The longer Tony stared at the glistering thing in his hand, the more he figured he was caught in a dream or a hallucination. Maybe his arc reactor was malfunctioning causing him to see things which weren’t there? Had he been drinking without remembering? Errr…no, he decided, not today anyway.
He resisted the urge to rub at his eyes or to bang his head against the wall but staring hadn’t gotten him anywhere so far so maybe, he should actually do what he was good at: investigate, research…figure things out, use his head for more than natural beauty.
Swiftly he pocketed the gem, stuffing it into his trousers. “Yes?” he asked, turning around to face Pepper.
“The repair crew is here…”
“Sure, sure…” Tony mumbled, feeling as if the tiny, priceless thing was burning a hole in his pocket, setting his skin afire while he tried to be nonchalant about it. He snatched the piece of paper it had been wrapped in, stuffing it into his pockets too before following Pepper into the elevator. Thankfully, she was so used to his strange behaviour that she wasn’t even batting an eye lash at him now.
Shelling out a fortune guaranteed the necessary repairs were going to be completed within 24 hours but until then, he had to vacate the premises. And it still galled him how Loki had used his own tower against him, the audacity of the man…god…alien…menace…his brain stuttered to a halt.
Thankfully, there was still his family’s house in lower Manhattan he could use. It wasn’t state of the art, not any more, but it came equipped with a lab and this was really all he needed.
“You’ve got that look.”
“What look?” Tony queried, tilting his head sideways.
“The look which tells me that I can either have dinner with a ghost or you’ll hide yourself away in your lab, never to be seen again until you nearly faint with hunger…”
“Don’t worry,” Pepper quickly reassured him. “We’ll do dinner when you’re mind is actually with me. Besides, Bruce’s going to be good company, I’m sure.”
It honestly was impressive how quickly rescue workers and city employees had cleared away most of the debris. Sure, some signs were harder to mask, like the crumbled buildings where the aliens had crashed into them but otherwise, it was almost business as usual.
It was awe inspiring, really.
He didn’t regret offering Bruce a place to stay. To say he was intrigued by the Hulk would be an understatement and he considered it a bonus that Bruce Banner in his human form was equally interesting. Finally someone who spoke the same kind of English as he did!
Once they exited the elevator, a car was waiting for them outside, ready to take them to Tony’s second home. Pepper knew better than to try and make small talk with him while his thoughts were elsewhere and since she was always very efficient, she spent the time talking business on her phone. What he would do without her, he didn’t know. The drive didn’t take long and he was out of the car and up the stairs in no time at all. Contrary to the old exterior, the former key lock had been exchange with a fancy key pad and an eye scanner. You could never be too careful. Only a select few had access to his home, even if he only used it rarely, and the select group of people had only been recently extended to Bruce. Otherwise, how would the Hulk be able to come and go if he didn’t have access? It would be easier once Tony’s tower was back in business because then his new friend could have his own floor including his own lab…money really was of no concern to him. He had more than enough and if recent events had taught him anything, then he wasn’t going to be able to take it with him either. So why not spend it? And for once, he wasn’t spending it on useless art which only Pepper appreciated anyway or on expensive cars. Unlike him, Bruce actually wanted to make the world a better place.
Well, this whole caring about the world in general was still fairly new to him. Merchant of Death hadn’t just been a nickname. To him, developing new weapons had been more about the thrill of discovery, making something new and unique and if it then helped bring about peace and help the military…well, who was he to argue about it? But the betrayal of his best friend and all the events which followed had forced his eyes open and he couldn’t in good conscience continue to develop weapons and let them loose on the world. This didn’t mean he had stopped…he just wasn’t selling his more ingenious pieces, and now with the Avengers no longer a pipe dream of Fury, there might actually be some good use for his skills. He had more to offer than being Iron Man after all.
“I’ll just…” Tony made a vague gesture with his hand. Pepper snorted at him.
