The first time it happened, Tony was more than a little surprised.
He was in his shop welding the chassis of the Mark 20, his new Python, as he called it, when he felt the strange sensation of someone watching him. It was almost like he could sense someone in the very room, and not in the way he normally did. It was a completely different thing. He shook his head, looking up with the welding goggles still on and pausing. It was odd because no one came down to his lab unless they wanted something, and then they certainly didn’t watch him without saying something. He waited a moment to see if the sensation passed.
The infamous “invasion” had occurred over three months ago, and since then, they hadn’t seen Thor, but he’d invited the other Avengers to use Stark Tower as a home base, unofficially naming it Avengers Tower. They all been very quick to take Tony up on his offer, and he often wondered if his money and gadgets were the only reason they wanted to be here. Fury had wanted to base everyone on the helicarrier, and to be honest, one of the reasons he offered Stark tower was to annoy SHIELD’s director. He also wanted to have Bruce around, and he knew that he’d be off and gone if he had to stay that close to SHIELD. Offering him a somewhat neutral area to work from, gave him the chance to stick around. To be honest, though Tony would never voice it aloud, he wanted Bruce’s friendship more than anything. Sometimes he was lonely, and he couldn’t tell anyone that because of who he was. He also wanted to see if he couldn’t have a better relationship with Steve since they’d gotten severely off on the wrong foot. Natasha he was still wary of and Clint seemed like he could be fun.
The sensation of being watched did not go away. He wondered if Steve had come down and was hem hawing around waiting for him to acknowledge him. He felt like Steve expected him to turn and salute him when he walked into a room. Tony did, sometimes, however it was because he was being facetious. It never failed to get an annoyed look out of the military man. At least he stopped with the “salutes are a privilege” crap. Like Tony cared. He turned off the torch and stood up straight slowly. He was curious but at the same time, felt the strangest sensation crawling up his spine. He turned around, pulling the welding goggles down to see someone he didn’t expect.
Loki was standing in the middle of his shop in a set of green and gold robes and looking around as though it were perfectly normal for him to be there. Tony saw no weapons or armor, and he didn’t have the crazy helmet that he liked to wear when he was trying to conquer Earth with an alien army. He looked positively placid and unhurried. It was if he hadn’t just somehow appeared in the middle of Tony Stark’s lab that quite possibly had more security on it than Fort Knox and the Pentagon combined. Tony watched for a long moment to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d imagined seeing the figure that often appeared in his night terrors of flying through the glass of his tower window and spiraling toward the ground. He swallowed a thick rising of spit and bile in the back of his throat and wondered if perhaps he had actually lost his mind this time. He’d been several days without sleep…
“Sir, there is an intruder…” JARVIS began. Okay, well, if JARVIS said there was an intruder, that meant that he was actually standing in the shop and this wasn’t just some strange nightmare made in the daylight hours indicating a possible psychological break.
“Really, JARVIS?” Tony cut him off before he could give him further details. It was quite obvious that he didn’t need them. What else was JARVIS going to tell him? There’s an alien that’s worshipped like a god standing in the lab. “I think I can see that.”
“My apologies, Sir, I’m afraid I am not designed to pick up magical teleportation signatures,” JARVIS said.
“We’ll have to fix that,” he muttered pulling off the welding gloves and approaching Loki carefully.
When JARVIS spoke, he hadn’t seemed surprised, simply continued what he was doing, which seemed to be looking around the shop. Tony wasn’t sure what was going on, but he wasn’t walking right into some sort of trap. Tony was more than aware of what Loki could do. Thor had been quite willing to let them know his brother’s capabilities.
Loki smiled at him, turning with an even stare. “Hello there, Anthony Stark.”
“You know, we still have a hulk upstairs that is more than willing to leave another Loki-print in the floor,” he said, moving closer and putting his equipment down on the table with more than a small amount of trepidation. Why, though, was his heart beating so much faster? It wasn’t the first time he’d faced the god, and this time Loki was weaponless, of course it didn’t mean he was powerless. Tony wasn’t an idiot.
Loki sighed, turning away from him with his wrists crossed at the base of his spine. “I’m not here to fight, I just came to visit,” he said, shrugging and looking about the place.
Tony snapped the bracelets to the suit on without looking. Last time Loki was around he wasn’t too kind, tossing him from the tower and trying to take over the world and all. Loki’s image often appeared in those frequent nightmares, along with the portal that led to him dying for a short time. Actually, he had nightmares about a lot of things lately that he didn’t want to talk about. “Um, yeah, not buying it. Why here, Bambi?”
Loki shook his head, turning back to him with a deceptive smile. “To be honest, I’m not sure. When I thought of where I’d like to go, I appeared here.”
“And why are you here? Still haven’t got a good answer, Rudolph,” Tony said. He really should call the other Avengers, but for some reason he was curious and wanted to know what exactly had brought the god of mischief to his door. The strange sensation was stronger now, and he had no idea what it was. He was sure it had something to do with magic. Fucking magic, he hated magic so much.
Loki shook his head. “Not certain, to be honest, Son of Stark,” he said, looking around the shop again. “You spend more time with machines than other humans, this is unusual from what I understand studying Midgard,” he said thoughtfully, hands still tucked neatly behind his back. “Why is that?”
