Chapter 1: Beginnings
It was like fire racing through his veins, a delicious shiver pulsing through his every pore. Loki opened his eyes slowly, and his mind tapped into everything around him. Behind him, at the far end of the room, he could feel the heartbeats of the two guards standing at the door, could feel the air shifting around them, the coiled tension in their muscles and the discomfort in their arms from staying poised on their guns.
More than that, he could feel the hum of wires in the walls, in the floor beneath his feet, giving life to the cell around him, to the watchful, mechanical eyes trained on him.
Everything was so much more alive.
He shifted, the air rippling around him, crackling with an energy he could feel, but no others could. A ghost of a smile traced his lips. He turned, gaze catching that of the good Captain.
Captain America, Steve Rogers, remained still, as though he was still frozen. Loki’s smile broadened. The worry the man felt radiated off him in waves, thoughts like an open book, spread for him to read.
The Captain was worried about the metal man, or rather, the man inside the suit, a man who could barely be called a friend, if the definition was stretched.
It would be simple enough to drive a wedge between them.
0 0 0 0 0
She stopped at the last door, radioing out. “The ground perimeter check is complete. Everything is secure, all personnel are in place.” She let off the button, lowering her hand.
“The air is officially covered. Agents are in place. Secure.” Clint responded quickly, the crackle of his radio echoing down the hallway. She glanced in that direction, but did not go.
“Fury, we are awaiting further orders.” Natasha crossed her arms, waiting as patiently as she could, given the situation.
They had taken every possible precaution, but somehow, it did not feel like enough. There were too many variables. Too many unknowns. It felt like they were going in not only blind, but with their hands tied.
“Agent Romanoff, I need you to check out all of the camera crews for me. Agent Barton, report back to HQ.”
“Director, I don’t feel that’s—”
“Do not argue with me right now. I expect to see you in 15.”
Natasha was already on her way down to the lobby, double checking her work as she went. Everyone was in place. Nothing could go wrong. That was the plan, at least.
0 0 0 0 0
Tony hung up the phone, staring down at the screen for a moment longer, even as it disconnected. The elevator dinged, and he put his phone away, turning back to the coffee machine. It was nearly done brewing, but not fast enough. It was never fast enough.
“You’re still up.”
“The trial starts today.” Tony spoke to the coffee pot, not willing to look up. He could hear the surprise in Bruce’s voice. He couldn’t look up. “It’s going to be televised on just about every channel.”
“We could record it.”
Tony shrugged, pouring off a cup. The scotch had worn off, leaving him feeling drained. He needed to be fully awake for this. With what happened last night, there was no telling what might happen in the trial itself. Watching it live was the only safe option.
“Are you worried about the protestors?”
“Yeah.” The lie fell easily from his lips. It even sounded true. Tony took a sip of his coffee, turning with a small smile. It was the most he could muster right now, with so much background noise buzzing around in his head. “They’ve already acted out more time than I care to count.”
Bruce tried to smile as well, polishing slow circles on his glasses.
He had no idea. None of them did. Not yet.
0 0 0 0 0
The door opened without ceremony or pomp, black armored guards pouring in. Loki did not move other than to square his shoulders and lift his chin defiantly, never letting his gaze leave them. They were determined, yes, but also nervous, jarred away from comfort by something other than him.
Of course, they had every reason to be wary of him.
They were not wary enough.
Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, walked at the middle of their ranks, dressed in her sleek black uniform, battle ready. It would thrill him, if it was a battle he was seeking at the moment.
No, he had much better plans.
“I assume you are here to fetch me for this little trial of yours?”
She stopped, red lips becoming a tense line. He focused on her, the steady beat of her hard, the absolute lack of rattled nerves. She was composed, as were her thoughts, still as shrouded as their encounter in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying fortress. It was an unspoken challenge, really, one he was entirely too willing to accept.
It was a simple yet loaded answer. Loki tilted his head slightly, surveying her, keeping the others in mind. The Captain had lost his interest more than a Midgardian hour ago, but the tension he projected was stronger than ever, a pulse in his periphery. The guards all shifted in discomfort, eying his armor as though it could come alive at any moment.
There, in their thoughts, he could feel something else, too. There was a certainty, like the clang the executioner’s axe made when biting all the way to the stone.
“Would your people not be biased against me, purely on my alien appearance?” Loki raised a dark brow, feeling the sudden shift clearer than it could be seen with eyes alone. Even the Widow shifted from foot to foot, the only manifestation of her discomfort.
He had struck true, yet again.
Loki moved his fingers quickly, words a reverent whisper under his breath. The tingling washed over him, as did a soft golden light, the lines of his armor dissolving into that of a well tailored black suit, complete with a white shirt and green tie.
The Widow’s eyes widened just barely. All guns jumped up.
Laughing, he raised his hands, still bound—at least physically—by the shackles, not breaking her gaze. “Nothing to cause alarm.”
“Lower your guns. Let’s get this over with.” She walked swiftly to the cage, disarming all the locks. Within moments, he was surrounded and on his way out.
0 0 0 0 0
Clint couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move. The words sank in slowly, hanging there in his mind, not quite wanting to take hold. He blinked once, twice, and nothing changed. The words were still there.
“How long have you known?”
It didn’t even feel like it was him speaking, even though he heard his own voice, felt his lips move with them. He unclenched his hands at his sides. His arms were shaking.
Fury’s expression didn’t change in the slightest. He still sat comfortably on the edge of his desk, watching him closely. He gave a little shrug. “Since the beginning. Because of our involvement in the events under question, we will all have to testify.”
“All of us?”
“Yes. All of us.”
Clint closed his eyes. “That means none of the Avengers can be present to guard him during the trial. What part of this sounded like a good idea?”
“I’m only doing what is necessary.” Fury stood, long coat scraping across the surface of the desk. “Without his magic, Loki is not nearly as much of a threat.”
“Yeah, but he’s not without his magic.”
Clint spun, hand reaching for his pistol.
Steve stood in the doorway, still in red, white, and blue. He gave a short nod to Clint, and he let his hand drop. Fury was already halfway across the room, standing next to him now.
“What do you mean?”
“I just saw him morph his clothing, like he did in Germany. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.”
“Where is he now?”
“They are transporting him to the courtroom.”
Fury turned on the television screen. There were cameras all over the courtroom, all cleared. Guards stood at every door, heavily armed. In the middle of it all, being taken to his chair, was Loki, in a formal suit, barely visible on the feed. Static followed his image, almost blotting it out entirely.
That was different from the camera feed from the control room. Clint turned to Fury for orders, only to hear the reporter say they were calling for everyone to rise for the judge.
“We can’t stop it now without causing a wide-spread panic, can we?” Clint glanced from the screen to Fury.
“Or without every world government stepping in and taking the reins.” Fury frowned. “If we admit that Loki can’t be controlled, even by us, we’re going to have bigger issues than riots on our hands.”
“You’re just going to let this happen? There are countless innocent lives at stake here—”
“And all of our best security on hand with orders of shoot to kill. Captain, we have this.”
“He has his magic—”
“But he has not attacked anyone yet. I will inform the guards to be on high alert, and I will keep a close watch on what is going on, even if I’m not supposed to be.” Fury crossed his arms, staring at the screen. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a trial to secretly supervise.”
Clint let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, glancing at the screen one last time. There was a man walking up the aisle, arguing with one of the guards, though none of the audio picked it up. He was interested, but kept going.
Fury was right. All they could do was watch and wait.
0 0 0 0 0
“Who are you?”
The man to Loki’s right half-stood, tense, glancing quickly to the guards for assistance, which they gave none of. From what he understood, this man was to defend him during this entire process, a strange custom, indeed, but one he would not argue. If this was how they conducted justice on Midgard, so be it.
“My name is Jack Sullivan.” The new man flashed a smile filled with a million lies, offering forward a hand to shake. “I’ve been sent to replace you.” That smile did not drop, did not change, causing Loki to lean back in his chair a little bit with a twitch of a smile on his own lips.
“You heard me, so move.” The man did not budge, staring at him with a patient sort of gloating. His air was confident, the sort of confidence Loki saw on few other mortals.
“On whose authority?”
Sighing, Jack Sullivan pulled out a paper from the inner pocket of his suit jacket, passing it over. That done, he skirted around him, offering a hand down to Loki.
Loki reached up, taking the hand even though he felt about a hundred hands tense over the triggers of their respective guns. The hand shake was firm, not at all afraid, like this man who was originally to defend Loki. Already, he liked this new one a great deal better.
“Jack Sullivan, private attorney for one Anthony Edward Stark. You might know him.”
Loki let his hands drop back to his lap slowly. “Pardon, but did you just say—”
“Yes, I did.”
Finally, the other man left, giving Sullivan the seat, which he took quickly, flipping his briefcase up onto the table.
Loki settled back down again, not even bothering to restrain his smile this time.
Oh, this was working far better than he had ever dreamed of.
Chapter 2: A Chance
First thing first: I'm not sorry.
Secondly: Thank you so much for being patient through all my grad school shit burying me.
The television clicked off, silence rushing in to fill the void. He stood there, perfectly still, hands clasped behind his back. He stared, unblinking, from his one good eye, even though the screen was black now.
Maybe he was wrong.
It didn’t normally happen. He liked knowing what cards everyone held, he liked keeping up to date on that kind of stuff, no matter what, so when he played his hand, he knew it’d hit hard, fast, and everywhere that mattered. S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t a quickly fired shot, it was the slow knife, sneaking in past the guard.
There were some things he just couldn’t anticipate, though. Like Stark’s private attorney showing up to give Loki something other than the world court appointed lawyer. He had all the proper credentials, too, so it wasn’t like they could pull his ass out without making way too much noise and commotion.
Stark must have known that, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered. He must have known Fury had his hands tied. Yeah, he’d pulled a lot of strings, gotten the trial moved to NYC rather than the Hague, gotten S.H.I.E.L.D. security on it, managed to negotiate to get cameras from just about every news station and then some into the courthouse. But he couldn’t pull enough strings to keep that damn attorney out. He was overstretched.
“What are you thinking?”
Fury turned his head, lopsided frown speaking volumes. Natasha remained near the door, stance spread, arms behind her. She looked like a military operative more than ever, all wired in and suited up. That’s almost what they were. Almost.
“This trial may backfire on us.”
“That was a risk you said you were willing to take when you started making the calls, Sir.”
“I didn’t realize Stark was going to call for backup.”
Natasha gave a small shrug, the slightest smile quirking her lips. “We warned you about him.”
“That you did. I didn’t think he’d go that far, though.” Fury turned all the way, settling back on the lip of the table. “Have you been able to get anything from the holding area yet?”
She shook her head. “No. He’s good. I think he may have a signal dampener on him while he’s in the cell area. Any hardware near him malfunctions.”
Interesting. Maybe he should call Stark up to his office just to get a discrete scan on him to test that hypothesis. Then again, they could always do it while he was on his way down to the cell, since he’d volunteered to keep his shift during the trial.
He was the only one who volunteered. If that wasn’t something to worry about, Fury didn’t know what was.
“Have you been able to check out his workshop yet?”
“Security is too tight. I’ve managed to get a working card for Stark’s penthouse, but so far, every time I get close to the R&D levels, the AI takes over my terminal and scrambles all the passwords.”
“His AI does that?”
“Yes. I believe it is named JARVIS, which stands for Just A Really Very Intelligent System, or something just as equally uninspiring.” Natasha quirked her head just enough that Fury knew she found it amusing, even if she stated otherwise. “JARVIS is a learning computer. Every attack I make, it learns from.”
Fury nodded. It figured Stark would make something that advanced. It was just a wonder he had not programmed the damn thing into a suit yet. “So, his AI is wired into the R&D floors, and I’m assuming his personal quarters as well?”
“Not just that. I have reason to believe it’s tapped into the mainframe of the entire tower.”
Fury let out a slow breath, a low whistle coming with it. Wow. That was just magnificent. It hadn’t been anywhere in the contract he signed, nor had it been brought up, but that sure as hell would explain a lot, like how Stark kept getting his hands on top secret files he didn’t have any of the codes to.
“Change of plans. I want you to see if there is any way to lock this AI out of our systems, rather than us trying to get in to his. For now, at least. Use who you’ve got to.”
“What about bugging the cell?”
“It can wait. If anything really weird happens down there, the guards will report it to me first.”
“I’ll start immediately.”
“One more thing, Agent Romanoff.” Fury paused, staring at the dark screen.
If this was timed right, it would make all the difference.
0 0 0 0 0
The paper dangled in the air before him, flapping slightly as the hand tried to straighten it. Tony stared at the paper, lips pursed, arms crossed over his chest. He lifted his glass to his lips, gaze trailing up the paper, the suit clad arm, and finally to the face.
“I see you’re out of the hospital, Coulson.”
“Take the paper, Mr. Stark.”
Tony didn’t move, staring him down. Coulson was as composed as ever, a deep running sort of calm. Or was it? Tony wondered sometimes. How much poking could Coulson take before that calm reserve vanished?
