Chapter 1: Leave This Place in Dust
It starts with Loki clinging to the broken edge of the Bifröst. It starts with, “No, Loki.” And it starts with a fall. Loki doesn’t know how long he falls between the branches of Yggdrasil, through deepest black and blazing stars and mottled nebulas. Maybe minutes, maybe years, maybe no time at all. His chest tightens, lungs constantly searching for breath, and his eyes stream and itch and burn all at once. If he screams, he does not hear it, but his throat feels raw so he must have. And then—after a fractional eternity—the blackness of between abates and frigid atmosphere digs its claws into his clothes, his flesh, and he is being pulled.
Loki doesn’t remember the last moments of his fall, nor does he remember the moment his weakened body impacts the hard crust of Midgard’s surface. He only remembers soul-deep pain, an agony that is both physical and metaphysical. And then he is cocooned in a crater shaped to the shattered angles of his body, staring up at a clear blue sky and hearing only an abstract buzz of activity happening beyond the limited range of his sight. He vaguely registers voices speaking English, speaking rapidly and speaking over each other, shouting over the ear-pressing throb of strange machinery.
Then all semblance of consciousness slips away…
…Awareness returns slowly. Crawling in like an unsure mouse and retreating several times before feeling safe enough to fully emerge. Loki has no way of knowing how much time as passed, but, judging by the stillness and emptiness of the room around her, assumes that several weeks have gone by. The walls and ceiling are stark white, as is the bedding and the simple cotton clothing she is wearing. There is a window off to her left that shows the tops of buildings and an expanse of dim blue sky.
A steady beeping emits from an interesting array of machinery pressed to the walls on either side of the bed and there are several wires connecting said machines to her body. One such wire slips under the v-collar of her shirt and attaches to a node stuck over her heart. Other wires attach to needles stuck under the skin of her hand and the crook of her elbow; another goes to a clip over her index finger; a final pair of wires goes to her temples and the center of her forehead.
Physically, Loki feels whole and well. Magically, she feels exhausted and utterly drained. Looking at the Æsir pink of her flesh and the fact that she has shifted to her female form, Loki knows she has some magic left—but only the inherent sort that comes from being a natural Jötunn shapeshifter. The kind of magic that not even a sorcerer as powerful as Odin is capable of binding. The kind that cannot be easily depleted and is the first thing to return when healing from grievous injury.
Loki tries to lifts a hand to remove the irritating patches from her face, but can only manage to raise her arm a few sad inches before the strain becomes too much. She snarls silently and then shifts her focus on wriggling the clip on her finger. The moment it detaches, one of the machines behind her head emits a sour note and then picks up an obnoxious, trilling alarm. Loki grumbles and tries to sit up, wants to sit up and take a better look at where she is…
It is some kind of healing room, that much is obvious, but where? She suspects she is still on Midgard, based on the machinery and the view of outside. Beyond that, she hasn’t the slightest idea.
A door opens to her right, hissing as it slides on tracks in the floor and ceiling. Loki turns her head on the pillow and watches with narrowed eyes as a man enters the room. He is a rather generic looking mortal male: pale skin, thinning brown hair, stocky build, and bland expression. Dark eyes meet Loki’s green and the man’s expression is utterly inscrutable.
“It’s good to see you’re finally awake,” the man says mildly. He slides the door shut behind him and strides across the room with quiet confidence. He reaches just past Loki’s line of vision, but she hears the soft tapping of his fingers on a screen and seconds later the trilling alarm cuts out. Then he is reaching for something on the side of her bed. The cot begins to buzz, Loki eyes widening in alarm as it does so, and then lifts slowly until she is reclined at forty-five degrees. At this new angle, Loki has a better vantage of her surroundings—little that it helps, the room is still sterilely white and concerningly quiet. The man steps back from the bed and clasps his hands in front of him, standing at neutral and regarding her with only the faintest bit of curiosity.
“Who are you?” she asks. Her voice is little more than a painful rasp and her throat is so dry it clicks when she attempts to swallow. The mortal man helpfully supplies her with a glass of water from the bedside table and puts a straw to her lips so she may drink her fill. When she tilts her head away to indicate she is finished, he sets the glass aside and resumes his neutral stance.
“My name is Agent Coulson,” he replies. “I represent the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. Or SHIELD, for short.” He stops to let Loki absorb this information and even seems to wait for her lift an eyebrow at him. This means nothing to her and he knows it. The corner of his mouth twitches upward in the barest hint of a smile. This man is clever and keen and allows his appearance to deceive—Loki thinks she likes him.
“Where am I?” Loki asks next, eyes straying once again to the window and the gray clouds slowly roving across the sky.
“Norway,” Coulson replies promptly. “In a private compound near Galdbygde. You made planet-fall six days ago and landed at the edge of Jotunheimen National Park. We had to leave you where you were for nearly forty-six hours before anyone could touch you without getting hurt.”
The man’s eyes narrow slightly as he says this. He is watching her closely, looking for a tell, for some indication of understanding. Loki stares right back and blinks at him slowly, though it takes some effort not to react to the name of the park. What a terrible cosmic joke.
“What’s interesting is that rather than being the molten pile of alien-goo a fall like that ought to have made you, you were quite the opposite. You were so cold, in fact, the first guy to touch you lost a finger to frostbite.”
Loki huffs a sigh and relents. “I imagine I was also blue at the time?”
“If it hadn’t been for that, we would have assumed you were Asgardian.”
“Æsir,” Loki corrects automatically, “and no, I am not. But Asgard is where I fell from.”
“The Bifröst?” asks Coulson, he has a small metal device out and is tapping at it rapidly with his thumbs. “We have readings of its energy from a few months ago, during a little visit from the God of Thunder. You were covered in traces of that same energy when you…arrived.”
Loki makes a face at the mention of Thor and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“You’re acquainted, then,” Coulson says, assumes correctly.
“In a manner, yes,” Loki grudgingly admits.
When she says no more, Coulson releases a small huff of a sigh and says, “Ma’am, my job is to determine whether or not you can be trusted on Earth. If I leave this room anything less than one hundred percent certain that you have no plans to do harm to the planet or anyone on it, you will spend the rest of your existence locked up so tight in SHIELD’s custody, it’ll make super-max on Asgard look like a preschool.”
I’d like to see you try, Loki thinks viciously, though she knows not to say it aloud. Because she knows Midgard is her best bet at the moment, while she doesn’t have the physical strength to sit up or the magical strength to teleport. There is currently no place in all the Nine Realms that she can or wants to go. Helheim is exclusively for the dead; Muspelheim is inhospitable to Frost Giants; Alfheim is unpalatable to her in its goodness; and Svartalfheim is home to dwarves who would gladly remove her head from her neck. Niflheim is far too like Jotunheim and Jötunheim does not even bear consideration and even if Vanaheim were not so closely allied with Asgard, Sigyn’s presence alone is enough to keep Loki away.
“You make a compelling argument,” she tells the man drolly.
“I try,” he replies, affable as ever.
“If you must know, Thor and I were raised as brothers”—unsurprisingly, Coulson does not blink at her implied masculine pronouns despite her current female form—“but the recent family drama that I’m sure you’ve heard about put a rather sizeable strain on our relationship. I decided to drop myself off the side of the Bifröst, which, by the way, is quite destroyed at the moment and will not be easily repaired.”
Coulson says nothing for a moment, just stares at Loki with a faintly contemplative expression. Then, after a minute has passed, says, “What name would you prefer I use for my report?”
“Pardon?” asks Loki, caught off guard by the question.
“I assume you don’t want to be called Odinson after the, ah, family drama, as you put it.”
Loki curls her lip, there goes her anonymity. “No, I do not.” She considers the many names and titles she has accrued over the centuries, some kind and some cruel and many merely descriptive. Most cannot be logically adapted into a Midgardian style surname and the one that already is, happens to be the name of a popular science-fictional character. She sighs. “I suppose Lie-Smith will have to do. It is the easiest of my many kennings to make a name from.”
“Miss Lie-Smith, then,” Coulson says and spends the next few hours interrogating her on her motives and reasons for being here. Loki stresses how purely accidental her arrival here was and how little desire she has for total destruction.
“Mischief, yes,” she freely admits, “that is in my nature, but I find total ruination to be the wont of boorish men with no imagination or higher thinking.”
Coulson looks vaguely pained as he replies, “I appreciate your candor, Miss Lie-Smith.”
He concludes their conversation soon after and leaves the room. Loki, annoyingly exhausted by the prolonged interaction, finds herself dozing off before she can do a mental review of everything she managed to learn from the mortal. When she wakes, the sky is dark and smattered with tiny stars and there is a tray waiting for her with a meager meal on. Either these mortals are not aware of her enormous appetite or they think the healing process will make her stomach weak. She’ll have to correct them on this right away.
A week progresses in much the same way: long and pointed conversations with Agent Coulson, hours of restorative sleep, and thankfully bigger meals. By the end of it, Loki feels almost halfway back to her usual level of strength and energy and Coulson seems convinced that, at the very least, she has no wish to damage the planet. Every now and then she catches him sighing and muttering about stark and how much like stark she is. These comments go over her head, she doesn’t know who or what the man is referring to, but it seems to be working in her favor, so she does not ask.
Two days later, she discovers that stark is another mortal man, but a much more delightful one. Able to walk unaided on her own two feet, Loki has been deemed ready for transport to America, where SHIELD operates and has proper jurisdiction. Coulson escorts her to a private jet owned by a man called Tony Stark, whom he regards with a drawn sort of amusement—as though he is endlessly vexed by this man, but also reluctantly fond.
Coulson’s parting words are this: “Mr. Stark has agreed to put you up in his New York home and you can expect me or another agent to check in periodically. Please try to maintain a low profile.”
- - -
A year and a half later
The room is brimming with bloggers, columnists, photographers, reporters, and—most important of all—fans. The panel at the front of the room is occupied by the main cast of a new movie based on a book called Foreshock from the recently completed Earthshaker Trilogy. The first book became a bestseller and the rest of the series was highly anticipated and received rave reviews. When the first movie was announced two years ago, speculation on the casting went wild.
When an entirely unknown woman named Lona Silver, who has only ever been seen on the arm of Tony Stark, was cast at the last minute as the villain of the series… Anxiety was rampant in the fandom. This woman certainly looked the part—physically, she matched most of the significant character descriptors in the book—but could she act the part?
The Foreshock movie was released just yesterday and those worries were proven needless. Though her part is small in the first installation, Lona Silver stands out and steals every scene she appears in. Even now in this overly bright room, sat at the end of her better-known costars and largely hidden behind the long table, eyes can’t help but wander over to her. Just as her character is described, Lona is remarkably tall—six feet and three and a half inches, to be precise—and porcelain pale with deep ebony hair. Her posture is queenly, her cheekbones high, and her brow regal. Everything about her is elegant and graceful, her confidence is magnetic, and her bright emerald eyes mesmerizing. The fact that she also speaks with a rich British accent, despite clearly stating that she is Norwegian, is just the cherry on top.
Loki, exceptionally pleased with her guise, crosses her ankles under the table and rests her chin on her clasped hands while she watches the panel progress. It was the simple work of magic and touch of assistance from JARVIS that provided her with all the necessary paperwork and digital presence to be a legitimate member of the human race and to prove she has all the right credentials. Together, they put together an excellent resume to get Loki into movie business—something she deemed worth her while and quite fun. Her natural skills and abilities make her exceptionally well-suited for acting and the job places her right in the middle of chaotic workplaces and hubs of gossip. The potential for mischief is staggering and Loki thrives on it.
“I have a question for Ms. Silver,” says another of many invited to speak. Loki perks up with a delighted smile. “This is your first ever appearance, what made you want to start acting so suddenly? And did you ever imagine your first movie would be a blockbuster?”
Loki chuckles as she leans forward slightly to answer into her microphone. “It was my dear friend Anthony who inspired me to pursue acting. He made some remark about how I was leeching his fame like a Kardashian and I just had to do something to shut him up. So, after I ensured he was no longer able to speak coherently”—she says this last bit with a sultry smirk, relishing in how her audience titters in response—“I put together a resume and set up an audition. As for the second question: yes, I did, because I’ll not accept anything less.”
The panel goes on. The majority of the questions are for the other actors—the ones who have a larger role in the first film—and the director. Loki listens with half an ear while lazily scanning the audience; she happens to catch the eye of a young fan wearing an Earthshaker t-shirt and sends the young mortal girl a wink. The girl flushes bright red and quickly looks away, then glances back, and looks away again with widened eyes when she sees Loki is still looking.
This is Loki’s first experience with “Comicon” but so far she is quite enjoying herself.
The young man next to her—a delightful fellow named Rami—nudges her politely.
“Yes, dear?” she says, doing her best impression of Tony at a board meeting while she turns her attention to the mic stand. “So sorry, I was admiring an audience member.”
Said audience chuckles and Loki takes a moment to wiggle her fingers at her blushing fan.
“Your question?” she prompts the speaker at the mic.
The middle-aged woman at the mic asks: “Your character, Gaia, has a much more physical presence in the second installation and there is a very significant fight-scene halfway through the novel. Do you have a diet and exercise schedule already planned to prepare for this?”
Loki stares at the woman. What in Midgardian Hell is this mortal going on about? Diet and exercise? Does Loki look like she needs diet and exercise? Why is she even being asked about diet and exercise? Her male costars have all been talking about their acting process and how they interpreted their characters and she is asked about nutrition? Loki finds this offensive.
“Are you implying something?” Loki asks outright. She doesn’t have the patience for this kind of stupidity. “Do I look as though I am in need of dietary restrictions or an exercise regime?” The woman on the mic stutters; there is a whoop somewhere in the audience. Loki goes on, “I am trained in several forms of hand-to-hand combat. I have also trained with swords, daggers, lances, staffs, bow and arrow, and various miscellaneous objects that can be used as a weapon in a pinch. I assure you, I am in peak physical condition and more than capable of performing my own stunts and fight sequences.”
The woman at the mic spews apologies and Loki just waves her off. Her phone buzzes against her thigh. It’s the latest StarkPhone, one of many prototypes that she fondly allows Tony to foist on her, because she doesn’t give a damn about what kind of cellular device she has so long as it works and because Tony can’t help himself constantly upgrading his work. Eventually, one of his earlier models will be mass produced, but in the meantime, he’ll keep upgrading faster than production can handle and Loki will always be on the cutting edge of Stark Tech.
She taps the screen—a see-through touch that appears like misted glass from the back—and a text from, speak of the devil, Tony pops up. He’d mentioned before she left that he was planning on watching a “livestream” of the panel.
You’re so hot when you’re offended by us mere mortals.
Loki rolls her eyes and doesn’t deign to respond to him. A second text appears before she can slide the phone back into her pocket.
I wonder what sorry SHIELD agent is also watching. They’re probably crying about your people skills.
Loki scoffs and the sound is picked up by her mic. She puts on a slightly chagrined expression when her costars turn to look at her and holds up her phone. “My apologies, Anthony is sending me text messages,” she explains. “He’s commenting on my people skills.”
Her delightful friend Rami laughs and says, “The nerve, how dare he!”
“Yes!” Loki agrees, also laughing. “The sheer gall! You’re my new favorite human, Rami. Anthony has just been demoted for slandering my good name.”
Take that back! I did no such thing!
Loki types back: No. You’ll have to earn it back. Then locks her phone and slips it back into her pocket. The panel goes on.
By the end of the event, Loki has not been asked any more questions about her physical preparedness for her role and asked several times about how she gets along with her costars and if she relates to her character and so on. She is also asked about her relationship with Tony, to which she responds by talking about how she read the entire Earthshaker Trilogy in a single afternoon and how she had to read up on Greek Mythology to really get some of the references. She is far more versed in Norse Mythology, you see, but she can see how Greek became popular and why the author chose to use aspects of it for her novels.
After the panel, the cast relocates to a more accessible table where they receive a seemingly never-ending line of fans eager for autographs and photos. Loki does her part in greeting them pleasantly and signing everything they shove at her and holding still while men and women of all ages lean over the table to take a “selfie” with her. One of Loki’s many hang-ups in her new celebrity lifestyle is the expectation that she smiles for the camera. Personally, she finds constant smiling tedious and exhausting and a little too reminiscent of a certain blond oaf. So, she makes a point not to smile in fan-photos or planned photoshoots (of which she has done precisely one, but nevertheless). She keeps her expression pleasant, even amicable, but she does not smile and people seem to have accepted that as one of her Things.
When she grows bored of the constant noise and sweaty energy of Comicon, Loki excuses herself to the lavatory and teleports home once she is sure she is alone in the room. Home, for Loki since her arrival, is an entire floor of Stark Tower in New York City all to herself. She spent perhaps a month in the guest rooms on Tony’s floor and then graduated to where she is now when she was deemed trustworthy. Tony’s estimation of trustworthy seems lax and irresponsible from an outside perspective, but the man is a keen judge of character and SHIELD knows it, though they are loath to admit it. Loki freely enjoys her autonomy and takes a special sort of joy in subtly calling out the agents that try to tail her on a regular basis. She likes to bring them coffees made to their exact preferences and then watch them squirm when they realize she expects them to go against their training and drink the unchecked, unverified beverage she has just handed them. Thus far, Loki has not encountered the same agent twice and she is somewhat impressed by how many operatives SHIELD has.
Loki has been assured multiple times by Tony and his ego that the Tower is powered by one hundred percent clean energy and is, in fact, a true marvel of modern science. Loki is inclined to believe him, but she likes to wear a skeptical expression any time the subject comes up because it gets Tony going in the most precious way. When the Tower was powered on six months ago, Loki was sadly busy and not invited to the celebratory sex marathon that happened that night between Tony and Pepper—rocky as their relationship sometimes is, Loki has something of a standing invitation to join, but also an understanding that there are moments reserved for just the two of them. Thus Loki was unoffended and it gave her time to prepare some truly sinful plans for the next she was able to get her hands on one or both of them. Loki gleefully implemented those plans no more than a few days later and spent that day thoroughly debauching Tony on the floor of his lab in Malibu and then Pepper across the lavish desk in her Stark Industries office during her lunch break.
Standing in the middle of her living area, Loki sighs and feels a zip of remembered pleasure go down her spine and to her sex. Feeling suddenly quite predatory, Loki detours through her kitchen for a Gatorade and a granola bar and then prowls down to the labs where she knows she will find Tony. He has a lot of work to do if he wants to earn his back promotion to favorite human.
- - -
During the first month of her life on Midgard, mostly while she was living in Tony’s guest rooms, Loki spent a lot of time in front of a full-length mirror contemplating her appearance. She knew that whatever form she chose for her first outing with Tony Stark would be the form she must remain in for a long time. It wasn’t too late to go back to her male form and it wouldn’t cause her any problems with her new watchdogs in SHIELD. She made sure to tell Coulson during his interviews that she often vacillates between male and female and that sometimes she feels like nothing at all, gender-wise. Coulson had informed that there is a word for that on Midgard—genderfluid, the word astounded and excited her—and that it wasn’t a problem.
On Asgard, for all that it is progressive and accepting, the idea that one person could feel multiple genders is confusing and obscure. It’s like something you may read about that applies to other beings from other places, but isn’t something to happen in real life. And since Loki’s gender shifts over the course of decades, it was a shock and the subject of gossip for months every time she felt the desire to change.
But here on Midgard, the mortals did not care in the least. And it didn’t matter that in sixty or seventy years Loki will want to be male or non-binary because all who knew her as a woman would either be dead or supportive of her transition.
So, with her foremost concern not even being a concern, Loki dedicated hours of time to studying her face and her female form and deliberating. Things like her eye color and hair color and her Scandinavian pallor are facts of her Æsir glamor, they are as much her natural appearance as Jötunn blue is her natural skin color. But what she can control, what she can change and make visible or invisible, are her scars. Untouched by cosmetic spells, Loki’s skin is absolutely riddled.
Pinprick scars line her mouth—earning her the kenning Scar-Lip, one of her least favorite—the lines of her cheekbones and brow is slightly mottled by the venom of Skadi’s wretched serpent. The chains that once bound her left ugly marks about her wrists and ankles. Her ribs are crosshatched and her back is full of memories from the time it was stripped to ribbons—Thor’s hare-brained battles and ventures for glory somehow always left her more marked and mutilated than he and his merry band of idiots.
In the end, Loki smoothed away the venom scars and the chain scars—the story behind those is too painful, even centuries later—and left everything else as it is. She is Loki Scar-Lip and she cannot erase that name from her being and so she must accept it. Her body tells the story of her life, of her struggles and her recoveries and her triumphs, and even if she does not care for the physical reminder, she knows that others will. She always planned to put herself in the public eye; after Coulson’s parting comment, how could she not? And she does not need to be exclusively female to know the positive force behind having a female figure, with obvious flaws and imperfections and bright resilient strength, to look up to.
Eighteen months later, no one has noticed her scars and if they have, they have not asked her about them. She thinks now that she is properly famous and more likely to be recognized and photographed going about her daily life, those questions will start flowing. She’ll have to think of logical, mortal explanations for them. Or, more likely, she’ll follow Tony’s example and wing it as needed.
- - -
leah @leah_lookout11: why do we care about lonna sliver? shes a homewrecker who split up tony stark and pepper pots!
Amanda P @amandapanda replying to @leah_lookout11: First: her name is Lona Silver. Second: homewrecker? Source, please. And third: she’s awesome???
- - -
A week has gone by since Comicon and Loki is bored. As an advanced alien species, she does not need as much sleep as mortals do and often spends her nights going for walks through the boroughs. She likes to wear her best pumps and most complimentary clothing and walk her most hip-swinging walk. Like moths to a flame, the lowliest scumbags of the male species come to her with lecherous expressions and self-entitled opinions. Loki likes to tear them down when they approach her, thinking they have any right to her body and deserve her attention for their sleazy come-ons. Not literally tear them apart, of course, Loki has no desire to be imprisoned or deported to space, but the little skirmishes are enough to satisfy her natural need for chaos. And better these creeps and perverts go after her than a common Midgardian woman who is unable to defend herself.
Tonight, Loki is prowling through Queens, killer heels clicking a deadly rhythm on the cracked concrete sidewalk, passing headlights and retreating taillights picking up the faint shimmer in the fabric of her top. She dresses modestly enough to not stand out, to not be mistaken for some sort of sex worker, but with subtle touches to draw the eye. She carries a purse more as a prop because anything she might need she can produce from the little pocket dimensions she has stitched to her magical core.
Already she has dispatched two would-be attackers and is shaking out her hair after the second scuffle when she notices something unusual. A child. A very young child outside in New York City at a quarter past midnight. To Loki, a slow-aging semi-immortal being, the child looks to be about fifty years of age, but she knows mortals age much quicker and calculates the child’s actual age to be closer to eleven or twelve.
Loki slows her approach as she considers her options. On the one hand, this is not her child and she has no obligation or responsibility to see that he is safe. On the other hand, Loki is a parent herself—though just as a father, despite her fluidity, she has only ever sired her offspring—and this skinny mortal boy looks so terribly like her youngest that it makes her heart ache.
The boy is sitting on the stoop of a tall apartment building, legs drawn to his chest, arms wrapped around them, and chin resting sullenly on his knees. He has messy brown hair and large brown eyes that stare morosely into the middle distance and suddenly Loki is standing at the opposite end of the stoop.
“It’s a bit late to be out, don’t you think?” she asks, gentling her voice.
The boy looks at her, turning his head just enough to peer at her from the corners of his eyes. His chin is smushed against his knees and he doesn’t change this when he replies, “You’re out.”
Loki can’t help the smirk that curls her lip. “Yes, but I am an adult.”
The boy levels her with a truly unimpressed stare. “That doesn’t mean bad stuff can’t happen to you.”
For a moment, Loki forgets how to breathe. This is a child who knows just how true this statement is. This is a child who has lost someone, who understands that adulthood does not equal safety or security. Loki is again reminded of her Vali, half of a pair and without his father, hidden away on Vanaheim with her estranged ex-wife.
“That’s right,” she murmurs. “It doesn’t. But you shouldn’t tempt fate, young one.”
The boy snorts and goes back to staring into the distance.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he mutters.
“Wise,” Loki says, “but irrelevant as we’re already talking.” She leans her hip against the squat concrete pillar at the base of the stoop and folds her arms across her chest. She asks, “What is your name?”
“What’s yours?” he shoots back. Defensive, but intelligent. Deliberately doing something potentially dangerous by being outside late at night, but not so reckless as to actually go anywhere. This boy has lost important adult figures in his life, but he still has someone who cares for him and whom he cares for.
“Loki,” she replies promptly and the boy finally removes his chin from his knees to look at her straight on.
“Yeah, right,” he says. “You’re not even a man.”
She grins, pleasantly surprised. What a wonderfully unexpected thing for this child to have knowledge of.
“I’m a shapeshifter.”
“No such thing.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do, unless you prove me wrong.”
Loki throws her head back and laughs, utterly delighted by this clever child. When she settles, she tells him earnestly, “Please, go back inside. Please, as a parent to a son, no blood relation necessary,” she adds when he opens his mouth to protest that she is not his parent, “please, be safe. I promise you, whoever is in there is waiting for you and they will miss you if you disappear.”
The boy’s eyes flicker between hers, reading and wrapping his mind around every scary and desperate emotion she is letting show. He presses his mouth into a thin line and nods curtly, shrunken and made nervous by what he has found. He has just risen clumsily to his feet when the door at the top of the stoop is yanked open and an older man with uncombed graying hair lurches out. Lurches, because he stops mid-step and comes to an awkward halt when he sees the boy on the bottom step.
“There you are!” he exclaims with evident relief. “Your aunt and I were worried sick! Are you okay?” The man notices Loki, standing at a considerate distance from the child with her posture relaxed and her hands firmly to herself. “Who are you?”
“Lona Silver,” she tells him. “I saw him sitting alone and stopped to ask if he was alright.”
“Ah,” the man says vaguely, scrutinizing her.
“He’s a clever lad,” she goes on, shifting away from the stoop and taking a small backward step. “Refused to say a word to me.” She glances at the boy and he’s looking with back a furrowed brow. “Goodnight.”
As she turns to leave, she hears the boy say, “Sorry, Uncle Ben, I didn’t mean to scare you…” and then his voice is lost as he and his uncle retreat inside. Loki tucks her hands into her pockets and keeps her stride long and deliberate. Her mind travels light years away and to decades long past. She turns a corner and arrives in the middle of her living room. She sinks onto the (ridiculously comfortable and unreasonably expensive) sofa and kicks off her pumps. She stays there until morning, submerged in the memories of when everything was sweet and she did not know the name Scar-Lip.
- - -
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: Earlier this year I convinced JARVIS to phase into using an Australian accent over the course of about two months. It took Anthony nearly three weeks to notice.
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: To this day, he does not know if he ought to be furious it took so long to notice or impressed that I convinced JARVIS to play a prank on him.
Direct Message from You Know Who I Am @AEStark
Your handle is a tad on the nose, don’t you think
- - -
The clip they chose is of Loki’s first appearance in Foreshock, which is about halfway through the film:
Gaia stands on the roof of the tallest building in Gainston—the fictional city that hosts the majority of the first installment—and stares out across the urban sprawl. She can hear cars honking, the heavy thrum of thousands of engines, and she can see the smog and the fumes rising to pollute the clean air. The wind pulls at her dark hair and snatches at her clothing—colored in earth-tones, outdated in style, but suited to her form.
The camera presses in to frame her face. Her eyes are dark and hard, expression a distasteful sneer, and her lips are noticeably chapped. There are bruises under her eyes and her cheeks are too hollow. She looks as though she has not slept in a very long time. But she also looks strong, determined, and very, very angry.
“Have you come to stop me?” she asks quite suddenly. Her accent is American, but there are hints of Greek that play on her vowels.
The camera peers over her shoulder and reveals a graying man standing several yards behind her. He is bearded and tall, broad-shouldered, and handsomely dressed in a fine modern suit. Gaia turns to face him. His name is Demitrius and he is the leader of the Prometheus Project, an organization dedicated to keeping the world safe from the supernatural. (He is introduced much earlier in the film and it will be revealed later in the trilogy that he is more familiar with the forces he fights than he lets on.)
“If I can,” he replies, perfectly calm in the face of her rage.
“You may try,” Gaia hisses, “and you will fail.”
She is barefoot and the roof is spread with gravel, though she hardly seems to notice as she stalks towards him. He remains unphased and quiet as she approaches.
“If I do, others will rise,” he says. “It will only be a matter of time before someone succeeds.”
“Time,” she repeats, mocking. “You will not have time, I will not give you any time. I have already given so much and for naught. I am tired. I am out of patience. This ends now.”
“’This’ being the world?” he inquires, still infuriatingly cool.
“I am the world!” Gaia shouts. Her hand flashes out and strikes the man across his face. His head snaps sideways and he staggers—this is incredible, as he has previously proven to be quite difficult to move. The man rights himself and spits a mouthful of blood onto the gravel. He straightens his clothes and becomes mild, unruffled, once again.
“The human race, then,” he says as if nothing has transpired.
“They are hurting me,” says Gaia, desperation leaking in past her fury, her eyes suddenly shining a bit brighter with remembered pain. “I want them gone.”
The clip ends there.
Loki’s mouth, lips painted a vicious red, curves into the faint hint of a smile as the audience whistles and applauds. She rests an elbow against the arm of the sofa chair, leaning towards the host at his desk, with her ankles crossed and angled to the other side of the seat. She is wearing a two-piece dress: a subtly patterned halter-top done in deep greens with a thin gold stitching that accents the pattern and an asymmetrical skirt in so deep an emerald it is nearly black. She’s also wearing her favorite killer pumps: matte black, heels studded with black plastic spikes, and red soles. She looks lethal and she loves it.
As the only unknown face in Foreshock, Loki is set to do solo promotional work for the next few days before rejoining the cast at the end of the week. She’s currently on one of the many late-night talk shows filmed in one of many studios in Southern California. The host is a cordial man in his early- to mid-thirties, Caucasian with brown hair, named Jimmy—again, one of many. If pressed, Loki would be unable to tell you which late night show she is on and what Jimmy’s last name is.
Jimmy is beaming and drumming his palms on his desk enthusiastically.
“Lona! Silver! Everyone!” he announces redundantly. They’ve already done the welcomes and greetings and introducing the clip. The audience redoubles its cheering but settles down quickly enough when Jimmy starts shouting, “Alright, alright,” and holds his hands out in askance.
“Wow!” he exclaims when he finally has quiet. Loki thinks he’s overreacting, but it is part of his job and she appreciates his spirit.
“Thank you,” she says.
“So,” says Jimmy, “this is your first movie. Your first appearance, basically, ever.”
“That is correct.”
“You’ve already said you decided to act because your friend Tony Stark”—Jimmy emphasizes the name because Tony Stark is weirdly beloved, even when he was a weapons manufacturer, the man has an absurd sort of charisma—“called you a Kardashian—”
“He inferred I was like a Kardashian,” Loki inserts. “It’s an important distinction.”
“Of course,” Jimmy laughs. “But what drew you to this particular role? It’s a three-movie deal and your role, you play the main antagonist, so your role only gets bigger and more demanding in each film. Did you have other parts you considered or…? What made you decide to jump right into a three-movie deal?”
This is the question Loki has been waiting for. She has dodged and shot down so many mindless queries about fitness and being the only girl in a male-dominated cast—which is hardly even true, the cast is fairly balanced gender-wise. But this is a question that begs a meaningful answer and Loki has been eager for it.
“Thank you for asking me that,” she starts earnestly. “You’re the first person to ask me that, did you know?”
“Yes, and it’s been driving me mental. I’ve been wanting to talk about why I took this part for so long, but there has never been an opportunity for it.”
“I’m glad I could help,” says Jimmy.
“So. My resumé at the time was entirely made up of skills and qualifications, so I had quite a few offers for action movies that wanted me to be a stunt double for their female leads and only maybe three or four that were for an actual role. These offers are all just script samples, of course, and the one I received for Foreshock consisted of the scene we just saw and a few scenes from later on. As soon as I read that first scene, I was decided and I stopped looking at anything else. They could’ve told me it was a six-movie deal or more, I wouldn’t have cared. I had to play this character. Had to, because…” Loki hesitates, she has set herself up to speak about her past in however elusory a manner and she has to steel herself.
She takes a deep breath and she is unbreakable.
Loki goes on: “From the very beginning, Gaia makes her intentions very clear. She says, ‘This is what I want and this is what will happen if I don’t get it.’ And what she wants is to stop hurting. She is in pain, physically and emotionally, and she just wants that pain to stop.” Loki briefly touches the inside of her wrist, left, where the chains magicked from her Nari’s spilled intestines bit the deepest. “I know what that is like, to want the pain to stop so desperately you’re willing to burn down the world around you. It’s something I have felt before, more times than I would like to recall, and if I passed on this part, if I had to watch someone else try to express that agony… It would drive me mad.”
Madder, she amends privately, she’s never had any delusions as to her level of sanity.
Jimmy is quiet and so is the audience. They are unsure how to react to the information Loki has just unexpectedly dropped on them.
Loki clears her throat delicately. “So, shall I just leave now or…? I’m sure Anthony could afford to send you all home with blankets and hot cocoa.”
Jimmy grabs the olive branch she has extended.
“I think we’ll need it,” he says. “That was dark. I’m sorry I don’t know quite how to respond, but can I just… It takes a lot of courage to just, reveal that, so thank you for being so open.”
Loki inclines her head. “That’s alright. There is no proper way to respond, but there are worse ways to react than how you have. You’ve hit the pleasant middle-ground and that’s just fine.”
“Pleasant middle-ground,” Jimmy repeats. “That’s pretty much all I aspire to.”
Loki laughs and they let the moment pass.
“So, Gaia’s a very important character to you,” Jimmy summarizes. “Have you read all the books?”
“I have. After reading the script sample, I had JARVIS download the trilogy to my tablet and spent the rest of the day reading. I finished all three books by dinnertime and by then I was so excited to start working on the film, I started composing emails to the director and the producers concerning my audition and my qualifications. Fortunately, JARVIS did not actually send any of them, but instead helpfully compiled all my better points and put together a very sensible and polite response that he sent with my approval the next morning.”
Jimmy laughs. “I can’t picture you being anything other than totally collected.”
Loki chuckles. “Yes, well, I’ve not been in the public eye for very long, so there’s time for that to change.”
- - -
is anyone ever going to ask why lona silver lives with tony stark? i'm dying of curiosity here and she keeps casually bringing it up and no one has asked???
- - -
Loki sends a well-crafted clone to take her place for the next few days of promo work and then takes the hidden pathways to Helheim. Garm, the watchdog at the gates to the Realm of the Dead, sniffs her hand with his cold nose. The great mangy beast knows Loki well and likes to press his drooling muzzle to her hands and into the crook of her neck whenever she visits. She scratches her fingers through his scruff affectionately and then carries on down the path to Eljudnir, magicking away the slobber as she goes.
Hel is waiting at the vast from doors to her palace. She is nearly as tall and just as angular as her parent. She is dressed in fine dark skirts, her chest wrapped with soft dove gray cloth, and her feet are bare. The bluish-black half of her body bears a strong resemblance to Loki’s hated Jötunn form, down to the genealogical lines that trace across her skin and tell the tales of her ancestors. Her pale half is the color of sun-bleached bone and skeletally thin, but no less powerful than the other half. Her hair, also neatly bisected into a platinum side and an ebony side, falls to her waist and is woven into a loose braid. Her crown is a circlet made of rib bones with two-pronged horns that honor the helm of her parent.
Loki quickens her pace at the sight of her daughter and Hel hastens forward to meet her in a tight embrace.
“Pappa. I heard of your fall,” Hel mumbles into Loki’s shoulder. “I dreaded every day that your soul might come through my halls until I learned you had landed on Midgard.”
“It was a near thing,” Loki tells her truthfully, “but I haven’t gotten myself killed yet.”
Hel’s arms tighten around Loki’s shoulders, clinging desperately as she would when she was centuries younger and frightened by a bad dream.
“It is alright, min datter,” Loki murmurs into the dark of Hel’s hair. “You need not fear my death and besides, would it really be so terrible for my soul to reside in your realm? Are you telling me you do not want your beloved parent around you all the time?”
Hel chokes on a laugh and releases the embrace. Her eyes are shining—one an icy blue and the other a nebulous black. “Yes,” she says emphatically, settling back into her usual self. “It would be awful. You would become bored and I would never have a moment’s peace!”
Loki chuckles. “You know me well.”
They enter Eljudnir and Hel leads the way to her personal chambers where comfortable chairs are set by a blazing fireplace and food and drink have been laid on a nearby table. Parent and daughter settle themselves with goblets of wine in hand and tray of nibbles between them.
“Now, tell me, elskling,” Loki says after a long sip. “What is this urgent news you have for me?”
Hel’s expression turns grim. “The Mad Titan has begun searching for the Stones and I suspect he will soon set his sights on Midgard. I know of two stones currently hidden there and you must ensure they are protected against him.”
Loki leans back in her chair and considers. “This is the same Mad Titan who claims to love you.” She doesn’t need to ask, she knows this with certainty, but she does need to ask this: “Do you not reciprocate his love?”
She needs to know just how thoroughly the Titan must be destroyed.
Hel sighs. “I admit there was a time when I was charmed by him. He sent me such sweet gifts: powerful warlords and unstoppable conquerors, all very potent and valuable souls. But then he began to confuse quality with quantity and now he threatens the balance of the universe.”
“Too much death and there will be no life,” Loki says softly and Hel nods solemnly.
“With the Infinity Stones, he will be able to wipe out planets with a mere snap of his fingers, multiple at a time.”
This is urgent news indeed and grave.
“The Time Stone is on Midgard,” says Loki, “in the care of the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj. I will visit them and see that they are better protected. What is the other Stone on Midgard?”
She knows the Power Stone is hidden away on Morag, protected by extreme flooding that sank all life and makes passage across the planet’s surface near impossible. The Soul Stone is heavily guarded on some distant planet she knows little about. The Reality and Space Stones are locked away--one in a hidden place by Odin's doing and one in Odin’s Vault, as the Aether and the Tesseract respectively. The location of the Mind Stone is yet a mystery, as it was lost ages before Loki’s birth.
“The Space Stone,” says Hel and Loki’s eyebrows rise in shock.
“No,” she says. “It is in Odin’s Vault, it is safe.”
But Hel is shaking her head. “It was, but not anymore. Not for some time. Odin crafted a decoy to sit its place. Last I heard it was somewhere in Norway, but I doubt that is still true.”
Loki takes another long sip of wine while she thinks. “I will begin searching for it immediately. Perhaps Anthony can come up with something to expedite the process.”
“Mm, yes, I’ve heard of your mortal Anthony. I’m quite fond of him myself,” Hel says with exaggerated casualness. She grins at her parent and drinks more wine before saying anything more, enjoying watching her parent narrow her eyes and wait impatiently for an explanation. “Did you know he is called the Merchant of Death?”
Understanding dawns and Loki laughs. “He has rejected that title.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t still receive the loveliest gifts from him every now and then. He has done the converse of my Mad Titan, he now sends me souls of quality rather than in quantity.” Hel’s smirk broadens. “I particularly enjoyed Obadiah Stane, it’s been so long since I saw a mortal soul so twisted.”
“I’ll be sure to send Anthony your gratitude,” Loki replies dryly.
“Please, do,” says Hel.
The grim mood subsides, if only slightly, and Loki looks fondly at her only daughter, her only child to be truly free of shackles or shame. Despite how Hel’s life began, Hel has flourished in her realm, has become truly remarkable, and Loki is so proud of her daughter she sometimes cannot breathe for the weight of it.
“If you could have your way,” Loki starts, would you remain Queen of Helheim? Would you leave this place forever? Would you have revenge on Odin for casting you out as a mere babe? “What you have done about your Mad Titan?”
Hel’s answer comes without hesitation. “I would have him sent here, to my Realm, in the quickest manner possible.”
Her expression is as hard and clear as cut diamond and books no room for argument or interpretation. The Mad Titan Thanos must be killed. The declaration sits like a weighted blanket about Loki’s shoulders. Dread and terror and a grim determination rise within her in equal amounts. Loki drains her glass before replying.
“That is no simple task.”
“I know, pappa, but there are none I trust more than you,” Hel says frankly. “If not for your strength and magical prowess, then for your cleverness and cunning. I know you will find a way.”
Loki reaches out and strokes her daughter’s dark cheek. “Sometimes I think you have too much faith in me, elskling.”
Hel clasps Loki’s hand to her cheek and leans into the touch. “Never.”
Loki sighs and smiles at her daughter, rubbing Hel’s prominent cheekbone with the pad of her thumb. “I will begin preparations immediately.”
- - -
Tony is in his lab when Loki returns to Midgard, tinkering as always with the mechanics of his suit. The Tower has been running smoothly for some time now and the hub of Stark Industries successfully moved in. Of the ninety-stories, eighty are devoted to the company: offices, research labs, expansive gyms, several suites for late-workers to crash in, and a few fully-staffed complimentary restaurants for employees only. There is, however, an open-to-the-public bar and grill on the ground floor—it is constantly busy, but always worth the wait.
The top ten floors comprise Tony’s penthouse, including an enormous lab that is actually two floors but with the ceiling that separated them taken out. Tony doesn’t even need ten floors of space and as a result, there are six rarely visited levels between the last company floor and the first personal one.
Tony lives in the top three and Loki is just below his lab. She was wary of this, at first, worried that one of Tony’s inventions or an experiment gone wrong will crash through the ceiling on her. But she soon realized that for Tony Stark, nothing but the best will do, and the Tower is very nearly indestructible. There is no force on Earth that is able to collapse any ceilings or walls in this particular building.
But now that the threat of extra-terrestrial invasion is looming, Loki’s worry returns ten-fold.
Tony doesn’t look up when she taps in her personal entry code, but she knows that he is aware of her even if his music is still blasting. Loki also knows better than to ask JARVIS to turn it down or to try and get his attention. So, instead, she sits on a nearby stool and watches him work. When he is either done or at a reasonable stopping point, he will give her his full attention.
She shamelessly watches the pull and flex of muscle under his sun-kissed skin, deliciously accentuated by a glimmering layer of sweat. The gray tank he’s wearing perfectly frames the strong lines of his shoulders, the push of his shoulder blades, and it clings attractively to his waist. Loki can easily imagine—recall, even—what it is like to have those shoulders above her, to have her waist clinging to that waist, and to have those biceps pressed to the mattress on either side of her head, framing her face like blinders while his hands tangle in her hair.
Tony sets his tools down and turns, wiping his hands on a rag as he does. Loki props her elbows on the table behind her and leans back, arching her spine to lift her chest. She also uses a spark of magic to trade her dark-wash jeans for a black, knee-length skirt. She stares at him with heat in her eyes and she sees Tony swallow in response.
“Hello, nurse,” he says with a lecherous grin. Loki has learned to ignore the odd things he says, knowing they are references to Midgardian pop-culture. Tony slides his hands—warm and work-roughened—on her knees and parts her legs so he can stand between them. Loki grins into the kiss he presses to her mouth and lifts an arm to rake her fingers through the hair at the back of his head. One of Tony’s talented hands grazes the length of her thigh, pushing up the fabric of her skirt as he does, until the calloused tips of his fingers brush the thin cotton of her panties. Loki shivers and bites his lower lip.
Then she draws back and purrs seductively, “A pressing matter concerning world security has just arisen.”
Tony lets out a gusty breath and drops his forehead against hers. He grumbles, “That’s not the only thing.”
Loki snorts indelicately and removes his hand from her most intimate area with a smirk. Tony leans back so she can see him pout, but then relents and returns to ‘work mode,’ which is only slightly more serious than his non-work mode.
“What’s up, Puck?” he asks, absently tapping his fingers over a holographic keyboard made entirely of his own personal shorthand. It’s an intriguing configuration and Loki thinks she might have a handle on it, but now is not the time.
“I have it on good authority that a being known as the Mad Titan may soon make his way to Midgard,” Loki tells him plainly and watches at Tony continues to manipulate the keyboard, taking notes. Good. Loki jumps right into the who and the why. “The Mad Titan is, as his moniker implies, quite mad and he is in love with the Goddess of Death and Ruler of Helheim. He courts her by sending her souls, thousands at a time, but he aims to increase his offerings to millions.”
“Awesome,” Tony says dryly. “So, he’s coming to Earth to wrap us all up in a bow and send us to Hell.”
Loki chuckles. “Quite literally, yes. Helheim is thus called because it is the home of Hel, Hel being the name of the goddess.”
“Yikes,” says Tony with a snicker. “Who named the poor girl?”
Tony’s hand freezes on his keyboard and his eyes widen comically. He searches Loki’s face for a sign of a joke and finds none. Loki stares at him with as severe an expression as she can muster. She is not truly upset with him, he had no way of knowing, but she likes to watch him squirm.
After a minute, she cuts him loose with a crooked smile. “My daughter came first. Your interpretation of the underworld is named after her.”
Tony grimaces and rubs his hand over his heart and arc reactor. “Thanks for the coronary, sugar plum,” he grumbles.
“It was my pleasure.”
Tony blows out a long sigh that wobbles into a laugh. Then he starts typing again. “So, Hel, how does she feel about Mr. Murder?”
“She was charmed at first,” replies Loki, idly tracing her slim fingers over Tony’s forearm, “when he sent her warlords and heroes, souls with great value. But now that he floods her gates with the ordinary and the innocent, her interest has greatly lessened. She has asked that I send him to her Realm as quickly as possible…and not in the way that the living may enter with their souls intact.”
“She wants you to kill him,” Tony simplifies for the sake of his own understanding.
“He is on the verge of tipping the cosmic scales of the universe. No one person is allowed to do that without severe punishment, no matter how loved that person is,” says Loki, eyes hard and unwavering.
“Oh, no, I get it,” Tony assures her, squeezing her knee. “Big Bad needs to buy the farm pronto. I’m just impressed by how quickly his would-be lover wants to shut that shit down.”
“Hel was never one for dancing around the subject,” Loki says primly, but with pride in the curl of her lip.
“So how do we stop him?” asks Tony. “Please don’t tell me I have to get Fury involved.”
Loki makes a face like she has swallowed a lemon. “Norns, no, it’s much more fun to let him figure it out on his own and come to us in anger.”
Tony laughs and leans in to press a firm kiss to her mouth. “You hot, devious bastard.”
