haven't moved in twenty minutes and I can't get any traffic reports on my phone. I'm walking the rest of the way."
"Oh no you don't, Mosby," Lily snapped. "This is my one day to be lazy and irresponsible and just relax, and I am not walking fifty blocks through cross town traffic. We're sitting in this taxi and waiting for things to die down."
"Lily, that's crazy. By the time things die down, Marvin's going to be graduating from high school. Let's just walk the rest of the way and we can relax and be lazy when we get there."
Lily crossed her arms, her face mulish.
"Fine," Ted said, unbuckling his seat belt and climbing out of the car. "But I'm going to get to the bar hours before you do, and then you'll realize how dumb this is."
Lily grabbed the door and slammed it shut in Ted's face.
"I was going to do that!" Ted yelled through the window. "You don't get to slam the door if I'm the one storming off!"
"Did I mention that Aunt Lily was a little bit stressed out? See, your cousin had just been born, so Lily and Marshall weren't getting a lot of sleep. On top of that, Marshall's mom was visiting, to help them take care of the baby, but given how well Lily and Judy got along, this just ended up making Lily more stressed out than ever. So yeah, she really could have used the day off. For the record, though, I was right. Not only did I make it to the bar hours before Lily did, Lily didn't make it to the bar at all...but I'm getting ahead of myself."
It takes a lot to faze a true New Yorker, but after about ten blocks Ted was starting to realize that something strange was going on.
Possibly he noticed because of his keen eye for detail. Or possibly it was the way that three aliens bust through the wall of a dry cleaner's at seventy miles an hour, on a direct impact course for Ted.
He did the most logical thing anyone could do in that position: he froze in terror, eyes bugged out, and whimpered.
The second before the aliens flattened him into a human pancake (who would probably, by all evidence, still have had spiky hair), a figure jumped for him and pulled him out of the line of collision.
At first Ted wasn't able to think anything at all, just to feel the wind get knocked out of him, first by the impact of another person hitting him and then from rolling several feet along the New York sidewalk.
He spent the next thirty seconds mentally thanking every deity he'd ever heard of.
Then he looked up at his savior and said the first thing that came to mind.
Predictably, it was: "I love you."
"And kids, that’s how I met a Russian assassin who is definitely not your mother."
"All right," the stunningly beautiful, completely badass redhead woman said. "But I don't think we're going to work out. It's not you, it's me."
And then she pulled a gun (out of where, Ted had no idea), and aimed it him.
Ted yelped and threw his hands in the air. "We can just be friends! It's cool!"
The woman rolled her eyes at him before firing, once, at the alien that was sneaking up on Ted from behind.
"Oh," Ted sighed, giddy at the relief of escaping death three times in a minute. "Thanks?"
"Don't hurt yourself," the woman said. "You should get out of here."
Ted looked around and realized what had been nagging at him before the alien ambush: there wasn't anyone else in sight. No wonder the traffic hadn't moved in twenty minutes. The cars on the road had been abandoned.
"Where should I – " Ted started to ask, before realizing his savior had slipped away while he wasn't watching.
"I think I just met Wonder Woman," he said to himself, smiling a pleased little smile before the glee fell off his face. "I just met Wonder Woman and she just wants to be friends."
"Obviously, that wasn't really Wonder Woman. I know the difference between a fictional character and a real person. But I was a little overwhelmed at the moment, and besides, we had always been fascinated by the idea of superheroes. Who wouldn't be? Though I guess you're all into robots these days. Are robots still in, or is it pirates again? But as long as I've known your aunts and uncles, if you put us in a room together, eventually the conversation would come back to superheroes somehow."
"Batman, Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, every other superhero, Aquaman," Marshall reeled off.
"In what universe is Wonder Woman ranked lower than Green Lantern?" Lily demanded.
"In brightest day, in blackest night," Marshall began in a booming announcer’s voice.
"So he’s one step up from the post office," Robin interrupted. "Come on, Wonder Woman is at least third best."
"If you ask me, Wonder Woman owns first and second place," Barney said, gesturing to his chest in an obscene fashion, or at least, a fashion that would have been obscene if he possessed a different set of secondary sex characteristics.
No one paid him any attention.
"Why is Aquaman in last place?" Ted wondered.
No one paid him any attention, either.
Ted and Marshall waved their hot dogs violently as they argued, earning them a tired glared from the man operating the food cart.
