Chapter 30: Chapter 30
Summary: The rouge Avengers are pardoned under the influence of King T’Challa and it is up to Tony to ‘welcome’ them back. But as he and his new team are at the private airport, an unexpected fight breaks loose and the fate of the whole universe is changed when a wizard places himself as Tony Stark’s protector.
“So you’re going back with Reindeer Games to the place where Thor found you like a gladiator, because why? Please explain it to me again.” Bruce sighed as he regarded Tony while packing a few things he might need during his unexpected trip to Sakaar. He could understand Tony’s befuddlement but Bruce really had to get away from all the people both he and Hulk wanted to pummel into the ground. The sooner the better. He already feels himself fraying at the edges.
“The Grandmaster invited Loki over once he heard about Asgard’s fall and where New Asgard was stationed, saying he wanted to offer a sort of galactic alliance of something between us, and yes, that does include Earth.” Bruce explained, closing his duffel bag. “Since he can’t really be trusted, Heimdall, Brunhilda and I are accompanying him. Since Thor’s still away and we don’t know when the hell he’ll come back, we’re going on our own, but I think between three Asgardians and Hulk, we will be fine. Besides, Heimdall can always just zap us back here with the Bifrost if it comes to that.”
Tony grunted and picked up one of the twenty identical gadgets lying innocently on his workstation and threw it at Bruce. Banner fumbled with it as he tried to catch it and get a good grip while Tony explained. “Before he does that, press that little button and say your name into it. It’s so that the Bifrost’s energy doesn’t disrupt the workings of the shields I told you about.”
“What is this, exactly?” Bruce asked, studying the small device. It was smaller than an old Nokia phone but was also sturdier than even that seemingly indestructible device was. “And why do you have so many of them, anyway?”
“It’s like a key that will open up the shields long enough for you to zap through.” The engineer explained. “The shields are now updated to stop light-speed travel, magic entrances and attacks and even the Bifrost, to an extent. If Heimdall were to try and zap someone in, the shields would break the Bifrost’s energy from reaching Earth and whoever was unlucky enough to have been in it would be left to either float in the edge between our atmosphere and space or would be pulled by gravity down towards Earth like a meteorite. But the energy of the Bifrost sometimes exceeds what our current servers can handle and it ends up with the shields locking in place for days on end. We tested it and it’s a very annoying bug that Jane, Reed, Shuri and I are trying to get around but we can’t as of yet.”
“That’s still impressive, though.”
Tony shrugged, as if this wasn’t one of the greatest engineering achievements of the present. A planet-wide shield? And he thinks it’s nothing special? ‘Then again,’ Bruce muses, fiddling with his device. ‘He always strives for more. I guess that’s why the world keeps turning and changing.’
“As for the others, it’s for the others.” The Hulk’s alter ego frowned in askance at the other genius, who only shrugs again. “Thor, Loki and Heimdall. Daredevil, Reed, Charles, Magneto and Black Bolt. Shuri and T’Challa. Rhodey, Stephen and Wong. Clint and Scott. Rocket and Quill. Rogers and Fury. That one’s yours, so be sure to use it wisely.”
“Not one for yourself?” He didn’t ask ‘Why Rogers?’ It was obviously an attempt to placate the rouges into not doing anything stupid. He could probably disable their’s at will.
(He has no idea how on point he is there.)
Stark just shrugged again, much to Bruce’s annoyance. “I don’t need it.” Bruce made an inquisitive noise in the back of his throat but Tony didn’t elaborate. He sighed in exasperation but knew he had no right to push. They were still on very thin ice, even though Tony seemed to have forgiven him everything. Bruce felt like he was on thin ice. He had a lot of making up to do. “Anyway, keep a good eye on it and make sure Heimdall and Loki do the same. Those things are important.” Brown eyes bore intensely into his own and Bruce fought down the urge to squirm. “Don’t go losing them or letting someone else take them. It’s a key, alright? You don’t go losing keys or letting them get stolen. You got me?”
“Why do I get a feeling these things do a lot more than just open up the shields for passage?” The device suddenly felt ten times heavier in his hand, even without an answer. It gained even more weight when he realized how much Tony was probably entrusting him with. He didn’t deserve such trust when he had betrayed it before, on more than one occasion.
