An Avengers fic, I'm writing it for my sister, it's sort of an early Christmas present. It's also some of my best plot work, so I'm very optimistic about the whole thing. Takes place a year after the events of the movie, AU in that Iron Man 3 never happened. Please read and respond, like I said, I'm very excited about this one. :D Quick note: All the French in the first chapter was copied and pasted from a translator site, so PLEASE, if any of you speak French, tell me of any mistakes I made so I can fix them, because I have no idea how to edit them myself. Spoiler: Chapter 1: A Year Finds Us All is silent, all has been silent for a year and a day. The room knows no visitor: It has been void of life since it’s creation at the beginning of the silence, and the only form of energy it knows comes from the swirl of the blue light emitting from the barrier in the center of the room. The barrier surrounds an object of much power, situated atop a black pedestal. Suddenly, there is another form of energy, and there is a new light. An opening has appeared in the black wall that was not there before, and a figure steps through, pausing in the newly formed doorway. The swirls of light drift lazily towards him, but he is unimpressed. He carries a vessel; one which has not been seen since the beginning of the silence, and which causes the blue light to react slightly, withdrawing to the source. The light flickers and dulls, and in that moment, the figure in the doorway makes up his mind and steps forward. Raising an object that the room recognizes as another item of great energy, the figure touches the tip of the object to the barrier, causing it to collapse before stepping up to the pedestal. Carefully, without touching the source of the light, he removes the object from the pedestal and places it in the vessel. Securing the vessel, the figure places the other object onto the pedestal and withdraws, concentrating his efforts until, with the power of the object in his hands, he reinitializes the barrier. He steps from the room, the black wall is replaced, and the silence reigns once more. ~<>-A-<>~ “Mr. Stark, you’ve got 60 seconds.” The speaker, a young man in a dark grey suit jacket over a black graphic tee with the word “HURLEY” emblazoned in gold across the front, put his hand up to cover the small microphone protruding from the headset he wore. “Thank you, Teddy,” Tony Stark said without turning around. “How do I look, do I look...?” He let the sentence trail off, talking not to the young man in the doorway, but to the woman who was currently straightening his tie. “You look fine, Tony,” Pepper Potts said with a smile. “Sharp, you look sharp. Definitely.” “Now, see, I was more going for ‘impressive,’ ‘fantastic’... ‘grand’ maybe,” Tony said before turning around. “Teddy, what are you still doing here?” He asked the young man. “It’s Freddie, actually,” Freddie said with a smile. “And I just wanted to say, sir, I’m a big fan.” “Freddie, I knew that,” Tony said as he and Pepper began to follow Freddie to the stage. “I was just testing you, to see if you remembered it.” “His own name?” Pepper asked in amusement. “Mm-hm, yeah,” Tony said. Freddie chuckled. “That’s alright,” he said as he stopped just short of the stage door. “And for the record, sir, you’ve got me impressed.” Tony smirked and turned to Pepper. “See?” He said. “Freddie knows what to say.” “Maybe he should take over my job, then,” Pepper shot back with a smirk of her own. Tony only had enough time to let out a scoff and say “Yeah right,” before he stepped onto the stage, the flashes of several cameras lighting up as he stood in front of the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Tony said into the microphone. “...Well, I’m here.” Members of the small audience laugh lightly, and Tony gives a half-smile before starting. “In regards to the, wild, accusations that I am resigning as CEO of Stark Industries,” Tony started, getting straight to the point of the conference. “I just want to say... it would be nice, to take a break from all the business and the responsibilities of... running the company, so that I could focus all my attention on my work as Iron Man. But,” He amended quickly, “despite all the benefits such a move might incur, there would also be severe drawbacks, and I have no intention to resign at this time.” One of the reporters raised a hand, and Tony pointed to him. “Go,” he said. “Mr. Stark,” The man asked. “Rumor has it that Stark Industries is suffering financially due to the extra time you spend doubling as a superhero. Is this true?” “Absolutely not,” Tony said. “If anything, productivity has increased since we rebuilt and renovated last year, and since, excepting that unfortunate incident last May, there have been little to no attacks on the city from hostile alien forces-” Here there was another general chuckle from the audience. “...My work as Iron Man has been mostly for the benefit of the company itself,” Tony finished. “Including the installation last month of a new Arc Reactor that powers not only the tower...” He paused for affect. “But also... the majority of the industrial district. Yes, ms. Pink shirt.” He pointed to the reporter in question, who lowered her hand. “Mr. Stark,” she said. “In regards to the attack on the city last year-” “Wow, we’re back on that subject,” Tony interrupted. “I thought we’d thoroughly explored all topics on the Chitauri last year, when it happened.” “This question has more to do with the Avengers, really,” The reporter said. “The group of superheroes, of which you were a part, has not been seen since the attack last year,” she said. “Has it been disbanded?” “Excellent question,” Tony said. “No. It has not. But since, as previously stated, there have not been any major attacks requiring the immediate attention of a group of powerful super humans, the Avengers have not been needed.” “So you haven’t resigned your position as an Avenger, then?” Another reporter asked. “Resigned my...” Tony trailed off, looking at the reporter in surprise. “No, I have not resigned my position as an Avenger,” he said. “Where did you hear that, Insinuations Weekly!?” There was another general chuckle, and the reporter who had asked the question smiled sheepishly. “So first, I’m quitting the company to focus solely on my work as Iron Man, and now, I’m quitting the Avengers to focus solely on Stark Industries,” Tony summed up. “That’s a... real swing of the pendulum there, it’s not... well balanced, it’s either one thing with you guys or another, there... is no middle road...” He noticed Pepper, who had moved to the back of the conference hall, signal him to move on. He took a deep breath. “My involvement in the project known as the Avengers Initiative,” He said, getting back on track. “Was originally no more than a consultation position, but, after the incident last year involving the, uh, ‘hostile alien armada of doom,’ I was able to sign on fully.” “What do the Avengers plan to do now?” One reporter asked. Tony looked at him. “...We’re on call,” He said. “In case of a worldwide threat. Until such an event occurs, and, I sincerely hope it won’t,” he amended. “Then we will all continue our separate work. What did you expect, you want us to be besties, hanging out, having parties, maybe... crashing a few high-society events... possibly literally?” “Mr. Stark,” One reporter said, raising his hand. Tony pointed at him. “That would be awesome,” The reporter stated. Tony smirked as the crowd laughed. “Yes.” he said. “That would indeed be, awesome, however, since we-” He was cut off as there was a sudden loud bang and a flash of blinding light on the stage a few feet away from Tony. The small crowd screamed and jumped and ducked, while security rushed up on stage to pull Tony away from the figure who now stood where the light had been. “Wait, wait, stop,” Tony said, pulling away from the security officer as soon as he got a chance to see the man. “...Thor!?” He exclaimed, hand over his heart in surprise. “Jeez, don’t do that! You about gave me a heart attack!” He walked back to the center stage and sighed. “Smile, you’re a celebrity.” The crowd was now silent, staring in shock at the Asgardian, who looked around at them as well before turning to Tony. “Friend Stark,” he said, his face grave. “Assemble the Avengers.” Suddenly all the cameras began flashing faster and faster, and the reporters jumped up and began pelting Thor with questions. Tony stepped up to the podium and held up his hands, quieting the room down long enough to say; “Ladies and gentlemen, it appears we are going to hang out.” ~<>-A-<>~ A bullet whistled past Natasha Romanoff’s ear as she swung down off the catwalk onto the armed man below. With a simple move, she snapped his neck and somersaulted off his limp body onto the floor as he fell. Above her, the man who had shot at her ran to the spot she had vanished from and leaned over the rail, gun pointed at her. She smirked, his eyes were wide with