Author's Note: I know I said a couple of weeks tops for this update, but long story short, I was in an accident. Nothing life-altering, but I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and the time after was spent getting caught-up in school and making sure I didn't lose my job to pay for my school so I can get a real job. But I am sorry all the same, and I hope you all enjoy this chapter. Let me know what you think.

Living in a time when America was chest deep in one of the worst wars the nation had ever seen, Captain Steve Rodgers had lost a few men.

Not many, being the leader of a small, tight-knit group of soldiers, but on occasion, especially working behind enemy lines, putting themselves directly into the line of fire, Steve would return from a mission with the tags of a dead soldier to send back to his family. How close they'd been or how well he'd known them never mattered, the tags were always heavy in his hand, heavier still when he was given the abilities to fight for his country and still couldn't see every man back home.

It happened. Not everyone was going to make it back, they told you that when you lined up, and kept telling you that every day from dawn to dusk while you learned to handle a rifle and point it at the face of the enemy, to throw a grenade into an unsuspecting group, to crawl under barbed-wire with bombs going off overhead, to patch up a fellow comrade long enough to carry him to safety by the strength of your back alone if you had to.

But it was alright, because each and every soldier was fighting for his wife, his children and his country, and if he had to lay down his life, then he would, because their lives and their freedom were worth it.

War had changed in seventy years, it was impossible not to notice. Men and women fought alongside machines now- sometimes, it was just the machines. Computers and robots. Pilotless aircrafts flying over the battle field to scope out the enemy's position, or to force them out with bombs. Fighting was done while staring at a screen with a keyboard as a weapon as much as it was face-to-face. It was smart, actually, it reduced casualties, and while Steve still wasn't sure how he felt about war being made near-impersonal, if it got one more man back home to his family, then that was okay.

Some things about war, though, hadn't changed. A battle field was still a battle field, wither it was in a remote part of Germany or a dessert in Afghanistan. A soldier still had to be fit and healthy up to regulations, still had to have the heart.

Families still saw off their loved ones. Soldiers still wrote to home. Guns still fired bullets. People still died.

Oh yes, even with all the technology- all the drones, wireless signals and "innovations"- that was still one thing that hadn't changed. That wouldn't.

Death.

Casualties of war. Good or bad, troops or civilians. People died. It could be between two countries or two men, but at the end of the day, when the tallies were counted up to become a figure written in a history book, those people were husbands, wives, sons, daughters . . .

They were friends.

It never got any easier, and Steve thanked God for that, because the day that the death of a fellow man didn't lose him some sleep at night was one he prayed he'd never see.

As it was, today wasn't that day.

It was too white in here, a problem Steve had with most hospitals and the like. The feeling of sterility, of bleakness, it got right under his skin. Everything was too bright, to spacious, and too quiet.

It made the sounds of the machines working to keep a man breathing and his heart beating almost deafening.

Steve sighed from the chair he sat in, running his hands over his face. He wasn't going to pretend he and Tony were the greatest of pals. On the best of days he could say they were friends, they could go out for a drink, laugh and joke and enjoy each other's company to a point without the fate of the world at stake. And then there were the worst of days, when their personalities and decisions clashed, when joking and teasing turned to insults and Steve had to remind himself to be the better man, or at the very least keep himself from decking Stark out of the suit.

Steve didn't think he was better. They were two men born in different times, raised in different ways. Tony was given anything he could ever want from a young age- fame, praise, respect, all handed to him on a silver platter of his family's legacy, but at the price of a distant father. Steve was a poor, skinny kid from Brooklyn who couldn't walk down one block without getting into a fight, but he had the support of his parents right up until they died. Tony could be too full of himself, Steve could be too righteous, and sometimes it took a serious threat looming over a city to even get them in the same room.

But despite their differences, Tony Stark is a good man. He's proven it before, and lying here on a hospital bed, bruised, bloody and broken, he's proven it again.

Alive, but just barely, and nothing guaranteed that he'd stay that way.

The past couple of days washed over him like Russia's harsh winter rains. The memories were cold, bitter and unwelcome, seeping deep into his muscles, balming the ache just enough for him to focus on it fully. He'd been in and out of this room for two days, and each time he left he felt like he was five-foot-two at a whopping ninety pounds again, a half-portion getting into scraps in alleyways where he always ended up eating pavement.


"Stark?!"

There was no answer.

That bastard turned off his comm.

He shouldn't have expected any less. It was haughty, impulsive, and even if Tony only scoffed at the word, noble. It took everything Steve had to turn around, to not keep on running towards where Stark last checked in and stop him from being a hero.

