“…All you asked was that I keep an eye out for Man of Iron- You should have… NO! You made it seem like they were having one of their usual qualms!”
Tony paused for a moment as he stepped off the elevator, staring through the glass screen towards the source of the booming voice.
“Yes, yes you did! …Listen here, I will not repeat myself yet again!”
Thor had his back turned, seemingly angrily yelling at the opposite wall. Even through what supposedly was a soundproof barrier, the Asgardian’s voice was pretty audible if one was to focus.
“…You should have told me EXACTLY what happened between the Captain and Man of Iron and not some vague- …This was no laughing matter! This is far more important than one of your passing amusement-“
Tony approached the doorway. He wasn’t trying too hard but the other seemed not to have heard him entering.
“No, I will no longer be entertaining your questions! It’s my turn! …I... I don’t know what’s going on with the sorcerer-! …no, I’m not useless- ENOUGH! I am done with your games! You will tell me exactly what you know or-“
He cleared his throat loudly. Thor spun around, dropping his hand immediately as his eyes widened for a split second. Just as quickly, however, the shock was replaced with the usual good-natured smile.
“….Man of Iron!“
“Thor,” Tony greeted simply. The billionaire still stood at the doorway, hands falling into the inside of his pockets as he widened his stance.
He quickly scanned the room, although it appeared as if Thor was talking to himself. There was no presence of anyone else. And it wasn’t as if Thor ever bothered to learn how to use earthly communication device like a phone, webcam, email…
Tony took a deep breath before taking few steps forward. “Point Break… I need to talk to him.”
The Asgardian’s expression turned to one of questioning, too innocent for it to be true. “My friend, I don’t know who you mean-“
Tony had to admit, if he didn’t know better, he just may have fallen for that seemingly sincere tone. “Thor. I already heard from Rhodey-bear you kept questioning him about me. Sorry, big guy, but you are not that subtle and as much as I would love to think it’s because we’re suddenly all buddy-buddy… we both know you were closer to Cap. If something changed, it’s because of him. So where is he?”
Thor stayed quiet, though the engineer can see the slight faltering in that smile.
He let out a sigh as he watched the blonde subtly gulp.
“Tell him… I have a way to make this situation benefit all of us. Tell him, he owes me and I’m cashing in.”
He walked at a quick pace towards the large foreboding building. Not in a hurry, never in a hurry, no, but simply taking long, efficient steps.
Past the large free-standing SHIELD logo at the entrance, past one of the many double doors, the scanners. Easily entering through the visitor’s entrance.
Eyes turned to him for brief periods but none lingered for long. Just the usual glances security and employees gave to someone not a regular. It probably didn’t help that his full dark suit attire, down to pitch black tie, was a sharp contrast to many gray and blue suits.
After giving a quick glance around the space, he leisurely stepped towards the front desk, which was protected by tall thick screen.
The woman on the other side merely gave him a nod of acknowledgement.
“Good Afternoon, I’m here to see Director Fury,” he said in a silky tone.
“Do you have an appointment, sir?”
“No.” He glanced up towards the security camera at the corner, staring straight into it. “But show him the feed. He’ll want to see me, I assure you.” He stood facing the recorder still, watching as the device seem to follow even the slight change of his movements. A sly smirk played on his lips as he turned away after a few more seconds.
The woman gave him a questioning look but proceeded to type into the keyboard.
But he doesn’t bother waiting. He spun around away from the desk, taking a few steps away towards the center of the lobby. Soon he stood right on top of the SHIELD logo embossed onto the tiles underneath his feet. Waiting.
There were definitely more obvious stares now as many employees even slowed their pace to stare at him with curiosity.
He takes a moment to straighten his sleeves, adjusting the emerald cufflinks.
Then… the alarm.
There was an excessive round of flashes and loud ringing. In seconds, security and heavily armed tac team quickly surrounded him from all sides, fingers at the trigger.
The smirk widened as he raised both hands slowly above his head.
“If this doesn’t work-“
“It’s going to work.”
They exchange a glance. Tony staring directly at the former crown prince with something far more than just outright determination. Thor soon relented with a sigh before going back to his nervous pacing.
Then there was the light ping of the elevator as Steve quickly stepped out into the room. He only paused for a brief moment as Thor’s cold gaze landed on him. Although soon, the Captain focused on Tony instead.
“What’s going on? I just got your message and the alarm rang-“
Tony ignored the questions. “Did you stop the others?”
“I…” He let out a small huff before going on. “Yeah, I already told everyone not to respond to the alarm but Fury is calling non-stop now. Tony what the hell is going on-“
Ross rushed down the steps that led to the control room, the adrenaline pumping his blood. It doesn’t take long before he reaches the main monitor. Stops next to Maria Hill, his eyes never leave the screen.
“Jesus… is that really…?”
