“So what you’re saying is that there is some kind of super powerful alien psychopath making his way to Earth, probably with an army or few behind him while on the search for a super weapon?”
To his credit, Thor’s expression didn’t change at all.
There was silence for a few seconds until Tony spoke again.
“I need a drink. Anyone else?” A few people murmured an assent as he stood and made his way to a panel on the wall that opened to reveal a minibar.
“Do you have one of those in every meeting room?” Steve asked, declining the drink that was offered to him. Bucky held his hand out, silently accepting it and nodding his thanks.
“Yeah. But back to the supervillain thing, what exactly is your plan?” Tony asked, sitting back down and toying with the glass in his hands.
Thor leaned his forearms on the table and stared at his own hands pensively.
“That is the issue. We only became aware of Thanos’s search for the Infinity Stones when we almost came into contact with one of his ships after Asgard was destroyed, it was pure luck that we were able to escape and make it here. We… have no idea what to do.” He sighed, running a hand over his short hair (and boy would that take some getting used to. That and the eyepatch. He still hadn’t explained what had happened).
“Right, well that’s just great. Lead a super army to Earth without a plan.” Tony muttered, knocking back his drink and sinking into his chair.
“Stark, stop being so pessimistic. He may be powerful but he is still only an enemy, we need to treat him like any other.” Natasha said, kicking her feet onto the table and thinking. “Thor, does he have any weaknesses?”
“Not that I know of. He is known as ‘The Mad Titan’, he exterminated his rest of his race to prove that he is the strongest. There is no-one that he-” Thor broke off, a thoughtful expression coming over his face.
“No-one that he...” Doctor Strange continued from where he leant against the wall. The sorcerer had remained quiet until now, much to the surprise of the rest of the room.
“It was rumoured that Thanos developed… how can I put this, an infatuation with death.” He continued.
Tony laughed, shaking his head.
“So he’s in love with- what would that even be, a concept? Inevitability? How does this help us exactly?”
Thor sighed, patience beginning to run a little thin.
“Death is a being beyond your understanding. They are the only constant in the universe and the most powerful, this is what drew Thanos to them.”
“Wait, Thor… you’re saying that Death is a living thing?” Steve spoke up, sitting straighter as Bucky slouched beside him.
“Well, ’living’ isn’t exactly the word, but they do exist as a sentient being. My brother has had many a meeting with them, as I remember they used to be close friends.” Thor smiled as he spoke of Loki, as he usually did since they’d apparently made up. The rest of the Avengers were a little lost in that regard but Thor didn’t seem brainwashed and Loki hadn’t done anything yet other than lock himself in the room allocated to him so far, so...
“Friends. Your brother is friends with Death.” Doctor Strange said flatly, staring at Thor. Tony let out some kind of semi-hysterical giggle from where he’d laid his forehead on the table.
“Indeed. He was always a curious child and sometimes that curiosity got the better of him.” Thor looked about ready to launch into some story from their childhood and everyone in the room was relieved when Natasha interrupted.
“I hate to interrupt you,” She whacked Tony on the arm when he snorted, “But what does this have to do with Thanos?”
Thor’s face lit up and he clapped his hands together.
“Yes! My point, sorry. As far as I know, Death is the only being that Thanos has attempted to form any kind of… relationship with. If we could summon them, perhaps they may be able to help us. All we need is a powerful sorcerer-”
Doctor Strange straightened from where he leant against the wall and held up his hands.
“Woah, okay, I know I’m good but I don’t know how to or want to try convening with Death itself, thank-you.”
The rest of the room stared at him.
“I was talking about my brother, Loki. The one you dropped through several portals?” Thor replied flatly, looking to be running on the last of his patience.
“Oh. Good.” Strange coughed awkwardly, going back to leaning against the wall.
“Right, so now we have to rope Loki into this. How the fuck-”
“Language!” Tony whispered, receiving another whack from Natasha.
“-are we going to do that, he hates us.” Steve had a point and even Natasha nodded in agreement, rubbing a hand over her face.
Thor, however, didn’t look so disheartened. He almost looked sad, but like a man who had a plan.
“Do not worry, my friends. Loki has his own reasons to speak with Death, and I am certain he will not turn us down.”
“Whatever it is, no.”
The door slammed in their faces and Thor blinked, unsurprised.
“I thought you were sure he wouldn’t turn us down?” Steve asked, turning to face Thor.
“He hasn’t even heard what it is yet.” He muttered and rapped on Loki’s door, waiting patiently as they heard footsteps approach it from the other side.
“What?!” Loki snapped, opening the door and leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed. “I’m busy.”
