The quoted portions at the top of each chapter are lyrics from A Perfect Circle songs, and will be for the rest of the story unless noted otherwise. Each one is relevant in some way to the chapter, so if you want go and listen to them.

If you like the story, please review. Thoughtful reviews will get replies. Also, a big thank you to my beta Wolf Mirage.

"Little angel go away,
Come again some other day.
The devil has my ear today,
I'll never hear a word you say.
He promised I would find a little solace,
And some piece of mind.
Whatever, just as long as I don't feel so:

Desperate and ravenous.
I'm so weak and powerless.



Smiles, sun, shadows.


Disappointment, desire, despair.


Lies, loathing, leaving.

Colors flashed through Loki's mind in torrents: memories stripped to only the barest of impressions. They roared up from silence, reasserting awareness of the world. He gasped at the sudden influx, lungs deflating uselessly as thoughts slammed back into his mind. For minutes they blared, loud and high and demanding. Then the vivid splashes faded back into a tolerable murmur, leaving nothing behind but a sea of darkness.

Stretching infinitely before him, the void devoured all light. No dancing, shining stars were permitted to enter here. The darkness was complete, and even summoned fire could illuminate naught but his pale, taut flesh. It was like existence ceased to be: a true epitome of nothingness.

But something did exist there, suspended in inky black. This place was now Loki's home and prison. At times, it was all he could remember. To think there was something other than this, a color other than black, was ludicrous. Only in memory or magic was there something different, and even then it was just a hopeless mockery. He was never going to get out of the void. He fell in, and now he would stay here forever.

When he let go of the spear, he had expected to die. It was a decision born of despair and guilt; he had craved it. It was suppose to be easy. He let go, he fell. And as his brother- reaching in vain, shouting his name – faded from sight along with his father- "No, Loki" -he had expected to void to swallow him, to kill him. He expected the suffering to end, for everything to end. His life was the only thing left. Everything else had been taken from him. All he could ask for was for a finale : the curtain close on the bitter pit his life had, without warning, become.

But in the end, even that was denied him. The void took the stars, the warmth, the air, but it did not take him. His lungs burned, seared infinitely, but he did not die. Hunger hollowed him, but he did not die. Thoughts tore into him, fueled by the black, black, black everywhere, but there was no reprieve; he did not die. It was suppose to be over quickly. Freefall... then freedom.

Loki gave a breathless laugh at the thought, arms wrapped protectively around his shuddering chest. After all, it truly was hilarious how everything in those few days just went so wrong. It took an hour of asphyxiating in the void for the immortal to realize that he had made a horrible mistake. For all of its emptiness, this abyss was still in the Nine Realms- a metaphysical plane of existence. It was reminiscent of deep space, devoid of means of survival, but it wasn't the same. He had screamed, sound silent around him, when he realized just what he had doomed himself to. He had wanted to be rid of his sorrows; now it was all he had left.

The first few days had somehow been the worst. Even later, when the world was nothing but a blur of intense pain, had not been as bad as the beginning; because in the beginning, he still had hope. He thought maybe he could still die, even though logically he knew it was impossible. Or maybe, just maybe, someone would come looking for him. His brother- no, not brother, but oh how he wanted him so- would come barreling in on that damnable hammer of his, laughing and so ridiculously forgiving. It'd never happen, but lost in timeless pitch, he hoped and dreamed. Sometimes he deluded himself so fully that for moments he thought for sure he'd be rescued. Unlike now- where he allowed himself to drift with listlessly- he had twisted and strained, searching futilely for life or liberty. He would spend hours teleporting himself, envisioning anywhere that wasn't here in hope that something would click. But there'd only be that familiar feeling of twisting in his guts and rippling on his skin as he relocated himself to another expanse of emptiness. At least, he thought he shifted. He couldn't even tell if he had moved when everything looked the same.

Then a month went by, filled with nothing but black and agony and black, and he faced the truth: no one was ever coming for him again. He messed up one too many times, and this was his punishment- to float forever in shadow, denied any realm to call his home. Not Asgard, not even Jotunheim. Just the forgotten space in between.

