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"Can I help you?" she asks. The man who greeted her steps in front of her as she is exiting the building. Phil is already at the car, only just turning back to see what has held her up.

The man smiles, a sharp baring of teeth that bears little true amusement. A frisson of wariness races through her.

"I sincerely hope so, Ms. Potts."

He lifts his cane. It shimmers strangely in the light of Stark Towers' lobby. Pepper only has time to draw in a sudden breath before her world is drowning in blue.

xxx

"Sir, Ms. Potts is on her way back up," JARVIS' voice interrupts him just as he was about to plunge head first into the data SHIELD left for him.

"She forget something?"

It's not like Pepper to be forgetful, but she left so quickly anything is possible. He absentmindedly taps one of the screens, watching the footage of the arrival of their would be alien conqueror again. Something about it bothers him, but there is so much to go through he had set it aside for the moment. He'll figure it out.

The elevator doors open and Tony's greeting dies on his lips when he sees Pepper exit with SHIELD's most wanted. True, he is currently in a snazzy suit, but there's no mistaking that posture. Not to mention the hair.

But it is not the fact that Loki has just entered his building as though he is without a care in the world that makes unease curl through his gut or chill his blood.

It is the way Pepper leans against him, arm curled over his, smile bright and wide. Her eyes are wrong though, an electric blue that no human possesses.

In a rush, Tony can breathe again.

"Let her go," Tony steps forward. He has no suit, no weapons. For all the good it would do to directly engage Loki, he might as well fling himself at a meat grinder. But Pepper's eyes are Tesseract blue and Tony has never been one to back down.

Loki's eyes shine the same blue when they meet his, only the color doesn't swallow his entirely. It is just his irises that burn with the unearthly light. What that means Tony has no idea, but one way or the other, he is going to make Loki regret ever touching Pepper.

Pepper is still smiling, still at Loki's side like nothing is wrong.

"I'm afraid it's far too late for that, Mr. Stark," Loki says. His tone is even, voice pleasant. It is not the tone of arrogant proclamation Loki introduced himself with, but the smooth politeness that asked Nick Fury to leave the Tesseract with him, as though any unpleasantness could be avoided if they merely had a nice chat.

Loki gently disengages his arm from Pepper's and the look on Loki's face when he turns to her makes Tony's stomach clench.

"Will that be all, Mr. Liesmith?"

Pepper smiles at Loki when she says this the same way she always smiles at Tony. The words, the tone, the body language are all the same, affectionate yet professional, but the name is wrong. (Will that be all, Mr. Stark? That will be all, Ms. Potts.) Everything about this is wrong, but for all of Tony's genius, he can't see a way to make it right or if it is even possible (it has to be possible).

"Not quite just yet, Ms. Potts."

Loki's smile is a sly curve. His glance toward Tony as he says this tells Tony the bastard knows exactly what effect Loki is having on him. Tony is going to punch his face in. As soon as he figures out how to do it without breaking his hand.

Tony steps back as Loki approaches. Loki's long strides soon have him pressing against the glass of his large windows. Tony feels his heart hammering in his chest.

He can guess at what Loki wants. Why else would he strike first at Pepper? Why else give himself the one bit of leverage that would paralyze Tony long enough, catch him off guard long enough to approach him so closely, so quickly, so defenselessly?

"It really is quite fortunate I came across Ms. Potts first. Her help has been...invaluable," Loki's smile taunts him. But all Tony can see is the cane Loki has in his hands. The cane whose stone shines the same blue as the sceptre in the security footage he'd seen.

"Fortune my ass. You planned this," Tony finally makes his vocal chords work. Loki's grin is all jagged edges underneath the politeness.

"Just so," Loki's little head tilt with that proclamation does not diminish Tony's desire to punch him, "But had it not been for this change in plans, I fear this whole endeavor would have been far messier."

He needs to stall Loki somehow, someway. But Loki is so near and Tony can't think. He's caught in Loki's gaze and all he sees is the bright blue over Pepper's eyes. Something shimmers at the edge of his vision, but he doesn't look away, can't look away. Something like relief flickers across Loki's face as he lifts his spear.

He presses it just to the left of Tony's arc reactor.

 

END