“Go, go,” she insisted. “Before you explode with whatever is on your mind…”
Tony smiled at her, one of his rare and true smiles, before he hurried down the hall towards his lab. He didn’t much like this house, too many memories of his father and of his childhood but it was only for a short while until his own home was back up and running.
Once he was through the state of the art security doors, he engaged the lock down sequence, making sure no one could enter. Not even Pepper because there were always things he’d rather no one knew about.
Compared to his lab back in California, this place was tiny but the equipment was up to speed even if the rest of the house was more old fashioned.
One single touch and the display fields turned on. Snatching the jewel out of his pocket, he placed it onto the scanner. Seconds later, the image was complete and he grabbed it once more, twirling in his fingers.
It glistered, shifted and practically sparkled, just like the Tesseract had, albeit it wasn’t bigger than a thumb’s finger nail.
“Run test sequences,” Tony ordered. “Compare with known data of Tesseract.”
Technically, he wasn’t supposed to have those research details but hey, he was a genius and when he’d broken through countless firewalls on Fury’s secret flying ship slash plane slash crazy contraption, he’d also made sure to download everything he could get his hands on. He wouldn’t call it a stroke of luck that he’d also managed to get some research data…he’d call it skill.
“Comparison complete,” Jarvis announced.
And yes, there was no way to deny what he was seeing, what he’d already known to be true but hadn’t wanted to believe. In his possession, on a string, made up like some jewellery you’d give to a woman, was a small piece of the Tesseract.
It was then he remembered the piece of paper he’d stuffed into his pockets. He quickly retrieved it, spreading it out.
I borrowed your transporter device. To pay my debt to you, I hope this will suffice.
The note wasn’t signed but there was no doubt on his mind who had written it. There was only one person who had the smarts to realize what Tony had been working on…there was only one person who could magic his way through his security protocols and have the audacity to steal from him.
“The bastard,” Tony huffed but despite his outward complaining, he wasn’t actually mad.
If Loki managed to escape, then he would know if his device worked without actually having to find some poor schmuck to test it for him. And he’d scored a piece of the Tesseract!
Well, a major villain might’ve gone free, this wasn’t good but Tony was pragmatic enough to know it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. Loki was too smart to be contained for too long and somehow, he couldn’t see Thor killing his brother.
Considering how attached the blond god slash alien was to his adoptive sibling, he would make sure Loki stayed alive even if their father on Asgard would condemn Loki to death. No, sooner or later the Trickster would’ve escaped and so what if it had happened sooner?
Tony chewed on his lower lip. Maybe, he should feel bad about this…should he tell someone about it? Warn people?
Nah…he decided. If his device had worked, then Loki could be anywhere and it wasn’t as if they had any means of contacting Asgard.
No, the best for everyone would be if he started his research into clean energy and if he actually found something which would benefit everyone…
Having made up his mind, Tony went to work, unaware of the game changing decision he’d just made.
“You have a visitor,” Jarvis announced.
“Go away,” Tony mumbled, too busy with the equations before him to care about anything else. What if he changed the parameters over here…how would it affect the equation?
“I am sorry, Sir,” Jarvis announced, slight sneer in his voice. “Ms. Potts is currently overwriting the block on the door. She should be in the outer section momentarily…”
“What did I tell you about not letting anyone in?” Tony demanded to know. “She can’t be overwriting my security measures unless you’re letting her!”
“It is for your own good. You’ve been obsessed with your research for too long,” Jarvis answered.
Tony narrowed his eyes. Why had he programmed his AI to be this annoying? And why hadn’t he changed said programming yet? Did he like to be annoyed? He blinked, deciding not to go there. Self reflection never let to anything good and it only served to make him depressed.
“Fine,” he growled, shutting everything down. Pepper might not have his smarts but she was pretty swift in figuring him out and he didn’t want to risk her stumbling upon what he was currently doing.
“Make sure you file everything under Project Enigma and Jarvis?” This time he wasn’t joking and he was sure, his AI could tell the difference. “If anyone gains access to this, I will not only delete you, I will upload you into a car and then slowly crush you to death. And then, when your bits are scattered and barely functioning…”
“I understand,” Jarvis answered hastily. “Project Enigma will not be accessed by anyone but you…”
“Thank you, how kind of you.”
