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He paced back and forth in his cell like some predatory beast, which he supposed wasn't really that far from the truth. On occasion, the patrolling guards would pass by the gold tinted energy wall that kept him from leaving, but they paid him and his agitated pacing as little attention as he paid them. "Darling, pacing won't help," a kind voice said from the middle of the room.

"Thank you, Mother," the pale and slightly sweaty prisoner said with dripping sarcasm. "I think, by this age, I am well aware of what will and what won't help, but there isn't much else to do about it." He didn't bother looking over at her and just continued his pacing. By this point, he had tried everything from reading for a distraction to simple exercises to exhaust himself.

"The potion I sent will help," Frigga said, gesturing to the table where the ruby glass vial was sitting.

Loki did pause his pacing and look at her then. "Mother, I am in prison," he said as if that had somehow escaped her notice. "I'm not overly fond of the idea of being forced into unconsciousness surrounded by those who most certainly don't want my continued good health."

Frigga looked startled. "If any were to hurt you, your father-"

"He's not my father, and he wouldn't care," Loki interrupted angrily.

"Loki, that's not true. We do not want to see you hurt. You're still our son," Frigga said as she watched Loki rolled his eyes and began pacing again. "And now that you know your heritage... we may be able to find your soulmate."

Loki paused again and looked over at Frigga with a far less than friendly expression. "Oh yes, now that there is no danger of finding out what I am since I already know that dirty little secret... now we can start looking for who I am meant to be happy with. Now that I'm a monster in a jail cell. Thank you so very much for that."

Frigga sighed. "It was ill-done, and I should have put my foot down earlier, Loki. I do not deny that, and I will forever be trying to make amends for our oversight. But the secret was not meant to facilitate your misery, darling."

"Meant to or not, I had to grow up the soulless monster who nobody could love," Loki said.

"Loki! That's not true!"

Loki scoffed and turned back to his Mother. "You think I didn't ever hear those rumors about me?" he asked incredulously. "About how there wasn't a mark on me? No symbols or names or anything of the sort? I couldn't even pretend that perhaps I had an Alfr soulmate because as an idiot child I blurted out that I had a favorite color!" he hissed angrily. Alfr was the only race in the nine realms that didn't have physical marks, but they couldn't see color until they met their soulmates. Therefore, Loki's situation of having no visible marks but also seeing color had left him few options.

"They never should have said such things about you," Frigga said sadly. "But we can help you now. If you lower the glamour and let me see your back-"

"No, Mother," Loki said firmly. "It's too late for that."

"Loki, it's not too late," Frigga denied. "Jotnar have the names of their soulmates in the marks on their back, and there's no reason for-"

"Mother," Loki interrupted. There was an awkward pause before Loki pulled off his shirt and turned to expose his back. Frigga couldn't help the gasp that escaped at the sight of the thick patchwork of scar tissue from his shoulders to his hips. "It is too late," he repeated

Frigga stared in horror even as Loki pulled his shirt back down and began to pace again. The Asgardian Queen struggled for a moment to process what she had seen. Loki had never been one for flaunting his body, so she hadn't put much thought into why she had never seen him without his shirt, but she definitely had not expected to see such horrific scars on her son's back. "Loki, who did such a thing?" she demanded as her horror faded to anger.

Loki sighed but didn't stop his pacing. "It doesn't matter."

"It does matter!" Frigga argued. "The guards are not permitted to hurt you!"

"And so they haven't," Loki said. "Leave it be, Mother. It isn't as if a soulmate would be happy with me, anyway. And most likely they are Jotunn as well, and I probably killed them with the Bifrost."

"Loki-"

"Mother, I'm really not in the mood to discuss how I will be miserable the rest of my life. Please leave," he said as he turned away from her again.

Frigga, however, wasn't easily dissuaded. "Loki, Darling, tell me who did that to your back. Please?"

"I see no reason to do that as it won't matter in the least," Loki replied.

"Will you at least take the potion?" Frigga pleaded. "It will ease your discomfort to sleep through it."

Loki paused in his pacing to face her again. "To quote Odin: Prisoners are not meant to be comfortable, Frigga," he said in a mocking imitation of the King. "That is why you are only able to come to me this way, is it not?" he asked gesturing to her. The guards pretended they didn't know that the Queen sent her image to the cell, but Loki knew that should there be some reason to earn their ire they wouldn't hesitate to tell Odin. Then the King would stop the visits entirely.

Frigga sighed heavily. "Loki... You did try to take over another realm," she pointed out. "And severely damaged another."

"I'm well aware," he said as he continued his pacing around the cell. "And I do not see how the constant reminders are supposed to do anything other than annoy me into submission. Which, seeing how I am not protesting the facts of that, I would say the reminders have already done their job."

Frigga was silent for several moments as she watched her troubled son walking back and forth. She wanted to ask more, to try and get him to tell her how he had gotten those scars he most certainly had not had when he'd fallen from the Bifrost. But Frigga knew that speaking with Loki when he was already in a bad mood would get her nowhere, and an Omega in the beginning stages of heat was never in a particularly good mood. And seeing how Loki had never had a truly relieved heat cycle, he was even more prone to ill-temper than the average Omega. Though Frigga had always tried to help her son through his discomfort as much as she could, she now realized that the secret that Odin had insisted on had done far more damage than she had initially thought.

If any parent had told her that they'd deliberately kept their child's soulmate from them, Frigga would be horrified. And yet, she had somehow allowed herself to be convinced by her husband that that had not been what they were doing to their own son. That keeping his heritage a secret for his safety had somehow trumped the fact that Loki had no way of finding his own happiness. She would never forgive herself, and she wouldn't dare ask for her son's forgiveness, but Frigga would do what she could now to make it up to him. However she could. Perhaps there was still some way to find out who her son's soulmate was but that would require some research. "I will return later, Darling. Please reconsider taking the potion, you know it will help."

Loki didn't say anything at all and just turned to walk across the room again. Frigga sighed but accepted his temper as her own fault and allowed her projection to fade away. Loki glanced at the table where the potion had been left and, though it was tempting to grab, he resisted. The last thing he needed was to be having especially vivid wet dreams while in prison. He already had to deal with the guards and their snickering at his predicament. Loki had no intention of encouraging them to more vicious or creative comments. Being called a 'heat addled Omega' was plenty insulting enough for his taste.

Loki continued pacing for some time until he felt the urge to hit something in frustration. Not wanting to show such obvious agitation, Loki went to his bed and sat down heavily. Sweat was clinging to his skin and making his clothing and hair stick uncomfortably, but he was still able to keep an illusion up to disguise that fact. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall to try and ignore the burning aches that filled his body. Loki was not so weak as to give in to the first day of the ordeal.

Footsteps outside of his cell abruptly stopped, and Loki opened his eyes again, though only partially, to look over. One of the guards was standing there smiling at him. "You smell good, Princess."

"Come in here, and I'll make sure you never smell anything again, vermin," Loki snapped back. The last thing he wanted was leers from guards who shouldn't be seeing him in such a condition in the first place. He'd always hated anyone seeing him while in his heat.

The guard just chuckled. "Well, aren't you bitchy? Should we be expecting a conjugal visit from your mate soon? Oh wait... you don't have one of those," he said mockingly. "No wonder you went crazy. An Omega of your age that's never been fucked before? It's pretty pathetic."

"You have a very loose tongue," Loki observed. "You would be wise to not let it wag so much." If the cell wall weren't there, the idiot guard would already be a smear on the floor for making such comments.

The guard didn't seem worried in the least. "Oh please, a desperate little bitch like you? I bet you'd get one whiff of me and go right to your knees for me," he said with an obvious and vulgar adjustment of his trousers.

Loki laughed and turned his eyes back to the wall across from him. "That is highly doubtful. You look about as satisfying as a dead fish," he said although he couldn't quite help but shift the position of his legs to try and get more comfortable. The ex-Prince attempted to be as subtle about it as he could since he definitely wasn't interested in the guard and didn't want to make it seem like he was.

Loki wasn't as successful as he wanted to be since the guard chuckled. "Looks like you don't mind that idea as much as you claim," he said, moving down the wall to try and get a better view.

"You're delusional," Loki replied as he resisted the urge to cover himself. That would only draw more attention to his condition.

"If anyone is delusional here, it's you, Princess," the guard said. "Heat can do some pretty dramatic things to an Omega's whimpery little brain."

Loki snorted. "Obviously your mate isn't an Omega," he said. "My brain is the furthest thing from 'whimpery' as is possible to be."

"Maybe for now," the guard said. "I give you two days with the heat before you're begging for it." With that he continued on his patrol, ignoring the glare he got from the ex-Prince as he went. Loki wanted nothing more than to kill the idiot but he was too distracted to plan a violent demise just then. He would do it later when his body was not raging at him as much.

Despite his every effort to resist, after a few days of steadily increasing need, the heat made it hard to even focus. Frigga visited him each day suggesting for him to take the potion but he'd always refused her. His temper soured more and more each day though, and so Frigga's visits grew shorter in response. Every inch of Loki's remaining will and focus went into just sitting still and not writhing on the bed. He didn't bother with the illusion anymore since he couldn't focus on keeping it stable and that lent to more guards making leers and unwanted propositions. More than once he'd reached for himself to try and relieve the ache even though he knew it was pointless to try. He'd had to physically force himself to stop before a guard walked past and saw him. Loki might be imprisoned and more than a little humiliated at his situation, but he did still have plenty of pride.

Pride, however, was poor protection against his own biology. Loki managed to fight his own desires for another half day before it grew simply too maddening. He still didn't have any real desire to be defenseless but if he had to try and fight the need any longer he would claw his own skin off. Sleeping with the guards was not an option he would sink to, but he couldn't deal with it any longer. Sweat rolled down from his temple towards his chin as he got up from his bed and almost limped over to the table. His breathing was painfully ragged, and no matter how he tried he couldn't slow the pace down any. Loki had to lean more of his weight on the table than he typically would as he grabbed the vial his mother had left, but his knees felt weak, and he didn't trust them.

Loki cursed as he grabbed the cork and tried to get a good enough grip to pull it out. Unfortunately, his hold was not as firm as he would like due to the clamminess of his skin. After a minute of struggle, he finally managed it and dropped the cork onto the table. He downed the mixture in one quick motion before backing up to sit on his bed. Loki would prefer to not be behind a mostly invisible wall, but he also didn't care just then. He dropped the now empty vial beside him and struggled out of his damp shirt. The ex-Prince knew he would be more comfortable completely naked, but that wasn't about to happen. He dropped his sweat-stained shirt to the ground as he laid back in bed.

Thankfully, the potion was quick to act. Loki's mind was definitely preoccupied with what his body wanted, but at least Loki didn't feel the burning as sharply in his dreams. He knew, even as he fell asleep, that he would have to deal with comments from the guards after he woke up but by then he would hopefully be able to think up scathing enough replies to shut the idiots up. Sharp responses weren't as satisfying as throwing a dagger through someone's eye socket, but it would have to do considering the circumstances.

When Frigga visited her son later that night, Loki was very much asleep although it was quite obvious that he wasn’t entirely comfortable. He was still sweating heavily and tossed and turned in his bed. Frigga knew there wasn’t much else she could do for him, but she was glad that he’d finally stopped being so stubborn and took the potion. Now if only she could find some way to help him long term. That would, of course, require some way to heal the damage done to his back, or at the very least some other way to tell who was the perfect match to his soul. Loki had not allowed her to get a very good look at the damage when he was awake and in such an inhospitable mood, but she had a chance now.

She briefly considered that looking at his scarred back while he was asleep was a breach of some trust, but she felt the benefit worth that risk. Frigga and Odin had caused this mess with their foolishness. The very least that Frigga could do now was try to fix it in some small way.

The potion kept Loki in a deep sleep until his heat passed, so Frigga wasn’t too worried about the possibility of waking him. Luckily, Loki had rolled onto his side at some point during his tossing and turning, so Frigga was able to see most of the damage. If Frigga remembered her biology correctly the runes spelling out a Jotunn’s soulmate’s name ran along the length of their spines. Unfortunately, judging from the thick bands of raised scar tissue, whatever had happened to her son had also covered that area thoroughly. Even though Loki had told her it was useless, Frigga couldn’t help but be disappointed and incredibly heartbroken at the sight of the scars. “I’m so sorry, Darling…”

Frigga would have to speak to Lady Eir and see if there was any way to restore Loki’s back to what it was before. They owed him at the very least that much effort. Frigga had let herself be overruled previously, but she wasn’t going to so easy to dismiss this time. Frigga sighed and began to release the projection of herself when something usual caught her eye on the back of Loki’s neck. The Queen of Asgard bent closer and saw that it was a strange symbol she hadn’t ever noticed before. There really wasn’t much need for any sort of symbols on his guise so it seemed unlikely that Odin would have put it there. Also, it was no rune or magical symbol, and she knew nearly all symbols that had even a slight connection to magic. No, this emblem was entirely original to her although she couldn’t help but find it did remind her strikingly of the silhouette of Loki’s helm.

Two long elegant curves disappeared under Loki’s mussed hair while three sharp and straight lines came down his neck to stop just above the nape. The more Frigga looked at the golden symbol that had no business being on her son’s neck, the more uneasy she felt. There was something almost skull-like about the long narrow lines that came down. Suddenly, a bit of mostly forgotten lore came to her and Frigga’s eyes widened. Midgardians were born with symbols on the back of their necks just where Loki’s was. Those symbols matched one over their soulmate’s heart so that they could easily tell who was meant for who. “A mortal…” she breathed. That had not been an answer she had been expecting, and it wasn’t necessarily a good bit of news.

Mortals were short-lived, and that was far from the only problem. Loki’s crimes against Midgard would make most humans less than willing to be with him if they had any idea who he was. Not only that but finding a single specific Midgardian would be quite difficult. Frigga stared at the mark for several more minutes before reaching a decision. She would not give up that easily. Soulmates were chosen for specific reasons after all. Who was to say her son’s mate wouldn’t manage to look past the mistakes that Loki had made? Frigga would find whoever had that same mark and would see for herself what could be done. Of course, she was not as familiar with Midgard as she had once been. She would need Thor’s help.

Chapter Text

Thor arriving at Avenger's Tower was perhaps the most obvious thing in the entire universe. Especially on bright sunny days without a cloud in the sky, like it was currently. But, despite throwing off the weather patterns for miles around for the next day or two and leaving a significantly impressive scorch mark on the top of the tower, Thor's arrival was usually welcome. Well, he did tend to show up when something disastrous was going on, and Tony really hoped that wasn't the case this time as he was sort of preoccupied with trying to better the world and all that but it was still really nice to see the big lug. Thor was leaps and bounds more fun to be around than say Steve who was off being... boundlessly patriotic or something.

"Hey, Thunderdome! What brings you down from Viking in the Skyland?" Tony asked as he continued to try and get some of the greases off his hands from his work downstairs. When Jarvis alerted him to the fact that Thor's very conspicuous ride was forming over the tower, Tony had dropped the work on his latest suit to go meet him up on the roof.

"Friend Stark! It is very good to see you again!" Thor greeted as the dust cleared and the clouds overhead very slowly started to break up again. "I have come on a most important quest of mercy, but I do not know how to complete my given task."

Tony was a little surprised to hear that. "Quest of mercy?" he echoed. He wouldn't have thought that things like that existed in Asgard. They were all about fighting and monsters and things like that. "Well, how about you come on downstairs and tell me what your 'quest' is? I'm sure I can come up with something to help you out, and you can tell me all about... all that up there," Tony added with a vague motion up above his head. He was always interested in whatever tidbits that Thor could give him about Asgard's technology. Tony was hoping that if he was able to worm enough details out of the God of Thunder, he might be able to find workarounds for some of those pesky laws of physics that kept getting in his way.

"Are you staying for long, Thor? The other's have been wondering when you're going to stop by next. They won't be happy if you take off before they even get to see you. Steve'll probably be over tonight since I bet he saw your light show," Tony chattered as they made their way down to the main common area of the tower. "Oh, and Jane, of course. She'll have your long goldilocks in a vice grip if you don't go say hi to her."

"I do not know how long I will be staying. I suppose it will depend mostly on how long it takes me to complete my Quest," Thor answered. "I must find someone."

Tony couldn't help but be wary at the news that Thor was looking for someone specific. "Not another run away Asgardian looking to take over the world is it?"

"Nay, my friend," Thor assured him. "As I said, this is a peaceful quest, and no Asgardian is unaccounted for."

"Well, that is definitely a relief. Coffee?" Tony asked as he reached for the mug that was freshly filled from the pot on the counter. Thor shook his head even as he took the seat he usually picked on the couch and carefully put his hammer on the coffee table. Tony took a sip of the lifeblood that was his coffee as he went over to sit down across from Thor. Tony settled back into the plush leather of the couch and gestured for Thor to start his explanation.

Thor seemed to think for a moment before leaning forward to rest his arms on his knees. "Tell me, friend Stark, is it true that Midgardians wear their soulmate marks on the back of their neck?"

To say that Tony was surprised by the question was a slight understatement. "Well, yeah," he said as he put his coffee down on his knee. "Why where do you Asgardian's put it?" he asked.

Thor loosened the laces on the bracer around his right wrist and pulled it off. "Here on our wrist is where our soulmate's name is written," he said holding his hand up so that Tony could see the line of runes around Thor's wrist.

"You have names? That seems unfair..." Tony muttered. "We have to match the ones on the back of our neck to the ones on our soulmates chests," he explained pointing first at his own neck then gesturing towards his chest. "Names would be easier."

"We are a more straightforward people on the whole," Thor offered.

Tony frowned. "Still not fair... why are you asking about soulmate marks anyway, Thor?"

"One of our people was not born with the name of their soulmate on their wrist... it was thought that there was no soulmate at all. At some point, a mark appeared on the back of their neck," Thor explained. "We assume this mark must have happened when their soulmate was born here on Midgard."

"Huh... is that usual?" Tony asked.

Thor shrugged. "We have had Asgardians that have had soulmates in other races before... not often but on occasion."

"Does whoever this is have any marks on their chest?" Tony asked.

"No. Just the one on the back of the neck," Thor answered. "Is there any way to find out if this mark is truly a soulmate mark or not?"

Tony thought for a moment. "Well, there are lots of websites where people upload their marks to try and find the match. We could cross-reference them for anybody that has the same mark on their chest. Of course, without any marks to double check against that'll make things harder."

Thor grinned, looking very relieved. "I was worried there would be no record or way of searching at all," he admitted. "This is good news that there are ways to find one another beyond meeting face to face. Alfr requires meeting in person, and that can sometimes be a problem across realms."

"Well, there's some degree of error with the databases. Some marks can be really similar to other people's. The sites are just a way to narrow the options down to something reasonable," Tony said before looking up at the ceiling. "Jarvis, start pulling together all the images from those sites to cross-reference marks."

"Compiling now, sir."

Tony took another long drink of his coffee before turning back to Thor. "You do know what this thing looks like right?"

"I have a drawing done of it," Thor said by way of agreement. "I believe that it is not the correct color, but the original was gold. And that was not easily seen."

"I had one that was that color," Tony said. "Real hard to make out those yellows and golds. That why I'm glad Pep's was red. Nice and easy to make out."

Thor stared for a good three minutes as he tried to process what he'd just heard. How could Tony have both a mark that was gold and yet claim the Lady Potts' was red? That did not make sense. Not unless... "You have more than one?"

