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     Darcy snagged her last strawberry Pop-Tart, narrowing her eyes at Stark, standing stock-still in the doorway. He had funny moods, she'd learned quickly. Since she'd started her 'job' herding superheroes (like being a preschool teacher, only with more booze and danger, and you were allowed to swear and talk about porn), he'd already blown up three entire floors, tried to install a wall of video screens on the south face of the tower, and doodled most of a doctoral-thesis-level thermoelectric theory on a rec room floor in permanent marker. Pepper had said to absolutely make him clean it up himself, and that had ended in him inventing the best chemical stain remover known to man. So net win?

     Hey, at least she was free of the shackles of Publish or Perish. If that meant she had to hang out with a moody, rich genius and a bunch of other awesome people while she did whatever the hell she wanted, she could deal. But Staring-At-Things Tony was more times than not About-To-Remodel-With-A-Sledgehammer-And-Homebrew-Laser Tony, and that was why Coulson paid her to live in a cushy penthouse with maid service and a Jacuzzi bathtub that might have been bigger than some New York apartments. Somebody had to interrupt these guys before they did stupid things anybody over the age of eight knew would get them grounded.

     "Hey," Darcy called out, tossing him one of the packets of Pop-Tarts. It made him move, which was better than letting him get carried away with whatever he was thinking, and once it was in his hands the reflex kicked in to open it and eat the pastry. That much was no different from interning for Jane.

     "Wow. I had no idea how hungry I was." Tony swallowed his second bite and went straight to chomping a third off the brick of processed flour, sugar, and berry flavoring. "Thanks."

     "What'cha lookin' at?"

     The scientist kept staring at something in the next room as she walked up, and he half pointed at whatever she couldn't see yet, brushing with the same hand at a few crumbs of icing stuck in his beard. "Mmm," he grunted around the slab of pastry in his mouth, swallowing it down before he possibly could have chewed it enough. "Steve," Tony answered.

     Sure enough, when she got to the door, she could see Big, Blond, and Beautiful passed out on the couch by the table strewn with XBox and Playstation controllers. Well, everyone knew Tony had a thing for staring at Captain America. And who could blame him? The man was smokin' hot. "Yup. That's definitely Steve."

     "He's sleeping."

     "He's probably tired."

     "He's reliably fallen asleep in that spot for the last five days running, despite not having any significant changes to his routine, diet, or emotional state. Doesn't seem to correlate to any time of day, though. It's that spot."

     "I can see you've thought about this." Everyone knew Cap had trouble settling down, but wasn't that how it went? Sometimes, you really hit some kind of freaky biorhythm where no matter how hard it was to sleep at night or how zapped you were... Bam! Conscious one minute, unconscious the next. It could happen. "Hey, my Dad's house had this one couch in the living room where nobody could stay awake longer than five minutes. Maybe this place does that to Steve."

     "Don't. Tell. Anybody. About. This. I need to do a controlled environmental observation, with no one changing their routine at all, to determine what factors are causing Steve to pass out. Once I figure out what's causing it, I can program the bedroom to replicate those conditions whenever he asks. Problem solved forever."

     A rough voice called out, "You really think you can fix Steve's insomnia?" Clint had walked in from the hallway, munching from a bag of popcorn.

     Tony looked up with a scowl. "Shh! And yes. Once I've decided to do something, it's just a matter of time."

     "There are some in Asgard who face this trial as well." Thor had walked up behind them, right over her shoulder, as heart-stoppingly quiet as ever -- which always seemed like it ought to be impossible given his enormous boots. "Warriors who find sleep evades them, and cannot rest even in the afterlife. It is little known, even among the people of Asgard, but the Valkyries who serve in my Father's hall find that the scent of their wings can settle the warriors' spirits and let slumber take them."

     Natasha laughed from where she'd suddenly appeared, stealing Clint's popcorn. "I'm sure Tony will find that real helpful for putting his boyfriend down at night."

     Chucking a paper plane he'd folded out of the Pop-Tart wrapper straight at Natasha's forehead (she caught it), Tony hissed, "What part of 'Shhh!' do you people not understand? If Steve finds out, he'll get all self-conscious, and then it'll just get worse! And I guess I'll just have to do without my nice controlled environment, since now you all know. Just watch. You'll start changing things, and the variables will shift, and then it won't work anymore!"

