A/N: Hey guys, guess who's alive! I take way too long to update, I am so very sorry.D: And this chapter's a bit odd as well, but I hope not too much so- there's a lot more to explain coming up in the next one. It's a little rough and probably needs a little extra editing which will come tonight, but let me know if you see any typos or mistakes! They are bound to happen now and then.
Oh, if anyone's seen Cap 2 yet, it is awesome, and amazing, and I am just not getting into the complications it creates for various things. This is an AU already, so just put aside the new info where this fic is concerned, if ye don't mind.
"Where is he?" Rogers had no way of knowing for sure that SHIELD was tracking Loki, but Tony was glad to see he was smart enough to make the assumption, even with his modern-era-ignorance.
"Loki's in central park, at the Loeb Boathouse with Parker and his girlfriend. Clint only found one of the trackers on his bow, we'll send you the surveillance for the other one, but if he ditches that, too, then you're on your own."
Tony swore, not particularly caring if either Natasha or the Captain overheard him. Central Park was bad. It was public, teeming with people at the slowest of times, and had a great many perches for a renegade archer to hide as he took his shot. If he went in with the suit JARVIS would probably be able to pick up his reading the second they got there, but there was the little problem of an ensuing PR nightmare. There would probably be something of a panic, if Tony burst in armed and tackled another known Avenger out of a tree, and people would want to know why. There would be no more covering up who they thought Loki to be, no more press releases apologizing for mistaken identities. It wasn't worth it, for Fury, not when it was Loki's life in danger.
But to Tony?
Life was life, and even if Loki's had been tainted by his own crimes, there was a high chance that he didn't remember a single moment of what he was to blame for- and then, of course, there was Clint. He had killed before, and done it often, so Loki would just be another notch on the tally, in theory. But the want for revenge had practically consumed him during these last few weeks, and Tony didn't really want to think about what he would do to take it. Or how it would affect him afterward.
The answer, then, was pretty obvious.
Rogers didn't complain even once about having to travel in Tony's grip, though he did grimace just a little when they took off, probably not all too used to flying with no more holding him up that a pair of robotic arms criss-crossed over his chest. They must have made quite the sight, but Tony didn't really care what bizarre headlines would pop up in the morning, so long as they reached Barton before he could put an arrow through Loki's skull.
"It appears as if agent Barton as already reached his destination, sir," JARVIS commented, in response to the stillness of the beeping dot he was tracking on the screen, a detailed map courtesy of SHIELD. "Though it is also possible that he has simply abandoned the tracker. Shall I search the security cameras of the building to confirm?"
The building, Tony could assume, being where Barton had stopped- close enough to the park, and the Boathouse, that it was reasonable to guess he actually meant to be there. Which was good, since it probably meant he hadn't just tossed the tracker and run off somewhere they would never be able to find him in time, but also bad, since it meant he could fire at any moment.
And they were still three minutes out.
"Yeah, get on that. And all the neighboring ones too, see if any of them have caught a look at him." Tony had the speakers on for the suit, so he knew Rogers could hear him, but the Captain remained grim and silent, the only sign of recognizing the words being a slight furrowing of his brow.
Maybe that was because he was concentrating on not falling, or trying to retain some dignity, but there was almost as much tension in the thin air now as there had been that day in the helicarrier. What did they do if they were too late? What did they do if they weren't?
"Agent Barton has just ascended to the roof of the detected apartment building, sir, and he appears to be wielding his bow. There is no surveillance footage of the roof itself, however no alarms have sounded, and I do not believe anyone within is aware of his presence. Shall I alert the police?"
"No, they won't get there in time to do any good. Let Fury know." As if he wouldn't already, considering where the transmission of the tracker was coming from.
Tony's brain was assuring him they only had two minutes left, and that was much longer than it would take even the most clumsy archer to knock a arrow and settle on his target. Clint would need only seconds. He grit his teeth, and told JARVIS to see if he could get an eye on the building some other way, then diverted all excess power to the repulsors, speeding them onward as fast as he dared, considering his unwieldy human cargo. He would be a poor excuse for a hero if he couldn't save even one person in broad daylight. They had to hurry, even if it strained the suit and Rogers both, because the building was looming closer now, but still much too far away.
