Chapter 9: Pride beyond reason.
The least favourite sound in Tony Stark’s opinion was that of alarms. They were so sharp and annoying. They were persistent too. He turned on his stomach.
“Jarvis. Turn off that bloody noise!!” He yelled when it still blared through his pillow.
“I’m afraid it’s meant to wake you sir. It is quite urgent.”
Tony sat up, quite the angry little human when he dragged out of bed with a huff. It was barely 8 in the morning. Tony quickly put on a robe, striped in red and gold, the colours of iron man of course, and he walked over to his computer which was still blaring and beaming light.
“What is it baby?” Tony yawned as he logged in.
Immediately he felt his brows crease together.
“Jarvis, this can’t be right. It’s the portal probes…”
“The data has been recorded by 3 separate probes sir and it has been verified. A space-portal has opened somewhere above New York.”
Tony rubbed his face.
“How many? And what kind?”
“The readings correspond strongly with the samples of the Chitauri from past year sir, and your probes have verified there is at least four vehicles with them present.”
Tony closed his computer and ran upstairs. He could not believe the balls on that Norse piece of shit. He would smash him to bits. Right in front of Thor if he had to. He threw open the door to the bedroom he had borrowed to the two gods. Loki was sitting at the side of bed, looking a bit startled to see Tony come in. He was fixing up bandages while Thor remained asleep, snoring like a peaceful bear in winter-sleep.
“Can I help you?” Loki asked when he saw Tony heaving his chest up and down with deep breaths.
“You. You incredible… Idiot! Son of a fucking bitch! I offer you my home, we choose to trust you. You get us all wrapped up in your sob-story. And not even a night in and you invite your friends in?!”
“Stark, you are speaking rubbish. I have no idea what you are speaking of.”
Tony growled and charged, startling Loki enough to jump up and suspend him in mid-air, frozen in his movement. Thor startled out of his sleep.
“Loki, man of iron, what is the meaning of this?”
“He attacked me!” Loki immediately defended, dropping Tony out of his suspension.
“Oh don’t you play your innocent baby card. You brought the Chitauri back onto Earth? How did you do that hm? Are you using my tower to channel your magic or is that fake cube of yours running down my systems for you to use?”
Loki got pale in the face. He seemed to go rigid even.
The lights flickered a bit and the sheets fluttered with an unknown breeze.
“Oh don’t pretend you did not know.”
Thor grabbed Loki’s shoulder.
“It was not me. It was not me Thor.”
Tony rolled his eyes and scoffed.
“Oh sorry, my mistake. I’ll ask Bruce not to invite aliens over to smash. How dumb of me.”
“DO NOT MOCK ME!!” Loki bellowed, a sharp gust of air striking Tony in the face.
Thor’s hand tightened on Loki’s shoulder.
“I believe you Loki. I do.”
Tony fashioned his hair again. Loki looked positively panicked.
“He does not.”
Thor looked at Loki shortly.
“It’s fine. He will, we’ll explain.”
“We explained already, he doesn’t believe me. But that’s alright. I’ll make him believe me.”
Thor grabbed Loki tighter.
“No you do not have to prove yourself. Loki don’t.”
But he could not stop Loki’s form from slipping between his fingers as he disintegrated and left. He left and Thor had no idea where Loki had transported himself. Thor angrily turned to Tony then.
“Look at what you have done! You have scared him out of safety! If any harm befalls him I will have your head man of iron!!”
Tony set a few steps back.
“Or he tricked you after all and he is now with his buddies to plan another attack on New York.”
Thor had Tony by his collar faster than the other could yelp.
“You have not seen him like I have. Loki is afraid, he is in pain and he has been tortured for longer than a year. If he gets hurt, or worse… If anything happens to him at all you can count on a most painful death. Because no man, no creature, harms my brother. You will help me find him, and hope for your own sake that Loki is in good health when we do.”
“Can’t breathe.” Tony choked, his face puffed red from the lack of oxygen.