“Because you’re a smart boy, Brucie-bear.” Tony said with a sharp grin that made Bruce tighten his grip on the device. The other man saw this and nodded in approval. “So, how long will you be staying and why do you think this Grandmaster suddenly wants to make alliances?”
“Well, for the first one, I don’t know but we’ll try not to stay away too long. As for your second question, it might have something to do with the fact that Sakaar is an artificial trash planet created by the Grandmaster, and is surrounded by numerous wormholes that deposit space waste. Surrounded by cosmic gateways, Sakaar lives on the edge of the known and unknown. Unfortunately, those wormholes go to all far reaches of space, so Loki insists we go and ensure an alliance so that Thanos can’t just go there and pop up in our solar system without us ever noticing until he’s practically knocking on our door. The Grandmaster, though, seems to need help in reigning the people who have been rebelling ever since we escaped. He’s managed to regain the power over Sakaar but he wants to make alliances that will make people feel safe, or so Loki theorizes.”
“We’ll, he’s probably not wrong.” Iron Man muses to himself. “And Stephen told me about Sakaar. It’s probably for the best that we keep those portals out of Thanos’ reach. But why Loki? Shouldn’t he be asking an alliance with Thor instead his stab-happy brother?”
Bruce shrugged. it had occurred to him as well that it was a little odd, but he figured he already knew the answer. He had been there to see the Grandmaster’s distaste for Thor. “Probably because he likes Loki and isn’t very fond of Thor.”
“That’s gotta be a first.”
“And Thor will probably try to kill him for what he had done to his hair.” Tony winces at that in sympathy and Bruce chuckles. “Anyway, Loki and the Grandmaster seem to have hi it off before Thor arrived on Sakaar, so they are on pretty ... amendable terms, since I doubt friendly is the right word.”
“But why ask now? Why not when New Asgard was first formed?” Another thing that had occurred to Bruce. It was as though Tony was his suspicions personified, voicing all of his doubts that he had kept to himself.
“Maybe he knew Thor wouldn’t be able to come and took the opportunity to avoid him since I doubt Thor would have let Loki go without him otherwise.” Bruce guessed but for some reason, Tony didn’t look all that convinced. He said nothing, though, since Bruce’s communicator beeped that they were ready to go and that he should meet them on the rooftop. Tony followed him up to see them off, but he was unusually silent. It was then that Bruce realized just how much his friend had changed in the time he had been away. A year and a half since the Civil War and half a year since Ultron have changed Tony almost drastically. And yet all the important things that made him Tony stayed the same. But he was standing up for himself for once where (New) SHIELD and the old Avengers were concerned. It was probably the best thing he had done for himself in a long while.
Loki, Heimdall and Brunhilda were waiting for him on the rooftop and didn’t look displeased or surprised that Tony had followed. They nodded to the engineer in greeting and he gave them a wave in return. Bruce desperately wanted to ask Tony to just say something like he had when Thor, Strange and the Guardians were leaving, but he didn’t know what he exactly expected or wanted to hear. What was he supposed to say?
“Don’t go getting lost in smashing things and forgetting about little ol’ Earth, Green Bean. Or I will drag you back myself. Meanwhile, I’ll science Betty to my side. I’m sure there is so much beautiful science we can make together.” But it would seem Tony always knew what to say with that customary smirk of his and all the tension ran out of Bruce’s body like a popped balloon. Not only had Tony told him he was welcome back but he had also insinuated that he’ll come for him if he needs him. And the fact that he’ll take care of Betty ...
“Thanks, Tony.” He said as sincerely as he could manage because he doubted words alone could ever make up for all the things he owed this man. Which is why Bruce surprised Tony with a tight hug and enjoyed the way the engineer awkwardly patted him on the back as he returned it. He stepped away and Tony nodded to him before looking at the three Asgardians.
