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Amor Vicit Omnia [ARC 3]

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29 May 2010 

'Father is dead', Loki had said. 

His eyes had been filled with sorrow and it had broken Thor to see it. To see his brother hurting, as much as the news had hurt him and had completely devastated him. 

Odin, the King of the Gods, the Allfather, the King of Asgard, his father. Dead. Thor still hasn't been able to process the news. 

'Can I come home?' Thor had asked. He needed to see Mother. He needed to see Father's body before they passed him onto Valhalla. He had needed the support of his friends and his people. Loki had shaken his head. 

'No. I cannot lift the banishment from you. You must learn the lessons that Father intended you to learn. You must become worthy of Mjolnir. Until then, Asgard will be closed to you', Loki had said. He had sounded stern. Firm. Just as Odin's voice had. 

Thor had been too deep in grief to be angry at his brother. Not when he looked so pained and anguished. Not when he was right. All too right. 

'Isn't there a way that you can-' Loki had given him a hard look at that. Thor had felt the tears starting to fall and he had felt foolish even as the question had left his lips. 

'You are not fit to rule, Thor. The burden of the throne has fallen to me. You need to know what it is that you are lacking as a ruler. You are too reckless. Too dangerous to sit upon the throne of Asgard'. Loki had been stern. It had hurt to hear the scathing criticism. 

But he had been right. 

'Claim the hammer Thor. Become worthy of it brother so that you may return. Learn the lessons that father has wanted you to learn', Loki has said. 

Thor does not know how. 

He does not know what lessons he is meant to learn. He does not understand how he is meant to learn the lessons without the guidance of- 

Has he always been so helpless? Is he incapable of thinking for himself? Is he unable to plan and to do things for himself without the advice of his brother, the support of his friends and the guidance of his mother? 

He is not a child. 

He should be able to figure out what it is that Father had wanted him to learn. Why he had banished Thor when it would cost him so dearly to do so. 

The spell to bind Thor's godhood to Mjolnir would have been a powerful one and Thor may not be the mage that Loki is, but he knows that it must have cost a great deal of power. 

Even gods can die when their time runs out. Thor ought to have known that. He ought to have made Father proud whilst he has had the chance. 

'I came to say goodbye, brother', Loki had said. As if he expected that Thor would never learn the lessons. Perhaps he won't. Thor cannot be sure. 

But he was grateful that he at least got to see his brother one last time. Thor had nodded. When Loki had vanished and he had been left alone... 

It had hurt. 

It still hurts. 

But there is a balm that covers that pain and that anguish and that sorrow. 

Jane Foster. 

Even without his godhood, if Thor concentrates hard enough, he can see the Connection flowing between them. A gift that his mother had passed on to him that is inherent to him. One that even Odin could not have taken away. 

He sees the thin soft glowing line that stretches and Connects him to his Soulmate. She is the one thing that makes this situation bearable. 

He does not tell her of Odin's death. He cannot acknowledge it. Not yet. But she is kind and understanding since he had returned to her temporary home. She knows that he is sad. She knows that he misses his home. 

She is so very kind and gentle. 

But she is also passionate and she burns bright like a flame. Thor is attracted to her in a way he had never been with any other woman. Her kindness and warmth are unlike any other. 

Here, he is no Prince. He has no wealth, no protection of his friends and guards. He has no family. He has nothing. There is nothing that he could give in return for her kindness. But she does not ask much of him. 

She opens her home to him and gives him refuge. She gives him sustenance that he requires. All she asks for are stories of Asgard and the Nine Realms. An explanation of the Bifrost and the magics and sciences of his world. 

He tells her the stories. He has the time and spending that time with his Soulmate, talking of the home that he misses is not a difficult task. 

But it does not lessen the dread, the fear and the sorrow of within his heart. Thor does not know how to regain his godhood. 

He is not sure if he wants to. 

Perhaps it is the will of the Norns that he remain on Midgard, love the woman that is his Soulmate and live out the rest of his limited days with her. 

At least her life and the fragile mortality of her being so fleeting to a god. Perhaps this was better. Perhaps this short life with her could be and would be better. Surely he can adjust. Surely he can find a means of earning funds and being able to provide for her. 

