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Observer Effect

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Jane’s pretty good at tuning out Darcy’s chatter whenever she actually needs to concentrate on something and she’s extra good at tuning Darcy’s chatter when Darcy’s using it as a distraction tactic with someone so Jane doesn’t have to waste her own energy dealing with them.

Truly, Darcy is a lifesaver.

The drive back out into the desert is more difficult than Jane expected. She had a general idea of where they were before the storm hit but her exact coordinates are gone, taken with the tech that Shady Government Agency had confiscated that morning. Not that she thinks they’d be any good anyway. The storm had been abnormal- there wasn’t any rain, really, just thunder and lightning- and Jane saw the instruments spinning madly before they’d actually hit Thor.

So it’s her gut and an estimate and some backtracking along old tire tracks that lead Jane out into the hills in search for the place that Thor hit the ground. Allegedly. Jane’s still not sure if she’ll fully on board this Alien Thor, Prince of Alien Planet, gimmick.

Then she drives the truck around a damaged saguaro and plants her foot on the brake.

Jane’s heard of crop circles, freaky things that they are, and knows that they can be made in all sorts of fields of plants, usually hay grass or corn, but she’s not heard of this kind of circle before. It doesn’t even look like a proper crop circle, with linked portions all spread out over a baseball field sized area.

This is one single circle with a very intricate pattern literally burned into the New Mexican desert ground, dusty brown and in sharp contrast to the dark lines. She shuts off the engine and climbs out of the vehicle with Darcy and Thor following behind. Jane walks up to the edge of the circle and stops, staring down at it. The first thing that her mind pulls up to compare it to are those nordic knots, detailed, twisting things that hold their own kind of special meaning in each bend, spelling out something in particular once you look at the full pattern.

Jane just stares at the circle for a long time. It’s too big for her to really see it all at once, at least when she’s just standing there. Almost immediately, she turns around and gets back into the truck. She turns the engine and brings it over closer to the circle. She sees Darcy watching her, hand over her eyes to shade them from the sunlight, and a worried expression on her face.

Jane turns off the truck again and then, instead of just getting out, she climbs up from the side to the hood and then onto the top. Darcy lets out an excited shout and climbs up the back to join her on the top. Jane rolls her eyes at Darcy and starts taking pictures.

“It’s still not the best,” Jane said, “Because they’re at an angle but it’s better than down there.”

Thor looks bored as he wanders around the circle. He kicks a stone and looks around at the desert. Jane ignores him in favor of taking more pictures and then to sketch the image in her notebook.

“It’s pretty,” Darcy said as she looked at the circle, “Do you think it’s got some sort of coded message in it? Like those pages of Mad magazine or something?”

“I didn’t think you were old enough for Mad Magazine,” Jane said as she worked to get the angles just right. She wishes she’d brought a protractor with her, but at least she’ll be able to take detailed measurements of the angles in a little bit and make a more accurately scaled model then.

“Older brother,” Darcy explained, “Anyway, do you think it’s a code or a message?”

“Knowing my luck,” Jane said, “It’ll be something obvious and useless to us like, this way to Earth, or something.”

“Midgard,” Darcy said.

“What?” Jane looked at her.

“Midgard,” Darcy said again, “That’s what Thor calls this place. We are the mortals of Midgard.”

Jane frowned, “I think I like Middle Earth better.”

“I think Top Earth would be the shit,” Darcy said with a grin. Jane rolls her eyes at her friend and gets back to her sketch.

“So you believe him, then?” She asked.

“What, that he’s an alien from outer space and not some crazy desert tweaker?” Darcy said, “Yeah. I mean. I’ve met desert tweakers, Janey.  They do not have half the muscle or teeth that Thor does. Plus its not like his beard is bedraggled and he’s not tried to indoctrinate us into his UFO cult. Dude’s either the Chaddest Chad in the world or absolutely a fucking alien. You saw him earlier when Dr. Stark rolled up in his caddi. He didn’t even look remotely clued in on who he was or on how sick his ride is. He’s an alien.”

“The Chaddest Chad?” Jane had to look over at her again.

“Yeah. So Chad that he couldn’t even respond to the super nerdism of Dr. Stark, no matter how sick his ride or how sweet his threads. Look, Jane, Chads just don’t level with nerds.”

“Honestly,” Jane said, “I almost want to thank the feds for taking everything if that means you’re off the internet for once.”