"Well... yeah, of course," Tony said as if it were obvious. "Are you saying you guys only get the one?" Thor nodded although he was still staring. "People aren't that simple! No one person matches every part of another person's personality."

"Midgardians are the only ones I have ever heard of to have multiple marks," Thor said a touch defensively. "The rest of us only need one and are perfectly happy with our one soulmate for centuries. Why do you even have marriage if you have multiple partners?"

Tony shrugged. "Not all soulmates mean romance," Tony replied. "Heck, it could just be some friend that is so close the only thing you don't share is a bed. Admittedly its a lot more fun when you get in bed together too, but that's not... required or anything."

Thor tried his utmost to not judge his friend too harshly about that, but it was difficult. The very idea of having multiple soulmates was so entirely foreign to him. He had just assumed there would be only one person he was looking for. Midgardians were so very odd. "How... how many soulmates do Midgardians have then?" he asked. He hoped very much that he wouldn't have to track down too many people.

"Well, that depends on the person. Some do only have one... the average is usually like three. I think the world record ever was seven or something," Tony offered.

"Seven!?" Thor repeated in utter shock. He thought three was more than anyone could possibly need, but seven? Seven was just ridiculous. Who would be able to manage that many soulmates? Thor had his hands busy with only one. He loved Sif with all his heart, obviously, but she was volatile at times, and he couldn't imagine dealing with multiple ladies like her.

"Well, ya know, that's an unusual amount," Tony said. "And if I remember right that was mostly platonic soulmates... that guy only had, I think, two romantic partners, which is pretty usual actually."

Thor stared for another minute before shaking his head. "Midgardians are so strange."

"Hey, I think you're stranger for only having the one," Tony shot back. "Honestly, variety is the spice of life and all that."

"Sir. The database of images is complete," Jarvis said before Thor could think up a reply.

"Great, you said you have a drawing of this symbol?" Tony asked as he got to his feet. Thor nodded. "Then let's go down to my workshop and scan it in for Jarvis to start comparing."

The two Avengers made their way down to Tony's lab, and when they arrived, they found that Jarvis was already going through hundreds of pictures and discarding any that were not a yellow or golden color. The images were flashing by so fast that Thor could barely get much of a look at them. He did notice the incredible variety that there was, however. Everything from simple circles to complex lines and waves crossed the screen one after the other.

Tony sat down in his spinning chair and cleared off some random bits and pieces of machinery off the top of Jarvis' scanner. "Alright, where's this drawing?" Thor reached into his belt while Tony went to pour himself a new coffee. "Now, remember, this isn't going to be a hundred percent accurate. Especially since this isn't an actual picture of the mark."

"Any help would be appreciated, my friend," Thor said as he put the somewhat crumpled bit of parchment into Tony's outstretched hand.

"It's not a problem, buddy," Tony said as he finished with his coffee and finally turned again. "After all, soulmates are important and all tha.." Tony broke off when he finally looked down at the drawing he was holding. "Uh, Thor... who, um, who's mark did you say this was again?" he asked without looking up. He wanted to look away from the elegant and crisp lines forming a symbol he definitely had not thought he'd be seeing but he couldn't.

"I did not," Thor said. "Does it matter who it belongs to?"

Tony gave a shrug that wasn't as casual as he meant it to be. "Just curious, I guess."

Thor narrowed his eyes slightly. "Man of Iron, are you certain you are alright? You look upset."

"Upset? No, of course not. Why should I be upset?" Tony asked. "Look, this'll probably take Jarvis a while to go through and compare. There's still millions of pictures on the sites. How about you go up to your room and take a load off, and I'll let you know if Jarvis finds anything?"

"A load off of what?" Thor asked.

"Ya know... relax! Take a shower, call Jane, eat your weight in Pop Tarts or whatever you do in your room," Tony said waving towards the ceiling. "Jarvis'll tell me the second he finds a likely match. Won't ya, Jarvis?"

"Of course, sir."

"See?"

Thor hesitated and looked between Tony and the ceiling where he tended to associate Jarvis with being. He was still quite sure he was missing something, but he trusted Tony. "Very well. Thank you again, my friend." Tony just waved Thor off and took another large gulp of coffee. Thor glanced around one more time before leaving the lab and disappearing into the elevator.

Tony swallowed the coffee despite the fact it scalded his throat and put the mug back down. His eyes went right back to the symbol on the paper, and he stared for several minutes. "Sir?" Jarvis asked after a minute. "Can I get you something, sir?

"I'm alright, J... call Pepper though?" he asked as he got up from his seat. He was still staring at the paper in his hand as he went over to his wet bar. He dumped out his coffee and poured himself a glass of something quite a bit stronger. He was going to need it. The phone picked up just as Tony was heading back over to the couch to nearly collapse on it.

"Tony, I'm in the middle of an important meeting-"

"Pep, you need to come home."

"What? Why?" Pepper asked, sounding a little alarmed and annoyed at the same time.

Tony sighed, he could not have this conversation over the phone. "Pepper, please... just come home. I'll explain when you get here."

The annoyance disappeared from Pepper's voice immediately. "Tony, what's wrong?"

"You're never going to believe it without seeing it," Tony said.

"I'll be home soon as I can," Pepper assured him. "Jarvis, don't let him do anything reckless."

"Of course, Ms. Potts."

The call ended, and Tony slumped back into the cushions. This was just insane. Though Thor hadn't actually said who the symbol belonged to, Tony wasn't stupid. There weren't a whole lot of people that Thor would go out of his way for. And judging from how Thor not so subtly avoided saying who it was Tony could put the pieces together quickly enough.

Even with Happy driving Pepper home quickly, it still took her twenty minutes to get home. Tony had already powered through several glasses but hadn't moved from the couch. Pepper was already alarmed when she got the call but seeing Tony (who had been doing much better with his alcohol consumption lately) sitting there drinking was downright frightening. "Tony?"

"Pep," Tony greeted.

"Tony, what happened?" Pepper asked as she sat down beside him on the couch. She wanted to pry the drink from her soulmate's hand but knew that would be a triggering thing to do so just rested her hand on his forearm to keep him from lifting the glass again.

"You know how I was going to re-tattoo my marks on me after the shrapnel and reactor pretty much destroyed them all?" Tony asked. Pepper nodded uncertainly. "I'm kind of rethinking that..."

"What?" Pepper couldn't help but be hurt.

"Not yours, Pep... just the others," Tony added quickly.

Now Pepper was just confused. To not have your soulmate marks put back on your body after they were somehow removed or damaged was... incredibly odd. And it made it really hard to find your soulmates afterward. "Why would you not want the others put back on?"

Tony didn't respond with words but held up the parchment so that she could see it. Pepper frowned a little and took the paper from him to examine the mark. "A black version?" she asked uncertainly.

"Nope. They just wanted to be sure it was visible on that whatever the heck that paper is. The original was gold," Tony said without looking at the image that was burned into his head.

"... like yours. Who is the 'they' that gave this to you?" Pepper asked as she looked away from the paper to study her lover's face instead. He seemed more than a little shell-shocked, and that wasn't an expression that she'd ever seen on his face before.

Tony finally looked over at Pepper. "Thor and his Asgardian buddies."

"Thor?" Pepper echoed.

"And though, he didn't say who that's on, just how many people do you think Thor would go hunting across realms to find the soulmate for?" Tony asked.

Pepper was silent for a moment as she put together the pieces that Tony already had. "You think that this is Loki's mark..."

"Wouldn't that be just my luck?" Tony asked. "I told you he was hot as hell."

"Yeah, but he also threw you through a window!"

"There have been worse first meetings."

"I really don't think there have," Pepper contradicted. A thought occurred to her, and her eyes widened. "Does he have your mark on him?"

Tony shook his head. "No. Apparently, he doesn't have any marks but this one. Thor said he didn't even have this one at first. It just appeared they think 'when his mortal soulmate was born' so, you know, that's a nice birthday present."

"So, without the mark on your chest there's no way to prove that he's your soulmate," Pepper concluded. Now that beginning statement about the tattoos made a whole lot more sense. Removing a mark wasn't something most would dare do, but this wasn't an intentional thing. Tony hadn't deliberately destroyed the mark. Nobody could blame him for getting hit in the chest with shrapnel.

"Am I terrible?" Tony asked suddenly. "I mean, this is entirely understandable, right? Nobody would want to be linked to that lunatic. Fate gave me an out, and it's not my fault for pretending like I don't know, right?"

Pepper blinked several times in surprise. Tony didn't usually question morals and the few times he did he usually wasn't asking for other people's opinions. He would agonize over it for a little while but come to his own conclusion, and that was that. "You're not terrible," Pepper assured him. "He's done absolutely horrible things and is in prison on Asgard. When would you even see him again?"

"Maybe that's why they want to know who's stuck with him," Tony muttered unhappily. "So that I have to deal with his crazy ass instead of them."

"Well they can't make you do that," Pepper said.

Tony nodded. "Especially if they don't know." There was silence for several long minutes. "I don't want him... but I feel like I'm a terrible person for saying that, for some reason."

"You're not," Pepper insisted. "And it isn't as if you'd be the only person in the world to not be with all your soulmates. Some people aren't with any. Didn't I hear some rumor about Natasha having all her marks blacked out?"

"Yeah, but see, I don't think I really want to be in the same league as the people who ran the Red Room," Tony said very uncomfortably. "Even if someone doesn't find all their soulmates most decent people don't get the marks destroyed to avoid them..."

Pepper supposed he had a point there. "But you aren't the one that destroyed it. The mark was ripped up before Loki even set foot on Earth," she reminded him. "I don't see how you should be punished for something you can't help. And it's not as if your mark is on his chest."

"No, that's true," Tony agreed. That little fact was most certainly not his fault. He wasn't about to be in a one-sided whatever with Mr. Crazy-Norse-Wannabe-Overlord. "But still, what am I going to tell Thor? He's the one kind of looking for my unfortunate ass, and I feel bad lying to him."

"Well, what exactly did you promise?" Pepper asked.

Tony gestured to the screens still full of soulmate marks displayed over his work area. "To compare the drawing to the different sites for posting your mate marks to try and find a match," Tony answered.

Pepper shrugged. "Then do that. You don't have to mention that you used to have that mark on you," she pointed out. "And who knows, there could be someone else out there that shares your... little problem mark."

"Thor says we're the only people who have multiples," Tony said. "It might be I'm the only one."

"It's still not your responsibility to have to deal with the man that tried to kill you just because he happens to have that mark on him," Pepper reasoned.

Tony thought about that for several minutes and let it settle in his slightly inebriated brain. Finally, he nodded. "You're right, Pep. We'll just keep this between us and let Loki be wherever the hell he is and doing whatever the hell he always has without a soulmate. It's not something we should get involved with." Not any more than he already accidentally was anyhow.

Chapter Text

Loki sat in the chair in his cell and flipped through the pages of his book at his regular sedate pace. Though he was physically reading the text nothing was really being absorbed. He'd read the book several hundred times so it wasn't as if he was reading it for any reason other than boredom. Even if he wanted to focus on what was in front of him, he doubted that he would be able to do so. He was tired and in an ill mood, like he usually was after waking up from a potion induced slumber to avoid heat. His mind had been spared the bulk of the urges and frustration, his body had not. Without true satisfaction, Loki usually spent a week to a fortnight with the unpleasant aftermath of weakness and tiredness, aches and phantom pains. He was just glad that, unlike humans, he only had to deal with the frustration every three months opposed to each month. As it was, the rest of eternity was going to last a very, very long time.

"Are you feeling any better, darling?" Frigga's voice asked.

Loki lifted his eyes from his book to where the image of his mother was standing. "I am not currently being driven further insane if that is your question," he answered after a long minute.

"Loki, you are not insane," Frigga said.

"I have it on very good authority that you would be alone in that sentiment," Loki said as he turned his eyes back down to the book in his hand. "Besides, it's a rather pointless argument to make, don't you think?"

"You are not insane," Frigga repeated firmly.

Loki sighed. "As you say, Mother." There was silence for several more minutes as Loki continued to pretend to read his book. "To what do I owe this visit?" he asked finally.

"I would like you to see Lady Eir," the Queen said.

"Why would I wish to see Lady Eir?"

"Because she can help you," Frigga answered with some exasperation entering her voice.

Loki didn't look up from his book. "Help me with what?"

"Loki... there may be a way to fix your back and expose the name your soulmate. Lady Eir is optimistic, but she will have to examine you to know for sure," Frigga said. "And if you truly believe that you are less than sound of mind perhaps she can help."

"Now, now, Mother, we wouldn't want to frighten the old lady to death, would we?" Loki asked as he flipped another page. "One attempt to understand my mind and she'd be utterly lost. Trust me."

"Loki... please, do not be quite so dramatic... I'm trying to help," Frigga pointed out.

"That and miserable are my natural states," Loki quipped.

"I'll have Lady Eir come see you in the morning," Frigga said, blithely ignoring the expression on his face.

Loki sighed and looked over at her again. "I would really rather that you didn't do that. I do not need a medical opinion as I already know precisely what she'll say."

"You can't possibly know what Eir will say."

Loki rolled his eyes. "Why are you so adamant about this?"

"Because I'm your mother and I want you happy," she said. "Can you please just cooperate with Eir? For me?"

There were several long moments of silence before Loki sighed again. "Fine. But can you let it drop after Eir decides that she can do nothing? Please?"

Frigga frowned. She didn't really want to make that promise but she also didn't want to push her son further away from her. "... very well. If Eir can do nothing I won't bring it up any longer." She didn't mention she had already sent Thor to Midgard to investigate the mark on the back of Loki's neck. As long as Loki didn't know, he couldn't be upset about it and Frigga wouldn't have to bring the search up at all unless Thor found someone. "I will have some guards bring you up to the healing chamber in the morning."

Loki nodded his ascension and went back to his book. Frigga allowed her projection to fade. "My Queen?" Frigga turned to see her handmaiden standing nearby, looking slightly worried.

"Yes, Fulla?"

Fulla bit her bottom lip and then stepped forward quickly. "I am worried, My Queen. The Young Prince has proven very crafty... what if he takes the chance of being brought to the healing chambers as a perfect time to escape?"

"Loki will be cuffed the entire time. There is no reason to fear my son, Fulla. He may be... troubled, but he is not some evil creature like so many want him to be," Frigga reasoned. "Besides, he will never get better if we do nothing."

"I just worry about what the All-Father will say if he finds out about this," Fulla murmured. The handmaiden still looked more than apprehensive.

"The All-Father need not know," Frigga replied. "Now, go and fetch Lady Eir for me." Fulla bowed her head and murmured her agreement before leaving the Queen's chambers.

Frigga hoped that Thor found some answers soon. She didn't know for how long Loki would at least deign to go through the motions of doing as she asked. Frigga knew that at some point he would refuse and put up all of his walls against her as well. She couldn't even blame him for that what with the history in their family. Frigga went to sit down in front of her loom and ran her fingers over the half finished weave. She had started the large tapestry before Thor's botched coronation. Frigga hadn't had much chance to work on it what with everything that happened and in the year Loki had been missing she hadn't been able to bring herself to add even a few rows to the image.

Fulla was, as always, terribly efficient and brought Lady Eir into Frigga's sitting room promptly. "My Queen," Lady Eir greeted with a bow. "How may I be of assistance?"

"Loki has agreed to allow you to examine him," Frigga said without looking away from the tapestry. "I doubt he'll allow it twice so be certain to make your exam complete."

Lady Eir inclined her head slightly. "I well remember Prince Loki's aversion to medical care. I'll be quite thorough, I promise you. Has there been any news from Prince Thor?" Eir asked. The older prince had left for Midgard nearly a week ago by this point and the hope was that there would be news as to Loki's mark.

"There are ways to search for mates but so far they have not found anyone with the same mark as is on Loki's neck," Frigga said with a sigh. "There are more than the usual people on Midgard, however, and not everyone has put their marks where others can see them. I am hoping progress will be made quickly."

"That would be best," Eir agreed. "King Odin has spoken to me about no longer providing the Prince with the sleeping potion."

Frigga looked over sharply. "What? Why?" she demanded.

"He argues that it is not a medically required potion and so should not be administered to prisoners," Eir said. "He is not entirely wrong. There are rules against unnecessary substances."

Frigga scowled. "That may be, but this is our son. To force him to endure heat without any chance of relief is just ridiculous, cruel, and unnecessary!" She would be having words with Odin about this later on that night. She was not going to allow him to forbid Loki from getting the potion he needed just because it technically wasn't allowed. That rule was not made with the intent to keep the unmated from suffering. Most if not all prisoners had their own mates that would visit to ease symptoms and those that didn't rarely had long sentences. Loki was not so fortunate in either respect.

Eir nodded in agreement. "And I worry for the Prince's mental condition if he must endure too many heats without even the potion to take the edge off."

"Not having a mate is not enough to drive someone crazy," Frigga said unhappily. She had heard more than enough implying that her son was insane when she knew that he wasn't. He was damaged, true enough, but there was a difference between that and truly insane.

"No, but it may be enough to drive an unstable mind over the edge," Eir said. "And, though I know you dislike hearing it, Prince Loki is indeed unstable."

Frigga turned back to the tapestry in front of her and ran her fingers over the black haired figure standing beside the rest of the family. "I will not stop giving Loki the potion," she said. "Odin can deal with me if he dislikes it."

"Of course, My Queen," Eir agreed. "Might I also suggest you try to convince the Prince to speak with me about what else he may have endured while he was missing." She very much doubted a scarred back was the entirety of whatever had driven the young God to such drastic actions. Loki had always been mischievous and his pranks could regularly get out of hand and hurt people more than intended but he wasn't outright cruel most of the time. Not until he had come back from wherever he'd been in the void.

"I will try but I think we both know the answer that will receive," Frigga murmured. Eir sighed and nodded. "Thank you, Eir. Report to me after you see to my son. I want to know exactly what we are dealing with."

"You are not going to be there with us?" Eir asked.

Frigga shook her head. "I fear my presence will only make Loki more difficult. You know how he is."

Eir bowed low. "As you wish, My Queen."

The next morning, Loki was cuffed and escorted by four guards up to the healing wing. Loki was put into a private room that he noticed had been warded and had only one exit. Obviously they were not taking any chances with him. Two guards stayed in the room with him while the other two went to stand outside on either side of the door. The chained Prince wasn't so fond of the idea of two guards being in the room while this exam was going on but he doubted his privacy would be taken into account.

Loki had to wait for nearly five minutes before Lady Eir came into the room. "Hello, My Prince."

Loki's eyebrow went up. "Lady Eir," he greeted without questioning why she was still using his title when the guards most certainly didn't any longer. He had been sure that Odin had removed him from the line of succession and so 'Prince' would no longer be accurate but maybe he wasn't even worth that much consideration for the King. "Can we hurry this along? I'm only here to please the Queen."

"Yes, I had heard that you didn't think I would be able to do much," Eir said as she went to stand behind the table that Loki was sitting on.

"Do not take it as a slight to your skill, Lady Eir. But I know how difficult scars are to remove," Loki replied as he resisted the urge to turn to face her again. "Asgardians never bothered to put much research to remove such 'noble' marks." Of course, Asgardians tended to get scars in battle and not how Loki had gotten his.