Thor set him down again with an angry huff and gave him a long look that made Tony feel even smaller compared to the huge Norse god.
“Fine, we’ll look for him, but if he proves to be working with them I will say ‘I told you so’. Because I did. And Loki is a manipulative little shit from what I remember from last time.”
Thor balled his fist.
“He is afraid and he was tortured into committing horrible crimes. He needs our help.”
Tony huffed but refrained from any other comment. It wasn’t too smart to get on Thor’s wrong side after all. He rose his hands in surrender and grumbled a bit. They could not further conversation between each other however because they were joined by a very bleary-eyed doctor Banner. The man was rubbing his eyes as he shuffled in with his flannel striped pyjamas.
“What the hell is all the racket about? It’s like… really early.”
He rubbed his eyes and yawned.
“You look angry you two…” Banner looked around. “And where is Loki?”
“Man of iron has scared Loki into thinking he needs to prove himself. He is out there on his own. And he is out to fight. Fight enemies when he is hardly in shape to even work on his project.”
Bruce looked at Tony.
“Jarvis picked up Chitauri signatures on the probes I installed after his stupid actions last year. He brought them here, and he has not changed a single bit.”
Bruce shook his head and sighed.
“Tony… I don’t believe for a single moment that Loki would get the Chitauri anywhere near.” He grabbed his glasses. “Loki is genuinely afraid. He is in utter and pure panic when it comes to them. If he went to fight them to prove you wrong he really wants your trust.”
“Oh yeah, make me the bad guy here. Let’s just find that guy and get him here before he either gets killed or fucking enslaves humanity. Everyone happy.”
Thor made to pummel the little man but Bruce halted him.
“No, just let him go for it. Get dressed, come with us. We’ll find him.” Bruce assured. “Do you have any idea where Loki could have gone to?”
Thor sighed and shook his head. He didn’t know Midgard so well, let alone where Loki would be in it.
Loki felt hot with rage, and cold with fear, a mix of feelings that felt like fever. He was going to show that Stark that he was not the same anymore. He was going to shed that layer of distrust and manipulation. He was not that person, and he did not want to even seem that person anymore. But he was afraid. Out here where he did not know it. He had taken himself to something that brought him comfort. Books, as much of them as he could find. It had put him in an isle of the New York Public Library. The ring he had taken with him to Earth was his salvation now. Every gem held a different disguise he had once created, so he did not have to call upon his magic to guise him. He needed the magic for other purposes. The gem he’d activated gave him the form of a young man, late in his 20’s. With red hair, silver eyes, covered in tattoos. Someone that caught a look but that also made people look away again soon enough. He had once created this form on a small trip to Earth, some 60 years ago. So his clothing was a bit outdated, suspenders, slacks and a white button-down, which was fashionable back then. But he had caught glimpses last year that had told him this very look was reintroducing itself in Midgardian fashion.
He held his breath however when he first encountered a human. He was not afraid of them in particular. But if one recognized him because his ring was faulty then he would be crowded soon. This place called New York was teeming with humans, they were practically living in a pile here. But the girl just gave him a long look and walked away. Good, the spell was just fine. In his new form he dared to come out of the small isle between bookcases and take a look around. The place was in fact quite tasteful. After every so many rows of books there were tables, polished oaken with lamps on the corners that cast a friendly yellow light to aid your reading. The chairs looked old, also wooden, but with cushioned seats. There were higher walkways too, small staircases allowing you to move up a level and pass by balustrades to get a different book from the higher sections. Loki made his way through the arch that separated the room he was in from the larger halls.
