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Observer Effect

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Clint gripped the steering wheel with both hands, knuckles white. “Did he just say brother?”

Tony nodded. The dust cloud stirred up by the Bifrost had cleared and Thor stood in the headlights with Loki. And it was Loki, in his dumb green and black leathers and longsuffering expression and with a nasty looking bruise on his cheek. Thor seemed excited that he was there.

Clint let out a long, hissing breath, “I could back up and drive around them. They’re grown adults. They can handle themselves.”

“They’re aliens, Barton,” Tony said, “It’s not the same thing.”

“But they’re not helpless, we could just leave them-”

“Clint,” the scolding voice makes them both jump. Natasha glares at them both as they turn to look over their shoulders. Tony winces and nods. Right. Thor had pretty much saved her life.

“I’ll get them,” Tony said, “Just hold tight.” He opened his door and slid out. He winced when he reached the ground, having somehow forgotten his current shoeless, injured state. “Hey, Thor, buddy. Can you and your friend get into the car? We kind of still need to go to the hospital.” He fidgeted on his feet, wincing whenever he put too much pressure in a sensitive spot.

His call got both Thor and Loki’s attention. Thor threw his arm around his brother and hauled him over. Unlike every other time Tony could remember seeing Loki, he seemed fairly tolerant of Thor’s hands-on-brotherhood. He looked out of place next to Thor, who was in the same dirty clothes that he’d borrowed from Jane as before, but he didn’t have that sharp, sinister edge to him.

“Tony, Son of Stark, this is my brother, Loki!” Thor said with a gesture, “He has decided to visit Midgard for himself. Loki, my brother, this is Lord Tony Stark. He is a Midgardian of high birth and has been a part of my adventures here for some time.”

“Adventures?” Loki asked with one perfectly arched brow, “Are you not on a quest, brother? Something about redeeming yourself in the eyes of our father and proving your worth?” His green eyes flicked over Tony as he spoke, not at all perturbed by Thor’s actions if his smile had anything to say about it. Tony tried not to shift uncomfortably, acutely aware of the state of his body and not just because of the pain.

Thor waved his hand, “Details, details! Come. Let us return to the transport vehicle. We must make haste towards the healer’s hall!” He ushered Loki past Tony and to the back door of the SUV. Thankfully, there was space enough for them both in the far back of the SUV, on a back bench, while Natasha remained safe where she was on the center seat bench. Tony climbed back in, hissing under his breath as he did. Clint waited just long enough for him to shut the door and then took off down the road again.

In the back of the SUV, Loki sat forward on his seat, one arm across the back of the bench in front of him, and his head tilted to the side. “What have you been up to on Midgard, brother?” He looked down at Natasha, who had her eyes screwed shut now.

That seemed to be all Thor needed to start recounting his time on Earth, starting at the beginning where he, too, had been hit by a vehicle. Loki didn’t seem particularly amused by that part, probably because it reminded him of his own ignoble meet with the front end of their car, but he listened attentively.

Tony tuned the whole thing out. He focused on Natasha’s phone in his hands. Using Kletka as his relay point, he began coordinating their escape from New Mexico. The first thing he did was alert the nearest hospital of Natasha’s condition and ETA. The second was message Pepper, asking for permission to and apologizing for commandeering the nearest Stark Industries jet to be brought to the nearest runway to where he was now. She wasn’t awake, thank goodness, so he was able to send that without fear of having to tell her what happened or why. Third, he messaged Ivan, who wasn’t asleep it turned out, about the impending large group of visitors to the menagerie.

Surprisingly, Ivan didn’t begrudge Tony bringing an entourage with him. Of course, it meant that more people would attend the launching party and post-launch celebration but Ivan had good reason to be proud and want to show off his work. This was an important launch after all.

After some thought, he sent out a few other messages, to security people and others, to keep an eye out for trouble. Tony didn’t need it to get out that he’d spent almost a day in the lovely company of another set of kidnappers, but those he told wouldn’t spread that around.

Not that it would get very far if they tried, not with how hyper-aware NOBODY was of everything even sort of related to Tony right now.

