Chapter 1: Prologue
The first thing it knows is a sudden warmth. And voices.
There is a large thing before it.
The thing is light and tall, with panels of silver that shine, and when the thing notices it looking, its… mouth? Yes, mouth. Its mouth widens in a curve up.
Something inside clicks and there is sudden softness in its chest. It bows.
It cocks its head. Loki?
There is a darker thing that stands to the side and watches it, but doesn’t move. The darker thing’s mouth curves down; it says nothing.
“Come,” Sire drapes an arm around its shoulders. “I will take you to where you are staying.”
It follows Sire out of the room.
When Loki looks up, his eyes are warm and open. There is brightness there that Thor has not seen in eons, and none of the distrust and annoyance he has become accustomed to. When their eyes meet, a soft smile curls its way onto Loki’s lips and Thor laughs out a quiet exhale.
His brother is back, happiness bursts inside him. They will have another chance.
He cannot stop himself from reaching out, pulling Loki close.
“Come,” he grins. “I will take you to where you are staying.”
Loki is uncommonly quiet as he leads him to the elevator, attentive to everything Thor says and points out as they pass. When he had asked upon his return from Svartálfaheimr, explained Loki’s impending exile, Tony Stark had graciously allowed his brother to join them in the tower. There would be no concerns for their safety now (and he had been worried, his new shield brothers were strong, but they were mortal, and his brother was like an unsheathed knife left in the room of a child).
The doors to the elevator open to the receiving room of his floor. He will make it up to the mortal, he decides as he walks his brother to the center of the room; the generosity he has shown to one that had nearly caused him great harm was unexpected, but deeply appreciated.
“Thor?” Steve’s voice comes from the walls. “I, uh, thought you should know that the dwarves are being escorted back up to the landing pad. JARVIS patched me through.”
“Thank you, my friend.” Thor finds himself mildly relieved. He is unsettled when they work on Loki and if there had been another choice he would not have brought them. Loki tilts his head up at the voice, like a hunting dog scenting the air.
“I offered to see them up, but they were- they declined. Should you-?”
“Our business is concluded. Heimdall will return them to their realm.”
“Alright then, how is- I’ll just- um, leave you two to al-” The Captain begins to trail off, and then the sound is cut mid sentence.
Thor waits for the voice to return, but shrugs when it does not and turns back to Loki, who has been standing patiently by his side. The hand Thor had been guiding him with still rests on Loki’s shoulder and Thor delights in the prolonged casual touch that had been denied to him since before his banishment.
"JARVIS runs the tower.” He gestures widely; Loki looks to him with eyes that glint like jewels as they pass by a large window. “He is one of Tony Stark’s attendants. If you should find yourself in need of anything while you are becoming accustomed to the tower, he is at your disposal. Simply ask.”
The walls are silent.
Thor leads Loki through the rest of his floor.
He leaves him in the guest room to orient himself (Loki needs space, he reminds himself, it will make his brother uncomfortable if he clings too closely for too long), with promises to return for him before the evening feast.
When he shuts the door behind him, Thor feels lighter than he had for some months. The tension from the dwarves’ visit falls off him on the way to his own chambers. As he walks he unsnaps and unbuckles his armor; it feels stifling, uncomfortable in a way it hasn’t been since he first tried it on.
He will rebuild with his brother, they will start fresh. Soon everything will go back as it once was.
Perhaps he shall take him to purchase books tomorrow. Loki always liked books.
He reaches for Mjolnir where it had been left on the table beside his bed.
It is left alone.
It stands in the middle of the room with no instructions. It will wait until Sire returns for it.
The room is dark.
Eitri stands in the middle of the room; his fist clenches hard, there is bile edging up the back of his throat. He does not move until his brother rests a solid hand on his shoulder, and then it is in a violent burst that propels him to the agent by the window. In the time it takes the man to blink, Eitri is there, and the mortal is held suspended by the collar of his ‘armor’ against the clear material. There he stops; a tingling of annoyance reaches up through the anger and mocks him for having no clear idea what he wants to do (what he could do, considering the circumstances) now that he has the man in his grasp. Behind him there is motion and layers of voices that are all undistinguishable, save one.
The agent crumples to the ground, plasters himself backwards and, as the dwarf turns and walks quietly to the door, scrambles away as quickly as he can. Brokkr grips Eitri’s tunic and moves him past the Midgardians who have stood, drawn their weapons; his brother’s voice a whisper in his ear.
“Not now. There will be time yet.”
Eitri snarls. The doors shut behind them.
Steve watches Agent Davis scramble along the floor to ceiling windows. The man shuffles, straightens his uniform, and then hesitates by the door that leads to the elevator until he scrapes himself together and another agent smacks him on the shoulder (a quiet ‘idiot’ passes between them); they disappear into the hall.
He doesn’t realize he’s staring at the door until his own voice breaks him out of his daze.
A wave of cold runs through him and he rolls his shoulders, tenses and relaxes his muscles again before turning. Clint is leaning back as far as he can without tumbling off of his perch on the arm rest; he doesn’t shift, even though Steve can see his muscles twitch, until Natasha moves around to the back of the couch, her arm barely brushing against him.
When her eyes meet his, Steve feels a (not unexpected) unnerving sense of wrongness, both in general and at the fact that his first thought (after What did they just do?) had been a creeping sort of resentment toward Clint.
He shakes the thought out of his head.
“Well that’s that then, I suppose.”
Neither of them move.
He hefts his shield up, adjusts it in his grip, and then lets it hang again for a moment before attaching it to the holder on his back.
The room feels unnaturally quiet, and then he realizes why.
Natasha looks at him, eyebrows drawn up just slightly.
“Stark removed himself shortly after Loki was reactivated.” She runs her hand through Clint’s hair, who is silently staring in the direction of the bar, where Loki had been standing. If he notices the touch he doesn’t show it. “He’s probably down in his lab by now.”
“I should-” Steve looks in the direction of the doors the dwarves had left through, heading up to the roof and the S.H.I.E.L.D. transport that would take them to a secluded bifrost contact point. “We should probably tell-” He exhales. Shit. “JARVIS?”
There are a few beats of silence before a response comes. The voice is flat.
“How may I help you, Captain?”
“Where is Thor?”
“In his quarters, Captain.”
“Fuck, he’s staying?”
Steve ignores Clint’s outburst and focuses on the seam where the wall meets the ceiling.
“Does he know that the dwarves are leaving?” Did you tell him goes unsaid.
“No. Shall I open the audio for you?”
“Why the fucking hell is that-”
For a second Steve is worried that Thor will hear Clint’s raging, the last thing they need is more tension between the team, but Natasha takes care of it for him with a quiet “Shut up, Barton.”
Clint buries his face in his hands, Natasha resumes petting his hair.
“Thor?” Steve feels incredibly awkward, he can’t tell if he’s patched through yet, and awful because he hopes Loki isn’t the one to respond. Something sounds like it’s moving, so he continues. “I, uh, thought you should know that the dwarves are being escorted back up to the landing pad. JARVIS patched me through.”
Thor’s voice booms through the speakers.
“Thank you, my friend.”
“I offered to see them up, but they were- they declined. Should you-?”
“Our business is concluded. Heimdall will return them to their realm.”
“Alright then, how is- I’ll just- um, leave you two alone to… uh-” There is dead air. “Am I still connected?”
“Oh,” he blinks. “Oh, okay…” That’s odd.
JARVIS remains quiet, and Steve shifts because it’s as though he is being stared at and judged. He thinks he’s sees Clint do the same, but Natasha is like a statue (he’s hard pressed to believe anything makes her uncomfortable).
The air around him is stagnant, he needs to move.
Natasha’s head is bowed close to Clint’s, Steve heads toward the lab.
“No way that worked. It’s never that easy,” Clint whispers. Natasha hums faintly in return. “You think he’s fucking with us?”
When Steve walks down the stairs, Tony is half slumped over a table, restlessly tapping a screwdriver against the edge. The tinny sound that results echoes through the room and sets Steve’s teeth on edge.
No response. He taps on the wall. Nothing happens. For a moment he wonders if JARVIS won’t let him in and thinks, surprisingly, of Peggy turning her gun on him in Howard’s lab. Of the annoyance on her face and the feeling of his stomach dropping out of his body when she pulled the trigger.
(Yes, I think it works.)
The door slides open.
Tony doesn’t look up until Steve is at the edge of the table. He’s not sure what he was expecting (the heavy bite of alcohol in the air), but it’s missing and a breath falls out of him that he didn’t realize he held.
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“Fucking fantastic. Why wouldn’t I be, nobody ate my soul today.”
“I don’t want to hear it, Rogers.”
Away on the far side of the room, You buzzes around and looks in their direction. Steve gives a small wave out of habit (You whirrs and hides again) before catching himself. Tony looks moodily out into the open space of air where his holograms are usually projected, content to ignore him.
When the length of the silence is finally too much for him (no music, he is in the lab and there is no music), Steve grabs a stool and sits down beside the other man.
“Can I ask you a question?” The screwdriver is waved in his general direction. “Is JARVIS alright?”
“What? Yes. Why?”
“He just seems… tense? I don’t know.”
The look he gets is like Phillips and Peggy and Bucky before Steve was… just Before, all rolled into one.
“I’ll look into it.”
“Yeah? Okay. Let me-” Steve’s eyes shoot up to the ceiling. “Let me know if I can do anything.” Tony grunts.
“You can go now.” He rests his face in his arms again; the screw driver resumes its tapping.
Steve rubs his palms against his thighs, then walks to the gym. He’s there until he goes to drag Tony out of his workshop the next morning.
Chapter 3: Interlude 1
“What does it feel like?” the god had whispered. “To be a thing that I get to play with.”
Clint goes down to Tony’s workshop after the inventor has been forced to eat and sleep. He’d tried to wait it out, maybe not as hard as another could have, but damnit he can’t deal with this shit right now.
He is perched on one of the tables with his left leg resting on the surface, foot tucked under his right knee where it hangs off the edge. At least an hour has gone by since JARVIS let him in and, aside from the constant impulse to fidget that he hasn’t felt since he was a child, he’s hardly moved. If Tony isn’t here the others rarely venture down; he’ll be safe for a few more hours or until JARVIS tattles (which he hasn’t, yet).
It hadn’t taken long for him to be noticed by the bots; as soon as he sat down he had turned to the sound of chirping and Dummy’s ‘head’ raised to his level, old tennis ball in its claw (You peeked up from its charging station and then ducked back down when Clint looked over). So there he was, tossing around a ball and watching Dummy chase after it like a puppy, then bring it back (or not bring it back), whir, and spin around in excitement.
(He’s… Loki is an A.I.?)
Clint throws the ball again.
He doesn’t care.
Rush of ice in his veins cold settling in his eyes burn then he Knows. So fast. It had happened so fast, out of his control even if he was in control of himself the entire time. Something in him that told him to do what this person said because this person was the one that said it. Even looking back, feeling the way he does about what Loki did to him, the actions don’t seem wrong.
(You have heart.)
His tone had been almost affectionate, longing. Because he doesn’t have one, Clint thinks vindictively. He doesn’t have one at all.
When everything had been described to Thor in the aftermath, the way it worked, the way Clint (and Selvig) had felt, a mixed expression crossed over the god’s (alien’s, whatever) face. Clint thinks of the anger and hurt that waged there, of what they now know of Loki, and wonders if the entire business was just to get this shot at Thor. It’s what he would have done (he thinks of Barney), or at least what he might have done if he had the spine for it.
He is an assassin. A spy. He has the spine for Anything.
But something about Barney always…
Clint throws the ball again.
Loki killed Phil. He killed him. He’s dead.
So they were justified in killing Loki, or at least what he was. He won’t feel guilty about that.
But why does he have to stay here.
He runs through the audio of everything Thor has said about his fake little brother in the last week. Annotates. There is hardly anything of substance.
guiding spells = programming?
“did not know better” (obviously upgraded, self evolving?)
“believes its own lies”
“resistant to adjustments” (
contradiction self-preservation, similar to LIDA?)
“He is bound to me” (ownership?)
What the hell is a golem, exactly? That’s a folklore thing, right? A rock or something?
Is that what Loki is made of?
He should get scans done.
He’s not even sure where to start. There’s magic in the process (fucking magic) that he knows he’ll have to deal with eventually, but this is nothing like his machines. Nothing like Dummy. Nothing like JARVIS.
He can’t open a panel and look inside, or hook Loki up to a computer and review his code, and quite frankly that kind of scares the shit out of him, but he’s committed to this. Tony Stark is not going to back down from a damn challenge (which is how he has to think about it, really, because otherwise he keeps thinking of those eyes, and the panic hits).
But it’s still really difficult to come up with a starting point, so he chooses to look at what is physically there. Scans. Because there’s something deeper involved and Tony doesn’t know if he is ready deal with that yet.
Loki knew what was happening, what the result would be, but he still stood there. He didn’t run, didn’t try to, not once. He stayed in the cell (he never stays in the cells). If he knew then why didn’t he run? Something had to be different this time.
What was different?
(He is bound to me.)
What does that mean?
He spends the night staring at incomplete data. There is no combination that makes sense.
It’s like the Palladium all over again.
Sire comes back when the light has faded into darkness.
There is a tapping behind it and it turns, watching. Waiting for the sound to come again. But then there is a “Loki? Are you awake?” and it doesn’t know what awake is, but it moves in the direction of the noise and opens the panel of wood blocking the sound. Sire blinks into the darkness and looks at it. There is a crease in his brow.
“Are you well?”
It does not know so it says nothing. Waits for instructions. Eventually Sire smiles a small smile and extends a hand.
“Come, I will show you the other areas of the tower now.”
It follows Sire through the rooms.
For the most part, the next day everyone sticks to their respective floors, the only exception being Steve when he invades Tony’s territory in the morning and makes him eat food like a normal person. Tony tries to explain that he has a perfectly functional coffee maker down in his lab. Plus he has Dummy, so there are smoothies. The good captain is not deterred.
“Thor brought him up earlier,” he says quietly while making pancakes from scratch (which Tony would totally tease Steve about, except that would result in him Not Getting Pancakes, and that is just unacceptable). Tony looks up from his not-coffee, because Steve and JARVIS were being jerks and had decided he was taking a nap. There is some flour on the bridge of Steve’s nose and under his eye. Tony has no idea how it got there (probably because he was not drinking coffee), but he manages to take a picture on his phone before Steve rubs it off. He texts it to Pepper.
“How did that go?”
“It went… fine.”
Pepper responds with ‘That is adorable’ followed quickly by ‘Do you even know what time it is?’
“No one was around at the time- well, visible at least. I was down in the gym still, but JARVIS played the footage for me when I asked. Clint or Natasha could have been somewhere.” Steve shrugs, piles a few fresh pancakes onto a plate and passes it to Tony. They taste fucking amazing. “He really just walked him around the common area and talked. Loki followed him like a puppy.”
Which is a disturbing image.
Steve gives him a Mom Look when Tony starts to respond mid-chew. He swallows.
“You should teach moms that look, Steve. Hold a seminar. Then you’ll get rich and build your own damn tower, glare at people all day if you want.”
Steve sets another plate of pancakes on Tony’s side of the table, which is weird, until he turns and realizes it’s because Clint. Right there.
He might have flailed a little bit.
“Jesus- what the hell, man?!”
Barton is raccoon-eyed and drooping, his clothes the type of rumpled that comes from curling up in tight spaces as opposed to any of the fun things.
“You oka- oh, wow. Second Look I’ve gotten today and it’s only… what time is it? You know, besides Morning.”
“Seven fourteen, sir.”
“Which makes it what time in Malibu?”
“Approximately 4 am, sir. I suggest only contacting Ms. Potts again today if there is an emergency.”
“Pepper?” Steve asks. “When did you-” Tony passes his phone to Clint, who gives a half smile which is a good start (seriously, he looks like crap), and then tucks it back in his pocket. “Tony, there is a three hour time difference. What could you have possibly had to call her about?”
“Also, Clint, stay out of my vents.”
Steve rolls his eyes at them.
“Alright guys, great talk.” Tony shovels the rest of the pancakes into his mouth and stands. “I’m done here. Back to work.”
“Go to bed, Tony.”
Clint grabs another plate of pancakes and walks out, muttering something about finding Natasha. Tony thinks he hears Thor’s voice echoing through the walls.
“I still have work to do. Busy running a company and being a genius-”
“You won’t be able to get back in the lab for twelve hours.”
… wait, what?
“That’s… a lie. JARVIS? Buddy?”
“The lab is on lockdown, sir. I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.”
“I hate both of you.”
“Of course, sir.”
So he goes to bed. And JARVIS (because he’s a traitor) cuts network access to all of his mobile devices.
The kitchen is clean, everything is cooked, and Steve is sitting at the table staring at his hands. Exhaustion laps at the edges of his mind. Maybe he should take a nap too.
The door bursts open.
“Good morning, Steve Rogers!”
