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Silver Lining

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Things hadn’t gone as planned for Loki. Not that they had ever had, but being sold into slavery by his supposed father had never come into the picture.

Not even in the worst moments of depression, but here he was now, a slave in the palace of Alfheim.

A bed slave.

In the best moments he was treated as a servant, other times… He had acquired many enemies in the Nine Realms, and word of his new status had spread quickly. While other slaves there enjoyed sometimes even full days of calm in the first months of his servitude there had seemed to be a line at his door.

More than enough to break him.

He had just come out from the room of the latest guest of the palace, drying some fresh blood from his lips, when he heard a familiar voice.

A voice he hadn’t heard in years, and that he would’ve liked not to hear again. Not there.

“… We shall discuss the terms later, for now I just want to rest for a… Loki?” Tony Stark stopped abruptly in the middle of his sentence, doing a double-take when he came to face the god.

Loki froze for a second, and after a moment of hesitation he spun on his heels and tried to exit the room as quickly as possible, only to be stopped by a rough hand on his forearm.

“What do you think you are doing?”

A violent slap almost made him lose his balance, and Loki would have probably fallen to the ground hadn’t the elf been gripping his arm with such strength.

“Apologies,” he was forced to mutter, new blood spilling from the freshly made cut on his lip.

“What the hell is going on?” The mortal inquired, taking in Loki’s completion and their surroundings. He would’ have liked to punch the god in the face himself – it seemed an almost gentle payback for being thrown out of a window – but that seemed too much.

“Nothing that deserves your attention nor your time, Mr. Stark,” the elf shoved Loki to the side to make way for the human, “If you desire, a meeting will be arranged.”

Stark nodded, still rather confused by the encounter, and allowed the rest of his group to lead him to the next scheduled meeting; he definitely wanted to discuss a few things with Loki, maybe get even with the maniac, but most of all he wanted to know if his hypothesis about what had happened in New York were true.

“Go to the human’s quarters. You’ve heard the orders, godling,” the elf kicked him in the sheen for good measure before Loki even had the time to move as he had just been instructed.

Loki reached the guest’s chambers and went inside, waiting on his knees as he had been trained to do. For such training to take roots much blood had been spilled, and his wounded pride could only bask in the fact that it hadn’t been only his own.

He didn’t want to be there. Not at all.

He would’ve rather returned to the latest guest, and that was saying much since his body was starting to get covered in always more evident bruises.

He didn’t want to face Stark.

He had been taken by many of his enemies by now, but somehow this was different; for all those men, all he felt was hatred and disgust, he loathed them with all his strengths and somehow he was able to accept that those lesser beings could enjoy their revenge by temporarily subduing him in the most humiliating way possible, but he didn’t feel that for Stark.

During their short encounter he had been intrigued by the man, appreciated his sass and the banter the human could show even when facing extreme danger, and he had had to admit to himself that he had felt kind of relieved when he had found out that the mortal had survived the fall from his own tower. Not that he cared about his life, but he didn’t like to waste potential, and someone who could humour him was indeed a rarity.

But if Stark was to enjoy his revenge in that way, that meant Loki had also been wrong in judging him, and Loki was past being forced to accept things he didn’t like.

And yet, even though he was feeling his stomach churn at the prospect of the mortal entering the room to laugh at his face and humiliate him some more, there was no way he could avoid that. For how much the prospect of the mortal fucking him out of pure revenge made him feel sick he knew that the alternative at obeying at the order of being ready in his room was so much worse he hadn’t even considered it.

He had already learnt that lesson a long time ago, when the idea of rebelling to his horrid fate had still been alive in him. The third time he had been in the hands of his gaolers for two entire days had managed to suffocate that last spark of defiance residing in him.

Even he couldn’t understand why the thought of someone using him as a piece of meat for their pleasure upset him so much, and he didn’t want to let his mind wander to the fact that when he could still decide of his actions he wouldn’t have minded ending up in bed with the mortal, because there was no way he would’ve ventured down that road.

All that time spent by himself was both allowing to get his thoughts in a sort of order and at the same time to dwell on them way too much.

At least three hours must have passed when he heard the door opening.

“Oh, hey, Reindeer Games, what are you doing here? And why are you, of all people, kneeling?” Stark burst out laughing, closing the door behind his back.

“You requested my presence, master,” he answered softly, as he had been instructed to do. For once he was glad of the fact he wasn’t allowed to look the guests of the palace in the eyes unless specifically told to do so. At least Stark couldn’t see him glaring.

“Master? Is this some sort of joke?”

Loki kept glaring at the floor, his hands neatly folded in his lap.

“Hey, Mischief, answer.”

That was a precise order, there was no way to dodge it, but being the Silver Tongue was not something one could simply forget, “No, master, this is not a joke.”

“This is ridiculous. I know it’s hard for you, but don’t lie to me.”

“I can’t lie,” he said through gritted teeth, “Master.”

“Okay, Lolo, I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.”

“Apologies, Master,” Loki said quickly, seeing Stark’s feet moving closer on the floor. He hadn’t already started to banter about how he would’ve made him pay for what he had done through the years, but Stark’s approaching could only mean one thing, and Loki wasn’t ready.

He would’ve liked to get to know that man, he had been one of the few creatures in the last couple of centuries who had stirred his interest, and here he was, kneeling in front of the man as a good obedient slave.

If he didn’t want to make things worse for himself though he had to play along, to swallow what little pride had remained him and brace himself.

“Look at me. What the hell is going on?”

No, no he wasn’t ready. Not when the person in front of him was someone he had almost considered at his level.

“Loki.”

He took his chance and kept staring at the floor; he was sure he would’ve paid for that, but he was in way over his head. He could feel the mental breakdown surfacing, stirred only by the presence of someone he had thought he could have enjoyed.

“For fuck’s sake, at least get up.”

What surprised Loki the most was that Stark’s tone wasn’t angry; according to his past experience he should’ve been bent on the bed right now with someone forcing himself inside him, but that could only mean the night would have been longer.

“Tell me what’s going on,” the man requested once more.

“I’ve been sent because you requested my presence, master.”

“What? No, I wanted to know what the hell are you doing here, why you were bleeding and why Legolas over there survived slapping you, not being catapulted into an odd version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Loki didn’t even realise he had raised his head to try give a meaning to that gibberish.

“Oh, finally. Okay, what the fuck is going on?”

“That is entirely up to you, master.”

“Stop calling me that!”

“That’s the rule, master.”

“Rule. You listen to rules now? And why are you covered in bruises?” Stark came closer, inspecting his bare chest.

“I apologise for my look, master.”

“What? No, it’s not what I… Loki, what the bloody hell is going on right here?”

Stark’s tone was what made Loki eventually snap. He seemed almost concerned, as if he truly cared about the marks on Loki’s skin, and he couldn’t take it. He could take violence, humiliation, all of that shit he had been through for years now, but that false concern no.

There was a line he had to draw somewhere, and mock pity was the point where he had to trace it.

“They mistake you for a genius on Midgard. It’s more than evident what’s going on here, even the dumbest dwarf would see that. And stop pretending of not being aware of it. You requested my presence, that only means one thing here.”

“Okay, that’s more like you. But I’ve no clue. You’ll have to tell me,”

“You even want me to say it out loud?”

“Since I’m no mind reader I guess you’ll have to, Bambi.”

“Did you come here to gloat? From prince to whore, is that what you want to hear?”

“What the…?”

“And stop this little show of not knowing what’s going on, of being surprised of finding me here. You think you’re the first one of my enemies to show up here to get things even now that I’m nothing but a bed slave, deprived of my powers and my very freedom? You pathetic mortal, I’ve lost count of the people who have come here for that purpose.”

Stark was gaping at him. It was clear he was trying to school his face in a more neutral expression, and it was equally clear he was failing at that.

“You…?”

“Yes. A slave, of the lowest sort. Are you happy now? Is your ego satisfied? Or part of my punishment from you is making me tell you what I’m forced to do here? Do you want to listen to the tale of me being turned in something that is even less than a whore?” It was humiliating saying all those things to Stark, and at the same time that rant was the most pleasant thing Loki had felt in what could have easily been years. He was finally snapping at someone as he was used to, as a prince was allowed to do, and even though he would’ve dearly paid for that is was a relief to lash out at someone like Stark.

Until it was not anymore.

The door flung open, and one of the elves who stationed in the corridors to make sure things ran smoothly in the palace barged in, staff ready in hand.

“I thought you had learnt your lesson, godling,” he snarled, hitting Loki in the ribs before he had the time to move away, “Do we have to refresh it? Maybe this time we’ll make it a week.”

The elf tried to hit him again, and despite knowing that would’ve only angered him more Loki couldn’t resist the instinct of crawling away, a hand covering the point where another bruise would’ve soon appeared.

“You little slut,” the guard growled, and he would’ve hit Loki again since now he had nowhere else to retreat to, hadn’t Stark finally came back to himself.

If something was so dangerous to scare Loki into a corner it was definitely wise to get out of the way.

So obviously Tony stepped between them.

“Hey, Thranduil, easy there,” he raised a hand to prevent the staff from descending on Loki once more.

“My apologies for the horrid behaviour of this slave, Mr. Stark. I’ll personally make sure he’ll be punished for the trouble he has caused you,” he lowered the staff and curtly bowed his head.

“What about no?”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Whatever punishment or other bullshit you’re talking about, it won’t happen.”

“You’re saying he wasn’t misbehaving, sir? That the slave was obeying to your orders?”

“Yes,” he answered promptly, thanking years of business meetings that had trained him to lie so quickly.

“The slave wasn’t answering rudely?”

“Do I have to repeat myself?” He recurred to the tone Howard had often used and that he had always avoided like the plague, but he recognised that it could do wonders when one wanted to be obeyed without question.

“I apologise for the interruption, Mr. Stark. I’ll be in the corridor if you need me.”

“I’d prefer not having someone lurking behind my door.”

“Sir, it’s only for…” the guard was forced to stop under Stark’s dark glare, “Of course, sir. I’ll leave.”

Tony waited for the elf to close the door behind his back before turning around, “What the fuck has just happened?”

“Thank you, master,” Loki was kneeling in front of him, eyes not leaving the floor. It was also clear he was trying to hold his back straight in the right position despite the pain the last blow had caused him.

All the defiance was gone, that moment of stupid rebellion was over, and now Loki would have had to face the consequences of his mindless act.

He already felt sick.

“No, Loki, stop. I don’t want to hear any of this.”

Loki paused for a second, then he nodded and simply made for the fly of Tony’s pants.

“Oh, hey, what’s that? That’s not what I meant, not at all,” he stopped the poor creature kneeling in front of him, almost shocked.

“Apologies, master, I thought…”

“No, Loki, enough with this bullshit. Stop calling me master, you’re making me cringe.”

“Apolog-“

“And stop that. I can’t even hear this from you.”

“Then what do you want me to do, m- sir?”

Tony didn’t know if he had to ignore the sniff in Loki’s voice or do something, like gather the poor thing in his arms and tell him everything would’ve been fine; since last time the god had touched him he had feared for his life to end in a very messy way on a pavement he settled for the first option.

“I want you to tell me the truth. No lies, not even if we’re talking about you. Understood?”

The former god nodded.

“Good. Let’s start from the less crazy shit happened, then we’ll get to what’s going on here: New York, what happened?”

Loki seemed to shiver at the thought, so Tony decided to make things easier for him.

“I’ve been thinking about everything, obsessing over it if you are to listen to my friends or to anyone who had to talk to me in the last years, and I truly can’t understand what your strategy was. I mean, it was a shitty strategy. Anyone could’ve done better than focusing all of their force in the place where the people capable of fighting it were. You could’ve been sneaky, done things without us knowing until it wasn’t too late, and instead you have drawn our attention from the very beginning, as if you wanted to make sure we would’ve followed your every move. What’s behind that? It can’t just be egocentricity.”

Even in the state of almost terror Quennar had thrown him into, Loki had to admit he was impressed for the human’s deductions. It made what was about to come more difficult to him, but his confessions would have been easier.

“I planned to lose,” he murmured, “You were the lesser of two evils.”

When he finished explaining what the Mad Titan had done to him to make him compliant, how he had intruded in his mind to manipulate his actions, and how he had managed to regain that little control that had allowed him to come up with that ill made strategy, his throat felt dry. And he felt raw, more exposed than he had in years during which his body had been on display for anyone who wanted to see.

