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And When It Does I'm Already Gone

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In autumn of 1997, Loki decided it would be a fun and profitable game to seduce one of the Avengers and see how many secrets and how much access he could gain though it.

Considering his options, he concluded that two of the heroes were palatable to him, and that Stark seemed far more gullible and careless than Romanov.

So Loki set to work, and he started with a few well-placed dreams.

.:.

The first time Tony saw Rebecca, it was in his sleep. It was just an impression, the vague but overwhelming notion of green eyes and dark hair and whispers and rightness.

Waking up was like being stabbed. Acute longing and loss, as all that rightness tore away.

Tony lay in bed for a long time, wondering if he could fall asleep again and have the same dream.

Eventually he gave up and dragged himself out of bed, went about his day, and forgot about the dream.

The next night he dreamed of her again. She was soft black hair fanning across his chest and curved, pale skin warm against him. She smirked at him with green eyes that pierced him and ran him through, seeing too much, slicing his soul open with a pleasant sting. He realized he must be dreaming again, because in real life no one had eyes like that.

“Do me a favor,” he said to her. “Don’t let me wake up again.”

She smiled with cruel warmth and kissed him awake.

Tony lay in his bed, too sharp and alert to think about sleeping again this time. It was better than dreaming about Afghanistan, he concluded. These were actually very good dreams, but it scared him a little that he didn’t want to be awake. It didn’t bode well for his alcoholism, and it might really be healthier for him to go back to nightmares.

He hoped he would see her again.

The third dream… The third dream was really something. He was naked -- hadn’t he been naked in the first two dreams? But it took on a whole new significance when she rubbed up against him, lighting a fire in his skin and sparking rightness into need, giving a direction and a focus to all that taking apart she’d been doing. She was present enough that he could wrap his arms around her, and he did, holding on like maybe he could keep her there, and she didn’t seem to object, smiling all smug and knowing down at him and working a hand between them to give him more, tightening deft fingers around him and he was just starting to think that she’d actually get somewhere this time, stick around for the real show when she gave him that insufferable smile and a last squeeze and dissolved into the inky black of night.

Fuck, he was hard as he’d ever been, and alone in the dark of four A. M., and completely, hopelessly obsessed with a woman who was, as far as he knew, a figment of his imagination.

He needed to get out.

.:.

There was some kind of benefit the next evening, wasn’t there? He didn’t really care what it was about or who would be there except that someone there might distract him, might agree to go home with him and fill up the empty space the dreams had left (or just emphasized, he wasn’t sure).

He absolutely prowled, looking for something in particular, he felt, although he wasn’t sure what. Something compelling, something sharp and incisive, something maybe almost violent.

A backless dress caught his eye, or rather the back in it caught his eye, pale skin framed by deep green fabric and hair that fell in loose black curls. The woman tossed her head and turned a little so her face came into view and Tony was hit with a burst of shocking recognition.

She smiled like she recognized him too, like she’d been expecting him. That would have been more than a little odd, except for the part where he was Tony Stark and this was more or less his party. Still, he couldn’t help thinking there was more to it than that, seeing as this was her. The one he’d been dreaming about. And hey, maybe she wasn’t so imaginary after all.

Her eyes were just like he recalled them. Faceted green gem work, cut too sharp till they cut at the world in turn. God, he wanted her to vivisect him with those eyes. “Have I seen you before?” Tony asked, voice much more level than his thoughts. He must have seen her, for his dreams to make such an uncanny likeness of a specific person. Maybe a picture. “Are you in modeling? Acting? No?”

“No.” She shook her head and smiled the you’re-a-sexist-pig-but-I’ll-let-you-off-the-hook-this-time smile that Tony sometimes got when he'd drastically misgauged a woman’s educational background. “I work in Particle Physics, actually.”

“Really? Well that’s it then. I must have read one of your articles. I do browse a science journal once in a while. For the headshots of beautiful women.”

That got her to laugh a little. The sound was lovely, but there was an edge of polite facsimile to it, and Tony silently resolved to get a real laugh out her by the time the evening was up. “Tony Stark,” he introduced unnecessarily, holding out his hand.

“Rebecca Porcher,” she offered, placing her fingers into his in a dainty handshake.

Tony shook her hand and then didn't let go. "Rebecca Porcher. Come home with me tonight.”

She raised her eyebrows at his gall, but didn't withdraw her hand. "Do you make a habit of propositioning strangers?"

"Daily. But I know your name, so we're not strangers. That makes you the exception."

Now she did pull her hand free, shaking it slightly as if only just realizing she had touched something slimy. "Lovely," she muttered and started to turn away.

"Wait."

She looked at him and waited.

"Just dance with me." Tony wasn't much for sincerity, but women seemed to melt for it, so he went all out, letting her see a little of the awe he felt looking at her. "You are the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever met, and I would move heaven and earth for you to dance with me. Please."

She didn't melt. She looked pointedly up at heaven, then down at earth, and said, "That, I would like to see."

Tony winced. "Now?"

"Now."

Tony forced himself to shake off his uncertainty and grinned, all flash and confidence again. He pulled out his cell phone and pressed a few buttons. He was actually sending a text message consisting of the words, "Jarvis, HELP!" but, hey, Rebecca didn't know that.