panic. “NE VOUS DÉPLACEZ PAS,” He yelled in French, ordering her to freeze. A black arrow embedded itself into the man’s back and he dropped his gun with a grunt, going limp himself. Natasha caught the gun and turned quickly as a man ran from around a corner. She noticed he was of a higher rank than the others. She raised her hand and shot the gun out of his hand before he’d even finished raising it, then she ran forward and jumped, using her legs to bring the man to the ground, where she pinned him to the floor and pressed the borrowed gun into the back of his neck. “Là où est Monceaux,” Natasha said quietly, asking the man for the location of her target. The man didn’t answer, only gasped in fear. “Dites-moi l’emplacement de Monceaux ou mourez,” she said, pressing the gun into his neck, offering him either cooperation or death. “Je sais pas,” the man said, declaiming his knowledge. “Monceaux gauche le bâtiment sur vos arrivée!” He declared, Monceaux had left the building when she and Hawkeye had shown up. “Mauvais Choix,” She said, cocking the gun. Bad choice. “PATIENTER!” The man yelled desperately, raising his hands as far as he could from his position on the ground. Natasha waited. “Il s’échappe du toit,” The man said. “Il a un hélicoptère. Je jure!” Natasha smirked. Monceaux was headed for the roof, where a chopper was waiting for him. “Merci de votre coopération,” she said, thanking him. “Je n’ai pas eu le temps pour le découvrir moi-même. Vous avez rendu mon travail facile, vous avez effrayé chiot.” She clicked her tongue in disappointment, while the man held his breath, very much the coward she had just called him. “Très bien,” she said with a sigh. “Je ne vous tuerai pas.” Taking the gun, she hit him over the head with the hilt, knocking him out. Standing up, she reached up to her ear and clicked on the com device. “Clint,” she said. “Monceaux is heading for the roof, he’s got a chopper.” “Yeah, I picked up on that,” Clint’s voice said over the com. “I’m already on my way. Meet me there?” Natasha smiled as she walked over to the nearby service lift. “I wouldn’t miss it,” She said. Stepping off onto the roof, she walked calmly out onto the deck, Hawkeye had taken out the guards and the pilot, and he was standing over Monceaux. Over the cityscape, a quinjet was coming into view. He gave a half-smile as she walked over, and she smiled back. “Well, this was easy,” Clint said. “And here the director said we might have trouble with it.” “Hmm,” Natasha hummed non-committedly, gazing at the quinjet as it flew gracefully past the glittering lights of Paris. The Eiffel Tower rose up over the rest of the city and a brisk wind blew Natasha’s hair out of her face. “It sure is beautiful,” Clint said, following her gaze. “The city of love, and all that stuff...” Natasha turned to Clint and raised her eyebrow. “...That’s right,” She said. “How about we grab a bite to eat,” Clint suggested. “While we’re in the neighborhood.” “What about the mission?” Natasha asked. “Won’t the director be angry if we miss the debriefing?” “I’d say he’d be... furious,” Clint quipped. “But I’d like to see him try and stop us.” “Are you serious in asking the lady to dinner in Paris?” Monceaux asked in heavily accented English, looking up at Clint incredulously. “After you both infiltrate and cripple my headquarters, kill my soldiers, and hold me captive to turn me over to those that would kill me?” “Are you kidding? This is Monday morning at the office,” Natasha said, looking Monceaux over in distaste. “Besides,” Clint said. “It’s either that or pick up the pieces when your weapons cartel hits the rest of the world.” Monceaux sighed. “Fair enough,” he said. The quinjet landed then, and several SHIELD agents hopped off, training their weapons on Monceaux. “So, Natasha,” Clint said. “If we’re gonna leave, we’ve gotta do it now. What’d’ya say?” “I haven’t had Escargot in awhile,” She said. They were about to turn and leave when one of the Agents called for them to wait. Clint and Natasha exchanged a glance; did they go anyway? Or did they give up their date to deal with more work? They kept walking, and the Agent ran after them. “Agent Hawkeye,” the Agent said, jogging to catch up. “Agent Black Widow, this is urgent.” They both slowed to a stop. “Fine...” Clint said with a sigh. “What is it?” “It’s Mr. Stark, sir,” The Agent said quietly. Natasha narrowed her eyes, Stark had better have a good reason for interrupting their mission, and, inadvertently, her date. “He says It’s about the Avengers.” “Why does he think that will make us come back?” Clint asked, lowering his voice as well. “We’re on the clock for SHIELD. We can’t just drop everything and fly to New York on Stark’s whim.” “Thor’s back,” The Agent murmured. “He’s the one who ordered the meeting. He says it’s a matter of planetwide security.” “Why is this secret then?” Natasha asked. “You’re whispering as if no one else knows. If this is a matter of planetwide security, shouldn’t SHIELD be involved?” The Agent shrugged. “All I know is what Mr. Stark told me,” she said, causing Natasha to narrow her eyes once again. It appeared Stark had spies (sympathizers, followers, whatever you wanted to call it) in SHIELD. She would have to look into this later. She looked at Clint, who looked back at her and then shrugged. “Whatever you want to do,” he said. Natasha sighed. Why was it always up to her? Now there were three options: Go on a date, go to a debriefing, or go to a secret meeting of the Avengers. “...Tell Stark we’re on our way,” She said finally. The Agent ran off and she turned to Clint. “I’ll have to take a rain-check on the Escargot,” she said. ~<>-A-<>~ Steve Rogers was trying very hard to get back out into the world. Very very hard. And although his year of taking baby steps was paying off, he still sometimes felt like he was drowning in a sea of loud noises and bright colors and technology swallowing everything up like a whirlpool. Especially when he had to make snap decisions about normal everyday things. Like ordering a coffee. As he stood in line behind a man wearing a weird kind of earring that left a gaping hole in his ear, he looked around the coffee shop, trying not to look like he was staring. Over in the corner, a girl in tattered denim pants and a bright green tank-top sipped some sort of blue drink through a pink straw while she typed away on a very small orange computer. Considering that in his day, most women didn’t even wear pants, the entire sight was still bizarre to him, no matter how often he saw it. Sitting around a table in the middle of the shop, three middle-aged women gossiped loudly while they knitted. Aside from their strange clothes, they were knitting hats that resembled some strange sort of cartoon bird, and one of them was smoking a cigarette. Through the window, he could see a group of young boys, wearing shirts that more resembled aprons than actual shirts, short pants that really needed to be pulled up higher and introduced to a belt, and black baseball caps with strange symbols and designs on them. The caps weren’t even put on the right way, Steve noted. The youths were laughing and talking loudly, a few words drifted in as someone stepped through the door, and Steve found himself blushing at their extensive vocabulary. One of them had a skateboard, and he was doing strange stunts with it, flipping it up in the air with his feet and then trying to land on it. Steve thought several times that the boy was going to fall and hurt himself, and he kept trying to avoid watching. Finally, it seemed, the man with the weird earrings and the sailor’s tattoos picked up his drink and walked away, and Steve stepped up to the counter. “Hello, welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?” The lady behind the counter said with a smile. “Uh...” Steve said, looking up at the huge menu. It seemed to stretch on for miles, and he didn’t recognize a single word. Zeroing in on the first thing he saw that only had one word in the name, he turned back to the girl. “One Espresso, please,” He said. “Hot, iced or blended?” She asked. He remembered that he liked cold coffee, that had been one thing that had surprised him in a good way in this futuristic world. He liked cold coffee. “Which one’s cold?” He asked. He must’ve asked the wrong question, because the girl looked at him as if he had two heads or something. “Um, iced is cold,” She said. “As well as blended. Iced coffee is when we pour the cold coffee over ice, blended is when we blend the coffee and ice chips together.” “Oh,” Steve said. “Um, I... I think I like it blended, please.” “Alright,” the girl said, typing the umbers into the little cash-register computer thing on the counter. “What size?” She asked him. “Uh, small,” Steve said. The girl blinked. “Our smallest size is Tall,” She said with a rehearsed smile. “Our sizes are Tall, Grande, Ventri, and now, Trenta.” “Um, I’ll take the... tall,” Steve said. “Okay then,” the girl said. “Would you like an