Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters from Marvel Comics. I am making no money from this in any way. The storyline is my own. This is for fun.
Warnings: Dark themes, cursing, PTSD, homosexual relationships, pairings (if you don't like the pairing, sorry, but it's what I'm writing), psychological warfare, questionable morals, etc, etc. If you have a problem with any of these things, remember, I warned you.
Author's Note: Holy shit, it's been a long time. Sorry about that, guys. I know a few of you have expressed concerns about me dropping the project. That is not true. I refuse to stop writing this before it is finished, especially when we're so damn close. So stay tuned, things are about to heat up (in more ways than one).
PART VI: NECESSARY EVIL
CHAPTER IV: ANSWERS
Of all the places he had been to on Midgard, this was by far the most interesting. He ran his fingers softly down the glass of the window, from the level of his eyes to as far down as he could speak, still walking as he did so. The view of the water, the waves crashing violently upon the cliffs below, the sun cascading across that reflective surface in the full spectrum of colors, reminded him of Asgard—a thought he refused to dwell upon.
There were so many more interesting things to explore.
The clicking of heels made him pause, going absolutely still. He glanced over his shoulder, watching with keen eyes as Pepper walked into the room, pausing next to the low-backed couch. Her strawberry blond hair was up in a ponytail, her painted lips drawn into a firm, disconcerted line. The line of her gaze drifted directly past him—through him, without seeing him—and then she started off to the stairs at the opposite end of the massive chamber. She walked right through the shadow he cast, not noticing as it cut over her bright heels and light ankles.
Once the click of her heels was no longer noticeable to him, he started moving again, this time towards the spiraling stairs with the waterfall running through the center of it. Such a display of opulence, and yet, he had not noticed Stark looking at the water, or even seeming to notice it, a single time.
This, of every place in this sprawling palace, was perhaps the most riveting—and, he reminded himself, it was not merely because the man of iron spent nearly all of his time within its confines. It was a temple to his achievement as a technomancer, a monolith to his ingenuity, his brilliance. Each and every detail within this space was of use, was noticed, likely customized by the master of it all.
At the middle of it was the man himself, hair in a dark, chaotic halo above a brow glossed with the slightest sheen of sweat. He was in a black, sleeveless vest of some sort, the bright blue light of his chest shining through it like a star set in the void.
Loki circled, fingers tracing gentle lines across the glass, his reflection dancing across the glass in synchronicity with his movements, his shadow trailing along erratically with the constantly changing light of Stark's sanctuary.
Though he was free of his bonds, every fiber of him pulsing with the magic he would need to spirit himself to whatever dark corner of the universe he so wished, he found that he could not leave, a moth drawn inextricably to Stark's flame. He knew what happened to the moth in the end. Still, he was here, and could not leave.
The screwdriver handle rolled gently in his fingers, not even a quarter of a turn, but just enough. He felt the tiny screw seat into place, and stopped, lifting the screwdriver out carefully. If his calculations were correct—and they always were—the new mounting for his repulsor flight stabilizers would hold up to the new hidden punch they packed.
Tony flexed his wrist, rolling it slowly. The metal outer plating of the gauntlet moved with him, shifting as they needed to for a full range of motion. It was slow, but the gauntlet was not hooked directly into the undersuit, just his arc reactor for power. Tony checked the display, out of habit. His power levels were fine.
Work was done for the night. Tony tossed down the screwdriver, ignoring its clatter against the table. He stretched. He'd wrap up for now. He was at a stopping point. He could try sleeping again. That always went well.
Movement. Three-o'clock. Tony braced for the inevitable lecture from Pepper about being in the workshop constantly. Like she was his mother or something. Yes, she was his assistant again, but really, they were over it. This was just how he was, take it or leave it.
There was no lecture. He waited for it, not taking off the gauntlet quite yet. It was a complicated process; he needed his full concentration. Nothing. There was silence, the whir of Butterfingers dusting something or another, and Dum-E doing who knows what. It was normal.
Tony turned, seeing it again.
In an instant, he had the repulsor up, the high pitched wail of it charging in his ears. He stopped cold.
He thought he'd seen Loki's reflection. He wasn't in full armor. He was standing there, right there, he saw it, he knew he saw it.
And now it was just himself, staring right back, haggard, circles under the eyes, weapon raised.
Tony swallowed roughly, disengaging the charge before it could let out the blast. "I know you're there."
"Do you, now?" The voice was a whisper against his ear, the gust of it warm and the hairs on the back of his neck were like lightning rods.
Tony spun sharply, arm up. There was nothing there.
"Chasing ghosts?" This time it was his other ear. It was just a whisper, at the edge of his hearing. It probably wasn't even there, except the moist warmth that lingered.
He took a shuttering breath, closing his eyes. The darkness of his own mind was worse.
That was strange. Pepper leaned down, having to squat awkwardly in her pencil skirt. Right now, she didn't really care, her eyes focused on the glass. There were small smudges on it, and when she looked closely, nose almost bumping it, there were bits of frost as well.
It had been a warm day out. The air inside was comfortable, not cold. There was no reason for…
Pepper stood abruptly, turning. Though she looked everywhere, she was just confronted with the perfectly normal, undisturbed living room. "JARVIS?"
"Yes Miss Potts?"
"What happened in New York?"
For a moment, Loki let the illusion fall, its cascading off his person like the water over the cliff rocks. He walked in slow circles, steps absolutely silent, each placement of his foot calculated, exactly as he wanted it. There was no shroud of invisibility about him, draping him in nothingness, and yet Stark would know no different, with his eyes squeezed shut as though if he did not see Loki, he would not exist.
Or, perhaps, he was merely trying to hear where his eyes were failing him.
A small chuckle was kept in, ready at the tip of his tongue, but reined in. Now was not the appropriate time, not when he had Stark's full attention.
What kind of attention that was, of course, was still up for heated debate. Stark's first reflex had been to raise the disembodied arm of his metal suit, a way to shoot energy, Loki recognized, and yet, he had not. It was strange. His first instinct had been fight, and even now, as the fight was certainly ebbing away, flight had not yet seized upon him.
Just as Stark restlessly studied his machines, Loki studied Stark, and he had yet to find even enough answers to cover the tip of an iceberg.
He stopped, just behind Stark. Like static electricity, he could feel Stark's eyes open, only to behold nothing. Loki did not throw the illusion back upon himself yet, did not continue walking around Stark. Though his shoulders were a taut line, ready to snap, Stark made no gesture that he would swing around, engage in a defense of any sort. This was safe, for now.
Through all his observation, he had wondered one single thing, and had found nothing, not a single clue to go by. This was his chance. He had Stark's undivided attention, a rare and fleeting occurrence, he had learned.
"Why, Stark?" Loki leaned closer, breathing the words directly onto the shell of his ear. "Why did you do it?"
Stark looked up, his jaw set firm, eyes more focused than he had ever seen before. Loki followed his gaze. It was to their reflections, there in the glass, Stark with Loki hovering just behind him… and yet, he knew Stark was not looking at him.
Stark was looking at himself.
That was all the answer he needed.