Chapter 1: Take Your Knocks
Tony opened his eyes carefully, trying to figure out why everything felt wrong. He felt…fuzzy. His vision was uncomfortably blurry. His limbs were only just remembering that they were supposed to be obedient. His head wasn’t pounding but was heavy and dull. This wasn’t a hangover or the mind numbing fatigue that followed battle—he was almost lovingly familiar with those, and this was very different.
This was wrong.
He was recovering quickly, though. His eyes focused on his closet door. As the feeling in his legs returned, he could tell that not only was he still wearing constricting suit slacks but also his shoes. He moved his head feeling a sharp pain in his ear—he had been lying on his Bluetooth headset.
This was wrong.
The last thing he remembered was leaving a Stark Industries meeting with Williams Innovations. He thought it had gone exceedingly well. Pepper had called to assure him that it had not gone well but the damage control needed was minimal. He had just gotten off the phone with her and had decided to take the long way back to Stark Tower so he could test out the recent customizations to his Aston Martin Vanquish.
Stark Tower. He had been in New York, not Malibu, and this was very clearly the Malibu house he was in now.
Tony suppressed his panic and sat up carefully but as casually as possible. He straightened his jacket trying to exude an air of ‘Sure, I sleep in $5,000 suits all the time’. While that wasn’t un-true, custom shoes were a different story. It wasn’t overly wrinkled which meant he hadn’t moved in his sleep. For a constantly restless sleeper like Tony, this was unheard of. Considering all the other factors, that was the final nail in the coffin. Tony had been drugged or knocked out and brought here.
The word ‘kidnapped’ sprung to mind and he felt bile rise up in his throat. This wasn’t even really the Malibu house. The blinds on the windows were too dark, the dresser looked too new, the bed had felt too firm. It was a close match—almost perfect, but it was wrong. He closed his eyes as the room began to swim.
Breathe, Tony. Breathe.
It wasn’t a cave. He wasn’t half dead. No one was there yelling, threatening, dunking him into that frigid water. He felt the arc reactor like an enormous weight on his chest.
When he was sure he would not vomit or fall over, he opened his eyes again. Whoever they were, they had gone to a lot of trouble to make him think he was in his own home. He would play into that for now. Analyze his assets. Contact Pepper. He would get out of this. He’d gotten out of much worse.
Trying to look extra pitiful, he shuffled out of the room and down the hall towards where the living room should be. He reached in his pocket marveling that his StarkPhone was still there. They had left him armed with a phone permanently connected to his own satellite network, which could be expanded to the size of a tablet with the capability of generating up to five holographic screens, and which had processing power that would make the IT guys at SHIELD blush. His kidnappers were morons.
The living room was tastefully sparse, but much less of a match than the bedroom. The windows in this room were also covered by blackout shades. Tony imagined this was to hide the fact that his kidnappers hadn’t sprung for an ocean view. There was a bar, though, and he could use a scotch. He was very aware of the person with jet black hair sitting on the sofa. He heard the soft click of a book closing as he entered the room. He very pointedly headed for the bar instead of facing the person directly.
“You got my house wrong, you know.” He said simply. Well so much for playing into their ruse. Sometimes Tony really could not control himself, “And if you hurt my car, you’re buying me a new one. I don’t even care if you add it to the ransom request; I’m just that nice. Want me to pour you a drink?”
“How delightfully familiar. I admire your lack of self preservation, Stark,” the man said smoothly as he rose from the couch and turned to face Tony.
His kidnapper was not a moron. Tony managed to sip his scotch with an almost practiced casualness.
“Your car is fine, and I can assure you that I have no intentions of asking for ransom,” Loki said, as he sauntered over and seated himself again on one of the bar stools across from Tony.
“So, you been busy? I’m sad you ditched the sexy muzzle, but I see that against all odds your hair’s gotten even flippier,” Tony quipped confidently, his earlier panic nearly forgotten now that he knew who he was dealing with. Nearly. Loki gave him only a small condescending smile in return.
“Are you going to kill me?” Tony asked seriously.
“If necessary, but it isn’t a part of the plan, no,” Loki said, icily calm, as he laced his slender fingers together and rested them on the bar. There was a pause as Tony waited for some kind of elaboration that would not come. He sighed.
“Maybe you’re new to this,” Tony said, “But let me give you a pro tip: this is the part where you tell me what you want in exchange for my freedom.”
“And then the part where you refuse valiantly and I break your will?” Loki asked sardonically. Tony’s breath hitched in his throat and his muscles went rigid. His panic was right there on the edge, dangerously close, and only just under his control. He couldn’t afford this right now. He tried to keep his face looking calm.
Just the subtlest hint of confusion clouded Loki’s face for a moment before his indecipherable calm returned. Damn, he had noticed.
“You’re right to fear me, Stark,” he snarled.
“Oh spare me,” Tony said through clenched teeth, pleased that he sounded confident despite himself, “I’ve had sex with people scarier than you, Reindeer Games—it isn’t you I’m afraid of.”
Loki stared, his face unreadable though less predatory. He’d seen the fear and now he didn’t understand it. Good. Tony intended to play his hand close to his chest when it came to the god of tricks and lies. He held Loki’s gaze and sipped at his scotch.
“Yeah, I know,” Tony said after he grew impatient with their staring contest, “Maybe I’m deeper than I look, or maybe I’m an infinity pool and it’s all just clever framing. You’ll never know. This is good scotch, and I don’t think you stole it from me. You have good taste.”
“In booze, I mean. Not in people you murder or people you pick fights with…or helmets,” he added as an afterthought. Loki finally spoke after that, rising as he did so.
“Something as crude as torture will not be necessary as long as you remain complaisant. I want nothing from you or your people that I have not already gained at this point. You have free reign of this building and everything in it, but do not leave it,” the narrowing of Loki’s eyes was the only indication of the threat in that last statement, “The device in your pocket will not transmit or receive any signal here, so I hope you don’t waste your time trying to remedy that fact.”
“And how long do you plan to keep me here?” Tony hazarded. Loki did not answer. Instead he spun quickly, his cape sweeping with flourish, and disappeared.
“Diva,” Tony muttered. He drained his scotch and poured another. He pulled out his phone to confirm that, no, in fact it did not have any signal from traditional cell towers or directly from Stark satellites. He was officially off the grid.
Loki probably had done his research and knew of Tony’s tendency to hole himself up in his workshop for long periods of time. Loki probably thought he had a good three weeks before anyone (okay, not anyone. Pepper and Rhodey and maybe Bruce) started to question where he was. If Loki juggled the cars, jets, or suits from one house to the next, he probably thought he could stretch those three weeks to a month or a month and a half. Loki was probably feeling pretty secure about this.
Tony would have chuckled but he wasn’t sure Loki was really gone and he was unclear if he was being monitored somehow. Instead he strode slowly out of the room, hoping that the layout at least matched his Malibu house. He was pleased to discover that it did. He quickly found the sliding glass doors that lead out to what looked like a balcony in the dim moonlight. He hesitated before opening the door. No leaving the building.
“Hey, the balcony is a part of the building. I know, I designed it. This doesn’t count as leaving,” He announced loudly. Maybe Loki had been heard. Maybe not. But Tony felt cocky enough to open the door and step into the cool night air.
He had thought right: there was no ocean outside. The air was very still and he could make out what appeared to be an expanse of field beyond the edge of the balcony. The tiny sliver of moon did not offer much by way of light. But Tony didn’t need the lights. He looked up at the sky and that was enough. The moon was reassuring. It meant he might still be on Earth. But someone as careful and as clever as Loki would include that in a grand illusion, and he didn’t know what moons the other ‘realms’ had. He needed more proof. After a quick search, he located the only constellation he actually knew how to identify—Orion. It was late September and Orion was a winter constellation in the Northern Hemisphere. Loki was careful, but the trouble of getting even constellations correct would have taken a great deal of effort without a clear pay-off. Simple cost/benefit analysis showed that would be a waste of energy and thus the stars were most likely not faked.
Tony was still on Earth. He smiled. Big mistake, Loki.
Tony didn’t sleep that night. He investigated. The house was very similar in appearance and contents to his own house. The most striking difference was that it was sparser. None of Pepper’s beloved art, no embellishments, not even much color—it was all strictly utilitarian, which made sense. He was a captive and he was lucky to have any luxury. This prison was not designed to make him feel the comforts of home. There was no basement at all, and thus no workshop or garage. Workshops were his safe haven, and he felt slightly adrift without his. Even in Afghanistan he had been imprisoned in a workshop. Not only was it discomforting, but it made things a lot more difficult.
After the examination, he began taking stock of any and all items he may be able to put to use. This meant technology of any kind at all. He was surprised that there were any household appliances in the place at all, but there were enough that they would be very useful. He was almost giddy when he found a charger cord for his phone. Now he wouldn’t have to make one from various other items.
He hesitated to put the coffee maker on his list of usable items. He didn’t and instead made coffee. He was unsurprised to find the grounds exactly where he kept them along with a small bag of whole roasted beans and a grinder. He added the coffee grinder to the list.
He was shocked when he finally noticed the television in the living room. His surprise only increased when he turned it on and discovered there was cable. Loki probably thought feeble human minds could not survive without their petty mortal distractions. He traced the line from the cable box to perhaps use the connection to transmit a rebound signal and hijack a satellite. There was no line from the cable box besides the power cord and the coaxial cable connecting it to the TV set.
He had magic cable TV.
He spent the rest of the first night writing code on his StarkPhone and accidentally trying to talk to a JARVIS who wasn’t there.
He remained glued to his phone well into the next day. Occasionally an illusion of Loki would flicker into existence across from him. When teleporting, Tony knew, Loki simply appeared or disappeared. The illusions tended to flicker like the ones had in Stuttgart. Tony wondered if the flickering was to let him know that they weren’t real or because Loki wasn’t putting a whole lot of effort into them. They were no doubt there to check up on him and that didn’t require much effort, he imagined. Tony glared at the first two as they appeared and then ignored them completely and continued working on his code. The third came shortly after he threw the code up on a holographic screen to allow it to compile.
Tony sneered at it and went to get more coffee and maybe spike it with something harder. Loki studied the code on the holo-screen as it raced past his eyes.
“What do you want from me? I’m being good!” Tony shouted at it from the kitchen.
“My abilities allow me to understand every language in all of the realms,” Loki said as Tony re-entered the room, “but this is positively incomprehensible. You have not moved in hours for…this?”
Tony was slightly confused by Loki’s extension of normal conversation, but did not let his confusion show on his face.
“You don’t understand it because it’s not written in human. It’s written in computer. And, this chunk of code has not taken that entire time. I’ve been working on quite a few projects.” Loki eyed him suspiciously, and rightly so since Tony was indeed up to no good.
“Hey, don’t give me that. I’m the head of one of the largest corporations in the world. Contrary to popular belief, I do actually work sometimes. I didn’t anticipate getting kidnapped this week and I have things I need to do,” Lying to the god of lies. Tony preened inwardly when Loki didn’t pry further. That didn’t mean Loki bought it, but it was a small victory.
“Show me the others,” Loki demanded. Tony rolled his eyes but did not protest. He tapped the screen, splitting it into three and showing Loki the two other files of code. One was almost pathetically short. One was long but nowhere near the length of the one currently compiling. Loki stared at them for a long moment before muttering something like, “Amazing, it makes absolutely no sense.”
“Why are you surprised? Does Thor understand your little spellbooks?”
Loki shot him a venomous look though his voice betrayed no emotion, “My brutish brother is a moron. I am not nearly so piteous.”
“Oh, did I steam roll over that sore spot?” Tony deadpanned cruelly, “Let me just walk delicately around your bullshit emotional baggage while I remain trapped for an indefinite amount of time in a freakish copy of my own house.”
“What scares you so much about torture, Stark?”
“You can fuck right off,” Tony snapped.
The illusion flickered out of existence.
On the second day, Tony hardwired his phone to the television’s audio. He recorded Steve Rogers’ first public interview in the 21st century. SHIELD had finally authorized it and they had made it a priority to get Steve prepared culturally, intellectually, and mentally for the event. Pepper was an impeccable public speaking coach and she had offered her assistance. Of course, Cap was already fantastically motivational and the apple of America’s eye. He did not need much help.
As a childhood Captain America fan, an ally, and a friend, Tony wouldn’t let himself miss this.
A Loki illusion appeared midway through the interview. Tony immediately told it to sit down and shut the fuck up because Cap was on TV and he was kicking metaphorical interview ass.
Later that day, Tony dismantled the clock and temperature display on the oven in order to harvest digital chip controlling it and quite a few precious copper wires. Butter knives made terrible screwdrivers.
He slept that night.
The next day, Tony was nervous. He kept the banter with the Loki-clone babysitters characteristically curt, but as minimal as possible. Sometime today would mark the 72-hour point since his kidnapping. More importantly, sometime sooner than that would mark 72 hours since he had interacted with JARVIS.
Because of the recent massive changes happening in his life, Tony had programmed JARVIS to alert Pepper and Rhodey when he heard nothing from Tony, with no logical explanation, for 72 hours. If neither Pepper nor Rhodey stopped him within 2 hours of that alert, JARVIS would systematically notify national and international organizations that Tony Stark had been kidnapped. SHIELD was first on the list.