It's a life that he may not have been born into but it is a life that perhaps he can have, even if he were to never return to Asgard and to be able to see his family and friends. 

Loki would be a better King than him. Thor knows that. Loki was clever. He knew how to speak to the people of Asgard and he knew how to use diplomacy in ways that Thor knows that he was not capable of. Loki wasn't reckless. He could be mischievous but he is not rash. Not like Thor. 

He had always been the one to discourage Thor from his rash and reckless actions. Perhaps Loki had always been better suited to the Throne. Thor is not certain. 

As he looks over at Jane sleeping peacefully on the chaise, curled with the blankets and lit by the fire that burns, he's not sure if he even cares. 

Jane Foster is worth giving up his godhood for. 



29 May 2010 

Public Relation Nightmare. 

That is what Pepper has on her hands. Oh, she's not surprised by that. She had known that it was going to happen, at least partially. But the Expo had really ramped things up and made things a whole lot more impossibly difficult to deal with. 

Pepper had already tasked Gina Park and her exceptional PR team to start the work on the whole party fiasco and how that had turned out and they had a good narrative going but with the addition of the Expo it was really going to cause some problems. 

As much as Tony might dislike it, Pepper plans to let the world know about the poisoning. Or at least let them know that he has been unwell as a result of the strain of being Iron Man and trying to do the superhero gig effectively on his own. 

As such, he has chosen to gift the suit to a pilot that was incredibly well known already in the public for his heroics during the wars, Rhodey, the suit and have been training him in the usage of the suit. 

On his ill-fated birthday party, Tony had been planning to introduce the War Machine, but there had been some problems and it had not gone according to plan. 

Alexander and his legal team has already spoken to most of the party guests and have compensated those that required compensation and the problem was sorted on that end mostly. So there was that. 

With the Expo, the story about Ivan Vanko and his history coming out from the Interpol has certainly helped, as did the wonderful piece of journalism that Christine Everhart had done with Gina's 'leaked' information in relation to Anton Vanko and Howard Stark's relationship as far as the Arc Reactor was concerned. 

Which earned Tony a lot of sympathy votes. 

But it really didn't solve everything, which is why Pepper Potts was suffering from a headache. Clea, who apparently notices the grimace that she tries to hide, comes over with a glass of water and painkillers. 

"God, you're a blessing." Pepper tells the younger woman. Clea gives her a smile and preens a little with that showboating way that Pepper knows is designed to make her smile. It works. 

"Gina and her team, as well as Alex and his team, will be ready for the meeting in another half an hour. They are settling the last of the details. They will be set up in the conference room." Clea tells her and Pepper nods to her gratefully. 

Gods, she really isn't sure what she would have done without Clea. The fierce protection that her friend had displayed with Hammer had tried to touch her had been surprising and quite amazing to see. 

Hammer was making a big deal about laying charges against Clea for assault and battery but that wasn't going to stick. Besides, he was in enough legal troubles of his own and a close look into his company's finances and dealings were most likely going to reveal a lot of information that would be very... interesting. 

"Thank you Clea, for everything." Pepper says because it's always good to acknowledge gratitude when one feels it. Clea gives her a warm smile. 

"It's not a problem Pepper. Now, finish that glass of water and I'll see about getting us something to snack on before we go to the conference." Clea instructs her and Pepper rolls her eyes fondly before obeying. 

Even as she does, Pepper looks over the tablet and the list of things that she really needs to get handled. 

There was the media conference that she has organised to deal with the Expo that was due that afternoon. 

She really wishes that she could have Tony with her for it, but she knows better. She has spent hours discussing with Gina and the media team as to whether or not it would be better to have Tony there. 

On one hand, it would help to have Tony himself explaining for himself what has happened. But the media's attention and view of Tony has always been more negative than positive, even though that was changing of late and it's not a risk they wanted to take. 

Also, it was the man's birthday and Pepper really didn't want to tear him away from his lover and the small bit of peace he had to pull him into a media performance. 

He deserved a break from his life, his work and the circus that was the media for just a day at least to enjoy and celebrate his birthday with his lover. If it meant that Pepper had to face the media by herself, then so be it. 

