When you close your eyes, the last thing you see is Watson’s horrified face. Then you’re falling, falling, the roar of the wind in your ears drowning out Moriarty’s screams.
The calculations for your survival are about the same as for your death, and you have the item needed for your survival if you don’t land on the rocks. Even if death chooses to embrace you, it matters not.
You hit the water alone, the sudden shock of cold and the harsh impact driving the breath out of your lungs. You scramble for the oxygen device, but before you are able to grasp it, there is a sharp pain in your head.
The next thing you are aware of is the remnant of something sweet on your tongue, and you open your eyes with a gasp, coughing out ice cold water.
There is a pale man with startling green eyes and long black hair hovering over you, looking extremely satisfied. He wears the oddest attire and carries himself with the bearing of royalty. “Oh good. It would have been terribly tedious if you had died after all the trouble I went through for you.”
There must be a slack-jawed expression on your face judging from the eye roll the stranger gives you. “Come now. Don’t gape. It doesn’t suit you in the least.”
Finally, you manage to gasp out one word that doesn’t suit your significant intelligence in the least. “What?”
“Hmm.” The stranger eyes you thoughtfully. “Perhaps allowances should be made considering you were technically dead.”
“Dead?” You blame the lack of oxygen and cold night air on your unusually slow thought processes. It might also be due to the peculiar fact that it is particularly difficult to deduce anything about this strange man.
“Very much so,” the stranger reassures you, patting your shoulder gently. “Much like your dear professor now.”
As you turn to the frothing pool at the foot of the waterfall, you notice a broken figure on the rocks. Moriarty is dead then, but why not you?
“Why am I alive?” you ask.
The stranger’s lips twist into a smile, green eyes on Moriarty’s body. “Madness that seeks to destroy is so dull, don’t you think? It is much more interesting to see how you mortals seek to protect your world.”
Before you can ask, the man stands in one smooth motion. “Now, I shall be off. Do be a dear and be careful. You make Midgard so much more interesting.”
Without a sound or sign, the stranger vanishes, leaving you staring at the empty space where he had been scant seconds before.
There is no possible explanation for such a happening. Nothing but magic, and you are aware that there is no such thing.
Yet once you have eliminated all possibilities, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
One thought aside from magic does remain: none of this makes any bloody sense.
It is three years before you make your presence known to Watson. You have seen him before, but in secret. The time away you have spent dismantling Moriarty’s extensive criminal network, including hunting down Moran. Moran is last to go, but when he is gone, you can exhale in relief knowing that your job – the most dangerous game you have played yet with a dead madman – is done.
When you see Watson again, he is in mourning. Mary Morstan has passed away, and Watson resides in 221b Baker Street by himself. (Doubtlessly due to sentiment, but you don’t complain. Sentiment has been your nourishment these last three years.) The reunion goes much as you expect. That easy friendship between you two has been lost due to betrayal and secrets. Watson eyes you warily, as if you may disappear at any moment.
But you don’t. You stay, and with time Watson grows to relax around you once again. He scolds you for experimenting on Gladstone, for not sleeping, for shooting holes in the walls, and accompanies you on cases once Lestrade has recovered from the shock.
It is a year later when you realize something is not quite right. You deck a large man twice your size, and he doesn’t get up. Another attempts to smash in your head with an iron bar, but all that accomplishes is a large lump that disappears a day later.
Watson notices neither incidence due to an unfortunate cold. You have not told him about that ethereal conversation with a green-eyed stranger at the foot of the falls, and you have no plans to do so.
You remember the taste of something sweet and wonder.
Your search for the identity of your savior turns up nothing. Norse myths give Earth the name of Midgard, but there is no mention of a man with green eyes and black hair.
The obscure legends mention dozens of gods, but none with the power to restore life save for Hel, and your savior was a man. There are the golden apples, but you have not been remade into a god.
Unsatisfied, you abandon the search for now.
You and Watson age ahead of your times, stress and the accumulation of years of mistreating your bodies taking their toll. Watson is terminally ill now, and you are at his deathbed, observing your dear friend’s last moments.
Your face has age lines and your hair is streaked with gray. But where Watson has increasingly lost his mobility, his old war wounds acting up, your body still feels like you are thirty-five (albeit with an impressive appetite that had horrified Watson due to the amount of food you could devour).
When the stranger appears, it is silently and without warning. You feel a presence at your shoulder, and although you only met him once, you recognize it instantly.
“It’s you,” you say, looking up and to the side to see him.
He has not changed at all. His green eyes rest on Watson’s prone figure. “Do you not find this tedious?” he asks.
“Not at all.” You watch as he circles the bed, coming to face you now.
“Are you not curious?” the stranger finally asks, smiling knowingly.
“Of course,” you answer. “But will you answer my questions?”
The stranger considers the question. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. It depends on what you ask.” He arches an eyebrow. “You do have the remarkable tendency to cover only the fine points given your talent.”
“I would thank you, but I sense that it was not entirely a compliment.”
“You would be right.” The stranger pauses, mouth pursed. “You will not die,” he says, looking directly at you.
You frown in puzzlement. How can you not die? You are growing older; every mortal dies. “Impossible.”
“Perhaps in this world given your constraints,” the stranger concedes. “But you are no longer mortal.”
“I age,” you say sharply. “How can I not be mortal?”
The stranger smiles pityingly. “You think you age because that is what you expect. It is remarkable what powers the mind has over the body. You haven’t even noticed, have you? I would have thought that with your powers of deduction…”
You are unusually resilient, much more so than before you fell off the waterfall. But that does not mean you are no longer mortal.
The stranger reads your doubt in your face. “Well, it is rather farfetched considering your world’s tales. You did die that night. Magic can do many things, but it cannot bring back one who was dead. Not by itself. I know you have researched Norse mythology”—he smiles amusedly—“and have run across our golden apples. I used one such apple with a dash of magic.” He inclines his head to you. “The result sits before me.”
“And yet I age.”
“Because you think you age. You haven’t, not really.” The stranger smirks, leaning slightly forward. “You are a brilliant detective, Sherlock Holmes. One of your many talents is that of hiding your true face. As a god of my making, you require a talent. My magic drew out that which was most prevalent aside from your extraordinary powers of observation.”
Pieces fall into place in your mind, and you find that you cannot deny the inevitable truth. Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. You know this.
“What is your name?” you ask finally.
The stranger gives you a broad smile, hands tucked behind his back. “Loki, Sherlock Holmes. I am Loki of Asgard.”
With these parting words, Loki of Asgard disappears, leaving you at the deathbed of your dearest friend.
You look down at Watson, unusually calm despite what you have just been told. This calls for different measures now, as you know you will not die in the near future. You will die eventually; the magic of the golden apples does not last forever. You have only consumed it once; it will wear off in due time.