“That goes for you, too, Reindeer Games. Point Break will agree with me.” Loki huffed but there was an amused smirk playing around his lips. Bruce wondered if the universe should be worried these two have become friends. He figures Doctor Strange will keep them in line. He hopesDoctor Strange will keep them in line. “Brunhilda, Valkyrie of my life, you better come back to taste this sweet new vodka I got, just for you. It cost me a fortune so you better not ditch me with it. It’s too toxic for my liver.”
“Whatever you say, lightweight.” The Valkyrie in question smirked and Tony only stuck out his tongue at her. He and Heimdall only exchanged a silent nod that seemed to hold an entire conversation before the big Asgardian allowed a small smile and beckoned Bruce over. Banner hesitated for the briefest of seconds before nodding at Tony one last time and walking over to join the group. He gave Loki and Heimdall the devices Tony had made and they took them without question, as though they already knew what it was. They probably did, another testimony to just how much things had changed. Bruce took a deep breath as Heimdall started gathering dark magic to summon the Bifrost, looking at the solitary figure of his best friend until the rainbow bridge was too bright for him to see and they were gone from Earth.
The trip was short but rough on Bruce’s stomach. At least he didn’t make a fool of himself and barf up his breakfast. Small mercies, he guessed. At first glance, Sakaar looked just like when they left it, wormholes all over the sky, the Devil’s Anus stealing all the attention. The air was still stinky and there were tons upon tons of discarded trash everywhere. Bruce wondered if the Quinjet was still where he and Thor last saw it, making him subconsciously pull Tony’s jacket closer to himself. He swears the thing had become some sort of security blanket for him and he no longer had the same pride he once had to be ashamed of it. Tony’s cologne somehow clung to the expensive piece of clothing despite how many times Bruce had washed it already and the seams were still in perfect shape. Only the best for Tony Stark. Bruce was glad because his sewing skills sucked.
So Sakaar looked as if business like normal was going down but there was a strange feeling in the atmosphere. Maybe it was his own paranoia or the Hulk talking, but whatever little peace Tony’s teasing had managed to instill in him evaporated and he tensed in an instant. Something didn’t feel right. He could tell the exact moment Brunhilda felt it but with the way Loki was already way past tense, Bruce would guess that his magic had probably alerted him to this ... wrongness the second they got here. Sure, Sakaar had never been normal, since nothing made sense on the garbage made planet, not even the flow of time or the stretch of space, but this felt like a different kind of Wrong. Yes, Bruce believed the capital W was indeed needed. But everything looked normal. Everything worked like normal, or as normal as it can be on Sakaar. Hulk confirmed it from inside of him and Brunhilda seemed to also be struggling to figure out just what was wrong.
It was, predictably, the all-seeing Heimdall who noticed first. He jumped in front of them and raised his big longsword, deflecting just enough power from a purple beam of energy to not get them killed but unable to stand his ground against the brunt force the attack carried, sending him backwards and crashing into the other two Asgardians and Bruce himself. Loki reacted the fastest, phasing two larger daggers than Bruce was accustomed to seeing on him and stabbing them in the soil to stop his roll, staying crouched low to the ground, green eyes flicking, searching for the attacker. Brunhilda reacted second, grabbing Bruce and tucking him in against her sturdier Asgardian body so as not to squash any of Bruce’s very human, very fragile organs as they crashed into a pile of junk. Said junk then toppled and buried them underneath and Bruce was sure he would be dead right now had Brunhilda not caught him because, not a second later, Heimdall crashed into the pile, crushing the two within with the force of his impact.
Bruce’s heart was racing, his pupils dilating, adrenaline clouding every thought, bringing every sense into sharp focus but he refrained from letting Hulk get out. In the cramped space, such a transformation was bound to crush Brunhilda and that would be an especially dickish dick move, considering she had taken the brunt of both hits. Hulk would just have to wait until they could crawl out of here.
On the outside of the trash pile that three of his companions had ended up in, Loki was struggling with himself whether he should just try running or help Heimdall get back up to his feet. Heimdall was the oldest, strongest and most experienced fighter they had, the green best can argue all he wants. Heimdall had been protecting Asgard eons before that thing was even thought of as a possibility on Midgard. Had it not been for him, that blast would have probably severed some limbs if not outright taken their lives. Heimdall was their best option, but even from where he was crouching, Loki could see that there would be no help coming from him. That blast had taken out a good chunk out of Heimdall’s godly self. Even Asgardians had their limits. They were gods only as much as their will allowed them and, quite frankly, Loki didn’t want to contemplate just how many horrible things Heimdall had seen in his life for him to have a will to continue living at all. How miserable his life must have been.
