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Folk Metal

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Wednesday morning, the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division called in a new expert to help assess a potential new security threat. Wednesday evening, a forty-two-page report detailing every known minute of the suspect’s history was submitted to the director. Thursday afternoon, SHIELD experienced a security breach. Only one file was accessed during the two-minute incident, and it was of little surprise to anyone to learn which one.

The hacker hadn’t even bothered to cover his tracks. He’d stopped hiding being proxies and borrowing connections ages ago. Mostly to show off, and everyone knew it.

But Tony Stark was an asset, so once again the breach was unofficially ignored. It was information that would have been passed on to him and the other Avengers on Friday anyway.

 

Thursday evening, Tony Stark stepped out of his private lift and into the penthouse suite of Stark Tower, and immediately realised he’d had another break-in. The loud music in a language he didn’t understand was the first giveaway. The second giveaway was the man on the sofa, playing Grand Theft Auto as if he owned the place. It looked like Vice City, so that at least Loki probably did own. Or more likely stole from Gamestop, before wandering over to throw M&Ms all over Tony’s hardwood flooring and grind Oreos into the leather sofa.

Surprisingly, Loki seemed halfway decent at the game. Or at least knew enough about the game to be able to shoot down a police helicopter with a bazooka with a gleeful grin.

“You know,” Tony called over the cacophony of police sirens and folk metal, “I’m all for loud music, but I generally like to be able to understand what I’m listening to.”

Loki didn’t deign to so much as glance at him, but he did shrug. It wasn’t an indication of much, though. Tony could think of a few reasons for the unexpected house call from the Norse god of mischief and chaos, and very few of them involved a sudden craving for out-dated video games and chocolate. He wondered if Loki knew about the report written on him the day before, and if he’d counted on Tony stealing said report. Tony could only hope that Loki hadn’t caught on, but the guy liked to claim to be mildly psychic. And not Uri Geller psychic either, but properly know-what-you’re-thinking, get-inside-your-head psychic. Not that Loki knew who Uri Geller was, and when Tony first drew the comparison, he was met with a stare of utter indignation and incomprehension that only Loki could achieve.

But for all his claims, Loki never seemed to ever act on it. He also claimed, almost immediately after the first claim, that he didn’t like doing it because he either wound up bored or disgusted by what he found. Tony didn’t believe that for a minute, though.

Trying to work out Loki’s current angle, Tony rounded the sofa and picked up the Stark Phone on the coffee table. Lighting up the translucent screen, he found Spotify playing some long-hair-and-dark-eye-makeup band he’d never heard of. Loki was certainly getter better at technology though, if he’d managed to connect his phone to the tower’s surround system. The last time he’d tried to access JARVIS’ programming, he gave himself a nosebleed and passed out. It would have been hilarious, even, if not for the stain on the hardwood floor. Despite himself, Tony checked for signs of any recent bodily trauma, but it seemed as if Loki had managed to master the art of Bluetooth without bloodshed.

Tony turned his attention back to Loki's phone, trying to make sense of the abundance of umlauts that made no sense in the context of his limited German skills. (In fact, Tony Stark spoke, while not fluently, at least comfortably six different languages — something he had always been quite proud of until he met Loki.)

“I don’t speak Viking. What language is this?” Tony asked. He turned down the volume to something less likely to be heard on Mars, almost certain that he’d just caught Loki’s name in the lyrics.

Loki shrugged, still not tearing his attention away from the chaos he wove on the streets of Vice City. “It didn’t say,” he said. He seemed to have grown bored with the helicopter and was in the process of hijacking a city bus.

Tony accepted his answer. Loki could be almost frighteningly smart when it came to some subjects, but also comically ignorant at the same time. He could pick up languages almost instantly, but remained functionally illiterate in every single one of them. But despite that, it was sometimes easy to forget that Loki was from a different planet. Until someone asked him to write anything more complicated than his own name, Loki passed for any other super-intelligent, reality-bending mutant roaming the streets. Tony had met Loki’s brother Thor a couple times, and even when someone picked his clothes for him, he looked like he’d just landed here. Loki dressed like he’d hired a personal stylist; deceptively casual, but ultimately given away by the way the stitching on his shirt matched exactly the colour of his socks.

Letting Loki get on with his game, Tony looked down at the phone again and went digging through the band’s track list. It couldn’t have been a coincidence, Loki showing up the day after someone had committed his every personal detail to SHIELD’s data files. Loki probably knew exactly what Tony had been up to, and would have sat there with the same album on repeat for two hours, waiting for Tony to arrive.

“Narfi?” Tony asked, falsely casual. “What’s that?”

Again, Loki shrugged. “I have no idea,” he said. And then he amended, “My son, apparently.”

SHIELD’s new expert knew all about these things. She’d written pages on Earth’s resident trickster god, apparently having never met the guy. Trickster god, sure. Raging zoophile, not so much. At least, Tony hoped.

“You got kids?” Tony asked, oddly bemused by the entire album. It seemed to be entirely about Tony’s current guest and his progeny.