An earthquake passed through, and those who hadn't gathered to watch Tony's attempts at courtship reacted with startled concern. It ended quickly. Tony pocketed his phone and said to Rebecca, "Heaven could take a little longer."

Rebecca looked around at the mild panic and confusion Tony's stunt had created, and when she looked back to Tony, she was smiling her appreciation. "Heaven was never my favorite anyway."

"Dance?"

“Tell you what.” She pulled a Stark Industries business card out of his breast pocket -- how did that get there? -- and wrote her cell phone number on it. “You take me out to dinner sometime. And after that, we'll see.”

“Done.” He glanced at the number and committed it to memory -- 310-555-5654 -- before he tucked the card back into his pocket, stepping closer to her. “How about tonight?”

“It's past eleven.”

“Perfect. We can have a restaurant all to ourselves.”

“You don't give up, do you?”

“Not until you tell me to.”

She smiled, and her eyes twinkled with mischief and games. “Don't give up just yet,” she suggested. “Good night, Mr. Stark.” And then she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

So.

Just because she was real, didn’t mean she was going to make it any easier on him.

He smirked to himself, then to the heavens, wondering what kind of trouble he’d have gotten up to by the time he actually managed to impress her.

.:.

He called her the next day, because why not? He was Tony Stark, and when he wanted to get something done, he devoted everything, pushed the limits and the timetable, and wow, did he ever want to get her done. None of his other projects had a hold on his mind like this. She was it.

She put him off - she apparently didn’t have the same preoccupation; work was the excuse she made, and she sold it with the details she hinted at. And that only made him more intrigued.

He considered the heavens. Dismissed skywriting as too small and far too cliched. The stars? He wasn’t quite that ambitious, yet. Heaven was never my favorite anyway, she had said. But earth was apparently not doing the trick. What did that leave?

Well, if she didn’t like the heavens, all the more reason to move them, maybe to some place farther away and less likely to…

Oh. Oh, that was pretty. It was the sort of thing that might rip the universe in half if he wasn’t careful, but it was pretty.

Much better than sky writing or flowers was the notion of an Einstein-Rosen bridge blossoming across the sky and giving the world a little window to glimpse someone else’s stars.

He called a few of the relevant physicists, gathering data, and told himself firmly that he wasn’t going to be that guy who destroyed reality because he didn’t rigorously test his hypotheses before applying them. At least, not unless this took more than a week.

.:.

Tony’s phone rang halfway across the room, and he almost didn’t pick up for fascination with the simulations running above his desk. Then he saw the number and tripped over his own feet diving for the device. “Rebecca. You… you actually called.”

“You sound so surprised. I heard you’d been talking to Dr. Foster.”

“Oh. I see. You’re jealous,” Tony surmised, settling into his desk chair and smirking.

“Mm. Yes, I go mad with envy when men I’ve only just met go talking to other physicists.”

Excellent. I’ll put Stephen Hawking on my speed dial.”

“Dr. Foster says you’ve been playing too roughly with the fabric of space. I thought I’d give in and set a dinner date before you go tearing any holes that can’t be mended.”

Tony maintained his composure. Well, he pumped his fist in victory, bounced around a little, and kissed Dum-E soundly. But as far as Rebecca could hear over the phone, he maintained his composure. “How’s seven o’clock?”

“Perfect.”

.:.

They had dinner together. Rebecca was engaging and witty and terrifically smart. Her understanding of her subject rivaled Bruce’s, and Tony was curious what would happen if he put the two in a room together. He resolved not to.

Her hypotheses on the interaction of particles and the types of energy generally referred to as magic were on the cutting edge. Tony drank them in and pushed at them and even managed to ask a few questions Rebecca hadn’t thought of, which always made her look at him with slight, startled awe for a delicious split-second. Tony would just grin back proudly and wait for her answer.

He was falling so very, very hard.

When he finally managed to get her back to the tower -- well, that was usually the point when he was pretty sure he had things in the bag, but nothing was that simple with Rebecca. She teased and stalled and laughed at him and overall made it very clear that things were still on her terms. If he didn’t continue to impress, he thought it was very likely that he’d end up, one more time, lying in the dark alone and thinking about someone who wasn’t there.

But hey, he wasn’t just a pretty face, he was a genius too, and he managed to keep her interested long enough to lure her into bed.

.:.

Her first orgasm was fake. Tony didn't call her on it, and it was really a very nice show, convincing enough on the surface, but Tony trusted his instincts, and – just no. A little too pretty, a little too easy, a little too precisely average in terms of noise and motion. It was hot, anyway.

It made him wonder if she was secretly press, because she obviously wanted something from him that wasn't just sex or bragging rights. More likely it had to do with connections in the scientific community. He could set that up, but first he had a point to prove.

He was leaning over her, knees on either side of her right thigh. He rested one fist on the mattress for balance, and the fingers of his right hand were buried in her. Both her hands were wrapped around his cock, soft and conniving, and he worked to focus, focus on the feel of her around his fingers and focus on learning her reactions, but that wasn't getting him any less worked up than her hands were.

Then she was leaning up to trail her mouth along his neck and shoulder and chest, and god, she knew what she was doing, making him gasp every time she bit at that one spot on his collarbone, wandering enough that he never knew when it was coming.