But if Tony Stark said they had to leave, then they had to. There was no room for arguing, especially with someone so stubborn. Stark may love the sound of his own voice, but when the suit was on and the world saw Iron Man, Tony didn't just say things to say them. And even if Steve didn't know the full extent of the situation, he didn't need to be a genius to hear the dire in Tony's voice, and know that the result would be a hell of a lot worse if Tony wasn't doing this.

So he ran back, restating to Clint and Natalie what they already heard from Tony, making it an order, the steel in his voice full of chinks and rust.

They did what Stark asked, what he said needed to be done, what he hadn't said ringing loudly within the silence where his quips should be heard. They hadn't wanted to, every nerve of loyalty screaming to go and save Tony, but as Avengers, as heroes, they put innocent lives first, just like he was, and took any civilians still nearby and ran for the perimeter, weaving and cutting through the Doombots left able to carry out their programming.

The explosion that followed rocked the ground, shaking cars and breaking windows, knocking people off their very feet and caused foundation to tremble.

And this was the effect they could see, that they could feel, from a few miles away.

For a moment, there was a pause; like the entirety of the city had to ask itself if that had really just happened. Steve could feel the shock of it too, and all he had to do was glance at his team- at Natalie helping an older woman with a sprained ankle over to a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, at Clint looking out for any leftover Bots, arrow drawn- and when his eyes met theirs, they were running, their masks of stoicism slipping, a speechless fear moving them. Tired, straining, and somewhat desperately, they were running to Tony, hoping against hope that there would still be a man to find. That once again, Tony's genius found a loophole in another no-win situation and managed to beat the odds.

The closer they got, the worse it got. Steve was panting by the time they made it to Second, any faith rapidly dwindling along with the sweat threatening to obscure his vision. He was tired, no doubt. Battling Doom's forces nonstop, then running at a breakneck speed to a fallen friend was taking its toll. He leaped over abandoned cars, side-stepped large cracks in the roadway and asphalt, and maneuvered around the warped, metal bodies of Doombots, all the while with Clint and Natalie right behind him, not once falling back.

His didn't think he could run any faster if Nazi's were on his heels, and his lungs burned with the effort, but he didn't stop, not until he had to, when the destruction went from minor and superficial to collapsed buildings and dug-up streets, the surrounding area not much more than bowed structures and debris. Dust filled the air, but a few yards away Steve could see Thor. The God had flown off the second the explosion sounded, and was helping the Hulk dig through what had been a mid-construction apartment building.

It was a giant pile of concrete, plaster and brick. Metal rods stuck out at random like quills on a porcupine and shards of glass caught the light as the dust thinned. Steve would have been overwhelmed, taking in the horror of it all, if he wasn't so narrowly focused on one aspect: Tony.

The Hulk was hefting away the larger pieces, moving thick slabs and large handfuls of remains while Thor yelled to Tony, shoveling the rubble in no real direction, desperately trying to find a sign as to where Tony was buried, a point where they could concentration their energy.

Natalie and Clint stayed back, not wanting to get in the way with a lack of super strength but ready to jump in the moment they were needed, so Steve went forward, his shield dropping to the ground as he picked up the nearest chunk of building and tossed is away. He did it again, and again, and again, like working the assembly line, waiting for a gleam of red or gold to appear from under the wreckage.

Each piece felt heavier than the last, wearing down the gloves of his uniform- blood starting to splotch the concrete from his fingers as he tossed it away. He heard Nat and Clint call in agents and medics, heard Thor and the Hulk grunt in effort as they cleared the wreckage, but he still didn't hear Tony.

It didn't take as long as he thought, and while that was one, merciful point in their favor, it was where the favors stopped.

There was a shout of, "Captain!" from Thor and Steve swerved his head to see the Hulk lifting Iron Man out of the remains and lay him out with a gentleness not often associated with the unpredictable member of their group. But with the Hulk's bulking, green hands no longer around the armor, Steve's heart sank, the tiny flame of hope fanned by Thor's exclamation diminished.

The armor was damaged beyond any repair, wither or not your name was Stark. Entire sections were caved in, dangerously crushed against the body inside. Layers of metal were stripped away, jagged and sharp like the lid of a tin can. What was once a flashy combination of red and gold was now more burnt black and dulled steel, highlighting depressions in the suit, stopping only at some areas where it was ripped open by force alone and Steve could see glimpses of Tony underneath.

Thor was still calling out to Tony, and Tony still wasn't answering.