Finally, he contacted SPIKE and gave him his first job with the suit that waited in Tony’s Malibu workshop.

 

By the time he’d finished, they were in the city at last. Clint sped along nearly empty roads with a glint in his eye that boded ill for anyone who tried to stop him. Tony had to brace himself once or twice as Clint took a corner too sharply and too fast, hissing out a breath between his teeth. “I didn’t take you for a getaway driver, Barton,” he said conversationally.

“If she dies,” Clint muttered darkly, “You’ll wish we left you with those motherfuckers.”

Tony glanced at his face but Clint was only staring hard at the road. They approached a light that was red and which turned abruptly green as they grew closer. It was the sixth green light in a row. “I don’t want her to die any more than you do,” Tony said. He also didn’t want to know what the hell would happen if he died so soon into his plans. Things weren’t anywhere close enough to self-sustainable yet.

“She went in there after you for some fucking reason,” Clint said, “And she fought that bastard because of you. I don’t know what the hell you did to get under her skin so fast, but I don’t really fucking appreciate you putting her in that kind of no-win position.” The hospital was finally in view. Clint pressed down on the gas and the SUV sped up. The bright red light of the emergency entrance blazed in front of them like a red star.

Tony said nothing. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want Natasha to die. He didn’t want Clint to have to get revenge. He hadn’t planned on any of this happening. He needed to piece together the parts and get things back on track.

Clint stopped the SUV with a screech of tires and the smell of burning rubber, coming to a perfect stop right in front of the emergency entrance bay of the hospital. Because of Tony’s forewarning, there was a team of two doctors, a stretcher, and handful of other attendants ready for Natasha. Clint turned off the vehicle with a twist of the keys and then left them in the ignition as he practically jumped out of his seat.

The flurry of motion that followed was dizzying. Tony opened his door, already telling the doctors that their patient, Natasha, was in the middle seat. They, with Clint to help, got her off the seat and onto the stretcher. In moments she was secured and being wheeled away, with Clint on the heels of the medical team now in charge of her. There was no dissuading him from following, but he also seemed to know how to keep out of the way of the doctors, so the last Tony saw of him was his back as he disappeared into the building with Natasha.

Another doctor approached Tony, who stood still half in the car. She was a short woman with dark hair and skin and gave him a look that implied he would be listening to her. “Sir,” she said, “We have a stretcher for you too.”

“Who me?” he blinked. He pressed a hand to his chest in a gesture of innocence. 

She looked pointedly at his chest, which was still swathed in bandages, and the hand against it where his empty nailbeds were still raw and tender. Still, Tony shook his head, “I’ve been treated,” he said, pointing directly to a bandage, but she looked entirely unmoved. Trying a different tactic, he leaned closer to the vehicle, “I can’t just leave this here. It’s in your way, blocking the bay-”

“Have one of your friends move it,” she said with an imperious nod towards Thor and Loki, both sitting in the back seat and watching.

“Oh my god, no,” Tony said immediately, “They can’t drive. They’re from- Out of town.”

She looked incredibly unimpressed. Half turning, she raised her voice, “Jacobs!” Another one of the attendants, standing back with a cluster of other ones around a stretcher jolted and came forward. He looked younger than the first doctor and Tony realized with a blink that he had to be an intern or something. “Go park Mr. Stark’s car. Carefully, mind you, and bring back the keys,” she said with a leveled glare at the younger man. She had to be a head shorter than this Jacobs but she had a manner and a scowl that commanded easily. Tony had a sinking feeling that he was going to get towed along with her, too.

“I can’t just-” Tony gestured towards the back seat full of Asgardians while Jacobs went around the front of the SUV to get into the driver’s side. “I’m sort of responsible for keeping track of those two and-”

“There is a waiting room in which they can stay and wait,” she said firmly. She shot another glare over her shoulder and two more interns -they had to be with how nervous they looked, how eager to please- rushed over with the stretcher. “Now, would you like to get on or do we need to assist you, Mr. Stark?”