By 4pm, Tony was sure that JARVIS had alerted Pepper and Rhodey. Pepper was no doubt checking Stark Tower and maybe the Stark family mansion in New York (which he never went to) while Rhodey searched the Malibu house. JARVIS would assert that not only was Tony not in the States, but that the GPS in his phone was nowhere to be found. They would alert SHIELD and there would be a massive clusterfuck of government organizations trying to find him and hush this up all at the same time by 5pm. The question was: when would Loki find out?
By 6pm, Tony was almost twitchy. He wanted to start tearing apart hardware and constructing the rough devices he had already designed in his head. He wanted to help SHIELD find him. But he if he did anything suspicious, Loki would see it as the escape attempt it actually was. Tony couldn’t lose the entire carefully constructed insane game of chess. He waited.
At 6:05, Tony actually ate something.
At 6:37, Loki appeared, grabbed Tony roughly by the neck, and slammed him into a wall.
By his instant appearance and corporeality, it was clear that this was the genuine article and not just one of his illusion babysitters. By how bloodied and bruised Loki looked, it was clear that he had probably hadn’t been having the best day. The crazy look in Loki’s eyes told Tony this was just the icing on the shit-he-had-to-deal-with-today cake. The grip on his neck quickly and steadily tightened.
“You would really put yourself in such jeopardy to risk a rescue from those simpering morons at SHIELD?” Loki hissed, livid with rage, “What have you done?”
“—I…didn’t…fff—,” Tony choked before lifting his leg up and kicking Loki squarely in the chest. He didn’t put a lot of effort in it and it didn’t even make Loki flinch, but the message was received. After a moment or two of hesitation, Loki released his grip and Tony dropped to the floor. His breath came back pretty quickly, but this was going to suck later.
“I didn’t contact them. Check your fucking spells or whatever. I haven’t tried to bypass anything. I haven’t built anything. You miscalculated. I—”
Loki glared fiercely, but said nothing as Tony choked on his next sentence.
“I have people,” Tony began again even despite the difficulty, “Who give a shit about what happens to me, and I let them without trying to kill them all the time. Check mate, motherfucker.” Tony stopped to focus on breathing. Loki considered him angrily for another moment before his composure returned.
“You are incorrect, this was not check mate.” Loki said as though nothing significant had happened. Apparently he had believed Tony, or didn’t find a breach in his magic security pressing enough to deal with. Loki waved his hand and the TV clicked on.
“Check,” Loki said before he vanished.
Tony moved towards the TV, running his fingers lightly over his neck. It seemed to be raw footage from a SHIELD security feed. On the monitor, Nick Fury was bitchily interrogating him. Him! Tony Stark! Right there, in that tiny room being asked why he triggered every false alarm in the nation! The fake him looked up at the security camera—right at Tony—and smiled.
Chapter 2: The Few, The Proud
Tony spent the next few hours screaming at the TV whenever he could choke out a sound. How could none of them see that wasn’t really Tony? It flawlessly convinced them that he had been off on a three day bender, during which he lost his phone. And Fury just bought it! For god’s sake even Fury should know that ‘losing’ or breaking a phone doesn’t disable a GPS chip. But no one who talked to the fake Tony seemed to want to go through the effort of poking holes in the story.
SHIELD delivered it to Pepper in true get-this-sack-of-shit-off-my-doorstep fashion, and the feed shifted and he was watching through the cameras littered around Stark Tower. So much for his better than state-of-the-art security. Fucking magic.
Pepper hugged it when she saw it and Tony wanted to punch the screen. She stepped back, and put her hand on its chest—right where his reactor was. Pepper looked momentarily astounded, then suspicious, and then in an instant covered it all up with very purposeful and artfully crafted rage.
“Anthony Edward Stark,” she yelled at the fake him, “What would your father think if he knew about this little stunt?”
It gave her some sort of noncommittal blow-off apology that was completely out of Tony’s character before Pepper stormed away from it. Tony didn’t see that, though, because he had jumped up and was silently cheering. She knew. She had ‘full name’ed him and talked about his dad in one breath and the fake him hadn’t even flinched. She knew. SHIELD was a stupid sack of shit, but Pepper knew the truth.
He turned off the TV and began the lengthy process of tearing it off the wall and dismantling it.
There was no babysitter illusion that night. Tony was only able to work for short bursts before moving his neck became too painful and he had to stop. He was glad Loki wasn’t around to ask questions when he cracked open the cable box and upload one of his programs into it. It would try to use the magic cable signal to override the corresponding satellite long enough to get a short message to JARVIS. The message read ‘Taken by Loki. Triangulate pos. and send Liam Neeson. Or do some assembling. No immed danger so don’t fuck up.’ There would be no way to know if it worked until the cavalry arrived, but it made him feel a little bit more confident about his chances.
If his neck was any indication, his behavior was not working from a strategic standpoint. Even though he had made no plays before SHIELD was notified, Loki still suspected him utterly and completely. Loki was very aware how capable Tony was. Being hostile toward Loki was only going to lead to more problems and more suspicion. Liars admire when the craft is wielded well, but there is nothing liars respect more than a capable person telling the genuine truth. Tony would know—he was a businessman. Not to mention, Loki indeed had him cornered. If the cable box transmission didn’t work, Tony only had one move and he had figured out that it had roughly an 86% chance of killing him if he tried it.
He spent the rest of the night laying on a couch trying not to move his head and strategizing. Or, rather, he spent the rest of the night trying to convince himself that there really wasn’t any other option.
When the Loki illusion dropped in the next morning and saw the scattered remains of the TV, it didn’t bat an eye at the perfectly reassembled cable box.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Bruce Banner, I think,” Loki said, approaching the couch where Tony lay.
“Stark smash,” Tony said, grinning. Then, “Wait, did you make a joke? I’m so proud of you!”
“This is quite odd for a human, what is it?” Loki asked curiously motioning towards the glow of the arc reactor under Tony’s shirt. Thus far in his captivity, Tony had made sure to wear layers and cover the arc reactor. After reconsidering his strategy, he put on a white button up (his neck was too sore to pull a t-shirt on anyway). This was probably the first time Loki had actually seen it.
“Another of your miscalculations,” Tony said without thinking. That statement was not only too hostile but was also tipping his hand a little too far, he amended it by adding, “It’s why you couldn’t mind-control me during your first attempt to rule the free world.”
Loki hummed thoughtfully, “You have a gift for lengthy statements that ultimately contain no information, Mr. Stark. Have you considered becoming a statesman?”
“Oh my god, you’re on fire today with the jokes! Let’s make a deal. I’ll tell you the whole story if you tell me how you went from Prince of Asgard to a psychotic daddy-hater. And I mean the true story.” Tony really shouldn’t have been pushing his luck this quickly, but he really was curious.
Loki looked dubious, but not outright against the idea.
“Think about it,” Tony said, “I know wanting to hear it is killing you as much as your story’s killing me. I’ll even let you see what it looks like.”
“Why are you suddenly so agreeable?”
Tony sighed. This was it—if this was going to work, there was no going back to hostile until he was freed. Was he sure? His curiosity won out.
“A little bit elaborately justified selfish curiosity, a little bit insane boredom. Also a change of strategy: I’d rather not cause a repeat of last night. My neck is killing me.”
Loki studied him, no doubt trying to see if he was lying or hiding something, but Tony had absolutely been telling the truth. Loki’s face softened minutely as Tony mentioned his neck, and he studied the fresh bruises there.
Oh my god, Tony thought, he regrets it! That actually made sense. As far as Loki was concerned, brashness and compulsive violence were beneath him. It certainly humanized him. Or at least made him seem less batshit evil.
“I had taken you for an impulsive hedonist, not a strategist,” Loki said simply.
“That’s exactly what I want people to think. In my experience, arrogance is always hiding something. I know mine is. I’m dying to know what someone who calls themselves a god is trying to hide.”
“I’ll consider it,” Loki said finally, before the illusion flickered away.
Tony spent the next two days alternating between coding, using the guts of the TV and his dismantled bluetooth to hardwire into the house’s electrical system, and running vocal analysis and synthesis programs on his phone. His babysitters looked equal parts interested and suspicious whenever they checked in, but did not stop him or ask about it. He remained friendly and civil with them.
When one of the illusions found him having a celebratory glass of that excellent scotch and starting a new (though not unrelated) project involving the chip harvested from the oven, it finally said something.
“You finished the other elaborate project?”
“Yep,” Tony said, “Works like a charm, too.”
“Show me,” Loki said.
“You’re not going to like it,” Tony said, his voice singsong, grinning like a cat who has eaten all the canaries.
“Show me,” Loki repeated simply.
Tony pulled up a holographic screen, initialized some code and pressed a button that said ‘run’. A dialogue box asking if he as sure appeared with a confirmation button that read, ‘Assemble’. He pressed it.
Nothing happened. Loki gave him a look which communicated very clearly that he was enjoying Tony’s failure. Tony set his glass down and stepped a little bit back from the counter he had been leaning on.
“Tony, get down!” Captain America shouted.
The Loki illusion’s eyes went wide before he disappeared and was immediately replaced by the actual Loki in full armor—looking significantly less beat up than last time. Tony had not moved. An explosion or two sounded elsewhere in the house.
“Tony, MOVE,” Steve roared. Loki whirled looking for the source of the sound. It was coming from…It was coming from above him. It was coming from everywhere.
Tony was almost on the floor laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.
“Jesus, your face!” he gasped, “MAYHEM, end protocols MichaelBay.exe and CryWolf.exe. Change voice library from Cap to default.”
“Done,” The ceiling responded after a moment.
Loki swore in roughly six different languages, only two of which Tony could identify, as his armor disappeared to wherever he kept it. This only made Tony laugh harder.
“What, I thought you trickster gods liked a good prank. Also you literally asked for it.” Tony ribbed, still chuckling as he straightened and picked his scotch up again.
“You are exceedingly lucky I do not kill you where you stand right now,” Loki said clearly relieved, and then thoughtful, “That was meant as a distraction. Why didn’t you use it to attempt an escape?”
“Originally, I had planned to.” Tony looked at Loki meaningfully and paused to let the gravity of that statement sink in. It meant Tony wasn’t actively trying to escape (which was true). This was the proverbial olive branch, and Loki could take it or leave it.
“How did you do it?”
“I made an artificial intelligence system for this place. It’s a lot simpler than the one I have at home, but it’ll learn pretty quickly and will do for now. With no network, there is no danger of him sending any kind of signal out of the house, so don’t worry. His name is MAYHEM, half because of the commercial I ripped the voice data from, and half because I thought you’d find it amusing. Say hello, MAYHEM.”
“Hello Mayhem,” the ceiling responded dryly.
“See,” Tony said cheerily as he took a seat at the table, “He’s already learned to be a smarmy little smart ass. Try again.”
“Hello, Loki. Welcome back,” MAYHEM said.
“Very impressive,” Loki said, taking a seat across from Tony and steepling his fingers, “There are very few people who have been able to trick me as successfully. Congratulations, Mr. Stark.”
“I do some of my best work when I have almost nothing to work with,” Tony said, tapping his arc reactor pointedly. “Have you considered my story swap idea?”
“I have,” Loki said, “It is not often people volunteer information to me willingly, and I think an outside perspective on the incident would be…well refreshing at least. I accept.”
“Alright,” Tony said, “You first.”
“Your insolence is astounding. I do not think so,” Loki said coolly.
Tony clicked his tongue at him, “I think you have to convince me your story isn’t all lies before I tell you mine.”
“You don’t trust me?” Loki asked, his voice thick with mock insult.
“You killed my friend, threw me out a window, tried to take over humanity, kidnapped me and are holding me indefinitely against my will while a fake me is out there probably ruining my reputation, business, and life, among other things. Of course I don’t trust you.”
“Smart man,” Loki said, smiling wickedly.
“You can either tell yours first, or you can bring the helmet back and let me wear it while I tell mine,” Tony offered.
“No, I’ll go first,” Loki said, unamused.
It took Tony three glasses of scotch and Loki two glasses of some sort of dark wine he conjured up to make it through Loki’s story. From what Tony knew of Thor’s banishment, it seemed accurate. For the most part, Tony listened silently, occasionally asking questions like, “What the fuck’s a Bifrost?” and “So the Asgardians just discount all Jotun because of some shit that happened forever ago?” and “Did your mom know about your plan, or did she just figure she could take your bio-dad and some assassins out all on her own?” Loki answered his questions graciously.
“…And then I let go, and fell in the nothingness between the realms for quite a long while,” Loki said, with finality, “Quite a long while.”
Tony stared at him.
“Apparently they had a funeral for me and everything. I’m sure it included much feasting and celebration,” Loki added darkly.
“You’re just leaving it there? That’s it? You didn’t even get to the Tesseract,” Tony said woefully.
“Not all tales can have you in them, Mr. Stark,” Loki chided, sipping his wine, “My time with the Chitauri and my second visit to Earth is a separate matter which you’ll have to barter for separately.”