If the outside of Iron Man looked this bad, then Steve was afraid of what Tony looked like inside. The Arch reactor was still glowing, but did that mean he was still breathing? It was gruesome, something made for protection turned to a coffin and it was no better than being buried alive. Steve shook his head. Those thoughts had no place here, not right now. He had to keep his head in the here and now. That was what would give Tony the best chance, not Steve assuming he was already gone.

He held onto that steadfast determination and directed the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents coming in, watching resolute as they loaded Iron Man into a medical vehicle and drove away.


When they got Stark back to the mansion, he was immediately taken to the medical wing, fully equipped as any hospital. Getting off the suit would have been hard even if it wasn't crushed around him, but because Tony hadn't built a machine or robot that could take the armor off in likelihood of such an event, it took no small part of ingenuity by the medical staff to get Tony out of it.

Everything from a crowbar to Jarvis was used to pry the suit off of him, and once Bruce came back from the Hulk, it was a bit easier. The scientist could guide the staff and uneasy Avengers to the weaker parts of the armor and show them emergency releases, even if most of them were jammed from the damage.

Everyone had been on edge, the tension in the room replacing the air. No one was able to reach Tony, to check his vitals, to see if he was okay, until the suit was off, and every second that ticked by had the tension weigh down that much more on Steve's chest.

They finally did remove the armor, but the hits just kept coming.

The medical staff swarmed Tony the moment every obstructing piece had been dealt with, and Steve was begrudged to get out of the way, because Tony, dear God, the man was covered in freshly formed bruises and cuts littered every inch of him. There were burns where Steve had seen breaks in the armor, running along indefinite patterns in red and blacks and he stood shell-shocked with the crash of responsibility.

The doctors shoved past him with machines for finding a pulse and checking his heart and looking for internal damage. He and his team were ushered out, because there wasn't any point in them being there, they weren't doing any good, and they were in the way.

This was the third time Steve had visited Tony in three days, each stay longer than the last. The man had multiple contusions and lacerations. He had six broken ribs, a leg broken in four different places, a broken collar bone and dislocation of both shoulders. Then he had a fractured skull- severe head trauma, extensive tissue damage, his left wrist was fractured and the entirety of his right hand, which had been uncovered when they found him, was so badly burned and the bones damaged that the doctors weren't sure they could save it.

And over two days before the team was allowed anywhere near him, the medical staff battled internal bleeding, possible organ failure, a collapsed lung, and his heart had stopped twice.

When the head doctor of the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical branch met with them, Fury and Coulson included, and read off every single injury Tony had obtained and was being treated for with an assuredness so grave that Steve couldn't get the severity of the damage being ticked-off some list on a clip board out of his head, it was no surprise when the doctor finished with, "He might not wake up."

Iron Man, Tony Stark, might not wake up.

There was nothing he could have done. That's what Bruce told him yesterday, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder while Steve sat next to Tony's bedside circled in wires and tubes. Bruce had gone over what the field agents were able to salvage from the destruction, saying that if Tony hadn't stayed, half of New York would have been wiped off the map.

It was a work of genius only Tony Stark could have pulled off. Bruce tried explaining it the best way he could with the limited knowledge he had, but Steve doubted that would have helped him. He was techno-illiterate, as Tony loved to say. The point was that Tony contained the blast because there wasn't enough time to prevent it, and no matter what calls Steve made during the fight, whatever way he might have done things differently, Tony would have found a way to do it regardless.

Tony Stark was a good man, and a good man put his life on the line for millions of people.

Everyone was dealing with it in their own way. Natalie hardly left the gym; quickly catching up to him in the number of punching bags rendered useless, and Clint was unusually quiet, sitting by himself while meticulously checking over his bow and arrows, going through the motions at least three or four times in a sitting. Bruce buried himself in work, revisiting a project Tony was working on months ago to find Doom's unique energy signature, and Steve spent most of his time here, thinking about too much or not thinking about much at all. He knew he couldn't blame himself, but that didn't stop him from doing so.

When the team was informed of Tony's condition, Thor left immediately. The Thunder God gave them very little explanation, saying there was possibly something back on his home world of Asgard that could save Tony. He called it a 'healing stone' but from the way Thor said it like he feared giving hope, to the look of gravity on his face, Steve wasn't sure how much faith could be put in that option when Thor didn't seem to have much in it himself.

Still, Steve didn't hold him back and demand specifics. Time was of the essence, and if there was something that could help Tony, regardless of the likelihood it would work, then he wished Thor all the luck, because with what little here on Earth that could help Tony nearly exhausted, maybe his chances lied beyond the stars Steve spent so much of his childhood gazing up at, diligently waiting for one to steak past so he could make a wish on it.

Steve was a little too old for wishes now, and hope was a fickle thing to hold on to, but there wasn't anything else he could do.