Hill turns slightly towards him. “Loki Odinson slash Laufeyson. Most famously known for the New York Invasion of 2012. Adopted brother of Thor. Loki disappeared from Earth the same year. There has been no sighting reported of him since. But considering how there were not many detailed visual during that incident and no in-depth description that was released to the public, it is hard to say for sure… It doesn’t help that with everything happened within range of two-three years around Thanos’s attack, much of our data is a mess-”
Ross tries to level his breathing as he continued to stare at the man… no, Asgardian… shown on the display. The god looked rather calm, lounging on the chair at the center of the locked and reinforced barrier. There was a slight shift of his gaze as he peered straight into the camera. The smirk widening before he fixes his sights towards the front once more.
Everything about this being made the SHIELD agent feels uneasy. He feels like he can’t gauge him even if he tried.
“…What we do know is that Thor had informed us during a briefing in 2015 that Loki had died during a battle in their attempts to rescue Jane Foster. Although years later it was confirmed that he had survived, posed as Odin, and ruled Asgard till a coup led by their… sister… Hela. Loki did aid Thor, Valkyrie, and Doctor Banner in rescuing many of the Asgardian civilians and neutralize the threat. Although on their voyage to Earth to seek refuge, was ambushed by Thanos. Thor seemed quite convinced during the brief meeting after the snap that Loki was murdered by the Mad Titan. This time, for certainty… but…”
“And he just… what? Suddenly comes back from the dead again to turn himself in?”
“Technically it seemed that, in terms of Asgardian grounds, Loki was cleared of all charges upon his assistance in safely returning Jane Foster and protecting the Reality Stone. His… endeavors of posing as the king? That seemed to have never even been perused. Makes sense given all the disorder that ensued right after.”
Ross leaned against the desk with both fists, letting out a sigh. “So he’s only a criminal on Earth, under our law and jurisdiction. So why come here? All he had to do was avoid Earth… Where is Fury? Was anyone able to get in contact with Thor?”
Hill had her arms crossed. “Avengers compound has been notified but none have responded. Fortunately, Loki surrendered himself without so much as a fight.”
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time he pulled something like this. He can’t be trusted. He purposely got himself arrested in 2012 to take down the helicarrier and disperse the team.”
All of them turned around quickly, watching as Fury strode in with a grim look. But before Ross can even utter a word, Loki’s voice resonated from the speakers.
“It seemed someone with the authority to make decisions have arrived. It’s been a while, Director Fury.”
“I want the feeds up on the overhang screens,” Fury said loudly. Two of the techs nodded and rushed to heed the command. “Hill, keep trying to get in touch with the Avengers compound.“
“This is bat shit crazy-“
“What-… Stark what the hell actually is going on?!”
“Tony, why would he even be doing this? How do you know he’s not just playing you-“
“Are we really going to forget he led Thanos’s army here?! He’s a mass murderer!”
“So what you are telling us is that you trust Thor’s phycho brother-“
“Adopted,” Thor muttered under his breath.
Bruce, though pinching the bridge of his nose from a headache, let out a snort.
“I get Thor but how are you so calm about this?” asked Clint to Bruce.
Tony stared them down, mainly Steve, Clint, Natasha, and Sam who were the source of most of the complaints. Gone were the days where their anger had him frazzled. Although Rhodey didn’t look all too pleased with the idea nor did Barnes.
“Raise your hand if you killed someone or in some way linked to the death of some mass pollution-“ Tony raised his own, looking around. Most of the others didn’t bother but they got the point.
There was a brief pause as many preceded to pace or turn around to sigh.
Rhodes, however, blinked couple times, fast. Suddenly a memory was coming to him. “This is why you had all those questions about Tony at Wakanda-“
Bruce looked up as well, setting his sights on the Asgardian. “And how you knew about these two’s,” he pointed vaguely towards Tony and Steve’s direction. “…fallout before me-”
“He…” Thor switched his weight to his other leg, swallowing hard. “…My brother didn’t tell me much. He had been vague. We didn’t exactly have a chance to. Not with everything with Hela and then Thanos-“
“Okay you know what, this is getting stupid,” Sam said standing up. “Why don’t we go around and actually talk about what each of us knows because seems like everyone just has a piece of a story. Starting with you Stark, why the hell are you working with Loki? How did he end up here in the first place??”
“Wait…” Clint turned his gaze towards Tony. “Did you know he was alive before even Thor?”
“…which time?” Natasha muttered sarcastically under her breath.
Hawkeye gave her a look before going back to fixing his sights on the billionaire. “Why didn’t you tell any of us this?”
Steve let out a sigh. “How… how did this even happen? How could you trust him after-“
“You all are still here aren’t you,” Tony snapped with a glare.
That shut the Captain up abruptly. Tony simply raised the glass to his lips, taking a sip, the cold stare still lingering on the blonde as if daring him to speak again.
Sam took a step forward. “You do realize while Loki was pretending to be Odin, he didn’t keep a good eye on rest of the realm and that’s how Thanos was able to carry out his plan, force the dwarves to construct the infinity gauntlet as well as carry out his plan- Thor told us this… If we had known Loki was posing as Odin maybe-”
Tony let out a harsh laugh. “You forget you all went rogue and we weren’t exactly on speaking terms. You know, after I nearly died?!” He paused but only for a second. “I am not explaining myself to you about this. Not right now. Only thing…”
He let out a sigh before turning towards the Asgardian, “hey, Point Break… sorry. Sure, I can say I didn’t know how to even reach you but… I didn’t even try. I knew you were upset thinking your brother died… the first time… But… he just…”
Thor simply regarded him for a moment before nodding, “He would not have trusted you if you had. I know my brother, Man of Iron. Besides, I eventually figured it out… And if this works…”
“You must have many questions. So let’s start with why I’m here.”