extra shot?” “Sure,” Steve said without hesitation. He had no idea what it meant, but he was done with this whole ordeal. He just wanted to pay for the thing and leave while he still had a shred of dignity left. “What kind of milk would you like?” The girl asked, explaining before he had the chance to ask. “Whole milk, skimmed milk, or soy?” “Whole,” Steve said. At least he knew about milk. “And finally, would you like whipped cream on that?” The girl asked. “Surprise me,” Steve said, deciding not even to try and make a decision on that one. The girl smiled at him. “You’re not from around here, are you?” She asked. Steve gave a dry chuckle. “I guess you could say that,” He said. “Well, can I get your name to write on the side of the cup?” The girl asked. “That way we know who to call for when the drink is finished. “Steve,” He said. “My name’s Steve... Rogers.” “Nice to meet you, Steve Rogers,” The girl said. “My name’s Leslie Walker. What are you doing tonight?” Steve was momentarily confused by her name. When he had... gone under, Leslie had been a boy’s name. “Uh,” he said. “I don’t- I don’t have any plans...” “Great,” Leslie said. “How about you swing by after my shift, I can show you around town, we can grab a bite to eat, maybe hit the clubs or something.” Wait a minute. She was asking him out on a date! “Uh...” He stammered. “Th-thanks, I, uh, well, thanks for the offer, I’m, um, I can’t... um, sorry, I’m just... no.” The girl looked confused, hurt, and put off all at the same time. “Sorry,” Steve said, red in the face. “It’s not you, I just... I’m not ready to be in a relationship right now,” He said, finishing with something he remembered hearing on... some television show he’d been watching a few weeks back. “I see,” Leslie said, all professional now. “Well, Steve Rogers, your drink will be ready in a few moments.” As Steve stepped out of the cafe with his tall blended Espresso with an extra shot topped with whipped cream, he glanced at the young boys and walked quickly down the street. He’d been trying to get back into the world, really, he had, but... everything was just so strange to him. He couldn’t even walk from his apartment to the Starbucks on the corner and back without blundering through everything. The cars, the streetlights, the cell phones, the clothes, the hair... A girl walked by, she was wearing black ripped clothes with lots of chains and buckles, and her hair was a strange color of purple. He felt like he’d just stepped into a science fiction novel about aliens and outer space. No, wait, he’d actually had experience with aliens and outer space. He could handle aliens and outer space. He couldn’t handle having to remember to push the button to wait for the light to change so he could walk across the street. He ended up standing on the street corner for several minutes, waiting for a chance to cross. When he reached his apartment and stepped inside, his phone was ringing. Putting his coffee on the end table, he walked over to the device and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” He said anxiously. Hopefully it was SHIELD. He wanted it to be SHIELD. He didn’t think he could stand hearing another automated voice offering him special deals on cruises, in clipped tones and words that didn’t flow together, after a long blast in his ear from a fog horn. Not today. “Cap, hey, it’s me, Tony,” Stark’s voice said over the phone. Steve let out an audible sigh of relief. It wasn’t SHIELD, but it was better than... that other thing that called. “Tony?” He asked. “What happened? Is something wrong?” “Does there have to be something wrong in order for me to call you, see how you’re doing, how you’re... settling in?” Tony asked. “Tony, this is the first contact we’ve made in a year,” Steve said. “And I feel bad about it, really I do,” Tony’s voice said. “I know, I should’ve called. I should’ve... checked in, maybe dropped by, I could’ve given you a housewarming gift or something. They had those back in your day, right?” “Yes,” Steve said bluntly. When Tony didn’t say anything right away, Steve sighed. “Is there anything you wanted to say?” He asked. “Because I’m not having the best day, so if that’s all...” “Okay, so there’s something wrong,” Tony said. “You got me. Yeah, whatever. Something’s wrong. Thor’s here, so come on down to the tower, we’re all gonna hash things out and figure out what’s going on. You’ve got a few hours before the ninjas roll in from France, so it’s no rush. Get here on your own time.” And then the line was dead. Steve looked down at it for a second, not entirely sure what had just happened. Then he sighed, looked around the apartment, grabbed his jacket and his coffee and stepped back outside. Going down to Stark Tower to deal with a volatile group of superpowered shell-shocked emotionally imbalanced clashing personalities? He could definitely handle that. It was nothing compared to ordering a coffee. ~<>-A-<>~ Bruce was the easiest to track down. He was in his lab, working on the schematics for a project he and Tony had been working on, when... “Doctor Banner,” JARVIS said over the intercom. “Mr. Stark requests your presence in the conference room. It appears Mr. Odinson has arrived, and the Avengers are being summoned.” Bruce stopped what he was doing and froze, before letting out a chuckle. Considering what had happened the last time the Avengers had been needed, he wasn’t sure he would be happy with whatever was going down now. “Any information on the situation, J?” He asked, standing up. “No sir, Mr. Odinson insisted on all Avengers being present before he divulged any information,” JARVIS said. Bruce sighed. “All right,” he said. “Fine. Tell him I’ll be right up.” Spoiler: Chapter Two: Hanging Out The moment Clint and Natasha entered the tower, they were greeted by Pepper Potts, who welcomed them with a strained smile and escorted them to one of the many conference rooms located in Stark Tower. The other Avengers were already there; Bruce was fidgeting in his seat while Tony sat at the head of the mahogany table, staring down at the wood in pensive silence. Steve was glancing worriedly between the two scientists and Thor, who was pacing the floor behind Tony, head down, deep in thought. They all looked up when the door opened, and Clint noticed that Thor’s eyes narrowed for an instant, before the Norse legend looked away. “Oh, good, the ninjas have arrived,” Tony said, coming out of his contemplative trance with a few blinks. “Can I have something brought for anyone, now that we’re all here? Does anyone want a drink, maybe we could... order a pizza?” “There is no time for such pleasantries,” Thor said with a sigh. “I am afraid that the urgency and importance of my quest is such that I fear we have wasted far too much time already.” Clint sighed as he took his seat, Natasha sitting next to him. “Sounds serious,” he said. “Oh, it is,” Thor affirmed. “Long has it troubled me, until I could not rest nor eat. It has plagued me e’er since we parted last year, although I was not yet certain to what I owed my unrest. Indeed, I had all but forgotten it until recently, when many things were brought to light, and I was forced to accept that I cannot hope to face it on my own.” “Face what?” Steve asked, desperately trying to keep up. “Thor, some of us don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Actually, make that all of us,” Bruce stated. Thor glanced around at the group, eyes lingering once more on Clint, before he looked away, shifting his weight slightly. “...Wait,” Natasha said. “Does this have anything to do with Loki?” Everyone stiffened slightly, and they all turned to look at Thor, who hesitated before nodding. “What happened?” Bruce demanded. “Did he escape?” “Nay, he did not,” Thor said. “He is secured well, there is no escape.” This only served to confuse everyone further, and Thor sighed. “Perhaps I ought to begin anew,” he said. “Yeah, I think that would be a big help,” Tony said. Thor sighed again, and turned away, facing the large open window over the city. “When last I was on Midgard,” he began. “Bidding you all farewell, I could not help but feel as if something had gone wrong. Something was not the way it should have been. But, we had defeated our enemy in glorious battle, Loki was restrained and unable to cause any more harm, we were mostly uninjured and everyone had come out of the ordeal alive, and the planet was saved from my brother’s treachery. Atop that, I felt I had gained new comrades through battle and perseverance, and the future looked bright.” The Avengers all waited patiently, as Thor frowned in remembrance. “I did not attend my brothers trial,” he said. “Although I knew him to be guilty, I did not want to see him befall an ill sentence. He is still my brother. And then there was also the matter of my own testimony, one which I did not wish to give. No, I stayed away from the trial. I did not see my brother again. I continued to guard Asgard as its prince; I helped defend