Loki grins. “The Titan is searching for six magical artifacts that contain Infinity Stones. Individually, the Stones are powerful beyond imagination, each one has control over a different aspect of the cosmos, but all together…” Lok shivers. “If Thanos, the Mad Titan, gains possession of all six, he will be able to obliterate planets in seconds. He could wipe out half the universe with the wave of a hand.”
“That’s…bad,” Tony says stiltedly, struggling to wrap his mind around the sheer enormity of this threat and balking at all the consequences his brilliant mind comes up with.
“Very,” says Loki.
“How do we keep him from getting his hands on these Stones? Do we even know where they are?”
Loki sighs. “That is where things get complicated. The Power Stone is far away on an impassable planet, the Soul Stone is on another isolated planet, and the Mind Stone has been lost for eons. The Reality Stone is hidden away, only Odin knows where. But there are two Stones in Midgard, they are Time and Space, and while the Time Stone is moderately well protected, I haven’t the slightest idea where the Space Stone is. Until today, I was not even aware it was in Midgard, I thought it to be in Odin’s Vault.”
The inventor presses his lips together while he thinks, unconsciously tapping his index finger on her knee in what she thinks might be Morse code. She doesn’t try to decode what he is absent-mindedly communicating and instead waits for him to speak aloud. After a minute, he does.
“Obviously Power, Reality, and Mind are not our priority,” he says redundantly. “What can you tell me about Time?”
“It is being held in a place called Kamar-Taj, deep in the Himalayas, protected by a being called the Ancient One and her order of sorcerers. They call it the Eye of Agamotto. It is well defended, but I plan to visit the Ancient One soon and offer to add my own layers of protection over the artifact.”
Tony nods. “And the Space Stone?”
“It is in something called the Tesseract,” says Loki. “I believe you’ve heard of it.”
Tony’s expression goes dark. “Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Dear old dad was almost as obsessed with it as he was with Captain America. I know he had it for a bit, but it was gone before I was even conceived.”
“I was hoping you could do a bit of digging for me,” says Loki, smoothing her fingers over the back of his hand and around his wrist. “Between my magic and your knowledge of computers, we can narrow down its location.”
“What if I can’t find it?” Tony asks pragmatically.
“Then I will.”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then it is exceptionally well hidden and we hope that is enough to keep the Mad Titan from finding it.”
“Great,” says Tony with exaggerated cheer. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
Without further ado, Tony takes the hand from his keyboard and swoops in to grab a fistful of dark, luxurious hair at the back of Loki’s head. He yanks the way he knows she likes and captures her mouth with his, simultaneously freeing his other hand from hers and skimming it down her thigh. Tony and Loki established some time ago that if one of them is in the mood for sex, then it is highly likely the other is or can be, too. Tony is confident in Loki’s ability to shut him down and push him off if she is not in the mood and he wholly trusts her to step back if he is not in the mood.
This is not such a time. Loki grins into the kiss, bites back when Tony grazes her lips with his teeth, and shoves her hands under his tank at his waist. She runs her hands up over the ridges of his abdomen, tweaking his nipples when she finds them and making his breath hitch. Tony moves the thin cotton of her panties aside and thumbs her clit; Loki gasps and arches. Then she retaliates by banishing his pants and trousers to the other end of the room, sending her panties soon after, and hitching her legs around his hips to drag him closer.
Tony laughs breathlessly into her mouth and presses two fingers past her slick folds, thrusts them into her once, twice, several times, and then withdraws. Loki growls and puts her teeth to his throat, biting and sucking and leaving a vivid mark. Tony uses his slicked hand to palm himself and guides himself to her entrance. He teases, rubbing the head of his cock between the folds of her labia until she is panting, squirming, nearly ready to take matters into her own hands. Just when she begins to tighten her legs and rake her fingernails down his chest, Tony rolls his hips forward and slides in to the hilt.
The rest is an ungraceful act in an awkward position, all writhing and rutting and clutching as they gasp and groan and sink their teeth into each other’s flesh. Loki leaves Tony’s neck and chest riddled with purpling bruises; Tony does his best to leave the imprints of his hands on her hips, but she heals too quickly for any lasting mark. When they have both climaxed, Tony pulls out but stays pressed against Loki, using her naturally cooler body temperature to cool his own overheated body. Loki indulges him, resting her cheek on his shoulder and lightly tracing random harmless runes along his back. After a few minutes, she flicks her fingers to spell away the mess and return their clothing.
“Love it when you do that,” Tony remarks, then kisses her soundly and steps out from between her legs. His sudden smirk is the only warning she gets that he is about to be humorous. “Stop fooling around, Lo, we have work to do!”
Loki swats his ass as he tries to dodge out of range and then, just before teleporting away, magically shifts everything in the lab (everything that can safely be shifted, of course) two inches to the left. Tony’s cries of shock and despair are music to her ears.
- - -
Chelsea Peretti @chelseaperetti: just met @deviousdeity backstage at graham norton & my life suddenly feels more meaningful
Devious Deity @deviousdeity replying to @chelseaperetti: That has been known to happen.
- - -
“So, I hear your quite the storyteller,” Graham says to Lona Silver, who is sat between her delightful human Rami and Chelsea Peretti on the famous red couch. They’ve been chatting and laughing for a while now; the show is perhaps halfway through and Loki has gotten a discreet refill of her wine during a short break in filming. They’ve covered Peretti’s new project and the musical guest’s new album (Loki hasn’t the slightest idea who this man is, but he’s nice enough, she supposes), it’s about time they started getting into the three present cast members of Foreshock. These three present members make up the antagonists of the movie, or soon-to-be in Rami’s case; his character embodies the friend turned enemy trope and the film ends with him pledging himself to Gaia’s cause. The third antagonist is a strapping young man named Liam, who has a thick Australian accent and questionable taste in women. His character is a one-off in Foreshock: the low-grade bad guy who gets the protagonist involved with the Prometheus Project and is defeated in the final act.
“It is one of my many talents,” Loki replies with an air of modesty despite her words. The host and other guests laugh, as does the audience, and Loki grins sharply.
“Will you tell us a story?” Graham asks eagerly, leaning forward in his chair. He has his note cards in his lap and is, by all appearances, ignoring them—though Loki well knows that everything about this show has a carefully thought-out structure that plans for tangents and improv from its colorful array of guests.
“They tend to be long and involved,” Loki says as a warning, demurring for effect while mentally shuffling through the many tales she has adapted to humanity.
“That’s alright,” says Graham.
“Tell that one about your brother,” Rami implores, “with the belt and the cross—”
Loki waves a hand to cut him off. “Yes, yes, but don’t give away the best bits!”
“Have I heard this one?” Liam asks, leaning to peer around Rami, forehead scrunched in thought. “You tell a lot of stories about your brother.”
“Because he’s so wonderfully gullible,” Loki replies.
“Okay, you have to tell us a story now,” says Graham. “You’ve got us all excited.”
Loki chuckles. “Alright, fine.” She takes a sip of wine and settles herself primly in her seat. “So. My brother, Torgeir, has this godawful belt that he won in a wrestling championship and it is his pride and joy. He keeps it hung above his bed and polishes it regularly and it’s all quite ridiculous.” She waves her hand and rolls her eyes for effect. “One morning, he wakes up to find that the belt is not where it should be and immediately panics. He tears the house apart and when he can’t find it, he demands I figure out who took it. He even brings Mother and Father into it and has them demand I figure out who took it.”
Graham and Liam make nearly identical faces of disbelief, which feels so much like gratification to Loki. One of the best things the people of Midgard have going for them is that they recognize the ridiculous expectations and double standard Loki has been set to all her life. Loki shoots them an I know expression as she carries on with her story.
“It takes me all of an hour to learn that some lowlife in town is the culprit and that he wants to trade the belt for a date with our cousin Freyja—”
“No!” exclaims Chelsea, affronted on behalf of all women.
“Yes!” Loki exclaims back, equally affronted, then she goes on, “Now, you should know that Torgeir is still young enough that he’s a bit slim. And you should also know that Freyja is a very athletic woman and, much like most women in the family, is very tall, very blonde, and not very curvy. She also, like most women, doesn’t give a shit about this particular man.”
Loki is very much aware that her female form does not meet all of the traits she has attributed to her family. She has the height, yes, but she also has black hair and curves. She’ll let the humans draw their own conclusions.
“So, I do not bother talking to Freyja about any of this. I’m actually not sure she even knew any of this transpired until years later. Instead, I simply go home and tell Torgeir I know how to get his ridiculous belt back. He says and I will quote, ‘Tell me, I will do whatever it takes to get it back.’
“I ask him, ‘Anything? Are you sure?’ And he cries, ‘Yes! Yes, I’m sure!’” Loki grins a sharky grin. “The big oaf has no idea what he has just done and it is ever my prerogative to take advantage and Torgeir just makes it so easy. So, I tell him all he needs to do is pretend to be Freyja and have dinner with Thrygve. There is this incredible moment in which Tor is more shocked about Thrygve being the one who stole his belt, that he doesn’t realize what I have asked him to do. He gets all puffed up and starts spewing all these insults and prattling on about what he’s going to do to that miserable, weaselly man when he gets his hands on him, oh he’s going to pay dearly for daring to steal from… He trails off and I see the understanding finally sink into his thick head.”
Loki is suppressing laughter now, just remembering how Thor’s expression had fallen so quickly from outrage to horror is enough to make her fold with mirth. Next to her, Rami is chuckling readily and the rest of her audience has already caught what Thor failed to at the time.
“He gives me this look so filled with horror you’d think I’d asked him to go to war without weapons or armor. He goes pale, literally pales, at the thought of dressing as a woman and whatever hope he may have had for a Plan B is gone the moment I see that look. I tell him there’s no other way, which is obviously a lie, and that we have to go very soon or it will be too late, which is also a lie. We have all the time in the world to go get this horrendous belt back, but now it’s merely about tormenting my brother.
“I drag him to my room and I sit him down at my vanity. He sits there like he’s on death row while I dig through my closet searching for something that might fit him. In the end, I have to sacrifice a blouse by cutting it at the seams and stitching in extra strips of fabric to make it fit him, but it’s well worth it. I even get him to put on a sports bra so I could stuff it with socks to give him a slight bosom. Heels are a lost cause, but a long enough skirt will hide his feet and with the right touch of eyeshadow and mascara, no one will look at his feet anyway. Our only hitch was his beard, he refused to shave it off. At the time it was patchy and short, his first beard and all that, bless him. It was adorable. I had to come up with this scarf-veil combination to hide the lower half of his face. I wish I had pictures to show you, but he would not stand for it.” Loki sighs wistfully.
Rami has his hands clasped over his mouth to stifle his laughter, tears streaming down his cheeks from the effort. Chelsea appears to be in a state of awe and amazing. Liam and Graham are howling and the musical guest seems to be utterly stunned. The members of the audience display a mix of these reactions, all enraptured and reduced to mirthful tears. Loki preens.
“As promised,” she continues, “I get Tor in my car and drive him to Thrygve’s and suddenly Torgeir has cold feet. And really, I was quite offended by how little faith he had in my abilities, but I’ve always been good at improvisation so I leave him in the car and go to knock on the door.
“Thrygve answers immediately and I say, ‘Listen, I’ve talked you up big time and now Freyja’s a bit nervous. She’s worried that she isn’t feminine enough and she’s feeling a bit self-conscious. Please don’t comment on the scarf hiding her face, it’ll just make her feel worse.’ And Thrygve goes on and on with yes, of course and I would never and so on, so forth. I drag Torgeir inside and we find that Thrygve has prepared a five-course meal with candles and fancy dinnerware and the belt is nowhere to be seen. So, I ask him, ‘Where is my brother’s belt?’ and he says, ‘Dinner first, then you can have it.’” Loki rolls her eyes. “So we have to suffer through this tedious dinner and of course Torgeir has no manners and can never say no to food and he literally inhaled plate after plate. Just stuffing food up into his mouth under my scarf. I had to keep making excuses like, ‘She hasn’t eaten all day, due to nerves,’ and, ‘Salmon is her absolute favorite, she can’t help herself.’”
“And Thrive believed it?” asks Graham, incredulous and laughing.
“Oh, yes!” Loki nods earnestly. “In fact, I’d go so far as to say he was charmed by how real she was.” Groans from many women in the audience and from the woman seated next to Loki. “Finally, as we’re having dessert, Thrygve gets up and brings in the belt from the other room and he starts showing it off. As though he thinks bragging about how he broke into Freyja’s uncle’s house and stole her cousin’s most prized possession will impress her and make her love him. I’m ready to start bullshitting and getting us out of there, but Torgeir sees his belt and he just goes mental! He jumps up and rips off the scarf and launches himself across the table as Thrygve. The poor man never stood a chance. Torgeir beats the hell out of him, all while wearing a skirt and blouse and delicate makeup. It was glorious to behold.” Loki takes a drink of wine and sighs. “Then we just…went home and I made Torgeir buy me a new scarf to replace the one he ruined and that was that.”
Graham guffaws with laughter and the audience starts up a deafening applause. Loki raises her glass to them and effects a little bow, clearly very pleased with herself.
- - -
Caroline @carlyclarkson: Lona Silver is an immortal being placed on this Earth to make us mere humans look bad. Do you agree or do you agree?
A Velociraptor @raptor_attacks replying to @carlyclarkson: i agree
Amanda Podera @amandapanda replying to @carlysclarkson: Agree
Baker me a cake @BakerMD replying to @carlyclarkson: Agree
You Know Who I Am @AEStark replying to @carlyclarkson: Can confirm.
Iron Man Knows I Exist @carlyclarkson replying to @AEStark: Holy shit
- - -
Loki shifts into his male form for the trip to Nepal; it is the shape the Ancient One is familiar with. He navigates the claustrophobic streets and crowds of people with ease, slipping further and further away from the friendlier tourist traps. No one spares him a passing glance; in this form he is unrecognizable, he doesn’t even need a spark of magic to make himself unnoticeable.
Following the tangy ozone of magic, Loki wends his way between seedy vendors and huddled vagrants and soon comes upon the inconspicuous front doors of Kamar-Taj. No one is there to meet him, Loki’s visit is unannounced, and no one arrives to stop him when he enters, his magic prevents the alarms from triggering. In fact, Loki walks the temple unseen and unheard until he drops his guises upon entering the main hall where the Ancient One awaits.
The Ancient One looks at him with vague surprise while her associate, a broad black man with a demeanor that pings on Loki’s senses, slides fluidly into an offensive stance. The man opens his mouth, likely to demand who Loki is and who he came to be here and other such predictabilities, but the Ancient One quiets him with a simple raise of her hand.
“Loki Odinson,” she says serenely and Loki curls his lip at the name.
“I go by Lie-Smith these days,” he says. “It leaves less room for confusion.”
“Indeed,” says the Ancient One and there is a hint of amusement in the tilt of her lip. She gestures with a sweeping arm to the low table and tea set before her. “Sit,” she urges, “join us.”
Loki inclines his head as he bows ever so slightly at the waist, then settles himself cross-legged while the Ancient One pours a third cup of tea.
“Sit, Mordo,” she orders and the black man hesitates for only a split second before obeying. He eyes Loki distrustfully even as he carefully lifts his cup to drink his tea. The Sorcerer Supreme examines Loki over the brim of her own cup for a long while and Loki waits patiently, pleasantly even, for her to come to her conclusions.
At last, she speaks, “You have business concerning the Eye of Agamotto.” Mordo stiffens, but neither Sorcerer nor Mage acknowledges him. “We have no other artifacts in our possession that you would deem valuable.”
“That is correct,” says Loki. “I have come to ensure it is properly protected. You see, I have very recently been informed of the imminent arrival of a very dangerous being, one who seeks to control all six Stones.”
The Ancient One hums over her tea and then places the cup in its saucer. “I assure you, we at Kamar-Taj have taken every precaution where the Eye of Agamotto is concerned.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt,” Loki says earnestly, “but for my own peace of mind and with your allowance, I would very much like to add a few of my own measures.”
“He is lying,” Mordo bursts, a vein throbbing at his temple, cup near to cracking in his hand. “He has much as admitted to it! Lie-Smith, he is called, and for good reason!”
“Calm yourself, Master Mordo,” the Ancient One says coolly, eyes never leaving Loki’s. “There are some things in the multiverse that even a god of trickery dare not lie about or make light of. A threat to the Infinity Stones is one such thing.” She rises gracefully. “Come, Loki Lie-Smith, I would like to observe you at your craft.”
Loki stands, grinning. “I would consider it an honor.”
He holds out his arm to her and, clearly amused, the Ancient One places her thin hand at the crook of his elbow. The chamber she leads him to is pungent with over a thousand years’ worth of warding spells and protective charms cast by countless Masters of the Mystic Arts, including the present Sorcerer Supreme and her predecessors. Loki can feel the magic on his skin like brine from the sea, gritty and itchy and immediately everywhere. It is thorough enchantment and as a result, the Eye is extremely difficult to look at directly.
The Ancient One stands at the doorway, expression inscrutable as she watches Loki circle the room, dragging his fingertips along the walls and muttering incantations under his breath. Many of the spells he is using are basics—sturdy and never to be underestimated—learned during his early childhood. Others are spells of his own design, known only to him and exhausting to perform due to the thoroughness of their nature.
When the perimeter set, Loki crouches at the pedestal holding the Eye and draws a long series of runes with the tip of his finger along every facet. The runes glow acidic green, flare white upon each set’s completion, and then sink into the wood until no trace is left.
At some point in the midst of casting, Loki feels his latest StarkPhone rattle in its pocket dimension, but it is not enough to break his concentration and he barely registers that anything happened. It is not until he has made his farewells and unnerved that Mordo fellow once more that he thinks to check the phone for messages. Waiting for him is a text from Tony, the message consists of two very simple words but the implication sends a chill down Loki’s spine.
Seconds later, he feels it: The awakening of immense cosmic power calling out to any and all who may hear it. The Tesseract…
Chapter 2: Fall From Heaven
A great beam of blinding white energy shoots off the Cube and pitches down on a haphazard landing zone some few feet away. The pressure in the air peaks, but only Loki feels it—it is entirely magical in nature. She is forced to her knees with a cry, finally relenting and pressing her hands to the sides of her head. Abruptly, jarringly, the energy cuts out and everything goes frighteningly still. Loki watches with streaming eyes as the fog of magic slowly clears and reveals a figure crouched at the epicenter of the event...
Thank you to everyone for commenting and kudos-ing the last chapter! You made my week!
I also added a link in chapter one where "Lona" is first introduced to take you to a picture of what I imagine she looks like. If you don't want to go back and find that link, just imagine Kate Siegel (from The Haunting of Hill House and Hush, among other things).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Loki straightens his shirt outside the front doors of Kamar-Taj and steps forward into Tony’s lab in New York. The engineer’s back is to Loki when the demi-god arrives, intent on the holo-displays before him, but he turns after a moment when he remembers to glance at the alert JARVIS has placed at the top right corner of the centermost display. A noticeable tightening in his neck is the only outward sign of shock when Tony’s eyes land on Loki, still in his male form, but it takes a mere second for recognition to set in.
Tony lets out a low, appreciative whistle and makes a small show of looking Loki up and down. “Get over here, hot stuff.”
Loki chuckles and comes to stand abreast with Tony as the engineer pulls up a file labeled ‘Project PEGASUS’ and zeroes in on its location. He brings up a map of the continental US to show Loki where on the planet the location is, correctly assuming that words on the screen don’t carry enough meaning for the Mage to successfully travel.
“This is where the Tesseract is being kept?” he asks and notes with relish the way Tony swallows a shiver at the timber of Loki’s masculine voice.
“Yep,” Tony says oh so casually. “How was Nepal?”
“Charming,” Loki replies dryly as he scrutinizes the map, flicking over to the few images of the interior—well, not so much interior as image captures of the Tesseract set inside an elaborate display case, but this works all the same. Satisfied, Loki steps back and prepares to teleport.
“Don’t think we aren’t going revisit this,” Tony says with a sweeping gesture to encompass Loki’s male form.
“Oh, Anthony,” Loki purrs, peering sideways at the man, “I had no idea your taste was so varied.”
“Don’t play dumb, honey,” Tony shoots back. “It doesn’t look good on you.”
Loki chuckles and ducks to give the engineer a single, filthy kiss.
“Don’t wait up for me, darling,” he murmurs, drawing back and leaving Tony dazed. He collects himself just enough to call after the god before he vanishes from the lab in a wash of golden light, shifting as she goes.
“Have fun storming the castle.”
Loki’s responding wave and eye-roll carry her into the middle of an immense concrete room. She has bypassed all outer doors and meager mortal security measures and dropped herself next to the Tesseract itself. Her wave immediately turns into a deflective flash magic that swats away the bullet bound for her head and knocks unconscious the man who fired. Continuing the motion, she draws up a shield around her body and waits for the rain of bullets to subside.
She catches the eye of Director Fury and lifts an imperious eyebrow at him. Fury sighs and calls for cease-fire; Loki waits a moment more before dropping her shield.
“What are you doing here, Miss Lie-Smith,” the Director demands impatiently. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a situation here.”
“Checking in,” she replies insolently, eyes scanning the Tesseract and grimacing at the sheer volume of power pouring off it. “It’s nice to see that you are attempting some semblance of security here. Actually, I believe a better word would be adorable.”
Loki glances at Fury and is delighted to see that vein appearing in his forehead.
“How did you find this place?” he asks. She can see that he is already planning to chew Tony out for hacking SHIELD yet again and, though it is true in this case, it doesn’t support the point Loki wants to impress.
“I felt her awaken,” she says distractedly, walking a slow circle around the mechanisms containing the Tesseract, stepping on rather than over the many immense pipelines. “The moment it happened… I heard her calling out like a siren to the universe.” Loki tears her eyes away and stares intently at the Director. “I must say I’m rather curious as to why you have it.”
“I’m rather curious as to why you think it’s any of your business,” Fury snarks. Loki ignores him as she scans the room; necessary personnel only, several members of a security detail, and an agent perched in the rafters like a bird of prey. There is another man, one who does not seem to belong, wearing a white lab coat and hunching behind a long terminal of computers. He is no agent and no threat, but still an interesting addition to the exclusive audience.
“Funny,” Loki says, “I thought to ask the same of you. This is an Asgardian artifact and it is meant to be locked away in Odin’s Vault. I figured I ought to collect it from your greedy hands and return it to its proper place.”
Fury’s hand goes to the gun on his hip. “Try it, princess. You might be an asset to our organization, but I can still shoot you.”
“Interesting how you’ve already forgotten the little show I put just a moment ago. The one where I deflected thousands of bullets as easily as swatting a fly.” Loki grins sharply when Fury fails to come up with a response and is forced to simmer in his anger. “Now, with that settled, I would very much like to get the Tesseract to safety.”
“And just why do you think it isn’t safe?” Fury demands.
“Because it isn’t,” Loki snaps. “Think, you foolish mortal. That Cube is screaming to the Cosmos every second that it is awake, calling out to any who can hear and they will come running for it. What’s more, there is a being out there, a mad creature, bent on the destruction of the universe as we know it and he is hunting for the Tesseract. Do not think he has not heard its waking. It is only a matter of time before he sends one of his minions here to fetch it for him.” She stalks towards Fury so she may jab a finger to his chest and see the fear creep into his eye when that small touch forces him backward. He is always underestimating her strength. “You do not know how fortunate you are that I arrived here first.”
Fury’s lip curls as he debates which of her words to focus on first. He is, however, saved from making a choice by the nested agent swinging down to the floor and swiftly bearing arms at the same time that the scientist at the terminal shouts with alarm. Sudden pressure on Loki’s eardrums and the heavy taste of ozone on her tongue causes her to spin around towards the Tesseract. The Cube is pulsing with bright energy, waves of power crackling like lightning from its surfaces and into the contraption holding it.
“What are you doing!” Fury shouts.
Loki snarls at him, she is doing nothing, but she cannot verbalize past the mounting pressure. All around, agents are staggering and clapping their hands to their ears. The one with the bow is wavering in his stance, but his aim remains impressively steady.
Then a great beam of blinding white energy shoots off the Cube and pitches down on a haphazard landing zone some few feet away. The pressure in the air peaks, but only Loki feels it—it is entirely magical in nature. She is forced to her knees with a cry, finally relenting and pressing her hands to the sides of her head. Her inner ears are throbbing, splitting, and she feels a gush of hot blood on her palms.
Abruptly, jarringly, the energy cuts out and everything goes frighteningly still. Loki watches with streaming eyes as the fog of magic slowly clears and reveals a figure crouched at the epicenter of the event. Despite the blur of tears in her vision, it does not take long for Loki to recognize the being that rises from the smoke. Dressed alluringly in emerald green—accented with paler shades of green, Loki could gag—with golden blonde hair barely held from her face by an emerald headpiece, is Amora the Enchantress. She is gripping a scepter with a bright blue gem embedded between the claw of blades at the end. She is less put together than Loki has ever seen her, her cheeks are hollow and there are heavy bags under her eyes and she doesn’t carry the healthy glow normally possessed by the Æsir and their ilk. She looks haggard and exhausted and strangely diminutive, especially without her usual skulking companion at her heels.
Her grin is manic, a sure sign of a splintered psyche, and her stride is slightly off-balance though she manages not to fall. Her eyes, wide and somehow peculiar, settle on Nick Fury and she greets him with spread arms. Her words are lost to Loki’s wounded ears, but as Amora seems to have not noticed Loki where she is crouched, she uses this to her advantage.
While Amora postures at Fury and he does his best to be as unimpressed as possible, Loki funnels a bit of magic into healing her ruptured eardrums.
“I mean to rule this precious little planet,” Amora is saying. She has the voice of a seductress, but something is off. Something is happening beyond this little play. “Isn’t it true that, deep down, all lower species crave subjugation?”
Loki spots it: Amora’s natural green eyes are glowing the same electric blue as the stone in the staff, as the core of the Tesseract. She is a puppet and there is no doubt as to who is pulling her strings. Loki summons her armor as she rises, adorning her new lighter headpiece to let her hair remain loose and free—all for aesthetics really, if Asgard has given her anything it is a love for aesthetics. Loki twirls a throwing knife around her fingers as she moves to stand between Amora and Fury.
“Who is that watching through your eyes, Enchantress?” she asks with acidic casualness.
“One whom you should fear,” Amora hisses and lashes out with the scepter. Loki uses a vambraced forearm to knock the blow aside and simultaneously buries the knife in the meat of Amora’s right shoulder, making her howl with pain and rage. Loki retreats a few paces as the Enchantress rips the dagger free, wound healing over instantly, and throws it back. Loki catches her weapon deftly and flicks it to clear away the blood.
“Look at you,” Amora sneers, prowling in a slowly shrinking circle toward her adversaries, “protecting these humans like a trained dog. My, how the prideful do fall.”
The taunts are base and so unoriginal that Loki does not deign to respond. Instead, she sends several copies of herself to surround the Enchantress and has them mimic her precise movements as she dances closer and attempts to slide a dagger between Amora’s ribs. Amora swings the scepter around in a low circle and cuts through over half of the copies in seconds. Loki dismisses the rest and teleports behind Amora, taking the momentary advantage to grasp the scepter and wrench it from the other woman’s hand.
Except. Once Loki’s hand makes contact, a shock of cold and pain shoots through her and her body goes rigid. A sickly voice croons, I see you, little god, in her head accompanied by a lance of intense pain. Foreign magic pulses the length of her arm and invades her heart and Loki cannot breathe for several, panic-inducing seconds. Then Amora rips the scepter away, laughing horribly, cruelly, and the invading force recedes. Loki gasps and staggers; she can still feel the aftershocks of that voice in her head and residual magic makes her muscles ache.
Still, Loki is able to force herself to dodge when Amora brings her weapon back round, but only just barely. The blades on the scepter clang against one of Loki’s horns and the reverberations make Loki feel as though her brain is rattling in her skull. She groans. Then yanks off her headpiece and swings it at Amora. Amora shouts, she spins out of the way and into the path of Loki’s next dagger. The dagger slices through Amora’s side, cutting deep but not embedding.
Loki stumbles, straightens, and shakes out her arms, rolls her neck, and flips her headpiece in her hand. She is ready for more. Amora presses her hand to her side and heals the wound. The pause allows the women to notice that Fury has packed away the Tesseract and is fleeing the room with the scientist at his heels and his agents flanked around them.
“No!” Amora roars, eyes blazing that horrible blue. The Enchantress makes to follow, but Loki lurches and grabs the blonde about the waist, dragging her bodily to the ground. Amora snarls like a rabid animal and twists violently in Loki’s hold. Loki lashes out with magic to bind Amora’s arms to her sides, but she is unable to complete the casting before Amora throws her off and scrambles back to her feet. Loki rolls onto her stomach and lashes out once again with her headpiece. One of the horns spears Amora’s ankle and Loki jerks the headpiece, dragging Amora back to the ground. Loki tears the horn free and replaces it on her head as she stands and Amora wails, more rage than pain.
Loki recasts the binding spell, completes it this time, and Amora’s arms lock to her sides. Loki kicks the scepter from her hand and sends it skittering away.
“Do not touch that!” she roars at the straggling agent who tries to be helpful by taking away the enemy’s weapon. The man freezes and then scurries away. The room is now clear of mortals. Loki crouches by Amora’s head and regards the fuming woman curiously.
“Who is controlling you, wench?” she asks rhetorically. Amora bares her teeth. Whatever has been done to her, it has made her positively barbaric.
“You will kneel before me at the end of this,” Amora raves, thrashing against invisible binds. “All of Midgard will be bathed in the blood of its people and those who remain, those have been deemed useful, will kneel and call me Queen! I have come here burdened with glorious purpose…!”
Loki flicks out a silencing spell. “That’s enough of that.”
She grabs the Enchantress under her arms like a child and hauls her up, intending to throw the woman over her shoulder and forsake the scepter. But Amora’s eyes flash an incredible, eerie blue and suddenly the spells on her shatter. She twists in Loki’s hold, using the element of surprise to her advantage, and grabs the Lie-Smith by the throat.
“Shit,” Loki hisses. She drops a dagger from her sleeve and digs it into the vulnerable underside of Amora’s bicep. Once released, she slams the heel of her hand into the Enchantress’s sternum and sends the witch flying. Amora smashes into the concrete wall and falls in a heap, piled with the rubble knocked loose on impact. Loki approaches cautiously, a fistful of green fire in each hand at the ready.
Amora bursts from the rubble, throwing shattered concrete in every direction, forcing Loki to repurpose one of her flames for protection. Amora leaps at her, slashing dark magic across Loki’s face and torso. Loki snarls and returns the favor with fire, scorching Amora’s skin and singeing her hair.
Loki presses forward, lobbing binding spell after binding spell, prepared for each one to be knocked aside, and when she is close enough, she lands a heavy punch to the blonde’s mouth. Amora’s head snaps to the side, she staggers, and then turns to grin at Loki with blood in her teeth and dribbling down her chin.
Amora surges at her, forcing Loki to take a defensive position, and drives the Lie-Smith backward into the room. Loki pushes all her weight into her magical shield, but Amora’s leaden strikes—physical and magical—are causing her boots to slide on the smooth floor. Loki disengages a hand to summon a knife and slides it past her own defense and into Amora’s ribs. Amora doesn’t even register the stab, she just keeps going and going and laughing manically as she does.
So, Loki drops abruptly, swinging her legs out to sweep Amora’s feet from under her, and sends the Enchantress toppling. Loki spins as she rises, dancing out of the way of Amora’s attempt to take her down with her. However, Loki is unprepared for the scepter, meant to be discarded several yards behind her, whipping across her back and shoving her off balance and onto the floor.
“Son of a—” Loki spits. She twists onto her back as Amora climbs clumsily to her knees, scepter back in hand, and lashes out with daggers to keep the Enchantress as bay. Amora using the flat of the scepter’s blade to knock aside the daggers and hauls a leg over Loki’s hip to straddle Loki’s abdomen.
Loki has a flash of Starkian humor before registering Amora raising the scepter over her chest, wicked blades glinting above her heart. Loki plants her feet and bucks up with her hips; she dislodges the Enchantress but does not stop the blade from rending her armor and sinking into her flesh. All Loki manages to do is redirect the blade away from her heart and it enters instead between her breasts, scraping against her sternum and biting into the bone.
That same foreign magic floods her systems once more.
I will have you, godling. Stinging cold splinters through her brain. Loki’s eyes swirl electric blue and her world turns to seething darkness. (Vaguely, she feels Amora jerk the scepter’s blade from her chest and Amora’s weight lift off her waist, but Loki is far away…) The wound stays gaping, blood pooling sluggishly, frost forming along the ragged edges of her skin. Some inexplicable Other is kneeling over Loki’s prone body, pressing alien fingers into her blackish blood—Jötunn blood—and grinning behind a grotesque mask. Loki writhes, the pain is immense, this creature wants control of her mind, her soul, her very being, but she will not bend to its will.
Her magic rebels. Green builds in the palms of her hands, spreads across her form, seeps from her pores, and spills like beams from her eyes. Loki screams, a sound of outrage and of strength. She convulses, magic dueling magic across a vast battlefield confined within the boundaries of her physical body. She curls, her spine lengthens, and then snaps back, cracking her skull and leaving long fissures in the concrete. The foreign magic is forcibly purged.
With the last dredges of her energy, Loki rises to her feet. Her eyes are blazing with green fire and magic still sparks across her skin. Frost has sealed her chest wound and is slowly spreading over her collarbones. She phases out of being and returns directly behind Amora, who is pressing the tip of the blade to the bow and arrow agent’s chest.
Loki sees the foreign magic swallow the man’s mind and, with the twist of her hand into a fist, removes it. The man gasps and sinks to his knees. Amora turns on Loki, expression thunderous and then shocked and then afraid. Loki lifts her hand and then flicks it to the left and Amora’s body flies as though she has been thrown. Her head cracks against a concrete column and she slumps unconscious to the ground.
Loki holds on long enough to see the scepter safely separated from the Enchantress and the woman bound in high-tech handcuffs before she, too, succumbs to the darkness.
- - -
Loki wakes in a spartan room done in gunmetal gray. Her entire body is sore and she has a pressure headache behind her eyes. She can hear the steady blip-blip of a heart monitor and feels the clip on her index finger and is relieved to note there are no other wires attached to her body this time. She sighs and removes the clip, waving a hand to silence the monitor’s alarm at a seeming flatline. She pinches the bridge of her nose in an attempt to fight the headache without expending magical energy while she waits for an agent to respond to the alarm.
Barely a minute later, a door hisses open on a hydraulic track and Loki sits up to find Agent Phil Coulson standing placidly in the doorway.
She aims her best seductively smile at him and purrs, “Agent Coulson, we must stop meeting like this.” Her voice comes out as more of a croak, ruined by all the screaming she did earlier, but Loki is confident in her ability to make even this sound sexy.
Coulson regards her with the faintest exasperation, tinged with fondness—the same expression he often wears when dealing with Tony.
“I think you’ve been spending too much time around Stark,” he says mildly before continuing on to business. “How are you feeling?”
“Like snake shit,” she says curtly, “but well enough, I suppose.”
“Excellent, if you’ll follow me, the Director wants a word.”
“Of course he does,” Loki grouses. “Give me a moment to make myself presentable.”
“Certainly,” says Coulson. “I’ll be right outside the door.”
He steps out. Loki slides off the cot and looks around the room. It is, by all means, an incredibly small and incredibly depressing personnel bunk. Definitely SHIELD. Tony would never allow such travesty to associate with his name. A table that seems to have been folded down from the wall across the tight space bears her armor, headpiece, and several of her knives. Someone has clearly done their best to clean up as best as possible, but the magical scorching and rent hole in the chest plate need more than mortals can supply to be mended. She waves a hand vaguely at the collection and her armor and weaponry return to their rightful places in her home.
In a tiny lavatory, Loki tugs apart the ripped collar of her tunic to see what became of her injury. An ugly keloid scar, several inches long, starts just below the jewel of her throat and ends beneath her breasts. The tissue is puckered, reddish in color, and perfectly straight. Loki attempts to conceal it with glamour, but the spell merely rolls off the affected tissue. She suspected as much. The scar was created by powerful foreign magic implemented with malignant intent, that alone is enough to leave a mark, but paired with her own outburst of raw innate magic…? Loki will bear this scar in every form she takes from now until forever.
Resigned, Loki quickly washes her face and summons one of her more conservative sweaters and pair of jeans. If the Director is going to debrief her, it’s going to take a while and include quite a bit of arguing. She may as well be comfortable for it.
Coulson is waiting benignly just as he said he would be. He gives her a small, familiar nod when she comes abreast of him and sets off down a wide, equally dull gray corridor. Now that she is paying attention to her surroundings, Loki can hear as well as feel the thrumming pulse of immense machinery. She can also taste the recycled quality of the air, the mild bite of air conditioning, all barely concealing the thin constitution of great altitude. Interesting.
“You did us a great service back there, saved hundreds of lives and that’s only counting the ones on base,” Coulson says earnestly. “You have our gratitude.”
Loki huffs. “Wonderful, just what I’ve always wanted.”
Coulson lifts an eyebrow at her. “As I said before, too much time with Stark.”
“Oh, believe me when I say no mortal exists who is capable of influencing any quirks of my personality,” Loki assures him.
The agent is quiet for a moment, mouth pressing into a grim line when he considers the scope and content of what Loki has told him. “Excellent.”
Coulson brings Loki to a nondescript door and signals it to open with a flash of a keycard. Within is a wide conference room with a long glass-top table and an array of impressive windows. The view is as Loki surmised: blue sky and a carpet of clouds.
“Good to see you back on your feet, Miss Lie-Smith,” says Director Fury by way of greeting. He doesn’t sound especially sincere, but Loki can see the glimmer of relief in his expression. He has now seen firsthand how powerful she is and he is glad to have her on his side.
“Why, thank you, Director,” she rasps. “I’m touched by your care.”
Fury rolls his eye and gestures for her to take a seat. Already seated at the conference table is the bow and arrow agent and another agent who Loki recognizes as Natasha Romanoff—one of her better tails and an accomplished liar. Romanoff was one of the first assigned to tail Loki during the start of her residency on Midgard; they ended up drinking together after Loki blew her cover half an hour into the spy’s mission. Of all her tails, Romanoff went undetected the longest. Loki takes the nearest available the seat but makes sure to leave an empty chair between her and Barton.
“Miss Lie-Smith,” says Fury, “I’m sure you remember Agent Romanoff and I don’t believe you were properly introduced to Agent Barton.”
Barton gives her a smart salute. “Thanks for not letting me get brainwashed.”
Loki smirks, amused. “You’re quite welcome.”
“Now that we’re all Facebook friends,” the Director says, sarcastic, impatient, charming as ever, “we need to talk about the atomic blonde in the holding cell.”
“Ah, the Enchantress,” says Loki, leaning back indolently, “otherwise known as Amora Incantare. She is Æsir, so she is physically strong and very long-lived, and she is a mage, though her magic is not nearly as powerful as mine.”
“And what can you tell us about what she is doing here?” asks the Director.
“Not much, I’m afraid,” Loki replies honestly. “She is not known for her plots for world domination. She is a seductress, she chases men for wealth, and if forced to join a cause, she joins whichever side serves her best.”
“That’s good and all, but she was definitely here to gather minions and take over,” says Barton.
“Hm, she was, wasn’t she,” drawls Loki. “I find that very curious.”
“Director, sir—” starts Coulson’s voice from the doorway. Loki looks over in time to see Coulson brushed aside by none other than Tony Stark, uninvited and striding into the room as if he owns the place. He meets Loki’s eyes first and flashes her a wink and a grin.
“Hey, hot stuff, glad you’re still breathing. I watched the security footage on my way over and you looked a little stabbed in the chest near the end there.”
Loki smirks. “Perhaps I was hoping for my own Arc Reactor.”
Tony barks a laugh. “No can do, sweetheart, this is a highly exclusive privilege.” He taps a pattern on the circle of lights glowing through his band shirt. “You kick ass, by the way. That was the first time I’ve ever seen you go hard in a fight. Loved the horns.”
“Obviously,” says Loki, grinning.
Tony pulls out the chair next to her and finally takes a further glance around the room. He nods at Barton and then narrows his eyes at Romanoff. She stares placidly back.
Fury glowers. “Stark,” he growls. “Just what do you think you’re doing here.”
“A man can’t follow up with his dear friend”—Tony puts his arm pointedly over the back of Loki’s chair—“after she gets stabbed in the chest by a beauty school dropout?”
“Not when that dear friend is the God of Mischief and currently onboard a Helicarrier you’re not meant to know anything about.”
Outside the immense floor to ceiling windows, Loki notices a bank of clouds beginning to darken and whorl. A brewing storm, but not a natural one. It seems Odin is using dark energy to send Thor to collect the Tesseract and possibly the one who sought to use it, as well.
“What of the Tesseract?” Loki asks coolly, bringing the meeting back on topic. “You’ve not mentioned what you plan to do with that.”
“I’m more worried about the would-be invader onboard,” Fury says sternly. Loki narrows her eyes at him, so that’s how he wants to play this. Concentrate entirely on the alien threat and neatly ignore the true crux of the situation. Fury wants to keep the Cube, that much has always been obvious, but Loki is not yet sure as to why or what he is trying to accomplish with it.
“It would go a long way to protecting your little realm if the Tesseract were not in it,” she says. “It would be safer for all if it were, instead, somewhere heavily guarded like, say, Asgard.”
“So you’ve said,” Fury replies, voice and body language giving nothing away. “I’m gonna have to disagree.”
The building storm slides out of the view as the aircraft glides along, but Loki can now feel the swelling magic. Thor has arrived on Midgard and it is only a matter of seconds before he lands atop the craft.
She affects a weary sigh and leans back into Tony’s arm. “Very well, then,” she says. “Enjoy explaining yourself to the Crown Prince.”
Loki is the only one with the ability to hear the thud as Thor the Thunderer lands atop the aircraft.
“He’s just landed on your little ship,” says Loki.
Fury blusters. “This Helicarrier is at an altitude of forty-two thousand—”
“Sir,” says Coulson apologetically from the doorway, fingers touching his earpiece as he relays the information. “We have a visitor.”
Fury’s nostrils flare, the only physical symptom of his outrage and disbelief. Loki watches, delighted, as the Director forcibly calms himself before addressing Coulson.
“Show him in,” he orders. Coulson ducks his chin in a nod and exits. Fury turns on Loki. “Care to tell me how you knew that?”
“Magic,” Loki deadpans, wiggling her fingers at shoulder height and making Tony huff with laughter. “Now, as you already know, I’ve taken great measures to keep myself from Asgard’s sight, so kindly refer to me as Miss Silver while Thor is here.” She colors her words with a mild spell, just a little persuasive thing to ensure that no one slips up, and then applies a touch of glamour to her features. It is remarkable how effective changing the tilt of her eyes and shape of her lips can be. She also softens her cheekbones and snubs her nose and lightens her hair to brown.
Tony angles himself to peer at her new face, he frowns appraisingly and nods. “Nice work. I don’t like it, but nice work.”
“I don’t recall you ever being in a position to give orders, Miss Silver.” Fury’s cutting tone is ruined by the shock on his face when he fails to pointedly call her Lie-Smith. Loki keeps her expression dry and inculpable.
The door whooshes open to admit Agent Coulson, dwarfed by the enormous male specimen that is the God of Thunder in his full regalia. Thor looks nearly the same as he ever as: all brawny muscle and gleaming armor, golden beard and flowing hair that is somehow messy and handsome at the same time. Loki makes a face at her perfect foster-brother and then hastily resumes her mortal role. Thor’s bright blue eyes sweep the room, passing over Loki as if she were a stranger, and land on the Director.
“Man of Fury,” Thor booms, “the Son of Coul says you are the one to speak with concerning the return of the Tesseract to my father’s Vault.”
“I am,” Fury confirms, “but I am not currently at liberty to fulfill your request.”
Thor appears dumbfounded. The oaf is not used to being told 'no'. Then he makes another valiant attempt, “The Tesseract is an extremely powerful artifact and dangerous if left in the wrong hands—”
“Are you implying that we are the wrong hands?” Fury demands. Loki has learned that Fury often falls back on acting offended in a ploy to off-balance his opponent.
Shockingly, Thor remains steady. “Nay, humans are quite capable,” he says, loudly as is his wont, as he strides further into the room, “I have seen this many times, but I worry that you are not prepared for the level of power held with the Tesseract. Until such a time comes that you are better prepared, it would be wise to store it where it is guaranteed to be secure.”
Loki’s eyebrows shoot to her hairline. That was nearly clever, Odin must have worked quite hard to ready Thor for this mission. The thought of that man makes a sour taste rise on Loki’s tongue. She removed herself from him and his ilk; perhaps not in the way she initially intended, but she has found a pleasant alternative and she has no plans to change her mind.
“Well,” she says abruptly, in the Greek-American accent she uses as Gaia, patting Tony’s thigh as she stands, “this seems like the beginning of a very repetitive argument and one that is surely beyond my abilities to consult. So, if you’ll excuse me, Director, I’ll be off now.” She turns on her heels before Fury can say a word against her and levels Tony with an imperious stare. “Anthony, I’ll need you to escort me home.”
Tony hops to his feet and holds out his elbow to her. “It would be my pleasure, Miss Silver.”
They pass Thor on their way to the door and, of course, Tony can’t help but reach out and slap a hand on one of the god’s enormous biceps. “Nice to meet you, Torgeir.”
Thor stares bemusedly and says nothing. Then the door hisses shut behind them and they are free Loki blows out a heavy breath and leans against Tony as they meander down the corridor. Tony removes her hand from his elbow so he can curl his arm around her waist; Loki drapes her own arm over his shoulder. The first and only time Tony attempted to put an arm around her shoulders while they were standing side by side, he was forced to confront the vast difference in their heights and pouted for a week.
“How’re you feeling, honey?” Tony asks with genuine concern, though he masks it well with nonchalance.
“I’ve had a rather trying day and the last thing I want is to deal with that idiot in any capacity.”
“I bet,” says Tony. “We should probably also come up with a cover for Lona. You were meant to do that little radio thing yesterday, but you never showed. I got several alerts from JARVIS about the number of calls coming in on your line in the Tower.”
“Hm,” Loki hums noncommittally. “Let them stew for another day, then I’ll just blame you.”