But he knew this game too. He had a good batch of data by now about exactly where she was most most sensitive, so he abandoned gathering data in favor of really using it, fingers stroking deep at one particular spot while his thumb raked hard over her clit. She fell back on the bed, shocked and breathing hard and squirming mindlessly into his touch, and that was much more like it.

He moved forward to lean over her and get a better view of her face, bracing his weight on one forearm. She was in a breathtaking haze, making little cut-off whimpers, and he kept up meeting the desperate motions of her hips with his hand as she lost track of her own hands and they tightened a little too hard around him. Tony just exhaled sharply and increased his pace.

When she really did come, it was quiet. Soundless and broken, her face contorted, her eyes boring into his, pulled apart by every emotion. Fear, pleasure, need, pleasure, anger, pleasure, surprise, pleasure. And this was so much better; this was something he gave to her, something he tore away from her, and he almost followed her over the edge just seeing it.

But he wanted to bring the point home, he wanted to keep her coming back for more after she'd gotten whatever it was she was using him for. So he pulled her hands away from where they still stroked him – a little less coordinated for the moment – and he pinned them over her head instead. He looked her in the eyes and raised his eyebrows. Is this okay?

She laughed and arched up to kiss him. He met her and buried himself into that kiss, pushing her flat to the bed again with his weight and trailing his free hand up to her breast. His fingers were wet from touching her further down, and that got him some amazing reactions as he teased her nipple, her sensitivity sharpening with every stroke, until he wondered if he could make her come again just touching that one spot.

Then he shifted up onto his elbows so he could kiss his way downward. First the smooth negative curve of her neck, then a detour along her collarbone and -- whad'ya know -- she had a sensitive spot there; no wonder she had found the same on him.

He let his nose brush lightly over her left nipple, still sensitive from all the attention he had given it earlier. She gasped and her whole body spasmed, hips flexing in an abrupt, uncontrolled reflex, fortunately not enough for her knee to do Tony any harm. Tony just smiled in self-satisfaction and moved on downward.

He felt her fingers lace through his hair. Oh right, he’d let her hands go; not a safe thing to do, that.

She was already getting close again, to judge by the pace of her breathing. He could have cut to the chase, but he’d had a planned order of operations here and he opted to stick to it, tracing out her ribcage with his lips and teeth. The fingers in his hair tightened painfully. “Do not tease me,” she commanded, and her voice was vicious and insistent and it shot through him like electricity -- the very, very good kind.

He tossed his head, angling it up so he could give her a shit-eating grin. “But I’m so good at it.”

“Conceded,” she panted, then let her head fall back and muttered, “If you’ll concede that you’re a conceited bastard and then focus on making me come.” This came with a distinct shove as her hands pushed his head down between her thighs and then released him.

Tony chuckled and readjusted so he could lie comfortably between her legs. Long forgotten were whatever diplomacy or misgivings had led to her earlier show, and this was so much better. He loved her this way, demanding and falling apart.

Between Tony’s mouth and his fingers, it wasn’t long before Rebecca started to climax. Her thighs tightened around his head, muffling his hearing. He couldn’t see her, but he felt her full body shudder as her hips arched up off the bed, and this time he could fuzzily hear her calling out.

He wished he could watch her face, but he contented himself the heat and taste and sound of her as he kept working, licking and stroking and drawing out the shuddering moment, hearing her whimper brokenly as he proved to both of them how thoroughly he could take her apart.

Her body went slack, falling flat to the mattress again as her chest heaved in chasing her lost breath, and Tony was able to look up and take in the way she looked, relaxed and exhausted, her normally derisive mouth curved into a soft, unthinking smile, green eyes looking hazily up at the ceiling, then flitting down to him.

The unguarded moment faded and the look in Rebecca’s eyes turned more predatory. She sat up, took him by the shoulders and rolled him onto his back with force that took Tony by surprise and sent just a little bit of best kind of terror skittering along his nerves. She was still catching her breath but she was strong considering, maneuvering him neatly underneath her as she knelt up and straddled him, rolling a condom down over his cock with a few strokes that had Tony pulling in sharp, shaking breaths.

He was pretty strung out by now, having spent the evening focused on her -- well, having spent the week focused on her -- either way, he’d been waiting for this moment a painfully long time. It didn’t take much from her to have him completely wrecked, and the way Rebecca was looking down at him, she obviously knew exactly how much power she held.

Then she was lowering herself onto him, excruciatingly slow. Tony struggled to breathe effectively while being enveloped by tightness and heat. He would have liked to make it last, maybe make her fall one more time right along with him, but Rebecca had other plans. She leaned over until her mouth was at his ear and she was whispering all sort of lovely things in a silky, sated voice about how he had done so well and now it was his turn to break, she wanted him to come, she would make him come. And Tony’s heart was beating a hasty assent, slamming blood through his body with a force and intensity that was devastatingly out of proportion with the soft, unhurried voice whispering promises in his ear.

There was a moment where Tony could swear he was about to wake up again, that this was all going to melt away and leave him alone and aching for her.

But then she was real and tightening around him and dragging him over the edge, and he was screaming raggedly and emptying into her, completely lost and finding he never wanted to be anywhere but lost in her.

For a while after that he knew nothing but bliss and the sound of his own breathing and the smell of sweat and the feel of her skin as she relaxed and lay down on top of him.

The fog slowly cleared from Tony’s mind, allowing him to run analysis on some of the data he had just collected.