it from threatening forces, I continued studying swordplay, I lived life much as I have ever done.” “And yet,” Thor continued. “Throughout it all, an uneasiness grew upon my mind, a danger I could not quite perceive. It remained there, although I ignored it. It stained through my consciousness, although I constantly pushed it back. Then, not three weeks ago, I was resting in my quarters, when I had a vision.” “Wait, wait,” Tony said. “A vision?” “Aye,” Thor said. “While I lay in repose, I had a vision, a vision of my brother, pleading with me to come to his aid, for he was in great distress, and had urgent news to deliver.” “But it was just a dream, though, wasn’t it?” Clint asked. “Indeed, it was not,” Thor said. “My brother has long possessed the ability to send messages to others, although it is a difficult and rare occurrence. Still, I did not trust my brother’s intentions, and so I tried to forget.” “Good for you,” Clint muttered. “But the vision returned the next night, and stronger. Again, I ignored it. It was not until the third night when I resolved to hear my brother out, and so I traveled to where he was being held, and sought an audience with him. He gave me some grievous news.” “Exactly how grievous are we talking?” Tony said. “And follow up question: is there any reason we should care?” “He told me of a greater threat than we had at first believed,” Thor stated. “And he spoke of the ease with which we defeated him, and the army he led with him.” “Ease!?” Clint demanded. “He called that easy!? We barely made it out of there alive! We destroyed most of New York just trying to contain the stupid reptiles. It was definitely not easy.” “But it should have been much harder,” Thor said. “Selvig’s inclusion of the fail-safe, Loki’s losing the spear in the first place. The death of the soldiers already on the planet once the mother ship was destroyed. Everything that caused the battle to be won in our favor was convenient, far more convenient than can be left to chance.” “Are you saying our victory was rigged?” Tony asked, skeptical. “I am saying that my brother brought up some interesting points,” Thor said. “My brother said that he was forced into his actions, that he could not control himself.” “Like we’re supposed to believe that?” Clint said with a scoff. “He almost destroyed the planet!” “You almost destroyed the Helicarrier,” Thor said, turning to Clint, who froze. “That wasn’t called for,” Steve said reluctantly, trying to calm the situation. “You are right,” Thor said humbly before turning back to Clint. “I’m sorry. I did not mean anything by it, except a plea that you all will not dismiss my brother’s claims so lightly. Even before the battle was over, he spoke of a greater power, one that granted him the scepter which allowed his control over others.” Clint shuddered instinctively, but anyone who noticed pretended not to, and Thor continued. “Still, Loki said that there is no such thing as complete control, and there would always be some measure of fight. That was why he gave in so easily and lost his spear. That was why Selvig thought to build in the fail-safe activated by the spear. And that was why Friend Clint broke control of the power and rejoined his friends.” Clint bit his lip. “But I didn’t break control,” he said. “Natasha knocked me out.” “You missed,” Tony said suddenly, straightening up and widening his eyes, obviously just realizing something. “Clint, you missed!” “What are you talking about?” Clint asked. “I did everything he asked me to. I even came up with some of the plan myself.” “Yes, but you couldn’t kill Natasha,” Tony said, leaning against his chair smugly. “You never miss, but we found three clean arrows in the room where you two had your little lover’s spat. You never miss, Clint. But you fired three arrows that never found their mark, while Natasha managed to knock you out, which no one else can do.” Clint looked at Natasha, who raised an eyebrow and then nodded her agreement. “Sounds right to me,” she said. “As often as we’ve sparred, you never fired at me in training, because you never miss.” Clint looked at him, hiding his shock well. He had never really forgiven himself, as Selvig had fought, but he hadn’t been strong enough. Now, as it turned out, he was. He had fired at Natasha, but she had won against his bow, without even being grazed by his arrows. A fresh feeling came over Clint then, a slow release of breath he hadn’t known he was holding, as the last measure of guilt over the events of the helicarrier washed away. He had fought. He had resisted what he could. It was at that moment that what Thor was saying clicked in Clint’s mind, and everything became crystal clear. Who knew better than he did, after all, what it was like to be forced to do what you could not help, to the point where even your own friends had to fight you with all they were worth? And he still remembered flashes of what had happened in that moment, he still remembered sometimes, the clarity with which everything had seemed to make sense. He couldn’t quite remember what it had all meant now, but the sense of surety was the same. Everything was clear now. Loki, with all his love for chaos and destruction, had truly set everything up to fail. For someone who planned each action to determine an infallible end, why else would he have made the determining mistake of killing the one man that had managed to befriend each and every one of the Avengers? Clint had seen the security footage from Stark’s tower during his confrontation with Loki. He’d said as much himself. There was no possible way for Loki to win, not after killing Phil. If he had killed any other member of SHIELD, if he had killed any other person close to one of the Avengers, he would have gained the enmity of that one Avenger. Only Phil had forged ties with each and every one of them. Even before killing Phil, though... Loki had made several mistakes that, looking back on it, were rather obvious. Allowing the camera in Germany to get his picture, surrendering to Steve and Tony, waiting to be moved to the helicarrier while he and Tony fought with Thor... giving Fury the information needed for Bruce and Tony to hunt down the tesseract and discover the volatile Phase Two that had drawn Loki’s superior to their planet in the first place... Loki was responsible for all the convenient things leading up to their victory. Just as Thor said. “So, is that what you came here to tell us?” Steve asked. “That you believe Loki is innocent?” Thor shook his head. “While I do believe he is,” he said. “That was just to explain the real threat at work here.” “Oh,” Bruce said, speaking up after being silent for so long. “You’re saying that, whoever did this to Loki... he’s still out there. Biding his time.” “Correct,” Thor said. “While on Earth, Loki spoke of a power, a power beyond that of our understanding. This power gave him the scepter, and, as price, took control of his mind. He still retained the schemes and plans only his mind could dream up, but his plans were brought out because of the power of the scepter.” “So Loki was just a frontman,” Tony said. “And when we defeated the Chitauri and sent Loki with you, we weren’t really stopping the real threat.” He paused. “So who’s the real threat?” “Alas, Loki could not say,” he said. “But he seemed certain that whoever it was, they’re now after him.” “After him?” Bruce asked. “What do you mean?” “He broke from their control, and cost them the Earth,” Thor said. “They will not forget him so readily.” Everything was silent as the truth of the statement set in. “Right now, Loki sits in a cell in Asgard,” Thor continued after a short pause. “He is guarded, yes, but to prevent escape, not to defend his life. He wears stone bracelets on his wrists, preventing the majority of his magic. He is, defenseless against an attack. As for the rest of the Kingdom, they suspect nothing, and are prepared for nothing. If this unknown power aims to recapture Loki, there is little hope for survival.” “And do you think they’ll try?” Natasha asked. “Without a doubt,” Thor affirmed. “It is only a matter of when.” “What should we do?” Steve asked. “I intend to break Loki out of his prison and bring him here in secret, while we prepare Asgard for war,” Thor said. “Hold up, wait a moment,” Tony said, standing up. “Now, Thor, bear in mind, I do believe you,” he said. “But I feel this little voice in the back of my head telling me that someone has to ask the question: What if Loki’s lying to us, and he’s just hoping for a means of escape?” Thor gave a small smile. “I will not pretend that I didn’t have such fears myself,” he said. “And so I asked for proof. And in return, Loki told me that I would find my proof in the opening of the door.” “What?” Clint asked, leaning forward. “Yes,” Thor said, placing a familiar device on the table. It was the transport Tony and Bruce had created, powered by the Tesseract, which shone bright and clear as it throbbed and ticked. Clint looked