Tony nearly jumped out of his skin because while threatening his AI, he’d managed to forget about Pepper. Whoops.
“When was the last time you ate anything?”
Tony’s gaze flickered to the pizza carton next to him. He frowned. “Em…”
“Never mind, come on, there’s a package for you and,” She then leaned forward, sniffing the air. “While I warm you up some soup, you’d better have a shower and change your clothes.”
Tony knew better than to argue with this lovely assistance and on/off lover so he nodded, brushing passed her.
“Oh and Jarvis?” she added. “Ventilate the room. He’ll be needing some fresh air when he gets back.”
“Will do, Ms. Potts. Your wish is my command.”
“Flatterer,” Tony mumbled.
“Just because you gave Jarvis more charm than you could ever manage, doesn’t mean you have to be difficult about it.”
“What?” Tony blustered, hurrying after her now since she’d managed to over take him. How she managed to walk this quickly while wearing heels this high, he didn’t know but the blond woman still managed to glide ahead, not even stumbling once. Her skirt was businesslike but still so tight, it had him practically drooling. Tilting his head sideways, he admired the view.
“When you’re done ogling my ass,” Pepper continued, her arms now firmly planted at her hips, “then I would suggest you go and have a shower. You stink.”
“I’ve got charm!” Tony insisted, ignoring the comment about the shower. “I’ll have you know, I charmed quite a lot of women out of their panties …”
“Please,” Pepper made an aborted gesture with her hand. “That was more your money or your cars than actually you. I’ve got to admit, you’re not without some merits but…”
“Hey!” Tony protested. “You slept with me more than once and I doubt it was for money or for my cars!”
Pepper squinted at him before she answered. “I claim temporary insanity. It was bound to happen sooner or later…” Then she whirled around in a flourish before click clacking on her high heels towards the kitchen.
Tony shook his head, rubbing at his stubble. Maybe a shave would do him good too. Getting clean didn’t take too long and when he was done, there was a steaming pot of soup waiting for him.
It had a huge sticker on it which said eat me which of course had Tony going naughty places and his dick twitching in interest. “Pepper?” he asked, looking around. Maybe she’d be up for some entertainment? He had been a bit neglectful of her recently but surely she wasn’t really cross with him, right? Then again, who knew what women were thinking generally? They might just as well be a different life form because regardless of how much he enjoyed being with them, they never made much sense.
Maybe, it was time for him to go back to sleeping with men. It’d been a while, granted, but he believed in equal opportunities and it would be downright cruel of him to deprave one gender of his awesomeness.
“Ms. Potts has left. She informed me she had a business meeting she couldn’t ignore. She instructed me not to let you into the lab unless you finished the soup.”
“Of course she did,” Tony mumbled and considering how his AI and her liked to gang up on him, he didn’t doubt for once second that Jarvis would follow through. There was no harm in eating the soup though so he grabbed the spoon and started eating.
Since not only women managed to multi task, he was busy with his soup while unpacking the parcel. He wasn’t worried about letter bombs or anything else hazardous to his health because anything delivered to him went through a rigorous screening process and besides, it had been delivered by Pepper and she would never hand deliver anything to him unless she’d done her job. She could turn into a harpy if she thought he was taking too many risk. He still hadn’t made up his mind if he found this side of her endearing or just downright alarming.
Ripping the paper apart always satisfied some primal need to destroy and he allowed for no prisoners as he unwrapped the small package. In it was a phone. A very expensive, state of the art phone. Why would someone send him a phone?
It flared to life the moment he touched it, a text message displaying on its screen in vivid green letters. The colour reminded him of someone but he couldn’t quite put his finger on who just yet.
At least until he read the message…then everything became quite clear.
You might want to know that your transporter worked.
A shame, really.
