In the Eyes
James Rhodes knew that he was pushing the limits of the suit. Tony had updated the repulsors to allow for speeds up through Mach 3, but he had cautioned against doing sustained flight at that speed in the suit. James might only be an astrophysicist, and not a billionaire genius with multiple doctorates, but he was an experienced enough pilot and engineer to know that the inertia dampeners would need replacing when he got to New York.
If he got there.
Things got a little shaky over St. Louis.
James had just pushed it a little harder.
Tony had called for help, and James had blown him off. Well, not exactly, because he had been under fire from that damn robotic menace at the time and literally had to finish the fight or leave allies as well as innocents in harm’s way. Tony had still called for help, and James had still told him that he wasn’t immediately headed his way. Tones might have said that he had understood, but James would never be able to forgive himself if something had happened to the idiot.
He had been late too many times already.
Please let him not be too late this time.
Please. Just let him not be too late.
JARVIS got into War Machine’s systems right as James hit the Tri-State Area. Tony’s genius had always been a thing of wonder for James, but hearing how frantic JARVIS was about not being able to confirm any readings of his creator just made that awe burn brighter. James talked his nephew off the proverbial ledge while circling the thankfully contained battle zone.
He only contacted the swarm of first responders long enough to order all of the debris be treated as bio-hazards of the greatest contagion levels. The army grunts arriving on site hadn’t wanted to listen to him initially, because the army never did get anyone who actually knew how to fucking think, but James had not risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by letting some enlisted man get delusions of grandeur.
Jesus fuck, it shouldn’t even have been a fight.
It was alien tech and alien bodies . Who knew what kind of germs they had? There was no telling what their version of the common cold might do to humans. Had everyone fucking forgotten War of the World and V ? Intergalactic germs were nothing to fuck around with.
When he found the stupid genius, James was going to pin him to fucking couch and they were going to binge on pizza and old sci-fi until James didn’t want to shoot idiots.
And it would be a when , because James wouldn’t accept anything else.
Tony had better be alive or James swore to God and Physics that he would figure out time travel just to punch Howard Stark.
He would have punched Tony, but as he had discovered while Tony was dying ( secretly , like a fucking putz), punching Tony was nearly as satisfying as one might imagine. Damn idiot tended to act like he actually deserved it now matter how much he didn’t.
And that more than anything was why James wanted to invent time travel in order to punch Howard.
…and if he happened to take Tony home to his momma a bit earlier, then it would be between him and God, wouldn’t it?
Though Tony did say that he wasn’t helping James break the universe just to punch his dad, no matter how much he agreed (at least out loud) that Howard deserved to be punched.
That was alright.
JARVIS would help him.
James buzzed the tower as he circled Midtown. His heart skipped a few beats at the sight of the missing window to the penthouse. On the next fly-by, he slowed and landed gingerly in the space. The main power was out, but the auxilary lighting was up. That should be enough to open the emergency panel to punch in his code to reboot the system.
He froze on his way to where the panel would be.
Tony’s living room had a crater in the middle of it.
And that crater had a man in it.
God damn it, Tony .
James stomped over to the panel, pried it open, and punched in the code needed to get JARVIS back up and running within the building. Then he stomped over to the lanky figure crumpled in the middle of a crater that looked like it had been made by repeatedly slamming in against the floor.
The man was dressed in a combination of leather and metal armor that would have been at home in ancient times. The quality alone would have placed him as wealthy and possibly nobility, but what really tipped the scales was the amount of decorative detailing on it all. Whoever the man was, he was clearly high level nobility, likely even royalty.
James circled around him, pondering what he should do.
If he should do anything at all.
“Hey, you back with me yet, J?” James asked. If anyone would be able to fill in the gaps in the five hours it had been since Tony’s call, it would be JARVIS. The CI might even be able to connect him with Tony who was currently still MIA.
Damn genius had better still be in the city.
Damn genius had better still be alive .
“My connection to the tower has indeed been restored, Colonel Rhodes,” JARVIS answered immediately. “I have also taken the liberty of beginning preparations for another complete system checked in order to locate the manual override point SHIELD has implanted. These repeated instances of trespassing are beyond forgivable at this point. Sir’s security cannot be allowed to be compromised again.”
“…repeated instances?” James questioned, frowning as a muscle in his cheek twitched with the protect rage surging through him. He thought that he and Fury had come to an understanding after the second time SHIELD had dared to kidnap Tony. SHIELD may had thought they were helping both times, but their attempts at conscripting Tony had been both blatant and heavy-handed.
James was going to have to teach Fury who was the one with all the cards here.
“Agent Coulson arrived approximately forty-five hours ago to request Sir’s assistance recovering certain artifacts that had been stolen by the alien currently recovering in the floor before you. Agent Coulson was quite dismissive of the necessity of Sir’s help in the project, even as he insisted the importance of the mission.” JARVIS paused. “In fact, it would be factually accurate to conclude that Sir was critical not only to overall mission success but to success at each stage. My analysis suggests that only two of the current accepted members are actually capable of fulfilling the stated reason for the Avengers Initiative. Sir is not listed as a team member, despite the efficiency burden he carried throughout.”