“I’ve got it.” Bruce huffed a sigh and grabbed the paper, unfolding it. After a moment, he rolled his eyes, offering it to Tony.
Finally he grabbed it, flicking it open with his free hand. It was Tony’s turn to roll his eyes. “Everyone have court summons, or am I just the luckiest man in the world?”
“All members of the Avengers Initiative who had direct contact with the defendant will be called to testify at the hearing and the trial, though the later will have more extensive questioning.”
“That means you, Dr. Banner, are not required to take the stand, though you are free to attend the proceedings, so long as you do not discuss any of the testimony with your fellows.”
This was just getting ridiculous. First Bruce didn’t have to take part in guard duty, and now he didn’t have to go to court. That was not even fair. At all. There was no level of fairness here.
“I think I’ll pass, thanks.” Bruce gave a small smile, putting a hand on Tony’s shoulder. He squeezed and all the tension fled for the hills. Tony couldn’t be mad at him. He could try, but it wouldn’t work. Bruce would do that little smile, give that sheepish but completely knowing look. There it was. Tony looked away with a grin of his own, only to notice Coulson staring at them.
Coulson’s smile wasn’t one Tony wanted to see. It was like a nightmarish mix between Pep’s smile, all patient but frustrated, and Natasha’s smile, knives and poison. That couldn’t be good.
“I figured you would want to see Mr. Stark’s private attorney in action. I must have assumed wrong.”
Tony felt that hand tighten again on his shoulder, but not at all in a calming way. In fact, it was a little too tight, and even though he squirmed to get out of it, Bruce kept firm. Great.
“Have a good day Mr. Stark, Dr. Banner.” Coulson nodded to them both and turned, heading back for the elevator. It wasn’t until the doors closed behind him that Bruce finally let go—his whole shoulder was cramping, how did he do that?—and turned him around.
He shrugged—half-shrugged, since he couldn’t get his other shoulder working yet. Tony brought his glass up to his lips, only for Bruce to pluck it away. “Hey! I wasn’t—”
“You brought in your private attorney?”
“Look, I can explain—”
Tony held up his hands, going perfectly still. He’d never heard Bruce raise his voice before, at least not while he was actually still Bruce. He swallowed roughly, staring him straight in the eyes, where there was a lot more green than there should be. Tony glanced to the bracelet, then back to Bruce’s eyes.
Bruce slammed the glass down on the bar, crossing his arms with a frown. “Explain. Now.”
“I was just trying to give him a fighting chance.”
“Tony, this man tried taking over Earth. He killed people. Controlled people into killing others. What is there to fight?”
He looked away, doing that count to ten thing Bruce told him about. It didn’t do anything to calm the thundering of his heart. He shook his head, trying to speak, but Bruce pressed a finger to his lips.
“Look, I know you think you’re doing what’s best. I get that. But he’s not like us, Tony. We’re all… we’re all heroes now. We’ve redeemed ourselves.”
Tony reached up, moving his hand aside. He tried to smile, but it didn’t quite work. It was bitter. He didn’t want to use that with Bruce, but it was there anyway. “Yeah, we got the chance to redeem ourselves. He hasn’t.”
He grabbed his glass back and brushed past him.
0 0 0 0 0
Bruce took a deep breath, shaking out his arms, checking his bracelet, before he finally knocked on the door, waiting with all the anticipation of a school child about to talk to the principal. That was pretty much what this was, only he wasn’t the one in trouble this time.
He glanced down to the door handle, then back up at the polished wood, frowning. Right now, he could just turn back. He could go back to his lab, have a nice, relaxing night dissolving the nucleus walls on his cell samples so he could get at the mutated chromosomes. Fury wouldn’t know the difference.
But he would.
Bruce grabbed the knob, entering the office for the first time. It was larger than he assumed. It was also lighter. Bruce glanced around, taking in the lack of personal effects. They were all in the same boat, in that regard. Or at least, almost. Bruce had Tony…
Fury quirked his eyebrow, blinking his one eye at Bruce when he turned around. “Dr. Banner, how may I help you?”
“You need to take Tony off guard duty tonight.”
Fury sat forward, clearly interested. Bruce looked away. He wasn’t sure how much the master spy could read from him, he only hoped the tinge of green had had time to fade.
“And who would you suggest as a replacement, Dr. Banner?”
Chapter 3: Letting Go
“Hello Mr. Stark.”
Tony swiveled, topping off his drink. He raised an eyebrow, then nodded, putting the stopper back in the bottle. “Agent.”
Coulson gave him a small nod back, keeping his stance. Patience really was his virtue, it seemed. Tony bet he could stand there, minding his own business all night, and Coulson wouldn’t give him a word in response.
“So, what do I owe the pleasure of your visit to?” Tony put the bottle back, behind two rows of glasses and a box, hidden from general view. He’d probably have to move it, now that Coulson knew where it was. Someone was likely to find out.
“Director Fury has decided you deserve a night off.”
That was interesting. Tony turned again, leaning back against the counter. He took a sip, not looking away from Coulson. He couldn’t read him. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was frustrating, when everyone else was so damn easy.
“He’s dismissing me.”
“Not entirely. He is merely trying to fit everyone into the new rotation. Take it as a small vacation.”
Tony pouted into his glass, but knew there was no point. He’d used the face on Coulson before, and only gotten extremely creative threats out of it. While trading notes with him on comebacks was an interesting pastime, he had better things to do.
Coulson stayed there, still staring him down. This was getting uncomfortable really quick.
“What?” Tony took another drink, eyebrow raised again.
“Nothing.” Coulson swiveled, heading back to the elevator.
There was something Coulson wasn’t telling him. Thankfully, it was something five minutes of hacking would shine some light on.
0 0 0 0 0
The door slithered shut, locks sliding into place. He could feel the sudden change in pressure around him, the increase in energy in all the walls of the cage. Loki did not take his eyes off the Black Widow, though, her fiery hair making her a sort of beacon in the drab surroundings.
“I suggest you put on your armor.”
Loki tilted his head at that, gaze raking over her. She was in her uniform suit again, fully armed, but had yet to make a violent gesture towards him. The two guards frankly looked bored. It seemed they were expecting something to go wrong in transport, and might even be disappointed.
He was getting no answer from them, or from the Widow’s impenetrable thoughts. Pity.
“And why is that?”
Her red lips pulled into the smallest smile, the same one she used when she had finished her interrogation. Without giving an answer further than an amused look, she spun, gliding out of the holding area.
There were no Avengers on guard right now.
Loki turned, glancing up at the cameras. He was no acquainted enough with Midgardian technology to know people could see him through the lens. It was just a matter, now, of seeing back through it. He could feel the sprawling network of the wires, rising high above his little cage, no doubt running through the entirety of the Tower, one way or another. If he could reach through it…
The door opened, Loki glancing quickly over his shoulder. It was Stark’s turn at the post, as usual. Perhaps he could ask him about it.
He stiffened, staring at the glass, the reflection on it.
That was not Stark.
Oh tonight was definitely going to be interesting.
0 0 0 0 0
They were both asleep.
Tony leaned against the door frame, just watching. It was late. Of course they were asleep. He just hadn’t expected to see Pepper there, least of all with her fingers threaded through Happy’s.
He crossed his arms, muffling the dim light of the arc reactor through his shirt, the constant hum of it. He didn’t want to disrupt them.
Pepper’s face was smooth and relaxed, light hair in a pool around her slumped shoulders. Some of it brushed close to Happy’s face, curling softly around his stubble lined jaw. There was tension in his face, in that jaw, a crease between his brows.
Happy opened his eyes, looking straight at him.
Tony didn’t move. He met his gaze with the same intensity, hovering in the door, not quite in the room, not quite excluded from it.
After a moment, he smiled faintly.
They were all moving on.
Everything was going to be all right.
0 0 0 0 0
It would have been impossible not to notice the way Loki tensed, or the way the guards tensed as well. Bruce let a small smile blossom on his features, shifting nervously in the entryway. It felt like the whole world was holding its breath, or at least everyone in that room.
Bruce undid the buttons on his cuffs, rolling up the sleeves to his elbows. The shirt was loose, heavily worn, but that was fine. He did not want to potentially waste one of the shirts Tony had given him.
“Did I surprise you?” Bruce kept his voice calm, if only vaguely colored by his smile. If he started at neutral, it would not take much to drag him down. He had to start on a good note. A friendly note, even if his intentions were far from friendly.
Loki turned slowly, head canted, those sharp green eyes a little wide, just wide enough for Bruce to know he was startled. He could use an advantage right now.
“You were expecting Tony, right?” Bruce finished rolling up his sleeves, walking a slow circle around the cage. He had never been down here before, but it was a familiar sight. In a lot of ways, it reminded him of his room in the helicarrier, only sparser, with less comforts, unless lacking a kill switch could be counted.
Loki said nothing, just turning to watch him, to observe. Bruce could practically see the gears turning in his head, trying to make right or left out of the situation. Good for him. Though he was trying to be patient, trying to step lightly, he knew that option had been taken away the moment the protests started.
“I’m going to make two assumptions. The first is that you know who I am. The second is that you know why I am here.” Bruce paused, fiddling with his bracelet. Loki’s eyes went to it immediately. Bruce’s smile only grew. “This right here? Tony made it for me.”
“Stark hardly seems the type for sentimentality.”
“Perhaps not.” Bruce shrugged, holding up his wrist so Loki could see the bracelet better. “This serves a purpose. You see, it helps keep the Other Guy under control. You remember the Other Guy, yes?”
Pain flickered across Loki’s features just briefly. It was enough to see. Normally, that kind of reaction would bother him, but not from Loki. It was exactly the kind of reaction Bruce was looking for.
Bruce clicked the latch, pulling the bracelet up over his hand. He rolled it in his fingers for a moment, then put it in his pocket, rocking up on the heels of his feet. “Unless you want to get acquainted with my other half again, I suggest you play along.”
“Of course.” Loki breathed out the words, staring now at the bare spot where the bracelet had been, as if it was some sort of trick.
“Good.” There was no trick. It was off. If the Other Guy wanted out, there would be nothing in his way to stop him. “You can start by telling me what, exactly, it is you did to Tony.”
“I believe you are mistaken—”
“Do you hear that?” Bruce cupped a hand to his ear, turning his head slightly. “I hear you Asgardians have heightened senses. That is my blood pressure. Get used to the sound. It’s rising.”
Loki took a half step back from the glass, glancing over his shoulder at the guards. They were still tense, but not paying complete attention. Thankfully, they were close to a door, so if they had to run, they’d have a few moments to get out before the Other Guy tore through the glass of the cage.
“Let’s start again, shall we?” Bruce leaned closer to the glass, still smiling. “What makes Tony think he should fight in your corner?”
“What made him fight in yours?”
Bruce felt the corners of his lips fall, just as the rush of blood through his ears nearly became too much to hear over. He took a deep breath, counting down from ten. The calm returned, the silence on the inside close to overwhelming. He filled it with his own voice.
“Do you want him to come out?”
Loki glanced down, fingers moving in a nervous twitch. Bruce would take that as a no. Good. That was good. Bruce counted up from ten again, steeling his nerves.
“What did you show him?”
Loki’s face pulled into a grim smirk, a shiver rolling unchecked up Bruce’s spine. Every muscle tensed, ready. He shook out his hands, shoving them back in his pockets. Running his finger over the bracelet was a small reassurance, even if he didn’t have it on.
Finally he looked up again, meeting that sharp gaze halfway. He shouldn’t have.
“I showed him himself.”
Chapter 4: Breaking
The roar is enough to make his blood run cold.
His glass tumbled from his hand.
He didn’t get to see it hit the ground. He was already running.
0 0 0 0 0
Everything was in slow motion. His hands hit the glass. They felt too big. He felt fuzzy around the edges. He leaned close to the wall, staring at the glass. The gamma glow of his eyes stared back at him.
Bruce stumbled, feet sliding out from under him. He felt along the glass, staggering, grasping frantically for something to get moving on.
Blood rushed through his ears, pounded behind his eyes. Every muscle strained, pulling at him, trying to rip out of him.
The door banged open across from him. He couldn’t see. Strong arms wrapped around him, propelling him forward.
The voice didn’t sound like him, like it came from him. It was from somewhere else. It was distant, caught between two tones like a tug of war. Him and the Other Guy. He gritted his teeth, grinding them hard together.
His knees hit the floor. He didn’t even feel it. He curled his arms over his head, each breath raged, frantic, gasping. The air rattled in lungs too big.
The elevator doors opened. He surged through them, legs popping, wobbling. He slammed into the wall. It crunched. He stared at the crack for a moment, then pushed off with a hand, now a sickly green.
A roar ripped from his throat, more the Other Guy than him.
He was almost there.
0 0 0 0 0
The elevator was taking too long. He should have just suited up. It would have been faster. He would have been there already. He wouldn’t have to search. One scan. Just one scan, and he’d know, and he’d be there.
By the time the doors opened, he was shaking. He steadied himself on the door, swallowing mouthfuls of stale air.
The second roar was louder, closer.
Tony went still, heart beating in his throat. He swallowed roughly, knuckles turning white on the doorframe.
