Title: Vale: Torment

Words: 3131

Main Character(s): Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Thor Odinsson, Loki Laufeysson, Vale Lokisson, Steve Rogers

Notes: Not much to say about this chapter… really, I don't feel like it says too much, aside from getting everyone up to speed with each other. Also, if I haven't mentioned it before, I always envision Sigyn as a water nymph because if you say "nymph" to me I'll think of a water nymph. So Vale is half water nymph. No ownie anything.

Since they frequently end up in the lab well into the night, Tony and Bruce generally eat breakfast in Bruce's apartment, so that Bruce will be there when Shanta wakes up and comes through for her own breakfast. Peter's frequently there too, since interning with Bruce isn't just a front to keep him in contact with the rest of the Avengers. Pepper's long since used to this, and she and Aunt May are generally there as well. Pepper's been feeling unwell, so Bruce is recommending a stomach-calming tea when Thor walks out of the lift to join them. He doesn't normally; he usually either eats breakfast with Jane or with Loki, in a vain attempt to get his brother to eat something. Jotuns are even hardier than Asgardians and his refusal to eat or sleep doesn't seem to be doing him any damage, but Thor worries that even Jotuns can starve to death after a few years. The lack of sleep may be taking a toll on his sanity, but as he didn't have a lot left when he came to Stark Tower, it's hard to tell.

"Jane and Darcy's flight will be taking off about now, won't it?" Pepper says, checking her watch. Thor nods, leaning against a counter with his arms crossed. He doesn't seem to want to eat, which is the first flag that something's wrong.

"Did you get to talk to Loki?" Bruce asks. Thor nods. "Did you find out about his injury?"

"I could not discern where or from whom Loki received his injuries," Thor says morosely, "but I can telly out that the reason that they seem discoloured to you is that the damage is showing through his glamour. Jotun skin is blue."

"Injuries? Multiple?" Bruce asks with a frown, getting up and going over to a screen set in the wall nearby. "Mind if I access the security tape?"

"Not at all," Thor says. "I suspect he will be unwilling to show his injuries again. It may be the only way for you to assess them, though he is still unlikely to accept treatment. It may not even be possible, if the injuries are incapable of being glamoured."

"I'll have a look anyway," Bruce says, skimming through some security footage until Thor walks into the frame. Tony wanders over to watch the cryptic argument. Bruce pauses when Loki removes his shirt, magnifying the camera on Loki to see the scars criss-crossing his torso. Tony suddenly recoils sharply, hand over his mouth.

"Oh, shit," he murmurs. "Oh, shit…"

"Tony?" Pepper says, shooting to her feet and running over to him. The hand that isn't over his mouth is suddenly clutching at his chest. Pepper leads him to sit down, rubbing at his chest with him, while Bruce peers closely at him.

"Tony?" he says levelly. "Tony, what's wrong? Calm down, Tony, you're hyperventilating. Look at me, Tony, and breathe…" he keeps talking in a calm, instructive vein for a couple of minutes until Tony calms down.

"Is he alright?" Peter asks nervously.

"What on earth is the matter?" his aunt asks, looking concerned.

"Sorry," Tony mutters. "Just freaked out for a moment there."

"At Loki's injuries?" Thor asks quickly. "They look similar to burn scars… do you know where he could have obtained them? He will not reveal their origin to me…"

"I dunno," Tony says, shaking his head. "It's just… Yinsen had some scars that looked a helluva lot like that. Just, y'know, not blue."

"Oh, Tony," Pepper sighs, squeezing his shoulders. Tony leans into her a little. Thor looks at Bruce to see if the name "Yinsen" rings a bell with him. Bruce is frowning, but Thor cannot tell if it is out of recognition or concern for Tony. Bruce Banner is a hard man to read.

"Who's Yinsen?" Peter asks, looking from Tony to Pepper. "What's wrong?"