And Loki knew what this place was doing to him. He was tenacious, using everything he learned in his thousand years of life to keep his brain together, but it still tore his sanity. In the beginning, he recited poetry and spells in his mind, mouth miming the words. Then when he started stuttering over the lines, he switched to simply thinking about anything and everything he could to keep the silence at bay. However, such efforts were not enough; even his running commentaries would eventually cut off without warning, and he wouldn't even realize it until someone yanked the volume back up again.

In the end, it just hadn't taken long before he started losing touch with reality- for what was reality when there was no sight, no sound? Robbed of all senses, lost with no direction, there was no such thing as reality. The years ticked by, taking with them his mind. He could feel himself slipping, sliding, deeper and deeper, into an embodiment of his environment.

Ironically, the first to fade was his anger. It wasn't gone, not by a long shot. Sometimes his fury overcame him so suddenly and completely that he spent days screaming and shouting and thrashing, mouthing every slight upon his person for no one to hear. But in between such explosive fits, he could no longer fuel the furnace that had led him to genocide. There was no energy, no drive. Holding on to his grudges served him no purpose here besides allowing insanity to claw at him that much harder. So the hate slipped between the gaps.

Not that it really mattered when everything else left him too. His sorrow, his joy, his pride, his envy- Loki knew he had become nothing more than mass of continual agony and blankness. When moments such as these struck him, when his mind was his to use once more, it was hard to feel horrified about what he now become. He still tried to fight it off, to preserve what he had left; Loki had always been determined and unflinching in his goals, and while the void robbed him of many things, it could not rob him of who he is.

He is Loki: the greatest spellcaster in the Nine Realms. He is a genius who mastered the lost arts and is virtually a walking library of all that is arcane. He is the God of Mischief and Lies, master of trickery and beautifully intricate plots. He is Asgardian-

"Am I cursed? What am I? What more than that?"

Blue- rich in shade, like pure snow against a clear morning sky. Vile, wretched blue, roiling like sludge and thick as muck -exploded in his head. It gushed from the depths, seeping easily into his cracked and crumbling walls.

"The Casket wasn't the only thing you took from Jotunheim that day, was it? Tell me!"

Loki struggled, limbs twitching uselessly as he fought to keep from going under. The attack was sudden, as they had all come to be recently. He wasn't ready to fade out yet. He had only just regained himself. However, as the blue pushed out the black- he wasn't sure anymore which he hated more, which had hurt him more -he felt himself slipping into his worst memory.

"I- I'm the monster parents tell their children about at night? You know, it all makes sense now. Why you favored Thor all these years."

Desperate, he summoned his last defense for solidifying his senses. Magic drawn from his brimming reserves flickered to life in his finger tips, searing his sensitive eyes. Illuminated dimly by the green glow, pale hands flickered in his watery gaze. The image was horribly blurred, but it was enough to discern that he was still disguised as an Asgardian. Jotun blue had not crept upon his flesh as well.

Such an assurance was hollow, as he knew no matter what skin he wore he'd still be a monster inside. Even so, he allowed his magic to flare again and felt his bones twisting- tugging his skin into a new form. When rolling eyes managed to connect to where his new hands were, it was now hooves that greeted him. Still the sight was unable to distract him from the truth, and he warped his form again. Now it was massive paws. Again. A scaly belly. Again, again, again.

Each new perversion of his body, each new lie, was accompanied by an increase in panic. The blue was still flooding his mind, bringing with it remembrance and revulsion. He wanted to hide, to forsake everything he knew he was- Jotun, monster, runt, worthless, abandoned -but there was no reprieve. His anatomy shifted one last time, returning him to his most favored illusion just as the blue finished erasing everything else from his mind.

"Because no matter how much you claimed to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!"