On the other hand, it also allowed them to explain that Tony was recovering from the ordeal of saving all the lives from the incident. It makes sense and it was true enough. 

Pepper knows that though Tony had reassured her that the new Reactor would stop poisoning him, Tony really had not been doing well in terms of his health and letting the media know that Tony was going through a recovery period would also help to buy them the sympathy vote. 

Tony would hate the strategy. Luckily, he does not get to make the decision on that at least. 

Besides, as soon as they got past the first initial few days, Tony was going to have to give a media conference of his own and probably a few interviews, though Pepper was struggling to whittle the list down to something reasonable. 

Rhodey was going to have to be involved in a few interviews and she was liaising with the military to organise those. 

"How's Stephen and Tony?" Pepper asks. Not because she believes that Clea has been in actual contact with them, but she has access to the D'Arte systems that she doesn't. 

She's not too surprised when Clea turns to her with a look of 'I really don't want to know' splashed all over her face. Pepper kinda agrees with the sentiment, but it would be good to at least know that they are alive. 

"Tony made it to the room and Stephen made it into the room. This morning some food made it into the room so I'm going to assume that they are alive and have maybe eaten something. Or at the very least drank some coffee or something. Anything more? I'm not interested and I'm pretty sure you aren't either.." Clea sounds pained even in her dry sardonic tone. Pepper nods seriously in agreement before the two breaks out into giggles. 

God, they need some levity. 

"It's Tony's birthday... is there a way we can get a cake for them maybe?" Pepper suggests because even if she wants to know nothing about her friend's sex life because she has seen his bare arse and penis one too many times already and catching him with the sexbot really had been quite traumatising. 

It's not that she's shy or ashamed of sex or embarrassed by it. It's more that she really doesn't need to see her best friend having it and it's something private that she doesn't need to know too much about as long as the participants are happy. 

"Oh! I completely forgot. Of course! Let's see." Clea says as she hurries back to where she had set her little work area up. 

They were set up in one of the D'Arte suites and the support and care that she had gotten from the hotel and the staff has been truly quite amazing. For one, they managed to get clothes, down to underwear and shoes for her to wear following the chaotic incident.

Since she had only planned to stay in New York just for the Expo opening before returning right back to LA, she hadn't packed a suitcase. They managed to find her chargers and adaptors for her tablet and phone and set up not only rooms for her and Clea, but the other staff members that have had to fly in from LA to help deal with the chaos. 

Pepper knows that it had a great deal to do with Clea and her connection with Anderson and Stephen that made it possible, but even for companies that were in business together, this level of cooperation was unheard of. 

The D'Arte didn't only give her, Tony and their staff a place to stay, but to work as well. They even offered to and organised for the press conference to be held in their conference hall. Which was honestly amazing and for something Pepper was incredibly grateful.

As a businesswoman, she knows that there are certain dangers to just how close the two companies were working together and that if there is ever a fall out between Tony and Stephen, it could be ugly business-wise as well, but at the same time, she can't help but be glad that somehow it was working between the two and the support was incredibly helpful. 

"Here's the list of cakes from the hotel's patisserie." Clea says as she brings her tablet over with the pictures of colourful and seriously beautiful cakes all over the screen. 

"We can taste them too if you want. They have slices available. I mean, we are due for a snack." Clea suggests and Pepper can't help the way that her mouth waters at the thought of that. 

"Would that be um... too troubling?" Pepper asks even as Clea picks up the phone. She guesses the answer is a no. Fantastic. Pepper can do with some cake and if she can't spend the day with her best friend on his birthday, then she might as well be able to get a taste of the cake. Or a few cakes. 

The thing is, Tony's birthday is always the same, or at the very least, it has been since he'd been 21. He'd have a huge party with all the celebrities and socialites invited. It was the kind of affair that would be labelled 'the hottest party of the year' in the media. 

But it was also the kind of party that was put on because that was what was expected of a public figure like Tony. Tony enjoyed the parties well enough, but it was also put on a week before his actual birthday during the weekend and during his birthday, Tony preferred to spend the time quietly. 