Without thinking, Tony snorted and said, “They’re easier, don’t have to worry about betrayal with something I programmed myself.”
He blinked rapidly for a moment, a scowl creasing his dark brows. What the hell did he say that for? That was the truth, of course, but he’d never told anyone that. He looked up at Loki again and wondered what the hell he was here for again. He shook away thoughts that were trying to force themselves to the surface about the reasons he loved his bots more than any human that lived. He frowned deeply and glared at the god. Was he using some sort of truth magic on him? He really fucking hated magic. Stupid magic gods and their stupid magic teleportation and magic truth spells and magic. Fucking magic.
Loki arched a brow and looked at the shorter man with an cool glance. “Indeed,” he said thoughtfully. That answer had been wholly unexpected, mostly because he knew it was true, and of course, the god of lies could detect one when it was spoken. He’d expected some smart answer out of him, but instead he got pure truth. More than that, though, Loki noticed. It was such a pure truth that even Loki’s own magic could not corrupt it. Was there such purity in the words of a human? He had thought it impossible.
“How have you been?” he said, picking up an unfinished circuit and examining it thoughtfully.
Unlike Thor, Loki had absorbed much information on Midgard and that included technology. He knew things that others would never realize. He knew how Midgard worked and he understood technology in a way his brother never could. To Loki, technology was simply another sort of magic to be understood. He didn’t command the power over this particular magic that Tony did, but not all magicians could handle all types of magic. It confounded him how the Midgardians dismissed magic of other types in favor of this technology. Were not all things magical that were not understood to these silly apes?
Tony looked at him. “Gods making small talk in my shop, what will happen next? Won’t the great thunder-head sense you’re here on Midgard and smash through the window?” he asked. “I mean, I’ve had enough of replacing windows in this place. They aren’t exactly cheap.”
“Ah, but I’m in my cell, nice and cozy where he left me,” Loki said turning to walk away and simply disappearing into green shadows and mist.
Tony looked at where he had been for a long time then shook his head. Stupid gods and their stupid magic, he thought and went back to work, thinking no more on it. Tony’s dexterous hands moved with speed and agility that few had. It was admirable to any that watched him work, though rarely did any watch Tony work. Despite Loki’s distraction, Tony fell into what he was doing. Of course, his mind dwelled. Loki was messing with him that had to be it. There wasn’t anything else to it. Loki was tricking him; that was what he did best. He was the god of mischief and trickery, and he wasn’t even a really an Asgardian, he was from an entirely different place than Thor. Thor hadn’t been too forthcoming with information about his brother’s true origins, just that they were another species of the nine realms.
Tony’s world went on as it normally did. Three months after the invasion, he was spending most his time on clean up duty and helping rebuild the city. Stark Tower was finished, of course, complete with floors dedicated for the various Avengers. He was proud of what he’d built. However, there was a lot more left to do. At first, it seemed that everyone was very happy to have the chance to have such a good place to live, and Tony really wanted to make them happy. During the rebuild, he’d built areas for each member of the team, and several other guest areas just in case the team’s numbers were to increase in the future. He gave everyone a phone and a tablet that had a link to JARVIS, and he agreed to work with Fury and SHIELD on some projects, as long as they did not include weapons. He wouldn’t walk that road again. There wasn’t a lot that he was worried about, except of course, the constant nightmares he was plagued with. He would deal with it, alone, like he always did, though.
The second time it happened, Tony walked out of his shower and almost ran right into Loki.
It was a couple months later, and he found himself sulking in his shower. He stepped out of the shower and looked up and stared for a minute to find Loki staring intently at the arc reactor embedded in his chest. Tony blinked, grabbing a towel with one hand and wrapping it around his waist, suddenly bothered by his nudity. To be honest, it had been a crappy week already, so Loki showing up as a voyeur in his bathroom didn’t surprise him all that much. He’d been indulging in a session of self-pity in the shower, contemplating if it was possible to fuck anything up more thoroughly, and had decided a resounding yes, because Tony Stark could always fuck up more than he already had before. He glanced at the shaving kit on the counter for a second. Strange because it had been on his mind while he showered, in particular the straight razor in it that he kept incredibly sharp.
“Um, okay, so you showing up in my bathroom is a little creepy, Twinkletoes,” he said finally after a few moments of the intense staring by the god. “I mean, here it’s called stalking and you can get arrested for it…I know I’m simply the most amazing human on earth but this is a little odd.”
“This,” he said, touching the arc reactor finally. “I couldn’t control you because I couldn’t reach your heart,” he said with a frown, gliding his fingers over the glowing object and the flesh around it. Tony shivered as his fingers brushed the over-sensitive skin on the outside of the reactor housing. Despite the steam and heat from the hot shower, he was suddenly chilled to the bone.
“Yeah…” Tony said almost gasping at the cold touch. “A miniaturized arc reactor, keeps me from dying.”
“Why do you need it? Does it replace your heart?” he asked. Loki’s eyes flickered between a strange glowing green to light blue as he stared at the blue of the arc reactor. His eyes never strayed from the object.
Tony shook his head. “No, but I have chunks of shrapnel in my heart and this thing keeps them from going through it and killing me.” Again, he frowned. What the hell? Why was he being so honest with Loki? He had a smart aleck remark ready about how he had no heart, and that was proof, and it didn’t happen. He swallowed thickly and looked up at him suddenly feeling his pulse escalate.
