Has it really been almost a year? (dodges rocks and flaming arrows) I am the literal worst. There is no excuse for why I haven't updated in months, so I'm not going to make one. I just hope that all of my faithful readers haven't completely abandoned me yet...Well, anyways here's the next chapter! Sort of on the short side, but hey, it's better than nothing!

P.S. Four words...Avengers: Age of Ultron (squee!)

P.S.S. All the stuff in italics is a flashback...

"I told you, Tony." Kate whined. "This is all extremely unnecessary." Tony rolled his eyes and scoffed as he pulled her down the brightly lit corridors of the Helicarrier.

"Pipe down, Katie." He stated. "You were just the captive of an alien overlord for nearly a year. I medical check-up is extremely necessary."

"He didn't hurt me." She added. "Well, not physically at least."

"Not the point, Mini-Me." They reached the door to the med-bay, which promptly slid open, and Tony led her into the middle of the room and sat her down on one of the med-beds. "The doc will be in in a sec." Tony winked at her before turning and exiting the med-bay, leaving Kate alone in the cold room. Kate sighed and realized that this was the first time she had been alone since arriving back on the Helicarrier. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples as she thought back to the events of her return…

Tony landed in the hanger of the Helicarrier with a soft thud, Kate close at his heels. They both lifted their visors and immediately noticed that the hanger was suspiciously empty.

"What?" Kate questioned. "No welcome back party?"

"SHEILD isn't exactly known for their hospitality." Tony shrugged.

"Hm." Kate paused. "Well, I'm going to go and find Fury before he finds me." Kate's suit opened and she stepped out of it, but before she could take another step, her and Tony were surround by a dozen heavily armed SHEILD agents, their weapons trained on Kate.

"Hell of a welcome back." Kate muttered as she put her hands behind her head. A moment later, the sea of SHEILD agents parted and Fury himself approached Kate."

"Agent Poole." Fury stood in front of her, legs akimbo and arms behind his back.

"Director." She replied. She took a step towards Fury, but before she could reach him, two agents grabbed her and forced her arms roughly behind her back.

"What the hell is this, Fury?" Tony stormed towards the director, the visor on his suit dropping back into place as he went.

"Calm down, Stark." Fury waved his hand dismissively. "We need to assess Agent Poole for any 'unwanted influence'."

"You think Loki possessed her with his crazy juju or something?" Tony questioned.

"We're taking no chances when it comes to Loki." Fury stated simply as he approached Kate. "He's unstable and therefore unpredictable." He leaned closer to her and stared into her eyes intently. After a moment of silence, he leaned back. "She's clean." He stated. Kate was released a moment later. "Loose the suit, Stark. I want you two on the bridge for debriefing in ten."

"Sir, yes, sir." Kate muttered darkly as she glared at Fury's retreating back. "It sure is good to be home." She deadpanned.

"Well, anyplace is better than bunking with Tall, Dark, and Demented." Tony scoffed. Kate blanched.

"Yea." She replied quietly. "Loads better."

Following Fury's "inspection", Tony and Kate were immediately taken to the bridge for debriefing, by order of Director Fury. And for Kate, everything was down hill from the moment she stepped foot on the bridgeAll of the agents present stopped what they were doing to stare at her as if she was some sort of alien. Granted, she probably looked a sight in her ripped and dirtied silk gown which she still had yet to change out of. It took a stern, one eyed glare from Fury to snap everyone out of their trances and to go back to their respective duties. The other Avengers continued to stare silently at her from their places at the briefing table. Steve, Bruce and Thor stared at her with a mixture of relief and a small amount of pity, while Clint and Natasha's gazes were blank. Kate took a deep breath, squared her shoulder, and approached the Director with as much confidence as she could musterwhich wasn't much.

"It's good to have you back, Agent Poole." Fury stated simply, hands behind his back.

"It's good to be back, sir." Kate responded as she stopped in front of Fury. Tony stopped beside her, and remained protectively by her side.

"Are you well, Katherine Poole?" Thor was the next or her comrades to speak.

"I am quite unharmed, Thor, thank you for your concern." She replied with a slight nod in his direction. He returned her nod with a solemn one of his own.

"And my brother?" He inquired. "What trickery does he have planned for the future of Midgard?"

"A second alien invasion may be imminent." She stated plainly before all hell broke loose. Those who were sitting jumped to their feet, faces morphed in anger and shock. Exclamations of disbelief and confusion filled the bridge. Kate closed her eyes and took a moment to compose herself before speaking once more. "He's not working alone." She stated over the cacophony. The voices of her comrades were suddenly smothered. "He never was." Silence reigned for a moment before Fury prompted her to continue.