So he'd sit here, in a chair next to Tony's bedside, minutes bleeding into hours, and hope. He'd look at the cuts, bandages, and bruises swelling Tony's face and hope that this 'healing stone' would work. He'd wring his hands, not for the first time noting there wasn't a scratch on them, and hope that Thor would come back soon. He'd wait, restless with the guilt of a leader for a lead in the manhunt for Doom, drowning in the sounds of machines and the blinding white of the room and the irritating smell of sterility, and hope that Tony would survive this.

The watch on his wrist told him he'd been there for hours. Steve stood up slowly, tired and weary. He shouldn't do this to himself. No one had called him, but it didn't mean there wasn't somewhere else he could be, and if Tony was conscious, he would have told Steve to go do something patriotically productive from day one. It wasn't a bad idea, and in the snark of Tony's voice, he found himself smiling, just a bit. He needed something . . . something else to focus on, to hold off the guilt for a little while until he inevitably came back here and sat next to his battered teammate for another round of hours, the silence between them loud and unfamiliar.

He never thought he'd miss Stark throwing names at him on a regular basis.

With a heavy heart, Steve turned away from Tony, trying hard not to shuffle his feet, keeping his head high and back straight like the soldier he was supposed to be. His thoughts were distracted by grief, mulling over ways to keep himself busy until he was needed as he stepped out the door of Tony's room, and for a brief moment, Steve could have sworn he felt something sweep by him, like a person brushing his shoulder trying to get past. It startled him out of his head, but a quick glance around, alert eyes sweeping the room, showed nothing new, just Tony laying there motionless as he had every day, and Steve rubbed his arm, deciding he'd been in this room far too long.


Green eyes darkened by anguish followed the blonde super-soldier as he shut the door behind him, his brush with a specter unseen excused by exhaustion. Still, Loki dared not reveal himself, for this place was littered with eyes and it would not do well for any involved to have a strange man appear out of thin air in what he had learned over the last few days to be a highly secured facility.

He turned his gaze to the man on the bed.

Tony.

Pulling himself together after the explosion that hushed a voice he might never hear again was akin to forcing together mismatched puzzle pieces. He had been experiencing too much at once and it was overwhelming to the point of shock, and with the patchwork his thoughts and feelings were perverted into, it was foolish to teleport where fire and smoke engulfed the sky.

But he had, ignoring the concern of the taxi driver and waving a quick spell to Jefferson, lapsing his memory into believing he'd yet to pick up Loki from his office, despite no guarantee it would efficiently work, him being so long out of genuine practice. It was lazy and unrefined and unnecessarily reckless, but Loki gave little consideration to subtlety and planning when Tony's final words echoed endlessly inside his head and stabbed viciously at his heart.

He closed his eyes against the internal onslaught, though the reality of this situation was not something to be ignored simply because he couldn't see it. He opened them again and the hospital room was before him as always, the sight no less dismal, and opted to take the captain's place in the chair beside Tony's bed.

Looking at Tony's form was difficult to do, only serving to remind him the fragility of human life, yet his gaze never lingered away for long. The man was broken, so very broken, teetering on the brink of death, a place so far and dark that none could reach him to pull him back to safety. Loki bowed his head, hands gripped together to keep them from crushing something under his despair.

Getting to Tony had been easy enough to do, the magic engulfing him like an old comfort and sending him to a place in his mind's eye, and then he was there. Even with dust flavoring every intake of air and the smallest of noises reverberating through a void absent of sound, the level of destruction was graciously small, yet its effect resonated well beyond its physical limits. An unwelcome sensation of fear made him hesitant to look, to seek out- it had been so long since Loki felt true fear- but years of subduing emotions gave second-nature to grind the reaction under his heel and into the ground.

Quickly, he discovered he was not alone, and color stood out in contrast against the ruined area. The Avengers were there as well.

It shouldn't have come as any surprise. Of course they would be.

His years on Midgard found Loki occasionally thinking of what would happen when he saw Thor again, if he ever did. The shadow looking upon the sun from which it was cast. Would he feel compelled to anger? To hate? Would he attack Thor in passion? Stand calmly in front of him with cool self-satisfaction?

Had Loki's time in his new life guided his pain into manageable bitterness or left it simmering, waiting to boil over? Perhaps it did not matter, and he probably would never truly know, for seeing Thor not on a screen or across a newspaper, but with only a few yards of nothing separating them, any and all flashes of old anger and potential confrontations were as fleeting as lone snowflakes caught in the sun, because the metallic glint of a warped, mangled body stole his devotion.

Red and gold, the body of Iron Man. The mask that encased Tony Stark.

