Thor Odinson was a brave man. He had fought Gods and beasts and beings of magic. Things with fangs and claws and tentacles. Things that would turn lesser men's hair white with terror. He could take being stabbed with barely a flinch.
But, currently his knees were wobbly with nerves.
He was sat sheepishly at the side whilst Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow and Iron Man trawled through the suit department of a high-end store. Steve, not being one for ostentation, had recommended a slightly less upmarket shop but Tony had insisted, saying if you were going to get a suit then you might as well get the best one possible. He had also offered to foot the bill, knowing that Thor didn't actually have any money of his own. Or at least, none that was considered acceptable coinage in this realm.
The store attendants were looking at the ragtag group nervously, particularly unnerved by the burly blonde who was carrying a big ornate mallet for apparently no reason.
Thor turned his head as he noticed Black Widow advancing on him with a tape measure.
"I don't suppose you know your measurements, do you?" She asked.
"Measurements? No." Thor shook his head.
"I thought not. I mean, we're obviously going to have to get you the Big Boy special." Black Widow observed, looking the man's tall, muscled frame. "But getting an idea of your measurements will make life much easier. Stand still."
However, her attempts to measure the man was greatly hindered by the fact that he was damn close to a full foot taller than her.
A pair of hands took the tape measure from her.
"Here, let me." Steve said, taking it and measuring Thor's shoulders.
Thor stood there, feeling a bit stupid as the others poked and prodded him and tried to figure out what would fit. He fought the urge to tell Stark that he should have met Volstagg when the man made a crack about his bulky muscles.
Five minutes later and a suit was pressed into his hands and he was shoved unceremoniously into a dressing room with orders to change.
He emerged a few minutes later, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
They stared at him, frowning.
"We're going to have to get him shoes too." Hawkeye observed, looking at Thor's massive boots.
"I don't understand!" Steve said, bewildered. "I know I did the measurements right, how come the suit is so tight? It should have fit perfectly!"
Natasha squinted. "Thor, are you wearing your armour under that?"
Thor shuffled from foot to foot. "Well, it didn't come with any built in so I assumed . . ."
"You don't need to wear armour." Natasha said, firmly. "No one will try and take over the world that night. If necessary we will dose your brother up on horse tranquilisers and nail him to Banner in order to make sure he behaves himself."
"But-" Thor began.
But Natasha pointed back at the dressing room with a stern finger. "Take it off."
Thor miserably shuffled back into the dressing room and removed his armour.
"I do not understand how this can be ceremonial garb." He complained as he awkwardly unbuttoned his suit. "It is far too plain. And where are you meant to keep your weapon? There's not even a bandolier for a battleaxe, let alone a sword scabbard."
"Alright, Dungeons and Dragons, you know full well we have the pointy-pointy-bang-bang things in this realm." Tony pointed out. "If it'll make you feel more at ease, I'll stick a water pistol in a shoulder holster for you."
Thor's armour clanked to the floor and he emerged a few moments later, looking a bit thinner.
"More like it." Hawkeye said. "Here, this should go with that shirt." He slung a tie over Thor's shoulder.
Thor had witnessed people tying ties before but had never really paid attention; nevertheless he raised his collar and set to work, trying to remember what he had witnessed. Something about round once and then over, wasn't it . . .
"How do you reckon Banner's getting on?" Black Widow asked.
"Well, he asked me to send him large amounts of high strength alcohol when I sent a message to him saying where we were going before we left so . . . fine probably." Tony said, rifling distractedly through the cufflinks.
They were interrupted by a yelping wheeze. Thor, in the process of tying his tie, had thrown one end over his shoulder and, due to his being rather taller than average, got it caught in the ceiling fan. He was now running around in circles, following the motion of the fan in an effort not to hang himself.
Steve, being the kind soul that he was, instantly ran to help but the others hung back to watch.
"You are sure he's a demigod, aren't you?" Hawkeye said, doubtfully.
"It's times like this when it gets a little hard to believe." Tony admitted.
"Forget demigod, I'm having trouble believing he was the fastest sperm." Natasha said, watching as Steve stole a mannequin's arm to swat the tie free with.
Finally the tie was dislodged and Thor fell to his knees, Steve scrabbling to remove the impromptu noose from around his neck.
Captain America rounded on the other three. "Helpful, people! Really helpful!" He snapped.
They all just shrugged.
"Mocking is far more fun than helping." Tony pointed out.
Bruce Banner took a deep, steadying breath.
It didn't help. It felt like there was an entire Mardi Gras parade dancing through his sternum as his heartbeat rocketed.
Oh, HELL did Fury owe him for this! 'Medically unremarkable' he had said. He had promised he would send Banner ONLY the medically unremarkable, easy cases.
Devious, Machiavellian, lying, Matrix-trench-coat-rip-off-wearing little toe rag!
He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried again to calm himself, his voice strained. "Miss Mouse, I cannot take your blood pressure if you will not sit still."
Mouse wasn't listening though. She was laughing her unusual, snickering laugh at Loki, who was causing random items in the consulting room to levitate for the young woman's amusement.
Somehow, the Jotunn and the woman with the skull-and-crossbones eyes had hit it off, both of them seemingly inclined to acts of mischief and macabre melodrama.
It was like two super-villains meeting at a Disney convention.
Jackdaw nudged her friend. "Oi Cariad, stop mucking about with Mr. Evil Overlord already and let the man take your readings."