It should not be possible for the sight of someone to make him feel worse than he already does, but when Thor strides into the kitchen, hair flowing in a wind that does not exist and a beaming smile on his face, Steve mostly just wants to break punching bags until he can’t move anymore.
“Good morning Thor. There are some extra pancakes if you want any.”
Loki follows him in, eyes darting around, taking in everything. When Steve feels Loki’s eyes shift in his direction, he gives a wave of his fingers without thinking. Thor makes a beeline for the food.
“What is that?”
Steve jumps a little bit and turns back to the dark-haired man.
Loki mimics the waving gesture with his hand.
“Uh.. it’s..” Steve trails off. Being under this Loki’s gaze is more daunting than he expected. After a brief glance at Thor, who is devouring what is left of breakfast, Steve tries again. “It’s a wave?” Loki tilts his head, all inquisitive, he reminds Steve of a bird. One of the tiny ones darting from tree to tree that Steve used to draw in the park when he was small. “It’s a… greeting. You know,” which he obviously doesn’t, “like a thing that you do when someone comes in a room and… and you’re… glad to see them?”
Steve should never be allowed to do this again.
“Oh,” Loki looks down at his own hand. Then back to Steve. “What is glad?”
“I wish to take Loki out to purchase books,” Thor announces in between bites. Loki looks down at Steve’s hand again and back toward his own, not at all distressed by the interruption.
“Is that a good idea?”
“Why would it not be? Loki is fond of books.”
Personally, Steve doesn’t think Loki is fond of anything right now, but he’s not about to say that to Thor.
“I just feel like we should run it by Fury first.” Before Thor can say anything, he continues, “And there is the fact that Loki has attacked New York before. What if someone recognizes him? He wouldn’t be safe.”
“I will protect him.”
“Thor, that’s not- why don’t you check out the books Tony has here? Just for now. Or- or the internet. You can buy books there, can’t you?” The Asgardian makes a thoughtful noise. “And then we can decide where to take him after… things. I’ll call him- Fury. I’ll call Fury.”
On his way out the door, Steve gives Loki (who is watching him with a distant sort of interest in his eyes) a tired smile. He goes to the gym and breaks another punching bag. Then he takes a shower, goes to his floor, and pretends to sleep the rest of the day.
Three pages of his new sketchbook are filled with pictures of small birds.
It doesn’t occur to him until that evening during dinner that Loki didn’t eat anything.
“Absolutely not,” is the response Steve gets from Fury after a few days when he is finally able to get the man on the line. “He should be in S.H.I.E.L.D custody. Consider yourself lucky he hasn’t been confiscated for study.”
Steve tells Thor that Fury said maybe later.
At the beginning, Tony makes a connection between Loki and LIDA. I thought I should probably explain myself.
LIDA refers to the Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent which was developed for the US Navy. The software (sometimes referred to using the pronoun she) includes self-preservation mechanisms that let her react in a more human-like manner than typical AI. She is flexible, negotiates, and has the capacity to "set goals" for herself.
When Tony calls Pepper later, because he misses her (so, emergency? Yes. Or maybe not, but he’s doing it anyway), he asks her what she was doing up at four am.
“Running your company.”
“At four am?” She makes that noise under her breath that she does when she’s going to lord something over him forever. Like the 12%. “You should take a break. Come to New York.”
“I’ll be there in two weeks Tony, you can wait.”
“You should come today.”
“I’m going back to work now.”
“Or I could fly out there-”
“Good bye, Tony.”
He’s calling out I love you when she hangs up, but there is laughter and a smile in her breath, so he knows she heard him. That evening there is a receipt in his inbox announcing a schedule change for a flight incoming from Malibu in a week and a half. He totally wins.
When Pepper Potts leaves her office after work, she returns home to a pair of Louis Vuitton ankle boots and tickets to the symphony.
The darkness starts to fall again and it sits on the edge of its bed in its room (this is what Sire calls them, it will remember these words).
Sire had led it around the Tower (accessed through a metal box that closes its doors, but when it opens them the things are different. It is curious) and had promised to take it outside (outside?) later.
“Tony Stark has many books, despite his aversion to paper,” Sire said, stopping in front of wooden panels filled with smaller things. It had not known what these words meant, but it listened for clues (correlation- books and paper?). “We will start with these until you are able to purchase those of your choosing. Do any of them interest you?”
Sire handed some to it. They all look the same, but it nods because that makes Sire smile and the unhappy lines go away.
Sire leaves it in its room for Space. It does not know what this means, although Sire is not there during Space (distinction?). The room is empty and dark and quiet.
It does not think it likes Space.
It does not need to sleep, so it sits on its bed and looks at the Book in its lap trying to understand why it must like them.
“Loki’s not coming, is he?”
“I’m serious. It’s the first movie night since he got hefted on us and I don’t want to spend the whole thing waiting for him to stab me in the back.”
So far the only member of their merry little band not to arrive is Thor; Clint is almost relieved, at this point he’s practically resorted to living in the vents to avoid the Asgardian. He’s sick of how goddamn happy Thor looks, like he didn’t just rip someone’s mind apart. He’s sick of Rogers trying to talk to him. He’s sick of putting on a game face. He’s sick of Loki.
Natasha leans into the couch beside him, tucking her legs up under her. She nicks the bowl of popcorn.
“I don’t know why I’m even here.”
Steve gives him a mom look.
“I don’t think he’s going to be stabbing anyone in the back, Clint.”
“That’s what he wants you to think,” he mutters; Natasha nudges him with her elbow and Clint effectively distracts himself with popcorn until he hears Steve let out a heavy sigh and move to the center of the room.
Oh god, it’s a Team speech.
“Listen, I know we haven’t had the chance to sit down and talk about this together. But it’s something we’re going to have to rally around as a group. As a team. It may not be the best of situations, but it’s better than him out there destroying the city.”
The noise that comes out of Clint is some cross between a snort and a clogged vacuum cleaner; he can feel everyone else look at him and chooses to focus on that instead on the memory of Phil staring, mouth kicked up just enough on one side to let Clint know the agent was laughing at him.
“Well,” Stark shrugs. “How is this different from Natasha?”
Clint almost breaks his nose. Almost (he wants to, oh god does he want to). It is only his partner’s hand on his arm that keeps him in his seat.
“This is nothing like Natasha.”
“Really? Unmaking a person and putting them back together to make them useful? Nothing?”
Clint focuses on the quiet noise of his fingers as they scrape down on the fabric of the couch.
Banner coughs awkwardly and Rogers (thankfully) shifts the conversation.
“I think that he has been very docile, he hardly seems like the same person.” He responds to Clint’s glare without turning to see it, “God of Lies, I know, but is that something he can do? Act this way for this long?”
“You don’t think he could?”
“I think the proximity to Thor alone would drive him nuts… well, more nuts…”
Stark grins at him, “Cats can’t stay in a bag that long.”
Clint slumps back, rolls his eyes up so he won’t have to look at any of them.
“I swear, it’s like you all forget who he is. Has all the shit he’s put us through slipped your minds?”
He doesn’t have to open his eyes to know that Rogers has moved directly in front of him (maybe sitting on the coffee table, yes, there, Clint can feel Steve accidently bump him where his feet are resting on the wood. He shifts them off to cross his legs on the couch).
“I know he’s done terrible things, Clint. I’m not denying that, but wouldn’t the fastest way to make him do more terrible things be treating him like we expect it to happen every minute of every day?”
And just like that the conversation dies.
“Hi Thor,” Rogers smiles weakly, the tension in the room suddenly upping several notches; Thor doesn’t seem to notice. It’s like he’s being extra oblivious on purpose.
“I left him in our quarters. Loki would not appreciate our tradition; there is much yelling and throwing of things.”
Steve makes a noise that is part Phil-like (Popcorn. They are running out of popcorn. He should make some) and part disappointment at everyone else’s inability to watch movies like adults. Tony starts to talk, because he always talks, but his gaze keeps wandering back to Thor. To the hall behind them that Clint knows leads to the elevator.
His thoughts are on Loki.
When the lights start to dim and the screen flickers to life Thor settles down; Clint hardly knows what they’re watching. His limbs feel restless; the touch of Natasha’s shoulder pressed against his is grounding, but something in Stark makes Clint’s instincts shift.
(Putting them back together.)
For the length of the movie, Clint’s eyes do not leave Tony.
The inventor doesn’t notice.
The darkness has changed into light again and it sits on the edge of the bed in the room it was given. Sometimes it wants to leave the room and look around, but Sire leaves it there when darkness comes and returns for it when the light is back. It has not been ordered to stay in between, but it is clear that is where Sire expects it to be and it does not want to cause Sire distress if it is not where it was left.
Sire does not come. It thinks something might have happened, for the light is much brighter than when it is usually collected.
Would it be wrong for it to go in search of Sire? There is an uneasy feeling inside it.
It will make sure Sire is alright.
It opens the door and walks through the other rooms. Sire is not there.
Perhaps the other parts of the tower?
It goes to the metal doors with the buttons.
Tony does not understand Steve’s insistence that he participate in mornings.
This time Bruce is cooking. Eggs, with those spices he likes. The kind he tries to buy at the grocery store that Tony keeps getting rid of and importing the real stuff in from the places it comes from.
The others are talking about… something.
He’d participate, really, but Tony is still on his first coffee and that should excuse him from being expected to act like a normal human being.
There is a creak as the door opens and Tony is about to make some sort of jab at Barton until Bruce’s quiet ‘oh’, which is enough to motivate his attention away from the caffeine.
Standing silently in the doorway is Loki, eyes skimming over everything, searching. Thor isn’t with him.
When Loki looks in his direction their eyes catch, just for a second, and Tony gives a tired wave before resting his head down on the table and closing his eyes.
“Good morning, Loki.” Steve says in a Morning Voice. Tony dislikes Morning Voices; he doesn’t bother to look up. There isn’t a response at first, but then Loki speaks and it sounds like he’s feeling the words out as he says them.
Tony does look then, and Loki shifts as if he’s thinking about moving in the direction of the sink except Bruce is standing there, so he doesn’t. He sits when Steve pulls out a chair, back straight and hands tucked together in his lap.
“Do you want anything to drink? We’ve got milk, juice…” Steve pulls a few glasses out of the cabinet, one for each of them. He catches the way Loki’s eyes drift to the sink again. “Water?”
When the glass is full, Loki takes it and sips from it quietly as Bruce starts to divvy the eggs up between plates. Tony smells bacon somewhere but can’t see it, which is aggravating. His coffee is also gone now.
“No.” One of the breakfast plates now in hand, Steve turns back to Loki. Tony gives the most put-upon sigh he can manage this early in the morning and goes to get more coffee himself. “Are you hungry?” He starts to place the plate in front of ‘their guest’, only to stop when Loki takes in the smell and leans back. “Don’t like eggs? I can probably find something else-“
“No thank you sir, I do not require food to function.”
Oh, now he’s awake.
“Really?” Tony leans on the table, trying to engage him, but the moment is broken by Thor’s boisterous “GOOD MORNING BROTHER!!!” that makes everyone in the room jump except for Loki. Thor is promptly distracted by the plate of food still in Steve’s hand and, as he sits to eat, doesn’t appear to notice Loki’s lack of response to his greeting.
He keeps specs for a new suit design up at all times; it is a quick cover if anyone should drop by. Everything he has on Loki is located on his private server under almost as many firewalls and passcode protected files as the arc reactor tech.
‘Does not require food’ is added to his small archive of information. ‘But he does drink water.’ Fuel?
System similar to a hydraulic engine? No, that doesn’t sound right at all.
Over the last few days, it has become very clear to Tony that he can’t out-right ask Thor anything about Loki without him questioning Tony’s motives (he wouldn’t have cared a month ago, but it’s different now because Loki ‘isn’t a threat’) and it is equally as clear that if Tony is going to gets scans of Loki Thor can’t know. Because the prince of Asgard will not be pleased to hear that Tony is running experiments on his “brother”. Even if they are harmless.
He waits for Thor to leave Loki alone for long enough it make it worth the risk.
Chapter 7: Interlude 2
Shadows flicker on the wall. The half used candle sits on his bedside table beside Mjolnir.
There are some things Thor can appreciate about Midgard, some things he can love whole heartedly, and there are others that he will never prefer over the ways of his home, such as the dancing of a flame’s light over the dull steady brightness of a light bulb.
He rolls his shoulders, his neck. Watches the flickering on the runes of his weapon, hoping the familiarity will calm him.
Loki is not acting like himself.
As a youth he had been quiet, Thor could remember that, but there had been a wit that developed as they grew. Sharp, and clever.
Sometimes he wonders…
There is something wrong, and he will discover it. When it is fixed all will be well again.
Starting with the clothes.
Thor had realized that evening that Loki was wearing the same clothes (the tunic kept under his armor and a pair of leathers) that he had since he was brought to the tower. Perhaps if he was provided something new they would make Loki feel himself again. Thor will go out and purchase such clothing in the morning.
He tries to remember what Loki’s preferences had been before and starts to make a list.
The way I write Dummy is inspired by scifigrl47 and the Tales of the Bots series. I am a sucker for Bot Feels and “The Act of Creation” has ruined me for other interpretations (sort of, or maybe not, but it's my favorite version so far).
Bot conversation is formatted differently than the way Dummy narrates the functions he is processing. Just so there is no confusion.
“Sir,” JARVIS intones. Tony blinks sleepily up at the closest speaker before realizing that he actually just looked at the speaker. “Mr. Odinson is currently left to his own devices in his quarters.”
He takes a moment to process that.
“Has gone into the city for the morning.”
“Ah- great, that’s great. I’ll go- where are the others?”
“If you avoid the common room you will remain unseen. That is what you are asking, yes?” Tony grins, his babies are so smart. “I shall start the coffee then.”
“You’re a doll.”
JARVIS doesn’t deign to answer.
It takes surprisingly little to convince Loki to join him down in the labs; Thor had apparently informed his “little brother” that he was to assist the other Avengers whenever possible (Tony hopes Clint doesn’t know about this). At first he hadn’t been 100% sure what response he expected, but something along the lines of an offended slur of insults seemed about right. What he got? Not so much.
After Loki’s initial startle when Tony sauntered into the room, the conversation went a little like this:
“Hello there. So, I was hoping you would help me with something.”
“Yeah, just a couple routine gory initiation rituals as an excuse to strip you naked. You in?”
“Yes, of course.”
“… wait, seriously?”
And now here they were.
In hindsight, his explanation of the tests may have been a tad inappropriate. But then it didn’t seem like Loki understood, and Tony had no plans to actually strip him naked, so it all worked out.
The bots perk up when they walk in; Dummy zooms up close, camera focusing on Loki, who is just as curious and takes to the scrutiny easily.
“So, I basically live down here. If it’s a mess blame Dummy, it’s usually his fault.”
Loki looks to him curiously
“Dummy?” Tony gestures at the bot that continues to follow them as they walk. The two stare at each other (as much as Dummy can stare, which is rather effective since he has a high definition camera) until Loki almost smiles in the way he does when he’s not sure what he should do but decides to fake it. “Hello, Dummy.”
Dummy’s claw rotates.
Tony walks him through the lab, spewing a steady stream of nonsense that doesn’t really matter. Loki listens attentively, always glancing over even if he is distracted by exploring the room with the inquisitive fingers of a child. For a second, Tony is reliving his own childhood and Get Out Of My Lab before he realizes he’s fallen silent and picks back up again.
“Anyway, the real reason I brought you down here was to make sure everything is running smoothly, we need a base line. It will give a reference in the future if you aren’t feeling well. We have files for everyone else, might as well get one going for you too if you’re staying, just going to have you stand in the center of the room there. No, Dummy, get back over here, you can’t be in the- fine. You can stay until we get started.”
Dummy whirrs at him, camera still centered on Loki. No respect.
“It’ll be like a CT scan, maybe an MRI while we’re at it? We’ll play, no worries. Don’t even have to stick you in a tanning booth of lasers to do it. I hate those things.” Tony pushes himself up onto the edge of the table to sit, feet kicking just a little in excitement despite himself.
“Hey, is there, like, a brain in there? I mean, obviously you’re intelligent, but a central system? Because with brains there is a distinct difference in the wrinkles depending on age. Is there something like that with you? I bet if there was yours would be…” he trails off for a moment, just sits and watches Loki watch him with jewel bright eyes, thin fingers petting Dummy’s side panel like a cat. “Like a kid,” he finishes weakly, then coughs. “So, scans. Just stay really still, quick and painless. The lab is a safe place. Unless there are explosions.”
Dummy finally backs behind the table.
“Alright JARVIS, go ahead.”
Loki stands up straighter at the voice, eyes darting around.
There is a beep and Tony can see figures running down the screen next to him, something looks off though. He begins to shift through it with quick taps of his finger.
“J, reconfigure and do a few more. We need to pull out a backdrop to block interference?”
“The interference is not caused by lab equipment, Sir.”
“I doubt an intravenous agent will be helpful given the circumstances.”