He texted right back. He just couldn’t help himself. He could practically hear the amused snort coming through the phone even though there was nothing displayed. Was he really texting with Loki?
Wait a minute. He squinted, looking down at the screen. Why was his writing displayed in pink?
Why am I pink?
I don’t know. Maybe you want to tell the world something?
How is your research coming?
Still running tests.
I thought you’d have made some staggering discoveries by now…aren’t you supposed to be a genius?
Says the one who managed to get himself arrested and needed my help to escape…
Tony floundered a little bit after he’d written the last sentence because this sounded horrible. He hadn’t actually helped a known villain escape. And why was he bantering with Loki? The guy had thrown him out of a window! Fair enough, he could forgive the whole window incident since it had allowed him to see if his suit was working and he was all about field testing anyway…but what about the whole invasion thing? Wanting to rule the world?
You done with your whole mighty ruler phase then?
Been there, done that was the swift reply, followed by Moving on to green pastures now.
Should I be worried?
Only if you have a thing for sheep.
Now, Tony was worried. Because for the life of him, he couldn’t fathom what Loki wanted with sheep…and anything he came up with, well, it wasn’t good and it gave him insight into his own depraved mind which he’d rather avoid, thank you very much.
Over the next few days, he tried his best not to watch the news, waiting for anything dreadful concerning sheep but nothing was mentioned. This worried him even more so on the fourth day, he succumbed to his curiosity.
Alright, what is it with you and sheep?
There was no immediate answer so Tony kept the phone next to him while he worked on the Tesseract, glancing at it ever so often. It wasn’t because he was worried about missing out on a message; he wasn’t a school girl with a crush, terrified to miss an important message of her newest beau. Still, his gaze ever so often flickered sideways and when the display went dark to safe power, he kept nudging it to wake it up. All for the greater good, he told himself, just trying to figure out Loki was going to be a danger again or not.
Haven’t you ever wondered why they have these beady, dark eyes?
They’re planning world domination and no one but me gets to plan that!
Now, Tony was definitely worried. Not so much for the world in general but for Loki’s sanity. And what was worse? A super villain with all his marbles intact or one who’d gone off the deep end?
You still there?
Please tell me you aren’t serious. Leave the sheep alone!
But they are looking at me funny!
They are sheep! They don’t know any better!
Exactly! I’ve got to teach them a lesson!
No, you don’t. Move away from the sheep. Find something else to focus your crazy on.
Errr…Tony’s mind stuttered to a halt. Was he really having an insane conversation about evil sheep with Loki?
Since he had nothing else left to say, he warily glanced at the phone before he raised a finger and gingerly moved it away. Who knew, maybe it would bite?
He then went back to work, loosing himself in what he did best. And tried not to think of sheep and their evil plans to rule all of mankind…
“You are being unreasonable…”
“I’m unreasonable?” Tony spit back, eyes narrowed to slits. “I’m the one who did all the research, whose name is on the patent and who’s responsible for the alloy but am I being given credit?”
“No!” Tony shouted, grabbing the nearest piece of glass, throwing it to the ground. When it shattered with a satisfying crunch, he reached for the next one until Pepper grabbed him, slender fingers wrapping around his wrist.
“Tony,” She said, beseechingly. “They meant no harm…”
“And yet they honoured the memory of father!”
“He might’ve published a paper on a similar subject aeons ago,” Tony conceded, “but he never took it any further!”
He wrestled his hand away from Pepper’s grip, snatching up the next glass, throwing it at the wall. Tiny shards of glass exploded everywhere and they both had to shield themselves to avoid getting hit.
“I’m the one who found the right combination of metals to produce a super light, super strong alloy which could actually be used for such things as…oh I don’t know…space travel?” Tony went back to ranting, feeling entirely justified.
His father’s legacy might be something to be proud off but he was getting mighty tired of always being in the shadow of the man. It had been bad enough growing up with him, always ignored unless he made enough of a fuss to be shouted at…hadn’t he done enough on his own by now to be recognized for who he was?
“Damn it!” he yelled again, watching as Pepper held up her hands, slowly retreating.