“Me?” Tony isn’t even offended, just curious, because it is perfectly plausible for him to be at fault for Lona going MIA for a couple of days. It would merely be a question of whether it was a spontaneous holiday to somewhere extravagant and remote or an alcohol-riddled sex marathon. He suggests, “Reykjavik is lovely, I hear.”
“Yes, it is,” Loki confirms, “but it won’t be plausible.”
Loki hesitates. Then says, lowly, “Remember how I nearly earned myself an Arc Reactor last night?” Severe trauma to the chest. “Well, I earned something else instead.” Irrefutable, impossible-to-hide evidence of said trauma.
“Ah,” says Tony, understanding perfectly, and then immediately switches tracks. “Wanna go say hi to Psycho Barbie?”
“Why not,” says Loki. “I have a few questions to answer.”
Tony brandishes his phone like a weapon (which, in his hands, it very well can be) when he removes it from his pocket. “I may have given myself premier access to all systems here—”
Loki rolls her eyes. “Of course.”
Tony winks at her. “I’m sure JARVIS has dug up some neat stuff, I haven’t had the time to check quite yet, but. I know your little playmate is being kept in a special glass cage on the lowest deck.
They find Amora easily enough, the Enchantress’s prison isn’t even being guarded very heavily and, in fact, the cell doesn’t even appear to be much of a cell at all. Loki takes one look at the wide glass cylinder and the trap doors just beneath it and finds it to be more an execution chamber than anything else. The “cell” has a single bench opposite the door and no other regard for personal comfort and commodities. It’s effective, yes, but clearly designed for someone specific in mind.
Amora is sat in the direct center of the cell, legs crossed, hands limp on her knees, and her eyes glazed and distant. Loki and Tony watch her for a while from a curving walkway that wraps around the cell and lean their arms on the railing.
“What do you make of this?” Tony asks, jutting his chin at the captive.
“She is speaking to someone,” Loki says darkly. “Someone not on this world.”
“Quite.” Loki huffs and drags a hand through her hair. “This is not her usual style. I’ve had many run-ins with Amora in the past and she has never displayed an interest in world domination. She’s a harlot and menace, but she doesn’t care for sitting a throne. She’s typically more interested in seducing men and using them for their riches and then leaving them with nothing.”
“What could make her change her M.O. so drastically?”
“That is indeed the question, Anthony. She is normally accompanied by a brutish lackey called Skurge, but I’ve not seen a trace of him since she arrived.”
“Could someone be holding him as leverage?” asks Tony.
“Oh, certainly not,” Loki says dismissively. “Skurge may be hopelessly in love with the witch, but Amora could not care less about him. He’s a useful tool, but she would replace him in a heartbeat.” Loki pauses. “She had a sister for whom she would burn the world, but Lorelai has been dead for some time now.”
They lapse into contemplative silence, watching Amora sit rigidly in her cell. Tony drums his fingers against the metal rail, unable to be truly still. Loki’s mind wanders, searching out the sub-sonic pulse of the Tesseract held somewhere onboard and peering at the sun-hot electric energy that is Thor’s nearby presence. There is something else flickering at the edges of her senses, something additional and powerful, but Loki cannot pin it down. It could be the sheer amount of electrical equipment sustaining the Helicarrier or there could be some other mystic artifact stashed away somewhere. It is impossible for Loki to say without further investigation.
“These Infinity Stones,” Tony says lowly, eyes still fixed on the Enchantress. “You said whoever holds them could shape the universe to their will.”
“I did,” Loki confirms.
“Theoretically… Could they be used to bring back the dead?”
Loki turns her head so fast to stare at Tony that her neck twinges. “You wouldn’t even need all of them,” she says. “Just the Soul Stone would do.”
“And if you had, say, the Space Stone,” Tony goes on, meeting her eyes, expression grim, “no doubt you could find the Soul Stone easily enough.”
“I imagine you could.”
Tony nods slowly and looks back at Amora. “So, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that this sister she would burn the world for is being used as leverage against her.”
They stand in uneasy silence for some time more. Amora’s breath goes ragged, but she does not emerge from her communicative trance with the Void. The Helicarrier flies on, plowing through clouds and chasing the sun, a sky-bound hive buzzing with worker bees. The dense quilt of overlapping energies makes Loki’s chest ache and she absently brings up a hand to massage it away. She immediately feels the knotted line of scar tissue through the material of her sweater and grimaces as she takes her hand away. It will take time for her to get used to the sight and feel of a new scar, particularly one she cannot hide beneath a glamour.
“I was not their first choice,” says Amora, her voice carried to them through a simple two-way intercom. Her eyes are still closed and her posture has not changed, but the pinch between her eyebrows is enough to signify that she back with her body. Loki says nothing, just waits for Amora to go on of her own accord.
“Whose?” Tony asks and Loki nearly rolls her eyes. Stillness and silence, neither is a strength of his.
“The Other,” Amora croons, smiling sickly as her eyes slowly open. Her natural green has returned, but the irises have a distinct blue rim belying how much autonomy she truly possesses. “He saw you fall, princeling, marked your passage through the Void and he reached for you. He almost had you, too, but then you…slipped…just out of his reach.”
Loki shivers. This was nearly her fate. Had she come through the Tesseract’s portal, there would not have been a magic-user ready to combat her, to slow her down… She would have killed every agent in that room and escaped with the Cube, she has no doubt.
“He still wants you,” Amora continues. “You have something his Master desperately wants.”
A direct connection to Hel, Loki thinks and her parental instinct rears like a dragon within her, all fire and rage and the promise of blood.
“Shame that he can’t have me, then,” Loki says carelessly. “It matters not anyway. You’ve failed to accomplish the task he set you to and now you’re to be brought back to Asgard to be judged before the Allfather for your crimes.”
Amora sneers, but Thor and Fury sweep into the room before she can spit more of her venomous words at Loki. Her disposition changes drastically when she sees the Thunderer, reverting as ever to a fawning school girl with her first crush.
“My prince,” she simpers, standing at last and approaching the glass, placing her hands against the smooth surface and staring fixedly at the God of Thunder. “Have you come to take me away?”
“Enchantress,” Thor addresses her curtly, “you are to be taken to Asgard to face punishment for attempting to usurp a protected realm.”
“I would have done it, Thor, for you,” she breathes. Loki flinches at her choice of words but thinks it coincidental until she notices the way Amora’s eyes cut to her for the briefest second. The wench, how does she know? Thor’s expression goes pained for a moment before he steels his resolve and unclips a pair of Asgardian manacles from his belt.
“Step back, Enchantress,” Thor orders. “Do not make a false move or your punishment will be made worse.”
Amora backs up, swaying her hips tantalizingly as she does. Her eyes bore into Thor and her pouted lips curl dangerously. “The Tesseract showed me many things, my love,” she purrs. “The secret truths of the universe, ancient knowledge and future plights.”
Thor ignores her and nods to Fury, who manipulates the control panel to unlock the door.
“Hold out your arms,” Thor instructs, “keep your palms down and do not move.”
Amora does as told, using the new position of her arms to emphasize her breasts. Thor does not even bat an eye, just steps into the cell and affixes the first cuff to her wrist. Amora says, “It also showed me your sibling.”
Thor freezes infinitesimally before locking the other cuff. Brusquely, he says, “Do not play your games with me, woman.”
“He fell through the Void for so long,” Amora says relentlessly, “but he landed here. Did you know? Loki is in this very realm—”
“Silence!” Thor roars, he grabs Amora by her upper arm and shakes her with the force of it. “You do not speak of my sibling! You do not use their death to twist my heart for your amusement! If you dare speak again, I will have you silenced!”
Amora’s eyes go wide and she shrinks back as much as she can in Thor’s white-knuckled grip. She appears truly cowed and stays obediently quiet as Thor drags her from the cell.
Loki hates that she is trembling, even just slightly, because she has never seen her foster-brother so affected and it is because of her absence. He even used her neutral pronouns, as if she were still alive and he is unsure what gender she presently feels. Trembling, also, with anger because it took her apparent suicide to finally cement such thoughtfulness to her identity in his mind.
She clears her throat quietly and every set of eyes in the room snaps to her. Loki feigns meekness and suggests cautiously, “If I may… She has referenced a Master? And it seems the color of her eyes has been changing. I suspect that might mean something. Perhaps?”
Amora bares her teeth at Loki.
Thor stares at her and for a moment, Loki fears he can see past her disguise, but then he says, “Miss Silver, was it?”
“Yes,” she says.
“I will bring your claim to the Allfather for consideration.”
“Thank you,” she says, scarcely above a whisper.
Thor inclines his head, then looks past her at Tony and gives the engineer a short nod. And then he strides from the room, dragging Amora with him, Fury on his heels. After a moment, Loki and Tony hurry after them. A mere half hour later, they are on the landing strip wearing breathing masks to combat the thin atmosphere—unnecessary for Loki except to keep up appearances—watching as Thor puts Amora’s hand on one end of the device holding the Tesseract, twists his end, and vanishes in a burst of iridescent light.
- - -
lona silver has been mia for three days now and everyone is going wild with speculation, so here’s a list of the best theories in no particular order:
- she’s pregnant w/ tony’s child and has just started showing
- she’s dead
- she’s dead and they’re searching for a body double avril Lavigne style
- she and tony ran away to elope
- she and pepper ran away to elope
- she’s actually an alien and had to return to her home planet
- the stress of fame became too much and she decided to become a hermit
- she’s an android and she’s malfunctioning/in for a tune-up
- she’s an android and she’s become self-aware
- she’s an android and she tried to kill someone and had to be deactivated
- i could go on with the android theories
and my personal fave:
- she was never real
- - -
The first thing Loki does after her three days of radio silence is up is call the producers of the Earthshaker movies and make sure she has not been fired or replaced. Of course, they would not dare do that to her after she tells them the cover story she and Tony came up with—which has been thoroughly cemented, with JARVIS and Coulson’s help, with paperwork and the sworn statements of a few willing medical personnel. The producers tell her all his forgiven and to take it easy for the rest of December; they will meet again in the new year to start preparing for the next installment.
The next thing Loki does is open Twitter and break the silence.
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: If your eccentric inventor friend asks you to check out the cool new thing he built, it is best that you say no.
You Know Who I Am @AEStark replying to @deviousdeity: Yeah. Whoops. That one’s on me.
Then she and Tony sit on the ridiculously comfortable couch in Tony’s lounge and watch the Earthshaker fanbase lose its shit. After the excitement of hearing from her wore off, more theories began to crop up, covering everything from near-fatal lab accident to someone else using her account. It takes an hour for the especially industrious fans to find the hospital records of her imagined surgery and extended stay in the ICU. Then it becomes less amusing to watch the reactions, as they become entirely predictable and boring. Thoughts and prayers, get well soon, and quite a few drop your toxic friend who causes you to need heart surgery. While the last one is frankly hilarious to Loki, Tony seems the tiniest bit offended behind his own laughter, so Loki tosses her phone and then his on the coffee table.
“Do you want to see it?” she asks. “I know you’ve been dying to get a look and I do appreciate your restraint. I’ll even tell everyone how considerate you’ve been in my next interview.”
Tony plants a loud kiss on her cheek. “You’re a doll. Now take your shirt off.”
Loki rolls her eyes and sits forward so she can lift her shirt over her head. It is one of those dreadful close-collared t-shirts that are too snug at the base of her throat, but Loki didn’t have many other options for keeping the keloid scar out of sight. Until now, she hasn’t felt ready to have it on display, hasn’t felt ready to catch Tony looking at her chest and not be ogling her breasts.
She faces Tony resolutely when she tosses her shirt aside, watching every twitch and shift in his expression. To his credit, Tony is letting everything he feels pass freely over his face; Loki sees the concern, the sympathy, and the curiosity. He glances at her in askance and when Loki nods, he traces his fingers feather-light over the long line of gnarled tissue. He doesn’t even show a hint of a smile when he passes the front of her bra and normally Tony can’t help being childishly gleeful about bras.
“And you can’t wiggle your fingers and make it invisible?” he asks gently. Loki has already told him she cannot, but she knows he is actually asking for an explanation as to why. Tony meets her eyes when she sighs through her nose and then goes back to watching his fingers follow the scar back up to her throat. The coloration has faded significantly in the last few days, the scar is no longer an angry red but a much subtler pink that is only a few shades off her skin tone.
“The scar is the result of the clashing of two, possibly three, different magics. The physical wound caused by the scepter healed within minutes, but there was so much magic tangled up over top the wound that it left a physical mark. Essentially, the scar is magic, but it is not one hundred percent my magic, which means I cannot alter it.”
Tony’s hand, warm and rough with callouses, slides over her clavicle to curl softly around the side of her neck.
“That sucks, sugar plum,” he says bluntly.
Loki lets out a bark of laughter. “Yes,” she says, smiling bitterly, “it rather does.”
“Pardon the interruption,” JARVIS intone, “Miss Potts is on her way up. Shall I ask her to come back another time?”
Tony looks at Loki with raised eyebrows. It’s her call. Loki barely needs a second to consider her answer.
“Thank you, JARVIS, but there is no need.”
“Very well, ma’am.”
Tony’s hand stays on Loki neck, though he slides it up to stroke his thumb along the sharp line of her jaw. Loki leans into the touch; she is something of a glutton for the kind of casual affection Tony shows his close friends. She knows how starved she was for this during her young adulthood when she felt masculine and followed her brother about all the realms and was too old to want such affection without being deemed peculiar. And Tony quickly realized this and has never spoken a word on it, merely carried on treating her like nothing was different.
The elevators in the Tower are very nearly silent and Loki is rather absorbed in the warmth of Tony’s palm, so it is the click-click-click of Pepper’s heels that herald her arrival.
“Tony, what did you do and why does the Internet think Loki should dump you?” she asks, looking down at her tablet as she approaches. When she looks up and sees them sitting close on the couch, what more with Loki’s shirt conspicuously missing, she comes to an abrupt halt. “Oh, sorry, I’ll come back another time.”
She turns on her heel and begins to retreat.
“Not so fast, Pep!” Tony calls after her. “We’re having a moment, come join us.”
Pepper walks back over, steps measured. “What percent of this moment am I allowed to have?” she asks smartly.
“Oh, ha-ha,” Tony shoots back and Loki is somewhat surprised that he doesn’t stick his tongue out at her. Pepper rounds the couch and Loki pats the spot next to her. The redhead sits primly and then gasps when she sees the scar.
“Oh, my god! Is that what you did?” She shoves her tablet on to the coffee table and then leans over Loki to swat Tony’s arm. Tony gapes at her offendedly and Loki chuckles.
“She’s a god!” Tony exclaims defensively. “You think I could do anything that would actually hurt her like that?”
“No, but if anyone could accidentally figure it out, it’s you,” Pepper shoots back.
“Okay, fine, I’ll give you that, but I didn’t do this and the person who did, did it intentionally.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Pepper is bordering on shrill and she and Tony seem to have forgotten Loki sitting between them. She decides now would be a good time to remind them of her presence and her good health.
“Children, please,” she says. “I’m quite alright and the Enchantress and the Tesseract have been taken back to Asgard.”
“Can I get you anything?” asks Pepper, eternally worried. “Are you in any pain—?”
“Pepper, I just said that I am fine,” says Loki, amused. “You needn’t worry. I only wanted you to see the scar. You and Anthony are the only ones who have seen it.” She pauses and amends, “And Coulson, I believe he saw it, too.”
Pepper looks as though her heart is melting. She coos Loki’s name with great sympathy and pulls Loki in for a constricting hug. Loki presses into the embrace gratefully.
“Spell yourself a shirt, Lo,” says Tony, thoroughly ending the moment. “It’s time for one of those selfies all the kids are doing these days.”
“Tony—” Pepper starts, her disapproving mother face coming out in full force, but Loki waves her off and summons herself a tank top. Pepper huffs and plays along, leaning her face close to Loki’s and pressing their shoulders together. Tony stretches his arm around Loki’s back and onto Pepper’s and touches his temple to the top of Loki’s head. This is the only instance in which he will ever appear taller than the god and of course he is taking photographic evidence. The picture he comes up with is a nice one; the three of them look comfortable and happy, relaxed in each other’s presence, and that is almost enough to distract from the severe scar bisecting Loki’s chest.
“Should I share it?” Tony asks, once again letting Loki make the decision.
“Yes,” she decides, “but wait a few days for the sake of plausibility. I’m…not actually certain what I’m meant to look like two days out of heart surgery.”
“Hm, good point,” says Tony. “We’ll work on that.
- - -
You Know Who I Am @AEStark: I call this one “An Angel and the Heart-Damaged Dunces She Takes Care Of” pic.twitter.com/iMjwd616
Zelda McHugh @legendofme: Ugh, she’s still hanging out with him
Donny B @blake_DonaldBlake: Tony stark basically has two girlfriends and theyre cool with eachother, and yet I cant find one girl whose cool with me???
Leah ago in a galaxy far far away @lesbian_leia: ‘heart-damaged dunces’ LOL i love these beautiful people
Kimbre Cole @koolestkim: joking about nearly killing your sidepiece. real classy
Jack’s Opinion @jacksopinions: holy fuck that is one nasty scar
- - -
Lona Silver appears on one of those dreadful morning talk shows two days later, on the twenty-first of the December and the supposed Aztec Apocalypse. Loki has taken a perverse sort of entertainment from watching the young and foolish mortals squabbling and proselytizing and being generally more chaotic than usual. Happy escorts Loki to the studio and they have to slog through a ridiculous amount of pedestrian traffic just to get the car close enough to building’s back entrance.
Apparently, the end of days gives people the bravery to flock the alleyway to the entrance for a chance at a photo or an autograph from Hollywood’s newest star. Loki towers over Happy and could swat these foolhardy mortals aside like gnats, but she humors the man and stays behind him while he ineffectually pushes through the crowd.
Loki is grateful for the cold—for her need to wear heavy jackets and a scarf to blend in—because it means the humans won’t make a scene about her new scar. That would be tiresome and Loki only has so much energy she can expend on playing the role of a soft and recently hospitalized mortal. She plans to keep to herself for the rest of December, maybe lure Tony and Pepper into her bed, and then go back to being tough-as-nails Lona Silver in the public eye.
Happy hustles her inside, carrying himself with pride and importance despite the flush on his cheeks and the sweat at his temples. He likes to feel useful, helpful, and his efforts are admirable, so Loki doesn’t mind humoring him during their interactions. Safely inside, Loki leans down to press a kiss to his cheek and murmurs a warm thank you before whisking away to the dressing rooms.
The show’s producers had asked her to wear something festive for the holiday just around the corner. They also asked if she would participate in their 12 Days Something or Other (Loki couldn’t be bothered to remember the asinine name they’d given her), but Loki had feigned misunderstanding and expounded on the various pagan traditions she was raised with in rural Norway. The showrunners had ooh’d and ah’d and said how interesting all that was and the offer to participate never resurfaced. So, Loki merely dons a scoop-neck sweater in festive green with tiny reindeer stitched in red along the hems.
The makeup artist assigned to make her face "camera ready" asks if she wants to wear a less distracting necklace and Loki bluntly refuses. She has worn the same amulet for hundreds of years now since she lost her children: a slim chain and thin pendant made of uru, it is enchanted to offer peace and comfort to her children wherever they may be, a token to ensure they may always feel her love and devotion to them. The amulet itself is maybe an inch long and a half-inch wide, stamped with Loki’s personal symbol: a pair of snakes entwined about each other in a loose S-like knot and each has a tiny green gem for an eye. The amulet sits just below the base of her throat and tends to cover the top her scar.
“I don’t think this little thing is going to draw any attention away from the massive, raised scar down the middle of my chest,” Loki says flatly. The makeup artist blushes and stutters in agreement and then silently continues doing her job.
Loki has also been politely asked not to wear heels because even without them she is a foot or so taller than the show’s hostesses. Naturally, Loki is wearing a pair of three-inch heels in a shiny, festive red and the stylist is too intimidated by her to suggest she switch out for something else. So, Loki stands out of view of the cameras, waiting for her introduction, dressed in killer red heels, snug black jeans, and a green sweater that clings in all the right places.
She towers over the hostesses—a pair of smiley women who perfectly follow the media’s unspoken rule of Caucasian/non-Caucasian partnership to give the appearance of equal representation despite both women being the vapid puppets of a powerhouse run by old white men. (Loki has not been in the industry for very long, but she knows precisely how it works and she knows precisely how she’s going to break its rules and expose its follies.) The hostesses have easy to pronounce and entirely unoriginal names and Loki thinks they are something like Kathleen and Oni or Karen and Ziva, but she isn’t entirely sure.
The hostesses are quick to lead Loki to the tall chairs set up for the interview after greeting her to lessen the amount of time spend tipping their heads back to meet her eyes. Loki makes no effort to hide her amusement.
“You look wonderful!” says Kathleen/Karen. Her hair is bottle blonde and a bit brittle from so many dye-jobs and she has a touch of stiffness around her mouth and eyes that suggests the use of botox. Everything she says is nearly shouted and her exuberance is meant to be charming and energizing for the breakfasting audience, but most, Loki suspects, find her irksome. “You always look so good and, god, you’re as tall an Amazon! Wow!”
Sometimes Loki considers boggling the people who comment on her height by telling them she is the shortest in her family, but that would likely lead to actually talking about her family so she never does. Loki just maintains her pleasant made for tv expression and lets the woman prattle on.
“Gosh, I knew you were tall, but you’re so tall!” she exclaims. “Have you done any modeling?”
“Once,” Loki replies, “and I found it to be boring and grossly objectifying.” She can see Kathleen/Karen is about to continue this line of conversation in an effort to be polite or subtle, but she can also the women’s eyes darting frequently to her chest. So, Loki says, “But no one cares about that. I’m here because I had a very drastic operation a couple of weeks ago and everyone wants to know if Anthony is to blame.”
The hostesses titter and laugh.
“You caught us,” says Oni/Ziva, as if this interview was not extensively planned. Oni/Ziva is the more palette-able of the two and less cosmetically altered. Her light brown skin is indicative of mixed-racial parentage. The features of her ethnicity are present enough to label her “exotic” but subtle enough that the powerhouse of old white men deems her “acceptable”.
Oni/Ziva queries, “So, tell about what happened? It’s all a bit of a mystery right now.” Because Loki’s social media presence is spotty at best and she refuses to release press statements about herself like she’s some kind ultra-important god-figure making decrees upon her people.
“And that’s one heck of a scar!” exclaims Kathleen/Karen and it takes great effort on Loki’s part not to roll her eyes. “Look at that! Do you mind? It’s enormous! And right there!”
The blonde woman is at the edge of her seat, waving her cue cards at Loki’s bosom, while somehow managing to draw more attention to herself than to Loki’s scar.
“It was not as dramatic as you’re making it seem to be,” Loki says coolly. “Anthony called me right as I finished on the Norton Show going on about this thing he’d built. Some kind of drone, I think. He wanted to show off and he knows I’ll humor him, so he flew me back to New York to witness the maiden voyage of his creation. I only intended to stay for a few hours to see the robot, have a drink to celebrate, and then fly to London for the radio interview—”
“You were going to fly all the home just to turn around and go back right after!?” demands Kathleen/Karen. The question would be less forceful and accusing if she still possessed a full range of control over her facial features and the ability to modulate her volume.
Loki pauses after the interruption, tips her head and narrows her eyes at the blonde woman in bemusement. “You are aware that when I say ‘Anthony’, I am referring to Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire who likes to throw money at frivolous things?”
Kathleen/Karen lets out a shriek that could very well be a laugh and Loki is certain that she sees Oni/Ziva wince.
“I guess we’re not used to hearing his full first name,” One/Ziva says diplomatically, smiling and giggling a bit to keep the mood cheerful and light. “You might be the only person who calls him Anthony.”
“Oh, I’m sure I am and I know he hates it,” says Loki, she crooks her grin mischievously and adds, “but he knows he can’t do anything to stop me.”
The hostesses laugh and then Oni/Ziva brings them back on topic, “So, Tony Stark. He flies you in and then what?”
“Well,” says Loki, “then his little robot drone goes a little…wonky.” This is where more technical information is necessary to make the cover story believable, but while Loki understands perfectly, Lona is not expected to. So she crinkles her nose and gives the tiniest helpless shrugs before continuing. “It’s all rather fuzzy after that, but essentially the thing malfunctioned mid-flight and it struck me in the chest when it crashed. Which, honestly, would not have resulted in any serious injury had the thing not also electrocuted me.” Loki gently touches her fingers to her scar. “I believe Anthony said there was a loosened wire or exposed component…? Or maybe it’s the other way ‘round. Regardless, it was a massive shock.” Tony had gone into extensive explanations about voltage and resistance and current flow, but Loki had tuned most of it out. She knows the science, but she knows it in different terms and further advanced. “Massive enough to disrupt my heart… Er, the next thing I remember clearly is being the back of a helicopter, being rushed to hospital, and Anthony sitting next to me saying, ‘I may have made a mistake.’”
Oni/Ziva reads the amusement on Lona’s face and in her voice and chuckles, “Oh, you think?”
Kathleen/Karen misses it entirely and gasps hugely, utterly affronted. “Oh, he did not! What did you say to him!?”
“I told him to fuck off and then I passed out from the pain,” Loki says bluntly. From the corner of her eye, she sees producers and crew panic and scramble to bleep out the profanity before the one-minute tape-delay runs out. Kathleen/Karen is gaping, but Oni/Ziva is biting down a laugh in a way that makes her look vaguely horrified. Lok suspects this woman is aware of the media game she is caught in and knows how to play.
“You dropped him, right!?” asks the clueless blonde hostess, pressing past the slip of profanity. “He hospitalized you and didn’t even apologize!”
Loki can feel the incredulousness in her expression, the disbelief at this woman’s character, but for once she does nothing to mask how she feels. “Of course not,” Loki says. “What happened was an accident, plain and simple, and I do not blame him in the least. He hasn’t apologized in words, but in actions by ensuring I was seen by the best doctors in the country and paying my very expensive medical bills. Anthony may be an ass”—more scrambling behind the cameras—“but he is capable of caring. If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t have Iron Man.”
“You obviously care about him a lot,” comments Oni/Ziva, not leadingly or questioningly, just taking note. “I know most people would be surprised by that given his past reputation.”
“Indeed,” Loki agrees, “but we’re here to talk about the ugly scar on my chest, not my friendship with Anthony.”
Kathleen/Karen is gaping like a fish, but her co-hostess is not letting her get a word in to derail the conversation. Oni/Ziva says diplomatically, “It is very eye-catching. Is there anything you can do to make it smaller or lighter…?”
“Pepper has been looking into that,” Loki replies. “She’s a gem, she really is. I don’t really give a damn about how noticeable the scar is anymore, but Pepper drops me a note or leaves little care packages on my kitchen counter every now and then. There is a medical procedure I could do to cut away the built-up tissue, but it is not recommended so soon after the surgery.” In truth, this procedure is unlikely to have any effect; the scar is metaphysical in nature. It exists without actually existing and therefore there is no tissue to cut away. “In the meantime, I figure I may as well have a go at some of the home remedies Pepper has told me about.”
“What would those be?” asks Oni/Ziva.
“Things like apple cider vinegar or aloe vera,” says Loki, shrugging. She thinks it’s bullshit and won’t bother, but mortals are oddly obsessed with homeopathy. Again, she does not believe these remedies will have any effect on a scar that does not physically exist, but she may as well humor Pepper. Loki spends most of her time humoring her mortals, it just makes them so happy and to not do so feels like taking lollies from children. “There’s one that says to crush a couple of aspirin and make a paste with water. I’m not sure about that one.”
“I’m sure coconut oil was also highly recommended—” Oni/Ziva starts and is cut off an earth-shaking crash that has her gripping the arms of her chair. Kathleen/Karen shrieks and is rattled out of her seat, falling to the floor in a heap. Loki manages to keep herself seated and watches with wide eyes as cameras and people and lights fall dramatically to the floor.
“Thank the Norns,” Loki mutters under her breath, something interesting.
The second the ground stops shaking, Happy is bolting onto the set and helping Loki unnecessarily out of her chair. He is in full protection mode, which is also his most ridiculous, but for once Loki is glad for it. It means he will hustle a duplicate of her out of here before anyone can realize it is a duplicate.
Under her breath, as Happy curls an across her back and holds her low as if this awkward-half-crouch will keep them any safer, she murmurs, “I’m going to leave you a clone, continue to perform as usual.”
“Huh?” says Happy, but Loki is already teleporting away and shifting to his male form. He hangs back, invisible, for just a moment to ensure that Happy has a handle on the situation before he departs. Happy doesn’t sink his arm through the hasty Lona-clone and keeps pace with it as it appears to follow his guidance. Assured, Loki slips through a shadow and comes out on the street next to the studio. All around, he can see signs of disturbance: cars scattered in panicked stops along the road, pedestrians clinging to each other or lamp posts or sitting up on the pavement, and several broken windows. They gawk at him as he winds his way through the mess, dressed in his leathers and armor (minus the helmet), and skitter frightfully away from him. Loki does not bother to soothe them with promises that he is not the cause or that he will not harm them. He cannot guarantee the truth of either statement.
A block away, Loki finds the source and can’t help rolling his eyes. Skurge. Enormous, overly-muscled, dramatically armored Skurge. His hair is just as terrible as ever and expression just as dull and stupid. What is unusual is the lack of his usual ax. Instead of the massive compensative weapon, Skurge is carrying a very familiar scepter in his meaty hands.
Loki can honestly say he hasn’t the slightest clue what color Skurge’s eyes are meant to be, but right now there is a touch of eerie blue in them he knows with confidence should not be there.
“Excellent,” Loki grumbles, “they had you in their clutches after all.”
Skurge sees Loki and snarls. He crouches, muscles gathering, and then leaps, landing scant feet from Loki with another massive crash. Loki staggers but remains upright.
“Odinson!” Skurge booms, brandishing the scepter clumsily. Loki grimaces, though he is more offended by the poor handling of the weapon than the use of his dead surname.
“I do not believe that belongs to you,” Loki says conversationally. Skurge responds by roaring and rearing back, winding up for a strike. Loki evades the resultant blow easily, merely stepping aside and letting the blades of the scepter embed in the pavement. Then he makes a quick calculation and utilizes the most abundant resource currently at his disposal: the snow. Loki calls on his most innate magic—steadfastly not thinking about how his hands might be turning blue under his gloves—and commands a bank of snow to gather about Skurge’s ankles and solidify into ice.
Skurge is undeterred and manages to yank his feet free before the ice is completely solid. He continues to approach Loki with an expression of hatred and determination. Loki backs up steadily, keeping the distance between himself and Skurge unchanged as he piles more ice and snow at the behemoth’s feet.
“You sent my Lady Amora to Asgard!” Skurge accuses, swinging the scepter at the Loki. There is madness and discoordination in his every move, both clear indicators of time spent in the Void where he suspects Amora’s puppeteer resides. “Your lies and your trickery have put her in chains!”
Loki pulls an immense snowbank down onto Skurge’s head and freezes the Executioner in place with the assistance of a binding spell to his ankles. Skurge staggers and goes to his knees.
“Actually,” says Loki primly, “I think you’ll find Amora’s multiple attempts of murder and hostile takeover put her in chains.”
A touch of yellow is creeping into the Executioner’s eyes, but Loki is annoyingly unsure of what that means. Skurge is still struggling and furious, slowly but surely cracking the ice that clings to him. Loki is pulling more snow to him to reinforce his hold on Skurge when suddenly, of all things, a bullet pings off his chest plate. He whips around to face the culprit and finds a man—followed by others climbing out the back of a nondescript transport vehicle—wearing black armor stamped with a familiar eagle crest.
Loki sneers. “You arrive late only to shoot the wrong alien!”
“Simmer down, Prancer,” says the welcome voice of Iron Man, landing smoothly to Loki’s right. “They’re doing their best considering I took away all their Hydra fun toys.”
Agent Barton hops out from the passenger side of the vehicle, bow in hand and smirk in place. He makes a quick hand signal and the men in his company pan out to surround Skurge. Then he nods at Loki. “Hey, Lie-Smith,” he greets casually as if this were a pleasant outing. “What’ve you got for us?”
Loki returns his attention to Skurge, who has nearly broken through the ice. He quickly thickens the ice barrier and drags it up to envelope Skurge’s waist and then wraps several binding spells around his torso to lock his arms to his sides.
“Skurge the Executioner,” Loki says. “Amora’s best lackey.”
The yellow is Skurge’s eyes has taken over and Loki can now feel a strange power calling out to him. He looks to the scepter and sees that the gem in the blades is turning greenish as a similar yellow starts to pool inside it. Oh, Loki thinks, how interesting. The scepter calls to him, requesting him specifically to bear it, to protect it, and who is Loki to refuse?
Grinning, Loki strides forward, ignoring the multitude of weapons that track his movements, and snatches the scepter from Skurge’s stiff hand. Skurge growls, but the yellow in his eyes makes him complicit to the scepter’s will.
“Careful there, pal…” Iron Man calls out warningly and understandably so. The last time Loki touched the scepter, it nearly put him out of commission. But this time it merely warms in his hand and the gem turns brilliant green as the yellow Infinity Stone in its core illuminates behind the blue casing.
Mine, whispers the Stone, placing the word firmly in Loki’s mind.
I am honored, Loki sends back, still grinning. He spins the staff deftly in hand, getting a feel for it, and extends his arm and touches the tip of the blade to Skurge’s chest. Skurge’s eyes go briefly black and then flood with emerald energy.
“Run along to Asgard,” Loki orders him coolly. “Tell the Allfather all that you have seen in the Void and all that you have done since.”
“Yes, sir,” drones Skurge. Loki melts away the ice with a wave of his hand and then, with another, opens up one of the secret ways to Asgard that will place Skurge at the gates of the palace. Skurge obediently walks forward and steps through the portal robotically. Loki closes his fist and the portal snaps shut. Loki twirls the scepter once more, gazing upon it fondly, and then tucks it away into his pocket dimension.
“Well, then,” he says, all business and propriety, “Are we done here?”
- - -
IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
But not in the way we were expecting
by Janelle Stevenson
Dec. 21, 2012
It’s the end of the world as we know and I feel…fine? Confused? We were all so busy waiting for the earth to crack open or a volcano to explode, that we forgot to look up to the sky for the End of Days. There was more than just snow falling today, a couple of very special snowflakes came crashing down as well!
Halfway through Lona Silver’s appearance on the Good Morning Show, the ground (kind of appropriately, given her character in the Earthshaker series) began to quake! While this little blogger was gearing up to cry and mourn the loss of Lona’s perfection, Tony Stark’s bodyguard best friend bravely came to keep our mortal queen safe and hustled her away. Phew!
The cause of the quake? An actual, living, breathing alien from a different planet had landed in our midst a mere block away from Rockefeller Plaza! And if that wasn’t enough, seconds later a second alien came power-walking on the scene and the two began to duke it out…over a girl? Shaky smartphone footage has little to offer us, but a few lines of dialogue made it through the interfering screams of terror. (And let’s not focus on the fact that aliens apparently speak the local language, my brain is already fit to bursting.) Apparently, Alf was, er, displeased with ET for dissing his woman and decided an all-out attack was the way to go about defending her virtue. Aliens: They’re Just Like Us! Who knew?
See you next Sunday!
Chapter 3: Straight Through Hell
“Thor Odinson has just arrived at Stark Tower," JARVIS announces and Loki freezes. "He appears to be in great distress and he is accompanied by Dr. Jane Foster. Her vitals are…strange and she is in an immense amount of pain." He pauses and then adds, "Mr. Odinson says the Aether is involved."
This chapter is a bit brutal...proceed with caution.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Let’s go back to Malibu,” Tony says during breakfast on January second. New Year passed with thankfully little in the way of action and Loki has been going slowly stir-crazy pretending to be recuperating. She is eager to start weapons training with the cast of the second Earthshaker installment, Mainshock, and show off all the different ways she can kick ass.
Loki looks up from her coffee and replies, “I can be ready to go in less than five minutes.”
“Eager beaver,” Tony says teasingly, winking at her. He stands, abandoning half his omelet and straightening his shirt needlessly. “I’ll take those five minutes. Us mortals like to take time for a shower before we go places.”
“We’re going to your other house,” Loki says, unimpressed.
Tony, already walking away, calls over his shoulder with a lazy wave, “Places, Lo!”
“Ass,” she shouts back and he immediately does a little shimmy without breaking his stride. Loki snorts and figures she can entertain herself for a bit. After a moment of thought, Loki retrieves a blueberry muffin and teleports to Pepper’s office. The CEO is at her desk, already hard at work, and doesn’t even blink when Loki suddenly appears in the seat across from her.
“Hi, Loki,” she greets, still focused intently on her computer screen. Loki slides the muffin into view and then reclines luxuriously in her seat. Pepper glances up at her and chuckles fondly. “Can I help you?”
Loki hooks a leg over an armrest. She’s wearing worn jeans and a snug shirt and she knows she looks good despite the simplicity of the outfit. She quirks a suggestive eyebrow and Pepper shakes her head, eyes rolling skyward in affectionate exasperation.
“I swear,” she says mostly to herself, “you and Tony.”
Pepper gets up, rounds her desk, and perches primly on the edge in front of Loki. She gives the God of Mischief a stern look and says, “If you’re feeling…frisky or whatever, go harass Tony. I’m busy.”
“But not too busy to stop what you are doing to inform me that you are busy,” Loki replies cleverly. Pepper narrows her eyes. Then she lifts one long, shapely leg and reveals a slender foot in a chic black stiletto. She puts the sharp heel of her shoe on the edge of Loki’s chair and very lightly presses the toe against the zipper of Loki’s jeans. Loki grins devilishly and strokes feather-soft fingers up and down Pepper’s calf.
“I’ve actually come to inform you that Anthony and I are relocating to Malibu for a bit,” Loki says, then leans forward to press a warm kiss to Pepper’s knee. “Would you care to join us? Get away from the cold and the snow, luxuriate in the sunshine…” She trails off, mouth still hovering over Pepper’s pale flesh, and looks up at the redhead through her lashes. Pepper is smilingly faintly as she reaches out to brush a stray lock of hair from Loki’s face, her touch lingers, her thumb drags over Loki’s bottom lip. Loki catches the digit with her teeth and Pepper tugs it away with a laugh.
“Thank you, Loki,” she says, perfectly warm and perfectly lovely, but with a trace of regret. “We’re in the middle of a major acquisition, so I need to stay here for the time being. I’m the one running Tony’s company after all.”
“And no one can run it half as ruthlessly and efficiently as you,” Loki murmurs. She strokes Pepper’s leg once more and then carefully maneuvers it off the chair; Pepper lowers her foot back to the floor. Loki stands fluidly, eyes locked with Pepper’s, and stays close, stays thoroughly in the CEO’s personal space. She has wondered lately about how truly happy Pepper is with their particular arrangement. Her relationship with Pepper has always been steady and good. And it’s true, Tony and Pepper have always had their ups and downs, phases of on and off, but the affection between them is always genuine.
Pepper is content, happy even, Loki can see that clearly, and Loki finds no trace that anything has happened, has shifted. Loki sees only the attraction Pepper always held for her, but still she is compelled to inquire, to be certain.
Loki swallows and touches the bright curl of orange hair that rests over Pepper’s shoulder. “I hope,” she murmurs, “this does not mean anything has…changed between us, the three of us.”
Pepper is shaking her head before Loki even finishes speaking. “No, baby, not at all. I really do just have a lot of business to take care of.”
Loki reads only truth in Pepper’s words and nods, hiding her relief with plain acceptance. Pepper tugs Loki down to draw her into a lingering kiss and both women savor it, embedding the act with a promise of more to come at a later date. Eventually, they part, but Loki stays close and Pepper is quite content where she is.
“Mm, you’re a remarkable woman, darling,” says Loki, thick with delicious implication, and then adds bluntly to make Pepper blush, “and an incredible lover.” Pink stains Pepper’s cheeks even as she rolls her eyes and tries to scoff at Loki’s antics.
Pepper clears her throat delicately and asks with affected blandness, “Will that be all then, Miss Lie-Smith?”
Loki takes a step back and leans slightly over Pepper’s hand as she presses a kiss to the redhead’s knuckles. She says softly, “Yes, Miss Potts, I believe that will be.” Then she steps around her chair and gathers her magic up around her. Before Loki goes, however, she singsongs, “Do feel free to let me know if you ever need a vacation, I’ll come to fetch you immediately. And if you don’t tell me anything, I’ll start making assumptions.” She sends Pepper her most mischievous grin and then vanishes.
Tony is waiting, freshly showered and dressed in clean clothes, when Loki returns to the upper floors of the Tower. He seems to be playing a game on his phone and doesn’t look up to acknowledge her until he finishes whatever it is.
“Ready to go, hot stuff?” he asks, tucking his phone into his pocket. “We’re waiting on you now.”
“I was informing Pepper of our departure,” she tells him.
“Did you invite her along?” Tony asks, a spark of interest glittering in his honey brown eyes.
“Yes, and she declined,” says Loki, waving her hand. “Something about having your company to run.”
“She’s not wrong,” says Tony with a what can you do expression.
“Indeed,” says Loki, then hooks her arm through his and teleports them away.
- - -
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: I’m at the sacred bean and holy fuck lona silver just walked in and she’s the most beautiful creature I have ever seen
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: she literally towers over everyone here what a goddess
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: she moved to the pick-up counter and I can see the scar now… she doesn’t even try to hide it. it’s kind of hot
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: no I don’t know what she ordered stop asking me you creeps
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: lona silver is so fucking hot
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: I’m so gay
- - -
The team in charge of fight training for Mainshock takes over a gym-slash-studio near the Malibu Lagoon. They want to start training up the cast as soon as possible, to ensure the health and safety of the actors and stunt doubles—particularly the actors who want to do without stunt doubles as much as possible. Loki arrives for the first day of training on the twenty-eighth feeling fresh and eager. She’s wearing what Tony has informed her is called “yoga pants”—stretchy, Capri-length, and ridiculously comfortable—and an athletic tank top. When Tony saw her on her way out, he wolf-whistled and told her she looked like a hot yoga instructor and that that was definitely a compliment. Loki smiled at him bemusedly and allowed him to tug her into a gentle kiss before he ushered her out the door. Loki teleported to a nearby parking structure and exited as if she had driven a car here and pondered Tony’s curious compliment as she walked to the studio.
Rami cheers when he sees her enter the lobby. He is in basketball shorts and a ratty t-shirt and is as delightful and cherubic as ever. Loki cannot help grinning at the sight of him; he reminds her very much of her middle son, Fenrir, and his company both soothes and exacerbates the ache in her chest. Rami jogs forward and wraps his arms around her waist in a quick, tight hug that he releases before she properly reciprocates.
“It’s great to see you,” he enthuses. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
The athletic tank top covers maybe half of the scar, but Rami has hardly glanced at it. His eyes flickered to it once or twice in the thoughtless way a person notices something before moving on and remaining focused on her face.
“Thank you,” she says sincerely. Then sharpens her smile into something fierce. “Are you ready to start training?”
Rami’s happy expression tightens into exaggerated nerves and Loki laughs delightedly.
“Be thankful that I will not be your instructor,” she tells him. “I have taught a few pupils in the past and they often complained about being unable to move freely for days after our sessions.”
“Uh-oh, what have I just walked in on?” asks Liam, slinging a gym back into a cubby along the lobby wall. He grins at them good-humoredly.
“Pardon?” asks Loki. Rami is chuckling at her side.
Liam shrugs. “All I heard was something about being unable to move freely for days after a session.” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively and Rami guffaws. Loki rolls her eyes to the ceiling and smirks, then levels Liam with a sultry stare.
“Would you like to experience that soreness firsthand?”
Liam’s thick eyebrows draw together in confusion, smiling awkwardly as he grows uncertain. “Er…?”
Loki strolls deliberately to a rack of rigid foam training swords, drags her fingers over the worn handles, and then draws one at random. She turns, canting her hips alluringly as she locks eyes with Liam, and then twirls the sword expertly in one hand. The fake weapon has a solid core to give it proper balance and it is far lighter than what Loki is used to, though this does nothing to throw off her handling. She rocks her weight side to side on her hips as she approaches Liam, crossing the weapon in front of and behind her almost lazily as she runs through a few basic forms. She reaches the young man and in three swift motions, gently whacks the blunt blade to his left kidney, then to his right thigh, and rests it against the front of his neck.
She holds Liam’s stare for a moment, then winks and steps back. Sparse applause brings attention back to the lobby where several more cast members and a few new faces—trainers, most likely—are watching the proceeding.
“That was great!” exclaims one of the unknowns, a bouncy and petite blonde woman with a smattering of freckles across her cheeks and nose.
“Ah, thank you,” Loki says a touch awkwardly. The woman beams and claps her hands together enthusiastically.
“Alright!” she cheers. “Now that we’re all here, let’s get started!”
- - -
Earthshaker @EarthshakerMovies: It’s official! MAINSHOCK is in production!
Earthshaker @EarthshakerMovies: Day One: fight training! pic.twitter.com/wl4D02k
Nicole @nicole_snow: Lona Silver… wielding a sword… glistening with sweat… I’m weak.
- - -
Loki takes the scepter out in the privacy of her rooms in the mansion and turns it over in her hands. She has no doubt that the stone encased between the blades is the Mind Stone and that the Mind Stone has deemed her its new keeper. Since it came into her possession a month previous, Loki has been distracted by the mystery it presents and driving herself spare when she lies awake at night with nothing to do but wonder. Where has it been all this time? In the custody of the Mad Titan, waiting for a chance to break away? Drifting as she did through the Void only to be plucked up by the Other while she crashed to Earth?
There are countless possibilities and Loki has no way of ever finding out the truth.
Part of her demands that she removes the scepter from Earth, find somewhere distant and defendable to stash it because keeping multiple Stones in one place is idiotic when that place is not Asgard. But the Stone thrums when the scepter is in Loki’s hand, warms her palm and seeps strength into her blood, strength and reassurance at the Stone will cooperate with her. Loki cannot send it away and she knows the Masters of the Mystic Arts will never relinquish custody of the Time Stone.
Loki devotes an hour of every evening to training with the scepter, adapting her fighting style to its reach and its abilities. The Stone can bewitch minds, enslave any it touches to her will, but it can also send out blasts of simple, concussive energy to knock opponents back.