What awaited them when they finally, blessedly, touched target was… unanticipated.
"Ah, my friends!" Thor boomed, his voice carrying easily over the large rooftop as he strode towards them, one arm extended outward in a grand, welcoming gesture. Maybe the other would have joined it, except it was a little too busy hoisting up one Clint Barton, tucked easily beneath is arm like an unruly toddler, kicking and all.
Though the furious swearing and threats were far from childish, and the burning, honest hatred in his voice as he snarled them out did a great deal to crush the humor of the situation.
"Thor?" Steve demanded, extracting himself from Tony's grip and striding calmly forward to close the distance, shield gripped tight and ready, which seemed a pretty unnecessary precaution at this point. "What's going on here?"
Seemed obvious enough to Tony, and he would have said so, if he could bring himself to stop gaping and form a coherent sentence. Clint's bow was snapped in two string weakly fluttering in the breeze between the shattered, discarded pieces, and his quiver was sporting a spectacular dent, suggesting an Asgardian boot had put an end to the threat of individual arrows. They lay at the center of a scorched concrete, marked with wild and intricate symbols he recognized only vaguely from SHIELD's database. You'd think they'd have noticed something, with that big ole flash of light, even if they'd somehow been miles out when it happened…
"My father repaired the bifrost using the tesseract's power months ago, and shielded my arrival today with his own," Thor explained, first to Steve and then Tony himself, perhaps sensing his thoughts. "It took a great deal of his strength, but we could not afford for anyone to see… I shall explain all in good time, but first I must request your assistance in restraining agent Barton. I had hoped he would calm down, but I have thus far been disappointed."
"I will blow your sorry ass back to Norway if you don't put me the fuck down, you outdated son of a bitch!"
No, definitely not calm. They didn't have rope on them, or anything like it except for a very thin bow string, but with the two of them holding him down, it was short work for Thor to double-wrapMjolnir's grip tight around Barton's wrist. The immovable weight would keep him down well enough, and while he could probably eventually slip his way free (though the leather was so tight it was digging into his skin, turning the skin around it an eerily pale white), there was no way he would do it without them noticing. They sat in a ring, Barton in the middle of it, growling and glaring but silent enough now to keep his dignity, and Thor had the unofficial floor, once tense and baffled greetings were over with.
"I am sorry for interfering unannounced," He began, actually sounding sorry, which was just plain bizarre , considering how arrogant he had been even as their teammate.
Tony didn't particularly want him to go reverting, so he quickly gave his assurance. "Don't worry about it, Conan, you just saved us one hell of a mess. And probably kept you out of jail, so put the pouting on the shelf like a big boy, would ya?"
Clint glared, then stuck his tongue out in defiance, which was childish enough to stun Tony out of a retort.
Steve sighed and muttered something un-flattering, and Thor simply frowned, his eyes cold as they regarded Barton. "I did not do it for you, but I am glad my actions save you trouble instead of causing it. And I must thank you for your attempts as well- I know not if you would have arrived in time, but it is a relief that my brother's safety does not solely rely on coincidence."
"Coincidence?" Steve wondered, frowning. "You didn't come here to save him?"
"Had I known he was in danger, I would have. But Loki has kept hidden from Heimdall's sight since his banishment, though through what power I know not, for his own has been sealed." Thor grimaced at that, looking as if he might drown in thought, and Tony was far too impatient to let that happen.
"You're going to have to give us more than that. Start with what the hell you're doing down on a-very-different-god's green earth."
If Thor particularly cared about that bizarre abuse of a mortal colloquialism, he made no sign of it. Instead he turned, expression softening but still undeniably displeased, out toward the park, where Tony, with the aid of the suit, could easily make out Loki and the teenagers, gathered around some uncomfortable metal table. Clint had picked a great vantage point- they were close enough that he probably could have made them out even without JARVIS zooming in for him, and with that help he could even make out the smudge of ice cream across the god's nose, the way he laughed as one of the kids pointed it out. Beside him, Steve had gone stiff, though he remained silent, and Tony really couldn't blame him. It was, after all, the first time he'd seen Loki since the battle of Manhattan.
