1001 Tales of Once Upon a Time
A fool may be known by six things: anger, without cause; speech, without profit; change, without progress; inquiry, without object; putting trust in a stranger, and mistaking foes for friends ~ 1001 Tales of Arabian Nights
By the twentieth attempt, even Thor had given up. Tony thinks its twenty, but really he’d lost count by four and wandered off by seven. He does however, reach over and pat Thor in commiseration on the arm as the sweating god collapses on the floor, panting. Tony is a supportive team mate that way.
‘Good try buddy. Pointless, but good.’
‘Tis no consequence, nonetheless,’ Thor gestured around their prison cell. ‘I fear these bars are held in place by a means more magical than its make.’
‘Magic again,’ Steve sighed.
‘Can you blame them?’ Clint groused. ‘Nobody would want to strip Tony with their own bare hands, Cap.’
‘Very funny,’ Tony sniped, although he felt small and fragile and short, barefoot and dressed only in his lightweight bodysuit. ‘Amora still better have my suit somewhere around. At least on this plane ofexistence.’
‘It’s no use,’ Widow announced, ‘With all our weapons confiscated and no way to break out. We have to wait for Amora to come back.’
Tony stared at her. ‘You know what she’ll do to Thor when she comes back!’
‘Keep your voice down,’ Steven scolded. On the far side of the room, Bruce was sitting cross-legged on the floor, meditating. The cell was much too small to risk unleashing the hulk, so the moment they’ve woken up from the effects of Amora’s sleeping pollen and found themselves in a holding area no bigger than Tony’s bathroom Bruce had promptly placed himself as far from everyone else as he could and squeezed his eyes shut.
'We're helpless in any case,' Clint pointed out. 'No point debating when there's nothing to be done.'
The words escaped before he could swallow them. ‘There’s one last uh, thing -’
‘We've each of us tried everything,’ Steve said, and then narrowed his eyes at Tony’s shifty expression. ‘Haven’t we?
‘Everything that’s worth trying.’ Tony said quickly. ‘Because some things aren’t worth the uh, risk of it, you know. ‘
‘Are you saying all this time you might have had the means to get us out of here,’ Clint asked incredulously, ‘and you’ve just been standing there?’
‘I don’t know, alright?’ Tony barely refrained from shouting, conscious of how sensitive Bruce was to tension in a space. ‘I’ve been thinking of how to go about it.’
‘Then think faster.’
Tony opened his mouth to argue.
‘Tony,’ Widow leaned forward in a low voice. ‘We need to get Bruce out. Whatever you have to do, just do it. For his sake.’
‘You know I hate it when you play that card.’ Tony was fidgeting with his hands, twisting them as he paced around. He couldn't seem to stop despite the fact that his team was staring at him like he’d grown two heads. ‘So I'll do it but what you’re about to see cannot be held against me in front of Fury or any court of law if it gets our asses out of here alive. Kapish?'
'I knew it.' Clint crowed. 'This is something we're all going to live to regret, isn't it?'
'We'll figure it out,' said the brave Captain. 'Go ahead, Tony.'
Tony swallowed the bitter realization that he had been hoping the team would stop him before he started. Fine. Dammed if he did and dammed if he didn't.
'Ok. Everybody turn away because I’ve never done this before. I’m serious. There might be singing, or crying or fireworks. Probably a lot of begging because that would just make sense.’
They just stare at him, mouths gaping, and Tony snapped. ‘Turn! Turn turn, get to the other side, don’t you dare watch.’
He pointedly turned away from them, closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind, summoning only a single thought into his consciousness.
He could almost feel Steve’s stare burning a hole through his head. ‘I don’t understand Tony, what can you possibly do out of your suit that we haven’t tried-‘
Its Widow that puts it together first. ‘It’s not what, it’s who.’
Tony ignored them and gritted his teeth, filtering everything out. He was supposed to concentrate. Clear his mind and think of-think of what? Maybe worship- no no, summoning. Damn that crazy arsed whackjob for not giving him better instructions. Was he supposed to be prostrate on the floor? Do a raindance? What?
'Ironman, what the hell are you tr-‘
Tony gave up, raised his head to the ceiling and simply hollered his intentions to the universe like he expected to be heard. ‘I’m summoning you and I know you hear me, now come on and get a move on it.’
‘Summons-‘ Tony could hear the gears snapping to place in Thor’s brain, and the thud of his booted feet as he strode forward. ‘What new manner of mischief is this?‘
Tony opens his mouth to answer, but a flash fills the room, shimmers with enough energy and light that it forces everyone to take a step back and avert their eyes as it zips faster in circles and finally evolves into a gold and green form - and suddenly Loki is standing in the middle of the cell with them, wearing a set of horns that brushes the ceiling and a look of dangerous delight on his pale, pointy face.