"No way Batman takes Superman in a fight," Ted insisted. "Superman is an alien. He can fly through outer space without dying from decompression, suffocation, or radiation. Even without all his other powers, all he’d have to do is grab Batman and fly upwards until Batman passed out from lack of oxygen. What could Batman do to defeat him?"
"Um, he wears his underwear on the outside," Marshall said. "Two words: atomic wedgie." He took a bite of his hot dog and, mid-bite, had an epiphany. "Second word: pantsing. Try defeating the Dark Knight when little Kal-El is exposed to the elements."
"Back me up here, Barney," Ted whined to Barney, who was hanging several feet back from the flying mustard and open-mouthed chewing.
"Ted, Marshall, we are in public," Barney said in an offended whisper. "Where any hottie walking by could hear what we are talking about. And comic books are to getting laid what kryptonite is to Superman." Two extremely attractive woman walking by laughed behind their hands at Barney. "I mean it's that...glowy thing...to that...flying guy. Hotties, wait!" Barney started to chase after the women, but Ted caught the back of his suit jacket.
"Barney, everyone knows who Batman and Superman are. Kryptonite is in the Oxford English Dictionary."
"Exactly, no one cool knows about this stuff."
Ted snort-laughed in condescension. "Oh, I think the ol' OED knows a thing or two about being cool."
Barney fake-gagged. Marshall actually did choke on his hot dog and coughed up crumbs.
"But those women weren't laughing at you because you mentioned kryptonite," Ted continued. "They were laughing at the mustard smear Marshall got on your suit."
"Ted, man, what the hell," Marshall yelped.
Barney looked down at his suit and froze. "You...bastard..." he said, through clenched teeth, before flying through the air to attack Marshall.
Lily and Robin loitered near the punch bowl at a Halloween party, checking out guys along with some of Lily’s single friends.
Robin nodded at a passing Batman costume. "I wouldn’t mind going back to his Batcave," she said suggestively, causing some of the other women in the group to laugh.
"He can Superman me anytime," said one of Lily’s friends, pointing stealthily at a man across the room. There was more laughter.
A third costume caught Lily’s eye, causing her to nudge Robin and point it out. "There’s a costume that isn’t going to make anyone wet," Lily said, as the women all wrinkled their noses in disgust or confusion.
That same Halloween party: Zombie Marshall tried valiantly to drag Ted out of the party.
Ted grabbed on to the doorframe and hung on for dear life. "I'm not leaving!"
"For the last time, you can't come to a party dressed as Aquaman!" Marshall yelled.
"So on the one hand, having real superheroes really fighting a real supervillain, right outside our front doors, should have been an incredible experience. But when it actually happened, it was a lot less awesome than I thought it would be. For one thing, it took me forever to get to the bar, and I spent most of the time worrying."
"MARSHALLROBINBARNEY!" Ted yelled as he flung the door to MacLaren's open and raced down the entranceway into the bar. "Are you guys okay? Are you alive? Are you – "
"Trying to have a drink, geez, Ted, chill," Marshall said.
Ted stopped and took notice of the situation. Marshall and Robin were seated at their usual booth, across from two guys he didn't recognize.
"Oh thank god," Ted said, clasping his hand to his heart like an old woman clutching her pearls. "I was so worried."
"Really? We hadn't noticed," Robin said.
Ted got a beer at the bar before joining his friends at the booth. "You sure everything's okay?"
"We're all fine," Marshall said. "Where's Lily?"
Ted shook his head. "She didn't want to leave the cab, so we split up," he said. "I called her and she said she'd meet us here."
"So in the event of an emergency, your first instinct is to go to a bar?" one of the strangers asked Ted.
"An instinct that was totally correct, by the way," Ted said. "Though I notice we are the only people here. Are bars not supposed to be your designated disaster meet-ups?"
"Sounds like a great idea to me," the other stranger said. "Get a beer and wait for the world to burn. That's what I call Tuesday nights."
"Oh, hey, Ted, meet the guys," Marshall said. "We met them at the restaurant down the street. I thought I'd pick up some shawarma for Junetoberfest."
"All right, I admit it, I have no idea what culture Junetoberfest was supposed to be embracing."
"Ted, this is Bruce," Marshall pointed to the first stranger, "and this is Clint."
Ted suppressed a little shudder.
"His step-father's name is Clint," Marshall told the guy.