The confliction was clear in Thor's face, pain and guilt and anger and relief all at once, so strong that Tony decided immediately that he was glad not to be a god. He didn't think he could handle that, feeling so much all at once. "I came to offer my help, and a warning. As you may recall, our Gatekeeper, Heimdall, is capable of witnessing anything he chooses to focus his sight upon, and is constantly alert for threats to the nine realms."
Tony nodded, yeah, of course, made perfect sense, and Thor continued. "Loki has always been able to hide himself when he wishes, but without his magic it should have been impossible. Yet he is veiled, through methods we know not of, and he is… not alone. Heimdall has sensed something else of late, a great force fighting against his gaze, coming nearer to earth every day, and whenever he tries to focus on it, he is forced away. The same occurs when he looks to Loki, and we feared he had taken arms against your people again, but looking to earth revealed no danger. And it may be impossible to focus on Loki, but Heimdall can sense where he is, at the center of the blackness that eludes him, which is strange enough in itself. Before, when he hid himself, Loki was simply invisible, there was no sign at all that anything was amiss."
Somewhere in there, Tony had stopped breathing, but now the need for it was tugging at his throat, and he gasped in enough to fill his lungs. Loki. An immense force. Great power. Those things really should not be combined, under even the best of circumstances.
He saw his agitation reflected on two other mortal faces, and Thor hastened to calm them. "We have reasoned by watching those around him that Loki is not working any plot, and Odin has not sensed him attempting to access his magic. This enemy, whatever it is, is somehow hiding him as well, intentionally or not. We feared earth may soon need to rally in its own defense once again, and I mean to offer my assistance, and inform your leaders of everything I can. In order to determine where best to arrive, Heimdall attempted to locate all of you, my old companions, and when he looked to agent Barton…"
"He found him pointing an arrow at your brother's negative space?" Tony guessed, earning both a nod and a scowl, from the two men involved. "So that's… fuck, that's not good. Chances are there's an army, an alien army, again, on our doorstep? Awesome. You know, I thought it was bad enough that Loki was here."
"It is not so alarming as that, for the forces seem to be coming near to earth, but if they continue on their current path, they will pass it by. Your people have only just begun to attract the attention of the other realms, and such things are not unheard of. We have sensed potential dangers near to Earth before, but this is the first time since you have openly interacted with outside worlds, and we thought it may be best if you were prepared, just in case," Thor assured, tentatively. It wasn't exactly the most relaxing thing to hear, because it was obvious by the god's nervous expression that the gatekeeper had never failed before. Whatever this thing, this problem was, it was nothing Thor had ever seen before.
God, and he'd thought life was complicated before. Tony took a deep breath, and let it out in a groaning sigh, wondering what he could say that wouldn't sound frantic, but Steve, bless him, took the reigns before he had to. "Okay, wait, let's not do anything until we've got all the information. Is there any way Loki's got his magic? For all we know, he's the one bringing them here."
"No. My brother is not to blame, I am sure of it." Too much, too much, Tony's head was pounding, his suit felt too tight, too heavy, and Thor just went on talking. "For his crimes, Odin intended the same course he took with me, to banish Loki to earth, his powers bound, and force him to live as one of the mortals he attempted to enslave. Unfortunately, my father's anger overwhelmed him before he could even deliver the sentence, and he struck him unconscious before sending him here to earth."
"He damn near killed him," Tony muttered, forgetting of course who he was dealing with, because he hadn't meant for Thor to hear him, but the god went rigid, tense and nervous. "Uh, yeah, you see, the thing about mortal bodies is that they don't take to well to… what was it, 'striking'? He doesn't remember anything."
Thor deflated, but he seemed to be doing so with relief, not hurt. "Ah, yes, I was aware of that. That is why Odin risked using his magic to control my arrival here, for we do not wish to give Loki any sign or knowledge of Asgard, lest they spark a return of his memories. If he comes to love Midgard, unaware, we have hopes that his memory will bring with it the lesson he so dearly needs to learn."
