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{glimpse}

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Loki had miscalculated. Loki hated miscalculating.

It was one thing to seek chaos deliberately, to set something in motion just for the thrill of seeing what would happen. Miscalculation, getting something wrong - that was tainted with painful history.

How, how could Midgardians be so ludicrously fragile? Loki paced, rubbing at one palm in agitation.

It wasn't a large setback... an inconvenience, at most. Only a fool would have planned to rely on the skills of one short-lived crafts-mage. But it was galling. Even worse: the treacherous pang of regret.

Sentiment led to nothing but disappointment and betrayal. Loki knew this. Apparently not well enough.

It was nothing more than the wretch deserved. For those vile insults about Jotunheim, for taking the side of those who maligned the Golden Realm...

Except that the Warsmith had argued that all Midgardians fell under his purview; that he had obligations to the whole of the planet. It was a ludicrous statement that clearly overstepped any authority Tony Stark might claim... yet it had tasted undeniably of truth.

If the Warsmith's role could be construed as extending to that throng, then it could be argued that he wasn't taking their side. He wasn't supporting their attack on Loki, on Asgard... merely carrying out his duty.

Loki knew better than most how well the Stark-King fulfilled his responsibilities. After all, Tony had dueled the Odinson for custody of a battle captive - and not been slain. Not only lived, but carried through and avenged Loki, albeit unintentionally and unknowing.

That one piece of rare good fortune had become... something much stranger, with these recent overtures of partnership. Surely it was only tactical, to consider making some small overture in return, to retain that unexpected potential?

Sentiment, or strategy?

Pah. They were not partners, however much Glowheart might like to throw that word around. Tony was a partner to Thor; the Midgardian equivalent, at least. It was close enough. Whatever inclinations towards partnership Tony might claim, there was no doubt that should the slightest trouble rear its head, it would not be Loki whom Tony rushed to aid.

The Warsmith was a diversion that would live a handful of years, at best. The sensible thing to do would be to accept the natural ending that this episode had wrought, and find some other pastime. It would be a relief, quite frankly, not to have to endure any more of that wrongheaded bilge about frost giants, or that disapproving moral hypocrisy, or, or inexplicable offense taken at a genuine compliment.

For the comments about Jotunheim alone, Loki should already have killed him. It was easy enough to recall the mingled fear and fury of that cursed morn, worsened by the confusion of the not-quite-partnership between them and its unclear boundaries. Yes, Iron Man should be grateful simply to be alive.

Even if it was refreshing to hear the occasional criticism of Asgard. To speak with someone who agreed that Loki's hurt was caused by more than simply being so wrong. A much-needed relief, such agreement, when Loki's mind was full of doubt, and no taste of truth or lie would make itself known.

There were others in the Nine Realms with cause to speak ill of Asgard... but they were unlikely to do so on behalf of the Liesmith, Maker of Mischief, Prince of No Realm.

If Loki made peace now, what kind of message did that send? That it was fine for Tony to support those arrogant creatures in their attacks? That was intolerable. No more betrayals, no more of cowards who would feign the guise of partnership then strike.

Tony had asked whether slaying them had made Loki feel better, and it had... temporarily. That feeling had lasted about as long as the quickened heart that came from battle. But so did everything else. The lightness that sometimes came from spending time with the Warsmith - hearing someone else criticize the Allfather - was always a fragile, fleeting thing. There was no way to change that Loki was a monster at heart, with a monster's moods.

If only there were. If only it could stop. If only Loki could go back to being as fooled by the lie as those around him were.

More than once, Tony had spoken as if that were possible, as if there were something within Loki that might be mended. True for a Midgardian, perhaps. Not so for Loki. No, there were only whatever brief scraps of calm could be carved out by force.

Still. With the pulse of battle since faded, the petty disrespect of a handful of mortals seemed much less significant. Loki grimaced and said experimentally, They were a threat.

It tasted a lot less true, now.

The Iron Man had spoken of a duty of care to Midgardians, and meant it. But who would take account of that? Loki had sworn never to tolerate such treason again. If it had been the more immediate fiefdom of Stark Industries, that would be one thing...

...That was a thought. Although, it still came down to the same question: strategy or sentiment?

Perhaps a little more information, first? Simply to be aware of all the options.

Loki drew out the Rune-bearer, Hegðings-gjǫf, and ran a thumb over its screen. It was still unimaginable how Midgard had forgotten its old knowledge, how ignorant the Warsmith was of his own power.

