It was rare for Tony to go any great distance without Pepper; she was his rock and pretty much the only person in the universe who could curb the worst of his crazier binges. But there was one trip he never brought her on, one he’d silently promised himself to take every year after he’d gotten years back. Once a year under the claim of a personal day, he’d climb aboard his jet and fly back to Afghanistan.
He’d bid farewell to Pepper and Rhodey, bullshit up some extravagant story about this little shop in Prague or Milan or Berlin he’d heard about that he just had to see, and disappear for a day. His jet would touch down - and sometimes money would exchange hands to ensure that this little secret stayed secret - and then he’d suit up and return to do a single patrol around Gulmira.
It was a tradition he’d stuck to for three years now, his little way of paying homage to the life and sacrifice of a man he’d known only three months in a dark cave in the middle of nowhere.
By the time he was on his way back from that trip, he was always ready for a stiff drink. This particular day was no different. The moment the jet had reached cruising altitude and his ears had popped he poured himself a glass of scotch and nursed it as he settled in to wait out the flight back to New York. Three hours in they hit a patch of turbulence that they just couldn’t seem to shake, and Tony resigned himself to an absolutely miserable flight back.
It wasn’t until another hour had passed that the buzz of the intercom interrupted him from his thoughts, and the pilot’s voice was just the slightest bit shaken when he spoke up.
“Mr. Stark? We figured out what’s been causing all that turbulence.”
Tony waits for the man to elaborate, and when he doesn’t he prompts him with a slightly annoyed “And?”
“There’s a man on top of the plane.”
For a startlingly brief moment he thinks the pilot is making some kind of joke and he waits for a full minute for the man to give him the punchline, all the while entertaining thoughts of just how he’d get payback. But as the minute stretches on and the obviously shaken pilot prompts him with a shaken “sir?” he begins to think that maybe this isn’t a joke. He scowls.
“I’m going to have to clean this up, aren’t I?”
He doesn’t wait for a response, only gets to his feet and ignores the protest that meets his ears as he makes his way back to where he’d stashed the suit. All objections fall on deaf ears as he dons it, waiting for the instant the HUD flickers to life and illuminates his surroundings before he makes his way out to the isolated door of the jet he’d had set up just in case.
There’s one last protest over the intercom and he’s throwing himself out into open air, dropping like a stone before his repulsors fire and rocket him up and over the jet. JARVIS is already scanning without a word from him and there’s a stream of data that pops up before getting tossed aside as unimportant before the display zeroes in on exactly what Tony had been expecting not to find.
“Son of a bitch.”
There, clinging to the awning on bulge of the cabin, was Loki.
He was holding onto the smooth, metal edge with outstretched arms. His face was tucked into his shoulder, his eyes and mouth sealed tightly shut. His hands were terribly blistered, his red, raw fingers and palms screaming against cold metal. He breathed thin, stale oxygen as vicious currents of air whipped over his body, his coat flapping violently behind him. The only sounds he had to keep him company were the deafening combination of the engine’s roar and gust blowing through his ears. He could barely even hear himself groaning as sharp pain shot through his chest as the result of what was likely a couple of cracked ribs, courtesy of his crash landing on the back of the plane.
He endured for four hours before he felt vibrations of mechanical movement through the metal. His initial reaction was panic. The wind was too strong for him to open his eyes, and if he tried to move he would doubtlessly slide off of the plane completely and plummet to what would probably be his death.
Before he had time to think further, there was a heavy CLANG of metal meeting metal that came from directly in front of him, and he felt what he swore were hands grabbing him under the armpits and pulling him up and off of the surface of the plane. Alarmed, he thrashed and flailed for something to hold onto, somewhere to plant his feet, desperate for anything he could ground himself with.
There was a flood of relief when his hands found humming metal as whatever had grabbed him pulled him close. He groped around, mapping out the shape of a head and shoulders with his hands.
Immediately Loki thought of the Destroyer. Did Midgard have this kind of technology? His blood ran cold with dread. What if it was them? What if they had found him?
Suddenly, it spoke. “Hold on tight.”
It sounded strange and had a hallow, tinny quality, but that was not the voice of a Chitauri. A sigh rushed out of him as he obeyed and wrapped his arms around the neck of the suit, the arms of his savior encircling his waist. There was a high pitched drone from the mysterious armor and then they were moving, no, falling, no, flying! He felt nauseated and dizzy as they zipped away.
And then they landed, his ears ringing as the din of the air and the engines drained away. Gone was the relentless gale that pierced through his clothes and blew the warmth from his skin. There was a flat, solid surface beneath his feet and the suit cautiously let him go.
Loki immediately fell to his hands and knees, moaning as the blood rushed to his head. Every one of his muscles seemed to be howling beneath his sweat slicked skin as he shivered on the floor, still trying to process what had just happened.