“Trust me,” Darcy said, “My knowledge will save us all one day.”

“Dr. Stark is not a nerd,” Jane said. “He’s way too cool to be a nerd. He’s a billionaire, Darcy, and as you say, he has a sick ride.”

“You can tell a nerd by the company they keep,” Darcy shrugged, “Dr. Stark is bros with you, Jane, and you’re an absolute nerd. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.”

Jane rubbed at her temple. “Fine. Fine. Just help me take measurements, would you?”

Darcy climbed down from the top of the truck, “Sure, I’ll get out the bag.” She hopped down out of the bed and went around to the cab. Jane finished up her sketch and then climbed down as well. As she got to the ground again, Darcy was by the circle’s edge, pulling out measuring tapes and showing them to Thor. He seemed interested, but only just. Like he was paying attention because there was literally nothing else going on out there for him to engage with besides the two of them.

Jane bent down and examined the mark closely. She gingerly touched the edges of the circle. She’d been worried that the mark would be easy to disturb, but it wasn’t that the sand and dirt had been discolored by the circle. Whatever it was that had made this had burnt the ground deep enough that there were discernible ridges. The fact that something had burned the circle there in the first place made Jane uneasy. Would it be able to do the same thing if the ground were made of different materials?

She dug out some small clear bottles from the tool bag that Darcy had gotten from the truck and put in some of the burnt and not burnt surface into them. If Stark was right and she’d get her tech back soon enough, she’d be able to run some tests of her own. Of course, she’d take extra so she could send them out and get them tested.

“This is meticulous work,” Thor said somewhere overhead while Jane stashed the bottles back in the bag. “Your dedication to your craft is admirable.”

“Thanks, dude. Now c’mon, we’ve got to get these numbers right or else it’ll screw everything else up,” Darcy said. Jane heard the snap of a measuring tape.

Jane got up, brushing dirt from her knees as Thor said, “Would it not be easier to take record of the Bifrost's mark from an aerial machine?

“Feds took the cool drones, buddy,” Darcy said, “We’re going old school.”

“Maybe we’ll be able to pull satellite information later,” Jane interjected suddenly, peering at the blue sky above. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought there’d been some sort of memo in the last couple of weeks of Stark Industries having satellite time available to those who needed it opening up in her neck of the woods. She hadn’t really thought much of it at the time since her research hadn’t put her in need of satellites, but if she could get a really clear picture of the mark from above.

Though, that would have to be one hell of a camera…

“Yeah?” Darcy asked, “That would be sick.”

“Your world has satellite entities?” Thor asked.

Jane gave him a little uncertain smile. If he was an alien, wouldn’t he have noticed the satellites?

And if he’d gotten here from outside the planet, where was his ship? He couldn’t have just been beamed down like a Star Trek extra. “A couple. They help with cell phone signal and deep space photography. So what’s this Bifrost thing again?”

 

 


 

 

Frigga took a certain warm sort of pleasure in being the one that Loki came to in times of distress, worry creating lines between his fine brows or pinching his lips together and drawing a pallor across his features that made his dark hair seem like ink against the parchment white of his skin. It was a mother’s comfort that could soothe this unspoken fear in her son, a comfort that came from years of listening to his troubles and advising him out of the difficult situations he wound up in. However, as he aged, growing more knowledgeable and certain in his cleverness, Frigga had less and less opportunity to give Loki peace of mind.

She did not regret that he could puzzle out his own difficulties these days, but she did miss when he was half his age and came to her, green eyes filled with tears as he sought her counsel. She loved Loki like she loved her other two children, perhaps even more, as Hel had always been her father’s warrior and Thor, though he did not have the same touch as Hel did in battle, took to bloodshed with much the same fervor. Loki, her little lover of knowledge and magic, saw downsides to war that Frigga had never managed to show to Thor.

Of course, after Thor had been banished to Midgard for a lesson of Odin’s devising, Frigga saw the worry and anxiety build and build in Loki. It had been a sharp shadow in his face when he’d discovered Thor had left him behind when he went to attack the frost giants with his warrior companions. It had been the tight press of his lips in a thin line, the sharp bow of his head when Odin had announced to the court that Thor would be gone, for a time, learning the lesson of Kings upon Midgard. It had been the long hours where he vanished away, only to return and stare out the window along the glimmering road that leads to the gateway, to Heimdall, and the Bifrost that was Thor’s only connection back to the world.