He was on the verge of tears, if he had to be honest with himself.

All of that, only to end up as a pleasure slave.

“I’ve told you not to lie to me.”

“I’m not lying!” He dared to protest, because he had never been more honest in his life and at the moment he couldn’t even think about the consequences of Stark not believing him.

“This can’t be true.”

“I swear. I can’t lie, they’d know,” his voice started to quiver.

“You lie more often than not for what I’ve gathered from your brother, and all this…” Tony waved his hand, but stopped in the middle of the gesture when Loki seemed to break before his eyes.

“Please, master, don’t tell them you think I’m lying. Please, I swear this is the truth. I swear, master! Please, don’t tell them this, I don’t want to end up in the Cell again, please,” Loki found himself begging, really begging the man in front of him because no, he couldn’t end up again in the hands of his gaolers, not when one of them was so pissed at him and had threatened to keep him in the Cell for a week.

“Whoa, Lokes, calm down. What are you talking about?”

“They train you to become like this, and if you don’t seem to have learnt your lesson, if you keep disobeying them, they do it all again and again, and you have to thank them because they’re helping you not to be a useless piece of shit and to be worthy of what is being spent on you,” he almost gagged on the words, “Please,” there was no way he would’ve been able to stop the tears that were falling down his cheeks, but he was surprised when they were blocked by the fabric of the shirt against which his face was being pressed.

Apparently Stark had crouched on the floor with him, and was now holding him close.

“I won’t tell anyone anything. Now take some deep breaths, good, listen to me. Some deep breaths, follow my breathing pattern, it’ll be alright.”

Loki was debating with himself whether he should’ve listened to the man or not; it wasn’t the first time he broke in front of a guest of the palace, and when he didn’t directly receive a kick for his behaviour or was ignored, they came close to him, reminding in a mocking tone what he wasn’t anymore, that the God of Mischief now wasn’t anything but a crying whore.

This time it felt different though.

Stark’s voice wasn’t derisive, his hands were gently stroking his hair and his back not venturing anywhere else, and his breathing had indeed become slower, as if to to truly help him regain control.

“If you need to blow off some steam, that’s fine, but then you should really start to breathe more slowly, or you’ll never put an end to this attack. Trust an expert in the field.”

That was the moment Loki decided that it didn’t matter what would have come next, what Stark would have decided to do with him later, he could pretend that the man truly cared for him in that moment, that he was trying to comfort him because he thought that what he had endured was horrible and that he didn’t deserve it.

If he couldn’t lie to others he could still lie to himself.

He curled up against the other man’s chest, almost collapsing in the arms that were circling him.

“Okay, Lolo, that’s better. I hope you won’t bite me or something, because in that case I think I’m allowed to hit you back, but if you don’t attack first you are perfectly safe here, so it’s up to you. I think it’s an implicit rule of fighting, or maybe a cultural one. Or it’s something like the ‘hunt or be hunted’, I don’t know. Never been one for outdoors, me. I grew up in a building, the wildest place my nanny brought me to was a park. Oh, look, I’m talking about my Nana with you, who would’ve ever guessed something like this would’ve happened. If someone had told me I’d have never believed them.”

Loki was rather confused by that nonsense, but then he realised what Stark was doing when the pressure on his chest eased a bit: the man had managed to distract him from his panic by talking about whatever came to his mind, and Loki couldn’t but feel grateful for it.

He let Stark ramble some more, drawing comfort from the simple kindness in his voice, and in a short time sobs stopped shaking his shoulders.

“… so that’s how a blender works, basically.”

The man’s train of thought was something fascinating indeed.

“Thank you, “ Loki croaked, wiping his cheeks with his thumb, “I shouldn’t have reacted like this, I’m sorry.”

“It’s not exactly something you can control, Rudolf,” Tony patted his shoulder, not sure whether to let go of him or not; maybe Loki needed a little more time. He would have eventually had to ask him what had brought him there, how he had been sold into slavery and if what he had gathered from his behaviour and his words was worse than he already thought, but that was a question for another moment. He was already feeling sick enough witnessing at his former enemy crumbling in front of him.

Because yes, if that was what had happened to Loki – and Stark didn’t question his honesty on the matter, he had seen how scared the god was at the mere thought he believed he was lying – he couldn’t consider him an enemy anymore. Not more than he could blame Barnes.

Loki had acted on the decisions taken by another, it wasn’t really his fault.

It wouldn’t have been so easy for Tony to discharge Loki of his crimes hadn’t he already been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt after his many reasonings on the matter; he was kind of prepared for Loki’s confession.

“Okay, Bambi, what about getting up now? The floor isn’t the most comfortable place in the room. Go, uhm, sit on the bed, or whatever,” he waved his hand in the general direction of the part of the room, and took a moment to collect himself before venturing further with his questions.

When he turned around Loki was bent over the edge of the bed.

Chapter Text

“What the actual fuck are you doing?”

Loki looked at him over his shoulder, “I thought…”

“No. No, I don’t even want to hear that again. Sit on the bed. Like, actually sit.”

Confusion and relief flickered across Loki’s features as he did as he was told, “If you don’t want to have sex with me, why am I here?” He asked a little too boldly for what would have been considered wise. Just asking was risky, doing it so blatantly was like asking for trouble.

“Listen, Lolo, I wanted to talk with you. I wanted to know your side of what happened in New York and if my assumptions were right. And let me be honest, I was rather startled when I saw you, looking like this. Now… god, I don’t even know what to do. But be sure about this: I have very strict rules about consent, and right now you can’t be considered able to give it. You’re gorgeous and I wouldn’t have minded a rut in the sheets with you under different circumstances, but as of now this is a big fat no.”

Loki was so confused he was unable to find the words to voice his disbelief. So many thoughts were crossing his mind that he couldn’t keep track of all of them: Stark not being there to find pleasure in his sufferance, the fact that he would have enjoyed a fling just as he would have, his propensity to believe him, how he had calmed him down… That was too much for him to accept.

He focused on what he was most accustomed with, “So you don’t want to…”

“Hell, no! You’re scared out of you fucking mind, I’d never take advantage of you in this condition. I get you may not have the highest consideration of me since last time I saw you you were sent off to face your destiny, and you ended up here, but I’m not this kind of person. This is the most wicked and disgusting form of rape, I’ll have no part in it.”

Loki stared at him, nails racking at his shoulder. He didn’t know what to do.

“So you can relax. I’m no threat to you,” Tony came to sit by him, but Loki was still worriedly biting at his bottom lip.

“What do you want me to do then?”

“Eventually? Tell me what’s going on here. But not now, not necessarily. Do whatever you want.”

“If you don’t want me to please you,” he looked down at the covers on the bed, “I’d probably should go.”

There was a reluctance in his words that forced Tony to make the next question, “What happens if you go?”

“Someone else will claim me for the night.”

The way in which Loki said ‘claim’ made Tony’s skin crawl, “And that means…”

“Yes.”

“Okay, you stay. I… claim you for the night, even though this term makes me want to throw up.”

“You… really? You could have someone else.”

“Loki, you’re a lot smarter than this. And you know perfectly well why I’m telling you to stay.”

Oh yes, Loki understood what he was saying, he just didn’t understand why he was saying that.

“Just relax, Lolo. You’re safe here,” he let a hand venture to Loki’s shoulder, and the god felt oodly but naturally compelled to lean into the touch, “Listen, I know it isn’t the easiest subject to broach, but from what I’ve gathered… I want to help you, but I need to know what’s going on to be able to do it.”

Loki didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to tell that particular human what had happened to him in the last years, but he had proved so gallant that he couldn’t truly deny him anything. That was how he came to talk about the first days of his existence as a slave, of how many times he had beed dragged to the Cell to get to the point of actually breaking him, of how so many of his enemies had showed up now that he was at his lowest, but he did spare the mortal some of the details. He kept on telling him, almost as if by speaking those words he was able to shake off what those people had done to him: he kept telling Stark what had happened to him, including the latest guest who had required his company before the human had, and when he was done talking he found himself in Stark’s arms.

Loki was rather surprised at that.

A part of Loki had thought that refusal of sex was due to the disgust the man felt toward what he was, but right now Stark had initiated the touch on his own, gathering him in his arms in the moment he had come to the end of his speech. He would have added some more details if specifically required to do so, but that strange hug had startled him.

The man wasn’t able to speak anymore, he was only holding Loki, at the same time trying to imagine and to avoid picturing what he had endured.

“Please, please, stop,” Stark murmured against his hair, already feeling guilty. Not for what he had done, but for what he could have done to him had he only wanted to.

Loki had been punished with a fate that could only be considered inhuman for something he had had no control over; Loki had been used as a puppet by someone who had threatened to kill him and yet he had tried to do his best to go against him, and now he was there, serving as a bed slave.

He had been punished for something he had no control over, his powers had been exploited for something he didn’t want to do.

Just like it had happened to him in Afghanistan.

The only difference was that he had had a chance to explain and he had successively been considered a victim, Loki had been sentenced for crimes that didn’t respect his will and had been once more stripped of it, reduced to an object for the pleasure of people who only meant him harm.

That was the only difference.

He had been granted the benefit of the doubt, Loki had been turned into a slave.

“I apologise for making you…”

“No,” Stark interrupted him, “It’s not you fault, it’s just that this’s so fucking wrong I can’t even find the words to express it. It’s just so… God, I don’t even have the words to describe how fucking wrong is this.”

Loki was speechless in that unexpected embrace.

“Listen, as long as you’re here with me, nothing bad will happen to you. Maybe don’t try to kill me even after this statement, but I think you get the point.”

“You’re not forced to burden yourself with me.”

“Hell yes I am. It’s called humanity, something that on Asgard they clearly don’t know, but trust me, no one would wish what you’ve been through to their worst enemy. And you’re not my worst enemy, in case you were wondering.”

Loki kept staring at the coverlet, absentmindedly rubbing away the blood that had dried on his chin.

“Do you want to take a bath? Of course you want to take a bath. I’d probably want to bathe in lye if I where you,” Tony almost jumped from the bed in the direction of the bathroom, and before Loki could even process his words he heard the noise of water filling the bathtub.

Was Stark really running him a bath?

“Okay, Rudolf, you’ll have to help me with the soap, I’ve no idea of what you like. White musk perhaps? Or gardenia? I’d say white musk, but I could be wrong.”

Loki could only stare.

“Bambi?”

I took him a couple moments more to answer, “I might get not wanting to touch me, but why this?”

It was Stark’s turn to stare, “Stop asking questions and get into the bathtub.”

Loki would have liked to press the issue further, but addressing Stark with such a direct question was risky itself, and he couldn’t disobey such a direct order: he followed the human’s instructions and entered into the bathroom, where the mirror had already been clouded by the steam coming from the bathtub.

Ha was glad of that.

He couldn’t tolerate to see his reflection right now, not knowing that that was the way in which Stark saw him too.

“C’mon, Bambi, the tub is filled to the brim. I’d like to know what they use here in their plumbings, it’s amazing how quickly the water filled it,” Tony’s rambling once again helped Loki, giving him enough distraction to get rid of his filthy rags and to slither into the the bathtub.

He relished in the feeling of the warm water on his skin, not even remembering the last time he had been allowed such a luxury. It was probably before. Not something Loki could think about, not if he didn’t want to lose it; he had learnt his lesson during one of his staying in the Cell: no thinking about his past. Never.

“You need help with your hair?” Stark asked after a while, because he would have gone mad had he been left alone with his thoughts for two seconds more.

Loki looked at him over his shoulder. That man was truly odd, “No. Thank you,” he added as a precaution.

“I wouldn’t mind, really.”

“If you want to…”

“No, hey, that’s not some strange kink. I only wanted to be helpful.”

“Oh,” he didn’t ask more, because he truly didn’t understand that human. He enjoyed the feeling of the water washing over his skin, soothing his aching body in a way he wasn’t used to anymore. All that time spent enjoying pleasures that were more than superfluous, only to be deprived of them when he truly needed them. But no, no thinking about it now. He couldn’t. Not if he wanted to avoid the Cell.