“With what?” Tony asked, grinning at him when the Demigod’s glare turned to him.
“Brother, we seek your help.” Thor raised an eyebrow when Loki snorted. “We need to convene with Death to discuss Thanos and you are the only sorcerer who can help us.”
Loki flicked his eyes to Strange who was loitering a few feet down the corridor.
“Why not use your pet magician? You seemed to like him when he was dropping me through time and space.”
“I already apologised for that-” Strange started,
“You have not! I haven’t said a word to you since we returned.” Loki looked on the edge of disappearing back into his room.
“I could if I wanted-”
“- Will not do it, may it be his own skill or choices we do not know nor care.” Thor’s voice got louder in an effort to drown Strange out and Loki fought a smirk. “Brother, please. You are old friends with Death, surely you would not miss out on seeing an old friend?” There was a strange edge to his voice that the others picked up on, but it seemed that only Loki understood. His expression changed from irritation to thoughtfulness and he gave them all a once over glance before closing the door again.
“Well… did that work? I can’t tell.” Tony asked, jumping when the door flew open and Loki appeared before them in different clothes. They looked older than his usual leather outfit, more worn and a bit singed.
“Fine. As a favour to you all, I will do this.” He confirmed, closing his door behind him.
“You tried to take over Earth and kill us all.” Natasha commented flatly, staring at him.
“… As an apology to you all, apart from you,” He pointed at Strange, “I will do this. I’ll need a large space that you won’t mind smelling a little stale for a few days, do you have one available or will I have to make one?” There was a slightly threatening edge to Loki’s voice as he cracked his knuckles and a few members of the group instinctively stepped back.
“How about the hanger?” Natasha suggested, getting nods in reply from the rest of the group.
“Perfect. Lead the way.” Loki waited for the Avengers to start to disperse before following them down the corridor. “Oh, and I’ll need a virgin to sacrifice. Stark will do nicely.” He smirked at Tony’s answering offended splutter as Bucky snorted a rare laugh, while Natasha smiled.
“You- asshole,” Tony hissed unimaginatively, speeding up so he was further away from Loki. “That had better be a joke, no virgins are getting sacrificed in my compound.”
“Don’t worry Tony. If Loki sacrificed a virgin every time he summoned Death then our parents would have had words with him a long time ago.” Thor laughed, clapping a hand down on Loki’s shoulder. He let out a quiet grunt under the force and shrugged Thor’s hand off, but didn’t try to cut his hand off so everyone counted that as a win.
When they reached the hanger, Loki paced around the perimeter of the wide room for a few minutes as if scoping it out. He paused by each of the four corners, kneeling and scratching something into the painted walls with a small summoned dagger.
“Uh, what is he doing to my hanger?” Tony stage whispered, leaning over to Thor.
“I am engraving runes into the corners to centre the magical energy to create a portal, kindly direct your questions to me if you have any.” Loki spoke loudly from where he was finishing with the last corner. “It is rude to discuss someone when they are in the room with you.”
The others looked over at Thor, who shrugged.
“What he said.”
Strange approached one of the engravings, kneeling to examine it.
“Runes?” He asked, turning to look at Loki as he rejoined the rest of the group.
“Of course. Now, anyone who doesn’t want to face Death themself should leave now. Also anyone with a nervous disposition, heart condition, or anger issues,” He looked around, “It may be a good thing that Banner isn’t here. Right then.”
Loki turned with a bit of dramatic flair before crouching on the ground and pulling out his dagger again. He could feel everyone’s eyes on him and he smirked, before putting the dagger to the flesh of his palm and slicing. He made a fist and squeezed, marking a circle around himself in blood drops before drawing some more runes within the circle using one finger. Loki then flicked the blood off of his hand, healed the wound and stood up, stepping back a few feet and causing the others to do so.
“Please tell me that isn’t a pentagram?” Someone whispered, but he didn’t dignify that with an answer.
Closing his eyes, Loki drew in a deep breath and brought forward in his memory the words to summon one of his oldest friends. As he whispered he could feel the room grow colder, the air growing heavy and the lights in the room begin to dim.
“We’re all gonna die.” Tony spoke up from behind them, making everyone jump.
“Eventually, yes.” Came a new voice, and the group froze.
The darkness that had begun to cloud in the corners and edges of the room gathered in front of them, eventually dispersing and leaving a lone figure behind.
They were tall, a little taller than Loki but had no visible feet. It seemed that they were suspended in the air, the shadows around them forming a cape-like layer that hid any body they may have had.
“Loki… my old friend.” They spoke again, arms raising towards him.
Loki stepped forward, taking their hands and bowing his head so his forehead rested on their knuckles.