     "Do you need help setting up the scanning equipment?" Bruce asked, stepping in from the hallway and taking a handful of popcorn when Clint offered the bag. "Sorry, I heard you all talking from the elevator. I assume there will be scanning equipment involved."

     Before Tony could answer, Steve twitched on the couch and blinked himself awake. "Gosh. Must've dozed off. I don't even remember feeling tired. Did I miss something, guys?" He stared around the room at the six pairs of eyes fixed on his seat.

     "Nope," Natasha said with a shrug, and turned for the door. Everyone else followed until only Tony and Darcy were left looking at the recently roused hero.

     "Tony..." The hint of reprimand coating Steve's tone was deliberate, Darcy knew.

     The billionaire threw his hands up in the universal gesture of surrender. "I didn't do anything!"

     With a sigh, the Captain strode over to the doorway where they were standing. "Why is it that every time you say you didn't do anything, I hear a, 'yet,' stapled to the end of it?"

     A smirk wrinkled the side of Tony's face, and Darcy just kept watching as the two men drifted closer, and closer, and closer... Eyes locked, Cap clearly trying to remember not to grab Tony by the hip in 'public' (ie, not the bedroom -- Cap wasn't that kind of boy)... She was very extra careful not to let her Pop-Tart wrapper crinkle while they had their little moment. Wouldn't want to startle them, in case they'd forgotten she was here. They were close enough now that Tony barely had to stretch his arm out to poke Steve in the chest. "Auditory hallucinations. You should get that checked."

     "Right." And just when she thought they couldn't get any cuter, the blond turned to her and nodded, saying, "Ma'am," as he stepped out toward the hallway.

     Because like hell Captain America would kiss someone while she was watching. She'd probably get weirded out and call Coulson to take him to the hospital if he ever actually did.

     Although it would be hot.

~//~

     Bruce considered it a miracle of psychology that Tony had managed to hang onto his reputation as an egomaniac who didn't give two shits for anybody. He was an egomaniac, all right, and hearing him expound for the last hour on how they were hanging 'absolutely the latest in sensor technology (tweaked this morning to improve on what he'd designed for NASA's latest Mars rover)' was all the proof anyone could need. But the media never seemed to notice that Tony's actual idea of a good time was living on coffee and adrenaline, fixing the most distracting problem he could find in anybody's life but his.

     Tony never would have done this if Tony couldn't sleep. Steve, absolutely. Probably any one of the Avengers, or a bum on the street if he was interesting enough to make Tony listen to his problems, but the man would have laid his ass down on the line for Fury to get forty winks before he'd have bothered with his own health.

     But people saw what they wanted to see. Some things never changed.

     Holding out a drywall-dusted arm, Tony called, "Screwdriver!" and fitted a screw to a hole in the side in his creation's metal brackets. The robotic nodes were already blinking, fans spinning and tasting the air, panels measuring everything from pollen to photon density.

     "With or without vodka?" Bruce asked, rolling his fingers over the handles on the table.

     The engineer never took his eyes off his baby as he grinned. "Phillips head, if you don't mind. And what did I tell you about people around here changing their habits, huh?"

     "You mean how they've stopped playing video games here just in case Steve wants to sack out?"

     "And moved all their crap out of the way, and stopped eating here. All different!"

     A voice cut in from the hallway door. "What's got you two so busy?"

     A very familiar voice. Bruce turned around, and there was Steve himself, big as life. How Tony planned to explain this one -- caught in the act of bolting a robotic sensor plate into a wall -- only time would tell. A humble biochemist wasn't going to make guesses about something as volatile as Tony Stark.

     "Busy?" Tony asked. "I'm not busy. What do you mean, 'busy'?"

     Steve shook his head and stared his patented 'We both know that's bullshit' stare (photogenic enough for the news cameras, but pH-balanced for Tony Stark). "I mean you're standing on a ladder, covered in dust, screwing something into your wall, Tony. You hanging art?"