“Alright, alright,” Tony said. He sat for a moment, digesting Loki’s story, “It’s too bad our dads never met. They could have drank too much and had a good laugh about how emotionally abusive, shitty, and useless they were as parents and how they loved just about everything else more than they loved us.”
“Which of my fathers?” Loki asked quickly.
“Both,” Tony said dryly.
“What did yours do to you?”
“Well he took Mom out with him, for starters,” Tony said, “But do you want to hear the Howard story, or do you want to hear the arc reactor story?”
“Oh do tell the second one, I can imagine the father issues more vividly than I would like. And you promised I could have a look.”
“Oh-ho, I should make you try a little harder than that to get me to take my clothes off, but I’ll be merciful.” Tony gracelessly pulled his t-shirt off as he spoke.
“No touching and no little magic scans of it or me—you’ll ruin the ending,” Tony said. Even with those ground rules, Loki was uncomfortably close as he studied the device. “Also, the triangle shape is an upgrade which became necessary later. Before the glow was more uniform and dimmer because the Palladium sub-mesh and core emit—“Tony petered out before he lost himself in shop talk. Loki leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtful.
“I can only vaguely discern that it’s an energy source, and that’s mostly from its name and the feeling it exudes,” Loki confessed, “and I have no idea why you would imbed such a thing in your flesh.”
From there, Tony launched into what ended up being a fairly somber retelling of the reformation of Tony Stark and the creation of Iron Man.
“Why did you take personal responsibility for all those people your weapons destroyed,” Loki asked at one point.
“Obadiah lied to me my whole life. A lot of people lied to me. I’d like to think if I had known what they were doing, I would have stopped them and then innocent people wouldn’t be dead,” Tony explained quietly. He often asked himself if that were true. For his own sanity, he told himself it was.
“It’s an interestingly abstract idea,” Loki said pensively, “I doubt it would ever cross the mind of an Asgardian or members of the other realms. The societies are very different in that respect—the crafter of Mjölnir would not lose sleep at night considering the blood it has spilled.”
“And that guy who made that staff of yours probably doesn’t think about it either, huh?”
“In fact,” Loki said darkly, “He might. But unlike you, he would probably be livid that it had not tasted more innocent blood.” Tony looked mildly horrified. “He has a sort of…fascination with death,” Loki added dismissively.
Tony continued past his final fight with Stane, and finished by mentioning that the reactor he made back then had started to slowly poison him.
“Hence the current shape, then?” Loki asked.
“Yeah, I had to have dad’s help with that one,” Tony admitted morosely, “I wasted my whole life before the arc reactor being an ignorant useless failure, and then the only good thing I ever created was unstable and toxic. I couldn’t even clean up my own mess without dad to save me. I’m just one huge disappointment after another.”
“Was he not dead at that point,” Loki asked after a long quiet pause.
“Yeah…” Tony tried hard not to complain about Howard for the new element since it had saved him, but old habits were hard to break.
Loki was looking at him expectantly
“What, you ended with ‘and then I fell into fucking space,’ and I can’t end my story with, ‘and then Stark Industries stock was down 56%, and not only was I a complete failure but I was also actually dying’ because that’s not fair?”
“I suppose you are correct,” Loki said, “In any case, I have stayed much longer than I anticipated and you seem to have had far too much alcohol this evening.”
Tony scoffed, “This? Nahh. This is any given Tuesday for me.”
“You should probably be more concerned about that then you seem to be,” Loki said as he stood up from the table. Tony winced. Asgard sounded like a ‘get drunk and beat things’ kind of world, and he didn’t need to be reminded of his drinking problems by someone who grew up in a place like that.
“That will probably be the title of my life story,” Tony responded dryly, “’Things I should have been more concerned about: an autobiography.”
Loki said nothing and vanished.
Tony spent much of the next two days wondering if he said too much to Loki. More importantly he was trying to figure out why he had opened up so much. He made a point of hiding his self esteem issues from…well…everyone. He was Tony Stark for god’s sake. But he had laid it all out there for Loki. He told himself if anyone in the universe would be able to relate, it was probably Loki.
He didn’t know if that was comforting or terrifying.
If the illusions were concerned that he spent the better part of two days silently draped over various pieces of furniture thinking, they gave no indication. He took breaks from sulking about to add scanning protocols to MAYHEM’s code and set him to collecting data from the surrounding area, pushing as far up and out as possible.
He was sprawled on the floor with his legs up on the couch when one of the illusions appeared. It greeted him politely and leaned against the back of the couch. Tony ignored it for a moment and stared at the ceiling.
“I’ve been thinking about your story and about you,” Tony said after a moment. The illusion murmured attentively, but said nothing.
“You didn’t want to win. Last time. You didn’t want to take over Earth or Humanity. In fact you wanted the Chitauri to fail.”
“’You lack conviction,’” Tony explained, “I saw the recording. The bit before Phil died. He wasn’t a stupid man. In fact I think he was more insightful than even he knew.
“You could have done any number of things to help the Chitauri win. More than that. Smart guy like you knows he can take over anything with a lot of carefully constructed circumstances and a tiny push in the right direction. Hell, one time I thought of a few feasible ways to become emperor of Earth in less than 30 days and that was just a statistical thought experiment.
“But I don’t think you lack conviction. Not entirely. Your fight has been bigger than Earth and your little family feud this whole time. What are you trying to fight all by yourself?”
No response to that came, and when Tony finally looked around, the illusion was gone.
When Tony finally dragged himself up, he compiled the raw data MAYHEM had found and added it and uplink codes which would connect MAYHEM with JARVIS to the chip he had harvested from the oven. Then he taught MAYHEM basic trigonometry and how to play checkers on a makeshift board with mismatched nuts and bolts for pieces (Tony had to move for both of them, but MAYHEM was an impressively quick study).
His illusion babysitters were quiet, infrequent, and didn’t stay long until they stopped appearing all together. After almost 16 hours without a sighting, Tony hardwired his phone to the magic cable box and threw the news up on a holographic screen. He figured maybe Loki was causing trouble or had even been apprehended again.
He wasn’t surprised that there was a disaster going on in New York. The reporter was quickly explained that some sort of huge robot was destroying buildings without any apparent discretion. It was unclear where it was heading, but the local forces and sparse turnout of government forces were not faring well. They took a moment to show the destroyed remains of Stark Mansion, now little more than half a house sticking out of a crater in the ground, with the tagline “Stark at it again? Accident or turncoat?”
That thing had crawled out from under his house? No, not his house. Howard’s house. Fuck.
“Loki?! What the fuck is this?! Is this you?!” Tony asked the empty house, doubting an answer would come.
The news people blathered about the Avengers beginning to arrive on the scene (sans Thor) along with an upgraded War Machine. Looks like Rhodey was taking over Iron Man duties—they really didn’t trust that fake Tony at all. Good for them.
Tony didn’t have much time to think about that as the chopper cam zoomed in on Stark Tower. It was trying almost in vain to focus on two people standing dangerously far out on the construction scaffolding set up for Tower renovations. One of the people was in armor, clearly Iron Man imitation stuff cobbled from various illegal sources. From the stance and the civilian look of the other person, it looked like the armored guy was roughly holding her as a hostage. As the camera managed to focus, he could see quite clearly that it was Pepper.
Tony lost it.
“Loki!” He roared, “I swear to god if you don’t get your bony ass in here right now—“ Tony stopped, his mind scrambling for a way to summon Loki. He found it immediately.
“Loki, Get here or I am going to fucking jump out this window! LOKI!” Tony started clawing at the shades as he screamed. He hefted a small table and slammed it through one of the enormous picture window.
On the screen, the news team was watching Cap and War Machine argue as Hawkeye and Widow tried to take down the huge robot with trip wires and strategic explosions. Cap was holding a finger to the mic in his ear. Tony couldn’t read lips, but he could swear that he saw Cap say ‘Pepper’. Rhodey’s stance was defensive. Were they arguing with SHIELD? Were they asking permission to save her? Bullshit!
Tony kicked some left over glass out of his way. The warm, dry air on his face would have been comforting at any other time but all he could think of was his desperation. He tried to script his fall in his head. If he landed correctly and didn’t break anything, he could recover fast enough to sprint away. He had no idea where he’d go, but he had to do something now.
“LOKI!” he roared again one last time.
“You have my attention,” Loki’s voice flowed coolly from behind him as Tony was yanked roughly away from the window.
“Do you know about this?!,” Tony was still shouting as he twisted to face Loki and pointed at the news on the screen, “Are you seeing this?!”
“Yes,” Loki said, his face subtly but uncharacteristically strained.
“You have to let me go! Some psycho has Pepper and Rhodey has only used that suit twice. He’ll get all of them killed without my help!”
“I can’t let you go.”
“Like fuck you can’t! This is a giant robot, a fake Iron Man, my mansion, my tower, my people. I am the target! I need to fix this! Let me go asshole.”
Loki said nothing.
“This is about your fucking plan you won’t tell me about,” Tony’s mind was racing and he was only getting more frantic as pieces fell together, “If I suit up and fight with the team, somehow it jeopardizes your plan. If that’s what this is, fine. You go! Save them for me!”
That broke Loki’s fucking composure. He looked quite surprised.
“If I am seen there, I will become the main target of not just SHIELD, but Asgard, and possibly something even worse than that. You think that anyone will care about your Pepper if they see me? It will only ma—“
“I don’t have time for your melodrama right now! I can’t lose them, Loki. They are my family. They are all I’ve got,” Tony yelled, his eyes stinging, “I have done nothing but cooperate with you—“ Tony cut himself off as he saw that any softness in Loki’s eyes had disappeared. There would be no yielding to his pleas. He had nothing to bargain with. Loki didn’t need anything besides Tony himself. Wait.
He idea struck Tony and it took less than a moment to unlatch his arc reactor and with a quick twist, he pulled it out of its casing. Tony held it about two or three inches from his body, far enough to see that it was only connected by half a dozen wires and nothing else. Loki stepped towards Tony reflexively, but stopped himself quickly.
“One tug and the reactor disengages. Another and the magnet comes too,” Tony hissed, “You go, I go, or I pull the plug.” This was crazy, but so was Loki and Tony was out of options.
Loki’s eyes were racing from Tony’s face to the reactor. Loki was weighing odds and trying to find a way out. Tony didn’t have time for him to find one.
“Go as me!” Tony practically screamed, “Get in the suit! Go as me!”
Chapter 3: The World's a Stage
Here's where messing with the Marvel-verse gets in full swing. Sorry for gratuitous mischaracterization which might come with molding and interpreting characters to fit the movie verse.
I have this story completely written, I'm trying to get it to all of you as fast as I can edit it. <3
"Go as me!"
Finally! Loki looked hesitant, but it seemed like he was considering getting in the suit to be an option.
“Faster! FASTER!” Tony yelled pulling the reactor further from his chest, “Clock’s ticki—“
“Enough!” Loki roared over Tony, “Yes. That can work. What do I do?”
Relief washed over Tony, but there was still no time. Just as fast as he had pulled it out, he popped the reactor back into its casing and it clicked into place. Tony rushed to the table and grabbed MAYHEM’s uplink chip.
“First,” he said, “Drop the signal scrubber spell. Don’t negotiate with me; if this is going to work, you need me and I need JARVIS.”
“Done,” Loki said after a moment and Tony shoved the chip into his hand.
“Now, take this. It will allow JARVIS to pinpoint us exactly and uplink with MAYHEM. Teleport to my shop in the Malibu House. When JARVIS asks for proof of identity authorization, tell him to scan the chip. He’ll tell you what to do next.”
Loki vanished. In the minute or so it took before JARVIS contacted him, Tony threw two more holographic screens up and minimized the news and placed it in the corner of one and muted it.
His phone rang.
“No formalities, JARVIS, we have no time.”
“It is good to hear your voice, sir,” JARVIS said using MAYHEM’s speakers. Tony’s throat tightened slightly but he pushed those emotions aside.
“Good to hear you too, buddy. I am sure you met your baby brother MAYHEM. I don’t want any bullshit from either of you. We’re going to need all the processing power we can get. JARVIS, does the Mark VI have independent secondary arc power installed? We need one that doesn’t run off my chest reactor at all.”
“Yes, sir, but the Mark VI is in the shop at Stark Tower presently.”
“That settles that, then. Get Loki suited into the Mark IV. Don’t compromise structure by factoring in his height. Give him my measurements and get him to shape-shift to fit. When he’s in, get audio to me and suit specs on the primary screen. While you do that, get me everything you have about the phony Iron Man and the giant robot on my right screen.”
Information flooded the screen.
“MAYHEM, you’re connected up to the satellite network?”
“Alright, time to try on your big boy pants. You’re in charge of the bot. Cross reference everything we’ve got on it with everything we’ve got on the personal and SI mainframe. Prioritize anything that ever crossed Howard’s desk and anything about the mansion. If we figure out why it was hiding there, we might nail it.”
Tony personally studied the data on the phony Iron Man. The colors on it were primarily white and a metallic chocolate brown. The helmet piece looked reminiscent of C3PO, which might have been fine for a galaxy far far away, but was a shit design as far as structural soundness went. “JARVIS, tap into SHIELD’s comm. link with this guy and start running voice checks against people affiliated with SI. Check and see if SHIELD already has an ID, that would be helpful.”