As much as she enjoys being an actress, enjoys playing mortal celebrity and being more of a god among men than she has been in centuries, she is not naïve. The Mad Titan will come and he will come for her, for her connection to Death and for her possession of an Infinity Stone. She wants to keep her cover, her home, and she needs to be as ready as possible to defend it when the time comes.
Tony, of course, has been obsessively building newer and stronger suits since Loki informed him of the looming threat. He even went on to insist she tell Fury, or at least tell Romanoff so she can tell Fury. Loki did, but she does not know what, if anything, became of it. She imagines Fury is hounding the World Security Council about his Avengers Initiative and crawling towards progress with aggravating slowness.
Halfway through a workout that actually makes Loki sweat, she feels her StarkPhone ping in its dimension pocket. She ignores it until she finishes her set and then plucks the device from the pocket.
Date night, Taverna Tony, reservation’s in an hour
Loki smiles and abandons her workout to shower and dress. Sixty-five minutes later, Tony is graciously giving her the cushioned bench seat at their little table along the windowed wall of the taverna. The layout of the interior doesn’t really allow for hidden nooks and private tables, it’s all about openness and authenticity, but Loki finds she does not mind. Already, several guests have paused in their meals and conversations to watch them pass by and Loki has made eye contact with most of these people just to see them squirm and blush.
“I must say,” she says with a purr when Tony is seated across from her and the waiter has left them with their menus and glasses of water, “I’m astounded by how long it took you to bring me here for a date.”
Tony appears unaffected as he flips open his menu casually. “Yeah, well, I was waiting for the mood for Greek food to strike me.”
The ensuing staring contest lasts all over fifteen seconds before Tony blinks and sighs a small laugh.
“Yeah, you caught me,” he says. “I only just heard about this place and booked the soonest reservation as possible.”
“It must be hard,” Loki remarks sympathetically, “living with your ego.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Tony quips. His eyes are bright with mirth though his expression betrays next to nothing. This is them at their best, in their element: banter and snark, sniping back and forth across a dining table. One gifted liar against another, all in the name of amusement and fondness.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this evening?” Loki asks.
“What? A guy can’t take his girl out on a spontaneous date?” Tony rebukes defensively. His shields are up; he is uncomfortable because he is hiding something and he knows that it is impossible to lie—even by simple omission—to the God of Lies.
“He assuredly can,” says Loki, “only it’s a little odd when you’ve never before claimed me as your girl.”
Tony opens his mouth to argue, realizes her point, and leans back in his chair. “Point,” he concedes. “Let me try again.”
Loki magnanimously gives him a go-ahead gesture.
“I haven’t been sleeping well lately,” Tony admits quietly. “Bad dreams. Weird dreams. I definitely want to talk to you about them at some point, ‘cause I think… I don’t know what I think.” Tony drags a heavy hand down his face and takes a long drink of water. “I just know that spending time with you makes me feel… Better, I suppose. More grounded.”
Loki’s mouth twists wryly. “I reckon you’re the only person to ever feel that way.”
Tony shrugs. “No one sees you the way I do or knows you the way I do. Their loss.”
After that, all serious conversation is over. Public settings are not for baring your heart, particularly when people are prone to photographing you at any and all opportunities. Instead, they resume their friendly teasing and flirting, winking over wine glasses and sharing a dessert. Rumors of their relationship will run wild tomorrow and Loki anticipates being bombarded for details from her coworkers at their next workout. That’s alright.
The drive home is less than ten minutes, but Loki makes the most of it. She trails her fingers over her thighs and leans back in her seat, tipping her head to expose the long lines of her neck. She sees Tony glancing at her hungrily and grins wolfishly as she slowly, oh so slowly, pulls her skirt away from her legs. Both creamy thighs are fully exposed and she has begun to tease her clit through the soft satin of her panties by the time Tony enters his expansive lab/garage at the mansion.
The Audi jerks to a stop, definitely not lined up with the rest of the cars, and Tony yanks the key from the ignition and drops it impatiently into a cupholder. Then he leans over the center console and fastens his mouth to Loki’s neck. She gasps and it turns into a moan when his hand pushes hers away and rubs firmly against her sex.
“You,” Tony growls, pulling back just enough to breathe hotly over her throat, “are the worst kind of tease.”
Loki laughs breathlessly. “You love it.”
With a wink, she teleports them to Tony’s massive California King and reclines luxuriously atop the silky sheets. Tony growls playfully and pounces on her, digging fingers into her sides to make her squirm and laugh and then trailing them over her breasts and down between her thighs to make her gasp and moan. He carries on until she is panting and beginning to sweat. He carries on until his hand is slick with her arousal and she is gritting her teeth against begging for more.
“Anthony,” Loki snarls, eyes half-lidded and her chest heaving, her fingers twisted into Tony’s hair and one leg hooked over his hip. “I will take control and have my way if you do not cease teasing…!”
Tony smirks and she knows he is aware that her threat is hollow. She loves this too much, this seemingly endless foreplay, the barely-enough touches and biting kisses. If she were not in the mood for prolonged teasing, she would have switched their positions by now.
Tony leans down and trails open-mouthed kisses from the crook of her neck up to her ear lobe and then whispers hotly, “You won’t. You love this.”
Loki laughs breathlessly and refuses to tell him he is correct.
Several highly satisfying orgasms later, Loki and Tony lay panting and staring at the ceiling, pillows strewn around them and the sheets mostly on the floor. After a moment, Loki rolls onto her side and into Tony’s and traces feather-soft fingers across his chest, lightly circling the arc reactor. Tony hums quietly; she is one of the only people that can touch the reactor without him panicking. Pepper and Rhodey are the others.
“Tell me about your nightmares,” Loki murmurs, tracing the length of Tony’s collarbones.
Tony says nothing for a few minutes, just stares unseeing at the ceiling with a small pinch between his eyebrows. Loki waits patiently, drawing runes of peace and safety with no real magic behind them across Tony’s skin. The arm under her pillow, bicep cushioning her neck, twists to curl over her side, fingertips brushing her belly. Loki slides a little closer to press her body flush against his, sliding a leg over his hip to tangle their feet together.
“I’m in the dark…not a cave like Afghanistan, somewhere else. It’s cold and. There’s this…woman standing in front of me. She’s tall, really tall, and she’s beautiful but her face. It’s all messed up. Like half of her was burned…right down the middle.”
Loki’s hand freezes on Tony’s chest.
Tony continues: “She holds her hand out to me and I… I just take it. I trust her. And she says, well, she welcomes me to her home and calls me her Merchant.” Tony licks his lips and Loki’s breath catches in her throat. “And then she tells me… Well, I don’t actually know what she’s telling me. Her mouth doesn’t move and I can’t hear anything, but I just…know what she’s saying. Dream logic, you know?” He shrugs a bit, jostling Loki slightly, and she nods against his shoulder. Uh, essentially, she’s telling me to continue my work, to never stop learning and creating and building.”
“She wants you to keep making Iron Man suits,” Loki surmises. She is well aware of Tony’s growing collection and the deep storage space under the lab. Each new mark has a specific purpose, a defined talent or purpose to combat a certain type of threat. It is a veritable army of Iron Men soldiers, each one capable of being piloted or being remotely operated by JARVIS. They are all truly remarkable.
“Yeah,” says Tony. There’s something else, something more to this dream than wise advice from the Queen of the Dead and Loki’s daughter. She waits for him to reveal the rest and it takes only a moment. “She shows me something… I think it’s the, uh, the Mad Titan. Warns me not to say his name, but I don’t know why.” It is likely the Titan had Amora place a taboo upon his name while she was under his thumb, to allow him to peer in on any who use it as a means to aid his search for the Infinity Stone. “She just. Shows me his face and it… I get only a glimpse of him before I wake up screaming.”
Loki presses soothing kisses to Tony’s bare shoulder. Her human’s heart is beating a touch too quickly, excited by even the memory of the nightmare. She pets her hand along his side, long strokes from pectoral to hip.
“The Mad Titan is frightening to behold,” she whispers. “I’ve personally never seen him, but I’ve heard tell of his…presence. Those who have escaped his clutches are reduced to hollow shells that he has filled with his evil purpose. He makes them his playthings, his minions, and he calls them his children.”
She very nearly became one of those children and the thought terrifies her.
“Why is this happening?” Tony asks. “The dreams and the woman…”
“My daughter,” Loki says. “Hel. She is fond of you and wants to help you.”
“Can you tell you be less helpful?” Tony grumbles.
Loki smiles against her human’s warm skin. “I will suggest alternative methods next time I visit.”
“Thanks, honey badger.” Tony turns his head and kisses her hair, squeezing her close as he does so. Loki sighs contentedly. Here, held close by this man she is so endeared of, the encroaching horrors and impending battles feel so very distant.
- - -
Life, inexplicably, goes on.
- - -
these pictures coming from the set? amazing. the video of lona running fight choreography with keira? incredible. that HEIGHT DIFFERENCE between lona and keira?? Hot Damn. mainshock is going to be epic.
the poster??? BEAUTIFUL!! A+++
anyone else so excited for the first trailer to drop that you’re kinda super nervous??
all these paparazzi pics of lona silver and tony stark hanging around SoCal… i sort of hope this means they’re a couple, because they always looks so pleased with each other and honestly? i cant get enough of the height difference, esp with HIM being the smaller one. i love it.
- - -
The months go by and Loki as Lona fulfills all her filming obligations and Loki as herself strengthens her magic and her skill with the scepter. She is invited to play a one-off role on some show called Supernatural, the show is apparently quite popular but Loki has never watched it. She accepts the part because it is a single-episode appearance as an angel, which amuses her greatly. Tony builds and builds and builds and when he isn’t building, he is taking Loki out to the beach, to restaurants, to fancy galas at Pepper’s behest. Tony is occasionally in contact with Director Fury—he passed along news of the taboo on the Mad Titan’s name as soon as Loki confirmed it and graciously granted access to two free floors of his Tower for the Avengers Initiative. Loki does not know any of the specific details, she has no interest in being a superhero and makes a point of never asking about the progress of the Initiative. All she knows is that Thor has a standing invitation should he ever come back to Midgard, because Tony reluctantly passed along Fury’s request that she contact her foster-brother.
As far as Loki is aware, Thor and the rest of Asgard believe she is dead. She intends to keep it that way for as long as she possibly can. Of course, as long as she possibly can, turns out to not be very long at all.
Tony is in his lab, tinkering with Mark 41 when he should be showering and changing into the suit Loki has selected for him. The premiere of Mainshock in is less than two hours and, as a main cast member, Loki has to meet with the rest of the cast and crew well beforehand. Tony has insisted several times over that he will accompany her, that he wants to accompany her, but Loki is fully prepared to go without him if she must.
“JARVIS,” she says, somewhat distractedly as she sorts through her immense wardrobe for the dress she wants. “Give Anthony another reminder, please. Tell him I will happily leave him behind if he does not remove his ass from the lab soon.”
“Of course, ma’am,” JARVIS replies placidly. After a pause, he says, “Mr. Stark is finishing up now.”
Loki smiles privately. “Thank you, JARVIS.”
“Certainly, ma’am.” JARVIS pauses and Loki can feel the weight of it. “It seems Thor Odinson has just arrived at Stark Tower.”
JARVIS goes on, “He is requesting to speak with you.”
“Do not tell him where I am,” Loki growls. How does the great oaf even know to ask for her at the Tower? Why does he presume she is even alive?
“I would never act without your permission, ma’am,” JARVIS assures, a touch of hurt in his cool British tones. “I have said nothing of where you are, merely that I will pass along his request.”
“Thank you,” Loki says tightly. She goes back to rifling through her clothes, actions stilted with agitation.
“If I may,” says the AI carefully and waits for Loki to wave her hand before continuing, “he appears to be in great distress and he is accompanied by Dr. Jane Foster. Her vitals are…strange and she is in an immense amount of pain.”
Loki stills and swallows thickly. Thor must be truly desperate if he is coming to her for help?
“Will you ask what has happened to her?” she requests softly and waits a tense minute for JARVIS to respond.
“Ma’am,” JARVIS says gravely, “Mr. Odinson says there is much to tell, too much to be relayed in this manner, but it is crucial that you know the Aether is involved. Dr. Foster discovered it quite by accident and is having an adverse reaction to it.”
Loki’s reaction is instantaneous. She ceases her dawdling immediately and dresses herself practically with the wave of a hand: boots, jeans, a simple t-shirt, and a leather jacket. Another flick of her fingers and her best daggers go to all their hiding places on her person and then, because she is a vain creature deep down, she checks a mirror to ensure her makeup has properly applied itself. A sweep of eyeliner, mascara, a dab of lipstick, blush, and a touch of eyeshadow. Perfect.
“JARVIS, please tell Tony that my plans have changed,” she says briskly, striding out of her rooms. “Tell him not to wait up for me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” says JARVIS. Loki hears the start of his statement in Malibu and the end of it in New York City. She arrives on her private floor, senses that Thor and Jane on the floor below hers, one of the Avenger-delegated floors. She teleports down and appears several feet behind her oafish brother and his female. Even with only a view of their backs, Loki can see that all is not well with the couple. Thor is missing his signature red cloak, his armor is dented and smeared with mud and blackish blood. Jane is leaning heavily against him, wrapped in Asgardian cloth and clearly trembling.
“Thor,” Loki says stiffly. Jane yelps in fright and clings tighter to Thor as he whirls them around to face Loki. Thor’s face is haggard and there are deep bruises of exhaustion under his eyes. There is something else, a pain, a sorrow, that is sitting heavy in Thor’s heart. Jane is pale, eyes similarly bagged, but Loki can feel the raw power crawling under her skin, something ancient and out of place. This tiny human has stumbled into and taken on something never meant for mortal hands and it is slowly killing her.
“Sister!” Thor greets her with all the enthusiasm as he can muster, it is not much, but it is heartfelt.
Simultaneously, Jane says with confusion, “Lona Silver?”
“Not your sister, never was,” Loki snaps at Thor and to Jane says more smoothly, “Yes, Dr. Foster. Are you a fan?”
Jane is bemused and still trembling, she doesn’t say anything more. Thor steps forward and Loki takes a matching step back.
“Please,” says Thor and he is so earnest. “The Dark Elves have attacked Asgard, Jane and I barely managed to escape. We need your help, you are the only one I trust who can travel the hidden pathways.”
“Trust?” Loki repeats incredulously. “You would trust me?”
“Aye,” Thor insists.
Loki makes a tch sound as she rolls her eyes and turns half away from the Thunderer. “How did you even know to look here for me?”
Thor hesitates a beat too long before answering. “I knew you the moment I saw you aboard the Helicarrier. You disguised yourself, but I will always recognize my sister.”
Loki levels the golden oaf with her flattest, most unimpressed stare. “Amora told you everything during her trial.”
Thor has the decency to look chagrined. “Indeed.”
Loki rolls her eyes and turns her attention to Jane. This tiny, typical woman who has somehow captured the attention of a god and who Loki’s instincts are screaming to have removed as far as possible from this planet. Jane shrinks under the intense scrutiny but does not shy away when Loki steps in close to peer into the small mortal’s eyes. Rather, Jane meets her stare defiantly despite her posture and her trembling.
“You tried to kill Thor,” she says furiously, despite the tired waver in her voice.
Loki chuckles. “To be fair, it was not the first time.” She reaches out to take Jane’s chin and turn her face slightly. Jane glowers and smacks her hand away, much to Loki’s continued amusement. To Thor, Loki says, “I like her. She has spirit.”
Thor beams approvingly, his unexplained sadness briefly cleared, and boasts, “My Jane is an accomplished woman of science!”
Jane flushes and Loki lifts an eyebrow. “So I’ve heard. Now,” she steps back and looks imperiously at her foster-brother, “you’ve asked me to take you along the hidden paths. Clearly you have some sort of inane plan formulating in that head of yours. What is it?”
The plan Thor explains to her is ludicrous at best. The thundering moron does not seem to understand that the Aether is an Infinity Stone and it cannot be destroyed by any means less than what it is. Plainly put: only an Infinity Stone can destroy an Infinity Stone. Thor is an idiot, but he’s a damned lucky one.
Loki sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “You’re an idiot, Thor,” she tells him bluntly and he doesn’t even appear offended, he is so accustomed to her insults, “but you’re a damned lucky one.”
“Is that so?” asks Thor, annoyingly amused.
“It is,” Loki says primly and summons the scepter to her hand, spinning it effortlessly. She watches Thor’s eyes as he tracks the movements of the staff and slowly understands what is contained within the claw of its blades. “With me, your plan might actually work.”
Thor beams and something uncomfortably like affection prickles in Loki’s chest. She rolls her eyes and returns the scepter to its pocket. In the same motion, she extends her hand to Thor and his lady, magically exchanging her Earth garb for her Asgardian leathers as she does. Jane hesitates, but Thor takes her proffered hand without hesitation and with an enormous smile.
- - -
Svartalfheim is cold and gray. By all appearances, it is an endless barren wasteland of black sand and clouded sky. Whatever life this realm once had is long deceased. The chill overtakes them the moment Loki and her passengers step out of the shadows of the cavern her pathway lead to. Jane gasps and presses closer to Thor’s side and Thor holds her there with a heavy arm around her waist. Loki, with her Jötunn parentage, feels perfectly comfortable, if not the mildest bit warm.
Just beyond a rocky outcropping, Loki can see the top half of Malekith’s hideous craft.
“Are you ready, Thor?” she asks, voice low. Her foster-brother is hiding something from her, hiding the true root of his sadness, which he claims to be the attack on Asgard. But there is no time to press him for information, despite how much she wants to.
“Aye,” says Thor, noddingly curtly. His face is one of grim determination, he is expecting a difficult fight and he will not allow himself to fail. Loki feels rather grim, herself, because she does not expect to succeed. There is a pit of foreboding in her stomach and something like resignation.
They march in silence to the outcropping. Halfway there, Jane sighs and collapses and Thor is swift to catch her. She moans pitifully in his arms, not quite unconscious but not fully aware of her surroundings either.
“We must hurry,” Thor says urgently. Loki nods.
At the crest of black stone, the once-brothers look down upon the small gathering of Dark Elves. One among them stands out: too tall, too broad, too wrapped in malignancy. One of Malekith’s ilk warped himself into Kurse, a favored tool of war by the Dark Elves. He will be difficult to destroy, but it can be done.
Loki is about to signal for Thor to commence their plan when Jane groans and goes rigid. Red seeps into her shock-wide eyes and roves under the surface of her skin. The Aether has taken her. Down below, Malekith’s head snaps in their direction, the pits of his eyes locked on Jane as though he can see through the rock. The time for action is now.
Loki slips a dagger from her sleeve and plunges it into Thor’s side. Breath is punched from Thor’s lungs and he barely manages a cry of pain as Loki kicks him roughly over the edge of the crest. Jane calls out weakly as Thor tumbles away and Loki ignores her as she follows the blond god, sliding and jogging with as much grace as possible down the sandy slope. Moments later, Jane remembers her part and staggers after with Thor’s name on her lips like a prayer.
“Malekith!” Loki calls with all her regality, all her haughtiness, all her hatred pulled to the surface. “I am Loki, God of Chaos, rightful heir to the throne of Jotunheim. You have stormed Asgard, where I was raised by the Allfather as his son, and sent its prince, to whom I was raised as a brother, into exile. Well, I bring you now the fallen prince, to do with as you will, as a token of my gratitude.”
Malekith approaches her with long, purposeful steps and when he is close, he cocks his head curiously. When he speaks, his voice is deep and hollow and hateful, “What is it you wish?”
Loki smirks deviously. “I wish for is a front row seat to watch Asgard’s destruction. I have even brought you that which you seek.”
She steps aside to reveal Jane, sunk to her knees behind her, clutching at Thor’s prone form. Malekith’s demeanor changes when he sees the mortal, he somehow becomes taller, hungrier, meaner. His hand shoots out and Jane is dragged to her feet and then into the air by an unseen force.
“The Aether,” Malekith croons.
“No…” Thor groans pitifully. “Jane…”
Jane’s head tips back, her mouth opens in a silent scream, and then viscous red begins to pour from her throat. The Aether enters the open air like a whirling storm, tunneling around Jane until its entirety is freed from her body, and then coalescing into an immense cloud hanging, churning, between the mortal woman and the Dark Elf.
This is the unspoken signal.
As the one closer to Malekith, Loki grasps another knife and buries between the plates of the Elf’s armor. The blade slides easily into the foul creature’s side. In the same instance, Thor rises to his knees and reveals that he has been laying atop Loki’s scepter, waiting to strike. Loki assured him the scepter would do as he commanded since it was bound to Loki and would follow her wishes. True enough, on Thor’s order, a thick blast of green energy shoots from the bladed claw and collides with the heart of the Aether’s storm. The impact makes an ear-splitting boom and the Aether flies into liquidous pieces that scatter across the barren earth.
Malekith snarls and wrenches the knife free, flinging it carelessly at Loki as he falls back behind his protection detail. The knife bites into the meat of Loki’s shoulder, a superficial wound, but painful enough to cause her momentary distraction.
And then…Malekitch holds out his hands…and the scattered red runs in rivulets over the sand and climbs up the Dark Elf’s legs and converges upon him.
Thor calls for Mjolnir and Loki reclaims her staff. Jane is limp where she fell during the collision and she has not moved.
Malekith shouts in the Elvish language, body now blistering with red power, and then flees into his ship, taking half his minions with him. Kurse remains behind with the other half.
“Like old times, yes?” asks Thor, lips curling into a vicious smile as he spins Mjolnir in preparation.
“I suppose,” says Loki, calling her armor and her headpiece to her.
The fight is quick and bloody. Malekith already has what he wants and has left these minions behind merely to delay Thor, to kill him if they are lucky. Thor immediately swings at Kurse, bringing lightning upon the hulking creature and sending it flying. Loki takes on the five uncontaminated soldiers and relishes in the opportunity to apply her training in a practical setting. The scepter thrums in her hands, responds to her every thought and desire. The blade cuts pieces from the dark armor with ease and exposes weakness for her to strike.
Between dropping the soldiers, Loki sends blasts of concussive force at Kurse if ever it seems like it may be gaining an advantage. And when the last Elf falls at Loki’s hand, she charges at Kurse to assist her brother. She sends her scepter away; an earlier blast forced the thing to drop its sword and she takes it up now. This dark weapon is guaranteed to penetrate the Kurse’s armor with ease because it is like the Infinity Stones in one crucial regard: it cannot be destroyed by any means less than what it is.
With all her strength and rage, Loki drives the long blade into Kurse’s back and out its chest. Kurse staggers and snarls, clumsy hands grasping at the blade as it searches to comprehend what has just happened. Panting, Loki stumbles back. From the corner of her eye she sees Thor gaping, heaving for breath and bruised terribly, blood dripping from his nose and clinging to his lips. But the Kurse is not killed yet, so Loki stalks around it like a lioness and hunts for a second opening to strike.
Loki’s eyes alight on the creature’s belt, laden with tools of destruction, and an idea comes to her. She sees its eyes are fixed on its wound and, keenly aware of how close she must come to the great beast, she makes her move. Her fingertips brush against the object on its belt, so tantalizingly close, when a thick hand clasps around her upper arm. She expects Kurse to throw her and is briefly wrong-footed when it does not. Instead, Kurse grabs onto her other arm until it is holding her biceps like heavy clamps and lifts her off her feet.
Loki sees the wicked tip of the sword before her, oozing sludge-like blood, and has a moment of cruel premonition. Then the creature wrenches her to it so their bodies are pressed chest to chest and skewered on the same sword. The pain is excruciating, her lungs screaming as air is forced from them and blood and black matter seeps in. The weapon of the Kursed is, itself, Kursed and poisons all who fall upon it. Loki can feel the vile energy crawling into her blood, infecting her organs, and blackening her bones.
Distantly, she hears Thor shouting and his voice is the anchor she needs to hold on long enough to grab at Kurse’s belt. Her hand is shaking violently, but she manages to trigger an implosion bomb as she had initially intended. She grins at the creature with blackish blood in her teeth and says with the last of her strength, “I’ll see you in Helheim.”
Kurse roars when it hears the implosion bomb’s quickening beep and throws her callously away to free its hands, scrambling for its belt. But it is too late. The implosion triggers, forms a crackling black pit, drags Kurse into its maw and crumples the beast like paper until nothing is left.
It is only Thor’s trembling hands that keep Loki from following the same path. And then it is only the two of them, once brothers, now estranged siblings. Thor takes her in his arms, sits with her while she gasps and shakes, strokes the bloodied dirt from her face as tears stream down his. There is nothing to be done and he knows it.
Loki stares up at him and she knows this is the end for her. The poison is turning her skin grey, cracking it like dry clay, turning her blood to sludge.
“Thor,” she rasps. The pain is immense and she is afraid. She wraps a hand over his on her face and holds as tightly as she can, which is not very tight at all. Fear and the encroaching nothingness are all she feels.
“Thor, I’m sorry,” she whispers.
“Nay, sister,” Thor murmurs, voice thick, “you’ve no need to apologize. I will tell father what you have done here. You will be honored.”
Loki tries to shake her head but manages only to jerk it slightly to one side. “Didn’t do it…for him…” she manages. There is nothing left in her, she has no strength, no breath, no magic, but there is one more thing she needs to say. Something big, something so vital and so important that she doesn’t know if she can actually put it to words. She tries anyway, “Anthony… Please tell Anthony…”
…Loki is standing in Eljudnir, reverted to her most natural form: the male Jötunn runt she was born as. Her feminine armor is gone, replaced with a drab tunic and trouser set, and her feet are bare on the cool stone floor. She looks around, this isn’t a part of the palace that she has ever been, but the stonework is unmistakably Hel’s. Loki cannot fathom why she is here or how she got here.
She searches her memory and finds only a writhing fog; factual knowledge comes when called, but there is zero context or emotional meaning to supplement it. She knows where she is, knows this is the realm of her daughter, but there is nothing else at the moment. Uneasy in her amnesia, Loki begins to walk. She follows the corridor she is in, steps slow and cautious, and though she is curious as to what is behind her, what she arrived from, something does not allow her to turn and look.
The corridor is long and unchanging, Loki suspects it is magically designed to appear that way and begins trailing her fingers along the walls in search of hidden doorways. It doesn’t take long for one to make itself known, too obvious to be coincidental, but a welcome change of scenery regardless. Loki watches detachedly as a large blue hand, acting on her command and yet belonging to someone else, reaches out to press against the doorway. The section of stone wall shimmers and turns translucent, beyond Loki can pick out another hallway but this one with a visible destination. The destination is a room, deep as far as Loki can tell, and richly furnished and aglow from a fireplace beyond her sight.
Loki wonders if she ought to feel anxious or wary, but she does not. She only remembers emotions, only vaguely knows the echoes of what having them is like, but she does not truly feel anything. So, she steps through the doorway and passes through the shorter hall and steps into a room she knows she has been in before. It is one of Queen Hel’s private chambers, the one she brings her parent to during family visits.
Loki glances over her shoulder, not preternaturally disallowed this time, and sees only a blank wall. When she turns back to the room, Hel is there. She is standing some ways away near the roaring fireplace and the low couches sat in its warm glow. She is lovely, half-ruined, and perfect, crowned with bones and elegantly dressed. Her mismatched eyes regard Loki with bitter sorrow, glimmering with unshed tears.
“Min datter,” Loki says and thinks she ought to be surprised by the low, masculine rumble of her voice in this form.
“Pappa,” Hel whispers. “I’d hoped to never see you in my halls. Not like this. Not for many millennia.”
Loki approaches her daughter in a daze and Hel reaches out for her. Hel nearly matches her parent’s impressive height and as soon as Loki is close, Hel draws her into a tight embrace.
“I’m so sorry, pappa,” she murmurs against Loki’s shoulder. “I saw what happened.”
“I don’t remember,” Loki admits hollowly. “And I don’t feel anything.”
“None do,” Hel replies, pulling free of the embrace and guiding Loki to sit close with her on the couch by the fire. “Those who come to my realm are freed of their living burdens, so that they may only know peace in their afterlife. If they so wish, they may come to me and request to look upon their lives and remember how to feel again.” Hel peers carefully into Loki’s gleaming red eyes. “Do you want to remember?”
She is offering Loki a choice to remain dead and carry on in blissful ignorance until Ragnarök comes and wipes the realms clean. Or Loki can have her memories restored and likely decide to return to the realms of the living and continue fighting. Because Thanos is coming, the Mad Titan; Loki feels no rush of fear and urgency at the thought of the Titan. She possesses only the cold, distant fact that the monster is out there and his arrival is imminent.
It is a tempting offer, the forget how to feel and have only serenity…but Loki is missing more than just feelings of dread and peril. She is missing contentment and happiness and love… She is missing Anthony. She is missing the way her heart constricts and expands all at once when he speaks to her, touches her, kisses her. She is missing the electricity between them, the fire and the passion and implicit understanding and absolute trust.
“You know I do,” Loki tells her daughter and Hel’s nods solemnly.
“Before I restore your emotions,” the Queen of the Dead says hesitantly, “there’s something you should know.”
Loki blinks patiently at her daughter, detachedly ascribing the anticipation she ought to feel and waits for Hel to continue.
“Perhaps it’s best I show you,” Hel murmurs, seeming to be primarily speaking to herself. She rises gracefully and goes to an unremarkable door—a real door, not a hidden passageway—and pushes it open. Loki watches as Hel leans into the room beyond and speaks briefly to someone out of sight, speaking too quietly for Loki to overhear. A moment later, Hel steps back and her posture is too stiff, her forehead creased and her mouth pressed into a worried line.
Then Frigga enters the chamber, dressed in a plain earth-toned dress and lacking her usual golden glow. Frigga smiles gently at Loki, her eyes glimmering with tears and with pride.
“My child,” she says warmly, avoiding gendered nouns because she was always the more intuitive and understanding of Loki’s foster-parents.
“Mother,” Loki says, confused, glancing between Frigga and Hel and waiting for an explanation. “Why are you here?”
Frigga sinks down next to Loki and reaches out for Loki’s hand. Loki pulls back immediately; her hands are blue and masculine and dangerous to any who do not carry Jötunn blood. Frigga smiles sorrowfully and reaches further to take Loki’s hands anyway.
“Your touch cannot hurt me,” she says. “You cannot harm one who is already dead.”
Loki stares at their joined hands, hers so dark and strange around Frigga’s thin and pale. The late Queen’s hands remain thin and pale, never showing even the slightest hint of deadly frostbite, but now that Loki is really looking, they show no sign of life either. Frigga’s skin is ghostly pale and there is no pulse in her wrists that Loki can feel. Queen Frigga is dead.
“How?” Loki asks, unaffected and unable to be angry about it.
“The Dark Elves came after Lady Jane on Asgard,” says Frigga. “I created an illusion of her to fool Malekith, to give Thor and Lady Jane time to escape the palace. Suffice to say Malekith was displeased to find I had tricked him.”
Loki wraps her hands around her mother’s and squeezes them gently.
“Hel,” she says softly. “Please. I want to feel this.”
Hel nods mutely and slides to her knees at her parent’s side. She reaches up with her different colored hands and cups them around Loki’s jaw, cradling the natural face of her sire. She does not speak, does not need to vocalize to perform her magic, but her eyes glaze over and take on a pale greenish glow. Loki feels the power surge through her, feels the icy prickle of natural-born magic as it enters through her pores and floods her brain.
Pain is the first thing to rip through Loki. Her expression crumples as Hel withdraws her touch and she gasps out a ragged sob. Frigga reacts instantly, driven as ever by strong maternal instinct, and pulls Loki to her breast, wraps her arms about Loki’s shoulders, and cradles her child close as she sobs.
Once started, Loki cannot stop. Pain and sorrow and grief rend her to pieces and the emotions are strong, so strong Loki does not know if she can bear it. She hunches in a male form she has never felt represented her and weeps for the only parent she knew and cherished. Frigga strokes down her back and softly sings the lullaby she once used to soothe Loki into sleep. She sings through the lullaby three times before Loki calms enough to sit up and scrub her face clean.
Hel steps back in to kiss her parent’s brow, apology in her eyes and duty nipping at her heels. She murmurs, “I must leave you now, but I will return,” and then sweeps from the chamber. Loki watches her daughter’s departure with moisture lingering about her crimson eyes and then swallows thickly before turning back to Frigga.
“Why are you here?” she asks, raspy, throat sore. “You died a warrior’s death, you ought to be in Valhalla.”
“I am here because I chose to be,” says Frigga, cupping Loki’s cheek tenderly. “I hoped to meet you here, one day, and tell you all the things I should have made clearer while we were alive. Like how proud I am of you and how dearly I love you. You are not my blood, but you are my child, whatever form you choose to take, whatever gender you feel you are, you are mine and I love you.”
“But I knew, Mother,” Loki whispers, fierce in her honesty, “in my heart I always knew. And now you are here and you will be parted from your husband for all of time.”
“When it came to your upbringing, Odin and I always disagreed,” says Frigga and a small, sly smile comes over her expression. “This is my way of having the final say at last.”
Loki’s laugh comes out choked, caught on a fresh wave of tears brought on by the magnitude of Frigga’s devotion to her youngest child.
“Besides,” Frigga continues after a moment, “I’ll be here with my granddaughter. She has already granted me permission to live in her palace so that I may receive visitors from the living.”
“And now you have me as well,” says Loki.
“No,” Frigga says, shaking her head, her eyes bittersweet in the way only a mother’s can be. “You must go back. You are too important a player to be removed from the board quite yet.”
“What?” Ice, a different kind of ice than the Jotnar usually deal in, forms in the center of Loki’s chest and sits like a frozen weight on her diaphragm. Frigga is well known for her gift of prophecy and Loki has seen her mother go still when a vision arrives, but she has never heard Frigga speak like this. She has never heard Frigga use such cool dialect when addressing a loved one.
“My child, my dearest little one,” the late Queen murmurs, squeezing Loki’s hands in hers with earnest. “I have seen many things since I arrived here and learned more about the workings of the universe than I could have ever known while living. You are powerful, my darling, more than you know and it is your power, your strength of love and conviction, that will keep the realms safe from the Titan.”
Loki starts to shake her head, this cannot be possible, she is no one important. She is a cast-out, a stolen relic, a tool to be used and set aside when her usefulness has ended.
“It is true,” Frigga insists, seeing the doubt in Loki and seeking to banish it. “You may not believe it now, but you will find it to be true. You are loved and valued, you are missed when you are gone, and you are so very important.”
Eyes locked with her mother’s, faced with the full conviction and force of Frigga’s words and her belief, Loki can only nod and say, “Okay,” though her voice catches in her throat.
“When Hel returns,” says Frigga, faintly satisfied, “we will return you to your body.”
“It won’t be that simple,” says Hel’s low, smoky voice. Mother and child look up to see the Queen of the Dead reenter the chamber, put together and elegant as always, but with a slight shadowing under her mismatched eyes. Her expression is drawn into a grimace and she gestures sharply as she strides over to the couch. Half of the chamber shimmers, ripples like disturbed water, and then becomes someplace new. It is simple magic, a spell that Loki recognizes immediately as one for peering in on recently passed events. Half the room becomes a dark, private chamber in Asgard’s palace, one just off the healing rooms where the newly deceased wait for their funerals.
A guard stands by the door, stoic and unmoving, but something about his eyes is perplexed and aggrieved. At the heart of the chamber is Odin, pale and weighed down by his kingly mantle, standing over the grayed body of Loki in her female form. Her eyes have been closed and the black blood cleaned from her leathers and the hole in her armor repaired. Odin places a gentle, fatherly hand upon the deceased Loki’s brow and smooths her black hair.
By all appearances, Odin is mourning her with the dignity of a great ruler, but Loki—the one watching, trapped in her most hated form—can see the disconnect between his actions and his eyes. Odin’s eyes are merely tired; he does not mourn her.
“Prepare a boat,” he commands and even his voice is thin with exhaustion. “He will be given a proper funeral. A warrior’s send off. It is what Frigga would have wanted.”
The image shimmers and dies with a furious wave of Hel’s hand. She is seething now, furious on behalf of her parent.
“I assume you do not care to see the ceremony,” she asks rhetorically and Loki shakes her head. Odin misgendered her as he always did when she presented herself as anything other than male and he only showed her respect to appease the wishes of his dead wife. Loki glances at Frigga and sees the displeasure in the deep downward pull of her mouth and in the way creases of her crowfeet intensify around her narrowed eyes.
“We will have to resort to other means of sending you back,” Frigga says stiffly. Then she smooths her hands over her skirt and takes a deep breath and is back to her usual serene self. “We’ll have to construct you a new body.”
Loki frowns. She thinks she knows what spell her mother is alluding to, one of the less sacrificial forms of necromancy that does not require the murder of unsuspecting or unwilling victims. But since this particular piece of spell-work circumvents total sacrifice, it is a tad slower acting. It will give Loki a living body to inhabit that is identical to the one she has lost, but it will take some time for her magic to return to its previous potential. Also, a possible snag, the spell normally requires tissue or blood samples.
“My body has just been burned to stardust,” Loki says realistically, trying to hide her disappointment, “and my birth mother and Laufey are long dead.”
Her minds goes fleetingly to Váli and Nari—one hidden away on Vanaheim and the other somewhere in this very realm, among the dead… But she can think of poor Nari for long, it is too painful still.
“And I am your daughter,” Hel contributes smartly. “I am very much alive despite my station.” As if to prove this, Hel lifts her left arm and brings forth a dagger in her right hand and then draws a line across her palm with the sharpened point. Her blood is a dark, reddish-purple, the blood of Frost Giants, and it pools sluggishly in her cupped hands.
Frigga rises fluidly and immediately begins the incantations, dipping her first two fingers in Hel’s blood and drawing the corresponding runes down Loki’s arms and across her forehead. Loki can already feel the magic prickling beneath her skin—her metaphysical skin, because technically speaking she is currently a specter of sorts. A strangely corporeal-feeling noncorporeal being. Only made solid due to the highly magical and vastly metaphysical nature of the realm of the dead.
When the incantation is complete and the last rune has been set in place, Frigga steps back and Hel heals her hand with a casual gesture. Loki feels the spell working like fire in her veins, burning her to ashes so that she may be reborn like the phoenix. The heat is in every part of her, tips of her toes to the top of her head, lapping like oceanic waves down her spine, and leaking into her lungs. She can feel the end—the beginning—closing in on her.
“Be strong, my child,” says Frigga. “I am so proud of you, so proud.”
“Give the Merchant my best,” says Hel. “Jeg elsker deg, pappa.”
“Takk,” Loki whispers, voice straining to be heard over the roar of the fire in her soul. “Tusen takk.”
Frigga and Hel, in unison, murmur one last spell to send Loki to a safe place and then the fire takes over and all Loki sees is bright, white light…
…It lasts only a moment and then the blinding light and the burning fire fade away and Loki is herself again. She keeps her eyes closed a moment longer and listens to the familiar buzz of electricity surrounding her. When she opens her eyes, she is standing in Tony’s lab at the end of his line of cars, as if she has merely gone out for a drive and has just returned. Dum-E and U chitter and wave ecstatically when they see her and jostle each other in their eagerness to reach her. Loki tries to take a step towards them and her legs promptly give out. Fortunately, U arrives in time to extend his arm for her to grasp onto.
“Thank you,” she murmurs and is pleasantly surprised to hear her female voice. She looks down at herself and finds that she is wearing the jeans and shirt and jacket she wore when she went to meet Thor in New York. That feels like a long time ago and, now that she thinks about it, she is not sure how much time has passed since her departure. Time movies differently in Helheim when you are one of the dead.
“JARVIS…?” she asks tentatively.
“I am here, ma’am,” the AI response immediately, relief evident in his tone. “Forgive my not speaking up sooner, you appeared confused and I did not wish to startle you.”
Loki smiles faintly. “I appreciate that.” U buzzes in concern and she pats the bot fondly, allowing him to be her crutch. “What is the date?”
“It is December the twentieth, twenty-thirteen,” the AI responds dutifully. “You have been gone for one month and five days.”
“Oh…” Loki leans heavily against U and he whirs soothingly at her. Dum-E is doing worried laps around them, occasionally reaching out to touch things on the nearby tables. Loki, despite her shock and weariness, notes fondly that Dum-E is careful not to knock anything over or even move anything more than the slightest millimeter.
“Mr. Stark is upstairs,” says JARVIS. “Would you like me to inform him of your arrival?”
“You haven’t already?”
“No, ma’am, I prioritized ascertaining your well-being. My scans indicate that you are mildly dehydrated and protein deficient, nothing a good meal cannot correct, but otherwise you are in perfect health. I am, however, unable to pick up any trace of the energy that usually surrounds you. Has your magic been depleted, ma’am?”
Loki nods tiredly. “Yes, I’m afraid it has. I will explain all that has happened, but right now… I need to rest.”
“Shall I send Mr. Stark to help you to your room?” JARVIS inquires.
“Yes, thank you.”
It takes less than two minutes for Tony to come tearing down the stairs. Loki watches with amusement as he flounders briefly at the glass door when he finds it isn’t already open for him, though JARVIS does helpfully unlock it without the need of a password—special circumstances and all. Loki taps U and has him help her walk towards Tony, though she only makes it a few steps before he is there and sweeping her into his arms.
Loki sags gratefully against him, winding her arms up over his shoulders so she can bury her nose in the crook of his neck. Tony’s arms are sure and strong and he smells like oil and cologne and a bit like pine. Loki finds she is tearing up with the sheer relief and happiness bursting in her chest at the sight of him.
“Thor told me what happened,” Tony says into her hair. He has one arm secured around her waist, holding her flush against him, and the other tangled in her hair, cradling her head. “He said you died…”
“I did,” Loki whispers, she pulls back just enough to press her forehead to his. “I was dead, but Hel sent me back. She sends you her best.”
Tony laughs and it’s a touch hysterical.
“Oh, god, honey, please don’t ever leave again,” he says fervently. “’Cause I haven’t been able to sleep for a month and everyone’s been asking me about where you were and I.” He tips his chin up slots his mouth desperately to hers. He ends the kiss before they can get lost in it. “I missed you so damn much.”
“My final thoughts were of you,” says Loki and then, because she finally knows how to express that big, vital thing she could not say before, she says now, “I love you, Anthony Stark.”
Tony’s arms tighten around her, he pulls her back down to him and kisses her soundly.
“Fuck,” he gasps when they part. “I love you, too, Loki. So fucking much.”
“Good,” she breathes. She doesn’t have the energy for more than slow, earnest kissing and letting Tony hold her upright, but it is perfect nonetheless. Held like this and in the company of the bots, who are buzzing and spinning excitedly around them, she doesn’t even feel the hollowed-out space inside her where her magic is meant to be. She feels only loved and content and perfectly at peace.
And then the doorbell rings. Tony jerks back and stares disbelievingly at the ceiling.
“Are we still at ding-dong?” he demands. “We’re supposed to be on total security lockdown! Come on, I threatened a terrorist!”
“There’s only so much I can do when you give the world’s press your home address,” JARVIS replies dryly.
“…What?” asks Loki. “Terrorist?”
“Sorry, honey, I’ll fill you in,” Tony assures breezily. He passes her to Dum-E, who is thrilled to be Loki’s new crutch, and then calls the Mark 42 to assemble around him. Suited up, he takes Loki back gently and keeps a steady arm around her waist and easily takes the brunt of her weight as they make their way to the stairs. The stairs, inexplicably, help Loki regain proper feeling in her legs and by the time they reach the top of the curving staircase she is less dependent on Tony’s support. Still, they present a united front when they arrive in the vast living room slash entryway.
The woman wandering along the wall, looking idly at the hanging art—pieces Loki chose and requested and is unfathomably touched to see still showcased on the walls—turns when she hears their footsteps. She is a rather average woman, brunette, Caucasian, perfectly pretty, and dressed casually yet nicely. She raises her eyebrows at their arms-around-each-other stance but otherwise, her expression remains neutral.
“I’d read you two were close, but this seems a little forced,” she says blandly, though with a trace of humor in the set of her lips.
Loki narrows her eyes at the woman, the stranger in her home, but Tony says nothing as he steps out of the suit and guides her to the sunken living room set. Loki sinks gratefully onto the sofa and gives Tony a thin, but warm smile. He winks at her and leans in to press a quick, firm kiss to her lips before spinning to confront the woman.
“You’re not the Mandarin,” Tony says and he almost seems disappointed. “Are you?”
The woman’s mouth pulls into a grimace-like smile of acceptance. “You don’t remember. Why am I not surprised?”
“Don’t take it personally,” says Tony, shrugging, “I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.”
“Gluten-free waffles,” JARVIS chips in helpfully.
“That’s right,” says Tony. Loki chuckles to herself, she has missed this quite terribly.
“Look, I need to be alone with you someplace that isn’t here,” the woman says, an edge of franticness creeps into her movements. “It’s urgent.”
Tony pauses for a moment and then turns to walk away, giving Loki a wide-eyed look that reads a humorous what the fuck as he goes. Still affecting nonchalance, he drawls, “Last year I would’ve gone for that sort of thing, but now I’m in a committed relationship.” He waves an arm at Loki. “With her.”
The woman huffs, at the end of her patience and says, “Tony…”
“Maya Hansen,” he interrupts oh-so-casually. Maya gapes and Tony grins, smug, and then leans in to say, “Please don’t tell me there’s a twelve-year-old kid in the car that I’ve never met.”
“He’s thirteen.” Maya doesn’t miss a beat and the delivery is so stoic that Loki almost believes her. Tony, evidently, does believe her if the sudden tightening of his shoulders and the strangled gasp are anything to go by. Maya rolls her eyes at him and Tony relaxes, though Loki is sure he is scowling now. She is not very amused by the joke either; this woman is interrupting their reunion and does not even have the grace to be forthcoming.
“I need your help,” says Maya, glancing uncertainly at Loki over Tony’s shoulder. Tony shifts protectively to block Loki from Maya’s sight.
“Don’t mind her,” he says, tone leaving no room for argument. “What could you possibly need my help for?”
Maya steps closer and lowers her voice. Loki can still hear her perfectly, but the conversation seems to revolve around this unknown Mandarin character and how Tony won’t last the week. Loki’s tired mind can’t follow the thread, so she tunes them out. Her eyes, instead, are drawn to the flat screen mounted on the far wall that is currently playing the news on mute. The newscaster is an Asian woman with a serious expression, head tilted as she speaks, hands clasped firmly atop the news desk. Then the small preview box superimposed above her left shoulder expands to fill the entire screen and Loki is startled to recognize an airborne view of the very house she is sitting in. The news helicopter is hovering high above the mansion, providing an excellent view of the bluff and the crashing waves and…a rapidly approaching missile.