“Well, old chap,” you say to Watson, “it would seem that our reunion will be postponed for an indefinite period of time.” You reach out to clasp his hand, squeezing it gently. “But fear not,” you continue gently. “I will see you again.”
So you sit and wait. There is not much time left.
You watch as Watson’s labored breathing slows, the rise and fall of his chest barely visible. Eventually, he exhales and doesn’t inhale again. You look down at him, engraving his well-known features to memory, an act you have performed countless times before.
Finally, you bend down to press your lips against his forehead in a silent kiss. It is mere moments later when you leave the room.
Without John Watson’s spirit, the shell holds no interest.
Though you had initially thought that you could manage without Watson’s presence, it is far lonelier than you thought it would be to live in London – in England – without your dearest friend.
It is a decade later and the year is 1910 when you realize that you are utterly alone. Your friends – few that they had been (Watson had been the only one, if you are entirely honest) – have died. Your work is no longer respected given your advanced age, though your mind is as sharp as it was when you were at your prime. And are you not still? Frozen as you were when you took on the greatest case of your career?
You are alone, and it is so very tiring to continue to be Sherlock Holmes when there is no one who understands who you are.
Perhaps it is time for a change.
You make a new life for yourself in London, starting over as a young man from abroad who is searching for a job as a doctor. You purposefully give yourself a bad foot, as war is on the horizon. You have no desire to fight; your time is over, though you may still live.
You foresee the end of World War I before it comes. You know that another will come eventually. Moriarty was right; mankind does love to fight amongst themselves. But there is some comfort in the knowledge that no matter how bloody the war was, you prevented an infinitely bloodier war from occurring because of Moriarty’s machinations.
Humans, such as they are, should be allowed to make their own mistakes without interference.
Even if you no longer are one.
When World War II is officially announced, you are a well-respected doctor with a small practice in a small town in the north of England. You keep an eye on the war’s progress through various newspapers, reading in-between the lines.
Though the government does not expressly say it, you know that the war is not going well the first few years. You notice a name continually coming up in the papers, that of Howard Stark, the brilliant young mind behind the weapons that the Allies are using.
When America joins the fight in 1941, you see the tide of the war turning. And in 1943, Captain America is first mentioned, the symbol for the American army.
Two years later, when the war ends, you read of a plane crash in the ice and of Captain America’s heroic sacrifice. The picture of the uniformed soldier strikes a chord in you, though you are uncertain as to why.
It is 1945, and you are so very tired.
It is 1960, and you are going to America. You can no longer stay in England without memories accosting you at every turn. Though you may not have lived in London for years, Watson’s presence continues to haunt you.
You are so very alone here in England. While you have made friends in your new life, many have passed away or moved elsewhere. Those that remain you know you will outlive. None know your true face.
It is so very tedious.
It is early in 1970 when Loki comes to see you in your small apartment in America. You have retired from your practice, using your life’s earnings to live a secluded life in the countryside.
“Making plans?” he asks, leaning against the doorframe as you light a Bunsen burner in your kitchen.
“The best laid plans by mice and men will go awry,” you say mildly. “What are you doing here, Loki?”
“I can’t visit a friend?”
“Acquaintance,” you correct, glancing his way. “The term ‘friend’ indicates some sort of affection on either party’s side.”
Loki smirks amusedly. “You feel no affection for me?”
Loki watches as you carefully pour a mixture of chemicals into the pot above the burner. “What do you see?” he eventually asks you, green eyes sharp.
Watson’s resigned yet fond smile appears in the smoke in front of you. You say, honestly, “Everything.” Then, “And nothing.”
“A dichotomy, hm?” Loki muses thoughtfully. He shifts to stand behind your shoulder. “That will explode,” he notes, “and rather violently.”
“I know.” You smile at him. “It does get repetitious lying in a morgue.”
Loki laughs delightedly, eyes gleaming. “I do wish you the best of luck, Sherlock Holmes.”
Then he is gone, and you are alone in the kitchen with a mixture that will soon explode, taking your second life with you.
As the years pass, so do the times and social mores. You watch as females gain the vote and other freedoms long since denied them. You watch as Martin Luther King Jr. gives his speeches and marches to Washington D.C. You watch as the Stonewall Riots take place.
You watch and wonder at why humans continue to deny others what they hold so dear. You are from a time where blacks and women were repressed and the Civil War in America had been fought and won by the North, freeing blacks from slavery but chaining them in other ways.
One of the best people you ever knew was a woman. One of the strongest men you met on your mission those three years was a black. You have never cared for social mores, but you can’t help but wonder what Watson would have thought of these happenings, so far removed from your own bygone era.
Watson always was more concerned about appearances.
In retrospect, you were perhaps a bit too fascinated with Howard Stark. But he was so interesting: a womanizing genius alcoholic with one of the largest businesses in the world. You read endless speculations about his sanity when Howard Stark sends expedition after expedition into the Arctic, searching for Captain America’s downed plane. This comes with countless other articles espousing his genius and his place as the most brilliant mind of his generation.
Then come the news that Maria Stark is barren, leaving Howard Stark without an heir. It is at this point that you first consider your next life. A voice sounding like Watson chides you for it, so you think nothing more of it until it is time to enact your plan.
Perhaps it is false to say that you hadn’t thought anything of it. Consciously perhaps not, but you have done your research with the ultimate end goal in mind.
In 1972, you are in an orphanage and two years old. When Howard Stark comes in at his wife’s urging to look for a child to adopt, you are who he picks. It might help that you were looking at a mechanics book no normal two-year-old would read, but your goal has been accomplished.
In 1974, you build your first circuit board at four years of age, establishing yourself as a genius (which you are, but still). You see the look in Howard Stark’s eyes, that of surprise, respect, and not a little bit of fear. Fear that perhaps he cannot deal with you?
It really doesn’t matter in the end. You are an adult, even if your current guise is that of a small, dark-haired child with brown eyes.
When you are “ten,” you think that it is perhaps for the best that Howard Stark never adopted an actual child. Though the man is brilliant, he is not father material. It is fortunate that you already had a childhood, for this one is sorely lacking.
Howard drinks too much, too often. He doesn’t smile or give you a kind word, even when you fly through school. He gives you your first drink when you are five, a glass of bourbon while telling you that it will make you a man.
You have always danced on the irresponsible side of the line, but alcohol has never been one of your vices. Given the small figure you are in now, even a glass of bourbon would make you terribly drunk. But all it does is burn your throat as it goes down, and you swallow the rest under the light of Howard’s maniacal eyes. There is no effect on you, and for once you think that being nigh immortal with a terribly high metabolism is fortunate. (You do not think about the fact that this circumstance would never have occurred if not for Loki.)
