Tony glanced up at the dark-haired woman, watching her from the corner of his eye as he poured their drinks. He was trying to figure her out, but nothing was making sense to him.
“They say that you have this gift of ‘discernment of spirits,” he was inquiring. “What is that exactly?”
“Well,” she began, “really, it’s the ability to sense what cannot be seen. I can tell when something people call ‘unnatural’ is at work.”
“Uhuh,” Tony said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he took a seat on the sofa opposite Lucinda. “Is this – a family trait?” he asked haltingly.
She smiled wistfully and said, “I have it from my father.” The way she said it caused Tony to refrain from digging deeper into that topic.
For a moment they simply sat gazing at one another.
Tilting her head to the other side, Lucinda then asked, “Whom do you get your powers from?”
“My father,” he stated flatly.
“Did he teach it to you then?”
“No. I did not really know my father growing up,” Tony replied. Internally, he wondered how the topic of his father always seemed to surface in any serious conversation he entered!
“Neither did I,” Lucinda said with a touch of sadness in her voice. But her eyes watched Tony’s reaction carefully. He was aware of her scrutiny, and it made him vaguely uneasy.
He sipped his drink and the picture on the wall seemed to hold a new fascination for him.
“It makes me feel like I am missing something, and I question my own self at times. Do you ever just feel like a fraud and that none of it is really you?”
Tony did not respond but simply gazed at her face, full of a strange intensity. Her words were truer that perhaps she realized.
“Sometimes,” Lucinda began, “I get tired of the illusion – the façade – that must be kept before others. If they knew me, if they saw who I really am, many would be frightened, I think.” She looked pained as she stared down at her glass.
A wave of attraction passed over Tony as he looked at her. He supposed her to be speaking metaphorically about her peculiar personality and talents. Her slim, yet strong frame, her long, dark curls, the bold structure of her face, like marble, and her nimble fingers grasping her glass… Tony was lost in admiration.
Looking up suddenly and directly, Lucinda stated, “I need a mask – armor – to shield me.”
They gazed at one another for a moment. Then Tony said, “Right. Let’s get to work.”
Rising, he led the way to his research lab.
As he and Jarvis arranged their work station, Lucinda paced slowly around the room, gazing at all the equipment and strange instruments in fascination.
“Ok!” Tony said propping himself on a stool and crossing his arms, “What are the requirements for this armor you need?”
Lucinda began to explain that she wanted something that was bullet-proof, pierce-proof, flexible – especially around the stomach, and other minor features, such as options for weapons and communications. As she spoke, Jarvis was making a list and generating a quick sketch. As she saw it coming together in the hologram, Lucinda stepped forward, touched the hologram, and began to make modifications.
“Miss,” Jarvis interjected at one point, “I am struggling to get accurate measurements for your particular bodily dimensions.”
“I can help,” Tony replied quickly, stepping up with a hand-held scanning device. “What isn’t coming through?”
“Her torso, Sir,” Jarvis replied, highlighting the area in the hologram in red.
Tony glanced at Lucinda, who lifted her arms for him to begin his scan. He was relieved that she did not appear to perceive his thoughts. As he stepped next to her, he could feel his heartbeat increasing. She smelled so good! FOCUS, he told himself.
He was frowning intently, as though the scanning was proving to be difficult, so Lucinda offered, “Shall I remove my shirt?”
“No, no,” he said distractedly, “but your belt will need to be removed.”
Lucinda unhooked her belt and tossed it aside gracefully, and then began to slowly unbutton her shirt, saying softly, “ – all the same, it might be better…” Something about the way she said it, or the way she looked at him from the corner of her dark eyelashes, caught Tony’s attention. She held his gaze, and the arch of her eyebrow told him her attitude. He knew he should not give in, but he was transfixed, gazing into her beautiful dark eyes as she slowly began to reveal herself. When her shirt was open, she turned to face him, but he was motionless. So she took his hand with the scanner and placed it over her breast and began to move it. A mischievous grin was playing at her lips and her eyes, which still held his, were full of dangerous fire.
It was too much for Tony. When her grin expanded into a wicked smile, he drew her close, and they locked in a passionate kiss … And Loki held out a little circular electronic device in one hand and clicked a button on the top.
But in that one brief moment, something strange and unexpected passed through Loki. As though stepping outside himself and viewing the moment as a bystander, he pondered. Some of the act became reality and some of reality became the act. In that second, something passed between himself and Tony, something indescribable, like looking at a mirror for the first time. And he felt true empathy for this other creature who was so similar to himself. It was the heart of Loki – not Lucinda – that reached out to Tony through the mask. And for a split-second, Loki’s illusion dropped.
But Tony’s eyes were closed, and Jarvis, who had learned to take a pause when his designer was thus engaged, was on stand-by mode. When Tony broke the embrace hastily and awkwardly, it was still this dark, Amazonian woman before him that had him reeling. He haltingly excused himself from further intimacy with her with references to Miss Potts.
“I understand,” Lucinda replied graciously.
And as Tony attempted to recover his composure, Lucinda quietly slipped the device back into her pocket with a slight twinge of a smile.
“About your armor,” Tony said, returning to the topic at hand.
“Yes,” Lucinda replied, “I need it to be able to withstand both extreme temperatures – from the inside.” And with that, they returned to business, and not another word was ever said about the incident.