Eir frowned and then waved a hand to magically remove Loki's tunic so that his hands would not have to be uncuffed. She was surprised by the extensiveness of the scars but was able to hold back any audible signs of it. Instead, Eir just moved closer to better examine the Prince's back. She made certain to get a true image of the mark on the nape of his neck since she had the chance and then gently ran her fingers over the uneven surface of Loki's skin. So many different scars crossed and intersected that it was clear the scarring had been done in many layers. Some swaths of skin were so damaged they were nothing but scars on top of scars, leaving knotted tissue behind.

Eir had seen this sort of scarring before on prisoners of war that Asgard had retrieved. She had never thought she'd see it on the back of one of the royal family however. Eir pulled the image of Loki's back away as a holographic image so that she could see it more clearly. She could also separate the layers of scarring easier to see just how many there were. Or at least guess at how many their were.

The different layers were hard to get untangled from one another but Eir managed to start pulling the first few away. She frowned as she realized that all of the scarring from the most recent layers seemed to wrap around the Prince's back and shoulders more than the others. The marks also crossed each other at almost the exact same angles each time. That sort of scarring she had seen much less often than traditional torture. After several minutes, Eir realized why Loki's scars would look like that and this time she did gasp.

The scars were just like what she would expect if someone had taken a whip to their own back. Loki glanced over his scarred shoulder at the healer. "Is everything alright, Lady Eir?"

Eir walked around the table to face Loki properly again. "Why would you do such a thing?"

Loki looked entirely unaware and innocent. "I'm sure I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about," he said calmly.

"Prince Loki-"

"The question is not how I got any scars... it is if you can heal them," Loki said before Eir could continued. "I would appreciate it if you focused on that."

Eir scowled and wanted to say more but she also didn't want to get into an argument with Loki right in front of his guards. So she just gave an annoyed nod and went back around to examine the scars further. Eir paid special attention to the scars along Loki's spine. The scarring there was particularly thick and she doubted that there was much original skin left to restore. Eir could think of only one reason why there would be so much scarring right where she wanted to heal the most. Whoever had done this had deliberately focused on the place that Loki's soulmate's name would be. They had wanted to make it impossible to read. A form of long lasting emotional and psychological torture, she was sure.

"I told Mother it was quite useless," Loki said after several more minutes of silence. "But she is quite stubborn when she thinks she is 'helping' me. Might I leave now?"

There were several minutes of silence as Eir considered. She sighed and nodded before magically dressing the Prince again. "Yes, My Prince. I'm sorry I could not have better news."

"I am hardly surprised," Loki said as he slid off the table. He turned to one guard. "Back to my cell, if you please."

The guard grunted and grabbed Loki by the bicep to nearly drag the unresisting Prince away. Eir scowled and made a mental note to complain about that. The other guard left the room as well, leaving the healer standing there with the complete image of Loki's damaged back. The Queen would not be happy about this development in the least. Eir lifted a hand to dismiss the image when something new in the patchwork of scars caught her eye.

Eir frowned and manipulated the image so that the self-inflicted scars were no longer showing. Loki had been very thorough in covering nearly every inch of his back with fresh scars and once they were gone it became very clear why. Eir gasped and backed up so quickly she knocked over a tray of instruments. Bright as day without newer scars to obscure it, was deep scarring from Loki's left shoulder to his right hip. The scars spelled out a single word, or rather, a name.

THANOS

Chapter Text

Loki stood and turned to face the energy wall of his cell when he heard a familiar but still very unexpected three beats coming closer. The first two impacts were almost too silent to make out, but the third was sharp and echoed through the hall. Loki schooled his face and settled into a relaxed posture in the middle of the room with his hands behind his back so that when Odin came into view, he gave nothing away. “Why, Allfather, how unexpected. I so rarely get visits from those of such… distinction. To what do I owe this… illustrious honor of your presence?” he asked.

Odin’s face was utterly passive as he fixed his one eye on Loki. “Tell me what you know, Loki,” he ordered.

The ex-prince was silent for a moment before waving a dismissive hand. “You’ll have to be more specific, Odin,” he said lightly before turned and making a show of casually going to the small table his few books were stacked neatly upon. “I know a great many things, and I doubt you have the time for me to explain it all.”

“Thanos, Loki,” Odin stated firmly.

Loki froze for a few heartbeats, not long enough to really be noticeable if one wasn’t looking carefully and he doubted that Odin would be. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” Suddenly the fabric of his shirt shredded apart and his back burned. Loki cried out at the searing pain and braced himself against the table even as he felt the letters were traced with fire. The burning lasted for only a moment but left him gasping for air as his arms shook. “That was unnecessary!” he snapped over his shoulder as he tried to regain some semblance of control.

“I haven’t the times for your games,” Odin said.

“No… you’ve only time for your own,” Loki grumbled as he managed to straighten again despite the aches all across his back. He turned and adjusted the shredded shirt he now wore. “I’m sure you know more about Thanos than I,” Loki began. “So I see no point in speaking about him.”

Odin’s grip on his spear tightened. “What is he after, Loki? What is Thanos up to this time?”

“What he is ever up to, I would imagine,” Loki replied flippantly. “Is that not why every realm has thrown him by the wayside so far?”

There was a long, tense silence between the two before Odin took a step closer to the cell. “How long were you with him, Loki? What did he do?” he asked in a softer tone.

“Oh, this would be the part where you pretend to care for me again,” Loki said with a supreme lack of amusement. “I’m not so foolish as to believe it, Odin. You have not ever cared for me.”

Odin didn’t back down and instead roamed over Loki’s face with his one eye. “I should have known you would join with someone so foul. I had wondered where you had gotten such a powerful weapon as that staff. It was far beyond your potential to wield such a thing.”

Fury crossed Loki’s face. “You know nothing of my potential!” he hissed.

“I know everything about your potential, boy!” Odin snapped back. “Who was it that watched you grow? Who watched you squander what little talent you had by focusing on illusions and doublespeak?”

“Mother did!” Loki growled. “Mother was the only one who paid attention to me. You encouraged me to ‘squander’ my gifts helping Thor out of disaster after disaster without the barest of thanks for it. And now you scorn me for it when you know full well it is only because of me that Thor is still alive! But then, Thor always was your favorite!”

“Yes,” Odin said. “He is.”

Loki’s eyes widened a fraction. Although he had always believed it, even while trying to ignore it, he had never thought Odin would admit to such a thing. “You always were such a strange boy,” Odin continued matter-of-factly. “Never doing as you were told, not devoting the necessary time to your weapons training, and all of your rather horrible attempts at humor. But even you were able to do well by our people once. Do so again and tell me what Thanos is after.”

“I honestly couldn’t say,” Loki said coldly.

“This is no time for your insolence, Loki. Tell me what his plans are,” Odin ordered, his voice growing more heated.

Loki shrugged and nearly lost his shirt from the motion. “If you wish to know so badly, why not ask him yourself?” Loki watched out of the corner of his eye as Odin almost flinched back. Loki felt some of his pain dull just slightly behind dark satisfaction that earning a point had left. “Then again, perhaps it is best if you don’t. He is so much more powerful than you, Odin… perhaps he will take your mind from you next.”

Odin scowled. “Do not try your games here, Loki,” Odin ordered. “I know you were under no such spells. Your mind was your own.”

Loki bent at the waist to lean forward just slightly. “Speculate all you wish… I’ll tell you nothing, Odin.”

The blue of Odin’s eye darkened to a stormy grey. “Perhaps I have let your mother talk me into being too lenient for your crimes,” he began thoughtfully. Odin glanced at the mostly barren cell and nodded to himself. “We can always change the conditions of your sentence.”

Loki’s eyes narrowed, and he straightened. “You think you can make me tell you what you wish to know in such a way?” he asked. “Truly you underestimate me, Odin. It will take more than a cell to make my Silvertongue wag.”

Odin gestured harshly to two guards that were standing nearby. “Take everything out,” he ordered.

The guards hesitated for a brief moment but then went to do as their King commanded. They would not enjoy the reaction they would receive from the Queen upon her next visit, however. There was little in the room, and it only took a few minutes for the cell to be turned into a place entirely empty save Loki himself.

Loki looked distinctly unimpressed. “Oh yes, now I should talk,” he said sarcastically. “You truly are an old fool if you know me so little after all these years.”

“I will be back to see if you are more cooperative with some time to think,” Odin said before slamming Gungnir upon the ground. Loki jumped as with that thunderous slam the cell suddenly disappeared and he was standing in blackness. Panic rose up so fast Loki could barely get his lungs to expand. There was nothing anywhere around him. Just never-ending inky blackness. Just him… and the void. “ODIN!” he shouted before he could stop himself. He could not be here again. Not after being stuck in the nothingness of the void the first time.

Odin didn’t return or remove what Loki knew had to be some sort of illusion. “Hypocrite,” he hissed even as he backed towards where he knew the wall was. After walking for several minutes, Loki spat out a vile curse and stopped walking. Another bit of the illusion no doubt. His breathing was still impossibly erratic, and he was feeling light-headed, but he was determined to not faint from the fear swamping him. Loki knew illusions; they were the foundation of so much of his life. If he could just think about things rationally for a moment, he could perhaps do something to remove the illusion of the void.

Loki closed his eyes to attempt to take several calming breaths. He hated that he could barely tell if his eyes were open or closed. His calming breaths turned more into pained gasps, and Loki struggled to not let out the scream that was bubbling up from his soul. He just had to focus. Calm down. And focus.

He opened his eyes and still saw blackness. Shaking he had been trying to not let loose nearly tore his muscles apart as he slowly shrunk down into a ball. His knees were solid and real in front of him, and he focused only on them. His hands were stuck into painful claws from fighting his own body’s desire to break apart. Loki could get a handle on this nothingness. None of it was even real.

Loki looked up, and the void choked him with nothing. The scream that had been clawing its way up his throat finally broke through, and it hurt. The pure intensity of it made his whole body tense. The scream was mixed from rage and fear and painful memories, and he swore it was made of literal blades shredding his trachea. Loki screamed until his lungs were burning and shriveled from lack of air and he was forced to rake fresh oxygen into them. Tears were staining his face, but Loki barely noticed. The shaking was still racking his body, but the scream had filled the silent nothing of the void with something, if only for a moment.

Loki knew he had to get a hold of himself. To gather his wits so that when Odin returned he wouldn’t do something foolish. And yet nothing but how empty the world around him was registered to him. There was an end to this he knew. Odin would be back and remove the illusion. Loki just had to keep sane until then. Surely it could not take that long. However, time meant nothing in the void and the seconds stretched on like years.

The black drowned him.

The silence was too much.

There was nothing.

How long had it been?

Nothing.

Emptiness.

Loki screamed.

Chapter Text

It started off slowly.

He could barely even hear it.

It was the faintest of murmurs in the background of his dreams.

But, the first time he did hear it clearly, it shocked him out of his beautiful, comfortable sleep with a pounding heart and drenched in cold sweat. He brushed the murmur off as best he could. He’d had nightmares before, and really, compared to most of them, two softly spoken words entirely out of context was hardly that bad. He managed to shake the lingering unease and discomfort, and for the next several weeks he pushed it far enough from his thoughts that he forgot about it entirely.

Until it returned.

Agent Barton.

His name should not cause fear. It was his name. And really, it wasn’t his name that was the problem. It was the voice that said it. He hadn’t really recognized the voice at first…

Agent Barton.

But after several months of it popping up in dreams, it had no place being, it wasn’t hard to remember. There was only one person he knew of that said his name with that particular accent. With so much old world elegance and archaic speech patterns. Well, the only one who had that accent and didn’t go around shouting across the room.

Agent Barton.

Clint woke up for months in terror as Loki’s voice kept hanging around in his mind. True, he wasn’t saying anything in particular, but it was disturbing. Loki’s mental mumbo-jumbo was supposed to be gone. Thor had reassured him that that specific power had come from the staff and not Loki. Even after that, SHIELD doctors had gone over his mental state with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there were no lingering effect. So, Clint was fine. Right? Loki couldn’t be still hanging around in his head or anything. Thor had been certain. And besides, Clint’s memories were probably half to blame. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t recall Loki’s voice on his own (not that he made any sort of habit of trying to do that, the less he thought about that crazy bastard, the better).

Still, it was disturbing, and Clint really hoped it stopped. He didn’t need any of whatever it was. His own mind or Loki being cruel. Both options could stay far, far away from him. He had other -more pressing- things to worry about.

And then, after nearly four months, Loki decided to add to his vocabulary in Clint’s dreams…

Agent Barton. I have a job for you.

Clint didn’t sleep for several days out of pure fear. This just could not be happening. He was supposed to be free of it all. No more voodoo. Loki was up in wherever Thor had taken him. Hopefully, very uncomfortable. And Clint would also hopefully never see the bastard again.

Luckily for Clint, the whispers in his dreams petered out for a while after that. He was actually able to focus on his missions and such again with some decent sleep fueling him. He decided against mentioning hearing Loki’s voice though because, for all he knew, it really was just his brain playing tricks on him. It wasn’t like he suddenly had the urge to find Loki and set him free or anything crazy like that.

No, he was still vehemently against anything of the sort. So, he figured he was still in control of himself.

Almost nine months after the initial whispers started though, they returned. Far more frequently and clearly. Clint still didn’t feel the urge to do anything, but his sleep was becoming very erratic. More often than not he would barely really get any rest before he was woken by some whisper about a ‘job’ or just his name. Either way, he would wake up.

He was still resolved to not talk about it, though. Because he never wanted to talk about anything to do with the Norse God of Crazy. Natasha worried because she could tell he wasn’t at his peak, but she knew he wouldn’t talk about it until he was ready. Or until he absolutely had to and she forced it out of him. Whichever came first.

He lived with minimal sleep for two weeks before things got severely worse. Thor had returned to the tower for some reason. Tony was helping him look for something though Clint had only paid the smallest sliver of attention to whatever they were doing with Jarvis. Clint would much rather keep to himself since he was getting a very short fuse without proper sleep.

Clint was washing the dishes in the tower, because he wasn’t a total slob and knew how to pick up after himself unlike some people, Tony! But he happened to look to the side, and there, reflected in the stainless steel of the refrigerator, was Loki. Clint couldn’t help but let out a shout and drop the plate he had been washing. A knife was in his hand instantly as he whipped around, but there was nothing there.

The others came running, but Clint didn’t dare say that he’d seen something that wasn’t actually there. There was no way that Loki would be in the tower. None. However, that was only the first time he spotted Loki. Usually, it was out of the corner of his eye or in reflections, but he kept popping up everywhere Clint looked.

Despite not wanting to admit to a definite problem, it only took a week of him jumping at nothing and barely getting any sleep at all for the others to perform some weird pseudo intervention. Making it worse, Clint somehow wasn’t even expecting it. He’d gone up to get some water after an attempt to work out until exhaustion since that was one of the few ways he actually got sleep anymore. Clint had stepped into the central common area of the tower and saw all of the team there waiting.

Jeeze, wasn’t this normally supposed to be what they did for Tony? Clint thought about dodging, but the door had already closed behind him, and the lock had loudly clicked into place. Damn, Jarvis.

“What’s wrong, Clint?” Steve asked in that concerned way that he had.

“Nothing’s wrong.” He should have taken the vents up to the kitchen like he’d first thought to do. Then he would have bypassed the living room and avoided this whole mess. Next time. Next time he was definitely taking the vents.

“You’re not sleeping, you’re jumpier than I’ve ever seen you, and half the time you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Natasha listed off clinically. “Something’s wrong.”

Clint made a face. Alright, fine. But she didn’t have to go and just… say it. “Really, it’s nothing,” Clint insisted. The only things keeping him together currently were his missions, and if they thought he had been compromised again, they would take him off of those very welcomingly distracting jobs.

“Clint,” Steven pressed. Somehow the poster boy managed to sound disapproving, sympathetic and worried all mixed together. How did he do that? “We’re worried about you.”

“I’m fine,” Clint insisted. He wasn’t, but he refused to talk. The others pestered him for a good hour and a half, but Clint remained entirely too tight-lipped. He wasn’t admitting to possibly being compromised. Not now. Not ever.

He knew that the others were more than a little unhappy that their attempts met such a brick wall but Clint couldn’t bring himself to care. The little occasions of seeing and hearing the Norse Crazy were starting to become fewer again. If Loki was trying to play a game, then Clint was going to just not indulge him. Wasn’t that the way adults were supposed to handle bullies? Besides… Loki wasn’t around to shoot with an arrow. Or twenty. Clint was fine. He would just ignore it, and the annoying bastard would go away.

Chapter Text

Tony felt a little skeevy as he went through the motions of searching for someone who might have the misfortune of matching the soul mark that he was 99.98% certain belonged to Loki, God of Crazy, without letting on that he already had the answer Thor was looking for. He had limited the search to actual legal methods of finding someone so that the chances were less likely of finding a match, but he did have Jarvis be very complete with those legitimate sites because Tony did feel guilty despite telling himself he had no reason to do so. So, Tony was both glad and guilty when, after Jarvis had gone through all the sites, they'd only found a few possible matches to Loki’s mark. Thor then discarded those matches after he compared the photos to the image he had brought along, which amplified both good and bad feelings.

Tony realized he probably shouldn't feel relieved about the lack of matches since it wasn't exactly kind to be glad someone was without a soulmate, but he found that he was. He would have felt absolutely horrible putting some poor sod with the guy that Tony himself had decided to quietly ignore. Thor's crestfallen expression as he dismissed the last option was a bit of a heartstring tug, though. "Thank you for your assistance, Man of Iron," Thor said as he tucked the parchment with the lone soul mark into his pocket.

"Sorry, bud," Tony said sincerely. He really was sorry that he just could not do what Thor would want and expect.

Thor sighed heavily. "It is not something you should feel the need to apologize for, my friend. It is not your fault," Thor said, causing Tony's guilt to spike. "I should not be surprised."

"You know not everyone puts their marks on those sites," Steve commented from where he was cooking in the kitchen. Tony scowled, but Thor's attention had instantly snapped to his other teammate, and so he missed it.

"What do you mean, Friend Steven?" Thor asked.

Steve shrugged, still not looking up from the vegetables he was chopping up. "Well, some people find it a bit... questionable putting mate marks on websites. I know I certainly don't have mine plastered all over the Internet."

"You're old-fashioned," Tony pointed out.

"Even some people not old fashioned don't put their marks on those sites," Steve replied. "Plus, you're not allowed to if you aren't an adult."

Tony sighed and rubbed his forehead. He really wished that Steve hadn't pointed all that out. Steve didn't even really know what they were talking about and Tony hadn't had a chance to tell him his suspicions about who's soulmate Thor was looking for. Maybe if Tony had made the time, Steve wouldn't be so helpful right now, because Thor suddenly had a bit of hope in his eyes again and that made Tony feel guilty and wary all over again. "So, there could still be a way to find the matching mark?"

"Well, if whoever has that mark really wants to find someone you could put their mark on the sites instead," Steve suggested, and Tony managed to fight the urge to groan. He really hadn't wanted this drawn out. Tony wanted it over and done with so that he could stop thinking about it and feeling guilty about keeping his secret. "But you'd need a high-resolution image of it," Steve added.

"You know for someone who's not going to put yours up on the Internet you sure seem to know a lot about it," Tony said.

Steve glanced up quickly but then cleared his throat and went back to whatever he was cooking. "I've looked into it is all," he replied. "Natasha suggested I use one of those sites, but I didn't like the idea of having my marks everywhere. You can just imagine the kind of people would start trying to fake them..."

