Avengers Compound, Northern New York, November 2017
Tony watched the recording closely while tossing a rubber ball between his hands absently.
The picture was grainy, but it was clear enough to get a general feel for what was happening.
On-screen, a teenager pulled a gun from his opponent’s hands and crushed it in his fist before a little girl fell from somewhere above the camera’s sightlines (presumably the ceiling) and knocked the man out cold.
Other HYDRA agents came running into sight and began firing. Another boy appeared seemingly from nowhere between them and waved a hand with strange energy trailing behind, ricocheting the bullets back to their original owners.
The clip stopped after the first boy nudged the second and pointed to the camera.
“Play it again,” he said automatically. “From the top.”
The door to his lab opened, but he didn’t look.
“Find anything?” Rogers leaned against the workbench behind him.
“Not much, but it’s something.” He waved his hand in the air, moving the clip along and pausing it at the second boy’s little hand wave. “You see that?”
Rogers cocked his head to the side when Tony looked back.
“The energy? Tony, we all noticed that on Day One.”
Tony nodded, ignoring his comment.
“What does that look like to you?”
Cap looked at the screen again.
“Without it being in color, I can’t make a definite guess, but I’d say that’s a little too close to Wanda’s.”
Tony pointed at the Captain.
“Yes! That.” He sat on the table next to the other man. “But it doesn’t make sense.”
“If these kids are the same as Pietro and Wanda, why are they turning on the people that made them?”
Tony shrugged and picked up his tablet.
“Yeah, that too.” He tapped the screen a few times. “But according to the HYDRA files we’ve picked up, they were the only two successes; everyone else bit it.”
The Captain sighed and ran a hand down his face.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Tony.” He straightened. “Come on, Thor’s brother is supposed to be visiting from wherever he ran off to this week.”
Tony groaned but complied, shutting off the video and locking up his lab.
Steve strode through the halls of the compound, Stark loudly objecting to his being required to at least say hi to Loki. (“It’s not like he’ll even notice I’m not there!”)
When they entered the common room, Loki was on the couch with the rest of the Avengers crowded around, enraptured by the man’s story. Steve thought they looked like children.
Looking around, Steve found Bucky sitting next to Clint on the kitchenette counter with a mug of something steamy in his hands.
Bucky nodded in Steve’s direction before returning his attention to the trickster’s story.
Thor let out a boisterous laugh as Loki ended his story, the latter looking positively proud of his latest trick.
“Captain Rogers, Mr. Stark. It is good to see you again.” Loki smiled in their direction.
Steve returned the sentiment as Tony hopped the back of one of the couches.
“How was… wherever you were?”
“Oh, I was Knowhere.” The gleeful look in his eyes told Steve that that was indeed a real place.
Thor broke in with a smile: “I heard that it had been destroyed by the Kree, but that appears to not be so.”
Loki shook his head and lifted his glass.
“It would take much more than a single attack for such a place to fall.”
“Sounds like somewhere I need to visit,” Clint remarked, twirling an arrow between his fingers.
Loki smiled cheekily, but Natasha cut off his reply before they could start planning an interstellar road trip.
“Hey, Tony, do you think Loki could help us with the Mystery?”
Loki’s eyes sparkled as he looked to his brother.
“You did not tell me there was a mystery, brother.”
Tony stood and “pulled” the holographic screen down, the windows shuttering automatically. The room darkened, he brought the clip to the screen and pressed play.
Loki stood and walked closer as the second boy appeared.
The clip froze on the last frame and Loki turned to Wanda, sitting on the floor with her feet in her brother’s lap.
“Would I be correct in believing that I’ve not been gone long enough for you to have a grown son?”
Wanda spluttered a moment, her brother blinking at Loki before bursting into tears of laughter.
When Pietro had quieted (Wanda’s glare helping that along very well) Steve spoke up.
“Why would you ask?”
Loki tapped his chin and began pacing.
“The boy’s magic is similar to yours, but it has more of an inherited quality to it.” He stopped pacing long enough to wave a hand, somehow clearing up the picture and providing a detailed look at the children while still remaining black and white.
The first boy was pubescent, but certainly not in his teens, with strong features and bright, intelligent eyes. He carried himself with confidence and he still had angled himself between the dead HYDRA agents and the little girl.
She was a toddler with her long hair in a braid and her back straight, more like an adult. But the most obvious thing was her eyes. She had spider-eyes, eight of them, exactly where a normal human’s would be.
The second boy was a little older than the first. He had dark hair and softer features. And it was unmistakable: he had Wanda’s eyes.
All of them were dressed in jeans and ratty old sweatshirts.
So, they’re on their own, Steve thought.
Wanda said something that Steve didn’t understand.
Loki hummed softly and backed the clip to the beginning, watching as it replayed again and again.
The twins stood behind him, watching the second boy through every playback.
Loki paused the clip in the same place and looked back at Steve.
“Interesting.” And he hit play again, watching it through a few times before pausing again and looking between Bucky and Natasha. “Very interesting.”
“Well, spit it out already.” Clint’s voice was almost too loud in the silence.
Loki crossed his arms and faced the group.
“Do you have any other recordings of these children?”
Everyone looked to Tony.
“This was the only documented proof of their existence, but we have been finding the remnants of HYDRA bases all over and every survivor reported children being the ones to shut them down.”
Loki began drumming his fingers on his arm.
Steve felt about ready to pull his hair out. A quick look to Bucky said that he was no better, his mug developing fine cracks along its porcelain surface.
“Brother,” Thor interrupted, realizing how uncomfortable his friends had become in the silence. “I would suggest that you explain.”
The trickster lifted a corner of his mouth in apology.
“Last year, I told you that I had come to your planet to visit my brother,” he began and pulled a round disk from his pocket, which he dropped into the center of the living room floor. “That’s not entirely true.”
The disk shone a bright light from the center which coalesced into images and maps and 3D mock-ups of people, filling the room. Directly above the disk: Six colored crystals shone.
“The Infinity Stones,” Thor breathed.
“Yes. At the beginning of the universe, six stones were scattered throughout creation, each one controlling some aspect of reality.” He waved five of the stones away, leaving the green gem. “A little over a year ago, I felt the power of the Time Stone activating and was able to trace it here.”
Steve stepped closer to the projections. The stone glowed. He glanced to the faintly glowing stone in Vision’s head.
“When I found it, its guardian assured me that it hadn’t been activated but she had felt it as well.”
Natasha crossed her arms, a sure sign to anyone that knew her that she was nervous.
“So, you’re saying that someone split it in half?”
Loki shook his head vehemently.
“If that were to happen, all of time would collapse in on itself. We would have been too late.” He brought up what appeared to be footage of places on alien worlds. “The only way for there to be two of these stones would be if someone used it to travel or to send someone else.”
“Through time,” Clint provided.
“Exactly.” Loki began one of the recordings. “Shortly after, I began hearing rumors of children with extraordinary abilities throughout the cosmos.”
The screen showed a teenaged girl with honey-colored hair cast lightning from her fingertips, striking a group of guards before she marched past their twitching forms and retrieved something from their computers.
Loki brought up a different recording, this time from a camera inside SHIELD.
Steve felt a twinge of confusion before his mind caught up with him and he realized that this was an older recording.
The camera was over a lab, techs swarming about as they studied their latest discovery. That is, until the alarm went off and all but one of them scurried off into a safe room.
A young woman, maybe in her late teens with a nearly-shaved head, entered the room covered in flames. She stood next to the remaining tech as he melted and coalesced into something resembling a mannequin about the size of a small teenager.
The two went to separate computers and began downloading something onto USBs. Within two minutes, they were gone.
You said it.