It was usually an affair where Pepper and Rhodey came to the house, cancelling their day's work or plans where possible to just spend the day with the genius and indulge on all the bad junk foods, a whole cake between the three of them and far too much laughter. 

It's a ritual that they had shared over the years. Rhodey preferred to have his birthday parties at his home with his family and friends, but Tony never attended those because he knew that he would steal the thunder from the birthday boy. 

Instead, Tony and Rhodey usually had an extravagant brunch the day after Rhodey's birthday party. Pepper joined them in some years, but not all the time because she knew that sometimes, the two boys and their close friendship needed time alone. 

On Pepper's birthday, Tony gave her time off to visit her family out of state in Washington and she would spend her birthday week with them and when she came back, Tony usually took her and her group of close friends to an amazing night out. 

They had rules around gifts too. Nothing over a hundred dollars unless it was handmade was the rule. It usually turned all of their gifts to each other handmade and the Starkpad had actually been created for her for one of her birthdays. 

For this year, Pepper had embroidered a set of handkerchiefs with Tony's initials and a little Iron Man figure that she hoped he would appreciate. It had taken her awhile to do it between all the work, but it had been a relaxing project to take on and finally using a skill she had picked up as a little girl all those years ago. 

The gift was unfortunately back in LA, but she will get it to him soon enough. Pepper was hopeful that though they haven't been able to have their day with Tony, soon enough, Rhodey and her will be able to steal the genius away from Stephen long enough to celebrate his birthday with him. 

But considering the importance of Stephen in Tony's life now, she's okay with giving him a day to spend with her best friend. Even if that means that she has to work her arse off to ensure that Tony has that time of peace. 

"Alright, they'll bring us tea and coffee with the cakes." Clea says as she hangs up the phone and Pepper focuses back on the work at hand. 

"Fantastic. So, how are we going with the victims?" Pepper asks as she struggles to bring up the right file for that discussion. 

"The representatives at the Maria Stark Foundation are cross-referencing all the people that were treated at the scene and are at the hospitals with the list of guests that had attended the opening and ensuring that the real victims are being compensated." Clea says. Pepper sighs at that. 

The mere fact that a charity organisation such as the Maria Stark Foundation has to waste resources and time to weed out the fraudsters is painful but a real problem. 

It was taking focus away from the real victims. 

Tony had been explicit enough in telling her that he wanted to make sure that not a single victim of what happened at the Expo should be left out of pocket by the experience. Even if he hadn't said that, it wasn't as if Pepper would have allowed it to stand. 

It wasn't a matter of public attention and the positive media attention that ensuring that the victims are taken care of would give SI. It is a matter of principle and responsibility. 

Terrorist attack or not, Tony Stark as the victim of the incident or not himself, Pepper knows that both she and Tony would rest better knowing that everyone that was harmed would be taken care of and taken care of well at that. 

Having to deal with the expensive hospital bills and wondering whether or not their medical insurances covered terrorist attacks and/or having to pay premiums was the opposite of being taken care of. 

Not to mention the psychological trauma. Maria Foundation was ensuring that all of the victims were made aware of the psychological help on offer with the therapists and psychiatrists that the Foundation works with. 

What really worries Pepper is all the children that were at the Expo. Though she knows that it is a true miracle that no one was seriously injured during the incident. 

So many things could have gone so very incredibly wrong. The glass that had shattered, though they had gone through and ensured that all the glass at the Expo was safety glass and not the leftovers from the 1970s, could have hurt a lot of people very badly when it did. 

It hadn't. 

On top of that, when some of the androids that Tony and JARVIS hadn't been able to hack in time had fired off some shots, none of the bullets or the ricochets had hit any of the members of the public. 

Even the androids that had exploded had managed to do so in isolated areas or in the air over areas where no one was present to be harmed by them other than Rhodey and Tony and their suits. 

It was a serious miracle. 

Some people were touting some miraculous technology that Tony had on the phenomenon but Pepper knew better. For one, she knew that they didn't have any tech like that. 

For another, she was starting to have niggling suspicions about Clea and Stephen and the odd people and odd things that they can do. She had noticed Clea looking and nodding to several people as she had led Pepper away to the back of the stage. She hadn't acknowledged it at the time and she still hasn't but she had noticed. 