Having lost the battle, Loki drowned in the blue. He suffocated and it crowded, forbidding any fluttering thoughts from registering. Broken, half formed stimulus sparked through his neurons, but they received no response. Even the sensation of something wispy brushing against his skin, of his limbs being pulled down by an invisible force, did not register. When the world suddenly erupted into a cacophony of sounds and lights, he did not notice. His eyes only stared, glassy and unseeing, as his body hurtled towards the ground.


"No, bad Dum-E! Bad! Didn't I tell you to stay in the corner? There was a reason for that."

Dum-E, who had been brandishing the fire extinguisher hopefully, whirred sadly. He lowered his arm and wheeled backwards, dunce cap tottering on his head. Tony sighed and turned back to the project that was still sparking pitifully. It was the fourth one to short this morning... At least he thought it was morning. He didn't think he'd been working that long. It wasn't worth the trouble. But right, the malfunctioning. Each one, no matter how perfect his calculations had seemed, went haywire after being activated. The first one even caught fire, which was of great excitement to the overeager robotic arm and ended up with half the lab covered in copious amounts of foam. Which brings him back to the fact that this really was just not worth the trouble.

Groaning, Tony swept the ruined device off the table and reached for an ever present bottle of alcohol. He knew Pepper wouldn't be pleased, but then again he was only working on the damn project because she told him to "not piss off secret government agencies". Personally, Tony just thinks she didn't want to upset 'Mr. Agent' that kept popping up at inconvenient times. Really, working on this just seemed like a terrible idea. Why did he agree to this?

"Jarvis, why did I ever agree to this?" He complained, pushing away from the desk and slouching in his chair, half-full bottle dangling from his fingers.

"Well, sir," started the ever present AI in his British drawl, and Tony just knew he'd regret asking, "According to what you said thirty-four hours ago, you wanted the 'freaky pirate with anger problems to stop bothering you for making it obvious that his security system wouldn't even keep out a prepubescent fifth grader'. It would also appear that you are trying to convince Miss Potts that you are not completely irresponsible, though that effort most likely won't get you anywhere."

Yep, shouldn't have asked. Of course Tony just had to program Jarvis to be snarky, and of course the AI then chose to be relatively polite to anyone that wasn't him.

"Whatever. I'm done with this for now." He flung himself to his feet, and if he stumbled just a smidgen drunkenly then no one had to know. Finishing off the bottle with a few quick chugs, he tossed it to the floor and pointed to Dum-E. "Clean that up. And while your at it, finishing cleaning up the mess you made earlier. I want this room spotless when I come back."

The robot gave an elated chirp and immediately set out from his corner in search of the broom, though Tony saw how he lingered at the fire extinguisher. It was a good thing that little quirk never got programmed into Jarvis, or his workspace would be a mess... Well, more than it is already.

"Jarvis, I want you to review the scans of the last test run. Try and figure out what went wrong this time, then correct the calculations. We'll try again... later. After I get some more to drink." There was a loud crash from where Dum-E was doing... something. "A lot more to drink."

"Of course, sir. And when Director Fury calls, what would you like me to tell him is the cause for delay?"

"Tell him I had to sleep or something. That's what normal people do, right?" Tony walked out of his lab, talking as he went up the winding staircase. "Damn man is a slave driver. I bet he has a little screen under that eye patch of his so he can watch us all suffer while he just stands there all mightier-than-thou in his fancy hovercraft."

"I'm sure you are exactly right, sir," the AI drawled. "When would you like the next draft of 'All Your Base Are Belong to Us' to be finished by?" Jarvis intoned as Tony rummaged around in the kitchen cabinets, frowning as he kept pulling out empty bottles.

"Why don't you- Ah, found one." He pulled a full bottle of Jack Daniels out of obscurity. "Hmm, let's see..." Tony tapped his chin in mock thoughtfulness as he made his way to the couch, flopping over the back of it and sprawling over the cushions. "You know what, I think I want to go out and party. Why don't you just get it done by tomorrow. You don't need to waste server space making it a rush job."

"And by 'tomorrow' do you mean later today? Because it is currently nearing three in the morning." Tony blinked at that. He could have sworn in was noon. He dragged himself into a sitting position, craning his head to look over the back of his -sinfully- comfortable sofa.