Loki nodded, a green energy emerging from his finger where it rested on the glowing blue arc and surprising Tony. “Interesting, it would seem that humans have some sort of connection between their physical heart and their soul after all,” he said and simply disappeared in a puff of green mist that mixed with the steam from the shower, leaving Tony staring at nothing.
“Sir…there is an…” JARVIS began.
“Shut up, JARVIS,” Tony sighed, shaking his head and walking out of the bathroom shakily.
He sat down on the bed and rubbed his temples. Stranger and stranger. First Loki showed up randomly then today he shows up after he had spent half an hour in the shower contemplating if life was worth leading anymore. The panic attacks had become more frequent, and the dreams of both that blasted portal to space and the cave were more bright and vivid than ever before. Strangely enough, Loki’s face no longer visited his terrors. He had enough without Loki’s presence, though. He hid them well, and the team saw him as his usual snarky, asshole self. He swallowed, squeezing his eyes shut for a long moment. They had to see him that way. He couldn’t let them see this part of him. Never. He wasn’t going to be worthless and weak in front of them. Despite everything he felt this desperate need to make certain they never saw the reality of who he was underneath the surface.
The easiest way to prevent unauthorized access was to put up a firewall. Tony Stark had done so in spades. No one could get past the cocky, self-assured attitude, always ready with a quip or a smart ass remark on the issue. He deflected every hurtful thing with something annoying or outright rude. It was the best way, after all, to make sure he didn’t have to think any more about what they’d said. If he looked hurt, they’d know, they’d know that he had a heart and that every time, it hurt.
It hurt when Steve told scolded him like five year because old he felt like one all over again. He didn’t see the childhood hero that had decorated his walls now. He saw someone that had taken the place of his father in all his dismissive nature and Tony accepted it, craved it even. Steve knew what a great man Howard Stark was, so of course, he knew what a great man Anthony Stark was not.
He would know better than anyone, of course, except perhaps Obie. And sometimes he saw Obie in Steve and he wanted to run and hide like scared kid because he couldn’t take that again, he couldn’t take that hurt and pain. In the end, perhaps it was Steve out of all the team that hurt him the most. He would berate him for not being a team player and refusing to follow orders. He didn’t understand Tony, and it hurt the most that Steve had his opinions and refused to try and change them, and he refused to try and understand Tony. Tony was so often that little kid, sitting on his bed staring up at the poster of Captain America with a look of bliss and swearing that one day he’d be a hero just like him. He couldn’t have failed more miserably, he thought.
It hurt when Bruce would go on one of his anti-technology tirades, and then have no problems using the technology that Tony provided him with to further his research. He loved Bruce, but he felt so small when he went on about Tony’s reliance on technology. His hand invariably went to his chest at those times to the technology that was keeping him alive. He wanted to tell Bruce that he’d done so much, invented dozens of life saving devices and implants, and research things just specifically for him. Yet still, Bruce didn’t see the hurt when Tony deflected it with a usual smirk and eye roll. He did the same when Bruce would chide him for his abuse of his own body through drink or lack of sleep. Bruce didn’t understand, he couldn’t understand.
It hurt when Natasha thought she knew everything about him when she really knew nothing. She believed that she was the super spy, and she knew all the gory details, and would hold Tony to a standard he just couldn’t meet. She’d tell him that he was better than his mistakes, so he should just stop making them. She’d tell him that an absentee father was no excuse for his hatred of authority. She’d tell him that Obie trying to kill him was in the past and he should move on. She’d tell him that the torture he endured was nothing compared to what others had been through. In short, she’d invalidate everything about him in her own effort to help him. He’d smile and drop a joke and walk away hiding his shaking hands. There must be something wrong if he couldn’t deal with these things, some flaw inside him, since others had gone through worse. Was he so flawed and messed up that he couldn’t move past something so simple?
It hurt when Clint would crack jokes about his alcoholism or his womanizing. Clint didn’t understand that the alcohol was his protection and the women were the only way he could attempt to feel anything but numb anymore, but even they weren’t enough. Clint would come across articles of Tony’s wilder escapades and ask him about them, wanting to get details on the high profile women he’d slept with and what happened. Tony would joke and act like it wasn’t a big deal, but inside he was reliving the fact that every time he crawled out of his bed away from a sleeping woman, feeling used, lost, alone, and then he would shower to hide the tears that invariably fell. Then he would grab a bottle of something alcoholic and drown the thoughts before he hid himself away in the shop so Pepper could take them away.
Of them all, it was Pepper and Rhodey that could hurt him the most. He loved them beyond all else, and he would do anything in the world for them. In fact, he had in some ways done just that. They had been with him at some of his lowest points, but even they didn’t know everything, though they thought they were experts in Tony Stark. They didn’t know about some of the things that happened to him, the things that only he knew about because the other people had taken the knowledge to the grave. They couldn’t understand his continued battle with alcohol, and he tried so very hard, for them, to be better. He did so try for Pepper, he tried to be perfect and be her man, but she drifted away from him even so. Back and forth they went, but it didn’t stifle his love for her. And Rhodey, though he would finally tire of Tony’s actions, he loved his friend more than words could express.