Fury sighed, “I do not care why. I’ve learned the less we listened to you the better.”
Loki raised an eyebrow, “Oh but this is good. Good for you in fact.”
There was a pause, a silence, as he exchanged a glance with Ross and Hill.
“Why are you here?” Ross interjected.
A soft laughter could be heard. “You must be Agent Ross. I believe we never had the pleasure.”
“Why. Are. You. Here.” He repeated.
There was a short pause before, “I want a pardon. I want full pardon for any and all past crimes committed against this planet. It will be signed, it will be sealed. It will not be revocable, non-reversible.”
“What?” Ross said out loud before he could stop himself. He had an incredulous look as he frowned at Fury.
The Director, however, still wore the same flat expression. “And why do you believe you will be granted this?’
“Ugh, such dull questions.” He drawls out with faux boredom. “Where shall I start? I have been cleared of all charges in Asgard, I would assume by now that you have figured out Thanos was truly behind the invasion and not I. In fact, I have aided to save Thor and Doctor Banner’s life against the Mad Titan. I played my part in the Great War. You can ask either of them to confirm.”
“Your previous actions still killed hundreds of people in the past. You can hardly be considered innocent.” Fury went on.
“And that’s why I’m proposing a trade.” A smirk played on Loki’s lips as he leaned back against the chair, the long legs crossing almost gracefully. “You give me this and I will certainly make it worth your while.”
Fury let out a short, cold laugh. “Okay… let’s here it. What do you have?”
“Information. Information you desperately want… have been seeking in fact to no avail-”
“Information about what?”
“About Doctor Strange, of course.”
There was sudden silence that resonated around the room. Ross froze from where he stood and Hill stared at Fury in mild confusion. The Director, however, paid neither of them attention.
He let the silence linger a bit longer before going on. “...What he has been doing for the years he’s been back in New York. The missing years you cannot place him before the Mad Titan’s attack. Information regarding the full extent of his powers, his strengths, his weaknesses. I admit, while I do not have all the answers yet, I do believe I am much further along than where you must be, Director. With the pardon, you are giving me access to… figure out the final pieces… And I am more than willing to share once I do.“
“…I am aware the sorcerer is currently locked up. This is going to go two ways, as you know. One, he will be set free in the end for one reason or another. You would want him back in the Avengers as he is yet not a great threat and his skills are an asset. You’d rather he be in Avengers, in fact, and not against.”
“...But you are concerned about having his powers checked. …Yes, I’m aware of the little scare he gave you all days back. Oh, I do not blame you. You have every right to fear. You currently have no being who can directly contend with his abilities should he ever decide to go against your little organization. Not really. And that is, undoubtedly… a very alarming concern… Especially given the… history…”
Fury turned away from the monitor, pacing slowly though still listening.
“…I’m offering myself as a solution. Additionally, having me on your side means you no longer have to be reliant on the Midgardian sorcerer for his knowledge in the realm of magic, the powers, the dimensions, the worlds in which you cannot even fathom. We all know the witch is significantly lacking in that department even if you can get a hold of her… she’s but a child with very little control, knowledge, the discipline...”
“…Or two, for whatever reason he is never released… well, you will then be one sorcerer short. I believe that’s a vacancy I can easily fill.”
“So what?” Fury retorted, evenly. “You want to be… an Avenger?”
Loki smiled. “How about let’s say informant for now. Special cases, I am more than willing to involve myself and provide a significant amount of help.”
“And why are you doing this? Why do you want a pardon from us? You can easily go anywhere else in the universe and do as you please-“
“Because I’m desperately bored in this exile. Earth has proved to be quite entertaining.”
“Bored? You are doing all this because you are bored?”
Loki rolled his eyes. “While that may seem insignificant to you, it is quite a pressing problem for me.” He let out a short huff. “Plus, Thor would be pleased. Of course, that is not my greatest motivation but we are in a path to patching things up, so to say, my brother and I. To an extent, I like seeing him happy and off my case… and I admit, it has been quite boring without his annoyance from time to time. Avengers definitely will prove to be an endless amount of amusement. Filled with those who are much more entertaining than regular Midgardians…”
The Asgardian took a deep breath as he leaned forward, the piercing emerald gaze peering straight into the camera. “What I am offering you is a guarantee to no longer have me as a threat to humanity. I am offering to abide by the rules. No murders, no damage, no taking over your little world. I believe this is a great offer for you.”
“…You have an hour to decide and present me with the pardon before I assure you, I will walk out and there is little you can do to stop me.”
After a moment of silence, Fury flipped the switch, cutting off the mic on their end. “Get the council on the line,” he said.