“Don’t have much choice, do I?” He said weakly. He winced as he climbed onto the stretcher but settled down quickly enough. He didn’t lie down, though, he sat and glared at the doctor when she glared at him.

“Tony,” Thor said, getting out of the SUV with Loki in his shadow, “Shall we await your mending within the healer’s hall?”

Tony hesitated, the idea of Thor waiting in the dreary hospital room by himself was bad enough, but leaving Loki in there with him? Sure, he didn’t look as vicious as Tony remembered, but he still didn’t trust him not to get up to something. Tony wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he let the Asgardians get “up to something” in a hospital.

But he couldn’t keep track of them and get doctored. He also couldn’t get out of getting doctored and he wasn’t going to dump Loki into Jane’s lap-

Which left him only one option. Tony sighed and pulled out Natasha’s phone. “Kletka darling,” he said, holding it out flat in front of himself so she reply on speaker. “Are you there?”

“Of course, sir,” came Kletka’s young but clear voice. “What can I do to assist you?”

“I’m sorry dear, but I need you to look after Thor and Loki for me tonight while I stay in the hospital. Would you mind?”

“I do not mind,” she said, “I’ve become well versed in the assorted activities that adult humans engage in to distract them from the concerns of daily life. You can leave Thor and Loki in my capable hands, sir.” Tony ignored the whispering of the interns and the cross look of the doctor and the frankly disconcerting curiosity that Loki was giving him.

“Fantastic. Don’t let them get into too much trouble, all right?” As she agreed, he held out Natasha’s phone to Thor. “On here is Kletka. If you ask her anything, she’ll do her best to answer you. She’ll give you access to funds and directions and also give me a way to contact you once I’m done here. Don’t lose this phone,” he stressed. “This is the best I can do under the circumstances unless you want to be entirely free of me and run amok on your own.” 

Loki was the one who snatched up the phone, taking it with visible delight and looking it over while Thor asked, “Should we not be concerned with those who so recently were our inhospitable hosts?”

Tony grinned, “I’d be worried indeed if you two couldn’t handle a few thugs on your own. You should be perfectly fine and I don’t want you to have to wait around in the hospital when I don’t know how long I’ll be held here.”

“We are not kidnapping you, Mr. Stark,” said his new doctor with a level look. Tony wasn’t sure if she’d figured out that’s what he’d just survived, but it was funny none-the-less so he snorted and shook his head. “We’re giving you the medical treatment you need.”

“I know, I know,” he said with a shrug. “Anyway, Thor, Loki, have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Be well, Tony,” Thor said gravely, “We shall await your contact.”

Loki nodded, “Swift healing to you, Lord Stark.” He gave Tony a sharp-edged smile, green eyes glittering.

The interns were already rolling Tony away when Loki said goodbye so Tony had to shout over their shoulders at him, “It’s Tony,” he said, “Just call me Tony!”

If Loki replied, he didn’t hear it.

 

 


 

 

The screen of the device -the phone was it?- was lit with a constantly updating map of their location. Loki held it idly in one hand, keeping one eye on the screen and the other on his surroundings as he walked side by side with Thor. He had accomplished everything he’d come to do within the first twenty minutes of being on Midgard, a feat of efficiency that even he was surprised to have done, but there was no power on Midgard that would remove him from the curious tangle of events that had sprung up around Thor. Now that they were out of Stark’s aura of influence, all he had to do was call out to Heimdall and be transported back to Asgard with news of his discovery.

Loki had no intention to do any such thing.

“Lady Kletka,” Thor said, turning his head to speak to the phone, “I desire a feast after today’s battling. Direct us to a local tavern so that we can partake of Midgard’s finest food and drink.”

Loki turned his head slightly, lifting his chin, “You’re going to go carousing while still covered in blood and sweat, brother? Your attire seems hardly fitting for a feast.”

Thor frowned, looking at his thin Midgardian shirt. He plucked it with thumb and forefinger. “Truly, I have worn the life from these fabrics. They are much less durable than the leathers I am used to.” He gave Loki a hopeful smile, “Perhaps you could assist me, brother?”