“How do you stay sane being wrapped in this much metal,” Loki asked. His voice sounded fuzzed with static, but it became clearer as the suit came online, “And how do you deal with all these things flashing in your face!?”
“That’s enough out of you,” Tony said quickly, “Do you think you could teleport in the suit? It’ll make life about a million times easier if you can. JARVIS, give me all the offensive and defensive suit readings on my left screen. Give him the ultra minimalist version.”
“Much better,” Loki said as his screen cleared significantly, “Yes, the suit shouldn’t hamper my abilities. What is your plan?”
“According to this data, the asshole in the fake suit has been screaming for me specifically. We’ve got to get Pepper and take him out first. Let SHIELD handle the big one until I can figure out what is. Can you get a couple miles away from Stark Tower? We’ll fly you in from there. JARVIS, let Rhodey know the plan. Don’t mention the Loki part, that’s too complicated. Just tell him I’m remoting the suit. Have him ready if we need back up.”
The suit didn’t react well to teleporting. Flight capabilities remained online, though, so at least they didn’t have to wait. As the rest of the suit's processes booted up again, JARVIS navigated Loki to Stark Tower. Loki’s flying was clumsy, but he was figuring it out quickly and JARVIS was helping a great deal. Tony spent the time coaching Loki on in-suit fighting strategy, explaining that it was primarily hand repulsors and dodging. Loki spent the time dismissing him calmly by explaining he was familiar with the method and was practiced in more than just hitting things with glowing sticks, thank you.
“Sir, we have a vocal match,” JARVIS announced when Loki was a mile out, “Subject is Ezekiel Stane. 96% certain.”
“Stane?” Loki asked, recalling the name as Tony swore gratuitously and dismissed the sudden communication attempts from SHIELD remote and the Avengers’ ground team.
“Obadiah’s son,” Tony explained. When would his past stop haunting him? “I haven’t seen him since I was, like, ten. Apparently, he’s missed me. JARVIS, patch me in to the suit’s external speakers. I’m going to do the talking.’
Stark Tower had been stripped down at least 10 floors for renovations in the months since the Chitauri invasion. In the time it took to get Loki there, Stane had relocated Pepper to the exposed top floor. Both of them were watching as Iron Man flew towards them. Loki landed hard and fell to a knee, but recovered quickly and stood with a grace that Tony could only occasionally manage in the suit.
“Tony!” Pepper shouted. She was still being held tightly in front of Stane as a human shield. She was smart enough not to look relieved and instead looked confused Iron Man’s appearance, “How—?“
“I’m not.” Tony said, the statement heavy with meaning which she picked up on despite the metallic tinge of voice through the speakers. Pepper fell silent.
“Zeke,” Tony said and hesitated. He had been so consumed with trying to get to this point, he only just now realized he had no idea what Zeke wanted, “You called?”
Inside the suit, Loki groaned. Pepper may have rolled her eyes, but she was too far from the suit’s external camera for Tony to tell. Tony would have snapped at Loki at least if Stane hadn’t started speaking in the lazily pretentious tone of someone who is about to have their cake and eat it too.
“What do you want, Zeke?”
“You killed my father, Stark!” Stane snapped, “Not just that, you destroyed his legacy. You and Ms. Potts, here. What do you think I want?”
“You don’t know the whole story, Zeke. You’ve been gone for too long. Let’s talk about this for a minute.”
“You expect me to stand here and listen as you tell me that my father was wrong? As you explain all of the reasons why he was evil? You act as though he shouldn’t have used the company he built to do whatever he wanted! You think that just because your name is on something that means it belongs to you?!”
“Pepper is not involved. She’s been just a pretty face for the cameras. Everything she’s done as CEO was ordered by me. Let her go, Zeke.” Tony was trying to speak as calmly and levelly as possible as he lied through his teeth. Pepper would kill him for that comment later when her life wasn’t on the line.
“Even if that’s true, I’m not going to stop with just you. I’m going to take out you, her, the board, and anyone else who has dared to run this company. I’m going to burn it to the ground and bring it back up as the unstoppable force he wanted it to be!”
Tony said nothing as his mind raced to figure out how to get Pepper out of the way and just shoot the asshole already.
“War Machine is 30 seconds away from Iron Man’s position,” JARVIS said. Rhodey was supposed to be on backup, but Tony wasn’t about to complain. He muted the external speakers. “Tell him to bring it in quiet and I’ll do what I can to make it easier for him. Loki get ready: fight’s coming.”
“Fine, Zeke,” Tony said slowly, “I’m right here. If you want to start at the top, here I am.” Loki accentuated Tony’s words by aiming his hand repulsors at Stane but pointedly did not fire. Stane let go of Pepper and raised his own repulsors in response. Unlike Loki’s, Stane’s repulsors flared with power. Pepper, however, was left completely unharmed when Rhodey landed hard behind Stane, lifted him completely off the ground, and slammed him squarely over an uninstalled metal support beam.
“Nice one,” Tony said opening a comm. link with Rhodey as Pepper ran behind Iron Man for cover.
“Good to hear you, Tony,” Rhodey said, “I would have gotten her out of here ten minutes ago but Captain America is a difficult man to sneak away from.”
“It’s alright now. It’s good to hear you, too, Rhodey.” Tony said allowing him a slight moment of relief before he was all business again, “If his suit is as shoddy as it looks, maybe his back is broken.”
“No,” Loki said, “Something is off about him. He doesn’t feel completely human.”
“Who was that?” Rhodey asked. Stane rolled himself off the beam and started to laugh as he stood.
“Uhh,” Tony deflected eloquently, “Bigger problems, Rhodey. Distract him for a minute while we get Pepper out of here.”
“Who’s we?!” Rhodey demanded loudly, firing repulsor blasts at Stane to try to keep him on the ground.
“Less talking more distracting!” Tony said, quickly muting that comm link as well. “Loki, grab Pepper!”
“And?” Loki said, picking Pepper up easily and taking off, “If I transport her with magic, the armor fails.”
“We’ve got to risk it. Flying her somewhere will take too much time and it doesn’t look like anywhere in Manhattan is safe right now. Go down to one of the lower floors so no can see you disappear.” He flipped on the external speakers again meaning to warn Pepper not to freak out, but instead he said, “I can’t believe the first time you get taken hostage is while I’m kidnapped. I’m building you a suit when I get out of this.”
Just as Pepper was about to respond, she and Loki disappeared. Immediately they were in the living room of the Malibu house. Pepper seemed more than a little stunned. Loki set her carefully on one of the sofas so that she wouldn’t have to try to stand up.
“Sorry,” Tony said to her as quickly as possible, “It’s a long story, and there’s no time. Love you. Stay safe. Loki, get us back now.”
Iron Man disappeared.
“JARVIS.” Pepper said after a short silence.
“Did he say Loki?”
“JARVIS estimates the offensive capabilities will be back up in,” Tony glanced at the counter on his screen, “53 seconds. Lay low. Rhodey can prob—“
“No he can’t,” Loki cut in abruptly as he took off. As the external display came back online, Tony was able to see what Loki had somehow known. Stane had Rhodey pinned to the floor. With one hand, he was crushing the armor on Rhodey’s forearm while his other hand was pointing his repulsor directly at Rhodey’s faceplate. Tony only saw for an instant, though, before the secondary thrusters on the Iron Man suit were activated and Loki rammed into Stane at roughly 200 miles per hour. They tore through a semi-completed wall and hurtled through half of a nearby building before Loki let go of Stane and hit the brakes hard. The drag flaps sprung up on the back of the suit and Loki started to double back to Rhodey’s position as Stane continued to hurtle away uncontrollably.
“JARVIS, did you do that or did he?” Tony asked, impressed.
“I did, and you’re welcome,” Loki said the smirk on his face practically audible.
“Son of a—. How have you been in there for, like, five minutes and are already this good?”
“That didn’t sound like ‘thank you’” Loki mocked.
"Thank you for saving me mysterious stranger who Tony lets pilot the Iron Man suit instead of me then lies about it,” groaned Rhodey. Clearly the communications network was back online.
“You are very welcome. Stark could learn a thing or two from you,” Loki said as he landed and helped Rhodey off the ground.
“Pepper’s safe,” Tony said, ignoring them, “What did we miss, Rhodey?”
“His repulsors are insane, Tony. I haven’t seen anything like them. It’s like they’re running on their own power separate from the suit.”
“Stane is inbound. ETA one minute,” JARVIS announced.
“It’s because they are independently powered,” Loki said, “Remember when I said he doesn’t feel human? Those energy blasts are organic. The suit is powered by his own body.”
“Magic?” Tony asked.
“Unlikely, but I can’t identify it,” Loki admitted, sounding slightly annoyed. Tony didn’t know if it was because he couldn’t figure out this enemy or if he was upset Tony had placed magic on the same level as whatever this was. Tony ignored his tone.
“MAYHEM, start running scans on Stane. Tell me what he’s running, pronto. Go as deep as you can: I’m talking cellular structure if you have to. Boys, Stane is no longer priority. We need to get information from him about that big robot and incapacitate him. Just get him out of the way.”
“Capture?” Rhodey asked as he readied his shoulder mounted Gatling gun.
“Unlikely,” MAYHEM said.
“Probability, considering known factors, estimated at 15%,” JARVIS added unhelpfully.
“Thank you, peanut gallery,” Tony snapped, “Capture isn’t a priority, but my birthday’s coming up and you know how much I like presents.”
“Your birthday’s in March,” Rhodey said, earning him a quick laugh from Loki.
“Fuck off, Rhodey,” Tony said. Stane had re-entered their view and within seconds Rhodey had him targeted and started peppering him with bullets. Loki attempted to deflect the super powered repulsor blasts Stane fired with his own.
Meanwhile, Tony examined the data MAYHEM had compiled on the huge robot. The only documents mentioning it dated back to the ‘40s and referred to a secret project listed only as Project Arsenal. Apparently Arsenal was the fail-safe of all fail-safes since Howard had been expressly instructed not to activate it unless the allied invasion of Normandy failed.
Stane ripped Rhodey’s Gatling gun from his shoulder and used it to bludgeon Loki a few times before Rhodey shot Stane’s knees out from under him and he fell to the floor. Loki quickly crushed the thrusters on Stane’s boots, hopefully grounding him, and stomped hard on the side of Stane’s head. With Stane pinned, Loki kept his repulsors aimed at Stane’s face and heart. Rhodey did the same.
“Give up, Stane!” Tony’s voice crackled through the external speakers.
But Tony hadn’t spoken.
“Fucking trickster god imitating my fucking voice,” Tony muttered, too annoyed to be surprised, and then louder added, “Don’t screw this up, Loki” Under the helmet, Loki was probably rolling his eyes.
“’l’ll never give up,” Stane growled, “Even if you stop me, nothing can stop your daddy’s ruthless little toy. That robot is everything you should have been, Tony. Everything our fathers wanted you to be. It will rain destruction down on this city and nothing can stop it now.”
“I don’t suppose you care to explain,” Loki said frigidly, using Tony’s voice.
“No, I—“ Stane started, but Loki stomped down hard on Stane’s helmet. Then again he stomped. And again and again until there were visible cracks running across the metal’s surface.
“Don’t kill him!” Tony shouted.
“Sir, according to our scans, Stane’s body is more than 50% metallically enforced or completely metal including his skull and spine,” MAYHEM reported.
“Good to know,” Loki hissed with his own voice as he continued to crush Stane. The venom dripping from those words made Tony shiver and remember for a moment who he was letting drive around in his baby.
“Turn the crazy and the bloodlust down a few notches, alright?” Tony warned, “You guys beat him up. Rhodey, make sure no one dies. I’ll figure out this Arsenal thing.”
Tony muted himself from Loki and Rhodey’s links and got JARVIS to patch him directly into the Avengers’ ground team communications.
“Hi guys,” he said, for lack of a better way to make his presence known.
“Tony!” Clint was the first to roar over the background noise, “Where you been, asshole?! We need you here!” A thick snap could be heard over the comm. as Clint fired an arrow, “And where’s War Machine.”
“He ran away to help me rescue Pepper from a crazy dude I used to know with bionic enhancements. I hear you guys weren’t letting him go.”
“Enough, Tony,” Natasha said, diffusing the argument before Tony could properly start it, “This thing is relentless. It’s decimated five square blocks already—buildings, electric grid, water lines, everything. There’s no stopping it. Tell me you have a plan.”
“Working on one. Cap, this is important: Do you remember anything from the war days with Dad about a project Arsenal?”
“Not that I can recall,” Steve said, his voice sounding strained as he continued to fight on the ground, “What is it?”
“I think you’re fighting it,” Tony said, pausing as his mind raced.
“Howard made this?” Cap asked sounding at once aghast and achingly tired, as if the news wearied him to his very bones. Somewhere in the background, Hulk roared.
“Do you remember anything Dad said about what he would do if we lost the war?” Tony prompted gently. It was a stretch but…what else was there to try?
“All of the guys used to say they would rather see the whole world burn rather than see the Nazi’s rule it,” his breath came in rasps and his voice was heavy with the weight of his words, “Howard and I included.”
