The charity gala benefitting the 9/11 orphans is over, and Pepper Potts has already poured a very inebriated Tony Stark into bed.
Now she sits at the bar in the living room of the Stark Tower penthouse, sipping at a drink and idly thumbing through files on her iPad as the catering staff and cleaning crew work around her.
There is a chill behind her, and she shivers. She smells ozone.
“I seem to have missed the party,” a voice says, and all of the little hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
She swivels around on her barstool.
A man is standing there in front of her.
He is tall – taller than Tony – and lean. His skin is pale, his hair is black, and his eyes are emerald green. He is dressed in a fine black suit and tie, and a silk scarf of emerald and gold is draped around his neck.
She’s never actually seen him in person, and has certainly never seen him dressed in clothes like these. Nevertheless, Pepper recognizes him immediately.
Tony is passed out drunk, dead to the world. She knows there will be no help from him.
She takes a deep breath.
“Mister Laufeyson,” she says in her best professional voice. “What can I do for you?” She realizes as she says it that it’s a bad question, a stupid question, and she mentally kicks herself.
His lips quirk up in amusement. “Call me Loki.”
In one smooth motion, he moves to the barstool next to hers and sits.
“Mister Laufeyson,” she begins again, very firmly. “It’s very late, and I’m afraid – ”
“Don’t be,” he says quietly, and pins her with his gaze.
She has never seen eyes so green.
It is impossible to look away.
He reaches out and takes her hand, turning it. He places something cool and smooth and very heavy for its size in her palm.
“A donation,” he says quietly, gently closing her fingers over it. His hands are like ice. “For the orphans.”
She opens her fingers and looks down at the gold ingot resting in her palm, then back up at him.
“I don’t understand – ”
“I know you don’t.” He stands, looks down at her. “It is not necessary for you to understand.”
It occurs to her then that he is a god, the God of Mischief, and that he does whatever he wants whenever he wants and she and every other mortal will probably go to their graves never understanding why.
“OK,” she agrees, and places the ingot carefully on the bar. “OK. And… um… that’s very generous. Thank you, Mister Laufeyson.”
He is still watching her with those inscrutable emerald eyes.
She reaches for her drink and sips it nervously.
“You did not summon Stark,” he says suddenly.
“Mister Stark is indisposed,” she says smoothly. It’s certainly not the first time she’s made this excuse, and by now it’s so automatic that she doesn’t even have to think about it.
He takes the glass out of her hand and takes a drink.
This is getting way too strange. She wants to ask him to leave, but she’s not sure that’s a good idea.
And God help her, she’s suddenly not sure she wants him to leave.
He’s fascinating, like a venomous snake. She wants to watch him, to talk with him, to learn his secrets.
And she also wants to run away screaming, lock herself in the bedroom that she and Tony share, snuggle up against his sleeping form, and pull the covers over her head like a frightened child.
He offers her the glass.
“Uh, thanks, I’m good,” she says, and so he sets it on the bar instead.
He places a hand on her cheek, and it’s so cold that she can’t believe he’s even alive.
“Stark is unworthy of you,” he murmurs, holding her gaze.
She feels hypnotized, like a mouse before a snake.
He leans in close, and she can’t move, can’t speak, can’t think…
His mouth is ice and fire and scotch.
He pulls away at last and she takes a deep, shuddering breath. She reaches blindly for her glass of scotch and downs it in a gulp.
“Stark is unworthy of you,” he repeats.
“I think you should leave now, Mister Laufeyson,” she says, and she’s astounded by how little her voice shakes.
He nods as though expecting this.
And then he is simply gone.