There was no turning back now.
He started forward, first few steps shaking. Every one after that was determined, thudding as hard as his heart was behind the arc reactor. He held his breath, listening as he walked.
The crack in the wall should have told him to turn back. It only made him walk faster.
There he was.
The door to the wrecking room was open, lights on inside. Bruce was in there. Tony broke into a jog, darting through just as the door closed. He dropped to his knees, skidding up to Bruce.
The roar Bruce let out was loud enough to make his ears pop. He looked up. Every vein on his face looked near bursting, darker than they should be. His skin was dusted green. Those eyes could light up a room, with how bright and toxic they were shining.
“Bruce… Bruce, can you hear me?”
He reached out. Bruce slapped his arms away, growling deeper this time. Tony could see the muscles shifting, bulging, underneath his shirt.
This wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t going to let it.
Tony grabbed Bruce, hauling him closer. He wrapped his arms around his waist, pressing his face into his shoulder. Everything was hard under his grip, straining, but he didn’t care. He only gripped tighter.
He had to hold Bruce together. He clutched at the pieces, trying to make them all fit back together, back into what he knew.
0 0 0 0 0
“What happened?” Natasha turned her head, regarding Rogers for a moment. He was pale, shaky, in full suit as well. He usually did his shift in full uniform, but this wasn’t his shift. A quick sweep of the room told her Banner wasn’t present either.
“He should not have been down here in the first place. Who authorized this?”
“The Director did.” Natasha spoke the words coolly, refusing to show anything more than that. She needed to find out what happened immediately and get a full report to Director Fury. “What happened?”
“I only got to see part of it.” Rogers readjusted his grip on his shield, frowning. “As soon as things started heading south on surveillance, I ran straight here. Thankfully I was in time to rush Banner out before it could get any worse.”
Natasha took a deep breath, really looking around. The guards were shaken, actually trembling from head to foot, though they tried to keep on a strong face. They would need to be debriefed. Loki was actually sitting in his cell, which was also new. There did not seem to be any damage to the room itself, though, which was a relief.
“Where is he now?”
“I don’t know. I got him to the elevator and came back here immediately. Someone had to guard him.” Rogers nodded towards their prisoner.
Loki had definitely seen better days. His usually slicked back hair fell in a chaotic black halo around his chalk-pale features, eyes wider than they should have been. Perhaps he was reliving the moment when the Hulk tossed him around like a ragdoll. He sat with his long legs crossed, hands awkwardly holding at his ankles.
For the first time, it looked like his situation might actually be sinking in.
It was about time.
“Stay on guard. I will call for new agents to assist you and handle the debriefing. Details about this are not to leave this room, do you understand?”
Rogers opened his mouth, mask moving enough for Natasha to know the look he was giving. “How—”
“If we do let this leak, if anyone finds out about this, the entire case will fall to pieces, sanctions will be put into place against S.H.I.E.L.D. and many of our agents, Avengers included, will be subject to legal retribution.” Natasha spoke plainly, knowing that was the only way Rogers would accept it. “Do I need to have you replaced?”
“No, ma’am.” Rogers straightened his stance. It was artificial, she knew, but it would have to do. She patched into her communicator, starting the process now.
0 0 0 0 0
Tony slammed into the wall, air flying from his lungs. He threw his arms up as he fell, just in time. Pain shot up from his wrists, ached in his back from the impact. He scrambled to his knees. Each breath hurt.
It hurt worse to see Bruce like this.
The pop and crunch of bones realigning, of muscles expanding, had faded into background noise, like the whir of computers in his workshop. It was never ending. The growls, full of pain and fear, drowned it out for a few moments, but he’d rather not hear either.
Tony staggered back to his feet. The door was right beside him. It was right there. He could override the controls and leave.
He stumbled back to Bruce, dropping to his knees before him.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Bruce looked up sharply, teeth bared. His eyes were like acid, eating into him. Tony refused to look away. He grabbed Bruce’s wrist.
The bracelet was gone.
He rubbed his thumb over the skin, not wanting to look down, not wanting to break Bruce’s stare.
“Where’s the bracelet, Bruce?” It took everything he had to make his voice steady, but damn if he was going to show fear. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. “Just point.”
A growl was the only response, Bruce’s bulging arm flying again. Tony braced this time, only skidding back a little bit. He threw his hands down, digging in.
He should have gone. He knew that the moment he heard one final roar from Bruce, swallowed whole by the Hulk.
0 0 0 0 0
“JARVIS, I know you don’t particularly like me right now, but I need your help.” Natasha crossed her arms, frowning at the ceiling. With how Stark interacted with the AI, she knew he could read gestures. “Where is Dr. Banner?”
There was silence for a moment, like the AI was thinking. It would have bothered her, if she didn’t expect it of Stark. Of course he would program human speech patterns in to it, and a lot more than they had ever considered.
“Dr. Banner is currently in the containment room on his floor, Agent Romanoff. Will that be all?”
She was glad to hear he had made it in time. The last thing they needed was the Hulk running through Stark Tower right now.
“Yes. That’s all. Thank you.”
“A pleasure to be of service.”
0 0 0 0 0
There was a wall against his back. He leaned into it slowly, feeling the give of it, the resistance and the slight hum. It was his room. He’d made it. Bruce let out a shaky sigh, sagging back into the wall. Relief flooded him, and he let out a small laugh.
That was close. That was too close.
Bruce forced his eyes open, staring at the floor. There were shreds of that shirt, to no surprise, slightly trampled. He turned his head, taking himself in. There were no surprises. The pants had gone, too.
The bracelet was halfway across the room. It had survived somehow. Probably the metal it was made out of. He reached out, fingers brushing against it. Stretching, he readjusted, reaching out again.
All the color drained from him.
“Tony…” His voice was a hoarse croak. He pushed himself up, arms shaking, completely drained of the strength he’d had before. He crawled, dragging himself past the bracelet, to the other side of the room.
He was still. Curled in on himself. His black shirt was torn. There was blood on it.
“Tony… Tony…” Bruce touched his shoulder.
Tony flinched, jerking away.
Every nightmare he’d had about coming to this place was summed up in that one motion.
He couldn’t stay.
Chapter 5: Little Monsters
Sometimes it just felt good to hold it. He knew the gun would do no good. It never did. If anything, it would only make things worse, but right now, he just wanted its solid weight in his hands, the cool metal on his palms, the bullet in the chamber.
For right now, it was enough.
0 0 0 0 0
It wasn’t the first time he’d been in his workshop, battered and bloodied, but unwilling to deal with it. It probably wouldn’t be the last time, either.
The pieces of the Mark VIII circled around him, the only light that from their individual thrusters and power sources. Each had its own tiny arc reactor. They were a perfection to the prototype he and Bruce made together.
Tony let out a whistle of a breath, staring down at the floor. The stainless steel table next to him gave a distorted reflection, just enough to see the blood on his face, just enough to know he would have a black eye.
He didn’t want the others to see it. He couldn’t let them. He knew what they would say. They’d bring the Other Guy into it. Not just the Other Guy, but every accident he’d had before. They wouldn’t let the past go.
Tony let out a bitter laugh. They’d never really stopped looking at him as the Merchant of Death, either.
0 0 0 0 0
He ran his finger over the safety, circling it slowly. He could feel grooves there, letters. Bruce turned the gun, squinting down at it.
Bruce let out a shaky breath.
Maybe the Other Guy was too tired to make another appearance. Maybe he’d stay down this time. Maybe he realized just how much he had broken, and would know to stand down, before he broke anything else.
Wasn’t that a nice sentiment?
0 0 0 0 0
The cell doors opened, and he stayed perfectly still, hands bound before him, armor hanging heavily from his shoulders. The guards waited, the archer at their head this time.
“Aren’t you going to change?”
Loki finally looked up, mouth dry. “To what purpose?” He leaned forward, trying to smile, but it was a broken little thing. “I am no idiot. I was not brought here for a fair trial. I was brought here to eliminate a potential future threat.”
The archer stiffened, brows furrowing just enough so Loki could tell he did not know. Loki leaned back, laughing at the ceiling.
“You have fallen far, archer, to have your Director’s trust so stripped from you.”
His jaw tightened, fingers flexing. Those were the fingers he used to draw back the string of his bow, the fingers he used to rain destruction upon the Chitauri army. Loki knew exactly where he wanted to put an arrow—right between his eyes—and knew he could not, though he was straining hard against his leash.
He hadn’t known just how much he enjoyed being in control until that control was taken away.
0 0 0 0 0
The knock on his door made him tense. He pursed his lips, giving a questioning look at the door. That could be one of two people. Bruce didn’t want to take his chances.
“Just me, Doctor.” Natasha’s voice sounded from the other side of the door, strained but certain. She was the better option.
The door opened slowly, though Natasha entered quickly, gliding with the ease only a master assassin could have. He forgot that about her sometimes, except now, because she was giving the gun in his hands a dirty look and quirking an eyebrow at him. He wouldn’t be surprised if she slapped him upside the head.
If only their exchange could be that pleasant.
“As you requested.” Natasha tossed a long envelope down on the bed, nodding at it. “No way it can be traced. One way with dry leads going in every direction.”
Bruce set the gun aside, picking up the envelop. He pulled out the single ticket. It was Spain this time. He’d always wanted to go to Spain.
Natasha gave a little shrug. With one last look at the gun she slipped out again, as quiet as she’d come.
He needed to pack his things. He’d made the mistake of actually unpacking his travel bag for once. He’d never make that mistake again.
0 0 0 0 0
The bottle was empty. The edges barely felt dulled, everything still too sharp, too clear. He turned slowly in his chair, taking it all in.
He’d been deluding himself. He really had. He kept claiming the suit was a shield. Shields didn’t come packing anti-tank missiles and repulsor powered smart bombs and lasers. The only difference was that he was the only one using the weapon. Him and Rhodey at least. There were no extra weapons to fall into enemy hands.
Tony tossed his glass down. It wobbled, then settled down, half melted ice cubes sliding in listless circles. There was more alcohol somewhere around the workshop. There always was. He probably shouldn’t, with how much he’d already drank, with the pain killers numbing the edges.
When had that stopped him?
Tony lurched to his feet, stabilizing himself on the edge of the table. The room swam. He swallowed roughly, closing his eyes for a moment. Wrong idea. It only made the floor lurch under his feet. He stumbled, barely catching himself.
He should have just let himself fall. It would distract him from other pains.
Chapter 6: Hollow
I love you guys, and I love your reviews. This story has really been gnawing at me lately, so here’s some more. As a warning, though: I no longer have internet at home, which means updates are going to be happening on a completely weird schedule. Sorry about that!
“There is not enough evidence for this case to move forward into a trial. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that my client was a general of an opposing force during war. Those he killed were strategic targets in the invasion plan, and those his army killed were casualties of that war.”
Fury stayed where he was, leaning against the back wall in the judge’s chambers, arms crossed over his chest. If this was any other case, with any other defendant, Fury would probably take the side of Stark’s attorney, Jack Sullivan, right now.
But this was Loki. Loki was a threat, if not to their realm, then every other one in the universe.
The judge looked straight at him. Sullivan turned as well, seeming to notice him for the first time. The man pointed, his smile starting to fall. Fury could tell when someone felt a little out of their league. He’d better, at least.
“Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.” He took a step forward, offering a hand. Sullivan took it slowly. Fury made sure to squeeze just a little too hard for him. “I think you and I have a few words to exchange.”
“Look, I’d love to, but I’m in the middle of getting this trial dismissed—”
“You see, that’s what you aren’t getting.” Fury didn’t let go of his hand, grasping it firmly still, pressing a little harder. “If there is no trial, there are going to be thousands of infuriated people all over the world looking for all of our heads on a silver platter.”
Sullivan’s face changed, like a snap of the fingers. He got it. Fury could see that he really, actually got it. Fury smiled, letting go of Sullivan’s hand. The man didn’t move back, didn’t make space for himself, though he’d been squirming not too long ago.
There was a defeated look in his eyes.
“Now, let me break this down for you. Loki is a threat. Not only did he try taking over his home world, he tried destroying another world, just because he didn’t like the people there. And then, after sending a weapon of mass destruction here to hunt down his brother, he ended up finding an army, and bringing it instead.
“That was an act of war. He said, upon coming through the portal created by the Tesseract, that we were the ant, and he was the boot. You know what? He was right. He still is. Because he is still a threat to us, to Earth and protecting the human race. If something isn’t done here, the people are going to shut down our little operation, and we’re going to be a sitting duck for any of the other worlds out there to come and attack.
“All in all, he’s still tearing us apart, just as effectively as he did when he was leading that army.”
Sullivan closed his eyes, taking it all in.
“So, what were you saying about a motion?”
“This isn’t justice.”
Fury laughed, clapping a hand on his thigh. “Tell that to the protestors who attacked Stark’s driver and personal assistant.” He put a hand around Sullivan’s shoulder, still forcing a smile as the man squirmed again. “There is going to be a trial. Not only is there going to be a trial, it is going to look like a real trial, and feel like a real trial, and everyone is going to believe that it’s a real trial. Am I clear?”