"That's the reason why I requested an extraction. Last night, in a rare show of weakness, he admitted to me his reason for being here." Kate announced, more calmly than she felt. She was struggling to keep herself from a complete emotional collapse.

"We already know his reason for being here, Poole." Fury pointed out tersely. "He came back to finish what he started in New York a few years back."

"That was only part of it." Kate placed her hands on the table in front of her and leaned forward. "He's been working for a being named Thanos, an alliance that apparently predates his first attempt at world domination." She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "I get the feeling that his affiliation with Thanos is not completely consensual."

"You think Loki is being controlled?" Steve spoke up.

"I think he is being manipulated." Kate folded her arms over her chest as she addressed Steve.

"How?" Steve questioned.

"Through the liberal use of fear. He's riddled with scars, both physical and mental. Whatever happened to him between his fall from the Bifrost and his arrival via Tesseract three years ago." She turned her gaze on Thor. "I don't claim to know your brother as well as you, but I was sometimes able to catch glimpses of a different man beneath the dark mask he now wears. A better man." She said no more, but her eyes spoke volumes. Thor sighed and lowered his gaze, his shoulders sagging with exhaustion and regret.

"The lady Katherine is correct. A darkness has always surrounded my brother, but he used to know love and happiness. I thought this part of him long gone." Thor raised his gaze to Kate once more, a spark of realization in his eyes that almost immediately turned to hope. "But perhaps he now has someone to drag him out of the darkness." The blonde god stared at Kate silently for a moment before Tony spoke up.

"It's gonna take a lot more than one person to drag Maleficent out of that kind of darkness." Tony stroked his goatee thoughtfully. "He's gonna need a team of oxen to pull him out of that pit of despair."

"As fascinating as this all is, Loki's emotional state is not our problem at the current time." Fury declared.

"Well we should bloody well make it our problem." Kate objected, darkness tinting her voice. "He's unstable." She paused and took a deep breath, hating herself for what she was about to say. "We can use this weakness against him." It felt like a betrayal. There was a building pressure in her chest and her eyes burned. It was at that moment, thousands of miles away from Loki and surrounded by her friends, that she realized something that she had likely know for a while but had thus far refused to admit: she loved him. She loved the emerald eyed god who had taken over her world and enslaved her people. And now she was going to betray him yet again.

"What do you suggest, Poole?" Fury promoted.

"Loki is just a puppet." Kate stated. "We need to get rid of the one pulling the strings."

"Thanos." Steve whispered. Kate inclined her head in confirmation.

"What you suggest is not possible." Thor interjected. "The Mad Titan is one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Even the Alfather is wary of him."

"Which is why we'll need all the help we can get." Fury chimed in, a plan obviously forming in his mind. "Thor, how would your father feel about taking a little trip to Midgard?..."

Kate's thoughts returned to the present as the doors to the med-bay slid open. Bruce, who had been noticeably quiet during their strategy meeting on the bridge, smiled at her as he made his way toward the hospital bed she was currently seated on. As Bruce fiddled with a touchpad in his grasp, she tugged restlessly on the sleeve of her SHIELD issued sweatshirt she had hastily donned following the meeting on the bridge. Silence reigned.

"Alright." Kate finally spoke up. "What's eating you?" Bruce raised his gaze from his pad and stared intently at her face for a moment before speaking in his usual soft tones.

"You just spent that last year with a despotic, certifiably insane god who claims to be the king of this 'realm' and you don't even seem bothered." He stated. "Doesn't that bother you?" Kate stared at him for a moment.

"If you want me to fall to the floor in some sort of emotional puddle, you're barking up the wrong tree, big guy." Kate deadpanned.

"Hm." Was his only response before he started scanning her with the pad in his hands. Kate threw up her hands in exasperation.

"Between you and Tony, I'm beginning to feel like some sort of porcelain doll." She crossed her arms defensively. Bruce shot her a quick glance over the rim of his pad.

"I'm fine!" She exclaimed. "Bloody nosy bastards." She then muttered under her breath. She expected Bruce to comment on her language, but when no chastisement came, she raised her gaze to look at the doctor who had suddenly gone stock still before her.

"Doc?" She prompted, yet the doctor's gaze remained glued to the pad in his hands, his brows slightly furrowed. "Bruce, what is it? Some sort of alien parasite?" She joked, attempting to diffuse the growing tension. At her comment, he slowly shook his head, eyes still glued to the glowing touchpad.

"Not a parasite." He whispered. "Much worse."

"Tell me, Bruce. I'm staring to get bothered now." Kate laid a gentle hand on his arm, prompting the doctor to raise his eyes to meet hers.

"You're pregnant."