Using the enchanted tool, it was a simple thing to reach out and contact Tony's intelligent machine. Do not report this, Loki instructed. Tell me how to find a connection between Stark Industries and the Midgardians I recently slew.

--

In retrospect, Loki could see that seeking an audience via Hegðings-gjǫf was not the proper way to go about things. It had connotations of informality ill-suited to a formal diplomatic offer. After several days, when no reply was forthcoming, it became apparent that Tony did not consider the small message adequate.

Without such luxuries as a personal guard, some options were limited - but Loki could at least appear in person at the palace, the administration hub, of Stark Industries. The guards who determined access, who on Asgard would stand at the mighty throne room door with shield and spear, here sat behind a desk and wielded headsets and computer machines.

This was a mistake. This was a foolish act spurred by weakness and sentiment, and would lead to nothing but regret. Loki swallowed, tasting sourness, and approached one of the seated guards.

{Greeting:semi-formal}, she said, an utterly neutral taste to the words. What is your purpose/how can I help achieve it?

The runes on her badge made He'ða, and gave the impression of a Midgardian plant that also served as a female-associated name. Loki made sure to smile and give polite intonations. {Greeting:low-formal}, Heather. I desire-and-request an audience with your liege.

Please tell me the topic of the meeting, Heather requested, fingers poised over her keyboard.

Diplomatic negotiation concerning an offer of reparations.

Heather nodded {acknowledgement} and typed that into her machine. {Title:adult-female} Potts' schedule is very full, but I offer/can have someone come to speak with you, she said verbally. It was tinged with muffled, partial truth: a screener, then; someone who would sort the petitioners and identify threats.

Ah. I've caused a misunderstanding, Loki said without apologizing, and leaned a little closer to the guard's desk in order to subtly trace some sigils on it out of her line of sight. I meant your other liege, the overlord who holds ownership.

To the best of Loki's understanding, Virginia Pepper was Tony's vassal. She administered and ruled over the fiefdom but ultimate authority remained vested in the Son of Howard, as it should.

Heather paused. {Title:adult-male} Stark usually only accepts requests for appointments through his publicist, she said, but it wasn't an outright dismissal.

Loki smiled and doubled down on the sigils, nudging Heather's perception so that she would believe this case to be of import. Just a hint of urgency. Surely it will do no harm to make a request.

Slowly Heather pressed a command to the machine in front of her, telling it to connect her to a machine far above their heads. She touched the small earpiece and microphone she wore and said, {Greeting:informal, apology:informal}. I have someone here requesting an appointment with {title:adult-male} Stark. Do you know how I would/should arrange this?

Loki could not hear the other part of the conversation, although much could be deduced from what Heather said. The formalities had been observed; there was little to do now but wait, and see what answer the palace guards might offer.

I know, but it seems important... The guard Heather glanced up. What is your name; {title:adult-male}...?

No, that would not do, not on a formal matter. Although, the question of which title was appropriate was... complex. Loki grimaced and settled on correcting her with the title for a realm-king's potential heir. It was no less true than any other.

{Title:adult-male} Prince, Heather said, misunderstanding entirely, and that at least was a piece of minor mischief that provided some amusement.

The guard said a few more things into her microphone, presenting Loki's case. Finally she looked back up and said, {Title:adult-male} Stark has an appointment available Friday of next week, at three p.m.

Loki had no idea whether that timeframe was meant to signify attentiveness, disrespect, or nothing at all. For all that Midgardians were so short-lived, their notions of timeliness were conflicting at best. They tended to count their days in groups of seven; perhaps it was a good sign that the appointment was in the next group to come?

Best to behave as though there was no doubt. That will be quite acceptable, Loki said with a final smile.

Leaving was a straightforward enough matter. There were cameras, of course, but those were just as susceptible to the bending of light as Midgardian eyes. Once shrouded from sight, Loki drew out Hegðings-gjǫf once more and flicked through its list of contact destinations.

There was a time when such assistance would not have been necessary, a time when Loki had not yet had to hoard every precious scrap of failing magic - but that time was past. Instead of treading the branches of Yggdrasil, the pathways Loki walked were electronic.

It served well enough. Until such time as the drain of magic could be stoppered (and knowing when it had begun, that was no sure thing), a bit of aid did not go amiss.