“Fuck,” Tony and Clint said at once.
“How do we stop it, Tony?” Natasha asked, ever practical.
“I have some ideas, but we need to be there. Try to slow it down, guys. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
“Tony,” Steve said quickly before Tony switched the comm link off, “Is Pepper alright?”
Tony almost didn’t answer him. Deep down he knew it was not Cap’s fault they didn’t try to save Pepper; it was the bureaucratic dumb shits at SHIELD who gave the orders. That didn’t mean his team’s inaction didn’t hurt. Tony managed to let out a curt, “Yes,” before shifting his focus back to Rhodey and Loki’s fight.
Apparently Stane had broken free of their hold. Stane’s suit was looking worse for wear. It had lost external plating in countless places, one of his gauntlets was completely gone, and the cracks in the helmet had spread across the entire surface. Loki was dodging repulsor blasts skillfully and only occasionally hurling counter blasts. The video feed from Rhodey’s suit was completely black.
“Rhodey, you okay?” Tony asked, teetering on the edge of frantic.
“Getting there,” Rhodey groaned slowly, “System’s rebooting. Playing dead.”
Stane scored a hit, slamming Iron Man into one of the few walls left standing and swiftly pinning him there. He held his bare hand in front of Loki’s faceplate. To Tony’s surprise, Stane’s hand began to glow white—charging.
“What, he can fire without a gauntlet?”
“You don’t listen well, Stark,” Loki snapped as he pumped his flight thrusters to launch them both off the ground enough to destabilize Stane, following up with a swift downward kick to Stane’s collarbone. Stane crashed into the concrete. “I told you they are powered by the energy in his body. I think his armor is keeping it in his control, actually.”
“Christ, we need to stop Arsenal, we don’t have time for this freak,” Tony said, “Rhodey, you up yet?”
“Twenty seconds,” Rhodey reported exasperatedly. Stane was still motionless on the ground, but all readings indicated it wouldn’t last long.
“JARVIS, how much power can we spare to for the unibeam without compromising any suit functions?”
“Considering the secondary reactor and disregarding emergency power, 120%, sir. Full charge can be achieved in 30 seconds if emergency power is compromised.”
“Oooh, you sure know how to treat guests, JARVIS—juice it up. We’ve never tried it over 90%, let’s hope it’s still stable. Rhodey, get ready to slam that fucker down hard once the unibeam hits him.”
“Uni-beam?” Loki sounded much more offhandedly curious than appropriate considering Stane was slowly rising from the floor. Rhodey’s video feed flared back to life on Tony’s monitor.
“Loki, face him, keep your arms down, and brace yourself. This baby’s got a little kick to it.”
“Ready,” Loki said.
“Fire in 5…” Tony began. “4…” Stane was getting closer and surer in his footing. “3…” Rhodey was up and ready to lift off. “2…” Stane lifted both his hands. “1…” Stane’s charges were almost too bright to look at as he readied them to fire. “NOW!”
An enormous blue-white beam erupted from the suit’s arc reactor. The force of it knocked Loki to his knees. He held position, but only barely. The blast didn’t just hit Stane—it engulfed him completely forcing him off the edge of the building and into the air over the street. After a few seconds, Rhodey was in the air after Stane. As the blast finished, Loki almost fell over but caught himself. Tony could clearly see that Stane’s armor was so hot it glowed crimson and in some places molten metal dripped off him to the street below. Rhodey was above him in an instant and slammed him down with all the might War Machine had to offer. After the dust settled, Stane lay neatly in his own little crater in the middle of the street. He didn’t move.
“A little kick to it?!” Loki gasped.
Rhodey let out a low whistle, “Mine can’t do that, Tony, damn.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Tony smirked, “If he survives that, he’s going to need a new suit and probably a new hand. But play time’s over. Get to the Avengers. Daddy’s made a mess and I’ve got to clean it up.”
Chapter 4: Thank Everybody
In the distance, thunder rolled long, low, and deep like the growl of a vicious beast. Cap and Widow looked up as the two men in battered armor touched down near them. An enormous black funnel cloud had developed over the Arsenal unit. Lightening within the cloud flashed menacingly.
“Who called Thor?” Widow asked.
“Can we even do that?” Tony wondered aloud. He thought Thor was beyond SHIELD’s reach in Asgard.
“Summoning him is hardly difficult,” Loki snarled, acid dripping from every word, “One simply must draw Heimdall’s gaze to Midgard and Thor will be slobbering all over himself to come here.”
“Will this break your cover?” Tony asked, concerned that Loki would retreat from his brother before Arsenal could be stopped.
Thor appeared then from within the cloud. He took only a moment to examine the situation from the air, his cape whipping violently in the wind, before he careened hammer first into the Arsenal unit. It brought the robot to its knees and left a small dent, but did almost a pitiful amount of damage considering the power behind the attack.
“Perhaps,” Loki said, sounding considerably brightened by Thor’s failure, “I’ve made a fool of him with much less masking me. Then again, he has caught me when I have been much better hidden. We will have to see how observant he feels today. In any case, I would rather not prolong this.”
“You sly dog, you’re testing him,” Tony laughed and tried to sound reassuringly confident, “I don’t plan on this taking long, but don’t think that means it’ll be easy.”
“Cap,” Tony continued on the Avengers comm. link, “I need everyone distracting that thing big time, and Hulk with me on it’s 6. I’m going to try Howard’s overrides to see if we can shut it down.”
“You heard him team. Widow, can you fill Thor in and get him a headphone?” Natasha ignored Steve’s incorrect terminology and rushed off towards Thor. Steve turned his attention to Iron Man, “Tony, coordinate your plan with Hulk. He likes you.”
Loki laughed so loudly Tony was worried Steve might hear it through the faceplate, but Steve just readied his shield and ran into the fight.
“You guys didn’t give Hulk a comm. unit?!” Tony complained, more loudly than necessary.
“Got one,” Hulk said in all of their ears, still managing to sound not completely unlike a growly and menacing Bruce, “Just don’t like it.
Much to SHIELD’s chagrin, Tony didn’t dance around Bruce or the Hulk like he was a time bomb. Tony also insisted on giving Hulk a lot of credit in the intelligence department that many didn’t think he was due. They didn’t talk shop, but Tony didn’t talk down to him—Bruce was still in there, and Tony didn’t condescend to Bruce. It might get him killed some day, but Hulk seemed to respond well enough to Tony because of it.
“It’s okay Big Guy,” Tony said, “Are you willing to tear some shit up with me?”
“Nothing works,” Hulk said, obviously pissed he hadn’t been able to damage the Arsenal unit yet.
“Yeah, well, we haven’t tried me yet,” Tony said, “We’re going to use the repulsors to heat up the outer plating, then on my signal rip out a nice door for me to hook in to its wiring. Sound good?” The explanation was as much for Loki’s benefit as it was for the Hulk’s.
Loki murmured his approval as Hulk roared his. Thankfully Hulk switched his mic off first. He could work the thing better than Steve could, and SHIELD really thought he wasn’t intelligent?
Thor was exceedingly good at causing a flashy distraction. As the rest of the team threw everything they had at Arsenal, Loki tried to keep up with its movements as he blasted at the back plating.
It did absolutely nothing.
Against JARVIS’ advice, Tony pumped up the repulsor to 150% capacity. Still nothing.
“Do you have another plan?” Loki asked.
“Yeah, but you’re not going to like it,” Tony replied wearily.
“Show me,” Loki said. Tony could hear the smile on his face.
“No, this time you really won’t,” he immediately switched to the Avengers connection and said, “Thor, hit me with everything you got.”
“What?” Loki and Thor both bellowed in unison. At any other time, Tony probably would have laughed.
“You are my teammate and my friend, Tony, and no mortal would surv—“ Thor continued to protest.
“Thor!” Tony interrupted forcefully, “Don’t ask questions! Just shock the suit!”
Thor spun his mighty hammer a few times in quick succession before an enormous lightning bolt shot down from the sky engulfing the Iron Man armor in whiteness. It knocked Loki to his knees in an instant, but was over just as fast as it happened.
“Power levels peaking at almost 700%” JARVIS reported dutifully.
“Put it all to repulsors, JARVIS,” Tony said.
A moment passed and another as Iron Man remained immobile. Electricity crackled and jumped from joint to joint across the armor searching for purchase. If the suit had looked beat up before, it was practically horrifying now. Anyone on the team who wasn’t actively fighting started to look very concerned. Thor especially was heading towards Iron Man with an almost tortured look on his face.
Tony crossed and uncrossed his arms impatiently. “Loki, I can see your vitals and I know that didn’t even hurt very much. Whatever’s going on in your head snap out of it and get a move on!”
As Loki finally rose, then, flexing his fingers experimentally. The rest of the team snapped back to the fight. The look of relief on Thor’s face was indescribable, though it was shadowed with clear confusion. Loki quickly took off after Arsenal, deftly avoiding Thor.
With quadruple the power going to each repulsor, the back plate finally started to give in some areas. Loki carved at it like a fine sculpture.
“Now!” Tony shouted after the panel was sufficiently weak. It didn’t stand a chance against Hulk’s raw power. As soon as the opening was large enough, Loki darted into the electronic guts of the robot itself. JARVIS helped him hook the suit directly into Arsenal’s processing lines. Tony’s screens flooded with information.
“Okay, MAYHEM, start running every override sequence we have on file for anything Howard ever made. JARVIS, figure out what’s controlling this thing since it clearly wasn’t Stane.”
“There is a separate command unit known as Mistress. According to Arsenal, the command unit was never brought online. It is safe to assume that unit is still located under Stark Mansion. Without the directive of the command unit, it is following an automatic protocol called Scorched Earth. It will not stop its path of destruction unti—“
“Yes, yes. Thank you,” Tony interrupted, “Focus on how to disable the program. Anything?”
“It can be disabled by directives from Mistress. It may also respond to a vocal command if it can identify the source as Howard Stark. No other override sequence is registered.”
“Loki, did you hear that?”
“Yes, but I’ve never heard your father’s voice. I can’t imitate it,” Loki said, catching on to Tony’s train of thought immediately.
“In addition, we are only hooked into Arsenal’s program data. We would not be able to deliver a voice command directly into the unit’s CPU,” MAYHEM reported.
“Loki, how long would you have to listen to a recording of Howard to get the voice down?”
“For something this simple, not long. But you want to transmit the voice through your speakers?”
“You’re inside a giant robot. No one is going to hear a couple words said in Howard’s voice.”
Loki hesitated, “You are incorrect,” he said slowly.
“Just play the voice and tell me what to say, Stark!
“You heard him, JARVIS. Just tell it to abort the Scorched Earth protocol and to disable.”
Tony couldn’t hear whatever section of tape JARVIS played for Loki. After almost a minute he heard his father’s voice coming from Iron Man, which left him with a horrible taste in his mouth.
“Arsenal, end protocol Scorched Earth. Disable until you receive further instruction.”
The Arsenal unit stopped moving abruptly and there was a long pause. Everyone held their breath.
“HOWARD ANTHONY WALTER STARK—VOICE MATCH CONFIRMED. VOICE COMMAND CONFIRMED.” And then Arsenal, which had caused so much uncontrollable destruction, went dark and toppled over backward with a deafening bang.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away, Tony cheered.
Hulk lifted the enormous carcass of the robot long enough for Iron Man to clamber out of its innards and crawl out of the way. He pulled himself to his feet as the Avengers gathered around their fallen foe. Clint, Natasha, and Rhodey (who had popped his visor) looked relieved. Thor looked intensely confused for someone who had just won a battle and Steve…
Steve always wore his heart on his sleeve, and he looked as though he had been viciously betrayed.
“Iron Man,” Steve said, trying to sound calm, “How did you do that? How did you sound like Howard?”
“Also enlighten me, my friend,” Thor boomed, “How did you survive a lightning strike that would have felled or knocked the consciousness from any mortal, armor or no?”
Tony was speechless in the face of their accusations. Loki simply said nothing. Before Tony could gather himself and generate a respectable lie, Rhodey stepped deftly between Loki, Steve and Thor.
“Leave him be, guys,” Rhodey said levelly, “This man has just risked his life multiple times to save not only Pepper, but my life, all of New York, and probably more than that. You shouldn’t be questioning him. You should be thanking him.”
Rhodey’s speech only served to make Natasha and Clint look suspicious.
“Lift up your faceplate, Iron Man,” Steve said carefully, “And then all of this just goes away,”
“There is no need,” Thor said before anyone else could respond, “I know of only one person so resilient whose talents lie in maintaining disguises and imitating voices.” Thor gently shoved past Rhodey and approached Loki who gazed at him tensely though the helmet.
“I will allow no harm to come to you, my brother,” Thor said clapping his hand on Loki’s shoulder gracelessly.
Before anyone could blink, Clint deftly notched and shot an arrow directly at Loki’s head. Equally fast and without seeming to be inhibited by the armor, Loki caught the shaft of the arrow and twisted out from under Thor’s hand. Loki hurled the arrow straight up and away from himself, shooting it with a quick repulsor blast, causing it to explode above the group harmlessly.
