Chapter 1: what now of the lightning?
Sometimes Tony sleeps.
Not as often as he should. It's the nightmares—the black edges of his dreams that swallow up everyone he loves, worse since his car crash. Worse since a whistleblower leaked that his cars had a safety flaw that wasn't a part of the design Tony made—
Something crashes downstairs and Tony jerks awake. What the hell? His heartbeat is deafening in the dark. Just as he's wondering if what he heard had been an auditory hallucination, there's another loud clatter and a very human swear.
Adrenalin spikes hard in Tony's blood. His hand flies to his phone, charging dutifully by his bedside. But he freezes as he realizes his night-light is off, and turns his head to peek over at the window. Snow falls thickly, just as the forecast had predicted the night before; a blizzard, knocking out power lines and covering the roads too heavily to drive through.
Tony swallows, weighing his options.
He could lock and barricade his bedroom door—that would keep himself safe, at least until something could be done. He's not worried about the crap downstairs; Tony can replace physical things, even as broke as he may currently be.
But then... the snow outside is horrendous. Who would risk it for a bit of petty theft? They wouldn't even be able to steal much without being able to drive away—or anything heavy, since it would have to be carried through a blinding storm...
Unless someone has broken in with the express purpose of killing him.
Tony smiles humorlessly at that thought. He would certainly deserve it.
He opens a drawer on his bedside table and grabs an emergency flashlight and his gun.
Might as well say hi to his uninvited guest.
Tony creeps out of his bedroom, clad only in his woolen sleeping pants and a sweatshirt. The air is lancing, and Tony takes a brief moment to jam his feet into some house-shoes. If he's going to die, he wants to do it with warm toes, at least.
More rattling from the kitchen. There's a striking sound, then the smell of gas and fire. Are they trying to burn his house down?!
Tony inhales, fighting the urge to fly the rest of the way down the stairs. He doesn't want to give himself away. Carefully, he maneuvers around the creaky part of a step.
It's colder down here—which makes sense, as heat rises, but too cold to be explained by that. There's an active airflow.
Tony tightens his grip on the gun.
As pots and pans bang in the kitchen, it occurs to Tony that whoever it is doesn't care about being heard—they aren't even trying to be quiet. So not a robber, and probably not someone trying to kill him. He braces himself on the edge of the kitchen door.
There's... there's the smell of eggs.
“Okay,” Tony calls out, loud enough for the intruder to hear him. “What the actual fuck?” He swings around into the kitchen, holding his flashlight high and his gun up.
A pair of luminous eyes blink at him. “That's rude,” the owner of said eyes comments, unconcerned. They turn their face back to the stove—on which eggs cook merrily—and Tony can see that it's... a man.
No, he amends as he takes note of a swishing tail and the high, peaked silhouette of feline ears.
The Hybrid pokes at the eggs with a wooden spoon. “Put that down before you hurt someone,” he scoffs.
“Why are you in my kitchen?” Tony demands—but he does lower his gun. Flicking his thumb over the safety switch to ensure it's still engaged, he tucks it into the pocket of his pants. Horrible gun safety, but he doesn't want to just leave it out for the Hybrid to grab if he goes feral.
The hybrid gives him a 'are you stupid?' look that Tony takes personal offense to. “I was cold,” he says slowly.
Tony waits for him to elaborate. When he just turns back to his midnight snack, Tony says, “...and?”
“And I went somewhere not cold.”
“Okay, but this is my house,” Tony says. He rubs the bridge of his nose with his free hand.
The hybrid frowns. “It's in my territory.”
“That's not—” But Tony breaks off. There's not point in arguing with a Hybrid; they're just a stupid, jumbled mess of animal instincts in a human-ish body. A few of the less intelligent breeds can't even pass the mirror test. “Whatever. Eat, then get the hell out.”
“Or you'll do what?” The cat scoffs. He pokes at the eggs a bit, sizzling over the gas flame of the stove. “Where's the salt?”
Good god. Tony rubs the bridge of his nose; a headache builds in his temples and the smell of the eggs makes him nauseous. “The drawer to your left.” The cat hums in what might be gratitude, but he sounds a bit too snobbish. “And if you're not out by morning, I'm calling animal control.”
That gets the Hybrid's attention. His ears go flat against his skull and his tail twitches in short, sharp motions. “No.”
“I'll die,” the feline says, bitter. “Either out there in the snow, or when they catch me and put me down.”
Long minutes pass. Eventually, the Hybrid returns to his food—he kills the flame and eats right out of the pan, grabbing bits of egg between his claws. Tony's mind is running at a mile a minute. Putting a Hybrid down isn't something that happens often; they aren't like feral animals, or animals too abused to find happy lives with humans. In fact, Tony's not sure that he's ever heard of anything like that happening, and yet...
“The second there's a break in the snow,” Tony says calmly, “you're out. Until then, you can stay here as long as you don't break anything or try to murder me. That gives you a few days.”
The feline cocks his head. “Guns, murder, experience sneaking down those stairs... my, but you are afraid someone will come and kill you, aren't you?”
Tony turns abruptly. “I'm going back to bed. You can sleep on the couch. And shut that goddamn window!” He stomps out of the kitchen, anger bubbling hotly in his gut. He should just throw the damn cat back outside.
But Tony doesn't want more blood on his hands.
“My name is Loki!” The Hybrid calls out.