“Anthony,” she says, but her voice does not cooperate and she is not heard. She swallows thickly and clears her throat. “Anthony!”
“Yes, dear?” he asks, his habitual reaction when he is called for while thoroughly distracted.
“We need to leave now,” Loki says urgently, pointing to the television and rising shakily to her feet. Curse this weakness! She was meant to have time to recover! She has no magic, no strength, she is more useless than an average mortal.
“Oh, shit…” breathes Maya, eyes wide with fear.
Tony reacts by making a peculiar gesture with both hands and then leaping to help Loki out of the sunken living room. His hand has only just connected with her, fingers lacing tightly together, when the first missile hits and the floor begins to crumble.
Thank you for reading! Happy Easter to those who celebrate and happy Sunday to those who don't!
Chapter 4: Keep On Running
“Loki, it’s me. I’ve got a lot of apologies to make and not a lot of time, so…first off. I’m so sorry we couldn’t have the reunion I know we both wanted. If I could’ve fed you a five-star meal and then taken you to bed for a long night of honest-to-god snuggling, know that I would have. And I’m sorry for putting you in harm’s way. It was inevitable, I guess, but I’m still sorry. And I’m sorry in advance because… I can’t come home yet.” Tony pauses and Loki can faintly hear his breath as it passed over the receiver. “I need to find this guy, the Mandarin. The terrorist I threatened. And I need you safe. That’s all I know. I just stole a poncho from a wooden Indian.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The Mark 42 leaves Loki and Maya in the wide circular driveway. Loki staggers and falls to her knees when the armor finishes detaching itself for her and rockets back into the chaos for Tony. Only…at least four missiles have stuck the mansion, targeting the foundations first and then flying directly into the living area, and the odds of Tony still being alive are slim at best.
Loki watches from the ground, smeared with ash and dirt, with Maya kneeling at her side, equally filthy, as the mansion splits apart and goes crashing into the ocean. Loki’s heart shatters in her chest. Her home, the best and truest home she has ever known, and the first being she has earnestly loved in nearly three centuries… Razed with fire and sent to the bottom of the ocean. All of it gone. Obliterated.
Immense chunks of metal and concrete kick up columns of water when they impact the ocean’s surface. The constant spray and the glaring sun create a myriad of overlapping rainbows; an ironic juxtaposition of cheerful symbolism over massive destruction. All of Tony’s cars, at least three Iron Man suits, the bots…now lay in a watery grave, to be slowly picked apart by corrosive salt and curious marine life.
Then it’s over. The only helicopters overhead have news channel insignias printed on their sides and the ocean is slowly returning to its usual push and pull. The dust is settling. Loki sits on the shattered edge of the driveway and stares listlessly down at the sliver of flooring that remains of Tony’s lab. She can see the circular cover of the well that contains Marks 4 to 41, Marks 1, 2, and 3 have always held a place of honor in the lab proper, being the original and the first two improved originals. The well cover is piled with rubble and broken glass, but at least the suits inside are safe. They are all that is left of their creator.
Cars pull into the drive, tires crunching over gravel and debris and parking a respectful distance from the edge and the women huddled by it. Loki glances back, identifies the two black SUVs as SHEILD vehicles, and continues staring down at the rubble and the rocks. Ambulances come screaming in seconds later. A pair of EMTs hustle over with medical kits; one escorts Maya back to the vehicle where she is directed to sit and allow herself to be checked over. The second EMT tries to coax Loki to her feet, but Loki does not respond to him. Her lack of reaction alarms him, but nothing short of physically being removed will tear Loki away from her position and the EMT is wary of using force.
“Leave her to me,” says a familiar, mild voice. The EMT departs gratefully. Agent Coulson assesses the scene and then, with a quiet sigh, pinches the legs of his slacks up a tad before settling down next to Loki.
“Miss Silver,” he greets gently and Loki glances sideways at him. Her eyes are red-rimmed and her dirty face streaked with tear stains and she doesn’t know when she started crying or when the tears ran out.
“Coulson,” she rasps.
“How long have you been back?” he asks, businesslike in a soft way that does not distract from or insult the severity of the situation.
Loki shakes her head. “I’m not sure. An hour at most.”
Coulson bows his head briefly, his only outward display of sorrow and sympathy. Then he tells her, “A clean-up crew will be here shortly to help clear out the rubble and check the foundations should you decide to rebuild. And I’ve already called in a diving team to recover as much of Stark’s belongings as they can before the wrong people go looking. Everything we pull up will be placed in storage in the Tower immediately. You have my word.”
Loki nods. “The bots… Dum-E and U. Do you know them?”
“I am familiar, yes.”
“I’ll pass it along.”
Loki nods again. Coulson waits patiently and Loki can feel the burning questions in his mind, both his own and those passed along from his superior. But he stays quiet and he waits for Loki to be ready in her own time, so she decides to reward him.
“Thor likely told you I perished on Svartalfheim,” she murmurs.
“He did,” Coulson confirms. “It was a bit of a unifying event. Stark was determined to avenge you, so he joined the fight in Greenwich Village. We sent our own support as well.”
So, she was the catalyst to finally push the Avengers Initiative into action. Interesting.
“I was dead,” she says, “but Queen Hel sent me back. Good as new, just a bit weak, and my magic will take time to return.”
Coulson nods, already mentally putting together his report for Fury.
“What can you tell me about what happened here?” he asks.
“Nothing,” Loki replies honestly. “I was returned to the lab, Anthony helped me to the living room, and then everything was falling apart.”
“And the woman?”
“Anthony called her Maya Hansen. She arrived just before the missiles hit.”
The cool question-and-answer routine is helping Loki reorganize her frazzled mind, she is slowly putting all the pieces in order and building the bigger picture. It cannot be a coincidence that Maya arrived just before the attack, can it? She was alarmed by the helicopters, by the imminent missile strike, but she had not seemed surprised. It was as though she anticipated some sort of threat to Tony, but hadn’t expected to be in his presence when it happened.
“She is not who she seems,” Loki says darkly.
“I’ll look into it,” Coulson promises.
Loki looks out across the water, sparkling with sunlight, waves rolling cheerfully, lapping at the sides of an incoming barge. She stares at the ship with narrowed eyes until her sharp vision picks out the familiar eagle emblem painted on the bow.
“Is there somewhere I can take you?” asks Coulson. “To the Tower, perhaps?”
Loki shakes her head. “I think… I think I need to stay here a little longer.” She isn’t sure why, it’s just a feeling that she has. Something borne out of her devotion to Tony. She has to stay to ensure the coming clean-up crews treat this fallen landmark with due respect.
“Okay,” says Coulson. He stands and straightens his suit smartly. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call and I’ll see what I can do.”
I’ll see what I can do is the best Coulson can offer her without handing her too many obvious loopholes to exploit, but the gesture and the intentions behind it are sincere. Loki smiles thinly at him.
“Thank you,” she says and then, “Phil.”
Coulson returns her small smile and says, “You’re very welcome. Lona.”
The mild-mannered agent departs and Loki does not watch him go. Instead, she watches the barge far below as it slows and drops anchor a safe distance from the presumed area of debris. There is a flurry of activity onboard as dozens of miniaturized humans in black diving gear organize and pile onto smaller vessels, which zoom out to float above the wreckage so the divers may investigate the extent of the damage and how best to go about recovering important items.
True to Coulson’s word, nearly an hour later several heavy vehicles with immense beds and crane arms, all designed for clearing heavy material, roll up the drive. By now the ambulances have departed, after Loki finally allows them to check her for injury if only so they’ll stop pestering her. She is now alone in the ruins of her home with Maya’s continued inexplicable presence and a dozen hefty, sweaty men who begin shouting and poking around and setting up ladders to reach the lower level.
Loki gets up to wander the wreckage and hours slide by in a daze. She keeps out of the way of the men hauling out huge chunks of concrete and busies herself with sifting through the remnants of Tony’s lab. Up above, Maya hovers at the fractured edge of the driveway, wringing her hands and looking quite lost. Loki supposes she can’t blame the woman entirely; this situation is rather unprecedented. To just up and leave likely feels rude and more than a bit heartless considering she was present when the attack took place.
In the dust and dirt, Loki finds odds and ends with no true value—a small screwdriver, a severely bent socket wrench, a palm-sized gear—and hoards them nevertheless. The channel news helicopters have long since departed, but on-foot photographers and a few stray journalists linger stubbornly like vultures watching something die. Loki has no doubt that reports of her presence here and her pathetic collecting of useless things will be in tabloids and on the internet in no time. They will paint her a widow, a broken-hearted mess who vanished and came back to the public eye just be inundated with tragedy. She doesn’t care. She has never cared what the public says of her, but right now the attention seems callous, evil, and Loki resents the journalists in a way she never has before.
Then she kicks aside a lump of stone and forgets the watchers completely. She has uncovered a helmet. (Not hers, though it occurs to her that all of her armor and her scepter are also at the bottom of the ocean. Everything she was magically carrying would have been sent to their proper physical places upon the event of her death.) It is red and gold, indicating it comes from the Mark 3, and it is badly scratched and beaten, but still largely intact. Her collected memorabilia become the useless items they’ve always been as Loki casts them aside for this true treasure.
Emptied of sadness, hollowed out like a Halloween pumpkin, Loki regards the helmet for a moment and then presses its metal forehead to hers. For a moment, for one singular glorious moment, she can pretend that this helmet’s faceplate can lift away to reveal Tony’s smirking face, ready to accuse her of sappiness, saying I knew you couldn’t resist me, sweetheart. Then the shouting of the workmen and crash of collected rubble and the shrill articulation of the crane filter back in and the moment is broken.
Then she hears the faint chirping. She tips the helmet upside down to peer at its insides and finds a blinking red light within. She has never worn one of Tony’s helmets, but she has watched him tinker with them hundreds of times in the past. She cannot make heads or tails of the careful array of mechanics, but a light is a light and it must mean something.
Loki puts the helmet on. The technological universe inside the helmet flickers to life; there are glitches, the display wobbles like an old television image, but the mere sight of it takes Loki’s breath away. She clasps her hands to the sides of the helmet, immersed in the final vestige of Tony’s legacy, and feels tears spring anew to her eyes.
Stark Secure Server, retinal scan, speaks a cool generic female voice, verified. Loki Lie-Smith. A tiny rendering of Loki’s official passport photo appears near the bottom of the display in cyanic tones. Loki exhales a delighted laugh, thrilled to find the basic functions of the helmet still operating.
“Loki, it’s me.” This time a sob rises in Loki’s throat, brought on by overwhelming relief and the purest joy she has had the pleasure of experiencing in quite some time. “I’ve got a lot of apologies to make and not a lot of time, so…first off. I’m so sorry we couldn’t have the reunion I know we both wanted. If I could’ve fed you a five-star meal and then taken you to bed for a long night of honest-to-god snuggling, know that I would have. And I’m sorry for putting you in harm’s way. It was inevitable, I guess, but I’m still sorry. And I’m sorry in advance because… I can’t come home yet.” Tony pauses and Loki can faintly hear his breath as it passed over the receiver. “I need to find this guy, the Mandarin. The terrorist I threatened. And I need you safe. That’s all I know. I just stole a poncho from a wooden Indian.”
The message ends there and Loki needs a moment to gather her wits before she can remove the helmet. She hugs it to her chest with one hand and uses the other to wipe away the freshly fallen tears. Gods, she hasn’t cried this much since she was a child; it would be embarrassing if she hadn’t just had the worst month and a half of her centuries-long life. Reunited with her estranged foster-brother, murdered by mutated Dark Elf, dying in the arms of said foster-brother, forced to wear her most hated form, brought back to life, hollowed of her magic, reunited with her lover, her home destroyed, her lover killed, and now discovering her lover is still alive—she has just run the gauntlet of traumatizing events.
It’s high time she found a bed and got some sleep. As she climbs awkwardly to the driveway, still clutching the helmet, she considers calling Coulson to request a car and a room in the nearest hotel. Then she reaches the top and finds Maya Hansen waiting to help her up from the last few rungs.
“I called a nearby motel,” says Maya. “Reserved a room. I just. Thought you might like to have somewhere to go and the least I can do is take care of that for you.”
Loki is touched by the display of generosity and not entirely convinced of Maya’s trustworthiness. But she’s exhausted to her core and she just… She does not have the energy to keep her guard up.
“Thank you,” she says.
“My car is still here,” Maya goes on, throwing a thumb over her shoulder to indicate the obvious civilian vehicle in the driveway. “I can give you a lift?”
Loki nods and scrounges up something like a smile. “I’d appreciate that, thank you.”
The drive is silent for a long time. Loki sits hunched in the passenger seat, broken helmet cradled in her lap, while Maya drives the winding coastal roads of Malibu. She can feel Maya glancing at her every so often. The woman is worrying her bottom lip between her teeth and she keeps needlessly adjusting her grip on the steering wheel. She is waiting for Loki to start questioning her and has begun mentally preparing the answers she is able to give.
“Why were you at the house?” Loki asks. “You said it was urgent, so urgent you couldn’t risk staying there or having me overhear.”
Maya takes a deep breath. “I think my boss is working for the Mandarin.”
Loki has heard this name several times now since she’s been back and she still knows nothing beyond the fact that the man is a terrorist. Though she supposes that’s all she really needs to know. He is killing people and he needs to be stopped.
“Your boss works for the Mandarin,” Loki echoes. “What it is you do? Anthony never said.”
“I’m a biological DNA coder running a team of forty out of a privately funded think-tank,” Maya rattles off, then adds cavalierly, “Tony usually calls me a botanist.”
That sounds about right, Loki thinks.
“And what did you think Anthony could do about your boss?”
Maya gives Loki a sidelong look. “Well, he’s Iron Man, so I figured he’d come up with something.”
“True enough,” Loki mutters. The rest of the drive goes by in silence.
- - -
Its like fuck o’clock at night and tony stark’s mansion got obliterated a few hours ago and now there’s a bunch of pictures popping up of lona fucking silver standing in the RUINS with an iron man helmet and it’s the SADDEST SHIT IVE EVER SEEN
WTF apparently we live in a world where bad things happen when lona silver goes mia… missing for 3 days equals fuckin heart surgery, missing for 4 ½ weeks means tOTAL DESTRUCTION AND A DEAD BOYFRIEND
Ok I have this theory that Lona Silver has had a really rough life and it won’t let up. Has anyone else noticed all the scars she has? They’re kind of subtle, but sometimes she’ll wear something that exposes them. Like the time she wore this midriff top on Fallon and you can see a bunch of old scars all over her lower back when she greet him… Or the high quality on-set photographs from Mainshock, in that one of Lona at three-quarters view, if you look closely you can see tiny scars around her mouth. Is it just me or does it look like someone fucking stitched her mouth shut?? Kinda like they used to do to patients in old mental asylums???
But like… Despite all this Lona Silver just keeps on keeping on and is all “I think I’m going to be a super famous actress now and start banging Iron Man.” And then DOES. What a badass. She is truly our Goddess and Savior and I think we should give her space to recover and then support the fuck out of her when she keeps on keeping on again.
- - -
“We all begin wide-eyed, pure of science,” Maya is saying, rambling tiredly, but finally clean, “then the ego steps in, the obsession. You look up…you’re a long way from shore…”
She shakes her head and sighs. She has just finished explaining how her boss took over her research, took years’ worth of hard work and experimentation, and warped into something he could weaponize. And then took it horribly further by selling that weapon to an up-and-coming terrorist calling himself the Mandarin.
“You can’t be too hard on yourself,” says Loki, leaning against the headboard at Maya’s side. The Iron Man helmet is still in her lap, she doesn’t think she’ll ever be ready to let it go. Over the course of Maya’s explanation, Loki felt her suspicion slowly draining away. Maybe she is letting herself be fooled, maybe her instincts are correct, she cannot say and she cannot find it in herself to care. “You gave your research to a think-tank.”
“Yeah, but Killian built that think-tank on military contracts.”
“That is what Stark Industries used to do,” Loki replies, shrugging. “You mustn’t judge yourself.”
“Thank you, Lona,” Maya says sincerely, softly. “I really appreciate that.”
Someone knocks on their door, followed by the muffled call of room service. Loki rises slowly from the bed and goes to answer. Her stomach has been growling audibly for the last hour or so and the lack of food is making her feel lightheaded. The employee on the other side of the door smiles brightly her as she steps aside to give him space to wheel in the cart. The lodge has a limited menu and nothing terribly special available, but even so, the smell coming from the trays is heavenly.
Then another figure looms into view and a pair of masculine hands reach out to snap the neck of the unwitting employee. Loki suddenly finds herself facing a man she has never seen before, but recognizes nevertheless by the malice in his eyes, in his slick smile. If this is not the Mandarin, then Loki is not a god.
But, of course… Loki is no better than mortal at the moment and she is in poor condition as well. She gets no further than a panicked shout of Maya’s name before the man has her by the throat and pinned at arm’s length against the wall. The helmet falls from her grasp and thunks dully to the floor, only to be kicked away like trash by the intruder.
“Hello, Lona,” he greets as coolly as he would greet someone he has already met and cares little for. Then he turns away from her to regard Maya Hansen, who has slipped off the bed and approached him with no trace of fear. “Do you want to tell me why you were at Stark’s mansion tonight?”
“I’m trying to fix this thing,” Maya snaps. “I didn’t know you and the Master were going to blow the place up.”
“Oh, so you were trying to save Stark when he threatened us?” the man asks snidely.
“I told you, Killian, we can use him,” Maya says, gentling her tone in an attempt to appease the man. Her boss. Not the Mandarin. Loki doesn’t believe that for a moment, weakened she may be, but she can still spot a liar and an agent of chaos when she sees one.
Loki bares her teeth and digs her fingernails into Killian’s hand. She snarls and the only response she gets is Killian’s patronizing, “Lona. Lona, please.” He continues to ignore her.
“Look,” Maya goes on. “If we want to launch product next year, I need Stark. He just lacked a decent incentive and now”—she gestures at Lona, still snarling and fighting Killian’s grip—“he has one.”
Killian regards Lona properly at last, speculative and then impressed. A sinister smile takes over his face.
- - -
Loki wakes up strapped to a table with the worst headache she has ever experienced and the familiar feeling of dried blood caked down the side of her face. Someone has changed her clothes, redressed her in a sports bra and leggings, and the thought of Killian or one of his cronies putting their hands all over her makes her skin crawl. She’s been denuded while unconscious, at her most vulnerable, when she has no power to resist or fight back. Bile burns in her throat, but there is nothing in her stomach to vomit.
The ceiling above her is gray and riddled with cracks, concrete just like the walls and the floor. She turns her head to the side and sees a bank of computers, several monitors, medical detritus, and a determinedly stoic Maya Hansen. The other woman keeps her face pointedly down and makes no move to acknowledge that Loki is awake despite both being able to see the uptick in the EKG attached to Loki’s vitals.
“Traitorous wench,” Loki hisses through grit teeth. Maya does not react, just makes a few concise keystrokes and stays bent over her work.
Moments later a door creaks open past Loki’s limited visual range, but the newcomer wastes no time announcing himself. Aldrich Killian has an oily smirk in place as he rounds to Loki’s cot, one hand coming out from behind his back to press a button that turns the bed upright.
“I’ve got to hand it to Stark,” Killian says conversationally, “he really knows how to pick ‘em.” The villain touches a finger under Loki’s chin to tilt her head up, regarding her like a curiosity, like a trophy. “We drew a blood sample to test your compatibility with Extremis and do you know what we found?”
The question is rhetorical, but Loki considers giving him an answer anyway. Killian doesn’t give her the time.
“Turns out you aren’t exactly human, are you, Lona Silver,” he says, drawing his finger down the length of her throat and tapping once against her clavicle before stepping back. Loki bares her teeth at him. “No,” Killian says thoughtfully, “you’re something else entirely, something…extraterrestrial. Care to tell me what planet you come from?”
“Venus,” Loki spits.
Killian barks a laugh, genuinely delighted by her attitude, and leans back against a table.
“I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway,” he says. “We have our blood samples, a bit of tissue, too, thanks to that little bump on your head.” Loki’s lips curl, anger flushes hotly through her; Killian smirks. “I love that feral side you have and I do hope your body accepts Extremis because I’m very interested to see how to two interact.”
Loki blanches. What? Accept Extremis…? Gods, no, this cannot be true. From what Loki learned from Maya, Extremis causes cellular friction which then produces extreme heat and Loki is a Frost Giant. It does not take a genius to realize that Jötunn biology will not accept Extremis and will, in fact, react very badly.
But it’s too late, she has already been dosed with the serum. Her fate was sealed while she was unconscious. She hopes Hel will not be put out by her dying so soon after being returned to life. She hopes Hel has the energy to recreate her body again.
Heat begins to gather at her core, lighting up her insides and pressing the shadows of her ribs against her flesh. Loki grits her teeth and drops her head back, trying desperately to breathe through it with little success. When she looks back at Killian, the insufferable man has a proud expression and is watching her with rapt interest.
Loki forces her breath through her teeth, fighting to swallow down the heat enough to speak, to make him a promise she knows will be kept. She will speak this omen and then she will let go and find refuge with her daughter once again.
“You…” she growls, the word drags from her throat as if over gravel, “will die…for this.”
“Oh, will I,” says Killian, unimpressed.
“If not…by my hand,” Loki vows, “by Tony’s.”
This is the first time she has ever called him Tony, but the change of habit is necessary to get the message out as concisely and clearly as possible. The sacrifice is worth the result as alarm flashes over Killian’s face before he tamps it down with a scowl. The Mandarin offers Loki no parting words as he strides out of the room, snapping for Maya to follow him; neither glance at the goddess burning on the table as they leave.
Alone, Loki stops fighting to maintain a façade, to keep pretending she can still breathe painlessly, and lets the heat overtake her. She whimpers; sweat drips down her back, following the dip of her spine, and beads across her forehead. This is exponentially worse than Hel and Frigga’s necromancy, this fire will not end in a nursery of ashes for her crawl anew from. This fire is destruction alone, hungry and vicious and violent. Orange and red roil beneath her flesh, oozing like lava along her bones and scorching her nerves.
Loki throws her head back and screams.
She enters a haze… There is motion and agony and unfamiliar faces all around her…
“Smile for the camera, movie star.” An ugly face is leering at her, pointing an unrecognizable device at her. “Your boyfriend’s watching.”
Even her tears are hot, boiling as they burn down her cheeks. For a moment she thinks she is back in that cave, serpent hanging above her, dripping venom into her eyes. Through the blur of physical damage and the blend of venom and tears in her eyes, she sees Sigyn sitting at her side. Beautiful, undeserving Sigyn with her arms shaking as she empties her bowl and resumes her position at his side, steadfast in her loyalty and unable to look at him. Her forearms are streaked with blood—not hers, Nari’s.
“Váli,” Loki croaks and is startled to hear the feminine aspect in his voice. But it makes her remember and Sigyn fades into nothing.
“Load her up.”
Lights flicker and speed by. Loki can hardly focus. The fire has abated somewhat, but she is still sweating profusely. She is thirsty, desperately so.
People are shouting. The sound is muffled. Distant.
Hinges creak and crisp white light floods in around her. She can smell the ocean and oil and ozone. Rotting fish. Rusting metal.
“Put her in the control room.”
“I’m impressed,” says Aldrich Killian, looking genuinely so. “There was a moment where I was certain you’d burn out, but.” He opens his hands to encompass her in a gesture. “Here you are. Very impressive.”
It takes a bit of effort for Loki to lift her head to properly glare at the man, but she manages. Panting, she grinds out, “Fuck you.”
Killian laughs. Loki would dearly like to put a dagger through his eye and see if he still finds her so amusing. The Mandarin has the audacity to wink at her before turning curtly away as a new figure darkens the doorway. It is the War Machine suit repainted in brash red, white, and blue and walking like a newborn deer. Before Loki can wonder what is wrong with Colonel Rhodes, the suit opens up and the President of the United States stumbles free and falls to his hands and knees. POTUS looks around in fear and confusion, eyes landing briefly on Loki, and then moving on to take in the monitors and the young technician manning the controls who looks alarmingly like a college intern.
Killian welcomes President Ellis aboard and begins expounding on his chosen location for his final lesson. It’s a sham, he reveals, Killian doesn’t give a shit about Roxxon’s past failings, but it makes for a nice excuse. Loki barely listens, she’s too busy watching the monitors because she could have sworn she saw… There! It is no more than a flicker, gone almost as soon as it arrived and easily dismissed as regular activity, but Loki has far keener eyesight and she is certain she saw a pinprick of blue light…
Tony is here. She is certain of it.
She rests her head against the back of the table she is strapped to and tries not to sigh too obviously. Killian glances at her anyway, but it’s an easy thing to twist her face into a pained expression. The worst of it seems to be over, but there is still a steady burning under her skin and pressure behind her eyes.
“String him up,” Killian orders coolly. “We’re doing a full tech rehearsal.”
The President is shoved back into the suit and dragged away. Killian follows shortly after and Loki is left alone with the technician.
“It’s not too late, you know,” Loki rasps and the technician freezes, unprepared to be addressed by the test-subject strapped to the table. “You’re young, barely out of childhood. I’ve been called the Protector of Children in the past and it would be a disservice to those who earned me that title if I did not try to help you.”
Outside, the groan and grind of machinery pick up and people are barking orders over the din. The technician is staring at Loki with startled doe’s eyes and Loki holds that contact even as she notices another flicker of Arc reactor blue on the screens. Then the technician narrows her eyes at Loki and turns smartly back to her work, ponytail swinging over her shoulder.
Loki sighs. Her mouth is dry to the point of tackiness and her throat clicks whenever she swallows as its equally tacky sides unstick from each other. The pressure behind her eyes has abated somewhat, but an ache around her heart is arising to compensate for the loss. If she concentrates, Loki can feel every sluggish pulse as it struggles to push the magma her blood has become through her veins.
Time passes in fits and starts. Loki cannot track it, has been unable to track it since the Malibu mansion crashed into the Pacific. Her mind phases in and out of awareness. Nothing changes in the control booth except the intermittent flickers and sweeps of light from the glowing computer screens. Loki is trapped in a fever dream, sweltering and hallucinating, restless but not conscious. And she is so thirsty, so desperately thirsty…
The first crack of gunfire almost does not register. Loki would have written it off as a product of the fever had the technician not jumped like a frightened rabbit. Loki claws her way back to full awareness and squints at the monitors to fight the double-vision. People with glowing-red cores are jumping and climbing over rafters and shipping containers like acrobats. Two figures—one with a blue light at its heart—are dodging and returning fire.
“Run,” Loki urges. “Leave now and perhaps you can live to better yourself.”
The technician wavers, caught between flight and fight, and then darts forward to look at the controls on Loki’s table.
“I. I don’t…” the technician stutters, voice and hands trembling. “It needs a, um, a key…”
“I appreciate your efforts,” Loki says gently, “but don’t worry about me. Just go.”
The technician looks at Loki for one long, final moment and then flees the room. Loki listens to her pounding footsteps on the metal steps until she loses the sound to the gunfire and escalating fight. The monitors show the arrival of dozens of Iron Man suits and the sight takes Loki’s breath away. She could cry if she had any moisture left in her. She is saved.
Then two suits and an Extremis soldier careen into the control booth and flames erupt all around Loki. She shouts as the restraints superheat and crumble around her. One of the suits explodes while the other falls to pieces that are scattered in every direction by the blast. The Extremis soldier is gone, Loki does not know what becomes of him and does not care. Heat and debris scorch across her face and body, cutting her open in a multitude of horrible ways. More heat, blossoming inside her, rises up and seals the injuries immediately.
The ceiling caves in. Loki is dumped from the table and buried under beams and warped sheets of metal and thick shards of glass. Pinned on her stomach under immense weight and unfathomable heat, Loki considers letting go. This is too much. She has died and come back only to be broken emotionally and tortured physically and there is only so much one person can take.
Then she grits her teeth and plants her hands and pushes. The debris shifts dangerously around her until she lifts too much and something slides. She doesn’t know what until a jagged beam drags down the length of her right forearm and punctures the floor. Loki hisses and changes tactics. Trying to pull herself forward reveals that her feet are caught in something, but she cannot feel it and cannot twist around to see the issue.
A booming explosion cuts through the noise and suddenly Iron Man is landing next to her prison.
“Anthony!” she gasps, relieved beyond words to see him.
The faceplates lifts to reveal Tony’s bruised beautiful face. “Hey, sugar plum. See what happens when you hang out with my exes?”
Loki coughs on a laugh. “You’re an ass.”
“You bet,” he quips and finds a handhold to start lifting the debris. Metal groans and slides around her, something begins pressing ominously on the middle of her back.
“Stop!” she gasps. “Stop, stop!”
Tony hears the urgency in her voice and complies immediately, setting everything down carefully. The pressure lifts away and Loki sags with a sigh.
“Alright,” says Tony. Loki doesn’t need to look to know that he has his problem-solving face on; she can hear it in his voice. “Okay. We can figure this out. I will get you out, I promise.”
“I know,” she says with utmost sincerity.
The Mandarin chooses that moment to crash into the control booth. He grabs Tony’s by the shoulder and throws him to the floor like a rag doll, then kneels over Tony’s midsection to keep him down. Loki snarls and tries to pull her feet free, to cease her uselessness, but cannot manage without risking serious injury. Killian grins viciously as he presses a white-hot fingertip to the center of Tony’s chest, just above the Arc Reactor.
“You might want to look away, sweetheart,” the Mandarin says over his shoulder, winking grossly at Loki. She shows him her teeth in response.
“Don’t tell her what to do,” Tony snarks, seconds before Killian draws back and prepares to melt his fist into Tony’s chest. He doesn’t even complete the downward arc before a long, wicked blade shoots from the Mark 40’s wrist and slices Killian’s arm clean off at the elbow. Killian roars as he reels back, but his arm is already re-growing. Tony, however, doesn’t waste a second and uses the brief distraction to kick Killian in the chest and send him careening out of the control booth.
“You stole my trick,” Loki rasps, eyes glittering with amusement.
“I call it emulating your ingenuity,” Tony quips back, flashing her a grin. He vanishes from her sight for a moment and the pressure around her feet suddenly abates. “There,” comes Tony’s voice, “I think that’ll do it.”
He comes back into view and leverages the debris from her back. Loki is almost able to wriggle free when a loud, ominous groaning echoes up through the remaining support beams keeping the booth aloft. Evidently, those beams are no longer very supportive.
“Fuck,” Tony curses and starts urging her to move faster. But Loki cannot, too much movement will disrupt the delicate balance and send them both crashing to their deaths. It is all for naught, though, because moments later the booth is rending in half and the halves are sliding apart, sinking on melting steel beams. A great rift opens between Tony and Loki and she can only watch as his terrified face gets smaller and smaller. The sparks are shooting up around her and Loki can only close her eyes and hope for the best while the remnants of the control booth split apart. When she opens her eyes and finds herself right at the edge. The room’s integrity is, obviously, destroyed and she can feel the flooring sinking and coming apart. She shifts as much as she dares and peers at what lies below. An inferno. There is no other way to describe it.
“Lo!” Tony is scrambling up a nearby ramp and darting down a platform. Mark 40 is gone; Tony was likely forced to remove it after whatever caused the sparks that nearly blinded Loki. He braces himself on a rail and reaches for her. Their hands brush. “I got you, honey. Take my hand, I’ll pull you over.”
Loki stretches, all her focus on that hand, but the control booth is shifting away…
“You can do it, Lo,” Tony urges. The Mandarin is stalking closer. Time is short. “Take my hand!”
Loki tries, she really does, but she just cannot reach. And then the floor gives out and her stomach flips as she is suddenly in freefall. Still reaching for Tony, still staring desperately at his outstretched hand, until the fire consumes her…
…Loki is laying on her back in a bed of melting steel and oil slick and vicious flames. She is…alive. Hel has refused her soul. She is dead, dying, but still alive. And then a shade of Frigga is standing over her, looking down at her with motherly eyes.
This is not more than you can bear, says Frigga’s voice in Loki’s head. The shade’s mouth does not move, just stares placidly. Loki stares back, uncomprehending, until Frigga speaks again, You are more powerful than you know, my darling child.
The fire burns so hot a chill has taken over Loki’s fingers, spreading slowly until it reaches her center. And then her breath clouds before her and Frigga smiles proudly before fading away. Blessed cold is wrapping around Loki’s lungs, seeping outward into her blood and thinning away the magma. Frost collects on Loki’s clothes—inexplicably intact—and snowflakes settle on her eyelashes. Loki breathes out a long breath and it clouds before her again, but it also beats back the immediate flames.
Oh. Loki understands.
She grins and rises to her feet and looks down at the deep blue of her skin. She is still female in form, but she is Jötunn and she is strong. She takes a step and ice spreads under her foot, beating back the fire. She feels refreshed, hydrated, and powerful. Loki holds out her hands, fingers splayed, palms downward, and ice sweeps out in all directions. The flames hiss and crackle and diminish, steam rising and dispersing as the heat is rapidly replaced with cold.
Loki laughs, delighted, and pulls snow from the clouds above to fall in thick, fat flakes over the battlefield. As the fire and the smoke clears under her icy command, the extent of the damage is revealed. Iron Man suits lay in pieces all around, scorched and dented, amid beds of warped metal from the beams and scaffolding and the barge itself. The half-burnt remains of the fallen Extremis soldiers are grisly landmarks that spot the barge, blackened and still smoldering despite Loki’s enforced chill.
And then she sees him. Aldrich Killian, the Mandarin, is looming over Tony—her Anthony—aglow with rage and stolen power, oblivious the turn of events in his fury. On his knees before the man, Tony is glancing wildly about while trying to keep his eyes on his adversary. Her human is bruised and battered, spotted with blood, and clearly running on pure adrenalin.
Loki commands the ice to creep up around Killian’s feet to stop him from getting any closer to her human. This, at last, gets the man’s attention and he angles his torso to face her… And goes slack-jawed at the sight of her.
“What?” he gasps, confusion mixing with rage and quelling somewhat the lava roiling under his skin. Loki imagines what a sight she must make: towering and blue, red-eyed and black-haired, ice swirling in her wake. She is a goddess and she is displeased.
Loki stands nose to nose with the Mandarin, drawing ice up his form and forcing his internal temperature to rapidly decline. She can now see the first traces of his fear in his eyes. She smiles.
“I told you that you would die for this,” she tells him gently, lifting a hand to brush her fingers across his cheek. He flinches; the ice is at his throat and he cannot move. He is at her mercy.
His jaw works, his teeth chattering as he quickly becomes hypothermic, but still he tries to form words, tries to ask her what she is. The scientist in him is relentless; thirst for knowledge is something no being can kill, not completely. Loki continues to smile, close-lipped and sweet, as she watches the ice cocoon his head. Mere seconds later, Aldrich Killian’s heart beats its last and his body freezes through. Loki puts a finger to his chest, pushes lightly, and tips him over. He shatters like an ice sculpture into millions of tiny glittering pieces that scatter in every direction.
Loki, at last, turns to her human and finds him still on his knees, agape. She nearly begins to worry that he is broken, that the shock and exhaustion have finally caused actual damage to his brain, but then he cocks his head in such a classic Tony gesture that her worry abates.
“I got nothing,” he says bluntly, stunned and impressed. He laughs a touch hysterically as he rises shakily to his feet and Loki makes no move to assist him lest she freeze-burn his skin away. “Wow,” he says, blowing out a gusty breath as he takes in the sight of her. “Where’ve you been hiding this look? And why haven’t I seen it before?”
“I do not prefer this form,” Loki informs him tightly. She tries to will it away, but her magic is still weak. She has been using the inherent power of the Jötunn, a raw form of magical ability that will always come naturally and eagerly to her simply because she is a Frost Giant. Birds fly because they have wings; Frost Giants control ice and snow because they are magical creatures.
“Well, I think it’s kind of hot,” Tony says bluntly.
Loki stares at him skeptically. “I’ve just turned a man to ice and shattered him. Is now the time?”
“Probably not,” Tony admits easily, “but I don’t know what else to do. I’m a little off my game at the moment.”
“I suppose that’s understandable, given the situation,” Loki drawls and then gasps and staggers as heat flares suddenly in her chest. Damn. She thought she had frozen Extremis and purged it from her system, but evidently it is not so.
“Hey, hey, hey,” says Tony, reaching out to steady her. Loki jerks away.
“Don’t—” She doesn’t know if her touch with burn him with ice or with fire, but she knows it will burn. Tony, however, is undeterred.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” He proves this by grabbing her arm quite recklessly. “See? I’m fine. It’s fine.”
And indeed, his hand comes away unmarred. A calculated risk, then, seeing as Tony is an insufferable genius and exceptionally observant when his own is concerned. Loki takes his unharmed hand in hers and holds it tight. Tony’s other hand comes up to smooth her wild hair from her face and cup her pale blue cheek. The resurgence of heat dulls the blue of her natural form, but she does not presently have the energy to shift fully into one form or the other.
“I can fix this,” Tony promises. “You’re going to be fine, sweetheart.”
Loki snorts. “No, I’m not.” She pauses just for a beat to see him react and then adds cheekily, “I’m in a relationship with you.”
Tony drops his head against her shoulder and laughs. Loki curls her arms around him and stares at the icy field she has made of the barge and the ice floes she didn’t realize she had created in the harbor around them. At last, she feels at home and, at last, she is beginning to understand just how powerful she truly is.
- - -
As soon as Tony knows Happy is awake and recovering well, he herds Loki onto a private plane and jets them back to New York. They doze on each other’s shoulders intermittently and feel no better rested when they arrive at the airstrip. The short drive into the city and then into the underground parking garage of Avengers Tower passes in a haze. JARVIS greets them in the elevator and then brings them straight to Tony’s personal lab space. They encounter no one, though JARVIS informs them that several hundred people are currently in the building.
Tony directs Loki to sit on an exam table and then turns to busy himself gathering supplies and starting to call to his bots before he remembers. He comes back to Loki’s side with a steel tray, needle and sample tube waiting ready. Loki spreads her knees and tugs Tony to stand between them. She cups her hands around his jaw and lifts his face to hers.
“Calm, my love,” she murmurs, thumbs smoothing over his cheeks. The anxious lines around Tony’s eyes and across his forehead do not disappear, but his expression softens a bit.
“Honey, I watched you fall to your death,” he says hoarsely.
“Please,” Loki says with a quiet scoff, “it was hardly to my death. And it didn’t hurt at all.”
She is lying and they both know it, but he doesn’t call her on it. He just leans up to press his lips to hers and then sets about collecting a sample of her blood for analysis. Loki sits back on her hands and watches as Tony works on correcting the Extremis formula, manipulating the holographic displays with the ease of an expert.
Fire coils in her stomach, uncomfortable and unnatural, pressing a hot orange glow through her flesh and her clothes. Loki closes her eyes and focuses on her Jötunn heritage, feels the ice inherent in her blood and freezes away the heat. Her skin is tinged a darker shade of blue when she reopens her eyes and Tony is staring at her in wonder.
“Seriously,” he says, leaning his ass against a work table while the display behind him boasts a loading progress bar, “I’m digging the blue. It’s, like, alien chic with all the lines and patterns. Looks good on you.”
Loki huffs and looks away. “I’ve never felt comfortable in this form,” she admits tensely.
Tony shrugs. “We’ll revisit this another day, ‘cause that’s a damn shame. For now, we can focus on getting you back to the form you prefer.”
Loki swallows thickly and holds out her hand. Tony steps into her arms without hesitation and they stay like that until the new serum finishes synthesizing.
- - -
TONY STARK: I’M NOT DEAD YET!
by Janelle Archer-Stevenson
Dec. 23, 2013
“I’m not dead yet.” Those were the first words out of billionaire Tony Stark’s mouth when he took the stage at a press conference called early this morning. At his side is Queen Lona Silver and she’s smiling. Not smizing, not smirking, but actually smiling. With teeth showing and everything. If you don’t think that is proof positive that they are in love, then you need to see a doctor about your cold, cynical heart.
Both queen and billionaire appeared completely exhausted, but in good health considering their home was recently destroyed and both were taken captive by the Mandarin… But with one being Iron Man and the other being a weapons- and combat-specialist of sorts, did the Mandarin and his lackeys really think they could hold these two?
Anyway. The world is as it should be once again despite a second Christmastime disaster. Hopefully, this won’t turn into a Doctor Who Holiday Special situation, but even if it does, I think we’ll be okay. The Queen has returned to her throne, Iron Man has his compass back, and, apparently, we have an entire team of superheroes out there ready to spring into action should trouble rear its ugly face in a huge alien way.
- - -
Thor is waiting in the communal area when Loki and Tony return from the press panel. His expression is pinched and mixed with anger and confusion and relief and Loki is too fucking tired, emotionally and physically, to decipher what her foster-brother is actually feeling. So, when he charges forward, she merely braces herself for the worst and is somewhat pleasantly shocked when he scoops her up into a tight, spinning embrace.
“Well, this is a surprise,” Tony remarks dryly, unknowingly saying precisely what Loki is thinking. Loki shoots him a look when Thor happens to give her a view of her human over his own broad shoulder. Tony grins and winks in response.
“Thor,” Loki says impatiently, smacking her hands against her foster-brother’s sides, the only place she can reach with her arms pinned by his. “Release me, you great oaf!”
Mercifully, Thor listens and sets her on her feet. She tries to glare irritably at him, but the blond idiot is beaming at her like she is the center of his universe. It is a daunting expression and Loki doesn’t know what to make of it or the fact that his obvious joy in seeing her makes a little spark of warmth ignite in her chest. She crosses her arms defensively and leans her weight onto one foot, popping her hip.
“Why are you staring at me?” she demands petulantly.
Thor booms, “I am so pleased that you are alive, sister!”
This gives Loki pause. Her arms drop to her sides as she gapes at the larger man.
“Pleased?” she echoes, bemused.
“Indeed!” shouts Thor. “Did you think I would be angry to see you amongst the living?”
“Well, considering I died in your arms, I assumed you’d at least be a bit upset,” says Loki.
Thor’s grin does not falter. “But you did not die,” he says. “I have never before been so relieved to learn that you have fooled me again!”
Oh dear. Loki feels Tony’s warm hand come to rest on her lower back, thumb rubbing back and forth soothingly. Loki leans against her human’s shoulder. She waits as Thor takes in their somber expressions, watches the furrow of confusion form between his eyebrows, and then sees the understanding bloom slowly in his features.
“Sister…” says Thor, sorrowed and confused. “How…?”
Lok shakes her head. “Please, Thor, I am exhausted and I wish to sleep. I would prefer not to relive the experience, so, and I say this with fondness, go to Hel.” She hears Tony muffle a snort of laughter behind the hand not stroking her back and nearly chuckles herself. “My daughter will explain everything to you.”
Frigga may have beseeched Loki informs Thor directly of her whereabouts, but this feels like an acceptable compromise. Before the great oaf can open his mouth and say anything more to her, Loki pats his arm and heads for the elevator. She still has her own floor, because she and Tony didn’t become exclusive until it somehow accidentally happened while they were living in Malibu. They’d only come to this floor because JARVIS informed them of Thor’s presence and retreating to her personal level now implies that she wants to be entirely alone. So, she presses the button for Tony’s personal floor, because she wants to be alone with him and no one else.
Tony follows dutifully and joins her in a long, luxurious shower. Being the extravagant, no-price-is-too-high rich asshole that he is, Tony has a shower stall that is far beyond the standard size and has two showerheads—one with adjustable pressure and massage settings that detaches from the wall and one that simulates rainfall from the ceiling—as well as a steamer. The pebbled floor offers excellent traction; the shelves for soap and shampoo and all the accoutrements are organized in embedded cubbies. A bench runs the length of the longest side and there is a handrail that Loki never quite understood the purpose of until Tony had her pressed up against the tile wall and she needed something to grab onto to anchor herself.
They repeat that past experience now but slowed down and more tender. Tony stays close, keeps their chests pressed together and their panting mouths so close they occasionally brush lips. She has a leg hooked over his hip, one arm curled over his shoulders, and her other hand gripping his ass, following the rolls of his hips as he grinds inside her.
Steam swirls around them. Warm rain falls in a gentle drizzle while the pressurized spray beats against Tony’s shoulders and upper back, breaks past him and comes down on her collarbones and chest. The tiles that were initially cool against her back are now warmed and slick as she is slid up and down in small, devastating increments.
She can feel her orgasm building low in her belly, prickling hot and hungry and for one foolish instant she thinks Tony’s formula to nullify Extremis has failed. The moan spilling from her throat catches and cuts off, hiccups tellingly. She bites down on her lower lip and tries to force down the irrational spike of fear. She wants, needs, this entanglement with her human in their personal quarters, their sanctuary, where nothing thus far has been able to harm her.
Tony has one hand clenched around her thigh over his hip, gripping at the point where ass and upper thigh connect, squeezing and massaging and occasionally brushing the place where his sex enters hers. The other hand slides away from its previous position on her waist and up to bury into her hair, to cradle her head with aching tenderness.
“I’ve got you, honey,” he promises, dragging a thumb over the hinge of her jaw and then tipping his head so he can mouth the swanlike length of her throat. She keens and arches her back, presses harder against him.
“Shh,” he murmurs, nibbling her earlobe and drawing his lips along the line of her jaw until he comes back to her mouth. “It’s okay, you’re okay. You have me, Loki. And I have you.”
He kisses like he is trying to consume her, all tongue and teeth and possession. Loki tightens her leg around him and rolls her hips against his. Tony moves his mouth down to bite and suck at the crook of her neck. Loki leans her head back against the tiles, mouth open and eyes closed, breathing heavily and feeling the rising crescendo within her.
“Anthony,” she gasps.
His hand between them shifts and the angle must be uncomfortable for him, but Loki barely spares a thought to it because. Bliss. He fingers her clit, taps it teasingly and then presses and rubs circles with intent. He bites down at her throat and pushes his fingers past her clit, her labia, and it feels as though he is trying to slide them inside her alongside his cock. Loki moans brokenly, hips stuttering even as he keeps up a steady grinding rhythm. The blunt tips of his fingers push at her already stretched entrance, seem to stretch her somehow further, and then his thumb comes down to push against her clit and Loki breaks. Orgasm rips through her, pouring from their point of contact and spreading in a hot, tingling wave up and over her all the way to her fingertips and toes. She shakes apart, muscles clenching and unclenching and trembling fiercely, as the shout pulled from her by the force of it become a sustained moan.