“What the hell are you doing, Clint?!” Rhodey shouted, popping his faceplate back down. Thor and he were in battle stances once again despite Rhodey’s insistence on maintaining his lie.
“If you’re Loki, then I have an arrow that should be nock deep in your eye socket,” Clint hissed. It was clearly taking all of Hulk’s little self control not to tear apart all of his teammates indiscriminately just to alleviate his confusion.
“Stop it,” Tony hissed over the external speakers, “When Pepper and Rhodey came to you all and told you I was kidnapped, what did you do? When a fake me appeared and started acting weird, what did you do? When Pepper and Rhodey insisted that it wasn’t me and I was still missing, what did you do? When Pepper was taken hostage by a violent super villain, what did you do? Nothing. That’s what you did. Fucking nothing.
“Well guess what? I’m still kidnapped and I put my life on the line to clean up this shit, which was mostly my fault, and what are you doing now? You’re putting me in even more fucking danger because even now you don’t trust me. Thank you Rhodey, fuck the rest of you. I’m not even going to count on you saving me because you’re just going to spend the next month debating whether this was one of Loki’s tricks or not. So fuck you ahead of time for that. I’ll get out of this on my own just like last time. Enjoy the terrible press you’re going to get because Clint just almost killed the entire team.”
Just to Loki he added, “We’re done. Get out of there.”
Then, despite being surrounded by six super heroes, Loki vanished.
Chapter 5: Like it Ain’t No Thing
An instant later, Loki stood next to Tony. He practically ripped the helmet off his head, but couldn’t manage to disengage it. Tony helped and as soon as it was free Loki hurled it roughly to the ground.
“Look,” Tony started then sighed, “I can’t possibly thank you enough for what you just did for me.”
“I believe you have out maneuvered me,” Loki responded purposely frigid and emotionless motioning to Tony’s screens still littered with information, “I can’t stop you from escaping. SHIELD will be able to locate you within minutes if they have not already. I can do nothing to keep you here at this time unless I resort to violence. You win.”
“Okay, if you’re going to go back to being like that, you can sit down and shut up. We need to talk,” Tony snapped.
“JARVIS,” Tony continued without pausing, “If SHIELD is looking for me, stop them. Encrypt the phone’s signal and scatter it, then do it again seven or eight times. Use MAYHEM’s signature so they don’t know it’s us. Has Pepper had you give her my location yet?”
“Yes, sir, though she has not done anything with that information yet. She is watching battle updates and yelling at Agent Hill.”
“Tell her Rhodey’s too damaged to come out and we don’t like SHIELD right now. Oh, and tell her if she gets taken hostage twice in one day, she’s dead to me. So she better not try coming to get me herself.”
“MAYHEM, disconnect from the satellite network. JARVIS, disconnect from this location.”
“Sir, I d—“
“No backsass, JARVIS. Just do it.” It was more for show than anything if Loki didn’t put all his signal scrubbing spells back in place. It did, however, give them some time without immediate threat of the party being crashed.
There was silence as Tony turned away from his screens. He was surprised to find Loki actually had sat down and was giving him a mildly questioning look. Tony sat across from him and for the first time actually looked at Loki wearing his armor—his baby. After the emotional roller coaster of the day, Tony couldn’t help but laugh.
“What?” Loki asked, significantly less amused.
“I can see why you favor green,” Tony said still chuckling, “Fire Engine Red really isn’t your color.”
Loki looked down as though he had forgotten he was wearing the armor, and laughed briefly as well.
“It was a great deal of fun to play with, but I don’t think it’s something that would grow on me.” Loki paused and regained his composure, though it was less stoic than it had been before. “You want to talk, let us, then. You have extended a great deal of trust to me, Tony Stark. You have told me your weaknesses physically and mentally. You have allowed me to use your armor, your intelligence, and your weapons. You have allowed me to get extremely close to the people you love, and you have essentially let me infiltrate the Avengers.
“Now, when you have basically been given permission to escape, you have remained. I am not so naïve as to think you have done this completely freely, or you have done this without a personal agenda. What are you seeking to gain?”
“I have already gotten what I wanted out of this—you haven’t killed me or tortured me, and you saved Pepper and Rhodey, and you even helped me save the world from Dad for once. I have gotten more than enough,” Tony explained “But,” he added sighing, “You took a great strategic risk in doing that to your mysterious bigger plan. If I am correct, you are trying to protect a lot of things with that plan—Earth and maybe even Asgard included.”
Reluctantly, Loki nodded.
“Well, I want in. I owe you…a lot. And I don’t want the Earth put in danger because of my screw ups again. Let me help you.”
Loki looked like he was considering it very carefully. He leaned back in his chair which groaned under the armor’s weight.
“What makes you think you could be of use to me?”
“Please,” Tony scoffed, smiling, “What couldn’t be improved by adding a genius billionaire to the planning committee?”
“More importantly,” Loki said, his expression becoming intensely serious, “Involving yourself in one of my schemes on this scale, as you have no doubt realized, is extremely dangerous for a mortal such as yourself. I will not be able to ensure your safety, your sanity, or your life should you in fact agree to this.”
“My sanity?” Tony asked. He had expected the danger, but sanity was not a factor he had considered.
A dangerous hiss crept into Loki’s calm voice as he said, “You are not a stupid man. I know you have seen how frayed I am at the edges. You have been through a great deal, but I doubt you can even imagine all that has happened to me since I fell from Asgard.”
“Point taken,” Tony said carefully, “I will accept the consequences. I want to help you.”
“I accept, then,” Loki said with finality, “You can start by getting me out of your toy before I rip it off.”
“That’s going to be a problem,” Tony said apologetically, “I don’t have the tools here to remove it by hand.”
“You do at your home?” Loki asked.
“There’s an automated system at home—It’d have you out in a snap. What are you thinking?”
“If we are working towards the same goal, I can assume you won’t do anything rash to put my plans in jeopardy,” Loki explained, “And what better place to hide from SHIELD than exactly where you should be?”
“I like how you think,” Tony smirked as he grabbed the Iron Man helmet and collapsed the holo-screens into his phone, grabbing it as well, “Shall we, then?”
Removing the suit from Loki was a larger ordeal than Tony had made it out to be. Because of the significant damage dealt to during the battle, some parts were more difficult than others to remove. Some collapsed plating Tony had to remove by hand. However, 15 minutes after they had arrived in the shop at the real Malibu house, Loki was back to his full imposing height and rolling his shoulders gratefully.
“Miss Potts has finished her call with SHIELD. I alerted her to your presence as well as Loki’s, sir,” Jarvis reported solemnly.
Loki folded his arms and leaned against one of Tony’s work tables with the expectant air of someone waiting for a show to start. Tony had time to sneer at him before Pepper was running down the stairs to the shop and punching her access code into the door.
“Honey, I’m home!” Tony said holding his arms out to her. She ran to him, heels clicking harshly on the concrete floor, and hugged him fiercely. Both of them were very aware of the arc reactor pressing into her collar bone—she knew it was really him this time. She let go and shoved him hard.
“Where have you been?!” she snapped.
“Kidnapped! I was kidnapped! Ask him,” Tony protested, motioning to Loki and giving him an if-I’m-in-trouble-you-are-too look.
“Yes,” Loki said succinctly and, to Tony’s annoyance, added no further explanation.
“And?” Pepper demanded, looking between the two of them, “Now you’re not anymore?”
“Well,” Tony hesitated, “Not really. We’ve come to an agreement: Loki’s trying to save the world, and I’m going to help him.”
“Jesus, Tony! Are you kidding me? Why are you believing anything he says? Do I need to add Stockholm’s syndrome to your laundry list of issues? He’s a god of lies, Tony; he is, by definition, a damn good liar.”
“No offense,” She added apologetically in Loki’s direction.
“None taken,” he said brightly.
“And thank you for saving me today…and for not killing Tony,” she added almost as an afterthought.
“You are very welcome, Miss Potts, It was my pleasure,” Loki said, giving her a slight but graceful bow. He looked like he was thoroughly enjoying this. Tony was not amused.
Pepper looked back at Tony impatiently.
“That’s just it, Pep,” he said after a moment, “Even if he sits here and lies to my face about this, I have to help. I owe him—I owe him you and Rhodey. You know how huge that is.”
Pepper said nothing, but studied him intently for a very long moment.
“Will you let me do this?” He asked quietly. She let out a long heavy sigh.
“I have never been able to stop you from doing something stupid,” she said, “Not when you seriously want to do it and especially not when you think it’s the right thing to do.” He opened his mouth to say something but she silenced him quickly.
“I’m going back to New York, though. I’m glad I know where you are, but I will go insane if I watch you and a super-villain plot to put yourself in danger again. I will micromanage your little fight with SHIELD until they admit we were right and they still love us. I’ll also keep Rhodey off your back, but you are going to owe him big time. Please please please please call me before you disappear again or get yourself killed.”
He started to speak again, but after she saw the expression on his face, she beat him to the punch.
“Yes, I promise to answer this time.” He smiled at her and she kissed him quickly.
“Now that the Mansion’s totaled, can you get moving on those Avengers renovations that the historical society rejected?” He asked quickly before she could leave. They were both sick of Stark Tower being destroyed every time the Avengers were needed.
“Already started making calls,” she said as she turned and clicked towards the door.
“Also there might be another giant killer robot under the other half of the Mansion.” he added, “Tell Fury that’s not my problem!”
She waved dismissively as she left the room, “I’ve got it covered! Go save the world, Hero.”
“You complete me!” he shouted affectionately as she disappeared up the stairs.
“I know!” he heard her shout back. He turned towards Loki who was smirking slightly.
“You,” Tony said coolly, “Have a lot of explaining to do.”
“The Chitauri are not a smart people. Resourceful, but not smart. As you saw, for however brief an instant, they live on a small, cramped, frigid world lost between realms. The only reason they were capable of such feats as locating the Tesseract, attacking this realm, or even capturing and attempting to control one such as myself is because of their leader.
“Because of his capabilities and my contact with him, I can not speak his name without drawing his attention. Because you have piqued his interest by destroying the Chituari army and surviving a fall between realms as a mortal, the same applies to you as well. He is known to many as The Overmaster, and we can safely refer to him by that title.
“No, Stark, I will not write his true name down for you. I am not going to risk your safety, my safety, and the safety of both Midgard and Asgard. Preventing him from gaining the Tesseract bought time and I will not see that undone even if by accident. Do not ask again.
“Do not underestimate how much I absolutely sincerely mean what I am about to say. When I say The Overmaster is powerful, it is because he possesses power even beyond the wildest fantasies of Asgardians. When I say he is ruthless, it is only because he is a conqueror, a warlord, and a tyrant who has not ever believed in mercy. The Overmaster does not simply bring Death—he worships Death. He loves Death. And she, in return, lends him her power.
“Yes, Mistress Death is not only a concept. She is also a being herself. She and those in her employ escort the dead to their resting places. She loves all that draws her attention and The Overmaster has done so more than any other individual throughout all of time thus far.
“To stop The Overmaster from conquering and murdering all realms and all beings, we must break this unholy bond he has with Mistress Death. That is the goal we are working towards.
“Since the Tesseract has been returned to the relative safety of Asgard, I have been working to stage a conversation with Mistress Death herself. I have spoken with, bought, or otherwise disposed of most in her employ who would attend to deaths which occur in the space between worlds. The way is clear, though I have yet to come up with a feasible way to summon her there.”
“Besides killing someone you mean,” Tony pointed out. It was the obvious answer, and he only mentioned it to be sure Loki had eliminated it as a possibility.
“Mistress Death attends to the dead. She does not make a habit of conversing with those doing the killing. The Overmaster is an exception in that case and has earned her favor through centuries of worship and an immense body count.”
“Hmm,” Tony murmured pensively, “But she speaks to the dead and dying?”
“Indeed, and it is quite an ordeal to get to that point for one such as myself,” Loki said.
“Would you have to stay dead?” Tony asked.
“Would you actually have to die? Or is it possible to cheat Death?” Loki stared blankly at him. Tony rephrased his question, “Could you come back at the last possible moment?
Loki waited for Tony to elaborate, but by the look on his face the trickster was already putting the pieces together. Tony humored him.
“For all intents and purposes, what I have here is an on/off switch,” Tony said tapping his arc reactor pointedly, “Albeit a very risky, time sensitive, and painful on/off switch. If we take the reactor out, would she appear while I was dying, or only after I was dead? If it’s during, then we could pop the reactor in and bring me back.”
“As far as I know, if the person accepts their demise, the harbingers will appear after the fact. If the person is fighting against it, they will aid in the transition. I will have to verify this, but I think this idea is…sound. It is also possible for me to enter your mind and aid in the conversation.”
“It’s as simple as that, then.” Tony said with finality, “And you said you might not be able to use me.”
“Once again I am astounded by how little you value your own survival,” Loki said seriously.
“I said simple, not easy,” Tony pointed out.
“Still, I am hesitant—you don’t seem to be able to convince me that you value your life. How will you convince Death herself?”
“Yes…well…don’t you worry about that. I have been stubborn and belligerent my entire life. I’m not going to stop any time soon.”
