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Bell Tolls

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The most severe change between past and future isn't the technology, Steve thinks. It isn't the wealth of material goods and the advancements in all fields of science – it's not even the transistor or the microchip that Stark seems to worship.

Its how people view Soulmates.

In the future they don't even call them Soulmates anymore. It has to do with some self-independence movement and psychology and some other things and these days people just don't think about it the same way they once did. Soulmates aren't a good thing, anymore.

They call it Resonance and judging by the looks of things – history books, news reports, personal blogs and so many small scandals – it's no longer considered a happy, miraculous thing when you met your Soulmate. No, it's pretty much the complete opposite.

"It has nothing to do with destiny or fate – it's a matter of luck and coincidence," one of the early scientists wrote around 60', back when they'd first broken through the ancient taboos and started to poke at the truth behind the myths. "Human mind is nothing but biological electrical engine, and it puts out its own magnetic field. Every person has his own field – but! There are billions of people on the Earth nowadays. With so many people, coincidences happen and sometimes those fields match. And that is all it is – a coincidence."

Steve had been taught differently, but he'd been taught a lot of things differently. The modern age had decades of scientific research behind it, tests and experiments, not all of them ethical – he couldn't even finish the article about the Werner Lovers without feeling sick. The modern age had done it's research, had cracked open the taboo and peered at its innards.

And they don't call them Soulmates anymore.

Steve had never had much of an opinion on Soulmates – Resonants. He'd only met one back in his time and that only in passing – during an USO show in Chicago. They'd asked for his autograph which he'd given, shaken their hands and then moved into the next fan. Even back when people still actively looked for their Soulmate – their Resonance – it had been rare. One in five hundred had the chance of meeting theirs, wasn't it? Or maybe one in five thousand. It had been rare anyway.

He'd never expected to find his. Not just because it was just unlikely and he never actually went out looking – but because sickly people rarely met theirs. Nowadays people knew that people with infections tended not to have much of a Resonance – their Resonant could be sitting right beside them and they'd never know. Back then it had been just a fact of life, another part of life Steve had had to contend with.

And when he'd stopped being sick, he'd started being busy, and it never even crossed his mind. He didn't have that pressing, romantic urge to be Whole. Maybe once the War would be over, maybe once there'd be peace and he could settle down, then maybe he'd go looking, go to the parties and meetings and see...

At most it had been a daydream, something akin to "One day I'll be famous and rich." He dreamed, same as every lonely soldier, "One day I'll be Whole." Nice but hardly realistic.

Another word they don't use anymore in conjunction to Resonance – Whole. Its not considered becoming Whole anymore. Meeting your Resonant won't make you Better or Perfect or any other of those words they used to use, back in the day.

Now?

Finding your Resonant means dying.


 

There are still Resonants and people who seek it out – new opinions and sciences couldn't make people less lonely, after all. There were still those willing – even eager – to make that leap.

Its rare and generally frowned upon though. Sometimes it leads into criminal charges – sometimes there are lawsuits. They're awkward and horrible and the few Steve reads make him feel uneasy... but Resonance still happens.

And reading about it Steve realises he doesn't actually know much about how it works or what happens in Resonance. What do people actually go through, when it happens. What happens to them?

Going looking for facts is maybe not the best course of action to take when you were in the care of a spy agency.


 

"So I hear you've mastered Google," Fury comments, watching from the side as Steve pounds into the punching bag.

"It isn't exactly complicated – you write questions and it gives answers," Steve says and holds his punch back to keep himself from demolishing another bag. "I don't need to know how it works to figure out how to use it."

"Hm," Fury agrees, amused. "Funny how all our psychoanalysts were dead certain it would take half a year at minimum to adjust to modern technology."

"We had typewriters back in the day – and you're still using the same keyboard," Steve points out and looks at the man. "I can pretend technological illiteracy if that makes you happy but modern technology isn't actually as complicated as you people seem to think it is. Most of it is actually pretty simple to operate."

And he really wishes people would stop explaining microwave ovens to him and honestly, they had toasters in the 40s too.

Fury lets out a dry laugh. "You know, it might not be a bad idea – pretending you can't understand some things. Might give you an edge in the future, having people underestimate you."

Steve gives him a flat look and then lets his eyes widen. "My gosh, it works with some sort of electricity? Ain't that just the darnest thing! We didn't have electricity until, oh, before I was even born!"

Fury's cheek twitches at that.

