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Heart & Mind

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It had been a year since the Chitauri incident and it has been pretty much quiet for the Avengers. Of course, each of them have had their own projects to work on; but when it was necessary, they came together to stop whatever chaos was going on. But it was never anything big. That was until Thor returned with some bad news. “He what?” said a confused Steve Rogers as the five Earth-bound teammates looked at the Asgardian.

Thor sighed. “Loki managed to escape her prison. The All-Father has reason to believe that she is here on Midgard,” he explained.

“I thought that you guys would be able to keep him contained,” said Tony Stark. And that was what they all thought. They were more than happy to let the Asgardians take care of the trickster. But now… “They have any idea where on Earth she could be?” he then asked. “No pun intended of course.” Clint snorted.

“Just that she is on Midgard. She would not risk anyplace else because of the Chitauri.”

“You keep saying ‘she’,” said Natasha Romanoff. Everyone turned to the redhead as she added, “Why do you keep saying that?”

The thunder god turned a tad bit pale. “As part of the punishment, Loki’s magic was stripped down to the barest residue. But enough of it remained for her to be a problem. So the All-Father changed her into her woman form, locking the rest of her magic away. It is harder for her to get to it and she would need to try very hard to grasp even a small bit of it,” he explained. “We then kept her under constant supervision.”

“Basically on a short leash,” said Clint Barton. Thor looked at him confusingly. “You kept her close.”

“Yes, we did,” he said, finally understanding the meaning. “But then something happened and she managed to escape. As of now, we do not know how she did it.”

“She probably kept working at reaching whatever magic she could,” said Bruce Banner. “When she found something, she used it to get away.” Thor nodded, agreeing to what the scientist said.

Tony rubbed his forehead. “Well, that’s just great,” he said. “How in the world are we going to catch him…I mean her?”

“Father believes that she is slowly regaining her magic. Though without it, she can still cause much mischief,” replied Thor. The other groaned. “But as of now, we do not consider her a threat. She is likely to take her time when it comes to revenge. It is her way.”

“Is her female form permanent?” asked Natasha.

“Yes. Though a shape shifter by nature, Father made it impossible for her to go back to her male form. She can shift back to it…”

“But it won’t be her true form,” ended Bruce, picking up on what Thor was saying. Loki was stuck as a woman and may not be happy about it. “She’s been a woman before?”

“Several times,” replied Thor, a smile forming on his face as if he was remembering something. “It was one of Loki’s favorite forms.”

“Do you have a picture of what she looks like?” asked Tony. Thor nodded and put down what appeared to be a stone. Touching it, an image suddenly appeared from it, showing a beautiful woman with raven-black hair and emerald green eyes, which seemed to contrast against her pale skin. “Damn, he definitely knows how to do it,” said the billionaire with a low whistle.

Thor nodded. “Trust me, she knows how to use it,” he said.

Getting up from the table, Steve said, “Now that we know what he – she – looks like, keep an eye out.”

“I doubt that she would come near us at the moment,” said Bruce.

“Still, we need to keep watch. Who knows what he – she – can still do,” said Steve. And with that everyone got up and left, leaving Thor and Tony alone in the room.

“Think that she is going to cause any trouble?” asked Tony.

Thor sighed. “Yes,” he replied. “I just do not know how she is going to do it.” He then walked out of the room, leaving the billionaire alone in his thoughts.

***


It turned out to be sooner than expected. However, it was not in mischief – well, at least he thought it was not – but as a random thing. And it had to happen to Tony. It was a couple of days after Thor delivered the news that the inventor encountered her. He was working in his workshop trying to make updates to the suit when he heard a chuckle behind him. “I still amazes me that people would still consider you a – what was that word – hero. But mortals have such naïve minds,” said a female voice.

Startled, Tony turned around to see a dark-haired, green-eyed woman that was instantly familiar. “Loki,” he muttered.

Loki smiled. “So I see that Thor has told you about me,” she said as she sauntered up to him. “Though I hate being stuck like this, I have to admit that it does have its advantages.”

“And they said you wouldn’t make an appearance,” he said as he looked her up and down. The picture Thor showed did not do her any justice. “Tell me you’re not up to something.”