When you graduate high school at thirteen and enter MIT, you do several degrees on the side while pursuing your official engineering degree. If there is one thing that being alive for so long has taught you, it is that boredom is tedious and all-consuming unless you have something to occupy your mind.
Given how your mind has worked before, deducing and observing the world around you and predicting behaviors ahead of time down to the slightest nuance, engineering is remarkably easy for you to pick up. When you are seventeen and so tired of being ignored and isolated even by your “parents,” you build the world’s first artificial intelligence, Dummy. He is a rather clumsy attempt at what is supposed to be a fully cognizant artificial intelligence, but you love him nonetheless. Unlike humans, Dummy is far more resilient.
You graduate in 1987 from MIT with three different degrees, one in biology, another in mechanical engineering, and a third in computer programming. You have plans for more in the following years. There is so much to learn in this new age of information.
You hide yourself behind a reputation of being brilliant and eccentric, much like your first life. Geniuses are known to be erratic individuals, and you have more cause than most to dance on the edge of insanity. While no one understands you and you are still terribly lonely, it is so much easier to be alone than to attach yourself to someone only to have them die while you still live.
When you are “twenty-one,” Howard Stark and his wife die in a car crash, leaving you as the heir to Stark Industries. It was not what you expected, but you can roll with it. You have ideas for the company.
It is after your adopted parents die that you see Loki again. He comes to visit you when you are alone in the large mansion that Howard had resided in, which you would have despised even more if it were not for the butler who had been your companion.
You do not react when he appears. You are so very tired, and you have dropped your disguise, now appearing your natural age (the age at which Loki had saved you).
“Why?” you finally ask, turning to the trickster god. You fall into your natural accent, letting the American one you have been holding for years fall away.
Loki makes no pretenses to misunderstand what you are asking. “It seemed a shame,” he says, “to have such a brilliant mind go to waste. Even if your plan had succeeded and you had survived naturally, I would not have let you die years later surrounded by bees.”
You are indeed very fond of bees, but you cannot imagine dying without Watson at your side. You find it very difficult even now just to live, alone as you are.
“But why me?” you ask again. “I have no one, Loki. You can’t find this remotely interesting.”
“But I do,” he says, grinning with a flash of white teeth. “You are fascinating, Sherlock Holmes.”
“Tony,” you say tiredly. “Tony Stark.”
“Indeed.” Loki sounds fascinated. “Don’t you find it miraculous? How much the world has changed from your time?”
“It is past my time,” you agree.
“You are a man of the world, Sherlock Holmes. Your time will always be the present.”
“I will die,” you say. “Even your kind does not live forever, Loki.”
“You will live a great deal longer than you expect, Anthony Stark.” Loki sounds amused as he uses your new name. “You may have had the apple only once, but it was not the usual kind.”
Your eyes widen, but there is nothing else you can say to the empty air.
A glass of scotch shatters against the wall.
If you aren’t going to die anytime soon, then you might just as well make the best of it.
You have never been a fighter in the sense that Watson was. You fight to release the aggression, you fight to engage your mind, you fight to reveal what wants to remain hidden. But you have never approved of fighting for violence’s sake. You watched as humanity sunk themselves into war after war in the twentieth century and wondered if they would ever learn.
Howard Stark invented weapons, ingenious marvels of technology that were far more destructive than anything else available. You did not approve of it, but you could see the ideals behind his reasoning. If he could not protect the American soldier, then who could? It mattered not if the weapons dealt untold casualties on the enemy, as long as Americans could come home from the battlefront.
It is something you can empathize with, having seen Watson suffer from his battle wounds and whenever someone he once knew on the battlefield died because a doctor wasn’t good enough or backup wasn’t quick enough.
Yet you had not intended on continuing Howard Stark’s legacy. There were other, brighter ideas you could pursue in the name of Stark Industries rather than the legacy of death and destruction that Howard had left in his wake beginning with the development of the atomic bomb.
But Loki’s visit has made you bitter. If you won’t die soon (if you won’t see Watson soon), then you can’t see why you should continue to cling to ideals that are by now pitifully outdated. You have long since passed the time where you would consult with the police on unsolved cases. You still call in – anonymously, of course – when it concerns cases that reach dead ends when the police fail to see evidence that lies right before their eyes (one thing that does not change from year to year, which you find terribly amusing). You have been responsible for catching many a serial killer or rapist who would have gone free if not for the evidence you submitted.
You are not a fighter, you are not a warmonger, but perhaps you should change this one thing. Although your weapons will kill others, if you can help save a life because your weapons were faster, more efficient, and just better than the other side, perhaps it will all be worth something.
And to remain the youngest CEO in the history of America, you do need to come up with something other than an AI who keeps dropping things.
You are “twenty-two” when you notice something in the math doesn’t add up. Weapons that should be there aren’t, and money that shouldn’t be there is.
Whoever is doing it is good, very good indeed. He’s probably been doing it for years judging from how smoothly the operation is running. You probably wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t Sherlock Holmes, the greatest mind of your generation (and even now, though perhaps that is cheating considering your actual birth date). But you’ve noticed, and now that you know, you sift through everything Stark Industries has ever done to find the culprit.
Not too surprisingly, your culprit happens to be Obadiah Stane. With your evidence in hand, you fire him and other employees that were involved. There is not much that Stane can do with the proof you have against him, even if you are young enough that many people think you will fail and the company will go under.
As expected, the stocks drop when you end weapons production. During the one year you designed and manufactured them, you found that you couldn’t manage it. Not while calculations would run through your head totaling up the death count on the other side. And while you had tried to justify it by saying it would protect Americans, would protect those you wanted to protect, you now know that nothing will stop your weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
If not Stane today, it will be another person tomorrow. You know that now, having received a wakeup call. Perhaps you are still too idealistic for this world, though Watson would laugh at you ever being called idealistic. You, who could see the darkest side of London and come out unscathed. You, who had torn down Moriarty’s organization from the top down and then clawed your way up to make sure it would never happen again.
But you’ve adjusted – partly, in any case – and have turned Stark Industries to a different path. The stocks rise when people realize you haven’t abandoned the military. Instead of creating weapons, you create technology that will protect soldiers. You work on phones, computers, satellites…
Eventually you will turn your face toward clean energy because the path the world is on now will never last, an eye on the arc reactor that Howard Stark had created with Anton Vanko.
You are “twenty-five” when you first begin work on your biggest project yet, a fully functional AI. You build Butterfingers and You as stepping stones, but both will pale in comparison to your final project.
You hire Virginia Potts when you are “twenty-seven” because she reminds you of a similar woman in an earlier life. She is the one who stays, but you dare not become closer than friends. You’ve already experienced what happens when you lose a loved one.
