A Dyne Of Understanding
Thor's been trying to understand Loki for years. Tony's a lot faster than that.
Disclaimer: The characters herein belong to Marvel. Unsurprisingly, this is not me.
Pepper knows that Look. The one Tony's wearing right now; the one that says she can nag and cajole all she likes about the fact he hasn't eaten for three days - nor slept for two - and it won't matter. At best, her voice, her concern, may warrant a grunt of acknowledgment. At worst? She won't even exist on what ever plane his brain is currently operating on, and he'll see straight through her; the complex theorems and calculations she knows his brain is running - right here right now - are taking all of his attention, his considerable intellect. Secretly, that blank indifference to the physical world around him is the response she hates the most.
She knows better than to try and force the issue, though: Despite being rich and spoiled, Tony's never really been one for massive tantrums, and the only time she can remember him throwing one was in just such a circumstance. Sometimes - times like this - she knows all Tony wants to do is curl up inside his massive mind and let the physics, the chemistry, the philosophy . . . the sheer **science** of whatever he's doing at the time unfold in terrible, splendid, glorious thought.
Obadiah tried forcing him out of that special place in his head once before. The resulting paroxysm remains the stuff of legend, of hushed whispers, in the R&D labs at Stark Industries. Obadiah only did it the once. Pepper knows better than to try.
Despite this, the results of these periods of intense thought are inarguably astounding; once, when he was like this, Tony produced the large-scale arc reactor prototype that still powers one of the labs at Stark Industries. The time before? Jarvis.
This time? All she can hope is that he can rise to the challenge Thor's given him. She has to wonder at it, though. At how on earth - or off it - Thor could be so blindly optimistic as to simply hope he could readily find someone who could build the Tessaract-based transporter hinted at in the schematics he carried from Asgard.
The technology is unarguably complex; as he left Tony to it, removed himself from the lab days earlier so as to sleep and eat - to ensure the Other Guy stayed settled - Bruce muttered words to the effect of it being about as far advanced from their current understanding of the fundamental physics of the universe as the arc reactor is from petrolium-based fuel sources. That, Pepper understood, even if the rest of the science is beyond her.
And Tony, to be fair, has only been at it for three days. Laying the foundations of an entirely new branch of science from scratch usually takes him at least a week or so, and the building blocks of this one aren't of the sort he has already mastered at MIT. Thor, on the other hand, has been growing restless in far less time than that.
"All the Man of Iron needs do is build it." He grumbles, a wary eye cast over his bound, gagged brother in the cell behind him. "build it to plan, let us harness the tesseract, and be done and gone." Behind him, Loki rolls his eyes and Pepper cannot help but feel an odd sympathy with the shackled deity; Thor's happy enough to use a thing. Tony? Tony needs to **understand** it. In that one shared glance with Loki she realises the muzzled psychopath probably does too. It seems an odd affinity for a human and an Asgardian to share.
It takes another two days - forty-eight hours where Tony neither sleeps nor eats, where Thor frets more and more obsessively - before things come to a head.
Thor's broken into Tony's lab by the simple expedient of taking to the lock with Mjolnir. It's tantamount to a declaration of war, even if the Asgardian doesn't know it, and the sure certainty that Tony - sleep deprived, food deprived, hellishly creative Tony - **won't** play nice after that takes Pepper's breath away.
This? There is no way this will end well.
She's been told Thor isn't stupid (though Pepper's pretty sure by now that actually? he really, really is). Reluctant to let his captive brother out of his sight, he's dragged the shackled god with him into the Lab as an unwilling audience for his confrontation with the other Avenger.
"It seems a simple enough task, Man of Iron! Forge the transport to the designs I provided, and be done! The dwarves can do it, humans must manage no less!" He bellows, forced joviality very nearly fully put aside. Tony's at the computer, fingers flicking furiously across his specially designed keyboard, darting through holographic model after mock-up after schematic. Not all of them are solely of the transporter, and despite the volume of Thor's voice, he appears utterly insensate to the demand.
Then, Thor grabs Tony's arm. Then, all hell breaks loose.
Spinning, Tony turns to face the god, eyes widening with the sudden realisation his lab, his sanctuary has been violated. Pepper winces, a movement echoed by Loki.
"You're part way there," the thunder god gestures to the bench, "simply finish it, and then you can put aside this silly artificing and return to ruling your empire, this 'corporation' of yours!" Thor's voice is growing louder, unconscious of the other man's ire.
When Tony snaps, it's with a whisper, sibilant and vicious and every bit as perfectly targeted as any missile Stark Industries has ever launched.
"If this is how you speak and act around Loki at home, I'm beginning to understand why he hates your guts."
The shock of the statement forces Thor to tighten his grip on the other man's arm, brow furrowing with anger. But furiously, recklessly, Tony continues. His words are blows, punches, and he pulls none of them.