“If I may still call myself that.” He replied, sounding almost ashamed.
Death tilted their head, still holding onto Loki’s hands.
“Of course. You have always been my friend, Loki. The course that life has dealt you will not change that.” Their voice was strange, not quite inhuman but not human either. The pitch and tone changed constantly- one second they would sound like a grown man, then a child, then an elderly woman.
Loki closed his eyes, swallowing harshly before stepping back and straightening up.
“You have my eternal gratitude.” He rested a fist over his heart for a second before stepping aside so the others could step forward. “These are my… colleagues. I’m afraid this is not merely a social summoning. We have need of your help.”
Steve was the first to approach, almost immediately followed by Bucky. Tony eyed them for a second before following.
“Sir- Mada- um, your… grace.” Steve fumbled with his words for a second, hearing Bucky snort behind him. “There is a very great threat approaching Earth and we… we think it could be the end of our world.”
“Thanos.” The name was only whispered but it seemed to echo in the large shadowy room, tinged with dread and anger.
“You know him?” Tony asked, crossing his arms.
“Unfortunately. The Mad Titan has attempted to gain my attention many times, I’m sure you know how.”
“The planets he’s destroyed?” Natasha spoke quietly from behind the others, eyes trained on the floating figure. “They were all to impress you?”
Death sighed, a long, rattling sound that seemed to chill the room even more.
“He mistakenly believes that I seek out the deaths of others, that I crave it. He does not understand… My role in this reality is to retrieve the souls of the dead so they can pass through my arms. I do not hunt them, and yet he is so bent on his idea that he will hear no reason.” The ever-changing voice sounded tired, haunted, as if it regretted every breath.
“May I ask… what is his interest in you?” Strange spoke up for the first time, staring hard at Death as if his eyes could burn out the answers.
“Interest… more like obsession.” They replied, voice taking on a high, lilting tone for a few moments before dropping to a deep voice, then a child’s again. “When I first encountered Thanos, he was a young man. In the middle of a battlefield, slaughtering enemies left and right. I was far above, observing the battle whilst I collected the souls of the dead.” The hooded figure’s head dipped, as if they had bowed their head in sorrow or shame. “He was injured, heavily so. He fell down, slipping towards my grasp, when he saw me. Since then he has been obsessed with gaining my attention, with sending me these ‘gifts’,” The last word was spat like a curse word, made all the more disturbing when their voice became a child’s again.
“So you’re not, y’know. On his side?”
“Hardly.” The voice turned hard and the sneer was almost audible. “I am the only one of my kind, the single constant in the universe. For millennia the only souls to come to me came written by the fates designs, by their own destinies. Then Thanos came. And suddenly all these souls, all these lives, were sent to me with no true reason. No fate, no plan. They were simply slaughtered for sport and attention.
“So no, Anthony Stark. I am not on his side.” There was a pause as Death tilted their head to one side, and a slight smile edged onto their voice. “I recognise your soul… it’s almost come into my possession several times. You are fortunate that the fates are fond of you.”
Tony gave an involuntary shudder as he felt the weight of Death’s gaze fall upon him.
“Yeah? It’s good to know someone’s looking out for me then.” Damn, why did humour have to be his coping mechanism?
Luckily Death just laughed.
“In fact… You have all almost come into my grasp at some point. Loki, how have you managed to find so many souls like yours?” The laugh in their voice was still present as their gaze moved over the others in the group. “Steven Rogers… and James Barnes. My, it has been a while.” The hooded figure turned to Natasha next. “And Natalia, too… You three make quite the trio.”
They then turned to Strange, glancing at him. “I do not wish to offend but… you are not nearly as interesting. Only one near-me experience in your lifetime?”
“Uh. I did stop a demon from destroying the Earth?” Strange replied, looking affronted.
“Yes, but you had the time stone. There was little he could actually do to stop you.” Death shrugged, seemingly not noticing Loki sniggering at their other side. “Keep a close hold of that, by the way. It is best if it does not to fall into another’s hands.”
Strange looked perturbed, shifting uncomfortably.
“Good.” With that, they turned back to the rest of the group. “And Thor! Another who I have not seen in… since New Mexico, actually. That was rather recent.” Loki coughed into a fist and Death turned to him.
“That was my fault. My apologies.” He bowed his head.
“No matter. I do not get visitors very often, unless you count the many who curse my name or attempt to enslave me.” A dark humour took over their voice. “They do not last very long in my realm.”
A very awkward silence fell over the party.
“Uh. As we were saying.” Steve started again, glancing over at Loki, who shrugged. “Do you have any advice, or help you could give us?”