Horror blinded him to all else as he kept his invisibility close and his eyes followed, never blinking, as Iron Man's body- Tony's body- was dug up from the devastation. Suddenly, there were others; men and women in uniforms and suits, wholly unremarkable in appearance, flooding the area, and Loki took less caution then he'd ever had in moving forward, enough care to remain little more than a whisper carried by wind yet bold in his steps to reach Tony.

He had remained in that state, trapped somewhere between two extremes, and followed them. Mindful enough to keep his distance, but never so far as to loose Tony from his sight, Loki kept with them. The Avengers. He watched differing cascades of emotion run over each and every one of their faces like a waterfall- dread, anxiety, panic-, heard them shout, throwing around orders and commands, unable to hide the alarm under the brittle strength of voice. He watched as the situation desperately tried to be salvaged, watched as Tony's mangled, armored body was slowly, carefully, placed into a nondescript vehicle and immediately driven away from the scene.

He put the speed of light to shame with the time it took to place himself into the car that followed shortly after.

He kept his eyes on the haggard rise and fall of Tony's chest, one of the many machines in the room forcing his lungs to work so that he may survive. Unknowingly, Loki had been taken to Tony's side first, and lead to the base of operations for the Earth's protectors second. Dangerous information in the hands of one who had the power to exploit it, but after days spent as a silent audience to the men and women of Tony's second life, to their pain and their grief, he couldn't find it in himself to blame them, to feel anything more toward them than empathy.

He never cared about superheroes, their presence long leaving its mark on Midgard well before it became his home. Only when Thor's face and name became associated with the Avengers did he ere on the side of caution when it came to exposure. The chances of Loki ever coming into contact with any of the group were rare- with Thor himself even scarcer, and Loki found he had to do so little it amounted to almost nothing to keep their worlds separate.

An ironic turn of events, considering where he sat now, in a chair that had been previously occupied by Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and the man before the beast- a scientist he learned was named Bruce Banner. They, much like he, had sat here, in this clean, white room, and mourned loss.

Seldom had Loki strayed from Tony. The next room over could have contained the secrets to the universe and in the days he'd been here, he would never have known. Only once, early on, had he left . . . when the silence he used to revere so long ago became rope around his neck and the sight of Tony so helpless started pulling it tight.

The pull between the need to stay and the urge to leave threatened to rip him in two, but desolation and powerlessness had become close companions and walking away from Tony's bedside hadn't offered the reprieve he'd sought. He hadn't made it three yards, emotions plaguing every nerve ending down his very core, before turning back, weaving around the agents of what he come to learn as S.H.I.E.L.D. as little more than a gentle breeze.

A lump formed suddenly in his throat, even though he's hardly spoken in days. Loki didn't need to close his eyes to remember what he'd seen when he walked back into the room. Less than ten minutes had to have passed from when he left to when he'd returned and it was a cruel display of the inconsequentiality of the human life as he was nearly barreled over by too many doctors trying to fill too small a space, desperately checking vitals and shouting over a loud, endless beep- a monotone, taciturn noise that screamed Tony's heart had stopped.

It was the second time Tony's heart had given out, the first being during a surgery when the doctors had everything under control and it was efficiently dealt with, but now . . . now it was disorder, and any control was quickly bleeding into that horrible, warning drone. Medical staff were rushing around the room, grabbing equipment and moving themselves accordingly and Loki had to adjust himself appropriately lest he knock over the one person who might end up saving Tony's life, watching them inject different medicines, and use alternative techniques, and ultimately attempt to shock the life back into him.

The scene unfolded much like shaking a glass jar full of flies.

In those horrible, confused moments, Loki truly thought he was going to watch Tony die. With the doctors applying very bit of knowledge and experience they had into reviving him, waiting with waning, feigned calm for some sign that Tony wasn't completely gone, Loki felt the cold, sluggish ice that had filled his veins since Tony had last spoken to him over a phone melt away to something new.

It was raw, unbridled, anger.

In those horrible, confused moments, Loki truly thought he was going to watch Tony die, and he hated him for it. This pure, heated anger had come to him once before, labeled as madness by a half-witted oaf thinking he knew better. It was an emotion that Loki found comfort in, because how could he possibly be a monster born of dark and frost when his blood boiled so fiercely underneath his skin? Yes, holding onto this anger, it warmed his numb body and pulled together his fleeting thoughts and focused the spiraling pool his errant emotions had become.

Who easier to be angry at than Tony Stark? And in that instant, Loki had never hated someone so much.