“Why even bother with a trial?”
He’d give it to Sullivan, he was smart, and had a pretty good set of nerves, not to be rattled past reasoning right now, but that’s part of why Fury didn’t like him. He’d seen Sullivan in action before. He was a force to be reckoned with. This didn’t feel right, not yet.
“A few reasons. When I agreed to send Loki back to Asgard, I was trusting his people to deliver the proper justice. I was also trusting Earth to stumble back into sweet ignorance again, and forget about the fact that a super secret organization with superheroes had just saved the world from a god with an alien army.”
Fury shrugged, giving Sullivan a pat on the shoulder. “We can’t just kill Loki. I wish it was that simple. We have a treaty with Asgard, though, and I’m sure murdering one of their princes would ruin that. So you see the situation we’re in. I didn’t want it to come to this. I wanted everyone just to go off in their own directions and for everything to go back to business as usual.”
The judge shuffled his papers, trying to look busy. S.H.I.E.L.D. had enough information on the man that he wouldn’t dare speak to anyone outside the room about this. Sometime in the next hour, he was hoping Natasha would come back with a similar caliber of information on Sullivan. It would have been nice to have it before this conversation, but Sullivan forced his hand.
Fury let go of Sullivan’s shoulder, still smiling. “I’m doing what I have to do to keep Earth safe. What about you?”
Sullivan looked down, taking a deep breath. There was no way to argue that, and they both knew it.
0 0 0 0 0
The whole floor was like a cemetery. It was silent, the air heavy, with little monuments to what had been and what was gone now. The lab had been tidied, all the equipment in order, computers put back in their proper places. Even the smudges from fingerprints had been cleaned off the glass screens.
It was like no one had been there. He should have expected it. He should have been ready for it.
Tony turned off the lights, stepping back out.
There was no note. He’d gone through the entire floor. He’d searched high and low. There was no note, no sign, nothing to go off of. The phone Tony had given him was there on the bedside table, powered off. The tablet he’d given him was on the table next to the couch. He’d even found the credit card he’d slipped into Bruce’s bag the first time around; it was on the kitchen counter.
The bracelet was on the floor in the Hulk room.
That, right there, told him a lot more than he wanted to know. Tony knocked back the rest of his glass, letting it drop on the counter. The glass almost fell. He didn’t care. He had more. He had a whole damn army of glasses.
Tony bent, scooping up the bracelet. There was a tiny web-work of cracks on the screen, but that was the only real damage. It was aesthetic. All the readings still worked. The bracelet had made out better than him, that was for sure.
He threw it as hard as he could, staggering with the momentum.
0 0 0 0 0
“What are you doing?” He held the bottle between his hands, rolling it slowly back and forth. The condensation felt good on his sore hands. It was something to focus on, at least. Tasha was still in full uniform, three different files tucked under her arm. He couldn’t see what they were from here—she’d carefully concealed any markings—but he knew at least one of them had to do with the trial.
Tasha slid up on the stool next to him, not looking at him, not looking at the files, not really looking anywhere. Clint strummed his fingers on the bottle, waiting. He knew she’d answer. She wouldn’t have sat down otherwise.
“I’m doing what I have to.”
Clint took a deep breath, holding it for a moment. He let it out with a huff. “Why do you have to?”
“It will save innocent lives.”
“Sacrificing one to potentially save countless more.” Clint rolled the bottle back the other way. The label was starting to bubble under his palms. With a little more pressure, a little more friction, the label would come right off. Adhesive was interesting that way. Ripping at it didn’t work. It was always the slow pull which made it come undone.
Clint had the feeling that was exactly what Loki was doing to them.
Maybe Tasha could sense that. She stood, not saying anything else. Clint was cut out of the loop. Then again, he’d never really been back in it.
Chapter 7: Bonds
I am so sorry this took so long. I’ve been busting my ass with two jobs, and just started grad school, which is kicking my ass. My current plan is to try and get a chapter done a week on this, now that I’m so insanely busy.
“What is the situation on the ground?” He didn’t turn away from the window, staring out at the sprawling expanse of Manhattan. How much the city had expanded in the last seventy years didn’t really surprise him anymore. After aliens, it felt like nothing really could… at least until the protests.
It wasn’t the technology that shocked him. It was the people.
“The violence has calmed down.” Natasha’s voice was cool and even as always. “Everyone is waiting expectantly.”
“Waiting for what, exactly?”
She didn’t respond immediately. Steve glanced over his shoulder, trying hard not to frown. She was doing her job. She was trained for this. Not this specifically, but dealing with sensitive matters with a level head, deciphering people, keeping an eye on all potential threats. At least that was what he assumed. He’d read files, at least what part of them S.H.I.E.L.D. gave him access to, and that’s what they told him.
Trusting authority had never been this difficult before. Then again, nothing was really black and white, anymore. There was no defined good and evil. The grey area was driving him up a wall.
She walked up next to him, staring out over the Manhattan skyline as well. “You have proven yourself more than capable in the past. Why are you going through me for information?”
It was an accusation, even if she kept completely neutral in the process. He could read her that well now, at the very least.
“Consider it an extension of trust.” Steve stepped away from the window, tucking his hands in his pockets as he walked. He honestly didn’t care what her answer was. He’d spoken his piece and done so truthfully; anything more would likely ruin their careful balancing act.
Right now, that balancing act needed all the help it could get.
0 0 0 0 0
The silence was absolutely oppressive, and yet, it didn’t feel quite right to drown it out with music. Loud music hadn’t been a part of his workshop in a really long time, now that he thought about it. It gave Bruce headaches. They couldn’t chat over it. A million reasons, all with one source.
The source wasn’t here anymore.
He really didn’t feel like dealing with the silence.
Tony pulled on the vibranium-titanium alloy undersuit, hooking it in. It felt like a second skin, sliding with every movement, smooth and measured. The rest of the suit assembled around him as he walked, locking into place with automated pistons and gears, run by miniature versions of the arc reactor.
The new suit was a glowing beacon to technological advancement. Literally. A few more tweaks, and it would be ready for anything.
With a hiss, the helmet slid into face, heads up display initializing.
“JARVIS, run diagnostics. How’s it holding up?”
After a moment, all the displays were live, showing him exactly what was going on. JARVIS answered him regardless, as he was asked to. “Sir, the power output is much higher than any of your previous suits. Even with the additional arc reactors, I fear—”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Of course, Sir. Everything is running as designed.”
“Thank you.” Tony shrugged his shoulders, the suit flexing with him like a living exoskeleton. It didn’t even feel like a suit anymore, not like an armor, but like him, finally just him. “Sync up with the system and tell me who’s on the roster tonight.”
“It seems as though S.H.I.E.L.D. has been intensifying their firewalls in the last few weeks.”
“Is it a problem?”
“Never, Sir. The roster indicates that Agent Barton will be supervising the holding block tonight.”
“Patch me through to him.”
In a few moments, he could hear the cell. It was too loud, but he could deal with that. He could hear the guards shifting and the soft, agile footfalls of Clint pacing. He couldn’t hear Loki at all, but he guessed he was standing stone still, like usual.
“Can you hear me now?”
There was a pause in the steps. JARVIS looped him into the video feed, and he could see Clint standing, frowning at the ceiling. “What is it, Stark? Kind of busy right now.”
“I can see that.” Tony let out a dark chuckle. “How long have you been down there?”
Clint glanced at the wall clock, then looked directly into the camera with a noncommittal shrug. “Two hours. Why?”
“I’m heading down.”
“Look, I don’t know if it’s a good idea, considering—”
“If you say his name, I swear to Tesla that I will program every one of your arrow tips to lock onto you like a homing missile.”
“Fine, but you still didn’t address the issue.”
“I’ll see you in ten.” Tony disconnected the call, firing up the thrusters. Ten minutes was enough time for a quick test flight.
0 0 0 0 0
When the door opened, he was not sure what to be expecting. The days and nights had effectively blurred, even though they came in distinct cycles. During the day, he was in the court room, listening to the evidence against him, watching as the spirit of his once outspoken attorney became more and more wilted under the heat of an unseen flame. During the night, he had a variety of guards, none of which were the also outspoken metal man.
So when that door opened, he caught himself holding his breath.
Stark sauntered into the room, wearing plain clothing, though something felt horribly off. It was not just that the sleeves of his black shirt were not pushed up, falling to his wrists on this night, nor the light from his chest, which seemed entirely more muted than before.
It was something which sent a cold chill up his spine, like a knife slowly easing beneath his skin and making it dance against his will. He could feel the air around Stark, could make it a light with magic if he so willed it, but Stark himself felt utterly off limits, like he’d been shut off.
He would not be able to rely upon magic tonight. It was a challenge. He liked challenges.
Loki turned, watching Stark closely as he had a quick, clipped conversation with the archer. Stark looked haggard, at least in the way his facial hair was not so perfectly groomed, some dark stubble blossoming along his jaw, and in the slight grey beneath his eyes. That was before he even noticed the eyes, themselves.
There was something dead in those once emotive eyes.
This was fascinating. He took a step closer, canting his head, lips pursed in concentration. This was more than fascinating. Stark had seemed a master of many masks, a man who could slip from one face to the next so fluidly no one could tell which one was real. This fissure he was seeing, this crack, went through all of them.
He was slipping.
Loki caught a smile as it fought to break across his lips. He suppressed it just in time, the archer casting a glance his way before leaving quickly. Loki wasn’t sure if he should be relieved Stark had returned to his post, or if he should be deeply worried, considering the fact that all his companions seemed to be walking on thin ice of late, the fact that the beast had nearly broken himself down here, attempting to goad him.
“What brings you to my humble abode, Stark?” Loki moved slowly, drawing ever closer to the glass, shackled hands stretching out so his fingers could brush the transparent surface. If it was not for the field projected into the glass itself, he would be able to step through it, ignore the cage entirely.
Stark shrugged, sitting easily on the chair. He leaned back, eating some sort of food from a metallic seeming bag. Whatever the food was, it was small and crunched just loud enough to grate at his ears. From the expression on Stark’s face, falsely neutral, the man knew just how annoying it was.
“Surely you were enjoying your time free from supervising me?” Loki stopped, just an inch from the glass, each breath leaving a small fan of mist in its wake. “Surely there are more interesting things to do, people to see?”
Again, Stark shrugged, popping more of the food easily in his mouth, chewing it loudly. If Loki had not been observing so closely, he would have missed the slight twitch of Stark’s eyes, nearly kept in control, the flick of tension in his jaw line.
That hit something, something deep and still raw. Loki knew not to push too far, too fast; the slow knife was what he needed here, the one that would slip in slowly, past all the defenses unnoticed until it was too late.
If the Beast was no longer present, that meant Stark’s life was far more destabilized than Loki first anticipated. Even so, Stark seemed even keeled, put together, like he was perfectly used to hiding his wounds from all onlookers. Loki would go so far to assume Stark did not truly have any close enough friends to trust with such wounds.
“Have you no burning questions you wish to ask, no curiosities you wish to sate?” Loki remained neutral as well, even if disappointment managed to leak into his voice. Perhaps it would even work to his advantage.
“Sounds like you missed me.” Stark’s tone did not change in the least, even as a quirked an eyebrow. He kept eating, rocking lightly back and forth on his chair.
“Of all the Avengers, you are the only one to treat me like an actual person.”
Stark closed his eyes for a moment, sucking in a deep breath. Loki had the distinct feeling he had just dug his fingers into a rather sore wound and pushed, even if he had no intention of it.
“You know what?” Stark sat forward sharply, feet of the chair banging loudly against the concrete. “You want to talk so much? Riddle me this: If magic is so damn hated in Asgard, why’d you pursue it? You knew you’d be a social pariah, but you did it anyway. Why?”
Loki frowned, creases forming between his brows. Of all the questions he had expected, this was not one of them. His fingers twitched, moving this way and that of their own, wanting to weave the threads of magic into a tangible force, show Stark the way it made his blood sing, the way it brought light and life to his eyes.
No, there was a far better way to express this other than mere demonstration. Showing could only go so far in this instance, especially with the tense guards, fingers near the triggers of their guns, and Stark, feeling utterly untouchable.
He had to do better than that, and without the aid of magic, this time.
“It began as an itch, constant, unrelenting, compelling my fingers to move, to create. At first it was harmless. I built small things out of real materials, but they were too constricting. I needed to do more, have more control over the process.”
Stark was sitting forward now, expression still neutral, though there was something like recognition in his eyes. His fingers moved, as though they itched as well. He no doubt yearned to hold his tools, to create with them.
“Magic allowed me to do that. Magic filled the void with life and creation. I did not care that it would separate me from the flock. I never belonged amongst the Aesir regardless.”
A silence fell, though it felt nowhere near as precarious as the one shared between he and the archer, nor as dangerous as the silence between he and the Widow. This was almost comfortable.
Finally, Stark rocked back on his chair again, an open, inviting position. Loki knew exactly what the invitation was for.
It was his turn.
“Tell me, when did your interest in Midgardian science begin and why? What fuels your continued fervor?”