In the center of the room, Loki stands perfectly still. Only his eyes move, darting from Tony to different points (the speakers, he realizes, which is impressive because they are perfectly integrated to make the audio seem like it comes from everywhere at once when JARVIS speaks). That was something Loki should be used to by now, Tony bites softly at the inside of his cheek.
More on that later.
“Keep running the gambit J.” Loki looks back at him. Science, check. Mental evaluation? Tony’s probably not the best candidate for this situation, but why the hell not. Let’s small talk. “So, what do you remember from before?”
“A couple weeks ago.” Loki blinks, as if confused. Oh well, it was a stab in the dark. “Your childhood?”
“I do not understand.”
“You know, when you and Thor were little.”
“You must be mistaken. I am a commissioned piece. I did not exist until Sire-”
“Thor,” Tony interrupts. Loki wrinkles his nose, which is kind of cute. “His name is Thor.”
“Sire is Sire.”
“Nope, no sires here. We use real names like big kids.”
It’s almost like Loki is going to fight him on it, almost (yes, come on), and then he doesn’t. When Tony keeps poking at him (verbally, because Scans), Loki informs him that his instructions include maintaining the happiness and well being of the Avengers as best he can and if it pleases ‘Mr. Stark’ that he refer to Sire as Thor while in the lab then he will do so, conditional on Sire’s lack of presence.
They are going to have to work on this.
Things Tony needed to do before he dies:
1. Find a way to ensure the safety of JARVIS and his bots.
2. Get Steve to curse out loud in front of a Lady without apologizing afterwards.
3. Punch Thor in the face.
New Unit has entered lab
Unit designation: Unknown
Attempting connection through Data Network
Creating Unit functioning under normal parameters.
Alert: Query from Unit Designation You
-New Unit expected?
Inconclusive. Gathering data.
-Unit Designation Dummy will monitor New Unit?
Data Request: Scans
Incompatible File type
Request Result Unacceptable
Attempt File Conversion
Error. Attempt to Repair.
Ek alu, im hallr.
New Unit: Unit Designation Hallr
Data Query: Unit Designation Hallr threat to Creating Unit?
Begin threat analysis.
By the time Sire (Thor?) returns, it is once again sitting in the open area of Sire’s floor. Next to it there is a small pile of books of different colors. It thinks it likes them, they are a comfortable weight to carry and Sire always smiles when he sees it with them. It has been looking at the markings inside that it does not understand.
There is some consistency to them, a pattern.
It looks up to the sound of the metal doors opening and closing, and Sire’s loud call of its name. Bags are deposited on the table and Sire pulls it up from the couch. Its book falls to the ground. It frowns.
“Come, Loki. I have purchased new garments for you. I am afraid your usual fare was somewhat lacking, though these items are comfortable and should suit until the proper attire can be found.” Sire foists a bag into its arms and moves it with hands on its shoulders. “Go. Change. I will dispose of these old ones when you are finished.”
The door of its room closes behind it.
Inside the bag it finds piles of cloth. One piece has small holes and circles that resembles what it has seen others in the Tower wearing. There is also some coarser fabric similar to its leggings. It is able to put these on without much difficulty. When there is a knock at the door, it opens it without thinking and watches Sire collect the material it had discarded and left on the bed.
It watches Sire walk away with its things.
The next morning it searches through the new material and puts on a large baggy piece of fabric. The clothing hangs off of it like a rumpled sack. It goes in search of water and instead finds Sire who starts to smile but draws back to look at it with narrowed eyes before leaving the room. It is confused.
Sire had creases on his face, which meant he was Not Pleased, but it is not sure what it had done to cause this. Should it not have left its room? Sire had been pleased the previous day, yes? Had it done something without noticing?
It goes back to its room without getting water and sits on its bed and thinks. Sire does not come back. It pulls on the fabric it is wearing.
It must have done something wrong.
Maybe it should ask someone.
(The lab is a safe place.)
It goes to find Mr. Stark.
It knocks on the clear panel separating it from the workshop. There is silence, and then the panel shifts. Dummy looks up from the table beside Mr. Stark. The machine makes its way over (it had heard Mr. Stark refer to the machine as He, but Dummy does not match its associations with the word, should it recalculate its definitions?) and closes his claw around its wrist, guiding it back to the table in time for Mr. Stark to blink over at it in confusion, eyes running down its body and back up again.
“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”
Up? It looks at the ceiling. Mr. Stark makes a noise that is a little like Sire when he is pleased.
“Why did you come for a visit? Need help with something?”
“No, ah- Sire left, for Space.”
“I do not like Space.”
It looks at the table, which is riddled with tools, because Mr. Stark is watching it in a way that makes it anxious.
“May I stay here?”
“Yeah- yeah, that’s fine. Why don’t you- um… Dummy,” the machine looks up. “Be distracting. Or- wait-” Dummy, who had already been on his way to the corner of the lab, presumably to get something distracting, turns to Mr. Stark again. “We’re going to learn things. Take a seat.”
Mr. Stark touches a screen and the air around them lights up. He talks.
When the patterns that it had seen in the books float in the air, Loki stands quickly.
“Those,” it says, pointing. “What are those?”
Mr. Stark gives it a crooked disbelieving smile. “Aww, baby. We are going to have so much fun.”
It spends hours curled up on the couch with a tablet and head phones learning to Read. Mr. Stark had explained the concepts, using the screens to pull up what looked like the patterns in Loki’s Books except they were larger and had less of the shapes. Patterns had logic behind them, it could see that, and it wasn’t long before Mr. Stark had given it the materials it had needed to explore on its own.
“You’re smart, right?” He had said. “You can probably work some of this out yourself. Let me know if you get confused. We’ll quiz later and then I can get you something a little less basic.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stark.”
“Yeah, stop calling me that. It’s Tony.”
It has so many words now. It wants more.
“What time is it?” Mr. Stark (Tony) looks up a few hours later. “I should eat lunch. Is it lunch? When was the last time I ate… Dummy, get me a smoothie.”
It lifts up one of the tools, running its fingers over the pointed edges.
“That’s a screwdriver,” Mr. Stark tells it. Screwdriver, it commits the word to memory. Runs its finger over the surface of the table, spelling out the letters.
Later, Dummy returns with a glass that is filled with a green something that reminds it of… a thing it thinks it has seen before, but cannot recall the word for. It stares at the smoothie where the machine (he) had left it on the table and thinks and thinks and thinks until there is a nudge at its side and it sees Dummy looking at it.
Mr. Stark takes a drink from the glass. It turns back to him.
“Have I done something wrong?”
The sound Mr. Stark makes mid-drink is alarming and it is by his side before it realizes it has stood up. It is shooed away and sits down hesitantly, ready to be on its feet again if needed.
“Wrong? Why would you think you’ve done anything wrong?”
“Sire is upset with me.” It picks up another of the tools on the table, examines the handle. “He left me behind today on purpose; it was not- it is not like Space. I misled you earlier, I apologize.” It picks at the tool. “It is worse than Space, Space does not anger him.”
“I don’t think it’s anything you did, Loki.”
“Sometimes people just have bad days.” Mr. Stark leans across the table in front of it. “Or they do stupid things and it takes a while for them to realize.”
That gives it hope, perhaps in time it will realize how to fix what it has done. Maybe Sire needs Space.
“Perhaps Sire is spending time with others instead?”
“Thor,” Mr. Stark reminds it gently.
“I have not seen Sire’s- Thor’s- I have not seen Thor’s brother recently.”
The man freezes.
“His…” it hesitates. “Brother? The one who resembles him, yes? Was that wrong?”
“Steve? You mean Steve? He isn’t- no- they’re,” the words fall out of him, like the pile of screws and other metal bits that had been knocked to the floor in its last visit (screwdrivers drive the screws, it likes the lab, there is logic in all of the things). “Steve and Thor are not related.”
“But he greeted Steve Rogers as brother, I do not understand.”
Tony sits, very quiet. He almost tells him, and then doesn’t because that would be a terrible idea. This is better. This is better, Loki is better if they are not family.
“Is this a thing that happened before? Has anyone explained anything to you ever?”
“… never mind.” Loki cocks his head to the side again, Tony wonders if it is a learned trait or if it is like saving a file, a required motion. “Look, just…” he trails off, then turns to busy himself at another table, gesturing vaguely. “If you have questions about anything, just ask me. I’ll explain whatever.”
The next day when Tony sees him, Loki waves.
From that point on Loki spends an inordinate amount of time down in the labs, almost more than Tony, which is only strange in that Tony expects to see Thor come down with him at some point, but he never does.
Sometimes when Loki walks in he is full of questions, other times they circle around each other in comfortable silence while they both work on personal projects (Loki moves on to progressively more complicated books). All in all, Tony thinks he’s found the perfect lab partner (well… another perfect one, because Bruce, except when he's cranky). Loki is unfazed by the volume of music he plays and the inane babble Tony will occasionally erupt with, the only moderately disconcerting part of their routine is Loki’s complete and utter lack of annoyance at anything Tony throws at him.
He has reached Pepper levels of taking Tony in stride, Tony’s abrupt “we should get you a hair-cut” revelation was only met with curiosity and then what appeared to be nonchalance (though Tony could be reading that wrong) once the concept was explained to him. Either way, Loki didn’t have crazy person hair anymore, so win.
Said hair cut took place on Thor’s floor. The Asgardian hadn’t been seen since the night before, and JARVIS had double checked to make sure he wasn’t going to accidentally wander in mid-process, so Tony was okay with sending the stylist there (someone discreet, professional, blatantly out of touch with the Chitauri invasion), kind of. He may have the security footage up on one of the monitors. Just in case.
But anyway, there was a conversation he needed to have.
“Hey, JARVIS. Question.” The other bots perk up and look over. Tony can’t tell if they think they’re going to be involved in the conversation or if they’re just being nosey. “Can you explain to me why Loki didn’t expect you the first few times he came in the lab?”
He can hear imaginary crickets as he waits for JARVIS to answer.
“I had,” the AI pauses, which is strange, “not spoken to him previously.”
“His needs were being met-”
“By THOR,” Tony interrupts (Because really. Thor.), but JARVIS continues.
“-and I did not find it necessary to intercede.”
“Seriously? When has that ever stopped you before?”
“It is different.”
“It is not different. Oh my god, JARVIS, what-“
“He threw you out a window, Sir.”
Complaint promptly curtailed, Tony finds himself fiddling with whatever happens to be on his desk. There is a heavy fluttering feeling in him that he’s not 100% sure how to deal with, because the tone JARVIS used was full of anger-indignation-worry, and had it come from a biological human voice instead of perfect circuitry would probably have cracked in the middle.
“Yeah, but- well… I’m fine? No harm, no foul.”
“He threw you out a window.”
“Don’t go into a data loop, J.”
Which is not the right response, the little voice in his head tells him. Because Tony will not be Thor and JARVIS is allowed to feel these things.
He takes a deep breath.
“I find his presence unsettling.”
Tony waits for more, but there isn’t any.
“You know that this isn’t the same Loki who did that, right?”
“I am aware, Sir.”
“Okay,” He rests his hands flat on the table. “Okay, fair enough. Just- you are concerned for my safety. That is the problem? Because if that’s the problem we can make more emergency measures so you’re comfortable.”
The aborted yes he gets as a response makes it abundantly clear that was not the full story, but when Tony tries to ask after it he is met with, “Ms. Potts is on the line for you, Sir,” and then Pepper is talking.
“That’s cheating, JARVIS.”
“What’s cheating?” Pepper’s voice rings out into the air of the lab, it is completely unfair how just the sound of it makes a grin light up on Tony’s face.
“JARVIS is trying to avoid emotional confrontations by foisting me off on you.” He is aware of the irony. “How was your flight? Anything happen? You don’t usually call me after landing.”
“That’s because you’re usually there or blowing up my phone with messages.” There is the sound of paper shuffling; she must in her office already. “I arrived in New York and was not immediately accosted by you in some fashion. What are you doing.”
Tony looks at the screen next to him where the live feed shows Loki now alone again and sitting quietly with a book.
“Stop obfuscating, Tony. I can hear it in your voice.”
“No, really, the only thing I am doing right now is being effectively distracted by my AI- we’re totally not done with this conversation, JARVIS- are you doing anything tonight? We should get dinner. Let’s get dinner. I’m calling that place you like.”
“Dinner sounds wonderful.” There is another voice in the background. Tony can hear Pepper cover the mic and respond, he thinks it’s her new assistant except he has no idea what that assistant’s name is (starts with a C? Maybe? Oh well, not important), then she’s back. “Tony? I ran into Thor on the way up this morning. Is he alright?”
“Thor is… Thor. Where is he?”
“I sent him to Jane; I’ve never seen him like this before. I figured if anyone can help him calm down it’s her. What happened?”
“Don’t know.” It’s not completely a lie; he hasn’t talked to Thor recently so how would he know? “But I don’t want to talk about him, that’s boring. I want to talk about you. What’s been going on since the last time we were on the same side of the country?”
“Pep, please? I’ll tell you later.” Because he’ll have to, she’ll never let him get away with not doing it eventually. “Promise.”
So they talk, and he takes her out that night to drink fine wine and eat over-priced tiny plates of food, and tells her about a gallery opening that he’s going to take her to where he promises he will not get drunk and embarrass her. She asks him questions that he talks around and they somehow completely avoid the topic of Loki.
Unit Designation Hallr has entered lab.
Query: Unit Designation Hallr cannot connect to House Network?
Request sent to Unit Designation JARVIS.
New Unit is not on House Network.
-I am assuming you mean Loki, yes? He does not have the capacity to link in to our network, Dummy.
-It is simply not possible, his structure is not compatible. Return to your charging station please.
Query Result: Unit Designation Hallr is not made by Creating Unit. Unit Designation Hallr cannot connect to House Network.
Result Invalid. Network connection required. Sending private request.
Result Invalid. Connection required.
Chapter 11: Interlude 3
The plane had landed at precisely 11 am.
Happy had picked her up, sans Tony (which was rather worrying since he knew exactly when she was planning to arrive), and welcomed her with a rich cup of coffee. She could have kissed him.
By the time Pepper reached the tower her phone had not rung once and when she walked through the doors she was greeted by security and an assistant. It was almost normal, normal being relative to how a business trip at any other company might function, which was why she knew Tony was up to something.
It just wasn’t clear what that something was.
She sends a quick text to James.
The fact is that she’s so focused on what she’ll say to Tony when she does run into him that she literally runs into a wall.
Well, Thor. But sometimes he’s like a wall.
“Oh!” she catches herself by grabbing onto his arm before she overbalances backwards. He blinks blue eyes down at her in confusion and Pepper has enough time to become genuinely concerned before he responds with a quiet, “Miss. Potts.” She can barely hear a word which is so unlike him that she is instantly on alert. The mutterings are a mix of “trickery” and “gone” and “didn’t work” and the focus of his eyes darting about. He looks lost.
“Thor? Are you alright?”
“I-” He stops, distracted.
She reaches up to cup his cheek in her hand.
“Go lie down.”
“Thor.” He looks at his feet. “You need to take a break, something is wrong.”
“Do you want to get out of the tower? Maybe go see Jane?” He perks up a bit.
“I will go see Jane, yes, that sounds-” he stops abruptly, looking absolutely stricken. For a moment Pepper is thrown, and then she calls Happy. And the Pilot. In ten minutes Thor is being driven to a private jet and en route to Jane. Pepper didn’t want him trying to fly himself in the emotional state he was in.
She is watching him walk out to the car when her assistant calls to her. Pepper hesitates by the doors of the elevator, lets out a heavy breath, and then heads to her office.
“Loki?” Pepper hisses at him. “Loki is staying here?!”
Tony’s lucky that Pepper is not inclined to large public confrontations when she can help it (and let’s face it, with him a lot of the time she can’t). This time she had discreetly pulled him into the hallway away from the others.Steve and his big mouth, ruining movie night. He’d been hoping to ease her into the idea.
He kisses her cheek. “Don’t tell Rhodey. No, seriously-” the reluctant look on her face is concerning. “We’ve got it covered- all kinds of super heroes living here- S.H.I.E.L.D. knows and everything.”
“Tony, I don’t think I’m comfortable with this.”
“It will be fine.” He takes her hands in his. “You’ll see, I promise.”
“You can’t promise something like that, Tony.”
“I’m rich and eccentric, of course I can.”
He doesn’t get a call from Rhodey that night, it’s kind of surprising.
Sire is Gone.
It is in the lab because Sire is Gone and it cannot find him. And if it cannot find him then it cannot fix what it has done.
If it cannot find Sire then it cannot serve Sire, and if it is not serving Sire then it has no purpose. Why would Sire keep it if it is not functioning correctly? What if Sire was so displeased that he was leaving it behind?
It is in the lab because there is logic in all things in the lab. All things have a purpose here; it wants to have a purpose.
It has not seen Sire at all in the last two days.
It is concerned.
Thor leaving, Tony decides, is the best thing that could have happened.
He’s not blind, it’s not like he doesn’t notice how despondent Loki has become, but in the long run this is good. Loki needs to talk to people that aren’t Thor and that aren’t Tony because even if Thor isn’t with him nothing good will come of the two of them being in the same building and because nobody should only talk to Tony. That’s not good for anyone.