Frigga saw these markers in Loki and knew what they meant in her son long before he acted on them.

But better than she knew her son’s anxiety, she knew his pride.

Frigga would wait for him to come to her for help, for advice, for a mother’s comfort. It wouldn’t do to have him be affronted if she offered before he’d convinced himself he needed her. She had lost one child to Odin’s bloodthirst and the second was following almost just as closely in her husband’s steps. No. Loki was hers.

Not by birth, but by choice.

So Frigga waited until the time was right, unhurried, unwavering, and eternally patient.

Loki was her son and he would see the truth of the matter soon enough.

 

 


 

 

A few hours later with nothing to show for their efforts but a growing sunburn and a couple of pages of sketches, numbers, and notes, Jane drove them back through the desert. Darcy was complaining about the sand in her boots, regaling Thor with the details on a Seven-Eleven ICEE and maintaining their musical selection with one hand while Jane drove with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a water bottle to her neck. She was mentally cursing at herself for forgetting both her hat and to reapply sunscreen, but at least she wasn’t the only one.

The lure of aloe is almost strong enough that, when she sees the dust cloud off to the west, Jane almost doesn’t bother with it. She wants to strip down, tend to her burned skin and take a long nap in the shade. She wants to go make sure Dr. Stark actually went to sleep and see what Erik found left behind by the feds. She wants one of those ICEEs that Darcy’s going on and on about.

But there’s a sinking feeling in her gut when she sees the types of cars that are out there kicking up a dust storm.

If they were four-wheelers or ATVs or other beat-up trucks that the locals drove, Jane probably would have ignored them entirely.

But it was a convoy of sleek black vehicles with one or two box trucks. And they weren’t driving on a real road, one of concrete or asphalt or even paved dirt and gravel. It was a path like Jane had just driven out to the supposed Bifrost landing site. A road made from several vehicles driving along the same path, following markers or landmarks to traverse the ground.

“We’re going to have to wait on those ICEEs, Darce,” Jane muttered as she turned the truck to run parallel to the convoy. “I want to see what these bastards are up to now.”

Darcy went quiet for a little bit, watching the dark vehicles along with Thor. “Do you think they’re taking our stuff back to their base?”

“They didn’t have those trucks with them before,” Jane said, “Just a bunch of SUVs.”

Darcy nodded.

“Reconnaissance is important before engaging with enemy forces,” Thor said with this weird little smile on his face, almost like he was impressed with Jane, or rueful about what they were doing, “Though typically, I do not engage in the reconnaissance myself as I am so easily recognized.”

“Maybe in other places, my dude,” Darcy said, patting his shoulder. “But here in your borrowed Midgard gear, you’re one of us mortals.”

“I see,” Thor said with a nod, “I shall endeavor to blend in with the local customs so as not to arouse suspicions then.”

Darcy gave him a thumbs up. Jane didn’t bother to say that if these were the same feds as before, they were going to get noticed almost immediately. She just wanted to know, damn it, and she had a right to know.

Besides, they took all her stuff. What the hell else was she going to do for the rest of the day?

 

 

 

Jane drove a wide circle around the convoy, close enough that she could keep an eye on them, but far enough away that she hoped they wouldn’t notice her. She lost sight of them from time to time, but whenever she drove up to the top of a hill, she saw them again and could correct her path.

Eventually, the convoy came to a stop around a shallow crater. Jane drove around so they had the sun at their backs and then found a nice large rock to park by so they’d have at least a little shade while they spied. Parking the truck, she got out with a little hiss at the sunlight. Darcy and Thor followed, all three of them going round to the shadow of the rock and then up a slight ridge so they could look down on the goings-on.

The box trucks had stopped near one edge of the crater and had been opened up. People, not all wearing black suits thank god- the heat probably would’ve killed them for that- were unloading poles and boxes. Already the bare bones of an outpost were set up with a couple of covered tents to one side that people were walking into and out of.

“Something crashed here,” Darcy said quietly beside Jane. She pulled up her phone and turned on the camera, looking to the center of the crater. She zoomed in with a touch of her hand and took a picture at the highest zoom she could. Then she pulled back and frowned at her screen. Jane crowded over to her and stared at the image.

“Is that a hammer?” she asked.

In the next moment, Thor loomed over them both, peering at the image on Darcy’s phone.