How dare he? How dare Tony Stark- a man who boasts so loudly about his skill and intelligence, who could never leave well-enough alone, who purposefully created challenges just so he could rise to the occasion . . .

How dare he lie there and simply give up?

With men and women running around, edging closer to frantic with every motion, for a moment, he shut them out. In his anger, in his disbelief that Tony would let go after so short a fight, Loki gathered his magic; it's warm presence flowing through him, vibrant anew at being called upon so heavily after so long.

He didn't think on how he wasn't a healer, his magic nowhere near attuned for the art of knitting bone and mending skin, to revive flesh and blood. His was power, the only grace and subtly he possessed in working illusions, and that if he wasn't careful, his power could end up killing Tony instead of saving him.

But he didn't think about that, because if he had stood there, doing nothing, then Tony would have died regardless.

And Loki was a selfish man.

It was too long, and the medical staff went from desperately trying to illicit a response from Tony's still heart to slowly, steadily accepting defeat- the fire in them to keep a man alive snuffed out by the raw truth of the matter that they had failed.

Loki would have none of it.

He hated that he hadn't died in the collapse of the Bifrost. He hated that of all realms, Midgard had been his salvation. He hated that his choices for a second life had lead him to a man named Tony Stark. He hated that said man had slipped so effortlessly behind his defenses, and he hated himself for letting Tony in at all.

Most of all, Loki hated that he'd gone and fallen in love him.

With a swift, striking motion- hand shooting out to Tony though not close enough to touch- Loki poured everything he had into that frail, human heart. It was anger and fear and hope and love. It was the first time they'd met and the last time they'd spoken. It came from a place that burned bright enough to blind, but Loki took it and channeled it and gave it all to Tony until he could feel it draw upon his own life.

He would have gone further, too, to use every last bit of himself to see Tony alive again, but the machines monitoring Tony's vitals began beeping furiously and the staff that were a good minute away from giving up all hope jumped back into action, calling out with renewed energy and looking at the man who'd been in Death's grasp not a second before with astonished expressions.

Somehow, they were surely thinking, Tony Stark had come back- a miracle, it may be called. No one would know of the once-God leaning against a wall in the room, resting his weight against its flat surface to keep his legs from giving out, the sweat rolling down his brow and heaviness in his limbs outweighed by sheer relief.

It was so small a victory, but Loki had taken it, refusing to leave Tony's side should his damaged heart fail again.

It hadn't happened . . . but then again, neither had anything else. Each day was marked another twenty-four hours in which there were no signs that Tony Stark would wake up. There was no twitching, no mumbling- not even any movement behind his eyelids. He couldn't breathe on his own and every heart-beat was watched like it was anticipated to be his last.

Loki was beginning to wonder if he was sitting next to a person, or what was left of his body.

The possibility was cruel enough to destroy him, and Loki now keenly understood humans and the relationships to their "Gods". It would be a wonderful thing, if some higher power was listening, that Loki could beg for Tony's life. To put his hands together and pray, perhaps offer something in return for his prayer granted.

But his plea would reach none, and Tony's smile and wit and laughter would not be given back by him silently asking for it by hours end.

Loki wished there was something more out there, a greater being not bound by the natural laws of the nine realms. A being Loki could curse and scream at 'til his throat burned and he had no words left. A being he could yell to about the injustice of it all and demand why, that of all the wretched people inhabiting the universe- himself included- why was Tony laying at its mercy?

A wetness at the corner of his eye was gently wiped away, preventing its fall. Loki looked down at the tears staining his fingers and smiled crookedly.

Being angry at something that didn't exist was pointless. What's done is done, and there was nothing he could do to fix it. However, as a white-heat built in his hand and the evidence of his pain evaporated instantaneously, there was someone to who the blame fell.

His named had been muttered furiously under breaths, assurances and murder quickly following. A presence that had never stepped foot inside the base yet left evidence of itself in every somber silence and each dark, underlined eye.

Every man and woman capable was searching for him, any and all hints to his whereabouts gone through with a fine, razor-toothed comb, no rock being left unturned. The attack had been personal. They could quite possibly lose one of their own. There would be no sleep, no wavering. Resources would be used to their limits and beyond until he was found. Only then, with him physically in their hands, would the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. consider rest.

They were working hard, Loki knew, but he had little faith in their chances. Which was why, after five days of watching a significant part of his life spin rapidly out of his control, of wading in a fathomless sea of torrid sentiment, did he come to a decision.

It should have come to him sooner. Many things should have, but now that he had this one, simple thought- composed just enough to be more than feeling- turning around in his mind and bristling along his fingers, did Loki know a sense of peace.

He had magic, a power not bound by physical laws, and it would find that man and the only limits would be Loki's imagination.

