Tony glares at the woman. "I thought we all supposed to get a professional dance partner. That's the whole point of the show. Someone who can dance and someone who can't dance have one week to put together dance routines that beat the other teams."
"Ah, yes, but ," the producer shuffles papers on her desk and refuses to meet his eye. He crosses his arms and juts his hip out, a motion he knows she'll be able to see even staring at her desk as she is, and lets his glare intensify. "But, well, you're not precisely a greenhorn, are you, Mr. Stark?"
"I never danced professionally," Tony downplays. "I won a couple of competitions to piss my dad off."
" World Class Competitions?" she asks pointedly, starting to gain her confidence back.
"I really wanted to piss him off," Tony snaps. "Competitions and professional dancing aren't the same thing. This isn't relevant. "
Except it is. And he knows how it is. He just doesn't want to admit it. The look on her face says she knows it too.
"Mr. Stark," she says, hitting her stride. She crosses her hands on the desk in front of mouth, elbows on her desk. " You asked us to help with this PR event but to be perfectly frank, none of our dancers will dance with Loki. They are terrified and I am not inclined to force them. If I'm being honest, a fair number of our dancers refused to dance with the... Rogues too."
"So what's your plan then? Partner all of us up? Because with Loki there's an odd number of us now."
"Oh, no. None of the others are World Class champions," she crows, ignoring his muttered four decades ago . "The rest will be partnered up with professionals as is standard for the show. You will be the professional for your team."
"Oh, goody," he says flatly.
"Here is the list, the schedule, and the forms that need to be signed and returned. Thank you."
Tony recognizes that Thank You . That's a Pepper Thank You . It doesn't actually mean thank you . It means leave now .
Tony knows better than to argue with a Pepper Thank You (even when its coming from someone besides Pepper).
Tony isn't really sure how to break it to the others. They aren't a hundred percent on board with this plan in the first place. They aren't a hundred percent on board with the whole "second chance" plan either.
Tony has noticed a distinct trend when it comes to his plans over the years.
In the end, he decides the easiest way to deal with them is the same way he has been. That is to say... he just doesn't.
Tony pulls out the folder for Loki to deliver himself then leaves the packet of information for the rest on the counter in their section of the compound, tells Friday to have the Rogues get the paperwork signed and returned.
This is supposed to be PR for them too.
Even if they refuse to acknowledge the need for it, more than just Loki is getting a second chance with this little stunt.
Tony should have remembered they never read anything he gives them.
They stop rehearsal when Rogers and Co. start throwing a collective hissy fit.
"Tony," Rogers says with that droopy disappointed in you face.
"This was in the packet, " Tony snaps but he's sick of dealing with them, so he goes to the partner rooms they've been given.
Loki shows up several minutes later. He doesn't say anything when he arrives, just lays down on the couch in a move far too graceful to be anything but planned. He closes his eyes and ignores Tony.
The only sound in the room is the harsh wheeze of Tony's annoyed breathing as he tries to remind himself that he doesn't care about them.
It only takes a few seconds before Loki let's off a low hum and rolls off the couch to his feet. He stands in front of Tony, looking at him thoughtfully before, without asking or prompting, he starts unbuttoning the loose silk shirt Tony had opted to wear to fit in with the salsa theme that would be announced during filming.
Tony puts his hands on Loki's wrists to pause them but doesn't push them away.
"I didnt know we'd reached the stripping each other for casual sex part of friendship, Reindeer Games," he says.
"Don't be ridiculous," Loki scoffs. "You're breathing is annoying me."
And that... hurts more than Tony expected it to. It's the sort of thing Loki says all the time but usually to other people. Tony had thought they were friendly at least, if not actually friends yet.
"And I suppose you'd prefer I stopped breathing, if it annoys you so much?"
Loki clicks his tongue and undoes the final button. Green flits over his fingers as his brushes them lightly over Tony's scarred chest. A frown creases his brow.
"I meant you are not breathing properly. How long have your lungs been like this?" he asks in disbelief, finally dragging his eyes up to meet Tony's.
"I dunno, years?" Tony shrugs off.
Loki squints and his lips purse in a way that says more clearly than words that he is perfectly aware that Tony knows exactly when the lungs problems started. Tony has no need to get into that right now, though, but he's perfectly capable of holding eye contact anyway.
Then Tony gasps as a sharp not quite pain tingling starts in his chest. His hands tighten on Loki's wrists, tight enough he can feel the bones shift under his fingers.
"What-?" he asks but his lungs spasm and all air is forced from them, cutting him off. Loki's face is frozen in a cold, distant expression and Tony doesn't have the strength to push him away even when he's not gasping like a fish out of its comfy bow of water.
Then it's gone along with Loki's hand and Tony gasps in a breath.
Then he keeps going.
And he keeps going.
And he lets out a slightly hysterical laugh because he just took a deep breath.
"Well," Loki says dismissively but Tony sees the way he's watching him breathe and breathe and breathe. "I can hardly have you passing out on the dance floor, can I?"
"I regularly fight hours-long battles in a metal suit, I can manage to breathe through one measly dance a week," Tony tries to scoff but he's a little lightheaded from all the actual air entering his lungs so he decides he can be excused when it doesn't quite come out that way.
"You did say this was a competition ," Loki says. "If we intend to crush them -- and I do, Stark, intend to crush them -- then we will need to rid ourselves of weakness like not breathing."
Yeah, Tony's not gonna argue with that.
A knock on the door keeps him from doing so even if he wanted to and a young man with a headset sticks his head in.
"We've talked them down... uh, for the most part. Anyway, were ready for the two of you now."
Tony starts doing the buttons of his shirt up again and makes his way to the door.
"Remember," Tony says, turning to walk backwards with his shirt half done up. "The real purpose is to make the public like you."
"Oh, no, Stark," Loki says with a cutting grin. "The purpose is always to win. It just so happens that in this case, winning coincides with making more people like me than... them. "
"Right. Ok. Sure." He goes through the door then pauses and looks back. "No stabbing though, right?"
"I make no promises."