You meet James Rhodes a year after hiring Virginia Potts. Despite your better judgment, he stays close to your side, dealing with your quirks and habits in a manner similar to Watson. It is with guilty thankfulness that you are relieved when he is continually called back to the military. He reminds you too much of Watson even as he isn’t, and it hurts.
You are “thirty” when your project is up and running. Because you miss the voice, you give him a British accent. Because of the memories, you name him JARVIS. Because you can, you give him full sentience on a level you hadn’t been able to give Dummy. You know of the stories written by men earlier this century on intelligent robots rising against their creators. You know they are fools; AIs learn, it is in their nature. Rising up against their creators is something only fools would do. And JARVIS is no fool.
And while Pepper and Rhodey (nicknames given out of fondness because you’ve found that’s what friends in this new era do and you miss Mycroft and his endearing “Sherly”) are transient and will not remain, your AIs will stay regardless of what happens. Programs can be transferred, even if bodies break down.
You are “thirty-five” when you go to Afghanistan to promote a clean energy source to bring electricity and water and heat to impoverished villages. It is a hot zone because of the war, and Rhodey goes with you out of concern and because he is your liaison with the military.
Everything goes well, too well. Your demonstration is a success, and you are heading back to the base when you are attacked. The young military people you travel with are killed before your eyes, and while you try to help, there is little you can do. Engineering hands and a mind honed for fine details do little in a firefight.
In the end you are hit by a bomb that you recognize as one of the models you had designed during your first year.
You are delirious with pain the first several times you wake. One time you hear mutterings of conversation in Pashtun, something you understand as a ransom demand. A second time you wake as someone is digging in your chest, pulling out bone and muscle and rearranging your insides.
You can’t die, you know you can’t die, but the man shoveling inside you will not listen. The pain comes to be too much and you fall back into unconsciousness.
The next time you wake you are sane, but with a car battery attached to an electromagnet in your chest. You can’t breathe around the obstruction in your chest, and it hurts with every movement you make. Yinsen – the doctor who saved you – tells you that the device has been attached and bolstered to your rib cage so as not to crush your chest.
You know that you heal extraordinarily quickly, but you doubt that it will help much if you have foreign objects in your body that will pierce your heart. You don’t know if even that will kill you, but it seems prudent to lean in favor of “not,” and you don’t want to chance living in agony for the rest of your indefinitely long existence if you foul this up.
Your captors have been hired by someone to kill you, but you do not know whom without further investigation. They haven’t killed you because they know who you are and what you used to do. They don’t want your clean energy; they want the bombs and WMDs you had been creating when you first took over Stark Industries.
You tell them no, but really, it’s only to buy time. You have a plan for escape.
The escape plan goes largely as expected, except for Yinsen’s death. You had known that his family was dead, but hadn’t thought that he would actually follow through on his suicidal plan, thinking that perhaps he would find a reason to live.
It’s odd, really, how sometimes the smallest quirks in human minds can escape your reasoning. But then you’ve always had trouble, no matter how much you might try to deny it.
Watson was your anchor, and now that he’s no longer around (and hasn’t been for years) you frequently flounder. And it costs you, because you are the man who has everything yet nothing and you will never have anything because everything dies except for what you build with your own two hands.
The suit you built will be your everlasting legacy, even if you leave behind this life of Anthony Edward Stark.
The Mark I suit you built in that cave gives you a taste of what an adventurous life was like. You haven’t forgotten your first life as Sherlock Holmes (how could you forget Watson), but it is becoming far removed from your time here in this new fast-paced world of computers and phones. You want more, and really, it’s a brilliant way of trying to reduce violence.
Your weapons from that one brief year as weapons designer are still out there, including older versions from when Howard had still been alive. You know that they are still killing people. Taking care of Stane had done nothing to stop that because there are still caches of your illicit weapons hidden in the world. Doubtlessly hoarded, because Stark tech is revered no matter what kind it is.
So you build and you tinker, coming up with the Mark II. You hide yourself away for this time just like you did long ago with only Watson for company, but it’s not possible to do so without consequences anymore. The board talks of ousting you, tossing around terms like PTSD (which you don’t have because come on – you’ve lived over a hundred years, you don’t think you can deal with a little bit of bloodshed and an arc reactor in your chest?).
That arc reactor is the key to clean energy, but you haven’t yet released the designs. You need a way to make it safer, to stop others from using it to the same destructive potential you can use it for in your suits. If no one else can replicate it (and they can’t, they’ve tried, you’ve seen the specs in R&D, and it’s laughable), then they’ll just have to deal with the kiddie version you’ll release when you can.
You haven’t found the person behind your attempted murder in Afghanistan. The lack of technology in that particular part of the world hinders your search. You don’t tell Pepper or Rhodey, because they won’t understand how you know it wasn’t just a random hit on an American military convoy. JARVIS is the only one who knows about you and your past, because if you can’t trust your own AI (child) than who can you trust?
That’s really all you find out before all hell rips lose and you’re fighting an updated version of your Mark I. Hammer was helping him, too, you can tell because of the bloody awful tech that is equipped on the suit Stane is using. The power source is rudimentary and somewhat based off the giant arc reactor, meaning a third person was involved.
You do defeat him (end up killing him just like Moriarty so long ago), and it costs you the large scale arc reactor. Then you use the evidence you’ve found on Hammer’s servers to send him to prison and make sure that he stays there. You have eyes and ears everywhere (because of JARVIS) and it’s simple enough to make sure that Stark Industries buys out Hammer Industries and absorbs his entire fortune. It’s done quietly enough that no one notices that your company has just purchased a majority share of Hammer Industries, and you know (the calculations tell you) that Hammer will remain where he belongs.
And in the fallout of Stane’s attack, you find your suit makes a name for itself as Iron Man and a clandestine government agency called S.H.I.E.L.D. steps in to intervene on your behalf. It’s a nice touch because you don’t have to do the cover up work yourself.
You’ve had the publicity in your first life, you don’t want more of the same, so you stick to the note cards.
Agent Coulson seems simple enough at first glance to anyone ordinary, but you see what others don’t. He’s no simple paper pusher, and you know that this is a man you want on your side. He reminds you of a more efficient Lestrade, and you wish with a pang that Watson were here because he could comment on Coulson’s lacking fashion sense.
Not that your own was much better, you admit. The only reason you’re relatively clean shaven now is because Pepper browbeats you into retaining a respectable image as Stark Industries’ CEO. You wish you could tell her that as a respected detective in London, no one had cared whether you were clean shaven or smelled like formaldehyde.
The upside now is that you are removed enough from your original life that you are aging as gracefully as you had when you were still Sherlock Holmes and don’t start whenever you look in the mirror because the face is your own, not a stranger’s you made up on the spot.
Nick Fury comes to see you, aware that you are the man behind the Iron Man suit. He talks about a superhero initiative, but you tell him to return after he’s found the third man that was involved in Stane’s scheme.
