The first thing that goes wrong: his sei∂r just fizzles out.
Loki looks down at his hand. It's numb and there's no steady flow of sei∂r pooling beneath his fingernails, fingertips, he can use both to deliver a good green fiery whack to the face. Now magic is not supposed to do that, so he radios in.
"Victor," he says. "Victor, do you copy?"
The second thing is the static that crackles against his ear, but it's nothing new because Hammer's designs tend to fail them most of the time. Loki scowls and rips the thing away from his ear, incinerates it for good measure.
The third thing is the last he remembers; a sharp jab to the back of his neck, and strike three, he's out.
The room he wakes up in is well-lit and extravagantly furnished, compared to the half-expectations he harbours of the dank and dark dungeons reminiscent of the chambers beneath the halls of Asgard. The wall is bare, save for shelves of relics of some sort on brilliant display; there is a bar sprawled across the other side of the room, stocked full of drinks. This is a room that is meant to illustrate the owner's wealth, and it performs its function well.
Then he realises that he is on his feet and no one sleeps on their feet (unless there is something holding you up). Loki moves, stretches, only to find himself suspended in some sort of anti-gravity cage. The feeling is not unlike flying, but he finds himself uncomfortable and wary of the fact that if he moves too much, he might end up on his head like test subjects of the earlier prototypes made by Hammer; they all looked green afterwards and threw up on the man. (He would have felt sorry for him if he wasn't laughing so hard.)
He turns his attention onto the relics on the shelves, and they perplex him to some extent - a crude iron mask, scorched black and dull; a pair of whips connected to an unseen power source, humming low with the occasional crackle of electricity; a pair of hands, decorated by a heavy ring on each finger...
They are more than relics. They're trophies, Loki thinks, stomach dropping low, trophies made of his allies long gone. There are more shelves, more trophies, of Vanko and Mandarin and Stane and many many more, trophies to decorate victories. He knows whose victories they belong to, whose quarters he has been brought to.
"Interesting, isn't it? They make for great conversation pieces."
He whips his head around, winces because that is a loud and painful crack, and wonders if he has managed to offend the Norns in some way in the previous cycle.
Anthony Edward Stark, in the flesh.
The mortal strides into the room, all posh suit and slick goatee, tapping away on a StarkPhone (although Loki has to admit that the model was much sleeker than OscorPhones). This is the man at the very top of the criminal empire, pulling all the strings and suits - the only reason he can still strut around without the law laying a single finger on him is that try as she may, Frost still can't dig up the dirt on him. (And in some way, Loki begrudgingly admires him for that.)
"Stark," he says, inclines his head slightly and flashes a sharp smile. This is Loki's first time confronting Stark without their respective allies; everyone hates one-to-ones, three is always an advantage. "I would love to have a conversation with you, but I'd rather have one sitting down." He flexes the tips of his fingers, calling sei∂r to his hands. "Surely you can let me sit before we take this any further?"
"Nice try, Rudolph," Stark grins, tucks his phone away and moves to the bar, rifling through its contents. "You're hoping I let you out of that cage? Maybe for Christmas, hm?"
"I'm sure Christmas can come early for me."
Stark throws his head back and laughs, and proceeds to take a gulp from an unlabeled bottle. "Drink?" he offers, and Loki shakes his head, keeping a wary eye on the mortal. "Shame. Thor said you could hold your liquor."
"There are many things my brother can say," Loki says carefully. Thor, he thinks with a pang of concealed regret. His brother, through bond if not through blood, who upon his exile had met several unsavoury characters and now conducts war at their behest. Thor, who brings the wrath of the Thunderer upon Midgard, and Loki, who is sworn to defend it from this brother he had a hand in creating. Loki may have walked in the golden son's shadow for long and longer, but he does not wish for a Thor led astray.
(Loki rues the day Thor had met Jane Foster, that scientist with a sweet smile and blood-stained hands. He imagines tearing her apart, limb by limb, savouring her screams and pleads for mercy and oh yes what a day that will be. If only Midgard is not attached to honour, morals and sentiment.)
"Yeah, and half of the time it's about you," Stark strides over to Loki, tone still amiable, hand gripping the bottle firm. "The big guy still dotes on you, even if you're too stubborn to come over to his side. It's always Loki would come up with this plan, Loki pulled this prank... Which makes me think, why are you playing for the good side?"
"I'm not sure that I understand your question." And the thousandth customer goes to Mr. Stark, step right up and receive your prize. Mortals never seem to tire of that question.