"Really? You aren't pulling my leg, are you Jarv?" But a quick look out the window- how had he not noticed it before? The walls of this house were all mostly glass. One would think he'd have noticed the absence of the lovely California sun outside- confirmed that it was the middle of the night.

"Certainly not, sir. It is 2:56 A.M., Monday." And look at that, it wasn't even the right day. Well damn.

"Think there's any hot chicks still out?" He raised a hand, halting the insulting response that was probably going to follow. "Don't answer that. I'm sure there are. It's Malibu, I'll find someone. It's been too long; all work and no play."

"You 'partied' not even a week ago, sir."

"Exactly. Like I said, all work and no play. At this rate Captain Hook is going to ruin my status as number one playboy. I'll end up like that blue and red guy. Jarvis, prep the suit. Daddy's going out."

Jarvis sighed- seriously, why ever did he program his AI to do these things? Wasn't the point to get rid of nagging assistants? -and started preparing the Mark Eight for flight. "As you wish, sir."

Turns out there was no shortage of girls willing to go home with the legendary Tony Stark, and he ended up picking up some brunette around five o'clock. Lauren... Lorry, Laura? Lola? Something like that. He's quite glad, though a bit surprised, that she didn't vomit all over his freshly cleaned armor when he drunkenly flew her to the house. Luckily she was also too smashed to realize he nearly dropped her three times, but that's another story. They both made it to the roof in one piece, Jarvis getting his revenge by yanking the suit off while Tony tried to keep from falling over, and the rest of the night went flawless. Everyone was happy with how the morning went, and those who wouldn't like what he was doing didn't have to know.

So as always, Tony's nightmares had to go and ruin the perfect morning by startling him awake just a few hours after he fell asleep. He lay ridged in the bed, Lavender's (Lilly's?) arms and legs wrapped around him while she continued sleeping. Careful not to alert the woman to his distress, he tried to calm his breathing and get his body to relax. But when flashes of dark caves and fire continued to assault him, he realized it was futile trying to fall asleep again- normally he'd have just gotten up immediately, but he wouldn't have minded a repeat of last night before kicking Lexi out of the house -and untangled himself from his bed partner. Years of experience let him slip away unnoticed from his guest, and he trusted Jarvis to deal with her when she woke up.

Once he was out of earshot of the bedroom, Jarvis quietly greeted him and proceeded with the usual daily updates. Tony let the mechanical murmur soothe his pounding heart as he made his way down into his sanctuary. When he caught sight of the trembling in his fingers as he typed in his access key he ignored it, confident that a few hours tinkering around would take the edge off. And if it didn't, alcohol never failed to comfort him; sometimes he just had to drink enough to make him pass out. Healthy? Probably not. But it was better than the phantom feeling of hands and the irrational panic that accompanied them.

"Hey Cinderella, how's the cleaning coming along?" He called as he stepped into the lab, glad to note that there was nothing obviously wrecked. However, he could never be too sure with his oldest. Last time Dum-E broke something important he just shoved a million little pieces of custom coffee machine under one of the cars. Which, in turn, destroyed the car the next time Tony tried to take it out for a quick spin. That had not been a good day.

When there was no answering chirp, the engineer narrowed his eyes and peered around the room a second time. "Dum-E? Dum-E, what did you break this time?" Still no answer. "Jarvis?"

"I believe Dum-E has accidentally trapped himself in the supply closet, sir." Well that'd explain it... Although the closet didn't have a lock. Tony wearily ran a hand through his hair as he made his way to go rescue his special but endearing robot from whatever mischief he had gotten himself caught up in. He paused before the door, hearing the faint, ominous clanging of metal coming from within. "Dum-E, this better not make me regret refusing to donate you to that city college." Well, no point in delaying the inevitable. He pushed down on the handle, leaning cautiously against the door as it creaked open...

Only to slam it shut again as a giant metal beam came swinging towards him. "Holy shit!" The door bucked in his grasp as the pole pierced through the wood mere inches above his head. "Dum-E!"