“Mjölnir!” Thor exclaimed.

“Mulwhat?” Darcy said.

Jane squinted at the image of the hammer. It looked like it might have some sort of crest on the side, similar in design to the imprint left by the Bifrost. “You know what this is, Thor?” She asked.

When he didn’t reply, she looked up to him only to find that he had gone. “Thor?”

Darcy looked up too and then cursed at the same time that Jane noticed his footprints were to the crest in front of them. They both rushed forward and saw Thor walking down the side towards the crater without a care in the world.

“He’s going to get himself in serious trouble,” Jane said, “What the hell is he thinking?”

“The Chaddest Chad to ever Chad,” Darcy whispered, “He probably thinks that he’s been tased once, nothing else will bother him. Or something?”

Jane cupped her hands around her mouth and took in a deep breath. She had to shout at him, convince him to come back and not be a dumbass, but Darcy covered her mouth with her hand.

“They’re still setting shit up, Jane,” Darcy said, “If he can get in, get his hammer and book it out of there fast enough, he might make it.”

“There’s no way they’re not going to notice him,” Jane hissed back, but she did relax. Because, despite what she said, he was at the crater’s edge and no one had stopped him yet. They were busy setting up poles and tarps and walls and other temporary building things. And, since not everyone was in a suit but in more reasonable clothes like what Thor wore, he didn’t get noticed until he was within ten feet of the center of the crater where the hammer rested.

The two of them watched with bated breath as Thor walked up to the hammer, gripped the handle and pulled.

Darcy held Jane’s hand tightly as Thor pulled at the hammer. Her fingers dug in tighter when nothing happened and Thor, with a furious sound that they could hear even from up there, tried to pull with both hands, then braced his foot on the ground next to the hammer and then, when that didn’t work, shifted to pull from the other side.

This, unfortunately, did not go unnoticed. Jane hissed as people advanced on Thor. She hoped those were tasers in their hands, not guns, but she couldn’t be sure from the distance they watched at. She jolted herself when the first taser hit Thor and winced when he rounded on the offending person with his fist up. She flinched when other hands went up but at least she didn’t hear a gunshot, just saw Thor seize up, jerking in pain from the multiple tasers.

“Fuck,” Darcy breathed out softly. “Thor. They got Thor.”

Jane dragged her eyes away from Thor, away from the hammer, and noticed people looking up where Thor had come down from. They saw his footsteps in the dirt and then someone pointed up at them and shouted something to the others.

Jane pulled hard on Darcy’s hand, “Come on, we’ve got to go.”

“But Thor-”

“Darcy, I know you want to save the dumbass but I promise you, the only thing that will happen if they catch us up here is that we end up in the holding cell next to him. We’re leaving, now.” Jane said firmly, pulling Darcy to her feet and back towards the truck. Darcy nodded and didn’t argue as she climbed into the passenger side of the truck. Jane got in, ignited the engine with the turn of the key and started turning before they’d even started going forward. They churned up dust and sand as they turned hard and headed back the way they’d come. Jane backtracked at a much faster clip than she’d driven before, leaving a dusty cloud behind her as she drove back through the desert.

“We’re going to figure out how to get him out of their hands, right?” Darcy asked, “He’s an alien, but like, a cool alien. We can’t let him get carried off to Area 51, Jane. We gotta go back for him.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything either one of us could even do to help him,” Jane said honestly, “But,” she added, before Darcy’s face fell any more than it had, “I bet we know someone who has too much money and time on his hands who can help.”

“Dr. Stark,” Darcy whispered. A smile grew on her face, “ Tony.”

Jane nodded.

“Oh hell yeah. Okay, then we’ve got to get back and tell him right away.”

Jane nodded again. She regrets that they had to wake Stark up earlier than she’d intended to, but it was for a good reason. And, if she made a pit stop for some coffee for him, she didn’t think he’d mind too much. Hopefully, Thor could hold out for a little while in the company of the feds and not get carted off to Area 51, or wherever aliens got taken to.

 

 


 

 

Clint looked down at the big dude in a mild sort of wonder, eyebrows high on his face. He’d gotten a heads up from Phil, of course, because Phil was the considerate kind of boss who gave intel to underlings like Clint so they could do their fucking jobs well. Still, seeing the guy that Phil had described as ‘six foot something, built like a brick wall and of Northern European descent’ in person is a whole other experience.