"You do." Stark says immediately. "You should have heard the myths we have about you down here in - what do you call it again? Midgard?" He leans forward, curious. "Loki, the God of Lies, the God of Mischief. Doesn't really sound like hero material to me."
"I don't live for your expectations, Mr. Stark," Loki replies. "Whatever it is that you are proposing, I'm not interested."
"But I'm not proposing," Stark says, and the ends of his lips suddenly stretch back to a feral grin that screams WARNING WARNING like Hammer's prototype of anything. "Did I tell you that Point Break still dotes on you? Well, lately he's getting out of hand, so you're my bargaining chip. You're free to feel honoured."
It seems that Loki is to clear up every single drop of Thor's mess, he thinks tiredly. It's what he has been doing for the past millennia.
"You cannot keep me here," he tells Stark.
"I can," Stark says, all arrogance. "Try using that mojo you've been charging, Pichu. Do your worst."
"If you insist," he says, and brings his hands forward. The sei∂r rushes up in a great torrent, twisting within his veins... And fizzles away at his fingertips. Loki's eyes widen.
"You're now the first testing subject of GRAVY-prototype-03," says Stark in a tone similar to a commercial announcer. "Refunds are not allowed, sorry. Well, do you like it? It's definitely better than that half-assed designs Hammer can fart out, and that's saying nothing."
Loki snarls and lunges forward, hoping to at least scratch Stark's eyes out for all the comfort it may give him later. Stark merely steps back, smirks and says, "JARVIS, misbehave."
"As you wish, sir," and Loki is airborne one moment and slammed to the floor of the cage the next with the force of a hundred Mjölnirs weighing upon his body. He is unable to breathe, unable to see, unable to move and his ears are threatening to burst -
And he is suddenly lifted into the air again, buoyant and weightless; there may be blood dripping out of his nose. His sei∂r manifests around that area, and fixes the ruptured blood vessel it finds there.
Interesting, Loki notes half-dazedly. Drops of blood float past his face.
"Interesting," Stark comments, and Loki raises his head to glare at the mortal.
"I will escape," he threatens darkly, quietly furious, "and I will kill you, if I must. You do not trap a god in this excuse of a cage."
"I think I am, doing, you know. The trapping." The feral grin is back on his face, and his eyes widens to match it. "I think I win that bet with Barton - you remember Barton? Hawkeye? He's still pretty pissed over you taking Coulson down, but Coulson should have waited anyway." Stark offers the mouth of the bottle to him one more time; Loki spits at his feet. "Next time you want to consider assaulting me, I'll put Barton in there with you. We'll find out then who can last longer, shall we?"
"Better him than you," Loki growls, and the grin grows even wider.
"You're right about that, buddy," Stark says, ever casual. "I think I like you already - you're going to be so much fun to mess with. And aren't you a sight for sore eyes - Steve keeps on thinking that the hands are about to rot even when I explained that they've been preserved. I take good care of my stuff." He shoots Loki a wink, and Loki scowls back in a mixture of aggression and confusion. "I'll take good care of you."
"The Norns forbid."
"I think I'll do whatever the hell I want to. It comes with the money and charisma, you know?"
Loki lets Stark knows exactly what he knows when it concerns Stark and his apparent inability to keep his libido within his pants in perfectly vulgar terms, and Stark laughs again, "JARVIS, misbehave."
Head slams on cool metal again and that hurts, and he allows himself to pass out.
"Do you need feeding?"
Ten days in captivity with Stark's occasional company is ten days of Stark asking him asinine questions. Loki sucks in an irritated breath and counts the burns on the wall. He wonders how they got there.
"Hey, I'm serious. I killed my pet goldfish when I was... Ah, hell, was it even mine?" Stark shrugs and takes another gulp of scotch. "Anyway, I think I killed it because I forgot to give it food. Or I overfed it. Same difference, it died in the end."
Loki begins to count the number of lights on the ceiling.
"Hey. Hey. Rock of Ages." Loki's eyes slide briefly over to regard Stark disinterestedly. "Last chance. Food. The next time I offer might be a long time."
"I do not require sustenance," Loki says shortly. He returns to counting.
Stark stares at him, before shaking his head lightly. "You're on a diet, aren't you already a stick," he decides. "Have you seen your brother eat? He finished a whole cow by himself, and still had space for mousse after that." Stark wrinkles his nose. "A lot of mousse."
"Thor has always been a hearty eater."
"I wouldn't want him in a zombie apocalypse. He'll eat through all of my supplies."
They lapse back into silence. For a minute.
