keep the light from passing through
“I am Iron Man,“ he says and climbs into his suit of metal and is.
“Tony,” Pepper murmurs worriedly from the sidelines, but he can’t hear her.
Loki was myth before he was flesh, just as all Aesir before him, just as those after him. They are born with their fate written in the stars, traced out by Heimdall’s hypnotic gaze, from the end to the very beginning.
“Loki,” Thor says, “brother. You need not do this.”
Loki laughs, dagger poised at a mortal’s throat, using the worthless body as a shield from his brother’s might. “Would you have us rewrite the world then?”
And Thor, the fool, says, “Yes.”
He means it, too, and that is the worst thing.
When they are boys, far smaller than their myths, when Odin is still Father, he takes them to see the branches of the world tree, shows them the place where he hanged, for nine long days and nights, to gain the knowledge of the worlds.
Wide-eyed, Thor whispers, “You know all the worlds’ secrets, Father?”
Loki is the only one who sees the deep flash of sorrow in the Allfather’s remaining eye as he answers, “I do.”
A thousand years later he shoves his hostage forward, sends her staggering into his brother’s arms and takes just enough time to hiss, “Naïve fool,” before disappearing into the mirror shards littering the floor.
Everyone always thinks that Tony grew up with Captain America’s heroics for bedtime stories. Fact is, until he is eleven and another boy says, “It must be so cool, to have a dad who knew Captain America,” he doesn’t even know that Howard Stark ever crossed paths with Tony’s hero.
He asks for a story that night. “Dad? Tell me about Captain America?”
Howard, as he usually does, gives Tony an empty, disappointed look and takes a long sip of his scotch. “Go to bed, kid,” he orders, tiredly.
But Tony shakes his head. “Did you know him?”
“I said go to bed,” Howard repeats, sharper.
Tony, far too used to his father’s dismissiveness, just keeps digging. Still, he thinks maybe he understands why his father looks so uncharacteristically regretful. “Do you… do you miss him? Because he… died?”
Laughing, his father stands, salutes him with his tumbler and turns toward the door, effectively ending Tony’s attempt at conversation. He stops once, briefly, on the threshold, to say, “Captain America is not dead.”
Tony takes that as a statement of hope. It’s true, of course, but no-one knows that for another thirty years. Howard Stark will die not knowing. But that’s not what he meant anyway, Tony understands, locked into his suit, flying high above New York City in the dark, like a falling star.
Some things never die.
“Captain,” Director Fury calls after Steve as he’s already moving to leave.
“Yes, sir?” Steve asks, stopping and turning around. Fury’s lips quirk into what might be a smile. He seems endlessly amused by Steve’s respect for him. Steve isn’t sure why. The man is his commanding officer after all.
He picks up a familiar, cloth wrapped bundle and holds it up, asks, “D’you want that back, soldier?”
He pulls away the black cloth and the shield gleams, white and blue and red.
Steve tells Bucky, somewhere in the Alps, only days before he fallsfallsfalls, that he hopes that one day, when the war is over, he’ll be able to put down the shield and be a man again. Be Steve Rogers.
The war’s been over for seventy years now. Bucky could have grown old and died in that span of time. If Steve tries hard enough and never closes his eyes, he can imagine he did.
“Of course, sir,” he says, and Fury throws the shield. Steve spins with its trajectory and catches it at the pass, as easy as breathing. It settles against his side like it was never gone.
“So you are their godling,” Loki taunts as they face each other for the first time, both battered but none the worse for wear. Not yet.
Captain America hefts his shield and shakes his head. “I am no god.”
Loki waves his protest away. “The closest thing, then, that this American people has ever had. I wonder, do you bleed?”
Head cocked to one side, dagger in each hand, the God of Tricks asks, “Would you believe me if I said no?”
A shrug. “Thor warned us that you lie. But I think everyone bleeds.”
“You remind me of my father,” Loki admits and sends his daggers flying.
“Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away and what are you?”
Tony deflects the question with a smile and a joke and never says, I was a man once, but I cut out my heart and replaced it with a metal one.
Later, when there’s no-one else around to watch, he leans against a doorjamb and asks, very quietly. “Take away the shield and the costume. What are you?”
Steve looks away. It doesn’t feel like winning.
“This isn’t going to work, you know?” Tony says, conversationally, as he looks at the god visible only in his mirror.
“What is that?” Loki asks, idly spinning a blade between nimble fingers. He is lounging on Tony’s bed like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Tony spins a finger at his temple. “This. Getting into my mind. Screwing with me. Causing chaos. That’s what you do, isn’t it?”
The Liesmith laughs, smooth like snake scales. “There is no need for me to cause chaos in your life, little mortal. You have been my avatar since the day you were born, Anthony Edward Stark, son of Howard.”
Tony raises one eyebrow skeptically as he leans back against the dresser, arms crossed. “Yeah, sorry, I don’t think so.”
He blinks and Loki is there, close enough to kiss, pressed against his front. He should be hot, but he feels cold, like packed snow. Tony tries hard not to shiver.
“Drink. Women. Men. Drugs. Death. Destruction. Arrogance. Pride. So many vices,” Loki croons, leaning closer still. “You play at being a god, little mortal. Chaos follows in your wake wherever you go.”