When Fury tells you that he’s already been taken care of, you know that you have a powerful potential ally on your hands.
You lease out your “bodyguard” to help with working out treaties. And it works for the most part. It works until the government tries to claim Iron Man’s suit as their own, and then you’re just bloody upset.
You have enough information on the men hounding for the suit to get them to quiet. Several are having affairs, one is dealing drugs on the side, another has turned a blind eye to a human trafficking ring, and two are heavily involved in the prostitution of minors. Anonymous e-mails sent to all of them are enough to stop them from pursuing the agenda to confiscate the Iron Man suit.
It doesn’t help with the poisoning of your blood. You hadn’t thought it was possible; you had known that palladium would eventually lead to this if you were a human, but apparently even being a pseudo god wouldn’t be enough.
But your healing prevents it from rapidly worsening. In the end, it really isn’t a concern of yours.
When Natalie Rushman joins your employment, you know she isn’t who she says she is. Her bearing is too smooth, her voice holds a bit of an accent, and she throws down Happy without flinching.
You are a capable fighter, but you suspect that it would be difficult to hold your own against a fighter of Natalie’s capability. You suspect S.H.I.E.L.D.’s involvement, and a little hacking into her background documents confirms this. You make sure that she is reassigned from her initial job as press manager to Pepper’s assistant, citing a massive workload as your reason for doing so.
You don’t know why she is here, other than maybe your little poisoning problem because it would seem that S.H.I.E.L.D. would know of such a thing.
You are looking for a new element to replace the palladium in your arc reactor (both to make it more efficient and less likely to cause you pain) when Loki visits you again for the first time in decades.
He is dressed differently, this time in human clothes with a scarf. His eyes are harder than you remember them being, but he still moves with that effortless grace you remember from years before.
“You have been busy,” he notes, studying the different Iron Man armors against the wall. You are up to five models, though the fifth is a suitcase for easier transport. The Mark VI is currently in development.
You don’t look up from your holographic interface. “Is there something you needed?”
“Merely to check up on you,” Loki says, coming round to your side. He lifts a hand to pull aside the collar of your jacket, tsking as he sees the markings from the palladium poisoning. “Health troubles?”
“It’s nothing.” You pull away from his touch.
“You know,” Loki says nonchalantly, eyes sharp, “gods can die. We are not immortal.”
“You’ve never said otherwise.”
“Ah. But I have never said how we can die, have I?” Loki is in front of you now, his face blue through the holographs hovering between you. “A shot to the heart”—his eyes flicker down to your chest—“our head chopped off, and age will all do us in. The heart, perhaps, is the weakest part of us.” He reaches out to touch your reactor. “You will want to take care of that, before it is too late.”
“And if I don’t want to?”
“It would be a shame.” Loki draws back, rolling his shoulders. “I did already break the rules for you once, did I not? What is a second time? Do not forget, Sherlock Holmes, that the time on the apples adds up.”
“So you’re threatening me.” You can’t stop an incredulous grin. “You’re threatening me with a longer life if I don’t stop this.” You tap the reactor. “You know, I can’t believe that I’m all that important to you. I’m just a guy, a guy in a technological suit that fights bad guys. How interesting am I really?”
Loki smiles, more a baring of the teeth than an actual smile. “Do not underestimate yourself, Sherlock Holmes. You are very, very interesting. What you have done for yourself…” He looks around at the workshop, gesturing at the other holographs and the bots situated in a corner. “You are – in a word – spectacular.”
“You’re inflating my ego. Pepper says you shouldn’t do that.”
“You have changed.” Loki laughs lowly. “Changed and adapted. I must admit, I wasn’t sure you could.”
“Thank you.” You drop your eyes back down to the periodic table you have pulled up just to look at something.
Your attention is caught by Loki as he approaches you again, coming right up to your face to push through the holograph, eyes narrowed. “Tell me, Sherlock Holmes, what do you see?”
There isn’t a doubt in your mind as to what he means. You sweep your eyes over his figure, making note of everything that has changed since the last you saw him.
“I see you,” you finally say, meeting Loki’s sharp green eyes. You catch your breath at what you see there.
Loki draws back slightly, gaze still narrowed as he observes you. “Do you?” he murmurs. “Do you really?”
And he is gone, leaving you with the cold realization that unless you want to spend millennia more here (without Watson), you had better find a cure before this kills you.
As it turns out, Nick Fury hands you the cure on a silver platter. You are almost insulted, but then you decide you don’t really care because it saves you the worry of having to figure out how to invent an element before Loki decides to force feed you another golden apple.
You find out at that point that Natalie Rushman is really Natasha Romanov. Your acting abilities allow you to pretend to be surprised. You do tell Natasha she is fired but welcome to stay as the frighteningly alluring bodyguard. Not surprisingly, she declines.
Following the return of your good health, Fury tells you the good news of being considered only as a consultant on the Avengers Initiative. Natasha had somehow come up with a personality assessment of a “brilliant eccentric loner who does not work well with teams,” concluding with a solid recommendation for Iron Man and not Tony Stark (which you think makes no sense at all, because without the man there is no suit. Who’s piloting it after all? JARVIS?). Well, not “somehow,” because that was the impression you had been trying to give her, even if two parts of that description were entirely true.
You’ve already been part of a team once. You don’t need to be part of another.
That resolution of yours is blown out of the water two years later when Agent Coulson interrupts you and Pepper looking at the readings of Stark Tower to hand you a briefing. You’ve spent the last two years revolutionizing clean energy using the new element while also building S.H.I.E.L.D. tech on the side as a “thank you for not letting Loki give me another apple.” You’ve never told them that, and Nick thinks it’s because he gave you the cure, but you let him have his delusions.
You’re left alone to look over the information Phil Coulson has given you. When you see Loki blasting apart an entire room and brainwashing several agents, you know something is wrong.
Sherlock Holmes, what do you see?
When you first see Captain America fighting Loki in Stuttgart, you don’t think anything of it other than he’s surprisingly alive for someone who should have been somewhere in the Arctic.
He greets you with a “Iron Man,” but you’re too focused on Loki, whose blue eyes are focused on you.
Loki has his hands up in a gesture of surrender, but you recognize that look on his face. He says, “What do you see, Anthony Stark?”
You say nothing, even as you see everything.
Thor is a surprise, though it shouldn’t have been. He is stronger than you are, but you can hold your own in a match against him.
For someone who claims to be Loki’s brother, he doesn’t understand his brother one iota.
You meet Bruce Banner on the Helicarrier, having been brought on as a “consultant” officially for anyone who doesn’t know your dual identity. Captain America does know, but he says nothing to you other than watching you approach the other doctor.