Steve shakes his head and steps back and away from the bag, unwrapping the tape around his knuckles. "So is there something wrong with my researching things?" Not that he's about to stop – so as long as he has internet access, he'd use it. It beats the hell out of having knowledge fed to him by carefully measured and selected spoonfuls by the SHIELD minders.

"The subject matter worries people," Fury answers. "Things have changed, Cap, and your mastery of keyboards aside, there's still some adjusting you gotta do. And you looking into certain... psychological subjects, shall I say? It rings warning bells."

Steve snorts a laugh at that. "If I don't look into them, how am I going to learn how things have changed?"

"Yes, well, Internet isn't always unbiased source of information when it comes to these things," Fury says . "When everyone with an opinion can post anything they want online, it's a lot of conflicting opinions out there. You go looking for views that agree with yours and you'll end up finding them – whether or not they're factual."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning you have a bias and online research has bad habit of validating personal bias. Worse yet, it can give you someone else's bias," Fury answers flatly. "And I'd prefer you went looking for information in better educated and more neural sources."

Steve pauses at that, thinking about it. "This is about Resonants," he then says, very carefully not saying Soulmates.

Fury says nothing for a moment, just stares at him, so he probably heard the word anyway. "Things were different in the 40s," he then said, slow. "And few hours of Internet research isn't enough to turn around a whole life's worth of deep rooted beliefs."

Steve looks away. "So you want me to talk to a psychiatrist, again?"

"That or take a course," Fury shrugs. "Go to few lectures on Resonant Studies. Or hell, I can get you a documentary series that nails the subject down for you. Just, get better sources than blogs and online forums – and never trust Wikipedia, anyone can edit that thing."

Steve sighs. "I'm not that curious," he says, a little defensive. "I've searched a lot things, Resonants was just the latest."

"And it was also the one you spent four hours more than the average on," Fury says flatly. "And since I doubt you're just going to leave it be, at least get better sources."

It took a while, but eventually Steve nods. "What's SHIELD's stand in Resonants?" He then asks. "As employers, I mean? How'd you deal if an agent found their Resonance?"

"That depends on the Resonance," Fury answers.

Steve waits but there is nothing more forthcoming. "I'll go with the documentaries," he says.

"Wonderful – you'll find them on your laptop by the time you reach your quarters."


 

Steve watches the series of 12 hour long documentaries three times in total. The series is named "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and Fury is right, it covers pretty much everything in a way that makes it easy for him to understand. The documentary goes over the subject in chronological order history wise - and it makes for brutal watching near the middle, when it covers the switch in opinions from positive to increasingly grim negative.

There had been a lot of utterly terrible experiments done on Soulmates – Resonants – even as early as Steve's time that he'd never heard about, and the internet hadn't mentioned. The experiments attempting to artificially create a Resonance – which Nazis and HYDRA started and others continued – were largely the reason why it started to be viewed as a negative thing. That then lead to people looking into Resonance more scientifically later on and that was the reason why, eventually, it was called Resonance instead of Soulmates.

The experiments were horrible and in most cases inhumane. It takes a while before Steve can even think of the word without feeling sick to his stomach.

Later, from 60s to late 80s, the research became more humanitarian and based more on character analysis and psychology, the push comes to shove. Its a long drudge of first scientific research and theorising and then testing and then, from 80s to 90s, legal work as the Resonant Laws are written.

Of course there had been laws about Soulmates before, which likened them to marriage and pardoned them from certain other laws – though they had always been a more than bit unclear and open for all sorts of interpretations. But the new laws were something else entirely.

Under them, Resonants were declared legally dead, and unless they had Wills stating otherwise, their post-Resonance selves became their own legal heirs.

There were other laws about pre- and post-Resonants, a long litany of them actually, that covered ownership and previous obligations – a whole slew laws about what it meant for a parent to Resonate. And they were still arguing about whether post-Resonants were responsible and guilty of their pre-Resonance crimes.

There were a lot of legal cases about that – even some where a person charged with crime sought out their Resonant just to get out of their sentences. Which then led to the god awful quagmire that was Forced Resonance.

What little naïve belief in the goodness of Soulmates Steve had dies a painful withering death, when the documentary covered the case of Little Lucy and how she, an 8 year old, had been forced into Resonance by her Resonant, a 45 year old who'd used her and their Resonance to get out of a murder charge. It was her case that eventually led to Forced Resonance being likened to first degree murder – and worse.