The larger windows there poured in a white light over polished table-tops, set up in rows that were almost military in its precision. It was really quiet, people were just sitting there to read or make their papers for school or work. Loki shuffled through the long isle in the middle, which was marble. This place was pretty grand. He could even see his own foreign reflection in the surface. The smoothed back ginger hair, the silver eyes, the gleam of his piercings. It was an earthly form he rather enjoyed. Because by no means was he ever an invisible person. He stood out. And he held this form close to heart because just like him it was regarded with something between mockery and intrigue. And that was what he was used to. He knew that the Chitauri weren’t in plain sight. There was no panic after all and people were just minding their own business for now. He would have to use his magic to find those creepers. And he fully intended to get some pay-back into those nasty things. Given that everything was still normal it was probably a small party, which meant that they were restless and had started to scout. They were trying to find him to keep an eye on things. That also meant Odin’s protection was enough to keep them blind.
The only thing he wanted to know was how they got here. There was no portal, no Tesseract, no gate-way. At least not one that he had provided or knew about. Did that mean that someone else was working with them as well? Had they gotten another device in their possession that he did not know about? Or was there something else going on that he was not aware of? He did not like the idea. But he would need to find them first. He left the library behind, reminding himself that he would maybe go back there… With Banner perhaps, because he trusted the man. Outside he suddenly stopped halfway down the steps. He had never gotten onto the ground when he was here. And from this perspective he felt kind of small. The citadel of Asgard also had its towers. But this was different. Asgard had a few of its magnificent buildings, but it also had many street-level blocks and houses all around you so that you got a whole new sense of home when you were down there. But this city was made of huge sky-high steel and glass pillars, only separated by the network of pulsing veins that were roads. Loki actually felt quite tiny in comparison, and that did not often happen. Well, luckily he had magic, because finding anything here would be like searching for a needle in a hay-stack… A big, big hay-stack.
Thor paced as Tony was setting up his equipment in the lounge-room. Pepper had also gotten out of bed after Thor had started bellowing about Tony’s betrayal and attitude. She had managed to calm them by ordering Tony to get going on finding Loki. In each of their scenarios it was most important, either to protect Loki from harm or stop him from restarting his war. Tony had obeyed Pepper to Thor’s big surprise.
“How do you have power over him. I do not understand.” Thor said when Tony had gone upstairs to fetch a few things.
“Oh you know. I know what makes him tick. He needs a rough hand.”
She laughed a bit and then looked at him more seriously.
“But Thor, you should probably get at least a bit prepared that Loki could have tricked you. If he is right Tony will insist to rub it in your face.”
Thor merely smiled at her.
“Fine lady, Loki has not betrayed us and I am certain of that. He is not the man you have seen in this city a year ago. He is a fine man, and you will all know that.”
Tony let his things clatter onto the table as he started to set up a work-station. Bruce had taken it onto himself to make coffee for everyone to take away all the morning-moodiness. Pepper patted Thor’s shoulder then, deciding that she would not try to pry at his resolve, to just let the day speak for itself. She hoped though… She hoped that Loki was as Thor described, a repeat of last year would be painful, it would be horrible. Especially on Thor and maybe Banner too.
“Alright big guy. How are we going to find your brother. New York is pretty big. And chances are we miss him on cameras if he is not out on the street.”
“Can your machines not trace the signature of his magic?” Thor asked, annoyed with the primitive aperture here on Midgard.
“Uh. I would need something with his magic that I can read. So I can program my city probes to pick up that signal. Then I guess I could find him with that.”
Banner placed the mugs with fresh coffee on the large glass table. They were all still in pyjamas, Banner in a striped pair in purple and white. Tony still in his glorious iron man robe. Pepper had thrown on a t-shirt and a pair of old shorts. The only one who had barely made an effort was Thor. He was walking around in a pair of sweat-pants that Tony had ushered him to put on for common decency. Bruce brought Loki’s cube.
“He made it from scratch. His magic is all this thing consists of.”
Thor smiled. Bruce was standing behind him. The doctor cared for Loki. Tony took the cube Loki had made and let his scanners run different tests, radiation, different waves of sound and other vibrations. Thor paced, drinking his drink and looking out the windows as if he would see Loki walking somewhere.
“Oh brother, if only I had cared to learn magic like you had, I would find you among these thousands of men and bring you safely back to my side.”