Lesson. Right. Amnesia seemed like an easy way out, but no magic was good, though he was still veiled, there were people coming to earth, Clint was snarling with renewed fury and cursing again at Thor, Loki was right there , actually Loki, unaware of the people he'd killed, nothing to pay but a scar on his temple, and there was an army of aliens-
Okay, time out. There were a few thousand things to deal with, and one of them was right there, oblivious, and Tony realized that it was his job to keep him that way. He rose, in the midst of Steve's attempts to mediate, cutting all sides of the argument off as three pairs of eyes turned toward him (one inquiring, one threatening, one exhausted).
"We're going back to the tower, we're calling SHIELD, and we're getting all this shit straight before we even think of doing anything else. Rogers, you're more than qualified to hold down the fort while I'm gone, I'm hoping? If not, I have a few very pressing concerns to bring to Capitol Hill. And patriotism in general."
Tony was rambling, but it cooled his panic, didn't fuel it. Thor grabbed hold of mjolnir, and thus Barton, before he rose, but Rogers was on his feet faster, uninhibited as he was. "Gone? Stark, this is an international incident in the making, we're needed at base immediately. Where could you possibly be going?"
There was a dull throbbing at the back of his head, just above where spine met skull, putting an unpleasant edge over his vision, but Loki was doing his best to ignore it. It was hardly a rare pain, after all, and it was minor compared to most, despite how long this one it had lasted, nothing worth worrying the others over. He did not want to ruin this outing of theirs, and the winter breeze (snow, he was told, should have been there already, was likely to arrive on the weekend, and his heart was pounding eagerly at the mere thought) was pleasant enough to put the thought of it to rest. It was perhaps not the best weather for ice cream or cold ham sandwiches, and both the children had gotten hot chocolate and warm soup, but he preferred the chill down his throat, for it eased the headache, and relaxed him in a way he had to assume came from the remnants of his memories.
And, of course, there was the less dramatic fact that it tasted good .
"It's December, you know, you're going to get pneumonia. And then you'll probably either get in the Guinness book of records or die, what with the hospital rap sheet you're compiling," Peter had said when he placed his order, and even now he was eyeing the selection askance, but miraculously had run out of jokes about two minutes ago, which was almost certainly only a temporary measure (and one Loki intended to take full advantage of).
"Does it feel… strange, being here?" Gwen wondered, glancing out over the partially frozen lake, bearing the signs of the season that the clouds had not yet brought them. "I know it would be just a little ridiculous to expect any sudden flashbacks, but even knowing you were attacked here must be a bit bizarre."
Loki supposed she had a point; his head had been bashed in, near-fatally, by some unknown weapon a few hundred yards away from where they sat. Peter had even shown him the statue, but they hadn't lingered there long. The clean up crew had done a wonderful job, and the few copper-toned marks that lingered on the pavement were no less than could have been expected. Nobody else seemed even to notice, but Loki had spotted his own blood staining the stone, and decided that he wanted nothing more to do with Alice in Wonderland .
"Not this part, at least," he decided, feeling nothing but a soft fondness as he watched the children bustling excitedly through the park, weary parents at their heels, dodging between the legs of the many camera-armed tourists. "I should like to see it in the snow, if we could. You both will be free for awhile starting next Friday, won't you? What is it… three weeks?"
"Three glorious weeks. With Christmas smack dab in the center, by the way, and you're going to love it," Peter assured. Decorations for the holiday had been everywhere for as far as Loki could remember, but they were springing up in force now, and the radios seemed to be playing nothing but seasonal tunes. It was not as if he listened to music, much, but it was hard to miss it all, now that he'd actually begun to focus on the world around him. And with the brighter colors and pleasant tunes and passerby whose arms were laden with packages came thousands of vacationers.
It was not something really prevalent in his mind, however, not with all else going on, and as usual he simply shrugged it all off- between Stark, work, and his own ailings, Loki could only focus on holidays when they happened to come into conversation. "Do you have any plans? For your time off?"