"Not a problem," Clint shrugged it off. "I promise I'm not married to your mother. I can't promise I've never slept with her, but – "
"Oh yeah, Barney's going to love this one," Ted said, jerking a thumb toward Clint. "Where is Barney, anyway?"
Robin nodded toward the exit. "He's out playing hero."
Ted got worked up all over again. "He's putting himself in danger?!"
"No, I said he's playing hero, not being a hero. He's got the timing down pat. Arrives just as the danger is gone but soon enough that it kind of looks like he did something heroic. He's making the most of it taking credit for stuff."
"I should probably object to that on moral grounds, but right now," Ted shrugged. "Meeeh." He took a long sip of his beer, than another one. "What about you guys?" he asked Bruce and Clint.
"We're just waiting for some of our friends to arrive, then we'll be out of your hair," Bruce said. "You don't mind, do you?"
Robin grinned seductively. "Not at all. Stay as long as you like."
The bartender muttered under his breath, "Yeah, don't mind me, stay all night, I don't have anywhere to be."
No one paid him any attention because Bruce and Clint were exchanging confused looks that were very obviously about Robin.
Finally, Clint asked outright, "You got a twin sister?"
"No," Robin asked, surprised.
"Sorry, you just look familiar," Bruce apologized.
"Well, I am a bit of a local celebrity," Robin casually bragged, and they agreed that that must have been where the resemblance came from, though Marshall would later claim to have heard them speculating about human cloning while Robin was in the bathroom.
"Now, we weren't the only ones making friends right about now. Lily ran into the one person who was less excited than she was being in the city right then..."
"Pardon me," a tall dark handsome stranger said to Lily. "But do you know how to get out of the city?"
"With this traffic?" Lily asked. "How's your backstroke?"
"I was hoping for something a little more direct and a little less saturated."
"You could try the trains," Lily suggested. "But right now I don't know what's running."
"That is a bit distressing," he said. "I really have to be going."
Lily sighed. "Well, my day's already ruined. I might as well help you find the train station."
Inside the bar, everyone was passing time telling stories. Ted had just told The Story of the Runaway Sloth, and Marshall was trying to tell The Story of the Haunted Shopping Cart, but kept getting up to check outside for Lily and Barney.
Bruce told the gang an amusing story from his grad school days, punctuated at random intervals by color commentary from Clint, all of which (he assured them when Clint went to refresh his drink) was a complete lie.
"So there wasn't a donkey in a lab coat?" Ted asked, disappointed.
"There may have been on campus at some point," Bruce conceded. "But it never taught quantum physics."
"Hey guys, look who I found," Marshall said, returning to the bar from outside.
"Lily?" Robin asked hopefully.
Barney strode in and posed, in the middle of the room, like a Greek statue.
"Oh, it's just you," she said, waving him off.
"Well that's what I call a warm welcome," Barney huffed. "The hero of the hour returns, after saving countless babies – "
"Harassing countless innocent bystanders," Robin corrected.
"Pulling adorable puppies out of a burning building – " Barney continued.
"Don't listen to him," Ted advised Bruce and Clint. "He's just going to keep going."
Not listening to Barney turned out to be easier than expected, because the bar door opened again and someone else walked in.
Ted's eyes bugged out. He wanted to say something suave, but felt like the air had left the room, so he settled for, "Hey."
The redhead looked at him and gave the distinct impression of wanting to roll her eyes without actually rolling her eyes. "Oh, it's you," she said.
"You've met?" Clint asked.
"Yeah," Ted said, an octave higher than usual.
Barney snickered. "Did Ted tell you he loved you?"
She looked warily from Ted to Barney before nodding, minutely.
"Classic Schmosby." Barney and Robin high-fived.
"Just let it drop," Ted hissed at Barney.
"No can do, Ted," Barney declared theatrically. "It's for your own good. We have to train you out of your impulse to express your obsession attachment toward strangers at the drop of a hat. It puts people off. It's a sign of weakness. You'd never catch someone as awesome as, say, me doing anything so – "
Which was when Tony Stark walked into the bar.
Barney dropped to his knees and crawled over to Tony.
"You are the most perfect human being who has ever lived," he said, before falling to the floor in a dead faint.
Tony rubbed his eyes, peeked between his fingers to check if Barney was still there, and shut his eyes again.