Ross stepped forward. “Are you really going to trust Loki? Doctor Strange is not a threat. ...What are you so afraid of that you are willing to trust Loki of all people over Strange who has not actually done anything… malicious…”
“You do not know him like I do,” the Director snapped back. “With the right… motivation, he is far more dangerous than Loki. I do hope it never comes to that but if for whatever reason he snaps, you don’t want to know what Stephen Strange is capable of. If it is a choice, I will take my chances with Loki. This is a contingency plan. Not a bad one. And if, and again, I hope, both parties prove to be well-behaved? Well, we will have two strong sorcerer in Avengers.”
“Half of you… I’m asking you to just trust me.” Tony exchanged a long glance with Rhodey and Bruce. Then turned to Steve and soon the rest of his old team. “The other half, well… you owe me and this is it. This is what I’m asking for. This is what you do. You do not respond to this alarm right now. You do not accept the call from SHIELD. In about an hour or so they are going to release Stephen. I’m going to pick him up. You will most likely receive another summon from Fury within the next 30 min after, then you go. Simple. I’m literally spelling out what I want you to do.”
Clint paced towards the couch before leaning against the arm. He let out a sigh. “…Okay… but then what? Are you expecting all of us to lie? Did you forget some of us here are terrible liars?” He subtly nodded towards the Captain’s direction. As if on cue, Steve turned to him frowning, as if offended.
Tony didn’t miss a beat. “You wouldn’t have to. Just be your usual dumb confused selves-“
But it didn’t faze the billionaire. He merely gave the same flat look. “Don’t lie,” he said dryly.
“How is that even going to be possible?” Steve said with a small sigh. “Are we supposed to tell them we don’t know you were working with Loki?”
Tony gave him a look. “Am I not working with Loki?”
“You are,” the Captain replied harshly with a slight frown.
But Tony ignored the clear outrage. “Then, that’s what you say.”
There was a short pause as some exchanged looks.
Quietly, finally, Barnes spoke up. “…I’m not the only one confused… right?”
“Your pardon.” Fury threw down a large thick stack of documents onto the table in front of Loki. “It’s done.”
The Asgardian calmly reached over flipping through the pages, stopping once in a while to get a detailed read on some parts. “Good,” he said after a long while. “All past crimes, correct?”
Ross, who had been standing not far away, had his arms crossed. The look of annoyance and reserve about the whole situation clearly stamped across his forehead.
“So… do we have a deal?” The Director said coldly.
A moment later Loki smirked towards Ross before turning towards Fury once more. “Of course,” he said almost too pleasantly.
There was a twitch in Ross’s expression but both he and Fury eventually turned around with a sigh, as if to leave. But they only got far as the door before…
“Oh and by the way, I released that Siberia footage.”
“What the hell is going on?!” Ross was beyond furious as he slammed a hand onto the table.
They had moved to a conference room, much to Ross’s dismay. However, considering the very too recent pardon, he couldn’t object much. Though, if he was honest with himself, he was fully aware they only had the god detained because he was willing.
“Either you are lying or you are covering for Strange! Which seems rather odd considering your previous statements about giving us information about him. And why would Doctor Strange even turn himself in for you?!” Then the SHIELD agent swerved right around toward Fury who was leaning against the far wall.
It only took split second before a thought dawned on him. The Director looked too calm. It only confirmed his suspicion that Fury knew more than he let on about this whole ordeal.
But Loki soon spoke, evenly, almost uninterested. “I leaked the tape for a bit of mayhem. As I said, I have been incredibly bored. But I admit, it did not have… the impact I wanted. But it did provide the perfect opportunity for this pardon. …As for the Midgardian sorcerer, he may have been led to believe it was his son who leaked the tape. I supposed, technically Stark’s son still for now. He had… wrongly assumed… after many of my… nudging. …And well, to take away the precious doctor away from Stark… I had thought it would be the final push to cause total chaos within the Avengers-”
The Asgardian locked eyes with Ross, who was wearing a frown but his breathing seemed to be leveling out now… As if almost believing…
Loki soon smirked, “Now… that is what you will tell your little UN if asked.”
A second of silence.
“What…? What does that even mean!?”
Fury let out a sigh. “Harley, Stark’s adopted son, released the footage. Doctor Strange was, in fact, covering for his son.”
Ross sharply turned once more, the wheels turning in his head as he pieced together all the details of the last several days. “You… you knew? And you had me interrogating the man for days-”
The Director fixed him with a look. “Strange wouldn’t have given in no matter what you tried. …But I wasn’t sure what you would do if I had told you. What your motivations fully were. You seemed bit of a boy scout.“
The agent appeared offended. “I… I would not have turned in a child! There must have been some way-” Before all this got too out of hand and complicated.
But Fury ignored it, fixing Loki with a cold stare. “But what real question is, why are you protecting Strange now-“
There was a moment of silence before the Asgardian spoke.
“Stark and I had a deal. He knew I wanted a pardon and gave me the opportunity. In exchange, he gets his beloved doctor back.” He still remained seated on the chair opposite them. His long legs propped still onto the desk that divided him from the two SHIELD agents.