‘Tony Stark,’ the god of mischief breathed in a voice that sounded remarkably like fond exasperation. ‘Surely that was the worst acolyte’s call in the history of your people. Do consider for future reference the fact that even your forefathers, before they discovered language, fared better than whatever passed in your mind as constitutes for prayer.’
‘What the fuc-‘ Because of course Clint.
‘Brother-‘ Thor begun as Loki held up a hand, and Tony could feel the unborn strands of his future hair turning white as Hawkeye and the Thunderer’s mouths disappeared from their faces like too many horror movies he’d seen.
The rest of the team jumped back immediately with varying states of shock and preparatory violence, and Tony has no doubt he’s waving his hands around like a conductor who’s lost his marbles. Which might just be true.
‘Creepy,’ Tony said, in a voice slightly higher than he’d like. ‘Creepy creepy magic man. I wished you wouldn’t do that.’
Loki merely raised an eyebrow. ‘You summoned me . Do you intend to waste my time?’
‘Uh, Tony-‘ It was Bruce. His eyes still tightly squeezed shut, but he was beginning to look distinctly green around the edges. ‘I’m not sure how long I can hold out-‘
Loki turned to him with flashing eyes and he slumped over, a blissed out smile on his face as Clint and Widow caught him.
Hurriedly Tony turned to Captain America before he could use his mouth. Or fist.
‘Stop stop stop. I told you all to turn away. What did you promise me? He turned to Loki and gave him the same glare. ‘And what did you promise me?’
‘Nothing I have not deigned to keep, although your friends may be free to keep my brother company if they but utter a word in my presence,’ Loki said. After a brief moment of looking at Tony he conceded, ‘Be calmed however, for their voices will return once they find in themselves the will to stay silent.'
‘Which means not as long as you’re around,’ Tony groaned. ‘Great.’
‘It is indeed as simple and as difficult as that,’ the god inclined his head mockingly. 'As most trials tend to be.'
‘You have such weird notions of fair play, Dancer.’
The god had the gall to laugh. ‘Ah but what is play without an element of the imagination in it?’
Tony sighed. ‘Look, Loki. I know this is weird territory, but I really need a favour here. Pretty please? I swear I’ll make it up to you.’
Loki perused the area around him, seeming to see right through Tony’s team as if they didn’t exist. ‘You do like being in captivity, Stark. I had thought the experience of the last time I found you thus would have chased such instincts from you. Do you ever learn?’
‘Nope. Never.’ Tony said. ‘Perks of the job, what can I say? Dental plans, annual holidays, involuntary incarceration- there’s where you come in.’
Loki mouth twisted into the approximation of a smile that didn't fool Tony for one minute . ‘Oh, do go on.’
The mortal cleared his throat. ‘Look. You’ve busted me out of things before. Probably out of sheer boredom that last time, I get it. Hell I wouldn't want to share a cell with me. But I remembered what you told me - the fact that you do answer prayers? Well I guess you can call this a prayer. And... what friends would do for each other.‘
Loki’s eyes were narrowed, but not in anger at his presumptuousness. ‘And are we? Friends?’ the god asked softly.
When hell freezes over.
Tony swallowed. ‘We can be. Yeah, why not? After those last few... sessions, you probably know more about me than most people by now. So we need out, Loki,’ He paused. ‘Please.’
Loki just looked at him with a speculative consideration that made Tony’s skin crawl. Then the god seemed to come to a decision, because an arm chair and a stool suddenly appeared in the narrow confines of the cell. Out of the corner of his eye Tony saw his team crowding uncomfortably against the walls to make way for the conjured items, watching the surreal proceedings with narrowed gazes.
The mortal stood gaping as he watched the god folding himself into the armchair and gesturing at the stool before him. ‘Sit. Tell me the rest of your story.’
‘What?’ Tony squawked.
Loki’s eyes went unfocused for a moment, and a pot of tea appeared. A fucking pot of floating tea was now in the cell with them, and it gave off a delicate flowery scent and hovered at Loki’s elbow like a sentient thing.
The god held a prettily patterned porcelain teacup out to the hovering pot. ‘Are mortal minds so feeble? You never finished the telling of your story in our last prison; I will have it in this one.’
Tony scrubbed his hands over his face. ‘I don’t believe this.’
‘Oh believe it,’ Loki’s smile was impossibly wide and entertained. ‘Take advantage, Stark. Seldom will you find me willing to barter on such… paltry terms. But I have always been an avid listener to a tale well told, and find yours to be particularly inspired.’
‘Fuck my life,’ Tony said and sank into the stool. He was never going to live down the humiliation of doing this with Loki whist his team looked on.
The god of mischief blew delicately at his teacup and tutted in sympathy. ‘Yes, it does appear that way, doesn’t it? Would you like some tea?’