“Oh no, I could never,” Loki said with a thin smile, “I’m merely here to observe and encourage, dear brother. I’ve been forbidden to meddle in your affairs.”

Thor sighed, “Father asks much of me with this quest.”

“Does he ask too much?” Loki wondered.

Thor didn’t answer, just waved his hand as if he could dismiss Loki’s question like smoke from a pipe. “Lady Kletka, my brother speaks the truth for once. I do need something more proper to wear to a feast. Direct us to a tailor so I can acquire new garments.”

“What kind of clothing is fitting for a feast?” Kletka asked. Loki tilted the phone towards Thor. It was noisy on the streets of the city, even at this hour.

“Furs and leathers, of course,” Thor said, “A warm cloak would do nicely against the chill of this desert night. A hood for the cloak would make the Midgard sun more tolerable.”

There was a moment where Loki imagined Kletka to be searching for something suitable, perusing some sort of technical device that stored the information on the inhabitants of the city. Loki tried to picture the girl on the other side of the machine’s interface. Was she a relative of Stark? Loki thought not as she had an accent where he did not. It wasn’t very pronounced, but the more she spoke, the more clearly Loki heard it. He imagined her with dark hair and intelligent eyes, a pretty face and practical style of dressing. There was no way a man like Stark could tolerate something ugly or stupid to work for him. Even with how battered he’d looked, Loki believed Thor’s word that Stark was a noble born Midgardian.

And a well respected Lord, it seemed, to have a dutiful follower not even question his request to attend to his and Thor’s every need. Or Thor’s whims.

“I have two candidates,” Kletka said after a moment. “I’ll contact them and see if either one is able and willing to provide the necessary garments. Please continue south for two more blocks and then turn eastwards at the corner of 32nd Street and Flint.”

They walked while Kletka did her work.

 

“You didn’t ask how Mother is doing,” Loki said companionably as they walked. He switched hands for the phone so he could rest his arm. The map continued to update, which made him think that it probably was a feature of the phone and not something Kletka had to manage actively.

“You would have said if something had troubled her,” Thor pointed out, “How is our mother doing, Loki?”

“She is well, only worried for you while you meander about in exile,” Loki said primly, “She was the one who convinced Father to send me here to check on you.”

“If he did not think me capable-” Thor began, but stopped when he saw Loki shaking his head. “If that is not it, then what is the reason?”

Loki didn’t have to answer because at that moment a yellow car pulled up beside them and stopped, windows rolling down. A man behind the wheel leaned over and asked, “You are Mr. Thor and Mr. Loki, yes?”

“Who is it that asks?” Thor replied, bending down to peer through the window. Loki sighed and rolled his eyes. Really, that was such an easy way to get attacked in the face if the man calling on them was hostile.

“I'm Joseph. You ordered a taxi?”

“I ordered the taxi,” Kletka said from the phone. “The nearest tailor did not have the suitable materials for Thor’s attire but the second one will. He is farther away, however, so I hired a service to drive you to his apartment.”

Thor shrugged and climbed into the back seat. Loki followed him, closing the door behind. Joseph nodded to them both and then pulled back into the traffic and down the street.

Thor, thankfully, didn’t take up the conversation about their mother, having at least some sense not to talk about it in front of the stranger. He, instead, brought up the clothing he was getting which was a far more interesting topic than he usually discussed so Loki rewarded him by engaging in pleasant conversation for the entire trip there.

 


 

 

Adir King stood in his kitchen willing his coffee machine to work faster. His head was still a little groggy from waking up prematurely and he was starting to think that the whole phone conversation had been a dream. A simultaneously realistic and impossible dream. If it wasn’t for the unknown phone number and the record of their conversation lasting a whole three minutes and twenty-four seconds, he might’ve just gone right back to bed at that moment.

As it was, his phone told him he had that phone call and his brain told him that if he was going to be functional at all during this late night surprise fitting session, he was going to need the coffee.

Adir rubbed his face with both hands and tried to wake himself up more. He couldn’t just stand there and wait for the brewing to finish. He should get out his stuff, make sure he was ready.