"I did a high velocity one-way tour through a giant flying alien whale's digestive system a couple hours ago, and that's still the most disturbing thing I've seen today."
"Sounds like you need a drink," Clint suggested.
"Yes, because 'have some alcohol' is a solution that I would never have thought of for myself, thank you Katniss Everdeen," Tony said, as two more men stepped into the bar behind him, each somehow bigger and blonder than the other.
"I'm just surprised Stark didn't beat us all to the bar," Ted's redhead said drily.
"Yes, very droll," Tony said. "Now God forbid I be the one to put off drinking so that we can all act as serious and productive members of society, but we have a problem," Tony Stark said.
"No," Bruce said, holding up a hand to stop him. "After the day we've all had, I think we really deserve better than to have those words spoken to us, by you of all people."
"Me of all people? What's that supposed to mean? I'm delightful," Tony said. "Does anyone here disagree with me about my delightfulness?"
Bruce, Clint, and their friends all shot their hands straight up into the air.
Robin made a so-so gesture, which caught Tony's eye.
"Et tu, woman I don't know?" He squinted at her. "Woman I don't know who looks scarily like scary woman I do know?"
"You do come off kind of arrogant in your press conferences," Robin said.
"It isn't arrogance if you really are that good," Tony sniffed. "Fine, since you all don't want to hear news from me, I shall not tell you that Loki has escaped."
And that caused a bit of an uproar.
Well, it caused an uproar among the superheroes. Ted, Marshall, Robin, and the newly revived Barney just raised an eyebrow each and asked, "Who?"
So Bruce got them caught up on the why's and how's and who's behind the days events.
Marshall just sighed knowingly. "The supervillain always gets away in the end. Look at the Joker: anytime Batman put him away, he's just get out and start making chaos again. Arkham Asylum might as well have a revolving door."
"We didn't even get to the 'putting him in an asylum' phase," Clint said darkly. "We're getting shown up by George Clooney in the nipple suit."
"I think we did pretty good, considering this was our first run," Tony pointed out. "As a team, anyway. You think Black Sabbath sounded great the first time they played together?"
Ted wrinkled his nose. "Dude, they don't sound good now."
"Don't argue with the man," Barney whispered, scandalized.
"We really should have seen this coming," Bruce said. "I told you that you couldn't just leave a super powered psychopath – no offense, Thor," he interrupted himself, "in the car while we all went to get a bite to eat."
"I rolled the windows down a crack for him," Tony said. "What's the problem?"
"I think that might have been the problem, actually," Bruce pointed out.
"You should have told him you'd bring him back some shawarma," Ted said. "I mean, he'd probably have put off his escape attempt until after he'd had lunch."
"We all racked our brains trying to think where an escaped supervillain would go – besides Wall Street – but it turned out that somebody had already beaten us to the punch."
The chaos in New York City was dying down, but not completely gone yet; Lily and the stranger would occasionally pass by people, individually or in groups, who were running, panicking, or in one case, looting. (Lily tossed her shoe at the looters and called them dirty names until they ran off, not wanting to provoke a crazy woman.)
"Yeah, you better, run, you motherfu– "
"Fungus! Aunt Lily said mother fungus."
Lily ended her tirade with a huff and turned, once more composed and polite, back to her companion.
"Sorry about that," she said. "You must think I'm some kind of weirdo."
"Not exactly," he replied. "But then I'm quite used to being surrounded by enthusiastic people."
"I'm just a little stressed out lately," Lily said. "Oh, and I'm forgetting my manners. I'm Lily, what's your name?"
The stranger thought for a second before answering. "Loki."
Lily laughed. "Boy, your parents must have hated you."
"You have no idea." Loki gently steered the conversation away from his parents. "If you don't mind my asking, what exactly has you stressed out lately?"
"Turns out, Lily needed to vent to someone a lot more than she realized. While the rest of us were hanging out with the Hulk, Aunt Lily spent the next few minutes turning into a big green anger monster of her own. Don't get too excited, I meant that metaphorically."
" – And Judy just says, 'well, none of my boys ever had a problem sleeping through the night," Lily ranted. "Like she's so perfect that her spawn was magically able to defy all normal human behavior and be perfect babies! Half the time Marshall can't make it through the night without having to use the bathroom as an adult, it's not like he was some wonder baby. But of course, if Marvin ever does anything less than totally angelic, it's because of my genes or my parenting. Ugh!"