So this week had been one of those kind of weeks where everyone seemed to have a problem with Tony. Tony had nearly hit the breaking point, but instead he dressed and went to the shop to work with some of his bots to keep his mind off of what the others were thinking and doing. It didn’t matter to him, really, it didn’t.
The third time he was having a nightmarish flashback.
He was in the cave again, and screaming as they cut into his chest without anesthesia, seeing the faces spinning and laughing at him in the darkness. He was fighting unseen assailants and screaming for them to stop, to just stop, hearing his own bones crack, and even the ether wasn’t working enough to put him completely out. The smell stuck in his memories, though and sickened him to this day.
He sat up with a shout, grasping for unseen hands and panted for a moment, sweat dripping off his face and down his back. “JARVIS, low lights,” he said in a raspy voice, obviously he’d been yelling in his sleep again. “Won’t be going back to sleep again after that,” he muttered, a glorious headache beginning behind his eyes. He groaned and rubbed his eyes until he saw sparks and stood up, stopping to see that Loki was sitting in the chair that sat in the corner of the room.
“Does your past come to often like that?” Loki asked, thoughtfully.
Tony sighed. “Are you going to keep doing this?” he asked. He didn’t even flinch anymore when he saw him, and perhaps if he had stopped to think about it, he would have found it strange. Three visits from the man, god, whatever, that had tossed him out his window, tried to and almost succeeded in taking over the world, and pretty much put everyone’s world in sideways mode, and he wasn’t bothered. Wasn’t that a strange thing indeed?
“I’m not sure. You interest me, I decided to study you,” Loki said, not moving. He sat comfortably in the large chair, legs spread and arms draped over the arms of the plush red fabric. He was dressed differently, though, this time instead of the green and gold robes, he wore a pair of loose trousers and a blousy green shirt. His hair was pulled back to the nape of his neck, which was another difference tonight.
Tony rolled his eyes, still standing still and not moving. “I’m not some animal in a cage for you to watch and study.”
“But you are, Tony, only your cage is this Tower and your own mind,” he said as Tony mopped his face with a towel from beside the bed. Long ago, he’d learned to keep three things beside his bed. A glass of water, a bottle of scotch, and a towel were ever present. Tonight, he thought he might use all three.
He looked at the green clad god and frowned. “What does that even mean?”
“A gilded cage is still a cage,” he said and was gone again in a smoky mist of black and green.
“Sir,” JARVIS inquired.
“I swear to all those idiots in Asgard that call themselves gods, if you are trying to warn me about an intruder again, I’m going to deactivate your speech program for a week,” he said, dropping the towel and exasperated at the fact JARVIS seemed to be unable to pinpoint Loki until he was gone. He wondered if the god himself were doing something to interfere with him after the first time when JARVIS recognized his presence almost as soon as Tony did. Fucking magic.
“Ah, yes sir,” JARVIS answered and said nothing else as Tony flopped back into the bed.
He spent the rest of the night contemplating what exactly Loki kept showing up for. There wasn’t a good pattern, and Tony knew patterns. The first time he’d been in the shop, granted he had been in an anger induced work frenzy at the time, but other than that, there was nothing special. The second time had been after a rough week with the team and he’d felt particularly low, he remembered. That time his thoughts had drifted dangerously close to places that he didn’t want to go most of the time. There were some very dark places in Tony’s mind. And this time, he’d been in a flashback. He’d had other flashbacks since Loki’s first arrival, but none quite as severe as this one, he supposed. Was he showing up when he needed someone? He snorted. Yeah, right, like Loki of all people was some sort of guardian angel or something. That was wishful thinking on the part of deluded mind. He sighed, covering his eyes with his arm and waited for the sleep he knew would refuse to come.
Almost two months passed before the next occurrence, at least the next occurrence that Tony would know about. This time, Tony was in the middle of cleaning out the arc housing when he felt the sensation that he was being watched again. He ignored it until Loki came walking around, in his usual green robes once more. He looked fascinated by what Tony was doing.
“Before you ask, this is just regular maintenance, if I don’t clean the housing, an infection sets in that could spread to my heart and kill me within a week,” he said without looking up.
Loki watched for a while. “Would you rather have the thing removed?”
Tony paused, looking up. “Well, yeah, but right now the surgery would kill me. Working on figuring out how to do it in my R&D upstairs, but you know, takes time,” he said, again, telling the truth and not knowing why. He stopped questioning it. Apparently, he was incapable of lying to the god of lies.
For some reason he didn’t feel the inclination to push Loki away like the others. It wasn’t like Loki actually showed up because he liked him, either. He felt like maybe he was a passing fancy for a bored god. It still didn’t explain how he could show up and Thor seemed to know nothing of his visits. Tony had been being onerous and teased Thor about Loki’s room and board a few days before when Thor came down to tell them the Bifrost had been repaired at last. Thor had told him that Loki spent much of his time reading and in study.
“It is your weakness,” Loki said, watching as Tony carefully ran the swabs into the housing.
Tony shrugged. “We all got weaknesses, Hulk is a rage machine, Cap isn’t with the program, your brother thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips, Natasha’s human, and so is Clint,” he said, then looked up. “Do you have one?”
“A weakness?” Loki asked. “I am unsure. If I do, I have yet to find it,” he said with a smile.
