“You shouldn’t be down here.”
Loki tilted his head, mindful not to knock any of the lights with his antlers. He hated fixing them.
Clint hopped further into the workshop, wings spread menacingly, talons shining like obsidian in the dim light. “You shouldn’t be down here,” he repeated coldly. “Tony’s not here. It’s not allowed.”
“And yet you are here,” Loki pointed out idly, side-stepping a stool to lean down and examine a truly peculiar-looking device on the table.
“I saw you come down here. You need to leave,” Clint insisted, hopping after him. He let out an irritated sigh when the other monster swiveled to examine the three robots huddled fearfully in the corner. “Leave them alone! You’re scaring them!”
Loki ignored him, instead reaching out to tap one blunt finger to the closest robot’s claw. It flinched away from him and beeped, and then the other two robots let out shrill screeches and lunged at him with their claws threateningly. One threw a fire extinguisher at him.
Loki drew his hand back, not afraid, but concerned the little creatures might rush him anyway. “I did not know humans could still make these.”
Clint paused, talons curling into the floor. “…Make what?”
“Golems,” Loki replied, taking another step back when the clunkiest of the bunch lunged at him again. “The last I had heard of was in Prague, called Yossele. That was… five centuries ago? I had thought the art had been lost.”
Clint hopped over, wings spread awkwardly. He hated looking so much like a bird in front of this guy. “Yeah? I heard Tony made his first one when he was fourteen.” He couldn’t help his crest rising proudly when the other monster looked reluctantly impressed. “Isn’t that right, Dum-E?”
The clunkiest robot beeped and spun in a circle.
Loki covered his mouth with his hand to hide an amused smile. He did not remember Yossele being so rambunctious. Then again, it had been quite busy protecting its Jewish community at the time. “I would have never been able to imagine a metal golem.”
“Yeah,” Clint murmured. “Tony is a clever human. He even made a golem without a body.”
“You mean The Voice, Jarvis?” Loki asked, turning to look at him. “He is not a demon whom Tony has wrested control over?”
Clint shook his head slowly, frowning. “No. I remember when he was creating him at first, he would spend hours at his computer. The closer he got to finishing, the more wild he looked. When Jarvis finally spoke, Tony had been awake for several days. And then he burst into tears.”
“Interesting,” Loki admitted, and finally turned away from the robots. He did not remember how long it took to create Yossele, but he did remember Judah Loew ben Bezale celebrating when the golem protected them. “Is crying Anthony’s typical manner of celebration?”
“Man, he’d been awake for several days. Anyone would cry after years of hard work paid off,” Clint scoffed. “Now come on. We’re not supposed to be down here without permission ever since Bucky accidentally set himself on fire. With the exception of Steve because his scales protect him.”
Loki pretended that didn’t worry him and followed the other monster out of the workshop.
Bucky and Steve were morose.
“Unbecoming,” Natasha said.
Loki did not snort. He wanted to. “Quite.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Steve ordered without his usual heat. He slithered off the couch and onto the floor. “Why does he have to leeeeave?”
“Tony’s very important,” Bucky replied, trying to sound proud, but mostly sounding petulant. “The humans need his time.”
“Humans can go blow!” Steve snapped, then slithered under the couch.
Loki leaned toward Natasha, frowning.
“Yeah, I have no idea. Basically he wants humans to just leave Tony alone because they’re hogging him.”
“Oh,” Loki said, and only vaguely understood. “Where is Anthony?”
Natasha shrugged. “Showing off some new bomb. The humans are excited about it.”
“Anthony makes… bombs?”
“Weapons,” she amended. “Of all sorts. It would be disappointing except for the way he gushes about keeping America’s troops safe.I don’t understand humans and their wars, but I can respect that Tony wants to keep people safe.”
Loki frowned thoughtfully. “With the golems he created, I had expected him to be purely a creator. Not a destroyer as well.”
Natasha turned to stare at him, then assumed when he said ‘golems’ that he meant Tony’s robots. “Tony’s a human,” she said after a moment. “They’ve always created and destroyed. Holding Tony to a different standard simply because he is more brilliant than other humans would be unfair.”
“Mm,” Loki hummed, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Anthony was an interesting human, at least. The creatures were so vapid these days, it was refreshing to find one that was different. He could not say whether he liked or disliked the boy, but he was interested to see what more he could create.
“Guys!” Bruce exclaimed, bursting into the living room. “Guys!”
Loki stepped back further into the shadows. He did not fear Bruce. But the creature he turned into… that creature was a terrifying mixture of Old and new, a creature of rage and instinct. He stayed out of its way as much as possible.
Steve slithered out from under the couch in concern, and Bucky unfolded from being curled up on top of one of Tony’s old sweaters. Clint hopped around to face the room instead of glaring outside. Natasha took a step forward, face set into a serious mask to hide the trepidation the tone Bruce had taken had caused.
“I was listening–I was listening to the radio,” Bruce panted, clutching his chest. His eyes flickered green and brown. “To hear what Tony–To keep at least an ear on him-! His convoy was attacked! He–everyone’s dead–”
It felt as if the room had dropped several degrees.
Bruce clutched the doorway, making an annoyed sound when he crushed it in his palm, wood splintering everywhere. “Not–Not Tony. But the soldiers he was with–they, they’re all dead. Tony–they took Tony.”