But how could you charge or punish someone of Forced Resonance, if they themselves are part of it? Resonance killed them – could you punish the being that came out of the other end? They couldn't punish Lucy's killer anymore than they could save her – because after Resonance occurred, there was no reversing it. They both died in eyes of law.

Nowadays anyone who expresses personal interest in Resonance has their sanity questioned. Any Resonants who pop up are psychoanalysed, tested and examined and often put into therapy. More often than not, they are also taken to court by their own families. And if during Resonance process either Resonant expressed any hesitation... well, it quickly becomes a police matter.

Steve hadn't known that much about Soulmates before. The Soulmates he'd met had seemed happy and the ones he'd read about had seemed like they'd found Perfection. That was how it had been, then. Wholeness and Perfection.

Now it is a hair's width from murder.


 

Steve stops researching Resonants moves onto other things and Fury stops giving him considering, suspicious looks. SHIELD agents still try to teach him how to use a microwave for the fiftieth time. Sometimes he pretends wide eyed amazement and let's them.

He doesn't stop thinking about it, though.


 

When Fury brings him the case of HYDRA's secret weapon, the Tesseract, it's a welcome change. By that point Steve is sick of research and itching for something to do. Going from active war effort into peace had left him restless and no amount of punching bags was going to scratch that itch.

Not that he wished for another war, god no. But just something, anything that would draw him out of his own head and into action...

Avengers Initiative had a very final ring to it, and with roster like Banner, Stark, two of SHIELD's best agents and himself... it was clearly created for a very specific purpose. Steve isn't sure how well he likes it, but if someone – an extraterrestrial someone willing and capable of killing and brainwashing people at the drop of a hat – had stolen HYDRA's cube, it was their duty to get it back and fast.

So, Steve boards the SHIELD Quinjet and joins the Avengers, wondering if aliens had Resonance.


 

For whom the bell tolls.

That was the title of the document – Steve has been wondering why for a while. What did bells have to do with Resonance? What was the symbolism in that? The documentary hadn't explicitly stated and he'd eventually assumed it was because of the eventual legal death of a resonant – for whom the bell tolls seemed grim but apt in that case.

Then, as they stand – grandstand in some cases – in the middle of crowd of terrified Germans in middle of what looks frighteningly similar to some things Steve had seen seventy years ago, he hears it.

First the echo. It sounds from somewhere too deep for it to be an actual sound – it sounds like it's coming from below his actual hearing. Like it's not his ears that's hearing it, but his brain – his heart. Maybe his soul.

He's not the only one to hear it – what had been a terrified hush turned into a gasps all around him and people recoil automatically. They all know, just as he knows, what it is. The sound. The Bell, tolling for someone. And for a terrible moment Steve is relieved – and bitter, in that old way he hasn't yet shaken – that it's not him.

But it tolls for someone and when Steve hears the terrible future music echoing over the tense, recoiling crowd with him and Loki at it's heart, he knows who.

Stark hovers in the air over Loki in his red and gold armour, and the bell tolling for them both is loud enough to drown out the music, and the cries of the people watching.

"The Smith," Loki breathes reverently and his face spreads into a almost childish, fiendish smile.

"Shit," Stark answers, his voice a faint static. "Shit, shit, shit!"


 

They take Loki back and confine him – and Stark with him. That's apparently the protocol SHIELD has with Resonants.

"But they're not Resonants yet!" Steve argues, because it goes against everything he believes for them to lock one of their own together with the enemy. "They're not yet –"

"They're resonating, and that's bad enough," Fury spits and holds up a finger in the universal sign of listen. And yes, they can still hear it – the whole Helicarrier echoes with it. Thumm, thumm, thumm, the Resonance tolls. "There's no stopping it now."

"But Stark is still one of ours," Steve says.

"Stark is about to die," Fury says. "And we don't know what the guy he becomes after will be."

Steve throws up his hands and looks towards to the cell. Stark is talking with a slim redhead in a business suit and dark skinned man who'd arrived in similar armour Stark wore. Both of them are trying hard not to cry as they write Stark's last wishes down and update his Will.

"I do not understand," says Thor, who'd arrived in the middle of everything and then stopped at the echoes of Resonance. "Isn't this a joyous occasion? My brother has found his Other Half! As has your smith! There should be a great feast to celebrate!"

Everyone gives him dark looks.

"I don't know how this goes for your people," Doctor Banner says darkly, hands clenched into fists in his lap. "But around here, there's nothing less joyous than this."