"How about water, do you need water-"
"Do you have a pressing need to fill the room with your incessant words for every moment?" Loki grits out. "Have you nothing better to do? No schemes to craft, no diabolical plans to execute?"
"Planning is Steve's job," Stark chimes. "I provide the cash."
"How charming," Loki sneers. "So you are nothing more than a human credit card - "
"I use a Stark card, big difference there - "
" -and you expect your empire to stand when it is built on such a flimsy commodity?"
"Newsflash, Rip van Winkle," Stark says, condescending, "this is America, not Commie Central."
"You mortals are preposterous."
"Thank you, your holy-ass," Stark flashes a smile. "Just don't forget who's holding all the cards."
Then don't talk to your captive, he wants to say, does not say, years under Odin and Thor has taught him silence. He settles for a glare instead, and manoeuvres into a position that has his back facing Stark. The smug smirk is on his face, he doesn't need eyes to see.
"Nice ass. Just saying."
Close your eyes and breathe out.
First ball drops now when Stark stumbles in already drunk.
"Jarvis, revoke Steve's access to this room, I'm getting wasted now," and staggers for the bar, resurfacing only with a bottle in hand. Loki watches, keeps his silence, ignores the banging and yelling on the other side of the door; to which Stark yells, "my Tower, my rules" and mutters, "mute him, Jarvis, there's a good boy."
Silence falls, save for ice against glass. Stark cradles his bottle and Loki watches still.
All part of routine.
"Jarvis," Stark suddenly says. "Open Pepper up."
"Sir, I would like to remind you -"
"Save it, Jarvis," Stark snaps. Loki is intrigued by this mild irritation, Stark's brand of arrogance has long grown tiresome. "Pepper, now."
"Very well, sir."
His skin prickles. Something interesting about to happen, and Odin forbids (literally, even) he misses it.
And something does - the room explodes blue lines and vividly brilliant colours, pictures of a woman with sleek auburn hair pinned up into a neat bun. Snapshots of her laughing, of her poring extensively over stacks of paper, of her eyes downcast in pensive thought. Elsewhere, voices play and converse - clips, Loki sees, videos of her and other mortals and a much younger Anthony Stark.
He's intruding on something private, intimate, but Loki leans forward and scrutinises a picture that floats past his face.
Sentiment, he thinks viciously, plots and plans.
Stark trails his hand through the air, slow and lazy. Pictures scatter and spin away to the corners of the room, and he sees her, doesn't see her, lost down memory lane. Her voice fades, overlaps, mixes with his and he lingers long.
Finally, softly, he says, "close her up."
Blue and auburn and colours fade to glittering blue pinpricks of light, before darkness fully sets in. Stark sits still, bottles to the side and forgotten, brooding eyes dark.
Stark freezes. "Mr Stark," again, more insistently, "please, help me."
"Jarvis, lights," says Stark hoarsely and the lights flickers on white. Stark yelps and throws his arms up in front of his face - "Bright, goddammit Jarvis, too bright-" and it dims.
No one is there.
Stark breathes out. "Imagination, Jarvis, too many bedtimes stories for me."
"If you say so, sir."
"I do say so." Stark gets up, gets a bottle again. "Solution is to get drunk. Drunker. Coherence in sentences means not drunken."
"Exemplary theory, sir."
"Already a thesis." Stark turns around and Loki thinks ah, checkmate.
Stark doesn't see him, sees her, the woman from the little technology show that Hammer would kill to emulate even half of the display.
"Pepper," Stark breathes out. Loki smiles hidden under his glamour.
"Mr. Stark," she/he says, their voices similar, don't you just love magic. He imagines Victor frowning at him in almost-fond exasperation, at the people he pretends to be. "Wh-What am I doing here? Why am I in, in a - oh my goodness," and Pepper/Loki takes a sharp breath in, Stark better be drunk enough to buy this, "is this a cage?"
Eyes wide, quicker breaths, make yourself look helpless.
Her name again and Stark steps closer, eyes on her, eyes dark with grief, regret and longing. Loki shivers, holds it close; those eyes unnerve him, windows to the soul. Stark wants, and wants badly.
(Maybe Stark cannot have.)
"Pep," a step closer, another, "Pep, I'm so sorry," sold to the highest bidder, Loki has, "Pepper, oh gods, Pepper."
(Stark will never have.)
Second ball drops now when Loki says, "oh, Anthony."
"You're not Pepper," Stark says softly.
Game's over, children, it's time to go home.