With bad grace, Mouse stuck out her arm for Banner to take.
Across the room, Loki raised his eyebrows in amusement at the sulky look on the girl's face as Banner fitted the cuff.
Noticing his mirth, Mouse stuck out her tongue.
Loki chuckled and stuck his out too.
Mouse stuck hers out further.
Loki stuck his tongue out as far as it would go, curling the end up slightly and crossing his eyes.
He looked so ridiculous that Mouse burst out laughing, a genuine melodious belly-laugh this time.
Banner, who had been this close to getting the reading, found the cuff dislodged just before he could get the final numbers. He yanked the cuff off in frustration. "That's it. You two get out."
"Excuse me?" Loki asked.
"Get. Out." Banner demanded. "If you stay on this floor then you shouldn't trip your tag. Just both of you get the hell out of here and get whatever it is out of your system. I don't care what you do. Make plans to take over the world together, have a gurning contest, have sex in the closet! I don't care! Just get out of here before I go Green Giant on your asses!"
Loki and Mouse's eyes met.
"I think we hurt his feelings." Loki smirked.
Mouse chuckled and nodded.
Loki got to his feet. "Shall we then, my dear?"
"I WASN'T SERIOUS ABOUT THE CLOSET!" Bruce yelled after them as they left.
"It's ok." Jackdaw said, although the previously vibrant Welsh girl was a bit green around the gills. "I'm almost sure she's got condoms."
"Yes, because that was my issue with the situation!" Banner snapped. "And give me back my watch! Don't think I didn't notice you pinching it again!"
Sheepishly, the girl retrieved it from her pocket. "Sorry, Bach." She smiled, weakly. "Old habits and all that."
Banner snatched it off her and threw it back into his pocket before pinching the bridge of his nose and breathing deeply.
Jackdaw blinked at him, nonplussed. "You alright there?"
"Seriously, stop talking." He growled.
The woman huffed slightly. "You want to see someone about those anger management issues, Bach."
Then she stared, bewildered, as the man began cackling hysterically.
Banner's heart rate monitor began to beep, warningly . . .
Outside, Loki and Mouse settled themselves on a bench in the waiting room.
As Mouse rummaged in her backpack for something, Loki gazed around the room at the few remaining patients. His eye was arrested by a particularly skittish looking woman sat opposite them. She was smoking. Not a cigarette. ACTUALLY smoking, little tendrils of wispy ash curling up from her shoulders as though she was on the brink of spontaneously combusting.
She looked like she might be fun . . .
Loki's musings were interrupted by a faint glassy ching noise as Mouse withdrew a bottle from her bag and took a deep swig before offering it to him.
He took the bottle and looked at it. Tequila. He had never heard of it. However, to judge by the long draught Mouse had taken from the bottle, it was presumably some sort of refreshing soft drink.
Raising the glass to his lips, he took a big gulp.
The burn was like molten pewter on his tongue and he choked, eyes watering.
Mouse snickered, amused by the wheezing figure.
"I-Insolent chit!" Loki growled, wiping his face. "You could have warned me."
Mouse smirked and motioned for him to take another drink.
"One moment." Loki mumbled, attempting to get his breathing under control.
Mouse made a quiet clucking noise.
The God shot her a poisonous look. "I can kill you easily and in a number of creative ways you know, chit."
Mouse just made a 'yeah, yeah' gesture and nodded pointedly at the bottle.
Loki let out a grumbling sigh and took another sip, wincing but finding this one easier.
The little woman retrieved the bottle and took a drink before handing it back.
Taking the bottle back, Loki looked at it ruefully. "Never have been one for drinking much." He admitted, half to himself. "Could never see the enjoyment to be had in staying up till obscene hours of the morning, drinking the most God awful swill and waking up the next day feeling like death and covered in your own vomit."
He took another pull, finding to his surprise that this one went down much smoother.
The Jotunn passed the bottle to Mouse, who drank and handed it back.
"Thor always loved it." Loki said, moodily. "Could spend hours drinking what was more akin to banshee's piss to ale and boasting loudly about what he had killed this week." He took a deep glug. "Better than me at everything."
Mouse looked at him, eyebrows raised curiously.
"Well, that's not true. Better at everything that mattered to father at least."
Another glug, ignoring Mouse's questing fingers reaching for the bottle.
"I could summon ice from nowhere before I was even out of swaddling clothes yet no one batted an eye lid. And yet when my brother killed his first deer by bludgeoning the poor creature to death with his wooden toy hammer he got an 'ntire ruddy feast held in his honour."
Loki paused and swayed slightly. Good grief, this tequila concoction was strong. He could already feel the heavy gyroscopic weight of inebriation building behind his eyes.
Mouse finally managed to wrangle the bottle free and took a few quick gulps before handing it back.
Loki gestured vaguely with the bottle, hearing the liquid sloshing gently. "Was always the same, right from when we were little. It was always Thor and Loki when it was just family but as soon as it came to 'nything official it was always Thor, Thor, Thor . . ." He took a swig, his cheeks flushing a merry pink. "Even got a bloody day named after him. Bloody 'Thorsday'."
Mouse paused in her attempts to reclaim the bottle, hearing a deeper emotion behind the bitterness in Loki's voice.
"A thousand years." Loki muttered, staring into the distance. "A thousand years of legends . . . And Thor's remembered as th' almighty warrior, and I am nothing more than the one who had carnal relations with a horse."