“First off, you’re sounding a bit bitter there, kiddo,” James replied. “Second off, that’s an alien ?”
“While his outward appearance does resemble baseline human, he is of extraterrestrial origin, yes. While Prince Thor referred to him several times in a fraternal way, I believe the mild assertion that Prince Loki was adopted may explain some of the less obvious genetic differences I have uncovered. Of primary importance for the next few moments is that his healing metabolic rate is a great deal better than what has been demonstrated by Prince Thor.”
“He’s about to wake up, isn’t he?”
“He’s about to awaken, yes,” JARVIS confirmed right as the man in the crater groaned and began to shift his limbs. “He does still have multiple severe fractures in his spine and a greenstick break in the ulna of his left arm.”
“Damn it,” James said as he moved forward as quickly as possible to press the man still again. “I know you’re out of it, but you’ve got to stop moving, sir. You’re injured. You’re healing it—JARVIS, what’s the ratio we’re looking at?”
“Something on par with what is standard for feral mutants,” JARVIS answered dutifully. “Colonel, there is a discrepancy in Prince Loki’s biometric signature. It is the same discrepancy found within Dr. Selvig and Agent Barton’s biometric signature after Agent Romanoff applied, ah, cognitive recalibration to remove the influence of the specter.”
“Great, just great,” James groused, shifting his hold on Loki to keep him supine. “The guy who killed eighty-something people and led an alien invasion resulting in that mess out there was just as mind-controlled as his minions. Do we have any idea who the puppeteer really was?”
“What does it even matter?” Loki asked from beneath James’ hand. He sounded as exhausted as Tony had after fighting Stane and then getting kidnapped by SHIELD. “No one can stop him.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” James argued. “If I know my idiot, he’s already got six plans bouncing around in his head, and just needs more intel to go forward. Tones doesn’t lose, if only out of sheer spite.”
“Stark?” Loki scoffed at the idea, but James got the feeling it wasn’t the same way that people normally did at the idea of Tony having the solution to something or really, being anything but the flash and glitz of his press mask. “The man threatened me with the offer of a drink and then accused me of performance issues!”
“Yeah, that sounds like Tones,” James agreed. He glanced at the missing window. “Is that what happened to the window?”
“Throwing him out of it seemed like the reasonable thing to do at the time.”
“Sir did have a mild concussion from the incident but was otherwise unharmed. His vitals were strong until I lost contact with the Iron Man armor.” There was a marked pause. “Sir has entered the lobby along with Agent Barton, Agent Romanoff, Mr. Rogers, Prince Thor, and Dr. Banner. Sir has minor injuries and in need of substance, but he is otherwise in acceptable health.” A crackle of static came through the intercom system. “Judging on body language and conversation, Sir plans on offering them living space in the tower.”
“Oh, hell, no,” James objected automatically. Loki watched with curious green eyes like James’ horror was mildly amusing. “Ain’t no way I’m letting anyone working for SHIELD live with Tones. Damn assholes have been trying to get him under their thumb since they crawled out of the muck of Afghanistan. Romanoff thinks nothing of drugging and manipulating someone if it furthers her agenda, and I can’t see Barton being much better. Unless that Mr. Rogers has a television show and a series of admittedly really cool cardigans, he can be someone else’s fucking neighbor. Banner can stay, if for no other reason than it will piss off Ross and that will please Tony.” He frowned at Loki thoughtfully. “I don’t know about Thor.”
“He’s a hotheaded buffoon,” Loki supplied, “and sees nothing wrong with that. He was going to start a war after we had successfully brokered a truce because someone called him ‘princess’.”
“Right, so another machismo jerk,” James snapped. “I don’t care if he’s a prince or whatever. He’s not getting his hooks into Tony.” James eyed the supine man again, finding far too many similarities to Tony for his peace of mind. He heaved a sigh. “God damn it all to hell.”
The elevator doors opened and Tony practically flew out of it (without his armor, like a goddamn idiot). The genius immediately crossed the space to the pair in the center of the crater. The others following along at a more sedate pace. The huge green man that must have been Dr. Banner (Tony tended to wax poetical about how the physicist had managed to break the laws of physics) hung back near the elevator.
“Honeybear,” he said as he ran his hands over the armor as if trying to find an injury. “What the hell did you do to my baby to get here from Hong Kong already?”
“Hello to you, too, man,” James greeted dryly. He could feel the sudden tension running through Loki even through the gauntlet. “ My armor is just fine, thank you. Maybe the dampeners are a bit fried, but nothing that can’t wait.”
“SHIELD is on their way to take Loki into custody,” Romanoff said, taking the opportunity to sidle closer. James glared at her venomously enough that she froze before reaching them. Keeping his eyes on the untrustworthy spider, he directed his words more towards Tony than anyone else.
“Loki isn’t going anywhere,” he ordered in his sharpest officer voice. The blond man dressed like a cheap knockoff of Captain America straightened his back in the same way that enlisted always did. Strangely, so did the Hulk. “He’s especially isn’t going anywhere with the likes of SHIELD.”