And the conclusions he came to were troubling.

He’d fallen for the hard to get game hook line and sinker, and he couldn’t even find it in himself to want off the hook. Tony sighed and forced himself to ask. “So... what is it?”

Rebecca frowned at him, questioning.

“You're not here for me. So what is it? Money? Connections?”

She scoffed and rolled away, broadcasting annoyance and offended pride, but not enough to make Tony believe he had missed the mark.

Well, he’d managed to get her this close. He wasn’t going to force her away by forcing the issue right now. Tony changed the subject. “So how do you feel about strangely dressed people standing next to hats?”

He could see her struggling to maintain her aloof anger, but she gave up to send him a look of pure consternation.

“I’m thinking the Boulevard for our next date. Broadway. Street performers, traffic, musicals, window shopping with the richest guy on earth… New York City, honey. We could fly in in the morning.”

Rebecca’s eyebrow arched delicately as her confusion morphed to consideration, and finally to acquiescence. “I suppose,” she agreed with a sigh, snuggling closer to his shoulder.

“You don’t have work?” Tony teased.

“I really don’t.”

.:.

The day in New York somehow turned into a week, and Tony entirely blamed his own cleverness, changing the topic every time Becky mentioned scheduling a flight home. There was plenty to distract her with, sights and shows and stores and sex. And he had never enjoyed any of those things so much as he did with her.

He’d had some thoughts of getting the woman out of his system -- Wasn’t that how this infatuation thing usually worked? -- but so far he was just getting more and more fascinated by her, more comfortable with her, and by the time Becky put down her foot and said she really would like to get back to her home and her job, Tony was dreading the idea of spending as much as a day without seeing her.

On their last day in New York Becky stopped at a shop window, where a handbag had caught her eye. It was a lovely, elaborate thing, with shades of dark green fabric, black leather laces and silver clasps. Tony had no idea how one would get the thing open, or even which parts of its mystifying construction were supposed to be pockets, but that was Rebecca in a nutshell.

“You want that?” he asked her.

“Not sure. It looks…” she searched for words. “...Difficult. Tricky. Full of hidden places. You could carry it around and never know what it held.”

“Jesus, you made that sound sexy. Now if you’re not getting it, I am.”

That startled a laugh out of Becky. “You could wear it to your next fundraiser.”

“I’d rather wear you.”

Rebecca gave him a look.

“On my arm, y’know.... Um, can I start over? That was supposed to sound romantic instead of chauvinistic and creepy.”

.:.

They arrived home, and the next week went well enough. There was a little of the hard to get game still flavoring their interactions, but Rebecca’s heart didn’t seem to be in it anymore, and so far he had convinced her spend all her nights at his house at Malibu Point.

This morning she had woken him up just after five a. m. to go another round, and now they were both tiredly staring up into the pre-dawn darkness and making lazy, unthinkingly personal pillow talk. The subject had turned to Tony’s father and he listened to himself casually divulging his deepest insecurities, and thought distantly that this was weird and he should probably be concerned.

“...I’m honestly not sure if he hated the whole having a son deal or if I was special,” Tony concluded.

“At least I don’t have to wonder,” Rebecca mused wryly. “I know I was special.”

Tony smothered a little burst of excitement when he realized Becky might also be too fucked out to keep up her usual walls. “Then you had siblings,” he prompted.

“One. Not a real sibling, just -- I was adopted. My father… he had a very specific purpose in mind when he took me in. I didn’t even know I wasn’t one of them until I figured it out on my own. Our family was always complicated.”

“Money?”

“Yes. Quite a lot. My brother inherited. I didn’t.”

“The Porcher folks sound like a real treat.”

The sky outside was lightening enough that Tony could make out Rebecca’s sad smile. “Porcher isn’t the family name. My father renounced me, so I took the name of my biological father.”

“Ever meet him?

Her mouth twisted in disdain. “I did have that misfortune, yes.”

“Not gonna touch that. But really, you got renounced? Seems a little harsh. And archaic.”

“Well, I may have acted out a little first.”

“Why do I get the feeling there’s a story behind that that I really want to hear?”

“There are a few stories behind that.”

“...Yes?”

“‘On the grounds that it may incriminate me,’” she quoted.

“One. Please.”

She sighed and made a show of giving in. “So my father has a vault in his basement where he keeps his valuables. You know the rich collector type.”

Tony thought of his vintage cars and motorcycles and said nothing.

Rebecca leaned in to Tony’s ear and said in a stage whisper, “I gave the basement key to some unsavory characters.”

Tony leaned back and gave her a wide-eyed look, horrified and impressed. “How much did they take?”

“Nothing.” She shrugged. “They got caught. I knew they would. I did it to prove a point, and it worked.”

“Not just a cry for attention, then?”

“No.” Rebecca smiled to herself. “I’m actually not sure if daddy dearest ever figured out that was me. I know the doorman suspected.”

There was something unsettlingly casual in her tone. The story didn’t bother Tony; he would have happily screwed over his father to a similar degree. But the way she spoke of it hinted at a thousand other times, a thousand other secrets and deceptions. Like something in her had cracked that wasn’t meant to crack, and she had built her life around the break in such a way that nothing was healed and everything could be a lie.

“You’re a little bit insane, aren’t you?” Tony queried.