Loki nodded but didn’t move to interfere or speak as Tony finished the rest of the process and snapped the reactor back into place with a wince as the housing grated against his ribs when he clicked it. He wiped the area around the housing with a cloth, and when he looked up, Loki was gone, the usual traces of green mist floating on the air. He shook his head and sighed, standing up and shrugging into his shirt. Tony was completely confused. Loki had no reason to keep showing up, yet he did.
“Sir, the reactor is in catastrophic cascade failure…” JARVIS said then stopped. “Correction, arc reactor is functioning nominally.”
Tony froze, looking down at his chest, where he caught the barest traces of green among the brilliant blue from the reactor. Had Loki had fixed it? He stumbled into the seat and steadied himself. A catastrophic cascade failure while he was disconnected from it would have killed him. Granted, it would probably have been close if he was connected to the thing. He had no idea what might have caused that in the first place, but he had to find out before it happened again.
Another few months passed without Tony seeing his green clad visitor. Though, it seemed, strange events continually surrounded him. The building that would have left Tony comatose for a week happened to fall the opposite way to defy explanation, as well as physics. The failing repulsor that suddenly decided to work at the last minute despite the fact that it had a disconnected wire. The strange green glow that he caught out of the corner of his eye now and then. The time he knew he had been knocked unconscious at least three hundred feet up and woke up on the ground. He didn’t know for sure, of course, it could be nothing, luck maybe. Everyone asked how such things happened, but he would just shrug his apparent luck off to the others as his guardian angel on his shoulder. As usual, he said it with snark and charm.
It had been another one of those weeks where he’d avoided sleep like the plague. Nightly flashbacks of all the things that still terrorized him kept assaulting him the moment he closed his eyes. The reason for the nightmares was simple; Pepper and he had called it quits again and he was back to sleeping alone. When she was there, he could usually sleep, but in the times they were apart, he just couldn’t get past the memories and thoughts. He would try to sleep but ended up sucking down coffee, usually with more than a little Irish Cream in it.
Then today, there had been another “Steve event” as Tony called them.
The “Steve events” were when Tony did something that he knew had to be done, but he was berated by the team captain for not following orders to do it. Tony continually reminded them he wasn’t a soldier, in fact, according to SHIELD he was an ‘advisor’ and not even a member of the Avengers Initiative even though they used all his gadgets and his tower. This would lead to another argument on Tony’s refusal to accept authority. This generally descended into Tony flipping off “Captain Tightpants” and hiding in his shop working on the toys they demanded of him.
This time, his “arrogance” as Steve put it had led to Clint getting injured when the building he was on collapsed because Tony missed coming around to shoot down the AIM UAV that had him targeted. Apparently, they missed the fact that despite that tidbit, he’d saved the rest of them by diverting and taking out the larger UAV that had been coming overhead with a higher yield bomb that would have decimated the better part of seven blocks around them. Steve’s response was he should have reported in and let someone else take it and do what he was ordered to do. He could not get Steve to understand that based on trajectory and speed no one else could have gotten to it in time. Steve said JARVIS hadn’t computed that so he had no way to know. Tony had calculated it already, in his head, but no one seemed to remember that he was capable of outthinking his own computer systems.
Add onto that that everyone this week also wanted the impossible; he was not in the mood for anything but sweet oblivion.
So, with guilty conscious because he had gotten Clint put into the med bay with a broken ankle and concussion by not doing what Steve said, he decided to do what he always did. He tried to drink himself into that oblivion. He was sitting in the middle of his shop surrounded by schematics of various things and a nearly empty bottle of scotch in his hand. He was drunker than he had been in a long time; of course to get there it had taken a fifth of scotch and half a bottle of Jack.
“You are highly inebriated, Anthony,” Loki said from behind Tony. Tony looked over to see Loki kneeling beside the papers on the floor and looking about with interest. He was back in the black trousers and loose green shirt again, and his hair was tied back. Tony wondered if he’d tell him what the difference in his dress was. He might have asked if he hadn’t been so drunk.
“No shit, Bambi,” he said, swigging from the bottle.
“Do humans not drink in merriment among each other?” Loki asked.
Tony snorted in response. “Hum, I’ve heard that, I drink to shut the fucking thoughts in my brain off. And to forget for a minute how fucking worthless I am.”
Loki frowned. “Really. What does that mean, Anthony?”
Tony looked up with bleary eyes, both bloodshot and with deep black circles under them. “Fucking worthless son of a great man!” he said, holding up his bottle and glaring at the nearly empty contents. “Fucking nothing without the suit, that’s what I am,” he said with a sigh. “Can’t follow orders, can’t make things work in time, might as well just fucking drink until I fucking die of alcohol poisoning, though I’d have to drink a lot more to do that…” he said sadly, looking over to the small wet bar and thinking of going to get the bottle of amaretto he kept under there for Pepper.
Loki leaned forward and put a hand on Tony’s head, and Tony slumped over into sleep. He stared at him, and used his magic to clear the alcohol out of his body. Loki picked him up and laid him on the leather sofa and sat down by him and stared for a long moment before curiosity got the best of him and he leaned forward and laid a hand on his head again, closing his glowing green eyes and finding the memories that had come to the surface of his mind. He’d seen much of what happened already, but there were reasons behind Tony’s actions. He wanted to know them.