He turned around only slightly to check on the situation, and that was when his mind registered the fact that the door was closed and that Stark was resting his back against it, his head on his knees. Under different circumstances he would have felt trapped, but not with Stark. The atmosphere was almost cosy, protected.

Or it would have been hadn’t Stark’s position looked so wrong.

“Are you alright?”

“What?”

Loki pointed at him with his chin, and the his gaze was enough to prompt an explanation out of the man’s mouth.

“Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly how today was supposed to go. And the schedule included landing on a planet inhabited by elves of whose existence I wasn’t aware of up to four years ago, so a certain degree of weirdness had already been put into account, but not at this level,” he gestured in Loki’s direction.

“I’m sorry if I…”

“No, for the tenth time, it isn’t your fault. It’s the situation, you only happen to be part of it. Don’t mind me now, just relax and enjoy your bath,” he rested his head against his knees again, trying to ignore everything around him. He only turned his attention back to Loki when he heard the noise of water splashing against the sides of the tub.

“Need something?”

“I think I’m done here.”

“As you wish, Bambi.”

When Loki stood up though he started questioning whether him being present was a good idea or not. It wasn’t just because Loki could have perceived him as yet another threat, but also because seeing that beautiful body, lean and taut, all sharp lines and pale skin, covered in bruises and cuts made him want to close his eyes and bang his head against the closest wall.

“You sure you’re alright?” Tony managed to ask after a few moments of anguished silence.

“These?” Loki’s hands swept over some of the dark bruises peppering his skin, “It isn’t even that bad tonight. Sometimes it’s way worse,” he tried to shrug it off, but it was blatantly obvious that he was ashamed of being seen in such a state.

“Worse,” a dry laugh escaped Tony’s lips, “I don’t even know why I keep asking you questions. The more I do, the more I’m inclined to leave this place for good.”

“I didn’t mean to…”

“No, again, not you. It’s all the bullshit that’s happened to you, but you’re not responsible of that.”

They remained in silence for a few truly uncomfortable seconds during which Loki kept standing next to the tub, but he knew that keeping someone waiting would have only led to something bad for him.

“What do you want me to do now?”

“I’ve already said it: stop this, you’re driving me mad with this slavery thing. Not with me, right?”

Loki nodded, but from his biting at his bottom lip Tony understood that there was no way the god would have taken the initiative for doing anything in any case.

“Here, put this on,” he got up and fetched the white bathrobe in pure Earth style: it was odd to find such an item in that place, he thought; a fluffy bathrobe didn’t really match with that interplanetary brothel, house of rape and torture.

“C’mon, put it on,” he enveloped Loki in the soft fabric, but there was no reaction from him, “What’s wrong with this?”

“It’s for you…”

“So?”

“I can’t wear it…”

“Why?”

“I’m not allowed to…”

“Okay, no, I won’t have any of this,” Tony interrupted him, “If this’s contradicting some of the fucked up rules of this fucked up place, we’re so doing it. Here you go,” he tucked the reluctant god in the folds of the robe, and Loki couldn’t help but bury his nose in that unexpected luxury.

Stark didn’t even try to suppress his smile.

“You’ll have to explain me why there’s human stuff in here. Alfheim doesn’t seem the place for wearing bathrobes.”

“From the room that has been assigned to you, I guess you must by highly considered by the Council, so their aim has been to make your chambers as comfortable as possible. They picked chambers with a garden of their own because they think you might appreciate a change from the grey of your habitual abode, but provided them with Midgardian stuff to make you feel more at home.”

“That’s why there’s scotch in the other room.”

“Exactly.”

“Nice of them.”

“Their goal is to please their guests, that’s what slaves are for.”

And here they were again. They had done so well, not mentioning slavery and how nightmarish that place was, but now they were at it again.

“Can we try not to talk about this for like five minutes?”

Loki was about to apologise, but this time he managed to stop in time by biting his bottom lip and he simply nodded.

“Good, now let’s get out of here, it’s suffocating,” he led Loki to the door and got out of the steamy bathroom, being welcomed by the fresh air coming from open windows of the main room, “Apparently someone has left me dinner, eat something if you want. And from how thin you are, you certainly want to.”

“It’s really kind of you, but it’s your dinner, I truly can’t.”

“I won’t manage to swallow even a bite of that, and you look half-starved. Go eat.”

“It’s against…”

“Loki,” Stark’s tone was firm, but it held no trace of menace, and for once Loki didn’t feel threatened in that place.

“If that’s what you wish, m-,” he stopped before stirring Stark’s disapproval and reached the tray that had been deposited on the table on the other side of the room; it was stacked with foods he hadn’t even been allowed to see in the last years, and his stomach rumbled at the sight.

“See? I was right. Eat whatever you want.”

Under different circumstances Loki wouldn’t have risked such a transgression, but Stark had already made him cross the line so many times in the last few hours that he was past caring; he would have been punished, there was no doubting that, so he might as well make the most out of the situation.

And he truly needed a good meal.

He knew that when a slave had really pleased their master sometimes he was allowed to eat something from their table, but it had never happened to Loki, and beside that he had still done nothing for Stark except lashing out at him, getting his title wrong and pathetically begging him, so he really couldn’t say where all of this was coming from.

When he started eating he tried to keep a gracious composure, to stick to the image of himself he had been forced to give during the last years, but when hunger really kicked in after being teased by the first small bites he had to put it aside and give in to how hungry he was. He was considerate enough though to leave something aside in case Stark would have changed his mind.

“Feel free to finish it, I’m really not in the mood of eating anything,” Stark reassured him when he noticed what he was doing.

“Really?”

“Lolo, if I’m to look past the bruises and the cuts, I can basically count your ribs.”

Loki almost blushed at that, and the sensation was so odd he froze with a piece of bread in his hand, mid-way between the plate and his mouth; he thought that nothing would have made him blush now after years spent in that lair of depravity that was the palace, but here he was, with his cheeks going a humiliating shade of pink because a human had negatively commented on his looks.

“I’m sure they’ll fade,” Stark’s comforting hand on his shoulder came as such a surprise Loki didn’t have the heart to tell him that yes, those bruises would have faded, but that they would have certainly been replaced by new ones.

When Loki finished his meal he turned curiously around to see what the evening had in store for him; he had really no clue about the possible sequel of that last few hours since no one had ever treated him with such kindness. It could be anything.

There was also the high chance that Stark would have finally dropped his mask and treated him even worse than what he was already used to; maybe all of that was just a show to make him more pliant, or to earn his trust and then mock him for how gullible he had been for believing to deserve something different from violence and humiliation.

“You’re hyperventilating, Lokes. I don’t know what for, but if you think I’m going to hurt you you may as well stop,” Tony knelt in front of him to be at eye-level, and the confused expression that appeared on Loki’s traits would have been almost cute hadn’t it been spurred by crippling and well justified dread.

“That’s what we’ll do: I’ll go take a bath myself because I truly need one right now, and you’ll make yourself comfortable, sleep if you want to,” he only hinted at the dark circles under Loki’s eyes, “Okay?”

Loki nodded, because there was no way he woul have managed to pull out his voice in that moment.

“Good. Just make yourself comfortable.”

When Stark disappeared into the bathroom Loki didn’t really know what to do. He had received the permission of doing as he more pleased, but he was still reluctant to move from the place he considered safe since he hadn’t been yelled at for occupying it. He had also been told to make himself comfortable, and sitting at a table certainly didn’t meet that definition; the closest thing to an order he had received was to sleep if he wanted to, so after letting his gaze sweep on the room in search of a place to sleep that could be considered comfortable but still wasn’t the bed he gave up and reached that huge piece of furniture.

The mattress was indeed soft and it nicely sank under his weight, but Loki could see no way to enjoy it; he had had too many bad experiences on those beds to be able to relax on top of one of them. And yet Stark had told him he was safe and that he had nothing to fear.

All that confusion was starting to make him feel dizzy. That, and finally having his stomach full after so much time.

His eyes were already starting to close for how warm he was in that strange robe he was wearing, and all he could do was slither on the coverlet till he reached the mountain of pillows that had been stacked on the bed, and he almost collapsed on top of them with a yawn; he hoped Stark would have been pleased he was obeying to his order, for how generic and strangely favourable to him it was.

He was about to drift off to sleep when he heard the noise of the door being opened.

“Mr. Stark, sir, I apologise for the interruption but… What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The elf raised his staff and Loki jumped from the bed as if it had just caught fire.

Chapter Text

“I… I simply was…”

“You were forgetting once again what’s your place and what you are, but be sure of this, you fucking slut, when we’ll be done with you you won’t anymore.”

“No, I swear it’s not…” he was forced to stop in the middle of the sentence by the staff colliding again against his side, but this time the blow was softened by the thick fabric of the bathrobe; it was still enough to send him on the floor.

“It’s not what, mmh? It’s not you trying to earn yourself a few days in the Cell?”

“No, no, please!”

“What the hell is going on?” Stark got out of the bathroom rubbing his hair with a towel, and he stopped in the doorframe, surprised at the sight in front of him, “Hey, no, no. Leave him alone,” the moment he recovered from the shock of finding once again Loki cowering on the floor he made for the elf and removed the staff from his hands.

“Forgive me, sir, but…”

“I’ll hear none of your pathetic excuses. I’ve already told you once to remove yourself from my sight, why are you making me repeat myself?” Stark growled, managing to sound menacing even with his hair pointing in every direction.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Quennar lowered his head.

“Then get the fuck out of here.”

“I only wanted to ask…”

“Now!” He barked, and the guard had no other choice but retrieving his staff and exit as quickly as he could from the guest’s chambers.

“You okay?” Tony asked crossing the short distance between himself and Loki.

“I knew I shouldn’t… I should’ve never done all of this. The robe, the food, I should’ve never…”

“Hey, hey, calm down,” Tony put a hand on his arm, gently squeezing it, “It isn’t your fault if Legolas over there’s an asshole.”

“I overstepped, I’m a slave, I have no right to any of this,” he tugged at the robe, and this time Stark clasped his hands with his own.

“You have every right to be treated as a person. No one in any place can say otherwise. I don’t know how you ended up here, but slavery is always wrong, there’s no excuse for it. And what has been done to you… well, fuck, I can’t find the words to tell you how fucking disgusted I am, and that’s saying something.”

At those words Loki’s only reaction was to raise his eyes on the human, but that was already an improvement according to Stark since at least the former prince had stopped staring at the floor as if eye-contact was something he didn’t even deserve.

“There’s nothing I can try to undo what you’ve endured, but I can assure you that I won’t tolerate it any longer.”

“Why?” Was the only word that managed to come out of Loki’s mouth.

“Because I’m human, and I try to be a decent one. Slavery is a big no to me.”

“Even after New York?”

“Lolo, you weren’t yourself, you’re the one who told me. And beside that, no. No fucking way that this,” he gestured at room, “Was the right solution. A fair trial, maybe detention if you were found guilty and not under the control of someone else. I’ve enough lawyers to assure you that no one would’ve condemned you for your role in what happened in New York: on Earth it’s called ‘duress’, and it’s something that definitely holds in court. I almost died twice that day, and yet I can’t blame you for what you did. You helped us with damage control, risking your life if the purple monster you talked about were to find out.”

Loki lowered his eyes again, but this time it was something way more natural; he didn’t know how to react to Stark’s words, how to take in their meaning, and the only form of defence he had left was not looking the man in the eyes.

“Yet my circumstances are different,” he eventually murmured, “There are things I’m not allowed to do. I know I shouldn’t and I do them all the same, according to them I am to be punished.”

There was something so sad in Loki’s tone to make Tony’s heart clench. He had to help him to calm down, and if that could only be achieved by speaking in the only language he currently understood, than that was what Tony was supposed to do, “Consider them my orders, then.”

That finally earned him Loki’s attention; his green, sad eyes were trained on him, trying to understand what he meant by that.

“The bathrobe, the food, and everything else that shithead of an elf was trying to blame you for, they were all orders you received from me. You’re supposed to do as you’re told, ain’t you?”

Loki confusedly nodded, brows furrowed in concentration; he got Stark’s point, he only couldn’t understand why he was trying to help him that much.

“So you were just obeying to the orders. You weren’t breaking any rule,” Tony hated himself for those sentences, as if he had any right to expect absolute obedience from someone else, but he also knew that Loki’s brain would’ve only accepted those words for now.