at it, it looked much the same as it had when Loki had first shown up through it. “Where’d you get that?” Bruce asked, standing up quickly. “We have kept it safe and untouched since last year,” Thor said. “Until I entered to take it this morning, it had not even been seen.” Tony also stood, leaning forward to watch the Tesseract with curiosity. “Interesting,” he said. “Is the deadbolt working?” “No one has been able to use it from the other side of the portal, if that’s what you are asking,” Thor said. “Whatever device you installed in the vessel is working well.” “Good,” Tony said, sitting back down in his chair. “So, we’ve got an unknown threat waiting out there somewhere and we think he might be after Loki. And you want us to go save Loki, even though, we’re the people who put him there in the first place. Am I missing anything?” “No,” Thor said. “That’s everything.” The Avengers all looked at each other, silently asking the same thing. Did they dare risk Loki escaping from prison? Or did they risk leaving him there when he was possibly innocent, to be captured by enemies unknown? “I say we get him out,” Clint said gruffly. “He... If he was controlled, he deserves a chance to make up for what he did.” “I second that,” Tony said, raising his hand. “And so does Bruce.” Bruce chuckled, but nodded. “I... think we need to at least give him a chance to explain himself,” he said. “If anyone knows what it’s like to wake up and see the aftermath of a battle you didn’t fight, it’s me.” Natasha nodded as well, but didn’t say anything, and Clint once again felt everything make sudden sense. Bruce was plagued with the Hulk. Tony had been raised as a war profiteer. Natasha was a famous assassin. They all knew what it meant to be counted as one of the bad guys. They all were willing to give another the same chance they had received. “What do you say, Capsicle?” Tony asked Steve. “Do you have any argument against this?” “No,” Steve said thoughtfully. “I mean, I don’t know if I believe him, but everyone’s innocent until proven guilty. I’m not about to blindly condemn Loki without hearing his side of the story.” He sighed. “I only wish we’d given him the same chance before we left him alone for a year.” “Do not fret, good Captain,” Thor said. “For an Asgardian, one year matters very little.” “Okay, so, we’re going,” Tony said, standing up. “JARVIS, alert Pepper that I’ll be making a quick run to Asgard with the boys, and, um, Natasha... And then run a scan on the Tesseract and make sure there’s nothing suspicious going on.” “Sir, are you sure this is the wisest course of action?” JARVIS asked. “Hey, J, don’t worry,” Tony said absently as he picked up the transporter and examined it. “This is me we’re talking about.” “That’s exactly my point, sir...” JARVIS said. But Tony ignored him. “Hey, Blondie,” he said to Thor. “How are you planning on getting us all to Asgard? I only designed this thing to take two jumpers at a time. And unless you plan on making five trips, some of us are gonna be left behind.” “I had hoped you could alter the machine,” Thor admitted, and Tony nodded. “Alright. JARVIS, after the scan, bring up file 6-3-W-I-T-8-6-4-R-G-Pepsi-8-2-3 and begin fabrication.” “Uh, what was that, Tony?” Bruce asked hesitantly. “Oh, those are my original design specs,” Tony said. “I encrypted them and hid them when I decided to go for a more simple design.” “What are you talking about?” Steve asked. “A simpler design for what?” “For this, of course,” Tony said, holding up the transporter. “Originally, I had planned on us all taking the trip to Asgard to deliver Loki to his time-out. I figured we could use a vacation, we could tour the place, take in the sights, all that stuff. I mean, I’m rather sick of all the tropical paradises around here. I wanted some new scenery.” “Well, why’d you change your mind?” Clint wondered. “Because I couldn’t book a good hotel,” Tony said, taking a sideglance at them to see their reactions to his joke before continuing. “With all the work that needed doing here, I didn’t have time for a vacation. Not to mention, we were going to leave the Tesseract in Asgard. But without the Tesseract, the machine couldn’t have taken us back here.” Everyone nodded. “Sir,” JARVIS said over the intercom. “Fabrication will be complete in three hours, seventeen minutes. Ms. Potts would like to speak with you.” Tony sighed and put the device back on the table before turning and walking to the door. “Alright, folks,” he called over his shoulder. “Meet me on the roof in three hours and twenty minutes. We’re going to Asgard.” Spoiler: Chapter 3: The Tesseract Everyone was silent as they stood on the roof, waiting for Tony. He was ten minutes late, something that didn't seem to surprise anyone, although Steve continuously glanced at his watch while Thor paced back and forth, growing more agitated with every passing minute. Finally, Tony emerged in the Iron Man armor, his faceplate up, carrying the new vessel with Pepper following closely behind him. If Pepper disapproved of Tony's spontaneous decision to go to Asgard, she didn't show it, instead, she nodded to each of the Avengers before turning to Tony. "Once the device takes us to Asgard," Tony told her. "I won't be able to reach you. I don't plan on being gone for... more than a week, at least. But until I return, you're in charge of the company. I settled it already, the board doesn't have a choice. If SHIELD calls, tell them what I told you." "You mean that you're making a quick run to Asgard with the boys?" Pepper asked. "And what if that doesn't satisfy Fury?" "Um, if that doesn't work, tell Fury that I'll get him a new Ferrari for Christmas. Maybe a fire-red one this time. I know how much Fury favors fire-red Ferraris." "Tony, be careful," Pepper said. "I know how trouble always seems to find you." "Relax, Pep, it's me," Tony said. "That's what I mean." Pepper said. "Are you and JARVIS talking about me behind my back?" Tony asked. "How else am I supposed to keep track of you?" Pepper asked. "Not cool, J," Tony said with a frown. "My apologies, sir," JARVIS said. "But I completely agree with Miss Potts." "Keep this up and I might leave you behind too, JARVIS," Tony said. "Inadvisable, as that would also include leaving the suit," JARVIS noted dryly. "Yeah, okay, you win," Tony admitted. Then he smiled at Pepper. "Don't worry, Pepper," he said. "I'll be extra careful. I'll come back to you. I promise." Clint snickered, and Tony turned to him. "Something funny, Big Bird?" He asked. "Nothing," Clint said. "I just didn't take you for the video game type, Tony." Tony frowned in confusion for a second, then blinked as he realized what Clint was talking about. "Yeah, well, at least we're not taking a raft to Asgard," he said with a smirk. "I'm totally lost," Steve said. "Don't worry, I don't get it either," Bruce said, offering a small smile to the Captain before turning to Tony. "Tony, we should probably get going. I think Thor's about to have a panic attack." They all turned to Thor, who was staring into the distance, frowning. "I feel as if something bad has just happened," he said. "Whoa," Tony said. "Do you feel a disturbance, As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced?" "Are you endangering the mission?" Clint asked. "Do you think you shouldn't have come?" Thor glanced at them briefly, as Steve frowned in confusion and Bruce chuckled. "Okay," he said. "That time, I was thinking it too." Natasha rolled her eyes. "Stark," she said. "Let's go." Tony nodded. "Right," he said, walking forward and holding the device out. "Thor, go ahead and put the tesseract right in here... good. Everyone hold on, or it won't work." "Like a portkey, right?" Clint asked with a smirk. "For heavens sake, stop it," Natasha said sternly, taking hold of the device as the others did the same. Tony turned halfway so he could look at Pepper. "Goodbye, Pep," he said. "Take care of the company. Don't let those stuffy suits tell you what to do. I'll be back as soon as possible. I called Rhodey, he should be here tomorrow, in case... well, you know..." "Tony, I know how to watch out for myself," Pepper said. "It's you I'm worried about. Just get back here in one piece, alright?" "Alright," Tony said. "...Well, see ya." Turning around, he noted that everyone was holding the device, and he twisted the handle. Everything fell away into blue, and took the breath of all those who had not jumped worlds before. It felt as if they were flying, they were weightless and what felt like a wind blew all around them. Then they seemed to cease existence at all, if he didn't know any better, Tony would have described the feeling as the sensation of dissolving into nothingness. A brief image of Mike Teavee floating in the air flashed through his mind, and then he seemed to come back together again. The blue began to fade into more substantial colors, and Tony could see, as if through water, a grand hall of marble and intricate design. The stone