"We'll be going down to Manhattan whenever we can," Gwen offered, and Loki could not help the way his face lit up. Since his conversation with Stark (just that morning, was it? It felt a world away, for all it had taught him), the city's destruction had plagued his mind, and he was itching with the need to return, lend his aid once again. He had been too tired for it, mostly, since starting work, but energy came more easily to him now- perhaps he could manage? "And then there's homework, of course. Though Peter here will inevitably keep that at bay until the final days and you and I will both have to endure his tortured groans."
"Groans? Think cries to the heavens, I have no intentions of being subtle."
Loki laughed, for Peter really was the sort to put on such a dramatic display if the mood took him, but the sound was cut somewhat short. Not short enough to worry the others, and Gwen came in with her rebuttal without pause, but nonetheless the sound died in his throat, and his eyes narrowed not in anger or fear but the same confusion that had snatched his amusement away.
Stark was not to meet him until a week from the day, and surely he could not have expected a call this quickly, but he was here, bypassing the curious crowd with sunglasses and a raised coat hood. Not exactly bizarre, given the temperature, and few people even looked twice, but Loki could not see how they missed it, as if they could not even see beyond the thin panels cloaking his eyes. "If you have forgotten something, could it not wait until next week?"
Peter had gone rigid a moment before Loki asked the question, but both he and Gwen turned once it had been asked to assess the approaching "threat". Stark strode to their table, hands raised in a mock surrender, and cast an easy grin to calm their nerves. "Wow, way to make a guy feel wanted. Maybe I'm just going for a walk."
"To our table?" Gwen wondered, not the least bit intimidated by the same celebrity air about Stark that had Peter shifting, uncertain, in his own seat. "You know, New York's full of tourist destinations, but I'm pretty sure that's not listed in the travel guide."
"Really? Wow, your copy is horribly out of date, your table is the place to visit these days. Actually, I've got news, believe it or not- that neurologist I told you about, he wants to see you tonight. One of those soon as possible sort of things, he rewrote his entire schedule to fit you in." He emphasised the last words, eyes boring into Loki's through the sunglasses, and he resisted the urge to wince. "And don't worry, you can bring your teenage posse along and we'll all pretend this is a perfectly normal adult-youth relationship when people start asking awkward questions."
Loki wasn't quite sure what made him do it, but he rose sharply to his feet, table scraping feebly against the ground as it went, and Stark's eyebrows flew up. Surprised, perhaps, at the forceful gesture? He did not attempt any aggressive stance, did not overbear with his height, but he could not talk to this man like that again. Without warning, or welcome, coming to stand above where they all sat, making demands… It was blatantly rude, but was it not really a favor on his behalf? Considering the wounds on his own throat, Loki did not think a touch of assistance enough to excuse this perpetually unpleasant behavior.
How did you find me? Why? What do you want? What have you learned, what can you tell me? I only want to know as much about me as you do.
All those words died in his throat, and Loki shifted, uncomfortably, unsure what he meant to say, wishing he had not stood in the first place. "I know my own way to the hospital. Give me the name of the man and I will find him for myself."
"He doesn't work at the hospital. He's an off-site specialist, works for SHIELD."
"It's an intel organization that also regulates super humans," Peter supplied. "They coordinated the Avengers, and dealt with cleaning up all the alien technology left around after the battle. Of course, that's about where public info stops, and nobody likes to guess what they're doing with all of it. He's not going to SHIELD."
"No, he's going to a SHIELD doctor , who doesn't technically work at headquarters. You really think I'd bring him there? I'm not making any secrets about who's involved in this, kid, never was. He'll be safe, you at least will know where he's going, and like I said, tagging along is still an option. A dwindling one, though, since this little happy hour is eating away our travel time." Stark cast a pointed glance at his wrist, though he was not wearing a watch, and gave a suffering sigh. "Come on. I'm Iron Man, internationally beloved superhero! I shoot bad guys, save the world, and occasionally mistake waiters for supervillains, everyone has bad days."
