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Stolen Relics

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The Iron Man suit wasn't really made for formal occasions, let alone audiences with kings, but Tony was gambling that it would impress Odin. And if Odin was anything like the other two Asgardians Tony had encountered, making an impression would be paramount. Certainly the All-Father's expression didn't show any disdain when Tony hovered in - a foot above the ground, showing off just a little.

Tony landed on the floor beside Thor and knelt to remove his helmet, as Thor had instructed. Apparently there was more than one Asgardian with a thing for kneeling. Tony felt ridiculous, but Thor had beseeched him. As in, "My friend, I know it is not the custom of Midgard, but I beseech you-"

"No need for beseeching, Point Break. When in Rome," Tony had told him. Hey, when a linebacker-sized guy with the power of controlling lightning and big baby blue eyes beseeched you - besought you? - you did what he wanted.

As soon as Tony was on his feet again Odin was speaking. "Midgard may rest easy, Anthony Howardson. Loki will never trouble your world again."

"Actually, your Majesty, I'm here to ask you to send Loki back to Earth."

Odin's eye widened a fraction. "You wish to punish him yourself? I doubt a human prison could keep Loki confined."

"Not exactly. We're thinking more along the lines of reparations." Out of habit, Tony started to prowl restlessly around the room. Not a very big room, but grand enough, with gold bric-a-brac all over the place, and a couple of nice big ornate chairs for the king and queen to sit in, just in case anyone forgot who was who here. The queen was beautiful, by the way. Didn't look very happy, but beautiful, yes.

"Don't know how much your pride and joy there has told you about me," Tony began. "But being an Avenger is kind of a second career for me. I've spent most of my life building weapons. Designing them, running the companies that manufacture them." Well, helping to run them. Sort of helping. No need to go into those kinds of details. He needed this to look good for Odin. Pepper would forgive him. Like she forgave him everything. Almost everything. "I made sure that my country's soldiers, and those of our allies, were the best equipped soldiers on Midgard." Not bringing up how it hadn't actually worked out that way. "The sheer presence of armies with that kind of hardware was a deterrent to aggressors and kept the peace for the better part of twenty years. I privatized world peace." Tried to. Until he'd found out not only how hard it was to control who got their hands on his creations, but how few people actually merited his trust.

"Really, your Majesty," Tony continued, inclining his head to Odin in a small bow, "it's not unlike what you've done - on a much smaller scale, I'll give you that.

"Your boy - the jock, not the egghead - tells me that my planet would have been an arctic colony for the Jotuns if you hadn't beaten them back. I'm afraid that most of the details of that have passed into legend for us, but lately we've been finding out that we're not alone in the universe, and if it weren't for Asgardian hegemony, we probably would have been conquered by some aliens or other before we even figured out how to make a steam engine." And much as it galled Tony to admit it, even to himself, that was probably true. "Don't know if Earth ever got around to thanking you for it, so on Earth's behalf, much appreciated." The words wanted to stick in his throat, but Tony forced them out. And then moved on, quickly. "Your boy also tells me the Chitauri paid you guys a couple of visits lately."

"They were no match for warriors of Asgard," Odin said, dismissive.

"Of course not. But they've been coming to Earth every couple of months for almost three years now, and we only have one warrior of Asgard on our side. Another one wouldn't hurt. Plus, of course, we humans would like to see the guy who invaded us facing consequences. Just knowing that he's in jail on another planet we can't even visit isn't the same, you know?" Tony took a piece of fruit - it looked like a plum, but who knew - from a bowl on a table against the wall and turned it over in his hands, wondering if he could get away with taking it away to dissect it. Alien fruit, who knew what it was like on the inside. "All these centuries we thought Asgard was a myth. Then the first Asgardian to visit us in a thousand years - well, the first one most of us knew about - is bent on conquering the planet. Not the best PR, right?"

The royal couple just stared at him.