“You’re just making it up,” he murmured, and was rather startled when he heard Stark’s light chuckle.

“It’s working though.”

There was no way Loki could deny that, not when he was resting his head on Stark’s shoulder, “He probably wanted to know if you intend to keep me for the night.”

“I’ve already told you I do.”

“They don’t know, and probably there’s someone else requesting my presence.”

“I see.”

Loki felt ridiculously stupid for how his heart sank when Stark got up and headed for the door. Now he would have called someone in the corridor to tell them that since he had no use for him they could as well drag him to his next tormenter; if Stark was trying to get a good deal for his business he would have liked to avoid unnecessary contradictions with the Council, and Loki would have been the one to help smooth things over. He had been offered to Stark since they were enemies, and now Stark would have thanked them not imposing upon their generosity by sending him back since he wasn’t needed.

Loki’s head snapped up when he heard the door being locked.

“Now no one’ll barge in. Why are you looking at me as if I’ve grown another limb?”

“Ain’t you sending me to them?”

“Loki, no, I’ve told you. You’ll stay with me, but right now you’re going to bed. To sleep,” he clarified before things turned awkward again, “You aren’t thinking straight, you’re too tired for that. You need something dry to sleep, though, the bathrobe won’t be comfortable for long now,” he turned in the direction of the suitcases that had been stored in the corner of the room and fished a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants out of them, “These are a little short for you, but for now they should do.”

“Are you giving me your clothes?”

“Please tell me you’re asking this because by giving you clothes I’m freeing you.”

“What?”

The man could be brilliant, but he talked absolute nonsense sometimes.

“So no Dobby thing, mmh? What a pity. I’ll give you some privacy now, when I come back it’d be nice if you were in bed. If you want to.”

Loki gave him the most puzzled look he had ever seen, but he nodded nonetheless.

He would have never contradicted such a simple… Order? Request? He really didn’t know how to call it.

As Stark went to explore the other rooms Loki carefully got up, checking his surroundings as if he was afraid someone would have jumped out from a dark corner to punish him for something he wasn’t supposed to be doing; he knew his fear wasn’t that funded since he had received precise orders, but still.

Being wary had always been part of him, and now he had every reason to indulge his instinct.

He cautiously took the clothes Stark had left for him on the bed and quickly inspected them; they seemed common Midgardian clothes, well made and fit for a man of Stark’s status, but they seemed not to hide any invisible threat. They were soft to the touch, and they revealed no magic woven in the fabric.

Loki could only hope they wouldn’t have burnt his skin once he had put them on.

A little reluctantly he untied the belt of the bathrobe and slid out of it; that was the first item that could have belonged to his previous life he had got in contact with in four years, and now putting it aside seemed wrong. Yet there were proper clothes waiting for him, and he couldn’t resist the temptation of not being covered in rags for once.

Without further thought Loki put them on.

Stark was right, the pants were definitely too short for him, but that wasn’t something Loki’s mind could linger on for long. All he could focus on was that he was finally clean, smelling of fancy soap, not barely covered in tatters, with his stomach full, and about to sleep in a proper bed, only sleep.

There was a soft smile on Loki’s lips as he crawled under the sheets.

He had to hold back a sigh when he rested his head on the fluffy pillow. That was a luxury he wasn’t used to, exactly like his body had almost forgot what a soft bedding felt like; what he had now in that cubicle that was his room was a hard wooden bench as a mattress and a chunk of rough fabric as his blanket.

Now this luxury was reminding his limbs of a different time, a time during which something less then a feather bed was deemed unworthy if him, but that was before, and he couldn’t think about it.

He shivered at the thought of what would have happened to him had someone found out what his mind was indulging on.

“I see you’ve made yourself comfortable,” Stark’s cheerful voice startled him, and he bolted into a sitting position, already dreading of having misinterpreted his instructions.

“No, hey, that was fine. No need to act weird. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m tired too,” he quickly changed his clothes for something more comfortable and climbed on the bed.

So that was it.

So much for the amicable behaviour.

Now Stark would have shown him his true colours, what he hid behind that mask of kindness and gentleness.

“No, Bambi, relax. This’s the only bed and I’m tired, but it’s big enough for the both of us, look,” he gathered some pillows and stacked them on his side of the bed, as far away from Loki as possible without falling on the floor, “Alright?”

Loki nodded, still wary around the human who was behaving in such a strange way; to violence and humiliation he was prepared, he knew how to anticipate the pain that would have come, but he had not even the slightest idea of how to be ready for Stark’s moves.

“Sleep, Loki, you need it. Everything’ll be fine. And I swear I don’t snore.”

Loki had to smile at that feeble attempt of lightening the mood, “Are you sure this is what you truly want?”

“In my dreams I’m so drunk I’ve forgot all of this, but since there’s no way in hell I’ll let my guard down in this nightmarish version of Lord of the Rings yes, that’s what I want.”

Loki had to give up at that. He had done his best to offer himself to the mortal, and he had refused, giving him different orders to which he was obeying at the best of his possibilities. And Stark’s rambling always managed to ease some of the tension that made his back ache.

After a last doubtful look at the human Loki fell asleep.

 

~

 

Tony was woken up by a strong kick in the legs. It took him a couple of moments to realise why someone was kicking him, but when he figured out where he was and whom he was sharing the bed with, his eyes snapped open.

“Loki?”

The god was flaying around in the bed, trying to distance him in any way possible.

“Loki, hey, wake up,” he dodged his arms in the darkness and pinned him down, doing what he could to prevent Loki from hitting himself, “It’s just a nightmare, wake up.”

His intervention only seemed to make things worse, since feeling to be trapped Loki was trashing even more than before to get out of the invisible grasp that was trying to immobilise him.

“Hey, hey, it’s just a bad dream, nothing to worry about. Loki, wake up,” he was forced to scroll the god by the shoulders to get him to finally open his eyes, but when Loki did Tony hoped he hadn’t.

He had never seen that look anywhere before, not even in his own eyes when he analysed his panic attacks through the footages recorded by JARVIS. Loki’s eyes were filled with such horror, with such fear, that they made Tony feel sick.

And the worse part of it was that when Loki’s eyes focused on him that fear only increased.

Tony couldn’t even begin to contemplate what could’ve happened to Loki to lead him to such a reaction when in theory he should’ve been relieved of being snatched from that nightmare.

Or maybe that was the point.

The realisation that the part during which it was only his mind to torture him was over.

That thought hit Tony like a brick wall.

“Apologies, master, I didn’t mean to wake you up,” Loki blurted out, trying to crawl away from him even though panic seemed to be paralysing him, “I’m so deeply sorry, please, master, please forgive me.”

“Loki, it’s me, Tony. It was just a nightmare, it’s barely your fault,” he instantly regretted his choice of words when Loki’s eyes welled up with tears, having clearly only focused on the last one.

“I’m sorry, master, I didn’t want to, I had no intention to disturb you, and I know it’s my fault if you’re awake now and that I deserve to be punished but please, please, don’t tell them to bring me to the Cell, please,” he desperately begged, his mind so clouded by fear that he hadn’t realised he had just disclosed to the one he believed to be a threat to him what apparently was his worst fear.

“No, Loki, I won’t. Listen to me. It’s alright. There’s nothing you can do to keep yourself from dreaming,” Tony forced him to sit up and to look him in the eyes hooking a finger under his chin, hoping the cold light of the moon would have been sufficient for him to see how calm and void of any threats his dark eyes wanted to be.

“You… you won’t, master? Are you not mad at me?”

“No, of course not. You were only having a nightmare.”

“I’ve disturbed you, master, I should never do such a thing, I’m so sorry.”

“Okay, give me your hand,” he didn’t wait for permission to take Loki’s pale hand in his, but Loki didn’t oppose to that, “If I were angry, or even slightly pissed, my heartbeat’d be accelerated, wouldn’t it?”

Loki nodded, but tears were still flowing down his cheeks and he was still quietly sobbing, clearly controlling the shaking of his shoulders to not interrupt Tony.

“Now,” he pressed Loki’s hand against his chest and kept it there, just a little on the left from where the Arc reactor had been, “How’s my heartbeat?”

Loki sniffed and gulped down one more sob, “Slow.”

“Right. So?”

“So you are not mad at me, master?” He tried to completely erase the question from his tone, but it was still too hard for him.
“Exactly, I’m not. And do you remember our little talk before we went to sleep, Lolo? No calling me ‘master’, I’m not,” he gently squeezed his shoulders, and when Loki nodded and lowered his head Tony drew him against his chest.

The way the fallen prince melted against him made Tony sigh in relief; on the other hand he would have loved nothing more than to put up his suit on and go face that bunch of bastards that had forced Loki to rely on the comfort of a stranger, of someone he had believed would’ve become just another torturer up to a few seconds before.

“See? Everything’s fine,” Tony rocked them for some minutes, until Loki’s shoulders stopped shaking so hard and the god’s face was resting in the crook of his neck, “There’s no need to be this scared. Not with me, at least,” he added, because from what he had gathered he could say Loki’s fear was well funded.

“It’s just-“ Loki began but abruptly stopped when he realised Stark hadn’t given him any permission to talk.

“Just?”

Apparently with Stark the permission was implicit, “It’s just that the dream, the nightmare, was so vivid… I was still in it when I woke up,” he concluded, because there was no possibility for him to express the feeling that had almost drowned a few minutes before.

“You have every right to be shaken, Bambi. And trust me when I tell you I can really well relate with the nightmare issue. Not at your level, that’s for sure,” after his return from Afghanistan he had often woken up in a pool of sweat gasping for air and for something reassuring him that he wasn’t in that cave anymore, and his jolly trip with a missile on his back had only reopened a wound that had only partially healed. He always resented of those dreams for the whole next day, but he always had something to distract him from it: his work, his projects, his friends, scotch…

All Loki had was the reality from where those nightmares came.

“May I…” Loki seemed to be gathering all his courage, “May I ask you why are you doing this? You could simply get rid of me. You wouldn’t be doing anything wrong.”

“Lokes, it is wrong. Leaving you in the hands of those people, knowing what they’d do to you, it’d be like being part of that. And the moment I turn in that kind of person, please shoot me,” he couldn’t be sure of that, but he was convinced to have felt the smallest of smiles against his chest, “Of course I’m that kind of person who tells the one who has thrown me through a window to kill me, of course I am.”

“I’m so…”

“Joking, Lokes, I was only joking,” he tightened his arms around the mage, “You feel like going back to sleep? You really need it.”

Loki nodded, but everything in his posture, from the tension in his back to the way his legs were folded against Tony’s chest, screamed of how reluctant he was.

“You can tell me no.”

“I wasn’t lying!” Loki retorted hastily.

“That’s not what I meant. I’m just saying you are allowed to disagree. If you don’t want to go back to sleep we’ll stay awake, no problem.”

The way in which he said ‘we’, with a naturalness Loki couldn’t believe possible, as if they were a team, as if they were together in that, led him to open up and to reveal a weakness that could have easily been exploited had someone wanted to. He just didn’t think Stark did.

“If I go back to sleep I’ll dream again.”

“Okay, listen what we’ll do now,” Tony disentangled from their close embrace and pushed Loki against the pillows, with all the gentleness and care he was capable of showing, “You see, I guess I get where this’s coming from. Maybe we can try to solve it,” in the slowest way possible, always keeping his eyes locked with Loki’s green ones, he lowered himself next to the god, “May I?” He asked before extending his right arm in Loki’s direction.

Loki was confused, not really seeing where that was leading to, but the look in Stark’s eyes was so gentle and impossibly concerned that he found himself unable to oppose.

“Good. Come here now,” he passed the arm around Loki, drawing him close till he was pressing his cheek against Tony’s chest, “If it becomes too much, just move away. Feel free to do it at any moment, no need to warn me and even less to ask my permission. What I’m doing here is for you, not for me. Okay, it’ll give me some peace of mind knowing that I helped you in at least one way, but that’s not the point. Maybe – and that’s just my opinion, you can disagree with that since what works for me may not work for you – maybe being close to someone who wish you no harm can help you. Feeling safe and all of that. It worked with me when I had nightmares and panic attacks, so I’d give it a shot if I were you. Wanna try?”