Loki made a sympathetic noise. "Family can be so troublesome," he agreed. "You'll never get anywhere as long as you don't establish and maintain strict boundaries on her behavior."
"How?" Lily demanded. "Because believe me, I would love any advice. The other day I seriously considered locking her in the bathroom and moving out before she could escape."
"Well, banishment can be an effective tool," Loki said. "Emotional manipulation, blackmail, uniting people against a common enemy..."
"Hm," Lily said thoughtful. "I don't suppose you have any pointers."
"Funny you should ask," Loki started.
The streets being in the condition they were, everyone quickly agreed that the fastest way to search for Loki was to take to the skies.
This sent Barney into nearly paralytic glee, until Tony Stark had to rudely ruin his joy by pointing out a couple simple facts:
"One, the suit needs some major repairs right this second, two, even as spectacular and multi-skilled as I am, I can't carry nine other people while I'm flying. But keep up the enthusiasm, I work best when I have an adoring audience."
"If we could do drunken human pyramids in college, I bet you could carry nine people in your Iron Man suit," Marshall suggested.
"I don't think we ever actually completed one of those pyramids," Ted pointed out. "We just ended up falling into a big pile and laughing. Or, you know, rushing Tara McRooney to the emergency room." He and Marshall winced simultaneously.
"You might be onto something, Stretch," Tony said, snapping in Marshall's general direction. "Someone make a note to remind me: flying cheerleader competitions. Synchronized flying. Something along those lines, as long as it involves skimpy uniforms." He made a face. "Maybe not skirts, though."
"Nobody remind Stark about any of that," Steve Rogers shook his head. "He's got enough bad ideas already."
"How dare you say that," Barney said.
"Barney, don't pick a fight with Captain America," Ted sighed.
"Or at least if you're going to do it, put on the Mountie costume," Robin suggested.
Barney smirked. "Why, so you can watch America trounce your silly country?"
"Okay, note to self: making fun of Canada snaps Barney out of his blind hero worship," Ted nodded. "That could be useful."
"Okay, Barney, I gotta ask," Marshall said. "I never knew you were such an Iron Man fan. What gives?"
"Iron Man?" Barney scoffed. "Pssh. Flying suit, schmying suit."
"Then why the rabid, I mean, batshit, I mean, enthusiastic devotion?" Clint asked.
"Because he's Tony Stark," Barney said. "Fine women, finer suits, fast cars, plenty of alcohol..." Barney drifted off into a dreamy silence.
"Okay then." Tony shrugged. "He seems like a well-adjusted man."
"You know, if we need transport, we could try going to the news station and borrowing one of the choppers," Robin suggested.
"They're probably all in use," Bruce said. "This hasn't exactly been a slow news day."
"Besides," Clint said. "SHIELD can set us up with a much sweeter ride."
"I vote that someone other than me makes the phone call to Nick Fury to explain how we lost the Big Bad Wolf," Tony said.
Natasha raised an eyebrow. "You're the one who confused him for a puppy in the summertime. You call."
She offered him something that looked to Ted like a cellphone had a baby with a ray gun.
"I wonder if you can play Angry Birds on that thing," he whispered to Marshall.
Tony was looking at the phone like it was going to explode. "You realize that Fury is going to do horrible things to me," he said. "Tomorrow I'll just wake up mysteriously vanished and no one will ever be able to find me."
"Sounds good to me," Clint said, slapping him on the back. "Dibs on your cars."
"No, no, no!" Lily shook a finger in Loki's face. "You know why you're wrong?"
"By all means, elaborate on my error," Loki said.
"First of all," Lily said, "you never let your opponents catch you deliberately. God, bad guys keep doing that and it never works! That's right up there with 'tell the hero all about your secret plan then let him escape' in the big book of bad guy mistakes." Loki opened his mouth to object, but Lily steamrolled right over him. "Oh, sure, you get some short term results. But it never pays off in the long run. And if you really want to take over Earth and get back at your brother, you need to think big."
"And I suppose you know how best to achieve that."
"Well, don't get so worked up about your family all the time, for one thing," Lily said. "Sure, crushing them is all part of the plan, but if you focus too hard on any one individual part of the plan, you know what happens?"
"Your conversational skills begin to falter?" Loki suggested drily.
"The rest of the plan fails," Lily finished. "And yeah, people probably start to avoid you at dinner parties. But we're thinking big here."