What he must have seen to disregard his own safety so callously as to jump in front of the attack that had done this to him even with his powerful sword and his mastery of the dark magic.
Not for the first time since he saw the first Infinity Stone, Loki felt dread and fear the likes of which nothing else could compare to.
“Hear me and rejoice.” A vaguely familiar voice started and Loki froze, watching in horror as a red wave of energy seemed to slowly wipe away Sakaar’s skies and weird landscapes around them, the seemingly normal and peaceful day being replaced by burning skies, flaming city and junkyard, corpses littering every direction green eyes looked in. Dead. That’s what his magic was so constipated about. Dead. Half of the immense population of Sakaar was dead and Loki never so acutely felt the weight of the Tesseract in his pocket dimension, even though just the notion of it should be impossible. No. No no no no! How could he have let this happen!? How had he been so foolish as to be tricked!? He was the Trickster god, Loki the god of mischief! He had become reckless, so assured by the safety Stark’s plans had ensured that he had forgotten Sakaar had no such defenses! Sakaar had no Stark. ” ... by the Great Titan.” Loki toned in again to Ebony Maw’s customary speech and he felt his jaw tighten.
Loki was very in tune with the energies that flowed the universe due to his magic. This? This was not balance!
“I know what it’s like to lose.” Loki froze anew at that voice, coming from beyond the rest of the Black Order. The so called Children of Thanos parted to make way for the Titan himself, Infinity Gauntlet gleaming on his left hand and wrist, the red shine of the Reality Stone fading away now that the deception of Sakaar’s true state no longer held any significance. The Power Stone, its purple light still gleaming from the previous attack, sent ice through Loki’s veins and no, that was not a pun or a joke to his heritage. “To feel so desperately that you’re right,” Thanos said as he, in all his magnificent purple, scarred, wrinkly, muscular glory came to stand in front of the now standing Asgardian prince. “Yet to fail, nonetheless. It’s frightening. Turns the knees into jelly.”
Loki suddenly found his knees unable to support him, sending him to the ground. The Reality Stone shone ominously, mocking him for forcing him to kneel. His magic could not counter it. He had centuries of practice but the powers of Infinity Stones were above whatever spell he could have learned to protect himself. He was at Thanos’ mercy. Or lack, thereof.
“But I ask you,” the Mad Titan was still talking as he looked down at the god. “To what end?” He sounded as though he were a disappointed parent speaking to an unreasonable child. “Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And now it’s here ... Or should I say, I am.”
“You talk too much,” Loki found some of his brother’s foolish bravery seeping into his voice, even if he did not feel any of it. He would give anything to have stubborn, reckless Thor by his side right about now. But he reconsidered as the Power Stone lit up and the Gauntlet was pointed at his face. Loki had died ... multiple times, or so people thought. But he had experienced what death felt like and he held no fear for it.
“The Tesseract,” Thanos demanded and Loki could easily smile up at him and say “I don’t have it,” because Thanos was torturing him and not Thor. Thor, who had loved Loki regardless of his sins and transgressions. Thor, who was the hope of Asgard and whom Loki never admitted to loving in turn. Had he stayed with his real family, he would have never found a greater brother. Loki did not care for the rest of the universe. He was a selfish man at heart. He only wanted Thor to survive. So if Thanos kills him, all for the better because not even the Sorcerer Supreme can reach into Loki’s personal pocket dimension to fetch the Tesseract. Only Loki could. And without the Mind Stone, Thanos can’t force him, either.
“The Tesseract,” Thanos repeated after he let up but Loki just gave him Stark’s customary smirk and wondered if the Man of Iron would be proud of it. He was in too much pain to do any better but it was effective enough, as it seemed to annoy Thanos. Then dread filled Loki as the purple giant pointed towards the pile that contained his companions. “Or your friends’ heads. I presume you have a preference.”