This time Loki’s nod was way less hesitant; it was clear that Stark’s arm was serving its purpose, grounding him and giving him all the comfort he needed in that moment. Following the human’s breathing pattern was easier this way, with his ear pressed against his ribcage, so close to his heart that beat so steadily, with such a calming rhythm…

“Thank you,” Loki murmured after a few minutes, when his eye were starting to close.

“No problem, Bambi.”

Chapter Text

Loki woke up to a strange feeling.

Just the fact itself of waking up naturally, not because someone had kicked him into being awake, was strange.

Also the way the bed accommodated his body, not opposing to it the way the hard planks he was used to did, was foreign to him. And now that he was thinking about it, also his body was giving him sensations he almost couldn’t recognise; he was feeling strangely well, nothing hurt, all his wounds had had time to heal overnight and for once no part of his body ached. He also felt clean and warm, and that was what prompted him to open his eyes, because he had to see what was going on.

Next to him Stark was still sleeping, but his arm had never stopped keeping Loki close.

The former prince looked at the human’s relaxed face for some time, trying to understand what passed through his mind; it was so strange to find a man like that, who only wanted to hold him close and to make him feel comfortable. He had never found any, actually. Not even before all of that.

At an imprecise moment during Loki’s inspection Tony’s eyes fluttered open, but he said nothing, giving Loki the time to adjust to something that he painfully knew was new to the god; he allowed Loki to do as he more pleased, appreciating the way he fitted against his side. Loki was extremely bony even for his previous standards, but Tony still liked the sensation of having him tenderly pressed against his body.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Tony joked when it was clear Loki had noticed he was awake, “Did you sleep well?”

Loki was a little taken aback by the genuine question, “Yes. Thank you,” he added, because without the man’s intervention he would’ve never managed to sleep through the night; not only for Stark’s idea of holding him close that had subdued his panic, but also because it was only because of him that that night had been devoted to his sleep.

“It didn’t take that much of an effort from me, Bambi.”

Loki could have insisted on how remarkably different his behaviour had been from what was usually reserved to him, but he knew it would have only made Stark feel bad, even though he had no idea of the reason of that.

“It was still warmly appreciated.”

Tony smiled as Loki snuggled closer to him – maybe as a way to thank him, maybe because he was comfortable, he didn’t know, but it didn’t really matter. Loki seemed to be enjoying his new spot on his chest, and if that was what made Loki happy he would have surely kept him there for as long as he wanted.

Or at least he would have liked to.

“Listen, Lolo, I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but in fifteen minutes I have to get up if want to arrive to the meeting on time, and since its the first one I probably have to make a good impression, even if I’m, well, me.”

“Of course,” Loki made to get up and leave the man to his day, but the arm around his waist held him in his current place.

“Fifteen minutes more,” Tony yawned, eliciting a faint smile from Loki.

“I hope my presence won’t make you late, m-“ he stopped abruptly, his eyes shooting at Stark’s face to apologise and to be prepared for the moment when the man would have lashed out at him for contradicting the only order he had given him, but Stark only stroked his hand across his side.

“I’m always late, so I don’t think you’re really making a difference on that front. Uhm, well, there’s something I need to ask you.”

“What?” Loki tried not to sound worried, but it wasn’t an attempt even worthy of such name.

“What happens today? Like, now, when we both leave this room, what happens to you?”

If there was one thing he could do for Stark was at least answer to his questions, “I’m allowed to go back to my room for an hour and then I have some chores to take care of, at least until someone claims me for some time.”

Stark seemed to shudder against him, “Okay, when my meeting’s over you come back here, and you stay. No, wait, this came out wrong: you come back here and you stay if you want to.”

There was a pained expression on Loki’s face Stark needed a few seconds to decipher.

How dumb he was without coffee.

Of course that sentence had put Loki in a state of agitation: he wasn’t allowed to actually want anything, and at the same time he couldn’t point that out for Tony to understand because that would have meant interrupting and contradicting him.

Tony had just woken up and he was already feeling the first signs of a vicious headache.

“Sorry, I didn’t think that through, but I’m not exactly a morning person and I need some time to kick my brain into gear. Let’s try another way: did you enjoy tonight?”

Loki looked at him as if he had lost his mind, his face tilted to the side against Tony’s shoulder in a way it stirred something weird in Tony’s chest.

“You can say no if you didn’t, I won’t get offended,” he would have probably banged his head against a wall at the thought of having forced Loki to do something he didn’t want, to have been just another one of those who already did, but Loki defused such a possibility.

“Say no? You gave me food, comfort, your clothes, the chance of a decent bath, you didn’t rape me and let me sleep in your bed, why should I say I didn’t enjoy tonight? I can only thank you.”

Tony saw it in the same way, except for the amount of gratitude so clearly present in his voice and that shouldn’t have been there at all, and for the words that the god had just spoken that only made him feel sick at the thought for what Loki had been through; beside that, yeah, he was convinced too that Loki had nothing in contrary with how things ha gone between them that night.

“So, if I were to ask you to come back here, it’d be something you could appreciate, right?”

“There’s no need to concern yourself with my opinion on the matter.”

“I happen to care about your opinion, Lolo, so please speak up.”

“It’s not something I have a choice about. If you want me I’ll be here, if you don’t that’s it, you don’t owe me any explanation,” the way in which he almost sank in Tony’s still present embrace spoke volumes about his actual opinion on the matter, and yet he couldn’t voice it for the always present fear he had of his gaolers finding out what he had said behind closed doors.

“Just consider it an hypothesis and answer me freely.”

Loki didn’t wince at the word only because Stark’s fingers in his hair were too distracting, “Just an hypothesis?”

“Yes, theoretically speaking, nothing serious.”

“Well, I guess that theoretically speaking I’d like to have another day like yesterday, at least for the part concerning you, if you don’t mind having me around.”

Tony kept absentmindedly threading his fingers in Loki’s hair, not really paying that much attention to the movement of his hand; what he was really focusing on was his tone, so dismissive and used to not be heard.

“Okay, so I think I’ll stick to my previous decision. My meeting, and then you come back.”

Loki genuinely smiled this time, “As you wish, m-,“ his slip on the word erased that smile from his lips as if it had been slapped away.

“What about using my name, mmh?” Tony cupped his cheek with his free hand, his thumb gently stroking his too sharp cheekbone; he wasn’t acting on the interest he had been harbouring for Loki in the last few years, in that moment it didn’t even cross his mind, he simply was a tactile person and drew comfort from human touch, so his first instinct when he was in the presence of someone in a state of distress was to hold them close.

“Your name?”

Now Loki looked physically in pain; listening to this order went against everything he had so hardly been taught, but also disobeying was something he would have been punished for. As long as Stark asked him not to use the term ‘master’ he could try to comply, if he excluded the many slips he strangely hadn’t still been chastised for, but actually using his name was out of question. Such a show of blatant disrespect would’ve sent him to the Cell in the round of a couple of minutes.

“My name, yes. I’ve told you, I don’t want to have anything in common with the people who did this to you. I’m no master, and I won’t be addressed as such.”

Loki was biting at his nails, debating with himself which was the safest option, “Mr. Stark?” He ventured.

“My name, Lolo. Mr. Stark was my father, and that’s another person I don’t want to be associated to.”

A few tense moments of silence anticipated the whisper that came out of Loki’s lips, “Anthony?”

“Here you go, Lokes,” the man put on quite a show smiling at Loki; they would have moved to Tony with time, there was no need to rush, “We can… hey, what’s that?” He propped himself up on his elbows, his attention drawn by the movement on the table in the middle of the room; something was appearing on it, but there was no one in sight, no noise had foreshadowed the appearance of what Tony identified as food.

“Your breakfast,” Loki had ended up sprawled on the pillows when Stark… no, when Anthony had jumped up as a child at the sight of a simple touch of magic.

“But there’s no one here, the door is still locked. How’s that possible?”

“Magic,” Loki said as if it should have been obvious.

Tony turned to him with an amazed expression painted on his face, “You mean that my breakfast has been delivered by magic?”

“Yes?” Loki quirked an eyebrow because there was nothing extraordinary in that; it was a spell even a child could’ve performed, and yet Anthony seemed to have just witnessed to the most intricate spell of his life, “Is this the first time you assist to magic being used?” He dared to ask when the thought crossed his mind.

“If you mean real magic yes, of course! There are illusionists on Earth but I think that they must look a bit of a fraud to a magic wielder, right?”

Loki nodded, a little amused himself by the curiosity in Anthony’s dark eyes.

“Is all of that edible? I mean, it isn’t an illusion that’ll disappear as soon as I touch something?”

This time Loki couldn’t stop himself, because when the subject was magic there was no way he was able to restrain himself, “What would be the purpose of delivering you a breakfast that would disappear when touched?”

Tony chuckled more for Loki’s almost annoyed tone that for his own naivety, “You have a point here. So we can eat what’s on the table?”

“You can enjoy your breakfast, there’s nothing strange with it. All the food here is delivered to the guests with a small transportation spell,” he kept on explaining because Anthony’s excited expression was too much an invitation for him to finally talk again about magic, even if he was just referring small facts.

“If that stuff won’t explode in my face I think we can have breakfast, then I really have to go. Well?” He asked when Loki didn’t follow him to the table.

Loki looked at him confusedly.

“Come have breakfast, Bambi.”

Loki ventured out of the bed, warily following the human to the table, but hesitating before sitting down; being allowed to eat was already something strange, but sitting at the table together as if they were equals? No, that was out of league. He couldn’t sit at the table with Anthony, show him such outrageous disrespect wasn’t something he could do so lightheartedly.

“Lolo?” Anthony asked from the chair, where he was already filling his plate from the trays on the table, “Sit down and eat, I’m sorry but I don’t have that much time.”

“I… I can’t sit down with you,” he pushed himself to say.

“Why not?”

“It’s not my place to do so, even sharing your meals is something I’m not supposed to do,” in that moment Loki realised he was staring at the man in front of him from above, so he quickly knelt on the floor next to his chair.

“No, hey, get up,” Anthony’s hand landed on his shoulder, “Sit at the table with me, I don’t care what they’ve told you,” he pulled out the chair for Loki, and the former prince couldn’t refuse such a direct indication.

They ate in silence since Tony had realised he situation was already difficult enough for Loki without the need of guarding his every word, but the quiet moment didn’t last long when Stark noticed how terribly late he already was, “Okay, I really have to get ready. Eat whatever you want, I’ll get dressed and go,” he started moving frantically around in the room, fishing some decent clothes from the suitcase – making a mental note of hanging his suits before they got all crumpled since he had been kind of distracted the previous night when he should have done that in the first place – and finished tying his tie when he was already on the door, “See you later Bambi.”

 

~

 

Tony’s idea of later proved to be way too soon for his liking.

The meeting had started from only a half an hour – proving right his idea that business meetings were equal not only all over the world but apparently in the entire universe – and he was already having troubles keeping a straight face in front of those people who were the responsible of Loki’s fate in that hellish place.

“It has come to our attention that an enemy of yours is staying here in the palace, Mr. Stark,” said an incredibly pale elf with violet eyes, Kythrit or something similar, Tony didn’t know.

“Oh, yes, we’ve met yesterday.”

That was definitely what he needed, discussing Loki with the people who had turned him into a slave. That was really good for his mental health, really really good.

“We can assure you he’s not the same of when you two met for the first time,” another one, with startling green hair, sneered.

“I noticed,” everyone on Earth who told him he wasn’t good at mastering his temper should have seen him now, for how he managed not to punch the elf in the face.

“Why not bringing the slave here, since we are already talking about him?”

“I thought we had more pressing matters to discuss here.”

“We have time, Mr. Stark, and a little fun has never harmed anyone.”

Beside Loki, but apparently they didn’t care.

“Guard, bring here the slave.”

“He should be in his room now, sir.”

“Then go fetch him,” the elf dismissed him, and before Tony had the time to think something to prevent that Loki was being dragged through the door.

The guard was pushing him inside the room with the point of his staff, and before Loki had time to do anything to react to the presence of all those people the staff collided with the back of his knees, sending him to the floor.

“Here you are, godling,” the elf with the green hair greeted him, his tone so cheerful it made Tony want to kick him in the crotch.