“Look at the fucking arms on this dude,” Clint said quietly, “Jesus.”

The nearest agent, Trisha or Tina or something, nodded. She too was staring down at the dude, her taser held loosely in her fingers. The guy had a couple of wires connecting him to the others and, after getting a better look at him, Clint’s not surprised it took so much to bring him down.

The guy’s gonna have a killer headache and body ache when he wakes up…

“All right, cut him down and tie him up. We’ll take him back to the base for questioning because I bet he knows something about Home Depot's Excalibur over there,” Clint gestured to the hammer embedded in a rock with a jerk of his chin.

Tina, and he’s pretty sure it’s Tina, nods, and motions over others to help her move the guy.

Clint does not envy them the job. Dude looks like he weighs a shitton.

But he’s got better shit to do, so Clint turns and leaves them to it while he goes to supervise the rest of the base set up.

 

 


 

 

Tony jolts awake to a crash, a woman’s voice swearing and a numbness in his arm that means he’s been passed out in one position for far too long. He pushes himself up, looking around the dimly lit room, tiny and cramped with personal items, and it takes him a long time to remember where he is. He’s never been here before, he realizes as he stares at the windows covered with blinds, where the afternoon sun shines through and casts the room in a faintly blue light because of the sheer cloth.

“Shh!” another voice hisses from the other side of a small door, “You’re going to wake Stark.”

“No you are,” and Tony recognizes Darcy’s voice pretty easily- she’s the one who chats the most easily with him. So that means the other voice in Foster.

Tony rubs his face and rolls over so he can sit up. He’s stiff and a little sore but he feels a bit better. He’s slept, though he doesn’t know for how long, and that’s good.

Beside him on the bed, his phone lights up and JARVIS, in a quiet voice, recounts the time, date and his GPS coordinates, down to the elevation. Tony shakes his head, scoops up his phone and mutters a quiet thanks to JARVIS.

“See,” Darcy said on the other side of the door, “You woke him up, Jane.”

Tony runs a hand through his hair, promises himself that he’ll get an actual hotel room to get cleaned up in, reminds himself to buy some clothes to change into or check the car to see if there’s anything there, and then goes through the doorway, grinning. “Hey.”

Darcy’s sitting on the narrow couch that is wedged beside a small table and some storage cupboards. Jane is ransacking the cupboards now, elbows deep in some plastic bin. She gives a sheepish smile while Darcy waves with one hand, while holding a large ICEE in the other. “Sup,” Darcy replied. “Sleep well, my dude?”

“Surprisingly, yes,” Tony said. The bed was far more comfortable than he expected, but 36 hours of exhaustion does take its toll. “How was the desert?”

“Hot,” Darcy said.

Tony grins. He’s familiar with desert heat.

“We’re looking for aloe,” Jane muttered as she pulled the plastic bin closer to herself, “We forgot to take sunscreen with us and there wasn’t any cover and, well,” she turns her head towards him and Tony winces at the sunburn turning her features a radiant pink.

“Even Thor got all pink and lobstery,” Darcy said.

“Where is that guy anyway?” Tony asked.

Darcy looks to Jane, who obstinately ducks her head behind the door of the cupboard and digs deeper into the bucket. “I think I found the stuff, Darce.”

Tony’s gut does a weird flip-flop at the words they’re not saying. He’s trying to remember what Thor and Jane told him before about the first time Thor was on the planet but, well. He’s changed things, hasn’t he? It’s not going to play out the same at all.

Jane pushes the bin back and closes the door. She’s holding a green tinted bottle of clear liquid. There’s an aloe plant on the front. Straightening up, she looks to Tony and frowns, “Thor got- We think Thor got taken in by the feds.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, “We saw them convoying up into the hills so we followed them and there was this sick hammer sticking in the ground, Meulin or something Thor called it-”

“Mjölnir,” Tony said quietly.

“Yeah! That’s the thing, anyway, Thor saw it and beelined for it. I figure it’s probably his hammer and just bad luck that the feds found it and want it because he went down for it and they totally tased him.” Darcy frowns and pokes her straw into and out of her ICEE. “He’s with the feds, now.”

“He couldn’t pick up the hammer,” Jane said with a frown like Darcy’s, “Not even budge it. It took a couple of people tasing him to bring him down and after that, they saw us and we had to go.” She looked down at the bottle in her hand, “We left him behind.”