Clint let out a horrified screech.
“What do we do?” Bucky asked quickly, standing. “Bruce, what do we do?”
“All we know is that he’s in Afghanistan,” Bruce admitted, the green in his eyes staying longer, visibly struggling to keep to this form. “And there’s–there’s mountains and caves. It would take so long to find him–who knows what condition he’d be in by the time we got there.”
Steve writhed anxiously for a few seconds, then steeled himself. “We have to do something. We can’t just–just leave him out there!”
“The people there are very religious, or very superstitious,” Natasha pointed out. “We’re monsters. They’ll shoot first and ask questions later. We won’t be any good to Tony dead.”
Clint crushed the windowsill in his talons angrily. “We won’t be any good to Tony sitting on our asses, either!”
Bruce let out a wounded sound before he roared, and suddenly the Hulk was there instead, destroying the rest of the doorway, reaching out to grab one of the couches and flinging it across the room.
“Br–Hulk!” Steve exclaimed helplessly. “No! We need–we can’t just destroy things until we figure something out-!”
Loki stepped forward, scowling, gold threads wrapping around the Hulks arms before he could throw anything or anyone else. “This is not conducive to a rescue, creature.”
The Hulk roared, and tugged, and his hooves skidded across the floor in the effort to hold the other monster tight in the gold threads
“You will not threaten me,” Loki said, even though he felt frightened, even though this monster of Old and new was tugging his magic around like so much paper. “You will not threaten me while a Creator needs you to stay calm. You are doing him no service destroying his things.”
Hulk roared again, swinging around, and Loki nearly–nearly–yelped as his hooves skidded across the floor again, losing his balance.
Clint caught him by the antlers with a screech, holding him upright. “Don’t let him go!”
Loki had no intention of doing so, because he was quite certain that the Hulk would turn his aggression on him instead. Still, he couldn’t help his surprise when Steve and Natasha both ran at and then leapt upon the monster.
Steve’s tail constricted around the Hulk’s arms, holding them in place, and Natasha skittered as quickly as she could, wrapping her silk around him, trying to keep him pinned. Bucky scrambled over to press his back against Loki’s front, his paw pads much more suited to the wooden floor than the Old monster’s hooves.
The Hulk continued to roar angrily, struggling, but with the combined force of Loki’s magic and Natasha’s silk, they eventually subdued him. Loki didn’t relax until the other monster stopped roaring, and still kept a thread of magic wrapped around him just in case.
“…Let us never do that again,” Loki suggested, and the other four monsters nodded tiredly.
“What are we going to do?” Natasha asked softly, and it was… most concerning, to see how her shoulders hunched and the way she twisted her fingers in fear. “There are so many nooks and crannies in the desert where he could be. I–I’m not suited for the desert, really. I… could manage perhaps. But I would definitely be out of place.”
Bucky sat down on the floor, looking forlorn. “It would be too hot for me with my fur, wouldn’t it? And the sands would blow around so much–I wouldn’t find a scent anyway.”
“I could?” Steve offered, but then his face crumpled. “I’m no tracker, though. I’d survive and then have nothing to show for it. It’s no use, me going, if I have no idea where he’d be.”
“And it’s not like I could help you with that,” Clint admitted bitterly, roosting on Loki’s antlers. “If they have him in a cave, I’d have no idea.”
Loki opened his mouth to tell him to get off, but the other monster wasn’t heavy, and he was… quite tired after that struggle. “…I know someone who could help.”
“Will they eat him?” Steve asked immediately.
Loki gaped at him, appalled.
“I was going to eat him the first time we met,” Natasha explained.
“…Well,” Loki said.
“Tony bribed me with soup.”
“So will they eat him, or not?” Bucky asked, scowling. “Because if there’s a chance they’ll eat him, we decline. Strenuously.”
“He will not eat Anthony,” Loki sighed, and allowed himself the luxury of rolling his eyes, hard. “…Admittedly, he has not had much interaction with present-day humans, howev–”
Clint squawked. “You wanna send one of your kind after him!? They’re totally gonna eat him!”
“He will not!” Loki snapped, and then scolded himself, fuming, for sounding like a child. “This is his only chance. We can’t just let him gallivant all over looking for Anthony,” he added, motioning at the Hulk.
The monsters grumbled angrily, but truly, their hands were tied. There was no telling if Jim had been killed or injured when the convoy was attacked, so Tony could very well be all alone out there. All alone, and possibly injured, and maybe wondering if someone could come help him, like they’d done before.
They couldn’t just leave him out there. So they agreed.
Tony shivered. He could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. “You get many storms out here?”
Yinsen hummed thoughtfully as he stared down at the backgammon board. “Depends on the season, really.”
Thunder rumbled again. Tony kind of wished he was closer to the entrance of the cave, so he could see the lightning and count to see how close the storm was.
Yinsen lifted his head, frowning. “…It’s not the season, though.”
Tony covered his ears as thunder suddenly crashed… in the cave? The Ten Rings were yelling, and shooting, but the thunder came again, only… only it sounded an awful lot like roaring.
Tony yelped when the cave lit up, electricity crackling over the walls. Yinsen was yelling something, clutching at him, dragging him toward the back of the cave. Tony turned and choked back a scream when he saw the hulking figure there, one of his captors crushed under a single, massive paw.