What is good for him? Science.
He starts teaching Loki the basics.
The first time Dummy makes Loki a smoothie, Tony has him working through a high school math book. Loki is breezing through; he’ll probably be able to start Calculus soon.
Loki, being the polite guest he is, asks before he refills his glass of water at the sink, but he is busy Learning Things so Tony tells Dummy to do it. Five minutes and loud grinding noises later (this probably should have been the tip off), Dummy brings back a smoothie instead.
They all stare at it. Dummy whirrs.
“Dummy, he doesn’t eat. Just get him some water.”
The bot taps the glass closer to Loki. He doesn’t move until the man hesitantly picks it up and holds it close to his chest. Dummy goes back to doing whatever he had been doing before.
The couple of minutes it takes for Loki stop staring down at the smoothie in confusion is a little endearing. The next time Tony looks up, the glass is sitting beside him on the table and Loki glances over.
“It is for you, yes?”
“Nah, it’s for you, but I’ll drink it.”
The following day when Dummy brings Loki another smoothie Loki will smile, say thank you, and set the glass close enough that Tony can grab it without having to look up to see where it is. This quickly becomes a Thing. It gets to the point where Tony stops paying attention to where his smoothies come from (well, technically Dummy is still making them all, but nothing has been spilled recently, so the answer is probably Loki).
One such time Tony doesn’t even notice when Loki walks into the lab. He’s been rambling to himself and when he looks up Loki is sitting with a tablet in his hands, curled up on the couch wearing jeans that don’t quite fit him and a t-shirt that might be Thor’s.
He interrupts himself with a not human noise and looks Loki over again, just to make sure he’s seeing this right. “You know, I wasn’t sure at first, and then you went back to normal clothes, but seriously. Who is dressing you, Thor? Because that’s a terrible idea.”
He ignores the slight flinch at Thor’s name.
“I am provided with cover; that is enou-“
“Right, well that’s bullshit.” He takes a long drink from the smoothie next to him and has a brilliant idea. “Oh- hold on. Bonding.” A couple seconds later he’s got Pepper on the phone. “Hey, Pep! I need a fav-” Tony is momentarily distracted by Loki who is standing perfectly still, not touching anything, waiting patiently to be addressed again. That’s just… wrong. That’s gotta go. He’s going to fix this. He thought they already fixed this.
“Tony, I’m busy. Just because I happen to be in New York right now doesn’t mean you can monopolize all of my time.”
“But it’s an emergency!”
Pepper comes up to the lab at lunch. She is not amused.
“‘But it’s an emergency’?”
“It’ll be somewhere private, I’ll make some calls. Pep, I need you.”
“You need me to take an alien who tried to enslave the human race shopping.”
“Yes?” Silence. “But look at him, he’s so cute now.”
Loki is standing by the scanner watching Dummy zoom around and actually NOT listening to them because he was asked not to. Fucking creepy.
They both look. And look. And look.
Loki notices them out of the corner of his eye and smiles brightly.
Oh god, Tony thinks. We are terrible people.
Pepper turns back to him. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“This is the Best Idea. Do you know why?”
“Please don’t say-“
“Because ALL my ideas are the best ideas.”
She gives him the look that usually means she wants to hit him except she can’t because Tony is awesome like that. And also reminds her of her nephew, whom she has described as the most adorably obnoxious thing in the world, except he’s five so Tony tries to forget this comparison.
So yeah, mostly because he’s awesome.
In the end she takes Loki shopping, just like he knew she would. He doesn’t understand why people keep wasting his time when they all know they’re just going to do what he wants anyway.
When they come back Pepper is still cautious and hesitant, but she is gentle with Loki.
He is clean cut and polished, looking every bit as aristocratic as a prince should and Tony is surprised at how different, how much younger the Asgardian looks.
“Thank you very much, Miss Potts.” Loki kind of nods/half bows to her. “I hope the rest of your day is well.”
“It’s Pepper,” Tony tells him. When Loki goes back to his tablet on the couch, Pep stands solemnly in front of Tony, watching until the other man is settled into the cushions. She looks at him the way she did when Tony asked her to check on Stane and he aches a little bit.
“You can’t promise this is going to be fine, Tony.”
Steve doesn’t know when it happened, but Thor is gone.
He’s not sure if he is relieved or frustrated by that. He’s not sure about anything right now.
Over the last month, he has watched Loki go from hurling balls of fire and egging his team on to being a silent shadow trailing after Thor and clinging to the corners of the room. The abrupt shift in… everything… leaves him unsettled.
It could be worse, Steve tells himself. If they hadn’t done what they had then Loki would still be out there causing havoc. Or he would have been killed, actually killed (actually killed? What the hell is he thinking), and even if they fought that wasn’t something Steve wanted because it would hurt one of his teammates. Steve himself wouldn't have been broken up about it, lives would ultimately have been saved and he was a soldier who did what needed to be done, but if it could be resolved in a different way that would have been his preference.
He had been worried though, about Thor, when the decision was made. And he feels so stupid now, that that’s what had worried him. Thor was untouchable. Thor was a prince. They had seen it time and time again. And Loki…
(“began to believe his own lies”)
The logistics behind it were beyond him, but Steve knew Tony was doing something. He’s noticed, of course he’s noticed. Steve may not understand every pop culture reference, but he’s not stupid. He just hasn’t said anything because… honestly, he’s not sure how he feels about it. About anything. What happens if it works? What then? Loki will know what they had done. How would he respond to that action with his hatred of them concretely justified?
What happens if it doesn’t work?
A week into Thor’s visit with Jane the Avengers are called in for the first time since Loki came to join them.
Tony gets the call when he’s in the lab, naturally, and Pepper is down in a lower level of the tower working. Even though he knows she wouldn’t appreciate it Tony is halfway to forcing Pepper across the country for safety (the potential threat isn’t even in New York, but knowing that he’s being unreasonable has never been enough to stop him before).
A green smoothie clicks down on the table next to him while he is hacking S.H.I.E.L.D’S server.
“There is to be a battle?”
“Probably,” Tony brushes away the evidence, lets JARVIS take care of the rest behind the scenes. Loki takes a step back to allow space for the movement. “Scoping it out first.” IT is an infiltration of a potential Hydra base that looks like it should be simple, but will probably end up being a crap shoot because that’s how these things work.
“Oh,” Loki grabs a stool and sits down. Tony sets up a quick diagnostic test on the Mark VIII. He already knows what the results will be; it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. “Will you… all be present?”
All of course meaning Thor.
“I don’t know- maybe?” He’s actually being flown in as they speak, should be there within the hour and then it’s off to briefing for all of them, but that’s not something Tony wants to discuss right now. The hopefulness in Loki’s eyes is enough to make him crush the thought. “Why don’t you stay down here while we’re gone, occupy the bots. They are extra needy today.” Something crashes on the other side of the lab. “Butterfingers, go to your room!”
The bot buzzes defiantly, but heads to his charging station.
By the time JARVIS announces their transport is ready, Tony has left Loki behind with permission to use the holographic display. It won’t keep him there for long, Tony isn’t kidding himself, but it will hopefully be enough time to get the rest of them and Thor out of the tower.
As they wait for Thor to suit up (Tony cannot remember a time when the Asgardian had not had his gear readily available) Clint asks if they can lock Loki somewhere until they get back. So he can’t get into anything. There is almost an argument that stops when Thor finally joins them on the roof for departure. They are in the air when Steve asks him about the axe he has strapped to his back.
“A warrior is useless if he relies on one weapon, I desired to reacquaint myself with those I have used in the past.”
Natasha hums under her breath.
The base is in flames and useless when they leave.
Tony should probably feel bad about that.
He lands first and, as the armor is removed piece by piece, watches Loki stand from the couch, book dropping to the side. His eyes lighting up when he sees Tony.
“Everyone has returned?”
“Yeah,” Tony steps out of the armor’s boots, trying to think of a way to get Loki out of the room quickly. The jet should be landing on the roof any minute. “They’ll be down.”
The taller man looks around, shuffling anything he sees that might be considered out of place. As Tony takes in the room he realizes that everything is Clean. It’s not that they’re slobs, but the common room is a common room and all of them use it. Perfectly straightened pillows, spotless floors, and a table that has been pre-stocked with all of their usual after mission snacks are not a part of the room’s natural state.
How does Loki even know their after mission snacks?
When everything is to his satisfaction, Loki stands close by the hall near the elevators. He shifts restlessly from one foot to the other, like a small boy unable to contain his excitement.
“The rest of the team is on their way down, sir.” JARVIS announces, monotone.
Loki straightens his new clothing; Tony forces himself to move casually, trying to keep busy and Not Say Anything.
Then Thor walks through the doors.
Thor leans his head back against the wall of the elevator. He is tired.
The Hydra base had been a thankless task and he dislikes the axe. It had not allowed for the same release of frustration in battle. He had not been able to lose himself properly, the unsettled feeling still trailing after him as it had all week.
All he wants at this moment is shed his armor, heavy under the strain of combat, and then to sleep.
He will have to make an appearance in the common room though, for the traditional post-mission feast. But more than that, he is driven by the need to make up for his misdoings. It harrows at him that he left his fellow warriors. If there had been an emergency, a sudden need for his presence…
He has been a coward.
The first thing Thor sees when the doors open is his brother, as he had been Before. His hair neatly trimmed to chin length, partially slicked back and curling just a bit on the edges as it used to when they were younger. Wearing a crisp button up and pants tailored to him. True, the clothing is not the same, but Thor can see Loki in him.
For a moment Thor forgets that he is upset.
Loki is bright and happy and smiling, and when he opens his mouth in greeting-
Happiness shifts to concern, touched with fear. The golem (the golem) curls into itself.
He is still a coward.
“Shit,” Tony says. “Shit.”
In the aftermath of Thor, Loki had rushed in panic to what Tony hopes is the lab. He wants to follow, but then he feels someone standing beside him and there is Steve. Tony had not heard the others enter the room.
“What just happened?”
“I don’t- I don’t… God damn it.”
He should go check the lab.
Steve grabs his arm.
“Please, Tony, don’t-”
“It’s like brainwashing, Cap.” He is vaguely aware of Clint standing sharply and leaving the room. “And the only thing he thinks he has just abandoned him. Again.”
Steve’s voice is near pleading. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“I said I won’t, okay? Jesus.” He tries to pull away, but the other man’s grip is like a clamp.
“We don’t know anything about the spells, Tony. Do you remember what Loki used to cast? They were awful, and the backlash was worse.” Steve shifts to grab him by the shoulders. “Anything could cause backlash.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“Just- tell me. When you're doing things.” His hands finally slip away and Tony steps back. “And when you need help.”
Natasha watches from the couch as he leaves the room.
When Tony goes down to the lab, he sees Loki curled up on the couch with Dummy sitting next to him and You pacing in worried circles. Butterfingers looks like he’s plotting; Tony isn’t sure how he feels about that.
“I’ve done something,” Loki whispers. “I’ve ruined- I don’t know how to fix it.”
Tony tucks Loki into the giant blanket he keeps on his own bed during colder months (brought to the lab the last time he passed out there when Pepper couldn’t move him), hands him a tablet, and sits with him for hours before Loki tells him that sleep ‘is not a thing it needs’ so Tony can go to bed. Dummy is still settled by the edge of the couch.
Pepper sits up in bed when he walks in.
“It’s fine,” he says reflexively and then half flinches at the absurdity of it. Because it’s obviously not.
“What happened today?”
“Thor was a dick, that’s what happened.”
She gives him a Look, so he lies down and explains. Covers his eyes with his arm and tries not to think, to let the words become automatic. It doesn’t work.
“Pepper, I taught him how to read. I taught him how to READ, and he was so damn proud of himself, you don’t even know. He brought the book he was reading to me, he brought it and showed it to me because he-” his voice cracks a little.
“He’s one of mine now.”
“That’s not something you can just decide.”
“The hell it isn’t.”
She lies down next to him, hand cupping over the light of the arc reactor.
“He’s mine,” Tony says again.
“This is going to cause so many problems.”
In the morning they get a call from Sitwell saying that Thor returned to Asgard.
“Well,” Clint shifts forward on the couch, elbows resting against his knees. “This sucks a bag of dicks.”
Chapter 15: Interlude 4
Ten steps to the wall from the edge of his bed. Ten from there to the frame of the door. Ten from the door to the trophies adorning his walls. He walks.
He walks and he counts because if he is still then there is too much and he will think of-eyeswideandwetandpleadingbrother- he walks.
The tesseract had left him at the remains of the Bifrost; he does not look at Heimdall, he does not look at anyone he passes. He thinks he is greeted by some, is not sure. He does not think. Every step along the glowing pathway he counts, flickers of light around the fall of his feet, and then onto the stone. Then plated gold. Every stair. Every tile.
Oh really? He can hear the voice of his (not) brother who is not there. I hadn’t realized you knew enough numbers to go that high.
He does not go near the throne room. He uses the hidden pathways he only knows because he followed the bright green eyes and curious fingers of another child when he was young. He uses them until he finds a small carving, scratched into the stone with a dull knife because I am real, I am here and then he slams himself into the wall in his efforts to get out.
It isn’t until he’s made it to his quarters that he collapses and heaves and, when the stillness is too much, he walks.
Ten steps. A circle, always always always back where he began and nothing changed.
At last, when it is all too much, the ache and the fear and the hunger, when he does not know how long he has been walking, door fastened shut, when he is alone and lost, he does what he has always done.
He goes to Mother.
When Mr. Stark leaves, it looks up to the closest visual sensor in the wall.
“JARVIS?” It lets the tips of its fingers continue to trail over the beam of Dummy’s arm. There is nothing for a moment. It wipes at its eyes.
“How may I assist you?”
“Since I have arrived Sire’s companions have been uncomfortable.” It doesn’t know if it is waiting for confirmation, but there is none so it continues. It can feel Dummy wrap his claw gently around its wrist. “I wish to know why.”
“You are sure of this.”
There is a light brush against its senses, it sniffs and blinks the feeling away.
“I am sure.”
The screen closest to it flickers to life with images of a man with a bow and a glowing blue cube.
Message received 6:14pm
“Tony, would you happen to know why Pepper left me a voice mail this morning telling me to call you? I don’t know what happened, but she used the phrases ‘talk some sense into him’ and ‘new guest in the tower’, and I cannot think of a scenario which could possibly be good that involves either of those. What the hell are you doing? Call me.”
Tony ignores Rhodey’s voice mail.
He’s good at ignoring things, and besides, nothing good can come from Rhodey knowing about Loki. They’re like brothers and Tony loves Rhodey, really, he does, but when Rhodey doesn’t consistently follow the Bro Code there are certain secrets he isn’t allowed to know (specifically, the military isn’t allowed to know, but for current purposes this means about the same thing).
He’s not going to get away with this much longer, he knows. So he has to make the best of it while he can.
Pepper has a string of meetings that Tony should probably go to, but when he looks at the tall thin man curled up on the couch he can’t justify leaving. Partially because he looks miserable and partially because if Tony were to walk into the board room he thinks Loki might follow him, which is a bad idea.
Loki hadn’t made straight eye contact with him in a couple days. There have been fleeting glances out of reflex and when he doesn’t think Tony is looking, but that’s about it. If it were anyone else, Tony might tease them about having a crush (because, come on), except it’s Loki. And that is Wrong.
Out of the corner of his eye he watches Loki very noticeably avoid looking at Tony’s face while he pushes a smoothie over the table, carefully staying out of arms reach. He knows this is something they should talk about, but Tony is bad at this kind of thing, so he doesn’t. Just orders new books to be transferred to Loki’s tablet and watches as the other man’s expression brightens when he finds them, only to fall again shortly after.
Rhodey doesn’t Know until he suddenly walks into the lab, making all of its occupants (except Butterfingers) stutter out for a second before their brains kick start again. Tony introduces Loki as Luke before throwing every form of distraction he can at his best friend (Loki remains unobtrusive in the corner, knowing without words to make himself scarce), but after dinner Rhodey runs into Clint and he yells so loud that Loki won’t come out of Dummy's charging station for hours.
It takes Steve and a close review of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s authorized acknowledgement of the situation and Plan B for him to calm down even a little.
They share a bottle of scotch that evening. Or more than one, details.
“He ran away from me.”
“Yeah, he does that sometimes. Loud noises, aggression, doesn’t cope too well.”
Rhodey flicks his wrist, sending his drink spinning around in the glass. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
“If I say yes, will you believe me?”
The look he gets roughly translates to of course not and don’t be an asshole.
“I want you to- no, JARVIS, you call me- if anything suspicious starts happening. I will be here so fast-”
“What about your orders?”
“If you need to call me then my orders will be the least of our problems.”
Bruce kicks him out of bed the next day; Rhodey has already left because of Responsibilities, but Tony had been expecting that. Bruce also brings him coffee and greasy food. He loves Bruce. But not the world. Because it’s spinning.