You studied his work, watched as he became the Hulk, and kept an eye on sightings in the developing world. Bruce has been good, very good, but there isn’t much people can hide from you.
He’s nervous, but you do your best to set him at ease even while you test him. There’s no need to be frightened of something that is simply an extension of the other man’s personality.
It isn’t something that the others understand, though. Captain America fears the Hulk, even if he hides it under the belief that you should be more responsible.
You think it’s patently ridiculous when the person they should really fear is currently locked up in a reinforced glass circle that was laughably supposed to contain the Hulk.
It is after Captain America leaves that you follow, simply nodding to Bruce. You don’t go with the captain, instead going straight to where Loki resides.
Loki doesn’t turn when you approach the cage. You don’t say anything either, just watching.
When it is apparent that you will not speak first, he turns to you, grinning. “I expected that you would come here.”
“You mean you planned this whole bit out?” you ask. “You didn’t think I might just stay in my room and twiddle my thumbs?”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t think of doing such a thing when there is adventure to be had, a case to solve.” Loki’s tone is fervent in a way you have never heard it before. “And it has been so long since you’ve had a case, am I not right?”
“I count the poisoning as a case,” you say. “The Case of the Missing Element. Doesn’t quite have the flavor of the Hound of the Baskervilles or A Study in Scarlet, but I’m no writer.”
“Neither was your doctor.” Loki’s standing directly in front of the glass, hands clasped behind his back. “Tell me, Detective, do you miss him? Your doctor? Do you miss him?”
You are unable to stop a swallow as you say, quietly, “You know the answer to that.”
Loki grins as he turns, walking from one side of the cage to the other, speaking as he does. “You risk a lot coming here to talk to me. There are eyes on us.”
“There’s a man who turns into a giant green monster, a super soldier I thought for sure was lost in the ice, and a god of thunder.” You keep your tone casual. “I don’t think I’m the biggest concern on Nick’s list. You would’ve outed me anyway.”
“You seem remarkably sure of that fact.”
“It’s in the math. I owe you, don’t I? That’s what you’ll say. I owe you for saving my life – for giving me life.” You are unable to stop the anger from rising. “And you think I’ll help you escape. You think I’ll help you achieve your objective – what you came here to do.”
“And will you not?”
“No. I don’t owe you a damn bloody thing.” Your natural accent slips through for a moment before you can stop it. “I don’t care what you thought. Fascinating or not, it doesn’t give you a right to decide who dies or doesn’t. I had a job, and I did it. If I died, then so be it. You didn’t have a right to interfere.”
“You don’t seem to have minded all these years.” Loki’s voice was cold.
You let out a short laugh. “I minded, Loki. Your kind lives so long because it’s in your nature. My kind – who I used to be – we’re not designed for it. Not designed for the loneliness, not for an eternity watching everything you know wither and die.”
Loki studies you for a moment. “There is always a plan,” he says, coming up to the glass again. “I do not do things on a whim.” His eyes are a turquoise color as he continues, “Reincarnation exists, Detective, as do gods and monsters that humans have not even dreamed of.”
That one word – that one simple word – sends your whole world a kilter.
Loki smiles, noticing the effect he had on you. “What do you see, Sherlock Holmes?”
Loki breaks, snarling at you, “I want Sherlock Holmes to speak to me, not Anthony Stark. What do you see?”
There’s no need to hide anymore so you drop the form you have been holding for every day for every year and carefully aging so as to look realistic. Your true face isn’t much older than Tony Stark is right now.
“I see a lonely god,” you say quietly, losing the American accent and taking on the familiar cadences and word patterns of long gone Victorian England. “I see a man – a boy – who has had his world torn out from underneath him. I see someone who looks to redefine himself, to make himself better. I see someone who wants to lose the trappings of his earlier life, tear himself apart from the only family he has known. Someone who thinks that sentiment is a curse, who thinks that hearts are weak, when they are the greatest gift mankind has ever been given. I see a lost, lonely, little child who is crying out—”
“Ohhh…” Loki chuckles, cutting you off. He shakes his head, chuckles dying off into a snarl. “You’re a hack, Sherlock Holmes.”
“If that is what you prefer,” you say, unperturbed. You arch an eyebrow, spreading your hands. “I tell you as I see it, though I am not familiar with Asgardian customs.” You smile, slipping back into American English, though you do not shift your features. “And it’s Tony Stark, Loki. Sherlock Holmes has been dead for years.”
You turn your back on Loki, hands clasped behind your back, and leave. As you exit the room, you pass by Natasha, who eyes you warily.
You reach out to clasp her on the shoulder, smiling briefly. “Hopefully you’ll have more luck than I did.”
Aware of her eyes tracking your movements, you keep your pace unhurried and relaxed, even as your mind is working furiously.
When you arrive back in the lab with Bruce, he glances up to check who has come. You nod and check how far JARVIS has come with hacking into S.H.I.E.L.D. He is almost done, so you wave Bruce over while taking a seat on the table, turning the screen so both of you can see it.
Nick isn’t here yet, but you are certain that he will come soon. Someone will have notified him that Tony Stark was speaking to Loki.
You and Bruce have looked through a few of the classified files that hide S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dirtiest secrets when Nick finally comes in, face stormy. Natasha and Thor are right behind him.
“Stark.” Nick’s tone is quietly furious. “Do you mind explaining yourself?”
“How about we take turns?” you offer, twisting the screen so the newcomers can see what you have uncovered. “I’d like to know what this is about.”
Captain America comes in, angrily setting a high tech gun on the table with a clatter. “Weapons,” he announces disgustedly. He gives Nick the stink eye. “I was right. Looks like the world hasn’t changed all that much after all.”
“I find the basics have stayed the same,” you offer. “It’s the superficial that makes you dizzy.”
Nick speaks before Captain America can. “I’m going to keep this very simple for your edification. Who are you, and how the fuck do you know Loki?”
You give him a rather unimpressed look, having seen better posturing from men in prison. “I’m Tony Stark. Loki’s dropped by now and then. Chats and then goes on his merry way.”
“Sherlock Holmes?” Nick says pointedly.
“This is the part where I say I was born in eighteen thirty-four.”
“You look good,” Bruce says blandly.
“Thanks, peaches, but I haven’t aged since then.”
“And why is that?” Nick asks.
“Loki,” you say simply.
“I know my brother,” Thor interrupts, frowning. “He would not do such a thing lightly.”
“Tell that to reindeer games down there,” you say waspishly. “I apparently fascinate him.”
“Do you owe him?” Natasha asks.
“No.” Your reply is sharp, far sharper than you had intended to be. You inhale once through your nose before you continue, remarkably more calmly, “I fell off a waterfall back in the day. It would’ve been fine; I had a plan.”
“What happened?” Captain America’s tone is oddly gentle for his rather stern expression.