"Yinsen was the guy that gave me this, sorta," Tony says, tapping the glowing circle of his Ark Reactor. "He was a doctor, and another prisoner of the same terrorists that were holding me. He helped me build the first suit. He changed my life. He…" he looks down. There's a peculiar pain on his face. "He died thinking I could change the world." He sniffs slightly, and then looks up before anyone can say anything. "They had him a lot longer than they had me. They had him doing medical work for any of them that were hurt. Had to torture him into it, sometimes. That was how he got scars like those. Those are burns that are made on purpose, not by accident."

"It's true," Bruce agrees. "I've treated wounds like that, while I was wandering. The burn gets inflicted repeatedly on the same spot until the flesh is utterly dead. That's how you get that horrible scarring. Loki didn't get those from drifting too close to a sun."

"Oh, my," May gasps. "Could those horrible aliens have done it?"

"The Chitauri?" Bruce asks, looking at Thor. "Is it likely?"

"I cannot say… the Chitauri are not well known to us," Thor says with a frown. "We still know all but nothing about Loki's time between falling from the Bifrost and appearing on this world. He said something about "the edge of space" when I asked him, but I cannot say what he means by that…"

"The edge of space?" Tony offers. "It's a hella long way away and ever-moving, but some theories suggest that there is an edge to space. Some of Doctor Selvig's notes suggested that the Tessarect could open wormholes that spanned to opposite ends of the Universe, and Loki came out of the Tessarect…"

"What about whoever gave Loki the staff, and the teleportation device?" Peter asks. "You were saying that the design and power source are too different from the Chitauri tech. There could be another group of aliens involved. They could have done it…"

"We need to know if there's a group other than the Chitauri breaching Earth," Tony says with a frown. "We need to locate the other end of that teleport signal."

"Well, you and Peter know what to do," Bruce decides, patting Tony on the shoulder as he walks off. "I'd better go wake Shanta up. I need to take her school shopping today."

"Yeah, term starts next week, doesn't it?" Peter says thoughtfully. "Geez, I can't believe it… I've got better things to do right now than senior year…"

"You are not dropping out of high school, even if it is to be a superhero!" May chastises him. "Have you bought your school supplies?"

"Ummm…" Peter scratches the back of his neck nervously. "It's just a couple of books that I need…"

"Give me the titles and we'll pick them up while we're out," Bruce says. "It's a pretty big shop we're doing, a couple of books won't be a problem." He walks off to Shanta's room to wake her up.

"Bruce is getting Shanta into the dorms temporarily," Tony says, watching him go. "Something's started, and he feels like she'll be safer away from Stark Tower."

"Away from Vale?" Thor asks sharply.

"And your dangerously insane brother who still has some powers, yes," Pepper says with a shudder. Thor looks down.

"Jane told me," he sighs. "I apologize. I did not realize that Loki would be able to recover any of his magic after Father took it from him… then again, his powers are very different from mine."

"Yeah, well, long story short, it makes him slightly dangerous to be in the same building as," Tony says, getting up. "Not that Loki's done anything since the attack, but Bruce is still probably gonna breathe easier when Shanta's safe away, and things tend to go better for everyone when Bruce is relaxed. Anyways, Pete, if you don't have your shopping to do, get your ass down to the lab when you're down with breakfast and we'll track that teleporter signal." He pointedly doesn't look at the computer screen as he passes it. The frozen image of a horribly scarred Loki is still on it. Pepper wipes her hand across the screen to remove the image.

"I'm in interviews for some new employees all afternoon," she says, giving him a kiss. "See you later." Tony nods, walking off, while Pepper goes back to finishing her tea. Tony gets into the lift just as Steve's getting out.

"Morning, Cap'n tightpants," he says as a greeting on his way out. Steve ignores him.

"Thor," he asks, "how's Vale? Morning, ma'am," he adds, nodding to Pepper and May.

"Quiet," Thor says morosely. "He has retreated into a shell again, as he did when Narfe died. It may be even harder to bring him out of his shell this time, for this is not something that could be said was done to him, but unarguably something that he has done."

