Pepper is going over the dossier for the contracts between Stark and several nonprofits when she sees it. Beside her is Natasha, dressed as Natalie, going over the same documents, neither of them raising their heads, so engrossed in the tasks as it flickers into existence and quietly waits. It’s Happy who alerts them to its presence, as he opens the door he says Pepper’s name in a tone she rarely hears and both women’s heads snap up.
Loki stands between them, his helmet and staff gone, his gleaming gold looking lackluster. Natasha moves on instinct, a knife is both in and gone from her hand and Happy is forced to close the door as fast as he can to avoid it as it slips through the image without hindrance. On the other side of the door, the knife hits with the sound of a dull knock yet the entire door vibrates. Pepper is stuck in her chair, fear paralyzing her as her mind switches over from panic to analyzing. The image is acting like a pond, the area over Loki's heart where the knife had struck acting as the focal point as ripples move out. The face has gone from blank to pained but it keeps itself together and in one piece. His skin shallow and sickly and for a brief moment the image disappears but then reappears defiantly. He continues to point above Pepper.
"What are you doing here?" Pepper demands. Surprise, confusion and worry are in Pepper's words but the image says nothing as Natasha looks between the pair before crossing the room to stand next to the illusion. Happy opens the door hesitantly, afraid of another knife but audibly comments that thankfully, there isn't one. Natasha waves her hand in front of it and she receives no response. Pepper pushes back her chair and carefully stands up from her desk and walks around. Her left ankle is bandaged and in her low heels (she had a serious debate that morning on heels or flats and then realized, as she had glumly stared at her closest that she had no flats) she carefully moves herself to stand across from the SHIELD operative.
"What is it?" Pepper asks and Happy closes the door. It takes a few tries but he finally is able to get the knife out of the door and admires it.
"Thanks." Natasha says, but she doesn't look back to him. She's still studying the image, admiring the depth and detail of it.
"It’s a hologram." Natasha says it as she narrows her eyes, looking at the details. She can tell his pulse is moving faster than normal, but then again, how closely related were those of Earth and Asgard physically?
It looks exactly like him. She thinks and with one finger touches it and a ripple spreads again. This time the image flickers away with a sizzle and Natasha leans to stand directly where the image was. Both Pepper and Happy explain they don't understand what it means. Do they call Fury? They ask themselves but Natasha stays quiet and stares forward and in return, OsCorp stares back.
It’s two weeks after the Wrecking Crew incident and Hawkeye is in Madripoor, specifically in Buccaneer Bay and even more specifically, hanging out on a high tech recreation of a 16th century pirate ship when he sees it. He’s been in position for the last three hours, his target for the last two has been happily preoccupied with some of Hightown’s finest prostitutes.
Both women are moaning, their tones revealing that they do not actually the feel the intense pleasure their benefactor believes he is giving him. Up in the nest Clint is stuck between lazily waiting for the correct moment or turning away to contact someone, anyone, to speed this along. As another hour crawls by, his moment comes, the girls are picking up their clothes, their backs turned to the target. With a quick shuffle, he’s up and moving. His bow is out and he’s position as he levels and arrow and patient waits. He’s got one shot and that’s all he needs.
His target, Ashman, head of a growing crime syndicate in Lowtown, kneels with his back to Barton and Hawkeye releases the shot.
He appears to miss.
The arrow flies past Ashman, the smooth iron tip grazing his neck. Delicately it slips by as the man slaps his neck and it enters the water down below. Hawkeye doesn’t duck or move, he doesn’t need to. The target nor the women look up and Ashman begins to bitch about mosquitoes and what a nuisance they are. On the headset, he confirms that his mission is complete. In ten minutes time the target will be comatose and from there their contact in Madripoor can pick him and SHIELD can go from there.
He sees something in the corner of his eye and automatically an arrow has been notched and has flown and another has taken its place. The image of Loki stares at him, sickness clearly ravaging him. The face is thinner, the eyes more sunken. He stand at an angle, his arm pointing to the northwest.
“What are you doing here?” Clint growls and the image disappears with a snap.
Steve stands up straighter as he asks JARVIS to raise the lights and when he does, he feels a tight knot in his stomach. Loki appears sickly and gaunt and it stays that way for a moment before it flickers and then recomposes itself to look the way he had when he first appeared on earth. The image of his sickness stays with Steve though, the images of the war playing in his head. Soldiers, refugees, scavengers in various states of distress and death playing in his head and he reaches his hand out.
“Loki?” He asks. The image looks at him, a visible effort on its face as it slowly raises its arm- a hand thin, bony, ravaged and it points in a direction.
“What is it?” The knot is tightening in his stomach but with a sizzle, it’s gone. Steve’s arm is still raised and he slowly brings it back down. He looks to the corner, to see the camera that acts like the face of JARVIS in the room.
“JARVIS, was that Loki?”
“No life forms have been detected outside of your presence, sir. Though this image of Loki has appeared before, it hasn’t been classified as a being.”
“How many have appeared?”
“Within Stark premises, seven times. Outside of the premises, there hasn’t been a count established.”
“Begin a count.”
Steve leaves the mansion to patrol the city that night. During the patrol, he sees Loki two more times, and when he approaches they fade away. When he returns, he receives a number.
One hundred and sixty seven.