He took another drink, muttering to himself. "'S not even as though the sex was any good . . ."
Mouse bit her lip hard to keep from laughing.
"Well, not anymore. Now, I am the one who tried to t-t-take over the world." Loki coughed and took another long draught, his Adam's Apple bobbing with several hearty swallows. He gasped as he lowered the bottle, growing slightly agitated. He turned and tapped Mouse on the nose with a spindly finger. "Never try to take over a world, young lady. You have to ally with some veeeeeeeeeeery unsav'ry, mean, nasty people in order to do it."
Mouse's surreptitious attempts to grab the bottle redoubled. Perhaps, tequila hadn't been the best of ideas after all . . .
"Seriously, people th-thought I was bad! They should've seen that lot." Loki said thickly, throwing an arm out wildly and sploshing tequila onto the floor. "All I wanted to do was to get people to kneel. Wasn' even going to kick them while they were down there. Jus' wanted them to kneel like they would have done for m' brother. These gen'lemen would've chopped your legs off so you could never rise again . . . And made you eat them. An' then eaten you. Without usin' a knife an' fork . . ."
Loki slumped weakly, swallowing hard as his head swam dizzily, memories that he normally tried desperately to stamp on resurfacing once more. "All I wanted was f' people t' kneel." He said, weakly.
There was a long pause where he stared hollowly at the ceiling, thinking on all that had happened. Eventually however, a movement made him look down.
Mouse had slipped from her seat.
The little woman was on the floor in front of him, looking at him patiently.
Maybe it was the alcohol, but Loki gaped in a rather undignified manner. "Are you . . . kneeling?"
" . . . F' me?"
She nodded again, smiling at his dull-wittedness.
Loki could not believe it. Could it really be this easy? "Why?"
She placed a hand on his knee, raising herself up slightly. Then she took her fingers and pulled her mouth up at the corners before pointing at Loki.
Despite being mute, her message was perfectly clear.
To make you smile.
The God stared at her for a long moment. Then the bottle of tequila fell to the floor.
Mouse let out a small squeak of surprise as she was grabbed roughly and she tried to wrench herself back but could not get the leverage. Her struggles ceased however, once she realised that what she had interpreted as an attack had actually been a drunken attempt at a hug.
The girl relaxed as Loki's arms, clumsy with inebriation, wound around her.
"Th'nk you." The God slurred, his nose buried in her hair. "Th'nk you."
There was the click of a door opening.
Banner, his bladder making himself known to him, stepped out of his makeshift consulting room. Then he paused upon seeing the young woman curled up in the God's lap, eyes instantly noting the tequila bottle and their dishevelled appearances.
"Alright there?" He asked, warily.
Loki gave him a bleary smile. "Thiss one's nice. Can I keep her?" He slurred.
Banner blinked. "Seriously? She's a person, not a puppy."
"Pleeaase!" Loki begged, tightening his grip possessively. "I'll take care 'f her!"
The doctor let out a frustrated sigh. "Have you asked her?"
Loki blinked at him, then he looked down at Mouse. "C'n I keep you?"
She nodded, smugly, snuggling closer, rather proud of herself for finding the cuddly drunkard inside the megalomaniac.
"She says yes." Loki reported, as though Banner was unable to see.
"Well then, fine. But you're the one who'll have to take her for walks." Banner said, testily. "I'll be back in a minute. Don't worry, I'm not going far enough to set off your tag."
Mouse waved to catch his attention and pointed back at the room.
"Your friend Jackdaw?" Banner's eye began to twitch. "Does she ever stop talking?"
Mouse shook her head.
"Then how do you put up with her?"
The little woman held up a finger to indicate that he should wait, then she fumbled in her rucksack.
Despite their animosities, Loki and Banner shared a brief curious look.
Then Mouse straightened up, grinning, a roll of gaffer tape in her hand.
She looked at Loki.
They both looked at the tape.
And then back at each other.
Then, they both burst into giggles.
Banner backed away, more freaked out than he was willing to admit.
This was Loki for goodness' sake! Tyrant, evil overlord and megalomaniac extraordinaire! Sat there pissed off his rocker at three in the afternoon with a hyperactive mute Welsh prankster sat on his lap, both of them cackling like school children.
Oh dear, oh Lord . . . His heart was going again . . .
Banner stumbled round the corner and fell against a wall, sliding down it until he was sat cross-legged on the floor.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Jackdaw would have to wait. He'd need at least five minutes to get his heart rate back to normal.
From around the corner he heard the sounds of a bottle breaking, a tiny detonation and a flatulent noise like a parrot exploding, closely accompanied by the howling laughs of Loki and Mouse.
Actually, make that ten minutes . . .
"What up, Nerd Queen?"
Jane Foster blinked and tore herself away from her computer.
"Darcy!" She grinned upon seeing the ex-student striding towards her, a clothing bag over one arm.
"Got the dress for you, like you asked." Darcy said, hanging it up on the door. "You want to try it on?"
Jane waved a vague hand. "I'll do it later. I'm sure you got me a nice one. Come and look at this!" She grabbed the girl by the wrist and hauled her over to the computer. "These photos were taken in Mexico by a hiker! Look at the lights and the cloud formations!"
Darcy frowned at the screen. "Hang on, those look like the ones that your boyfriend fell out of two years ago."