Loki stepped through the cellphone's pathways to the sparsely-furnished rooms currently serving as 'home'.

--

There were worse places to hide than Midgard; Loki of all sentients knew this well. Midgard at least was vibrant, chaotic in a way that helped ease the perpetual exhaustion that never altogether disappeared.

Admittedly, it wasn't wise to loiter so close to Thor, so often... but wisdom had nothing to do with the pull that drew Loki back to the Odinson, again and again.

Then there was Tony. Son of Howard, Warsmith, Iron Man. Simultaneously a warrior, a scholar and a smith in that strange way of Midgardians where they took as many roles as pleased them. Almost a king in his own way, one that had defeated armies.

Iron Man, who occasionally seemed to see Loki, and not a lie.

When the time came to meet with the Son of Howard, majority shareholder, guards directed Loki to a floor that appeared to be undergoing remodeling, walls and panels stripped bare. That much made sense; Iron Man would of course be reluctant to risk his citizens.

Loki entered the first room on the left, as instructed. There sat the Warsmith, behind a desk that would be sturdy were it of dwarven make; presumably the Midgardian version was much flimsier.

Tony slowly rose, looking less unwell than the last time they had spoken. The sling and the strange contraption were gone from his arm; there was more color to his skin. Though, something seemed... ah, the wristwatch: it tasted untrue somehow. Not an illusion... perhaps something crafted?

Loki suppressed a glimmer of warmth at the reminder of Tony's cunning and resourcefulness. If the Norns had woven differently... it might have been nice to count this man as a partner. It would certainly be no hardship to share skin. A pity Midgardians did not usually demonstrate their allegiances in a normal fashion.

Brazen maneuver, Iron Man said. The words had connotations of... gonads? Male gonads, inexplicably.

Loki stood still and adopted a formal posture. They could bypass introductions, probably skip straight to declarations of infraction. It has come to my attention that my {combat:personal,reactive} may have had unintended repercussions.

Tony's eyes widened a little, but otherwise he kept his expression admirably well. {prompt to continue}

I presume you know that one of the fallen was {partner by blood-relation} to one of your {citizens-of-corporation}, Loki said, gesturing at the floors of palace above them in case that concept needed extra clarity.

The Warsmith said nothing, merely waited. Loki felt a stab of anxiety that was easily deflected into anger. A formal discussion required two parties. Why even agree to meet, and then just stand there? Did he intend to reject Loki outright? Ridicule Loki as others had before? Was he planning an ambush even now, along with those Midgardians who had called so publically for others of their kind to rally against Loki, {danger}--

Stop. Loki caught the thought-spiral before it could truly start. Not here, not now. All that was needed was to deliver the message, see if the Warsmith would respond, then escape somewhere safe and colorful.

I realize that this regrettable incident could be construed as {combat:general,inciting} against your {kingdom}. {Incitement} against you was not my intention.

The Warsmith seemed particularly unimpressed. Regrettable incident. That's the choice of concept you're using.

Loki contemplated just slaying him and leaving. Surely this Midgardian did not expect Loki Skytreader to bow and scrape? Was formality not enough? Setting them on equal terms, granting the Warsmith negotiating rights?

Misfortune that I did not know of the partnership at the time, but {assurance/emphasis} if I had then I would not have so insulted your hospitality. Taste of untruth and uncertain truth, mingled. It was impossible to be sure. However, I am prepared to make a formal offer of reparations.

Tony's eyes widened again, more noticeably. He entered into negotiation, making no requests but instead indicating Loki should cut direct to the offer. Maybe this would be straightforward after all.

Loki was deliberately vague, electing to leave out the details of how any restoration would be accomplished. Tony claimed to have little care for the weavings of the Norns but... old habits died hard. A little discretion did not go amiss.

Perhaps because of the vagueness, Tony seemed to feel the need to confirm specifics. My shoulder? The nerve? And the {more-of-same}?

The referent for the last question was unclear. Loki queried it, looking Tony over at the same time. Was there other damage, hidden under that flimsy Midgardian garb? How fragile was it possible for one species to be?

The other {sentient beings} who were injured, the Warsmith said. Some survived...

Them! Loki suppressed a snarl of incredulous outrage. It took considerable willpower not to trade thin Midgardian cloth for sturdy, familiar, Asgardian battle garb. Deny that you would have me cast some form of mass healing!

Why would you not? You're the one who caused the injuries.