“It appears as though you did not want Strange off the Avengers. Not yet anyways. In fact, you wanted him still within your merry band of heroes for his unique skillset. …I have given you a way. You wanted to be prepared for the possibility Strange ever becomes a threat. ...Well, here I am. I just solved all your problems. Win-win. I was not lying about what I had been saying before. And I will keep my end of this deal, keep a close eye on the Sorcerer and share with you my findings. Now, I have Stark’s trust. What is better way than to keep watch on the doctor than being Stark’s friend? What better way to appeal to Stark than aid him in returning the precious sorcerer back into his arms-”
Ross pinched the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes with a grimace. He didn’t like this. Didn’t like this at all. He was used to people lying through their teeth. In fact, he believed himself pretty good at dissecting a situation, recognizing deception, manipulation… but this whole situation… he couldn’t make out what was up or down.
Loki certainly was of no help. His mind was a bag of cats. Ross truly could not tell where the lies ended and truth began. Or was it some odd combination of both in every word that came out from that mouth? Was that even possible?
Fury’s expression remained impassive as he approached the large conference table. “So what is in it for you in all this?”
Loki rolled his eyes. “A pardon. I told you. Not a lie, Director.”
“And you’re offering to spy on Doctor Strange and Stark?”
“Doesn’t that what it sounds like?”
“Ugh. Such repetitive questions…” The god threw his head back in an exaggerated sigh.
“Why are you really doing this?”
A resigned smile formed on his lips. “Again, I’m bored. Being bored is very boring.”
But Fury simply raised an eyebrow. “You cannot be doing all this simply because you are bored.”
“Have you lived for millennias? No,” Sarcasm was dripping from those words. “Then you wouldn’t really understand, would you?”
Another silence washed over them as neither Loki nor the Director seemed to be willing to back down from the stare-off. But after a minute or so, Fury slowly placed both fists on the cold metal surface, leaning heavily.
“So…” he said with surprising nonchalant tone. “Stark knew you wanted a pardon. You two have made some kind of contact far before this. Enough for him to actually trust you, to deal with you.”
Loki let out a small huff before carrying on with a display of his usual indifference. “I was here briefly during my time posing as Odin. Turns out being on the throne of Asgard can be a quite dull job. Those idiots who largely believe throwing a punch solves everything… too many… Thors… Anyways, I came to collect the drink Stark promised me. Which, still have not been paid to this day…” His voice trailed off almost wistfully.
“You thought to just waltz up to one of the Avengers? When they all believed you to be dead?“
“Oh, I thought it would be hilarious. …And as it turns out, I had nothing to fear. By the time I got there, most of your heroes were on the run it seemed. Led by the actions of one Captain America-“ There was a hint of annoyance in the way Loki referred to Rogers that had Fury frowning.
“You seem quite fond of him.”
Loki let out harsh laughter. “The Captain?”
“No.” He replied coldly. “Stark.” Then a pause before. “Did he sleep with you too?”
Ross let out a mortified, “Director!”
But the Asgardian only let out an amused laugh. “Oh, you humans… such simplistic one line of thinking.” His piercing gaze glanced at Ross for a quick second before locking on Fury once more. “…We both know Stark was still heartbroken over his boy toy to let his eyes wander. No, not over the Captain. Even with that wound still fresh, he was not the man Stark was really, truly, pining after, was he? …But that is the problem is it not, Director? Your problem never really went away…”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Do you even know what you are talking about?” He lowered his voice down an octave. But when no reply came, he went on. “How do I know I can trust you?”
“Do you trust anyone?” Loki retorted coolly. Then he let out a small sigh. “But here’s a reason, just for the entertainment sake. …Because you have no other choice. I just became your best bet. That’s why you so willingly got me the pardon and that is why you will trust me… for now.”
“We’re live at New York headquarters of SHIELD where sources claim there had been yet another major arrest this morning. Whether it is linked to the investigation regards to the major leak last week remains to be-“
“…second major arrest for SHIELD within weeks. First one, of course, being the arrest of Doctor Stephen Strange who confessed to leaking the highly confidential footage between Captain America and Iron Man-”
“It has been the subject of countless debate just how fair that arrest was. Many seems to agree Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange was justified and should be released-“
“…The question being asked over and over again, was it really wrong for Doctor Strange to simply revealing the truth that SHIELD seemed to have covered up at the expense of Mr. Tony Stark-“
“SHIELD has yet to make an official statement as to the identity of today’s arrest-“
They all still remained in the large common room, some pacing, some half seated on various surface. Multiple monitors were on to various news channels, which endlessly reported of the events at the SHIELD headquarters.
The phone, the alarms continued to ring but none were answered. After a good hour, several in the room who seemed to be bothered by the continuous ringing even appeared accustomed to it.
No one spoke. They had tried, of course. Soon after Tony’s departure from the compound some voiced concerns, however, due to so many disagreements within the group, no one could properly mediate the conversation past couple sentences. After all, Steve knew better than to think he had the same power and respect over the team dynamic at the moment.
Now they all avoided looking at each other, everyone too tired to argue regardless of their personal beliefs.