"Exactly!" Jane grinned. "But he has been nowhere near Mexico and he swears on his life that no other Asgardians have travelled to this realm recently. So it is definitely not him! So that means-"
"Possibly an actual Einstein-Rosen bridge?" Darcy theorised. "A real one?"
"Yes!" Jane cried, practically quivering with excitement. "I've got to get out there!"
Darcy grinned and shook her head. "Noooo. Award first. Then star-chasing."
Jane let out a frustrated sigh. "Urgh! If only the ceremony was earlier. By the time I get down there, everything will be gone!" Her fingers twitched back towards her computer. Eager to continue with her work.
Darcy held up a soothing hand. "If it's happened once, it'll happen again. And, if anyone can find it, it would be you because you're too much of an obsessive nerd freak to miss it! So, relax. Enjoy your day. And please will you take a look at this freaking dress because I spent a long time picking you out a nice one and I want at least to pretend that you care about this stuff and will be happy with my choice!"
Jane smiled, resigning herself to having a break from her calculations. "Sorry, Darcy. I am grateful. Let's have a look then."
It was a simple wrap-around cocktail dress in a soft grey colour. Plain. Understated. Sophisticated. Simple shoes with a modest heel sat in a box underneath.
"Very nice!" Jane said, approvingly. She was not a one for playing dress up and she approved of Darcy's pretty but wearable choices. "Very nice!"
"I'll choose to be flattered be your surprise." Darcy said, wryly.
"Sorry, it really is lovely. Thank you, Darcy."
"So, you got a date for this do then?" Darcy asked, as they migrated towards the kettle.
"Thor." Jane smiled, remembering how he had asked her.
"Oh, well that explains a lot." Darcy admitted.
"Explains what?" Jane asked.
"Why I passed him and Black Widow and Hawkeye on the way up here. He and Black Widow were dancing and whenever he got a step wrong Hawkeye would poke him in the butt with an arrow. I think they're giving him lessons."
Jane laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. "Oh dear. Poor Thor. Is he really that serious about this?"
"Well, I think Hawkeye's arrow slipped and got him somewhere more painful than the buttocks but Thor didn't kill him for it. He seems determined to get everything right. I stopped and chatted with Captain America on the way up here Do you think he'd mind if I slipped him my number by the way? Man is fine and he said that Thor's terrified that he's going to balls up and ruin your special night for you."
"Oh bless him . . . "Jane said, instantly feeling guilty. "Perhaps I should have a word with him?"
"See, I don't think you should." Darcy admitted. "You know what he's like. He thrives on competitions and challenges. To let himself get beaten by something as simple as a single night out would depress him no end. I'd just keep out of the way if I were you. He'd be humiliated if he knew you knew how much he was struggling with this."
Jane considered Darcy's words. The girl was remarkably good at reading people . . . "Perhaps you're right."
"Just flatter his ego on the day and he'll be fine. He's a man. He'll eat it up." Darcy said, dismissively. "Now woman, explain to me why there's a rubber chicken next to the centrifuge?"
"Aaaaaawwww . . . " Loki mumbled, shaking the last drop of tequila onto his tongue. "N' more . . ."
He and Mouse were thoroughly inebriated at this point, both of them pink of cheek and unsteady of foot.
Banner had returned from the loo five minutes previously and shook his head despairingly at the two of them before vanishing back into the consulting room.
Mouse had slipped from Loki's lap back onto the bench next to him and was laboriously and inexpertly plaiting a section of his hair. He wasn't 100% sure why.
He held the bottle out hopefully to Mouse. "Got 'nymore?" He asked.
She shook her head, the momentum of the slight movement nearly causing her to fall from her seat.
Loki pouted, frustrated. Were he more familiar with the drink in question he could summon some more with magic. As it was, he couldn't figure out the correct Asgardian translation for tequila and as such could not mentally recite the incantation. So no more liquor for them . . .
His eye was arrested by the neurotic looking woman he had noticed earlier. A tiny flame had indeed kindled into life upon her left shoulder and she kept glancing edgily over at the two drunken figures opposite.
A wicked smile curved over his lips.
He nudged Mouse before leaning down and whispering in her ear so as the other woman couldn't hear.
"Want to have some fun?"
A tiny nod of the head indicated the individual he had in mind.
Mouse looked discretely at the proposed target before giving him a grin that would have made a Great White shark proud and nodding.
The woman opposite suddenly realised that she had flamed again and hastily began to pat the fire out. Damn it, she hated when it happened in public! And her nerves were shot already. She didn't like big cities, tall buildings or, for that matter, other people.
And here she was, sat in a tall building in an enormous city and sat next to a fat man with horrendous body odour and personal space issues . . .
To cap it all, she was sat opposite those two drunken loons . . .
Speaking of which . . . She looked up and froze.
Opposite her was sat a tall, thin man with blue skin and red eyes, like a character from a Smurf slasher flick. Next to him was a snowman. An honest to gods, three-segments, twigs for arms, coal for eyes, scarf and stupid hat snowman!
The woman squeaked in terror.
The snowman and the evil Smurf paused in their conversation and turned to look at her.
Their eyes met.
The snowman and the Smurf smiled and waved cheerfully.
She groped for the arm of the man next to her.
He turned towards her, moodily. "What?"
She pointed, too flabbergasted to speak.
The young woman and the strangely-dressed man were shuffling further apart and laying out a deck of cards between them.
He glared at the woman next to him. "So?"
The woman, who had been watching him for his reaction, turned and looked.