“We have a new guest in the palace, as I’ve been informed you already know, but since we hadn’t the opportunity to take part to that meeting we think it’d be appropriate from you to properly apologise in front of Mr. Stark, here,” he waved toward Tony, as if for him to gloat on cue, but he remained silent, his eyes trained on Loki who was staring at the floor, hands folded in his lap.

“So? Not speaking anymore? You were so fond of that, godling.”

The guard pushed the tip of the staff between his prominent ribs, and Loki was forced to find his voice, “I apologise for what has happened on Midgard four years ago. My behaviour was wrong, my tactics were wrong, and most of all my claims were wrong, because I’m not worthy of ruling anything, of being obeyed by anyone.”

“Okay, enough, we’ll talk about this in private,” the sentence earned him some pleased and knowing grins since in their wicked minds that only meant something worse than public humiliation for Loki, “We have more important things to do right now than to listen to this,” Tony would have never wanted to use such a harsh tone, but he had no idea how that bunch of bastards would have reacted to him shouting at them that the only sight of them made him feel sick and that there was nothing he desired more than to gather Loki from the floor and to lead him out of that den of monsters.

“You’ve heard Mr. Stark, remove the slave. We have more important issues to focus our attention on than an useless slave,” the elf Tony had decided he hated the most dismissed both the guard and Loki with a wave of his hand, and Loki was shoved outside before Tony could lose his temper for good.

“Oh, Mr Stark, just one thing. That one is a rather popular attraction, so have it for all the time you desire, we just ask you to return him still usable.”

Tony gave a jerky nod, because had he tried to answer in a more vocal way he wouldn’t have managed to keep the insults and the yelling for himself.

The only thing Tony was grateful for was that on Alfheim they hated the concept of prolonged meetings, preferring to have many sittings than one single long session that would have left them all exhausted and edgy, leading to a worse deal in their opinion.

He was already back in his chambers – having refused the invitation of the members of the council to join them in whatever activity they had in mind because honestly, there was a limit to what he was inclined to do to get a good business deal, and a picnic with slavers definitely wasn’t among them – hours before he had thought that possible.

He wasn’t glad that first meeting was over only because he couldn’t stand the presence of the people he was sitting at the table with, but also because in that way he would have been able to not have Loki out of his sight for too long; if the god was supposed to follow the orders he had received he would have joined him in those rooms in a few moments, staying away from all the dangers that hellish place had in store for him.

He had been sitting on the comfy chaise longue for some minutes when he heard a soft knock at the door.

“Yes?”

“I’m here as you requested.”

There was no way to mistake Loki’s silky voice, “Come in, Bambi. Oh my God, what the fuck has happened to you?” he got up and sprinted toward him as an incredibly bruised, battered and bloodied version of Loki stepped inside the room.

“The guards saw it fit to remind me what’s my place.”

Chapter Text

With an interminable chain of swears Tony led him to the chaise longue with an arm around his waist, arm that he only moved to Loki’s side when he lowered him against the pillows.

“God, look at yourself,” Stark muttered, and Loki found himself squirming under the human’s gaze, once again all too aware of his looks in front of the man.

“Why didn’t you take a moment to at least dry the blood?” Was the first thing that came to his mind, his thumb instinctively going to brush Loki’s lip to wipe it for him.

“You had requested my presence when the meeting would’ve been over,” the natural way in which Loki said it, so lightheartedly, as if it was normal, made Tony want to slap himself at the thought he hadn’t even had a moment to tend to his wounds because of his request.

“So it’s because of me,” he almost whined, his hand scrubbing his face.

“I think they stopped because of you. Didn’t want to keep you waiting.”

There was a moment of silence during which Stark paled and considered not so farfetched the idea of abandoning the planet for good, screw the deal the Board of the SI had insisted on, but then the sight of Loki before him brought him back to the present.

“Stay where you are,” Tony ordered quickly, standing up abruptly and leaving the room.

Loki had no difficulty at all complying to that since the pillows felt so nice against his abused back. He even closed his eyes, hoping Stark wouldn’t have minded; he seemed strangely affected by the whole situation, but maybe it was just that he didn’t like the sight of blood.

He could have ordered him to leave if that was the case, though. And yet here he was, obeying to the order of resting on a soft surface.

Despite his state of light relaxation he startled when he felt something against his face.

“Calm down, I’m just trying to clean you up a bit,” Tony explained when Loki’s distraught emerald eyes met his, “See? It’s just a towel I’ve dipped in water, nothing to worry about,” he dabbed the cloth over Loki’s lips first, then under his right eye and his left cheekbone and eventually to his chest, “Better?”

Loki nodded a little uncertain, not really understanding where that was coming from; usually when one of the guest wanted him cleaner, with no more signs of his previous user, they simply told him to stop looking so disgustingly filthy and threw him a rag or splashed him with a bucked of ice-cold water; they certainly didn’t wash him with a soft towel and the utmost care to avoid causing him further discomfort.

What Stark was doing was entirely different, it was like he cared for him, but Loki couldn’t bring himself to believe to such a foolish hope.

“Good, now turn around.”

So that was it. Stark was done playing nice, and now he would have claimed what was his by right. It had been so stupid of him to think that allowing him to eat, sleep and bathe meant Stark was different; he was maybe even more cruel than some who had ordered him on his hands and knees as soon as they had crossed the threshold. Stark had given him a break only to make that feel worse, all his faked concern was just to mentally torture him with the knowledge of what he once had.

“Loki?” The man called him, and strangely he wasn’t yelling or backhanding him for not having obeyed promptly.

“Hey no, no. Hell, no,” Stark’s voice sounded almost pained when he managed to give the right interpretation to Loki’s wounded expression, “Not what you’re thinking about. You’re bleeding, Loki, I just want to take a look at your back, then you can return to whichever position you like. Go wherever you want.”

The way Loki was looking at him horribly reminded Tony of a stray cat who had been kicked one too many times.

“No, listen, I just want to help you. That’s why I’ve asked you to come here today and why yesterday I’ve asked you to stay. At first I was curious, but then I simply couldn’t let you go out there, remember?” he stroked his hand through Loki’s hair since in their short time together Tony had come to realise that was a soothing gesture for the god.

Loki found himself compelled to stare at the human at that; he looked sincere, his concern painted in bright colours across his face, and with a sigh he decided he could as well do as he was required; at best nothing would have happened and he would have avoided the punishment for misbehaving, at worst Stark would have simply taken him as many others already had.

What he didn’t expect when he lay on his stomach was Stark’s sharp intake of breath, a reaction so strange he had to look over his shoulder at the man.

“My God…” Tony whispered, the hand with the towel raised in the air.

“What?” Loki found himself asking, even though questioning a master was a taboo for every slave; Stark hadn’t seemed to mind the previous night when he had been so inconsiderate not only on that front but on basically anything else, and since he was already allowing him to call him by his name maybe he wouldn’t have punished him for that.

“The whip-marks.”

“Oh. It’s not that bad today. Not at all, really,” he added, because Stark – Anthony – looked truly affected by the sight of his back.

“Okay, no, I need a break.”

Loki felt compelled to look at the man who had just left him there on his own.

Stark was quickly approaching the piece of furniture where a large selection of Midgardian liquors had been stocked, then he grabbed the nearest bottle and without even bothering to pour it into a glass he gulped down a few sips of the amber liquid.

Loki was even more confused when the human looked back at him, took another sip, and then started stacking some ice cubes into a napkin. He seemed to be done with what he was doing, but when he was mid-way between the counter and the confused formed god he spun around on his heels and went to retrieve the bottle and another white napkin.

“Okay, I should be able to function almost decently now,” he sat back down next to Loki who hadn’t moved since his order to lay on his stomach, “There’s not much I can do for your back, not even for the most recent marks, but I can try to at least disinfect them,” his fingers travelled out of their own will across the jagged white lines on Loki’s back, carefully avoiding the bleeding ones.

“It’ll burn a little, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Loki’s eyes went wide when Stark poured some of the precious liquor on the napkin, and even wider when Anthony started cleaning his wounds with it. Despite being told to stay still Loki couldn’t help but squirm away.

If the guards had found out he had been responsible of the waste of such a valuable thing as the liquor meant for Stark obviously was, he would have been whipped for an hour at least.

“I know it isn’t the nicest thing in the world, but it’s useful.”

When Stark poured more alcohol onto the cloth he managed to scramble away and fell to the floor, “Please, stop, master,” he begged before being able to switch to the correct option.

What Stark was doing was just cruel: pretend to help him with a minor wound in a way that would have procured him more severe ones.

“I don’t think that’s the worst thing you’ve endured, Lokes.”

“Please, if they find out…” he trailed off, not sure whether Stark already knew how harsh the punishment would have been.

“Who and what?”

Loki considered not answering, but then insolence would have been added to the list of his faults.

“The guards. If they find out such a valuable thing has been wasted on me…” he gestured at the bottle Stark had abandoned the floor, managing at the same time to answer and to avoid doing it.

Tony looked in the suggested direction to understand what had triggered that reaction that had apparently erased all the progress they had done the previous day.

“Aren’t these bottles for me?” He asked, lowering himself to the floor to be at eye-level with Loki.

“Yes, indeed. I’m not allowed to touch them, pouring some of it away…” he couldn’t even finish the sentence, so Tony brought a hand to his shoulder.

“You weren’t even touching the bottle. I was. And if this stuff is for me I can do what I want with it: bathe in it, pour it from the window, anything I fancy, right?”

Loki nodded, staring at Stark’s – Anthony’s – hand.

“You didn’t ask me to do it, you didn’t do it yourself. You have nothing to fear,” he rested also his left hand on Loki’s shoulder, “Besides, I won’t tell anyone, and if they know about my drinking habits enough to supply all of these bottles, no one will even notice,” he gave a light squeeze and Loki almost collapsed against him, relief flooding through him and leaving him unable to sit straight anymore, “Okay, Bambi, it’s fine. Relax and let me help you,” he passed an arm around Loki’s waist, mindful of not touching the still bleeding wounds on his back, and made him sit back on the chaise longue.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Loki mumbled, his forehead resting on the crook of Tony’s neck.

“What for?”

“Freaking out, lashing out, running away from you, calling you by a name you dislike… You’ve been nothing but gentle and gallant to me and all I do is whining when I’m here to bring you pleasure and enjoyment.”

“No, Loki, look at me,” Tony hooked a finger under his chin, still not really believing that the poor broken creature in his arms was Loki, the man who had almost killed him, “You’re here because I know that as long as you’re with me, nothing of the shit you’ve been through will happen to you, not when I’m here. Okay? Answer me, please.”

Loki nodded once again, not finding his voice to express how relieved and unreasonably safe he felt in the man’s arms.

“Now please, let me help you at least on this front. Besides, I’m freaking out after only listening to a very shortened version of what your life has been these last years, if you’re worried about being perceived as weak by me, well, I’m impressed you’re still alive and functioning,” Tony said against Loki’s hair, but he seemed rather reluctant to move from the safe spot that Tony’s chest had become for him.

It was like Loki had suddenly remembered his previous day, the foreign sensation his encounter with Anthony had brought him, how unforeseeably safe he had been after so much time.

“It’d be more comfortable if you lay back down,” Tony suggested, even though he could easily perceive the reluctance radiating from Loki, “Only for a few moments, then you can do what you want,” he knew it wasn’t the right verb, not for someone in Loki’s situation, but he had no idea of how to express himself better: it was stunning how used people were to freewill, when obviously it wasn’t something to be taken for granted.

There was no opposition from Loki’s part when Tony manoeuvred him away from his chest and on the soft pillows – he did as he was told, he couldn’t risk angering Anthony even though he was experiencing an odd level of safety with him – but Tony settled for doing as quick as he could.

It came as a surprise when Loki rested a hand on his leg.

Or maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised at all.

From what he had gathered during the meeting and what Loki himself had told him, he was the first person to treat him with even a little spec of humanity, it was no wonder he wanted to be as close to Tony as possible. Loki was traumatised beyond speaking for what those bastards had been doing to him, now he was simply clinging to the first resemblance of safety he had encountered in years.

He had to stop thinking about that if he wanted to be of some help, though. He didn’t know if he was empathising with Loki for what had happened in Afghanistan or if he had some other reason for that protectiveness that was quickly developing in him, to the point was that he felt the urge to put his own hand on Loki’s one, stroking its back with his thumb.