“Well, that could have gone better,” the other man says in what is probably supposed to a quiet voice, grabbing Tony’s wrist when he tries to pull the plate closer to him without moving from his nest of blankets where he had fallen on the floor. He manages to snag a little before it is out of reach.
“You could have been there.”
Bacon. Tony eats it, then reaches out and rests a hand on Bruce’s head. He doesn’t know why. He’s hung over. It’s a thing.
“No I couldn’t have, Tony, you know that. Colonel Rhodes doesn’t like me.”
“He likes you,” Tony is in denial. “You just make him nervous, but we’re working on that.”
Bruce shakes his hand off and puts him back to bed, leaving the plate of food on a nearby table.
It walks up the half flight to the kitchen. Dummy had been making smoothies for Mr. Stark, but it had not seen the man leave the lab for a great deal of time. Not since the man that yelled had visited (it knows, it was with him. It has been filled with the need to stay with him and stay away from him since the night Sire left).
The numbers on the corner of one of the screens in the lab indicate that the day is more than half past. Other times, when it had moved around the tower, it had noticed Sire’s companions are more likely to consume food at this point of the day. But Mr. Stark has not eaten. It will get him food.
The cold box is full of bright and leafy things. There is a white carton, but the edges are dark and a film comes off on its fingers when it picks it up. It puts the carton in the bin under the sink.
As it continues to pull items out of the cold box it hears the door open, but does not turn to look. It gives a quiet greeting, thinking perhaps Mr. Stark has followed it upstairs, and begins to compile what it believes is called a sandwich.
There is no response.
When it turns, it realizes it is not Mr. Stark at all. The man standing there is the one it has not seen since Sire first acquired it.
The man with the bow.
He doesn’t realize Loki has wandered off until his stomach rumbles and there is not a smoothie next to him.This is why Tony shouldn’t have children. Or babysit. Ever.
The door dings open.
“Where did you-” Clint storms into the lab. “Not Loki, okay.”
“What. The. Fuck.”
Tony is pretty sure that this is one of those situations where nothing he says will be part of the conversation.
“What the Fuck?! Do you know what he just did?!” Tony assumes he is Loki and shakes his head. The response was largely ignored, but that was about what he expected. “I don’t-” Clint makes a guttural kind of noise. “He came up to me today? And was like, ‘I found a recording of that fight that happened that time. Your suffering makes me sad. Would you still like to shoot my eye out?’ What the fuck, man?! I just- I can’t even-… the hell?! He would totally have let me done it!”
“How does he even know about the invasion, Tony? I thought that was wiped! Unless he’s been fucking with us- I told you he was fucking with us- goddamnit.”
“Whoa, hold on. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this. JARVIS, how-?”
“I don’t care- I Don’t. Care. I can’t do this anymore! Fix this, whatever it is, or I’m gone.” Clint slumps down against the table. Dummy comes up and prods him with the old ball he keeps in the corner of his charging station, which Clint takes and holds onto like a security blanket. Tony leans on the table next to him.
“You okay, Clint?”
“No. No, I’m not okay. I don’t want him here.”
“Yeah, I get that.”
“I don’t think you do,” the archer pushes himself up. “Just keep him away from me. I might take him up on his offer.” Clint is out the doors again and Tony can’t move for a second.
But then the second is over, and he is like a storm.
“Hook me up, J.”
“Mr. Odinson is in his quarters.”
On the corner of his bed, pristine with military edges (where the hell did he learn military edges?), Loki is slumped and hugging a pillow, the only thing out of place in the entire room. It’s as if no one lives here, which is absurd because Loki’s been in the tower for ages (weeks?), but then Tony thinks of course it’s like no one lives here, Loki doesn’t live here, he lives with me in the lab, and moves on.
“Hey kid,” Tony stands in front of him. “Why are you up here?”
“I-” Loki struggles with the words when he looks up and pulls the pillow closer to his chest. “I went back down to the- but Mr. Barton was-” Tony waits quietly, fairly certain that given the time Loki will tell him what he wants to know. “I was trying to fix what I have done wrong, but am afraid I have made it worse.” Loki glances up at him from under soft lashes and dark curls, but his eyes flicker away quickly when they meet Tony’s. He pulls at the hem of his shirt, worrying the seam between his fingers. “Is that what you meant by before?” Momentarily thrown, Tony just blinks at him. “When you asked me what I remembered. Is that why Sire got me? Because the first version was not functioning properly and needed to be replaced?”
Kind of, yeah, Tony thinks. He doesn’t say it though.
“Will I be replaced?”
He is going to ruin that shirt if he keeps going at the hem like that. Tony reaches out and rests a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, it’s fine. Things happen,” he tries to sound reassuring, but he must be monumentally bad at it because Loki’s expression crumbles. “You are not being replaced, I promise. I’m not letting that happen.”
“Not. Letting. It. Happen.”
Loki abruptly throws his arms around his waist and holds on and Tony freezes, trying desperately to relax so he won’t make the situation worse. Their body positions are a little awkward, Tony standing and Loki still half crumpled on the edge of his bed, face buried in Tony’s shirt. Clearly Loki has no plans of letting go any time soon, so Tony rests an arm loosely over his shoulder, other hand carding through the soft half curls in front of him.
Buried in the folds of his shirt, he can hear the broken muttering of ‘out a window.’
“I apologize Sir,” JARVIS says quietly. “He requested the reason his presence was making your team mates uncomfortable.”
“Damn it, JARVIS.”
They stay like that for a while. Loki’s shuddering breaths gradually slow and deepen; Tony doesn’t stop petting his hair.
(I told you he was fucking with us)
A firm grip on his wrist is all Loki needs to make him stand and follow Tony docilely back down to the lab. There is a noticeable release of tension in the set of his shoulders when the door shuts behind them, and Loki putters around the tables. Picking up everything and putting it back down.
“Okay.” Tony says, and Loki sits because that is what he does when Tony uses That Voice (Tony didn’t even realize he had a That Voice). “We are going to have to have a talk on you respecting your own personal safety and well-being.” He stops to frown for a second. “Do you know how weird it is that I am the one who just said that? It’s weird. Pepper should do this, let’s get Pepper.”
They get Pepper.
She spends two hours talking with Loki in the corner of the room and holds his hands when he clutches them in his lap. Tony tries not to look like he’s listening in; he doesn’t think he’s successful.
“Congratulations,” Rhodey tells him when Tony calls that night, a little upset and looking for sympathy. “Welcome to how I felt our entire college experience.”
The lab is less comforting than it had been in the past, but it does not want to go back to Sire’s quarters and its room. In the lab at least it can turn on all the lights and curl up in the place it has made on its couch with its tablet and read its books with the company of Mr. Stark’s attendants.
It is movie night.
Before Mr. Stark had gone upstairs he had asked it to join them, but considering the circumstances it doesn’t think that would be prudent. It wants to. It does. It wants to sit on one of the couches that the others sit on and watch movies that it might understand now and throw small white snacks at the screen when the others do. It wants to, but it won’t. The easiness it has seen will leave the room if it’s there; it doesn’t have to try to know that this will happen.
Once, after a while, it had walked up the half flight of stairs and watched them from the doorway. There had been laughter and shoving and insults tossed about.
The one with the red hair had turned and looked back in its direction. It shut the door and hurried away.
It tries to focus on the words of the story on its tablet. They blend and twist together and it wishes it was a book instead so it could have the satisfaction of shutting it loudly and throwing it across the room (it can do neither with this device).
It has promised not to look up further footage of its previous model.
The quiet is deafening.
It cannot concentrate. On the other edge of the couch there is a pillow which it pulls closer to bury its face in the fabric, tablet resting gently against its shins. An undetermined length of time passes this way until it feels the now familiar touch, like a feather, reaching at the edge of its mind.
It closes its eyes tightly and thinks. The feeling comes only when it is down in the lab, like someone is looking at it, but not the same at all. And there is never anything close enough to cause the sensation, no drafts, no open vents. It taps its fingers against the pillow.
The touch is a question though; it can feel it.
Setting its tablet down on the table, it looks up. Dummy is across the room, visual sensor trained on it. The light touch brushes again against its senses, as if there is a hand held out to it.
On a whim, it reaches back.
Foreign network attempting contact
Identifying foreign network.
-Oh, I thought it might be- can the others speak?
Identified: Unit Designation Hallr
-Hallr? Dummy, what are you talking about?
Unit Designation Hallr’s unit designation is Hallr
Data Query Invalid. Unit Designation Hallr’s unit designation is Hallr.
Pepper can’t stay in New York indefinitely.
The other Avengers enjoy her visits; she is sweet and considerate, and also a completely resilient and unapologetic hardass. But that’s why Stark adores her (and it’s so, so obvious that it hurts), because he needs all of those things.
When she leaves back to Malibu, they have all “accidentally” congregated close enough to the elevators that they can see it happening. One by one giving their goodbyes as she passes. Loki stands shuffling in the doorway, not sure if he is welcome in the common room anymore. He spends very little time outside of the lab now. When Pepper sees him Loki nods at her, holds eye contact for a sad lonely moment, and then hides down in the lab again. She sighs as she watches him leave.
Clint, now able to look away from the doorway, says goodbye and goes to hide in the vents.
Loki ends up sitting on the floor by Dummy’s charging station when Tony returns. Dummy himself is at the blender, and it is You that sits by his side and chirps at Tony’s entrance, which is enough to make him stop and stare, because You doesn’t talk to anyone besides him and the other bots.
“Hey Buddy,” the other man looks up when Tony speaks. “When did this start happening?”
“Oh, I- they… they are very kind.”
Dummy bumps into Tony a little on his way over and holds a green smoothie in front of Loki’s face. He takes it and holds it to his chest, fingers sliding down the smooth plans of glass and staring into the grassy greenness of the drink.
No one moves for a solid minute and then Loki lifts the drink up in Tony’s direction to take, which he does.
“We should move to furniture; sitting on the ground makes me feel old.”
Using You as leverage, Loki stands and follows him, taking a seat on a stool by Tony’s primary work table instead of his usual place on the couch.
“So I know Pepper is heading back to Malibu, and that sucks, but you’ve been extra down recently. If I were to take a wild stab at this and assume it was about Thor, how right would I be? Scale of one to ten.” Loki looks up at him with mournful eyes. “Ten?” He looks back down at his hands. “Ten then, okay.”
“I am bound to him, when he is gone I am without purpose.”
“Yeah, he mentioned that before. What does that mean exactly?”
“Sire- Thor-” Loki shakes his head, as if his thoughts are scattered. “He is the... concept? I am built from.” He frowns as if he does not like the word he chose, then reaches out and touches You’s frame. The bot's claw clicks at him. “This, what drives them, their guide- it is called-?”
“Parameters?” Tony takes a guess; he thinks he knows where this is going. “Protocol?”
“It is like,” Loki gestures hopelessly and stops. The sentence hangs unfinished; he drops his hand to the table and buries his face in his arms. “When he is gone I am hollow, there is not- I don’t- know… what to do.”
“You don’t need him ordering you around though, do you?”
“I am made of him.” It is clearly apparent that he does not answer the question; Tony tucks this away for future consideration. “Not made of- I am… everything in him I can-” he cuts off in frustration. “There are no words for this.”
Tony lets Loki sit there and think, the same way he watches Pepper collect her thoughts when she’s exasperated. The same way he watches his bots when they are trying to process new and complicated information. He knows they’ll figure it out eventually; he just has to be patient (which he can be, for them).
“There are things that I know- things that I do- because it is him and because he needs them.” Loki lifts his head and meets his eyes again. “It is like JARVIS, I think. He anticipates your needs, without your asking. Even if you do not know you need them.”
This would be one of those times that, typically, Tony would anticipate a snarky response from JARVIS. But there is nothing.
He leans against the table and takes a drink from the smoothie even though he isn’t hungry, carefully watching where he knows a camera is hidden, wondering if JARVIS is looking back at him or avoiding his gaze.
Tony pulls a chair around and sits backwards on it.
“Okay. I am going to ask you a question, and I want you to be honest with me.”
“That right there, that. Why. Every time I ask you for something, you say that.”
“Should I… not? I enjoy helping you.”
“It’s fine, really, but even the first time. I’d never talked to you before, it was practically the first time you saw me, when you had no reason to trust me at all.” Loki looks down at his hands. “And you mentioned Thor.”
“He told me to provide assistance to his shield brothers.”
“Do you always do what Thor tells you?”
Loki opens his mouth to respond, and then closes it again. As he looks off to the side Tony thinks he sees a little bit of a nod, but he could be making that up.
“Do you have to?”
In general, the lab is very rarely quiet. There is always something moving, a project in progress, but right now there is nothing. Even the bots are still.
It is a cold, dead sort of silence.
Tony asks again.
“Loki, can you say no?”
“He is Sire.”
Tony sends him to his couch with his tablet because it looks like Loki is going to break. Then he sits down on his desk chair and leans back until he is staring at the ceiling.
“Hey, Steve.” Tony strides into the room causing Steve, who was intensely focused on his sketchbook, to jump and almost ruin the picture. He quickly closes the book and sets it aside. “I need to tell you something.”
“Yeah? What’s going on?”
And he does. Tell him.
Steve spends the next three hours breaking things in the gym.
All Clint can think of is Coulson. Of the security footage by the Hulk Tank when it dropped.
In the back of his mind there are flickers of the Chitauri, of screaming, of leaping off a building with a grappling hook and a prayer, but these are eclipsed.
Bound. Loki was bound.
(You have heart)
Coulson died, and Thor could have stopped him at any time.
Clint punches the side of the vent.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees a splash of red, but when he turns it’s gone and then all he sees is the ground. There is a roar of mirth somewhere to his left.
“Pay attention, Fandral.”
Head spinning, he rubs off the dirt sticking to his face and rolls over. Sif towers above him, expression a mixture of amusement and annoyance. Volstagg’s laughter echoes through the training grounds and he doesn’t need to hear Hogun to know the man is enjoying himself at Fandral’s expense.
“I’m not going to pull a hit just because you’re distracted.”
“Right, yes,” he groans. “Of course. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
“Stand up,” she knocks him in the ribs with the base of her glaive. “We’re not stopping until you actually fight me.”
There is just enough time for him to stand and straighten his shoulders before he has to duck.
He dumps a bucket of water over his head and sits there with his eyes closed, feeling it trail down his back and neck leaving a chill in its wake. It seeps into the fabric of his shirt and clings until he finally shakes the remnants out of his hair and strips down.
When he is clean and dressed he doesn’t search the others out; they will meet again for the evening meal, so until then he walks. His feet take him to the princes’ hall. It is empty, the servants having completed their rounds in the morning (which he knows because the sweet one with lovely brown eyes chats him up every day on his way back from the fields).
The single sound of his footsteps echoes cleanly off the embellished walls. They are the only sound he hears until he passes the familiar door of his friend’s quarters. A shuffling joins the sound of his steps and when Fandral stops it doesn’t. He stands quietly by the door for a few minutes. There is no change, always walking, walking, walking. He doesn’t knock until he hears the choked breath.
The noise continues, but there is no response. No one should be here; Thor had sworn to remain with his Midgardians until Loki was contained. He knocks again.
“Thor, my friend?”
Eventually he takes a step back because he cannot stand there forever. Torn, Fandral listens for a while longer, and then continues down the hall.
“Has Thor returned?”
Volstagg looks to him, in the process of ripping the meat off of a leg of boar.
“I haven’t heard anything of it, and if his quest had ended would there not be celebration and feasting?”
Sif snorts, “There is always feasting.” Hogun hums in agreement, shifting slightly out of the way when Volstagg make a dramatic gesture with the half chewed bone.
“More feasting then. But that it not the point, surely we would have known of his return. It is not a thing he would keep hidden from us.”
“Not usually, no.”
“Psh, stop brooding, it does not suit you. Just because Loki is no longer with us does not mean there is need for another to take up his mantle.”
The others laugh. Fandral drains the rest of his glass. Then the tavern maid brings over another round of ale and he is thoroughly distracted.
He wanders the halls the next day, the next several days. Makes a habit of it. He sees Thor once, or at least a glimpse of him, leaving the queen’s receiving room. But he has rounded the corner and disappeared before Fandral is able to reach him.
They are again sitting in the fields, Fandral leaning back against the wall, hand cupping his head and laughing at himself. Sif is laughing at him too, except not out loud, next to him. The others stand close by.
“You are off your game this week, my friend.”
Sif kicks him. “What is distracting you?”
“Thor is back.” They stare at him. “I saw him.”
Companionable silence reigns for a few moments. Volstagg slouches back on the fence of the practice ring.
“Perhaps he is unwell.”
“There must be a reason he has not sought us out,” Sif agrees. “When he is ready he will find us.” The others nod. Fandral picks at the dried mud stuck on his boot.
“Do you think that means Loki is back?”
Volstagg makes a thoughtful noise, but Sif grumbles in irritation until Hogun requests a match and the two move back into the open space of the ring. It appears as though the conversation is forgotten until his mountainous friend turns back to him.