The little woman was speedily dealing out the cards, the pale-skinned man watching her intently.
She rounded on the fat man next to her. "They changed! They went all weird!"
He gave her a snippy look. "Well, you'd be the expert on weird." He mumbled under his breath. She had accidentally set fire to his sleeve earlier and he was not happy about it.
The woman tentatively looked back at the pair opposite.
The evil Smurf and the snowman were staring intently at their cards. As she watched the snowman triumphantly threw a card down and raised a twiggy middle finger at the irritated Smurf.
"Look! They're doing it again!" She squeaked, grabbing the man's arm and pointing.
They were hurriedly throwing cards down and he watched as the dark-haired man slammed his hand down and shouted 'SNAP!'
"Alright, I know you're an absolute hick but snap's not that weird. Childish maybe, but not weird."
"No, no!" The woman hissed in frustration. "They changed shape! The girl was a snowman and he was blue!"
There was a long pause as the fat man stared at her.
Finally he spoke. "Have you not taken your medication today?"
The woman seethed, the amount of steam emanating from her increasing. "I. AM. NOT. CRAZY!"
The man gave her a condescending smile. "Did your mother have you tested?"
She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. "Look! They did it again!"
He looked, but could see no snowmen or blue people, just a long strangely-dressed streak of nothing and a scruffy little mute.
He let out a sigh of disgust. "You're mad, lady. Leave me alone."
"But they did!" The lady said, bewildered, a small fire breaking out on her left leg.
The man just shuffled himself further down the bench away from her.
She looked back at the two opposite, beginning to think that maybe she was crazy.
The snowman and the evil Smurf were grinning at her wickedly. As she watched, the Smurf curled a forked tongue over his teeth suggestively.
She lunged to her feet. "Stop that!" She screamed, her voice echoing around the stunned waiting room.
The young woman and the pale-skinned man blinked at her, confused. "Stop what?" The man asked, his voice stunned.
"You know what you were doing! Stop it!" The woman demanded.
"You really dislike cards that much?" The man asked, waving an ace of spades at her.
"You know it wasn't the cards I was talking about! Stop it with the snowman thing!"
The two shared a look.
"Do you know what she's talking about?" The man asked his companion in a low voice.
She shook her head, looking a tad dumbfounded.
"For God's sake woman, sit down and shut up." The fat man muttered, embarrassed to be seen sat near her.
The woman slowly sank into her chair, flames creeping up her leg. She had been so sure she had seen them . . .
She rubbed her eyes, tiredly. Good job she was here, maybe she could ask that harassed looking gentleman who was running around to prescribe her something.
It was no good. She had to have one last look.
She peeped through her fingers.
One of the snowman's stick arms had fallen out and the Smurf was attempting to jam it back in place.
She screamed, her entire body bursting into flames.
The fat man fell backward off the bench with a howl of terror as she went hurtling past, shrieking blue murder as she went.
Loki and Mouse exchanged a gleeful look, the snow sloughing off the little woman, before bursting into peals of delighted laughter as chaos reigned in the waiting room.
Banner stuck his head around the door. "What on earth-!"
The woman ran past, howling something about evil Smurf snowmen, closely followed by the fat man who was chasing her with a fire bucket.
In his attempt to douse the woman and extinguish her, he let out a wild lunge, causing water from the bucket to cascade everywhere.
But mostly over Banner.
Loki sucked in a breath. "Ooh, this could get interesting . . ."
The doctor stood there, eyes closed and dripping, looking deceptively calm in the midst of all the carnage. Only the frantic beeping of his watch let it be known that all was not well.
Then he began to grow . . .
Mouse's eyes widened as the enormous green figure of the Hulk began to sprout, Loki watching nervously beside her lest he recognise the 'puny God' and attempt to use him as a piñata again.
The fat man and the flaming woman, now joined by a young man with scales and another who was built like the product of a body-builder having angry-sex with a cement truck, staggered to a halt as they heard a roar.
Then they turned slowly to see what was behind them. And promptly took off screaming as soon as they saw what it was.
Mouse and Loki watched as the Hulk went bellowing past them, in hot pursuit of the terrified SHIELD operatives, the floor splintering under his massive weight.
Loki smiled, happily. "It is not much fun to be on the receiving end but I must admit it is deeply amusing watching it happening to other people."
They came sprinting back past, Hulk now wielding the scaly gentleman by his legs in a manner reminiscent to Thor's handling of Mjolnir.
Mouse pulled a packet of biscuits out of her bag and opened them, taking one and eating it before holding it out to Loki.
The God took one as the little woman relaxed into his side, Hulk frisbeeing the scaly gentleman across the room and taking out the fat man in the process.
They then spent an enjoyable hour leisurely eating biscuits and watching the Hulk terrorise the rest of the occupants of the floor, Loki making things even more interesting by casting a spell to make the floor extra slippery.
They weren't sure which was more amusing, watching people sprinting on the spot, or the levels of rage achieved by watching the Hulk fall flat on his arse repeatedly.
Loki smiled to himself. He wasn't sure whether or not it was just the alcohol, but he was having a really good time.
As he watched, Mouse carefully rolled the empty bottle of tequila into the path of the fat man who trod on it and promptly fell to the floor, sliding along on his blubbery belly like a penguin.
Loki grinned. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship . . .
"Right, big fella." Tony said, seriously. "Let's see if you're ready . . ."