Tony supposed Steve had a point there. He didn’t have his mate mark posted for virtually the exact same reason, but he still wasn't pleased about the topic. And how it wasn't dead yet. "How would I get this 'high resolution' image?" Thor asked curiously.

Steve shrugged. "You could bring whoever it is down here, and we could get a picture of the mark with Jarvis," he suggested. Tony nearly choked on nothing at that idea, but neither other man noticed. Bringing Loki down to Earth again was the worst idea they could come up with.

Thor frowned. "I will have to speak with my Father to see if that is possible," Thor mused. "Excuse me, friends. I will be back shortly," he added as he got to his feet and headed towards his room.

"Steve!" Tony hissed as soon as Thor was gone. "Are you insane!?"

Steve looked up, looking quite startled. "What?"

"You can't just invite random people to Earth!" Tony said as he went over to the counter to glare at Steve.

"Why not?" Steve asked, frowning in confusion.

Tony sighed in complete exasperation. How naïve was Steve anyway? "Do you think that Thor would be asking around for just any random Asgardian?" he asked rhetorically. "He's looking for Loki's soulmate."

Steve's eyes went huge. "Loki!?"

"Yes Loki! Of course, it's Loki, would Thor really be looking for anyone elses’?"

"I... I didn't really think about it," Steve said. "If I knew I wouldn't have suggested it!"

Tony sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I know. Still, we can just hope that Odin says no." That would be the responsible thing to do as a jailer of a crazy magic God. “Besides, with how Clint’s been all jumpy and things lately the last thing he needs is Loki brought back down here.”

“I agree,” Steve said instantly. “But I doubt that Odin would agree to it anyway. Thor told Fury that Loki’s sentence was something like ten thousand years. There’s no amount of good behavior that would have him able to leave after only one.”

“I hope you’re right,” Tony muttered. He wasn’t even remotely religious, but he would pray to whatever God (Asgardian or otherwise) to allow Loki to stay behind bars and nowhere near Earth again.

Chapter Text

Frigga sighed tiredly as she finally made her way into her chambers. After hearing Eir's report about her son's back, she had decided to consult with someone more familiar with Jotnar soul mates to see if the back markings were really the only way to identify each other, since several other species had spells and rituals meant to help find the other parts of one's soul for just such problems. The most obvious Jotun to go to was Odin's mother and ex-Queen of Asgard Bestla. However, Bestla would, somewhat understandably, not openly deal with anyone from Asgard after having left years ago so Frigga had to go to her. Frigga had spent several days scouring the icy mountain tops of Vanaheim where Bestla had eventually settled and then another two just to get the elderly giant to speak with her.

Bestla had not been overly impressed with the new queen of Asgard's questions but after Frigga explained that she was asking for Loki and why he needed the help in the first place, Bestla had softened. "I never was happy with Odin when he decided to cast that illusion," Bestla grumbled. She had left Asgard before the War with the Jotnar but she had returned for a few weeks to help Frigga care for the newborn Loki. She'd left again after getting into several heated arguments with Odin about Loki, Bestla had left.

Bestla had helped Frigga understand more about how Jotnar deal with soulmates but her explanations had been somewhat contradictory and long winded. Frigga ended up spending almost a full day just understanding the most basics of the complex Jotnar mating rituals. But the efforts had been worth it as Frigga had found out some hopefully useful rituals that were meant to help.

Despite the very late hour when Frigga finally returned to Asgard and her rooms, she was not ready to rest just yet. She pulled the pins from her hair as she made her way to her dressing room. Frigga laid the long metal pins on her boudoir as she walked past somewhat distractedly. The Queens' thoughts were already focused on where she would be able to get the herbs that would be needed. Some were really quite rare and would take a little hunting to get her hands on but she used to be very good such things. Frigga changed into her dressing gown and picked up her hair brush when she came back out into her main set of rooms. With her mind still somewhat distracted, Frigga sent a viewing spell to her mirror. Loki was probably sleeping but she hadn't seen him in almost two weeks so she wanted to at least look in on him before turning in herself. Tomorrow she would see him when he was awake.

The mirror shimmered like the surface of a lake as Frigga brushed the crimps and curls out of her long golden hair. At first, Frigga didn't realize something was wrong but when, after several moments, the mirror didn't resolve into a clear image, Frigga frowned. She attempted the spell again and grew worried when the mirror shimmered endlessly as it searched for Loki yet still didn't show her son's cell.

Even though her husband had said he didn't want her spending time trying to reason with their wayward son, Frigga hadn't thought that he would go so far as to put up a blocking spell on Loki's cell. Not even allowing her to glance in to make certain he was alright was unnecessary, in her opinion.

Frigga got up from her seat at her mirror and went to go send her astral self to Loki's cell instead. Rarely did the spells used to block scrying spells also block astral projections. Several attempts left Frigga seeing only black and she couldn't be certain she had even managed to send her astral form to the proper place. Her worry quickly climbed and morphed into anger as she was unable to even see her son.

Frigga abruptly ended the spell and stalked out of her chambers. She left for one week and she returns to see this? Absolutely unbelievable and she wouldn't take it lying down. Frigga and Odin's private chambers were right beside each other with a large bed chamber only accessible through their private ones that they shared. Frigga stormed through the union bedroom to Odin's private one. The King wasn't in bed and Frigga wasn't so surprised to see that so she went straight to his study beyond the bedroom.

Despite nearly throwing the door into the wall, Odin didn't even flinch when Frigga burst in. "What have you done, Odin?" Frigga demanded.

Odin sighed and moved some papers off to the side but did not look up at her since he had been expecting her to be upset with him. "Frigga, I'm simply doing what I must," he said, not bothering to pretend as if he didn't know what she was talking about. "He has not been harmed. I promise you."

"I would rather see that for myself!" Frigga snapped. "He is our son, Odin. You cannot deny me my right to see him."

"He was being difficult," Odin said as he spun in his chair. "We cannot afford to coddle him anymore."

"Coddle?" Frigga echoed. "Since when have you ever coddled him? And what purpose does blocking my ability to check on him serve unless you know I will not like what you have done? What did you do, Odin?"

"For being uncooperative, I removed the unnecessary luxuries you gave him," Odin answered.

Frigga saw red. "You had no right to do such a thing! And what do you mean 'uncooperative?' Did you even see his back?"

"Yes, and he refused to explain himself."

"Explain himself for what!?" she demanded.

Odin's eye nearly flashed with ruthless determination. "What Thanos is planning. We must know, Frigga."

Frigga stared. "You cannot honestly believe that Loki wanted that horrid creature's name upon him!"

"Would it truly be so shocking, Frigga? Ever has Loki sought to cause trouble and strife," Odin said.

Frigga clenched her fist but fought the urge to punch Odin, if only to avoid causing the King to become more unreasonable. "Let me see him," she said with all the calm yet clear Queenly command she could muster while so incensed.

"That would undo everything, Frigga. He must see us as a united front," Odin said as if they were speaking of grounding a prepubescent child and not their adult and traumatized son.

"But we, Husband, are not united. Remove the spells, or I will break through them," she stated. Breaking through such spells did not come without dangerous repercussions. The energy that was unleashed would cause a feedback that would, depending on the amount, cause anything from a light shock to death, but she wasn't going to allow Odin to have his way any longer. He never listened to anyone else's advice even after his methods were what lead them to this situation.

"Frigga, you would hurt yourself!"

"So I would. And gladly."

"He is turning you against me, Frigga," Odin growled.

Frigga scoffed, "Loki has done nothing aggressive since he was returned to us. Your own actions speak well enough that they should tell you what turns me against you." There was silence between the two of them as they both glared at each other in a battle of wills. "I'll not ask again, Odin." Frigga did not have the patience to fight him for very much longer.

Odin kept staring for a long minute but Frigga didn't back down. He didn't wish to alienate her further over such a thing. Without a word, Odin took up Gungnir from where it was leaning against the wall. He did not look happy but slammed the blunt end of the spear on the floor. Frigga didn't wait to go back to her room and simply summoned her mirror to her and tried to peer in on her son again. The mirror floated in place and the surface rippled like liquid mercury as the spell seeped into the glass. When the image resolved finally, Frigga screamed and Odin was at his feet instantly. Neither had expected to see Loki curled in on himself on the ground with dark garnet blood drenching him and staining the floor. The pool spread around him was far too large. Uneven gashes were all over Loki's arms and face to the point where Odin wasn't able to see his features clearly. Shreds of Loki's sleeves were sopping with blood in the pool looking like discarded innards.

"Frigga, get Lady Eir. I will summon the guards to bring him to the healing rooms."

Frigga turned teary eyes to her husband. "What did you do!?" she demanded as she gathered her magic around her.

Odin finally tore his own eyes away from Loki's bloody form. "I did not lay a hand on him! I wouldn't ever do such a thing! He was fine when I left him and for all we know this is another elaborate trick of his. Get Eir." The healer would be able to treat his wounds if they really were there but Odin, although shocked, was not absolutely convinced yet. "I do not know how long he has been bleeding," Odin added when it looked like Frigga would stay to yell at him some more.

Frigga sent him such a heated look that Odin was surprised he didn't spontaneously ignite right where he stood. "Rest assured, we are not done, Odin Borson." Coming home to find her son laying in a pool of his own blood would be ingrained in her mind for all time and that rested solely on Odin's shoulders. Frigga stormed out of the private study and Odin summoned the guards to Loki's cell. The King watched through Frigga's mirror as several heavily armed Einherjar entered the barren cell warily. Odin kept his eye fixed intently on the scene for any sign of Loki's deception when the guards picked him up from the ground. Even as the sight of bloody torn furrows did not disappear from Loki's arms and face, Odin was not wholly convinced. Loki could have hurt himself just to earn more sympathy from his mother.

Odin was certain that this was either a result of Loki plotting or he was again overreacting. The younger of his sons was forever getting worked into truly remarkable temper tantrums over the smallest things such as permanently shearing off Sif's original hair just for a few silly comments. Or the entire attempt to destroy a whole world just because he happened to be blue under his magic. Yes, Odin decided, it sounded very much like Loki to be an overly dramatic little girl over being in the dark for a little while.

Well, if Loki thought either a deliberate trick or melodramatic self-mutilation was going to sway Odin into not finding out what Thanos and Loki had planned, he would find out that not to be true. Odin knew better than to let sentiment get in the way of what had to be done for the good of all realms. Thanos was too large a threat to let plot from the shadows. If Frigga did not understand that, well, that would be unfortunate but he would rather have people alive and hating him than dead. Such was the role of a King.

Odin would have to wait for Loki to be healed properly from this before he could try and get further answers, which was truly unfortunate but he knew Frigga wouldn't allow anything less. Despite being told to not coddle the boy any longer, Odin knew that she still would. Just like all the other times that he had told Frigga to not coddle him. She was always the first to run to him if Loki was deciding to be melodramatic and pretend to be sick or grievously injured from a scraped knee. The boy had never learned any sort of discipline because of it but Frigga just would not listen to reason. Odin sighed and sat back down at his desk. He supposed that at the very least, this set back would give him time to plan a new way to convince Loki to fess up to his plans. "Thor was never this much trouble," Odin grumbled as he dismissed Frigga's mirror back to her room with a wave of his hand. Thor had always been a little too quick to act but his heart had always been in the right place. Unlike Loki who delighted in mischief and destruction for the sake of the trouble it caused others. Odin had failed to curb the behavior before due to his wife's undermining but he would correct it now. After all, it was better to be late than never.

Chapter Text

Clint's intention to ignore Loki was not working. He hadn't slept in -well, at all since Thor had arrived and his temper was now non-existent. At first, Loki's taunting hadn't been any worse than usual (which was plenty bad enough, thanks) but a few nights ago it had taken a frightening turn.

Clint had been trying to sleep because if he went any longer without he felt he'd be swallowed up by the bags under his eyes. Clint felt that he should have been more surprised to hear Loki's voice murmuring in his ear than he was. Unfortunately, he was getting far too used to Loki invading his private thoughts and downtime. The words though... his words were beyond disturbing.

You are a father are you not, Hawk? Remember well how much you love them before questioning what I would or wouldn't do.

Clint had bolted upright with a gasp so sharp he nearly choked on it. A cold sweat had drenched through his sleep shirt, and it felt as if his entire core had frozen solid in fear. He tried to remember it was an empty threat. That Loki couldn't do anything to hurt his family, but he couldn't.

Clint swung himself out of bed and grabbed his second phone. He called Laura, not even a little remorseful about what god awful time in the morning it was. Luckily, Laura knew that if he was calling it was important and answered after only the second ring. Even though she was quick to pick up, she still sounded slightly groggy, "Clint?"

The tension in Clint's shoulders and back eased at the familiar sound of his soulmate's voice. He didn't like that without the near painful way his muscles had frozen that he began to tremble. "You and the kids?"

"Dead center," she answered without hesitation. At the familiar code words to mean safe that nobody but Nat, Coulson, Maria Hill, and Fury knew, the remainder of the tension fled. Clint let out a sigh and dropped his head so that it was hanging nearly on top of his bent knees. Laura was quiet for a moment. "What happened?"

"A dream," Clint answered as the light headed feeling slowly faded. He hadn't been that entirely terrified in a very, very long time and he hadn't appreciated the sensation.

"You wouldn't have called here sounding like that for a dream," Laura said instantly. "What happened, Clint?" she asked with her best 'mom' voice that made both Clint and the kids crumble instantly.

"... Loki."

Laura was silent for a moment. "What about him?" The fallout of Loki's invasion had hit the Barton family hard. Clint had beaten himself up about everything that had happened for quite a while and Laura hadn't been able to convince him to come home until three months later, and even then Natasha had been enlisted to make him do it. Both of Clint's soulmates had been berating him for even allowing himself to get worked up about what happened, but Clint was good at being stubborn and ignoring everyone else's advice.

"He's messing with me, Laura," Clint said.

"Messing with you how?"

Clint wanted to not say anything, but he was the one that had called her. Plus, if Loki were after their kids she would need to know. "He's been... in my head again," Clint said. "Not taking over or anything just there taunting me," he added quickly so that she wouldn't worry.

"Tell Nat."

"I can't do that!"

"Clinton," Laura began in a dangerous tone of voice, "Tell Natasha, or I swear I will call her right now on the other line. In fact, I might do that anyway."

Clint swore. "Alright, alright. I'll tell her in the morning... but I promise he's not in charge. I still hate him," Clint said. "I hate him more than anything."

"Now let's not lie about things just to prove a point," Laura said although her voice had softened. Clint scoffed but didn't argue. Perhaps he didn't truly hate Loki the most out of everyone and thing in the world, but it was a close call. "Now, what exactly is he doing?"

"Mostly saying vague bullshit," Clint grumbled. "But tonight he... he brought up the kids..."

There was a long silence and, for about half-a-second, Clint almost felt bad for Loki. Laura and Natasha were colossal mother bears (with spikes), and Clint wasn't under even a slight misconception that Natasha would be contacted about this within the next few minutes. "Is he on Earth?"

"No, thank God," Clint answered. That was perhaps the best news that he had was that no matter what Loki wanted he wasn't actually on Earth.

"You already had us move, Clint. There's no way he could find us again," Laura tried to reason. Moving to a different farm had been the first thing Clint had done after they had gotten rid of the Norse menace. He remembered being far too free with information about his family with Loki when he was under mind control.

"He could find you... through me," Clint muttered. "You need to be careful, Laura. And I promise I'll tell Nat about this. Really."

He could almost imagine the disbelieving look on Laura's face. "Right. You had better. And you need to stop thinking you're somehow a danger to us. You're not, Clint. You would never do anything to hurt us," she told him.

"I would never betray SHIELD either," Clint grumbled. "See how fast that changed?"

"That's hardly the same thing," Laura replied. "Now go tell Nat."

"Alright, alright," Clint agreed with a sigh. "I'll go right now so don't go and call her or anything."

Laura was still going to call. Clint could tell. "I love you, Clint."

"I love you too. Pass it on to the kids," Clint murmured. "I'll come home soon."

"Good."

Clint debated not going to Natasha for all of a second before remembering that Laura didn't let him dodge things like this. Why did he always end up with bossy soulmates anyway? Laura and Natasha both didn't let him get away with anything, and it was frustrating. Well, technically he had no idea if Nat was one of his soulmates since the Red Room had obliterated all of Natasha's marks and even the records of those marks for the sole purpose of making sure there were no attachments possible. But both Clint and Laura were of the belief that Natasha was theirs. Soulmates didn't often share marks with a third, but both Clint and Laura had a mark that matched someone else on their chest and agreed that it had to be Natasha's, because who else could it possibly be?

Clint got a solid -if quiet- telling off by Natasha for not coming to her immediately about hearing and seeing Loki. She then assured Clint that she would kill him before allowing him to hurt the family. That wasn't something Laura would have ever considered, but Clint knew Natasha was deadly serious and that comforted him more than he could say.

A heavy weight was relieved -if not entirely then substantially- from Clint after the talk with Natasha. So much so that he went up to the kitchen through the halls like a normal bipedal human opposed to the vents. That proved to be a mistake, however.

Clint was preparing a cup of tea that Tasha seemed to think would help him get to sleep. Clint wasn't optimistic, but Natasha had apparently gotten the mix from Bruce and if anyone around the tower knew what tea knocked you the hell out it would be Bruce. He was just lowering the pot of hot water back to the stove when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder with an ear-splitting 'Good friend, Clint!' from behind him.

Clint jumped so severely he almost slammed the still half full pot of boiling water into Thor's head but managed to catch himself after turning. "Holy fuck, Thor! Why do you do that!?"

Thor smiled sheepishly. "My apologies... I did not mean to startle you. I was merely glad to see you before I left, I was not certain that I would."

"Left?" Clint echoed as he finally put what could have been a deadly weapon down on the stove.

"Yes. I am returning to Asgard to request a favor from my father and mother," Thor said.

Lack of sleep would be Clint's excuse later for the next thing that burst out of his mouth. "Good! Maybe you can tell that bastard brother of yours to stay the hell outta my head while you're at it!"

Thor blinked in surprise. "What?"

"Loki! He's trying to get in my head again," Clint said. He forced himself to put his mug down before he snapped the damn thing or spilled hot tea everywhere. "He's fucking with me, I know it!"

"That's quite impossible," Thor said.

"Yeah? Tell that to him 'cause I don't think I'd be hearing his annoying voice if he weren't able to do it." Clint was trying hard to not yell, but even venting earlier to Natasha about the situation hadn't entirely removed his anger at being toyed with again. He wasn't something for Loki to amuse himself with. "I swear I will find a way to hit him with my mind if he keeps this up!"

Thor frowned, but Clint didn't get the impression it was from the threat. "Clint... you do not understand, it is not actually possible," Thor said sternly. "Loki's cell is warded against his magic, and even if it were not, the distance is too great. He would not be able to cross realms with his magic."

"Distance didn't stop him from messing with Selvig now did it?" Clint shot back. "Just... stop him, Thor! Keep him away from me. In every way or I won't be responsible for turning him into a pincushion."

"He truly cannot be doing what you're saying," Thor argued. "But... if it would make you feel better, I will consult with my mother. If anyone would be able to find a way that Loki was circumventing the magic it would be her. But I truly do not think he can."