“When you’ve found your sanity again, let me know,” she told him.
“No one understood”, Tony lamented at the now silent walls. “No one,” he added yet again. In a huff, he turned around, leaving his penthouse behind in favour of his lab. He’d finally been able to move to back in, out of his family’s blasted town house and right now, finding solace in his own lab might be just what he needed. Otherwise, he might actually do some damage, take his Iron Man suit and blast a few holes into buildings or people…the idea was tempting.
Still full of rage, he didn’t even notice when he grabbed a bottle of Scotch from its hiding place, pouring himself a glass. He wasn’t an alcoholic; but he admitted, he might have indulged a little bit too much in the past which was why his home was mostly dry now. Still, a man had needs which was why he kept a stash hidden all over the place. For exactly such a situation! He wasn’t even consciously aware of how his fingers moved over the keyboard, formulating a text message while ranting the words out loud.
Why is it always about my father? I make a ground breaking invention and who gets the credit? Him! And he was a horrible father! Nothing but a drunk!
There was more ranting about his childhood, involving baring his soul without even realizing what he was doing. He was on a roll and since he’d never shared this with anyone else, he found he couldn’t stop. It was as if someone had pulled a plug and now all the stored up anger and grief was just rolling out of him like an avalanche with him powerless to stop it.
When he was done, he pushed the glass away, watching as it tumbled off the narrow desk, shattering on the floor. Without a glass, he simply drank from the bottle, settling back in his comfortable chair, staring up at the ceiling.
There was the familiar ping on the phone which told him he had a message waiting for him. He hadn’t actually expected reply, assuming he must’ve scared Loki off with his ranting and raving. And wouldn’t that be a good thing?
I was never told I was adopted. I found out by accident. Can you imagine what it was like to suddenly be the thing everyone hated?
I am surprised Thor hasn’t spilled his sordid family secret but maybe he’s too embarrassed to actually admit…
Don’t be an idiot. I haven’t known him long but I do remember him calling you brother. And what do you mean by sordid secret?
I’m not Asgardian. I’m Jotun.
Tony stared at the screen. Had they covered Norse mythology in high school? Squinting at the screen didn’t produce any answers so he had no choice but to ask. His curiosity was piqued and anyone who’d ever met him knew there wasn’t anything more dangerous than Tony Stark on a search for answers.
I don’t know what that means.
Long story short, Asgard and Jotunheim were at war and they lost. Odin decided to raise me as his own but he failed to tell me of my true parentage. And on Asgard, there are many stories told to children about the horrors of Jotunheim.
So a Jotun is like the boogieman for you guys?
I am not familiar with the reference. But I was raised listening to stories about the evil Jotun only to discover I was one of them.
And you went slightly nuts when you found out…
Tony stared at the display, thinking this explained a lot. He was no stranger to father issues but at least he’d always known who his parents were and what his family’s history was. He couldn’t even fathom being raised as a Stark only to find out, quite by accident, he was some foundling…and this was without the added bonus of being raised with horror stories about who you were.
No wonder the guy had issues. But what should he say now? Sorry? This was hardly adequate but he also didn’t want to give the guy some platitudes.
So he settled for keeping it down to the point and simple.
His only reply was a sound transmitted back to him which sounded very much like a snort. Smiling, Tony pushed the bottle away, going back to work. Who said he couldn’t work while drunk? Some of his best ideas had come to him while he’d been sloshed.
“There are people here to see you and they are very insistent,” Jarvis announced.
“Make them go away,” Tony replied.
“I’m concerned with what Thor might do if you turn him away. He is looking a bit put off.”
“Thor?” Tony raised his head. Now he was curious. “Lock away the research, engage security protocol Alpha.”
If Thor was here, then the other Avengers couldn’t be far behind and this might include Fury.
He hurried out of the lab and up to his penthouse. He was seriously going to have to re-think his security if people could so easily barge into his home. Maybe some sort of holding area a few floors down? With a few handy gas bombs strategically planted so he could neutralize people he didn’t like talking to? Was this too extreme?