He wandered out of his kitchen, trying to move quietly so as not to wake up his roommates, and turned on the lights in the front room. He had most of his sewing stuff in the corner, including the covered machine and box of measuring tape and pins he’d need for the fitting. The outfit he was going to adjust- because even he couldn’t make a full fucking prince feasting outfit in a few hours- was already almost finished.

He’d planned on having it done by the end of the week, ready to ship out a little earlier than he’d anticipated, but that plan was busted now. Adir felt a little guilty about reusing the design for one customer on another one but…

Well, the first guy had been a repeat customer and probably would be fine with it once Adir explained the situation and…

This late night commission was for Tony Fucking Stark, the billionaire, the playboy, the philanthropist, the genius himself. And he was throwing that philanthropic money in Adir’s direction at a way higher rate than Adir had ever thought his work would ever really fetch. It was international designer label money, plus a rush fee, plus an inconvenience fee, plus a half dozen other fees that the woman- Kletka? Was she Mr. Stark's secretary?- had tacked on.

She really didn’t need to sweeten the deal so much, but Adir had been too tired to say anything and too dumbfounded to argue.

He pulled out the outfit now, a mix of real leather and silk to look like armor that would go over a long cotton tunic and soft, suede-leather leggings, and set it out on the stuffed model he usually used to hold his works in progress. There was a cloak that went with it, somewhere, but he had finished that long ago and it was bundled up. If this Thor wanted it, he’d probably part with it too. After all, it was part of the armor set and wouldn't match anything else.

The heavy knock at the door made Adir jump. He swore under his breath, rubbed his suddenly nervously sweaty hands over his thighs and hurried over. Kletka had said that Tony Stark wouldn’t be there, obviously, so these were just his VIP friends. Somehow, that made it worse. At least with Mr. Stark, Adir might have some idea of how the man was going to act.

Adir peeked through the peephole on the door and, if he hadn’t been leaning against the door, he probably would’ve fallen over. The two men standing outside his door couldn’t be more dissimilar and more alike. They were both tall and handsome, though one with a fair complexion and the other with a dark complexion. He saw immediately which one needed the outfit- the one with dark hair had a fine leather worked chest piece, at least as far as Adir could see. The blonde wore some T-shirt that just barely fit him across the shoulders, showing off his physique in incredible ways. 

Pulling back, he unlocked the door and pulled it open, “Hello?”

The taller of the two, though not by much, grinned. “Greetings! I am Thor, son of Odin. This is my brother, Loki, also a son of Odin. The Lady Kletka has directed us to your door. You are the tailor we seek?”

Adir nodded. He could already tell he was going to have to do some serious adjusting on the arms of the piece. Might have to just remove them entirely. Jesus. Having biceps like that had to be illegal. “I’m Adir King. Uh, come on in,” he stepped back to let them in. “I’ve made some coffee if you would like some?”

Thor elbowed his brother, who gave him a thin smile, “Their java is bitter but strong, you might find it to your liking, brother, for its similarities to your nature.”

Loki didn’t seem perturbed by the barb, only nodded to Adir and commanded with the air of I Am The Customer, You Must Do As I Say, Barista, “I’ll take mine with cream, if you have it. Not too much, though.”

“I will have sugar and cream,” Thor said with the absent air that a customer sometimes got when they ordered while looking at the baked goods selection. Adir recognized it as similar to Loki’s haughtiness, but with a softer edge. The expectation to be served by those around them was something that both of these men had.

Adir saved his eye rolling for after he’d nodded and turned back to the kitchen. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as Azarel could be when he was making a point of being insufferable. Besides, Adir had had far worse interactions with actual customers when at work.

He came back with three cups of coffee, one for each of the two brothers and one for himself. Loki had settled in on Adir’s roommate’s favorite chair but he looked comfortable and probably wouldn’t spill so Adir wasn’t about to say anything. Thor stood near the armor on display, stroking his chin and its stubble with one hand. He took the mug from Adir with an absent nod of thanks. “Your craftsmanship is admirable for a Midgardian,” he said, “This is the piece that you will fit for me?”