"I wouldn't have expected a random human found loitering outside a taxi cab to be so opinionated about the subject of global conquest."
"I'm a kindergarten teacher, I'm one overblown military uniform away from being a despot."
"Well," Loki said, looking up at the sky. "You may get a chance to employ some of your expertise very soon."
Lily looked up, too, in time to see a small fighter jet dropping in low overhead.
"Freeze," a female voice called out through a speaker. "We have weapons trained on you. Do not attempt to run or attack."
"Or attempt it," a new voice said, one that made Lily screw her face up in confusion. "Then we could blast you out of the sky and KAPLOW and – "
"Get away from the microphone, Barney," a third voice said.
Lily's mouth dropped open. "Marshall?" she asked.
Her answer came moments later, when the jet landed and the passengers disembarked, including –
"Marshall!" Lily called out.
Marshall stopped, causing Clint to run into him and Ted to run into him. "Lily?" he asked, over the sounds of Tony grumbling and telling him to clear the bottleneck.
"Lily?" Ted said, jumping so he could see over Marshall's shoulder.
"Ted?" Lily asked.
"Loki," Thor growled, pushing past Marshall and everyone else.
"Brother," Loki sneered in reply.
"Loki," Clint said, drawing an arrow and aiming for Loki.
Loki seemed unconcerned by this threat. "Agent Barton."
"Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Stumpy, Skanky, Lazy, yes, yes, we're all here," Tony Stark said, rolling his eyes before stopping and counting on his fingers. "Wait, no, six. I missed one."
"Doc?" Bruce suggested.
Tony beamed at him. "Wonderful. You can be Doc."
"What about the three you just blatantly made up?" Robin asked.
"Congratulations on nominating yourself to be Grumpy," Tony told her. "Though with your doppelganger you were probably the shoe-in, anyway."
Robin frowned. "Doppelganger?"
"Don't ask off-topic questions, Grumpy, we're here to catch a bad guy," Clint told her. "All right, Loki, turn yourself in and get an arrow in your ass."
"Forgive me if that doesn't persuade me to comply," Loki said.
"It should," Clint said. "Guess where the arrow's going if you don't turn yourself in."
"Yes, I am positively trembling in my boots," Loki said. "If I don't come quietly, is Tin Foil Man over there going to lock me in a car again?"
Of course Barney had to choose that moment to actually doing something brave. Or, well, brave, bravado, stupid, something along those lines. He stepped forward, putting himself between Loki and Tony Stark, and stared Loki down. "Do not insult this man!" Barney said.
Loki looked past Barney to Tony. "Has your ego gotten so big that other people have to help you carry it?"
Barney raised his fists like the least intimidating boxer of all time. "TONY STARK IS A GOD," he bellowed.
"Well, no, actually," Loki corrected. "I am, and he is." He pointed at Thor. "Not Stark."
Barney looked like he was about ready to engage in fisticuffs, which couldn't possibly be a good idea, so Ted intervened.
"Barney, what's on Canada's flag?" Ted asked.
"A leaf," Barney said, snark kicking in by reflex. "A freaking plant, and not even the kind that someone can use for poison, food, or getting high. A maple leaf."
"Oh, like a bunch of stripes is any better?" Robin asked, before looking at Steve sheepishly. "Sorry for any offense, of course, it's a lovely – damn my stupid Canadian politeness!"
"I didn't realize we had so much animosity toward Canada," Steve said.
"Well, some people still have hard feelings about the Canadian-American war," Tony said.
"Yeah, throwing boiling hot poutine down on our troops during the Siege of Quebec was kind of a low blow," Clint said.
"Not to mention the invasion of the Special Moose-riders Force," Marshall added.
"Marshall, stop trying to confuse Captain America!" Lily scolded.
"I don't know," Robin said. "He's supposed to represent this country, right? Doesn't a blind animosity toward other nations enhance that representation?"
"Plus the lack of knowledge of historical events," Tony said. "Get the boy an Xbox and Type II diabetes and he's set."
"Uh, guys?" Ted said cautiously. "I really hate to break up this cheery example of multiculturalism that's happening, but – who was keeping track of Loki?"
Eleven pairs of eyes darted around and found the surrounding area to be completely devoid of megalomaniacal alien gods.
Tony mimed getting his throat slit; Thor dropped his hammer in exasperation; even Bruce looked put out.