“I can’t deal with you anymore, Tony. I love you, I do, but I’m better off as your friend than I am your girlfriend,” Pepper said sadly. She was standing by the windows with a clipboard in her hands. “I know we’ve done this so many times Tony, but this time, I don’t think I’ll come back. I love you so much, but…Happy and I are seeing each other, and he makes me very happy,” she said, turning back to face him.
Tony looked up from his work, a car motor he’d taken apart. “Okay, Pep, I just want you to be happy,” he said, smiling at her, but inside his heart was breaking. At least she and Happy could be together and have a good life. Happy could give her the things Tony could not, and Tony could still give her everything that she needed that money could buy, so it was good. That’s what he told himself.
“Tony, for godssakes, can you listen?” Steve yelled into the com link.
Tony, in his suit, nearly fell out of the sky as the repulsors on his left side flitted on and off. He didn’t have time to explain to them what he was doing, he didn’t even realize what he’d done until it was done, but the action had ended with him nearly crushed inside the suit. His left side was numb and JARVIS was going on about there being damage to the suit.
“Cap, I can’t explain right now,” he said. After the mission would be another wonderful “Steve event” he knew.
He got to the ground and dropped the kid he’d grabbed out of the building before taking off again. She ran toward her family and Tony waved as he took off in a halting fashion. Damn, it would take days to fix this.
“You can’t just do stuff like this, Tony! I told you to head to the right, not the left because the building was collapsing!” Cap continued into the com. Definite “Steve event” on the way. Tony sighed. He wasn’t going to bother; they weren’t going to even listen to him anyway.
“Tony, did you finish those arrows?” Clint asked, leaning against the door and looking into the lab.
He looked up. “Um, yeah, on the list, bird boy,” he said, waving him off as he tried to fix the faulty connection in the 33 that kept causing it to disconnect from the arc. He really was going to kill himself if he didn’t figure out what was causing it. Losing power at thirty thousand would not be a good idea.
“Dude, you’ve been working on them three weeks, what’s taking so long?” Clint asked with a frown. “You just down here fucking around with your suits again? Really, you know, you can’t be of much help if we can’t fight at least at your level in the tin can.”
Tony looked up. “I’ll have them tomorrow, they have to fabricate overnight,” he said, looking up and putting down the piece from his suit and looking at the arrows and guns laid out in process for Clint and Natasha.
“Great! Thanks, Tony!” he said with a grin and left.
Tony glared at the guns for Natasha too beside the arrows. She’d been complaining that she could have used them on her mission yesterday. He sighed and picked up the schematic for the arrows, and pulled up his list on the monitor. Five projects for Fury, six for Stark Industries, and twenty six for the Avengers were in the to do list. Almost all were marked priority one. He sighed. He guessed that sleeping would be off that list for the next week or so...
“Rhodey, I don’t have time for this right now,” Tony said, grabbing a coffee cup from the kitchen. It was morning and the sun was streaming into the upper tower. Tony hadn’t slept the night before trying to finish one of Fury’s “immediate” projects for the helicarrier engines.
“Tony, I need that project done on the UAV design, what are you doing? It’s not like you have been doing anything for Stark Industries lately. Pepper says she can’t pry you out of the lab and playing with your toys down there. She can’t even get you to go to meetings,” he said, shaking his head.
Tony started to speak and shook his head. It wouldn’t do any good to explain what he’d been working on. “I’ll do what I can, Rhodey, but…”
“Tony, you know the government looks the other way right now because of what you do for them, but if you can’t deliver…I can’t keep them off your case. I mean, they’re happy you gave me the War Machine suit, but they don’t like you being rogue without them to regulate what you do,” he said with a sigh.
Tony rolled his eyes. “I’ll get on it, Rodey, okay?”
Rhodey smiled. “Good.”
Loki removed his hand. Interesting, he thought, and was gone into greenish shadows.
Tony was in the med bay again. This time, though, Bruce didn’t know what to do. Tony’s hands had been crushed on their last mission and he wasn’t sure he could fix them. They’d had a mission to deal with an AIM facility, and of course, Tony had headed things off. He ended up getting trapped when the basement caved in. It seemed as though his arc reactor had set off a trap designed just for him and the whole place came crashing down. His suit had held up as well as could be expected, but his hands had been trapped under a slab of concrete that had taken the hulk and Steve together to move. They weren’t sure he’d ever use them again. They joked among themselves so much for Tony’s guardian angel. They were so sure that if Tony was awake, he’d make the same joke. It sounded like such a Tony thing to do, of course. They didn’t understand, of course.
They had to keep him sedated completely, because every time he woke up he’d freak out on them, and Bruce feared his heart wouldn’t take the stress. If it hadn’t been for the arc reactor, he might have been more sure of the outlook, but he just didn’t know with all the stress Tony’s heart was already under… He also feared that Tony would hurt someone in that state. He tended to come to swinging. He wasn’t sure what to do, and fell asleep in the chair beside him.
Bruce had no idea that Tony’s problem didn’t have to do so much with his hands than the fact they’d left him restrained to keep him from leaving the bay. Bruce didn’t think that Tony was bothered by that, he had no idea that the position he was restrained in echoed one he’d been in before. Of course, no one bothered to ask Tony when he panicked what exactly he was panicking over, they simply decided it best to let him sleep through the worst of it. He looked as though he could use it anyway. Nobody asked why about that either.