An apologetic 'vvrrrr' was barely audible through the new peephole, and Tony banged the back of his head against the door. "Every time I leave you alone you do something! Every single time!" Dum-E whined again. Tony took a deep breath. It was too early for this, and now his curiously missing hangover was deciding to reacquaint itself with his brain. "I'm going to open this door now. If you still have the urge to throw things like a Paragon, I'm going to have to ask that you resist for the sake of my continued well-being."

Bracing himself, Tony cracked the door open again. When nothing tried to brain him he pushed it open completely and took a step forward- only to stumble on a spilled-over toolbox. "Huh. I could have sworn I didn't keep tools in here. Not after..." Tony trailed off as his eyes finally took in the sight before him. 'Chaos' would be the first word that came to mind. 'College' was admittedly a close second. Dum-E bowed his head in shame from where he was tangled up in electrical cords dangling down from the ceiling tiles.

"Jesus, Wreck-It Ralph. Make a mess of things why don't you." If it was possible the robot looked even more downtrodden. Tony mussed up his hair again and picked his way through the wreckage to stand by his trouble child. Putting a hand on the flat of the metal arm, he scoped about and tried to figure out the best way to get Dum-E free without ruining the electricity on half of the house. "Alright, alright. I'll get you down from there. Just give me a second." Tony started heading back towards the up-ended toolbox when Jarvis interrupted.

"Sir, there is an incoming message from Director Fury." And this morning just seemed to be off to a great start. To think it had looked promising just a few hours ago. He just knew something completely obnoxious was going to happen before the day was over at this rate.

"I don't really want to talk to him right now. Can't you just tell him I'm out defending the world from great evil and will get back to him after all of the dark magicians have been defeated? And hey, Dum-E, hold still or I might decide to cut your wires too."

"I'm afraid I can not do that, sir. He said if you do not talk to him now he'll force his way in."

"Kill joy. Whatever, let's hear what Jack Sparrow has to say."

A new voice came over the speakers, a rough contrast to Jarvis's smooth accent. "Your sissy little pet names got old years ago, Stark." Ah, Fury... The man never did like Tony. Which is fine with him, since he's not going to try and to get the stern man in his bed anytime soon... And there goes the appetite he didn't actually have. "Why don't you grow up sometime? It'll do wonders for people's opinion of you. Now have you finished the Doombot hijacking device you were asked to make?"

Just mildly paying attention to the call coming through the ceiling, Tony continued carefully cutting the wires that entangled Dum-E. "Ouch, that hurts. You're saying you don't think highly of me? And here I thought you were coming to me for help because you thought I was a genius... Oh wait, I am a genius."

"Really? Because I remember that 'genius' of yours promising to have the device done in a day, and yet you still haven't been able to figure it out," Fury growled, and Tony could just imagine the glower the guy was giving his phone. Fate named him well.

"So I'll have it done by tomorrow. There's no hurry. Aaaaannnd..." Tony clipped the last clump of wires holding Dum-E in place with a flourish. "Done. Now go somewhere else." With a grateful chirp at his freedom, the robot maneuvered his way out of the closet and headed towards the garage. Tony took one more look at the mess before leaving as well, deciding that he had no desire to redo the electricity today.

"Actually Stark, there is a hurry. Doom is attacking Washington as we speak, and we were counting on you to hijack one of the bots for us before he went off the radar again. But it seems we'll just have to send you in to mindlessly blow stuff up instead."

Oh look, now he can check off 'defend civilians from supervillains that have serious grammar issues' from the list of things that were going wrong today... Yep, today sucks. He'll have to tell Jarvis later to mark this day in the calendar so next year he can spend it drunk out of his mind instead.

"Is that suppose to be a subtle command for me to suit up?" Jarvis had already pulled one of the suits up in the lab dock, and Tony stepped onto the platform as Fury's voice continued to thunder from his ceiling.

"Just get your sorry little ass to Washington. Captain America is already there helping with the evacuation. Your job is just to take out the bots. It should be simple enough that even you can't screw it up."