Loki disappeared for almost two days to consult someone he seemed to consider an expert on the whole Death thing. In the interim, Tony took some new x-rays of the shrapnel in his chest. With JARVIS’ help, he mapped the pieces within +/-.001mm and they charted the rate at which each piece would move towards his heart without the magnet in place. The readings were based on scans from the surprisingly numerous times the reactor had been removed in JARVIS’ presence. According to Tony’s calculations, he would have 7 minutes and 34 seconds before the closest shard of metal wormed its way into his superior vena cava and straight into the right atrium of his heart.
He spent the rest of his time producing another non-Palladium based reactor. No matter how confident he was in the current reactor, it was always good to have a fail-safe.
As he finished the still labor intensive process of manufacturing his new element, JARVIS alerted him that he had a visitor.
“Not a good time, JARVIS. Besides we’re laying low. Say no one’s home.”
“Sir, she is in the living room already. She entered via unknown means. Based on MAYHEM’s collected data of your captivity, I would venture to say she is a non-physical projection.”
“And it’s not somehow Loki?”
“At this time, it is impossible to—“
“Alright alright,” Tony sighed and pushed up his welding goggles. The element was complete and stable, so technically he didn’t have to install it at the moment. He looked horrible, though—He was covered in sweat, grease, and metal shavings and he was wearing an old wife beater an even older pair of MIT sweatpants. Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember the last time he had slept either. The last thing he needed now was a visit from an Asgardian.
‘Oh well,’ he thought as he wiped on his hands on a rag which may or may not have made them dirtier, ‘might as well own it.’
He was mildly surprised to find that the thin woman in his living room gazing at his fireplace was not covered from head to toe in leather and/or metal. Instead, she wore simple albeit it tight black slacks and black heeled boots. The rest of her attire was covered in the deep green cloak which draped intricately over her torso and hooded her face. When she looked up, he noticed that in addition to the hood, the upper half of her face was covered in a black mask which was vaguely butterfly shaped (if butterflies were sharper more menacing). She looked very young, late teens maybe, but Tony reminded himself that he couldn’t be sure with immortals.
“Good evening,” she said politely, “I apologize for intruding without notice, but I fear it could not be helped.”
“Not at all,” Tony said smoothly. There was an odd feeling in the back of his mind as he spoke to her. He wasn’t sure if it was familiarity or fear. “I am sure you probably knew who I was long before coming here, but I am Tony Stark.”
“That is true, but I appreciate the sentiment behind a proper introduction,” she said bowing to him slightly, “I am Hela Lokadóttir. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Tony returned her bow and used the time it gave him to dissect her surname.
“Loki did not mention he had a daughter,” he said, “It is a pleasure.”
“No I am sure he didn’t,” she said, and after seeing Tony’s pained look added, “It is not out of neglect or shame on his part. Others in our family don’t share his affection for me, and until recently he did what he was told. For the most part, at least. His secrecy is now more out of habit and strategy than anything else and I do not begrudge him his methods. So, please do not look so concerned, Mr. Stark.”
Tony nodded his understanding. He was slightly surprised that she was so forthcoming considering who her father was. “What can I help you with?” He asked.
“Well,” she said, and paused, “My father often has a hard time conceptualizing the value of mortal lives. It is another unfortunate result of his upbringing. He has been consulting with me in regards to contacting Mistress Death. I came to make sure you truly understood and truly consented to his plans.”
Tony sighed quietly, rubbed at his eyes, and motioned to the sofa, “Please have a seat,” he said, “I can tell this conversation won’t be an easy one.” He had forgotten that she was only a projection, and rather than remind him she humored him. Hela sat on one end of the sofa, exuding more comfortable confidence than even the great Tony Stark could manage. He sat on the other side, sitting cross-legged with his back leaning against the arm rest so he could face her completely.
“Excuse my ignorance,” He began, “But I assume you’re immortal as well. How do you understand mortality in a way he doesn’t?”
“When I was young Odin Allfather decreed that when I came of age I was to rule over Niffleheim, the realm of the dead. I am not completely sure if this was to hide me from Asgardian eyes or to punish my father for siring me. Nevertheless, I was trained from a young age to be able to do so by other harbingers under Mistress Death’s command. I wasn’t raised Asgardian and so don’t share their callousness towards mortality.”
“For someone called the Allfather, Odin seems to be complete shit at being paternal.” Tony said before he could help himself.
“You have no idea,” Hela said, laughing slightly.
“Death herself doesn’t rule Niffelheim?” Tony asked, changing the topic from her family before he said something that didn’t go over quite as well.
“Mistress Death has her own intricate plans, and ruling an entire realm is certainly not part of them.”
“So I have heard,” Tony said pensively. Everyone always had a personal agenda and immortals seemed even worse about it than humans. He continued, “To answer your questions simply—the plan to use me as bait to speak with her is my plan and I do understand it. I have consented fully. I’m a mess emotionally, but I’m going to do it.”
“Please do not feel pressured to forfeit your life,” She said honestly, “I have told him not to encourage anything you don’t wish to do and not to unduly influence your decision. The politics and power struggles of the realms and the space between is complicated and in many cases unfair, but unfairness is one matter and flagrant waste of life is quite different.”
She was not going to be convinced easily. Tony was silent for quite a while as he thought of a way to phrase his complex thoughts on his situation.
“We have a great deal of myths on this world,” Tony started, “The only mythical figure I ever cared about was Sisyphus. While he was alive, he was this horrible, selfish, jerk which is probably why I liked him. When he died, he outsmarted Death not once but twice. The first time, he chained the god of Death up and nobody on the planet died until some other god got bored and unchained him. The second time, he tricked the ruler of the underworld to send him back to yell at his wife one last time. Then Sisyphus just didn’t go back until they forced him to. The king of the gods was finally pissed off enough at that point to punish him. He was doomed to push an enormous stone up a huge hill, always failing right at the top, and repeat the task forever.
“Most of the time, we use Sisyphus as a metaphor for how life seems not only difficult but meaningless. But I hate that interpretation. The first time he chained up Death, no one could die. This seems like a dream come true for us mortals. But the reality is that life without death is what is truly pointless—it is life without growth, without knowledge, without risk, without responsibility. It is nothing. The first time he cheated death, Sisyphus learned what it really meant for his actions to have consequence. Life, the way he had been living it, was meaningless and he could finally see that.
“But, as I am sure he realized by the second time around, life is also meaningless without people. He used and lied to people his whole life and never actually cared about anyone. The second time he cheated death, he essentially did it to see his wife again—to actually spend time with the people he loved instead of just using them as means to his own ends. The second time he cheated death, he learned what it meant to appreciate the people around him.
“I like to imagine he ended up happy. I imagine he gets to the top of that hill and watches the stone roll down, and for a second he can stand at the top and think about how it parallels his own life, and each time he accepts the task—he accepts himself, the good and the bad.
“The way I see it, Sisyphus’ story is my story. I have not been the best person. I have not even been a great person for most of my life. I’ve seen that. I’ve accepted that. I have the benefit of picking what stone I want to roll up the hill. I chose to try to help humanity. It’s an impossible and maybe even pointless task, but I chose it. I have to find satisfaction in the little triumphs. When I fail and have to start over, I have to accept that, too.
“I’m scared. I am smart enough to know I can not even begin to fathom how scared I should be. I know I might not come back. But I have been scared before. I have faced death before. I know that helping humanity is more important than all of that. It’s not a task I would want to be easy, without the risk it would be meaningless.
“…So, as you can see—I’m a mess and I think too much, but I have completely agreed to this. I know what I am doing, and I am going through with it no matter what.”
Hela listened attentively to his speech, and nodded slowly as he finished.
“You have convinced me, Tony Stark. I will help my father finish his preparations,” she rose gracefully from the sofa, “Thank you for your time and for being so frank with me.”
“Thank you for being so concerned for my wellbeing.”
“I wouldn’t say that so quickly,” Hela said, “I am beginning to hope you do not survive your meeting with Mistress Death.”
“Oh?” Tony was genuinely surprised. She had been so civil up to this point, this shift was very odd.
“If you perish in this way, you will join me in my realm. If you live, you probably will perish bravely in battle, and then you will join your fellow warriors in Valhalla. I would much rather have you as my ally than my grandfather’s.”
“Well, hopefully I’ll live for quite awhile and die as an old man in my bed,” He said, smiling slightly at her backhanded compliment.
“A word of advice,” she continued, “Be very cautious of what you say. Deals made with Mistress Death are both literal and binding to both parties. Beyond that, though, Mistress Death does not pride herself on being fair.”
“I understand. Thank you.”
“If you survive, please give my uncle my love,” she added, her eyes flashing mischievously and Tony could see her father in her after all, “I have not seen Thor since I succeeded the throne of Niffelheim. I would very much enjoy a visit from him.”
“I will, in turn, ensure that King Sisyphus receives your regards. He will be pleased to know that there are those who think so highly of him. May fortune smile upon you, Mr. Stark; you will need it.”
With that, she turned away from him and was gone.
Loki returned the next day looking practically eager and announced that his preparations were complete. Tony—“What? No I wasn’t sleeping. Of course not.”—jolted upright in his chair. Then he proceeded to insist that their preparations were not complete.
Loki needed practice removing and replacing the arc reactor.
Tony walked the equal parts interested and annoyed Loki through the exact assembly housed in his chest. The circuitry was simple. The reactor was the only part an average grade schooler couldn’t assemble themselves and Tony had set that up already. Even though Loki understood it quickly, Tony went through each component part and what it did anyway. Then he forced Loki to assemble, disassemble, and re-assemble the circuitry from scratch components holographically. Then he laid the new reactor and the component parts in front of Loki and had him assemble it physically.
Loki waved his hand slowly over it and the circuit assembled itself.
“Very good,” Tony said, “Undo it.”
Another wave and it was component parts again. Tony tossed a small Phillips screwdriver unceremoniously on the table.
“Now do it without magic.”
Loki grumbled but complied. Every time he took longer than 6 minutes to tighten the tiny screws connecting the copper wires to the reactor, Tony would lean over and shout, “I’M DEAD” very loudly in Loki’s face.
“You’re enjoying this far too much,” Loki complained as he began again.
“Yeah,” Tony said grinning as he sipped a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label that had appeared on his doorstep with a note that read: I know you’re in there. I can’t help if you don’t tell me what you’re up to. Clint says he’s sorry and wants you get your panties out of a bunch and come back to the team. –The Humm-Drumm-Vee. Rhodey really did love him.
“But,” Tony continued, “I’m not going to let you stick your hands in my chest for nothing.”
“I met your daughter,” Tony said conversationally after it looked like Loki might finish within the time limit this try.
“Oh?” Loki asked, not even pausing.
“She was lovely. All of your charm and flair with none of your penchance for lying or throwing me out windows.”
“Simply because you did not notice any lies, does not mean there weren’t any.”
“Or maybe it means she didn’t lie to me.”
“Believe what you like, Stark. Nonetheless, I am pleased she made a good impression on you. Judging by her newfound helpfulness yesterday, I gather you made an equally good impression on her.”
“I have to assume so since she wanted me to die dishonorably in order to join her.”
“That is unsurprising. She is young and new to power, but she is already quite the political strategist. I believe she is trying to conquer Valhalla, though she hasn’t said as much to me.”
“She also told me to tell her uncle Thor to come down for a visit,” Tony offered.
Loki began to laugh and his time limit passed long before he was finished.
It didn’t take long for Loki to master the reassembly process on the replacement reactor. After that, Tony turned his office chair into a makeshift surgical bed. He had done this so many times since becoming Iron Man it was almost shameful. He also switched his drink to vodka and placed it nearby. He needed some of that icy Russian courage because even if this was successful it was going to feel weird and might hurt like a bitch. He pulled his shirt off and clambered onto the makeshift table under the impossibly bright light.
“This is not necessary,” Loki said.
“Yes it is,” Tony said, “I won’t have you screwing up just because you get freaked out by a little coolant like Pepper did. Not to mention it’s worth more than all the money I have to actually see you nervous.”
“I am not nervous.”
“Sure you’re not, champ. Now, we’re not going to take out the magnet because last time that happened I had a heart attack. Just in case, You is on defib and Dummy is 20 feet away behaving, right Dummy?” There was a whir somewhere satisfactorily far behind him. They were ready.
Tony talked him through how to unlatch the reactor from its casing, and Loki tried unlatching and re-latching it once experimentally before carefully pulling the reactor out of its casing. Tony explained the components again while in their proper habitat, probably going into too much technical detail. He shared the horror story of when Pepper changed the reactor. Loki listened attentively, but his expression seemed oddly strained as though he were somehow conflicted. He traced the wires to the plastic connector housing which he held carefully between his slender fingers.
“When we do this, the best case scenario is you unhook that connection, and then you hook it back up when we’re done talking to her,” Tony said emphasizing the fact that would be the best case scenario, “For now, just unhook it and rehook it so you know what it feels like. Simple as that. Then we’re done.”