She laughed and said, “Oh, Stark, I’m always up to something. It’s just up to you if you can find out if I am or not.” She moved to stand in front of him, a finger slowly circling his arc reactor, causing him to shudder a bit. She smiled. “You’re sensitive there.”

Ignoring her comment, he asked, “What do you want?”

“I am just a bit bored,” she responded, “and decided to have a bit of fun. I do not have the strength to take you all on at once. But one of you at a time should suffice. And you seem like a perfect person to start with.” Tony grimaced at the thought. He was not too sure if he wanted to know what she was planning on doing. She then smiled and said, “You think that you know everything. But why do you need to be that way? Everyone knows that you are so damaged that you are beyond repair. So why do you care?”

He was about to say something when she suddenly disappeared. “So she can at least teleport,” he thought to himself. “JARVIS?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t mention this encounter to anyone. Not until I figure out what she is up to.”

“As you wish.”

“And file the video in a secure server under my passcodes,” he ordered as he turned back to the suit, trying to get Loki out of his mind.

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As it turned out, Tony could not get her out of his mind. Every time he tried, he just ended up thinking of her. He just did not know if it was just him, Loki manipulating his mind, or both. More than likely both when it came to him. He just wished he knew what she was up to. And what made it worse was that he had not heard from her or anything about her. That made him nervous. Yet he refused to let anyone know that he had encountered her. They would jump to too many different conclusions and he did not want that. “And they wonder why I don’t play well with others,” he thought as he continued to work on his suit.

And besides, what he did not need was for them to overreact. Especially Cap – the super soldier would keep a constant watch over him if he found out the trickster had her eye on the industrialist. Tony was okay with the Capsicle; but he did not need a babysitter. So he kept his mouth shut and told Jarvis to do the same. “You know, Stark, you are entirely too quiet,” said Clint Barton as he looked around the lab. The archer was currently bothering him right now because he thinks that he needs new arrow. Tony would have done it without anyone asking. But why ruin a reputation?

“Why say that?” asked the billionaire.

Clint shrugged. “You’re just are,” he replied. Tony knew that the archer was not the type to constantly nag verbally; but one can tell when he was worried if they knew what to look for. When worried about Tony, Clint was a bit more respectfully than most – he tended to observe first than come out with questions. Apparently, the time for observation was over. “Want to talk about it?” he asked.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Talking about it would be that something had to be bothering me. And at the moment, nothing is,” he lied smoothly. He was not too sure that the archer was going to accept it; but hopefully he would take the hint.

“Fine,” replied Clint as he went to the doors. “Just don’t try blowing us up trying to figure it out on your own.” And with that, he left, leaving the industrialist alone in his workshop. That was a little too easy, but Tony was not going to complain about it. He just wanted to be left alone at the moment.

***


It was not until the next day that he heard anything about her. Apparently, Loki had regained her ability to multiply herself, which made it very difficult for them to figure out which one of her is real. Even Thor, who was most used it, was having problems. Steve kept asking Tony if he could figure out a way to identify her. However, the inventor knew that magic was one concept that he had no idea how to detect – though it had crossed his mind to try once or twice before.

The battle lasted for about an hour, which made them suspicious that something else was going on. It turned out that they were right when Fury told them that an Air Force base armory was broken into and weapons were stolen. Yet, the evidence showed that it was not Loki who had broken in – that was not even her style. It thus left them with only one conclusion: that she was working with someone else. But who she was working with became the question.

Tony was happy to be back in his workshop after the debriefing. It was comforting to know that there was one place that was safe for him. “But how safe is it?” came a familiar voice.

He quickly spun around to see Loki leaning against a far wall. “Are you going to make this a tradition?” he asked.

She smiled. “Can’t an old friend come visit?” she asked as she walked towards him.

“Friends?” he scoffed as he stayed where he was. “You just tried to kill me.”

“That’s how I show my affection.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

She laughed. “Oh, Stark,” she said as she began to play with the reactor again. “I do not fool. I play. It is so much fun to see you all try to figure things out.”

“We stopped you before,” he reminded her.

“Much to my regret. Yet, perhaps it was a good thing that you did,” she said. “Though it would have been interesting to see you imbeciles go up against him.”