Loki was slowly starting to regain his footing. He walked away from the library and sat himself on a bench. It was highly uncomfortable. It made his back-side cold and the surface made his muscles spring into a coil. But it was only for a moment. He leaned his head into his hands and closed them. He used his magic to walk to many ways at once. He was at every corner of this city, going through each door. He was in many places at once, and yet he was not even moving. And people asked him what was so extraordinary about practicing magic. He skipped through all the places before he had found the edge of town. A warehouse where the Chitauri held up. They were preparing a device. A bomb perhaps? Loki couldn’t really tell. But it seemed to be made for the purpose of damage and death, it at least did not seem any good. He opened his eyes again, hands coming off his face. In this disguise his arm injury was hidden, but it was there, protesting at every move he made too quickly. At least he knew where to go. He would prove to Thor’s allies that he was not their enemy. He was going to take away their doubt and he was going to make Thor rest easier. His brother was already doing enough. He would at least arrange that he did not need to keep convincing the men they needed for aid of his good heart. He owed that to him. He stood up then from the bench and started to leave. His feet felt oddly heavy. Fear seemed to weigh them down like lead. He was walking though, towards a little back-alley that was shady at best. Walking through the city would take him ages. And he did not trust those vehicles the humans used. They did not seem to stop for people all that much. Getting mauled over by one of their stupid rides would not add well to his list of current set-backs. So once he was in the alley he re-focused on where he had found the Chitauri. With a pull at his body he travelled to another side of the city. A small flutter of air whizzed by as he appeared on the spot again. The place the Chitauri held up in was a warehouse, at the more industrial part of town. He wasn’t alone here either. There were construction-workers repairing a building a few compounds away, people were loading and docking products in a warehouse that looked exactly the same. Cars would drive through. He was still staying in this form, definitely. He pulled up his collar a bit and looked at the building he had to be at. Well, time to prove himself once and for all. No time to be afraid. Only anger, only revenge.
“Ah hahahahaha I am a genius!” Tony exclaimed.
Thor, Bruce and Pepper had long abandoned the table and had left to the couch. Pepper had slumped back into sleep during the morning news and Bruce was just occasionally yawning and rubbing his eyes. Thor was alert, looking at the news for any sign of Loki. He would not rest until he could hug his brother to his chest again and tell him he was a bloody idiot before he would embrace him again and tell him that he loved him. So when Tony called he was the first to join him on his side.
“Have you found my brother?”
“Not yet, but I can trace his magic and then ping on a security camera on any building near it to look him up. So yes, I am a bloody genius.”
Thor sighed in relief.
“Then please put your device to use man of iron, my brother must be returned to me soon as possible.”
Tony huffed a little. He had probably expected a bit more praise for his work Thor suspected.
Without any more protest however Tony let his trace run, searching for the signature of Loki’s work.
“I can only pick it up if he actually uses magic I gotta warn you.”
Thor shook his head.
“Loki is always using magic. Smaller spells and enchantments, to heal his arm and to maintain his complexion. It’s completely entwined with his life.”
Tony muttered a bit and waited for the different probes to pick up the signal. Part of him wanted to be right, he simply thought it was too big a coincidence that the Chitauri were here the very moment Loki got settled in. But then again, would Loki make it so easy for him to pick up? And if it was true they would once again verge on a war like last year… And Tony was not so sure that they could pull off another victory. Part of him therefore also wanted Thor to be right about his brother. It would not be ideal, but it would be a better scenario at least. Loki was the kind of guy that could make his lies as convincing as his truths. But at this moment they all sort of gave him the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully he would come out of that trial-period clean. A soft beep announced that one of the probes had picked up Loki’s activity. Tony had put a lot of signal probes all over the city, his paranoia had pretty much pushed him into it. Thanks to it though he now had a pretty fine grid to search for any form of pre-programmed signals he wanted to pick up. At that moment Banner also joined them at the table.
“You found him?”