“It’s the closest fit to what you need,” Adir said, “If I took your measurements, I could make better fitting clothing, but it would take some time.”

Thor nodded thoughtfully, “The braiding of the leather here is most impressive.” He ran his fingers over the section across the chest, “And the leather is still supple enough for movement. This would make a fine companion piece to a set of mail.”

Adir gulped down his mouthful of coffee hastily, “You don’t need mail too, do you?” His fingers ached in memory of the last set of mail he’d made. He was seeing loops of metal behind his eyelids for days. And he’d just done the one tunic piece.

“Not for feasting, of course not,” Thor looked at him with supreme tolerance, “Can you make mail as well as you braid leather?”

Adir winced. “I can make mail,” he admitted, “But it takes a lot longer than the leather.” He would’ve normally said that it cost three or four times as much, too, just to get a customer to back off on the idea of it- or really show commitment- but with Tony Stark as a beneficiary, Thor probably wouldn’t care about that.

“If you want to get to the feasting before the sun rises, I suggest you begin the fitting,” Loki said from the chair where he’d settled back, one leg crossed over the other. He had a smartphone balanced perfectly on his knee and the hot mug of coffee held in both hands in his lap. He gave Adir a warm smile when he caught his eye and Adir smiled back. “Perhaps, if your work is quality enough, we’ll come back for the mail.”

Thor didn’t look up from the armor as he spoke, but Adir could tell he was talking more to Loki than to him, “If I am to be inhabiting Midgard for an undefinable amount of time, I should take the necessary steps to ensure my needs are cared for. The good Tailor Adir has the ability to satisfy me with his handiwork if what I see here is truly his craft on display.” Adir wasn’t sure how he said that line without any change in his inflection or tone but he did. On the other hand, Adir instinctively glanced to Loki as if to say did he just say that? and saw Loki briefly close his eyes tightly before the moment passed and they both had to pay attention to Thor again.

This time, Thor did turn his gaze to Adir, who straightened up without even thinking about it, grip tightening on his mug, “What do you say, Tailor Adir? Do you think yourself up to the task?”

Adir stared at him. He thought about saying no- he really did- if only to save himself the future of chainmail. He knew already Thor was going to ask for chainmail, and he was probably going to ask for a fine mesh and it was going to take weeks and his fingers would bleed-

But he already knew his answer. He swallowed, set down his mug on the nearest table and walked over to his supplies. His hands shook but he ignored that and started thinking about what it was going to take, what he was going to need, how he could be the tailor that Thor thought he was capable of being. “I’ll need to take very detailed measurements, of course. If I’m going to be making multiple sets of clothing items I’ll need to have a personalized mannequin made. And I don’t do shoes but I know someone who does, she does all the boots for all my previous pieces, and I can give you her contact information-” he glanced to Thor, holding his measuring tape in one hand and a notebook in the other, “And pictures. I should really take pictures, too.”

The pictures were only partially because of the measurements.

Honestly, those biceps had to be illegal.

 

 


 

 

A tired but accomplished Adir stepped back and made a motion with his hand for Thor to turn around and look at himself in the mirror. It wasn’t wide enough for his whole frame, but at least it was tall enough and Thor didn’t seem to mind turning this way and that in it. He lifted one of those huge arms and flexed, nearly giving Adir a heart attack when he displayed the muscle just inches from Adir’s face. Adir swallowed, looked away nervously (not towards Loki, he’d learned better than that already) and his eye caught on a plastic bag on the floor by his sewing machine.

He’d put the machine to some hard use in the last hour or two, pulling seams and adding in cloth to account for the breadth of Thor’s shoulders and the honest to god melon-crushing thickness of his thighs. As he’d expected, the sleeves were not salvageable, at least for the upper arm, though he’d managed to reconfigure the forearms to gauntlets after a fashion.

Now, though, he walked towards the bag and crouched down to pick it up. He’d almost forgotten entirely about the cloak he’d made.