A small smile flicked at the corners of Stark’s lips, wrinkles crinkling around his eyes. This topic was obviously the perfect sort of catharsis Stark had been seeking.
0 0 0 0 0
It was strange, sitting down in such a public place without a single fear. No one seemed to notice him, or to care. In fact, the little internet café, with its dark walls, dim lighting, and electronic music, seemed to be the sort of place where people purposefully ignored one another.
He shifted in his chair, straightening the web camera facing him. The outgoing window had him framed perfectly after a few tweaks, and soon enough, the ingoing line flickered to life, Natasha sitting down on the other side.
“How is your stay in Barcelona so far, Dr. Banner?” She gave that tiny smile, the one that wasn’t completely fake, which was actually somewhat pleasant. She seemed much more comfortable with him halfway around the world, not that he could blame her.
He gave the same sort of smile back. It was slow and growing, only lukewarm, but not entirely forced. He touched his wrist out of habit, only feeling skin. Quickly, he pulled his hand away, smile dipping easily into a frown.
“It’s nice.” He gave a little shrug. “The scenery is great, but I’m thinking of going further south to find a clinic that needs me. All the ones here are well staffed.”
“You don’t have to work in small clinics anymore. You could probably find a lab that would be glad to take you in.”
“That’s probably not a good idea.” He shook his head, letting out a little laugh. If he went to work at any lab, no matter how small, the ripples of his influence would spread across the science community, and build up enough momentum that when word hit NYC, it’d be a tsunami.
That was a very bad idea, indeed.
Natasha seemed to understand that, not pressing the matter. “How are you holding up?”
Maybe that was a worse question. He drummed his fingers on the desk, counting to ten before forcing an answer. “I’m fine.”
She nodded, crossing her arms. “I thought we had an honesty clause.”
“I’m being honest.”
She pursed her lips, gaze flicking down. “That yellow shirt was his, wasn’t it?”
Bruce let out a shaky breath. It was. Tony had lent him the yellow shirt and grey slacks he was currently wearing, and when he tried to give them back, was denied. He didn’t have it in him to just leave it all.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t—”
“It’s fine. Really. I…” Bruce looked down, at the tan line on his wrist, at his fingers, which felt restless without anything useful to do. “I can’t just run from it.”
“But isn’t that what you’re doing?”
Bruce closed his eyes, tensing. When he’d opened them again, Natasha was already disconnected.
Chapter 8: Another Nail
And my weekly update is here! I wish I could work on this more than once a week. Alas, my homework load is too insane. Sorry guys! Hopefully it was worth the wait!
It was late. Or early. He didn’t really keep track any more. With a half-stifled yawn, Tony poured himself a cup of coffee, knocking it back quickly before getting another. Even cold coffee was better than no coffee, especially right now.
It’d been an interesting night-day-whatever so far, and his brain would not stop moving. It was like running. You couldn’t sprint for an hour straight then come to a standstill. He needed to jog it off, and what better place than his lab?
Tony snapped his fingers as he walked, computers powering on, booting up, in his wake. Soon enough the entire floor was bathed in that cold blue light, giving dimensions to the work tables which were otherwise left in the dark, to discarded tools and half-finished projects, some of which would never be completed.
Thankfully, JARVIS was a good boy and didn’t power on any of the overhead lights. He was doing as he was told, like he was programmed to. Tony was glad that he didn’t need an intelligence inhibiting core to slow JARVIS’s AI down. He was good at making smart, not at making stupid. Maybe he could subcontract it…
Right. Walking it off.
Tony spun, pursing his lips as he considered it all. Flying always gave him a burst of adrenalin. Once that adrenalin wore off, he’d be tried and probably sleep like a rock, but he’d already taken the new suit for a whirl, so it felt like a waste of time. From the progress bar, he could tell JARVIS wasn’t done with the initial diagnostics, so it really would be a waste.
Thankfully, even without the suit, there was always something to do in the workshop.
0 0 0 0 0
“You seem worried.”
Steve glanced over his shoulder, and then pulled out the chair next to him. Coulson gave a small smile and smaller wave of his hand, dismissing the offer entirely. It was still strange, to see Phil around the Tower, to hear him mentioned by S.H.I.E.L.D. employees and at meetings. He couldn’t help but remember those cards, the vintage set, with what looked like blood on them.
After a moment, he gave a shrug, wringing his hands together slowly, using the motion to gather his thoughts.
“If there is anything I can be of assistance with, please inform me.” Phil shifted on his feet, the only real sign that he wasn’t a statue. “Director Fury has tasked me with insuring the continued cohesion of the team.”
Steve nodded, and glanced up at him again, frowning. “You’d still call us a team?”
Phil’s expression became a little more pinched, but other than that, there wasn’t really a change. Steve wondered what was going on under all those layers of professionalism, but didn’t dare ask. He knew they were all walking on a field of glass right now, which could break at any moment. The question he’d already asked was probably a bit too much.
“I believe that if there was a threat, the team would still be able to come back together.”
He sighed. “Isn’t Loki a threat?”
There it was. A flinch. Phil quickly covered it, though, shifting again. “He is currently cooperating.”
“That’s what we thought in the helicarrier.”
“Circumstances are different now. We are not at a disadvantage—”
“You weren’t there. I saw Dr. Banner on the verge of breaking, fighting so hard against that beast he holds inside him, and that was just from Loki talking.” Steve stood, taking a deep breath. He towered over Phil, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with that obvious shift in power. He was a super soldier. He was made for this kind of threat. Phil was just a man. Then again, weren’t they all in the end? “And now, with his magic—”
“He still has not made a hostile move. Until that time, he will not be classified as a threat to this organization or to Earth.” It was Phil’s turn to take a deep breath. Steve could see just how uncomfortable he was. He probably hated arguing with his hero, but duty, it seemed, came first. Good. Steve wouldn’t feel bad about arguing back.
“I think we’re missing something big.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Is that all, Captain Rogers?”
Steve closed his eyes, then nodded, conceding. “Yeah.”
“Have a good night.”
0 0 0 0 0
He slid out from under the engine, closing his eyes against the sudden brightness of the overhead lights. Sweat rolled off his forehead in rivers, mixed with grease and oil now. He rubbed his arm across his forehead, picking up some of it, then draped his arm over his eyes, letting out a deep breath.
If he didn’t move, he’d fall asleep right there. That almost sounded like a good idea.
0 0 0 0 0
The glass was cool against his back, though he could barely feel it through the thick leathers he still donned, and through his hair as he pressed his head back, leaning upon it heavily. The floor was almost passable as comfortable. At the very least, his feet and legs, and perhaps back as well, at this point, would agree with that assertion. It was a step above standing, at the very least.
Loki closed his eyes, paying no heed to his guard whatsoever. She was watching him closely, but he would give nothing. Unless she had suddenly become a skilled telepath, she would know no difference, with his mind far away and preoccupied.
Stretching, he could feel it. He had grown accustomed enough to the signatures of each of the Avengers, to the energy which circled them, some in lazy circles, some in a manic whirl. The latter was what he sought out and found quickly, far, far above him.
If he was going to be transported to the courthouse today, they already would have fetched him. He had the time.
Loki relaxed, settling in for an extremely interesting journey.
0 0 0 0 0
Tony looked over his shoulder with a sharp jerk, panting out breath after breath. His chest hurt, but he couldn’t stop. He plotted out a route through the trees and jumped for it, racing over fallen branches and ducking under vines.
Communications were down. He checked his phone again. Nothing. He got service everywhere but here. He couldn’t even get through to the satellite. Someone had to be jamming the signal. That was the only way.
The crash of trees behind him was growing. Without his suit, there was no way he could outrun him. He had to look for a place to hide, a safe place, structurally sound. The thought that anything in nature could withstand the full force of the Hulk might have been humoring, if he wasn’t just about to praying to find one.
0 0 0 0 0
There was something going on. She wasn’t sure what, but it was something. Natasha leaned forward on her chair, arms leaned on her thighs. Loki didn’t even glance up at the motion, didn’t even move. He was just sitting there, leaning back like the cage was a chair. He almost looked like he was sleeping.
Every now and then, she would see a crease form between his brows, see the slightest change in his breathing, and knew that wasn’t the case.
He was up to something. He had to be.
0 0 0 0 0
“I shouldn’t be surprised.”
Tony stood slowly, legs shaking. That was Bruce’s voice. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out, tongue freezing in place. There he was. Bruce, not the Other Guy. He was in a dress shirt, slacks, completely untouched by the jungle, by running.
He tried to smile, to laugh from joy, but it cracked as he got a closer look at Bruce. There was no humor, no happiness, in the rough set of his jaw, in the downward curve of his lips, or the hard edge of his dark eyes.
“I kept telling myself that you weren’t what the tabloids painted you as.” Bruce barked an ugly laugh at that, wringing his hands together. He wasn’t wearing the bracelet. It was still at the Tower, of course he wasn’t. “I was being delusional. We all were, weren’t we?”
“What do you…” Tony took a step forward, reaching out. Bruce stepped just outside his reach.
The pain in his chest was a different sort. Not from overexertion. Not from the stress of the arc reactor. This was like a bone-deep bruise that’d just been prodded.
“Don’t play dumb. It doesn’t suit you.” Bruce looked down, considering the ground as if it had all the answers in the world. Tony looked too, but could only see trampled dirt. “You never did stop making weapons.”
“That’s not true.” Tony couldn’t stop the angry edge of his voice if he tried. Of all the people in the world, Bruce was the last one he wanted saying that. “I stopped. I hunted down the whole Freedom line, I—”
“Don’t lie to me. I saw the files.” Bruce’s growl wasn’t entirely his own. Tony went still, breath a whisper. This wasn’t good. “You’ve been making weapons for S.H.I.E.L.D. for years. The Hulk-busters were only the beginning.”
“That was a long time ago. Before I met you. Bruce, please, just—”
“You’re being used by Fury. He lets you keep the suit, you keep popping out new weapons like a Pez dispenser. I’d say I get it, but I thought you were better than that.”
0 0 0 0 0
It was time to rotate guards. Clint stretched, running through each of the motions, getting limber.
When he arrived, Coulson was standing outside the door. Clint stopped in his tracks, glancing him over. Coulson just gave him a thin lipped smile and a nod. Clint nodded back, stepping through the door.
Though he was prepared for the worst, it didn’t look like it was warranted. Loki was sitting, meditating, or whatever he did, and Tasha looked like she was about to be bored to death. Clint jerked his thumb at the door, fixing her with a stern glance.
She nodded and stood, hurrying out the door. Clint took her place and kicked his feet up. He might as well settle in, if it was going to be one of those kinds of days.
0 0 0 0 0
Dust and sand rolled in clouds around them, mixed with the smoke and ash of the near fire. He reached down, gears grinding in the joints of the steel suit. Yensin was still smiling, despite the fact that the rubble was too dark beneath him.
“Don’t waste it.”
0 0 0 0 0
Loki opened his eyes, blinking rapidly to clear his vision. The cage was still around him, firm and cold. The guard had changed while he was distant, the archer not even paying him the least bit of attention. That was good. His intrusion would go unnoticed, at least until it was too late.
Chapter 9: The Cliff
Sorry this update wasn’t on schedule. I was busier than expected all last week, so I didn’t have any time until this weekend, which got eaten up pretty quickly. If you want to see my progress updates, go to my tumblr: battery-powered-genius.
His fingers scraped angry arcs against the smooth cover of the arc reactor, over the scarred, desensitized flesh around it. He coughed, choking for a moment. It burned all the way through him. Gasping, heart beating a wounded war song behind the electromagnet, he forced himself to speak, something, anything to ground himself.
“JARVIS, lights to 40%, slow fade. International news on the window, focus on disasters, natural or otherwise. And start a cup of coffee.”
Tony grimaced. His throat was raw, voice sounding little better than a croak, but it was something. That was exactly what he needed.
As the lights faded up, he could see he was in his room, large and cavernous, but in no way a cave. He was surrounded by his own minimalistic if richly colored sense of style, not to mention his technology.
These should have been comforts. They would have been, they really would have, if it hadn’t been for the fact that he could see it all so vividly, feel it all, like he had actually been there. Tony ran a hand up over his face, wiping rivulets of cooled sweat across his skin, through his hair. He didn’t care. It wasn’t like he had an audience up here, anymore.
The smell of coffee brewing hit him full force, and he couldn’t just sit there anymore. He sprang up, striding quickly out of the partially walled sanctuary of his room and into the sitting area. He grabbed a mug and filled it, drinking half of it without even cringing at the heat. His tongue would probably hate him later, feel fuzzy for a while, but he wasn’t hungry, probably wouldn’t be for a while, so no harm.
“JARVIS, still with me there?”
“Yes, Sir, I am always here for you.”
Tony closed his eyes, taking another sip as he settled his nerves. He’d like to tell himself that JARVIS didn’t know what he was saying, but that’d be a blatant lie, now wouldn’t it? It was just another sign of his brilliance not quite being what it needed to be.
“I need records of all materials S.H.I.E.L.D. has purchased from Stark Industries and a list of all StarkTech they are currently employing.”