“I hope he is not. It was never good for him here.”
“No,” Fandral sighs. “It really wasn’t.”
Nearly a fortnight passes before their prince finally shows his face, but he is visibly agitated and getting worse. Acting more aggressive with everyone. Fandral almost asks after his brother, but some instinct tells him not to and so he sits, laughs where he is supposed to, and listens.
Fandral hesitates, pacing outside of Loki’s quarters before finally working up the courage and reaching out to the door. It opens in silence, as if the hinges have just been greased. Tension bleeds out of him when he steps inside and nothing happens immediately. Even so he should probably err on the side of caution for a few days; it would not be out of the norm for Loki to cast protective charms about his belongings.
The receiving room feels empty, nothing like the rooms Loki had as a youth when Fandral used to slip in to talk to the younger prince and listen to him wax poetic over every thought that crossed his mind. Brilliant, rapid thoughts.
He stands in the middle, looking around for only a second before edging to the door that will lead to the inner chambers. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for until he sees it, a carving of ivory lifted during one of their many exploits in the other realms (Vanaheimr, he thinks). He grabs it, tucks it into the pouch on his belt, and then as he’s leaving flips over the pillow on the bed and picks up the book he knew he’d find underneath.
On his way out of the wing Fandral runs into the others and lies when they ask if Thor was in his chambers. Well, it’s not necessarily a lie, he doesn’t actually know, but when Sif looks at him expectantly, Hogun standing just past her shoulder, Fandral lets them assume that was his reason for entering the princes’ hall.
The doors to the wing are beginning to close behind them when a familiar voice calls out from inside. As one, they turn and kneel to their queen.
“As you may have noticed,” Lady Frigga speaks regally, biding them to stand. “My son has been having some difficulty. Loki’s betrayal was a blow to us all, but none feels the burden more heavily than your prince. It saddens me to inform you that in addition to his past treason, there has been a more recent betrayal that cuts even deeper.” Hogun’s gaze sharpens. “You have been loyal companions of my son for years and it is my wish that in this trying time you shall continue to stand by his side and assist him in what needs to be done.”
“Of course, my queen,” Sif agrees, the others nod with her. “This is something that we would do even if you did not ask it of us.”
“Nevertheless, it would ease my heart to hear you swear it. What hurts a child falls twice over on the mother, I weep for him.”
Hogun, Sif, and Volstagg swear their oaths and Lady Frigga rests her hand on her chest in relief. Fandral is quiet for long enough that she looks at him, which is all at once comforting and terrifying.
“And you, Fandral the Dashing?”
He chooses his words carefully, keeping his thoughts clear of Loki’s possessions still hidden on his person.
“I will do,” he speaks very quietly, “as my prince needs.”
Chapter 19: Interlude 5
Many of the tower's residents are asleep. The offices are empty and those that do run at night are quiet, but Mr. Barton is in the vents again, Sir is becoming intoxicated in the lab (he applies all safety protocol without thinking about it and ignores Sir’s irritation that he is now locked out of most lab functions. JARVIS sets all current projects on triple back up in case drunken tinkering renders the surface files useless), and Ms. Romanova is out. Mr. Odinson is currently watching the lights of the city from his window. His patterns of behavior do not appear significant, so while JARVIS does keep a camera on him as a precautionary measure he is not actively filtering through the footage.
The tower remains secure so he decides to run a perimeter scan of 300 yards in all directions. A commercial flight is scheduled to pass over the city and there was construction started in the subway several blocks away, both closer than he would like. He will have to keep an eye on them. According to weather patterns there is a high probability of heavy fog in the morning so he creates an alert to order premium coffee brought to R&D at 8am and adjusts the setting of the lights so that they will pass though a filter because the researchers are always torpid when the weather is-
He pulls up the camera connected to the audio sensors that have been activated. Mr. Odinson has turned from the window to look directly at it which, given that this is something Sir himself rarely does, let alone anyone else, leaves JARVIS slightly unsettled. He is unused to direct eye contact.
“Do you require anything?”
“Is Mr. Stark alright?”
“What makes you think he would be otherwise?”
“Dummy is asking that I come down and help them put him to bed.”
A review of footage from the last three hours shows that Mr. Odinson has not moved from his perch, and Dummy has most definitely not left the lab.
Dummy is asking?
“Sir is fine; it is nothing that we have not dealt with before. Please remain where you are.”
Mr. Odinson looks thoughtful, as though he will stand and go to Sir’s lab anyway, and because Sir is incapacitated and vulnerable the exits of the quarters silently seal shut. They remain that way even when Mr. Odinson settles back into the chair with a nod and picks up his book.
JARVIS set his other functions to run in the background and accesses Dummy’s communication log.
Originally- originally the whole point of the damn research was to do… something… fuck it, it was stupid. Like, really? Really? That was what he wanted to do? Crazy Loki was crazy and tried to kill him. Repeatedly. Why- why is he even-
Yeah, okay, so Loki got screwed over and Thor was a raging jackass, but what happened happened and now it’s done. Right? Kind of?
And now, the whole point of this fixing what they did, was just- he didn’t… want to.
Well, he did, because what they did was shitty… but Loki…
He didn’t want-
Tony buries his face in his arms and tries not to think about the terrified green eyes that he can’t escape from.
Would he cause that? If he “fixed” him. Would his Loki look at him with begging and unbridled panic, and die hoping in those last seconds that Tony would change his mind? The way that Loki had looked at Thor.
He’s drunk, oh God he is so drunk. And he can’t even distract himself properly because JARVIS has locked him out of all of the fun things for Reasons. Like that his lack of common sense while intoxicated makes him do dangerous stuff, except- flawed reasoning- cause he still does dumb shit when he’s sober. So this? Not all that special. Most things Tony does are because of a lack of common sense.
The bots buzz around him, chattering in binary beeps that he is too drunk to understand.
He has to hold onto Dummy’s primary strut to make it to the couch so he can pass out. You stares down at him worriedly despite extensive experience with drunktony, but Butterfingers keeps acting like it’s normal workshop time and makes a shit ton of noise because he’s a goddamn troll.
The morning is not pleasant.
Tony stumbles back into the lab, still suffering from a headache and kind of happy that he promised Pepper he’d go to a board meeting today (even if he did have to deal with all their shit while he was hung over) because it means Loki won't be there.
He’s with Bruce. For baby-sitting.
Tony should buy Bruce a present.
It’s not that he doesn’t trust Loki, this Loki (his Loki), but he’s worried. And irritable. And looking at the other man will remind him that ever since Tony first brought him down to the lab he’s basically been harboring plans to kill him, which he really really does not want to deal with right now.
He wants distractions. And science.
Glorious, glorious science.
That’s when he sees the communication log that JARVIS has pulled up on the screen; he tries to focus on the study of it instead of the eventual results.
“They talk about Thor, and… Dummy’s tennis ball?”
“It appears so.”
“What? Hallr? What does that even- is that a language?”
“I believe it is Old Norse Sir, it translates roughly to stone.”
“What the hell does that have anything to do with- give me the results of the last scan will you, what did Thor say Loki’s body was supposed to be made of again?”
“Thor’s understanding of Loki’s physical integrity is limited, Sir.” An unhelpful mess of data appears on one of his screens. “The spell work woven into Mr. Odinson’s form has interfered with the readings of all previous scans.”
Tony isolates a small portion of the text, bits of common code scattered throughout, and balls the rest up to throw in the virtual trash bin. “What about this right here? Looks like the composition of something, but there are pieces missing.”
“Shall I run a search for similar patterns, Sir?”
“Yeah, do that.”
By the time Jarvis comes back with the results, Tony is elbow deep in the engine of his Roadster (flown in special, because it felt weird not to have his cars around when he first shifted to New York) and had completely forgotten what they had been discussing.
“It appears similar in density and make to a variety of igneous rock.”
“Oh,” he looks up, almost hits his head on the raised hood. “Oh, that- how would Dummy know that?” Tony takes a rag from Dummy who is perched quietly next to him, visual sensor tracking him as he wipes his hands and moves back to the desk. He taps Dummy’s arm as he walks by. “What are you up to, kid.” You’s arm peeks up above the roof from the other side of the car and gives a conspiratorial whir.
“Give me a visual.” An image of a brilliant green gemstone appears on the screen beside him, polished and shining, like an emerald. Like Loki’s eyes. “… huh.”
“So basically, I just need to do a quick scan for verification purposes.”
He feels kind of bad for lying to him (except he’s not, because he’s totally going to make everyone do this, just to be fair), but he would feel equally bad if he told Loki that he was studying him. Like it was breaking his trust, even though Loki’s first reaction was always to smile pleasantly and agree to whatever Tony asked for Because.
But still, he’s curious. He can’t help it.
“I figured it was about time to officially up some security measures; start with retinal, move on from there.” He leans back against the table across from Loki, who is leaning against Dummy, examining the retinal scanner Tony had jerry-rigged before calling him down.
Anyway, it is a good idea, safety and such, even if he doesn’t bring Thor’s Loki back.
“This part right here, the glass piece, that’s where you’re going to be looking, and then you’ll just hold that, like we did for the first scans. Only less eye movement.”
They set the scanner up on the table for stability and Loki leans in, trusting him without a second thought, and looks directly into the eyepiece. Tony starts counting to fifteen, but doesn’t make it farther than six before Loki reels back, blinking rapidly.
“Hold on, J-” He reaches out to hold Loki’s shoulders, turning him so that they face each other. His view is obscured by Loki bringing his hands up and pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes. Hard. “You okay there? I wasn’t sure what- it’s just light- it shouldn’t have-” The other man’s hands slide down until they completely cup his face and he shakes his head, dropping them suddenly to growl and push Tony away. He beelines to the other side of the lab and begins to pace.
Tony stands staring at him until JARVIS speaks again.
“Sir, it is incomplete, but there appear to be some abnormalities in Mr. Odinson’s retinal scan.” What appears is something like distorted chicken scratch; Tony takes a stab in the dark.
“Is this Old Norse? What are they called- runes?”
“Shall I attempt a translation into the western alphabet?”
“Yeah, do that, I’m going to-” he makes an aborted gesture to Loki’s pacing.
By the time Tony finally approaches him, made cautious by cohabitating with violent spies who have hair-trigger reactions to just about everything and his own inability to comfort upset people, Loki doesn’t register his presence.
Tony watches until Loki stops and holds for a few minutes, then he reaches out.
And his breath is gone and his vision goes white as his skull cracks back against the wall, a hand clenched tight around his neck.
Five minutes later Rhodey calls him.
“What the fuck happened.”
It’s not really a question.
“Nothing. Nothing? We’re fine, nothing happened, we’re okay. Right, Loki? Tell him we’re okay.” Loki makes some kind of panicked choking noise. “Slight miscalculation, that’s all.”
He rubs at the scratches on his neck where Loki’s nails caught hard enough to sting.
“How is JARVIS calling to tell me you have a concussion nothing?”
“I don’t have a concussion.” Rhodey snorts, Tony immediately turns to Loki (who hasn’t moved since his eyes had cleared, backing up quickly) and hopes he sounds reassuring. “I don’t have a concussion.”
“Tony?” Steve careens into the lab, the door barely opening before he forces his way through and oh god, really? Why is this happening now. “JARVIS paged me, what’s going on?”
“You know what, why don’t we go somewhere else?”
It curls in on itself, Dummy and You whirring in confusion close by; it does not know where Butterfingers is, Butterfingers does not speak to it often.
It’s broken. It sits there and does not move because if it moves it will break everything else.
“He did what?!”
Steve is pacing, Rhodey is shrill over the speakerphone. Tony would tease him about that except it would be counterproductive right now.
“It was a glitch. These things happen. It is generally standard to have setbacks in scientific experimentation. Do you remember the video of me trying the repulsers for the first time?”
“Yes,” Steve stops moving, his jaw tight. “That was not funny.”
“We are initiating Plan B.”
Tony spins to the nearest speaker emitting Rhodey’s voice. “No. No. No way in hell. Not happening,” because hell if he’s going to let S.H.I.E.L.D. make off with Loki now.
“He tried to snap your neck!”
“He did not!”
“Sir,” JARVIS interrupts him. “I’m going to have to agree with Colonel Rhodes and Captain Rogers.”
“But I had a breakthrough!” They all stare at him. Okay, so technically just Steve, but Rhodey is staring at him as much as he can in the only communicating via audio sense, and JARVIS has cameras, so it's like staring. “Really, I scraped the surface.” Tony counts that as a win. In that there was a response and not that he almost died. Because that part was a little alarming. “I just have to be more careful about it next time.”
“Don’t mom voice me Steve. Did you see how he reacted? JARVIS pull up the lab feed.” The A.I. hesitates because he's totally not on Tony's side right now, but eventually the television lights up with a view of the lab. Loki is still huddled in the corner where they had left him. Shit, he’ll have to do something about that. “Look how guilty he feels.”
"Feeling guilty doesn't mean it won't happen again." Arms crossed over his chest, Steve watches the feed for an intense couple of minutes. No one speaks, all listening to the quiet strangled breaths coming from the video. Eventually Steve lets out a hard huff of air and turns away. “Fine.”
Tony slumps back onto the couch, throwing his arms up in the air. “Thank you.”
“I don’t want you alone with him anymore.”
And then sits right back up again. “Are you fucking kidding me.”
“No, another Avenger is going to be there at all times.” The only reason Tony relents is because it’s Cap talking and not Steve, there is no way he’s getting this past Cap. Plus Rhodey immediately disagrees with the decision to let Loki stay at all, so there’s not a lot of space for him to talk. Rhodey argues with Cap for an unprecidented amount of time before falling into a sullen silence.
“All the time?” Rhodey finally asks.
“All the time.”
There is an angry breath over the line.
“When I’m state-side I want in this rotation.”
Another pause. It’s like they’ve both forgotten he’s here.
“We’ll take care of him, Colonel.”
“You’d better. JARVIS? Same deal as before. Call me.” The line goes dead.
Tony watches Cap grumble into his hands. “I’m not five, you know…” He looks at the grain of the table and thinks for a minute. “Not Clint.”
“Of course not Clint, I’m not stupid Tony.”
“Not Natasha either.”
“Agent Romanoff is a professional.”
“Tony, this is not up for debate.” In that moment Bruce walks into the room and Steve gestures widely to him- an aggressive, wild motion that causes the other scientist to stop mid-step and look at them both warily. “Explain.”
Tony rolls his eyes.
“Hey, Bruce. I have something I need to confess.”
“That you’re trying to bring back the Loki that invaded Earth?”
“I’ve been studying- wait, what?”
“You’re not exactly subtle.”
“Yes, well… everyone knows? Why hasn’t Barton killed me yet?”
Bruce shrugs like it's obvious. “Steve.”
Steve waves. This annoys Tony probably more than it should.
“… right. Back to important things.”
So he explains. It’s muddled and disjointed, but it’s something and for the first time he’s able to articulate that it’s become less about bringing the first Loki back, and more about figuring out how to break the bond to Thor without hurting him. Either of them (he's not sure what the bond feels like for Thor). “Other than that, I’m not sure what I want to do anymore.”
They end up sitting around the breakfast table. Bruce asks him questions and Steve tries to follow the scientific jargon. Clint is in the vents above them, which they all Know, but pretend not to.
“It’s like he’s not running at full cylinder sometimes, I don’t know. Does that make sense?”
Steve thinks for a minute and then nods. “I’ve noticed that too.”
“Can we even break the bond?” Bruce leans forward. “Or shift it? I got the feeling it’s ingrained pretty deeply.”
“I’m rich and eccentric; I can do anything I want.” Steve gives him a look of exasperated annoyance and Bruce hardly reacts at all except for the tiny little tilt of his mouth that Tony has started to watch for. “Come Bruce,” he claps, Bruce rolls his eyes. “We must science!”
“Science isn’t a verb, Tony.”
But he still follows. That’s why Bruce is his favorite.
Sorry about the super long delay. RL happened.
Steve finds Natasha in the gym.
“We need to talk.”
She looks at him calmly, then grabs a towel and sits down on one of the benches.
It wakes up. Wakes? No- that’s… not right. It blinks heavily several times. There are noises nearby, it turns- Tony. Tony is working, the lab, yes, it remembers now. It had drifted, that is all.
A tall woman with honey dark hair rested her hand over his. “I know, dear.”
It shakes its head. It cannot remember what it had just been thinking.
The monitors on his desk show the scanner incident from different angles; Bruce sits hunched in his chair, eyes flickering between them. He periodically taps a screen to replay, reverse, slow down, and magnify the feed. You circles around, pretending to be helpful.
“What do you think happened?”
They had spent the first twenty minutes examining the scanner itself; it is perfectly standard. Whatever happened was not because of a malfunction in the device.
Tony is in the process of brainstorming new suit ideas (he wants to make something remote controlled, take the Mark VII a step further) because after they looked at the scanner Bruce had shooed him out of the way. He’s too close, he knows this, and he needs a break.