     The engineer took a step down on the aforementioned ladder and Bruce smiled at him gleefully to explain that absolutely in no way did he plan to help get him out of explaining himself. Tony's insistence on attempting to keep this escapade a secret in the name of uncontaminated sample data to preserve the viability of his oh so scientific tests was his own folly. Letting out a hiss through teeth clenched in something like a grin, Tony spun one of the fanned nodes with his finger. "I guess you could call it that. It's basically art. A form of art, anyway." He scruffed his hair up wilder than it already was, then circled his hands around the dust-sprinkled wall. "This... is my art."

     Bruce chuckled to no one as he packed up a few tools into the box. So the man really thought he could get away without Steve noticing, huh? Steve, meanwhile was making that lip-twisted frown -- the one he always used to make in the old movies when he was explaining to the bad guys exactly how cooked their goose was. The way he cocked his eyebrows probably matched, too, but he'd always worn the cowl in the movies so there wasn't exactly hard comparative data to work with. Just speculation.

     Probably accurate speculation.

     The good captain sauntered over to the device in question and frowned a little harder at the green, blinking lights. "Well. You're no Marcel Duchamp, but you know... I think there's a sort of whimsy in the asymmetry of the design..."

     "Did you hear that?" Tony asked Bruce, nodding and pointing at the blond. "He said I had whimsy. I think that's a compliment."

     "He said your robot 'art' had whimsy," Bruce shot back.

     "I see some definite Dadaist influence in the placement of the circuit boards." Steve waved a finger in front of the mechanism. "The different layers here bring out a shifting collage effect, telling a kind of story about the artist's life through this, here... the balance of those blinky lights and those whirligig arms..." Nodding seriously, he let out a sigh. "It's saying the artist is a nutjob who needs to get out of the workshop and breathe some fresh air. Maybe see the sunshine."

     "God, I love it when you talk dirty. And please tell me that last bit was you asking me out on a date. Because yes. Absolutely, just name the day. I know this park. We could have a picnic. It's got trees, and rocks, and dirt. Real dirt--"

     "What's it do, Tony?"

     One of the smartest men on Earth (and Bruce had met pretty much everyone who might challenge him for the spot, most without a chance of success) stood blinking for a few seconds before he finally asked, "You mean... Dirt? Or the park?"

     And history proved once again that nothing short-circuited a man's brain faster than a good-looking blond.

     With a roll of his eyes, Steve knocked the wall twice. "Your installation here. What's it do?"

     "Why... would it need to do... anything?"

     A man who was clearly not fooled by Tony's hedging took a deep breath and turned a cutting eye at the table with a toolbox, then glanced up at him and his screwdrivers. "Dr. Banner, is this thing in the wall going to explode?"

     "It's got about the same chance of blowing up as the couch does. Can't guarantee it'll never happen, but there's nothing in it that should cause a blast."

     "Good enough." He twirled the same fan that Tony had spun earlier. "I'm sure we'll hear all about it at the next Stark Expo. But if you're serious about that picnic, why don't we all head out now? I could use some time to stretch my legs, too. I was just out on the terrace, and before you knew it, I fell right asleep again. It's the darnedest thing. And now I just can't sit still."

     Tony narrowed his eyes, looking back and forth between his sensor gizmo and Steve. "The terrace?" he asked. "On which floor?"

     Oh boy. Here they went again.

~//~

     Set the parameters for the neutron flow, weld the jointures to the base... J.A.R.V.I.S. had added optional bolts to the base specs as usual, 'just in case', but fuck bolts. Bolts holding the physical device together were for people who used fully interchangeable, non-customized parts. Or who planned to take things apart later. Not necessary. "DUM-E, I need you to hold..." The robot wheeled over and grappled some sagging cordage on the nitrogen pump he was using. "Thanks. Almost got this here. And--"

     "And by the time you're done with this project, Tony, your drywall is going to have more holes than swiss cheese. Why you don't already have a modular sensor system built into your environmental controls, I don't..." Tony looked up, and Bruce went silent in a flash, grimacing and picking up his Rubik's cube. "You know, forget I said anything."