“We interrupt this broadcast for some breaking news. It seems a limo just arrived at the SHIELD Headquarters just roughly four minutes ago that belong to none other than Tony Stark…”
“Oh here we go-“ muttered Clint under his breath breaking the long cold silence.
Many whipped around to stare at the monitor.
They watched as Tony stepped out of the car, many SHIELD agents rushing forward from the building to help hold back the crowd of reporters that soon circled the billionaire. They were shouts of questions that all blurred together but Tony simply paid no heed, crossing quickly to the main entrance.
“This will be the first time Mr. Stark is seen in public since his fiancé’s arrest- SHIELD officials state no visit was scheduled for Iron Man today-“
It seems that the crowd had not yet picked it up but the Avengers can see it. Far behind in the distance at the corner of the screen, behind the double doors, there was a crowd of more operatives surrounding a tall figure in dark blue robes that stood out a little against the black uniform.
Soon the cameras zoomed on the scene and they could make out the Sorcerer Supreme. His eyes were on Tony who was getting closer and closer with every stride. However, before the pair can reach each other Stephen sharply turned his head.
Of course, they couldn’t make out fully of what was going on without the audio but another second and Fury came into view with Ross closely behind. They seemed to be saying something… or at least trying to.
Tony ran forward pulling Stephen behind him. It looked as if the billionaire was shouting at full volume making Ross snap his mouth shut. Fury, though still giving the usual flat stare, simply rolled his eyes but seemed to back off.
The camera crew and the crowd of reporters finally closed in enough for the microphone to started picking up sounds.
It was muffled but they heard the end of Tony’s final words. “…I don't fucking care! He is leaving with me. That’s final. AND TOUCH HIM AGAIN AND I WILL BREAK EVERY BONE IN YOUR BODY, GOT IT? …come on, Stephen-”
Tony didn’t waste time in grabbing ahold of Stephen by the hand, leading them out. There was a brief exchange of a glance from the pair before they exited straight through the crowd that had gathered outside.
Screams and shouts of questions followed them all the way back to the limo but none were addressed. A small smirk played on both of their lips, visible when the camera caught them at a right angle.
“An unprecedented sight. Tony Stark seems to be escorting his fiancé, Doctor Stephen Strange off the SHIELD site-“
“…It is still unclear if Doctor Strange is cleared of charges pertaining to-“
“…A bold move as if he’s daring the world to come between them-“
Sam whistled and Clint let out a huff of laughter as many channels started to shift out from the frame of SHIELD headquarters. There were continuous debates and discussions from various reporters and anchors of what they had just witnessed but soon most of the Avengers turned away, no longer paying attention.
Rhodes and Bruce were trying to hide a smile, Clint and Natasha had a slight smirk playing on their lips… Sam and Barnes quickly turned to Steve who continued to stare at the monitor with a blank stare but definitely locked jaw.
But they didn’t have much time to say a word before FRIDAY interrupted. “Incoming call from Director Fury…”
That was just about all the warning they got before Fury’s usual stern tone greeted them.
“I know you all were ghosting our calls. Get your asses down here now.”
“Are you okay?”
Tony put a hand on the other’s thigh, squeezing gently. “Hey, I’m… sorry, I know you don’t like car rides but…”
“Optics,” Stephen replied simply. A small smile was on his lips. “I know. It’s fine, Tony.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? You’ve been locked up for days-”
Stephen let out a short sigh. “Wasn’t so bad… just annoying. …How are-“
“They are fine. Harley and Peter are back home with Pepper.”
There was a short pause but before Stephen can open his mouth once more Tony beat him to it. “I’ll explain later- yeah?”
The sorcerer stared at him for a moment longer, their eyes locked. Tony held his breath, studying the other’s expression, desperately hoping to not come across any displeasure.
“Tony…” He finally said in a low tone.
“Just trust me, please? I just… needed to fix-… I needed you back-“
“I couldn’t just stand by and let them take-“
“I swear I know what I’m doing- …I thought this through-“
“I know.” Stephen reached over, grabbing ahold of Tony’s forearm in a firm grip, tugging just enough to get the engineer’s attention. “I know. …I do trust you. You don’t have to convince me.”
There was a brief flash of surprise that came over the engineer’s face. What that connotes, took a stab at the doctor’s heart. But before he could speak in regards to it, Tony quickly put on a smile.
“We should get away for a while. A vacation… away from all this and just you and me. …God I missed you-“
Stephen smiled unconsciously. Just about glowing at the genuine affection that greeted him when he stared into those doe eyes. “Sure,” he said happily as he traced the other’s jawline with the pad of his thumb.
“Not going to lie, doc. It was terrifying but also incredibly hot how you jumped in to save the day. And I heard about the power play during interrogation-“ A smirk was now playing on the billionaire’s lips as his voice took on a more playful tone. He shifted his position to get closer, nearly ending up on the other’s lap.