Clint scowled. "Well, I'm not crazy."

Thor held up his hands in defense. "I meant no disrespect, my friend. As I said, I will ask about this during my visit. We shall get to the bottom of these... incidents in short order."

Clint wasn't sure he was entirely satisfied, but since he had no better solution that Thor might actually agree to, nodded and picked up his tea. Thor would no doubt not agree to letting Clint use Loki for target practice. He did still have Nat's promise for a backup if it came to that. Clint really hoped that it didn't come to that but what else could he do? He wasn't going to be responsible for hurting his family.

Thor sighed as he watched Clint leave the kitchen. This was not a complication that was needed. Then again, he supposed nothing involving his brother would be easy. God of Chaos was just ill-suited to straightforward solutions. Thor ran a hand through his hair and made his way up to the roof of the tower and called for Heimdall.

Clouds swirled, and static that would have made Thor's hair raise if he wasn't so used to electricity thrummed through the atmosphere. The Bifrost opened with its usual rainbow so intense that it glowed near white. The rush of air being displaced at maddening speed made his ears ring for a moment until suddenly everything stopped and the world faded back into ordinary colors and shapes.

When Thor arrived home, he asked after his parents immediately. He was unhappily surprised to be told by Heimdall that his Mother was in the healer's ward before he could even step down from the dais. "Why is Mother with the healers and why would Father not be with her?" Thor knew his Father was forever busy with the running of the Nine Realms, but if his Mother were ill, Thor would have expected him to leave his council chambers to stay by her side as Heimdall said he hadn't.

"It is not the Queen under the Healer's care," Heimdall said. "It is your brother."

Thor felt something around his heart drop down through his stomach to hit the ground. "What? Is Loki alright?" he asked even as he unhooked Mjolnir from his belt.

"I do believe that the Queen would say he is not," Heimdall answered. Thor barely took the time to listen to the watchman's answer and indeed was already taking off by the time Heimdall finished. Heimdall, as usual, did not look so surprised by this but watched Thor zip away towards the palace for a long minute. Heimdall slowly turned to gaze out across the cosmos instead. He wondered idly if the situation he saw brewing on Earth would be something the All-Father would wish him to speak up about. Probably not. Although far-sighted Heimdall could see how things could backlash in ways that they would not want, yet again his duty was clouded with the vagueness of his orders. 'Identify threats to Asgard' could really mean anything but the All-Father might not consider what Heimdall saw in this instance as a threat. Not when Thanos also loomed on the horizon somewhere.

Heimdall's eyes scanned the Earth, seeking out the specific people he was hunting for. He wasn't entirely satisfied, but he was only a watchman, not anything more. Odin had already made that quite clear to him. And so he watched instead and pondered what -if any- his next moves might be.

Thor landed heavily on the balcony nearest the healing ward and hurried inside. Servants looked surprised to see him and ducked out of his way as the crown Prince nearly ran through the halls. He didn't even notice if he brushed past any important council members or the like in his haste.

"Mother!" Thor paused in the doorway almost the moment he entered because it took only a few seconds for him to spot his Mother sitting beside a bed. Frigga got to her feet and turned to greet Thor, but the Thunder god didn't look at her again. His eyes were fixed on the figure strapped down to the bed and covered in bandages.

"Thor," Frigga reached out to him, and he absently allowed the hug with one arm.

"What has happened?" Thor asked. If he did not already know that the figure on the bed was his brother he would have been hard-pressed to identify him elsewise. Almost all of Loki's face was bandaged heavily along with the entire length of his forearms. "And why is he strapped down?" Thick leather belts were around Loki's chest, hips, legs and around each bandaged wrist to disallow movement.

"We had to restrain him for his own safety," Frigga said sadly. She looked back at Loki wetly.

Thor managed to wrench his gaze away from his brother to look at Frigga. "His own safety?" he echoed. He couldn't see how strapping his brother to bed could be for his safety. Not unless... "He did this to himself?" Thor demanded as he looked back at the unconscious Loki.

"Yes, when he woke he did not seem to realize where he was at first. Loki fought us and tried to reopen his wounds," Frigga said while wringing her hands. She looked as if she had not slept at all for at least a full day and had been fretting the whole time, which Thor thought extremely likely. "Odin has said that he only made Loki's cell more uncomfortable but... this is far more than that and I am not certain what to do to ease Loki's distress."

Thor moved away from his Mother to sit at Loki's bedside. The unconscious God of Chaos seemed to be resting peacefully, but there was a faint shimmer of magic around his head telling that he had been forced into such sleep. His nails and fingers were stained a dark rusty red color. The amount of desperation it must have taken for Loki to do such damage to himself was beyond Thor's imagining. Thor reached over to take his brother's hand.

Loki's fingers were icy cold in Thor's own. "How long has he been like this?"

"When I returned to Asgard yesterday, I discovered him bleeding in his cell," Frigga answered. "He has been here under Eir's care since."

Thor reached up to brush some of Loki's wild and unwashed hair back from his bandaged face. He had no doubt that if the bandages were not in the way, his brother would have dark circles under his eyes. Loki always had trouble sleeping if something was on his mind, and whatever drove him to this would undoubtedly have been on his mind. Severe lack of sleep could not have helped his condition at all.

Thor didn't like the small spots of red that were seeping into the bandages over Loki's face. "How badly did Loki damage himself?" Thor asked Eir who had come over to stand on the other side of Loki's bed. Thor looked up at the old healer. "Will he have any permanent repercussions from this?"

Eir shook her head. "I don't believe so. He didn't manage to claw out his eyes, but it was a close thing. He ripped into both of them, but I was able to repair the damage so he should have minimal problems in the future." Thor wasn't sure if he liked the idea of 'minimal' problems. He would much prefer no problems whatsoever. But he knew that healing such delicate organs as eyes was a difficult undertaking even for Asgard's best healers. Time and the pure number of nerves involved were both factors that had led to the loss of eyes in many an Asgardian Warrior.

"I would have contacted you, later on today, if he did not recover enough to not hurt himself when he was awake," Frigga said as she brushed the back of her fingers down Loki's bandaged face.

The question was clear, and Thor sighed. "I have been unable to find Loki's soulmate... but there is a chance we could if we had a better image of the mark. Unfortunately, I would need to bring Loki back down to Midgard."

Frigga frowned. "Though I am not comfortable with sending Loki to Midgard... I am not sure he is safe here with Odin either," she murmured. "Allow me to think on this for the day." She wanted what was best for her son, and while she genuinely believed it would help him to have his soulmate to support him, Frigga also knew that sending Loki to Midgard could backfire terribly. He had created many enemies among the mortals.

"Do you think that Father hurt Loki on purpose?" Thor asked uneasily. He didn't like to think that it was possible but the thought wouldn't leave his head.

"He does not think he did anything wrong," Frigga said. "I think if he drives his son to hurt himself, he most certainly did do something wrong even if he doesn't wish to admit it."

"Why did he change Loki's cell in the first place?" Thor asked.

"Punishment for some imagined slight, what else?" Frigga asked bitterly. "He accuses Loki of twisting words and taking offense to nothing, but he forgets that our son learned it from somewhere. And now his unnecessary 'punishment' has harmed Loki even more, and he won't even acknowledge it!"

Thor frowned but nodded. He knew well that his father didn't always think as much of his punishments as Thor and Loki did. Often times his disciplines were needed, like Thor losing Mjolnir, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt terribly. Odin had a knack for the picking out the most painful teaching methods. Thor now realized just how many more times Loki had been punished in comparison with himself and did not like it. "If you do allow me to take Loki down to Midgard... we will have to arrange a place he cannot escape from. I doubt very much that my friends will wish him near without precautions in place."

Frigga nodded. "That had already occurred to me as well," she admitted. "I do not think that there is any such thing as a perfect solution here..." Especially considering Loki did not seem to have any remorse for what he had done to Jotunheim or Midgard. He didn't deny it, but he wasn't remotely repentant either, and Frigga didn't imagine that the mortals would tolerate him nearby without feeling sorry for his actions.

Thor turned his attention back to his brother. "Did he say anything when he woke up at all?"

"Nothing that made any sense," Eir offered. "Mostly single words that did not seem to go together."

"I fear they go together more than you think, Lady Eir," Frigga offered. Thor was about to ask what words his brother had been shouting but thought better of it. Frigga looked particularly disturbed, and Thor didn't want to press in places he shouldn't. He really was trying harder to be more aware of others and their feelings.

Eir frowned. "They couldn't possibly... I performed a complete exam on the Prince when he was brought here bleeding so severely, and I see absolutely no evidence of your suspicions." Thor felt very much like he had stepped into an argument the two women had been having for quite some time now. Again he felt the desire to ask for clarification but found himself not daring to do so.

Frigga shook her head. "Be that as it may, I do not think I am wrong. Call it a mother's intuition if you will."

"He's never even met his soulmate, my Queen," Eir pointed out.

"That's hardly necessary," Frigga pointed out. "He was gone a long time from us, Eir."

Thor couldn't manage to hold back the curiosity any longer. "What suspicions do you hold, Mother?" he all but blurted.

Frigga and Eir were both silent for a very long moment before Frigga sighed. "Your brother screamed about dead children-"

"But there is no evidence at all that Prince Loki has ever had children," Eir added quickly. "There would be skeletal markers even if he had been in his female form, which you know he would have had to be. He has simply never done it, My Queen. I'm positive."

Thor glanced at the two older women and shifted uncomfortably. "Perhaps they are not his children he was screaming about," he offered. "Lady Eir has a point. There would be some evidence if he bore children and do Jotnar not take even longer than most to birth their young? A year would not have been enough to conceive and birth even one child."

"If they were not of his body... that does not mean they were not the children of his heart," Frigga insisted. "I have heard such screams before... from my own heart when Loki fell." Thor looked back to his brother and hoped that his mother was wrong. He wasn't at all sure how he would react if such suspicions were correct. Nor was he confident that he would be able to broach the topic with Loki for fear of hurting his brother more. Perhaps he shouldn't, but Thor sincerely hoped that whatever torment of lost children plagued his brother was just manufactured from his mind. That didn't sound kind, but he thought that at least if it was all in Loki's head then there was a chance he would get better and it wouldn't hurt him any longer.

Thor spent most of the night beside his injured brother and Loki never stirred. The straps remained secured, and Frigga renewed the sleeping spell upon him every few hours. Thor wasn't sure if that was the best way to handle things with his brother, but he also heeded Eir's advice that his eyes would heal better if he remained asleep and not using them for now. Early the next morning, Frigga came back to the healing ward with a determined expression on her face.

Thor got to his feet. "Mother."

"Return with me to Midgard, Thor. I will speak with whomever I must to ensure both myself and your friends are in understanding with Loki's return," she said. "Lady Eir will watch over Loki until he is finished healing."

Thor suddenly remembered the other issue that had been brought to his attention just before coming to Asgard. "Mother... Agent Barton seems to think that Loki is still entering his mind. I told him it was impossible, but he did not believe me I do not think. You would be able to explain better than I, I believe," Thor said. Frigga raised an eyebrow and Thor shrugged. "He says that he often has dreams where Loki is trying to enlist his assistance."

"And you told him the distance makes this impossible?" Frigga prompted.

"Yes, but he did not believe me," Thor repeated. "He says that distance was not a problem when Loki was invading Selvig's mind... and I did not have sufficient knowledge of such things to explain it to him."

Frigga sighed but nodded. "I will assure him that Loki could not be contacting him. However, I see that this would make it more difficult for them to agree for Loki to be returned to their realm," she murmured. She would have to work harder to convince the mortals than she initially thought, but after trying and failing to speak sense into Odin that night, Frigga was more determined than ever to get Loki out of Asgard at least for now. Odin had just refused to face what had happened beyond saying that Loki was again being 'overdramatic.' Frigga did not hold to the stereotype that Omegas were any more dramatic than Alphas and was very tired of hearing that excuse from her husband.

"They will most likely wish you to speak with the man they call Fury," Thor told his mother. "He seems to have taken charge of Midgard's defenses and organized us in defense against Loki's army."

"Then I will speak with him," Frigga stated. She didn't particularly care if she had to speak with whatever passed as Midgard's world leaders on top of it. If Frigga had to talk sense into every being in the universe to straighten this mess out, then she would. Her son was more important to her than the annoyance of mortals who thought they understood anything about a God.

Chapter Text

Frigga, most people agreed, was at her most imposing when she was acting in defense of one of her children. Mother bears had nothing on Odin's Wife. She was wearing something more suited to Midgard than her usual queenly garb; a knee-length blue-grey and black dress with a deadly sharp silhouette. Thor wasn't sure if he should be awed by how well his mother blended into Midgard when he had struggled so much or frightened by the determined look in her eyes.

Thor wasn't even sure how she had so easily gotten them into a meeting with Fury. Even he usually had to jump through a few hoops despite being an Avenger and a Prince. But they had been through the offices to Fury's office with only a few words from the Asgardian Queen. Frigga sat down in the chair that Fury offered to her like the Queen she was and allowed Thor to make the introductions.

"And what can I do for you?" Fury asked although he was not particularly happy to have had his afternoon taken over by a visit from Aliens. All of his important meetings had suddenly canceled with no apparent reason and he knew he had the culprit sitting in front of him.

"I would like to speak with you about my son," Frigga said.

Fury narrowed his one eye. "I assume you're not talking about the one that is in the room with us currently?"

"Correct," Frigga agreed. Fury used every ounce of self restraint to not sigh in agitation. "Loki must return to Midgard."

"No," Fury said instantly.

"I wasn't asking," Frigga replied, not seemingly surprised. "Rest assured I'm not implying that we let him free from his prison term. We will even assist in constructing a cell for him here on Midgard that he cannot escape from. But he will be relocated here."

Fury studied the Queen across from him for several moments before getting to his feet. Frigga wasn't intimidated but he was glad to not be sitting during this. The tension wouldn't allow him to sit passively and he couldn't allow himself to show any agitation. "The answer is still no. You were the ones that wanted him back up there instead of letting him face our justice. You can't just drop him off here now that he's giving you a headache."

Thor bristled. "Careful how you speak to my Mother, Man of Fury."

Frigga held a hand up to calm Thor. "It is not because Loki is causing us trouble, Director," she denied. "He has been a model prisoner. But it has come to our attention that Loki's soulmate is Midgardian. This was not something known before or we would have reacted appropriately then."

Fury buried his initial surprise to the news. "And that matters, why to us?" he asked.

"Because he is an Omega," Frigga said. She wouldn't outright use the stereotype of unmated Omegas being irrational, but she could still allow him to make the incorrect assumptions.

"So you're saying that it's common for your Omegas to go on a city wide rampage when they get horny?" Fury asked with a scowl. "I don't buy that. And it's no excuse."

Frigga inclined her head slightly. "I never said it was an excuse. It is simply a fact that you should take into consideration," she said. She wasn't about to touch the idea of Loki's actions being because of his state of fertility. "But now we can do something to rehabilitate him."

"I'm not all that interested in rehabilitation," Fury said firmly. "Keep your crazy son."

Thor gripped his hammer tighter and opened his mouth to say something but Frigga spoke first. "You seem to forget that Loki is a Prince of Asgard." Fury raised an eyebrow. "Political alliances have been built on far less." Fury's eye narrowed. Frigga hadn't truly wanted to play that particular card but she could tell that she would need to make this idea beneficial to Fury in some way if she was going to get assistance. And if Loki's rehabilitation wasn't benefit enough she had few other options that might tempt someone like Fury.

"Mother..." Thor had most definitely not anticipated his Mother even bringing up such a thought. There was also the potential that Loki wasn't a Prince any longer. Odin had alluded to it but Thor wasn't certain if the actual formal paperwork was done to take Loki out of the line of succession.

"Just what are you saying, Queen Frigga?" Fury asked although he had already guessed. He wanted to hear it straight.

"If Loki finds a soulmate with a Midgardian, I will ensure an alliance with your realm. One that would offer you protection," Frigga said. She buried down the knowledge that Loki would hate being reduced to a bargaining chip but she had no choice. Frigga had to get Loki away from Odin and a soulmate would hopefully bring her son some form of comfort.

Fury wasn't going to bite so quickly though. He didn't run his organization so well for years by jumping at any offer waved in front of him. "We already have one of those," he said nodding to Thor.

"No, you have a personal agreement and vow from Thor. There is no guarantee that you would have any other assistance should a threat from outside of your world come," Frigga corrected. "I am offering a formal alliance."

"Who is this Soulmate?" Fury asked.

"We have been searching but have yet to locate one," Thor admitted. "I have been told the chances are higher if he were to be here on Midgard."

Fury didn't like the idea of not knowing who might be linked to Loki. He would prefer to have a chance to get to said soulmate and come to an understanding before Fury even considered letting Loki onto their planet again. "And if you can't find one?" he asked. "Are we just supposed to put up with him forever?"

Frigga shook her head. "Of course not. But we would require a reasonable amount of time to actively search for my son's soulmate before taking him back to Asgard," she said. "Say... five years?"

"One," Fury countered.

Thor stirred again. "With how many people there are on Midgard that is hardly reasonable! It will take several months to simply construct his cell!"

"We won't count the time until he's actually here," Fury agreed. "But five years is too long."

"Four years," Frigga said.

"Two. Last offer."

Frigga frowned. Two years was still not as much time as she wanted. They would have to scramble to find his soulmate and then there was no telling if they could convince whoever it was that Loki was not as bad as his actions would lead one to believe. "Two years to find one... but we will have additional time to speak with the soulmate and reach an understanding," Frigga negotiated. "It would not be fair if it took us almost all of that time simply to find someone and then expect instant union if there is only a few days left."

Fury scowled, but he supposed if they were able to find someone within two years he would be able to work on whoever had the misfortune of being Loki's soulmate however fast or slow he needed to to ensure things progressed how he wanted. "Fine," he agreed. "But there's going to be some stipulations."

"Such as?" Frigga asked serenely. She had expected Fury to want several layers of insurance but she hoped he wouldn't be too unreasonable.

"He's guarded at all times by us," Fury said. "And we pick where his cell is. Any additional security systems we deem necessary will be in place... and we get those fancy cuffs and muzzle you had."

Frigga narrowed her eyes at the list. "He will be guarded by Asgardians of my choosing," Frigga said. "They will be better equipped to handle Loki anyway. And I need to approve these security systems. As I said, we will be giving our own security measures so yours will no doubt be unnecessary or redundant."

Fury didn't like that at all. "No go on the Asgardians," Fury said. He wanted as few people from Asgard on Earth as he could get away with. Besides, they had handled Loki once, they could undoubtedly do so again.

"Then Thor has access to Loki whenever he deems it necessary," Frigga replied.

"Fine," Fury said through grit teeth. That would limit where they could put the cell greatly since Fury didn't want Thor knowing where really any of their secure locations were. But he also figured that Thor would try to bully his way to his brother anyway so agreeing to the condition now would save him headaches later. "Now is that all?"

Frigga seemed to think before getting to her feet. "Yes, I will send one of our builders down here to Midgard to assist in constructing the cell shortly. Thank you for seeing us, Director."

"As if I had a choice?" Fury grumbled. He still wasn't fully happy with this but the idea of someone on Earth getting essentially married into probably one of the most power families in the universe was too much of a boon to ignore. Also, who knew how much sway over Loki a soulmate would have. The whole situation could prove a huge asset. It was still a gamble but Fury's gambles had paid off well in the past.