Stephen and the perfect time of his arrival as well as the fact that she knows that Clea hasn't had any time to explain to him what was happening and somehow him being able to know exactly what was happening and react to it? Yeah. That was odd too. 

It was impossibly odd in fact. 

But then... nothing really has been normal about her life or what had been happening in it since Tony had gone missing in Afghanistan and Pepper was adjusting to her new reality pretty quickly. 

That was the only thing that kept her from freaking out. 

The thing is, even knowing all of that, even knowing that Clea wasn't normal and knowing that there were secrets that were being kept from her and Tony by both Clea and Stephen, Pepper doesn't find herself resenting the secrecy nor the two of them. 

Being a PA has taught her a great deal about secrets and becoming a CEO has taught her even more about the necessity of keeping them. Secrets about their patents, their upcoming releases, the exact break down of their budgets, the health and condition of Tony Stark. They were all secrets that she had to keep. 

Confidentiality was also something that she has learnt over the years of being a lawyer and she knew how important they were. It's not that all secrets should be kept. If there were unsafe components or unsafe practices being conducted, that was something that should not be kept from the public. 

But there was always a need for her to balance the need to keep confidentiality and secrecy with going to the public and keeping them informed that needs to be balanced with the job security of their employees and the financial stability of their company that could affect the entire stock market. 

It's the responsibilities of running a multi-billion dollar international company with hundreds of thousands of employees that the public would rarely be able to understand. 

So Pepper understands that if there were secrets being kept from her, she knows that it is probably for a good reason. Especially when it is by people that she believes genuinely likes and cares for her. 

Like Tony. 

Even if she couldn't trust Clea or Stephen, which she did, Pepper knew that the secret was Clea's and Stephen's and that Tony knew some of it and he chose to keep it from her. That told her more than anything else that the secret was important. That it was being kept for a good reason. 

Given that, Pepper wasn't concerned. Curious, yes, but not concerned. Also, she wasn't as question-driven and curiosity-driven as Tony was. She was also far more patient than Tony, so she can wait. 

With that thought in mind, Pepper looks up from the charts of names and looks at Clea. 

"You know, when you're ready to tell me everything that's been going on and just what you are, I'll be waiting with an open mind." Pepper tells her quietly and there is a pause on Clea's end of the room where her fingers stop over the keyboard before they resume. The younger woman doesn't look up but resumes typing quietly. 

"I- Thank you." Clea says with a heart-filled tone and Pepper goes back down to her own work. There was still a lot to get through before they can have their promised cake and coffee. 

After all, PR nightmares don't fix themselves. 



29 May 2010 

The golden throne room of Asgard is desolate. 

Unlike Odin, who would have his courtiers and his noblemen surrounding him almost at all times throughout the day, Loki wishes for solitude other than the times he has to discuss the day's business with the Council of Elders. 

They aren't even the real Elders. No. They are simply called the 'Elders' but in essence are nothing more than old snivelling fools that have taken thousands of years of influence, wealth and power to sit upon their small thrones to have the right to rule and administer to small parts of the Asgardian affairs. 

Once those morning meetings are done and Loki makes sure that they are done rapidly, Loki can finally be alone. There isn't a great deal of business that needs to be done day to day in Asgard. It is an Empire full of beings that live for at the very least, five thousand years. 

The longevity means that things that if there are squabbles, it has been continuing for generations or has all be resolved by the time that a King has to deal with it. It is also an Empire that is unchanging. 

The biggest problem that Loki has had to deal with thus far has been the threat of Jotunheim but he is not ready to talk about the Jotuns yet. He can't. His anger and frustration and self-hate and hate for the entirety of Asgard and Odin is far too great for that name to even be mentioned in his presence. 

Luckily, Loki knows that he has time on his side when it comes to the Jotuns. They have been far too badly devastated by the wars that Odin has wrought upon them and the All-Seeing Throne tells him that though they are planning and coming together, they were far from ready to raise a hand against Asgard. 

Loki looks out through the empty throne room from the All-Seeing Throne. There is no glory from sitting on the chair. All that he feels is the cold, hard seat against his rear, the power thrumming through it and the responsibility that he had never wanted. 