"But – will they not be better? Will they not be happy?" Thor asks, looking a little at loss. "Is it not the greatest, grandest thing that could happen to a person?"

"Once, we thought it was," Steve mutters. Stark's friends tears kind of sours those memories now, in way that the documentaries hadn't quite managed. Video was one thing – this is real life, and the grief of those two, the death pale look on Stark's face…

"Just out of curiosity – how does this go in Asgard?" Agent Coulson asks, arms folded, knuckles white. Romanoff just glares.

"The two halves, when blessed enough to have found each other, will join together in great joy," Thor says promptly. "They will know each other as they know themselves and they will find solace in each other. In some cases, they will even know each other's minds as well as they know their own – some can even speak through their thoughts over great distances. It is a great gift!"

There is a beat of silence and then Banner coughs. "That's… not how it goes here."


 

Steve enters the large hall where the glass cage holding Loki and Stark is carefully watched and monitored by number of SHIELD agents. There is a wall of plastic separating the two inside the glass cage, but it's little more than after thought – no doubt either one could break it if they wanted to.

Loki is pacing the cell, frown on his face. Every so often he throws a look at Stark that's full of confusion and longing, and now and then he stops as if tempted to break to the wall.

Stark is sitting on the floor at the furthest end of the cell, staring bleakly at Loki.

"The Soldier is here," Loki says.

"Surprisingly enough I can actually see that myself, thanks," Stark answers and doesn't look.

Steve takes a deep breath. He'd been voted to be the one to break this in – probably because as man-out-of-time, he is just as new to this as was Loki and can sympathise. Mostly though he thinks it is because no one, not even Thor, wants to be one to break the dismal news to Loki.

"Stark, Loki," he says and steps to the bridge leading to the glass cage. "Stark, you got everything settled?"

"Yeah," Stark answers and flicks out his cell phone. "He's getting nothing. Company's split three ways between Pepper, Rhodey and JARVIS, and J is going to make sure I can't get a finger on it later. J and Rhodey will cover Iron Man too – the armour will be out of here in –"

There's a distant boom of something rocket powered launching fast.

"- about four seconds," Stark finishes and looks up at Steve. "Behold me, I'm penniless."

"Tch," Loki says. "These sort of absurd measures are unnecessary – it isn't as if I would force you –"

Steve clears his throat. "Good," he says and then turns to Loki. "We've talked with your brother."

Loki stops and glares at him. "And what did Thor have to say when he learned of this joyous occasion?" he asks mockingly. "Did he mock me for finding my match in a mortal?"

"Turns out, you have no idea what you're in for," Steve says grimly and glances at Stark. "Asgardian Resonance isn't as severe as ours."

"Lucky fucking bastards," Stark mutters and then scowls as idea comes to him. "Wait, does that mean, will it – is there going to be imbalance, will he get to keep –"

"We don't know yet," Steve admits and turns to Loki. "Here on earth, we don't just connect when this happens. There is no bond that forms between two Resonants – which would be you two, right now."

"Yeah, no," Stark says and laughs mirthlessly as Loki looks between them suspiciously. "No. It's total, complete, irreversible blending."

"What?" Loki asks sharply

"Total complete irreversible blending," Stark says slowly, enunciating every word carefully. He smiles. It looks terrible and  hollow. "Your mind, my mind, one. All the rest of it too. Memories, thoughts, all that. You and me, one."

"Our souls will –" Loki stopped, staring.

"We don't use that word around here, it's considered medieval," Stark says meanly. "But in essence, yes. One mind, one soul, one fucked up individual, in two bodies." He laughs bitterly. "Why'd the hell do you think I updated my Will?"

Loki stares at him for a while and then looks up at Steve. "Stop this."

"Would that we could, reindeer games," Stark mutters and closes his eyes, leaning his head back against the glass. "Would that we could."

And all the while the thrum of Resonance echoes louder.


 

The attack against the Helicarrier comes suddenly and ends up as if cut by a knife. The echoes of the Resonance are now loud enough to be heard all thorough the ship and something about the sound shakes out the people under Loki's thrall – after one single missile, the attacking helicopter quiets and then meekly lands on top and surrenders.

"What is that?" Agent Barton asks, even as the blue in his eyes fades and he grips his head. "I – fuck that's loud, is that Resonance?"

"I'll tell you later," Agent Romanoff says while Coulson takes Barton by the arm. "Medical first."