Bruce woke to something green flashing in the room. He blinked and came awake with a start, frowning and got up to check on Tony. He knew something was different, so he turned on the lights, and found Tony’s hands were healed completely, in fact, other than his arc reactor, he had no injuries and he was waking up despite the heavy sedation. Both the wrist and leg restraints had been broken by something incredibly strong.
“Bruce?” Tony asked, pushing himself to sit up and staring at his hands. “You did it?” he asked quietly. He remembered his hands being crushed and he remembered a flash of green but then there was Bruce and Steve trying to figure out how to free him. Everything else was hazy. He remembered snatches of nightmares and feeling scared beyond belief and trapped, unable to breathe.
Bruce shook his head. “I didn’t…”
JARVIS chimed in quietly, “Sir, I detected a…”
Tony smiled to himself, his eyes distant. “Yeah, JARVIS, I figured that out.”
Bruce looked at Tony with a confused face. “I don’t understand what just happened, Tony, but you do, don’t you?”
Tony smirked; still tired it seemed and laid back down. “Just my guardian angel, guess he was running late,” he muttered before fading off to sleep. Bruce stared at him for a long time.
“JARVIS, what does that mean?” he asked.
“I’m unsure what Sir is referring to, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS responded without missing a beat.
The mystery would remain for a while. Bruce told the others, and none of them could figure out what had possibly caused such a thing. Thor commented that it would seem to him a healer of some sort had magically healed his hands, such things he had seen in Asgard, and he knew that there were earth sorcerers, so perhaps there was someone helping Tony. They told Thor about Tony’s unusual luck, though it didn’t seem to follow him all the time. Especially since he ended up getting his hands crushed and almost killed. JARVIS was no help, simply stating he did not know what they were talking about, that there were no unauthorized visitors to the tower on record. Tony said that he couldn’t remember anything about it. He was just glad his hands were fine.
He knew better though. He felt it, the remains of the warmth that he was beginning to recognize as magic. Magic, which he hated so much, was coursing through his body and soul, and he was beginning to want more of it. He was beginning to crave it.
Steve and Tony continued to butt heads on a daily basis, though. “Steve events” had started to happen after almost every mission. Steve had issues with his tendency to go rogue, as he put it, and not stick with the strategy he put in place. Tony tried to explain that he tried to do that but there was more to it than Steve understood. Once again, the mission had gone slightly bad, though this time no one had been hurt, but the fault was given to Tony for not listening to Steve. It had regressed into Steve telling Tony that Howard would be disappointed in his son, and that he was nothing but a spoiled rich child. Tony played it off and told him that’s the way daddy raised him and left it at that, but no one else saw him clutching his chest in the elevator at the radiating pain. He had to get ready for the event that night anyway.
The event had been to honor Stark Industries for all the work they were doing for the city. Tony, of course, had to speak, and Pepper as well. As a special guest, Steve had prepared a speech, as one of the few people to have fresh memories of Howard Stark and that era. The Avengers were invited, of course, though they didn’t have to speak. Everyone was excited, though for Tony, things went downhill drastically when Steve began to talk about Howard.
Tony tried his best, he really, truly did. He tried to stay in his seat and listen as Steve went on and on about what a great man Howard Stark was, about what a benefit to the world he had been, and it just became too much for him. Tony found himself practically running from his seat, to the speaker’s right hand and in front of everyone, no less. He hit the door to the bathroom and vomited everything he’d had that day, which mostly amounted to drinking his calories from a whiskey bottle. Steve didn’t know Howard Stark, not like Tony did.
Eventually Bruce came in to check on him, and Tony told him that it had been bad sushi earlier today, but he didn’t think he believed him. They were at a break for the second set of speeches anyway after Steve had finished. He stepped outside and found everyone waiting on him.
“Uh, sorry, bad round of sushi, I think,” he said, his face obviously flushed and sweaty.
Pepper frowned, looking at him. She’d noticed that he seemed to be declining in health since she’d stopped staying at the tower. She’d asked the others but they played it off that he was just being Tony and not to worry. “You sure you are alright, Tony?” she asked. “Happy can take you back to the tower.”
He shook his head. “No, I think I’m okay now,” he said with a strained smile.
Clint snorted. “Sure you just didn’t drink too much on an empty stomach?” he asked.
Tony rolled his eyes, “Shut up, bird brain, go crawl back into your nest,” he muttered and took his place back beside the podium and picked at the food that was given. He wasn’t sure he could eat. He glanced around, feeling like he was being watched and shook his head. He could hear the tabloids already. Tony Stark is looking poor, is he addicted to drugs? Is he back on the bottle? Will he go to rehab?
Pepper was the next to speak, and going after Steve and talking about Stark Industries under Howard Stark, she was speaking of the next part, which was Obadiah Stane. Tony bit hard into his lip as she started talking about the good work he did before the end when he let hubris and jealousy get in the way of the true path for Stark Industries. Tony dabbed at his forehead already feeling the sweat bead again, and he was wishing desperately that he hadn’t even taken bites out of the food that came by. His stomach was threatening to reject even that. Pepper went on to talk about the changes in Stark Industries and what Tony had done for it. He didn’t hear most of it through the buzzing in his ears. There was another break and Pepper leaned over to him again.