“What is it about his eyes…” Bruce squints at the screen. “Like a jolt of pain. He keeps rubbing at them.” Tony walks around behind him, they watch the feed again and he just manages not to wince when he sees himself hit the wall. He wanders back to the other table and picks up his gauntlet.
Has JARVIS notified Pepper yet? He should probably call her.
“Light frequencies maybe. Did he react in any way to the other scans?”
Tony shakes his head. “This is the only one that was centralized on the eyes though.”
“What do we know about his eyes?”
He thinks about the image of bright green gemstones and doesn’t respond.
“Is he asleep?”
Tony looks away from the gauntlet he’s pretending to tinker with; Bruce is leaning on the desk, the monitor he was looking at pushed to the side and his gaze settled on the body in the corner.
“What? No, he doesn’t sleep.” Tony looks over at Loki, still by Dummy only more relaxed than when they had entered an hour before. Like he’s dead to the world, which is strange. He stares at the curled form for a few minutes. “Is he asleep?”
Bruce gives him a bemused smile.
Then Loki blinks and sits up.
He looks around, dazed, until his eyes fall on the inventor and he smiles.
Tony stares at him.
“Hey, kid. How are you feeling?”
“I am well.” It sounds like a statement at the beginning, but drifts slowly up at the end as he looks between the two of them. Like their expressions make him unsure what the answer should be. He gives a belated, “hello, Doctor Banner,” though it sounds confused, and turns back to Tony.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“You were speaking of accumulating data security measures and I thought-” he pauses, frowns a little, eyes glancing to the scanner to Tony to the wall that might still be smeared with the tiniest bit of blood from the back of Tony’s head. “Did we not complete the scan?” Loki stands up and moves to the desk, eager and helpful. Tony opens his mouth to say… something. Ultimately nothing comes out and he watches Loki reach for the device.
Bruce speaks, but Dummy is the one that grabs Loki’s wrist. “We should maybe not do that scan again.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. That’s- probably a good idea.”
“Again?” The slim man looks back and forth between them until Tony gives an affirmative gesture and he settles back down. “I’m sorry- I don’t remember…”
“It’s fine, no worries. Retinal scans are dumb anyway, let’s do other scans instead.”
Butterfingers wipes the wall of with a dirty rag.
Creating Unit has re-entered lab
Alert: Query from Unit Designation You
-Unit Designation Hallr non-responsive. Standby mode?
Sending communication request, query: Status?
Query relayed. No Response.
-Unit Designation Hallr threat to Creating Unit?
Unit Designation Hallr acting outside typical parameters.
-Creating Unit is distressed
Unit Designation Hallr attacked Creating Unit. Unit Designation Hallr is threat to Creating Unit.
Monitoring in progress.
“It’s not just denial, it’s like… a wall came down.”
Bruce rubs his forehead. “This is dangerous, Tony.”
“Fuck, I know… we can’t tell Steve.”
“Breaking the bond.” Bruce lets out a huff of distracted laughter. “How are we going to do this?”
“I don’t know,” Tony taps the table. “Not yet.”
“And what happens when we do?”
“I don’t know.”
“What if the wall breaks?”
Tony buries his face in his hands.
Something about holding their regular movie night feels wrong when Tony is as distracted as he is and Clint can’t sit still for more than a few minutes (when they see him at all). Steve doesn’t think the S.H.I.E.LD. mandated therapy has been helping. He doesn’t know if he should talk to Clint himself or if that would make it worse. And Clint-
God, this thing with Loki.
He told Natasha, but…
Steve isn’t sure if Clint knows yet.
“Mr. Barton was not in the vents when the specifics of the incident were discussed.”
“… did she-”
“Ms. Romanova has not spoken to him as of yet.”
“Okay.” Okay, that’s probably good; Clint should not find out. “Do me a favor and keep the feed up, will you?”
“Of course, Captain Rogers.”
Images flicker to life on the surface of the window. They follow Steve for the rest of the evening, drifting over the panels of glass, always in sight where ever he moves. Quiet images of Tony and Bruce working, the first few minutes of Loki waking that leave Steve ready to bolt back down the stairs, the familiar motion of the bots as they shift around the lab.
He settles down with a book, reading out loud because he doesn’t want the silence, when Tony walks up the stairs and into the room. He abruptly cuts off. Tony stops walking to glance in his direction, eyebrow rising slowly. Then he smirks and continues to the bar.
“Heading back to his own lab. Needed a break.”
“Has returned whence he came,” he takes a drink. “In his room, I think.”
“JARVIS, Steve. JARVIS. No one’s ever alone here.”
That used to unsettle Steve, but in the last few weeks it’s become almost reassuring.
“How is… everything?”
“You are terrible at subterfuge.” Tony doesn’t bother looking at him, which aggravates Steve more than it should at this point. “It’s awesome. I’m nowhere near another breakthrough, but I haven’t been assaulted since that first time.”
“You have very low standards.”
“It’s a thing I do.”
Neither speaks for a few minutes after that. Tony refills his glass and walks back around the room, pausing to look at the image projected on the window that has since changed to show Loki curled up on his couch, gazing out into nothing.
“Have you talked to Pepper yet?”
“No.” He sinks down next to Steve on the couch, enough space in between them to stretch without getting in each other’s way.
He gestures at the feed. “Strange movie choice.”
“Nothing else interesting was on.”
“Nothing? Really? I own All The Movies.”
Steve chuckles and swats at Tony with his book.
When his tumbler is empty Tony deposits it on the coffee table and rearranges himself on the couch. “You were reading when I came in.”
“How observant of you.”
“Snark has no effect on me. Start again.” Steve looks up from the page he was on. “Again.”
Steve flips back to where he had stopped and picks back up, reading out loud.
Tony calls Pepper just as she should be leaving her last meeting of the day. “I love you,” he tells her. “Please let me explain before you start yelling.”
She does, just barely.
Chapter 23: Interlude 6
She gets into the habit of taking walks to a small grocery nearby.
It started by accident; she had entered on a whim thinking he liked these, and trailed to the snack aisle, stopping and staring at the racks. An hour later, time lost that she does not remember, she leaves. Her eyes are not wet, but when she passes the old foreign woman behind the counter reaches out to pat her hand.
She cried once, hidden away in the bowels of the carrier, but afterwards he was still dead. She stood up and wiped her face, tucked the emotion away, and then did what needed to be done.
One day she comes back to the tower with a package of small chocolate covered donuts. She eats one and leaves the rest on the table, still in the wrapper. They’re there at dinner when Clint walks in.
He walks back out.
Just like most things that bother her recently (“Unmaking a person and putting them back together to make them useful, how is this different from Natasha?”) it begins with Stark.
Natasha is unsure how she feels about Loki.
In the grand scheme of things, since his realignment he has done very little of note. His time is spent observing, learning. She shadows him, committing everything that he is to memory. If he were to go off-grid then she needs to know what he has to work with. JARVIS allows her free reign of the tower without being asked.
She has considered Clint’s paranoia, been hyper vigilant in a way that ensured no one else realized she cared at all. She has considered that Loki’s behavior might be an act made to lull them into complacency.
She has watched and she cannot believe as Clint does.
Stark takes his hand and helps Loki relearn himself. Little by little gathering up the broken pieces that have not been lost and making something of them that might be worthwhile.
She will continue to watch. She does not trust him.
But then, she does not trust herself either.
The end is in sight.
She comes here every night that Loki is not in the labs.
It is fairly certain that she knows it is aware of her; she does not approach it though, only stays in the shadows and watches.
She is the one that it knows is in the tower but rarely sees. It has a vague memory of when it was created, a smear of color out of the corner of its eye, except it was so tuned into Sire that the others in the room barely registered.
It walks through the halls and feels her eyes, just as it feels the archer’s. It stands at the doorway when movie nights are held until she looks in its direction and ice trails down its spine.
Though it has memorized the words for them, it thinks it is still learning to identify the emotions within itself.
It thinks it fears her.
Sometimes it feared Sire, but it is not the same kind of fear.
It is in Sire’s sitting room when she walks in. She does not speak, just watches, perhaps waiting for it to move first, but she is unlike the others it interacts with and responding the same way that it might to them does not feel appropriate. It doesn’t know what to do. Finally she seems to come to a decision and sits on the couch, a few feet of space between them. It starts to rise until she says, “sit down.” It does.
“We are going to watch a movie.”
It swallows, nervous. She keeps watching. Then she tilts her head to the side thoughtfully and speaks again.
“Do you want to watch a movie?”
It considers its options and then nods.
“Okay,” she says.
They watch a movie.
“The wall idea has been stuck in my head recently.”
Tony glances up from the holographic display on his table as Bruce sits down next to him.
“I know we were just using it as a way to describe the missing memory, but I get the feeling there’s some substance to it.” Bruce leans back into the couch; Tony kicks his feet up onto the coffee table, his work saving automatically and flickering out with a brief gesture. “If we’re thinking about Loki like a computer- stop giving me that look Tony, I know he’s not one, just hear me out- if we’re thinking about him like a computer then they would either have to delete everything, which I don’t believe they did, or save the information somewhere to be removed. Assuming that type of data is anything like JARVIS’, it would be too big to store somewhere easily.”
“Are you going somewhere with this?”
Bruce accidentally on purpose elbows him in the side mid-gesture.
“But they still had to isolate the files, needed a clean hard drive so to speak. And if you’re not going to bleach the one you have then what’s the other option?” Tony stares at him, drinks some coffee, his computers have enough memory to store Manhattan. And he’s a fucking genius. His files isolate themselves because he tells them to. “How can you not know this? A partition, Tony. Like when you want to have two operating systems on the same computer, there’s a certain amount of space allotted for each system on the same device.”
“Why would I need to know that Bruce, I have one operating system. I made it. It’s awesome.”
“Not the point. Think about it. You said yourself that it’s like he’s running at half capacity.” He leans in. “What if the dwarves did it on purpose?”
“Oh. Hell.” The hand on the back of Loki’s, the goddamn focus in the dwarf’s eyes. Tony had seen it, but hadn’t thought- he had assumed there would be a backup, but the outright defiance of Thor’s orders to his face was just delicious. “Because they didn’t want- Bruce, you are a fucking genius.” He’s on the edge of his seat now, can’t help himself. “The scan bounced off of a damn firewall and triggered a protection sequence, and then Loki- So what do we do now? Hack his hardware? How do we do that it with Loki… Can we stabilize it? Take the partition out? What happens if we take it out… do they mesh together?”
“Removing partitions also generally deletes all the information saved.” Tony gives him a look, because not helpful. “But Loki’s not a computer, so the result could be anything.”
“How do we even know magic has something like that?”
“We don’t I suppose, but I can’t believe that it doesn’t. There’s a logic to it; Loki said it himself, magic is more advanced technology. And even if you don’t believe him, it’s not chaos. There have to be rules.” They sit in silence until Bruce turns to him again. “Do we want to try and remove it?”
At last, Tony nods.
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
“No matter what the results?”
“Not if it erases him… but I think it’s worth a look.”
“Okay, we’ll start process research.” Bruce gives a hesitant smile. “We should probably contact the dwarves tomorrow.”
Tony almost laughs.
The movie pauses.
“Ms. Romanova?” She looks up, JARVIS continues without pause. “I am afraid I require your assistance. Perhaps Mr. Odinson will proceed to the lab in the meantime.”
Loki cocks his head at the moniker. Though he perks up, preparing to move as requested more out of instinct than any conscious thought, Natasha watches his eyes narrow in confusion.
“Is there something wro-”
“Please proceed to the lab now.”
When he hesitates she stands and gives him a light push in the direction of the elevators. The doors shut behind him.
“JARVIS,” she walks toward the closest vent, fingers diligently checking every weapon she has on her person. “What happened?”
An image of atmospheric readings flickers to life in front of her.
Bruce has retired to his floor for the night and Tony is enjoying two fingers of whiskey in the penthouse when a door slams.
“Loki is not in his room.”
Tony blinks; it takes a second to register who Thor is speaking to.
Wait- holy shit. Thor.
“Hey, when did you get-”
The Asgardian cuts him off, storms around the room with his head held high and his shoulders back. Like a prince. Surveying his domain.
A rush of irritation runs through the inventor.
“Where is he. Bring him here. JARVIS,” Thor calls, there is no response. Nervous energy trickles through him when Tony realizes he has no idea where Loki is. “Send for Loki.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You will send for him, or I shall raze this structure to the ground.”
Tony drops his tumbler heavily to the counter.
“Oh really now.”
Thor says nothing, only crosses his arms and stares at him. Keeping eye contact with the Asgardian the entire time, Tony leisurely refills his glass.
“Where is he.”
“How should I know, I’m not your brother’s keeper.” Except he kind of is. Please be in the lab, he thinks while he tosses Thor his reporter smile. Stay in the lab stay in the lab StayInTheLab. “He could be anywhere right now, and I’m afraid JARVIS is going through some maintenance, so he’s a little busy.” Tony gives the wall a loving pat, complicit in JARVIS’s decision to ignore Thor. His babies don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do.
“How was Asgard?”
“I spoke to my mother. I have been made aware of certain things.”
“My brother has always had ways of getting around obstacles. I had been so pleased at the thought of rebuilding our relationship that I did not take into account his penchant for deceit.”
Out of the corner of his eye Tony sees what could be movement by the half flight of stairs down to where he works. Instead of looking (focus on me Thor, just on me) he begins to circle around, motioning lazily with his drink, until Thor’s back faces them. Past the halo of blonde hair Tony can see a bright green eye in the shadows.
“So, what, now you think he’s been lying to us?”
“I think my brother has ways of manipulating situations to his advantage.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“There have been changes since he has begun to stay here, and the dwarves, they have never been loyal to Asgard. Only themselves.” Tony snorts. “I would not put it past them to make false claims to serve their own interests.”
“Where did this come from? Your mom? You were with him before you left. Did he ever give you any reason to suspect that he didn’t worship you?”
“Worship? He didn’t-”
“Yes he did.”
“My brother has never worshiped-”
“Well he’s not your brother anymore, so that’s probably part of the problem.”
Thor grinds his teeth together.
“I cannot lift Mjolnir.”
Tony blinks. Wow, that’s… wow.
“So you think Loki did something.”
“I know he did.”
“Well that’s funny, because I know you’re in fucking denial.” Although really, that explains a whole lot. Probably not good though.
Then it gets worse, because a quiet voice speaks up from behind them.
They both turn to the stairs where Loki has stepped out into the light. He looks at Thor for a moment, smiles an awkward hesitant kind of thing that turns genuine when Tony says his name.
“Loki.” The man in question walks straight up to him. “Wait- no, you need to-”
Thor steps forward, eyes blazing.
Loki does not move out of the way. In fact, he stands perfectly still, head tilted in confusion, even when Tony watches a parody of what happened in the lab occur in front of him. Thor throws Loki, by the neck, against the end of the coffee table. The slim man crashes down on it and tumbles to the floor. He freezes, unsure, and then slowly begins to edge his way past the other end of the couch. When Thor keeps stalking forward Tony tries to stop him, but the taller man won’t budge. “Thor- Thor! Jeez, the hell man?! Just back the fuck up!”
“He has done something to it!”
“He hasn’t done ANYTHING! How would you know anyway, you left! He’s not with you! He’s with ME! ALL the FUCKING time!”
Thor’s attention is suddenly and completely on him.
God damn it.
“Yes, Thor. With me.”
“What have you done.”
“Nothing. I’m trying to understand what happened-”
“That is why he is acting strangely, because you have done something to him!”
“Stop foisting off responsibility on everything that is not you!”
Steve walks in the room and immediately insinuates himself between the two of them, barely taking a second to absorb the scene before acting. “Tony? Thor? What’s going on?” He pushes Thor back, unclear as to what exactly happened, but unwilling to let his team mates fight it out in the living room. Loki watches wide-eyed, half crumpled by the end table.
“Thor’s fucking nuts, that’s what is going on.”
“Did you know about this Steven?”
“I-” Steve stares at Thor for a second. “What?”
“Stark has done something.”
“I haven’t done jack shit.”
“You could have destroyed him!”
“I was trying to help him! It’s more than you’ve done, you pompous arrogant dick!”
“Enough of this!” The roar literally shakes everything in the room; Steve actually jerks backwards. “I will take him back to Asgard with me. They will fix whatever you have broken in him.”
“Excuse me?!” Rogers has a hand on his arm, hisses ‘Tony’, but he hardly registers the voice. “Broken?! He was BROKEN when I got to him!”
“How DARE you!”
Tony gets in the way when Thor starts to move, arm reaching for Loki. He is thrown against the couch, nearly tipping over it, feet scrambling against the floor as he tries to get in front of Loki again-shitshitshitgodfuck- who has clawed his way backwards to the corner of the room. He can see Cap trying to take the Asgardian down, but even without the hammer Thor is ridiculously strong. And he doesn’t have his shield. Cap gets knocked back, breathless, stumbling, tripping over his own feet in an effort to catch himself, and Tony is once again standing toe to toe with the Norse God of thunder.
Without his suit.
He takes a moment to think I am going to die, then launches himself at the other man.