Tony stared at her for a moment. “Him?” he asked. “Who are you talking about?”

Loki gave him a brilliant smile and replied, “That would be cheating. And I do not like to cheat. Figure it out on your own.” Leaning up, she gave him a teasing kiss before saying, “It can be part of our little game.”

She then disappeared, leaving a dumbstruck industrialist staring into thin air. “Jarvis?” he asked.

“She is gone as far as I can tell, sir,” the AI replied.

“Continue to not mention this.”

“As ordered.”

With that said, Tony left the workshop in order to take a shower. Yet again, he was having trouble getting the mischief maker out of his mind. “I’m so screwed,” he thought.

Chapter Text

She visited quite a bit after that. Tony could not figure out if Loki was just plain bored or had something else in mind – though he figured it could be both. Yet, all she did was talked…and flirt, though he was sure she was trying to seduce him. “Tony? Are you alright?” came the voice of Bruce Banner. He and Tony were currently working on a way to track Loki. And considering that no one knew the industrialist was already talking to her, Tony knew that this would probably not end well.

“I’m fine,” chimed the billionaire – the same line he had been giving everyone who asked.

“So why do I not believe that.”

Tony groaned. Only Bruce would be able to say that to him and not make it sound terrible. “Nothing to worry about,” he said, never once looking up at the fellow scientist. The other man just shook his head and went back to work.
Yet the peace would not last for long. Apparently Bruce was not the only one concerned about him. “What’s going on?” asked Steve Rogers as he walked purposefully into the lab. Bruce had already left to check on a few things, leaving Tony to continue to program. Now the billionaire wished that he was still here.

Sighing, the industrialist looked up at the super soldier and answered, “Why can’t anyone take the answer ‘I’m fine’? It would be so much easier.”

“Considering that you’re lying to us?”

“I’m not lying.” Well, sort of. But Tony was not going to admit that. He just did not want to give Rogers the satisfaction of proving him wrong. The billionaire and the captain still had a rocky friendship – if a person wanted to call it that – considering that Rogers still held Howard Stark in high esteem, refusing to believe that he became the man Tony remembered. “Denial is such a disease,” thought Tony.

“You are. You need to tell us what is going on.”

“I can’t tell what’s going on since nothing is going on.”

“Damn it, Stark! For all I know, you’re endangering us with staying silent about whatever it is.”

“I doubt it is.” Yet.

Rogers glared at him before turning around. “Fury is getting suspicious. He’s ordered us to find out what you are hiding. It would be better to tell us than for everyone to find out the hard way,” the captain told him before walking out.

Tony sighed. “Great, now I have to deal with Fury,” he thought. He hated to deal with the S.H.I.E.L.D. director – he dealt with him more than he liked – but now he had to make sure that Fury never found out. “I hate my life,” he muttered as he turned back to the computer.

“It’s not so bad,” came a musical voice.

Groaning, he said, “You’re making me look suspicious.”

Loki smiled and replied, “I thought you liked that persona.” He looked up at her, giving her the best glare that he could. She must have found it amusing because she laughed. “Come on, Stark,” she said. “If you are going to glare at me, put more effort into it.”

“What do you want now?”

He watched as her face shifted slightly, as if she was deciding if she wanted to tell him. “I have to admit that your little argument with Captain Rogers was quite amusing,” she replied.

“You saw that?” asked Tony, wondering how he missed noticing her. He has spotted her every time before.

“You were to focused on the argument while the captain is too feeble-minded to notice anything unusual,” replied Loki. “I knew that you were keeping my visits a secret. But I did not know to what extent.”

“You’re my problem,” he said as he turned his attention back to his computer.
She smiled. “I’m more than a problem,” she said. “But you will be having bigger problems before long. I’ll be the least of your worries.”

Confused, he looked up and asked, “What are you talking about?” But she was gone. Tony shook his head. “Damn woman,” he muttered.

“I agree with that,” came a familiar voice. Startled, Tony looked up to see Bruce standing in the doorway. “That was not what I was expecting,” said the surprised scientist.

“Loki, I hate you,” mumbled the industrialist as he began to figure out ways to explain this.