Tony gestured to a chair. "Can I sit down? Is that against protocol or something? Actually, this suit isn't really made for sitting, I'll stand. So, we know your boy Loki's been in jail for the past three years and change. And, yeah, three years of prison isn't really enough for invading a planet, even if he was being forced to do it."

Tony carefully neglected to mention what had been going on in that prison. He suspected this was a matter of cultural differences best left alone.

Thor looked apprehensive. Actually, Thor looked like a planet was about to fall on him.

"But keeping him languishing in a dungeon doesn't really do us any good. And we figure he isn't any fonder of the Chitauri than we are, what with them having tortured him for a year and then made him lead an invasion that got him smacked around by superheroes. It strikes us that there's a perfectly good alien wizard going to waste in your dungeon. We'd like to borrow him for a few years."

Odin seemed to be thinking it over. Frigga was watching him carefully.

"I won't lie to you, it'll be dangerous. The Chitauri are probably pissed at him and will make him a particular target. And frankly, a lot of humans are pretty pissed off at him too, not exactly eager to forgive and forget even if he does help us out, you know? No guarantee one of them won't get lucky. But it'll give your prodigal son the chance to clear the family name and all that."

"So this is what Midgard's rulers have decided upon as their wish?"

"Actually, it was my idea." Not that Tony had been particularly serious about it. He'd just been tossing the idea out there, trying to brainstorm when Thor was down in the dumps about his poor baby brother being tortured in the family dungeon. When he wasn't helping Midgard fight back the Chitauri, Thor had been begging his father for leniency ever since his crazy little brother had been sentenced. Finally Thor had tried to break Loki out and been exiled to Jotunheim for three months.

Tony had thrown the notion out casually, but Thor had jumped on it with desperation. Fury had been saddled with one of his most valuable fighters pleading with him for an unthinkable favor - that he invite Loki back to Earth to combat the very enemy he'd brought there in the first place.

It didn't help that Thor had the support of his fellow Avengers. Not that they didn't hate Loki's guts - forced to invade or not, he'd caused a lot of damage and a lot of deaths and a lot of terror - but when Thor had told them what was being done to him....

Most of the Avengers had red in their ledgers, as Natasha would put it. All of them except Steve, really. All of them, except for Steve, were missing two or three key scruples that kept most people on the right side of the line. But torture was too much for any of them. If Loki had been executed, they would have put the matter behind them. Ditto if he'd been locked up and the key thrown away. But if you let your enemies be tortured, then the distinction between good guys and bad guys became academic. Or maybe nonexistent.

Sending Tony to Asgard to ask for Loki's release was the perfect compromise from Fury's perspective. Not that he'd said so, but Tony knew what the old bastard was thinking. Fury would oblige the Avengers team by making the request, but he would send Tony to make it. Tony would of course do something to piss Odin off and would be sent home with a sharp refusal. End result for Fury: Avengers not mad at Fury, thunder god placated, no deranged alien wizard returning to Earth.

Fury had, apparently, forgotten that what Tony wanted, Tony tended to get. Even after he'd pissed off the people he had to ask for it.

And so Tony planted the seeds in his apparently rambling conversation. Loki helping Midgard would clear the name of the house of Odin. Releasing Loki would please Odin's favorite son. If the Chitauri didn't kill Loki, some angry humans might, thus ridding Odin of the problem completely.

And sure enough, after about an hour of discussion Odin agreed. "Very well, take him." The king issued a few orders to the guards and Thor gestured Tony to accompany him.

Tony followed Thor out of the audience chamber but stopped in the corridor. "Actually, is it okay if I wait here? I have a phobia of going into dungeons surrounded by guards." No fucking way was he letting the space Vikings trap him.

A few minutes later Thor appeared in the doorway, Loki leaning on him heavily. Tony stared at his planet's would-be conqueror for a moment.

"Holy fuck," said Tony.

"My brother said he wished to go to Midgard at once, but perhaps he should spend a few days in the healing room first," Thor said, uneasy.

"Fuck that." He wasn't taking any chances on Daddy Dearest changing his mind. "We can heal him on Midgard."