"I'll go," Loki assured quickly. He did not know how this conversation could possibly end pleasantly, and he hated the tension running through the air, hated knowing how much it bothered Peter to glare at his (former?) hero like this. "Really, no need to be so dramatic, any of you. I can't imagine it will take too long, no need to wait up for me."
"You're kidding, right? I mean no offense, but I'm pretty sure that if you get on the subway, you'll end up in Tokyo."
"Which is why Mr. Stark will be driving me, I assume?" Assuming was not something Loki liked to do, in fact, but here it seemed justified enough, and he could not help a slight twitch of amusement in his lips. Stark did not seem taken aback, but for some reason he was smiling, like he found the comment… reassuring?
"If I didn't, I'm ninety nine percent sure you'd be mugged, again, and this time around people would probably blame it on me."
Loki steeled himself for the childrens' protests, but Peter did no more than shrug, and Gwen had nodded her cautious agreement some time ago. "Yeah, fine, okay. You're a big boy now, we're not really allowed to stop you. If it's what you want to do, go ahead, but… be careful?"
He winced on the word, as if recognizing how odd it sounded, to be warning a man twice his age or perhaps more about such things, but Loki simply smiled his thanks and assured that he would. Both of them insisted on having a hand-written copy of the address in their possessions before they sent them off, with a warning that Gwen would call in a few law-enforcing favors if Loki wasn't either home or in contact with them in four hours.
"Those two are way too old to be teenagers," Stark was muttering as they went, veering off the path in the man's apparent impatience to reach his car. "Seriously, there's a forty year-old veteran trapped in there somewhere. Do they ever relax?"
"Quite often, in fact. Given your track record, I cannot see how they should be blamed for a little paranoia."
The man was dressed in nothing but jeans and a dark jacket, seemed to be shivering somewhat even as he laughed. Loki, in the long black coat he had bought with half of his first paycheck, was almost over-warm, but decided against offering it over. "That is much truer than I wish it was. But to be fair-"
He broke off, expression twisting into something not unlike a grimace, and Loki watched in confusion as the look smoothed away, not a remnant left. "Sorry about the whole choking thing. I don't usually do that. Even to… It's not just who I thought you were, it's what. My job description- well, one of them- basically requires me to be a-okay with killing, and I am, but I'm not one for the unnecessary beating sort of thing. Far as I knew, that hand around your throat shouldn't even have left a bruise."
"It is... quite alright," Loki decided upon, hesitantly, after the silence had lengthened to a spectacularly awkward time frame. Why was the man bringing this up now? He had agreed to let bygones be bygones when he told the police he would not be pressing charges, and he knew already that Stark had only attacked him because he thought him a criminal. Whatever guilt he may have felt over the incident had, seemingly, been assuaged even before their first meeting, and Loki could only blame him so much, which was to say hardly at all, for he had been given his name in exchange for those wounds. His name and a few haunting possibilities, but that was what they were off to clear up, after all, and Stark was the one kind enough to arrange it for him, despite the early misconceptions between them.
It shouldn't have mattered, that he would not have attempted to harm even a villain so badly, if he had known the results of his attack. It shouldn't have made a difference at all, but somehow it did, and Loki entered the car too deep in thought to even comment on the luxury of it.
He had expected silence, but he should have known better, perhaps. Stark's radio began blaring at awful levels from the moment the car stirred to life, so suddenly that Loki could not hide a wince as his headache awakened with a similar vengeance. The sound had dropped after that, but the noise had been made up for with words, strings of conversation from the entrepreneur that Loki fumbled to respond to as well as he could through the pain in his head.
"I know a guy you really need to talk to one of these days. You ever heard of Captain America?"
The headache roared behind his right eye, pounding, and Loki told himself the name had nothing to do with it. "I have."
"Well, you're even more oblivious to the world at large than he is, but he's got a pretty good grip on handling it. There's this list he made, you should check it out- movies, songs, food, things like that which us modern folk are obsessed with."
Stark wanted to introduce him to the Captain? Peter probably would have outright swooned, if he knew, and Loki decided that the boy would have to be invited, if such a thing ever did come to pass. "I… am catching up as well as I can, I think. Peter and Gwen have been very accommodating, and then there's the internet, it is very helpful."