The Trickster steeled himself and hoped Thor will be able to forgive him. The fate of ... everything depended on it, no matter how selfish Loki’s own reason to fight was. “Oh, I do. Kill away.” That seemed to stun Thanos for a second before he followed through with the plan, blasting all three of them with a milder version of the previous attack, not meant to disintegrate but meant to cause pain and screaming. Screaming of the Valkyrie and Heimdall. Loki thought he heard a sound he had never imagined to bring him comfort.
A familiar grunt of a waking up green rage monster.
“Alright, stop!” He called out and Thanos stopped his assault, the Power Stone still gleaming in preparation to be used should Thanos deem it necessary. He took a deep breath and summoned the Tesseract, ignoring Heimdall’s grunts not to do it. “I assure you, my friend, that the sun will shine upon us all again.” He tried to reassure Heimdall, doubting he will get out of this alive - he had failed Thanos in New York. You do not fail Thanos and live without facing the consequences - so he wanted Heimdall to tell these words to Thor.
“Your optimism is misplaced, Asgardian.” Thanos informed him, unimpressed, studying him and contemplating what to do with him.
“Well, for one thing, I’m not Asgardian.” The Titan frowned at that. “And for another,” he waited out a slightly dramatic pause before continuing. “We have the Hulk.”
As though it were practiced, Hulk took that as his cue to attack Thanos, managing to corner him against the wall with brutal punches but Loki noticed immediately that Thanos was not faltering or bruising. Instead, within moments, Thanos turned the tables, more experienced a warrior than the Earthly beast and easily almost completely knocking out the mightiest rival Thor possessed. The Hulk made no move to get up. Brunhilda’s life force was not reaching Loki’s magical awareness, gone, having shielded Banner against more than she could take, the last Valkyrie dead, and Heimdall’s was slowly seeping out of him, his wounds to extensive for him to recover. Perhaps he needed time. But sadly, time is the one thing they had run out of.
Thanos turned to him, Ebony Maw presenting him with the cube with another of his speeches but Thanos’ eyes did not stray from Loki. His struggle with the Hulk had caused him to loose his concentration, so Loki found himself free and standing, a phased dagger in his hand. He watched as Thanos finally looked away, only long enough to crush the outer shell that was the Tesseract and reach inside for the Space Stone.
“Allfathers,” Loki’s head snapped up in panic when he heard Heimdall’s raspy, wheezy, breathless voice all but whisper the words. “Let dark magic flow through me one last,” an ugly, wet gurgle left him as he pointed towards the Hulk. “Time.” The Bifrost, possibly for the last time ever, flashed through the universe, the rainbow colors snatching up the Avenger and taking him, back to Earth. Loki saw Heimdall crush the devices Stark made them and rushed to do his own, his head snapping up a second time when he heard Thanos slide a spear through Heimdall’s heart.
Rage overtook Loki - Heimdall was no blood relation of his, but he had learned blood is not all that makes a family and Heimdall had looked out for him and Thor long enough to earn that status - and he lunged at Thanos, his true features showing, but Thanos grabbed his wrist, broke it and let the dagger fall out of his useless hand, the hand with the Gauntlet coming up to grab a hold of his neck and choke him. As he gasped and struggled for breath, Loki remembered doing the same thing to Stark and wished he had apologized better for it. Instead of fighting Thanos, though, he reached once again for the device - he had to destroy it! Earth’s shields were designed to keep out even transportation through the Space Stone’s portals so another New York incident can’t happen again, but this device could destroy all of Stark’s carefully best laid plans if Thanos ever got his hands on it! - but Thanos’ caught his other hand, too, and, to Loki’s relief, crushed it as well.
Loki could not help but smile at Thanos, confusing the Titan. He may have the Space Stone, but it will not give him immediate access to the other two that are on Earth. But Thanos didn’t seem to care about that and only tightened his grip until Loki felt his vision starting to turn black.
“You will never ... be a ... god.”
Death was definitely worth the irked expression that was his last sight.
He hoped Thor will forgive him for making him mourn him again.
He hoped Strange was right and Stark was the key.
He hoped Stark was ready.
Because Thanos was coming.