floor began to solidify beneath his feet, and he realized he'd been holding his breath and was now beginning to breathe again, when suddenly the blue came rushing back like a wave, roaring in his ears and swirling violently. Tony realized that where he had been beginning to breathe before, his lungs were now screaming for air, and a great pressure pushed against him on every side. The blue began churning even more turbulently, and the color faded until it was a swirling tsunami of pure white. Suddenly, everything disappeared, and Tony found himself hitting the ground hard. He gasped for air and the blood rushed to his face. Shakily, he stood to his feet and looked around. They were definitely somewhere, although the 'where' was uncertain. Looking around, he saw the other Avengers also gasping and slowly standing up, Thor already at his feet, taking deep breaths and looking around in anger and shock. "That wasn't supposed to happen, was it?" Tony pointed out breathlessly. "I do not understand," Thor said in response, walking past Clint and Natasha, who were helping each other up. "We are in the Plains of Ida!" Tony looked around at the empty fields of grass. "...Yep," he said. "I'm assuming that's Asgard over there?" He nodded towards a shining city with a dark sky behind it, a golden tower rising from the center. "Aye," Thor said. "Mere seconds ago, we almost materialized within the palace itself. How did we end up in the plains of Ida?" Tony frowned, as Steve said the very thing he was thinking. "Is it possible the device didn't work right?" Everyone suddenly realized the same thing, and they all looked around furtively. "Where is it!?" Tony demanded, panicked. "What happened to it!?" "It's gone!" Clint exclaimed, staring at a spot on the ground in the center of the group, presumably where the device would be if it had traveled with them. "Tony, Clint, Calm down," Steve said, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Yeah, this looks bad, but we need to keep calm, losing our heads won't fix anything." "Thor," Natasha said, pale but otherwise in control. "What should we do?" Thor stepped forward to where the device should have been, and he looked lost. "...I'm not sure," he said. "I don't know what caused the device to drop us here, but it was no malfunction on Tony's part. It was definitely a tesseract." "A tesseract?" Bruce asked, a bit shaky himself. "What do you mean A tesseract? There's more than one?" "Well, no," Thor said. "The tesseract, as you know of it, is the only one of its kind. However, the name tesseract simply means a doorway or portal through time or space. What we just experienced was a tesseract, even though the device is... no longer with us." "We jumped without the tesseract?" Tony asked. "Is that even possible?" Thor nodded. "Aye, but my people have not yet been able to master it," he said. "We only could tesser using the tesseract and Heimdall's Gate. The tesseract was lost on Midgard centuries ago, and the Bifrost was destroyed a few years ago. We had been rebuilding it, but it is not yet finished. Other than that... We do not have the power to tesser on our own." "...Alright," Bruce said. "So, if your people haven't developed the ability to tesser on their own, the question to ask is who could have sent us here without the tesseract?" Everyone looked at Thor, who looked frightened. "I do not know," he said. "Unless they are the power Loki warned me of." He turned suddenly and with a yell, brought Mjolnir down to the ground, sending a slight shockwave through the ground. "I am too late," He said lowly. "They are in the city." He looked down at the floor, and his voice was rough and sorrowful. "I have failed." Nobody knew quite what to say to that, and they all stood for a few moments, before Steve stepped forward and put his hand on Thor's shoulder. "Not yet, you haven't," he said. "I mean, even if the aliens are in the city, we're not gonna go down, not without a fight. There are people in that city who need you." Thor looked up. "...Aye," he said. "Let us fight, for the glory of Asgard, and Midgard!" Suddenly, a burst of green light erupted from the point of the tower in the distance, tinting the oranges and the blues of the Asgardian landscape. "Remind you of anyone?" Bruce asked, and no one had to say they agreed. "Come!" Thor said, reaching down and picking up Mjolnir. "We are due in the city." ______________________________________________________________________________ As soon as they arrived on the outskirts of the city, it was obvious that whatever was happening had gone down quickly. There was a deadly quiet over the city, and there was no life anywhere. Not a single person was on the streets. The green light beam was still shooting into the sky, and the atmosphere around the end of the beam was distorted and warped, as if the light beam was transmitting though a wormhole. Thor led them quickly and quietly through the streets toward the palace in the center, and the others followed quietly. Well, as quietly as they could. "For heavens sake, Stark, walk quieter!" Hissed Natasha. "Sorry," Tony hissed back in defense. "I'm in a 240 pound metal exoskeleton, in case you didn't notice!" He sighed. "Maybe if you would let me fly-" "I told you, this is a reconnaissance mission," Natasha whispered. "Busting in guns blazing isn't an option!" "Maybe Tony should stay back," Clint suggested. "We can go on ahead and gather intel, and then come back." "I could stay back with him," Bruce suggested. "We wouldn't want to risk something setting the Hulk off during recon..." "No," Steve said firmly. "Until we have some sort of idea about what's going on, we all stick together." "Ugh, fine," Tony said. "But I can't help it if my footsteps fall a little louder than the freaky spider ninja spy here." "Hush," Thor said suddenly. "I sense someone approaching." That was enough to quiet the Avengers, as they all waited. Hawkeye pulled an arrow and notched it, pointing towards a street corner several blocks away. Trusting his hearing, the others all watched that corner and waited. A few moments later, a woman in a suit of dirtied armor stumbled around the corner and fell to the ground. "Sif!" Thor cried, lowering his hammer and running towards her. Looking at each other, the others decided she wasn't a threat- probably- and followed. Thor reached the woman and knelt down, offering his hand as she struggled to stand up. "Lady Sif," Thor said. "Pray tell, what has happened!?" "...Thor?" She said, looking up at him. "Where- where have you been!?" Thor looked confused. "I do not understand your meaning," he said. "I have only been gone a matter of hours." "Hours?" Sif asked. "What do you mean hours?" "Uh-oh," Tony muttered to Bruce. "This can't mean anything good." "I left this morning," Thor said. "To fetch the Avengers." "Thor, that was three days ago," Sif said. "You left three days ago. When the... things... came and took the palace, we assumed the worst. You had never let such a thing happen before." "What has happened!?" Thor demanded. "Lady Sif, tell me what has happened in my absence so that I may set things right." Sif looked at Thor and bit her bottom lip. "...After you left," she said. "They came out of nowhere. They... appeared out of thin air. We fought without ceasing, but they were too many. We were overcome. The leader, their leader was a cruel woman, she spoke of the defeat of the might prince Thor, and she... she lamented your absence, wondering who would fill Odin's throne during the Odinsleep." "What?" Thor asked. "Has my father fallen asleep at such an early hour?" Sif swallowed and nodded. "Yes," she said. "He slept the evening you left, we do not know what evil caused him to fall. But that's not the end of it, Thor, she... the Witch-Ruler, she killed him as he slept." Everyone was speechless, as the news sunk in. Thor looked suddenly frail, a look that didn't quite suit him, and he looked Sif into the eye. "...Once before, I heard such news," he said quietly. "I was tricked into believing the Allfather had died, and the thought tore at my heart until I cared not for life, nor glory. Please, tell me this of similar design?" Sif shook her head. "I... I'm sorry, my prince," she whispered, a tear welling in one eye. "Tis true. I saw... I saw the fatal strike." Thor stepped away and looked down, allowing himself a moment to grieve, before looking up again. "Tell me of the rest," he said. "The city is affected by a strange power, what is this sorcery? Is my brother the prince involved?" Sif frowned in confusion. "That is a mystery," she said. "For they imprisoned me along with the other warriors who fought for Asgard. I know not of this green light, nor of your brother. I do not even know how I came to be here, Last I was aware, I was resting in the dungeons, before I found myself here." Thor frowned. "Strange, as we had an experience of a similar nature," he said. "As we attempted to tesser into the throne room of my father's