Not even bothering to deign that with a reply, Iron Man erupted from the house like a red and gold missile. Live feed and directions filled the HUD as Tony angled off towards the Capital City, repulsors blaring. After his flight was stabilized, he appraised the situation channeling into his screen. Most of the footage showed Spangles waving on a couple of terrified congressmen and yelling at the police in between throwing that ridiculously gaudy shield of his (though the rest of the man's armor was awfully ostentatious as well, and no that was not hypocritical of Tony) at the few Doombots loitering around. Other feeds were focused on the bots that were zipping around and blowing up various important democratic institutions. More showed Doombots plowing down civilians as they tried to flee towards the designated areas.

And Fury thought just two of his would-be 'Avengers' were enough for this mess? If the man was still trying to get his initiation approved, having only two superheroes- one of which would take another... 24 minutes, according to Jarvis's calculations, to arrive- assist with stopping the complete demolition of the District of Important American Functions was really a foolish move. It made them look unable to handle threats... Or maybe that was his game plan. Make them seem weak as kittens on their own, and then stick the five together for a villain trouncing lion. Tony would almost congratulate the man for his crafty plan were it not for the fact that by withholding help there was far more casualties than there had to be. But from what Tony could glean by reading Fury's files on the 'Avengers Initiative', the man actually thought his little piecemeal hero team would be far more effective in the long run. To be honest, Tony thought the Director was delusional if he thought the people he selected could actually work together, Tony's "doesn't work well with others" notwithstanding. They all were just a mess... except for maybe Rogers. But that was different.

Because Fury kept trying to throw them all together, they've all worked with one another at some point- whether in combat or on the more intelligence based part of fighting evil. Tony even had the extra pleasure of dealing with Romanov as his creepy stalker assistant. He can't say he particularly enjoyed working with any of them, except for maybe Banner. That was only science work though, and Mr. Big and Green has been steadfastly refusing to enter actual battle in fear of losing control. Not that he hasn't gone off the wall in the past few years. The irony of one such freak fest was that it was the only time the other four actually fought side by side. They worked pretty well, though the fact that it was one of the 'Avengers' that leveled the small town did not help Fury's case at all.

"Sir, approaching active combat zone. Switching power back to combat systems."

Tony held his arms out in front of himself as he began to rapidly slow down. He turned his attention from the reports to the actual wreckage in front of him. If possible it looked even worse in person, and damn does that make him feel bad for making out with Lindsey instead of working on All Your Base Are Belong to Us.

"Incoming communications from Captain America."

"Iron Man, we need you in the air a few blocks over. Most of the Doombots have concentrated above the Senate Office Building."

"Aye aye, Cap'n." Repulsors charging, Tony swooped towards the aforementioned hot spot, eyes flickering rapidly in search of an unlucky bot to blast out of the sky.

"Targets entering range to your right, sir." Palm raised, a bright burst of energy smote down the closest machine before it could even turn around. He managed to pick off one more before the others got their act together and starting baring down at his position, metal masks gleaming menacingly. "There is a total of four Doombots in your immediate area, and two more are approaching." Another blast for the imitation that was trying to get behind him.

"What's the tota- Woah!" A quick barrel roll removed Iron Man from the path of an energy blast. He twisted slightly to keep track of two bots that were once again trying to circle around him, but he had to dodge again as the clone in front of him took the opening. "Total?"

"There were thirteen originally, sir. Six have been destroyed so far by either yourself or Captain America."

"So more than half left. Well then, time to get busy. Jarvis, let's take this to the sky." Jets revving back up power, Tony shot upwards to escape the three blasts that convened on his original location. Predictably the bots followed his ascent, giving him a chance to knock another one off before they could return fire. Two red circles blinked on in the bottom corner of his screen. "I guess we got a party on our hands."