The man laughed (pain, throbbing), setting a frown over Loki's expression. He didn't think he'd sounded that foolish… but Stark shook his head only seconds later, perhaps in apology. "You'll figure it out when you meet him, you two could be culturally illiterate twins, it's a bit perfect. But uh, don't tell him I said that. I don't fancy breaking my nose on a childhood hero's fist."
"Childhood-?" Ah, yes, Stark was much younger than Rogers, if not in experience than in time, but he did not seem quite old enough, still, to have been around during the man's golden age. "Pardon me saying so, but you do not look as if you could have been alive in the same years."
"What about me says seventy years old, if you'd care to elaborate?" Stark complained, eyes drawing in to enunciate a few wrinkles around them, but Loki decided against pointing this out. "My dad knew him, helped make him, actually, and talked about him all the time. Those were basically the only polite conversations we had, and I hated him as much as I worshipped him. Turns out he's a complete asshole, of course, though I guess anybody running around in an American flag would have to be." He caught Loki staring, probably with the help of the mirrors, and scoffed. "What? It's not like I'm spinning any heartfelt yarns here, don't look that surprised. It was a long time ago, and since being unfortunate enough to meet the man behind the mask, I couldn't care less."
"That's not it." Though perhaps it should have been, Loki realized, for he hadn't thought anything of Stark sharing a childhood story, but it did not seem the sort of thing he was oft to do. Steve Rogers must have been an issue bubbling under his skin for some time. "I was only thinking that this Captain seems to have been to you much like you are to Peter."
The derision drained away, or rather seemed to draw inward, and for the first time Loki noticed how hard Stark's hands were gripping the steering wheel, the white of his knuckles bleeding out into his fingers. Perhaps not the most healthy thing, but again, he refrained from comment. "Yeah. Maybe. You know, I only met him because of you."
"Peter? Yes, I know-"
"No, Rogers. We got together, him and me and four others, to take you down." Stark fixed him with a hard look, and as a jolt of fear ran down Loki's spine the grip on the wheel relaxed, just barely. "Or whoever you might be, anyway. You kind of kicked his ass in Germany and threw me out a window. We got our varying paybacks, but still sorta stung. "
"I see…" Were the doors locked? No, but Stark had not been going the proper speed-limit since they began, and he would likely break his neck if he tried to flee now, and that being if a car did not hit him first. "Was- was your vengeance sufficient, I hope?"
"Whoa, easy." Loki realized he'd been putting distance between them as best he could, glancing nervously toward the door, only now, and he tensed as Stark reached toward him. The hand halted, drew back, raised in a placating gesture. "I'm not trying to scare you, that's not my style. No matter who you turn out to be, I'm not going to hurt you, all right?" Not again , Loki's mind contradicted, but he simply waited, silent. "A lot of people will want to, and maybe they've got plenty of reason, but I don't… Lording over anyone is a strictly off-limits behavior in my book, okay? I've had power my whole life, if I start abusing it, I'm not going to stop."
"But you wish to," Loki realized, softly. Not against him, perhaps, and maybe not even now, but there was something in Stark that spoke undeniably of want .
He sighed, chuckled, and rolled his eyes, snapping some sort of spell Loki didn't realize had been there. "Sometimes, I guess. Sheesh, you're even worse of a drama queen without your memory."
Two hours later found him once more in the passenger seat of that very car, but the man next to him had none of Stark's good cheer (nor, blessedly, his tension). His name, despite the persistent lack of anything to justify it, was Happy, he had been told, former chauffeur called back to his old duties as a favor for his friend. He'd been told to expect him, after his appointment, but Loki still felt uncomfortable seated beside him, even more unwanted than he had been with the vehicle's owner.
Some business, undefined by clearly urgent by the anxiety it created, had called Stark away as they entered the neurologist's building, and he had fled with a promise to send someone who would pick him up, and a rather short-handed apology. Leaving him alone, in the cold, dim office with no more company than a hard-eyed nurse and the neurologist himself, who had enough muscle to pass for the security guard without closer expression. Neither seemed the sort of people to keep waiting, and Loki had meekly gone forward, head and heart beating a frantic rhythm.