“Would you like me to clear the news?”
Tony glanced over at the window, various articles projected across it. He shook his head, crossing over to the glass. “No. Put them on my tablet, routed through my private server. This stays between us, do you understand?”
“And what of Miss Potts?”
“As I said, this stays between us.” Tony flicked through the articles quickly, scanning them for keywords. He didn’t see anything he was looking for, flicking each page aside as he was done with it. JARVIS made a game of it, putting an image of a trash-slot at the end of the windows, and it would ding and buzz every time Tony flicked a page into it. He frowned, but didn’t make JARVIS stop. It was the thought which counted.
Soon enough he was through all the news articles JARVIS had supplied for him, the window all that was between him and the early morning Manhattan skyline. Tony sighed, grabbing another full mug of coffee.
“Add any and all sub-contractors under S.H.I.E.L.D. along with all branches of the armed services.”
“Does this include the Mark II?”
“No. Leave Rhodey out of it.” Tony logged onto his computer at the desk, seating himself. “And one last thing.”
“Yes, Mr. Stark?”
“See if you can’t schedule an appointment with my attorney. Today works best for me, whenever he’s free.”
“Certainly. I will inform you when I have successfully contacted Mr. Sullivan.”
0 0 0 0 0
The conference room was entirely too large for this sort of meeting. It hadn’t been designed for that. The long table only had four coffee cups on it, a few pens, no papers, though this wasn’t a briefing. A majority of the chairs were empty, pushed in neatly, though Natasha had made a point of finding Banner’s chair and turning it around backwards.
Agent Hill kept glancing over at the chair, partially masked by the fact that she only did when she sipped her coffee, which she kept on her left side for that purpose, it seemed. Natasha noticed it, and held her gaze for a moment to make it clear that she did. Hill just cleared her throat and went back to staring ahead.
As expected, Coulson seemed entirely unphased. Natasha knew he saw it—one couldn’t rise far in S.H.I.E.L.D. without impeccable observation skills—but was ignoring it on purpose. It was the white elephant in the room, and Natasha had absolutely no intention of letting it go unseen.
Director Fury was an entirely different matter. He was openly glaring at her, also seeming to ignore the chair, though she was certain the glare was mostly because of it.
None of this would have been a problem, would have phased her, if she knew she wasn’t quickly losing their attention—and more importantly, their respect—with every second she waited to pounce. It was now or never.
“We have a problem.”
“Get on with it, Agent Romanoff. S.H.I.E.L.D. has a lot of problems, and standing here isn’t making any of them go away.”
She gave a little nod, part in appreciation, part in acknowledgement. “I have reason to believe there will not be an Avengers Initiative if you try to call on them again.”
Coulson’s eye twitched, lips growing just a little bit thinner. Hill just took another sip of her coffee, though it did nothing to hide the downward arc of her lips. Fury was the only one who looked exactly the same, nothing of his inner workings showing. She wished she could get a read on him, anything, but he wasn’t even giving a scrap.
“It can barely even be called a team anymore—”
“That’s because there isn’t a reason for them to be a team right now.” Coulson countered her, his own calm resolve just one shade away from totally in control. He put on a good game face, but Natasha could read straight through it. That was part of her job. “If there was a push, they would come back together.”
“I don’t agree. If there was a push, one of more of them are likely to snap. As you already know, Dr. Banner has left. The last I saw him, Mr. Stark looked on the verge of another mental breakdown. Captain Rogers is—”
“He is concerned about his team, as any good leader would be.” Coulson clenched his hands together, otherwise remaining completely still.
Sometimes she wished her coworkers were normal people, so every argument wasn’t a battle between steel resolves. That would make it uninteresting, though. She’d have to deal with it.
“I think he has reason for concern. So far, I have remained neutral in all conversations regarding the team. My first loyalty is to S.H.I.E.L.D. as an agent.” Natasha nodded towards Fury, and he nodded back. “Some things are impossible to ignore, though.”
“Do you think they can hold out for another month?” Fury crossed his arms, his eye trained on her. Hill and Coulson both turned to glance at him, disapproving but not having the balls to say anything. Even if they did, Fury would quickly put them back in their respective places, so it was breath better saved.
“Perhaps. We should take some preventative measures, in the meanwhile.”
“Sir, if I may, the forces you pulled together for the initiative are all volatile on their own, and together, have proven more than explosive. It might be better if we allow them to drift apart.”
“The option has always been there, Agent Hill, but thank you for your suggestion.” Fury didn’t even glance at her, still holding Natasha’s gave. “Agent Romanoff, you know Stark’s closest associates. Start making some calls. If anything, wrangling him should settle the others down a little.”
“Yes, Director.” Natasha stood, spinning on her heel. This could have gone better, but it was something, at the very least.
0 0 0 0 0
He slid his fingers along the bow string, feeling it quiver with tension, threatened to be released. Flexing his hand, he adjusted his grip, pulling back in one sharp motion. His arm shook, like the string just a moment before, even as the string stabilized, seeming to relax, even though it was pulled absolutely taut.
The target down the range came into focus. Clint pursed his lips, not releasing the arrow yet, though he easily could. That would be too simple. That wasn’t the point.
Taking a deep breath, he focused his thoughts. Down the range, at a distance, it was less difficult to see. The disconnect, the detachment, made everything more clear.
It wasn’t clear enough.
Clint let the arrow fly. Bull’s-eye. He frowned, pressing the button. The target wheeled back, further into the clearing. He drew again, sighting down the arrow.
The sputter of guns was muted through his protective gear, and if he wanted to ignore it, he could. Concentrating was rarely a problem for him. This was part of concentrating, though. He hadn’t seen this many agents down in the firing range before. That included when they were preparing for the eventuality of hunting down potential threats (turned allies), before the invasion.
The training grounds had been busier in general. It was like they were preparing for something.
Letting out another breath, he let loose the second arrow. It split the first. He drew again, pushing the target even further back.
Some things were more visible at a distance, like the flash of a jet streaking overhead.
0 0 0 0 0
“There you are.” Tony smiled at the phone, holding it out in front of him. From that angle, Pepper would only be able to see his face, not the just refilled glass in his hand, or the bracelet latched to the wrist. “I was starting to wonder if you’d even answer.”
Pepper just stared at him from the other line, a silent question passing between them.
“It’s nothing bad, I promise.”
“Your private jet just landed in the airport. Where are you going?”
Tony gasped, pressing his hand to his chest. Pep’s gaze flicked down, seeing the glass, the bracelet, all of it most likely. He quickly took a sip, since there was no more harm that could be done, forcing that certain smile again. “Nowhere. I’m not going. My stuff is.”
Pep’s eyes narrowed. That didn’t come out right, did it?
“Well, for now. I want to move my suits out, along with my projects.” He stopped walking, turning to watch the robotic arm at work. He’d programmed it, so he trusted it, but sometimes, direct supervision still felt necessary, even if it wasn’t Dum-E or Butterfingers.
He would have been offended at her curtness, but really, somewhere down the line he’d probably earned it. He wasn’t feeling like dwelling on that right now. “Malibu. Need the space.”
“Maybe a vacation is in order.”
“Do I really look that horrible?” Tony frowned at the phone, and she frowned in response, returning what he gave. At least they were on good enough terms for that. Now, at least. “No vacation, Pep, don’t have the time. I’ve gotten backed up on a few projects, and all this S.H.I.E.L.D. presence really isn’t helping. I need some distance.”
“In that case, I’ll start making the arrangements to make sure everything gets back to Malibu safely.” Pepper took a deep breath, trying to smile with it. It was forced, as always, but the effort always counted for quite a bit. “I’ll be by later to check everything over.”
“Great. Got to go.” Tony clicked off the call, sliding the phone in his pocket as he walked into the elevator.
0 0 0 0 0
“Hold the door.”
Clint stuck his foot out, sensors catching it. The elevator doors slid open again, Tasha stepping inside. Her hair was pinned back, her clothing that of a civilian. He’d seen her profile as Natalie Rushman; this must have been what it looked like in person.
She seemed to notice him looking, and put on a soft smile, the type she probably tricked Stark with. “I had to testify today.”
All the softness, or the perception of it, drained away. He swallowed roughly, fiddling with the strap on his quiver.
“They asked me about what happened on the quinjet when we captured Loki, about my interrogation of him in the helicarrier, about the attack you led.” She pursed her lips, staring at the elevator wall.
“Standard stuff, right.” Clint stared at the wall, too. It was the safer option.
She shrugged. “I tried explaining that your mind was being manipulated.”
Tried was the key word. Clint closed his eyes. Tried wasn’t succeeded. Far from it.
0 0 0 0 0
“Hey!” Tony smiled big, raising his hands up on either side of him. The man at the table barely even moved, then glanced up, after a long moment. That wasn’t right. There should have been a loud greeting back. Jack should have gotten up, shook his hand, ended it in a fraternal sort of hug.
Instead, his attorney just sat there, a cup of coffee in front of him, quickly going cold.
Tony undid the button on his blazer and sat across from him, waving a hand to get the waiter’s attention. Soon enough he had a fresh lemonade, and there was a panini on the way.
“Grumpy, what’s the deal?” Tony leaned back, taking a sip of his drink. Jack only sighed, finally seeming to remember his drink, which he took a particular interest in. “Stop stalling. Give me a full run down. What pissed in your cheerios?”
“I can’t do this.” Jack set his cup down, leveling his gaze at Tony.
“That’s a load of shit and you know it.” Tony folded his hands over his stomach, playing with the end of his tie absentmindedly. “I’ve seen you fight tooth and nail for supposedly lost causes and sink a hole in one. I expect nothing less.”
Jack finished his coffee, staring down at the bottom of the cup. After a moment, he pushed it aside, leaning forward. “My hands are tied.”
Tony took the hint, leaning forward as well. “You told me they had no legal grounds to stand on.”
“They don’t.” Jack glanced over his shoulder, out the window. There was no one there. Tony recognized that brand of paranoia. “But my hands are tied.”
Tony leaned back slowly. This man he’d trusted on more than one occasion, normally charismatic with the caring level of a honey badger (and the aggression) had his tail between his legs like a beaten and scared animal, and not the type that might attack if backed into a corner.
That wasn’t just the look of defeat. It was something much worse.
It was the look of a guy about to attend his best friend’s funeral.
0 0 0 0 0
Bruce lowered himself slowly, putting his full weight down before dangling his feet over the edge. The salt breeze was warm, refreshing, just crisp enough to keep him fully awake while at the same time relaxing him.
The last time he was on a cliff, he hadn’t noticed anything other than the rocks at the bottom and the potential in those jagged, hard edges. He’d stared down at them wistfully, calculating the possibilities, the potential risks.
This time was different, for the first time since the accident.
Rather than staring at the rocks and wondering if the other guy would wait until he hit them to make an appearance, he watched the sky, the clouds as they lit up with the last rays of the sun. He caught himself smiling. He also caught himself looking for trails between the clouds, for flashes of red and gold.
Bruce took off his glasses, polishing the lenses slowly, not taking his eyes off the sky. He’d been all over the world, but never really paused to notice it before.
Now he had the chance, but at what cost?
Chapter 10: Stark Lines
I ended up having to split up Chapter 9 into two. Which means Part 5 is going to be longer than 10 chapters. So sorry about the inconvenience.
It had been a long while since he had walked the length of the Bifrost, and even longer, perhaps, since he had truly wanted to. The latter had not changed in the least. This was out of a need. He needed to know if Heimdall still felt the blazing hatred of Midgard, if those flames had cooled. He needed to know the fate of his brother, as well.
Thor lifted his head, walking those last few strides with an airy, regal grace. If he did not put on this mantle, he knew he would crumple beneath the weight of the gleaming stars, of the void beyond, which had truly taken Loki from him and from Asgard.
Heimdall stood at the entrance to the Bifrost, strong and silent as always. Thor tried to find it in his heart to offer a warm smile, but could not muster such strength. There were already too many other forces pulling him askew.
The guardian nodded, the only movement he offered. Thor nodded in return, gaze drifting beyond his golden armored shoulder, to the Bifrost chamber in all its glory.
Loki had built that, perhaps not with his own two hands, but with his mind, which had always been the higher prize to his brother. It was the pinnacle of his achievement.
Thor frowned. It was that achievement which had facilitated his Midgardian trial.
“There is much on your mind.”
“Heimdall…” Thor paused, collecting his thoughts and his words so they might be in appropriate rhythm together. “What have you seen of late?”
There was a moment of silence, Heimdall’s amber eyes moving, as though to see behind him. The guardian bowed his head, hands shifting in their grip of the mighty hilt of his sword. That was never something Thor wanted to see.
“The Allfather’s decision is far more dangerous than he first assumed.”
“Are you questioning—”
“No. My loyalty is first and forever to the Allfather.” Heimdall paused, leveling his gaze upon Thor once more. No matter how intensely Thor returned his stare, he could not find anything behind it. “My first duty is to serve the Allfather. My second is to observe.”