Rebecca propped her head up on her hand and eyed his face, her expression guarded, but not quite completely guarded. Tony could swear part of her was preening, flattered that he had noticed. “You beg me to tell you one story, and then you call me insane when I tell you?”

“Yeah. So tell me another.”

She laughed gleefully, and didn’t. “It’s your turn. Tell me something.”

“What do you want to know about?”

She shrugged a little too casually. “You. The Avengers. Your life with them.”

He gave her another long look, and the teasing mood fell flat. “So it is the press.”

Rebecca opened her mouth to voice a sharp denial, but stopped. The look in Tony’s brown eyes wasn’t suspicion. It was resigned, unsurprised hurt. It was the look of someone who had been used for what he had so many times that he’d never expected more from her to begin with.

Loki felt distinctly uncomfortable under that look. Playing a role was good fun, but in this she hadn't so much fooled Tony as rubbed salt in his wounds by failing to fool him.

I’m not press.” Rebecca said it like the half-truth it was, as close to an apology as she would come.

“But someone you know is.”

Rebecca shrugged again, looking away.

Tony nodded to himself, taking stock. “So… this someone. They’ve got leverage over you? Or is this more like… a mutually beneficial arrangement? You volunteer because it’s fun to be on the arm of a billionaire for a while?”

Her mouth drew together distastefully. “Not either of those, not precisely. It’s more a question of… keeping up appearances. With the wrong kind of people.”

“‘The wrong kind of people’? So… What, your family?”

She gave him a brief, wide-eyed look, like he had entirely missed the mark and somehow hit upon something much more true. Then she was all distance and chill. “I’m late for work,” she lied, rolling out of bed.

“You’re not. You have twenty-three minutes before you usually leave.”

“I have an early meeting.”

“Yeah. Right.”

.:.

She came over again that evening, so apparently Tony was forgiven for the morning’s insight.

He let the topic drop, let himself half-forget it, let himself enjoy the dream while it lasted.

.:.

He’d been seeing Rebecca for a month when Pepper intruded on his workshop to talk to him about it.

“So. This girl Rebecca,” Pepper prompted.

“What about her?”

“Tony...”

“I’m going on dates with a beautiful girl. That’s normal.”

“Just one girl for a whole month? Not normal for you.”

“Maybe I want to settle down!” he said defensively.

Pepper cut to the chase. “She’s a gold-digger, Tony.”

Tony sighed and ran his hands over his eyes. “...I know.”

Pepper looked at him sadly. “Then you can’t stay with her.”

“I can do whatever I want.”

“And this is what you want? After everything? After Obie? You want to be with someone who may not even care about you?”

Tony didn't have an answer for that, so he turned his focus back to his machines until Pepper left.

.:.

Tony and Rebecca sat together on his living room couch. They had managed to distract each other with arguments and formulae for a while, and the evidence was notes and science journals scattered across the coffee table.

But as the day wore on a quiet had crept in, and now it refused to go unheard.

There was always tension between the two of them, of one kind or another. Of course he’d known for a while now that Rebecca had mixed feelings about her ulterior motives for being here. It was obvious, on the rare occasion he’d gotten her to talk about it. But -- and this he’d chalk up to his prodigious skill at denial -- this was the first time he’d been unable to avoid the question of what they were mixed with.

Pepper was right. Pepper was always right, one way or another, and he trusted her like nobody else. The Avengers had his back in battle, and Rhodey, any day of the week, they all got to save his skin and use his (lent, not sold, never again sold) weapons. But Pepper was the only one he let into his head, let her words have this kind of leverage. She had asked the question. This is what you want? And now his mind wouldn’t be able to put it down, put it to rest, not until he answered it.

And Becky could tell, she could feel it, of course she could. The question was between them like a wire, either waiting to twine them together or cut them apart.

She broke the silence first. “What do you want from me?”

“A straight answer.”

She lifted her chin a little to give him a level stare. “Alright. I think I can guess the question. Which answer would you like?”

Tony exhaled a breath of laughter that was nine parts aggravation and one part heartbreak. He opened his mouth to say the truth. Then he looked into her eyes and accidentally asked for what he really wanted. “Make me believe that you’re here for me.”

Rebecca regarded him coolly. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do? I give you my presence every day, and my body every night. What do you suggest I do to put on a better show?”

Tony felt a queer, cold knotting in his stomach; he was fairly certain his innards were trying to tie a noose to hang themselves from. He opened his mouth to speak, but he was mute, much like he’d been last time someone tore his heart out.

Becky watched him, still cold, but something like regret flashed through her eyes. “I should go.” She stood and started packing her notebooks back into her bag. “I should have ended this a long time ago.”

Tony watched her hands deftly tighten the laces on her packed handbag. It didn’t make sense. The sooner she ended it, the less she got. Anyone else, it might have been guilt, but this was Rebecca, and she didn’t break along normal lines. She should have ended this a long time ago, she said.

Something in her had broken a long time ago. Nothing was healed and anything could be a lie.

Anything could be a lie.

Anything.

Oh.

Oh. Tony’s eyes widened and snapped to hers. “Stop.”

“What?” Those faceted green eyes narrowed in confusion.