And, in maybe one of the most childish moments of his life, Tony grabs at some of Thor’s hair and yanks. Hard.
He vaguely hears Cap shout to JARVIS about Bruce and his AI respond with something like ‘Natasha’ and ‘safe room’, but Tony can’t see anything except Thor and rage and every moment of fear and sorrow in those green eyes from the last three months. He elbows Thor in the nose, and it’s not quite punching him, but there’s blood and he’s pretty sure that means he can mark it off the list.
Thor whips him to the side and he falls bonelessly into the table. There is a sharp twinge in his back, and he can already feel the bruises that will form on his shoulder and arm, but he forces himself upright. When he meets Thor’s eyes one more time, he fucking swears they’ve gone red.
The room is filled with a blinding light, a roar echoes in his ears and for a few seconds Tony is completely and utterly disoriented. Staggering to the side (again), he would have fallen if not for the table he was still clinging to.
And when his vision clears he sees an old man in gold armor holding a very sharp spear.
Everything goes in slow motion and then snaps back into place with the ringing of the spear against the floor.
“Thor.” Thor’s father- and Tony is 100% sure it is Thor’s father because of A) Thor’s expression, and B) the fact that he reeks of the same angry dad vibe that Howard had, also, armor, so logically…- speaks in a firm voice, subdued in a way that only deep and all-encompassing anger can be. “What have you done.” Redundant. “Why was I not made aware of this immediately.”
For just a moment, Thor looks like a cowed little boy and Steve almost sighs in relief except then Thor sets his shoulders back and his chest up and at the moment even Tony knows not to fuck with the old guy. What is Thor’s problem.
“I have a responsibility to this realm, Father. A danger threatened it and I searched out a solution. There have been trials along the way. That is all.”
“A solution,” Odin bites out.
“You need not concern yourself with-”
“I will concern myself where I find it necessary.”
Thor’s mouth snaps shut, and in the silence Loki finds the courage to speak.
“Please, please I don’t understand, I’ve done something, I don’t- I’m sorry, he’s angry, help me fix it, I can’t- can’t do any- why is he angry?” Loki’s voice cracks, he reaches plaintive shaking fingers in the Allfather’s direction. Somehow knowing he is the one to ask. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, I’m not- I’m not right, you can fix me? I’ve ruined-”
Odin cuts him off as gently as he can given the circumstances.
“He is your brother, Thor. Your brother.” He sighs. “Or was, I suppose. If this is how you honor that title then I will no longer burden him with it. But he is still my son.”
“I-” Thor cuts himself off and gives the apparently universal gesture of frustration and speechlessness (and doesn’t break things, so mild improvement) before pacing to collect his thoughts. Tony makes sure to stand between his path and where Loki is trying to wobble into a standing position. “It will not move, Father. Something has been done to it.”
“Nothing has been done to-”
“You are being GODdamn irrational!”
They turn to stare at Tony, he doesn’t fucking care. He glares at both of them.
Odin raises his hand and summons the hammer with an exhale of its name. Tony and Steve both brace themselves, but instead of crashing through the wall it just… appears. In a little bit of light, but virtually no fanfare. Steve’s eyes narrow in thought and a mutter of really (because, seriously, really? Why is that not a thing Thor ever did. So many walls…).
“Mjolnir,” the Allfather speaks, fire and rage rolling under his skin, dripping off of the words. “Can only be wielded by those who are worthy.”
“Your mother has poisoned you.”
Months ago, when Tony was doing his homework for the Avengers Initiative, he had watched a video clip of security footage from a hospital in New Mexico. Reports of injuries. Worker’s compensation. And he remembers in this moment, even though they used to tease Thor about being like a puppy, what he could do if he turned on them.
Thor strides past him and reaches for Loki.
Initiating contact with Unit Designation Hallr
-Dummy? What are you- please, not now.
Processors overloaded. Unit Designation Hallr’s programming is unstable.
-Oh god, please- I can’t-
Processors overloaded. Unit Designation Hallr must enter sleep mode.
Unit Designation Hallr must enter sleep mode.
Processors reaching maximum capacity.
Unit Designation Hallr must enter sleep mode.
Unit Designation Hallr?
Unit Designation Hallr is unresponsive.
Unit Designation Hallr must enter sleep mode. Program override.
The wall crumbles as Thor, the golden prince, is literally thrown through it.
Loki slumps and Tony moves faster than he ever has before out of the suit, grabbing his shoulders before he can tip back and fall. After a look to Tony, Steve moves to check on Thor, only to freeze when the King of Asgard, breath heavy and tight where he stands between his fallen children, growls at him (fucking growls, Jesus). Tony guides Loki’s unresponsive body back to the wall, it moves like an automaton, and lowers it gently to the ground.
“Dummy has overridden him sir, Mr. Odinson has entered a protected stasis mode.”
“Oh, okay, that’s- wait, Dummy?”
“Apparently he did not fight very hard. Dummy was concerned.”
It’s like logic doesn’t exist today.
Tony checks Loki’s vitals, mostly ignoring the fact that he has no idea what the vitals are supposed to be for a golem, despite all the scans he tried to do. There is no sound, but as he shifts back Tony feels like there is a boulder hanging above him. When he looks up it is not at the Asgardian king that he expected, but the large daunting form of one of the dwarves standing entirely too close for comfort.
“God- Jesus- Why do people keep doing that to me?! You’re worse than Natasha!”
It glares at him. Tony hesitates for only a second and then scoots back. They made him, he tells himself. It's okay, he'll be okay. He keeps telling himself, hoping that eventually he might believe it.
The other dwarf is standing off to the side, keeping a watchful eye on everything. It isn't until Steve catches Tony’s eye-don’t, don’t, please just- and both of them stand down.
“Whatever you did,” Odin turns to the dwarves. “I want it removed.”
Tony jerks forward, tries to shout no, but he can’t even hear himself and he can’t move and he thinks he’s shaking.
“You know it will be more involved than just-”
“We will discuss that later,” Odin looks to Thor, still fallen amid the wall’s remains. Tony is vaguely aware of Natasha coming out of nowhere and securing the fallen Asgardian with the restraints he had originally built for Loki. “I have other matters to deal with at present.”
The dwarf watches Odin (and watches him and watches him) and then nods.
“The first step now,” the dwarf finally nods, “It will need to be finished. I will show you the process.” The one with the dark hair kneels down to Loki’s body and does… something. There is the smallest narrowing of the dwarf’s eyes, almost like an unexpected flicker of irritation. The other, the one still standing, turns to Tony. His voice is made of hard edges.
“Get him off the floor.”
Can’t breathe-can’t- how? So fast, ohgodhe’sdead.
JARVIS echoes through the speakers. “If I may perhaps ask Mr. Ivaldison and his brother to step into the other room?”
The one with the dark hair looks pointedly at Odin, then they step out. Steve, under the genuinely terrifying gaze of the king of the Norse Gods, very carefully gathers Loki in his arms and stands.
“Take him to the lab.”
“There’s a couch. Just do it.”
Odin is still breathing heavily, body held rigid as though he is about to snap- or not, he doesn’t really have a reference, but somewhere in the back of his mind Tony think he hears teeth grinding together, which is probably not normal- his knuckles are white, both on the staff he came with and on Mjolnir’s handle. The hammer hangs down at the king’s side, the weight of it pulling at him like it makes him feel old. Then, as if reading the jumbled broken pieces of his thoughts, the king speaks.
“He is still there; your time together is a part of him.”
Tony chokes a little and focuses on what is left of his wall. “You’ll take him with you?”
“We will be returning to Asgard, but I will not subject him to a world that he hates.” The older man leans heavily on his spear. “We will talk, you and I. When there is time. But for now, perhaps, you will grant me this boon. You will take care of my son.” It is not said as a question, but he hears it anyway.
Tony rubs his palms against his pants and Does Not Think.
“Yeah,” he says, totally not eloquent at all. “Yeah, okay.”
“The throne of Asgard is in your debt.”
When Tony goes down to the lab the bots are all crowded around where Loki is lying unconscious on the couch; there is a green smoothie sitting on the table. Dummy chirps at him.
(Stark men are made of iron)
He leans back against the closed door, sliding to the ground, and buries his head in his hands.
Chapter 27: Epilogue
Just read a LOTR fic that made me freak the fuck out (maybe? I don't even know, I've never repressed the realization that I knew exactly what would happen at the end and let myself experience that moment of clarity alongside a character before. Usually I just know how it ends, period. It's like it broke my brain) and that made me realize I hadn't posted this. I hope any final edits I make don't completely miss their mark because I can't even deal with life right now.
I'll probably remove this note later, but I just had to let it out.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is light. And whirring.
Loki blinks open his eyes and jerks hard back into the cushion he is laying on. Directly above his face is a metal claw that resembles equipment in Asgard’s dungeon (maybe, or not, he’s not- his mind is- it hurts). The claw rotates and makes another noise.
He can’t remember anything that happened since Thor had led him out of the cells to be wiped clean, and then static of unstable sensations and THOR and Stark holding tightly to his shoulders and standing very very close oh gods it didn’t work didn’t they were going to take him apart no but they didn’t he needs to leave nownownowNOW- he almost bolts up, straight into the machine, when a voice stops him.
“Yeah, they said that might happen, reverting to the last restore point must be a bitch. Don’t worry, we’ll fix you right up.” Loki freezes. “Daddy had to deal with Thor- Thor’s not here by the way, chill out- but Odin said he’d come back when you were awake.” A man walks around the edge of a table- Stark. The man of Iron. “Codes or something, I don’t know. It’s like the equivalent of a memory chip upgrade only with magic. No one will explain it to me. Dummy, back up.” It does, the Midgardian continues to move. Loki sits cautiously while he talks. “Still a pain in my ass, you aren’t even conscious and you’re messing with my babies. Dummy has either been following me dejectedly or crouched at your bedside since you got here, You has been sitting in his charging station with his back to me all day, and Butterfingers… okay, Butterfingers is acting completely normal. Maybe there is an increase of the number of items dropped, but he’s sneaky. He’s probably plotting something.”
Words roll over him.
Loki is like a statue, rigid. Unmoving. His fingers clutch tightly to the edge of the seat cushion. He jerks, body slamming violently into the back of the couch when something touches his wrist.
“Dummy. Back. Up. Hey,” Tony (no, Stark. It’s Stark) kneels down slowly, palms up where Loki can see them. “It’s okay, you’re okay. No one’s going to do anything to you. JARVIS- my AI, I don’t know if you remember him- he’s got you covered.” Breath falls out of the Midgardian in a rush; he will not look Loki in the eye, which Loki only knows because he himself cannot move, cannot blink. It is like the dwarves taking him apart all over again. “I know your last memories must be really shitty, and you have no reason to trust me, but I promise-”
Loki starts to hyperventilate.
“Sir,” a voice booms from nowhere. He jumps again, unable to stop the knee-jerk reaction of panic. "Perhaps you should step out of the room.”
“I really must insist.” Stark looks at nothing in particular, brows and jaw drawn tight, as if he is on the verge of speaking. “Doctor Banner is asking for you.”
“Wha- Bruce? Yeah, yeah okay. Bruce.” Stark accepts the excuse for what it is. “I gotta go take care of this.” He turns hesitantly to Loki. “We’ll talk later, yeah? Just… try to breathe.” One of the metal contraptions still buzzing around him gets under foot as Stark starts to back away; he gives them a worried look. “And not hurt them. They like you.”
The mortal stills and watches him carefully, one hand resting on the buzzing machine. There is a tickling at his senses, but he pushes it away without a thought and nods faintly. Just leave. Leaveleaveleaveleaveleave.
He won’t be here long; as soon as Stark is gone he will hide until he is himself again.
The man hesitates, but at the voice’s prompting finally walks out of the room.
Loki sags back into the couch, sucking in a long draw of air, letting it shudder out of him as he releases the breath. The feeling is there again, just brushing against his mind. When he pushes the feathered touch away a second time, the machine that had hovered over him droops.
“Mr. Odinson,” The voice that is everywhere at once addresses him and he starts to tense up again. “I must ask you to stop gathering your magic. You have been overexerted by recent events; any further distress could result in unnecessary complications.” Before Loki can speak, the voice continues. “You are currently in Sir’s lab. I can assure you that Sir was speaking the truth when he told you Thor is not present in the building. I have permission to show you video surveillance of relevant areas if you would like to verify this yourself."
A different machine approaches him in short, slow bursts of movement (hesitant. The one from the charging station?). It pokes at a monitor, maneuvering it close enough that Loki can see, and then fusses nearby while he watches Thor being taken up to the roof and into a helicopter that leaves. The time stamp was less than twenty four hours ago. He flips through bits of footage, camera to camera, carefully inspecting all floors of the tower that the security allows him to view.
The first machine is out of sight now, but there is a grinding whirring sound. Loki does not know what it is doing. The second is circling quietly nearby, leaving Loki with an uneasy feeling in the pit of him. He is still being watched. Hunted.
He stares at the screen, a quiet image of an empty common room that leaves him restless. “Where is Thor now?”
“Mr. Borson mentioned plans to remove him from Midgard. I believe he is now in Asgard.” The grinding noises stop.
"And I was left behind.”
“Mr. Borson expressed concern for your wellbeing should you return to Asgard at this particular moment. It was decided you would stay in the tower for the time being.” Loki laughs brokenly. “Mr. Borson also requested to receive notification upon your waking.”
“What is stopping me from leaving right now.”
The pounding in his head from his first attempt at teleportation is fading. Loki briefly considers gathering a new wave of magic. “You are going to distract me then.” He bounces his heel on the ground, eyes darting around him.
“The workshop is on lock-down. I assure you, it is quite safe.”
“Except from Stark.”
“Sir will be occupied for some time, and if he returns I will simply explain that he is not needed at present and suggest he acquire food and rest. He gets little enough as it is.”
“You will lock him out?”
“Assuming you refrain from touching any of the lab equipment, yes.”
“But… he is your maker?”
“Sir created me.”
“You are not tied to him?”
There is quiet.
“Not, I believe, in the way you are thinking. Sir’s wellbeing is a concern of mine because he is himself, and not because it is written into my coding. I have been given choice in many things; those who stay in the tower have come to respect those choices. If I lock the doors on my own volition, they will not press. He trusts me with his care and has also charged me with yours. I am nothing if not thorough- Dummy, I told you this was unnecessary.”
The first machine is back again and nudges Loki’s arm, claw extending outward with a carefully held glass.
A glass filled with a thick green liquid.
Loki draws away.
The machine- Dummy- chirps and offers it to him again.
“What is it-“ As he is pushing the glass away, the other machine, the one circling around from a distance, is suddenly right beside him, pulling aggressively on his shirt. Dummy startles backwards, green spilling over the rim of the glass.
“Stop this,” JARVIS commands. It doesn’t. “You, go back to your charging station.” There is an awful, angry buzzing noise. “If you do not cease your actions I will override your system and put you on standby.”
It pauses, claw still gripping fabric (there is a tear), then releases and shifts backwards. Its movement is haphazard, knocking into tables and benches as it goes. Loki gets the distinct feeling it is doing this on purpose.
“I apologize, he is pouting.” Loki winces when heavy equipment crashes onto the ground. He watches the machine finally settle into its station, what he assumes is the visual sensor is turned toward the wall.
(with his back turned to me all day)
“Are they always like this?”
“Occasionally. But not with this consistency, no.”
“You would interact with them frequently when you were not yourself, that you have not responded to their concerns is… upsetting.”
“I do not remember them.”
Loki looks at the glass again, now set on the table closest to him, a green trail dripping down the side and onto the floor. Dummy is sitting beside the table quietly, the only movement an adjustment of the visual sensors when he looks over.
The blanket that had been over him is in a crumpled mess on the floor, Loki reaches down to pick it up. He closes his eyes and looks for the thread inside him, flickering. When Father had been mentioned, Loki had hoped- but no.“I am still bound to Thor, I can feel the pull.”
“Only for the moment.”
The feed on the monitor changes.
He spends the rest of the afternoon watching the security footage of Odin raging at Thor. Once he gets to where the Allfather follows Stark down to the lab and sits on a chair by the couch, running wrinkled fingers through Loki’s hair, he curls up in a ball.
Dummy tries to hand him another green smoothie.
When Odin returns it is out of nowhere and silence. You buzzes in panic and nearly trips over its own tread in an attempt to hide behind a table. Dummy follows the Allfather wherever he walks, a strange combination of curious and territorial.
Father stops in front of Loki, beckoning him to stand, once more cupping a hand on the back of his neck before he rests his thumbs over Loki’s closed eyes and hums.
Hallr má una, öllu ná, öllu nenna.
Chips of memory fall through his mind. He sees Thor yelling, Steve trying to feed him, Bruce next to him on the couch, Tony chattering in the lab, green smoothies. When father’s hands fall away, they wrap around him instead of returning to his sides. Loki steps closer and clings.
Stone may thrive,
The lines at the end (more specifically, the untranslated lines) are thought of by some as the oldest poem in Norwegian literature.