When it seems the wave has settled, Tony tries to pull out, but Loki holds him close. He is not finished and she needs to feel him finish. She clenches around him and drags a strangled groan from him. He gets the message immediately and resumes his shallow thrusting. Oversensitivity makes her hiss and jerk her hips, but she loves it, revels in it, and urges him on with the hand on his ass.
“Yes, yes, yes,” she chants against his ear as he finally begins to lose his tempo. Then he is stuttering and grinding against her with a low groan and she feels him spilling hotly inside her. They stay like that for a moment, tangled and connected, warm water raining down on them and steam swirling up around them. They exchange tired open-mouth kisses and Loki shivers as Tony slips out of her, but stays close.
Tony runs a soapy cloth over her skin and she lets him, enjoying being taken care of so lovingly and so carefully. He shuts off the water when all the suds have been rinsed away and bundles her into a warm robe. Loki wraps the garment snugly around herself and starts toweling her hair while Tony relieves himself in the adjoined loo. When he comes back into the main room, Loki smiles fondly at him and drapes a towel over his head, ruffling his damp hair to make it stand on ends.
Tony huffs. “Thanks, honey,” he grumbles, but then leans up to peck her on the lips.
Sleepy and sated and warmed to her core, Loki just smiles at him and lets him lead her to the bed. She sheds her robe and towel on the floor and slides nude under the blankets. Tony joins, turning and scooting to press his back to her front. Loki drapes an arm over his middle and pulls him securely against her, pleased as ever by his preference for being the ‘little spoon.’
“I love you, Anthony,” she murmurs into the dark room and into his dark hair.
Tony’s hand curls over hers on his ribs. “I love you, Lo.”
- - -
You Know Who I Am @AEStark: Lo made sure the bots were the first ones rescued after the Malibu thing
You Know Who I Am @AEStark: A little TLC and they’ll be good as new pic.twitter.com/DIh616kj3b
Leah ago in a galaxy far far away @lesbian_leia: she didn’t know for sure he was alive but made sure to take care of the bots cuz they’re basically his babies I’m SOBBING
Tiny Carly @carlyclarkson: Merry Christmas everyone, you’ll never have love as pure as Lona and Tony’s
- - -
Loki wakes up slowly, contented and still pleasantly sleepy, her body loose and vaguely sore. She stretches luxuriously, spreading her arms as wide as she can while arching her back and pushing her toes towards the foot of the bed. Her spine pops wonderfully in a few places and she lets out a long moan of satisfaction.
She is alone in the bedroom, which isn’t surprising considering it looks to be near evening, meaning she has slept through an entire night and day. Perfect, she thinks, pleased.
“JARVIS?” she murmurs.
“Good evening, ma’am,” says the AI. “How may I help you?”
“Where is Anthony?”
“Mr. Stark is currently in his lab,” JARVIS replies. “He has been there all day, repairing Dum-E and U. Would like me to send him up?”
“No, thank you, JARVIS,” says Loki, sitting up and fussing with her hair. “Just tell him I’m up and that I’ll be making myself dinner. If he wishes to dine with me, he’d better hurry up before I eat everything myself.”
In Asgard, Loki was almost as infamous for her appetite as she was for her magic and trickery. She is certain that she has made a noticeable dent in Tony’s enormous bank account with her food purchases alone and is actually rather proud of that.
She dresses for comfort, pulling on a pair of dark gray sweatpants and a long-sleeved green shirt with a wide, nearly-off-the-shoulder collar. She gathers her hair into a sloppy bun atop her head and finds her fuzziest pair of socks. Tony has in the past threatened to share pictures of her in her fuzzy socks on social media and Loki always reminds him that she has access to mid-puberty pictures of him. For all that her Anthony is an exceptionally handsome man, it took some time for him to become so.
Loki putters around the kitchen, taking stock of what is available and, more importantly, what is still fresh and edible. Once she has eggs with veggies and herbs on a skillet for what will be an incredibly satisfying omelet, she lifts her voice to the ceiling again.
“JARVIS, how many messages have accumulated in my absence?”
“You have thirty-seven, ma’am,” replies the AI. “I took the liberty of erasing all irrelevant and repeat messages. I compiled a list of all talk show invitations for you to review and respond to in your own time and I have sent a list of people from whom you’ve received social calls to your personal device. You also received quite a few calls from casting directors interesting in having you audition. I have removed all expired requests, as well as those outside your interest. There is one, however, that I believe you will find most amusing, but I would advise you to respond soon.”
“Oh, you would,” says Loki, glancing amusedly upward as she folds the omelet. “What is this role that you think is so interesting to me?”
When JARVIS responds, Loki can hear how pleased he is with himself in his tone. “The voice of Wonder Woman in a Justice League cartoon reboot.”
Loki freezes, her jaw hanging open for just a moment before she snaps it shut, and then bursts into laughter. “A hero!” she exclaims between bright peals and then has to quickly transport her breakfast from the pan to a plate so it doesn’t burn. She’s still chuckling when she starts cracking eggs for a second omelet but does ask JARVIS to remind her to call back about the part.
Tony strolls into the room as Loki is adding mushrooms and bits of sausage to the second omelet, hands clean despite the smudge of grease on his cheek.
“What’s funny, honey?” he asks, grabbing her hips from behind using that grip to balance himself as he goes onto his toes to kiss the back of her neck.
Loki chuckles and folds Tony’s omelet. “I’ve been asked to voice a hero in a cartoon.”
Tony lets out an impressed whistle. “That’s neat. What’s the cartoon? Anything I’ve heard of?”
“Yes, I think so,” says Loki. “It’s a little show called Justice League.”
Tony’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline. “Justice… Are you the new Wonder Woman?”
“Indeed, I am,” Loki confirms. She magics her plate and a mug of tea to the table and sits to eat, leaving Tony to serve himself if he wants to join her. To his credit, Tony doesn’t bat an eye and simply proceeds to turn off the stovetop and get himself a plate. He has long learned not to expect Loki to serve him or cater to him in any way.
“I’ve never been a big fan of DC,” Tony says as he drops into the chair across from Loki.
“That’s the one with the terrible green light movie?” asks Loki, sectioning off a bite with the side of her fork.
“Green Lantern, yeah,” Tony confirms.
“Hm.” Loki chews thoughtfully. “The lead actor in that film looks quite similar to a mercenary my daughter is quite fond of.”
“That’s…disconcerting,” says Tony, but Loki waves him off unconcernedly.
“I’m certain they’re not the same person,” she tells him, attention already back on her breakfast.
“You know, I’m starting to really question your daughter’s taste in men,” Tony says conversationally. At Loki’s questioning eyebrow quirk, Tony elaborates, “Well, she liked me when I was the ‘Merchant of Death’ and, yeah, I know she still likes me, don’t give that look, honey. Fact is she first noticed me when I was manufacturing weapons and giving her all sorts of presents. And she liked Thanos when he was sending her selective souls and I get the idea she still likes him even though he’s killing indiscriminately now. And now you’re saying there’s a mercenary, aka a contract killer, that she’s fond of?”
Loki shrugs, unconcerned, “She is the Queen of the Dead. How else do you expect to win her favor?”
Tony frowns thoughtfully and then concedes the point with a tip of his mug.
After a minute, Loki asks, “DC is responsible for Wonder Woman, too?”
“Yep,” says Tony, popping the P.
Loki takes a long sip of tea and then says, pertly, “Well, it seems their judgment is improving if they’ve asked me to take part.”
Tony snorts into his mug and splatters coffee down his front. Loki cackles.
- - -
Loki’s magic is slow to return, but she is by no means helpless or useless. She spends the week helping Tony sift through everything that was salvaged from Malibu, collecting the battered pieces of Marks 1 through 3 and picking out anything that seems like it could be resuscitated. Loki recovers her armor—still in excellent condition thanks to it being forged by dwarves—and many of her daggers and knives. Once the majority of her armory has been recovered, it does not take much longer for her to realize that a single, key piece is still missing.
“Anthony,” she calls, keeping her voice light and free of anxiety or urgency. Tony is across the large room—one of the only remaining empty floors in the Tower—picking through circuit boards and meticulously inspecting the extent of damage done to each one. He hums vaguely in response but doesn’t tear his eyes away from the object in his hands.
“Anthony, I cannot find my scepter.”
There is a loud clang and Loki cranes her neck a bit to peer around the semi-organized piles of salvage to see that Tony has dropped a particularly large piece of circuitry. His wide whiskey-brown eyes are fixed on her, informing her that she does not need to express how potentially disastrous the situation might be.
“JARVIS,” says Tony, eyes still locked with Loki’s, “call Agent Coulson.”
“Calling Agent Coulson,” JARVIS complies immediately and the outgoing call tone fills the air. Coulson picks up after two rings.
“Stark,” he says, “this better be important.”
“You kept Loki’s staff,” Tony says, cutting to the chase. Loki steps away from the salt-encrusted machinery she was examining and goes to stand at Tony’s side. Silence fills the connection and then a faint crackle as Coulson sighs.
Fuming, Loki interrupts him before he can make any pitiful excuses, “You assured me everything your team recovered from the wreck would be brought directly here.”
“And that’s exactly what they did,” Coulson assures, ever infuriatingly cool and collected. “Unfortunately, no scepter was recovered from the wreckage.”
“You didn’t think to tell me this?” hisses Loki.
“I didn’t think it was missing,” says Coulson. “I assumed you either carried it with you or had it stored elsewhere.”
Loki purses her lips, furious and lacking an object to unleash her fury upon. Tony takes her hand in his and rubs small, soothing circles on her wrist with his thumb. She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. “Upon my death,” she says stiffly, “all belongings I carry magically with me are returned to my private chambers. In this case, my private chambers were the master suite in Malibu.”
Then Coulson says, “I see.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “If you’re not going to be helpful, I’m going to hang up.”
“Stark—” Coulson starts to say.
“End call,” Tony interrupts and the line goes dead. To Loki, he says, “Let’s get back to my lab, honey, I have your staff’s energy signature on file. We’ll find it.”
Up in the penthouse lab, it takes Tony all of thirty minutes to locate the scepter and pull up a map of the world with the location glowing in bright yellow. The couple puzzle over the map for a few minutes, Tony gesturing haphazardly in his distraction to zoom in and it is thanks to JARVIS’s intelligence and thorough understanding of his creator that the AI understands the silent commands.
“Sokovia,” Loki reads. “I haven’t a clue where that is.”
“What do you mean? It’s right there in Europe,” says Tony, pointing to the tiny country nestled between Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland.
“Don’t be an ass, darling,” Loki says dismissively, moving her fingers to zoom in further on the staff’s location. JARVIS helpfully isolates the Republic of Sokovia, enlarges it, and brings up major cities and roadways. The scepter, it seems, is at the edge of the nation’s capital, Novi Grad.
“JARVIS, can you get any closer to the location?” asks Tony.
“Of course, sir,” says JARVIS. “I am also searching all news and social media in the direct area for potentially useful information.”
Tony grins like a proud father.
“What do you say, Lo?” he asks, he drawing Loki in with hands on her hips. “Want to go on a vacation to Europe?”
Loki chuckles and smooths the shoulders of Tony’s shirt idly, needlessly really. “Perhaps I could be persuaded.”
“In that case…” Tony says with a purr.
“Pardon me, sir,” JARVIS cuts in, “but I am detecting the presence of Hydra operations in the vicinity of Miss Lie-Smith’s staff.”
Loki bristles with rage. “Are you telling me those heavy-handed buffoons have my scepter and the Mind Stone?”
“It does seem that way, ma’am,” JARVIS replies with regret.
“Let me rephrase, then,” says Tony. “Lo, do you want to go on an Avengers mission to Europe?”
Loki reaches within herself, finds the coils of her magic and tests their strength, their weight. Then she considers her willingness, her want, and what she believes. She shakes her head. “No, my love, I’ll stay here. My magic is not fully returned and, besides, I’ve just been cast as the voice of Wonder Woman. I have work to do.”
I saw Endgame - I won't say anything more than that. But I might miss next week's update because I need/want to re-work some plot points. And I guess because the semester is ending I have important projects and shit to do.
Thank you to everyone for reading/commenting/kudos-ing! ♡♡♡
Chapter 5: The Streets are Getting Restless
Tony chuckles. “Hi, honey. Listen, I know you don’t want to be a hero or whatever—” Something explodes faintly in the background “—but we’re in a bit of a pickle here.” She hears the crackle and pop of gunfire and the whine of a repulsor charging. “Unexpected enhanced individuals, one of them seems right up for alley. Whattaya say?”
Loki sighs exaggeratedly. “I’m at work, Anthony. I can’t just drop everything at your beck and call.”
Tony blows a raspberry. “Yes, you can. You drop work obligations all the time out of boredom.”
If this chapter feels rushed or awkward at any point, that's because it kind of is. How can such a disappointing movie like AoU have so many important plot points???
Anyway, thanks for being patient with me! I've almost got everything back on track now, but it's going well!
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: Since you lot won’t stop asking, I “disappeared” for a month to attend my mother’s funeral in Norway and spend time with my family. Please pardon my having a personal life.
not the grocery store @HannahFord replying to @deviousdeity: I’m sorry for your loss and that the media sucks so much
- - -
Two days later, Loki goes to a studio in Murray Hill to meet with the vocal director and do a script reading. She and the director discuss accents and dialects and what a woman from a mystic Greco-Roman island might sound like. They settled on something that sounds vaguely Middle Eastern but is actually the honeyed accent of the elves of Alfheim. Accent decided, Loki is put in a booth to do some initial recording. She runs through lines from the proposed pilot episode, repeating some several times over with different emphases, and filling a track with varying grunts, huffs, shouts, hisses—noises that accompany great effort—and a handful of laughs and chuckles, as well.
The session ends around noon and it’s a nice enough day out, crisp and cold but the sky is clear and blue. So, Loki walks uptown towards the Tower, reveling in the double-takes she garners as she goes. A few brave souls ask for a photo or an autograph or both, all acting on a spectrum between timid and bold. By the time she reaches the ground floor of Stark Tower, she has granted a total of twenty-three photographs and thirty autographs. The receptionist smiles and nods in welcome and Loki gives her a polite nod in return.
In the elevator, JARVIS informs her, “Mr. Stark is currently meeting with the Avengers and three SHIELD members in the board room on the Avengers’ second floor. The meeting began only two minutes ago, would you like to join them?”
Loki considers. “Is there food available?”
“Of course, ma’am. Mr. Stark has had shawarma delivered and there is a variety of beverages available.”
“Excellent,” says Loki. “Don’t tell them I’m coming. You know I love to make an entrance.”
“Of course, ma’am,” JARVIS says again, indulgently this time.
Loki has yet to meet the Avengers as a team. She is familiar with the Black Widow and Hawkeye, having met them previously under their civilian names rather than their hero aliases, and Thor needs no mentioning. But she has not had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Banner or Captain Rogers. Crashing an official meeting seems like the perfect opportunity to introduce herself and it has the added bonus of irritating Director Fury. Loki isn’t convinced that Fury had never met an alien before she arrived on Midgard, but he is nearly exceptional at dodging questions he does not want to answer. Loki has a well-cultivated plan to poke and wait and prod and wait until he finally relents; her patience is legendary when the pay-off is sweet enough.
She checks her appearance in the reflective doors of the elevator, intending to intimidate with both her height and her beauty. She brushes her hands over her hair to liven it up a bit, give it a bit more body, and adjusts the fit of her shirt. Perfect. She mutes the click of her killer heels on the hardwood floor as she approaches the conference room and with a confident smirk in place, she waves the double-doors open and strides in.
Fury, standing at the head of the table, flanked by Coulson on his left and a serious woman with a tight brown bun on his right, stops speaking mid-sentence. Every other occupant turns to observe her entrance. Loki preens as she catalogs their varied reactions. Thor, the oaf, lights up with delight. Tony grins like the cat who caught the canary. Romanoff raises a single, empirical brow while Barton lifts his chin in a brief, familiar nod. A man she assumes is Dr. Banner based on the meek set of his shoulders and his furtive glances at her as he recovers from the mild shock of her abrupt arrival. Captain Rogers, therefore, must be the tightly wound blond with biceps the size of his head staring at her like he can’t quite place her. Loki winks at him and the supersoldier’s cheeks take on a dusting of pink.
Ever the image of unamused, Fury speaks up pointedly. “Can I help you, Miss Lie-Smith?”
“I believe you already are,” Loki replies airily. She helps herself to the available food and ponders an alcoholic beverage for a moment before settling on sparkling water. She summons an extra chair from the side of the room and seats herself next to Tony. Elbows on the table, she rests her chin on her entwined hands and smiles sweetly at Fury. He glowers back.
“You’re retrieving my staff, aren’t you,” Loki poses rhetorically.
“Your staff,” Captain Rogers repeats. His eyebrows lift in adorable confusion as he glances from Loki to Fury, seeking an explanation. Then he adds, “I thought we were recovering a stolen SHIELD artifact.”
“Is that so?” Loki asks between her teeth. She levels an icy stare on Tony, who holds up his hands in a claim of innocence.
“Hackles down, honey badger,” he says. “I tried to tell them the Glowstick of Destiny belongs to you.”
“Wait a minute, aren’t you an actress?” asks Rogers, turning to face her fully. “I’ve seen you on my television.” He spins back to look at Fury. “Why does SHIELD have an actress on payroll?”
“I am not on payroll,” Loki scoffs at the same time Fury asserts, “She is not on our payroll.”
“Ha,” says Tony, terribly amused.
Fury goes on, “Miss Lie-Smith is something of a consultant for us on all things magical and Asgardian.” Normally Loki would correct the pluralization of Asgard to Æsir, but in this rare instance, he is using the correct term and referring to things and objects related to Asgard, not its people. “She also stole SHIELD property some time ago and until recently, we were unable to get it back.”
“I stole it?” Loki repeats, offended by the accusation despite it being entirely within the realm of things she does without second thought or hesitation. Fury does not let her further protest this accusation.
“You took it off an alien attacker and failed to relinquish possession when the incident was closed,” he says flatly. His deadpan does little to mask his annoyance with her.
“The magic stick did choose her,” Tony cuts in. “It has this whole ‘the wand chooses the wizard’ thing going on and it chose Loki.” He affects his most annoying what can you do shrug with a complimentary I’m totally innocent expression. “Seems like you guys couldn’t keep it even if you wanted to.”
“Because the staff…has a mind of its own?” asks Dr. Banner, speaking up for likely the first time in the entire meeting judging by the startled glances in his direction.
“In only the most basic sense,” says Loki. She engages Dr. Banner completely in an effort to both boost his confidence and bring him out of his shell and to aggravate Director Fury, who loathes being ignored. “The staff is powered by a rather exceptional gem that possesses cognitive recalibrative qualities and a low level of self-awareness, just enough to sense the strength of the minds around it.”
“Cognitive recalibrative…” Dr. Banner repeats, duly confused by a term Loki made up on the spot.
“It’s a mind control device,” says Barton with only a hint of resentment.
“There is far more to it,” says Loki, which I will not be sharing, “but yes, I suppose that is the essence of it.” It isn’t, not by a long shot, but these mortals don’t need to know that right now; Loki will tell them if it ever becomes relevant. Rightfully suspicious that she has omitted information, Fury looks to Thor for either confirmation or correction.
“The Stones are indeed capable of making decisions,” Thor announces, “but only, as my sister stated, in a limited sense. Their will is contained to the aspect of the Cosmos they are designed to affect and to whom they prefer to wield them. The Mind Stone will function for anyone who holds it, but it will be most responsive to Loki.”
“Great,” says Fury. “Now that we all know what the scepter is…” He’s standing rather than sitting at the head of the long table and is now leaning forward with his hands planted on the smooth wooden surface. Frustration and aggravation are rolling off him in waves and Loki loves it. “Can we get back to the point of this meeting?”
He narrows his eye at Loki in particular and she responds by leaning back in her chair and waving and indolent hand.
“Carry on, then,” she says airily, reclining in her chair and putting her plate in her lab. “Pretend I’m not here.”
Fury narrows his eye at her for a moment longer before sweeping his gaze over the assembled Avengers. At length, he begins, “International politics say we have to meet with the local governing body before we can make any moves on Sokovian soil. I don’t have the sort of patience needed for bureaucracy, which is why I have agents Coulson and Hill with me.”
He passes the mantle to the woman on his right and she stands fluidly. Loki mostly tunes her out as she explains the current political climate in Sokovia and why they need to first gain permission before causing an incident. Being raised as a prince on Asgard has numbed Loki to all things sociopolitical and she finds it all to be rather boring. She starts watching the scars peering around the edges of Fury’s eyepatch crinkle and stretch as he converses with Coulson. She wonders what the eye underneath looks like or if there is even an eye still present. Perhaps it is an empty socket or perhaps there is some sort of false eye in place to prevent the lid and socket from becoming sunken and grotesque.
Maybe his missing eye is the result of the previous encounter with aliens Loki is certain he has had.
“Considering we have proof of the presence of the scepter and of HYDRA activity,” Coulson is saying with Loki tunes back in, “I have no doubt we’ll be granted permission to move in Novi Grad fairly quickly.”
“And even so,” says Fury, eye pausing pointedly on Tony during his next sweep of the room’s occupants, “we’ll have you lot posted nearby to infiltrate and dismantle the base as soon as that permission is received.” He shrugs. “Or not. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission and all that, especially when it’s a matter of punching Nazi assholes.”
Rogers takes on a very serious demeanor at the prospect of punching Nazis and even leans forward a bit in his seat. Fury prompts Tony to bring up his scans of Novi Grad and a 3D replica of the Sokovian capital forms across the tabletop. With a few deft gestures from Tony, the replica enlarges and “zooms” in on a particular building at the edge of the city, built partially into the mountainous terrain and made entirely of stone. It appears to be an old military fort and would seem long abandoned if not for the bright beacon that symbolizes the Mind Stone’s energy flickering just beneath it. Fury outlines a rough plan of attack; Coulson and Hill chip in with bits of information on potential defenses they may encounter.
“I have a question,” says Barton, swiveling idly in his chair, though he keeps his head steady and his eyes focused on the map—very true to his bird-themed alter-ego. “Why doesn’t Loki just beam in and get the thing herself?”
“Because my magic was seriously depleted after being tortured by the Mandarin,” Loki says with brutal bluntness just to see who will flinch. Captain Rogers and Dr. Banner; and Tony, but he doesn’t count because he was there and his reaction is one of empathy. (Her magic is also recovering beautifully and nearly completely returned, but she deems this information irrelevant in this particular company.)
“Yikes,” says Barton, barely apologetic. Loki doesn’t particularly care, she finds Barton amusing and interesting enough to let him be somewhat crass with her.
“So, you’re not an actress?” asks Captain Rogers. He appears truly perplexed by her presence and her unclear occupation. It’s likely he previously only knew her through mention of her association with Tony and now her newly revealed SHIELD connection is throwing him through a loop.
“I am,” Loki corrects, “but it’s more of a hobby.”
“Huh.” Rogers leans back in his chair, just as confused as he was to begin with.
“You motherfuckers are going to be the death of me,” Fury says abruptly. That vein Loki loves so much is throbbing at his temple. “I’m going back to DC.” He strides out the door, leather duster rippling impressively behind him, and the room is quiet in his wake.
Loki traces a finger around the rim of her glass and transfigures it into a goblet of Asgardian wine. She holds it aloft in the direction of Fury’s dramatic exit and says, “Skål.”
Tony snorts. “You’re such an asshole,” he tells her admiringly.
She winks at him over the rim of her goblet and then drains the wine in one go.
- - -
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Pepper Potts calmly and thoroughly dismantle an old white businessman’s arguments.
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: Pepper Potts is the true love of my life.
Virginia Potts, SI CEO @VirginiaPotts: I’m flattered, Lo. Thank you.
No Waylynn @waylynns.way: L O
Abery @avery-takes-pictures: I love how everyone just agrees that Pepper Potts is the Supreme
- - -
Loki takes liberties and goes through Tony’s possessions as if they are her own. Everything salvageable from the wreck at Malibu has been salvaged; everything else is scrap metal and garbage that needs to be safely recycled or disposed of. There is also a quadrant of the storage space that contains odds and ends that Tony put there for lack of anywhere else to put it. In a moment of boredom, Loki picks through her lover’s belongings for amusement and because she cannot pass up on the possibility of finding something to embarrass him with.
She does not find much, disappointingly. It is mostly artwork that has been cycled out of his homes when pieces he liked better came into his possession. There is an old futon, a wine rack loaded with dusty bottles (Loki inspects a few and takes note of a few tempting vintages), and a baby grand piano.
Lips quirked into half a smile, Loki runs her hand over the housing and clears a thin layer of dust as she does. A slight gesture cleans the dust away completely and gives the wood a needed polish. She props open the lid and inspects the hammers and strings; she is unsure how long the instrument has sat in storage but it all seems to be in good shape. Regardless, she brushes over the strings with gentle fingertips and presses a hint of magic into them to ensure the piano is tuned. Then she sits upon the bench, finds the pedals, and plays a simple melody she as a child from Frigga. The melody becomes a lullaby from Vanaheim that Sigyn once sang to their infant sons and then evolves into something entirely original as Loki’s fingers remember truly how to manipulate the keys.
She smiles faintly to herself. She had forgotten how much she enjoys creating music and how it is so much like crafting spells in its intricacies, where one wrong note throws the entire song into discordance. Loki challenges herself to adapt the skalds and ballads she was raised on from fiddles and harps to piano. The translation is not perfect if only because she is unused to hearing the music played this way. Still, it is a stimulating experiment and goes a long way to abate her boredom.
“Sing us a song, piano man!” says Tony’s unexpected voice from behind her. Loki laughs in surprise even as her fingers remain steady on the keys. Still playing an idle, simple tune, she turns slightly to observe Tony’s approach. He is grinning devilishly and has his personal, ultra-modified, transparent StarkPhone held aloft. Loki can see that he is filming, sees herself mirrored in the projected screen, and decides to allow him to continue. She tempers her expression, reining her smile into her media-preferred pleasantry.
“What do you wish to hear?” she asks, maintaining a soft underscore.
“Anything,” says Tony. “Something from home.”
Loki thinks for a moment, quickly parsing through her vast library of songs and chants and ballads. Most are dreadfully long and hyper-detailed, but it is easy enough to isolate a few stanzas and mold it into a stand-alone.
“Alright,” she says, adjusting her feet on the pedals and carefully morphing from her “standby” music to an actual melody. “This is from Grímnismál, the Ballad of Grimnir. It is meant to be played on a lyre or a tagelharpa, but I will do my best.”
Tony settles against a nearby crate, still grinning, and Loki clears her throat delicately in preparation to sing. She is going to ask Tony to share this on his social media; her fanbase is going to lose its collective mind.
“Þríar rætr standa á þría vega undan aski Yggdrasils,” she sings. “Hel býr und einni, annarri hrímþursar, þriðju mennskir menn.” This first stanza describes the three roots of Yggdrasil and how one stretches beneath Hel’s domain, another reaches Jotunheim, and the last is in the land of men. “Ratatoskr heitir íkorni, er renna skal at aski Yggdrasils, arnar orð hann skal ofan bera ok segja Niðhöggvi niðr.” Ratatosk is the squirrel that runs the length of Yggdrasil and carries news to the eagle who roosts at the top and to the serpent that resides under the roots. “Hirtir eru ok fjórir, þeirs af hæfingar gaghalsir gnaga: Dáinn ok Dvalinn, Duneyrr ok Duraþrór.” Four harts—ancient red stags—dwell in the highest branches and nibble on twigs and their names are Dain and Dvalin, Duneyr and Dyrathror.
Loki plays a few more bars before bringing the song to an end. Tony immediately shouts, “Brava!” and claps using his free hand against his wrist. Loki smirks and bows slightly at the waist. Tony stops filming and tucks the device carelessly into a pocket; he shifts fully onto his feet and slides onto the bench next to Loki. Clumsily, he plays a simple tune meant for learners; Loki believes it is called Chopsticks. He messes up a few times, striking the wrong note and grimacing each time.
“I’m no concert pianist,” he says with a shrug, giving up on his attempt. Loki chuckles and takes over, casually showing off her skills until Tony lifts one of her hands off the keys and begins to systematically kiss each delicate knuckle of her fingers from pinky to thumb. Once he has covered each digit, he moves her hand to his cheek and holds it there.
“What is it?” Loki asks. Her voice comes out no louder than a whisper, hushed by the unexpected tenderness of the gesture and the nearly sentimental gleam in Tony’s warm brown eyes. Tony shrugs, trying to downplay whatever is bothering him, but Loki does not let him. She swipes her thumb across his cheekbone and leans in to place a chaste kiss upon his lips. She urges, “Tell me.” Another ghost of a kiss. “Please.”
Tony groans dramatically and takes her hand away from his face, cradling it instead between both of his in his lap.
“Cheater,” he accuses with no real heat. Loki does not deny this and gazes at him expectantly, waiting for him to go on. He does, “You don’t think I spend too much time working on my armor? Do you?” He barely pauses long enough to take a breath, let alone give Loki time to answer. “Pepper thinks I do. She thinks I’m using them as a distraction. I still don’t sleep much. All the glimpses I got of the space and the unknown through those portals in Greenwich… knowing that there’s a madman out there looking for death for the sake of death… combined with the time I thought you were dead. It all adds up to some really fucked up dreams. So.”
He shrugs minutely, one corner of his mouth lifting cavalierly. Loki stares, unprepared for this particular revelation and feeling a bit wretched for it. She had no idea Tony was feeling this way, was unaware of the true extent of his bad dreams and had indeed thought them over when she asked Hel to cease using them to communicate with him.
“Anthony,” she murmurs. “Why did you not tell me of this sooner?”
“Masculine pride, mostly,” he replies bluntly.
“That’s idiotic,” Loki says immediately and a touch too loudly in the quiet storage space.
“Yeah, society sucks that way.”
“Truly.” Loki huffs and extracts her hand from Tony’s. She shifts to straddle the bench and face the man properly, then curls her hands around the sides of his neck. She keeps his focus entirely on her and holds eye contact to drill the meaning of her next words into him. “Anthony. You are the most insufferable mortal I have ever met. You drive me to madness in the best and worst ways. And I am inexplicably in love with you. No matter what ails you, be it physical or emotional, you must know that you can always, always, talk to me about it. Yes?”
Tony’s eyes flicker between hers. As Loki watches, she sees the tension and the insecurity lessen until he slumps in her hold with a sigh.
“Yes,” he agrees.
Loki rewards him with a lingering kiss to his brow.
“Good,” she says. “And I do not think you spend too much time working on your armor. The armor is important to you and it enables you to save lives and protect your loved ones.” Tony nods between her hands. “As for your dreams, I have a very simple spell that will allow you to sleep dreamlessly. And no,” she says, laying a finger across his lips to quell his rising questions, “the spell does not make you sleep, it merely dispels dreams. You will still be able to ‘drive or operate machinery.’”
Tony chuckles against her finger and then purses his lips. Loki sighs and replaces the digit with her own lips. Tony nibbles on her lower lip, buries his hands in her hair and cradles the back of her head, and deepens the kiss. Loki melts against him, humming happily and meeting his tongue with hers. A moment later, Tony draws back and Loki chases after him for one more peck, two more, three. Then the moment passes and they remain with their foreheads pressed together and the tips of their noses a hair’s width apart.
“We’re flying out to Sokovia in an hour,” says Tony. “I’m going to share that video of you singing from the jet and make your Twitter explode.”
Loki snorts a laugh and says with heavy sarcasm, “Excellent, thank you.”
- - -
You Know Who I Am @AEStark: Get ready to lose your shit. bit.ly/rdL17y
Leah ago in a galaxy far far away @lesbian_leia: I’m losing my SHIT YOU GUYS
Amanda Podera @amandapanda: of fucking couse she plays piano like a boss, this woman is Perfect
♪~ ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ jimbo @jimb0: fucking christ shes barely even singing its more like fancy chanting
Tiny Carly @carlyclarkson: that tiny flash of Real Smile before she realizes she being filmed… be still my heart…I love how much they love each other
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: I looked it up and she’s speaking/singing in old norse, which is old??? And she just happens to know it off the top of her head??? What a goddess
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: wait guys what if she actually IS a goddess??
- - -
The morning after Tony leaves for Sokovia, Loki returns to the studio in Murray Hill to re-record a few lines and vocal effects. The director had called her back explaining that some of her recordings didn’t satisfactorily match up to the animation. So, she goes in and listens patiently as the director tries to describe precisely what he wants, what sort of inflections he wants her to adjust and where the tempo ought to be slowed or quickened. Loki does her best to appease him and repeats select lines several times each.
They break for an early lunch and Loki sits in a comfortable break room with two others who have been cast as voices. She only vaguely recognizes them but doesn’t care enough to try to remember their names. They’re both men, one is voicing Batman and the other a Martian. They are pleasant enough but could never hope to hold Loki’s attention for any stretch of time outside their shared profession. She is chatting idly with them over coffee when her phone begins to vibrate in her back pocket.
“Pardon me,” she says in an only vaguely apologetic tone and steps out of the room. Anthony’s face and name are displayed on her screen, signaling an incoming phone call. Smirking, Loki answers.
“Hello, darling,” she purrs.
Tony chuckles. “Hi, honey. Listen, I know you don’t want to be a hero or whatever—” Something explodes faintly in the background “—but we’re in a bit of a pickle here.” She hears the crackle and pop of gunfire and the whine of a repulsor charging. “Unexpected enhanced individuals, one of them seems right up your alley. Whattaya say?”
Loki sighs exaggeratedly. “I’m at work, Anthony. I can’t just drop everything at your beck and call.”
Tony blows a raspberry. “Yes, you can. You drop work obligations all the time out of boredom.”
“Hm, I suppose you have a point,” Loki concedes airily. She checks the time. “Give me ten minutes, love.”
“You’re the best!”
“I am aware.” Loki hangs up and returns inside. She finds the director easily and saunters up to him, phone still in hand and an apologetic expression fixed in place. “Daniel, I’m so sorry, but something rather urgent has just come up. I can come back on a later day if there is still need?”
“Oh,” says the director. He blinks a few times, unprepared for Loki at her moderately persuasive (which, to most mortals, comes off as toeing the line of too much), and glances reflexively at his own phone screen as if checking something. “Um, yeah, that should be fine. I’ll call you…?”
“JARVIS will answer,” says Loki, already taking a backward step toward the door. “He’ll alert me and I will return your call as soon as I am able. Thank you, darling.” With that, she’s out the door and stepping into her penthouse bedroom in the Tower.
“JARVIS,” she says as she sheds her Midgardian clothing, “what are Anthony’s current coordinates?” The AI recites the numbers dutifully and pops open a drawer in the armoire, revealing a neat row of earpieces. Loki snugs one into her ear as she summons her Asgardian leathers and armor. She calls her thanks to the ceiling and strides forward, helm shimmering into place as she does, and emerges in a wide stretch of woods. Behind her, Loki hears the roaring of an immense beast, the staccato of gunfire, and a lot of unintelligible shouting and screaming. She turns to the cacophony with a smirk and summons a dagger, twirling it idly as she taps the earpiece to activate it and connect it to the rest of the team.
“I’m here,” she says. She comes to a dirt road littered with broken vehicle parts, lost weaponry, and more than a few unconscious men. She rolls her eyes. These men are proven Nazis, absolutely irredeemable, and still these precious heroes cannot bear to use lethal force? Ridiculous.
“Thanks for coming, honey badger,” Tony chirps in her ear.
“Is that your girlfriend?” Rogers demands incredulously.
“Loki,” Natasha cuts in smoothly. “We have two unknown enhanced in the field. One is fast and one uses some type of magic. If you can pin down at least one of them, we’ve got a better chance of getting into that fortress.”
Tony and Rogers begin to bicker about the necessity of her being here, but Loki tunes them out. She does a series of short-distance teleports until she reaches the thick of the fighting and then reaches out with her magic to find this other magic-user. She holds a shimmering shield around herself, casually deflecting stray and intentional bullets as she searches out her target. Tendrils of green magic drip like vines from her hands and seep into the earth where they strike out in every direction, splitting and branching out as they go.
A few arrows whiz past her shield, dispatching several would-be assailants (not that they’d be able to get past her protective barrier), and then Barton himself goes racing by in the back of an acquired vehicle being driven by the Widow herself. The Hulk roars nearby and a body soars overhead, crashing into a tree with a sickening wet smack. Thunder rumbles overhead, lightning comes down with an ear-splitting crack barely a mile away. In her ear, Tony curses, “Shit!” and Captain Rogers responds with a sharp, “Language!”
Loki mutes her earpiece. She cannot concentrate with all this racket going on. She is just about to relocate because clearly the magic-user is not out here when something collides quite abruptly with her shield. Or rather: someone. Loki blinks down at the young man now sprawled in the dirt before. He appears to be in shock, perhaps momentarily stunned by the unexpected impact with an invisible barrier. Loki smirks. This must be the other enhanced individual. She repurposes her searching tendrils and commands them to break through the ground and wrap like wicked roots around the man’s body.
Clint jogs up to her, panting and disgruntled, bow nocked and at the ready. “Good,” he says between heavy breaths, “you caught him.” He nods to Loki and she nods back, smirking with amusement. Clint grumbles, “Pain in the ass kid,” and carries on toward the thick of the fight.
“What to do with you,” Loki says, affecting a thoughtful pose. The young man glares up at her and spits at her in his native tongue. Loki quirks an eyebrow. “That sounded rude.” She flicks her fingers and her magic lifts the child and binds him tightly to a nearby tree. “Stay,” she commands, “I imagine the Avengers will have questions for you.”
“The Avengers can rot,” spits the young man. Loki responds by wrapping a tendril of magic around his mouth to silence him. He struggles and strains against his bonds, but the magic holds fast and Loki leaves him there to go find the other. She makes her way through the fighting, deflecting bullets back to their sources and commanding the earth to split open and swallow enemy vehicles. A sudden flux of energy washes over her, shockwaves kicking up dust and shaking leaves from the trees, and Loki feels an immense dispersal of power. Suspecting Tony to have some hand in this, she casts about for her lover and is unable to locate him visually.
Loki unmutes her earpiece. Before she can demand Tony to report his position to her, his voice comes through the link, though he is clearly not talking to anyone on the team.
“Guys, stop. We gotta talk this through,” he says, followed immediately by a series of pops and thuds and ending with various pained groans. “Good talk.”
Loki snorts and says, “Anthony, what is your location?”
“I’m in the fortress,” he replies immediately. “Why? Worried about me?”
“Only because of your propensity for attracting trouble,” she quips. He chuckles but does not otherwise reply. She hears him mutter about secret doors, but her attention is split. The number of enemy assailants has dwindled; Loki helps Romanoff and Clint clear out the last of them with ease while Thor laughs delightedly, caught up in the excitement of a battle well fought. The Hulk, however, is still roaring and raging. He is uprooting trees and swinging them like bats to crack and splinter against neighboring trunks.
“I’ve got eyes on the scepter,” says Tony.
Loki does not acknowledge. She and Natasha are approaching the Hulk carefully while Clint and Thor hang back; they are more capable of appearing well-intentioned than brash Thor and the obviously-armed Clint. The Hulk is turning tight circles, slamming his fists on the ground and searching for more to destroy.
“Hey, big guy,” Natasha calls softly. Hulk rumbles and turns to peer at her, expression gentling for one brief moment before it pinches again and he reaches past her to rip another tree from the earth. Loki quickly casts a shield over the Widow’s head to protect her from debris.
“Peace, Banner,” says Loki, pressing a hint of calming magic into her words. Her choice of name, however, negates the effect of her magic.
“NO BANNER!” Hulk roars and brings the tree down on Loki like an executioner’s ax. Loki only barely brings her hands up to protect herself. Green magic flares above her and rends the tree trunk lengthwise in half, enormous shards of wood flying out in all directions. Natasha is still protected, but the Hulk is struck several times over. The resulting wounds are mostly superficial, but one particularly large splinter bites deep into his shoulder. Hulk lets loose a guttural scream and lashes out at Loki with his hands. Knowing she can take the blow, Loki chooses instead to teleport Natasha to safety and succeeds mere seconds before the flat of Hulk’s palm connects with her side. Loki goes flying. She does not go far before her mid-back connects painfully to a tree, but rather than her breaking around it, it buckles beneath her. It does, however, interrupt her flight. She tumbles and rolls across the hard earth for several feet before slumping to a halt.
Dazed and aching, Loki stays where she is to catch her breath. Each expansion of her lungs shoots pain through her chest and down her spine. Her entire back is pins-and-needles numb, so overwhelmed by the number of nerve signals firing warnings to her brain.
“Loki,” says the Widow’s voice in her ear. “Report.”
“What the hell,” says Clint. “Is she still alive?”
Loki tries to pull herself up onto her elbows, but the position bows her back and she drops back down with a gasp.
“What happened?” Tony demands. “I’m on my way out. Lo, are you okay?”
The Hulk is still thrashing and destroying. He won’t stop. Something isn’t right. Loki feels, peripherally past the pain, a sweep of magic that almost feels familiar. Groaning, she rolls herself onto her back and looks around for the source.
“I’ve got Strucker in custody,” Rogers reports, voice stormy with contained rage.
Thor kneels swiftly at Loki’s side and helps her sit up with surprisingly gentle hands. Loki pushes her knotted hair away from her face and uses her new vantage point to search more effectively for the magic.
Clint and Romanoff are still trying to corral the Hulk, dancing around him at a safe distance while using careful words in an attempt to appeal to the meek scientist within.
Fire burns down Loki’s spine and she has a flash of terror as the sensation reminds her of Extremis. She swallows it down. Thor is inspecting the injury, murmuring a warning to her before each splinter and shard of wood that he removes. Loki lets him ground her in the here and now, anchors reality to his voice and the feel of his calloused hands on the ruined flesh of her back, exposed to the world between the ribbons of her clothing.
Red magic moves in jittering waves towards Clint and Natasha. Loki throws her hand out and overwhelms the red with her own green energy. A young woman in a dark red jacket appears before her suddenly, a feral snarl on her face. Thor rises immediately, hammer aloft, and Loki twists a binding spell around the woman before he can summon the lightning. The woman grits her teeth and her fingers curl and hyperextend bizarrely. Red magic slithers between her and Loki’s green and the woman back away with unnatural swiftness.
“Does anyone have eyes on the enhanced?” Rogers demands.
“I just met the magic-user,” Loki says through grit teeth. She waves off Thor, who is stuck between continuing to help her and going after the woman; at her signal, he charges after the red assailant. “Thor is now in pursuit.”
“Zippy was tied to a tree courtesy of Lie-Smith last I saw,” says Clint. A silver blur flashes by and suddenly Clint and Natasha are both on their backs, winded.
“Belay that,” Loki says wryly. A red wave breaks over the Hulk’s head and his volatility doubles. “Shit. Be warned: Hulk is bewitched.”
“I have lost the witch’s trail,” Thor reports with a sigh of frustration.
“I could use some help with Hulk,” Natasha grits out. Loki sees her on her feet again and climbing up the side of a ridge that will bring her face to face with the beast. Clint is slower to rouse; he has an arm clamped around his midsection and a pained grimace on his face. Thor flies in on a sharp fork of lightning, bringing a heavy blast of electricity down on the Hulk alongside the magical weight of Mjölnir. Loki forces in a deep breath and pushes herself to her feet. She staggers on the first few steps but manages to balance once she has gained some momentum. She reaches Clint and drags him up; he lets out a yell and leans heavily against her, unable to put weight on his right leg.
“I’m calling in Veronica,” says Tony.
“Be careful,” Loki stresses.
“Always,” Tony assures blasély.
“Keep Hulk contained to the woods,” says Rogers. “We need to keep him away from the city.”
“Obviously,” says Tony, ever a smarmy bastard.
“Tony—” Rogers starts, annoyed.
Loki cuts in, “I’m taking Barton to the quinjet, he’s injured. Then I’ll begin searching for our enhanced friends.”
“I’m dropping off the glowstick, it’s at the jet waiting for you,” says Tony.
“Thank you, dear,” says Loki. She pulls Clint’s arm more securely over her shoulders and the man hisses as his injuries are jostled. “Oh, hush,” she says absently and sees Clint give her a dirty look from the corner of her eye. Regardless, he doesn’t complain as she helps him hustle towards the quinjet, finding its location by focusing on and following the warm pulse of the Mind Stone. As soon as the jet is within sight, Loki teleports them the rest of the way and lands in the belly. Clint groans and pushes out of her hold, sitting heavily on a bench and stretching his wounded leg out in front of him.
“Never teleport me ever again,” he grumbles, bending at the waist to put his head level with his knees.
“Oh, please,” Loki scoffs, “it’s hardly any different from a bit of G-force.”
“Uh-uh,” he denies stubbornly, waggling a finger in her direction.
Chuckling, Loki turns around and finds her scepter leaning against the co-pilot’s seat. She takes it up with relish and golden staff warms pleasantly in her hands. She feels a gentle hum in her mind, the soft brush of a benign and powerful presence. Loki smiles and sighs and feels inexplicably lighter. Twirling the scepter deftly from one hand to the other, Loki turns to the aft of the jet to depart and catches Clint’s eye. His attempt to remain unimpressed with her show of affection for her scepter fails when he sees the fire gleaming in her eye.
Loki winks, smirking viciously, and does her best power strut down the ramp, hips swaying with dangerous allure. Clint wolf whistles after her, startling a bark of laughter out of Loki.
In the distance, the Hulk is roaring and raging to a symphony of gunshots and energy blasts and the metallic clang of the good Captain’s shield. Loki follows the ringing cacophony of battle, gathering all her magic and all her power and cloaking it around herself, ready to fight. Incidentally, her magic also dissolves away the remaining splinters in her back and repairs the ribbons torn into her clothes. With her black hair rippling behind her and raw power simmering from her hands and weapon, perfectly armored and energized, Loki steps out onto the battlefield.