Loki did nothing. He just gazed from the reactor to the connection with that indescribable look on his face. Whatever he was conflicted about was getting worse. Tony had been so worried about trusting Loki he hadn’t even considered that Loki might not trust himself. Tony started felt panic slowly rising up in him. He tried to quell it but all he could think was, ‘My heart is sitting in Thor’s psycho brother’s hand and I am asking him to pull it out.’
“Now would be a really bad time to tell me that all of this has been a really elaborate ploy to kill me,” Tony trying and failing to make it sound like a joke. More moments passed and neither of them moved. If Tony hadn’t known better, he would have sworn he felt the missing weight of the reactor. It was agonizing.
“No,” Loki finally said as he carefully placed the wires and the reactor back into their places, “That’s enough. We are both ready.”
Later, Tony dutifully tried to convince Pepper of the same thing. Neither said it, but both were almost positive that Tony wouldn’t be coming back.
Chapter 6: And the End is Near
Loki’s space between realms was small, flat, and cold. It was a smooth, metallic, grey platform floating in the black and purple patchwork of space which seemed distinctly unreal to Tony. Occasionally another enormous chunk of the same type of material would float lazily by.
“Where are we?” Tony asked, more than slightly awestruck.
“This is where ancient peoples would dispose of dead stars before they realized dying stars could be used to craft weapons. It was a suitable location for my purposes and I thought you might find it particularly…fitting.”
“Yeah,” Tony said, mirroring Loki’s slight smirk, “Dying in a graveyard for stars ain’t too shabby.”
Loki seemed overly cautious as Tony settled himself on the ground. He reminded Tony that he may try to establish a mental connection, and to be careful not to waste time. Finally Tony stopped him with a sharp, “Enough, mother.”
“You are sure?” Loki asked meaningfully, his long fingers resting on the exposed reactor. This was Tony’s last chance to back out.
“Oh for Christ’s sake, just do it already,” Tony barked. Quite unceremoniously, Loki twisted the reactor free, lifted it from Tony’s chest, and unhooked it.
His body knew what was happening before the pain kicked in. Within seconds he had broken out in a cold sweat. The stabbing, crawling, violating pain was just as he remembered. That did not make it any easier. Loki maintained his overbearing air of calm. That is, he maintained his calm until Tony started sporadically convulsing and clawing at the unyielding stone beneath him.
“Stark, fight it.” He muttered, grasping one of Tony’s hand and squeezing in an attempt to offer some outlet for the pain. The gesture was as futile as his attempt to maintain his implacability.
Tony blinked, and suddenly Pepper was leaning over him opposite Loki. She held his other hand gently and whispered, “Let go, Tony.”
Pepper’s appearance was not surprising. Everything he ever heard about dying said that you saw loved ones. This was probably Death trying to make it easier by having the person closest to him urge towards the end. Frankly, Tony was pretty insulted that she had bothered to get Pepper so perfect (even the faint dusting of freckles on Pepper’s nose were exactly correct) but had failed so miserably to imitate who she truly was—Pepper would never tell him to die. Not ever. Not without a fight.
“Lady Death, a word please?” Tony said through gritted teeth. His pain amplified his impatience effectively making him sound as though he were scolding a child for doing something impossibly dangerous. Loki followed Tony’s gaze with a concerned expression, but it was clear that even if he may feel the presence, he could not see who Tony was speaking to.
Death gazed at him with Pepper’s eyes for an instant more before she gazed at him with no eyes at all. She stood slowly, carefully, regally. Though she was still conspicuously female, she also seemed formless under her deep purple cloak. Though she seemed to have distinct facial features, all Tony could see under the hood was an eerie humanoid skull. Death loomed over him.
Everything stopped, and at the same time nothing stopped. Tony felt divided. Half of him continued to feel agonizing pain, the other half felt an icily unsettling nothingness. Death peered at him questioningly even as she remained completely expressionless.
“I’m here to ask you to stop helping The Overmaster.” It felt foolish to use such a title in this situation, but Tony reminded himself that if anything could make this worse it would be an intergalactic mass murderer’s involvement. Loki’s eyes were closed, he looked pained. Tony felt another presence in his divided mind. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but he welcomed it.
Tony did not hear so much as feel Death’s response. She was mildly offended by his impudence, but after reconsidering she seemed almost proud of his bravery as one of her mortals. None of that was an answer, Tony noted.
“Does he truly mean to eradicate all life?”
Affirmation. Pleasure so intense she practically radiated it.
“Doesn’t that mean you won’t—“ Tony stopped as a new volley of painful spasms wracked his body, effectively halting his thoughts. When he was able to, he finished, “—you won’t exist anymore? What is Death without life?”
Death seemed mildly vexed by the idea but unsurprised. This was not a revelation. Rather, it was a problem she had previously spent time considering. He felt her mood shift, communicating that it had nothing to do with him.
“Thanos loves me,” she said, actually speaking aloud. Her soft voice was not weighted with any emotion. It was a simple statement of undeniable truth.
As soon as Tony though of his response, he heard Loki protest—a hissed whisper deep within his own mind, “Stop. Don’t—”
“Do you love him?” Tony asked pointedly.
Death looked at him as though this thought had never crossed her mind. Tony continued as she considered.
“Does he make you happy? Not just empowered, but actually happy?”
This made her angry. She made it clear that emotions such as happiness and love were useless to an entity such as herself. Simple petty distractions for mortals and those that falsely consider themselves immortal.
“Did you have a different plan besides prying into Mistress Death’s love life?” Loki’s voice sounded almost frantic in the back of his head. Tony’s mind raced, considering everything Hela had told him.
“What about a deal?”
“The Overmaster has seen what we mortals, your mortals, are capable of with the Avengers. We do not give up and we do not fail even against impossible odds—”
Loki’s panicked insistence that he stop at once was deafening in his head. Coupled with the violent convulsions his body was wracked with and the relentless pain, Tony was barely able to finish speaking. Somehow he continued with carefully worded intent.
“—If we face him and prevent his conquest of humanity, will you remove your influence from him and his armies?” Tony wasn’t sure if he was breathing any longer.
“And the Asgardians who ally with you?” Death countered, looking pointedly at Loki.
“The definition of humanity has never been restricted to biology or home world. Any person, Asgardian, mutant, or other who allies with the Avengers has proven their humanity. You can not ask us to deny our allies just as we will not deny the Overmaster his.”
Time must have been up because Loki’s eyes snapped open and he positioned the reactor to reattach it. He hesitated only because he knew Death was still carefully considering.
“I accept.” Death said. Loki immediately jammed the connectors back together.
“But,” Death continued pointedly, kneeling next to Tony’s body once more, “You have evaded me for a very long time, Anthony Stark.” She reached out her hand towards the reactor, “And I will not allow you to do so quite so easily again.” There was a hollow tap as the raw bone that was her index finger struck the arc reactor.
It flickered once and went out.
Tony’s divided consciousness slammed together. The shock of it hurt. Everything hurt. His head was too full. He could no longer see Death. He was no longer breathing. As he started to lose his grip on the world, he saw Loki remove the secondary reactor from wherever he was keeping it. Before either of them had time to be relieved, there was another hollow tap and that one, too, went out.
He heard the mockingly monotone of death’s voice echo, “even against impossible odds.” Maybe it was his own voice? Maybe there was no voice at all.
Tony’s vision was fading.
But he saw Loki’s mouth moving. Saw his index and middle fingers point upward and twist in one short quick circle. His hand was suddenly viciously white and crackling with energy. Loki placed his other hand on the reactor connected to Tony’s chest and then his fingers plunged through it into the reactor itself.
Searing, blinding, horrifying pain. Even worse than before. Tony felt as though he was melting, but the blackness receded from his vision. Slightly, ever so slightly. He held on. He gasped sharply, but couldn’t manage to let the breath go. In that moment he remembered Afghanistan. Being slammed again and again into frigid water and being electrocuted from inside his own body. This would have been the same if it weren’t so much worse.
He held on.
“Deals with the high immortals are binding and final,” Loki announced, seemingly to nothing, “I mean no disrespect, Mistress, but according to the wording of your agreement, you can not take his life.”
There was a pause as Loki directed his attention to something unseen. Tony tried to breathe, but the new pain was so all consuming he couldn’t even blink let alone breathe.
“He said ‘we’” Loki explained in response to whatever unheard comment Death had made, “Until such time that you release him from the bargain or he is not considered an Avenger, you can not yet take him.”
Another pause. It stretched. This was the most agonizing moment of Tony’s life and it just kept going and going. Just when he thought he couldn’t hold on any longer, Loki stopped whatever magic he was doing. The reactor in Tony’s chest was as black as charcoal and pulsed faintly. In one swift motion, Loki removed his fingers from the destroyed reactor, pulled it out, and replaced it. The secondary reactor glowed its cool, welcoming, blue once more.
Tony laughed one choked, weak, broken laugh before he passed out.
Chapter 7: Then the Morning Comes
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Everything hurt. Parts of him that had never felt pain hurt. He didn’t move, didn’t even open his eyes. He just tried to adjust to life as a human shaped embodiment of pure pain.
When he finally opened his eyes, Tony got the distinct feeling he was very alone in his own head. He felt empty. Just emptiness and pain.
But he was alive.
And he was in his own bed. And even if he felt alone in his mind, he noticed a ragged looking Loki was seated cross-legged on his bed next to him reading an ancient looking book.
“Maybe I’m not dead, but I feel dead,” Tony moaned, his words clipped as the sounds came harshly from his throat.
“You look it, too,” Loki murmured, intensely casual, as he marked his place and set his book aside. It disappeared.
“How long have I been out?”
“Some hours,” Loki said, “Though considering what you went through, that is a fraction of the time I thought it would take. You woke about an hour ago but after trying to sit up you promptly lost consciousness again. I recommend you try not to move much.”
“God damn am I ever an idiot. Why do you people let me be so stupid?” Tony groaned.
“I can’t say the same thought hasn’t crossed my mind,” Loki said, genuinely smiling.
“How did you keep me going when she destroyed the reactors?”
From nowhere, Loki pulled the blackened reactor. Despite his disinclination to be handed things, Tony took it from him weakly and studied it while Loki spoke.
“I think I mentioned that area was full of dead stars. From a magical standpoint, that material enhances and focuses electricity, hence Mjölnir.”
“Are you telling me you kept me alive with space lightening?” Tony asked setting the broken reactor on top of his functional one as it became too difficult to even hold it. He let his arm slide weakly back to his side.
“Not how I would phrase it, but yes. I simply mimicked your idea from the fight with Aresenal, to be honest. It was not my intention to hurt you so badly.” At Tony’s mildly confused look, Loki explained, “I was still connected to your mind at the time. I felt it. All of it. And I felt the memories of your torture resurface because of it as well. I deeply and sincerely apologize.”
“Don’t apologize to me—you saved my life,” Tony said simply.
“Do you truly think your Avengers can defeat the Overmaster?”
“I do,” Tony said, “Maybe not as we are now. We have a lot of work to do. We will grow together as a team. We’ll find new members and new allies. And I meant what I said about not giving up.”
Loki hummed contemplatively.
“We could use you, you know,” Tony said, “You know more about this than all of us combined and you are powerful even without the Tesseract. You should consider joining.”
“My brother would be pleased,” Loki muttered, but Tony noticed his tone wasn’t quite so acidic as it had been during previous mentions of Thor.
“He’s not so bad. Plus, what we need now is brain not brawn. You could be the one showing him up.”
Loki was silent as he thought.
“At this time, I think it would be unwise to restrict my movement to that allowed by SHIELD being the war criminal I am. Not to mention, if the Overmaster’s eye is drawn to me I would rather not put both our plans at risk. But if I am able to when the time comes, I will aid in your fight.”
“Thank you,” Tony said, closing his eyes. He was silent for some time and Loki thought he might have fallen asleep. But Tony opened his eyes and spoke again.
“It is not often that I really trust people. That is one of the reasons the Avengers almost failed. It is even less often that I give someone the chance to hold my heart in their hands. I have given both to you which means, whether you like it or not, you are a part of the little ragtag group I call my family. You will always have a place here. Don’t make me regret that.”
It was clear that Loki was wondering if Tony was delirious, but there was softness in his expression as he said, “I will try.”
“That’s all anyone can ask for,” Tony said contentedly.
For a moment Loki’s eyes darted away from Tony and he seemed as though he were listening. “It seems Pepper has arrived along with,” Loki paused, “Colonial Rhodes and a majority of the Avengers.”
“Oh, what took them so long?” Tony asked as Loki gracefully stood.
“According to JARVIS, the War Machine failed somewhere along the way and they had to turn back to pick him up.”
“Typical,” Tony scoffed, “Maybe if I put MAYHEM in the suit he’ll stop breaking it.”
“Farewell, Tony.” Loki said.
“Hey,” Tony said quickly, “Don’t you forget what I said about having a place.”
“I won’t.” Loki said smiling. An instant later, he was gone.
I want to thank all of you so much for the comments and kudos on this work! You are all fantastic! I hope you enjoyed this story!
Edit: Wow, I didn't even think of a sequel when I wrote this (I meant for it not to interfere with a potential Avengers 2 plot). A bunch of you commented and seem to want a sequel, though. I came up with a good solid plot for one. Now it's just about writing it and editing it so it doesn't suck. Keep an eye out!