A long, rattling sigh came from under Death’s hood and they tilted their head back thoughtfully.
“I do, but I’m afraid it may not be quite what you want.” They looked back down at the small crowd of people in front of them. “For the entirety of my existence, I have been forbidden to interfere in the affairs of living beings.”
“Forbidden?” Strange questioned. “What could forbid you from it?”
Death turned their head to him.
“You have never encountered the Sisters of Fates. Although there is nothing they could do to harm me, I am wise enough not to cross them.” A hoarse laugh. “I would advise all of you to do so too.”
“Okay. But any ideas, anything that could possibly help us defeat him without you being directly involved?” Steve pressed gently, stepping forward a little with Bucky at his shoulder.
“Hmn… I attempt to avoid contact with The Mad Titan any way I can. As so, I do not know or wish to know much of him. But he is a sore loser who will do anything to win. And should you think you have killed him,” They swept forward a pace, almost coming face-to-face with Steve. “Then make sure. If you have landed a hit, hit again. You can never be too sure with that creature.” They sounded unspeakably angry and sad in equal measure.
“Understood.” Steve nodded, looking surprisingly unruffled for someone literally on the same level as Death, who stepped back.
“You know of his search for the Infinity Stones?” They asked, looking around as the humans nodded. “He has two so far. The others are so far out of his reach- one is under the guardianship of a creature on Vormir, it is safe for now. I only know the vague locations of the others. However,” They somehow managed to cast a harsh glare over the others, despite having no visible face or eyes. “Do not go searching for them. Leave them be.”
“Could you tell us these locations? If only so we know where to protect should we need to.” Thor proposed, drawing the other’s attention.
“Hm… I suppose that I can do.” Death replied. “The Soul Stone is on Vormir, but it is protected. The Time Stone, as you know, lies with Strange.” They gestured to the sorcerer with one semi-transparent hand, enrobed in shadows. “The Mind Stone too, is on Earth. I would not recommend keeping more than one in one location...” They turned their head to Loki, who looked away. “It is unwise.”
“Loki...” Thor spoke in a low voice, stepping towards his brother. “Tell me. Tell me I shouldn’t be suspicious of you now.”
Loki looked up at him, an unreadable expression on his face.
“My friend.” Death murmured, lowering themself to the brother’s height. “Listen to your brother.”
Loki moved his gaze from his friend to his brother before sighing in defeat. He brought his hands together, twisting them in a summoning motion- and in his hand, the Tesseract appeared.
“Motherfucker-” Tony raised a hand, the Iron Man bracelet around his wrist forming into a gauntlet. “You brought that thing here?!”
“What the hell-”
“Steve, what is that thing-”
“Let him speak.” Death’s voice somehow overtook the other’s outraged voices and a wave of cold washed over them, effectively stopping them from continuing. “Mr Stark, please lower your weapon.”
“How d’we know he isn’t using it like last time?” Tony replied, not taking his eyes from Loki.
“If I was, do you really think I would still be here and you would all still be alive?” Loki replied dryly, rolling his eyes. “If you must know, during the destruction of Asgard I had to enter the vault. I took it just before releasing Surtur the Fire Demon to defeat the Goddess of Death.”
“Asgard is wild.” Natasha commented mildly, crossing her arms.
“Indeed. It was an interesting twenty-four hours.” Loki gave a small smirk, still holding the Tesseract with a slightly trembling hand.
“And why did you take it, Loki.” Death stated more than ask, still watching him.
Loki looked up at his old friend, swallowing thickly.
“Tell them.” They continued, reaching out and brushing their fingertips over his shoulder.
“Yes, Loki. Tell us.” Thor said, sounding decidedly unhappy.
Loki looked down at the glowing cube before closing his eyes.
“During the… the invasion. I was not myself.” Tony snorted and Loki glared at him, hand tightening around the Tesseract. “It is true. After falling from the Bifrost and into the void, I was… indoctrinated. Into Thanos’s ‘family’. I did not go willingly, and he was forced to recruit his familiar named The Other into helping.” He shifted uncomfortably, obviously not enjoying everyone’s hard gazes on him. “I would rather not go into detail. At least, not at this time. But as I’m sure your friend Barton could concur, when He is in your head, there is nothing else. Only your mission.”
Bucky shuddered, one hand gripping onto Steve’s forearm.
“My mission was the Tesseract. So when I saw it there in the vault, unprotected… I could not resist. I am no long under His control, but the influence is very strong. It leaves imprints.”
“Brother...” Thor placed his hand on Loki’s shoulder, forcing him to meet his eyes. “You never told me.”
Loki met his eyes for a moment before gently pushing the hand off.