"I came to talk to you about that," Steve says. "Keeping him confined to this floor is not going to help him stay calm, and I don't think keeping him too close to Loki is necessarily a good idea either. He might have saved lives before, but if he can stop Vale's transformation odds are that he can trigger it, too."

"I do not expect that he will do so," Thor says quietly. Steve nods.

"No offence, Thor, but you're not the best judge of character when it comes to your brother," he says. "Do we know when his mother's taking him home?"

"Sometime in the next few days, I believe," Thor says. "We will know her arrival by the rain. She is a water nymph."

"Water nymph? What's that?" Peter asks.

"A water spirit," Thor explains. "They rarely mingle with other species, so half-nymphs like Vale are rare… it gives him a strong affinity with nature. I suspect that being confined to this highly technological environment has not been calming for him, but it is better than the hostility of Asgard, at least."

"What if we gave him access to more of the tower?" Bruce asks, returning with Shanta in tow.

"Good morning, everybody!" Shanta says brightly, hopping up onto a chair and waiting patiently while Bruce pours her some tea and goes looking for her cereal.

"Good morning, Shanta," Steve says with a smile, before turning a more serious look to Bruce. "More of the Tower?"

"One of the research levels contains greenhouses," Bruce says, "and the gym level has a swimming pool in it. If the kid's half water-spirit, maybe a swim would do him some good?"

"Who is water spirit?" Shanta asks. "What is spirit?"

"Vale is half water nymph," Thor explains. "His mother is water in the form and thought of a woman."

"Ah, he say!" she says. "He say that she very beautiful, and can make magic with water. He think water pool in bathroom is too small. I tell him is bath, is not supposed to be bigger." She giggles at the silliness of extraterrestrial beings. "He say he can make flowers grow, too. He make flowers on Daddy's desk change colour! It make him smile, and he no smile much, so is good, yes?"

"It's a good thought," Steve agrees. "Thor, if you go with him and look after him…"

"I would appreciate that," Thor says with a nod. "I shall go take him now. It will relax him, no doubt. Thank you."

"He hasn't given us any trouble all month, until his life was in immediate danger," Steve says. "Keep him from drowning, and it ought to be fine."

{}

Shanta's very excited about staying in the dorms for a while, thankfully. She's slept over with her friend Maeve before, so she's familiar with them and is happy with the fact that Bruce is just a phone call away. She asks for Bruce to give Vale a phone as well, because she wants to know how he's doing as well. She's been friendly to Vale ever since he arrived, since he's the only other child living in Stark Tower. Bruce hasn't told her that Vale killed his brother, only that his brother is dead, and that's made Shanta very sympathetic to him. She's lost two younger brothers and a younger sister in her life; one of the brothers, only a baby, died when both of them were living alone on the streets and Shanta didn't know how to care for him. Even if she doesn't know Vale's full involvement in Narfe's death, she's picked up on the feelings of guilt and shame, which is probably why she's been able to connect so well to the boy. After Thor, Shanta was the first person he spoke to.

While Bruce feels that it's good for Vale to have a friend like Shanta, he worries that it's not safe for Shanta to have a friend like Vale. If Vale can't control himself, then he'll be dangerous, no matter how much he doesn't want to be. Bruce knows that well.

"We don't know when Vale's going home, anyway," he tells Shanta. "If it's after you've left, we'll say goodbye to him for you, okay?"

"I would like to come back and say goodbye to him," Shanta pouts.

"When his mother comes for him, he'll have to go," Bruce says gently. "I'm sure he can't wait to go home, anyway."

"…Is good he can be with maa," Shanta mutters. "I am happy for him so he can be with his maa. But it will be sad, right?"

"It'll be sad to say goodbye to Vale," Bruce agrees, but Shanta shakes her head.

"For Vale," she says sadly. "Going home to home with no brother. Will be sad for Vale, right?"

"He'll be with his mother," Bruce says comfortingly. "I'm sure he'll be much better with her…" He pulls over in front of a decorating shop. "Do you want some pictures to put up in your room? What about an Animal Crossing one?"