     "No, no, no, that's exactly what I have to do. Hook into the wiring throughout the house. I'll need to start now, and it won't be done as fast as the single-site units, but that's the end of the shifting location problem!"

     Another voice called out, "But what're you going to do when I conk out on a mission, Tony? You don't have atmospheric control out there."

     Blast and damn. A) That was, regrettably, correct. B) Boy would that be a complication to everything. C) Steve's voice. Within earshot. Not expected. Generally implied the presence of a Steve, and while that was almost always ideal, situations where he was working on something that was secret from said Steve operated contrary to the norm. Tony whipped around to the workroom entrance where, in fact, his Steve was suddenly standing. One of these days, he was going to have to get around to finding where in the hell Pepper had hidden the overrides in his security that stopped him from ever locking Steve out of anywhere. Most days, most projects, it just wasn't a problem. He'd never bothered thinking about it. But right now -- decidedly inconvenient. As previously stated: Blast. And damn.

     And that line had sounded a lot like Steve knew way more about what was going on than he should anyway.

     Tony puzzled up his eyes at the good doctor, currently lounging on a stool while his beaker burbled, working on twisting the Rubik's cube into a trail of all six colors in order until it wrapped around the six sides of the figure in an unbroken, labyrinthine loop. Nothing looked guilty about him. "Well, you didn't spill."

     "Nobody told me anything, Tony." The sometimes-not-star-spangled but always substantially plan-endowed man took a seat at the workbench and sighed, shaking his ... distractingly gorgeous head. And Tony had just let his welder burn a divot in the plate. It wasn't going to hurt anything, but... Yeah. This was definitely why Pepper had wired the building to let Steve go anywhere. He was going to have to put up his tools until further notice and switch to listening mode. Dropping his welder into its holder, he grinned his best, 'You caught me, I give up', grin and hoped that the clear, solid stare coming from the Captain's blue eyes didn't mean he was angry. "You put your little scanners up everywhere I've suddenly fallen asleep for the past week. I've got a brain. Now, I hope you have some progress to report."

     The silence drew out. Tony blinked. But nope, Steve kept staring and waiting for an answer. And it wasn't the face he made when he was joking, either. Steve's 'joking' face was ever so subtly more earnest, so as to push his demeanor over the line into self-mockery -- which was adorable -- but this was actual seriousness, asking him for results. "You mean.. you're not upset?" Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.

     Great. He was starting to think in book numbers. He had to get Steve more interested in rock concerts so as to balance out their dates at Broadway musicals; and if he didn't do it soon, his bad-boy persona would atrophy into nothingness.

     "That you're studying me, Tony?" The Captain dropped his hand to the nearest workbench and picked up a prototype pen that would soon let him write in semi-permanent holographic text on any reflective surface. Anywhere. And it ran OCR on the text so he could upload it to the appropriate files on his server, of course, but that was kinda old hat. "Is there any part of your life you don't treat as an ongoing research opportunity? If I minded how you study things, I wouldn't live here."

     "That pen is going to be useful. For things."

     "My point stands." Then the serious eyes came back, accompanied by the serious frown. "Look, like I said, I knew what I was getting into with you when I moved in, and I need to know as soon as possible why I've been passing out lately. I can't stop it when I do. That means I have to take myself off active duty until we figure it out, because I can't risk falling asleep at the wheel when lives are at stake."

     That. Had never even occurred to him. Probably not the best time to mention any episodes where he may (no evidence remained, no one could prove anything) have woken up hungover and/or still drunk after sleep-flying the Iron Man suit to indiscriminate parts of Europe. Which he hadn't done in nearly a year. And back on topic, they couldn't have missions without Steve! That'd be... That'd be unpatriotic.

     "Nothing has happened outside the building, right?" Tony asked.

     "That doesn't mean it won't."

     Bruce coughed into his hand and broke into the conversation. "I think what Tony's trying to do is verify that his data covers all known variables. If it's happened outside anywhere, we could have our Broad Street Pump."

     "Our what?" Tony asked.

     Steve looked up at him with a grin that tried but failed to ruin his chiseled jawline. "Cholera outbreak in London, 1854. Everyone who caught it was using water from the same pump. I've known a lot of doctors. They love that one."