Thor swallowed nervously but nodded, his shoulders set in a determined line. "I'm ready."
"Right." Tony repeated slowly before whipping a piece of cutlery from his pocket. "What's this?"
Thor was discomfited by this unexpectedly swift start but rallied gamely. "Fish knife."
"What is a gig line?" Hawkeye asked.
"The line formed by the alignment of a tie, suit jacket's buttons, belt buckle and trouser fly down the centre of the body!" Thor said eagerly, proud of himself for remembering that one.
"What is the politest form of seating yourself at a table?" Black Widow threw in.
"Pull out Jane's chair for her and wait for her to sit before pushing her chair in and seating myself." Thor said, swiftly.
"What are you not allowed to do during the meal?"
"Start fist-fights, food-fights, arm-wrestling contests, dance-offs, beard-offs, burp-offs, wipe my mouth on the table cloth, smash plates, balance my spoon on my nose or ask for seconds." Thor said obediently.
Steve raised an eyebrow. "Wait a minute, who on earth came up with those?"
"I did." Tony said, smoothly. "Moving on . . ."
"Are weapons of any sort allowed at the meal?" Hawkeye asked.
"No." Thor said.
"And, if a fight breaks out, what should you do?"
"Stab people in the thorax with my steak knife."
"Wh-what? Natasha!" Steve rounded on Black Widow. "We told you not to encourage him!"
She inclined her head to concede the point.
"No, Thor." Steve said. "If a fight breaks out, do not get involved."
Thor's face fell. "But-?"
"No, buts. Do not get involved."
"Next!" Natasha cut in, interrupting Thor before he could unhappily interject at this new development. "When dancing you move forwards first with which foot?"
"And which one is the left foot?"
Thor pointed. "That one."
She nodded and stepped back. "Trim his beard, sort his hair out and he'll be fine."
"You don't think I will let Jane down?" He said, hopefully.
Seeing that he really was nervous about this, Black Widow gave him an indulgent smile and patted him on the shoulder. "I think you'll make her proud."
Tony rummaged in a bag seated next to him. "And, because you've been such a good boy, here's a reward."
He withdrew a box and lobbed it over for Thor to catch.
Thor caught it, eyes widening with glee. "The Popped Tarts!" He yelped.
They watched, with mounting dismay as Thor tore the box open and proceeded to shovel his favourite treats down his throat in massive handfuls, not even bothering to toast them.
Black Widow rubbed her eyes wearily. "Then again . . ." She muttered.
Nick Fury stared as he entered, his eye arrested by the sheer levels of carnage confronting him.
The floor of 'A' Towers which had been rigged into a make-shift doctor's surgery now lay in ruins. The floor and ceilings were splintered, enormous footprints sinking inches into the floor, debris everywhere.
All of the SHIELD operatives with the exception of Mouse and Jackdaw were huddled in a terrified bundle against the far wall, staring fearfully at the two young women, Loki and Banner who were seated despairingly around the one set of table and chairs that was still partially structurally-intact.
A tad warily, he made his way over.
"Alright. What did Loki do this time?" He asked.
Loki, who had his head in his hands, squinted up at him. "Touched as I am by your faith in my ability to wreak havoc and destruction," he said, voice hoarse. "This was actually the good Doctor's work. Not my own."
Fury paused and looked at Banner who was sat there, apparently stark naked, with an exhausted look on his face. "Did our . . . mutual friend put in an appearance?"
"You bet your ass he did . . ." Banner growled.
Fury cleared his throat, uncomfortably. "I . . . owe you an apology. Due to a paperwork mix-up you accidentally got sent the most complicated cases, not the least. I apologise. I really do owe you big for this. And especially for not killing any of them."
Something occurred to him. He pointed at Loki.
"By the way, how come he's running loose? I thought the deal was he was always manacled and gagged when he was in this realm. And that he always stayed with Thor."
"It's a long story." Banner admitted.
"Does this story also explain why he's flinching every time I speak?"
"He and Miss Mouse are very hungover. Turns out Gods of Mischief and tequila shots don't mix."
"And my tequila at that." Jackdaw said, sulkily.
Mouse gave an apologetic gesture; her hands weaved into her hair, eyes puffy with exhaustion.
Fury nodded. "So yes, anyway Banner. Any favour you wish to ask in return-"
Fury's eyebrows rose. "Excuse me?"
Banner got to his feet. Around his hips was a pair of boxer shorts, the material stretched to within an inch of its life and sagging disturbingly. Banner's hands were acting as a pair of braces in a valiant but slightly futile attempt to protect his modesty.
"I want you to put your finest minds onto researching a type of elastic that can withstand hulk outs." He growled. "It's hard enough going through the debacle of trying to get home after an episode without the indignity of having to stop and steal some trousers in the process."
Fury was slightly nonplussed by the unexpectedly pedestrian demand but rallied admirably. "As you wish."
"Oh, don't do that, Cariad!" Jackdaw cut in, grinning. "I was enjoying the view!"
Fury fixed her warily with his one eye. "I should have known you two would have had something to do with it." He admitted.
"Me!" Jackdaw cried indignantly, making Loki and Mouse whine in protest at the loud noise. "This was all Mouse's doing!"
Mouse glared at her friend, making a 'what do you mean me?' gesture.
"If you weren't so hell-bent on playing with Mr. Megalomaniac and just sat still and behaved yourself, none of this would have happened!"
Mouse made a dismissive gesture.