“You never asked.” He shrugged, turning back to Death. “What do you suggest we do with it?”
Death hesitated, before reaching out a hand.
“I can care for it. Thanos has not managed to reach me in thousands of years, I will not allow him to grow close now.”
“How do we know we can trust you with it?” Steve spoke up, slightly regretting it when everyone looked at him. “I mean, no offence. But you’ve gotta understand, now we know this guy is coming and he’s looking for the stones, as you said we’ve gotta be careful.”
“I take no offence, Captain. You are right to be wary, but you can entrust me with the safety of the Space Gem. I live a life- as you could say- of non-existence, I exist within the gaps that should not be there. I cannot use the Space Stone, for I have no influence on space itself. Physically or otherwise.”
“Oh. Fair enough then.” Steve nodded, stepping down.
Loki turned to Death, holding the cube out with his fingertips. He placed it in Death’s outstretched hand, the long fingers curling around it as Death brought it up to their hood.
“I despise that these things were created.” They murmured, crumbling the box in their hand and leaving only a small glowing gem. “They turn good creatures against one another, turn friends into enemies. Turn life to Death.” Bringing a hand to their chest, they pressed the gem into their chest and the others watched as the glow faded into black. “I will not have another fall into his hands.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Well. Good. Thank-you.” Tony swung his hands a little awkwardly, looking around. “So… not wanting to sound rude, but that everything? I’ve suddenly got the urge to go design some super weapons.”
There was a rustle of movement as the group looked around.
“I… think that’s it?” Steve turned back to Death, who seemed amused. “Thank-you, so much for your help. And thank-you for taking the Tesseract, we were not prepared to have it back.” He glanced at Loki, who stared back with a bored expression.
“I am merely thankful that someone is prepared to take him on. That, and it is always nice to have visitors.” They tipped their head to the group politely.
“There is something I would ask of you, my friend.” Loki said quietly, glancing at the rest of them for a moment. “If we could speak in private?”
Death nodded, floating nearer to him as he took a few steps away from the others.
“So do we just… stay here?” Strange said quietly, watching the two.
“It would be best to not leave until they are done. I’m not sure if Loki’s put up a protection shield, it’s standard practice when summoning.” Thor leaned in, the others doing the same to hear his hushed voice. “There was this one time when we were children...”
“How are they?” Loki asked once he thought the Avengers weren’t listening in.
“They are well, Loki. They miss you.” Death replied, laying a hand on his arm. “They grow restless waiting, but they understand.”
Loki fidgeted in place, glancing over at the group nearby. Stark looked away, trying to look like he hadn’t been trying to listen in. Loki snorted before turning back.
“I cannot thank you enough, my friend, for watching over them for me. I don’t know how I could ever possibly repay you.” He murmured, taking Death’s hands and pressing them to his forehead.
Death gently took his hands, lowering them.
“You can live, Loki. That is what you can do for me. And then, you will see them again.”
Tony tried not to eavesdrop, he really did. Maybe. A little. He was a curious guy, who could blame him? He just about managed to pick up the whispers between the demigod and the… physical embodiment of death. Yep, that was a thing that was happening right now.
Loki spent a few moments saying goodbye before turning back to the others and approaching.
“I wish you luck, Avengers. May the Sisters of Fates be kind to you in this battle.” Death caught there attention, slowly bowing their head to them in farewell.
None of them could tell you exactly when the light returned, the ghostly figure vanished and everything was back to normal but it all seemed to happen in a blink. Only a vaguely musty smell remained.
“If you all have no further need of me, I’ll be returning to my room.” Loki said brusquely, looking around the group. He looked drained, both physically and, for some reason, emotionally.
“Fine with me. I’m going to my lab, anyone wanna come?” Tony raised a hand, looking around. Thor was watching his brother with an odd expression, Strange was next to him doing his fancy magic thing in his hands. The three super soldiers glanced at eachother, then shrugged. “Suit yourselves. See if I build you anything cool today.” Tony muttered, making his way to the door.
“Loki, would you like to- oh. Okay.” Thor spoke and Tony turned around just in time to see Loki blink out of existence. “I suppose not.”
Tony decided to take pity on him.
“Thor, you wanna come play with some toys? I can make you some kinda replacement hammer.” He offered, gesturing to the door with a thumb. “Peter’s coming by tonight, he’s been wanting to test the strength of his webs on non-human stuff.” He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to seeing the kid. Literally staring Death in the face did admittedly make you want to see your loved ones more.
Thor smiled at him, looking a little sad.
“I would like that. Thank-you Tony.”
Tony shrugged, leading the way to his lab. Hopefully they'd be able to come up with something to combat Thanos.