“It didn’t work.” You shrug. “I was fine with dying. My job was done. Loki decided it wasn’t, so here I am.”
“He saved your life,” Thor says. “Under our customs, you would owe him—”
“I don’t owe him anything,” you snap. This time you cannot stop the words from flowing, like opening a long since infected wound that must be cleaned. It has been so long since others knew, that you could speak, that you are surprised at the rage that Loki’s unwanted actions incite in you now, years later. “He fed me a magic apple that made me a facsimile of a god. And why? Because I fascinate him. Because it would have been a waste of a brilliant mind if I had died. And the clincher?” You smile bitterly. “Even if I hadn’t died then, he would have done it later. I’m alone, you know. Have been for years. You”—you gesture at Thor—“have your entire race at your side. I don’t have anyone. My only friend died years ago.”
You turn to Captain America. “I read about you in the papers back in the day. We didn’t know what to think of you, what with that appalling fashion sense.”
Nick is next. “Are you going to die anytime soon? Immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
When you turn to Bruce, you just say, “You’re brilliant.” To Natasha: “You have quite the sordid past, my dear.”
Nothing shows on Natasha’s face, but you can tell that she is instantly on her guard.
“Are we done with this?” you ask, gesturing at yourself. “Because we’re wasting time.”
Surprisingly, it is the captain who speaks next. “He’s right. Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you were doing, Director.” His eyes skitter down to the weapon on the table. “I’m still waiting on that explanation.”
“Fine. You want to know why we’re making weapons?” Nick points at Thor. “It’s because of him.”
Thor raises his eyebrows. “Me?”
You lean against the table as the attention has been taken off of you. Captain America looks at you for a long moment before focusing on Nick and Thor. For some reason, his blue eyes send a strange feeling through you.
I am Loki of Asgard…and I am burdened with glorious purpose.
What do you see?
When you rush to fix the Helicarrier from crashing into the Earth, you don’t think about the argument you all broke into in the lab. You don’t think about how the scepter had influenced your thoughts, twisting them so that you barked out every observation you had ever made on Captain America, who had unfortunately received your full attention while the others sniped and argued amongst themselves.
To his respect, Captain America didn’t take it lying down. His responses had cut you to the core in a way that still surprises you (even though you’re not thinking about it – you aren’t – because you need to focus on this).
Only Watson had that power over you so long ago. He could see you in a way others couldn’t, even when his eyes were blind to so much more that you had kept hidden. But you saw, you saw what he wanted and kept secret even from himself. And it hurt you, even as you understood why.
Take off that suit and what are you? A lonely, bitter man who doesn’t have a friend in the world.
You are the man who has everything yet nothing. Then again, you don’t even have everything.
Agent Phil Coulson is “dead,” which you doubt the moment Nick throws the bloodied trading cards on the table. Coulson had loved those cards with a passion. He wouldn’t have carried them in his suit jacket to possibly get crinkled, wrinkled, torn, or dirtied. But you can see that Captain America believes it, and you know why Nick has played his cards (yes, that’s a pun) the way he has.
You don’t like it, but you understand. You have done worse to Watson in the name of the game.
Regardless of whether Coulson is dead or not, you do have a job to perform. First is to speak to Natasha.
You meet Loki in your tower, taking off your battered suit while inconspicuously alerting JARVIS to deploy the Mark VII on your mark. It isn’t yet ready to your exact specifications, but beggars can’t be choosers and you would prefer to have your bases covered.
“Will you fight me?” Loki asks you as you descend the stairs.
“What do you think?” you return coolly as you reach for a drink. You clip the homing bracelets onto your wrists.
“I think you’re a fool.”
“You wouldn’t be the first to think that.” You smirk lightly, tipping your glass at him. “Drink?”
Loki ignores your offer. “I made you, you know. You wouldn’t be here—”
“And I don’t exactly want to be,” you interrupt, coming out from behind the bar. “You did it without my permission, remember? Temporarily dead? Speaking of which, how did you manage to feed me that apple?”
A smug smile is your only response. “You cannot hope to defeat me, Sherlock Holmes. My army will destroy you. You should know this.”
“But it’s not just me you’re fighting. I’ve already listed off three of my teammates, but let’s not forget our two deadly assassins. Both of whom have a grudge against you, if I may add.”
“Your lone team of lost souls, what hope do you have against an alien army?”
“We have a giant green rage monster: the Hulk.”
“Be that as it may”—Loki’s voice is deadly soft—“are you truly so blind, Sherlock Holmes?”
You pause, pretending to consider the question. You already know what to say; you’ve planned this conversation down to the smallest word. “That’s a good question, you know. If I were blind, I wouldn’t be able to see you. If I were blind, I wouldn’t know to ask you what happened. Sure, I could figure it out some other way – I’m Sherlock bloody Holmes”—you slip into your old accent—“but it makes it so much easier when I can see.”
You walk down the next couple of steps to come up to Loki. “What happened two years ago, Loki? What made you fall?” Your next words are a whisper. “What did you see, Loki of Asgard?”
For a moment – a second – you see a flash of vulnerability cross Loki’s face. Then it turns into an ugly sneer. “What makes you think”—his voice is a harsh snarl—“that I will tell you?”
You look calmly at him. “Nothing.”
“And what makes you think”—Loki’s voice has dropped to a whisper, his hand creeping up to clasp your neck in what could be called an embrace but is too threatening—“that I will let you live?”
“Well…” You bring your left hand up to hold his wrist, smiling as you meet his blue eyes. “…you seem to forget that I wasn’t just a detective, Loki.”
Within two seconds – as Loki is baring his teeth in a wordless snarl and his hand tightens on your neck – you see what will happen. And you act.
You throw what remains of the scotch (such good scotch, really, which is a shame) in Loki’s face, the glass following. Then you bring both hands up to grasp Loki’s and twist, bringing your leg up to block the staff.
The next few seconds are a blur as you struggle to wrest the staff from Loki’s possession. It helps that you can match his strength and that you have kept your skills sharp.
When Loki multiplies into threes, you don’t hesitate and reach for the one on the left, having caught the faint blur around the edges of the other two. This time you punch him in the stomach before quickly jabbing him in the neck with your elbow as he bends forward in pain. The combination is enough to throw Loki off his game long enough for you to bring a hand down on his wrist, loosening his grasp enough for you to take the staff.
Then, twirling it effortlessly, you knock him upside the head, throwing him to the ground. Loki blinks, his eyes green, before he closes and opens them again, once again blue. You hit him again, wincing internally at the strength you put into it. But you were hit upside the head with an iron bar once (never mind that it had been human strength behind it) and had nothing to show but a small lump.