Doom.

Loki would see that his fate befall his namesake.

As such, he had spent enough time here. Afraid to leave, but determined to go, purpose was an enlightened thing. Still, he'd taken enough time to be well in debt, what were a few more moments?

Tony's hand was cool as he brought it into his own and another pin sunk into his chest. Tony should never be cold. He should be warm. Warm and exasperating and a constant in life- all things that were quite impossible now.

Loki suppressed the swift wave of anger, saving it for better use. He stood, giving Tony's limp hand a gentle squeeze before placing it back by his side. This was not good-bye, but it was bitter-sweet and Loki hoped that silently promising to return would be met with a silent agreement from Tony that he would still be here when he came back.

He was struck with an old memory. Of listening to stories where good always triumphed over evil and a kiss could setback death. It was childhood fancy, but, oh, how he wanted it. He would give Tony a proper kiss, but there were tubes feeding him air blocking the way, entombing him, so Loki settled for placing one against his brow.

Nothing happened, of course. Loki hadn't expected as much, and at this point, he was wasting time. Magic could do many things, but it wasn't synonymous with love, and while Tony would not be brought back with a simple token of affection, one thing his magic could ensure that what had beaten-down the Iron Man would no longer be able to take away anything else.

Ever again.


It was dark underground. Cool and silent with a certain feeling of privacy one such as he enjoyed. His base of operations, his hiding abode, the birthplace of his new age- it was where Victor Von Doom basked in his victory.

There were many things to be pleased about, and scarred lips twisted into a smile beneath his shadowed, faceless mask. He had done it. With superior intellect and larger forces, Doom had crippled the Avengers. At the cost of months of planning and a large portion of his army, many would see it as a failure, but Doom couldn't be happier with the result.

Yes, perhaps New York still stood, on shaky foundation though it may be, and yes, there was still a team of heroes and their league of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but he had done so much better than erase them from existence.

He had cut off a leg of the beast, and would watch as it bled to death while desperately chasing him in retribution.

It hadn't taken long after he lost the signal from his robot-self for Doom to realize that the salvation of New York came with the cost of Iron Man and the memory of it turned his smile into a grin. Glee bubbled in his stomach, pure and simple. A key piece had been taken out of the game, and all he had to do was sit back and wait for the opportunity to strike again.

Laughter tickled the back of his throat; it was a most fortunate turn of events! All that was needed now was time, and Doom is a patient man. He would wait here, in this damp, cool lair of his own design as he rebuilt his machines and regrouped his men. Hidden, but forever a lurking company in the back of his enemies minds he would be, and when he saw his chance, he would attack with an even greater power than before, unrelenting until those who dared stand in his way had no choice but to yield.

The echoing sounds of his machines working was a song, sweetly reverberating off the dank, brick walls to the melody of metal against metal, sparking and grinding, and Doom leant back in his chair, taking in the assurance of a well-improved future.

It was then, resting his mind, going over new plans and careful arrangements, did he notice the temperature in the air begin to drop.

To the inexperienced, it might have appeared to be nothing, but he was no idiot and left no excuse to ignorance.

Sitting up immediately, Doom's eyes went to a console on his right, looking at the monitor and seeing his guards still dutifully at their stations, having been heavily yet subtly placed at the only entrances of his base. Nothing looked amiss, but something was not right, and if hearing his thought, the artificial lights above him began blinking rapidly, the power cutting in and out.

Abnormally, Doom could see his breath frosting up slowly from the mouth of his mask, matching the icing crystal gradually creeping up every surface in the room. Turning back to watch as his monitors began icing over, fogging the picture, it was with a growing sense of trepidation when the video feed cut to static . . . and then nothing.

And like a domino effect, every other monitor shut off, the sounds of his machines stopping abruptly, and he could feel the power as if it was being leeched from his lair, the only thing still operational were the sporadic lights over his head, casting everything in light, then in shadow with each pulsing flicker.

A split-second when the room was bathed in light did Doom see a figure, and he rose from his seat, stance betraying nothing but mild curiosity as to the identity of his unannounced guest, even if inside he was battling with who, how and why.

With one final flash, the lights flickered back on and did not turn back off. Eyes adjusting to the steady source of light, Doom observed the man leisurely walking to him from across the room. He was a man, that much Doom could tell, but unlike most men, his skin was blue and his eyes were red and with each step that brought him closer, Doom could see the power radiating off of him.

The man stopped, and there was silence. Thoughts of demons and monsters briefly flashed through his mind, but Doom had come across many creatures- this man was hardly the worst of them- but he had been caught off-guard, and that was not something he could permit.