"My corporation, my 'empire' as you put it, is run by Pepper. Run, managed, presided over, whatever you want to call it; I have no problem ceding that side of it to her. Not only is she better at it than I am, it leaves me free to do my own thing." He bites out, "and that 'thing' is nothing 'silly', that 'thing' is to create! To invent and design and discover! And you know what? That's something we rate pretty highly here on earth! I gave over the power of 'ruling' my corporation to Pepper years ago, but without any loss in people valuing what I do or respecting me for doing it!" The volume of Tony's voice still hasn't risen above conversational, and Pepper winces. This is going to be bad.
"Tell me, Point Break, are you typical of all Asgard?" He asks with deceptively sweet vituperation, "Do all of you honor only physical strength? Only flexing muscles and prowess with primitive, hand-held weapons? Because I've done some research, read some Eddas, and I think maybe that's the truth of it." He paused, blowing out a breath.
"An entire world populated with jocks dismissing the incredible things Loki's learned to do with magic, just because they'd rather **try** and do it with bone-headed, muscle-bound force instead of **succeed** at it with a little intelligence? No wonder Loki's a Nut Bar; you and every other jock on that world must have made his life a full tank of high octane nightmare fuel! What is this Asgard place? A planet-wide High School soap opera?" He snarls out the words, brutally, bitterly angry.
"Fulfilling this obsession with power, with ruling an empire, was probably the only way he could hope to score any respect for any of his abilities from any of you!"
Thor's mouth is open, face slackly horrified. It is ready apparent the thought had never occurred, "No. No, Man of Iron, you are wrong. Loki is loved, cherished." He pauses. His brother is valued, he is sure of it. But his gift for magic? That, Thor realises, he - like all on Asgard - had merely tolerated; scornfully amused by Loki's 'tricks', discounting his achievements with them off the battlefield and deriding their use in every combat arena.
Perhaps it was small wonder, then, that the intelligent, sensitive little brother he remembers watching laugh delightedly at his first illusion turned to mischief and then to misery before finally alighting on agonized wrath.
Thor's rage shatters at the realisation.
Loki has had an entire lifetime of hurt, of being told his skills meant less because they were not with weapons, his strengths belittled because they were not of muscle and steel. This, then, is the shadow of which Loki spoke.
And Thor fears his hand has been heavy in casting it: Except, a lifetime of jests meant in fun but taken to heart? No. No, never. Loki understands better than that, laughs off their joking play. The human is wrong. He has to be. Turning, he catches a glimpse of his brother.
Loki is ignoring him utterly. His attention seems transfixed by the human yelling - with utter disregard for personal safety - at his godly brother. Loki's eyes are wide and, despite the gag distorting his features, in that unguarded moment Thor sees a lifetime and it shakes him to the core.
The Man of Iron, it appears, has understood his brother better in a few days than he himself could manage in a lifetime. The realisation is galling, heavy. But almost a relief. Perhaps now, perhaps with care and effort, he might reach the younger god.
Behind the infuriated deity, Pepper trembles. Tony's out of his armor. He's out of his armor and he's ferociously angry, but more than that, he's busy merrily ticking off a god. A god of thunder and lightning, to be precise. One with superhuman strength, and oh, Tony's **not in his suit!**
There's just **no** way this is going to end well.
But somehow, it does.
"I'll think on your words, Mortal." Thor replies, as much to cover his desolation at Loki's reaction to the human's outburst as to end the conversation. To have missed such heartbreak in his younger sibling, such despair driving the other to madness. Thor feels a failure as a brother, and the sensation is not a pleasant one.
But Thor's response catches Loki's attention, and for an instant his eyes are held by the unwavering gaze of the mischief god. Weighing, watching, appraising. . . and perhaps Thor is fooling himself, but in the back of that vivid green gaze, there is maybe a smattering of hope. For that alone, Thor will be forever grateful to the human master smith.
Late that night, sitting outside the cell where his younger brother tosses restlessly, Thor buries his head in his hands, and summons the courage to speak, if only in a barely-audible whisper. Loki will hear him, though. Loki always does.
"I'm sorry, brother. I'm so very sorry."
There's no response from the cell. And really, Thor's not expecting one. A lifetime of hurt cannot be erased by a single platitude. To say nothing of Loki's crimes still standing between them.
But the next day, when the tesseract-based transporter is finished, when they take to the park, when they prepare to leave, when Loki reaches for the handle of the conveyance that will take them back to Asgard . . . he does so without hesitation.
And Thor lets himself hope that maybe - just maybe - the breach with his little brother can be healed.
Author's note: I know a good deal more about Norse mythology than I do about Marvel mythology (which may not be saying all that much) and I haven't seen 'Thor', so if anything seems wildly out of whack, I'd really love to hear about it! Comments and constructive criticism greatly appreciated!