"You do your friend an unkindness, Miss Jackdaw." Loki croaked. "I was provoking her from the beginning."
Jackdaw froze. "Oh crap, you like her."
Loki smiled, weakly. "She's the only half-way amusing individual I have yet met in this Godsforsaken realm."
Mouse held out a fist and Loki bumped it with his own.
Jackdaw let out a weak whimper. "Cariad, I know I told you that you need to make some more friends but he's not what I had in mind!"
Mouse just rolled her eyes, rubbing her sore head.
"I'm serious, Bach!" Jackdaw hissed, leaning closer. "This is just like that time with the Latvian gangster you met in that pub. And, I'm telling you, one of these days your 'friends' are going to bring you to a no-good end and I just hope to God that I'll be there to point and laugh when that day comes!"
Mouse gave her a sour side-long glance.
Fury coughed awkwardly. "Well, thank you anyway, Doctor. Did you manage to examine them all in the end?"
"No, I managed about eight out of fifteen but I could not get Miss Jackdaw to be quiet long enough to ask her all the questions. Let alone perform the examination. And then these two started trolling the ones that were waiting and it all went south from there." Banner admitted.
"Hey now! That's not fair-!" Jackdaw began but Banner rounded on her.
"You did not stop talking ever!" He said, voice bordering on hysterical. "Do you know how close I came to gagging you, tying you up with bandages and drop-kicking you out the window! I mean, my God, woman! You could out-talk Tony Stark and I didn't even think that was humanly possible without some sort of robotic voice-box that never wore out!"
"Well, excuse me for trying to be friendly!" Jackdaw snapped, her voice rising in volume. "It's not like you've been a ball of sunshine. You've had a face like a bulldog licking piss off a thistle all day. So yes! Pardon me if I annoyed you in my attempts to snap you out of being such an utter twat!"
Suddenly, Mouse slammed her fists down on the table and screamed. "WILL YOU ALL PLEASE SHUT UP! JESUS CHRIST, JUST SHUT UP! SHUT UP! DO IT NOW, JUST . . . SHUT UP!"
In the stunned silence that followed, all that could be heard was the irate young woman's heavy breathing.
Unsurprisingly, Jackdaw found her voice first. "You . . . You can speak!"
Mouse let her head fall forward onto the table with a mildly hysterical giggle.
"H-How long have you been able to speak?" Jackdaw babbled, amazed. "I've known you about five years and I've never heard you speak before! And you're Scottish! Since when have you been Scottish? And . . . and . . . I can't believe you can talk! Five years and you never said a word to me. I don't believe it. I mean, all those times when I started to speak and I you just sat there and mmph!"
She was interrupted by Mouse's hand covering her mouth.
The Scotswoman looked at her friend through frustrated, weary eyes. "The reason you never heard me speak before, you great Welsh lunatic, is because you never give me a chance to get a bloody word in edgeways!"
Loki looked at Mouse, surprisingly discomfited. "I . . . was not aware I was not giving you chance to speak. I apologise."
"It's fine." She said, giving him a small smile. "With you it was deliberate."
"Why?" He asked.
She gave him a look that was hard to identify. "Because . . . I don't think I've ever met anyone who needed someone to listen to them as much as you did in quite a while."
Loki just sat there, not completely sure what he was feeling.
But he thought it felt . . . nice.
Nick Fury cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Either way, I had better be getting this lot back to SHIELD headquarters so I can hand them over to the trained medics. Thank you again for your assistance, Dr. Banner."
Mouse and Loki exchanged a sad look. Damn, they had hoped for a couple more hours at least. Or for Fury to leave them be and to order them to make their own way back.
Loki held out a hand. "Pleasure to meet you, young lady."
She took it. "Likewise."
Loki looked at his hands as he left, telling himself that it didn't matter.
He didn't notice the curious looks Banner gave him.
Jane Foster was having a wonderful time. She was giddy with champagne, her award on the table in front of her and a mildly terrified but incredibly smart and well-behaved Thor was sat to her left.
The Thunder God had been on tenterhooks all evening and he was absurdly grateful for all the tips that the others had given him. He had danced near perfectly with Jane, although she had smiled fondly when she had heard him whispering 'one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four' under his breath. He had sat there obediently earlier whilst Hawkeye and Black Widow had trimmed his beard and tied his hair neatly back off his face. Despite his unease at being unarmed, he had not endeavoured to sneak any weapons in under his suit and, although he was still ravenously hungry, he had observed all the correct etiquette for the meal and had not asked for seconds.
Jane, who had tuned out briefly of the conversation she was having with two other physicists sat at the table with them, turned and noticed Thor looking balefully at his empty plate.
She leant across and pecked his cheek. "Don't worry. We'll stop off at the cafe round the corner from 'A' Towers as soon as this is done and get you some pancakes." She whispered.
Thor jumped slightly, unaware that his poker face had slipped. "Sorry, I didn't want to ruin your meal." He said, guiltily.
"You didn't. You've done really well, I know this was hard for you and I'm proud of you." She murmured.
Thor relaxed, more touched than he was willing to admit. "It should be me being proud of you. Any fool can learn how to use a knife and fork properly, I'm proof of that. It takes someone special to earn the award you received tonight."
His fingers laced through hers and he kissed her tenderly on the forehead before resting his temple against hers. "I love you so much, my lovely genius." He whispered. "You look even more beautiful in this garb, Darcy has excellent taste."