Frigga and Thor left the office and Fury went back to his desk. He had massive planning to do. He had to get all of his men that he could spare on creating a cell that could hold someone who had magic of all things. Not to mention find a place for him. With how few places Thor already had access to, Fury's options were severely limited.

Thor waited until he and his Mother had gotten outside of SHIELD headquarters and were halfway to the tower before turning to her. "Mother... what you said... what you promised about Loki. He will not consent to such a thing," he pointed out.

"I know but it was the only thing that would have made your Fury consider giving us his assistance," she said as she looked out across the city. Loki had always been vehemently against any politically arranged unions. Odin had tried it in the past since Loki -it was thought- had no soulmate to offend by marrying another. But being an Omega meant that Loki's own position of power would be severely crippled by being legally beholden to his mate; unless, by some miracle, his mate was also an Omega. Loki had sabotaged several attempts by Odin to marry him off. He would not take this idea, which was essentially an arranged marriage, any better.

Thor chewed on his lower lip as he thought. "If we find his mate... and his mate agrees to such a union... will you force Loki into it as well?" he asked softly. That would no doubt destroy Loki and Frigga's relationship and Thor knew that was perhaps the only one between Loki and their family left. Certainly the only positive one.

Frigga sighed. "I do not want to but it may be the only way to keep him safe from your Father," she murmured. "We shall have to deal with that when it arises. At least here on Midgard married Omegas have a few more freedoms."

"Do they?" Thor asked. He honestly hadn't looked into it very far since his mate was Asgardian and not an Omega.

"Yes, some," Frigga agreed. "Perhaps because they are able to have more than one mate the idea of Omegas being submissive in all manners was not as easy to maintain." It must be difficult to keep one group pressed down beneath when they had various others that might not all share the same view of the one that completed them.

"Loki will have to fight other problems," Thor murmured. Being a prisoner had more than enough restrictions to make up for Midgards freer view of Omegas and then some. The two Asgardians were silent for another few minutes. "Mother... please, if it comes down to it... do not force Loki into a union with another. He will never stop resenting it."

Frigga reached over to lay a hand on Thor's bicep. "I am glad to see you caring so much for your brother, Thor," she said honestly. "And you have my word I will do all that I can to ensure Loki's desires are kept in mind. But you know he is stubborn til the point of self destructive. I may have to do what is in his best interest even if he does not think it is." Thor sighed and hoped very much that things worked out in a way that did not hurt his brother even more than he already had been.

Chapter Text

"My friends! Allow me to introduce to you my mother, Queen Frigga," Thor said with a huge grin. "Mother, these are my shield brothers and sister, The Avengers." Thor then ran through each of their names and a brief sentence on each of their qualities.

"It is good to meet more of Thor's friends," Frigga said kindly with a lovely smile on her face."I have heard many good things about you and your exploits. It is a favorite story topic for my son during feasts." Thor practically beamed.

"Ma'am," Steve said with all of the respect that went along with a man from the forties meeting a queen. "It's an honor to meet you."

"Yeah, super huge honor and all, what are you doing here?" Tony asked.

"Tony!"

"What? Are you saying it's not the least bit weird?" Tony asked. With all the Asgardians that had come down to Earth the Queen of Asgard herself was not just your ordinary tourist. Tony doubted someone like Frigga had time for sightseeing so there had to be some reason. Reasons that Tony couldn't help but worry had something to do with her other son and that whole mess was a tangled ball that Tony wanted to shove into a closet and never think about again.

Frigga held up a hand to stop Steve from yelling more at Tony. "It's a fair question. I must confess, I was not initially planning on coming to this tower but Thor mentioned that you have concerns, Agent Barton."

Eyes immediately fell on Clint, who shifted uncomfortably under the unexpected scrutiny. "Well, of course, I do. Wouldn't you have 'concerns' about if you were compromised or not?"

"No," Frigga answered simply. Clint scowled and Frigga softened her answer with a smile. "Apologies, I do not mean to make light of your worries. But they are unfounded. Loki is an extraordinary mage but he would not be capable of entering your mind from such a distance."

"He did with Selvig," Clint pointed out.

"Clint has a point," Steve admitted.

Frigga didn't seem in the least bit ruffled. "No. Loki was only able to interfere with Doctor Selvig because he was interacting with the Tesseract when he shouldn't have been. The Tesseract and the staff that Loki had been given share a core and those two like items connected allowing Loki to do something that would otherwise have been impossible. So long as you aren't poking at powerful objects you do not understand no such danger could come to you."

"Hey, it's not like we could have possibly known that thing would bring crazy aliens to us," Tony protested.

"My son is not crazy," Frigga stated firmly. "And my point remains that without the Tesseract and the staff Loki's power cannot cross realms in such a way. And on top of that, Loki's abilities are sealed within his cell. He is not the first seidmadr to need to be contained for misuse of his abilities. And I highly doubt he shall be the last."

"Then why am I still hearing his damn voice?" Clint growled. That earned him a few more wary looks since he'd only told Tasha and Thor he was hearing Loki still. Clint ignored it though because he was sick of not being able to sleep because of this. Of worrying he'd hurt his family.

Frigga tilted her head slightly. "Is there not a condition here on Midgard called Post Traumatic Stress or something of that nature?" she asked. Clint flushed just slightly but didn't soften his glare. "Is it really so impossible for you to consider that, perhaps, you have not dealt with the situation as healthily as you should have?"

"I know what PTSD is and this isn't PTSD," Clint insisted. "There is nothing triggering it. Nothing at all in common from one time to the next!"

Natasha laid a comforting hand on Clint's bicep. "Are you absolutely sure that Loki isn't behind this?" she asked Frigga. She wasn't quite as convinced as Clint that it wasn't PTSD but Natasha wasn't about to say that until she had exhausted all other options. Clint wouldn't be receptive to the idea without such efforts.

"Positive," Frigga answered. The Queen of Asgard studied the team in front of her and sighed at the disbelief she saw there. She supposed she could not blame them for being skeptical. They had not been raised with such concepts as magic and couldn't possibly know the limitations it had. So, Frigga decided, she would have to overshare just a little. "Putting aside the impossibility of Loki reaching your mind from this distance... he is not currently in any physical condition to be able to cast such a spell."

Tony stirred slightly despite himself. He didn't care or anything but he should probably know. "What does that even mean?"

"My brother was recently grievously wounded within his cell and is still recovering," Thor supplied. Thor could tell that his friends wanted to ask more but was glad when they didn't. Perhaps they realized he wouldn't want to give details or, less flatteringly, thought Loki deserved it. Whatever the reason, Thor was glad that they left the statement alone.

"Sir."

Both Thor and Frigga looked up at the unexpected voice. "Yeah, J?" Tony asked distractedly.

"Director Fury is calling and seems quite insistent," Jarvis said.

"Well, too bad. I'm busy," Tony said.

"Perhaps he is looking for us," Frigga said with a gesture to herself and Thor. "We did just have a meeting with him before coming to this tower. He might have thought of other things he wished to negotiate."

Steve frowned. "What were you negotiating with Shield?"

"I am certain if it directly involves you, Mr. Fury will let you know, Steven," Frigga answered.

"Is Fury looking for the Asgardians, J?" Tony asked.

There was a moment's pause from the A.I. "Director Fury says he wishes to speak with you, Sir," Jarvis answered.

Tony sighed heavily. "Fine. Patch him through before he blows a blood vessel."

"He said privately, Sir."

Tony scowled. "Such a needy pirate. Fine. I'll be back guys. Shouldn't take me too long to get rid of Mr. Pesky."

"Tony, you shouldn't call him things like that," Steve protested. Tony barely even acknowledged the comment as he walked off to a nearby office where he could take the call in private. Steve sighed when Tony just waved nonchalantly at him. He really wished that the genius would be at least a little more respectful.

After Tony was gone, Frigga turned back to Clint. "Have I helped at all to alleviate your worries, Agent Barton?"

Clint's expression was still very unhappy. "Not really. I'm sure he's still in my head somehow and before you say I'm crazy... I'm not imagining it."

"If you would like, I could put protections on your mind to keep outside influences out," Frigga offered. "They are quite unnecessary but having them wouldn't harm you either."

"Would it be difficult to do?" Natasha asked.

"No," Frigga answered. "A matter of fifteen minutes work at most. And if it will give you peace of mind, I am happy to do it for you, Agent Barton."

Clint hesitated. He was torn between wanting his brain to be protected from Loki and not wanting any magical mumbo jumbo near his head ever again. Natasha gave Clint's arm a squeeze. He knew even without speaking aloud, that she would support any decision that he made. "Will it feel like anything?" Clint asked.

Frigga shook her head. "No, it shouldn't."

Clint sighed and then nodded. "Yeah, alright. What do I have to do?"

"Just sit and relax," Frigga told him. "Is there a place nearby that we can do this? Preferably somewhere quiet?"

"This way, Mother," Thor said. He gestured for her to follow and led the way to a side room. Frigga, Clint, and Natasha followed into the small sitting area. The trendy couches and low coffee table were framed by two sets of book cases and sitting in front of an entire wall of windows. Other than the ability to read in the room, though, Frigga couldn't think of any particular reason for its existence. Then again, the tower was very large. No doubt it had more rooms than the owner knew what to do with. The Palace on Asgard was similarly inundated with unnecessary spaces.

Frigga sat down on one sleek beige couch and gestured to the other spot. "Please sit, Agent Barton, and try to relax." Clint shifted his weight from side to side before taking the offered seat. Frigga gave him a smile and then put her hands lightly on either side of his head. "If you start to feel anything at all, let me know, because this should be utterly imperceptible to you."

Clint nodded and took a deep breath to center himself. Frigga closed her eyes and Clint saw a golden glow on the edges of his vision. Almost instantly he felt panic and quickly closed his eyes to try and forget how close magic was to his mind. A familiar slender but strong hand found his and Clint couldn't help but smile and give Natasha's hand a squeeze of thanks. She squeezed back and Clint felt some of his anxiety ease.

Agent Barton.

Clint stiffened again for a moment but relaxed when he realized that the voice in his head was Queen Frigga's. He still wasn't comfortable with it but at least she wasn't asking him to do terrible things. I do apologize for the pain my son has caused you, Frigga said.

You didn't do anything.

But I did, Frigga denied. Loki was pushed to do things he never would have done because of what me and his father did to him. We hurt him terribly and so he hurt others. I do not try to excuse him but I will not shirk my portion of the blame.

Clint shifted uneasily. I don't blame you.

I blame me, Frigga said. Silence followed that since Clint had absolutely no idea how he could possibly respond or even really what she was talking about. His brief glimpses into Loki's mind hadn't focused much on anything beyond what he had to do in trying to take over the world. The only moments Clint was privy to that didn't deal with the invasion had been about Frigga or just the vaguest notions of sadness and anger that really didn't have much context or target.

After several minutes of sitting there with Frigga doing whatever hocus pocus to his head to keep Loki out, Clint started to relax more. The tension that had been tight in his shoulders eased and he didn't feel on the verge of darting out from the Queen's grasp. He didn't actually become entirely relaxed because he never did while not in his own safe places but it was a definite change.

"Agent Barton," Frigga said, sounding slightly questioning.

Clint opened his eyes to see Frigga lowering her hand. "What?"

"I believe I may have found some of what is causing you distress," she said. "You seem to have blocked away some of your memories."

"You mean he's repressing them," Natasha stated. "How can you be sure that's what's causing him problems?"

Frigga shrugged elegantly. "I cannot be positive. But there are very few memories of your time with Loki... far less than I would expect even given how short a time you spent under his dominion. These voices you are hearing may be these memories trying to reassert themselves," she suggested. "Or it may not. I just know that if these memories, which you are keeping so far down that I can only barely sense that they even exist, are trying to rise back up, then there is nothing to be done but allow them to reassert at their own pace."

Clint scowled. "Really not keen on remembering anything else from that time, majesty," he grumbled.

"I can only imagine," Frigga said. "But you may wish to consider that this is part of your healing process."

"Friend Clint, surely this is good news?" Thor suggested hesitantly. "It means that Loki is not in your head and that you are recovering from what happened. Even if it is not entirely comfortable, healing is something to be celebrated, is it not?"

"Except I'm hearing your brother's voice all the time, Thor," Clint growled. "That's really starting to drive me insane. I don't want to hear him or see him ever again!"

"Well, that's going to be a problem," Tony said from the doorway. The others looked over instantly.

"What do you mean a problem?" Natasha asked.

Tony looked near murderous. "Fury's call. He wants to put a damn cage for Loki in my tower!" he growled. "You didn't say that your meeting with Fury was to have your crazy son put on Earth!"

Frigga's friendly demeanor went suddenly icy. "That is an arrangement between myself and Director Fury. Part of that agreement was that where the cell was to be located was up to him. Do not blame me for him deciding something you do not like. And furthermore, my agreement with Director Fury is not for you to weigh in on. As far as I have been informed, there is no single unified government on this planet and as such the business that I have arranged with one government is not in anyway up for discussion with any others and especially not civilians."

Tony's eyes narrowed even as Frigga got to her feet. "Its my business if you're bringing Loki back down here after all the trouble he caused," Tony said. "He tried to take over the world and I nearly died stopping him."

"Tell me," Frigga began, "do you concern yourself with where others you have apprehended are placed?"

"Others we've 'apprehended' didn't bring an army of aliens with them," Tony argued.

"Man of Iron, you are being unreasonable," Thor said with a tone of express warning. He didn't like how this conversation had suddenly turned in the least.

"Unreasonable?" Tony echoed. "Are you serious? We're talking about a mass murderer in my tower and you think I'm being unreasonable?"

Frigga's eyes narrowed. "That's enough," she said sharply and Tony almost physically staggered from the sudden pressure that seemed to fill the room. He'd never felt anything like it. Almost as if the gravity in the room had jumped up a couple Gs and tried to pull him down.

Tony's eyes were huge and he just barely managed to not break down into a panic attack in the face of someone that he suddenly realized could squash him with little effort. "If you wish to protest Loki being housed here, then that is fine, but take it up with your Director Fury. I have nothing to do with where his cell is located. Him being on Earth is what your people wanted to begin with, will not be permanent, and is not negotiated with you. I will not argue about it," Frigga stated with all her regal authority on display. "There is more about the situation than you know."

"You mean how you're looking for his soulmate?" Tony asked before he could manage to bite his own tongue.

"What?" Clint asked, eyes huge. "What's this about a soulmate?"

"Loki's soulmate is Midgardian," Thor said. "I have been searching for him or her for the past few weeks now."

"What makes you think any human would even want someone like him?" Clint asked with perhaps a bit more anger and nastier than was truly necessary.

"Clint," Natasha said even though from the look on Frigga's face it was clear she'd already taken offense. "I apologize for him, Queen Frigga. I'm sure you understand how he might feel about your son."

Frigga took a deep breath and her shoulders went back. "I will forgive that comment seeing how you are under great stress. But do not believe that I will do so twice. Again, if you have issues with where Loki will be housed... take it up with your own Director. Come, Thor. We must return to Asgard."

Thor gave his friends a look, not entirely sure how he felt about them at that exact moment. He knew they wouldn't be happy but he hadn't anticipated this much vitriol. Thor didn't think they'd imply nobody could love his brother and it hurt that they might truly believe it. Thor didn't say anything though and followed his mother from the room. He understood that they were upset so perhaps given time, his friends would calm down. They had seen Loki at his worst and so couldn't be expected to realize he was anything other than the half crazed would be conqueror.

Once the Asgardians were gone, Natasha turned to Clint. "You could have been a little more diplomatic."

"Why?" Clint asked in annoyance.

Natasha ignored the question for the moment and looked over at Tony. "And that's probably exactly why Fury wanted to keep this quiet for now and talk to you privately."

"I'm not going to just quietly let them drop Loki in our laps," Tony said, entirely unrepentant. "Besides, we all live here at least part of the time. We deserve to know who's going to be here with us."

Natasha sighed and got to her feet. "I understand. Really. And I don't want him here anymore than either of you. But where else are they supposed to put him? In Rikers?" she asked sarcastically. "If Fury arranged something then we have to trust that we'll be getting something very worth while out of it."

"Like what?" Tony with his arms folded over his chest. He didn't much care if he was being difficult or not politically smart. There was a reason he tended to just buy any companies that annoyed him. Playing nicely with people he hated just pissed him off more. Pepper was the one to handle Hammer Industries since Justin Hammer wouldn't sell for just that reason.

"I don't know," Natasha admitted. "But I'll find out. Trust me on that." She trusted that Fury was going to be getting some benefit for them by agreeing to this but she still wanted to know what it was. Her trust only told her there was a reason, it wasn't enough to follow blindly.

Chapter Text

"How is he?" Odin asked from the doorway.

"Still disturbed," Eir said with disapproval. "Whatever you did was extraordinarily traumatizing for him."

Odin didn't scoff but it was clear from his expression he didn't put much credence to Eir's words on the subject. "You need only concern yourself with one question, Eir. Is he healthy enough to return to his cell?"

Eir scowled. "Physically he has mostly recovered although the wounds haven't yet disappeared." Odin would have walked away then but Eir forced herself in front of the door so that the King and his men couldn't enter the healing ward. "But his mental health is not to the point where he can return to that cell. He still attempts to harm himself!"

"You should know better than to fall for his manipulations, Eir. This is no different from the mouth incident. He complains and throws a fit over minor inconveniences."

"His mouth was sewn shut," Eir pointed out. "That is more than mere 'inconvenience' to be brushed aside. He could only consume liquids for three weeks because you refused to let the stitches be removed."

"It could have been his head," Odin replied. "Besides it isn't as if we allowed him to starve. He simply couldn't talk. It did him good to be forced to listen to others for once, not that he took advantage of the opportunity."

Eir scowled darkly. She had not ever been one to believe in corporal punishments but Odin was the King and as such made the rules. "Has it never occurred to you that Prince Loki does not respond to these 'punishments' that you deal him? They only serve to make him more angry and aggressive!"

"Watch your tone Lady Eir. How I deal with Loki is not your business," Odin growled. His grip on Gungnir tightened but Eir had been a loyal and very skilled member of his court for centuries and that afforded her at least a little leeway.

"It is my business when I have to keep putting him back together," Eir argued. She hated having to keep sew him up and clean his blood off her hands and tools. "How many more times are you going to hurt him pointlessly before you realize that it isn't working? You are only damaging him further, King Odin."

"He is always scheming, Eir, and you play into his hands constantly. Just like his mother. There is no way that anything I did would result in wounds that he decided to inflict upon himself," Odin said while pointing at Loki with his spear. "He needs to return to his cell."

Eir folded her arms over her chest. "He will not return to that cell until I say he is stable enough for it. And he is not. You put him there as he is now and he will only end up right back here if not dead."

"You are being alarmist."

"And you are not concerned enough," Eir shot back at the King. "Or do you think it normal for your son to try and claw his own eyes out with his bare fingers?"

Odin was unmoved. "He knew that he would be healed. He was never in any real danger of permanent damage. It is all just a ruse-"

"Odin, your son tried to kill himself!" Eir argued in utter frustration. "You were there. You saw him let go and drop off the bridge. You cannot claim he is healthy after such an action. I know you do not want to admit that he is unwell in such a way but it is the truth."

Odin was quiet for several minutes. "He must be dealt punishment for his actions on Midgard."