“Tony, you still aren’t looking well,” she said, frowning and patting his hand.
“Just not feeling that great, Pep,” he said, rubbing his forehead.
“Please tell me you aren’t hung over?” she said, a sadness tinging her voice and Tony shook his head. He couldn’t handle the pitying tone of voice right now.
The rest of the night went on and he shot out of the place like it was on fire, much to the annoyance to everyone. Too many thoughts were running through his head, too many memories of things he’d rather forget. So, he ended up in his lab, drinking fast and hard to try and chase them away.
“What this time?” a smooth familiar voice said from behind him. Tony didn’t flinch, and almost found relief in the fact he was there.
Tony turned and saw Loki meandering around the shop again. He’d grown so used to him popping in unexpectedly. “What do ya mean?” he said softly as he slid down into his couch.
“You only drink yourself into a stupor when you are upset greatly, Anthony. What happened this time?” he asked, moving toward him.
Tony shook his head. “Why do you care? Nothing important. Just like me.”
Loki nodded and stepped up to him and once more pressed a hand to his head, sending him to sleep. “You are so destructive of yourself, Anthony Stark,” he said. “Why is that? What drives you to destroy and degrade yourself so much?”
Once more, Loki’s magic reached out and felt for the things that had driven him to this state. Things were muddled as he removed the poisons from his blood, but it wasn’t the alcohol that muddled them.
“But father!” a little dark haired boy said with tears streaming down his face asked a bigger man.
“It’s garbage! How dare you think this is worthy of the Stark name?” the older man said, brushing a table clear of various parts and tools. Howard Stark, the name attached to the dark haired man.
“But…it works! I just need to…” he said, the young Tony, Loki realized.
Before the boy could look up, his father backhanded him, sending him to the ground. “Trash! Do better, you disgust me!” he said and stormed out, leaving the boy collecting the pieces of whatever he’d made and piling them together.
“You’re nothing but a spoiled rich kid, you don’t belong here!”
An older Tony Stark stood in the hall of some sort of school. He was a young teenager. He stared at the taller boy or man that was yelling and snarling at him. He looked to be almost twenty. For a younger kid, Tony glared at him with a look that rivaled adults.
“I belong here, just because I’m younger than you doesn’t mean shit. I’m here because I’m smarter than any of you.”
“Your daddy’s money got you here, nothing else,” another boy said, staring at him. “You’ll see, we’ll teach you what you are. Fourteen year old brats don’t belong here, you’ll see,” he said, slapping the armload of books out of Tony’s arms. He turned and left him alone to pick up scattered books.
Tony knelt down and gathered them and walked away, his back rigid and his jaw tight.
“But I’m top of the class!” a Tony that was a few years older said with wide dark eyes, wearing a too big t-shirt and a pair of shorts that obviously didn’t belong to him. The person who stood in front of him was his father, beside him stood his mother.
“You can’t dictate everything about my life!” he said, crossing his thin arms over his body.
“You will cease this, Anthony Stark. I will not have it known that my son is a….a….gay boy!” he said, eyes wide and shaking his head. “You have a company to run, a legacy to continue!”
Tony frowned. “I’m not gay!” he said, glancing back at the bed where Charlie was very still. “I’m bi.” He said, sighing and looking down.
“Doesn’t matter what you are, no son of mine is going to be caught bedding with another man!” he said, grabbing Tony by the arm and backhanding him. His mother flinched and looked away. “You’re going back to your dorm, and if I hear of you seeing him, or anyone like him again, I’ll press charges against him for statutory. You’re not seventeen yet, Tony, I can see him put in jail for a very long time.”
He threw Tony back from him and turned and left. Tony’s mother looked back with a sad smile and waved. Tony stood up, wiping blood from his mouth as the taller, dark skinned boy came out from under the sheets that he’d been staying in and wrapped his arms around him and whispered to him something and Tony turned and returned the gesture.
“Here Tony,” an older man with silver hair said. Tony was sitting at a bar, and the man handed him a shot glass. He stared it.
“Obie, I’m not old enough to drink,” he said, looking up at him.
“It’s okay, boy, you lost your parents today, and if anyone needs it you do.”
The glass kept being refilled again and again until the seventeen year old couldn’t stand without help. The silver haired man smiled in a way that was wrong. He manhandled him into a bedroom and threw him down onto a bed with bright blue covers. The sky was not so bright.
Tony turned his head and frowned. “Obie…not m’bed…this’s yers…” he mumbled, trying to get up but the older man shoved him back onto the bed again.
“Now, Tony,” he said, crawling on after him. “You’ll be a good boy, won’t you? Imagine my surprise when your dad called me irate because he caught you having a nice, big black boy fuck you into the wall when he came and visited by surprise last year. Hmm, if I’d known you liked fat cocks I would’ve done this sooner,” he said, pulling at Tony’s trousers with his heavy hands. “We could have had a lot of fun before you went off to MIT…”
“No, what…Obie,” he muttered, his mind clouded but not enough that he didn’t realize what was happening as his god father’s hands went places he knew they shouldn’t be. He screamed to be let go but it didn’t do any good.
Loki blinked, removing his hand. “How…disgusting…” he said, disappearing again, but with a definite plan in mind the next time something like this happened.