Thor could not help but stare at the stars and wonder what it was Heimdall had seen to influence him so. Heimdall merely shook his head, as though his thoughts had been laid bare for the guardian, splayed out like the glimmering nebula above the Bifrost. Perhaps they were. Heimdall saw far and wide, and though it pained him to think, perhaps further than the Allfather in his more recent years.
“What of my brother?”
Heimdall’s expression did not change, though the air seemed to, becoming heavier, like a great weight was hung upon his mantle and cloak. Thor did not break gaze with the guardian, watching in hopes that maybe he could see in the way Heimdall saw.
“We shall see.”
Thor fought hard not to huff out a sigh. So be it. “Thank you, Heimdall. Your continued service brings great comfort.”
The guardian did not respond, though the draw of his lips, nearly akin to a frown, was profound enough to tell Thor he was not believed. He had not the time to defend his honor. If he wanted any true answers, he would either have to approach the Allfather with his concerns or return to Midgard and face the fire toe to toe.
0 0 0 0 0
There was something absolutely frantic about the Tower, a different kind of buzz than usual, and it was making a lump sit in her stomach. Pepper clenched her clipboard to her chest just as she clenched her jaw, steeling herself for what she was about to see.
Ding, and there it was. The penthouse was in absolute shambles. If it had been turned into a particle collider like the garage of the mansion, she might have understood, but this came completely out of the blue.
Pepper took a step forward, toe of her heel clicking against a metal canister. She looked down, eyebrows knitting together, though her patented frown didn’t burst loose yet. It was a fight, but she kept it contained.
The random items strewn across the floor was just the start of it, it seemed. She rounded the corner, leaning around the edge first for safety-sake. When nothing flew or shot at her, she finally came around.
Crates were everywhere. Some were sealed up, taped off, and ready to go. Others were in different states of fullness and literally, they were everywhere. Pepper just gave up on walking, deciding that calling out might be the better route.
Halfway across the level, near the bar, a very disheveled head appeared from behind one of the larger metal crates. Hair stuck out at every angle, and there were circles under his eyes.
She’d thought he was over the drive himself half to death without taking care of himself phase, but apparently, she was wrong. She rolled her eyes, readjusting her grip on the clipboard. “Tony, what’s going on?”
“Just rearranging.” He ducked down again, arm buried deep in the crate in a matter of moments. She could hear the clear click of metal against metal, and digital sounds, too. Stepping closer, carefully, she could see that there was one of his suits inside.
“This doesn’t look like rearranging. If there is something I need to be aware of, Tony, I swear—”
“It’s not like that.”
“Tony.” She took a step closer, knuckles going white. She loosened her grip, smoothing out the top paper with a thin lipped smile. Taking a deep breath, Pepper straightened her shoulders and bridged the last of the gap between them. “You are avoiding the subject. I know what that means.”
He straightened, dropping one knee on the ground to stabilize himself. He tapped a short rhythm against the arc reactor in his chest, like he always did when brushing off something incredibly important, then gave her a lopsided grin which should have soothed all her worries.
Should have, but didn’t.
“How do you feel about going to Malibu?”
Pepper took another deep breath, trying with all her heart to keep that calm smile in place. “You know I can’t do that.”
“With Happy. I wouldn’t separate you two. We should all go. Soon. Take my jet.” Tony waved his hand dismissively. He was always good at downplaying things. “You really don’t want to stay here.”
Pepper’s smile fell. She swallowed, readjusting her clipboard. He didn’t really say anything, but everything at the same time. There was a line drawn in the sand, and while she didn’t know what rested on the other side of it, she knew Tony had already crossed it, and nothing was going to bring him back over it.
She had more than a few phone calls to be making.
Chapter 11: Personal Justice
“Casualties of war.” Tony clapped his hands together, leaning back with a frown. He raised his eyebrows, staring down the attorney.
This was a really familiar view. Too familiar, only it was someone else sitting in front of the firing line of old men who’d obviously made up their minds already. They were giving him disapproving looks, though none as fierce as the attorney.
“That does not answer my question, Mr. Stark. Did the defendant throw you, unarmored, from a window of Stark Tower, with the intent to kill?”
Tony leaned forward, the chair creaking under his shifted weight. He pulled the microphone a little closer, turning his gaze straight for Loki and only Loki as he spoke again. “You obviously didn’t hear me.”
There was the slightest murmur from the onlookers, or maybe it was just everyone shifting uncomfortably. Tony had seen the footage. Everyone had been completely spineless on the stand so far, just rolling over for the prosecution.
That wasn’t how he worked.
“I was an enemy soldier,” Tony fought back a cringe at that word, barely managing to grate it out, “in the way of a commanding general. He took the shot he had to take. I just happened to be ready.”
“Is that a yes, then, Mr. Stark?”
Tony wasn’t really listening. Loki was staring back across the table at him, shoulders just barely rolled forward, face more melancholy than cold. Tony shook his head, mouth moving without sound for a moment.
Don’t you dare give up.
“Excuse me, Mr. Stark, but I have to ask you to speak up so the court can hear you.”
He cleared his throat, rolling his eyes before answering. “Yes, he threw me out of the window. It was fun. You should try it sometime.”
Someone chuckled in the back, and Tony flashed one of his bright smiles, defusing the ticking bomb he could feel in the air.
0 0 0 0 0
“I would really like to know what Mr. Stark thinks he is doing.” Fury turned, displeased but not fully angry. Natasha had seen Fury angry a few times, and would be entirely content not to repeat the process again.
“I was under the impression that you understood the risks in calling him to the stand.” She gave a small smile, red lips stretching into that line. There was no pleasure in it, only knowing.
Fury must have realized that, because he rolled his eye and turned back towards the screen, hands still firmly planted on his hips.
“Is there anything you currently require of me?” She tilted her head, holding her clipboard close to her chest. In a feminine suit, hair pulled up neatly, it was easy to slip into the offices like she belonged. Now that her report was delivered, she would like to move on to other matters.
“From what I understand, Dr. Banner is no longer with us?”
That was an interesting turn of phrase. She readjusted her grip, that little smile falling. “In what manner?”
“You know what I mean, Agent Romanoff.”
“Actually, I don’t believe I do.” Natasha shifted her weight. She should have changed before coming in, not that she didn’t still feel prepared. She was always prepared. “He is still considered a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D. and a member of the Avengers Initiative.”
Fury gave a short nod. That seemed to answer his question, because he did not press the issue any further. “You are dismissed.”
Natasha glanced at her watch. Good. She would still be on time.
0 0 0 0 0
“Did Natalie get you the contract?” Pepper positioned the phone between her ear and shoulder, then lifted the box, swiping dust off of it. It had really been a while since she’d used her apartment in Malibu, but everything was still where she put it.
“I am signing it right as we speak.” Tony paused on the other side of the line, and she assumed—hoped—that meant he was actually reading over some of it. “And it’s Natasha. Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s a spy.”
Pepper ignored that last part. He still sounded hurt over the whole double agent thing. That was a difficult time for all of them, so extreme measures had to be taken, and really, it helped save Tony’s life in more than one way, so he shouldn’t be complaining.
Of course, he would still whine a bit. That she was completely used to.
“It is a great opportunity for expanding our clean energy initiative.”
“My clean energy initiative.”
“At least give me credit for 12%.”
There was a huff of air blown against the speaker. Maybe it was a laugh. It probably was a laugh, quickly stifled. As long as it wasn’t something else, she was fine.
“Isn’t this interesting?”
Pepper paused, straightening. She’d gone over the contract three times in the last two days, and not once did she recall seeing something Tony would actually find interesting. “What is it?”
“Looks like Fury wants to see me. Your little spy slipped a note in here.”
“You aren’t in trouble or dying again, are you?”
“Not that I’m currently aware of.”
“That doesn’t sound very reassuring.”
There was that huff again. Definitely a laugh, and not the funny kind. Pepper straightened, taking a firm hold on the phone again.
“Tony, I swear, if there is something you are not—”
“Pep… you’ve got to trust me here.”
She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath in, holding it, then letting it out slowly. It had been a while since she had heard that tone. It was the same tone he had when she discovered what he was making. When she saw the burn marks and bullet holes and iron determination to make everything right again.
“I trust you.”
0 0 0 0 0
They were right across the table from one another, but it still felt like they were half the world apart. Clint grabbed his ice tea, not looking away. From this close, some things were not as obvious as they would be. From this close, he couldn’t see the big picture. He frowned as he took a sip, not breaking eye contact even though Tasha didn’t seem to even see him.
“It’s been a while.”
She finally seemed to snap back to the present, brows smoothing, expression clean and crisp and completely grounded. He really envied her that sometimes, even if it frustrated him beyond belief at others. But that was Tasha, take it or leave it.
“We just saw each other this morning.”
“Not that.” Clint set down his cup, then planted his finger firmly on the table between them. “This.”
She tilted her head, red lips pursed, but he could tell she was thinking about it. He didn’t quite feel like letting it go, though, pressing on.
“This is normal. This is the most normal I’ve had for a while.”
It clicked. He can see it click. The smile she gave was telling and warm and understanding in ways that she doesn’t show to the others. He holds on to that.
“Yeah. It’s nice.”
The waiter walked up entirely too soon, but that was fine. Clint waved his menu at Tasha and she ordered first. He spent that fraction of time deciding his own order off a mental coin toss. The moment the waiter was gone, it was like everything was normal again. It was a breath of much needed air.
0 0 0 0 0
The air was perfectly still, hanging in limbo despite the multitude of Midgardians crammed into that hushed space. He could feel each and every one of them, the pulse of their hearts, an erratic drumbeat of excitement and fear muddled together past recognition.
Those emotions, raw and visceral, had become so blended he could hardly separate them within himself. As the council at the head of the room filed from the room, he could feel the thread of his life in their hands, tugging sharply, threatening to unravel him.
Loki closed his eyes to the warm tones of the polished wood and shined stone, taking in a firm breath through his nose. All he could smell was the press of Midgardians, their fear and excitement hitting him with a force he hardly thought them possible of. There was power here, an entirely different sort than he was accustomed to.
These mortals had the power to bring a god to his knees, to make him bend at the waist and place his neck, bared, upon the cold stone which would end him. He could feel it now, a whisper against his skin, like their “reaper” grasping his bony fingers about his throat.
The door banged shut and he flinched. How similar to an axe striking its mark did that door sound. How frightfully similar, enough he could feel the wisps of hair at the back of his neck stand on end.
The council was to deliberate now. They were to discuss what had been presented them. Loki wet his lips, concentrating on the moisture, the simulated warmth.
Stark had told him not to give up, and yet, there was not even that. He had not the option to give up, for there was nothing to give up. He knew, from their dark gazes, hooded like an executioner, what his fate was to be, and Odin treasured his little treaty with Midgard more than his life, otherwise he never would have assented to this in the first.
0 0 0 0 0
“Are you flying out tonight?”
“Yeah.” Tony lowered the metal mask, only to be confronted with his own distorted reflection, in gunmetal and black. “Just got to take care of something first.”
“Should we meet you at the airport?”
Tony set the mask down, checking his watch. Fifteen minutes were still on the timer. “Don’t wait up for me.”
“Okay.” Pepper ended the call before he could. He still had work to do, and wasn’t about to pause it.
There wasn’t going to be another chance.
0 0 0 0 0
The glass sealed with a hiss and Steve let his hand fall. The group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents behind him turned to leave, only two remaining, as was protocol, at the door. It let all of his will not to let his arm hang under the weight of the shield and to let his shoulders sag as well.
It was exhausting. All of this was exhausting. Learning to survive in a new century took it out of him. Having to worry about this alien war criminal who fancied himself a god was worrying, which also drained him.
Worst of all was seeing the state of the team. Everyone was walking on eggshells, and even worse than that was how none of them were normal eggshells. They were deadly, powerful eggshells.
That, at least, got the smallest of smiles out of him. He had finished his escorting duty without any incident. Loki had come with them without even a snide remark, which might have concerned him, if he wasn’t actually thankful for that. He had a lot to be grateful for, so he’d keep his head high a little bit longer, at least until he was in private.
Steve glanced at the clock on the wall, frowning. The guard should be there. Something must have come up.
“Excuse me, Jarvis, are you there?”
“Certainly, Captain Rogers. How might I assist you?”
Steve paused, glancing between Loki and the guards, then back up at the clock, as though the digital numbers could somehow serve as a face. He was used to Jarvis at this point, used to that voice always being there when he called for it. What he wasn’t used to was it being everywhere.
Though it didn’t seem necessary, and felt like a complete and total invasion of privacy, right now he was glad it existed.
“Jarvis, I need to know who else is available for guard duty.”
There was a moment of silence, in which Steve assumed Jarvis was using security cameras to look around the Tower, and then the answer came. “It appears as though Agent Barton is not on the property at the moment, and that Agent Romanoff is attending to a prior engagement.”
Steve nodded, and waited, listening for that last name. Jarvis didn’t continue, though. Steve frowned. “What about… Mr. Stark?”
“Would you like me to connect you to his workshop?”
Quite suddenly, Loki turned, his unnatural green eyes flicking between the clock and Steve with what had to be curiosity. Something turned in Steve’s gut, but he ignored it, continuing on like he hadn’t even noticed.