"Perhaps but not now," Eir said. "Right now he must recover from the trauma you inflicted."

"I did nothing!" Odin snapped. "I didn't even touch him."

Eir sighed heavily. "Odin... the father of Loki should know better than anyone else that you do not always need to do something physically against someone to hurt them."

Odin and Eir stared each other down for several more minutes. "He will be back in his cell by the end of the week, Eir," he said firmly. "He is physically well enough and that is all that is truly necessary."

"I disagree."

"Disagree all you wish, Eir. But I am King and my word is final."

Eir scowled but could do little else as Odin turned and left the halls of healing with the guards he had brought along. Several stayed nearby since Loki was still there. Eir didn't like the guards but didn't bother protesting them. There was no point in trying to talk the King out of the extra layer of guard but she had hoped that Odin would see reason. Eir did not want to be in this exact same situation over and over again for the entirety of Loki's prison sentence.

The healer sighed as she went back into the bed that Loki was bound to. He was still asleep but Eir wasn't inclined to change that anytime soon. Instead she took a nearby set of small silver scissors and snipped at the bandages wrapped around his head. Once they were cut up one side, Eir carefully unwound them and removed the gauze over the Prince's eyes.

The skin around his eyes was still deeply cut into but thankfully not bleeding any longer. Chances were only a few would scar on the most tender of skin around his eyes. Eir carefully examined each eye to see how it was healing. She wasn't entirely pleased with the progress. Eir had tried her utmost best to fix the damage but she could already tell that there would be at least some complications. She could hopefully still minimize them with some medications though.

Eir quickly gathered the supplies she would need and made a very watery potion that had the faintest teal color to it. Two drops went into each of the bound prince's eyes before Eir replaced the bandages. Eir would have to tell Queen Frigga of the developments when she returned. Both with her son's condition and her husband's decree.

Chapter Text

Director Nick Fury tried his utmost to not shoot the Avengers in front of him. Because Tony fucking Stark didn't seem to understand the word 'classified' he now had to deal with irate and -to various degrees- unstable heroes that seemed to be under the mistaken impression that they had some sort of say in what SHIELD did. "Enough," he finally snapped to stop the talking over each other and shouting going on in the small conference room. "This is not up for debate."

"Sir, with all due respect, I don't think this is a good idea," Steve said with a frown.

"Noted," Fury replied. "But if you think that the Asgardians care what we think about this, you're fooling yourself."

"Loki isn't alone when he calls himself a God," Natasha commented. "All of them think that."

Fury nodded. "Don't forget, Odin didn't think twice about tossing Thor down here as punishment without even considering what we thought about it. They don't see us as worth their attention." And boy did that burn him to admit. The Asgardians clearly didn't consider humans much at all, probably because the full force of Earth really couldn't do much to stop the more advanced civilization. The aliens could drop down anywhere on Earth without warning and be gone again before any response could come. "By agreeing to this, we can keep some control of the situation."

"But why my tower!?" Tony demanded.

"Because there is nowhere else to put him!" Fury snapped. "Do you really want Loki of all people close to SHIELD assets? Or having Thor coming and going to SHIELD facilities constantly?"

There was a long silence following those questions. Everyone could see why both of those scenarios would be potentially disastrous. Fury fixed each of the Avengers with a stern look in turn. "By keeping Loki somewhere, we can control we can turn this to our advantage."

Clint scoffed at that. "If he doesn't kill all of us first."

"That's why we have to start work now to make sure he's not going to get that chance," Fury said.

"What are we getting from this, sir?" Natasha asked. "Even if the Asgardians don't care what we think... we did agree."

Fury considered how truthful that he should be here. He wasn't sure that all of the Avengers would agree with his decisions and he didn't need them any further alienated than they already were. "The Queen has agreed to an official political alliance with Earth and specifically SHIELD if they find a soulmate for Loki on Earth."

"Yeah, about that," Tony said. "They're not expecting us to actually help with that are they?"

Fury fixed Tony with a glare. "Do you not realize how useful having Loki tied to someone from Earth would be, Stark?"

Tony shifted uncomfortably. "I'm just saying... I can't see anyone being willing to be tied to him in the first place."

"We all make sacrifices," Fury replied. "And besides, from what we've been able to gather if we do find Loki's mate then he'd be leashed for good."

Steve sat up straighter. "What do you mean by that?" he asked. He didn't really like how it sounded. It was too much like back before he went into the ice and how everyone expected Omegas to just be quiet and not complain, something he'd never been very good at despite his own biology as an Omega. He had been thrilled to hear that conditions for Omegas had improved while he had been in the ice.

"According to some documents that we've come into the possession of," Natasha began, turning to face Steve, "Asgardians have stringent rules of behavior for Omegas. Loki's gotten away with a lot because he doesn't have a mate to reign him in. At least, that's what is implied." She wasn't going to go into how they'd gotten that information, but it had been very enlightening.

Steve scowled. "Just because they have backwards rules doesn't mean that he'd follow them," he pointed out. Loki didn't seem the type to just roll over and obey his soulmate if he wouldn't even obey his parents.

"One problem at a time," Fury said. "We need a secure place for Loki to be kept while we search for his soulmate or mates. Avengers Tower is the best candidate."

Bruce, who had been unusually quiet up until now, looked up at Fury. "I'm not comfortable with this," he said as he got to his feet.

"I understand that. But your presences is required, Doctor," Fury said.

"And why's that?" Bruce demanded. He would much rather go back to any number of countries where he was saving lives and being left alone.

"Because other than Thor the only person on this planet that Loki might think twice about crossing is you," Fury told him. "Or rather your other side. With you in the same building as him, Loki should be a lot more cooperative."

Clint snorted, "No, he'll just be more careful when he tries something." There was no way he could see Loki being cooperative no matter who was in the building with him. He may not remember everything from his time with Loki, but he did remember enough to know that 'cooperative' wasn't accurate by any means.

"Either way. It'll make him think twice, and I'll take whatever advantage I can get over him," Fury said firmly.

Tony stood up. "We're going to regret this," he declared before leaving in a huff. He was tempted to pull the 'it's his tower, and you can't make me' card but Fury was right that Tony didn't want Loki around anything that SHIELD might have hidden away. Not that Tony didn't have dangerous things, but he didn't trust SHIELD security nearly as much as he trusted his own. So, if he was going to be strong-armed into doing this, he had a lot of work to do to make sure that it didn't blow up in his face. Number one on the list was moving some projects to other locations, and then number two was designing the perfect prison cell.

In Asgard, Loki was finally awake again, although not entirely. His hands were shackled with thick chains, and Eir was protesting loudly as the guards dragged the partially conscious prince out of the healing ward. Loki tried to keep his feet under him, but his movements were still sluggish from the spell that had kept him asleep for so long. A part of him realized that the spell hadn't been ended properly, but he couldn't quite piece together why that might be. His thinking was too muddled to really comprehend anything going on around him.

He continued to stumble and be half-dragged through the halls of the palace and then downstairs. Loki would have fallen if it weren't for the bruising grips on his biceps keeping him up. Loki tried to focus on where he was being taken but even figuring where he was going in a place he knew like the back of his hand was beyond him at that moment.

Loki was finally dropped a few minutes later though his hands weren't unshackled. Loki didn't bother moving at first and just tried to reorient himself to his current situation. "I know you're not asleep, Loki," Odin said. Loki didn't bother answering since he was still lagging. Odin sighed. "Loki, sit up."

"... why?" Loki asked. He couldn't think of any reason why sitting up would be necessary. And letting himself just lay down on the floor just seemed so much more appealing right then.

Odin sighed again, sounding even more agitated than before. "Because it's unbecoming to lay on the floor like a limp fish," he snapped.

Loki managed to roll enough to look up at Odin. "And why should I care about what is 'unbecoming' to do?" he asked as his thought process finally started to kick in gear.

"You are still a prince."

"Am I now?" Loki asked, vaguely amused by that claim. He saw himself as royalty, but he doubted that Odin actually did.

Odin scowled. "Your Mother and Eir seem to think I was too harsh on you," he said.

Loki chuckled at that. "And you're sorry, is that it?" he asked sarcastically. "I doubt that."

"No, your continued bad attitude proves I was not overly harsh," Odin claimed, making Loki snort a little. Odin narrowed his eyes. He had deliberately woken Loki himself hoping that the abruptness of the spell ending would make him less guarded. He was already waking up fully, however, so he would have to act quickly. "Loki... my son, tell me what Thanos is planning."

Loki was silent for a moment. "Your son again, am I?" he asked. He smiled, but there was a cruel tinge to it. "People give me far too much credit... the manipulator of this family is not me... not by a long shot. Keep asking until you are blue, Odin, but I won't tell you."

Odin snarled and straightened fully. "Stubborn boy!" he snapped. With only barely a moment's thought, Odin came to a decision. He reached down and grabbed Loki's chin. "I will not ask until I am blue, Loki, I will find out sooner rather than later, but since you brought it up..."

Loki's eyes widened as he felt an uncomfortable prickling feeling along his skin where Odin's grip was. "What are you doing!?" Loki demanded as he tried to pull back. "Odin!"

"If you will not act a proper son of Odin, I see no reason to maintain such an illusion," Odin snapped as the skin beneath his hand continued to turn blue. The cornflower shade ate up the pale pink at an alarming rate even as Loki tried to pull away.

"Stop it! You can't!" Loki protested as he tried to claw Odin's hand off with his own bound ones.

"I gave you this skin, I can take it away," Odin snapped just as the blue swept along Loki's horrified eyes. The brilliant green turned blood red, and Odin finally released Loki's face.

Loki scrambled back from Odin and stared at his hands that were still changing before his eyes to a blue hue. Odin buried the urge to apologize or try to soften the blow even as his son rubbed his hands as if that would make his skin change back. This was a lesson that Loki needed. Odin was sure of it. Frost began sweeping out along the wall and floor of the cell from where Loki was curled up against the corner. "I can replace the illusion, Loki," Odin said. "Just tell me what it is that Thanos is trying to do."

Loki barely reacted and just kept staring at his hands. "Loki!" Odin snapped, not in the least fond of being ignored. "Tell me!"

Loki's red eyes snapped up at Odin and turned from horrified to furious. "You will get nothing from me, Odin!" he declared. "You are right, I am no son of yours! And so I owe you nothing!" he shouted.

Odin frowned. "Then I see no reason to give you the glamour again," Odin said before turning and leaving the cell.

"I hate you!" Loki screamed so loud that he hurt his own throat. "Do you hear me, Odin!? I hate you!" Odin didn't stop or even look back as Loki screamed at him. Loki glared after the monarch even after he had disappeared. His eyes and throat hurt. His skin was prickling uncomfortably now that the layer of protection that was the glamour was gone. It felt like a furnace now in the room.

Very deliberately, Loki didn't look down at his hands. He screwed his eyes shut tightly and sat back against the wall. He buried his face in his knees so that he couldn't possibly see any of his own skin. Frost continued to spread along the surfaces of the cell, but Loki barely noticed. His eyes were hurting so much, and though he tried his utmost, Loki couldn't quite stop the sob from escaping.

Loki knew that guards were nearby, so he muffled the noises as best he could into his own legs. He would rather appear upset but silently sulking rather than let them know the full extent of his misery. Another muffled sob escaped, and Loki's eyes continued to burn painfully. They had only recently been healed, and now the glamour they had always been under was removed. No matter how upset he was or how many ugly sounding moments of weeping escaped, Loki's face remained utterly dry. No tears would even form in his recently damaged eyes.

After a little while, Loki finally managed to swallow the remainders of his sorrow and looked up from his knees. His tear free red eyes hardened, and he glared at the golden wall of his cell. Odin wanted to prove a point? Well, Loki considered it proven. What little love for Odin that had managed to survive in the very corners of his dark heart withered up and died and the frost thickened around where Loki was sitting. Odin thought Loki was disobedient before? He had no idea how terrible Loki could be…

Chapter Text

Nearly four months of work and Tony had made the most advanced (slightly paranoid fueled) prison in existence. Three floors of the tower had been emptied out, and Loki’s cell was in the middle level. The floors above and below were filled with security checks and automated defenses that one had to go through to get to the cell. The middle floor had yet more security including a few guard stations. Then there was a large room and in the middle was the cell.

The cell was monitored at all times and made out of the same material that the Hulk cage had been. Everything that could be made out of one piece or without moving parts within the cell had been. The sink was operating on a sensor, so there were no knobs, the bed was one solid slab that jutted out from the floor, the shower was deliberately designed so that waterfall head was fixed in such a way to the ceiling that it couldn’t be pried loose, and so on. Natasha had helped notice when something could conceivably be used as a weapon and removed anything she would have thought to use to escape. The builders from Asgard had come down and done something that left glowing yellow circles on the walls of the outer room that they said would contain Loki’s magic. Tony wasn’t sure how convinced he was of that, but they seemed confident.

The only blind spot in the entire cell was around the toilet, for obvious reasons, and the shower’s glass had been frosted over, but that was all the privacy in the room. Tony was looking over the schematics for the automated defenses one last time as Pepper came up behind him and rubbed his shoulders. “He won’t be able to get out of there,” she assured him. And since Loki was due to be beamed down the next day with Thor, there wasn’t time to make any alterations anyhow.

Tony sighed and dropped the schematics before turning to wrap his arms around her. He buried his face in Pepper’s waist and just took some comfort in her presence. “This is such a bad idea…” he muttered. “Keeping him here for a whole two years… what the hell was Fury thinking?”

“He’s thinking about making sure that Earth is safe,” Pepper said as she ran her fingers through Tony’s hair. “And… he might have a point,” she offered gently.

Tony stiffened. “No.”

“Tony,” Pepper sighed, “maybe his mother is right and having you would stabilize him somehow…”

Tony snorted and then looked up. “I’m the Alpha… he’s the Omega. He’s supposed to stabilize me and do you really think that’s going to happen?” he asked. Alphas were supposed to be the reckless volatile members of a mated pair, at least on Earth. Sure it wasn’t a strict rule or anything, but Tony wasn’t a ‘calming’ presence. That was what was so wonderful about Pepper. She was. She kept Tony sane and taking at least marginal care of himself. Loki, in contrast, had thrown Tony through a window.

“Maybe things work differently in Asgard,” Pepper pointed out as she continued to run her fingers through Tony’s hair.

“I wish I could do like Clint and scram…” Tony muttered bitterly. Clint had hung around to offer his advice on making the cell but then disappeared a few weeks ago with no sign of if he’d be coming back or not. Tony wanted to be really really angry at the archer for that but found he could only be jealous. “Probably won’t be seeing him for two years.”

“I think that you only saw him for at most a few hours and only talked to him a few times for a few minutes each,” Pepper said, ignoring the comments about Clint. She knew that bringing up the archer’s handling of the situation was just a distraction so that Tony wouldn’t have to talk about things he found uncomfortable. “That’s not exactly a basis to decide how much you like someone or not. He is your soulmate.”

“You’re my soulmate,” Tony answered immediately. “Rhodey is my soulmate… Loki is a psychopath that’s getting far more than he deserves already.”

Pepper sighed again and pushed at Tony until he was leaning back in his chair and she could sit on his lap. “Tony. Being his soulmate means you do have at least a few things in common that you could try to bond over. I’m not saying go up to him and claim him the second you see him, but you could at least try talking to the man once or twice before dismissing him can’t you?”

“Why are you so for this?” Tony asked sourly.

“You have been worrying about this for months,” Pepper pointed out with a nod towards the plans for Loki’s cell. “But what I think you didn’t put much thought into is this… he’s going to be here in the tower for two years, Tony. I don’t have any idea how often his kind goes into heat, but you can bet it’ll be at least twice.”

Tony blanched at that. She was right that he hadn’t really thought about that little detail much. It had occurred to him, but he’d dismissed it under more pressing concerns of making sure Loki couldn’t murder them. While all Omegas going into heat got all Alpha’s horny and more than a little agitated, a soulmate going into heat was on a whole different level. The combination of perfectly arranged pheromones that an Omega gave off prior and during heat was specifically designed for a few key people. In this case, Tony’s brain was biologically programmed to go wild for his soulmate’s specific scent. Stupid primitive section of his brain…

“I’ll just have to… find a conference in Tokyo to go to or something when that happens,” Tony muttered.

Pepper sighed. “I really don’t think you can avoid this, Tony.”

“Watch me,” Tony declared stubbornly. “There’re SI buildings and projects going on all over the world. I’m sure I can find plenty to go look at and inspect and whatever for however many heats Bambi goes into.”

Pepper frowned, not in the least happy about Tony’s ‘solution’ to the issue. “That’s kind of cruel, Tony,” she pointed out. She knew very well what it was like to go through heat without Tony and she hated it. The aftermath left her tired, cranky, emotionally drained, and all around miserable for weeks afterwards. One time she was in such a bad mood it lasted until her next heat where Tony was able to be there and take care of her (the only time that Tony was the one doing the caregiving rather than her).

“He shouldn’t have tried to kill me then,” Tony answered before kissing her briefly. “Come on, let’s go to bed. I’m sure that Thor will be here early with psycho reindeer and we’ll have to deal with that.” He didn’t doubt that Pepper would be bringing this up again, but he also wasn’t going to just accept that he had to be the one to claim Loki. There just had to be someone else.

The next morning when the Bifrost hit the top of Avenger’s Tower, there were quite a few SHIELD agents as well as all the currently available members of the Avengers themselves. When the light cleared and they could see again, Thor was standing there with a wide smile and one hand on a familiar if somewhat more ragged figure. “My friends!” Thor greeted as he moved forward, nearly dragging the gagged and bound Loki closer.

Loki’s hair had grown longer, and he was in just a green shirt and black pants aside from the muzzle and manacles that he’d worn last time. Fury was the one that stepped forward to greet them. His one eye flickered over Loki appraisingly before going back to Thor. “Before we take him to his cell we’ll get the images we need so we won’t have to take him back out.”

Loki’s brow furrowed, and Tony imagined he was also frowning behind the muzzle. That made him curious. Did Loki not even know what he was here for? Thor agreed, and so, they led the Thunder God and his brother down to one of the labs. The one that was closest to the landing pad. Loki still looked confused as he was forced to sit down on a stool in the middle of the lab. There were a dozen guns trained on him, but that didn’t seem to faze the trickster. Instead, he was watching the Avengers carefully as they stood around him.

A Shield doctor picked up the high-resolution scanner and made to approach. Loki made to get up, but Thor quickly pushed him back down. “This is necessary, Brother, I promise you,” Thor said.

Loki’s resulting glare at the blonde made it clear he didn’t believe that in the least. Still, Thor was able to keep him sitting down as the doctor went behind and turned on the scanner. Loki tried to shrug off Thor’s hand again but failed. “I’ll need to see it,” the man said awkwardly. Thor frowned but then pushed Loki’s head down so that the mark on the back of the trickster’s neck could be reached easily.

Loki clearly didn’t like this and let out several muffled protests and tried to break free. Thor didn’t allow that and just waited as the man with the scanner pushed Loki’s long hair to either side and ran the beams of light over the mark. Tony was glad that he couldn’t see it where he was standing back beside Bruce. He’d been experiencing a strange and very uncomfortable pang every time he had dared look at that mark again, and Tony didn’t like it.

