“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept… But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
The Velveteen Rabbit
Bruce visits sometimes, he also calls; they have science dates facilitated by JARVIS and Tony’s awesome phone software. He sees Natasha once in a while too, prowling through Stark Industry hallways like she owns the place, which considering Happy’s recent security badge obsession is a little strange, at least until he checks the system and realizes Natalie Rushman still technically works for him. He texts her a request for coffee when he knows she’s in the building. She responds with a picture of herself using an iphone and flicking him off. Then he gets a text from Pepper telling him to leave Natasha alone.
Pepper comes around more often now even if she hasn’t completely moved back in yet, and they talk at least once a day over the phone about something that is not work or Loki related. It helps, plus if he keeps himself busy enough then he’s able to forget about missing her as much as he does. It’s ridiculous. They’ve been on different sides of the country for weeks at a time before; he should be able to handle giving her a little space if she needs it.
He buries himself in his work, the plans he had been making for new suit designs multiplying and coming to form. Sculpted perfection that surrounds him. There is no reason for him to need this many suits, but it’s distracting. And that’s something he does need.
Loki is gone.
One day he had been on the couch navigating through his tablet, a steady flow of biting commentary, and the next he had disappeared; neither hide nor hair of him left.
Tony waited, asked JARVIS to search, made a device to scan for “magic” feedback using bits and pieces of the data he was able to gather since the day Thor brought the dwarves to the tower. There is nothing.
He tries very very hard not to think about what that absence could mean.
When he finally tells the others Steve remains optimistic, Clint does not.
Life goes back to as normal as it can be for the Avengers and over time even the bots gradually (albeit reluctantly) accept Loki’s departure.
And then the bombings start.
The frustration and anger built over the last year (hell, the last couple years. Since he was trapped in the caves really) comes to a head and when he calls out the Mandarin on national television it takes until he’s sitting quietly on the beige couch in the living room to think what the fuck did I just do.
All at once everything is fire and madness and heneedstosavePepper the ground falling to pieces around him he’s in the suit but he can’t fly and water. Everywhere. The world is dark and blue; he hopes his babies are alright because all he can see are crumbled bits of his home sinking down around him. There’ll be nightmares of this too, he thinks as he tries to push wreckage off of his lower body, JARVIS speaking in his ear about power levels and thruster capacity. Nightmares of his bots drowning, confused and scared sinking down into the depths.
The last conscious thought to cross his mind before the suit jerks and everything goes black is Where is Pepper.
He wakes to crashing through trees and snow with no control, adrenaline spiking in fear and cold in a way he doesn’t think he’s ever been before (Where is Pepper) and then he’s stranded in Middle of Nowhere Tennessee with no JARVIS, no working suit, no plan, and a 10-year old who decides Tony is his new father figure, which is probably the worst idea ever.
It doesn’t get much better after that.
He has to fight his way back to civilization, commandeering equipment to track the Mandarin’s location down and stealing (borrowing?) a car to get there. The only weapons at his disposal are what he can piece together with odds and ends he picks up on the trip. He’s a fucking genius, obviously, but when he finally arrives at the Miami headquarters he’s not exactly inspired by his odds of getting out alive.
He is lurking around the bushes of the grounds with his Macgyvered tazer when a hand touches his shoulder and he nearly has a heart attack.
“What in the nine realms are you doing?”
Tony barely stops himself from lashing out in reflex as Loki steps out of the shadows like he was never gone. “Jesus Christ! What- Loki?! Why are you-”
There are shouts past the wall of greenery and Tony swears, grabbing one of Loki’s sleeves and dragging him along. A man in heavy black gear with a gun comes out of nowhere and Tony hits him in the chest, letting the safety off of the glove and electricity shock the man into unconsciousness. They both watch as the guard falls to the ground, twitching.
Loki makes some kind of aggravated angry cat noise and looks at the technological mess on Tony’s hand like it was a personal affront to his existence. “Why is it always electricity wielders,” he grumbles, voice almost literally dripping with disdain. Tony laughs in relief.
“Fuck you, I’m awesome.”
Loki shoves him good-naturedly into the wall.