Doom was taking back control of this situation.

Now.

"Quite the show,' he said carefully, 'very theatrical."

The man smiled, but there was nothing behind it. "You,' his voice was neutral; words said with something of an accent, 'are an exceptionally difficult man to find, Doctor."

Upon closer inspection, now that his guest was a few feet from him, Doom could see markings on his unusual skin, almost tribal in nature. Patterns etched everywhere visible, circular and linear, and it drew the eye. It was strange seeing someone so inhuman in appearance dressed like he should be representing a client in court.

"Not difficult enough it would seem." Again the man smiled, but this time it had an edge to it, and Doom instinctually readied himself. People who broke into his home rarely did so as a courtesy call. He subtly pressed a button hidden along the arm of his chair . . .

"You'll find me to be a man who values privacy. We will be very much alone for the time being." Those searing, red eyes had never left his and Doom knew any attempt to summon his men would be futile.

Minutes passed and nothing transpired.

This situation was quickly playing out as unfavorable.

It was just the two of them, and of the two, the man across from him didn't look at all bothered. In fact, he didn't look much of anything, any expression played on his face controlled and fictitious. The cold bristling the air was painful, Doom holding back the need to pace and circulate the blood in his limbs, but the stranger seemed unaffected, his words not even misting up as he spoke.

Very unfavorable.

"You have me at a disadvantage,' and the freezing air left him winded simply from talking, each breath taken like a lung-full of ice-water, 'would you care to introduce yourself?"

"No."

That one word was the most heated thing in the room and it sizzled with intensity. But the man collected himself, shutting his eyes a brief second and then the calm, empty smile was back and his eyes were burning right through Doom's mask, scorching through the very face he was known by.

"I am content to have you at a disadvantage, and learning my name would prove pointless. We won't be in each other's company long enough for it to be of any use for you."

Doom balled his hands into fists, feeling the resistance and hearing cracks with each curve. Frost was glistening on the metal plates of his gloves and his cloak was stiff. He was going to have to act soon, despite a lack of knowledge on who had broken into his base- but if he could turn the climate into a threat, then it would be foolish for Doom to let this go on any longer.

"Then might I ask why this impromptu visit?" Cautiously, he gathered energy in his palm, its warmth a small comfort.

He was not answered immediately, instead subjugated to inspection. The man smiling grimly and watching as Doom was obviously trying to suppress an onslaught of shivering like he was a particularly interesting insect under a microscope. The stare was infuriating. Doom was not something to be stepped on and the anger of that notion unfolded in his gut and spread. Out of rage and with precision, he struck, unleashing large streaks of blue-white lighting and sending them at his presumptuous invader.

It was with no little surprise when his attack was simply swatted away, not even earning a flinch. Uninterested, the man merely raised a hand and the concentration of Doom's power danced around them, glittering off the frost covered area until it fizzed away to nothingness. Doom stood in shock, and the man used his disbelief to make an attack of his own.

What had been unbearably cold before became pain- terrible and ruthless. The air turned to ice which became needles, stabbing again and again and he couldn't breathe, the inside of his lungs freezing, hitching with every effort. Doom couldn't move, and his chest stuttered agonizingly as the man came closer, unsure now if it was from fear or cold.

"You've taken something from me, Mr. Doom." His voice was as cold and as sharp as the ice Doom could feel to his bones, "And I am not so sure I can get it back." It was impossible to speak, his lips sealed together. There would be no negotiating, no begging.

For once, he was powerless.

Face-to-face, he could see many more shades of red in the mad eyes of his assailant, all swarming and swirling together with a heat that sharply contrasted with the cool of his skin. There was no clemency in their depths, only a plan. One that Doom knew he had no chance of escaping.

"Suffice to say,' and now his words trembled, but not from the frozen waste of the room, 'I come here for revenge."

Doom didn't know what he'd done to this man, and he couldn't ask, but he knew- with startling, horrifying clarity- that he was going to pay for it. He was going to be thrown in the Ninth Circle of Hell, and this man would lower him by his deeds into its greater frozen depths.

"I tell you now, though," he whispered, dangerously close and just at the edge of Doom's peripheral vision, "I am not going to kill you." His breath was colder still, unfurling against the metal of his mask but Doom could feel on the bare of his face. "I doubt very much that he would want me killing in his name." Before Doom could contemplate on who he was, before he could even take in a small part of the excruciating air and start the very fringes of thought, the cold surrounding him and encasing him became living, moving, under his skin, and it squeezed until the fierce cold seeped so far in it burned.

There was a promise, hissed into the cusp of his ear.

"But I am going to make you suffer."