Clint spat on the ground. "Oh, motherfu-"
"Fungus. He said fungus. Funny how slang changes, isn't it?
"You aren't buying that at all, are you.
"Fortunately it turns out that after the day he'd had, Loki wasn't really up to any big impressive escapes. The Avengers caught him running through the subway tunnels about three blocks away."
Marshall and Ted sat at their usual booth at MacLaren’s, Marshall draining the last of his beer while Ted stared disconsolately at the table.
"You okay, buddy?" Marshall asked.
"Mhn," Ted said, not looking up or really seeming to have heard the question.
Marshall waved his hand in front of Ted’s eyes and got no response. He tried poking Ted on the nose, and again, got no response. Finally, looking around quickly to check no one was watching, Marshall took Ted’s full beer from his hand and replaced it with his own empty one, and began drinking it.
"You sure you’re okay?" Marshall asked again.
Ted roused himself a bit. "Yeah, I’m fine."
"Okay," Marshall said. "Then let me ask you a question, I could really use – "
"I just feel kind of let down," Ted finally broke out.
"Let down?" Marshall scoffed. "Ted, we just lived a comic book. Kind of. Maybe not the most action packed issue, but that fighter jet alone was worth a full-page spread."
"I know," Ted said. "Though my ears are still ringing from that ride. Do you think my health insurance covers injuries accrued on top secret missions to protect earth from alien invaders?"
"Not since my petitions keep getting shot down," Marshall said.
Ted sighed. "I guess I'm just...waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like, today we lived a comic book. What could tomorrow possibly have that would live up to that? Everything's just going to go back to normal, except maybe Barney's going to add a new play to his playbook."
"Hey, guys, what’re you talking about?" Robin asked, as the rest of the group squeezed into the booth with their drinks.
Marshall waved a hand. "Ted’s just got a case of the Red Sox Slump."
"I do not," Ted insisted.
"Red Sox Slump?" Bruce asked.
"When you get really excited about something and get a lot of expectations for how it’s going to change your life forever, but then all that happens is that things end up being pretty much the same as usual."
"I used to call that Second Date syndrome," Tony said drily.
"Hmh-ha!" Barney choked on a laugh, causing Ted to roll his eyes and Robin to hide her face in her hands. "You are so wise," Barney whispered to Tony.
"So it’s sort of like the Prequel Blues," Bruce said, as Tony scooted an inch or two away from Barney.
"That’s more like when you get a lot of expectations and then everything ends up being worse than before," Marshall said.
"I'm looking forward to things going back to normal," Natasha said. "These guys seem like fun now, but it gets old fast."
"Aw, we're going to miss you too, Comrade," Tony said.
Natasha finished her vodka without breaking eye contact with Tony.
"How was that so creepy?" Ted whispered to Barney.
"How was that so hot?" Barney shot back.
"I'll be glad things return to normal if it means Lily doesn't become a supervillain," Robin said.
"Yeah, what was up with that, babe?" Marshall asked. "If you were going to throw me over for a bad guy, I'd hope you'd at least hold out for Vader-status or higher. Not, like, emo 80's British rock star."
"Look, all I can say is, sometimes a girl needs to take a ruthless outlook on life," Lily said. "Besides, I wouldn't have sided with him for long. His plans for world conquest were a total mess. Aliens in Manhattan, really? You need to strike multiple targets, simultaneously, and secure the important hostages before shit starts going crazy."
The Avengers, as one, put their drinks down and stared at Lily.
"I can't decide if we should lock her up or give her a job," Clint said.
Marshall put an arm over Lily's shoulders and pulled her closer, protectively. "She'll stop sounding so nefarious once she gets a good night's sleep," he promised.
"But maybe I want to work for a shadowy government organization that secretly runs the world," Lily protested.
"I'll give you a card," Natasha said.
"I think that calls for a toast," Ted said, raising his bottle. "To teamwork?"
Boos from around the table.
"To Earth?" Bruce suggested.
That met with half-hearted approval.
"To AMERICA!" Barney shouted.
"No," Natasha and Robin said in chorus.
"I've got it," Marshall said, raising his own glass. "To Junetoberfest."
"To Junetoberfest!" everyone cried, clinking glasses.
"What's Junetoberfest?" Steve whispered.
"No idea, just roll with it," Tony answered.
Ted raised his beer to his lips and found it was empty.