Stephen simply let out a low chuckle, always too fond of Tony’s antics in this department. It didn’t hurt it always did wonders to his ego. “Tony… I will always… protect what’s your’s…”
“Just wait till we get home, babe-“ Tony ran a hand down the other’s chest, almost clawing by the end. “I’ve been dying to get my hands on you for days-“
But something tugged from the back of his mind. “Tony…” He swallowed, hard. He downcast his sights for a brief moment before looking up to meet the other’s gaze. “…We should talk… about… I need-… I need to tell you about when I got back to New York…”
Tony gave him a quizzical stare, “…okay…?”
Stephen opened his mouth once more, about to continue, but then he felt it. There was a surge of energy that made his skin crawl.
At the corner of his eyes he saw the blazing red.
It happened fast. He had just enough time to grab Tony and cast a shield around them.
The loud screeching of tires. A deafening crash and a roar.
It was truly… a chaotic situation to say the least.
The shouting started nearly the minute they entered the conference room. Being greeted by the sight of not only Fury, but also Loki set many of them on edge. Clint remained standing near the doorway, far away from Loki as it was physically possible. None of them could really blame him, however. Thor was the only one who seemed pleased at the sight of his brother, but that was not a surprise.
Loki stood, leaning against the large window, nonchalantly gazing out, seeming very uninterested at the numerous questions being fired at Fury.
In the end, they oddly came to the conclusion of one unifying story.
Loki had cut a deal with SHIELD, in exchange for being pardoned from all his past crimes, he would assist the Avengers on an as-needed basis. With greater threats continuously looming over them, another sorcerer and practically a demi-god was not something SHIELD could easily pass on. On top of that, he would keep an eye on Stephen Strange. Loki’s presence on the team alone, another sorcerer, would naturally keep the balance of power. They obviously no longer had to rely on one sorcerer.
Loki will take the fall for the Siberia footage leak and to the UN, that would be presented as the truth. What really happened. It was just another trick by the trickster to cause a bit of mayhem within Avengers and SHIELD. He only came clean about the event when another, a better opportunity arose.
Strange would be released and cleared. With the pardon already given to the god for every past wrongdoing, they would have no choice but to cut their losses and drop the subject. At the very least they know for sure it is not a continuous security breach. And, considering what they would get in exchange, the reasonable deal in place, they will save face and would be able to let this go rather easily.
What had been bothering Steve, however, was why SHIELD seems to continuously view Strange as such an immediate threat… or was it just Fury? Of course, he understood the obvious. The logic that one person having one distinguished power with no one to match does pose a problem if the said party ever turned on them. But they were treating the situation as if that was a… high chance possibility for the near future. Was this related to what Strange was referring to? There was some animosity between him and the Director that is underlining this whole situation? Of course, the Captain had his own misgivings regarding Strange and he was definitely sure the feeling was mutual. However, regardless of the animosity Strange showed on occasions, Steve couldn't imagine yet of him actually turning on humanity.
Then there was the second question of who’s side is Loki really on? Yes, what Tony told them as the plan and what Fury was saying matched up perfectly. But as convoluted situation goes this was far beyond crazy.
Tony seems to believe Loki offered information about Strange to SHIELD only to speed up getting a pardon. Another bargaining chip. Since after that fiasco during the interrogation, the UN, Council, SHIELD were all on edge in regards to the Sorcerer Supreme. They would jump at the chance for a resolution moving forward. Tony knew this and instructed Loki to utilize the knowledge.
Fury, on the other hand, seems to think that Loki was truly going to spy on Strange. That Loki was also crossing Tony. The fact that by giving this impression they had hatched this plan together and now successfully aided in securing Strange’s freedom without Harley ever being mentioned, he had the billionaire’s gratitude and trust. Perfect way to get close to the pair and gain information on the Sorcerer Supreme.
The very maddening part to all this, Steve honestly couldn’t tell which was the real truth. He can see it going both ways. And judging by the anxiousness around the room, seemed most of them were not fully convinced either. It was all very… Loki. Or was he just playing both sides?
But one thing was true, however. Tony was right. None of them had to lie.
“Okay what game are you playing?” exclaimed Sam. “First you’re working with Stark and now you’re working with… SHIELD… against Strange? Do you just flip sides on a whim?" Then he turned to Fury. "…I know the wizard doesn’t like the Avengers but he’s not really some… urgent threat- ...this guy, on the other hand, proved he is a menace!“
“Against Stephen means against Tony,” Rhodes said looking directly at Loki. “Did you just double cross my best friend? You think I’ll stand here and-”
But he didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence before Hill barged in. They all turned to her quickly without a second thought.
“We have a situation-“ She quickly turned on the monitors, which displayed…
“What the… fuck…?”
Those who were seated began to stand, eyes glued to the screen. A part of the city was being nearly leveled by a large creature. It was massive. Massive enough to make the skyscrapers look like miniature models in comparison. It’s had a dragon-like head with two curing horns, walking on all four legs that displayed enormous claws at the end. A long tail was swishing menacingly. If it had to be described, its skin looked as if it was made of running lava, cooled black on the surface but destructive heat underneath.
Thor acted first, as if about to dash out to the scene. Steve and Clint closely second.
“Stop,” came the bored tone.
They all turned hastily towards Loki.
