The ice shifted in my glass—a soft, tinkling chime—as though to remind me of my obligation to my neglected drink. I frowned, emptying the contents in one slow pull, grimacing slightly at the burn. It was smooth, but not smooth enough to chug like a frat-boy. Then again, maybe I just hadn't had enough. I turned, making my way to the bar, refilling my lovely companion before returning to the window.

The city was returning to some semblance of normality, though at a slower pace than I would have liked. High-rise cranes and heavy machinery dotted the landscape, ruining the view for miles around. I'd always liked the view and somehow I felt cheated, like the devastation outside was some sort of inconvenience. Like I could diminish its potency with my lack of concern. The rhythmic sounds of grinding somewhere below my feet reminded me that even here, in my sanctuary, I was not as distant from the chaos and destruction as I would like to pretend.

Stark tower—my tower—my beacon of hope for all mankind. Or something like that. I should probably read the brochure again, in case there was a test. The glass in my hand was empty somehow and I couldn't remember how that had happened. That was usually my cue to stop, or at least slow down, but I refilled it anyway. Fuck it. This was my tower, after all.

Pepper thought I was having some sort of crisis and was giving me space to work it out. I was actually grateful, truth-be-told, because I was having a crisis, just not for the reasons that anyone imagined. Cap thought I was overwhelmed by my selfless act, by my near-death experience on the other side of the void. He had most of the others on board, to some degree or another, eyeing me like they expected me to snap at any moment. Fuck him, and the rest of them, too. I'd sacrificed myself before, and on more than one occasion. Just because his former-popsicle ass hadn't been there to see it didn't mean he had the right to haul out his sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitude like he was the emperor of white-knight-heroics-land.

Mundane, bullshit issues weren't really my style. They were boring and cliché, and, quite frankly, beneath me. There were so many better things to dwell on than an almost fatal stunt that hadn't even landed me in the hospital. How many times had I come that close to death? Old-hat, really.

I finished off the last of my drink and didn't have the energy to go get another. Should have snagged the bottle the last time I was over there. I leaned forward, resting my forehead against the window, letting the cool seep into my over-warm skin. It was the window I'd been thrown through—once upon a time—repaired to perfection like nothing had ever happened. Like it was just that easy.

I shifted against the glass, sliding down to my knees, pressing my fingers against the surface until my fingertips went white. It was strange. There was a huge difference between hearing about advanced races and seeing them with your own eyes. One of them was real and the other was just random bullshit floating around, like internet gossip or network news. It's a lot harder to be an unaffected, cocky shit when you're staring down some mammoth alien whale-ship and none of your weapons are making a dent. It's a little more challenging to muster that sarcastic, devil-may-care attitude when a fucking god has decided to wage war on you. It tends to test the merits of your self-importance and weigh the strength of your resolve, or something equally poetic.

Ice rolled across the carpet as I dropped my empty drink, pressing my other palm to the unrelenting window. I'd been tested in fire, dammit, and found nothing lacking. I'd dived into the mouth of a beast and watched it explode around me. I'd flown into the void and flipped-off a mother-ship. I'd gone toe-to-toe with the motherfucking God of Chaos—without so much as a gun for protection—and offered him a drink. Like it was a game of wills. Like we were on the same level.

Therein lay the crux of my crisis, and hell if I knew what I was supposed to do about it. There had been something electric about that moment, a heady mix of arrogance and terror and resolve. I'd never been a match for him, on so many levels, but I'd held my ground and bought some time until I was ready to make my move. I'd known going in that I'd only have my wits, and against all odds I'd gotten under his skin.

I'd seen his eyes flicker as we bantered back and forth, a barely there fracture that made me reckless with power. I'd dug at him harder just to watch the crack grow, not caring that the whole while I was gambling with my life. The fear was there, racing through my veins, but the pull of it only seemed to add to the excitement. I was damned and I knew it, I'd done it to myself; run headlong into the fire, letting it burn as I rode the high.

When his fingers curled around my throat, all elegant grace and deadly intent, I'd felt a shiver of anticipation roll up my spine. As his eyes bored into me with that mix of all things—the rage and the insanity; the superiority and contempt; and somewhere deeper, that fractured, desperate pain—I knew I'd never know a more satisfying high. As I'd felt the glass shatter against my back, felt the wind tearing past me as I fell toward my death, I'd never felt so alive. It was breathtaking.

When my armor latched onto my wrists, binding around me with familiar precision, I'd felt a moment of dread, because I knew. I knew. That kind of freedom had a terrible cost and it was as addictive as the air I was panting into my lungs.

I traced the window again with my index finger, following a pattern that didn't exist. My teeth snapped shut, loud in the near-silent room, my fist meeting the unyielding glass once before the fight went out of me. I slumped further onto the ground and rested my back against the barrier, facing out into the room where it had all gone down.

I'd gone toe-to-toe with a god and offered him a drink, and at the end of all things—when the battle was decided—he'd looked me in the eye and taken me up on the offer. Like we were fucking equals.

Nothing could ever compare to that...and I didn't want it to.

"Damn you, Loki..."



A/N: So…I don't know if I'll ever take this any further. I might, at some point. I sort of like it for a starting point. Let me know what you think, the good and the bad, and maybe I'll go from there.

For anyone reading this who is thinking 'Why are you NOT working on Shades, like you should be?', rest assured that I am. I'm nearly done with the full rewrite that I had to do on the latest chapter. I promise I'm doing it! Loki is just…persuasive…

Okay, that's all I have.