After only a minute, the scan was complete, and Thor let his brother go. Loki jerked upright immediately and glared at Thor so hard, Tony was mildly surprised that the Thunder God didn’t catch fire. “Alright,” the SHIELD doctor said as he went to a computer and plugged the scanner in. “That’s all I need.”

Fury nodded and turned to look again at the furious prisoner. Tony wondered if Loki had figured out what he was here for yet. “Welcome back, your highness,” Fury said with just the edge of a mocking tone. Loki glared but still couldn’t respond. “We’ve got a lovely cell designed just for you. I’m sure you’ll find it very comfortable. Or not, I don’t really care either way.”

Thor shifted, “Deliberately goading my brother is not wise, Fury.”

Fury didn’t seem happy and glared at Thor for a moment before relenting. Perhaps he’d realized Thor was right or –more likely- just didn’t want to alienate the blonde storm caller. “Stark, why don’t you show his highness here where he’ll be staying?” Fury said before turning and leaving the room.

Tony sighed heavily but nodded. The sooner Loki was locked up the better he would feel, he supposed. He led the way, and Thor continued to keep a firm grip on Loki as they walked. The security checks took several minutes to get through and then the actual door to the cell required a passcode and key to access.

Thor went into the cell with Loki in order to remove the bindings and then quickly left again. Loki straightened and turned to face his captors while rubbing his wrists. Tony noticed a pair of slender silver bracelets around his wrists and wondered if those were another form of magical binding or whatever. “And how long will I be here?” Loki asked, his voice slightly scratchy but still entirely arrogant.

“Two years from today, brother,” Thor offered.

Loki narrowed his eyes and then looked around his cell. “So little time and yet such a paranoid cell to contain me,” he observed. “I might think someone in here was afraid of me.”

Tony stiffened a little. “We’re just making sure you’re nice and cozy, Rudolph. Wouldn’t want to lose someone so… important an all.” Tony gestured to the room around him. “Cameras are always on, and someone will be watching. That little thing on the bed is an e-reader. That’s all you get to keep yourself entertained so don’t break it because I won’t replace it. Any books you want, I approve of first so don’t think you can get how to build a bomb or anything.”

Loki’s eyebrow went up. “You’re the fearful one then,” he guessed.

“I’m not afraid of you,” Tony denied instantly.

Loki’s mouth curved into a slight smile. “We’ll have to fix that.”

“Brother, you are to behave,” Thor said firmly. “I will be residing in this tower as well so do not think your tricks will be fallen for.”

Loki scoffed. “As if you have ever been able to spot my tricks before you fall into them,” he said before turning and walking to the bed. He sat down and reclined against the clear wall as if he was perfectly unbothered by the situation. “I wouldn’t depend on Thor to warn you, Stark.”

“Not like it matters,” Tony said. “You can’t do anything from in there.”

“We shall see about that,” Loki replied.

Chapter Text

It did not take long for the novelty of his new surroundings to wear off for Loki. He supposed not much had truly changed from when he was in Asgard except that now he was being actively watched. At least, if the Midgardians were to be believed. Considering the amusingly over-cautious nature of the rest of his prison, he thought their claim entirely too accurate. Loki might have been flattered if it wasn't beginning to grate on his nerves. His mother's bracelets that were keeping his true form at bay were starting to irritate the skin of his wrists from too long wearing them. They were only meant to be worn a day or so at most, and he'd already been wearing them for nearly three.

Loki knew that he couldn't reasonably wear the bracelets the entire time he was here in his cell, but he wasn't exactly in a hurry to show his horrible natural form to the Midgardians. Perhaps, if he had even one place in the cell with actual privacy, it would be different, but he didn't. The shower was the closest place he could call private, and they would still be able to see his odd color through the distorted glass.

Loki at least had the slight benefit of the reader thing that gave him something to do. The books his mother had smuggled in for him had been taken away months ago, and he'd been bored out of his mind. He'd even resorted to aggravating the guards as a form of entertainment. Loki's comments earned him a few missed meals, but that was hardly the worst thing he'd had to endure. Though Loki would still prefer the comforting feeling of real paper and the weight of a book in his hands, he had to admit that the pure number of things to read on the thing was quite a relief. For the first time in what felt like ages, his mind was occupied with something other than his own plotting, and it was refreshing.

Three days was more than enough time for Loki to have gotten used to a certain routine. There was a clock hanging in the room outside of his cell that he could see from his bed. So he knew for a fact that breakfast always came at eight thirty, lunch at noon on the dot, and dinner at six. The lights never went out entirely but dimmed at nine and brightened at eight the next morning. Loki found the predictability of it somewhat maddening. Loki wasn't at all one to follow a schedule. He did what he wanted when he wanted, but if he didn't eat when the food came, Loki was sure he would be going hungry, and that wasn't something he was willing to test just then.

Loki leaned back in his bed as he read a story about some killer car with a woman's name. He'd already read the story by the same author about a possessed hotel. Loki found some of the descriptions and language used refreshingly unsettling and in some cases brutally honest about the mess that humans made when they died.

The very unusual sound of footsteps attracted Loki's attention from his reading though he didn't look up to see who it was. Considering the heels he heard, Loki wasn't entirely sure who it could be. The Widow wouldn't have made noise, but that was the only female he was familiar with.

Loki continued to read although his attention wasn't on the words in front of him. "You're taller than I thought you'd be," the woman, who Loki was now positive he'd never met before, said.

"Is that so?" he drawled, feigning boredom.

"And prettier."

That did make Loki look up. The woman was tall and had a very controlled and dignified air about her. Long red hair was twisted into a knot at the back of her head, and her clothes were perfectly pressed. Loki imagined it was her form of armor. "Pardon?"

She smiled, and Loki's guard was pulled even tighter around himself. "I always imagined you more like a little imp type with a long nose and crooked teeth or something like that. Pictures of you aren't that clear even after that mess you made in Germany," she said by way of explanation.

When Loki didn't reply, she straightened the crisp white coat she had on. "My name is Pepper Potts," she introduced. "I run Stark Industries. The people who built your cell." Loki looked back down at his text, deciding with that information that he didn't much care anymore. "You've been surprisingly well behaved," Pepper continued.

"I am many things," Loki said. "Stupid is not one of them." They were expecting him to try and do something and were on edge and paranoid. He would get nothing achieved so soon after being moved to this prison. Loki would have to bide his time until they were more relaxed.

"Well, that's good to hear. But I had already assumed that," Pepper said. She couldn't imagine any Soulmate of Tony's being stupid. The inventor didn't handle stupid people well. "I'm more curious to know if they told you why you were brought here in the first place. Tony said it didn't seem like you did."

Loki pressed the button that brought up a new page of text. Pepper stood there for a moment, but Loki still didn't answer. He wasn't going to make anything easy for anyone. "I'm going to take that as a no, then," Pepper finally stated. She waited for a protest, but it didn't come. She wasn't terribly surprised at Loki's lack of interaction. After dealing with Tony for so long, she was well versed in dealing with difficult people. "We're looking for your soulmate," she informed him.

Loki was surprised enough to look up again. "I don't have one." That was a fact that had been ground into him over the centuries. Even if there was, by some cosmic chance, a soulmate for him out there, he had no way of finding them after the scars ruined his back.

"That's not true," Pepper said. "There's a soulmate mark on your neck."

Loki's eyes narrowed, and he finally put his reader down to stand up. Pepper had to fight the urge to back up a step. It wasn't as if Loki could do anything trapped in his cell like he was. "There is a what?"

"A soulmate mark on the back of your neck," Pepper repeated with her chin kept level with the ground. She wasn't going to back down. "We've been looking for a matching one."

Loki nearly hissed. "That is impossible. That is not how my people display soulmate marks." Neither Asgardians nor Jotnar had marks on their necks.

"It's how human marks present," Pepper replied. "That's why you're down here." Loki looked annoyed and angry. Pepper forged ahead despite his expression. "We're sure we can find your mate here on Earth. But it would help if you cooperated."

"Cooperated," Loki echoed. "And how, exactly, do you think I can cooperate. If I'm not mistaken, you did something to my neck when I first arrived here. I don't see what more use I can be to you, even if I wanted to help. Which, by the way, I do not."

Pepper frowned. "Why not? Don't you want to find someone you can be with? That will stand by you?"

Loki snorted. "As if any would," he said with an eye roll. "I am not going to be some... prize for a mortal to parade around. I'm just fine on my own, just like I have been for centuries before you were even born."

"What if your mate wants to be with you?" Pepper pressed. "To help you?"

"Then they are insane, and two insane people together seems even more dangerous than normal so you'd keep us apart anyway," Loki predicted. "No reasonable person wants me. And if that was all you came down here to tell me, consider your message delivered." Loki turned and went to sit back down on his bed with his e-reader.

Pepper frowned. She had hoped to get a better read of Loki from the conversation. To see if he really was compatible with Tony or not. But all he was showing her was that he was annoyed, which was hardly surprising. Well, he did also seem to have some self-esteem issues when it came to if someone would want him, but Pepper tried to remember that he'd grown up thinking he didn't have a soulmate at all, so it probably made sense. "When we find your soulmate, will you at least meet with him?"

Loki looked up through his lashes at her. "What makes you say 'him'?" he asked.

"Just a guess," Pepper said as casually as she could manage. She mentally cursed herself for the slip-up. Tony would not be happy about that. Loki hummed thoughtfully but didn't say anything else. Pepper frowned. "Would you?" she asked again.

"Would I what?"

"Meet with the soulmate when we find whoever it is?" Pepper repeated while fighting back the agitation since she knew Loki was only playing dumb to annoy her.

Loki scoffed and went back to his reading. "Oh, that." Pepper folded her arms across her chest and stared for several minutes but fought back the urge to demand an answer. She had made time anticipating this meeting going poorly. The two of them were locked in a battle of patience. Loki looked up again from his reader after three pages and quirked his mouth in what Pepper was almost willing to call a smile. "No, Lady Virginia," Loki said. "Not unless you make it worth my time."

Pepper was annoyed at that but wasn't going to argue it. Not yet. Instead, she just nodded shortly and spun on her heel to leave. It wasn't until she had gotten through all of the security checks that she realized that Loki had called her Virginia and she definitely hadn't given him that name. She frowned and made a note to find out where he'd gotten her real name from as soon as she could.

Chapter Text

Tony was trying his best to not look over at his computer screen. He really was not going to give into the temptation. He had the live feed of Loki's cell being displayed there like it always was and Tony was not going to obsess over the otherworldly prince. Tony had already memorized what Loki did every day in his cell. Mostly read, as it turned out. Loki was perfectly secure and not causing any trouble and Tony should really be ecstatic about that. Cooperative Loki was really the best case scenario, and one Tony hadn't dared hope for.

And yet...

Tony glanced over at the screen yet again and took note that Loki was heading towards the bathroom. Tony forced his head away immediately and tried to focus only on the delicate wires and gears in front of him. He didn't want nor need to see Loki in the bathroom.

Despite himself, Tony's eyes drifted back to the screen, and he couldn't quite help but stare as Loki pulled off his shirt to drop to the ground. Tony knew he really really shouldn't be looking and kept telling himself to turn off the feed, but he couldn't quite make his brain send that message to his muscles. Tony had always found Loki attractive. Well, Tony found lots of people attractive. He was an equal opportunity love-em-and-leave-em type of guy. Or at least he as before he started claiming soulmates.

Loki was a dream with slender but defined muscles and pale as the moon skin. His dark hair and piercing green eyes were striking, and Tony had always had a thing for a beautiful set of long legs. Pepper had them too. Sexy long legs that Tony could spend hours kissing his way up- Tony shook his head and tried to not let his thoughts wander.

Loki shed his pants, and Tony was treated to a beautiful eyeful. It was so not fair that such a psychopath was so damn sexy, and he wasn't even doing anything! Again Tony told himself to look away, but still, he couldn't help himself. It wasn't like Loki didn't know there were cameras around or anything and he wasn't even attempting to cover himself up as he reached into the shower and started the water. So, Tony rationalized, that it was alright to still see what Loki wasn't even trying to hide.

Tony didn't realize he had melted several wires together by accident as his eyes devoured every inch of Loki that was exposed. Damn it! He'd always thought Loki was attractive, but now it seemed ten times worse. Loki's tall figure was a little too thin but still muscled, and Tony could make out a few scars here and there. The alien captive didn't seem to have very much in the way of body hair except for a few dark patches here and there. The short dark hair instantly stood out against Loki's skin, and that was definitely why Tony's eyes dropped so fast to Loki's crotch. That was his answer, and he was sticking to it. Tony really, really wanted to pull his gaze away but was utterly transfixed. He couldn't quite help his blood from starting to swing lower in his own body as his eyes continued to memorize every long line and bare inch of skin.

Loki got into the shower a moment later, and Tony did his best to not fantasize about how a wet Loki would look. "Fuck," he muttered as he managed to shake it off finally. He felt his blood stirring already, and he hadn't even been looking that long. Stupid hormones!

Tony turned his attention to what he'd been trying to do and cursed again as he saw what he'd inadvertently done. Now he'd have to yank out all those wires and start again. Stupid distracting sexy aliens! Tony grumbled and managed to not look at the screen once more as he began ripping wires out.

A few minutes later, the door to the lab opened, and Tony glanced up to see Bruce walking in. "Hey, Brucie. What's up?" he asked as he focused on the wires in his gauntlet again.

"Just been looking over some reports and I wanted to ask you some... is that Loki's cell?" Bruce asked as he got close enough to see the computer screens clearly.

"Well, yeah, he's under constant surveillance," Tony said with his best neutral I've-done-nothing-wrong-or-ill-advised voice.

Bruce frowned. "Well, yes... but I thought you were talking by Shield agents... not personally by you," Bruce prompted. While he definitely understood taking precautions he wasn't entirely sure that Tony was handling things effectively and perhaps was being overly cautious. Paranoid even. "Has he done something you think warrants more watching?" Bruce asked as he glanced at the screen to see a blurry color in the shower. "... and while he's in the shower?"

"He's watched at all times," Tony said dismissively. "And no, I'm just making sure he doesn't try to kill us," he added snarkily.

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Ookay... but you should also probably take a step back. You've been running around with your head cut off about Loki being here for months. He hasn't even been here a week, and you're watching him as if he's going to break out at any second."

"He's plotting something," Tony said firmly.

"Probably," Bruce agreed. "But I doubt you watching him take a shower is going to stop that."

Tony looked up sharply. "I'm not watching him take a shower. He just happens to be in the shower right now," he argued with a gesture towards the screen.

"That's the exact same thing."

Tony frowned. "Is not. Anyway, what did you come in here to ask about?" he asked, wanting to get off of the topic of Loki. Tony had no desire to talk about or directly address his wayward soulmate even though nobody but Pepper knew that he was Loki's soulmate. That secret could stay very much buried, thanks so much.

Bruce seemed a little skeptical but handed Tony the papers he'd been looking over and the two scientists got down to actual work. Bruce was trying to find out the full extent of what turning into the Hulk would cost him down the road, which was a prospect full of guesswork and unpleasant possibilities.

By chance, a little while after they started, Bruce glanced over at the screen that Loki's cell was displayed on and caught sight of something odd. "What's that?" he asked.

Tony looked up and then, when he saw what direction Bruce was looking in, turned lightning fast. "What?!"

"I think he's got a rash on his arms," Bruce said, pointing to where Loki was fixing his hair with a mirror that was mounted to the outside of his clear prison to ensure that the glass couldn't be broken and form makeshift weapons.

Tony sighed heavily. "Don't do that, Brucie. I've got a damaged heart, ya know."

"You're the one so paranoid you're jumping at nothing," Bruce replied. "But I don't like the looks of that rash," he said as he got up from his seat and went closer to the screen. "Looks sort of like an allergic reaction or something."

"Fascinating," Tony grumbled. "But there's nothing unusual in that cell that Bambi wouldn't have come across before, so I doubt that it's some allergy."

Bruce frowned. "Maybe it's a mild one that is only showing up because of repeated exposure. Like in his soap or something," he suggested. He may not be a medical doctor -like he had to continue to remind everyone- but he didn't really like seeing people unhealthy either. It was why he was still trying to get Tony to at least cut back on his drinking -rather unsuccessfully, he might add. "It looks painful..." The rash was bright red, and even from a distance, Bruce thought he saw blisters appearing.

"Well, if it's mild he can deal with it," Tony said.

"Tony," Bruce scolded. "His health is our responsibility while he's in our custody. We can't just ignore something like this."

Tony sighed and had to admit that Bruce might be right. At the absolute least, Thor would be pissed. He didn't really like it though. "Fine. I'll have someone get him a different soap or something. Happy?"

"And send him some ointment," Bruce insisted. Tony nodded in agreement. "Thank you." Bruce studied Tony for a moment. While normally he would consider Tony's paranoia a minor problem and entirely understandable, the amount of time Loki would be here made it something that had to be addressed. He couldn't allow one of his best friends to drive himself into the ground. "You know... I can understand being unhappy about this whole situation, but if you keep this up the whole time, it won't be healthy for you."

Tony glanced up. "Keep what up?"

"The hyper-vigilance," Bruce clarified. "You need to relax or at least remove yourself from the situation for a few days. You're going to give yourself a stroke or a heart attack or something. Why are you so amped up about this?"

"I just don't want us to be killed, Bruce," Tony said.

Bruce reached over and put a hand on Tony's shoulder just long enough to give the billionaire a squeeze. He really did understand. Tony wasn't the only one worried about having Loki around. "Well, with all of us here this is probably the safest place for him to stay. No matter how much we don't like it." Though Bruce didn't like to admit it, he realized that Fury had been right about that much at least.

Bruce glanced back at the screen and saw Loki had returned to his bed and was reading something on his device. The angry red blotches along Loki's wrists, hands, and creeping up his forearms were still very visible. Bruce couldn't explain for sure why seeing them made him uneasy. His best guess was that he knew that marks like that were often very painful and Bruce was very much against leaving painful conditions untreated if there was anything at all he could do about it. The man behind the Hulk had seen enough unnecessary suffering -and caused enough of it- to be unwilling to let even villains be mistreated or neglected.

"Let me know if those rashes don't get better," Bruce said with a nod towards Loki's cell. "If it's not the soap causing it, I want to take a closer look and really see what the cause might be."

Tony sighed but nodded. "Yeah alright, Brucie. But I really don't think it's that big of a deal."

"Try and have a little compassion, Tony," Bruce said, slightly annoyed. "I know he's not a great guy but not treating medical conditions is just another form of torture and I know how you feel about that."

Tony couldn't help the flinch. When Bruce put it like that Tony really felt horrible. "It isn't like I've been ignoring it..." Tony grumbled. "I just hadn't noticed. I don't take stock of his appearance every day." Even as Tony said that his mind flashed back to seeing all of Loki's naked self just a little while ago and felt a little guilty. Maybe if Tony hadn't been staring at those fantastic thighs, shapely calves, and absolutely Godly ass he would have noticed the rashes.

Bruce was quiet for a moment but then nodded. "Alright. Well, keep an eye on them now and like I said tell me if it gets worse," he insisted.

"Yeah, yeah. I got it, Brucie Bear," Tony said as he tried to be dismissive and go back to work despite how his brain was whirling. Bruce lingered another few minutes but then left Tony to his work. The billionaire tried to focus on the electronics, but it only took a few minutes for his eyes to wander over to the screen again. Damn it. Now that Bruce pointed it out Tony couldn't stop looking at those rashes either.