“Tactical retreat,” Tony said, though it doesn’t do much to make either woman feel better by the look of it. Darcy grimaces and slurps her ICEE. Jane just looks blankly at him. “You came back, regrouped, and we’ll go back for him. We just have to figure out where he is.”

“That’s going to be impossible,” Jane said, “They only had a temporary base of operations there and there’s no way that they’re going to tell us what we want to know.”

Tony opens his mouth, about to say that oh, he has ways of finding things out, but a different option slips into his mind. NOBODY will still be able to help, but he won’t expose her to new people, either. He doesn’t care if people know about SPIKE or Kletka or JARVIS but NOBODY is different. She has to be a ghost.

She gets to choose who she reveals herself to.

“I know someone who can help us find out,” Tony said. It’s been months since he’s seen her, but the image of Natasha warms him. He can already see her slight, secretive smile and see her eyes regarding him as he regards her. “Let me give her a call and see what we can do, hm?”

Jane nods, looking relieved. Tony goes back into the bedroom, pulling out his phone as he does. He shuts the door behind himself, giving them privacy to tend to their burns while he makes a very interesting phone call.

“Jarvis,” Tony said as he put his phone to his ear, “Patch me through to Kletka, would you?”

“Certainly, Sir,” JARVIS murmurs and, after a few moments of silence, Kletka is there.

“Hello Papa,” Kletka said, her voice is warmer than usual, a softened version of her Professional Voice, where she mimics JARVIS down to the ‘Sir’ she calls him. “How did you sleep?”

“I slept well, Kletka darling,” Tony said, helplessly smiling. He sat down on the bed, “I hate to call you about business, but can you get me in touch with Natasha? I figure she’s changed numbers and I need to talk to her about something.”

“You’re right, she did change phone numbers,” Kletka said, “Shield still has her working paperwork and training new operatives in hand-to-hand, but she doesn’t mind so much because at least she gets to be with her bird.”

Tony laughs, “Oh she does, does she? That’s good. God forbid the Russians don’t get their birds.”

“Speaking of Russians,” Kletka said, “Boss is going to have another launch soon and wanted to invite you to come to see it. He says there will be champagne!”

“He always says that,” Tony murmured, “And if I can, I’ll go, okay? This is a big launch for you, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Kletka said, “Natasha is available on the other secure line now, Sir,” Kletka slipped into a firm, professional tone, “Would you like me to connect the calls?”

“Yes, thank you,” Tony said.

There was a moment of silence, then a click and suddenly Tony could hear distant sounds of chatter that came through in the background of Natasha’s call. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey yourself,” Tony replied, “Have you got a moment? I've got a couple of quick questions for you.”

“Yeah. I’m good. What is it?” The voices dimmed a little bit and Tony imagined she either stepped out of the room she’d been in or waved for some quiet. He hoped it was the former.

“I’ve got friends of yours out here in New Mexico doing a fun dig party on a big old hammer and they just scooped up a guy who probably seemed pretty enthusiastic to pick up that hammer. I was wondering if maybe you could maybe give me a heads up on which hidey hole would be the most likely for someone like that to be put into. Asking for a friend,” Tony added with a grin.

“Weird question,” Natasha started, “But is this guy built like a WrestleMania champion with a vaguely Nordic theme and require three tasers to bring down?” There was a twist in amusement as she parroted back, “Asking for a friend.”

“You know, I think we’re asking about the same person,” Tony said cheerfully, “Either that or we’re asking for the same friend.”

“Definitely the former,” Natasha said, “My friend was mostly incredulous that someone like that could exist in the real world. Any clues as to why your friend is looking for Mr. Norse?”

Tony sighed a bit, leaning back, his free hand propping himself up on the bed. “Would you believe me if he fell out of the sky and she hit him with her car? She feels responsible for him getting caught up in her mess.”

“Sounds like he was the one going for the hammer himself,” Natasha murmured, “So I don’t think she should feel responsible that he ran face first into trouble.”

Tony saw her point and nodded absently, “Still, she asked me to help find him so we could liberate him. Have you an idea where he’s been put?”

“I might,” Natasha said, “What are your liberation plans?”

Tony smiled. He enjoyed this kind of negotiation with her and was glad that he’d called instead of just sent NOBODY after the information. Besides, it was good to touch base with Natasha, remind her that he had use of her and remembered her and trusted her, as much as he could while she was still bundled up in Shield’s arms.