“What’s that?” Thor asked, stopping his flexing to look over curiously.

“A cloak,” Adir said, “It was done a while ago, it might not be long enough, but it was made for that armor set.” He pulled back the side of the bag and reached in.

“Oh!” Thor sounded excited, “Is it red?”

Adir grabbed the cloak and stood, pulling it from the bag and letting it unwind from the loose role he’d kept it in. There were some wrinkles in it from that, but he shook it out with a few snaps of the wrist and turned, “Sort of,” he answered. “It’s wine red and attaches at either shoulder with these clasps.” He lowered it slightly, looking over the deep red fabric at Thor.

Thor’s eyes were on the fabric and his expression was curiously blank. He held out his hand silently and Adir handed over the cloak. Thor ran fingers over the fabric, a soft silk velvet that Adir had spent an arm and a leg to get his hands on. It was worth it, though, to see the way Thor took it and whirled it expertly through the air so it settled on his shoulders.

Adir stepped up immediately and attached the clasps of the cloak to their slots in the armor. He hadn’t gone with gold clasps but a brass that brought out the brighter red points of the velvet when it moved. “It has a hood,” he explained as Thor stood there, allowing Adir to dress him in the cloak as he had allowed Adir to strap him in the leather. It was the stillness of a Prince who was used to attendants. Adir tried not to think too hard about that. “The hood is lined with a silk that I dyed myself so it was just a little darker than the velvet. It might get hot in the sun, but it’ll keep the sun off of you, which should help.” He adjusted the way the hood lay and then stepped back, looking over Thor critically.

Thor looked at himself in the mirror again. He had a fierce smile, showing a great number of his teeth. Adir saw Thor look at Loki’s reflection and raise an eyebrow in question.

Loki sat with his fingers at his chin. He gave a slight nod and said, “You will have to find some way to repay Lady Kletka for finding you such a gifted tailor, dear brother.”

Thor laughed. Adir was busy admiring the whole set of armor on the man that he somehow missed the heavy hand that settled on his shoulder before it got there. Adir jumped and jerked his head up from looking at Thor’s side. The shoes were still a problem but it turned out that the black kicks Thor had been wearing were unobtrusive enough with the rest of the outfit.

Thor gave Adir’s shoulder a hearty squeeze, just on this side of painful, “You have done fine work tonight, my tailor. I shall make sure that you are well compensated for all you have done and I look forward to what you shall create in the future.”

“I- Yes,” Adir stumbled over the words and blamed it on the exhaustion, though he knew for sure that part of it was the weight of Thor’s attentions, “Well I’ll do my best to s-satisfy.”

Thor grinned and Adir flushed.

“Kletka,” Loki cut through the heavy atmosphere with his cool, unaffected voice. Adir felt grateful and still flushed as Thor gave him another quick shoulder squeeze before turning his attention to Loki. “We’re finally suitably dressed. Have you found a place to feast?”

“I have,” she replied from the phone in Loki’s hand, “I have also hired a driver to take you there. He will arrive in five minutes at the same location the last one dropped you off from.”

“At last,” Thor said with a grin, heading towards the door with a stride that made his cloak ripple out from behind him, “Let us feast, Loki. And you can tell me more of what I’ve missed since I’ve left Asgard.”

Loki stood, brows lifting at Thor’s words, which Adir only saw from his reflection in the mirror. “Perhaps this time on Midgard has changed you, brother, if you are finally interested in the court politics.” His voice took on that scraping tease that Adir had heard his own older siblings use before, “It seems absence does make the heart fonder, though I am surprised anything could make your heart find politics endearing.”

At the door, Thor shook his head, “You mean the dramatics, Loki.” He paused with the door open long enough to look to Adir, “Farewell, Tailor Adir. I shall return for more garments at your summons,” and then he was back to talking with Loki about courts and politics and drama and their father. Loki gave him a silent nod in farewell, closing the door behind himself and leaving Adir alone in his living room.