Turns out, the shuddering thrum of Resonance is enough to disrupt whatever Loki's staff did to people – something about it being too severe and too primordial for any sort of mind control to affect it.

"Same way you can't stop Resonance with medications or hypnosis, you can't stop people from recognising it," Doctor Banner says. "Resonance cuts under anything humanity has ever tried to throw at it. I'm not too surprised it can beat actual magical mind control too."

"Maybe we can go where Loki's been holed up this time and park the Helicarrier on top," Barton suggests with mirthless humour. "Would shake up all those guys down there bsck to their senses."

"Just how many does Loki have under his thrall?" Fury asks sharply.

"Too many," Barton admits, hanging his head. "Most of them he got from me."

Steve can tell that Fury is actually tempted to do it – take Helicarrier as whole to Loki's hideout, and use Stark's and Loki's Resonance to shake everyone there loose of their mind control. It is tactically sound stratagem. It's a bit unseemly though.

"That would be taking Loki to where his people are, though," Steve points out warningly. "We don't know how long this will go. If it ends when we're there…"

"We have the staff, we have him and he's in throes of Resonance," Fury mutters.

"Considering how many Loki has on his side, it might be worth the risk," Coulson agreed.

"Might," Hill muttered. "Very confidence inspiring word, might."

"It might be safest if the staff wasn't here," Barton says darkly and rubs at his forehead. "Just a suggestion."


 

The staff is put in a lock box and Steve carries it onto a Quinjet – Romanoff pilots it while he watches over the lock box. The Helicarrier moves slowly, turns, and then they escort it to Loki's hideout, keeping two miles in between at all times. What Loki thinks of it, no one asks.

It's a relief to be out of the Resonance's reach though.

"Have you ever witnessed a resonance before?" Steve asks Romanoff, who tracks the Helicarrier carefully on the radar.

"Yes," she answers shortly.

"Was it as bad as this one?"

That makes her pause and consider it. "No," she then says. "It wasn't this loud, didn't reach as far. Might be that it's because Loki is what he is."

"Yeah, probably," Steve agrees, casting a glance on the lockbox before looking ahead. The Helicarrier isn't more than spark of light in the distance, hidden amongst the clouds. "You know, it took me long while to change my mind about Resonance. I don't think I fully did, before now."

"Hm," she answers.

"Why do you think it happens?" Steve asks.

Romanoff glances at him and then away. "Because universe is messed up?" she offers and then shrugs. "With Asgard and whatnot in play, SHIELD scientists think it might be an indication of some greater power people could have – or had, at some point."

"Yeah, but what do you think?"

She thought about it for a while. "Do you know that myth, about humans originally being beings with two heads, four arms and so forth, and that they were perfect – but some god split them up because they were too powerful?" she asks.

"Yeah," Steve says slowly. The document had mentioned it.

"I think that Resonance is universe's attempt at making a perfect being," Romanoff says. "Problem is, you can't take two flawed being and get one perfect whole. Humans don't work like that. Nothing works like that."


 

The trick works and Loki's mind controlled minions are all shaken back to themselves. While the Resonance shudders through everyone, SHIELD collects friends and foes alike from Loki's hideout, and the Tesseract with them.

"This went better than expected," someone mutters.

"Yeah, if you consider this better."

In their cell, Stark and Loki have both gone nonverbal.


 

"How long will this last?" Thor asks, pacing along the meeting room as they watch Stark pace along the length of the cell, while Loki sits on the floor and shudders. "How long does this… Resonance take?"

"It's different with every case," Fury says grimly. "Sometimes it's a day, sometimes it's a week. It depends on factors no one can understand."

"I'd say it's less than a day now," Banner says. "They can't talk properly anymore. That's usually sign of it winding down."

Well, they can talk, Steve thinks with mirthless amusement. It's just that they can't talk understandably. They words came out as mix of languages, human and other – and they can't speak reliably through their own mouths anymore. If there'd been doubt about whether it would be a human resonance or Asgardian bonding, there wasn't any now.

Hearing Stark call him Capsicle through Loki's mouth was… beyond disturbing.

"What is happening to them now?" Thor asks plaintively.

"Well, previous cases state that around this time, the final blending is taking place," Coulson says with some sympathy. "They are starting to share thoughts, memories – though sharing is perhaps the wrong word. They memories are combining, as are their thoughts. Soon, they will start thinking as one individual. In the mean while, the control over both bodies is… shifting. Hence the issues with speech."