Thor was frowning as he set his sights on his brother. “They don’t stand a chance against a fire dragon! I don’t know how it even ended up here but we will sort that out later, brother-“
“My doing, I’m afraid,” Loki replied simply.
Thor appeared horrified, others in the room sharing the sentiment wholeheartedly, “LOKI!”
But the other god simply stared at the rest of them, mainly the rogues. “None of you stand a chance against something like that. I suggest you do not bother. Probably only get in the way…”
“What the hell?! ARE YOU INSANE?!” Clint was shouting now. “Actually don’t answer that. I already know the answer to that!”
“I’m simply doing what I promised,” the Asgardian went on with a smirk. He glanced towards Fury. “I believe Stark and Strange are already on scene.“
“WHAT?!” Steve crossed the room in quick strides. “You son of a- you bluntly threw Tony in danger?!”
“I wanted to see exactly what the Sorcerer can do.”
Both Natasha and Barnes were stiff, standing too straight sharing a similar horrified expression.
“Relax… the Sorcerer would not let anything harm Stark, I’m sure. Stark is there just as a bit of motivation-“
“Fucking christ-“ Rhodes didn’t bother to waste any more time, running out, pushing past Hill on the way.
Natasha stepped forward “We need to go, Cap- now!”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Must I always repeat myself, you all would do little to no good-“
Thor was soon up in his face. “What have you done?! What if this little plan of your’s gets out of hand!” Then he took a deep breath as if trying to calm himself. “…You always have a backup plan, Loki- I hope you have one today-“
The other god simply smiled. “Of course. You are my backup plan, brother… as well as Doctor Banner. I suggest you two get going-“
There were collective groan and shock that filled the room but Thor and Bruce simply bolted out without another word.
But just as the rogues were about to follow Loki let out a dramatic sigh. “Again, stop getting in the way.”
“You do not get to tell us what to do!” Clint shouted back.
“How sure are you that Strange can handle this?” Fury finally spoke.
Silence fell from the rogues but mostly out of shock.
“Quite certain. …I’m sure you did your homework. All the rumors of his help to multiple heroic organizations on Midgard, already held up his own against three demonic entities. They are all true. I simply want to see a live demonstration.”
Fury shot him a look.
The Asgardian simply raised an eyebrow. “And you don’t?”
After a moment the Director let out a sigh.
“Rest of you, stand down.”
They fixed Fury with a look of disbelief.
But the Director simply gave them his usual stern look.
“We should be helping them! If Thor and Banner will be needed-”
“Oh please,” Loki let out a scoff. “I only said that to get rid of my brother. His voice can be so infuriating to put up with at times when I need to think…”
There was mutter of curses and exasperation.
And the last of the Captain’s patience snapped. Ignoring Loki, he stared at Fury dead in the eyes. “You are scared of Strange. I don’t know why but you are afraid he’ll turn against you soon. What is this about? What can you be this afraid of you are willing to risk Tony’s life just for bit of information-“
“Captain,” came the firm reply. “You are about to see for yourself why exactly I’m concerned.”
Steve ran a hand through his hair. The frustration nearly coursing through is vain. He glanced quickly towards Natasha but she looked… blank… too blank. It’s not a look he had seen in awhile. But at the moment, he couldn’t pay it much heed. He turned towards the Asgardian with a glare.
“What’s in it for you? What is the point in all this for you?”
Loki only stared back. The light smirk still playing on his lips but oddly no sign of clear emotions.
“The point?” the god repeated calmly.
“…Stop acting like a heartbroken bitch, Anthony, and think like a warrior! What. Do. You. Want.”
“I WANT THE THRONE! … I want… what you what you have. I want what you took. What you took with no hesitation and no remorse. I want... what I deserve. WHAT I AM OWED!”
Loki let out a scoff, his expression cold. "Someone like you... you will never understand, Captain."
That stopped him from outright shouting. The Captain turned towards Natasha who was giving him a stern look.
"He's... been back... in New York before Thano's attack," she said evenly. "At least two years. He didn't contact Tony for some reason. He's planning something, we just don't know what."
Steve frowned, "And you didn't tell us this?"
"Under my instruction, Captain," Fury stood from his seat, walking calmly towards the Captain America. "Till we knew exactly what we were dealing with-"
"But it was enough for you to make a deal with Loki,” he retorted through gritted teeth. But then he looked around to rest of them, fixing on Natasha. "How did we not know for two years he was back?"
There was a laugh. Loki shook his head as he leaned further back onto the wall behind him. "I've been back for quite some time and none of you even had a clue. You're asking the wrong questions, Captain. Quite obvious ones. Magic, of course."
They continued to stare at him, slightly curious.
"My best guess is some distortion spells or some illusions. You may simply not have seen him even if he was in front of your face... or even if you had, you would not remember details of one's traits. Making it impossible to recall at a later point-"
Then something hits him.
“For Tony Stark?”
"How about dahlias. Red.”
“Vincent… Vincent Stevens.”
Stephen Vincent Strange.
His gaze snapped up. Natasha and Bucky were staring at him with a look of concern.
"Not two," he said slowly. "...He's been back far longer."