“Stop.” He stood, snatched her bag from her and started scattering the notebooks across the table again. “Stop packing. Stop leaving. Stay right there.” Tony dropped the bag and faced her. “I get it now. Stay here. Just listen. Now, you came here because you wanted something. Information, money, I don’t know, and I don’t care anymore. Because you don’t care anymore. You care about me. That’s the only reason you would leave.”

“You’re deluding yourself.”

“Maybe, but you’re sabotaging yourself by leaving if you still want more of my money.”

“Really? Do you know how much I could sell this story for? ‘My month with Tony Stark.’”

“A lot less than you’d get if you married me.”

What?

Tony winced. “No. Sorry, I’m doing this all out of order.” He held his hands in front of him, palms facing each other in an I need to say this clearly gesture. Stepping closer and looking intently into her eyes, he said with slow certainty, “What I am trying to say is, you’re in love with me.

Rebecca leaned back, her eyes still locked on his. She must not have realized yet that she was crying, because her face was still a mask of hateful disdain. “What a lovely confession,” she scoffed, and walked away.

She didn’t go far. He followed her around the corner and found her sitting in a kitchen chair, looking at nothing and shaken by whatever she saw there.

“Do you love me?” Tony asked.

“No,” Rebecca said without looking at him, and it was such a transparent lie that Tony grinned. She looked up at him despairingly. “Yes.”

He knelt down in front of her chair so he could rest his hands on her thighs and look up into her eyes, worshipful of all the clever, terrified chaos there. “I love you too,” he said, and meant it until it hurt, until everything that was him left him with the words because he would rather be in her. “I love you.”

Her face twisted, broken by that. She slumped forward so her forehead rested against his, and cried in horror at the fact that he loved her.

.:.

Loki whispered a spell over her drink to strengthen it. She needed a stiff drink or ten, now that she was apparently in love with a mortal. And the mortal in question was already inebriated by the wine they had been sharing throughout the evening. It was time she caught up.

She took a long pull from the strengthened wine and it burned with satisfying intensity. Then she settled against Tony’s shoulder and let herself fall into a blur of contentment.

“I dreamed about you,” Tony admitted a while later, “Before we met. Had dreams and you were in them.”

“I know,” Becky said, then looked down at her wine glass accusingly. That spell might have been a little too strong.

Tony looked up interestedly. “Really? Did you dream about me too?”

“Something like that.”

Tony smiled, pleased by the notion. “So I figured out that you’re in love with me…”

“Yes,” she agreed acidly. “You mentioned that.”

“Let me finish. I figured out that you’re in love with me. But I didn’t totally figure out why.”

“Fishing for compliments?”

“Yup.”

She turned her head to really consider him. This man had given her his heart, and it was a heart very much worth having, so maybe she owed him this. But the heart was given under false pretenses. She couldn’t keep it. More lent than given, then.

Somehow, that made her feel more indebted, not less.

Rebecca rolled her eyes and answered him. “You’re intelligent, attractive, powerful…” The obvious, inane things, but Tony was already grinning.

“It’s not easy to fool you,” she said more slowly. “You challenge me. You scare me. I scare you. You know what it is to betrayed, and you know I might, and still you want to take the risk.” You’re a gullible fool. “You’re brave for me. And you’re lost. When you’re most afraid, or most in love -- well, same thing -- you look at me like a confused, terrified child might. It’s a bit like looking in a mirror.”

Loki was definitely drunk.

She paused when she realized this, and as soon as she stopped speaking Tony leaned in to kiss her fiercely, and she forgot all thoughts quickly thereafter.

They tugged and twisted clumsily out of their clothes, the textures of skin and cloth vivid under their fingers. Just touch was overwhelming, driving all capacity for caution out of their drunk, love-addled minds. Once all the cloth was gone and there was only skin, Rebecca shifted to straddle him and didn’t hesitate in lowering her hips and sheathing him, delighting in the gasps of shock and overwhelmed pleasure Tony answered with. She rode him, and for a long time her eyes bored into his, hungry and loving, vivisecting him and breathing him in.

Then she started to fall apart, heard his name leaving her mouth over and over again, “Tony, Tony, Tony…” and she had just enough controlled thought left to wish she had never let him see her like this, before the wave hit and she lost all capacity to wish anything different or altered.

It was all drunken and messy and reckless and perfect. It took a spell from Loki before Tony could properly come with the alcohol in his system. That was another careless move on her part, but Tony was much too far gone to notice. The sporadic motion, the sound of him calling out, it was all magnified in stillness and heat, all jarring her soul with pleasant shakes as if she was someone so easy to catch off guard. Damn him, how did he make it seem so easy? “Damn you,” she whispered, and heard him laugh -- more jarring, pleasant shakes.

Some time later they stumbled into bed, and they tangled themselves together and they slept.

.:.

Loki woke before Tony. She lay in the early morning stillness and the knowledge settled in on her, with all the certainty of a shapeshifter in her own body, that she was pregnant.

She looked down at her still flat stomach, pushing the sheet aside to glide a caressing hand over the skin there. “Can you imagine that, Tony?” she whispered, knowing full well that her lover was asleep. “A child half you and half me? How miserable and lovely a creature that would be.”

Secrets had a cost, she knew, and the heaviest cost was more secrets. Sooner or later she would have to leave him, and to tell him him about this child would be all the crueler. He would either be angry that she had made him a father or angry that she hadn’t let him be one.

So when Tony woke, she didn’t tell him about the boy growing inside her.