“Colonel Rhodes,” Romanoff began only to stop when James gestures sharply for her to do so.
“Don’t you dare speak another word,” he ordered. Tony was looking between him, Loki, and the group of would-be superheroes. James had no doubt which side he would back if it came down to it. Careful to keep line of sight on the SHIELD agents, James shifted his gaze to make eye contact with Tony. “Loki stays.”
Tony gave a sharp nod to show that he understood James’ position, even if he didn’t understand the reasons behind it.
“Colonel Rhodes?” asked another blond man, this one wearing armor of a similar style as Loki. He carried a medium-sized war hammer decorated with Norse runes and filigree. Going along with the naming theme, James figured this must be Thor . “You should know that my brother led the invasion against your world.”
“Barton there participated, too,” James snapped. The archer winced before bristling. “And Selvig helped as well. You cannot exempt someone from the same excuse you’re using to protect others.”
“My brother is not well,” Thor continued. “He is also known to twist the truth to suit his narrative better. Whatever he may have told you—“
“I’m gonna stop you there, Point Break,” Tony interrupted as he plopped down on one of the couches surrounding the crater like he didn’t have a care in the world. From somewhere, he had pulled out one of his stashed baggies of dried fruit. The mylar crinkled loudly in the tense silence. “Rhodey doesn’t do things willy-nilly, and you assuming he could be taken in by Reindeer Games there is just embarrassing to all of us.” Tony leveled a blank look at Thor. “You know what I’ve noticed about you, Thor? You don’t want anyone even suggesting that Loki is crazy, but it’s one of the first things you reach for when you’re trying to explain his behavior. Which tells me that this entire scheme isn’t exactly normal for Loki-poo.”
“Loki has always been a trickster,” Thor said carefully, like he was struggling with a concept that was just out of reach. He frowned at his brother. “This has not been up to his usual standards, however. The strategy is foolhardy and reckless.”
“Desperate?” Tony asked nonchalantly. He gestured to one of JARVIS’ input cameras. A holographic image of Loki appeared where they all had a clear view of it. James felt himself stiffen as he took in the visible evidence of at least three different advanced interrogation methods. “Correct me if I’m wrong—though I don’t think I am—but that doesn’t look like a side effect of mind control. Unless Bird Boy is hiding things? No?”
“Loki didn’t have any of that in Germany,” Romanoff pointed out. Tony held out a hand to stop her there.
“JARVIS, what’s your verdict?”
“Prince Loki has an accelerated healing rate that is on par with the mutant known as the Wolverine. The twenty-two hours between his arrival at the PEGASUS compound and his appearance in Germany would have been sufficient for him to recover physically.”
“Thanks, baby boy,” Tony said as he stood up to circle around the hologram of Loki. Then he looked down at James and Loki. He gave another sharp nod and turned back to the others. “As a final tidbit for those playing the home game, I would like you all to look at this image and tell me what color eyes our would-be emperor has.”
“I don’t see why that matters, but they’re blue,” snapped the idiot wearing the Captain America costume. (James did have to admit that he looked an awful lot like the Captain America in the old news reels and propaganda films. It was a bit uncanny, really.) Romanoff and Barton nodded their agreement. Thor, however, looked at them confused.
“My brother’s eyes are green.”
“No, Loki’s eyes are blue,” Barton insisted angrily. He gestured towards the image still hanging in the air. “You can see it right there plain as day!”
“My brother’s eyes are green,” Thor insisted in return. He examined the image closely though, even reaching out as if it was actually his brother in need of comfort. “He was not well when he fell from the Bifrost… when he let himself fall into the Great Void, we had thought him perished. I am ashamed now to say that we did not seek to confirm that.” His pale blue eyes were filled with regret and shame when he met James’ gaze. “You must understand that such a death is considered incredibly shameful. To even attempt it would be a great dishonor upon an entire House.”
“Well, then it’s a very good thing that Loki is staying put, isn’t it?” Tony asked rhetorically. James gave Loki what he hoped was a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Tony gave the SHIELD agents a shark-like grin that seemed to unnerve them both. “So who wants to tell ol’ Saint Nick the good news?”
“So fucking not it,” Barton announced immediately. For good measure, he touched his finger to his nose. Still green and larger than life, Dr. Banner mirrored the motion. Romanoff sighed as if the world had ceased to make sense just to annoy her, but she touched her finger to her nose as well. Rogers just looked confused at what they were all doing.
“I do not understand whatever reference this is,” he admitted. He sounded as much resigned to that as he did frustrated by it. “I’m assuming that I am expected to be the one who tells the Director that Stark is absconding with our invader?”
“Well, we could always just play dumb about it,” Tony suggested with an ever-widening grin. “We could put glasses on him and call him our cousin Sven from Sweden.”
“We’re not doing that,” Romanoff objected.
“I don’t know,” James said blandly. “He does look just like me. We could be brothers. Can’t you see the family resemblance?”
Tony was the only one who laughed.