Weak-kneed and exhausted, finally feeling the strain of getting up and furiously sewing and stitching for two hours in the middle of the night, Adir sank down onto the couch. “Holy shit,” he said, “Am I a tailor to a prince now?”

It was a rhetorical question, really. Thor had pretty much called dibs on Adir’s tailoring skills for the foreseeable future.

Shit. His siblings were going to lose their collective minds.

 

 


 

 

Pepper didn’t worry when she woke up in the morning and checked her messages to find that Tony had requested a jet to be relocated to some random city in New Mexico. She knew he’d driven out there a few days ago and had expected him to realize a drive was an insane waste of time.

She didn’t worry when she called his cell phone and JARVIS was the one who answered, his smooth British accent so familiar that she smiled just hearing his voice. She had always appreciated JARVIS, not just for the fact that he was an incredible display of Tony’s talents and will to create, but because the AI himself was friendly and sometimes was the kindest person Pepper had the fortune of talking to in a day. She didn’t rely on JARVIS nearly as much as Tony did, but she did rely on him for more than she would have for any other of Tony’s secretaries.

Like Natalie-Natasha Rushman-Romanoff. Honestly, Tony’s explanation hadn’t made a great deal of sense. If he’d known she was a spy, why did he insist on keeping her around? He sometimes was just a walking security hazard.

No. Pepper only began to worry when she asked JARVIS to patch her through to Tony, wherever he’d managed to get himself and the AI had hesitated.

It was the hesitation that made her pause in picking out her blouse for the day. She had stopped, waited a moment and then asked, “Jarvis? What is it?”

Another long pause. If JARVIS could breathe, Pepper was sure that she would have heard him take in a deep breath while he considered. She heard only silence, though.

“I am aware of where Sir is,” JARVIS said at last, “But I am not able to contact him directly. He is- He has been hospitalized. He is resting still.”

“Hospitalized,” Pepper repeated. Her worry crested inside of her into full-fledged fear. Had Ivan stabbed him again? No, he was in New Mexico. Pepper had a crazy fear that that astrophysicist woman, Jane Foster was it?, had been the one to stab Tony this time. Why did he keep getting stabbed by the people he worked with?!

“Yes,” JARVIS said, “I could contact the hospital and leave a message but he- He is asleep. And he hasn’t slept in a while.”

“How long of a while?”

Another long silence. Pepper was the one who drew in a deep breath, though, and let it out. “You know what, nevermind. I don’t want to know. Tell me which hospital, Jarvis, I’m going to go give him a piece of my mind in person this time.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Potts, but I am unable to do that at this time as it would violate my protocols.”

“What?” she asked sharply, “Which protocols? And I know you can work around those, Jarvis, I’ve seen you do it before.”

“To have you travel to Sir’s location would put you in danger, Ms. Potts,” JARVIS said quietly, “And to do that would breach the Second Concern protocol. Please resume your day as normal, Ms. Potts. I will relay your concern to Sir and encourage him to contact you as soon as he is well enough to do so.”

Pepper stood there at the foot of her bed with her phone to one ear and a shirt in her other hand for a long time in silence. She felt a weird sort of numbness pass through her, like her head was filling full of static, or a howling wind. What was this Second Concern protocol? She’d never heard of it before. From the name alone, and from what JARVIS had told her, it clearly was about her and referenced Tony’s concern about her safety. She wondered about this new protocol with a growing frown.

“Jarvis,” she said because she knew he wouldn’t hang up without saying goodbye to her first. He was thoughtful that way, always letting her know when he’d stopped listening to her actively.

“Yes, Ms. Potts?”

“Please, watch out for him,” she said, “Make sure he survives long enough for me to scold him about putting his life in danger again.”

JARVIS’s voice was warm as he said, “I will not take my eyes off of him, Ms. Potts. You can be sure of that.”

She let out another sigh and thanked him. He murmured a goodbye and Pepper tossed her phone onto her bed. She didn’t want to check the rest of her messages now, not when her head was full of worry and her stomach all tied up into knots.

Pepper also abandoned both of the shirts she was considering and went back into her closet. She needed something warmer to wear. She just felt so cold.