Pepper was still on the couch, they had gently set her down when she had fallen asleep at some point. Tony worked on his program and isolated the location.
“He’s somewhere at the Industrial Park.” He muttered, pulling up the security cameras in the neighbourhood. There were 8 of them and he pulled them up on a screen nearby.
“If you see him feel free to say it.”
All three they bent over to study the people. It was a pretty busy area, people going back and forth for construction, deliveries, or simply to pick stuff up. How the hell had nobody even noticed that Norse maniac yet?
“Him.” Thor suddenly exclaimed, his thick finger pointing out a man from the crowd. “I have seen that disguise of his before.”
Tony narrowed his eyes and looked up close. The guy was about Loki’s age and shared his pale skin, but that was just about all they had in common. He was tattooed quite heavily, his arms covered and ink also painting the skin above his collar. His clothes were very much that vintage come back to popular style that Tony hated because he just could not pull it off himself. White shirt, suspenders and slacks. His hair wasn’t just ginger it was orange, bright orange red, eyes grey. Cool clinical grey.
“That is Loki…” Bruce said. “I really do not see it.”
“Of course you do not recognize him. What a bad spell of disguise it would be if you still saw him as the man he really is. He once made this skin to pick me up from an escapade with a young maiden that had put me in a fine share of trouble. I know it’s Loki.”
And when he saw the ring Loki used to keep his many skins in he knew for certain.
“We should go, before something bad happens to him.” Thor said.
Tony stared for a while longer before the man that Thor had pointed out as Loki entered one of the warehouses on the compound.
“Right. Let’s go.”
He clicked away the screen and stood up.
“Jarvis, prepare the suit.”
With the commotion of everyone getting up and around Pepper woke up again with a small gasp.
“Oh… Crap.” She quickly composed herself again and stood up. “You found him?”
“Indeed we have Miss Potts. We shall now go on a mission to bring him back safely.”
Pepper snorted and patted Thor’s bicep.
“I’ll make something to eat when you get back. Alright?”
Thor gave her a nod and went to his borrowed bed-room to retrieve Mjolnir. He could summon it of course, but that would probably destroy a few things in Stark’s house and he could guess there would be no appreciation for hammer-shaped holes in Tony’s walls or ceiling.
Once he had retrieved it his own reliable battle-armour returned to him, ready for trouble if he would be given any. He let his muscles roll and let out a deep sigh.
“You are really worried about him… More so than Tony realized.”
It was Bruce that had walked in without Thor realizing.
“You haven’t seen him in the state he was when it had all just happened to him. He was ruined.”
“I got to see the effects. And the arm. I understand.”
“Perhaps, partially. Loki is a very strong person Dr. Banner. For him to come into the state you have seen him in is a very deep low he has never stooped to before. Never, when you corner him he usually responds in violence or manages to outwit you. But he was afraid of me, of all of us.”
Banner nodded and softly hushed Thor.
“Easy now Thor, I understand.”
“Sirs, mr Stark has requested you meet him on the terrace so you can leave.”
Thor patted Bruce’s shoulder.
“Friend Banner, I hope you will never forget my gratitude for how you treat my brother. My deepest thanks.”
Bruce smiled a bit and shrugged.
“It’s no problem honestly. Loki is like looking in a mirror for me sometimes… On how I could have ended up with the wrong decisions, with the wrong people around me. He just makes me want to pull him through that mirror towards the good side I have ended up.”
Thor inclined his head.
“I think that is the best way somebody has looked at Loki’s person I have heard.”
They concluded their conversation with that and went to join Tony on the terrace. He was already in full suit, the mask reclined to face the other two.
“Right, let’s try not to attract too much attention. I’ll fly ahead with Bruce, and Thor you should follow, low profile, I’ll get us into that building without mass-hysteria. In there, get your little brother, kick some alien ass and get home again in time for Pepper’s sandwiches.”
Thor nodded and grabbed onto Mjolnir tighter. Tony put the mask on and sighed.
“It always sounds so simple when it’s just the plan…”