“Stark,” Fury greeted him when he arrived.
Tony flipped him off. It was a reflex, what could he say?
Steve was ambling by the window, looking interested while Bruce was leaning against the counter. Clint and Natasha had taken to the sofa while Thor stood ramrod straight inside the middle of the room.
“Greetings, Tony Stark,” he said when Tony gave him a slight nod. “I am happy to find you in good health.”
“Likewise,” Tony replied. “So what’s the emergency?”
“Loki escaped,” Steve supplied.
Tony raised an eye brow but stayed otherwise silent.
“Aren’t you interested in how?” Fury inquired, suspicion evident in his voice but Tony didn’t care since the guy was always suspicious of something. How he ever got any sleep while suspecting plots left and right was beyond him.
“Does it matter?” Tony inquired.
“Quite right,” Thor’s voice boomed through the room. “My brother is quiet talented when it comes to magic…”
“Wasn’t the muzzle supposed to block his magic?” Natasha interrupted.
“It was,” Thor nodded. “However, my brother’s skills are quite amazing. He must have found a way around it…”
Tony eyed Thor, eyes narrowed. The guy didn’t sound as if he despised his little brother. If anything, the only impression he got at the moment was pride at having such a clever sibling and worry.
“If this is all?” Tony made a vague gesture with his hand, crooking his head towards the elevator.
“A known villain is on the loose,” Fury predictably continued.
Tony sighed, rubbing his jaw.
“And…?” He gave an eye roll to the dark skinned man when his question was only met with a blank stare. “He’s gone. Yes, not so good…” he continued. “But what do you want me to do about it? Take my suit and randomly fly over New York? I don’t think, he’ll come back here. If he is as smart as Thor says, then he knows better…”
“He might want revenge,” Clint suggested. “We defeated him after all.”
“And he’d be stupid enough to do it now? When we’re on alert?” Tony asked incredulously. “If I want to get even, I’d take my time. Plot, wait it out until the guy is relaxed and doesn’t see me coming…”
“Quite right,” Thor nodded yet again at Tony. “You and my brother are quite alike. He would not rush into anything. He is quite apt at planning…”
“And he has a thing for sheep,” Tony couldn’t stop himself from muttering which earned him a raised eye brow from Thor.
“Well, since we’ve agreed that there isn’t anything we can do…” he tried again but he was stopped by Steve who was only just now joining the conversation.
“It isn’t smart to be scattered. Unless our presence is requested on a mission, I suggest we stay together. There’s strength in numbers.”
“Excellent idea, Steve,” Fury immediately liked idea. Probably because it was going to inconvenience Tony. And he’d been right because the next words out of his mouth were, “Since Tony here has the best security and the most space, I suggest you grab your bags and move into the guest rooms…”
Tony’s mouth gaped open, ready to protest but then he just sighed, nodding his agreement. “Fine, fine,” he muttered. “Bruce can show you were to go and get you up to speed on the security. I’ll get you your own codes when you come back…”
All of them under one roof with Tony texting Loki and Thor staring at him, this couldn’t end well…Tony wasn’t one for seeing doom and gloom everywhere but he might have to reconsider his stance on the matter.
A ping in his pocket signaled yet another message. There was nothing strange at all about his phone pinging, so he quickly retrieved it, scanning the text. Still, he kept a casual eye on everyone else to make sure no one was trying to and invade his privacy.
There is a herd of sheep in front of my door. What should I do? They are blaring at me!
Tony stared at the screen. Sheep yet again? Where the hell was Loki? And he was going to need to find a way to talk to Thor about Loki and his issues with sheep. Surely, this couldn’t be a new thing…
And one day, Tony wasn’t going to be known as the savior of mankind, as Iron Man or as a brilliant man. No, he was going to be known as the guy who rescued stupid sheep from a crazy Asgardian slash Jotun which issues.
Great…he could practically feel the next bottle of Scotch calling out to him.