The tests were not as intrusive as he had anticipated and feared, but they were tiresome. They made him lay completely still and took scans of his head, they flashed lights in his eyes and asked questions, attached sensors and wires to his temple which sent small shocks through him, more startling than painful, at spontaneous intervals. He couldn't guess the purpose of more than half of it, but he did as he was told, if only to entertain the thin hope that somehow these men would be able to restore what he had lost. They studied the scar, and took extra scans and x-rays of the area beneath it, but made no comment throughout it all, except when to tell him to turn over, or speak.
And of course, to ask their questions, most about the headaches, once he mentioned them. That topic seemed to absorb the most of their attention, and Loki did not care for the long while he spent being prodded over it, for at the end they gave him a drink of medicine to ease the pain, and he could have cried in relief. His head had hurt so badly by then that he had begun to feel dizzy, as if he might throw up, and the medicine toned it back to that dull pulsing.
A great deal of water and some rest helped, too, for they left him be for twenty minutes to assess his results. Loki couldn't help but feel that some of them were bound to seem bizarre, for many of their tests hadn't seemed to be involved with his head at all, but he did no more than bite his words back and nod. For now, his choice was only to do as he was told, and hope.
Hope in vain, it turned out. Beyond the obvious, there seems to be nothing wrong with you. Those headaches should have stopped ages ago, and I can't detect anything that might be causing them- try the medicine, and I'll recommend you for psychiatric help. With any luck, the problem's only mental. As for your memories… We'll do what we can. If I think surgery may help, we'll call you.
A little bag of medicine, and some empty words. Loki bit his lip to keep himself from whining, for he did not want to explain any such thing to Happy, and the man had so far been kind (or indifferent) enough to ignore his frightened look.
It was nothing, really, or it shouldn't have been. Loki had not expected anything of the sort until this morning, when Stark had mentioned a doctor, and even then had only agreed because he thought the man would pester him until he did. He would have been just as fine healing on his own, going through his life day by day and working out what he needed by his own merit. A neurologist had not seemed necessary. But to go to one, and know that something really was wrong that should not have been, was… unsettling.
He thanked the man as well as he could bring himself to, once he was dropped at May's home, and put on an easy smile when he entered it. Gwen and Peter were there, sheepish, and he discovered the cause for their apologetic looks only moments later, for May rounded on him as soon as he was spotted. He had been careless and foolish, and selfish even, to think of going off like that without them, for all the fear he had caused her, without even a phone she might have used to discover that he was okay.
Loki apologized, over and over again, but he felt the lecture as more relaxing than upsetting. Whatever else happened, the people of this household cared about him, bizarre as that still seemed. They invited him to their table, shared their home and their laughter, even let him join them in decorating a bizarre plastic tree, to the jingling tunes of Christmas carols, cups of hot chocolate and a plate of cookies accompanying the task. Loki's pain and fear vanished in the warmth of it all, and content wrapped over and filled him up, putting the neurologist's words far at the back of his mind.
But once the lights were off, and the music silenced, the weight of the news grew heavier. Stark's number sat like a stone in his pocket, the invitation to call ringing in his memory. Loki eyed the phone, uncertain, suspicious even, but his head throbbed as if in encouragement, and he hurried forward to grasp the receiver before he could stop himself. It was difficult to dial, for the numbers beeped so loudly he feared he might alert Peter or May, who had retired to bed just moments ago, but he managed, and no footsteps came to interrupt.
It was as foolish as everything else lately, but Loki could not help feeling, as the phone rang dimly in his ear, that he was doing something wrong.A/N: Also, I'm not a neurologist, I don't know any neurologists, and I didn't look up their methods because the whole point of /this/ neurologist is that he's not following the usual steps. So please don't badger me with medical terms; if any of you has ever attempted to confirm whether or not a patient is an alien god with magic invading his brain, then feel free to correct me, otherwise just accept that this is science mumbo-jumbo.