palace, we were suddenly transported into the Plains of Ida, and the tesseract was gone." "Gone?" Sif asked in surprise. "But... how?" "We don't really know," Bruce spoke up, coming forward. "But I think it's safe to assume that whoever did it was a friend, not an enemy." "And how do you figure that?" Clint asked curiously. "Simple," Tony interrupted before Bruce could continue. "If we had materialized in the Throne Room, we would have been caught off guard and ambushed by the aliens. Instead, we were dropped in the fields out of the city." "Not to mention," Bruce said. "Whoever had the power to send us out of the city without the Tesseract also could have taken you from the dungeons and dropped you here, where you would run into us and tell us what was going on." "You must be the Avengers, warriors of Midgard," Sif said. "I am glad to finally make your acquaintance after hearing so much of your triumphs in battle." "Thanks," Tony said flippantly. "Give me a week, I can get you a signed 9x13 glossy and I'll throw in a free StarkPhone app... well, I suppose I could pull a few strings, get you a phone to go along with it, free of charge. Not one of the newest models, of course, but still." "Stark, shut up," Natasha suggested. Sif gave a wry. "No," she said. "It's good to hear something light after the trials of the past few days. But, I forget myself. It's not safe on the streets. We should find a place to lay low, so we can plan our next move carefully." "Agreed," Thor said. "Do you have any suggestions?" Sif looked around. "We are near the house of the good goatherd Raumr Halson," she said. "He is loyal to the crown and is brave of heart and spirit. He will give us his aid." "Very well," Thor said. "Lead the way. We will start our plans immediately. We begin war on the morrow." Thor looked around the darkened streets tinted by the strange green light, and his eyes narrowed. "I swear by my father's spirit," he said solemnly." I will reclaim this city." Spoiler: Chapter 4: Quantity Raumr Halson was indeed willing to give aid to them; as the stout oak door opened and he looked out, he took one look at Thor and his eyes grew wide. “My lord,” he said quietly, swinging the door open and bowing his head before glancing out at the dark street. “Enter quickly, the nights are patrolled.” He watched with interest as the Avengers all followed Thor into the small house, and then shut the door behind him. “My prince Thor and the Lady Sif, welcome to you and all your friends,” he said. “Please, make yourselves at home while I awaken my wife so that we may provide food and drink for you.” “Thank you, Halson,” Thor said. “I wish we were in different times, so that I might reward your hospitality. But I am afraid there are matters of pressing import, and your loyalty will have to be rewarded later.” “My lord, reward is needless,” Raumr said. “Your presence is a great honor, and brings much hope in these troubled times.” With that, Raumr bowed his head once more and left the small room, returning a few moments later with a lady, who bowed to Thor and the Avengers. “My wife, Myrune,” Raumr said. “My Prince, you are welcome here,” Myrune said. “It is an honor to have you, and the Lady Sif. What news do you bring from the castle, My Lady?” “Not much, I’m afraid,” Sif said. “For I was put in the dungeons only two nights ago, and had no word before I found myself here tonight, by magic unknown to me.” “Two nights ago?” Raumr said. “My lady, how can this be, as the city has been searching for you these past seven days?” Sif looked stunned. “Seven days?” She repeated. “What is your meaning!?” “Your miraculous escape confounded the enemies of the Castle, and they have been searching for you these past seven days,” Raumr said, frowning in bewilderment. “It seems you were gone even longer than we thought, Thor,” Bruce said. “The three days since you left, and the seven days Sif has been missing. You’ve been gone ten days.” “Our ‘Mystery’ friend strikes again,” Tony added. “So, Raumr, tell us about what has occurred within the last seven days. You said the streets are patrolled?” “Aye,” Raumr said, as he and Myrune stepped over to the kitchen portion of the small room, still talking as they gathered wooden plates and goblets. “After the Lady Sif vanished from her cell, the enemies of the castle sent out soldiers of great number into the city, some to search, some to guard, and some to spread fear into the hearts of the people. They have taken many of the loyal families prisoner, we barely escaped their notice. They do not count us as people of note, fortunately, and we were spared.” “These enemies,” Clint spoke up. “What are they? What do they look like, what do they call themselves? What do they want with the city?” “They appear to be Asgardians, but I do not believe it to be their true form,” Raumr said, placing a plate of bread and cheese in front of Thor, and another in front of Sif. Myrune came behind with plates for Tony and Natasha, hesitating before setting Tony’s plate down, as he was still wearing his helmet. Finally just setting it down, she returned to the kitchen. “You mean, you think they’re shape-shifters?” Steve asked. “I know not,” Raumr stated, placing a plate in front of Steve, who mumbled a thank you. “But there is a magic about them that speaks of those who change appearance.” Raumr filled one of the goblets and handed it to Thor, before looking down. “There is more, my lord,” he said. “In your absence, and in the light of the good king’s untimely death, Loki has been named King of Asgard, in the name of the new guard, but we have not seen or heard from him since.” “Loki?” Thor asked, frowning. “And is he the source of the beam as well?” “I assume so, yes,” Raumr said, pouring more drink for the other Avengers, as Myrune set down two more plates in front of Bruce and Clint. “But I do not believe he does it willingly.” “They control him!?” Thor exclaimed angrily, clenching his fist. “I will have their heads, on my life!” “Peace, my prince,” Myrune said gently. “You shall have your day of vengeance.” Thor softened. “You are wise, kind lady,” he said. “Raumr, do you know what they want with my brother?” Raumr sighed. “I am afraid not, my lord,” he said. “There has been no word from the enemy since they announced Loki’s kingship. Many are ill at ease upon the appearance of the beam of light, and the king’s death is a heavy burden on our hearts. But your return has brought hope to me, and it shall bring hope to the people of Asgard!” Thor nodded. “Aye,” he said. “If only I could find some hope for myself.” “My prince, do not speak such words,” Myrune said. “Look to Mjolnir. For as long as you can hold it in the glory of battle, thunder will strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, and hope shall remain.” Thor seemed heartened by this, and he smiled. “Thank you, Lady Myrune,” he said. “Again, you have shown your wisdom.” Suddenly, everyone at the table stiffened, and Tony looked around. “What?” he asked. Without a response, everyone stood from table and walked quietly to the door, opening it and stepping outside. “Guys, what are you doing?” Tony asked, following them. Outside, he saw doors opening on every house on the street. People were flooding the road, and as one, began walking towards the castle. “JARVIS, what’s happening?” Tony demanded. “Inconclusive,” JARVIS stated. “They appear to have been hypnotized somehow.” Tony looked around, looking for Bruce. Bruce was walking behind Steve. Tony stepped forward to get a closer look at his eyes. They were blue. “Oh no,” he said. “JARVIS, bring up the information gathered about Loki’s scepter. Theorize the possibility of mass mind control, at least citywide.” “Yes sir,” JARVIS said, as Tony walked alongside the Avengers. He knew he had to keep them from reaching the palace, but shuddered to think what measures he might have to take. “Sir,” JARVIS said. “Theoretically speaking, the scepter had to be in close proximity to the controlled to initiate said control. The same effect could be reproduced on a citywide scale, provided enough of the comprising elements were placed in strategic locations on Asgard. A transmission of control would then have to be sent from one location to disperse among the others, encompassing the city and creating a field of control.” “The green light beam,” Tony guessed. “That would be my assumption, sir,” JARVIS agreed. “However, the dispersing of the field of control would theoretically weaken the control on an individual, although to what extent, I am unsure. Judging by the current level of unresponsiveness, however, I think it is safe to assume that the control does not go too deep. It is currently no more than surface control.” “They sacrificed quality for quantity,” Tony noted. “Never a good idea. How come I wasn’t affected?” “It appears the element causing the control is in airborne form,” JARVIS said. “It is most likely gaseous. Your mask likely filtered out the offending toxin.” “Ah, I