Reasons that escaped his comprehension at the moment or not, he knew that he simply couldn’t stand the sight of someone so broken and abused in front of him, and that he had to do something, to try and fix what little was in him to make it slightly more right.

“As I’ve said, Bambi, it’ll burn a little, but nothing unmanageable,” he let a hand wander to Loki’s hair, only partially to remove them from the way, and with the other he started slowly dabbing the three cuts on Loki’s back, removing all the blood he could without damaging what little healing Loki’s body had managed to achieve.

“Okay, we’re done here,” he got up and disappeared from Loki’s side long enough to make him think that sentence meant he was dismissed for the day.

“Get out of those rags. No, not for that, for Christ’s sake,” Tony rolled his eyes at Loki’s scared expression because at this point he was beyond showing the right reactions according to the situation, “Put these on,” he handed Loki the same pants of the day before and a sweater with a zip on the front. He also turned around to give him some privacy, a concept Loki – who had always been such a reserved person according to Thor’s tales – didn’t know anymore.

They had kind of agreed – Loki had panicked, Tony had tried to find a solution – that he couldn’t go around in the palace with Tony’s clothes on without drawing suspicion on himself, so he would’ve left them in Tony’s chambers and put them back on when he would’ve returned.

When Tony guessed from the ceased sound behind his back that Loki was done changing but didn’t dare call him he turned around, only to find Loki still shirtless and with an apologetic look on his face.

“You don’t like the sweater?”

“No, no,” he hurriedly said before Anthony could start thinking he was just an ungrateful bitch, “It’ll get stained if I wear it,” he gestured at his back that could’ve easily started bleeding again, and was more than a little startled when Stark sat next to him, grabbed his left arm and made it slide into the sleeve of the sweater, doing the same with the right one.

“First of all, I don’t give a damn about it and I’d be disgusted with myself if I were to. Secondly, and I’m only saying it to give you some peace of mind, the sweater is red, it won’t show.”

Loki seemed to relax a little at that, but what little progress they had managed to do disappeared completely when Loki fumbled to pull the zip up and Tony stopped him.

“You’ll close it later.”

That word, later, had only meant one thing for Loki lately, and Stark was approaching, drawing an arm around him to bring him closer. Loki himself realised it was odd how he perceived Anthony as a shelter one moment and as a threat the next one, but there was nothing he could do about it now.

His mind felt like it was split in half, two parts of completely different colours; one was bright, it allowed him to hope he had found someone who wouldn’t have enjoyed his suffering, and another one, bleak, dark and hopeless, where those little moments of relieve he had been allowed to were only turned in something worse. It looked like a slight variation in Stark’s voice or a misplaced word managed to push him from one side to the other like a strong wind, with nothing he could to against it.

“Have a little faith in me, please,” Tony sighed when he felt Loki tense. He decided to ignore the reaction though, because he would have managed to convince Loki he meant no harm a lot more easily with facts than with words. He reclined against the pillows of the chaise longue so he had Loki’s back resting partly against his front and partly on the pillows, being careful to allow him to stay on his left so that he didn’t have the backrest to obstacle his possible escape; he planned to wrap Loki with that arm, but he still needed to reach the napkin in which he had enveloped some ice cubes that he had left on the floor. When he grasped it he passed it to his right hand and started pressing it on the darkest bruises on Loki’s chest.

The contact with ice elicited a curious noise from Loki, but all the tension that had accumulated in his shoulders seeped away and he seemed to melt against Tony.

“See? Nothing bad happened. This was the only reason I’ve asked you to leave the sweater open.”
“I’m sorry, Anthony.”

“I didn’t say it to have you apologise to me, I was only trying to make you feel a little better, to explain.”

“I’m sorry I’ve doubted…”

“No, you’re smart for doubting me. What reason should you have to trust me? You’ve been put in my chambers as a welcoming basket of fruit in a hotel room, with no saying in it, and after what you told me last night… well, I’m surprised you’re even letting me touch you.”

Loki raised curious eyes on him, “Letting you? You can do whatever you want with me, I’m sorry if I’ve done something to make you believe my consent was needed,” he didn’t really know what to think when Anthony’s grip on him tightened.

“Listen, Lolo, I already have a slight drinking problem I’m not so willing to admit. If I keep hearing things like this I’ll end up drunk even before sunset, and at this point I’d have to acknowledge the fact that I truly am an alcoholic,” he raised his index to silence whatever fucked up flow of words was going to come out from Loki’s mouth, “And I’m not saying this because I want to have my time with you without thinking about what you’ve been through. I just want you to know that whatever they say, I won’t listen to them, but to you, okay?”

It took Loki about half a minute to pull himself together enough to nod; there was still the possibility Anthony was lying, at this point he couldn’t say anymore, but if he was being honest… Loki had almost forgot what it was like to have his voice be heard, his opinion taken into account.

“Do you want me to keep doing this?” Tony asked when the lost stare in Loki’s green eyes became too much, “It won’t make the bruises disappear, but at least it’ll give you some relief.”

“Y-yes, thank you, Anthony,” he murmured, reclining his head against Stark’s shoulder.

“No problem, Bambi.”

Tony went on with his ministration, smiling at the little moan that escaped Loki’s lips and the curling of his fingers against his chest when he pressed the ice against his cheeks.

“I guess I’m doing the right thing here.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“You still haven’t told me why they did this to you,” Tony said after a while, putting the ice aside for a moment in order to zip up Loki’s sweater and keep him warmer; Frost Giant or not he must have felt cold, and Tony had no intention to trigger any strange reaction by asking Loki. Thor had told them how badly Loki had taken that particular piece of information about himself, to the point that a question about the motive the people who were keeping him in slavery had had for beating and whipping him was the safest option.

“They don’t need a reason, really,” Loki answered quietly, his eyes shut, “But in this particular occasion they punished me for not addressing you in the proper way.”

“What? You spoke one sentence and you were apologising, what could they consider wrong?”

“I didn’t call you ‘master’ at the end of it,” Loki opened his eyes sensing Anthony grow tense against him.

“Couldn’t you tell them I had ordered you to do so?”

“They would’ve never believed me, and this,” he lightly touched one of the bruises on his cheek, “Is way preferable to what they would’ve done to me had they thought I was lying.”

Being the former Silver Tongue had played against him, the punishment for lying was the worst to him because they showed no mercy, they enjoyed the wicked symmetry of inflicting so much pain for something that had come natural to Loki just as breathing, it didn’t matter if he had actually being lying or if they were simply making it up with the sole purpose of breaking him a little more, making him apologise and beg for something he hadn’t even done.

“I would’ve confirmed your words, told them you were just doing as you were told.”

“They would’ve never asked you, just punished me also for my insolence.”

“Then why didn’t you call me the way they wanted you to do?”

Loki’s brow furrowed in confusion, “You had told me not to.”

“It’s only my fault then. My God, I’m so sorry,” Tony covered his face with his free hand, pinching the bridge of his nose, “Fuck, I’m so so fucking sorry.”

“What for?” Loki asked innocently, because there was nothing coming up to his mind that could’ve explained Anthony’s reaction.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean with ‘what for’? You’ve received a beating for something I’ve told you to do, and now you ask my why I’m sorry?”

Loki averted his gaze, not sure what he should have answered to that.

“Okay,” Tony proffered when he felt a little less on the verge of a nervous breakdown, “Listen, I’m truly sorry. I didn’t know what the reaction of those bastards would’ve been, you have to believe me on this front. I really had no idea.”

“There’s no need…”

“No, no, Loki, you have every right to receive my apologies. I can’t cancel this mistake, but I can try to avoid commit others. You’ll have to tell me what to do, though, this is a sort of nightmare to me and I really have no idea of how to behave in this fucked up place.”

Loki was speechless at his side, unable to understand what was going on; Stark had been so gentle with him, but now he was going out of his way to help him, not just refraining from doing something but actually offering him a hand that for once wasn’t there to hurt him.

Stark’s willingness to help him was beyond anything he could have ever expected from the man; they had only been enemies since the first time they had met, Stark had only had his word as a guarantee that what had made them enemies in the first place wasn’t all his doing, and now he was actively offering his help to avoid him more pain.

“Loki? I’d be easier if you said something.”

“Apologies, I was…” he trailed off, because he couldn’t offer more than his excuses.

“Okay, I’ll start and you’ll come up with what I forget.”

Tony himself had no idea of what to say, or at least of how to phrase what they should have been doing from then on so that Loki wouldn’t have been too confused about his role in that mess; he was trying his best to make Loki stop perceiving him as something that was making Tony cringe, and at the same time he was about to give him more rules to follow.

“We could do as we did for the clothes,” he blurted out when the inspiration hit him, causing Loki to look even more puzzled than before, “When we’re outside of these chambers we’ll do what the evil version of the cast of Lord of the Rings expects of us, when we’re here we’ll behave as normal human beings. Well, not in your case since you’re not exactly human, but the concept is the same.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Loki sheepishly muttered, casting his eyes down.

“If they want you to call me master, do it, I won’t get mad at you, while look what they have done because you didn’t once,” he gently stroked Loki’s cheek with his thumb, unaware of the reaction he was causing in the Trickster’s chest.

Loki was more than confused now. Anthony had given him one order, and one order only, and now he was partially revoking it only for his sake, only to avoid him more punishment. Loki was rather used to the contrary, to someone making him commit a mistake on purpose just so they could’ve punished him later, but no one had ever revoked an order that already went against the rules… His head started spinning, and he had to rely on Stark’s support a little more not to fall from the chaise longue.

“Bambi? You alright?”

“Apologies, master, I…”

“No, outside. Here I’m Tony. Or Anthony if you’re more comfortable with it, I don’t care,” normally he would have, but he didn’t have it in him at the moment to admit that the slight crush he had had on Loki since the moment the god had required his drink basked in the way his name rolled on Loki’s tongue, “Let’s make it more general now: when you’re outside, do what they expect from you, address me and behave they way they want, as long as you’re not endangering yourself. When you’re here none of that exists. No orders. I’m no master. No fucking way I am. I’m many things, but not that. Loki?” He called, because the glazed expression on the trickster’s face promised nothing good.

“I…” Loki had no idea what to say first. Thank him? Apologise for not answering? That was something the guards had trained him to do in front of his current masters, and now they were inside Stark’s chambers, so those orders didn’t hold according to his last one, but at this point did he have to listen to what Stark had just said? If there were no orders inside his quarters how did he have to interpret what he had just been told? Did he have to follow the human’s words or that would have been going against his most recent instructions, but in this case what was he supposed to do? Did he have to stick to the old orders or the new ones? And in this case, were they really orders?

“Lolo, you’re hyperventilating again. Calm down and then tell me what’s wrong.”

Loki raised pained eyes on him, having no idea of what to do now. Stark had seemed kind in revoking his order, but now he was just messing with his head; that wasn’t the worst thing he had experienced, not at all, but it was just mean.

“Do I have to guess?”

Usually rhetorical questions only meant something truly bad was going to befall him, but now Loki was too out of his depths to find a way to avoid whatever punishment was meant for him; he started squirming in Stark’s grasp once again, ending back on the floor.

“Okay, no,” Tony sat up, looking at the scared creature in front of him, “I’ve no idea what I’ve said wrong, but clearly something’s off. Can I come closer?”

Loki nodded, but he didn’t move beside that, as if he was petrified.

“We were doing fine, and then I obviously said something wrong. It’s my fault, not yours,” he put his hands up in what he hoped Loki would have perceived as a placating gesture even in his panicked state.

Loki tilted his head to the side, because in those four years he had never heard a guest of the palace pronounce those words.

“Now just tell me what’s the matter.”

Loki just stared at him, thrown into a loop by the contradicting instructions.

“Loki?”

“I… I don’t know what to do.”

“What about relaxing a bit? It looks like your spine could snap,” since Loki didn’t appreciate his attempt to lighten the mood that had so abruptly darkened he tried again, “Okay, just tell me what’s the point, if you’re confused about something ask me, I won’t get mad.”

“Is this an order?” He murmured, looking at the man from behind his lashes, as if trying to hide for what little he was allowed to do.

“Oh, so that’s what’s wrong,” they didn’t call him a genius for nothing if he had managed to grasp what was going on through Loki’s troubled mind, but the small exultance over being able to decipher the mess that was Loki’s head was completely obscured by how fucked up the situation was, “I’ve told you there are no orders here, but you don’t know if that’s an order because if there are no orders here how are you supposed to interpret it, right?”