That was why not! Was Loki supposed to recant it all, say they were right in their insults, bow to their aggression? (Thor would not, Thor would start a war over less and still be loved, but always Loki was expected to endure what Thor never would.)

Midgardians had no understanding of the pre-eminence of roles, the sin of tangling the threads with which the Norns wove; Loki remembered that well. But surely Iron Man understood the concept of provocation!

My offer was to {only} you. I sought no quarrel with you.

You said you were willing to make reparations.

Loki moved forward, driven by a jolt of battle-anger. To make reparations, not commit full {perversion of Norn's thread/sacrilege-crime-sin}. Your arrogance defies belief. How dare you demand more of me.

The Warsmith was tense, braced for battle, but his voice was pleading. Loki. Someone is still in the intensive care {section}, in the {dedicated-facility:complex-healing}.

Someone who had given provocation, someone who had sneered and declared Loki lesser, who had called for aggression against Asgard.

Someone who insisted Loki was not the stuff with which the Norns wove, with truth laced all through the accusation, until Loki's own skin reeked of falseness, entrapped by thought-spiral.

That was who Tony wanted healed, whose side Tony took-- no, Iron Man claimed to have obligation, but it was a slap in the face nonetheless. Which should not come as a surprise; Loki had known this was a mistake, sentiment.

Very well. Let them see how far Iron Man's sense of obligation extended. Loki gave an unfriendly smile, {threat}, and focused on Tony's expressive face. Of course, I could be persuaded to {use a substitute}. One act of restoration, your choice where I direct it. What do you say, Glowheart?

Tony looked satisfyingly upset, moral condescension all withered away to distress. {repetition} You cannot expect me to make that choice.

Go on. Show me how far your {obligations:role-or-partnership} for those petty little creatures goes. Will you have your hand, or must I take myself elsewhere?

It wasn't enough, it wasn't anything like the hurt Loki wanted to inflict (why shouldn't everyone else suffer), but it rather proved the point--

Until the Glowheart, unbelievably, insisted, Then render your aid to the guy in {complex healing facility}.

No. Surely not. It was a, a bluff, or a trick, or... no doubt Tony thought Loki was attempting some deception or scheme, as so many others assumed. Do you mistake this for a trick? These terms are very real, Tony Stark. It's the use of your hand, or-- some {sentient being/not thread of the Norns}, someone who is no partner to you.

Iron Man jerked his chin up, a telling sheen across his eyes. I told you to go to the {curse/emphasis} {complex healing facility}.

It was a simple, clear command from a man who had already demonstrated a king's protection over Loki - more than once. The treacherous instinct to simply obey was both humiliating and infuriating. Tony was Midgardian, nothing more. (And Loki a Jotun, so what difference--?)

No. Jotun or no, Loki was given the domain of Lies. Loki was a part of the tapestry woven by the Norns. Not a pleasant part, perhaps; monster and lie, a stolen weapon. Nonetheless-- Loki was thread of the Norns. Must be.

Any protection the Iron Man might have shown was accidental and couldn't be relied upon; this cruel demand proved that. It was beyond idiotic to think otherwise. No one would save Loki but Loki.

Do not order me as though I were your peace hostage, Loki snarled, and ignored what lies the taste of the words revealed. You stood before me and practically begged me to end your life! I'm offering you what you want.

Not like that! Tony insisted. Truth poured off him in bright, roiling waves. I don't want it if someone else has to sacrifice--

Loki managed not to flinch. 'Someone', someone Midgardian, someone real. Tony would have been happy to take it if Loki was the only one it cost. Was this not further proof that the Warsmith would never be a partner? As always, Loki's sacrifices did not count. Loki was of no realm, no father; Loki could not be 'someone' for Loki was a lie.

The Warsmith continued, ranting self-righteously - this isn't reparations - words practically vibrating with heartfelt truth. It didn't matter what Loki did. It didn't matter what Loki offered. It wasn't, wouldn't be, ever enough.

Loki snarled back, pulling together an armor of anger and rage. (Weakling, fool, betrayed by sentiment again--) How dare the Midgardian make such demands, spit upon Loki's offer with such contempt.

Fine, then. Loki stalked out of the room, giving the door a push that was not quite weakened enough - infuriating, fragile Midgardian things! - but the slam that followed was oddly satisfying.

The Warsmith spoke of tantrums and exaggeratedly large overreactions? He had not begun to see what Loki was capable of.

But he would. They all would.

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