"Yeah!" Shanta says excitedly, hopping out of the car. "I hope they have Star Wars poster too!"

The distraction's worked, but Shanta's left Bruce worried. She's not wrong; it's hard to tell how Vale will handle being back home again, especially considering how many Asgardians refuse to accept him due to being Loki's son. He doesn't like the thought of the sweet, quiet boy being exposed to the same people who caused his first transformation, but he has to convince himself that it's for the best. Asgardian doctors and sorcerers can probably help him control his transformations better than Bruce could, anyway.

{}

"Do you swim often, Captain?" Thor asks as Steve walks along the side of the swimming pool. The Captain is wearing a t-shirt and sweats and looks to have come out of a workout. He shakes his head, staring at the pool.

"No, it's not really my thing," Steve says, still staring at Vale. "I just wanted to know if I was hearing right, and, uh…" He nods at Vale, who is running back and forth across the surface of the pool. "First time I've heard him giggle, come to that. That's just about as strange, but in a good way."

"I should have brought him down here sooner," Thor says, smiling as he watches Vale laugh at the water splashing all around him as he plays. He spots Steve, gives an embarrassed eep, and sinks sharply below the surface of the water. "It suits his nature."

"I'm sorry we didn't let him down before," Steve says, watching the ripples in the water. "He's nothing like his father."

"Actually, he's not unlike Loki," Thor says. "At least, how Loki used to be. He and Narfe between them had exactly the same streak of mischief as Loki, before mischief turned to malice. Looking back, I can see how that transformation happened, and I am terrified to see that change happen to Vale, far more than I feel the wolf. I must confess, Captain, I do not want to send him back to Asgard, but it is Siygn's decision to make, not mine."

"You said she was a water spirit, right?" Steve says, nodding towards the pool. "Just wondering if he should be under that long…"

"He can breathe underwater, yes," Thor says dismissively, as if this is a perfectly normal and unremarkable thing. "He probably finds submersion to be comforting. He is truly in his element."

"That's good," Steve says with a nod. He crosses his arms, looking uncomfortable. "Can he hear us?"

"I do not believe so, no," Thor says, looking over at the unreacting water. "Why?"

"Have you gotten any more information from Loki?" Steve asks. "Has he said anything else about the Chitauri or any other alliances they may have?"

"I have not spoken to him today," Thor says, shaking his head. "Still, he speaks continuously of "the edge of space". Without the Tessarect Bifrost, it is impossible to reach that far quickly; according to Father, it is a month's ride on Sleipnir, and he is the fastest steed in all the Nine Realms."

"Your father's been out there?" Steve asks curiously. Thor nods.

"It was there that he battled the alien tyrant that forged the Tessarect," Thor says. "It took him years to travel back then, long before Sleipnir was born. It was millennia ago."

"So when did he go back on Sleipnir?" Steve asks. Thor frowns.

"I… could not say," he confesses. "Perhaps he merely estimated it. He has travelled with Sleipnir often. Nobody else can handle him. He can be tricksy… very like his mother," he laughs.

"Asgardian horses are something else, huh?" Steve says, sitting down next to Thor and cautiously watching the water. It does not still, but continues to ripple and wave even though Vale does not surface.

"Well, Sleipnir is rather extraordinary even by our standards," Thor laughs. "He is so fast because of his eight legs." Before Steve can figure out which question he wants to ask first, Thor adds, "and he is Vale's half-brother."

That gives Steve plenty more questions, but none that he really wants answers to. Shaking his head, he returns to the gym in the hope of punching out the mental images.

Vale sits in the comfortable embrace of the water. The world around him is quiet, suspended nothing. He likes the peace, and Narfe does too.

He can't hear what his uncle and the captain say, but he can hear their hidden thoughts, the things they do not say. He and Narfe have always been good not so much at mindreading but at hearing the things that are not said. They hear what people have always avoided even thinking around Vale. Now they know for sure.

He's here, Narfe whispers. Vale nods.

Father's here.