knew I installed the AC for a reason,” Tony noted. “How would I wake up the others?” “According to Agent Romanoff, cognitive recalibration awakened Agent Barton from extensive control,” JARVIS supplied. “Perhaps if you were to engage one of the Avengers in combat, it would awaken them.” “Got it, punch Bruce,” Tony said. “Sir, I would not advise-” Tony reached out and punched Bruce. Not very hard, of course, as he was wearing the suit, and not in the face, he aimed for the shoulder. But even though he pulled his punch by quite a bit, Bruce was knocked hard to the ground. Tony hissed in sympathy. “JARVIS,” he said. “Why didn’t you stop me?” “Ow!” Bruce yelled, his eyes snapping not to brown, but to green. “Mayday,” Tony said. “Brucey, stay with me.” “Tony,” Bruce growled, squeezing his eyes shut and clutching at his head. “Why!?” “Uh, JARVIS told me to do it,” Tony said. “You were being controlled. Cognitive recalibration, you know.” “Well, it was stupid,” Bruce said bluntly, opening his eyes. They were still a bit green, but they were fading. “You’re lucky I have so much control.” “Great, help me with the others,” Tony said, turning to where the other Avengers were still walking slowly down the street. “...Wow,” Bruce said. “Well, this is just great.” Getting to his feet, he brushed off his jacket. “I’m not gonna be much help in the punching department,” he said. “But be a bit more careful with Clint and Natasha. Us regular people can’t handle it.” “Got it, I’ll get Steve first. He can handle the ninjas.” With that, Tony went over to Steve and again pulled his punch. Steve just stumbled back a few steps and kept walking. Tony turned and looked at Bruce, holding a hand up in indication. Bruce chuckled and shrugged. “Okay, I’m actually gonna hit him,” Tony said, delivering a solid hit to Steve’s jaw. This time, Steve fell back too, letting out a yell and clutching his jaw. He looked up at Tony in confusion. “Tony?” he asked. “What-? ...What happened? Why are we in the street?” “Mind control,” Tony said. “Get on your feet, Spangles, and wake up Clint and Natasha. I’ll get Thor.” Steve got to his feet dazedly and looked around as Tony moved to punch Thor. The god didn’t so much as blink, instead continuing to walk. “Wow, really?” Tony asked. “Fine then. JARVIS, increase strength in the left gauntlet by .0015%.” “Yes sir,” JARVIS stated. “Whoa,” Tony heard Steve say behind him, and he turned to see Steve standing in the road, an expression of awe on his face. “Cap?” Tony said. “Uh, pay attention. Middle of a crisis here? Did you get Arachnia and Big Bird yet?” “Look at Clint,” Steve said instead of answering. “It looks like he’s fighting it himself!” Tony did a double-take. It did look like Clint was fighting the control himself; standing still in the middle of the road, his eyes and fists were clenched, and he was shaking. “...Clint?” Bruce asked, stepping forward. “Clint, can you hear me?” Clint sputtered some unknown syllable, and Steve shook his head in amazement. “Unbelievable,” he said. “Clint, fight it, you can fight it.” “Tony,” Bruce said. “Keep trying to get Thor. We’ve got this.” Tony nodded and turned, seeing that Thor had made it about half a block away already. No trouble to catch up with, since he was wearing the suit and all, but the thunderer was definitely moving faster than most of the other Asgardians. Speaking of which… Turning, Tony hit Raumr firmly on the jaw. The man sputtered awake, he had apparently not been too far under the influence of the controlling spell. “...Uh, Raumr,” Tony said, suddenly realizing he had no idea how to explain the situation. The god looked at him in befuddlement, so Tony plowed through anyway. “Everybody’s being controlled and hypnotized,” he said. “I woke you up pretty easily, so they must not be targeting you. Go ahead and wake up your wife, and then if you could kindly awaken Lady Sif. I have to go, Thor’s in trouble.” Raumr nodded. “C-Certainly, my lord,” he said, looking around for Myrune. “Uh, Tony’s fine,” Tony said. “Or Iron Man. Or your excellency, if that’s more up your alley. Anyway… take care.” With that, he sped over and landed in front of Thor. “Alright, buddy,” Tony said. “Let’s see how strong their hold on you is…” With his new strength in his left gauntlet, Tony punched as hard as he could. Thor pushed past him and continued walking. Tony worried his bottom lip, he didn’t want to hit too hard. The god might be durable, but everyone had their limits, and being hit while you were otherwise indisposed didn’t stop you from feeling it later. “JARVIS, increase by another .0015%,” he stated, again hitting Thor, this time eliciting a response, when Thor stumbled back a few steps before shaking his head and continuing on his way. Tony huffed. “Okay,” he said. “Playtime’s over. JARVIS, up .1%, both gauntlets.” “Are you sure about this sir?” JARVIS asked. “Fire it up,” Tony said. Then, he rushed Thor to a nearby wall, crashing through it and rolling to the ground of what appeared to be a vegetable garden. He hadn’t been expecting the trip, this move usually stopped at the wall, but so much the better. Having the upper hand, Tony punched Thor in the jaw, hesitating before delivering a second punch when Thor still seemed unresponsive. Suddenly, Thor’s fist shot up and punched Tony in the jaw of the suit, knocking him off. Landing on his feet, Tony stumbled for a second before catching his balance. Thor groaned and stood up, holding his jaw. “Iron Man?” he asked, looking around. “Say, what are we doing out in the night? Are these carrots? I am covered in dirt!” Then he caught sight of the wall and his eyes grew wide. “Did I do that?” He asked. Tony laughed. “Good to have you back, Thor.” Thor frowned. “Where was I?” “Tony!” Tony turned to see Bruce running up to him. “Clint did it,” he said. “He broke free. He and Steve are working on Natasha right now.” Hearing a crash and a yell nearby, Tony nodded, pursing his lips. “Yup,” he said. “I believe it.” Returning to the scene, Tony saw Steve ducking numerous sluggish attacks from the Black Widow, while Clint ran up behind her and grabbed her wrists. “Tasha,” he said. “Fight it! You can do it!” Natasha grunted and pulled free from Clint, turning to attack back, and Tony realized what was wrong. Steve, being the gentleman he was, wouldn’t hit a woman if his life depended on it.Clint, however, wasn’t going to hit Natasha, not while she had a chance to fight it herself. He didn’t want her to feel the same guilt he’d been feeling since the Helicarrier accident, but even with Natasha’s amazing skill and abilities, she was obviously under more control than he had been, and without having felt the power of the scepter before, had never had a way to know just how powerful it was. She was unprepared to fight it. As he watched this, he realized it was up to him to be the bad guy. “Clint,” Tony said. “We don’t have time for this. You’re the only one she trusts to do this. So just do it!” Clint narrowed his eyes, but nodded, obviously unhappy yet willing to follow directions. “Distract her,” he said. “Hey, Natashalie,” Tony said without hesitation, flying towards her with as much flashiness as he could muster. “Smile.” Predictably, Natasha glanced at the movement and turned to counter Tony’s attack, but the control making her movements slow and easily dodged. Clint saw his window and moved in for the strike, hitting her with his bow so hard that the string snapped. Natasha fell, Clint catching her before she could hit the ground. Sif, Raumr and Myrune came running up, along with six or seven others, and Tony noted that they had taken the time to free a few other Asgardians, warriors if their muscles had anything to say about it. “Oh my,” Myrune said upon seeing Natasha. “Was she injured?” “Nothing a little rest and home remedies can’t cure, I hope,” Tony said. “Now, let’s get back to the house before we’re caught. With all the ruckus we made, any patrollers around will be on their way.” “Right,” Sif nodded. “Asgardians, you’re with me. We’re going to keep waking the others. Njordr, you take a group down towards the edge of the city. The rest of you, with me! Keep a weather eye out for trouble.” “Sif,” Thor said, stepping forward. “What of I?” Sif smiled. “Go with your friends,” she said. “I know you would have your hammer upon the heads of every enemy here. But as heir to the throne of Asgard, you must keep hidden. We do not know to what lengths the enemy will go to take you captive.” Thor nodded. “Very well,” he said. “You are right, of course.” He bowed his head sadly, and Sif hesitated before placing her hand on his shoulder. “Thor,” she said quietly. “You are strong. And I will do everything I can to help you.” Thor gave her a sad smile. “Thank you,” he said. He took her hand from his shoulder and held it in his for a moment. His smile became a bit more real, and she smiled in return before slowly pulling her hand away and walking off.with the others into the night.