Most of the trees have been uprooted and used as blunt weapons. The Hulk is grappling with the Hulk Buster armor while Thor and Rogers take turns leaping at his back, attempting to put him in a chokehold to subdue him. Hulk keeps shaking them off like particularly irritating flies. The Widow stands a few yards off, breathing heavily while she unhooks a wasted cuff of Widow Bites and swaps out for the fresh round stored in a hip pouch. She sees Loki approaching and ducks her chin in a curt nod.
“Get in there, Lie-Smith,” she says, a glint of humor in her eyes.
Loki flashes her a wicked grin and then, quite abruptly, fires an enormous blast of energy at the Hulk’s head. The blow sends him flying, forcibly disengaging him from the Hulk Buster, and crashing in an ungainly heap. Thor and Rogers leap after him and each secure an arm while Tony deploys the containment unit. Once the great metal slabs have planted themselves and begun linking together, Thor and Rogers relinquish their holds and step away. The Hulk disappears within the unit.
“Honestly,” Loki says with feigned disappointment. “You men are useless without me.”
Rogers, breathing hard and with one hand braced against his side, looks bemusedly at her and asks, “So, you really aren’t just an actress?”
Loki’s delighted laughter is interrupted by a bone-chilling rending of metal. Before any can react, the containment unit is being thrown aside and, unfortunately, at Rogers and Thor. Thor grabs Rogers and heaves them both out of the way. Loki braces herself to send another blast at Hulk while Tony starts to charge. A flicker of silver precedes Loki suddenly and uncharacteristically staggering and falling for no apparent reason. Something pops and hisses in one of the exposed joints of the Buster armor and the suit whines pitifully, stalling just long enough for Hulk to get his hands on it. Loki curses violently but is too late to stop the Hulk from flinging Tony and the immense suit directly towards civilization.
Thor, Rogers, and Natasha race after the Hulk as he charges toward Novi Grad, but Loki hangs back. Rising fluidly to her feet, she turns to face the witch who has just arrived on the scene. Her magic, manifesting itself as crackling red energy oozing from her fists, carries a familiar flavor and Loki needs only a tiny sampling to understand how the girl acquired it.
“Are you sure you want to challenge me, little witch?” Loki asks, practically purring.
“I am stronger than I look,” the girl snarls. Her irises are ringed blood red.
“I’m sure you are,” says Loki, “but you are unpracticed. I have been perfecting my art for over a thousand years and you have had these powers for, what? A month, at best?”
The girl throws her hands forward with a feral shout and a great wave of red surges from her palms, focused on Loki. Unphased, Loki waves her own hand before herself and disperses the red into a harmless mist. The witch lashes out again and attempts to bind her magic around Loki’s body and lift her off the ground. Loki shakes off the grip as easily as tossing her hair over her shoulder. Then, tired of this child’s amateur attempts, raises her right hand and clenches it into a fist while she twists her wrist. The little witch is hoisted off her feet as emerald green threads shoot from the nearby trees to entangle her in a web of spider’s silk. The more she struggles, the tighter the threads become.
A slight buzzing alights on Loki’s ear and it provides just enough forewarning for her to sidestep the witch’s brother. He narrowly avoids ensnaring himself in Loki’s web, judging by the brief lessening of the blur that is his form and the sudden kick-up of dirt and dust. Loki reaches into her core and summons the glacial power that lives within her. Ice spreads out from her feet and slicks the forest floor in a growing radius. The silver flash slips, lands heavily on his back, and slides rather comically to the end of the affected zone. He lays stunned by his sudden fall and the accompanying crack to his head, staring dazed at the sky and groaning pitifully.
Loki is about to bind him once again when the screaming begins. She whips around to face the source and realizes with dawning horror that the fighting has reached the city.
The witch must realize this as well, she utters a strained and anguished, “Oh God, no.”
Loki turns on the girl and jabs a finger in her direction. “This is your doing,” she tells her with vicious honesty. “You have no real training. You merely play with abilities beyond your capacity to control or understand and now see what you have done.”
“No!” the girl denies, moisture gathering in her eyes. “This is not supposed to happen!”
“Yet you knew it was a possibility. How could you not? You engaged in a battle so close to your home and used your magic recklessly. How many of the Avengers did you attempt to toy with? Which of their minds did you prod with your clumsy hand? You are lucky you did not drive them all to madness and destruction.” Loki takes a few backward steps, preparing to help her lover and his team, but not before delivering a parting threat. “You would do well to stay put, child. Do not flee from your mistake, it will only delay and worsen the consequences.”
Turning then, Loki ignores the witch’s shouting and struggling as she races through the trees to the edge of the city. She sees the smoke first, then hears the rumble of collapsing buildings and the crackle of fires igniting. The Avengers, when she finds them, have diverted their energies to evacuating civilians—except the Hulk, who is strangely frozen. The berserker is staring at the destruction, breath heaving in his chest and jaw dropped open. Tentative, Loki approaches the beast and places a feather-light hand upon his great forearm. The Hulk wrenches away from her touch and when he sets his wide eyes on her, Loki finds that they are the eyes of Bruce Banner. The bewitchment has faded from him and the rage of the Hulk with it, to an extent.
“Hulk,” says Loki, though she does not know what she could possibly tell him and to what end. It does not matter; her voice and her touch have shaken Hulk from his reverie. He jumps away from her and flees into the woods. In moments, his ground-shaking footsteps have vanished into the distance. He is gone.
Aware now of her proximity to civilians and the familiarity of her female face, Loki shifts to his male form before he faces the destruction. It is truly devastating. He judges at least four city blocks have been leveled and upwards of thirty or more bystanders have been injured, if not killed.
“Hulk has taken off into the woods again,” Loki announces to the team.
“Who the fuck…?” sputters Clint.
“Who is this?” demands Rogers.
Loki rolls his eyes. He hears Tony cackling through his earpiece and knows his love will do nothing to help him clarify.
“However, it seems he is free of bewitchment,” Loki continues coolly. “We need not worry about him for the moment.”
“How are you on this channel?” Rogers asks with his most authoritative tone.
“Loki, I could use an assist about a block and a half to your left,” says Natasha.
“Loki?” That would be Clint.
“I’ll be right there.” Loki finds the Black Widow standing before a house that appears to have caved in on itself. He comes abreast of her and she holds up her high-tech, top quality StarkPhone to show Loki the readout on the screen.
“Picking up life signs,” she explains, indicating the reddish blobs shifting around several feet below ground level. “I need you to lift the rubble so I can climb down and help them out.”
“Seriously, is that Loki?” asks Clint.
Mercifully, Tony answers with a breezy, “You didn’t know he could shape-shift? What kind of super-spy are you?”
Loki ignores the rest of their chattering and focuses on lifting the remains of the home before him. He appreciates that Natasha did not waste her breath needlessly asking if he is capable of such a feat. Chunks of brick and crushed furniture take on a green glow before rising steadily from the ground. When enough has collected some six feet off the ground and a passage is created to the sunken basement, Natasha slips in without hesitation.
“Guys…” says Clint, sounding wary, nearly afraid. “You said Hulk isn’t bewitched anymore, right?”
“I did, yes,” Loki replies distantly. He is primarily focused on the holding the rubble aloft and secondarily on the actions of the Avengers and civilians alike happening around him. Any who are able, have come out to help sift through the wreckage to free their friends and neighbors.
“What’s happening, Clint?” asks Rogers. Clint does not answer immediately. They hear him cursing and they hear a lot of scuffling and thumping and then quiet. Rogers says again, “Clint?”
“Hulk just took off in the quinjet,” says Clint, panting and plainly bewildered.
There is a dense chorus of what’s from the Avengers’ channel and Loki admittedly loses a second of concentration to his surprise. He drops nothing, but a few chunks of brick wobble slightly. Hulk leaving in the quinjet? How utterly unexpected. The others express their shock and confusion and Loki concentrates on watching for the Widow and the survivors. Minutes later, a young girl scrambles free and then turns to help her younger brother climb to safety. A bruised and battered father follows soon after and then finally Natasha, freshly coated with dust.
Her expression is faintly grim but determined nonetheless as she comes to stand alongside Loki. With her clear, Loki lowers the rubble back down and then releases it from his magic. The stones and mortar shift and groan as they settle. Natasha sighs and pats Loki’s shoulder. In the distance, the wail of ambulances and rescue vehicles become more and more audible as they draw closer and closer.
“Come on,” says the Widow. “We have a lot of work to do here.”
- - -
BBC News (World) @BBCWorld: Disaster in Sokovia: Avengers-related incident leaves 52 injured and 11 confirmed dead
Fox News Alert @foxnewsalert: Sokovian capital destroyed, Avengers are to blame. Are we safe from these so-called heroes?
Laruka Novák @lanovak: why aren’t the news mentioning how the avengers helped with rescuing people??
Michal Zajac @Michal.Zajac.616: what were avengers even doing here? They are American, stay in America!
You Know Who I Am @AEStark: As the only Avenger on Twitter, it’s up to me to relay how truly sorry we are for the damages done and the loss of life that occurred in Novi Grad, Sokovia (1/2)
You know Who I Am @AEStark: We will be helping with the recovery and rebuilding of the damaged sectors in any way we can, but we understand that that will never be enough to replace what was lost (2/2)
Calvin Borg @Borg-of-Burgi: Thank you Avengers PR team for you hollow statements. Now leave us the fuck alone.
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: Anthony and I are hosting a soiree of sorts to raise money for #NoviGradRelief and you, my dear devotees, are cordially invited. We have set up a raffle from which 5 guests (+ a friend) will be randomly selected. bit.ly/hu97gd
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: Multiple entries are permitted – all raffle ticket sales go to the #NoviGradRelief fund, obviously we want you to purchase as many as you can! bit.ly/hu97gd
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: The soiree will be attended by all manner of wealthy people to squeeze money from, as well as the Avengers team and their friends. There will be finger foods and champagne and plenty of sweets to appease my keen love of desserts. bit.ly/hu97gd
Tiny Carly @carlyclarkson: it’s my money MOM, I can spend it however I WANT TO. But actually, everyone buy tickets! #NoviGradRelief bit.ly/hu97gd
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: #NoviGradRelief bit.ly/hu97gd -unbelievable tragedy! We have to help in any way we can!
Leah ago in a galaxy far far away @lesbian_leia: I’m hearing a lot of rumor that it was Hulk v Iron Man that did most of the damage??? What the hell happened? #NoviGradRelief
Amanda Podera @amandapanda: I don’t even know where to start? This is insane. What the fuck? And I can’t help wondering about that rando with the green & the magic???
Amanda Podera @amandapanda: and IM’s statements seemed honest to me, dunno what @Borg-of-Burgi is talking about. #NoviGradRelief
Calvin Borg @Borg-of-Burgi replying to @amandapanda: fuck you, my home was destroyed and your stupid hashtag won’t change that
- - -
Loki had to teleport everyone home from Sokovia and that combined with the exertion of battle, left her weary for the better part of a day. She spent that day calling off work and organizing the Relief Fund. The media backlash following the disaster is disheartening, but not unexpected—it was only a matter of time before the Avengers did something to piss off another country than their own. And now only time would tell what the full extent of the consequences will be.
The mission was technically a success. Her scepter is recovered and the HYDRA agents arrested and awaiting trial, but the victory is a bitter one. Bruce Banner is gone and nearly a dozen innocents were killed and the two enhanced individuals managed to escape while the team was busy with civilian recovery. To make matters just that much worse for Loki, Tony has become unusually silent and contemplative since their return; she would even say he appears troubled. But he is reluctant to speak to her about whatever it is and until he does, there is nothing she can do for him.
Four days after returning from Sokovia, Loki goes to Pepper. If she can’t get Tony to sit down with her for a conversation, then Pepper can surely be counted on to do so. Pepper, when Loki tracks her down, is in her personal office in the penthouse, curled up in a cozy chair by the window with a book and a mug of tea. Upon hearing Loki enter, Pepper looks up and smiles gently before marking her place and setting the book aside.
“Hi, Lo,” she says warmly.
“Pepper,” says Loki. “I was wondering if you could clear some things up for me.”
“Of course,” Pepper replies immediately. Loki summons a second armchair from across the room and settles it across from the redhead’s. “What do you need?”
Loki sits carefully and takes a moment to consider her words before she speaks. It has been a very long time since she last cared enough to be considerate of another person’s feelings and she rather doesn’t want to muck this up.
“Before he left for Sokovia,” she starts, “Anthony confessed something to me.” At the mention of Tony, Pepper’s demeanor shifts—only slightly, but noticeable enough for Loki. Tension creeps into her shoulders and her lax expression tightens around her mouth. And Loki finds herself thinking, There it is, because Pepper and Tony’s relation was rocky even before she insinuated herself into it.
“Have we neglected you?” Loki asks bluntly. Pepper’s eyebrows shoot upward, the candid question has taken her by surprise as was Loki’s intention.
“I don’t see either of you very often,” Pepper says with equal frankness. “You’re on movie sets and in studios and on press tours, but I understand that and I don’t blame you. But Tony… He’s usually in the same building as me and I rarely see him. He’s always in his lab, buried under his suits.” She sighs quietly. “I suppose I do feel a bit neglected.”
Loki rests her elbows on her knees, leans closer to Pepper’s space and waits for the redhead to meet her eyes before continuing. “Some of that cannot be helped and I truly apologize, but Pepper. You chose not to join us in Malibu. Even while I was gone, I know from Anthony and Rhodey that you stayed here in New York.”
“I have a company to run, Tony’s company to run—”
“And I travel to movie sets and various studios, locations, public appearances,” Loki interrupts, projecting patience she does not fully feel. She is slowly realizing for herself that she has come to care more for Tony than she does for Pepper and she feels like something of a usurper for it. “I am still here every night.”
“You’re a centuries-old sorcerer,” says Pepper testily.
“And you do not travel nearly as much as I.”
Pepper blows out a long breath and hangs her head for a moment, shoulders slumping. Then she straightens her spine and clears her throat and Loki can see that she is decided. Decided and resigned to a truth she has been fighting for some time now.
“I don’t know when my feelings changed,” Pepper admits quietly. “I just suddenly realized last week that I wasn’t as…happy as I used to be and I think.” Her voice cracks, she clears her throat again, and restarts. “I think I need space and then I think I need to find happiness with someone who isn’t going to throw himself into danger at every opportunity or who isn’t going to outlive by a thousand years.”
“As is your right.” Loki smiles and her eyes sting with unexpected tears. Her love for this woman has changed without her knowing and yet their parting makes her ache inside. Pepper’s eyes are similarly red-rimmed as she tucks a finger under Loki’s chin and leans in to press their lips together one last time.
- - -
Loki does not get much of a chance to speak to Tony about breaking up with Pepper, but she does know that Pepper finds him at some point for a conversation. Loki is running back and forth from the studio in Murray Hill to record lines and running around the Tower preparing for the Sokovia Relief Soiree. She would’ve appreciated Pepper’s help in this, but the CEO was rightfully allowed to retract her assistance. Instead, Pepper focused on moving into a guest suite below the penthouse, running the company, and handling the catering portion of the event as well as the guest list from a distance.
Tony is dragged from his lab by Rhodey or Natasha more often than by Loki and hauled away to SHIELD meetings with Agent Coulson and occasionally the Director. Coulson is something like the official Avengers handler and has taken to haunting the official Avengers floors of the Tower, silent and solemn and totally efficient.
At best, Loki manages a kiss and a murmured reminded to eat every time she and Tony cross paths. Tony smiles wanly at her and drums his fingers anxiously atop the arc reactor and promises that he is doing okay. Loki doesn’t need to be the god of lies to know that he is lying his ass off every time they speak. After the party, she plans to pin him down and make him talk and not in the fun sexy way he enjoys so much.
- - -
Devious Deity @deviousdeity: Congratulations to our five raffle winners, I look forward to seeing you next weekend at the Sokovia Relief Soiree!
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: Holy shit. I’m going to meet Lona Silver. And the Avengers. And LONA SILVER.
Leah ago in a galaxy far far away @lesbian_leia: i’m going to the soiree. oh fuck.
flynn @flynng-meintothesun replying to @lesbian_leia: omg maybe we can finally meet irl beforehand??? And go together??
Leah ago in a galaxy far far away @lesbian_leia replying to @flynng-meintothesun: holy shit i would love to! ❤️
- - -
All things considered, the party goes rather smoothly. The civilian guests were sent a dress code, had had fancy hotel rooms rented for them nearby and rides to and from the event arranged for them. They were all giggly and nervous and awkward, but remarkably well behaved in the faces of their heroes and idols. The rest of the guests, big-wigs and politicos as well as big business owners, were schmoozing peacefully and making donations for the sake of their public image. A handful of A- and B-listers from Lona Silver’s celebrity circle were in attendance, dazzling the civilian guests and making donations primarily out of genuine care and the goodness of their hearts.
Loki circulates in a dress a shade of green so dark it appears black until the light hits her at just the right angle. The A-line hem ends at her knees in the front and brushes her ankles at the back. The neckline is nearly conservative while the back scoops low to her waist. She has drawn a fair few appreciative gazes from guests both male and female alike and basks in the attention like a cat in the sun. She takes several photographs with the raffle winners and signs a few napkins and has a surprisingly insightful conversation with a pair of young women about the Earthshaker books and the just-announced final film installment.
By the time the evening is winding down and the guests are trickling out the door, Loki is ready to kick off her heels and down an entire bottle of Asgardian wine. She settles for a nip from the flask of ancient mead Thor has tucked into his jacket pocket. And then only the raffle winners are left, for they’ve been promised a group shot with the entire Avengers team plus Lona Silver. Their civilian guests are still chatting with and gushing over various team members, taking “selfies” and the like, when Loki settles herself onto the sofa next to Tony and rests her head on his shoulder.
“Hey, honey,” he says quietly.
Loki doesn’t waste breath and goes right for the proverbial throat. “I’ve missed you.”
“Shit,” says Tony, softly and with feeling. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“I wish you would tell me what troubles you,” she says.
“I will,” he promises and she senses this is the truth at last. “Not here, not right now, but later. I will.” She nods against his shoulder and they sit peacefully for a moment. Loki is peripherally aware of a few guests attempting to photograph them inconspicuously and lets them have their fun as it is harmless. And when the civilians are finally shepherded out to the car that will return them to their hotel, the entire team releases a collective sigh of relief. Loki unclasps her shoes with a touch of magic and flings them across the room. Maria Hill chuckles and she and Natasha follow suit. One by one, the team settles down on the couches, filling in the spaces around Tony and Loki, each with one more drink in hand and a bag of chips that Clint snatches from under the bar on the table.
Conversation starts up in earnest when Thor drops Mjölnir onto the table with a heavy thunk before taking a handful of chips. Ever curious, Clint goes to nudge the hammer aside to make space for his drink and chuckles when the weapon does not budge.
“Okay,” he says, still laughing a bit. “It’s a trick, right? It’s gotta be a trick.”
“No, no,” says Thor, bright with humor and inebriation, “it’s much more than that.”
“Oh, right,” says Clint and then in a comically deep voice, “Whosoever be he worthy shall haveth the power!” The waves off Thor’s chuckling and says with his own voice again, “Whatever, man, it’s a trick.”
Loki’s foster-brother gestures graciously to Mjölnir’s innocuous handle and says, “Please, be my guest.”
“Really?” asks Clint, already starting to rise to his feet.
“Yes, of course.”
“Fair warning,” says Clint, rounding the table, “I grew up in the circus. I’ve seen all the tricks up close.”
“Certainly,” replies Thor, giving nothing away. Loki smirks against Tony’s shoulder and says nothing.
As Clint rolls his shoulders and settles his grip in preparation, Tony chimes in, “You’ve had a tough week, Clint, we won’t hold it against you if you can’t get it up.”
Loki snickers, as does everyone, even Clint, and the laughter continues as Clint huffs and struggles to move the immovable Mjölnir. After a few seconds, Hawkeye relents and steps back, hands raised in defeat, though he is still laughing.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he admits, baffled and in good humor.
“Physics,” Tony interjects before Thor can reply. “Right? It’s just physics.”
Clint snorts, “Please, Stark, show us how it’s done.”
Tony pats Loki’s knee and she sits upright to let him stand. Tony immediately cloaks himself in attractive lazy arrogance and casually undoes the button of his suit jacket as he swaggers over to take Clint’s place. “I’m never one to shrink from an honest challenge,” he says with heavy innuendo and a little brow raise at Clint in particular. Clint scoffs and drops back into his seat next to Maria. Tony loops the strap at the end of the handle around his wrist and sets his stance.
“Right,” he says, “so if I lift this, I then rule Asgard?”
“Yes, of course,” says Thor indulgently. Loki bites her lip around a laugh; she’s certain Tony knows that isn’t actually how it works, but she wouldn’t dream to interrupt him while he’s putting on a show.
“I will be fair,” Tony says with a cool sort of grandeur, “but firmly cruel.”
“I’m sure,” says Thor.
Tony meets Loki’s eye and adds, “I will, of course, make you my Queen.”
“Aren’t I already?” Loki asks with sultry innocence.
“Point,” says Tony and then begins to strain when the hammer doesn’t casually lift the way he so clearly wished it would. He frowns. “Hold on.”
Tony jogs out of the room. Once the elevator door slides shut behind him, Coulson asks, pointedly bland, “You aren’t the king of Asgard, Thor, so why would Stark assuming lifting the hammer would allow him to rule.”
“Aw, let him dream,” says Natasha. She smirking and holding a cool beer bottle to the side of her neck, perched on the neck of the couch near Clint.
They are still laughing at Tony’s expense when the engineer returns with a red and gold gauntlet on his right hand.
“For real this time,” he says, ignoring their mirth in favor of his mission. Even with robotic assistance, Mjölnir does not budge. Tony pouts and then his eyes lock onto Rhodey.
Rhodey holds up his hands. “No way, man. I’m not sharing a throne with your sorry ass.”
Maria sits suddenly upright. “Steve,” she exclaims, pointing at Rhodey, “he said a bad language word!”
Steve groans and glares at Tony with no actual heat. “Did you tell everyone about that?”
“Of course,” Tony admits shamelessly. “You wanna go?”
He moves clear of Mjölnir and strides over to Rhodey, ready to berate his best friend for leaving him hanging. They bicker better than a couple on a sitcom, but at the moment Loki is more interested in watching Steve shrug and approach the hammer’s handle. The good Captain rolls ups his sleeves and takes up a two-handed grip. Curiously, Steve’s tactic isn’t to yank as if abruptness with startle Mjölnir into lifting, but instead to merely ease the hammer toward himself. And…by the Nine, the damned hammer moves. Only a little bit, but Loki sees the flash of surprise on Steve’s face and the way he immediately ceases his efforts. She glances at Thor and snorts at the wide-eyed panic on his face. Then Steve makes a second attempt, the veins on his arms bulging with effort, and this time to no avail. Steve quickly releases his grip and holds up his hands in surrender.
“Nothing,” he says, playing chagrined.
“Nothing,” Thor repeats, relieved. Loki meets his eye and lifts a brow; Thor widens his eyes again briefly in response.
Steve returns to his seat and appears to have noticed nothing peculiar about his attempt. Loki absently makes plans to interrogate him later.
“Natasha? Miss Hill?” asks Thor, gesturing to Mjölnir and the ladies instantly shake their heads.
“Nooo,” says Maria, sustaining the note humorously.
“That’s not a question I need answered,” says Natasha, sly smirk ever present.
“All deference to the Man Who Wouldn’t Be King,” Tony butts in, apparently finished harassing Rhodey about the “rules” of their friendship, “but it’s rigged. The handle’s imprinted, right?” He looks to Thor, but doesn’t allow the god of thunder to confirm or deny his claim. “Like a security code. ‘Whosoever is carrying Thor’s fingerprints’ is, I think, the literal translation?”
“Hm, yes,” says Thor, he drains the last of his ancient mead and rises cockily to his feet. “That’s a very interesting theory, but I have a better one.” He makes a show of reaching for Mjölnir and lifting the hammer with obvious ease, flipping it deftly in one hand. “You’re all not worthy.”
The team groans while Thor beams proudly.
“Boo,” says Tony, he sits on the arm of the couch and tugs Loki over to fill the space he’d previously vacated. Loki drapes an arm over his lap and allows her human to stroke idle fingertips over her exposed back. She savors the casual contact.
“Pardon my interruption,” says the sudden voice of JARVIS, causing near everyone to jump (with the obvious exception of Natasha), “but I am detecting an anomaly in the Tower security feeds. Whatever it is, it appears to be approaching quickly.”
The reaction is instantaneous. Coulson, Maria, and Natasha both seem to pull guns from thin air, while Rhodey pulls his own from a slightly more obvious holster at his back. Steve grabs his shield from the display it has been propped in all night. Thor’s eyes crackle with lightning and Loki summons a pair of wickedly curved knives to her hands. Tony sighs; he and Clint make eye contact and, in the span of a second, silently commiserate over a shared lack of easy access to their preferred weaponry.
The Avengers, plus SHIELD agents, consultant, and War Machine, brace for attack. Natasha and Clint prowl to the possible points of entry while Coulson and Maria take posts at the base of the stairs that lead up to a shared lab space. Thor and Steve approach the wide windows. Tony, Loki, and Rhodey stand with their backs together and face outward into the room.
Then the elevator dings and everyone spins on a dime, arms raised. Somehow it is still a surprise when the young woman from Sokovia steps out into the room, expression meek and her hands raised at shoulder level.
“Don’t make any sudden movements,” Maria warns, perhaps unnecessarily, but the girl balks anyway.
“I don’t want trouble,” she says and her voice is shaking.
“Lo?” Tony prompts. “You’re our inhuman lie detector.”
Loki strides forward. Even barefoot, she knows she is imposing with her height and her elegance and the knives in each hand. The girl shrinks in on herself but otherwise holds very still.
“Please,” she says. Her accent is thick and her eyes are impossibly wide. Loki walks a neat circle around the girl and leaves a line of low flickering green flames in her wake. When she comes back to the girl’s front and the circle is complete, Loki stops and tucks her knives back into their pocket dimension. Despite her comfort in disarming herself, the others keep their weapons raised and trained on the girl—or at least maintain a defensive position in the cases of Tony, Steve, and Clint.
“Explain yourself,” Loki commands.
The girl complies immediately. “My name is Wanda Maximoff. I am here alone, I swear. I want…” She swallows past a lump in her throat and musters the courage to look Loki in the eye. “You were right. I do not have control. I want you to teach me. Please. I want to be better.”
Loki sense no lies, no dishonesty or half-truths, and so nods solemnly.
“And your brother?” she asks.
“Pietro,” answers Wanda. “He did not come with me.”
“Where is he?”
“He stayed in Novi Grad. He…” She stops again, this time to wipe tears from her cheeks. She smears her eyeliner and seems to realize it as she tries to wipe at the edges of her eyes to fix it. The attempt is cursory, though; an afterthought. “I don’t think he will want to talk to me for a while. It’s my fault people died.”
“Do we have to worry about him?” asks Loki. She’s a bit surprised Coulson or Maria haven’t taken over, but she supposes her ability to pick out a lie is more important than proper protocol at the moment.
“No,” Wanda says firmly. “No, he won’t. He won’t cause trouble. He is helping to rebuild.”
“And you? Do we have to worry about you?”
The girl sucks in a shaky breath and lets it out slowly. “I don’t want you to have to. I want to learn how to control it so I never have to be the reason people die ever again.”
Loki lifts her chin and stares down at the young woman. “That’s a lot to hold yourself to.”
Wanda nods and a touch of determination creeps into her voice, “I want to try.”
“Excellent.” Loki vanishes the circle and turns to the room at large. “She is being honest. I would recommend we find a more isolated location before I begin our lessons.”
“Are you sure?” asks Steve. “She was with HYDRA. And we still don’t know for sure what her motivation was for attacking us in the first place.”
“She caused the death of eleven people,” Natasha says coolly.
“And you have killed dozens,” Loki counters. “So has Clint and Coulson and everyone in this room, whether they like to think of it or not. Thor and I may have more dead between us than all of your combined. What’s your point?”
Natasha shrugs as if unbothered by being called out. “Just stating the facts.”
A tense silence follows, during which no one lowers their weapons or defensive stances and Wanda fiddles anxiously with her necklaces. Then Tony blows out an explosive sigh and powers down his single gauntlet.
“Alright, McGonagall,” he says. “I’ve got a few ideas about where I can build de facto Hogwarts.”
Chapter 6: Lips are Getting Looser
"She just. Tapped into my deepest fears, I think. I had this vision. Of you.” Tony swallows and furrows his brow, recalling the horrible things Wanda’s magic showed him. “You were on your knees, begging. Pleading. I could barely hear you, but you were desperate and I think… I think you were begging for my life? And I tried to get you, sweetheart, I really did, but. I could barely move and when I looked down at myself.” Tony shivers under Loki’s hand and she squeezes his fingers automatically. “The arc reactor was split in half, still in my chest, sparking up, letting out smoke… And when I looked back up at you.” His expression darkens, goes cold in a way Loki has seen before on the face of her now ex-wife on the blackest day of their lives. The day Nari was killed.
Sorry for the wait... I've picked up more shifts at my job and each day is potentially 10+ hours. I also have ✨depression✨ so that tends to slow me down sometimes. Don't worry, though, I have an awesome girlfriend and a newly adopted bunny to keep me feeling good!
I do have one warning for this chapter: there is a brief discussion of suicide at the end, so if you'd rather not get into that, just stop reading once Loki and Wanda start meditating.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wanda is given access to a guest room on Avengers’ floor, confined to that level and surrounded by agents and heroes alike. Confident that their friends and colleagues can handle the young witch, Loki and Tony retreat to the penthouse. Too exhausted, more emotionally than physically, they do little more than undress before collapsing into bed. Loki uses a brush of magic to remove her makeup and ensure her jewelry finds its proper place in her boudoir. The silken sheets are cool and blissful on her bare skin; the warmth of Tony’s naked back pressed against her breasts and stomach is even more so. With one arm tucked under the pillows and her head, the other is free to drape over Tony’s waist and splay across his chest. Unintentionally, her fingers brush against the bottom edge of the arc reactor.
“I’m getting it removed,” Tony says, quietly, abruptly.
Loki blinks, her hand freezing where it is on his chest, then she props herself up on her elbow and looks down at his face. “The reactor? Is that possible?”
Tony rolls onto his back and brings his face directly beneath hers. The whitish-blue glow from the device in his chest reflects off her pale skin and illuminates the space between them. His amber eyes are serious, the lines around them smoothed to near invisibility by the extent of his confidence and the weight of his decision.
“I called around,” he tells her, “spoke to a lot of doctors from a lot of hospitals. There’s a guy right here in New York who swears on his life that he can do it better than anyone else could ever dream to.”
“He sounds like an arrogant ass,” Loki remarks.
Tony snorts. “He sounds like me. That’s why I think he’s as good as his word.”
Loki looks down at the arc reactor and trails her fingertips across its glassy face. “And what of the hole it’ll leave in your chest? You’re missing a section of your sternum, aren’t you?”
“Cadaver donation,” says Tony with a careless half-shrug. “And, you know, once the space is available, my lungs will be able to fill all the way again. I figure that’ll be nice.”
Loki shakes her head. “You really are an impossible man,” she says with wonder. “How have you managed to do all that you have with such a handicap to your breathing?”
Tony’s expression is somewhere in the vicinity of I’m amazing, I know as he says, “Sheer force of will and excessive pridefulness.”
“I don’t think that’s a word.”
“It is now. Pridefulness. Jarv, add it to the dictionary.”
“If only I could, sir,” replies the AI, dry as a desert.
Genius and god break into giddy smiles at JARVIS’s display of attitude—it’s something that never fails to delight Tony, which in turn never fails to delight Loki. The moment stays like a balm between them until Loki is inevitably drawn back to the arc reactor pulsing ever so gently beneath her fingers. One of Tony’s hands comes up to cover hers overtop the device and tangle their fingers together.
“What brought this on?” she asks, still staring at their joined hands.
“Wanda,” says Tony. “In Sokovia. When I found your scepter, she snuck up behind me. I barely caught a glimpse of her reflection on the blade and I couldn’t. She’s damn fast. I got mind-whammied.”
“Possessed?” Loki presses, alarmed. “Put under her control?”
Tony shakes his head. “Nothing like that, no. She just. Tapped into my deepest fears, I think. I had this vision. Of you.” He swallows and furrows his brow, recalling the horrible things Wanda’s magic showed him. “You were on your knees, begging. Pleading. I could barely hear you, but you were desperate and I think… I think you were begging for my life? And I tried to get you, sweetheart, I really did, but. I could barely move and when I looked down at myself.” Tony shivers under Loki’s hand and she squeezes his fingers automatically. “The arc reactor was split in half, still in my chest, sparking up, letting out smoke… And when I looked back up at you.” His expression darkens, goes cold in a way Loki has seen before on the face of her now ex-wife on the blackest day of their lives. The day Nari* was killed.
“Anthony,” she whispers and her voice comes out strained and sorrowful. He clears his throat roughly, loudly, and finishes his explanation.
“It was enough of a shock to snap me out of it and then, of course, the first thing I hear after that is the Spy Kids demanding you to report and ‘is she still alive’…”
“I am,” says Loki, leaning down and pressing firm kisses to his cheeks. “I’m here. I’m fine.”
Tony detangles his hand from hers so he can wrap that arm instead around her waist and tug her down to lay flush atop him. Loki settles in easily, resting her cheek on his left pectoral so she can hear the strong beating of his heart beneath her ear. His other hand begins to stroke her hair and her back, going from one to the other in a steady rhythm and occasionally breaking to trace the pad of his thumb across her cheekbone.
“I’m going to do my own investigation of this doctor you’ve chosen,” Loki tells him. “And even if I deem him acceptable, I shall worry for you every second of the procedure.”
Tony snorts. “And if I die on the table, you’ll find a way to bring me back so you can kill me yourself?”
“I already know how to bring someone back from the dead,” Loki says primly. “My daughter is their Queen after all.”
Tony laughs. “Okay, duly noted.” He presses his lips firmly and fondly to the top of her head. “You don’t have to worry though, honey. Historically, I’m pretty good at not dying. And I’m not gonna let that change, especially not now that I have you.” Loki presses a happy smile against his chest and then revels in how genuine that happiness is. Tony’s hand pauses momentarily in stroking her back and then he says, “We’re going to have matching scars.”
“So we are,” says Loki, still glowing, still basking in the warmth of his body against hers and the joy spilling over in her heart. With his arms around her and his heartbeat in her ear, Loki drifts off to sleep.
- - -
The following morning, Loki wakes just before eight o’clock with Tony pressed along her front and crisp sunlight pouring across the bed. For all the excitement that occurred yesterday, she feels rested and refreshed. She rolls onto her back, amuses herself with Twitter for a little while, and then decides to work on a little project idea that has just come to mind before she puts in an appearance in the Avengers' kitchen. She doubts anyone aside from the Widow will be up, save perhaps the good Captain, but she’s dreadfully awake now and ready to be productive.
Carefully, Loki pulls away from Tony and leaves a well-crafted, corporeal clone to spoon him in her place. She stands, stretches luxuriously, and sighs with satisfaction at the series of pops and cracks that emits from her spine. Still gloriously nude, Loki goes to the walk-in closet and indulges in dressing herself without the aid of magic. Cotton panties and a pair of those yoga pants that Tony insists make her legs look endless and incredible, black in color and just over knee-length. She considers her drawer of brassieres and then forgoes it, instead finding Tony’s most well-worn t-shirt. The selected tee is black with the faded beige image of a rather disturbing approximation of a gas mask and the name Black Sabbath across the top. She turns to the floor-to-ceiling mirror and deems her appearance to be comfortable, casual, but alluringly so. Excellent.
Padding on bare feet, Loki steps out of the walk-in closet and into Tony’s lab. There is enough clear space on the floor to the right of the door to suit Loki's needs. She sits cross-legged and summons first the scepter to lay across her knees and then a band of uru to her hands. The band is something she has had in her possession for some time now, a simple bracelet acquired over the long course of her life and whose origin she doesn’t properly recall. It’s an inconsequential and dreadfully plain piece of jewelry, which makes it perfectly suited to her plans for it.
Hands glowing green with magic, Loki mumbles words of magic over the band and traces runes along the inside. The symbols gleam and flash and fade into the metal. Once the inner side of the band is covered, Loki moves to the outer and repeats the process. Completed, the bracelet will bind all magic to the wearer’s body and prevent any form of spell-casting.
- - -
Leah met Lona and the LOHL @lesbian_leia: the soiree was incredible and if I didn’t have a billion selfies & pics on my phone, I’d think it was all a fever dream.
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: I think my life is complete now??? I met Lona Silver and @lesbian_leia irl and had the most incredible conversation w/ them both at the same time???
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: I know I go on about how much I love Lona Silver, but I think I For Real love her??? Look at this picture of her and Tony Stark pic.twitter.com/979giyo8
Leah met Lona and the LOHL @lesbian_leia replying to @flynng-meintothesun: they were so precious all night. How can my cold gay heart beat so fast for a het couple?
flynn @flynng-meintothesun replying to @lesbian_leia: I dunno, boo, neither of them strikes me as very hetero…I mean, aren’t they in a poly ship with Pepper Potts?
Devious Deity @deviousdeity replying to @flynng-meintothesun and @lesbian_leia: You ladies make a very charming couple and I enjoyed our chat about the Earthshaker movies.
Leah met Lona and the LOHL @lesbian_leia: oh fuck she’s onto us
flynn @flynng-meintothesun: ABORT ABORT
spongeboy 🏝️ @d0oDlEb0y25: oh shit get wrecked
DanYelle @SerSayNoMore: awkward. but was the green magic dude there?
- - -
Finished with her jewelry-making, Loki exits the lab and enters into the communal kitchen several floors down. Unsurprisingly, Steve is already at the stove making his own breakfast. He is dressed in exercise clothing and she smells a touch of salty sweat about him; he has just returned from a run, apparently. His back is to her and he has not heard her entrance, nor does he hear as she approaches the island counter that lies between them. Loki is fairly certain that Steve is a man grown accustomed to being difficult to sneak up on. His enhancements include a strengthening of his five senses that brings them to a near god-like level of sensitivity. Nearly.
Loki sends a touch of magic to fill the coffee maker with grounds and water and then sets it brewing. The first quiet gurgle and the first drips of water into the pot make Steve jump ever so slightly before he whips around to assess the room. He finds her leaning on the back of a tall bar chair and grinning mischievously. Steve releases the tension in his shoulder and shakes his head.
“Good morning, Loki.”
“Good morning, Steve,” she says in return. She then goes about perusing the cabinets and refrigerator and decides to make a large meal for the hell of it. There are plenty of mouths to feed in this building. There’s an obscene amount of eggs in the fridge, which makes Loki side-eye the pan of eggs Steve is currently scrambling diligently. She digs out a rack of bacon, an onion, a red pepper, and a packet of shredded cheese; contemplates; sets the oven heating and starts chopping.
Steve frees up the stovetop, not that Loki needs it but his bulky presence is no longer cluttering her space. He relocates the island seating and watching quietly as she goes about preparing an egg bake.
“How do you know how to cook?” he asks innocently.
Loki gives him a Look over her shoulder. “Because I learned.”
Steve has the decency to be chagrined. “Sorry. It’s just. Tony always has food delivered and you’re from a royal family. Right?”
“I am,” Loki grants, though if pressed, she will speak no more of her so-called family. “But that doesn’t mean I was never taught to feed myself. I enjoy learning new skills and endeavored to acquire as many as I possibly could when I was a child.” Loki magics the bacon to lie itself out in strips on the tray rather than get her fingers greasy. She slots the tray into the oven. “I still try to learn as many new things as I can, but once you’ve reached a thousand years of age, you find there isn’t much you don’t already know.”
“A thousand?” Steve repeats, his eyebrows near his hairline. “You don’t look a day over two hundred.”
Loki laughs, delighted by the unexpected humor from the Captain. She twists and gives him a gracious half-bow at the waist and a wide grin. “Why, thank you.”
The quiet rests companionably between them after that. Loki makes herself a cup of coffee while the bacon finishes, which she may or may not facilitate with a bit of magic to expedite the process. A few minutes later, while she is directing the bacon to divide itself into smaller pieces, she feels the phantom sensations of Tony stirring in the arms of her clone. She suppresses a wicked smile and has the clone begin to kiss the nape of Tony’s neck and behind his ear. She adds the bacon to the pan with the rest of the egg bake ingredients and slides the pan into the oven. Timer set, she turns and joins Steve at the island counter, leaning a hip against the opposite side and cradling her steaming coffee mug.
Tony is pressing his fingers to her clone’s waist, gliding a palm along the smooth skin of her back, and tugging her down into a kiss that does not remain chaste for very long at all.
In the kitchen, Steve and Loki chat idly about future plans for the Avengers team and the recent disaster in Sokovia. It becomes quickly apparent, however, that Steve is rather fixated on the presence of one Baron Wolfgang von Strucker at the HYDRA base.
“He’s a SHIELD scientist,” says the captain, then amends, “He was a SHIELD scientist.”
“Clearly he was not,” says Loki. She sips her coffee and revels in the ghostly touch tracing across her collar bones.
Steve hums in agreement. “Fury said he’d follow up.”
The statement hangs between them as though incomplete and Loki can easily guess where it might finish.
“But you’d feel a lot better if you were there to investigate for yourself,” she says.
“Yeah,” Steve agrees, “I would.”
Tony has just applied his mouth to her clone’s breasts when Natasha and Wanda enter the kitchen. Natasha, she knows, is exceptionally intuitive and Wanda’s abilities are entirely untested—as a result, they make for a poor audience to this particular brand of magical play. Loki sighs with a trace of disappointment and has her clone inform Tony that breakfast is available in the communal kitchen before dismissing it. This isn’t the outcome she hoped for, but it is still deliciously mischievous.
“Good morning, Natasha,” Loki greets. She narrows her eyes a bit at the young girl and says a polite, “Wanda.”
The little witch looks terribly awkward in borrowed sweatpants and a too-large t-shirt. Her excess of jewelry is missing and her face is clean of dark makeup and without her heels on she is shorter than Loki expected. Cleared of the clothing and accessories that make her armor, Wanda is reduced to a young and timid woman who fidgets with her fingers when placed under scrutiny.
“Sit,” Loki tells Wanda, nodding towards the open chair next to Steve. Wanda obeys and slinks over to slide into the seat. Natasha perches elegantly on the witch’s other side. Loki summons the newly-enchanted bracelet and holds out a hand to Wanda. “Give me your wrist,” she demands and the witch complies with confused immediacy. Loki slips the band over Wanda’s hand and then magically tightens it until it is snug to the young woman’s flesh. The sudden alarm on Wanda’s face and the way she jerks her arm free of Loki’s hold tells the sorcerer that her bracelet has worked as intended.
“What…?” Wanda starts.
Loki interrupts, “Until I am assured that you can be trusted to control yourself, I have bound your magic to your body. I’ve charmed the bracelet so that I am the only one who may remove it.”
The witch glowers, so Loki diverts her with an abrupt shift in subject. “Coffee? Tea? Take advantage now, because I will never again offer to serve you.”
“Oh,” says Wanda, expectedly startled and unsure. “Tea? Please. English Breakfast, if you have it.”
Loki summons a jar of loose-leaf tea from her supply in the penthouse and fills the kettle on the stovetop with a gesture. She turns on the burner and floats a mug from the cabinet.
“Do you know how you acquired your abilities, Miss Maximoff,” Loki asks casually as she coaxes an infuser from its hiding place—it emerges from a drawer near the floor that Loki would have never deigned to stoop down to search.
“I think so,” says Wanda, glancing at Steve and then Natasha like a child searching out her parent. “Baron von Strucker used the scepter you carried. I’m not entirely sure how.”
Loki waves off the admittance of ignorance. “That’s fine, I only care that you are aware of the scepter’s involvement.” She turns and leans against the counter directly across from the witch, drawing her full attention. “Tell me, little one, have you ever heard of an artifact called an Infinity Stone?”
Wanda frowns and shakes her head. She is plucking at the bracelet, unused to its presence and made anxious by its purpose.
“Those are the gems you and Thor were telling us about,” says Steve, “at the meeting before the mission.”
“Correct,” says Loki. “The Infinity Stones are, in essence, facets of the Cosmos and each has an assigned function. My scepter carries the Mind Stone, capable of reaching into the minds of sentient things and taking whatever I ask it to. It can also impart knowledge and implant falsehoods, as well as act as a sheer, blunt-force energy weapon. It is a volatile tool and not one meant for the hands of the greedy and power-mad.”
“How did von Strucker get it?” asks Wanda.
“He stole it from the ruins of my home,” replies Loki. The kettle begins to whistle, so Loki turns off the stove. She places the infuser filled with leaves in the mug and then pours the hot water over it. “You heard of the Mandarin, I assume?”
Wanda nods and realization dawns over her expression. “The terrorist that blew up Stark’s house.”
“HYDRA seized the presented opportunity to raid the wreckage for valuables.” Loki sets the steaming mug before Wanda. “Let that steep for at least three minutes.”
“Thank you,” the witch murmurs with a small smile. She wraps her hands around the mug to warm her fingers and inhales the steam gratefully.
“I imagine von Strucker had you somehow linked to my scepter and thereupon imbued some of the Stone’s power into you,” Loki surmises, scarcely acknowledging Wanda’s thanks and turning instead to check on the egg bake in the oven.
“He attached these…wires to my temples…” Wanda says haltingly, brow furrowing in discomfort and her eyes going distant as she tries to recall the blurred events. Loki goes back to the counter and stops her with a gentle hand held aloft between them.
“There’s no need, little one,” the god says. “Remembering how this magic was inflicted upon you does not affect the fact that you have it and is therefore irrelevant. Also: I don’t particularly care for your past suffering, I’m far too old and experienced to have any pity or sympathy to spare you.” Wanda’s mouth drops open; she is taken aback by the casual disregard for her trauma and is rendered mute. Loki bends at the waist and folds her arms on the countertop, leaning luxuriously and leveling her face with Wanda’s. “My only care is that you learn control so that you do not cause needless destruction that I then have to repair.”
Tony wanders in now, dressed in jeans and an AC/DC shirt, his hair ruffled and his face vaguely disgruntled. There is still a gleam of amusement and adoration in his whiskey-brown eyes when he sees Loki, though he feigns annoyance. He pinches her hip as he slides past her, intent on the coffee maker, then sticks his tongue out at her when she twists and makes a face at him in response. When Loki twists back, she catches Wanda’s sour expression before the young woman hastens to smooth it to neutral. Loki narrows her eyes.