It irks him to no end that he must rule over the people of Asgard rather than rail against them. Oh, he could be a terrible King. He could bring forth policies that would cleverly destroy the people of Asgard from within. 

But he won't. 

To do so would undermine what he wanted to prove. That a pure-blooded Jotun could sit upon the Throne of Asgard and rule more wisely, to bring about the changes that would be better for the people of Asgard, to bring out peace to Asgard that Odin, the great Asgardian King could not accomplish. 

He has Hel to thank for his current state of calm and the ability to think clearly. He had taken the time to visit with her before returning to Asgard from Midgard. 

It had been- the experience of finding Stephen Strange, his Connected and his Soulmate had been so overwhelming and his emotional state so deplorable when Stephen had left him standing in that cold field on his own, that he hadn't been calm enough to return to Asgard. 

He had gone instead to her and it had been... the best thing possible for him and his mind and his emotional state. 

As a being that had power over the souls, granted both by the benefits of the magic that he had passed onto her through the Jotun blood as well as her own special something and the lands that she presides over as Queen, Hel has the ability to see souls and to work with them in ways that were unprecedented. 

She had seen the fact that he had Connected the moment that he had materialised in her Queendom. She had rushed forth, hugged him and had congratulated him on making a Connection. 

But she hadn't only seen that. 

She had seen the scars that had been wrought onto his soul. She had seen the self-hatred, the anger and the pain that was etched therein and she had comforted him in ways that no one else could. 

Her beautiful green eyes had quickly filled with tears and she had cried the tears that he could not cry. She had held him and comforted him though she was but a child and needed comfort of her own. 

She had held him and she had told him to stop the hate, to forgive and to forget. To find happiness in the one that he had Connected to. 

But he couldn't. 

Like all the things that he held precious, Stephen Strange had been torn away from him. This time, not by the actions of others, but by his own. Loki had known that the moment he had seen the tears streaking down his Soulmate's face. 

He had heard it the moment he had heard Stephen cry out with fear and desperation for him to stop. He had felt it when it had torn up his insides to lash out and attack his own Soulmate. 

In his anger against the realisation of his Jotun background and Odin, he had lashed out against the one being that he should have protected with everything that he was. 

And he would pay the price for that. 

Even his proposition of the man and the man's parting words to him. It had all been a disaster of his creation. There was no one else that he could fault for the depravity of his wants and desires and the way that it had manifested itself. 

He would have to beg at the feet of the man for forgiveness. Dedicate the rest of his life to ensure that Stephen Strange was happy and safe. That Stephen's Soulmate would be happy and safe. It was the penance that he must pay for the crimes that he has committed. 

Hel hadn't commented. Loki had been grateful for that. But she had counselled him against revenge. That, Loki hadn't been so sure he could give up. 

He still wasn't so sure. 

He had told her about their heritage of being Jotun. She hadn't been surprised by the knowledge. She had known, he realised. But she had never spoken a word of it in the belief that it would make him unhappy and hoped that one day, Odin himself would tell the truth and to ensure that one day, Loki would find peace. 

She had apologised for her deception. A child but a century-old with more wisdom and compassion than the King of the Gods themselves, Loki thinks. 

Perhaps that is all that he had been looking for. 

An apology. An acknowledgement that what he had done had been wrong and deplorable. That what Odin had perpetuated and had allowed to be perpetrated against Loki was a crime for which all of Asgard and himself ought to be punished for. 

But he hadn't. 

He had made excuses. Odin had made no apologies. No. He was too proud for that. The very sin that he had accused his own son of. Frigga hadn't. 

She had apologised. 

She had held him and apologised and cried. She hadn't asked for forgiveness. She had only repeated over and over that she loved him and that her love for him had never been different from that for Thor. 

He had known that. 

She had congratulated him on the Connection as well. She couldn't see the pains in his soul as Hel could, but she saw the Connection well enough. Just as Thor will when he sees Loki again. 

But that is not what Loki was concerned with. 

Loki has a decision to make. To decide what form his revenge should take. To decide whether or not revenge is what he desires. To decide what life he wants for himself after and whether or not... he desires life at all. 

Death is a price he had never been scared of paying.