"No." The glamour dissolves, water slipping through fingers. "No, I'm not."
Keep your face blank, Odin has caught him doing much, much worse. (But Stark's a villain.)
"Jarvis," Stark says, face carefully blank - but Loki sees, those eyes, sees restrained fury. He keeps his face blank too. "Daddy's closing both eyes."
"Free reign then, sir."
Third ball drops now as Loki is slammed yet again down onto the ground.
(Stark watches and Loki wonders.)
"So," Stark begins casually. "Shape-shifting."
Loki hums affirmatively under his breath. It has been a full week since their last... encounter; a week of silence with only his own thoughts for company, a week fully appreciated. Now if only Victor would hurry up and get him out of here.
(He most decidedly does not think about eyes dark with want, pure want; nor does he think of calloused hands, strong and steady. He chalks it up to boredom and leaves these thoughts - fantasies - alone.)
"I enjoyed the silence," he tells Stark instead.
"And here I was thinking you liked the sound of my voice," Stark says in return, the side of his mouth twitching up into a half-smile. Loki does not miss the hard glint in his captor's eyes - tread carefully, tread carefully, you're on thin ice.
"Or perhaps you like the sound of mine," and Loki slips his voice higher an octave or a half, an adequate mimicry of Pepper's own. Stark stiffens and smooths his face blank; Loki smiles, ice and snow. "What happens when she finds out?"
"Nothing will happen," Stark answers brusquely.
"She does not even know?" Loki mocks. "Such a touching display of trust. What happens when she finds out that Anthony Stark is nothing more than a villain, a mass-murderer wearing the guise of a successful businessman - "
"Nothing will happen - "
"When she finds out," he raises his voice higher, louder, glee stretching his face into a Cheshire smile, he's in his element, pushing at cracks and fissures to widen and wider and wider, "how disappointed, how repulsed will she be?"
"Jarvis," Stark snarls out. "Full reign, now."
"As you wish, sir."
Loki is ready.
The moment Stark gives his hidden henchman the command, Loki spreads his limbs out, allowing the increase in pressure to push him down, down against the cold metal. The metal is harsh, unforgiving chill against the skin of his cheek - so Loki pulls.
The midnight blue chases down his arm, ink spilling in water, and he wills his skin, his body to grow cold and colder. Frost forms in the lashes of his eyes, his ears are popping, someone is shouting, he's close to losing consciousness -
Something cracks, and the metal beneath him gives.
The world turns itself over and over and it ends with Loki on the floor, out of the cage, and Stark towering above him. He struggles to get up but his limbs steadfastedly refuses to obey. The lack of gravity and constant movement has robbed him of the ability to use his muscles normally, he realises.
Stark grabs his chin and drags Loki's face up instead, gangly limbs and all, chasing away the Jotunn blue. "Pepper is dead," he hisses, "and you hold her murderer as a fallen hero, a beloved comrade. Tell me, Odinson," and at this he grips tighter, Loki can't fight back just yet, "or should I call you Laufeyson?"
"What," Loki manages to rasp out.
"Laufeyson," Stark repeats, smug coloring his tone, "you're not really a son of Odin, are you? Hell, even I can see Thor as the king of Asses - "
"Asgard," the voice of Jarvis cuts in.
"But you? You don't even look the part," Stark sneers.
"I am a son of Odin," Loki insists, pushing his hand up to grasp weakly at Stark's hand, how does he know, "by bond if not by blood."
"Who told you that?" The mortal laughs, high and cold. "Daddy dearest?"
Yes. Loki feels so, so tired. "It matters not if I am adopted," who is it that he saying (lying) to now, "it still doesn't change- "
"Foolish little god," Stark croons, his other hand smoothing Loki's hair back as if it is a lover's caress. "Tell me, what do you know of Earth's mightiest heroes?"
"You're the expert," Loki retorts drily.
"Good try, but no." Stark grins wide and vicious. "How about this - that they have their own hidden agendas, their motives? The moment they can trade for something that they want, they'll give you up in the blink of an eye?" Stark leans down, his breath a warm puff of air against the shell of Loki's ear. "Who do you think told me about you, Jotunn prince?"
His blood runs cold, his fingertips blue. "You lie," he manages to say.
"God of lies," Stark repeats. "You tell me."
Stark lets him go and steps back, turns around. "Run back to your heroes, Bambi," he calls back over his shoulder. "Tell me then that they don't lie."
Loki stares after him, gathers his sei∂r up like a cloak and vanishes on the spot.
(Far, far away now, Stark begins to laugh.)