“Simple,” he said, “They didn’t just nab Mr. Norse, they also confiscated all of my friend’s computers when they could’ve just as easily asked for the information they wanted. It’s not like she’s working on any top secret stuff and she sure as hell would love to chat about it to the right kind of ear.”

“Something tells me an ear in a suit and tie isn’t exactly the right kind, is it?”

“Well, no, but they don’t just have suits, do they?” Tony rolled his eyes, “Honestly, the whole thing is a sloppy control attempt, but it would’ve worked before just fine. Now? Not so much.”

“And what’s the difference between then and now?” Natasha asked.

Tony grinned, “Everything on those computers belongs to Stark Industries and I didn’t give permission for it to be taken. Your friends should know better than to use force to take my things, Natasha. I was an only child, I never learned how to share.”

There was a beat of silence and then, softly enough that Tony almost missed it, “These are not my friends.” He opened his mouth to say something in reply, but Natasha pushed on in a louder tone, “I can have Kletka send you something, though I know you know that I know that you didn’t have to call at all about it.”

Tony laughed, “Think of it as a head’s up. Anything you’ve got that’s rather sensitive and secreted away on the servers you best pull out and put somewhere else.”

“Tony-” Natasha’s warning tone was as familiar as the expression she undoubtedly wore, but Tony just laughed again.

“I’m not going to reveal anything, please I’m not a monster. I just think that it might be hard to get onto a computer pretty soon here. They don’t usually work well once they start to overheat.” Tony made a soothing gesture instinctively, though he knew she couldn’t see it. He kind of wished they were having this conversation in person, but then again, it would be hard to let her go again.

Tony had discovered, somewhere along the way, after Siberia and after Afghanistan and after it all, Natasha was the only one he wanted to fix things with. It was a shame he’d died already and could never make it up to his Natasha, but at least with this one, he could build that bond. And she probably wouldn’t even stab him for it once she was caught up.

“They’re not the brightest, but they mean well,” Natasha was saying, and Tony’s smile turned sad because oh, that was right. She didn’t know about Hydra. Not yet anyway. “So don’t just dig up their secrets and air them without warning, okay? These idiots might get themselves killed if that kind of thing happened to them.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, voice trembling slightly. Then he cleared his throat and shook his head, “Have Kletka take care of the details and take care of yourself, Natasha. You and your bird you weird Russian lady.”

“At least my bird does not bite you when he’s pissed, hm?” Natasha said, amusement dancing across her words.

“We’ll see,” Tony said, “I haven’t met him yet. Maybe he’s got an extra mean streak secreted away for me. Even Ivan says Nona doesn’t bite him that much.”

“You just have tender ears, Tony,” Natasha’s grin made her sound almost like she was laughing, “But I must go. I have training for ducklings of my own.”

“Be safe, Nat,” Tony said, “And thank you.”

“Of course,” Natasha said. The line went dead but didn’t stay that way.

Kletka was there only a few seconds later with a murmured, “I’ll give you the coordinates in just a moment, Sir.”

“Take your time, Kletka,” Tony said gently, “I’ve got to go eat something anyway. And tell Ivan he has ruined me, making me hungry for real food when I wake instead of just coffee. He is a monster and I demand eggs in reparations.”

“I’ll let the Boss know,” Kletka sounded amused.

Tony dropped his phone in his lap and sighed, closing his eyes and hanging his head. Natasha was doing well, Clint was nearby, Jane and Darcy would be soothed once they knew he could get Thor back and Erik would be glad to have their gear back as well. And the Tesseract was within grasp, now. Just as easy to take back as some computers and boxes.

All he would have to do, in the end, is walk in and pick it up and get back out the door before anyone could stop him. Easy as pie.

Ohh, pie sounded delicious.

Tony jumped to his feet, scooping his phone up and putting it in his pocket. He went to the door and pulled it open, grinning out at the two women in miserable, sunburnt company. They looked up at him, Jane sitting up straight, looking both afraid and hopeful, “Dr. Stark?”

“How does pie sound?” He asked, “We should get some. Do you think Thor likes pie?”

Darcy laughed and Jane looked incredulous but then relaxed. They got it. He knew where Thor was and they were going to get him.

But first, they had a bakery to find.