.:.

Rebecca moved in after that, and they started the work of settling into each other’s lives. One of the first hurdles was introducing her properly to Pepper. The two women had so far ignored each other on a shared assumption that Rebecca would only darken Tony’s doorstep until the inventor came to his senses. New circumstances -- the couple’s newfound love and doomed half-engagement -- now rendered that impasse impractical. Tony stalled.

Fate was against him, and Pepper inevitably came down to his workshop on business while he was teaching a surprisingly interested and grease-covered Becky the ins and outs of properly caring for a 1932 Ford Flathead Roadster. Becky had traded in her usual formal attire for jeans and an overlarge T Shirt that persistently slipped down off one slim shoulder or the other.

Pepper walked into the workshop and came to stop when she realized who else was there.

Becky cleaned her hand on a nearby rag and held out a hand to Tony’s secretary. “Miss Potts, I don’t think I’ve ever introduced myself properly. I’m Rebecca Porcher.”

“She’s here to stay,” Tony confessed.

Becky didn’t quite wince at those words. Tony wasn’t looking, but Pepper caught the suppressed look. “Miss Porcher,” Pepper greeted with icy politeness.

This was going badly. “Tony speaks very highly of you.”

Pepper smiled. “Really? That’s so sweet. I wish I could say the same.”

Loki thought, I like her. Rebecca sent Tony a questioning look.

“Okay,” Tony clapped his hands. “I think that’s enough introducing for one day.”

Pepper was still smiling acidly. “Actually, I’d like a chance to speak with Becky in private.”

“Sounds lovely,” Becky agreed, and they headed upstairs together while Tony looked on in dread.

Once they were upstairs, Becky sighed and tried again. “I really am in love with Tony. I know you’re important to him. I hope we can become friends.”

“Not while you’re still lying to him.”

“I’m not-”

“Don’t.” Pepper raised an impatient hand to cut off Rebecca’s denial. “Seriously, just don’t. Are you going to break his heart?”

“I-” Damnit, this woman was good. “Not without breaking mine with it,” Rebecca said firmly.

Pepper looked at her for a long moment, and finally nodded a little. “That’s not good enough.” And she walked away.

.:.

Tony was sitting still, his only motion twisting a screwdriver buried in the workings of the engine before him. He didn’t move to acknowledge Pepper’s return.

“Tony, talk to me.”

Tony kept turning the screw, but he talked. “I’m going to marry her.”

Pepper crossed her arms. “Really? She agreed to marry you?”

“I asked. She hasn’t said yes yet, but I’ll convince her! Look, I don’t know what her game was, but it’s over. She loves me, and she’s right for me. I’m not letting go of that.”

“I don’t trust her.”

“I do. I didn’t, but now I do.”

“You’re going to get hurt.”

“She’s worth it.”

“No, Tony, she’s not. You’re more than-”

“It’s my choice,” Tony said in a tone that brokered no argument. “You can with live it, or you can go.”

The silence that followed was a hard, lonely one, the air in the workshop turning cold and expansive with the distance that might come between Tony and his dearest friend.

Tony put down his screwdriver and did his best to find the words to soften it. “I love you, Pep. I trust you more than anyone else. More than I trust Becky. I don’t know if I could live without you. But I know I couldn’t live without her, because under all the crazy, no one’s as much like me as she is. I’m asking you not to make me choose.”

Pepper’s face softened and her hands fell to her sides. “Tony, I’m scared that she’s not who you think she is. But if you’re right and she really is that much like you, I can probably learn to tolerate her sooner or later.”

.:.

The weeks moved forward, with Pepper and Becky trying for Tony’s sake to get along, but unable to resist using their natural talents for making polite, barbed comments that cut wickedly deep.

Christmas came. Tony bought Rebecca an enormous stuffed kitten, which disappeared under mysterious circumstances soon after. Tony offered to buy another, and Becky adamantly dissuaded him. Still, it was a nice Christmas, and Tony sort of understood now the fluffy warm feeling that people who had actually functional families seemed to associate with the holiday.

Then, and for about six weeks after, Tony Stark was happy.

.:.

It was on a cold day in February that Tony started awake and Rebecca was gone. Part of him knew immediately, had seen this coming, had seen the way she looked at Tony like he was something she couldn’t keep.

Most of him had called that part paranoia. Part of him knew, but most of him disbelieved. “Jarvis, where’s Becky?”

A pause, then Jarvis’s confused voice. “I’m not sure, Sir.”

“You’re. Not. Sure.”

“Someone has interfered with the sections of my programing dedicated to tracking her. Shall I reboot?”

“Just keep running and don’t open or save any files. I’ll check you for viruses in a minute.”

Tony got out of bed, barely stopped to put on pants, and checked the house. Bathroom, main room. She’d taken her things from the closet. Workshop, no. Roof, no. She wasn’t outside. He checked his cell phone, and her number had been erased. He dialed it from memory, and learned a few moments later that the number was disconnected.

He checked Jarvis. No virus, so he set the guy to reboot, but some of Becky's personal information was still missing, and tracking programs rewritten, which Tony had to sort through line by line to put right. The damage was done very precisely, and the alterations in the program were stylistically her.

She had left him.

It was intentional, it had clearly required forethought, and she was competent enough to hide so that he would almost certainly never see her again.