“Do not,” Tony complains, bending backwards, a grimace on his face. “Also, back off, dude.”
“Can you feel it yet?” Loki wants to know and something in his voice, low and curious and not nearly as dangerous sounding as it should be, makes Tony stop his play acting. He shoves at the god, slips out from between him and the dresser.
“Feel what?” he spits.
Loki brushes hands down his green and black tunic, gives Tony a wicked look. “How the myth takes you over.”
He is gone before Tony even wonders what that means.
There are two hundred and twenty-eight comics, several documentaries, seven books and two movies about Captain America. And that’s just the official numbers.
The name Steve Rogers isn’t mentioned in even one of them.
When Tony tells Steve that, off-handedly, like Steve should already know, he feels a sense of vertigo that leaves him sick to his stomach.
“Ridiculous, isn’t it?” Tony tags on.
Off-kilter and lost and angry as only Tony can make him without even trying, Steve asks, “Yeah? How much is there written about you?”
“Too much,” Tony says after a beat. He says it lightly, the way he does when he’s hurt and trying to hide it. On his way past Steve toward the door, he throws a gossip rag on the table.
The headline reads Tony Stark Mentally Unstable? with a grainy picture of Tony trying to push through a crowd of reporters underneath.
Steve stares at it for a long time.
Loki is in his bedroom again. He does that sometimes, show up out of nowhere, drop cryptic threats and disappear again when Tony is about to have JARVIS call in reinforcements.
“Can you feel it yet?” he asks again, for the hundredth time, and Tony, who just got back from helping pull bodies out of a collapsed building all day, snarls and marches past him, straight into the shower.
He’s there, of course, in the mirror, as Tony passes, repeats his question.
Tony calmly picks up the expensive porcelain soap dispenser Pepper bought last week and uses it to smash the mirror. The god slips out of the falling shards and leans against the wall, smiling darkly.
“I am Iron Man,” he mocks, his voice a perfect copy of Tony’s. “You created a myth,” he says, and Tony notices that Loki hasn’t called him ‘little mortal’ in months. “How much is left of the man?”
Looking at himself in the myriad shards around him, at his face, drawn and old and tired, he thinks, Too much.
Loki hears, of course, and laughs again. Fucker.
“What do you do for fun?” Tony asks late one night, while trying to teach Steve how to use a computer without blowing it up.
Steve leans back in his chair, stares at the ceiling wistfully. “I used to draw.”
“The war was more important,” he tells Tony, but the look on his face tells a different story.
“War’s over,” Tony points out. His father used to say that, all the time. War’s over. Like he had to remind himself. Or like he didn’t believe it. Stark Industries was made big by the arms race and Tony can’t ever forget that these days.
Steve looks at him and every single one of his missing seventy years is written in his face. “Is it?”
“I will be a great warrior,” Thor boasts after his first sword lesson. Loki, who sat watching with a book in his lap, is not impressed.
“I will,” Thor insists, loud and boisterous but still modest compared to the days to come.
“Of course,” Loki sighs, stroking one hand down the book’s spine. “It’s been written.”
He, too, is written: Loki Liesmith. Loki Trickster. Bringer of Chaos. Father of Fenrir, murderer of Odin, and Hel, Queen of the Dead. Sire of Jormungandr, who will break the world apart.
God of Fire.
It is written, as surely as his name, that he will watch the nine worlds burn. He does not yet know why, is only a handful of summers old and cannot fathom the rage it would take to burn the cosmos to the ground. But he knows the truth of his own myth in the depths of his bones and he knows he will not escape.
Thor, God of Thunder, of Protection and Healing and Fertility, takes pride in Loki’s words and preens like the ignorant fool he is.
Howard stands in the howling emptiness of Antarctica and listens to the search teams around him yell, “Captain, Captain America!”
“Steve,” he calls instead. The wind rips it away.
There is no answer.
Steve lies still and heavy on the far side of the bed, his chest rising and falling with the steadiness of glaciers. Tony watches, transfixed and too tired to sleep.
Outside the mansion, a horde of reporters is camped, yelling questions as the unyielding façade. Demanding to see the Avengers, to see Captain America and Iron Man and Thor and all the others. Demanding their heroes.
“Do you understand yet?” Loki asks from where he’s sitting on top of the bureau in the corner, his legs crossed under him. He looks like a man, nothing more. Tony wonders if Steve could see him, if he were awake.
He rubs a hand over his face, notices that Loki keeps his own in shadow. Thor hit him pretty hard with his hammer earlier and Tony saw a lot of blood before the Trickster disappeared. He’s entirely unsurprised to find himself feeling something like concern.
Being a superhero was supposed to make things clearer, but all it does is muddle them. It’s all so very blurred these days.
He lets himself fall back into his pillows, thinks of posing for a thousand flashing cameras until he’s blinded and says, “Yeah. I do.”
Loki flashes across the room like one of his brother’s lightning bolts, bends low over Tony. He smells of fire and ice and smiles crookedly. It might be the first real smile Tony has ever seen on him. Steve grumbles in his sleep and stirs, but does not wake. Magic, probably.
“Good,” Loki whispers, like it matters. Like he’s won something.