“Something the matter, Miss Maximoff?” she asks pointedly. Natasha and Steve turn in accidental unison to regard the woman sat between them. Tony stands close enough to brush arms with Loki, lifting a quizzical brow as he sips his coffee and glances around at everyone.
“No,” Wanda lies, “Nothing.”
“Do not lie to the patron god of liars,” Loki says with a low warning in her voice.
Wanda purses her lips and stares determinedly at her tea. She swirls the infuser with a singular focus, then removes it and taps it against the lip of the mug to shake off clinging droplets. Loki banishes the infuser to the sink before Wanda can halfway complete the motion of placing it on the counter, which yields the desired effect of off-putting the girl and pushing her to respond more quickly. Wanda steals another heavy glance at Tony and then takes a long drink of tea before finally answering, her posture stiff and her words terse.
“When Pietro and I were ten,” she says, looking pointedly at Loki in an effort to edit Tony out of the conversation. Loki immediately and wearily knows exactly how this conversation is going to go and she is already exhausted by the knowledge of the effort they will all go through to desensitize this child to Tony’s presence. “Our home was destroyed. A Stark missile hit the roof of our apartment building. It killed everyone inside. Except me and my brother. We saw our parents killed in front of us and then a second missile hit.” She swallows and takes another drink. “It did not go off. We were trapped for two days, staring at his name, waiting to die.”
“And then you joined HYDRA because you thought the experiment would help you get revenge on Tony for killing your parents,” Natasha says briskly, laying out the rest of the tale with deadly accuracy. Wanda’s jaw tightens and she says nothing, but her silence is answer enough.
“Harsh,” Tony grumbles into his coffee.
“Stark Industries hasn’t manufactured weapons in seven years,” says Steve. “The company has changed for the better.”
“I don’t care,” Wanda insists. Red is crackling in her eyes, but it goes no further.
“Yes, you do,” says Loki, she has no patience for this child’s temper. “If you did not care, you would have killed him by now.” Tony makes an offended noise and Wanda glares more intently; Loki ignores both reactions. “Few in this universe are truly capable of exacting revenge and being satisfied with the result. You are not one of those of few. You are simply angry and more able to throw a destructive tantrum than others in like situations.” Loki reaches out with her magic and forcibly quells the rising red in Wanda’s eyes, much to the girl’s shock and terror. “I ask that you let go of your petty upset if you want me to teach you. For if you don’t, if you continue to act out and if you dare to hurt this man standing beside me, I will deem you unworthy of my attention and be done with you.”
The ice in Loki’s eyes and the dripping promise of poison in her tone leave no room to question what she means by her closing statement. Fear pours off of Wanda in a tidal wave and her grip on her mug is the only reason her hands are not noticeably shaking. And then the witch sets her jaw and nods in agreement and understanding. Good, thinks Loki, she is teachable. There may yet be a positive outcome for this particular venture.
- - -
so like… that guy with the magic that eveyone’s bugging out about? We’ve seen him before. He was in New York on the Mayan apocalypse fighting that big guy with the triangle-y haircut/head tattoos. That was 4 years ago? I think? Anyway. I guess he’s like a Thing or something because Hawkeye and Iron Man seemed to know him. And now there’s that video of him working with Black Widow. So that’s something.
all these people screaming about how the avengers destroyed novi grad and how they should be disbanded and ignoring the fact that there was a NAZI OUTPOST in town apparently doing human experimentation??? …makes me really scared about the direction the world is heading in
maybe no one remembers this because tumblr is so America-centered but in 2011 there was a weird incident in jotunheimen park. it was all very hush hush but there were people in suits all over the place and after they all cleared out a few weeks later some hikers found a huge crater in the park that hadn’t been there before
- - -
Howard Stark built an enormous warehouse upstate sometime in the late seventies to store equipment for his company. Tony has been vaguely aware of its existence for years now but never held much interest in the place or what it contained. Now, however, as Loki walks the property with Tony and a contractor, she can see the gleam of inspiration in his eyes. Newly aware of this location, her mad genius of a human is now buzzing with ideas and eagerness to enact them. Tony’s excited energy is infectious and Loki can see that even the contractor, a large hairy man with fingers like sausages, is getting excited. Though she supposes anyone would be thrilled to be working the Tony Stark and on a project for the Avengers.
Disinterested in the technical conversation, Loki wanders off to explore the grounds. Much of the property is overgrown with trees and shrubbery due to a decades-long lack of upkeep, but this is a simple thing to fix. The warehouse will make a fine headquarters, but Loki thinks there is plenty of room for a second building—perhaps a garage of some sort or maybe a more extensive training facility. She pushes through the tall grass in a wide expanse of unused land and hears the quiet sounds of insects and birds, the occasional splash of disturbed water, and follows until she comes upon the edge of a large lake. Yes, she thinks, this will make an excellent training facility.
Urged on by some innate aspect of her nature, Loki slips off her boots and steps barefoot into the water. Except…the moment her skin touches the lake’s surface, ice blooms beneath her foot and creates solid flooring for her to stand upon. Grinning, Loki takes another step and then another and another, delighted by the bridge of thick, sturdy ice that stretches forth to catch and support her. She breaks into a run, long legs taking her several feet in each stride, and the ice keeps pace perfectly. A laugh blooms from her lips, she feels like a child again, giddy and carefree and enamored of all the simple joys life has to offer.
The wind whips through her hair, tugs at her clothing, and carries the sweet scent of the imminent summer. Power thrums in her veins, glacial and electric and addicting. Her magic crackles at her fingertips, stands the hairs on her arms on end, and pulses around her in time with the beating of her heart. Loki feels gloriously and terribly alive.
She slows to a standstill at the center of the lake and lets out a long, misty sigh. Her eyes sweep over the shoreline and the tops of the trees and the periwinkle sky. A glint of a darker shade of blue catches in her periphery and Loki turns sharply. The water laps gently at the edges of her ice bridge, reflecting the lightness of the sky and the white gleam of the sun. After a moment, when no further flashes are seen, Loki reluctantly writes it off as a reflection and a trick of the light.
Following a curious instinct she has never truly allowed herself to feel before, Loki lets her eyes slide shut and holds her hands out above the water, imagining it turning to slush at her command. She imagines the half-frozen water rising and rolling into dunes, into a vast tundra pocked with buried streams where the ice goes thin and lies in wait to trap hapless travelers. When she opens her eyes, Loki is faced with a lake that is frozen solid and filled with waves caught in mid-peak.
Loki stares in wonder and awe, amazed at the feat she has just accomplished so effortlessly. Then the memory of her mother drifts to the forefront of her mind and Loki is briefly back in Florida, in Aldrich Killian’s final stage, surrounded by fire and burning bodies, and a shade of her mother stands above her… You are more powerful than you know, my darling child.
Another glint of deep sapphire yanks Loki free of the memory and she turns sharply to the right. There is nothing. But from this new angle, she can see the shore she came from and that the underbrush is moving tellingly. Loki wills the lake to return to its natural state and teleport to where she left her boots. She has just dipped her feet into the cool water when Tony and the contractor emerge behind her.
“Testing the waters?” Tony asks as he comes to stand as near to her as he can without ruining his shoes.
Loki hums in response. “I think there ought to be a dock here. It would a lovely place to sit and read.”
“Sure thing, honey bunch,” Tony agrees easily. He and the contractor are utterly unaware of the marvelous breakthrough Loki has just made.
- - -
Weeks slip by. Steve and Natasha leave for DC. Clint begs off on a vacation and only Loki and the Widow know he is going to be with his family in Missouri. (Natasha knows of the Barton Homestead because she is one of Clint’s few trusted friends; Loki knows because she is a bloodhound for lies and half-truths and a highly accomplished sorcerer.) Fury, Coulson, and Maria Hill put days’ worth of hours into searching for Bruce Banner, but the man and his green alter ego cannot be located anywhere on the planet. Loki’s suggestion that the quinjet was truly space-worthy and that the Hulk has gone to the stars was met with a distinct lack of appreciation. Thor, in an unexpected move, tells Loki that a few things the witch showed him during the fighting in Sokovia have left him troubled and that he feels he ought to travel the realms of Yggdrasil in an attempt to find peace of mind.
As for the witch herself, Loki implements a strict regime of yoga and meditation at sunrise and sunset. Every day. Wanda needs to learn balance and focus, needs to find her center, and this is the best way to accomplish that. If it also happens to force an unwilling young adult from her bed while prohibiting any complaint, then that is mere coincidence.
And when Loki is called in to begin doing table reads for the final installment of the Earthshaker trilogy, she sets JARVIS to the task of monitoring Wanda and ensuring she continues her meditations. Though she does take some pity and allows Wanda access to a couple of her most basic texts on magic and spell-work—both magically translated into Wanda’s native tongue.
Tony goes between the construction site for the new Avengers Compound and a hospital in the heart of the city. The date for his arc reactor removal surgery is fast approaching and Tony is feigning confidence by making himself needlessly busy. Loki allows him his distractions until it is time for a final physical exam to ensure his good health three days before the operation.
Loki drags Tony from his lab and down to the garage where Happy is waiting to drive them to the hospital. News of Tony Stark’s radical, life-changing surgery has only just begun to reach the public, despite all efforts made, and there is a small cluster of paparazzi waiting outside the entrance to Metro-General. Tony and Loki put on their media faces before they step out of the car and walk, chins up and hand in hand, past the flashing cameras and shouted questions. The questions range from the nature of their relationship (still unclear to the public despite the past couple years) to the whereabouts of Bruce Banner and the incident in Sokovia to the reasoning behind this high-risk surgery. Loki and Tony expertly ignore it all as they enter the hospital lobby.
They are quickly intercepted by a petite brunette in teal scrubs and a white lab coat. Her hair is pinned efficiently from her face, which is clean and free of makeup (though that does not make her any less beautiful), and her shoulders are set with confidence. Her short stature does nothing to detract from the air of authority and competence she carries so deftly.
“Mr. Stark,” she says, holding out a hand for Tony to shake. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Dr. Palmer,” Tony greets, accepting the proffered hand. Loki recognizes the name immediately; Dr. Christine Palmer is the doctor who supposedly performed heart surgery on Lona Silver two years ago. Loki grins.
“Wonderful to see you again,” she says to the young doctor.
Dr. Palmer chuckles and smiles knowingly. “And you, Ms. Silver.” She takes a backward step. “If you’ll just follow me, please.” She leads them through a set of double doors and down a crisp, sterile hallway to an elevator that whisks them up to the third floor. The activity level lessens immensely on the new floor and the hallways become less cold and impersonal. These are all offices and non-emergency meeting spaces, there is a place now for photographs and framed accolades to decorate the walls. Dr. Palmer leads them to a door at the very end and knocks sharply before going ahead and opening the door for them. Loki glances at the nameplate as she steps in after Tony.
Dr. Stephen V. Strange, M.D., Ph.D.
Loki smirks at the man’s surname, he surely had a tormented childhood with such a name as that—it practically begs to be made a mockery of. Then she sees the man waiting for them behind an austere desk and is unable to contain the sharp laugh that bursts out of her. Tony and both doctors look at her in surprise, but Loki can’t help it—this is too perfectly hilarious. Because the man sitting before her, in a lavish corner office filled with sunlight streaming in through wide windows, has Tony’s exact style of facial hair. He also obviously has Tony’s sense of self-importance and genius, if his current background is anything to go by. Behind Dr. Stephen Strange is a bookshelf filled with dense medical texts and numerous awards. The wall is lined with framed certificates and degrees and photographs of him shaking hands with important people.
Chuckling Loki steps further into the office so the door may be shut behind her.
“I apologize for laughing,” she says, though she doesn’t try very hard to sound genuinely apologetic. “It’s just… Anthony, this is precisely what you would look like if you’d decided to go into medicine rather than engineering.”
Tony strokes his goatee and says gamely, “Yeah, I see it.”
Dr. Strange does not appear as amused, which only serves the make the comparison all the sweeter to Loki. And when she sees Dr. Palmer biting her lip against a giggle, it is the proverbial cherry on top. Loki drops herself decadently onto one of the cushy chairs before the good doctor’s desk and Tony saunters over to the other, both relishing in Strange’s thin grimace.
“Yes, well,” says the male doctor, clearing his throat importantly. “I’ve devised a plan for extracting the reactor without compromising your heart.”
“Knew you could do it,” Tony says with a level of offhanded confidence that successfully masks his nerves.
Dr. Strange’s responding expression is heavy with sarcasm, though his verbal response is perfectly professional. He delves into his plan to use an electromagnet suspended just above Tony’s opened chest cavity to hold the shrapnel in place and to collect the shrapnel upon extraction; Loki only partially pays attention. Her eyes are drawn to the accolades adorning the walls; it is a veritable shrine to one man’s incredible ego. Eventually, her sight falls on one particular word on several of his diplomas.
“'Neurosurgeon,’” she reads and then regards Strange dubiously. Already she can see him bristling at her lack of impression and preparing some form of personal defense. Gleefully, she continues before he finishes drawing breath. “You do realize the arc reactor is in Anthony’s chest, not his head.”
Dr. Strange lifts a single, dark brow. “Yes, Miss Silver, I realize. However, before becoming a neurosurgeon I first practiced general surgery and then, just for the hell of it,” Strange leans forward for emphasis, “I practiced cardiothoracic surgery. I like being well-informed, you see, and it seemed practical to have some measure of experience in a variety of fields.” He leans back now and shrugs like he couldn’t care less about her opinion of him and his experience. “Frankly, removing shrapnel and reconstructing Anthony’s sternum will be something like a leisure activity.”
Tony wrinkles his nose. “Yikes. Don’t ever call me Anthony.”
Loki laughs, a small tinkling sound, airy and amused. “The two of you are certainly alike in ego and mindset.” Still smiling, Loki leans her elbows on her knees and traps Dr. Strange’s eyes with hers. “Bear in mind, doctor,” she says with no outward signs of threat, “that if my Anthony dies because of your arrogance, you’ll find no hospital on this planet willing to hire you to even so humble a position as janitor.”
Tony makes his yikes face and places a hand on Loki’s arm. “Hey, there, honey badger…”
Dr. Palmer also steps in to help diffuse the situation, but Strange has been provoked and won’t allow Loki the satisfaction of having the last word.
“Care to run that by me again, Pamela Anderson?”
“I’m sure she’s just worried—” Dr. Palmer starts, using a soothing tone and urging Strange to sit back in his chair.
Loki simply responds with a sharky grin and a casual transition into a careless recline. Strange’s mouth presses into a thin line, irked by her attitude and denied the same satisfaction he’d attempted to deprive her of. There is a tense moment of quiet, during which Dr. Palmer continues gripping his arm and shoulder as if to hold him to his chair and Tony goes rigid with the effort not to howl with laughter.
Then Tony clears his throat loudly and the moment is ended. He claps his hands on his knees and then jumps to his feet. “Well, great seeing you, as usual, doc. I’ll be back in three days so you can, y’know, slice me open and play with my insides.”
“Charming,” Strange says tersely. Tony beams beatifically and drags Loki to her feet.
“No eating eight hours before the surgery,” Dr. Palmer calls after them as they exit the office.
“Sure, sure,” Tony calls back, waving a hand over his shoulder as he pushes Loki out first. He yanks the door shut behind him and manages to maintain some modicum of decorum until they safely ensconced in the elevator. Then he spins and pushes Loki none too gently up against the wall and presses his teeth against her throat. Loki gasps and laughs breathlessly, wrapping her fingers tightly around Tony’s biceps, and arching into every point of contact between them. Tony bites and licks his way up her neck, over and along her jaw, and then consumes her with a kiss. Loki reciprocates with enthusiasm, sinking her teeth into his lower lip and sliding her tongue against his. She slips a hand down his side, squeezes his hip, and then reaches further to pinch his ass.
Tony squeaks in surprise. Loki grins against his mouth and then puts her hands at his waist to ease him off of her. Seconds later the elevator dings and the doors slide open to the lobby. To the world beyond, it appears only as if they have shared an intimate but entirely chaste moment.
Tony gives her one more peck on the lips and laces his fingers with hers as they exit the elevator. A few people—doctors, patients, and visitors alike—watch them go with varying expressions of star-struck awe and knowing smirks. Once they are settled in the back of Happy’s car, Tony turns in his seat to grin widely at her.
“Have I ever mentioned that I love it when you’re an asshole to people?” he asks rhetorically.
Loki replies anyway, “Hm, yes, once or twice.”
- - -
Mitochondria are the @PowerhouseoftheCell: so a Michael Bay worthy car chase is happening in DC right now… suspiciously close to the triskelion… where shield, aka avengers parent corp, is located… #cuexfilestheme
Lauren @lazylaurie528: enormous pile-up/wreck on center street, mostly cop cars?? WTF
danny Hoffman @manhoffdan replying to @lazylaurie528: and 1 bullet-riddled hella destroyed SUV… WTF is right!
- - -
Loki is sitting at Tony’s bedside when he wakes up in the hospital, chest repaired and bandaged and still very much alive. Dr. Strange declined to speak with her about aftercare and left the task to Dr. Palmer. Whether he did this because he dislikes her or because he finds the task menial and unworthy of his ever-important presence is hard to say, but Loki feels like a satisfied housecat regardless.
She is in a surprisingly comfortable chair, reading a revised section of script for Aftershock, when Tony begins to stir and the heart monitor mirrors a slight uptick in rate. Loki immediately sets the script aside and takes Tony’s lax hand in both of hers. She watches as Tony swallows reflexively and his fingers twitch and tighten around hers. Blearily, he rolls his head in her direction; his brows pinch together and he frowns slightly.
Loki huffs fondly and detaches a hand to sweep his hair back from his forehead.
“Wake, my love,” she murmurs. Tony makes a negative sound in the back of his throat and his fingers go slack; the heart monitor slows back down to a resting rate. Tony continues to sleep. Loki stands briefly to brush a kiss to his forehead and then settles back in her chair. A flicker of deep cerulean catches in the corner of her eye, but when she chases it for a better look, she finds nothing. Her attention, however, is immediately drawn to the muted television on the wall where a stony-faced anchorman is reporting on a dire situation in Washington DC and the recently issued warrant for Captain America’s arrest.
A few minutes later, Loki’s phone begins to ring.
- - -
Ziglet @Ziggy.Starbun.17: Uh…so Captain America is a wanted criminal now??? What’d he do? Got to a Horton’s for coffee instead of a Dunkin?
Ellie Nelson @e1ne1: History nerd here. Hi. So, the military base camp that trained Cpt. America was OBLITERATED right after he’s declared a criminal. Coincidence? Not fucking likely.
- - -
“…Associated with SHIELD, so how do we know she won’t try to murder us?” an unfamiliar voice is asking when Loki arrives at the location Natasha specified over the phone. Presently invisible, Loki is free to observe before she takes any further action. She is in a quaint house, small and cozy, lived-in and cared-for. She’s in the open doorway between a living room and a kitchen. In the kitchen, clustered around a little round table, is Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and an unknown black man. Steve and Natasha are freshly showered but clearly worn out. The stranger is dressed in athletic wear and still has the faint smell of sweat lingering on his skin. There is an open file of the obviously restricted and classified sort spread out on the table; Natasha is scrutinizing a picture of two men in peculiar gear while Steve skims through a sheet with several redacted sections.
“Because her interests lie outside of SHIELD’s,” says Natasha, setting down the photograph. “She isn’t loyal to them, she’s only loyal to Stark.”
The black man is unconvinced. “Okay, but Stark isn’t here.”
“No,” agrees Steve, giving up on his own piece from the file, he appears more stressed than Loki has ever seen him, “and he did just have major surgery.”
Natasha nods in concession and then rebukes, “But she thrives on chaos and mischief. She’ll be here, if she isn’t already.”
“Already…?” the man repeats, bewildered. He and Steve look around reflexively, though Steve less intently—he is aware of Loki’s capabilities, after all. This seems like the perfect moment to reveal herself, so Loki drops her invisibility spell and steps further into the kitchen. The stranger jumps and curses and then freezes. “Aren’t you that actress?”
Steve smirks. “She’s more than just that.”
Loki shoots the captain a wink and asks, “What might I do for you?”
Natasha and Steve ignore the stranger’s baffled silence and go on to explain the task they wish her to complete. It’s simple enough and they could do it themselves, except there’s a bit of a time constraint and Loki is able to teleport. The object they need, EXO-7 Falcon according to the file, is quite an ingenious invention and Loki mentally takes notes to share with Tony later—she knows he will appreciate the mental stimulation of designing his own, similar prototype while he is bedridden. Natasha brings up various schematics and maps of a place called Fort Meade on a borrowed laptop, these are watermarked and signed with very official stamps and signatures and definitively not for public consumption. Natasha finds them in seconds and feels no need to remark on how easily she acquires them.
After outlining the easiest path to the EXO-7, Loki takes a few seconds to commit the image to memory and then bids them farewell. Cloaked in invisibility, she teleports to the front of the Fort, it is an undoubtedly impressive building and she is sure it is very effectively fortified, but it is no match for her magic. Without bothering to check for guards or security measures, Loki strides forward and phases herself through the heavy front doors. Following her mental map, she navigates corridors and takes shortcuts through walls when convenient. She waits at a lift for a moment until a pair of stern-faced soldiers approach and call it down from a higher floor. The soldiers are going down, so Loki rides with them to subbasement two and then finds a stairwell to get to subbasement three.
As anticipated, she is faced with the first of three guarded gateways. Cloaked as she, Loki is hidden from visual, thermal, and auditory detection. It takes a grand total of five minutes for Loki to phase through all three gates and reach the twelve-inch thick steel barrier. This one will take slightly more concentration to pass through, but Loki is not worried. She breathes in her through her nose, exhales out her mouth, and steps forward into the wall. She focuses on the interplay of molecules happening inside and around her, disassembling her own and working them through the spaces she creates amongst the molecules in the steel. In less than a minute, she is reassembling herself on the other side of the barrier and she has not broken a sweat.
The EXO-7 is waiting innocuously on low steel table under a thick glass case and woven metal bars. There’s a keypad and a fingerprint scanner front and center that Loki mentally coos over the adorableness of. Then she waves a hand and, in a fraction of a second, places the mechanical harness in a private pocket dimension and inserts an illusory replacement.
Now that the hard part is over, Loki steps backward and teleports to Sam Wilson’s kitchen roughly ten minutes after she first left. Steve and Natasha rise eagerly to their feet while Wilson nearly falls out of his chair—Loki may have purposely landed herself directly next to him. She chuckles at his expense and then, before anyone even needs to ask, removes the EXO-7 from her pocket dimension and places it on the table.
“Ooh, baby,” Wilson croons, reaching out to stroke the smooth metal of the folded wings reverently. “I have missed you.”
“Loki,” says Steve, solemn and terribly sincere, “thank you.”
Loki smiles faintly in return. “Call again if you must,” she says airily, “but I’d rather not leave Anthony a second time.”
At the mention of her lover, a curious expression crosses the captain’s face but when Loki catches his eye and raises a questioning brow, he says nothing. Loki would like to press him for an explanation, but this little mystery does not even rank as secondary in her list of immediate concerns. She’d rather return to Tony as quickly as she can.
“We can handle this,” Natasha says firmly.
“I’ve no doubt,” Loki replies. “Good luck.” She steps away and into Tony’s hospital room. Habitually, she does so under a cloak of invisibility and is glad for the precaution, because she arrives as a nurse is checking Tony’s bandages. Once the nurse has gone, Loki makes herself visible and perches on the edge of Tony’s bed; he smiles drunkenly at her and holds out an unsteady hand.
“Scar-buddies,” he mumbles and Loki indulges him with a chuckle as she wraps her hands around his.
“Yes, we are,” she says. He beams.
“Love you,” he says. His eyes are sliding shut as if keeping them open is too tremendous an effort, but he doesn’t fall back asleep.
“And I love you,” Loki replies. She questions the wisdom of giving a recovering alcoholic an opiate for pain management and knows that Tony would not have said anything against it despite knowing he may not be able to handle it. Then again, it’s equally likely that he approved its use knowing that Loki will be there to keep his addictive tendencies in check. Sighing fondly, Loki leans down and presses a lingering kiss to Tony’s forehead. After a few seconds, Loki thinks fuck it and throws all decorum to wind; she climbs into the bed and curls into Tony’s side.
Cocooned in his presence, Loki drifts to sleep…
…She wakes some hours later to Tony’s bed propped so he may sit up and herself still curled against him, but resting in his lap. His hand is absently, methodically stroking her hair and there are soft, familiar voice speaking around her. She keeps her eyes closed as she listens, identifying Rhodey and Pepper as the room’s other occupants and understanding why she slept through their arrival. She feels safe around them, so her magic allowed her to continue resting.
“Officially, he’s dead,” Rhodey is saying, voice low and grave, “but we all know that’s bullshit. It takes more than a hinky car wreck to take out Fury. Plus, he’s the Director, so I’m pretty sure they need his authorization to release all the files like they’re planning to.”
“And we know for a fact that that’s what they’re going to do?” asks Pepper, tone laced with concern.
“Natasha as good as told me to lock down whatever SHIELD files I don’t want the public to see quite yet,” says Tony, his hand doesn’t falter and his voice rumbles in his chest against Loki’s ear. “In super-spy language, that’s blatant admission.”
“How’d you even talk to her? You don’t have your phone.”
“No, but Loki has hers.”
“Right,” says Pepper with a chuckle. “I should have known.”
“I assume that also means you wiped out Loki’s SHIELD file,” says Rhodey.
“It’s not quite that simple,” replies Tony. “The Internet is forever and all that, I’d need access to more than just a phone to completely erase the files. I just added my own encryption behind SHIELD’s.” He says it like it is no big deal, using that exaggerated ego he wears like body armor.
“What of your own file?” Loki asks. She opens her eyes and lets the others see that she is awake and aware. They give her smiles in greeting and she straightens up a bit so that she is not putting quite so much weight on Tony’s abdomen.
Tony snorts. “I replaced those with dummy files ages ago.”
“Of course,” says Loki. “I needn’t have asked.”
“What else will the SHIELD files expose?” Pepper asks worriedly, then grimaces a bit and adds, “Besides the presence of HYRDA.”
HYDRA? That interesting, Loki thinks, and not entirely surprising either. The birth of SHIELD was so closely entwined with the fight against the mystic Nazi division that it stands to reason that a few bad seeds were planted in the early days.
Rhodey shrugs a bit helplessly. “A lot of corrupt government agents and politicians, cover-ups, assassinations,” he snorts humorlessly, “the conspiracy theorists are going to have a riot when a bunch of their theories are proven true.”
“SHIELD and HYDRA both had a lot of fingers in a lot of pies,” Tony remarks.
“Everyone’s going to get the full, unedited story behind the Sokovia Incident,” says Rhodey.
“Which means we should get eyes on the other Maximoff,” Tony says by way of agreement.
Pepper clears her throat gently. “Speaking of Wanda… Tony, I’m going to relocate to the office in Malibu and go back to my old condo there, JARVIS helped me get a new lease on it. I just don’t like being in the Tower while…”
“While Wanda is untrained and dangerous,” Loki finishes for her, sensing mostly truth and able to deduce the secondary reason that Pepper prefers to leave unsaid. Despite her new quarters, traces of Tony and Loki can be found throughout the entirety of the Tower. However, Pepper also ought to know that progress on the upstate facility has gone faster than expected due to the enthusiastic (and well-paid) construction company. Wanda will be out of the Tower in a mere couple of weeks.
“Okay,” Tony replies, slightly too casually. He knows that Pepper is not being entirely truthful. “If I still had a house there, I’d let you stay in it, but…” he makes his what can you do face, “I prioritized the new Compound.”
Pepper smiles. “I understand. Thank you, Tony.”
“Sure thing, Pep. You always have access to JARVIS, let him know if you need anything.”
“I know, I will.” Pepper glances down at her watch. “I have to get going. Loki, take care of him. Or at least use a healing spell on him before you two go off and do something reckless.”
“Now there’s an idea,” says Loki with a wide grin. Pepper shakes her head fondly and leans over the side of the bed to kiss Tony and then Loki chastely on the lips. Loki says, “Be well, Pepper,” as the redhead steps away.
“See ya, Pep,” says Tony. Pepper nods, touches Rhodey’s shoulder as she passes, and then leaves the room. When the door clicks shut behind her, Rhodey looks between the pair on the bed and crosses his arms.
“Your life is wild, Tone,” he says.
“You’re tellin’ me,” Tony says with a huff. He starts picking at the bandages under his hospital-issue cotton shirt. Loki tuts and swats his hand away; Tony pouts. “This thing is pulling out all five of my chest hairs.”
“I feel like that’s my cue to leave,” says Rhodey and then does just that.
- - -
Janelle Archer-Stevenson @JanStevBlogs: Something about the #SHIELDinfodump makes me really uneasy. What horrible truths are we about to learn?
Lauren @lazylaurie528: I guess DC is just falling apart now
christo @xXobnoxious.emoXx: So…who’s going to clean all this wreckage out of the Potomac?
A Velociraptor @raptor_attacks: cpt america is in the hospital theres someone out there strong enough to put CPT AMERICA in the hospital!!!
- - -
“I’m thinking a suit in every major city,” Tony announces upon arriving via teleportation in the DC hospital room of one Steven Rogers, aka Captain America. Technically, Tony should still be bedbound and recovering, should still be on pain medication and simple foods, but Loki didn’t study healing magic for nothing. She did, however, leave the scar in place on Tony’s insistence. (She tries not to outwardly show how touched she is by the gesture, but she is aware that Tony knows regardless.)
“What?” Steve says, startled at the abrupt intrusion in his room as well as his conversation with Sam Wilson. “No.”
“Why not?” Tony presses. “I have plenty of suits in storage, I call them my legions, and they can speed up reaction times to threats by, like, a billion—”
“It infringes on the peoples’ right to freedom,” says Steve. He and Sam are both wearing the same vaguely appalled expression. “How is it any better than the Insight helicarriers we just took down?”
“Because the Iron Legion isn’t controlled by Nazis,” says Tony with an implied duh at the end.
“Tony…” Steve starts, tone gratingly, paternally disappointed. Loki can already see Tony reacting badly to this and swiftly intervenes.
“Anthony, you cannot simply send your suits to stand guard over every major city,” she says, touching a soothing hand to his now reactor-less chest. “Unless you want to provoke rioting and a host of angry politicians, you’d need to personally ask every major leader for permission.”
Tony wrinkles his nose in disgust. “Okay, so the plan needs some details hammered out. We’ll put it on hold.”
“I’d rather put in the garbage,” says Sam, somewhat under his breath but still clearly audible to the entire room.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” asks Tony.
“Sam Wilson,” replies Sam. “The guy with the wings who helped this guy kick butt.”
He almost says it like Tony ought to have been there to help, which is curious because Loki thought the entire country or even the entire world was aware of her lover’s surgery. The mortal population’s fascination and adoration of Tony Stark is one of the most intriguing phenomena she has ever come across. But then, as in most things, there are always exceptions to the rule.
“That’s nice,” says Tony, throwing out his words with careful carelessness. “I was having heart surgery.”
Sam freezes, but Steve swoops in to cover for his overprotective new friend. “How’d that go? I’m assuming Loki used her magic to help you heal.”
Tony waves off both Sam and Steve, not giving a shit for either of their reactions. “It was fine. I had the best surgeons working on me, of course, and my honey badger here to make sure no one fucked up.”
Sam snorts—the sort of amused snort that comes unexpectedly—and, grinning, mutters, “Honey badger don’t care.”
Tony laughs and adds, “Honey badger don’t give a shit, it just takes what it wants.”
Loki has no idea what they are referencing and a glance at Steve says neither does he, but it sounds about right. Loki never questioned Tony’s favorite nickname for her beyond it being a variation on calling her honey and, with its usual context, being a reference to her protectiveness of him. This additional tidbit of knowledge endears the nickname to her all the more.
Feeling dangerously close to showing tender emotions in the presence of a pair of mortals that are categorically not Tony or Pepper, Loki steers the conversation back to safer territory.
“We stopped by to see how you are faring, Steve,” she says, “and to inform you that the main building at the new Compound is essentially complete. You can move in at the end of the week if you would like.”
“Hell, bring Sammy Sunshine, too,” adds Tony. “There’s plenty of room both in the building and on the roster.”
“Are you for real?” asks Sam, eye lighting up with excitement.
“Sure,” says Tony. “You teamed up with Capsicle and didn’t die. Plus, Loki didn’t make you leave the room as soon as she arrived, that’s as much a sign you’re an okay guy as anything.”
Loki smirks when Sam’s eyes flash to meet hers. He is only just scratching the surface of understanding the enormous amount of power she holds.
“Do be sure to call ahead, though,” she warns the men. “I’m in the beginning stages of training a highly unstable witch.”
“How’s Wanda doing?” asks Steve, a worried tilt to his mouth. He glances conspicuously at Tony, who stares dryly back.
“She’s barely out of her teens and she’s surrounded by strangers on house arrest in a house she has no connection to and without access to her magic,” Loki says bluntly. “She’s dreadful company, but she’s doing as well as can be expected.”
“And she only glares at me when I enter a room instead of the entire time I’m in the room,” Tony tacks on helpfully. Loki rolls her eyes fondly. After a beat in which no one speaks and Sam glances at Steve multiple times, Tony puts his hand on Loki’s lower back and says, “I can see you two would like to chat about something you don’t want us to overhear, so we’ll be on our way.”
Predictably, Steve’s cheeks take on a slight pinkish tinge as he attempts to deny this, “You don’t have to…”
“Yeah, we do,” Tony says, utterly unoffended. “You have your best friend and I have mine.” He looks at Loki. “It’s not you, it’s Rhodey.”
“I’m aware,” says Loki, chuckling.
“Call if you need anything,” Tony says to Steve and Loki takes this as her cue to teleport them back to the Tower.
She brings them to the Avengers’ communal floor where she knows Wanda ought to be. Her plan is to desensitize the girl to Tony’s presence, to at least make her tolerant of her lover until she’s in a place where a better relation can be fostered. Indeed, the young witch is curled up on the loveseat with a warm throw blanket and a tome of magic across her lap. Upon their arrival, Wanda clearly suppresses a scowl and begins to unfold herself from her seat. Tony waves her off.
“Don’t bother, Goody Proctor,” he says, “I’m going up to my lab.” To Loki, he adds, “I’m going to design a helicopter seat that slides back to deliver me into a suit.”
Loki snorts at his childlike glee, which only makes the man more gleeful. He gives her a kiss and then saunters off to the elevator. Loki watches him go, taking a moment to appreciate his ass, and then fixes her attention on Wanda. The witch is still tense in her seat and her hands are curled like claws around the edges of the book.
“That text is worth more than all the gold on this planet,” Loki says warningly. “You will be faced with dire consequences if you damage it.”
“Worse than this?” Wanda asks, all snark, holding up the wrist bearing the bracelet Loki crafted for her.
“If you think that measly thing is dire,” Loki remarks, then leaves the sentence hanging hauntingly between them. Wanda’s paled expression tells Loki the gravity of her threat has been felt; the witch eases her grip on the tome and sets it carefully on the coffee table. Loki nods approvingly and sears herself on the sofa, perpendicular to the loveseat, and angles herself toward the young woman. Wanda glances at the closed elevator doors and bites her lower lip, a question gnawing to be asked.
“Go on, then,” says Loki. As little as she cares for personal inquiries, she suspects this is one she will have to answer with some level of honesty in order to quell the witch and make her less hostile towards Tony. “Ask away.”
Wanda doesn’t hesitate. “What do you see in him?”
“I see a man who understands what it is like to learn that everything you thought you knew was a lie,” Loki replies bluntly. “I see someone who has felt the same form of betrayal as I have. I also see strength, genius and arrogance, ferocity, and a good heart.”
Wanda is silent as she turns Loki’s response over in her mind, twisting her numerous rings around her fingers as she thinks. Haltingly, she says, “When I looked into his mind… I saw his fear. It was. Chaos and destruction, armies pouring in through portals from other realms… But you were at the precipice. Losing you, I mean. That was his greatest fear.”
It still is, thinks Loki and the inverse is true for her as well. It terrifies her to know she has become so dearly attached to one mortal man, but she often thinks she could weather all the cruelties of the universe with him at her side.
“Are you beginning to understand now,” asks Loki, “that he is not the tyrant you have made him in your head? He is only a man.”
Wanda purses her lips and gives an approximation of a nod and a shrug. “I still do not care for him, but I will try not to be so hostile.”
“Good,” says Loki. “Now, let’s move closer to the windows. Lotus position. No slouching.”
Wanda barely contains the grimace that comes over her face. Loki is a relentless tutor with firmly held expectations of her students and she has been especially stern with this student in particular. Wisely, Wanda says nothing as she rises and moves to the windows where the late afternoon sun is just beginning to kiss the tops of the skyscrapers. She settles on the floor with her legs crossed, back straight and chin up, and rests the backs of her hands atop her knees. Loki assumes the same position on Wanda’s left and watches the girl’s reflection in the glass; Wanda’s eyes flick to meet Loki’s and then slide obediently shut. Loki keeps her eyes open and watches Wanda’s reflection for a moment more before allowing her lids to slide shut.
“Imagine the ocean,” says Loki, her voice low and honeyed, enthralling without any real touch of magic. “The sound of the waves on distant shores you cannot see. The smell of brine and feel of salt on your skin.” Wanda’s breathing becomes slow and rhythmic. “The water is a deep, dark blue and you can hardly tell where sea and sky connect.” Something prickles along Loki’s senses; she puzzles it out while continuing to speak in her lulling tone. “There are no clouds.” The prickling becomes more insistent. “Only the sun and the sky and the light’s reflection on each slow wave as it peaks and crests and shrinks away.”
Loki determines that the source of the prickling is in close proximity, but it feels more like a polite tap for attention than anything malicious. She opens her eyes, intent on searching out the source, and draws in a sharp gasp when she is immediately met with a reflection that is not hers. Instead, there is a Frost Giant seated beside Wanda in the glass, holding Loki’s same pose but definitively male.
“What is it?” asks Wanda, eyes flying open. She catches sight of the Frost Giant and recoils. “What is that?”
Before Loki can respond, a rumbling baritone replies, “I am Helblindi, half-brother of Loki Laufeyson, once called Odinson, the God of Chaos and Mischief.”
Wanda turns her gaping expression to Loki, who tersely orders, “Go to your quarters.”
Wanda stands briskly and marches to the elevator, unhappiness rolling off her in waves. Loki doesn’t care.
“JARVIS, lock down this room.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the AI replies and Loki hears the quiet mechanical whirring that means her command is being done. Loki stares at Helblindi, breast heaving as her breath quickens and adrenalin pumps through her system, spurred by shock and inexplicable terror. Neither speaks until the whirring fades and the lockdown is complete.
“I am Loki, I prefer to call myself Lie-Smith,” she tells her half-brother. “How did you know to look for me on Midgard?”
“Rumor of your fall from the Bifröst was slow to reach us on Jotunheim,” says Helblindi, “as was news of your survival and continued residence here.”
The Enchantress no doubt had a hand in spreading this information, horrendous gossip that she is. One of these days, Loki might actually curse Amora to never speak a word again.
“When my brother and I learned that you are also the child of our father and the Lady Farbauti, we combined our magics and began to search for you, hoping to project my image to converse with you,” Helblindi continues. “Our first glimpse of you was upon a frozen lake and then later in the presence of your mortal companion. This, now, is the first we have been able to sustain my presence.”
“Then time is short,” Loki surmises. “We must hasten to the point of this meeting.”
“Yes,” confirms Helblindi and then he dives right in. “I would like to see you true from, sister.”
“Why?” Loki asks outright.
“Because the lines on our skin tell the story of our heritage.” Helblindi holds out his arms, slowly turning his upward-facing palms downward to display the raised lines that twist and twine from fingertips to shoulder, then curl across his collar bones and down his chest and stomach. “There is much you do not know about the woman who birthed you that my brother and I believe is your right to know. I would like to tell you about her and to show the lines that come from her. Please, sister.”
Loki hesitates; she despises her true form, but she can’t help recalling the time when Tony looked upon her frozen flesh with open admiration. She cannot help remembering how easily, how eagerly, he touched her and held her and blatantly desired her while wearing the skin she was born in. She remembers him saying what a shame it is that she does not enjoy her natural form. Perhaps wearing it for her Frost Giant half-brother is the first step toward reconciliation. So, Loki takes a fortifying breath and shifts out of her Æsir form.
Helblindi smiles and there is a tender recognition in his sanguine eyes; there is also an unmistakable sadness. Loki gets a sinking feeling in her stomach and knows quite suddenly that she is not going to enjoy hearing about her biological mother.
“You have hair,” Helblindi observes. “It is a rare trait among our kind—” Loki cringes at the inclusive our, a reaction which her half-brother ignores, “but one you received from Lady Farbauti. She was an uncommon beauty and the late king desired her for a long time before she allowed him to court her.” Helblindi gestures to his own left hand and looks expectantly at Loki. “There is a mark on our third finger, yours ought to look like a looped string.”
Loki raises her left hand and finds the mark he is referring to. A line that begins at the bed of her dark nail runs straight down the length of her ring finger until passes the second knuckle, where it deviates to the side and twines thrice until it comes to the first knuckle. From there, the mark joins at the center of the back of her with the other lines that traverse her fingers; the other lines do not deviate in the slightest.
“This is the mark of our maternal ancestors,” explains Helblindi. He holds his out and Loki has to shift closer to observe how his differs from hers. The raised line Helblindi’s ring finger is honeycombed and does not encircle the digit. Loki looks at her right ring finger and finds the vague shape of a three-pointed crown, the flat base facing her middle finger and the peaks pointing to her smallest finger. Helblindi shows her his identical mark.
“Laufey was born to a line of kings,” he says. “According to our history, his oldest ancestor was the first king of Jotunheim because of this marking.”
Loki nods and says nothing as she absorbs this information.
Helblindi goes on, “Your left forearm bears a mark specific to Farbauti. She bore it on her upper arm and it passed to all children born from her.”
“Does she have other children?” Loki asks, admiring the graceful linework of spirals and circles that forms a vambrace about her arm. Helblindi, from the brief glimpse she had of his, has more geometric and vaguely honeycombed shapes attributed to his dam.
“No,” says her half-brother; his tone makes Loki look up sharply. “You were her first and only.”
The sorrow is back in Helblindi’s eyes and dread pools anew in Loki’s stomach. Unable to bear waiting, Loki demands, “What are you so reluctant to tell me? Clearly, it concerns my mother and it is something you have deemed important, something you believe I need to know of, but it saddens you greatly.”
Helblindi does not immediately answer her. Instead, he takes a critical eye to her face and searches for some facet in her expression.
“You will not shock me by saying she is dead,” Loki informs him tersely. “I am already aware.”
Her half-brother grimaces and says frankly, “It is more the manner of her passing that makes me worry for you.” He sighs and nods curtly to himself. “I have heard of your fall, sister, and I know that you did not simply lose your grip.”
Loki clenches her teeth and wills herself to stay seated before the Frost Giant she is most closely related to.
“Whatever motives the All-Father had for keeping your heritage a secret for so long and for perpetuating the old tales that demonize our race,” says Helblindi, “they were not the motives of a loving father.”
“His actions were often cruel to me,” agrees Loki, speaking through a stiff jaw, “and unreasonably so. When I stumbled upon the truth, it all made sense to me.”
It all makes sense now, why you favored Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claimed to love me, you could never have a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard! The old words resonate in Loki’s mind and she swallows the rising bitterness in her throat. She wants this meeting to end sooner rather than later, it is exhausting her.
“Had you remained on Jotunheim,” says Helblindi, “Laufey’s parentage would have been far crueler. It was as close to kindness as he could have come when he left you as a babe beyond the citadel walls. Had Farbauti been present and willing, she may have been allowed to keep you, but…”
When he trails off, Loki rolls her eyes. “Was she slaughtered in some terrible way during the war? I was born just as it ended.”
Helblindi shakes his head and then, at last, gives her the answer he has been building toward: “Farbauti labored for many hours before giving birth to you, the son of the king and rightful heir to the throne, but when she held you in her arms and she saw how small you were…how tiny and fragile and so unlike every other infant of our kind…she felt no pride in motherhood. Instead, she felt shame. Rather than face the cruel disappointment of her husband, Farbauti chose to take up a dagger and plunge it into her own heart.”
The world around Loki disappears. Her surroundings melt away and all she sees is peripheral blackness narrowing in on Helblindi’s sorrowed expression. Her ears fill with cotton and she feels entirely numb. Blood drains from her face and she feels lightheaded, feels suddenly faint. Because this is too much. The Norns have never been kind to her, but this is taking it too far. Loki’s own mother chose death over her dwarfed child. Loki, who let go, is the unloved offspring who caused her dam to commit suicide. Loki, who let go, who is the unloved offspring of a dam who suicided, is herself the mother of a murdered son and the Queen of the Dead.
Death is her birthright and death is her legacy.
Some part of her sees that Helblindi’s mouth is moving, forming the shapes of her name and of sister, but Loki hears only static. Then the magic keeping her half-brother present must run dry because he calls to her once more before his image fades away and Loki is left facing her own horrible reflection. The sight of her true face is enough to bring her back to the present, but only to scream and fling her fist at the glass. The window shatters explosively, reacting to the violent burst of magic that accompanied the physical act. Seated now near the edge, Loki’s crazed mind considers the height and how easily she could drop herself once more into oblivion.
But then a thin sheet of metal slams down and blocks the open, empty frame. A security protocol. Or perhaps simply JARVIS looking out for his loved ones.
Loki screams again and the rest of the windows blow out—and are quickly covered like the first. She screams and the all the furniture is summarily destroyed—upholstery reduced to sorry shreds and wooden frames peeled to strips and splinters. The lights flicker and then go out as every energy efficient lightbulb shatters.
Loki screams until she thinks her heart might burst in her chest or be pushed out through her mouth.
Screams until her ribs ache and her lungs burn.
Screams, and screams, and screams.
*I've noticed that I started this fic using the name Nari and then at some point switched to Narfi. Eventually, on one of my many sporadic editing-sprees, I'll decide which one I like better and fix this.
Thank you to everything who has been waiting so patiently for me to update and to everyone who is so kudos'ing and reviewing. I love and appreciate you 3000!!