Jane smiled and squeezed his hand. "Another half an hour and then I promise we will go." She whispered. "Just let me talk my way out of this conversation first . . ."
He nodded and let her go, watching as Jane returned to her previous interaction with two very strange physicists with a particular interest on this to Thor at least - incomprehensible thing called the Theory of Strings.
The tall one was being rather bitter about his shorter companion receiving the same award as he for apparently doing half the work. Still, the shorter one's companion, a pretty blonde girl whose name had eluded him Was it Peggy? Penny? was doing a perfectly adequate job of defending her date, even going so far as threatening to call the tall one's mother.
"Face it, Sheldon. You are just annoyed that, in accidentally wiping your board and accidentally correcting the mistake in your equation when he frantically tried to remember what you had written down, Leonard accidentally made more progress in two minutes than you had done in two years!" The woman was saying, smugly.
"No. In completely eradicating two years work and then happening upon the correct answer purely by chance, Leonard did nothing more than prove himself to be almost incalculably lucky by any mathematic scale!" The man called Sheldon responded, irritably.
The subject of their argument, the pleasant-faced short-sighted Leonard, was not paying attention. "Ooh dear." He said, wincing. "Howard just got slapped by that girl he was trying to convince to come and see the new Mars Rover. You'd think he would have learned by now."
"Ah hell, he's gone right off the rails since Bernadette dumped him." Penny observed, straining to see. Then she covered her mouth. "Oh, dear God!"
In being slapped, their companion Howard had stumbled back and spilt the drink of another guest. This other guest, having been passed over in the award allocations in favour of a younger colleague who happened to be sleeping with one of the panel of judges who decided who got the various awards, was understandably furious and attempting to drink his pain away. He did not take kindly to Howard crashing through his comforting wall of inebriation and repaid him by punching him in the face.
Jane fought the urge to laugh as a bar fight erupted, their companions at the table clutching at their heads in shame at their friend's antics.
She became aware of a trembling movement to her side and looked.
Thor was looking longingly over at the fight, clearly eager to join in, but restraining himself admirably.
For her sake.
Jane reached over and tapped his arm, getting his attention. "Go on." She smiled. "You know you want to."
"Really?" He said, hopefully.
She nodded. "Go make me proud, God of Thunder."
He burst into a delighted smile, lunging forward to kiss her. "I really do love you so very much." Then he tore off his tie and went hurtling across the room, fists already forming as he went.
Jane just smiled. "I love you too, you brilliant mad idiot."
Epilogue . . .
Tony Stark was in the lobby of 'A' Towers. He normally didn't stray that far down, there was very little by way of interesting technology there to catch his interest. Nevertheless, there he was, looking for his wallet which he had mislaid.
"JARVIS! Where's my wallet?" He bellowed.
"On level 10, Sir." The AI responded drily. "In the refridgerator."
"In the fridge, why the hell is it in there?"
"Mr. Rogers did not take kindly to your making 'Capsicle' jokes when he was eating ice-cream the other day." JARVIS replied.
Tony paused, then inclined his head. "Fair enough."
He was interrupted by the doorbell ringing.
Confused, he crossed over to the front door and opening it, letting in the sound of rain.
Mouse stood outside, soaked to the skin.
Tony blinked. "Hang on, you're the mini-troll who was playing with Loki the other day! I remember you from the CCTV!"
Mouse nodded but said nothing.
"What brings you here? Did you forget something?"
"I've come to see Loki." She said, calmly.
Tony paused. "Why?"
"He's fun. I like him." She said, simply.
" . . . He's killed rather a lot of people." Tony pointed out.
She looked at him.
Then he took a step back in alarm as one eye turned white with a black skull appearing in the centre, the other black with a white skull.
"As have you." The girl said, softly. "In fact, I think you might even have more blood on your hands than he. Arms manufacturing is a profitable business but the cost is more than just money."
Tony said nothing, an uneasy feeling rising in his heart at the girl's words.
"Know this, Mr. Stark, I mean no one in this building any ill-will. But the man who you would keep me from needs a friend. Possibly more than anyone." Her eyes reverted to her soft blue. "If he could benefit positively in any way from friendly companionship then surely it is in your best interests as well as his to grant me access?"
Tony stood there, conflicted for a long moment, before sighing. "Alright, Banner says he's been miserable ever since you left and he's one hell of a downer to be around when he gets like that. Follow me, I'll take you to him."
"Brilliant!" A loud, Welsh voice cut in. "We can get out of this sodding, bloody rain!"
Jackdaw barrelled past her companion, shaking rain off her curly red hair. "Nice, to meet you Bach!" She said, cheerfully. "Don't suppose you got a towel handy, do you? I'm soaked right down to me knickers here!"
Tony watched, bewildered, as the two women stepped past him. Then something occurred to him. "Oi, oi, oi! Wait a minute!" He cried.
Tony held out his hand.
Mouse stared at him. "What?"
He wiggled his fingers in a 'hand it over' gesture.
She let out a disgusted sigh. "Oh, all right."
She retrieved the bottle of tequila from her bag and handed it over.
"Where is he?" She asked.
"Level 25." Tony responded.
She nodded and the two women left.
Tony stood there. Dumbfounded.
Loki? Friends? Really?
He let out a disgusted sigh.
Good grief, what was this world coming to?
Then he cracked open the bottle and took a long drink.
He was going to need it . . .