     "Oh. That old thing. But yeah. If there's any data I don't already have, go ahead and lay it on me."

     "Nope," the blond answered. "You've been darn thorough. What've you found out?"

     "That there's no biological, meteorological, or chemical consistency whatsoever between any of the sites where you've fallen asleep, and that everybody in the house has completely up-ended their routines every time they see me put up a scanner, so I can't get any matches on people patterns. I'm about ready to knock heads together. This is why I wanted a controlled, pristine, natural environment!"

     "So you're saying it's something that somebody's doing?"

     Must. Stop. Staring. At furrows on forehead. Must use thinky brain....

     "I can't say it's definitely something that somebody's doing. There's no actual pattern to follow. With any luck, maybe--"

     "Tony. He means you've eliminated every other condition you can think of," Bruce translated.

     "Ah. Yes." Tony nodded at the biochemist. "Thanks."

     "How do you two talk when I'm not around?"

     "We manage," Steve said, as Tony simultaneously laughed, "Private conversation is private!" Bruce just sniffed and spun his finished Rubik's cube design around on his workbench like he didn't believe a word of it.

     Steve stood up from his stool, arms coming to rest akimbo on his hips as he looked 'heroically' out the door. He never noticed when he slipped into his old poster poses, and Tony never mentioned it. If he mentioned it, Steve might stop doing it. Did not want! "Well, that settles it then," Steve said, pulling his phone from his pocket and making a few quick swipes with his thumb.

     Both his phone and Bruce's chirped the, "Avengers, Assemble!" jingle from the action figure commercials. Barton's doing. And while it'd only taken him five minutes to find and block the backdoor in the code the bowman had used to get that into the system, Tony had claimed full responsibility following that for how he didn't want to change it. Sort of gave the action figures a kind of retroactive authenticity, he thought, plus it sounded awesome. The text that went with the jingle read, "Group meeting, 18th floor. 5 minutes. Steve."

     Flicking off the power to the welding torch, Steve nodded his chin at the new sensor. "I think that can wait."

~//~

     Everyone else sat around the table, trading looks and scrunched up faces with no clear idea what to do. Natasha pulled a dagger and a whetstone out of her boot and started sharpening. So Steve had called Tony on his bullshit, it looked like, but she wasn't sure how a meeting would help. As much as she liked Steve and wanted to help him figure out why his state of consciousness was suddenly out of his control, and as much as she respected his position on not risking a mishap in the field, she'd checked for contaminants on every personal item she'd used in Steve's nap spot as soon as the pattern showed up. If there'd been anything she noticed, she would've brought it up days ago. Clint had checked his stuff, too, she knew, and Dr. Banner and Thor didn't really have "things". The only other people besides them at this meeting were Steve and Stark, and they noticed everything about each other.

     Which meant this meeting was either an exercise in running around in circles without getting anywhere, or there was something she'd overlooked. Hence sharpening her already nicely maintained dagger. It helped her focus.

     Shnk.

     Shnk.

     "Look," Tony said, throwing up his hands. "There must be something one of you changed between twelve and fourteen days ago, and it's sending Steve to Never Never Land. Could be anything. Brainstorming, let's go."

     Shnk.

     Shnk.

     Shnk.

     New shock circuits, three weeks ago. New hair dye, yesterday. Two weeks ago came up basically blank, no matter how Natasha thought about it. Between that mess in London and the pick-up in Beirut, her stopovers in the mansion around then hadn't been much more than a shower and a nap. Clearing her throat, she checked the first edge of her dagger where it caught the light. "I don't think they're playing dumb because the concept is unclear, Stark," she sighed. "I think everybody's got a routine, and they stick to it."

     Clint shrugged and stretched his hands behind his head. "The high-stress superhero is a creature of habit, my friend. It's what keeps you sane." Like Clint could tell anybody from sane. He tilted back his chair on two legs to put his feet on the table, but Rogers batted them back down with a stern glare. As much as Natasha had to agree with Clint's opinion, though, it didn't solve the problem at hand, and the problem at hand was getting a lot older than she liked her problems. Or her friends' problems. She started in on the other edge of the blade.