“Please, if you could.”
It only took a moment, and soon he heard a saw of some sort going, or what he thought was a saw. There was metal involved, and Steve imagined sparks flying in every direction. That was very likely. He’d seen Stark at work on the helicarrier. There were usually sparks involved.
“Cap, what do you need?”
“Relief. Any way you could head down and take over?” He smiled, then stopped himself, realizing Stark probably couldn’t see him. Then again, there were cameras in the room. It was likely he could see Steve. And Loki, for that matter, who was staring straight at one of the cameras.
Steve didn’t like that look, but forced himself to focus on the situation at hand.
“Give me five. Almost done up here.”
The grinding noise started right back up again, filling the room until Jarvis cut the call. Those five minutes passed surprisingly fast. When he heard the main door unlock, he had to check the clock just to make sure it hadn’t been less time. It was five minutes exactly. He was impressed.
Tony strutted straight in the room, one of his media smiles plastered on his face. Steve knew the difference now, and though he didn’t like that he was being treated like an outsider rather than a teammate, he’d let it slip for now. Tony was wearing a suit, briefcase in one hand, other in his pocket, so he’d probably been wearing that face all day.
Steve was about to leave, but stopped, glancing Tony over again. “Were you working in a suit?”
Tony didn’t even miss a beat, setting the briefcase down softly on the table. Steve couldn’t miss the metallic thud, even so. Tony didn’t turn, fiddling with the handle for a moment before glancing over. “What, I can’t look professional?”
“No. Yes. Ah, don’t worry about it.” Steve readjusted his shield, lingering for a moment longer. No one spoke, not Loki behind him, who was staring at the briefcase questioningly, or Tony, who was still toying with the handle. Steve shook his head. He just needed some actual rest. “Good night.”
“Yeah. Night, Cap.”
Steve probably should have walked out calmly, but he hurried, really hurried, hood shoved back before he even got to the elevator, tugging out of his gloves with his teeth before the door was closed.
0 0 0 0 0
The first thing he did was take off his gloves. He never wore gloves, but no one had noticed. Why would they? He was surprised Cap even questioned his suit. Speaking of, Tony took off his jacket next, setting it across the back of his chair like he intended on staying for a while.
If the guards were perceptive, they would have noticed that he was still wearing gloves, or at least what looked like gloves. It was actually a titanium and vibranium alloy which had been painstaking to make, especially with the energy reservoirs running through it like veins, the vibrations from it keeping the metal undersheath vacuum sealed to his skin.
Next was the tie. He hadn’t wanted to wear a tie—only did it when he had to for appearance sake, really—but the collar of his shirt hung open too far otherwise, and the top lip of the undersheath was visible.
Right now, it really didn’t matter. If they’d wanted to stop this, they should have moved a long time ago.
Tony unlocked the clasps on his briefcase, just cracking it open. If he opened it, everyone in the room would look, and then there went the element of surprise. That’d be a shame. He could deal with it, had in the past, but right now, it’d be really nice to get a running head start.
Clapping his hands together, he spun, facing the cage. He walked straight up to it, not even flinching when he heard the guards tense.
“Guilty as charged, huh?”
He wasn’t addressing anyone in particular. Could be about Loki. It was in a way. Could be about him. It was that, too. The guards didn’t figure that one out until his finger was on the control panel, disengaging all the locks.
0 0 0 0 0
Natasha let her hair down, shaking it out with her fingers. It only took a moment, and in that time, the video stream had activated. She immediately put on a practiced smile; for some reason, it was a lot easier than before. It was no doubt the day.
On the screen, Banner smiled back. He looked good. The circles under his eyes were not quite as dark, nor were there as many worry lines. That nervous twitch of his fingers wasn’t apparent, though she was watching for it, not because she was afraid of him, of what those hands could do. She was honestly afraid for him.
“How is it?”
Banner stopped from taking a sip of his drink, glancing down into the mug and up at her with a question in the slant of his brows. He took a sip anyway, then set it down with a small smile. That was when the twitch of his fingers set in. He ran one slowly around the lip of the mug, giving it the same wistful look he gave the cradle in India.
“That’s good. I’m glad to hear it.” Natasha tucked a hair behind her ear, not taking her eyes off Banner for a moment.
“How’s…” Banner cleared his throat, taking another long gulp of his tea and sighing. “How’s Tony?”
0 0 0 0 0
Both guns snapped to attention, their tips pointed at Stark’s back. Loki tensed. He raised his hands slowly, suit pulling uncomfortably tight about his shoulders. His shackles were in clear view, even if they had little use other than limit his range of motion, and he was counting on that, even as he counted the moments slip past without a breath daring to enter his lungs.
“Now might be a good time to get back.” Stark spoke like there was absolutely nothing wrong, and that only made him tenser. Stark flashed another one of those smiles, and now, with it right before him, though through the thick glass, Loki could see just how broken it was.
Loki took a step back, slowly, and then another, until his back was nearly pressed to the far glass barrier. The guns did not move for him, the guards having eyes for Stark and Stark alone.
There would only be a few fleeting moments, if there were any at all. A few fleeting moments where the door might be open.
Freedom was so close he could practically taste it.
Stark lifted his hand again, and pressed the release button at the same moment as they fired.
0 0 0 0 0
“The council just called it a night.” Coulson folded his hands in front of him, watching the place over Fury’s shoulder, where he could see the repaired Manhattan skyline. It was a good view, calm, so long as one didn’t look down at the streets. “They believe they need at least another day for the deliberations process.”
Fury did not move, a black silhouette against the window. He didn’t have to. Coulson could read his every gesture at this point, or rather, his lack of them. Currently, Fury was frustrated, but knew he had to be patient. That made two of them.
“Should we begin preparing the facilities?”
That did cause Fury to move, the Director turning his head to the left a little. That eye didn’t see anymore, but the idea was behind it. It was more a show that Fury had been through enough that he should be trusted with this sort of situation, which Coulson wasn’t questioning in the least.
“Not yet. We have to observe due process here.”
“Of course.” Coulson gave a quick smile, rocking up on the balls of his feet. “Shall I go check on our due process deserving war criminal alien locked in the basement, then?”
Fury chuckled. “Don’t give him a heart attack.”
“I’ll wait, then. You did promise to assign me escort duty for his execution.”
“That promise still stands.”
0 0 0 0 0
He slammed into the glass, sagging heavily against it with a gritting out cough. His shoulders shook, knees buckling, but he managed to hold on, just enough not to hit the floor. Tony banged his head on the glass door, listening.
The guards didn’t move to reload. Tony knew how many bullets were in those clips. He’d designed too many guns not to. Tony waited a moment more, teeth grinding together, legs shaking from the strain.
Great. They weren’t going to reload.
Tony pushed himself up along the glass, leaning his forehead against it as he worked the buttons on his shirt. The moment the last one was undone, he shrugged the shredded fabric off, stretching.
The undersheath moved with him, pushing the collapsed bullets off the metal and too the ground. Tony pulled the hood up over his head, sealing it with a wiggle of his head.
It was show time.
0 0 0 0 0
“I don’t really see him often.” Natasha shrugged. It was true. She rarely saw him. There were times where she would notice him in the communal kitchen, but it was only for a moment and then he was gone again. His security systems made it impossible for her to know what he did for the rest of the time, but the Tower had yet to blow up, so it wasn’t bad.
Banner didn’t seem satisfied with the answer. He kept staring down into his mug like the whole universe was hidden in there. It made Natasha wonder what it was he was drinking. From what she remembered, he wasn’t that much of a coffee person. She assumed tea.
“Not that I’ve noticed.” Again, she shrugged. His question could have been one of two things. Either it was a question about Stark’s drinking or it was a question about his promiscuity. Her answer remained the same for both.
Whatever the question was, that seemed to be the right answer. Banner nodded, rolling the mug between his hands slowly, back and forth.
“I shouldn’t have gone.”
“Look, everyone’s under a lot of stress right now. I’m sure he understands.” Natasha really meant that. “Just give it a little time, and he’ll probably be begging you back.”
Banner actually laughed at that, running a hand through his curly hair. That really brightened him up a lot. Natasha would keep going with that train of thought, keep things positive. Something had to go right in the world, after all.
0 0 0 0 0
Magic and science. A laugh tumbled from his lips before he could help it as he marveled at what Midgardian science was truly capable of.
The pieces of armor from the briefcase moved of their own accord, lifting as though some invisible hand had plucked them from their casing. Loki could feel no such hand, but it must have been there, somehow, a puppeteer beyond his own perception.
It was blindingly fast, the pieces flying through the air, clicking into place about Stark’s body. That body was covered by something, he knew not what; he only knew that when he searched, felt with his mind, he was met with a sort of resistance, as though the material, a dark and polished grey, was pushing back.
Before it was even finished assembling, Stark spun, arm up and straight. A low whine filled the room, followed by a blast of blue light. The first guard fell, the other scrambling with his weapon as Stark turned, other arm firing as its pieces slid firmly into place.
Loki stared. The faceplate flipped over Stark’s cold features, hiding them behind dark metal and cold blue eyes.
Stark reached up again, reentering the code and pressing the release button. This time, the doors hissed as the pressure leaked out, the glass sliding away.
“I read in your file that you could stop people from seeing you if you didn’t want them to.” Stark’s voice was distorted by his machine, but still distinctly his. Loki merely nodded, not entirely sure where this was going. “Then do it. We’ve got a lot of security to get past.”
0 0 0 0 0
The water was cold, had been for a while, but he just couldn’t move. He turned his head, forehead squeaking against the tiles. There was the faucet. It wasn’t even that far of a stretch. He could just switch the water off, then towel off and wind down. That’s what the shower had been for, after all, and he’d just ended up thinking.
For one, Steve hadn’t seen Bruce around for a while. He and Tony had been inseparable for a good long while, and then one day, he just wasn’t there. On another note, Coulson of all people had actually torn into him like a drill sergeant.
He was glad, more than glad, even, that the trial was drawing to a close. No matter what was decided, it would be a decision, which meant everything would be out of their hands. Either Loki would be sent back to Asgard or he would be imprisoned with other war criminals, outside their jurisdiction, or maybe executed.
That left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Steve sighed, finally reaching up. He reset the timer on the wall and turned the heat back up rather than turning it off. Five more minutes.
0 0 0 0 0
What the files said: absolutely true. Wow. Tony kept scanning the private elevator, every corner of it, and his HUD picked up nothing. It was like he was alone, except now and then Loki would speak, and it was more than a little unsettling.
“Not all of us can fly.”
Tony turned, raising an eyebrow in the direction he assumed Loki was. Oh, wait, Loki couldn’t see through his helmet. The gesture was lost, but that didn’t mean he dropped it. “I’ve got a plan. Cool it.”
Silence greeted him, so he assumed Loki was taking his advice. Tony couldn’t really tell, the same way Loki couldn’t see through his suit, so they were even.
The elevator dinged, giving Tony a moment. He readjusted, assuming a firm stance with hands raised. The doors slid open.
Nothing. Not a single person. Tony scanned the whole room, coming up absolutely dry. Tony lowered his arms, giving a small wave before starting forward.
Everything was set up at the main terminal. He went straight to it, armor retracting from his fingers easily, sliding back up over his wrist. That just left the undersheath over each finger. Thankfully, he didn’t have much left to do.
“Ready to initialize?”
Tony glanced at all the figures, giving them one last run-over while he awaited the response. Everything was green lighted.
“Shall I count down?”
“No, just hit the switch and hop onboard, JARVIS.”
There was a moment’s hesitation—could an AI really hesitate?—before JARVIS finally responded.
0 0 0 0 0
Their hour was almost up. Bruce had only purchased an hour. That was the amount of time they agreed upon, even if they usually wrapped it up early. He never used the extra time. It was tempting to check the email Tony insisted he set up, but that would probably launch about fifty red flags.
He wasn’t ready for that, even if they talked lightly about it, like it could happen tomorrow.
Bruce glanced back at his mug, or rather, at the bottom of it. There was just a sludge of spices and unmelted sugar down there, none of his coffee left behind. He’d tried draining that last bit out three times now, and wasn’t about to do it again. He was sure Natasha noticed things like that, and he’d rather not be read like an open book.
“Do you think things will be better after the trial?”
Natasha was halfway into a shrug when the screen went black.
Bruce frowned, turning to look at the clock. They still had another ten minutes. Bruce checked. The internet was still on. He tried reconnecting to the call. Nothing. He sat there for another five minutes before trying again. There was still nothing. He typed in the url to his email account.
0 0 0 0 0
The lights cut out in time with the timer. Steve straightened, pressing the smooth plastic panel of the controls. The numbers were all dark. Nothing happened. Steve grabbed the handle to the shower door. Locked. Still.
“Jarvis, unlock the door for me.”
Nothing punctuated the near silence. It was just him and the water running.
0 0 0 0 0
Even during the invasion, the bright white lights of the Stark Tower had not even flickered, and here he was, once again standing on that high balcony, watching as everything was consumed by darkness.
A smile spread on his lips as the very last of them was snuffed out.