"It usually takes a few day for the Resonant to adjust to the… changes," Banner adds. "They'll have trouble with talking, with motor functions, and so on. Though again, seeing that Loki isn't human…"

"And Stark is a genius," Coulson agrees. "So it might take them more or less time. It's impossible to tell."

"And in the meantime, the news media is having a field day," Fury mutters, grabbing a nearby tablet. "They've been going on and on about nothing but the Resonance of Tony Stark. Who even cares that alien held a city square full of people hostage – Tony Stark is Resonating."

"And Stark Industries?" Romanoff asks quietly.

"Publicly they've cut Stark out," Fury says and hands over the tablet.

"Trying to save face before people remember than it's an alien who held a city square full of people hostage that Stark's Resonating with?" she asks with a grim smile.

"Hm," Fury agrees and glares at the screens showing Stark's and Loki's cell. "Now question is – what the hell will we do with them once they're done Resonating? Stark is one of ours – but he's going to be half of Loki soon."

"Loki will be half Stark," Steve points out. "You can't hold one accountable for the other – legally or morally you can't hold neither of them accountable for anything once they're through."

"Well, one of them isn't human," Fury scoffs. "Neither of them will be human once they're through, probably."

That is when Loki's skin starts to flicker on screen, streaks of blue showing through the pale skin. As they watch, he and Stark seem to struggle with something – but it is a loosing battle. Whatever is happening to Loki is just as irreversible as the Resonance, and as they watch, Loki's skin bleeds to blue, his eyes turning red.

Thor makes a face and bows his head. "I will take them to Asgard," he says then. "However it will turn out, Loki is still – he is –"

"You can't hold Stark responsible for whatever he's done," Steve says urgently. "And Stark doesn't have a choice. Loki doesn't either, really, and once this is through –"

"He's still my brother – they are both my brothers now," Thor says sharply. "And they always will be." He stops and takes a deep breath. "This is unpredecented among the Aesir – I have never heard of an Asgardian or otherwise doing this… resonance with a human. No, none can be held accountable here – I do see that."

There is a beat of silence as Thor struggles with his emotions. "But they are my brothers. You are unprepared to care for them. I am not. If no other solution can be reached… I will take them to Asgard."


 

It's midnight where ever the Helicarrier is at that particular time, when the Resonance ends. There is a last resounding boom that's felt by everyone through their very core, and then eerie silence. After the constant pounding that had been going on for days, the silence is unsettling.

But nowhere near as unsettling as Loki and Stark are.

Steve has seen Resonants' before – back when they'd still been called Soulmates. The pair he'd seen had seemed so happy and perfect, smiling and laughing in unison as he signed their posters and bid them good day. They'd seemed special.

Loki and Stark, sporting the exact same expression, tilting their heads exact same way, moving their hands and legs the same as they tried to figure out how to move as single person in two bodies… it just seems disquieting. Maybe it is just seeing the whole thing through eyes of future and their bias against Resonance, but…

"Brother?" Thor asks, approaching the cell. The little redhead woman – Virginia Potts, CEO of Stark Industries – and the black man – Colonel Rhodes, also known as Warmachine – both stand back and just watch warily, their eyes wet and faces pale.

"Brother, how do you feel?"

Stark and Loki turn to him in unison and scowl at him in exact same way. Their mouths open and close as they attempt to make a sound. They manage a derisive little click and in the end, they just shrug – both together.

The ginger woman steps forward. "Tony?" she asks, her voice wobbling.

They frown at her in turn, and then look away with something like guilt, touching their chests. Loki's finger traces a circle over his armour. Stark's runs around the edge of arc reactor that's shining through his shirt.

"Apologies, Pep," they finally say, in two voices.

The woman lets out a sob and turns away.

"Still feeling like taking over the world?" Colonel Rhodes asks with poor attempt at humour, his eyes hard and intent.

"Heh," Stark/Loki answers with mean little smiles and nothing else.


 

In the end, Thor takes them to Asgard – them and the Tesseract. The sceptre stays on Earth – in the guardianship of SHIELD. The news learn none of that, of course – as far as they know, what became of Tony Stark went into seclusion after his Resonance, and people can only speculate on who and what he became.

Steve thinks sometimes of how they'd looked, Loki and Stark, standing with Stark's casual slouch and yet the proud tilt of Loki's chin, a increasingly smooth blend of stiff pride and confident swagger – and yet with shadows in both eyes that made them flinty and sharp.

It didn't look like happiness.

It didn't look like perfection.