     Shnk.

     Shnk.

     Dr. Banner looked as if he was about to start cackling like a hoarse, baritone version of the Wicked Witch of the West. Thor had his thoughtful face on, but he'd been visiting Jane in the observatory for days all around the time period Stark had laid out. Not a chance it was him, really. Then again, the location of the problem had changed so often since the initial episode. Messing with Steve's equilibrium every single time he'd had a forced nap wasn't really something any single one of them could have managed. Even Stark wasn't here every single day. That time Steve had passed out in the library, Tony had been in China for that contract negotiation-slash-Iron Man photo op where he'd stopped a bridge from collapsing on a hundred or so school kids.

     Business trips. Superheroing wasn't exactly a desk job.

     Now... Would it be helpful to mention that to Stark? Or not?

     Shnk.

     "Tony, I'm thinking about it..." Steve shook his head and thumbed through some read-outs on a digital display he'd summoned from the counter. "Nobody's schedule matched up to mine well enough to put them in the building every time I went to sleep."

     Nevermind, then. Great minds thought alike. Natasha checked the second edge on the blade, then buffed it on her boot leather, smoothing any imperfections out of the foil-thin metal on the razor edge. Whisper quiet, she slipped it back into its concealed sheath. "Does that mean the meeting's over?" she asked. "Because if I can't actually help here, I've got a lot of Gujarati obscenities to learn and time is wasting."

     Tony held up his hands. "Nobody leaves yet. A person doesn't necessarily have to be present for something they've brought into the mansion to--"

     "Coffee's up!" Darcy called out, walking through the door with a cardboard gallon of doughnut shop joe. Twelve eyes circled up around the table all turned on her, probably all thinking what Natasha was thinking: now there was someone who was always in the mansion these days. Their babysitter dropped the coffee on the counter and quirked her eyes at the team meeting. "What's up, guys? What'd I miss?"

     Tony circled her. When he got like that, you couldn't really stop him from examining every inch of a girl from sneakers to wide-rimmed specs. For all Natasha knew, he'd be able to smell all of Darcy's hair and skin products and cross reference his memory to know what she might have changed and when. Stark had more than brains sometimes, and occasionally he used his skills in ways that the brain just couldn't explain. The girl wrinkled her nose at the encroaching billionaire. "Ah. Help?" she asked the table.

     "Tony..." Rogers cautioned.

     "You, Miss Darcy, have been here every day of the last two weeks."

     "That's what they pay me for."

     "Logic says that you got something from someone or somewhere about two weeks ago, and I'm pretty sure it smells like persimmons. So, what've we got? New perfume? Shampoo? Candy from strangers?"

     The girl reached into her purse and pulled out a bottle of lotion, which Stark examined for a label, of which there was none. Natasha sighed and dropped her head back. She could already see exactly where this was going, and boy wouldn't that be fun. "It was a gift," Darcy told him.

     Tossing the bottle to Rogers, Stark grinned out of the side of his mouth. "A gift from you-know-who?"

     "He knows I'll let you guys pummel him if he makes trouble."

     And there were plenty of people in the room who would've been glad to pummel their babysitter's beau if he was looking for ways to put Captain America out like a light in the middle of a brawl. Lucky for him, Steve had fallen unconscious in safe places without escalating to dangerous places enough times that it really was probably an accident. Natasha was willing to pummel the bastard anyway, if there was a good excuse. Dr. Banner sometimes said she was just being bitter, but like she'd told their biophysicist -- bitter was the only flavor Russians came in.

     Rogers made a twisted face at the lotion and popped the innocuous-looking lid. And would've hit the table like a stone if Dr. Banner hadn't caught him and laid him down gently, dead to the world. Darcy's eyes had gone almost as wide as her glasses. "Well, shit," she muttered.

     Tony caught the lotion Dr. Banner tossed back over the table and mouthed, "Call him," at the stunned brunette.

