Routine wasn't always easy. For most people it was; the average, the everyman, but for people like Norman Osborn even something as simple as routine, a pattern, needed to be scrutinized and handled with care.
You could never trust one moment's decisions to another moment. You could never presume what worked once would work again.
Never once had this proved as true as Norman's dealings with Robert Reynolds, better known to all as the shining Sentry. A man who glowed with such brightness and vibrancy that the dark shadows that enveloped his mind were well-hidden, seen only by those who ever dared ventured close enough to look him in the eyes.
Those soulful yet utterly lifeless eyes.
Norman saw through them; he could look at Bob and pinpoint weakness with a glance. Some might call him a psychopath for this skill, this hobby (and for many other reasons, as well) but Norman felt they were almost as plain as day, radiating for anyone observant enough to notice. He couldn't, however, seem to discern what the Sentry was thinking half of the time, and that drove Norman more mad than anything. Bob's face was always either exposed like a bare wire, emotion evident in every line, or closed and still like a statue. It was impossible to tell what was behind those eyes when they grew so still.
Norman saw the Sentry for what he was. He was fragile, weak, exposed, a starving man looking for fulfillment, easily influenced; he was also powerful beyond imagination, a living force of nature that lived and breathed strength that seemed like it could defy even Gods. He was a coil of darkness without rhyme or reason hidden beneath blinding luminescence that still couldn't banish even a single shadow away.
Power and darkness incarnate. Death. Dislocation.
He was beautiful.
Being alone with the Sentry filled the room thickly with the aura of danger and comfort, a contradiction that was somehow satisfying. Looking into Bob's open eyes Norman thought: Blondes are always so breakable.
"I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship, Bob," Norman said, leaning against his desk with a casual but confident smirk on his lips. Bob stood in front of him like a good little soldier, looking at Norman from behind his bangs. He moved his head in what Norman took for a nod.
"I'm sorry about the others. They don't understand what you mean to do," Bob said in a soft tone that belied his assertive posture. How Bob stood always reflected his mood with reasonable accuracy -- poised, or hunched. Level, or unsteady. Untroubled or depressed. The reflection only made Norman's smirk grow.
"Don't apologize for the Avengers, Bob. They aren't important. They can take whatever little quote-unquote moral stands that they please, but they better hope they don't break my laws to do it. They aren't above the law anymore."
He stood, walking over to Bob slowly and looking up into his eyes. Gentle coldness looked back at him, a willingness to be led. He tilted his chin down in what Norman again took to be a nod.
He hadn't expected the Avengers; not all of them, certainly, or even most. He had gotten the very best; Ares, fearless and ferocious God of War, and the Sentry, great and terrible. The former hadn't surprised Norman much; the latter had a bit, but only before Norman had a chance to learn more. That first in-person meeting had told him almost everything he'd needed to know.
"They didn't appreciate you. You're much better off," Norman continued, eyes fixed to Bob's. He touched Bob's arm. "You've supported that team and gotten back very little support in return. But you know what? We're going to support each other from here on forward. You and me. I want you to come to me if you ever need anything."
"Do you need anything, Mr. Osborn?"
Idly, Norman stroked his hand down the length of Bob's arm, fingers tracing muscle. All that power beneath his fingertips.
"Nothing but your obedience and loyalty," he said after the question had hung in the air for a minute or so. He smiled to demonstrate all the compassion and understanding he had to offer Bob, his eyes locked on him possessively and admiringly.
"You've done so much for me already," Bob said, with a grateful smile of his own. "It's been -- it's been really difficult," he added, in a softer voice. Norman raised his eyebrow, moving his hand and waiting for Bob to go on. He didn't care about his problems, but he wanted to hear them; the more he could understand about the Sentry, the better -- to pull him apart and put him back together, to see, feel, taste him.
Figuratively, or perhaps not.
"I'm sure they'll all have trouble trusting me now… no offense, Mr. Osborn. They're my friends… were… I'm not sure," he continued, though his tone was mild and thoughtful like he was stating simple fact, not regret. "They don't trust you, but I -- I know this is the right thing to do. For myself, and for Lindy. They don't understand what it's like, they can't -- they can't--"
The stoicism broke, and one of Bob's hands rose to worry his lower lip.
"They know what the Void will do… they understand that, but they-- I wish--"
"You wish they would try to understand you. Is that right, Bob? The man behind the consequences." Norman put his hand over Bob's, bringing it away from his lips. Even the Sentry's pulse held within Norman's long fingers felt warm and larger than life, like he was holding the universe's smallest sun. "Can you be expected to feel accepted among people who would sooner deal with you than help you?"
Bob nodded for real, sinking his head down. Blonde hair tumbled in front of his face, hiding it. "And Lindy," he said, grief finally making its way into his voice. Norman thought of the Watchtower -- the Sentry's home -- sitting atop Avengers tower, and thought to himself: Ah, that's right. The woman.
"What about Lindy, Bob?" Norman asked calmly. "Doesn't she understand you?"
"Yes… no… I'm not sure. Sometimes I feel like she's… afraid."
Norman restrained a smirk and tightened his hand around Bob's. On another day he would take this moment to sink in teeth; it was so simple to cast doubts, create walls, build isolation, but that wasn't what Bob would listen to. Not tonight. You could never presume what would work later would work now. There was always another opening.
He found his hand had tangled itself in Bob's sleek hair when Norman hadn't been paying attention, golden twists curled around his fingers.
"Marriage is no walk in the park, Bob; for anyone, you aren't alone. You've been under a lot of pressure. With everything on this mind of yours…"
Bob's eyes closed as Norman's fingertips brushed against his temple.
"A little turbulence isn't unusual."
"Norman," Bob echoed, in a tone that told Norman he'd be back to 'Mr. Osborn' soon enough. "… Are you sure you don't need anything?"
"I could find something for you to do," Norman said. "You know, we could benefit from some more quality time together. The sooner you can get your mind off of your delusions, the sooner you'll feel… complete again. Like a real person."
"I'd love that." Bob's eyes opened again and locked with Norman's.
"Come over here." Norman moved toward his desk again, waiting for Bob to follow; he did, and Norman cupped Bob's chin in his hand and kissed him carefully.
Norman always favored darkness, but this light could not be resisted.
"Is this okay?" Bob asked, his voice a mere breath against Norman's lips. A grin slipped effortlessly over Norman's face as his fingers tightened their grip in Bob's silky hair.
"You need to put yourself on priority, Bob. Rome wasn't built in a day. How do you expect to overcome your nightmares if you can't find support even when your wife can't give it?"
Norman put his hands on Bob's belt and he felt Bob's stomach muscles tighten; he stroked them carefully, kissing him again on the corner of the jaw.
"No," Bob breathed, tilting his head back. Norman hesitated, raising an eyebrow above narrowed eyes.
Bob looked at him, eyes bright blue beacons before they became luminous headlights, lightbulbs shunting away the darkness. His hand brushed Norman's tie and he tilted his face forward, before his fingers curled and the tie was yanked.
"No void," he said. Norman stared mutely for a long moment before he nodded.
"No void," he repeated. "It's just you and me here. That's all it is and all it will be."
The dichotomy displayed itself on Bob's face again, a smile breaking; relief and confidence and something else Norman couldn't place.
"Good," Bob said, taking off Norman's tie. Norman remained still, letting Bob do what he would. "Okay."
"Close your eyes, Mr. Osborn."
Norman did, still seeing the memory of bright spots of light penetrating the otherwise complete darkness.