But surprisingly, Loki snorted derisively. “No,” he said.

He said it as though he thought the idea impossible. Tony wasn’t so sure on impossible though, having personally witnessed just how indiscriminate Loki could be when it came to what he stuck his dick in.

“None at all?” prompted Tony. He put down the phone and sat down in a nearby leather chair, going for casual conversation between acquaintances.

Finally, Loki paused his game and looked over at Tony. “What are you attempting to achieve?” he asked with an incredulous amusement to his voice.

In that moment, Tony realised his error. Loki had, up until the point of Tony’s questioning, been unaware of the expert and Tony’s snooping. Now, it had his full attention

“What are you hiding?” Loki asked.

“Nothing,” said Tony quickly. “Just wondering why I’ve been blessed with a visit from the gods.”

Loki studied him for a moment, his gaze hard and piercing, as if he could see straight through Tony and literally read his every thought. It made Tony want to squirm away and hide under the kitchen table.

“Half of Brooklyn lost power, and you have a PlayStation,” Loki said finally.

“PS3,” Tony corrected without thinking to stop himself. “The PlayStation’s downstairs. Hey, how about dinner? I’m having a real craving for Thai. What about you?”

He reached for his phone, but never got as far as dialling.

“No,” said Loki with a hard edge to his voice that hadn’t been there before. “Tell me what you’re hiding, or I will find it on my own.”

Tony believed him. Suddenly, the powder blue shirt and pressed trousers he wore did nothing to make Loki look human. He looked like Thor looked when he wore people-clothes, only on the definitely evil end of the spectrum. For all his smiles and the way he’d completely won over Pepper, Loki was not a nice man. In fact, Tony was pretty sure Loki killed people for fun. And the way his glare bored into him, Tony thought he might be next on the list.

“It’s nothing,” Tony said. “Just some things happening at SHIELD. You know. SHIELD being SHIELD.” He shrugged dramatically, but Loki clearly wasn’t buying any of it.

“SHIELD?” repeated Loki, both incredulous and disdainful. “Now I simply must know.”

He set the PS3 controller down and got to his feet. Even with them both standing, Loki towered over Tony. With Tony still seated, Loki seemed about twelve feet tall. It was a power play, and a rather obvious one, but Tony was prepared to let him have it. With Loki looming over him, Tony didn’t need any further persuasion. He carelessly tossed his phone to Loki, even throwing in half a shrug for good measure.

“Right there on the desktop,” he said, ignoring the look on Loki's face that foreshadowed imminent murder.

Loki stopped glaring at Tony, only to turn on the phone with the exact same glare. He tapped at the screen a few times, pulling up the file. As he read, he slowly turned away, leaving Tony to wonder who’d kill him first — Loki, or Fury.

Suddenly, Loki snorted. Not an indignant, angry snort, but an amused one, as if he’d just read a mildly entertaining joke.

“That most certainly was not me,” he said.

It took Tony a few moments to understand that Loki was talking about whatever it was he’d just read.

“Oh, yeah? Which part?” he asked, curious despite himself.

“The horse,” said Loki. “It sounds like something my father’s brother would have done.”

“So, it was your uncle who fucked horses?” asked Tony. As soon as he said it, he wished he hadn’t.

“What?” asked Loki, turning back to address Tony. “No. No, he wasn’t my uncle.”

“Your father’s brother wasn’t your uncle?” Tony asked slowly, wondered just where communication had broken down. Somewhere at the very beginning, probably.

“No,” repeated Loki. “Wrong sort of brother. My father and Loki shared blood through bond; not birth.”

“Oh,” said Tony dumbly. “Right. And he named you after him. That’s cool.”

Loki rolled his eyes, suggesting that it most certainly was not ‘cool.’

“I wasn’t aware he could change his shape,” Loki mused. He sat back down on the sofa and put his feet up on the already ruined table. “He must not have been Asgardian, either.”

He went silent for a while longer as he read. “Or far more likely, you lot have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Haven’t you read this stuff before?” asked Tony. “I mean, you’d think that, it being about you, you would have done.”

Loki huffed and shook his head. “Would you believe me if I said I hadn’t?”

Tony looked over him again, wearing Dolce and Gabbana, with a pair of $300 Oakleys hanging from his shirt collar. “Yeah, kinda, actually,” he conceded. “So, no octo-pony in your dad’s stables, then?”

He got up again, walking casually over to the bar on the far side of the room. This conversation called for a very strong drink, so he reached for the nearest bottle of scotch.

“No, Sleipnir’s there,” said Loki. He flipped through the pages of the report, either reading scarily fast, or only looking for the good bits.

“But no-one rides him,” he continued. “Rather difficult to ride a horse that can’t even walk. But it was a gift, so we can’t exactly kill it.”

He brought his drink back over and reclaimed his seat. “Who gifts someone an eight-legged horse?” he asked. Despite everything, he was getting sucked into the conversation, and even leaned forward in his seat.