     She rolled her eyes, pulling her cellphone up to her ear. "Oh yeah. This shit needs called." With a sigh, she drummed her fingers on the counter, and everyone stayed silent enough that the waiting rings echoed off the walls. At last, the other end picked up. "Hey, babe... ... ... Yeah, you got a minute? The team wants to talk. ... ... ... Um, have you met you? Of course you're in trouble. ... ... ... It'll probably be easier to find out when you get here than have me try to explain, so--"

     The sound of a cell phone beeping off echoed out of the hall where no one had been a second ago, and a robed and armored Loki strode into the lounge, happy to show that he had nothing in his hands. Like that was relevant. "Summoned, I come," the Asgardian declared. "For what trespasses must I answer today?"

     Darcy shook the bottle of lotion at him, and everyone at the table pointed at the sleeping pile of Steve Rogers.

     The God of Mischief winced and sucked in a hiss of breath. "Ah. I think I see the problem."

     "Brother, what have you done?"

     Looking up into Thor's pleading, puppy-dog eyes, Loki made the universal intergalactic shrug of 'I didn't know!', as if he thought that could excuse him. Although, Natasha considered, he probably didn't consider excuses to be worth his time. For once, she wasn't sure if the God of Unfortunate Misinterpretations (lies were for pansies) might not be steering them straight. "Well, it really wasn't what I meant to--"

     "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Tony rushed between Loki and Thor, arms crossed in an X over his head. "First problems first! How did you get in here just now? I've got scramblers, teleport detectors--"

     "I am a sorcerer of Asgard," their lanky visitor insisted, matching Stark pride for pride. "I walk on paths the human world can only know in dreams and legend. Your technology is formidable in its own realm, but no man can dam the tides or chain the winds."

     "Goddamn fucking magic!"

     While Stark whipped out his phone to have a hissy fit at someone on the other side of the room, everyone else rounded the table to check on Captain Sleepypants, obliviously using his arm as a pillow, and Natasha propped her feet up on the counter to watch the show (since now Steve wasn't going to say anything). Darcy poked a high, chiseled cheekbone. "Is he gonna be all right?"

     Loki waved away all the worried looks floating around. "Oh, he'll be fine. It's a side effect of the distillment of Valkyrie feathers, I imagine. There are no lasting symptoms."

     "Hello? Strange?" Tony spat into his phone. "Yeah, I need to know how to god-lock a building, ASAP..."

     Clint dropped a little samurai hat he'd folded out of a napkin onto Rogers's head. "But why him? It didn't get any of the rest of us."

     Before Loki could manage an explanation, Thor cut him off. "The feathers' power is meant for those who have died," the blond answered. "Perhaps, having been once dead, the revived are susceptible as well." He furrowed his godly forehead at the dark haired trickster. "No one has put the matter to trial before this."

     Tony's voice exploded over the silence accompanying Loki's less-than-sheepish grin. "Of course I'm asking you, Stephen! What the hell did you think I'd do, call Reed?!"

     Loki grinned and flitted his eyes around the crowd, raising his eyebrow, not at all sorry for anything. Like he ever would be. Instead, he took one of the cups of coffee Darcy and Clint were passing around and magicked some cream out of the air. "Ah... Oops?" he offered. Taking the peach-colored lotion from Darcy's hands, he swapped it out for a purple bottle. "Earth ingredients only, you have my word -- for whatever that's worth." Then, he snapped his fingers quietly by Steve's ear.

     The Captain stirred, stretching as he looked up around the room. "Man. I just had the weirdest dream," he said. He narrowed his eyes straight at Natasha. "And you were there," he said, then turned to Thor, and then Clint. "And you were there, and you... were-- Hey!"

     Loki waved over Clint's shoulder with his trademark shit-eating grin. Lucky for the god, Clint had long since finished taking all the many headshots he'd calculated would make them square for the whole mind control thing, or that could've gotten messy. The asshole -- that was, the prehistoric, legendary asshole, not the ex-circus, sharpshooting asshole -- snagged another cup of coffee and pushed it over the table (everyone watched to be sure he didn't put something in it). "Peace offering?"

     With a half-mocking scowl, Steve let out a sigh that echoed every promise he'd ever made to Stark about allowing their visitor a chance to redeem himself. "You know what you might want to remember, Loki? There's no place like home."

     But he still took the coffee.