Five metal combatants chased each other around the sky, one red and gold and the others silver and green. They ducked and dived around missiles and arching streaks of electricity, completely focused on the dance. One of the Doombots misstepped, and not a second was wasted before it was sent smoking into the cement below. Adjusting to their enemy, the other three tightened their formations and made it harder to exploit any mistakes. They pressed in tighter, using their numbers to sneak into his weaker spots. After a few more volleys and a hit to the back- which sent him flying forward and he only narrowly missed getting fried as he tried to right himself- it became clear to Tony that he was no longer the ringleader of this show.

"Yo, Captain. How are you doing on your end? Because my friends over here are getting a bit edgy." And by 'edgy' he meant 'completely homicidal'.

"We're clear down here. Just finished off the last hostile and non-combatants have left the area. Lure them down and we can finish this." At least he's reliable, if not a bit - a lot - of a spoilsport.

Not wanting to waste anymore time and encourage something else to go wrong, Tony took the first opportunity he could to tuck down in low, weaving out of the way of his aggressive entourage. He almost managed to reach where Steve Rogers was before one of the Doombots slipped his guard. The superhero didn't even have time to say 'fuck' before the robot unleashed a full charge right next to him, topped thoughtfully with self-detonation. Like a whirlwind composed of metal and limbs, Iron Man collided into a nearby office building. It took three unfortunate walls to bring him to a stop, the last of which depositing a chunk of plaster onto his chest in retaliation.

"Iron Man, you okay?" Roger's voice fizzled over his speakers. "The last Doombot is being dispatched as we speak." Well at least he doesn't need to worry about getting electrocuted while he's busy trying to figure out how to work his legs again.

"Oh, yeah, I'm just peachy. I love getting thrown through a building. Wouldn't be a good fight if I didn't suffer from internal bleeding while I was at it." Ah, that's it. Left leg operational? Check. Right leg? ...Working on it.

"If you have enough energy to make bad jokes you can't be hurt that bad. We don't need you for clean up, so you are free to go." He'd have left even if SHIELD still needed him. He'd dealt with enough crap today. All he wanted to do was go home, get a nice bottle or two of some overpriced scotch, and maybe take a quick stroll in his sleek Saleen S7. No stress, just a nice evening to himself.

Picking his way free of the rubble, Tony groaned as dented bits of armor aggravated his already forming bruises. Gait stiff, he followed the furrows he made in the floor back to his point of entry (the movies lied. It didn't look like a Iron Man shaped hole). "Jarvis, take us back. Keep the suit as level as possible, and no turbulence, please."

"Yes, sir." The thrusters activated slowly, and Tony was forever grateful to his competent AI. His flight back was uneventful; he didn't even nearly give a bird a heart attack this time. It wasn't until he was in sight of his house that it happened.

"It appears something is falling from the sky in the direction of the house, sir." A small black dot appeared on the HUD, descending quickly towards Tony's beautiful Malibu estate. "Projectory patterns indicate collision in the general vicinity of the garage." Garage... His sports cars!

"What? No!" Ignoring the ache it caused, Tony increased the flight power even though he knew he'd not make it in time to stop whatever was falling towards his unsuspecting cars. Speaking of which... "What the hell is it? A Doombot? Missile? Meteor? Hawk with a grudge? Come on Jarv, give me something here." Tony strained his eyes even as Jarvis digitally enlarged and enhanced the feed. Whatever the genius was expecting however was not what showed up on his screen.

"Is that... oh, Jesus Christ. Fuck." If he wasn't going fast before, he certainly was now, and this time not out of concern for his expensive vehicles.

"Sir, you won't make it in time."

"Shut up, Jarvis! Put more power in the thrusters!" The suit shuddered as it increased speed again, but the AI was right. Whoever was falling from the sky would hit long before Iron Man reached him- and that's what it was. A person. A fucking person was falling towards his house at impossibly high speeds, and Tony would only make it there in time to scrape the bloody mess out of his garage. With one last desperate boost, Tony shot down towards his house. But all he managed to do was get a clear view of the man, now confirmed both by the screen image and Tony's own eyes, crashing through the roof of his garage and into the dark depths below.

Behind the mask, Iron Man screamed.