Loki quirked a wry smile. “The loser of an unfair wager,” he said. “I brought home a gryphon as a boy. Thinking it might eat the horse.”

“And it didn’t?” Tony guessed.

“It was still a fledgling,” explained Loki. “It imprinted.”

He said it with such venom and disdain that Tony laughed before he could stop himself. It sounded like exactly the sort of half-assed plan Loki would concoct.

“All right, that’s one down. Five to go,” Tony said.

Loki cast him a weak glare, but kept reading.

“I do have a dog called Fenrir,” Loki offered.

“I’ve seen that dog,” said Tony. “It’s not a dog. It’s a camel with sharp teeth.”

“If you wish to get technical, he’s a wolf,” said Loki smugly. “Purchased from a Jötun witch by my brother.”

“Jötuns. Right,” said Tony. “Those are the really tall guys, right?”

“Yes,” said Loki stiffly.

“Then how come you’re so short?” Tony asked, despite knowing what a stupidly bad idea it was.

“Because I’m special. Now shut up,” said Loki. “How in the Nine Skies am I meant to be father to Hel?” he asked suddenly.

“I can’t answer that if I’m shutting up,” said Tony.

Loki frowned heavily at the phone. “Are your experts really so narrow-sighted that they cannot conceive of the idea that perhaps a name may be a popular one?”

“Sure it’s not just some crazy one-night-stand you don’t remember?” suggested Tony. “I hear they happen.”

Loki cast him another sideways glance. “I’m twenty-four,” he said.

“Twenty-four-year-olds have one-night stands,” Tony pointed out.

“Hel is older than my grandfather, and he’s been dead since before I was born,” said Loki flatly.

“Right.” Tony nodded and leaned back in his seat again. “Accident with a contraceptive and a time machine?”

Loki stared at him, completely uncomprehending.

“Haven’t read those ones yet?” asked Tony. He frowned. “JARVIS, get our friend here Douglas Adams’ complete body of work. Ebook. Audio. Any format you can find.”

“Even the video game, sir?” asked the disembodied voice that lived in the tower.

“Yeah, sure. Why not,” Tony said.

“Right away, sir,” said JARVIS before going silent again. Loki almost didn’t look around for it, but Tony caught him trying to stop himself.

“What about that giant snake, then?” asked Tony to bring the subject back.

“You mean other than the one I liberated from the zoo?”

It was Tony’s turn to glare. “You mean ‘stole.’ And that thing was not going to be very happy in that tiny box you call an apartment.”

“It has Brookyln charm,” said Loki smoothly.

“What the hell does that even mean?” asked Tony. “You and Steve both say the same thing.”

Loki grinned at some private joke. “It lets the owner charge you more for a small apartment,” he said.

It didn’t seem like the sort of thing Loki would willingly go for though, but Tony let it drop. He was never going to know a fraction of Loki’s motives for the things he did.

“Please tell me you don’t still have that damn snake,” Tony said flatly.

Loki said nothing.

“You still have that damn snake,” Tony concluded. “But that was like, two months ago. It’s not going to be the same snake.”

Loki shook his head. “No,” he agreed. “No, wait. I do think I know where the snake comes from.”

Tony leaned forward again, eager to hear the story. “Go on,” he prompted.

“I vaguely recall a time when I was very young, and I found a clutch of fire serpents by a pond,” Loki explained, almost fondly. “Naturally, I brought them home and hid them in my bed so my mother wouldn’t find them.”

“Naturally,” Tony agreed. “And let me guess?”

“Oh, of course I forgot about them,” said Loki. “It was Thor who found them, after we’d gone to bed. He woke when one crawled across his face in the night, and went screaming down the corridors that I had birthed snakes in my sleep.”

They both laughed, Tony able to almost see Loki’s big brother running from a snake in the night.

“I don’t believe he ever quite got over that conviction, either,” said Loki finally.

“That you birthed snakes in your sleep?” asked Tony, vaguely mockingly.

“That I might be able to,” corrected Loki.

He handed the phone back, done with the report, and went back for the PS3 controller.

“What about the twins?” asked Tony.

Loki shrugged. “I’ve never married,” he said. “Though I am technically betrothed to a Vanir princess called Sigyn.”

“Technically?” asked Tony. That was another Loki weasel word if he ever heard one.

“She’s gone missing,” said Loki. “No-one’s seen her for years.”

His knowing smirk was telling of something more, and Tony couldn’t help but push it.

“No-one?” he asked.

“No-one at all,” said Loki, with a perfect innocence to his voice that meant he was lying through his teeth. “And she most certainly did not throw a cup of coffee at me just last week.”

“Oh, sounds like you’ll be married by next week,” said Tony dryly.

“I’ll be sure to make you my second when the time comes,” Loki said, making it sound like a threat.

“Fair enough,” agreed Tony. “But, one more question. That whole milk maid thing…?”

Loki smirked again. “Who do you think was responsible for your witch hunts?” he asked.

Tony laughed, not for a second questioning Loki’s claim.

“Now,” said Loki, starting his game again. “I believe you promised me Thai.”