Oh whoopdy-fucking-do. A feline Hybrid named after a god of mischief. That certainly bodes well for Tony's sanity over the next few days.
When Tony wakes up later that morning, he's blessed with a solid three minutes of not remembering his new, uninvited houseguest.
The snow has blanketed the world in a thick carpet of glittering white, and the crystals sparkle in the watery light of the sun like little diamonds. At least the power is back on—his bedside clock flashes 12:00 at him until he checks the time on his phone and adjusts it.
All in all, it's not a bad day for drinking some coffee and perhaps sitting out on his back porch. This kind of snow day would've had kid-Tony sprinting out the door of his family manor and leaping head first in the snow. Did children lack the ability to feel cold? Because Tony distinctly remembers whole days of building snowmen and forts and snowball fights with his mother, sustained only by Jarvis' frequent mugs of steaming hot chocolate.
With marshmallows on top, of course.
For a moment, Tony's gripped with a wish that he lived in the 'burbs. He wants to see kids running around in snowdrifts taller than they are; he wants to hear their screaming and joy.
But, in the end, it's best that Tony has moved out here to the middle of nowhere. Less likely that people will find him. He shudders, remembering the utter hatred in a mother's eyes as she confronted him about her dead son. And the picture of the boy, still just a kid, smiling because he didn't know that in less than a month, his brakes would fail and he would careen off the road—
There's a rustle downstairs, and Tony's struck by an intense feeling of deja vu.
At least he knows there's no need for the gun.
Tony stomps down the staircase, on edge now that he has had a sudden, rude reminder that he's not alone in his own house.
The Hybrid flicks a lazy ear in his direction—Loki seems to have suborned every blanket he could find and built himself a nest in the recliner by the window. He's stretched out fully on it, dozing in the pale morning light.
But he's alert, though, and that ear tracks Tony's movements into the kitchen.
The window, at least, is closed. But Loki didn't bother to clean up the mess he made when he tumbled in through the kitchen window—there's bowls on the floor, plastic, thankfully, as well as a cutting board, and some spilled rice from the knocked over container.
There's no point in asking the stupid Hybrid to tidy up; he would probably get distracted and start licking his elbows or some crap. So Tony crouches—a movement that displeases his knees and causes them to remind him painful that he's getting on the tender side of his mid-40s—and picks up the stuff that's fallen to the ground. The rice, he sweeps into the trash and grumbles at the waste.
He's not exactly made of money, anymore.
Tony fires up the stove and gets to work heating up bacon for a BLT. Not exactly breakfast, but he's slept in so late that it's getting close to brunch time. Loki slinks in to investigate the noise. He got something in his hand—a worn old pocket notebook, the kind that's only a few inches big. Tony has just enough time to tell that it's beyond worn, and the edges of the pages are tattered before it disappears into Loki's back pocket.
“I'm not cooking for you,” Tony says. Best to lay down the law now, before Loki gets any ideas.
But the Hybrid just shrugs. “Not to worry. I'll make myself something to eat, Tony. Or catch something.” He flashes his sharp, gleaming teeth at Tony.
Ugh. Do Hybrids hunt? That would make sense, but Tony can honestly say he's never been around one long enough to know. The only Hybrid Tony can recall being around for any lengthy period of time was another feline Hybrid, Roxy, with her fluffy white tail and golden eyes... though that didn't last long, because once 8-year-old Tony stumbled onto Roxy with her head bobbing in Howard's lap, Maria collected him and half of Howard's money and whisked them away.
“It's disgusting,” Tony remembers hearing Maria hiss as they peeled out of the driveway. “They're mindless, stupid animals.”
“I hope I didn't put you off your bacon, Tony,” Loki says silkily. Tony grunts, going back to minding the bacon sizzling in the pan.
Tony stubbornly refuses to acknowledge Loki's existence for the rest of the time he's cooking. That seems to suit Loki just fine, though—he parks himself at the breakfast nook table and brings out that little notebook, scribbling in it with the world's smallest pencil nub.
Tony hates that there's a part of him that really, really wants to ask Loki what he's writing. If he's even writing at all—where would a Hybrid learn to write?
Instead, Tony clamps his teeth over his tongue and slaps together his sandwich. Refusing to feel uncomfortable in his own damn kitchen, in his own damn house, Tony sets his plate on the breakfast nook table and sets down opposite of Loki, who ignores him.
From here, though, Tony can see that Loki is certainly writing something—the feline's penmanship is impeccable, with swooping cursive lining the pages neatly.
Tony can only make out one line—What now of the lightning?—before Loki catches on and closes the battered cover.
Then he just stares, unblinking, as Tony eats, as though the action of lifting something to his mouth and chewing is the most fascinating thing in the world.
“Can I help you?” Tony snaps.
“No, Tony. I'm perfectly fine, thank you for asking.”
Something... has been nudging at him since he first spoke to Loki this morning. Something important. Something he should've noticed the second it happened.
Slowly, Tony sets down his sandwich. He cusses at himself—why didn't he bring the gun? There's no way he could get upstairs before Loki. “I didn't tell you my name,” Tony says, each word carefully measured and even.
Loki smiles, a painfully slow stretching of lips until every single sharp tooth and fang is on display. “No, Tony. No, you did not. How very rude of you.”
what now of the lightning? is from a poem on tumblr, sourced here. it's short, but intense. it could also be considered vaguely spoilery? idk. you'll be seeing more of it later :)