This time Loki looks dazed, blinking up at you. “You—”
Thinking it best to be safe, you hit him again. Your blow knocks him out for good and, wincing, you kneel down quickly to check his head, relieved that there is no blood. There is a very large lump, but you think that can be forgiven considering the circumstances.
Remembering that there is an encroaching army to worry about, you go out onto the podium where you landed earlier, blinking something out of your eyes. It takes a moment for you to register that it is blood and to touch the cut at your hairline.
In your distraction, you hear a voice whisper in your mind, “I could give him back.”
It is insidious. You look down at the staff you are still holding, hardly able to believe it.
“I could give your beloved doctor back. You would no longer be alone.”
Reincarnation exists, Detective, as do gods and monsters that humans have not even dreamed of.
If Watson is alive…if he ever will return, he will not be the same. And the staff is not to be trusted.
Unthinkingly, you drop it at your feet, immediately feeling better. There is a sudden explosion of sound from above you, and a yawning chasm to nothing opens in the sky.
Working with this team is nothing like working with Watson. For one, you give the initiative to the captain, him having the better experience with working in war zones – or conditions similar to it. For two (second?), there is more than one person who has your back and who you have to cover.
And third…well…the third is that you still do what no one else can. And in that case, working with this team is everything like working with Watson.
You carry the nuke with you when you fly up to the portal. Although you cannot feel the wind and there are readouts on the HUD in front of your eyes, it is oddly reminiscent of your final encounter with Moriarty.
Except this time, there is no plan to make it out alive. Even gods need air, and there is no air in space.
After the battle is over (and you surprisingly aren’t dead, but this is more to sheer dumb luck and the Hulk taking a liking to you than anything else), you go to see Loki, who has been retained in a room on the Helicarrier. It is by your vouching and Thor’s position as guard by the door that he is not locked up in any other way.
“I’m assuming you’re all right?” you ask without any preamble, leaning back against the closed door. It is transparent, meaning Thor’s back is visible, but there is no way to hear the conversation.
Loki’s response is even, carefully devoid of all inflection. “Yes.”
“I wasn’t sure for a moment there.” You gesture at your head. “I was a bit uncertain as to how many head bumps a god could get before something was really badly injured.”
This garners a small smile. “We can take a significant amount of punishment. However…” He winces imperceptibly. “There will be some pain.”
“I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m really not.”
“I am not surprised.” Loki’s green eyes, unusually clear now, look up at you. “You lied.” His voice is bland.
“I do that.” You shrug, hands in your pockets.
“You lied to the god of lies.”
“I don’t normally do that.” You offer a smile. “But I wasn’t entirely sure.”
“And that is a lie, my dear Sherlock Holmes.” Loki doesn’t stand, but he does straighten. “I must thank you.”
“My job is helping people. You might have noticed, sometime in the last century or so.”
“Yes.” Loki’s eyes flicker down to his hands. “I…fear that I have not been entirely honest with you.”
“As Thor may have undoubtedly told you,” Loki begins slowly, haltingly, “I do not do things on a whim. I planned it. We have ways in Asgard of seeing the present and future. You fascinated me,” he admits. “I would not have you die because of a single madman.”
“I would’ve died eventually.”
“I know.” Loki stops, considering. “That is where fate steps in. I spoke of reincarnation earlier. You were always intended to be Anthony Stark, regardless of what occurred.”
You keep your voice calm. “And what of Watson? You’ve watched me for so long, I’m sure you understand my problem. If I were to be Tony Stark anyway, then why didn’t you let fate carry on? Why did you step in?”
“Because of this.” Loki’s answer is simple. “My…Frigga. Your mythology is correct when it states that she sees into the future. What it perhaps doesn’t touch upon is that she will interfere if she sees a better path. Or let others see instead so they will take the proper actions.”
You consider this. “So you’re saying we were both manipulated by a goddess who sees the future.”
Loki’s answer to this is an affirmative tilt of his head, though he says nothing.
“Reincarnation,” you continue. “I assume you brought that up because of Watson, to give me added incentive to continue living.” You tilt your head forward, keeping your eyes fixed on Loki’s feet. “But the likelihood of us ever meeting again is infinitesimally low. I’ve done the calculations since you told me.”
“That would be true,” Loki says, “if you two were anything other than what you are. Asgardians call it shield brothers. Midgardians have another term that is apt to describe it: soul mates. Fate will always bring you together, in this life and the next, and across worlds.”
You cannot speak. Your heart hurts, and your throat is clogged. It takes a moment for you to breathe and say, hoarsely, “When?”
Loki’s smile is unlike anything you have seen before. “You have already met him, Sherlock Holmes.”
You wonder for a moment if it’s Rhodey, but brush that possibility aside because you would have known. “And when he dies this time? When will I see him again? I refuse to be a pawn in your game anymore, Loki.”
“That would be a problem,” Loki concedes, “if he were anybody other than who he is now. I admit, it was partly my reason for why I saved you then. Purely for selfish reasons you see. Sherlock Holmes could become Anthony Stark. Anthony Stark could not become Sherlock Holmes.”
Anybody else than who he is now? Who…?
“The serum?” you breathe, scarcely able to believe it. “Does it work in such a way?”
“The physical peak of human perfection,” Loki says, “does not permit for napping in ice for extended periods of time.”
You are vibrating with barely restrained energy. “I suppose that this time – just this once – I’ll thank you.”
Loki’s smile is more of a smirk. “Oh no, Sherlock Holmes. Thank you.”
You leave then, absentmindedly clapping Thor on his overdeveloped bicep in goodbye.
When you next see him, it’s in your penthouse. He’s wearing plaid and khaki, blond hair combed neatly to the side and his posture perfect.
You cannot see the similarities, not yet. But there is already a likeness in how he joined the army, fought for his beliefs, and never gave up. In his mind, so tactically brilliant. You wonder if he is still a crack shot, or if that talent has carried over to his ability to handle a shield.
“You wanted to see me?” he asks.
“Yes,” you say. “I…” You cannot say what you want to. It would be cruel. “Do you want to talk?”
Surprisingly, he smiles. “Would…would you be willing? I know…I didn’t mean what I said before.”
“Neither did I,” you say before you can think. “Well, actually I did. But not in that way.”
“I know.” He is smiling gently. “I’ve read the stories. Did you publish them?”
“I had a hand in it.”
He is silent for a moment longer. When he speaks, it sounds like a confession. “I… Do you mind just talking? It’s…” He swallows. “I have trouble,” he admits slowly.
“I don’t mind,” you say. “Would you like to take a seat, Captain?”
“Please,” he says, extending a hand to you, “it’s Steve.”
You smile genuinely for the first time in what seems like forever, reciprocating the gesture to clasp his warm, solid hand. “Hi, Steve. I’m Tony.”
And you think that now things will be all right. For the first time in a long time, it will work.