She had left him.

The house was empty without her, dead as machines and broken men, and Tony went back to the bedroom, intending to lie in the covers while they still smelled like her.

There was a note on the bedside table, so he walked around to pick it up. A small slip of paper that just read,

   It was a sincere Love, only kept illusory.

“The fuck does that even mean?” Tony asked the note numbly. He put the paper down and crawled into bed.

Tony crashed three cars that week, somehow didn't kill himself or anyone else, and had his license revoked. The media loved it. His friends watched in horror as he spiraled further down into oblivion.

Somewhere in the middle of a blur of alcohol, he figured out the arc reactor was killing him.

It was a wakeup call to realize that he did fiercely want to live after all, and he recovered far enough to search for alternative elements, but started losing himself again as soon as he realized there were none.

Then there was a SHIELD-enforced detox, some old videos of his dad, an epiphany, and another chance at life.

Tony dragged himself back from the edge, through AA (even though he didn’t feel very anonymous), and on back to the life of a superhero inventor.

He couldn’t call himself happy, or even really content. He was useful. That was what he had. It was the cold, hard rock he had to stand on, and he made do. For a very long time.

.:.

Rebecca Porcher turned into Runa Parker, a single, pregnant woman just settling into a new life in Forest Hills, New York.

Loki had planned it to be a relatively meaningless alias, just real enough to raise her son in anonymity. But the neighbors knocked on her door and invited her to dinner, and before Loki knew what had happened, Runa had friends.

May had a gentle strength that reminded Loki almost painfully of Frigga, and Loki found herself liking the woman immediately. May, in turn, took a fierce motherly interest in her new neighbor, Runa being a woman facing the imminent trials of motherhood -- apparently for the first time -- all on her own. The fact that Runa and May were ostensibly the same age did not deter this dynamic at all, nor did the fact that Loki was in fact a thousand years older than May, and had already birthed and raised several children where May had none.

Thus, Loki found herself with an unexpected ally holding her hand through the trials of pregnancy, more a comfort than she would have imagined amid the loneliness that gripped her.

And the loneliness was a formidable thing, a crippling void where one Tony Stark should be.

When she closed her eyes she could see him smiling at her, kneeling down to kiss her swollen tummy. And when she opened her eyes everything was cold. Cold reality. Cold knowledge that he would have wanted to be here, but she had denied him that.

She had denied him by existing, by being a lie at her core. His love for her was built on a brittle foundation, would shatter at the slightest revelation of truth. Better to let it fade. Better to never see him again. Better to be cold and hurting.

It was in her apartment with the company of May and an utterly superfluous Midgardian midwife that Loki gave birth to a human-looking baby boy and named him Peter.

He was so small, the smallest of all her children save Jormungandr, and Jor had grown out of that phase quickly enough. Peter was small and mortal and likely to stay small and mortal, and in his deep tearful brown eyes, Loki could see all the frailty, all the tragic things that might befall him because she was his mother. All the pain that had come to her because her parents were who they were, all the tragedies of her own children before him, their fates.

In her world of secrets that begot pain and more secrets, she resolved to tell one truth; Peter would know his race. From a young age, even from too young to quite understand, Peter knew that he was half-human. That the other half of him might be Asgardian or Jotun or both. She even showed the boy her Jotun form sometimes. The occasional appearances of “blue mommy,” delighted the boy to no end, leaving Loki shocked and strangely pleased. Peter would even try to turn himself blue, but he never manifested shapeshifting abilities, so that notion remained only a child’s fantasy. He did, however, show a little of the strength and durability of Asgardians. His intelligence rivalled Loki’s at a comparable age, and his insight far surpassed it.

She taught him to read people, to question and discern their motives. She taught him to hide his strangeness from the world, but not from her. She taught him to lie, so that she could safely tell him truths. She doted on him and loved him fiercely and in some moments, with Peter in her arms, Loki very nearly felt whole.

Peter knew his mother as Runa. She told him nothing of Loki, and her life outside their home. She told him nothing of his father, and when Peter asked, she simply said, “Don’t,” with gentle finality.

But she told him secrets. Magics and mysteries, and stories of unnamed relatives and pranks played on them.

Secrets, as she had not forgotten, had a cost.

In 2005, Stark Tower went up in New York, bringing clean energy and a world of scientific research, and a much harder world for the criminal element local to the city. There came desperation, alliances and backstabbing. A few of Loki’s associates -- the few she had kept in touch with to keep an eye on their long term plans -- saw fit to give what information they had about her to SHIELD in return for shortened sentences and the overlooking of minor incidents.

That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but favors went both ways, and some of Loki’s least favorite allies from the old days had the means to track her with minimal information, and that could end badly for Peter. The only thing for it was to appear on radar with a vengeance, somewhere far away that wouldn't lead anyone back here.

SHIELD knew she was in New York. It was time she moved.

.:.

When Peter was seven, his mom left. “You have to stay with May and Ben for a while. If anyone asks, they are your aunt and uncle. Yes?”

“Yes,” Peter confirmed. He was old enough to understand that his mom’s pretend games could be deadly serious, and he would remember the parameters of this one.

“Whatever happens, Peter, never doubt that you are wanted.” She kissed the top of his head with fierce affection, as if she would never let go.

Then she let go.

And she left.

And he waited.

A very long time.