Loki nodded quickly, honestly surprised that Stark – who was a free man and apparently had no idea of how slavery worked – had managed to understand the problem.

“Okay, I don’t really know how to put it because I’ve no idea of how this works, so you’ll have to help me in this. Let’s start with this: I want to help you, I’m not trying to mess with you or trick you so that – fuck, I hate myself right now – I can punish you. I want to avoid it,” he gestured at the bruises still showing on Loki’s face, “So no hidden meaning, only what I said. And mine isn’t an order, it’s… an agreement. Here, that’s the word. An agreement. You’re not forced to do as I’ve just said, you’ll do it only if you want to, okay?”

The look in Stark’s brown eyes, so open and full of concern, was so unlike anything he had come to know in that place that he felt compelled to lean forward. Specifically on the floor in front of Stark, since being taller than the man who was his actual master didn’t feel right, even though said man was doing anything in his power to disprove that status, and with Stark not wanting him for the moment he had no other way to show his gratitude.

“Hey, not on the floor,” Tony’s hands went instinctively to Loki’s shoulders, making him at least rest his head in his lap and not on the marble tiles. He gently stroked Loki’s hair for a couple of minutes until the former prince’s breath evened out and he curled around Tony’s legs.

Tony had no idea what he was doing or why Loki was behaving like a domesticated cat, all he knew was that he had to make him stop behaving in that submissive way if he didn’t want to freak out, and he was already ignoring what had happened since the moment he had set foot out of his chambers that morning to keep it together. He couldn’t go on piling up shit he only wanted to drown in scotch.

“Okay, Lokes, listen. Your side is bruised, you shouldn’t stay on the floor,” he kept on threading his fingers in Loki’s hair in a gesture he had understood meant a little comfort to Loki and hoisted him up; it was disconcerting how light and docile he was, so easily sinking in his impromptu embrace, “Now let’s continue out little talk somewhere my joints won’t protest.”

It wasn’t hard to convince Loki back on the chaise longue, and Tony resumed their previous position, giving again Loki the possibility of at least escaping to the floor if he felt overwhelmed by what they were saying.

“So, little wrap up: I’m trying to help you and I’ll do my best to do it. If I get something wrong, like what happened this morning, it isn’t something I did on purpose to trick you into something that could bring those bastards to punish you, but a mistake in good faith because I’ve idea of what the rules are in this shit place. This doesn’t excuse me, but at least know that it wasn’t my intention. I know it won’t make these bruises fade more quickly, but maybe you’ll distrust me a little less, okay?”

Loki nodded against his shoulder, still keeping his mouth shut.

“Will you talk to me again?”

“Apologise, I…”

“No, hey, you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, I only wanted to know if you’re okay.”

“I am, it’s just…” he didn’t really know what to say without insulting the man who apparently was doing so much for him; there was no polite way to tell me he couldn’t trust his word, that he had been tricked too many times to believe that someone who held so much power over him could really be interested in his wellbeing.

“No need to explain, I get it. You’re not forced to talk to me, it’s fine. Just know that I’m naturally prone to monologuing, so if you don’t interrupt me every now and then you’ll have to listen to my ramblings, so it’s up to you. I can talk your ears off or you talk to me, I’m fine with both,” when that earned him a small smile from Loki he couldn’t help but mirror it.

“That’s blackmail,” there was still a more than noticeable hint of uncertainty in Loki’s voice at that small attempt at joking back, but Tony decided to just ignore it and laugh a little more than necessary to encourage Loki to keep it up.

“Never said otherwise.”

Loki remained quiet for a few seconds, then the lack of reassurances or orders got on his nerves, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Just relax,” Tony answered, his eyes leaving the spot on the ceiling he had been staring at, “Really, Lokes, relax a little, rest, do whatever you want.”

Loki had no idea whether the courage he recurred to came from Anthony’s hand in his hair or from his warm voice, “I’d like to stay here, if you don’t mind.”

“I have to work on a few things, but no, hey, hang on a second,” Tony reached out a hand to stop him when Loki quickly got up to get out of the way, “There’s no need for you to move, I can work here. Relax, I don’t mind having you around, not at all. I just have to read some documents, so I won’t be of much company, but if that’s fine by you I see no problem.”

“I don’t want to trouble you.”

“You’re no trouble at all, Lolo, remember that,“ he felt the need to reassure him on that front because from how Loki was holding himself and from what he had heard from Thor that wasn’t something so obvious for the former god.

A genuine, small smile formed on Loki’s lips as he settled once again against Tony, “May I be of some help?”

“Well, yes, definitely,” he answered when he realised what a solution to many of his problems Loki’s presence was, and Loki’s face lit up at the possibility of being useful, “I know nothing of this place – not even of its existence up to a few years ago, for instance – so you could help me understand the traditions, how things are done here since you, well…”

“Since I know Alfheim so well,” he supplied when Anthony didn’t finish the sentence.

“Yeah, right. Who better than you could help me understand whether they’re trying to foist a shitty deal or not? For now, though, there’s no need. Meaning that you can sleep a little, you still look like you just got out of a graveyard, Mr. Zombie,” he added quickly when the delayed chance to prove himself useful erased Loki’s smile, “I have to still read it myself so I can have a gist of what I’m talking about, and then you can walk me through the trickiest parts, okay?”

Loki nodded, reassured by the explanation.

“Now let me just get the tablet, no need for you to get up,” he made for the table where he had left the tablet after the meeting, so drained by the encounter with the Council he hadn’t even wanted to take a look at something that involved that scum, and when he turned back he found Loki pressed against the backrest of the chaise longue, waiting for him to come back.

“You prefer that side?” He asked reaching out an arm for Loki so they would have both fit in the narrow space of the pillows.

“Yes, but if that’s your spot I’ll move immediately,” the words rushed out of his mouth but Tony silenced them by simply squeezing his arm a little.

“I was simply asking, It makes no difference to me, I simply thought you liked the other side better.”

Loki gave him a questioning look, the chance of finally being useful to Anthony for something – even unusual – making him a little bolder.

“If you stay on my left you can get away from me anytime you want, on the right instead you’re trapped between me and the backrest.”

Loki’s mouth fell open in an almost comical way. So Anthony had been thinking about his wellbeing to the point of concerning himself of how the position in which they were laying would’ve made him feel. And here he was refusing a gesture that had been so kind and thoughtful to almost bring tears to his eyes.

“Oh, I…”

“No, Lokes, it’s alright, no need to stress over this. As long as you’re fine, I’m fine too,” Tony made sure of stroking his hand up and down Loki’s arm in the most soothing way possible, “Just tell me why, I’m curious.’

“It’s… it’s silly.”

“C’mon.”

Loki sighed, surrendering to the fact that at this point he shouldn’t even know anymore what shame was, “This way I know my surroundings. You’re on my left, the backrest on my right. Theoretically speaking I won’t be surprised by anyone I’m turning my back to since there’s something at both my sides. It’s silly, I know,” he added when Stark remained silent.

“No, not silly. Just terribly sad,” Tony murmured, using the arm he already had around Loki to bring him closer in a hug he hoped could do something to cheer Loki up, even though he was more than aware how stupid his wish was; trying to distract Loki from the though of someone assaulting him in his sleep – something that had clearly happened many times – by simply hugging him. That was just stupid wishful thinking.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No, again, it isn’t your fault. It’s just that I hate this place, the people who inhabit it and what they consider normal,” he rested his chin on top of Loki’s head and smiled when the other man hummed contentedly, “Now get some rest, I’ll try to get something done before I start thinking too much about everything and go mad.”

“Don’t hesitate to call me the moment you need me, Anthony,” Loki snuggled closer to him, and after finding a comfortable position against the man’s chest he closed his eyes.

When he realised he had fallen asleep there was something thin pressed between his shoulder-blades and something warm under him; it took him a moment to realise he was sprawled on Anthony’s chest, his right arm casually thrown over the man and hanging from the edge of the chaise longue. The only missing piece he had to figure out was what that slim thing on his back was.

And why Anthony was so kind with him, but he had come to terms with the fact he would’ve had a hard time making up his mind about that.

He couldn’t stifle a yawn that clearly disturbed the man who was easily playing the role of his mattress.

“Hi, moonshine,” Anthony didn’t even divert his eyes from the place behind Loki’s head, “Oh, sorry,” he moved his arm and the pressure on Loki’s back disappeared, “You’re a wonderful lectern.”

“What?” Loki mumbled, realising he had his cheek on the man’s chest and that he was wrapped in a soft blanket.

“You didn’t seem to mind so I’ve used you as a support for my tablet.”

Loki turned his head to understand what a tablet was and Anthony was so kind to bring it in front of his eyes so he didn’t have to strain his neck. Apparently a thin black box with a bright front part was all the human needed to conduct his business.

“I’ve fallen asleep, I’m sorry.”

“What for? You’re tired and you need to sleep.”

“I could’ve been of some assistance,” he tried to at least sit up but Anthony’s arm on his back kept him where he was.

“For the moment I’ve been able to unravel this contract myself.”

“I didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t, I was just…”

“Relax, I got that,” he carded his fingers through Loki’s hair because it was simply unfair for him to wake up and be already prey of an anxiety attack.

Loki would have liked to understand how Anthony had so quickly picked up his appreciation for having someone playing with his hair, but for now all he could do was lean into the touch and let that strange human he had thought so highly of since their first meeting do what he wanted. What he could do was at least roll on his side to avoid weighting on Anthony’s chest, and in doing that he could inspect the blanket Stark had pulled over him; it had been on the bed the last time Loki remembered seeing it, so Anthony had obviously got up with all the care necessary not to wake him up in order to fetch it.

“For now I’ve nothing for you to do, so you can rest a bit more if you promise me you’ll sleep also tonight. You know what they say, don’t let them sleep too much in the afternoon or they’ll keep you up all night.”

“I don’t think I will have a chance to sleep tonight.”

“Why not?”

Loki shot him the closest version of a withering gaze his enslaved self could come up with, because that man had proved too smart to say that, “You know why.”

“I honestly don’t. What else do you have to do here?”

“Here?” Loki’s disbelief showed clearly in his voice.

“Well, yes. You want to leave?”

“No. Of course, not,” Loki’s smile was almost blinding, “I can stay here?”

“I certainly won’t let you out there if this’s the outcome,” Tony gently passed his thumb over the bruise on Loki’s cheek.

“I won’t disturb you, I promise. I won’t even take much room, I’ll sleep in a corner so I won’t get in the way and I won’t wake you in the middle of the night,” the fact that he was bargaining for his newfound position didn’t make his smile falter.

“No way you’ll sleep in the corner. You’ll sleep in a proper bed, where you won’t damage the parts that are already bruised. Or on this chaise longue if you don’t want to share my bed, but I don’t think that’s the problem,” he pulled at a strand of Loki’s hair and smiled at his reaction.

“It is not,” he affirmed.

“Good. So now feel free to go back to sleep if you want to.”

“Please, call me anytime you might need a clarification,” he pointed at the tablet with his chin, but he was already snuggling against Tony’s chest with his fingers curled around the hem of the blanket.

“Sure thing, Bambi.”

Anthony stroked his hand once more on his hair, and for the first time in a long time Loki fell asleep with a smile painted on his lips.

 

~

 

“Loki, wake up. Someone’s knocking at the door.”

It was more the pinch to his side to bring him back to reality that the worried voice beside his ear, but Loki was awake in an instant.

“I’ve told them to wait, but I guess they won’t be fine with you curled up like a cat against me.”

Loki shook his head no and started getting rid of the hoodie Anthony had given him, hiding it under the blanket and lowering the latter to show part of his bare chest.

Chapter Text

“Why this?”

“Whoever it is, they’ll see what they want to see,” he rushed to explain, looking at Stark right in the eyes because he really needed to get his attention, even if that could have been perceived as insolence from his part, “Please, Anthony, let them believe what they want. I know you don’t like it, but please.”

“Being seen as a rapist isn’t in the top-ten of the things I most like, but if that’s what it takes to keep you here and out of trouble I will, don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” Loki gave him a grateful smile before letting his face shift to a blank expression, his eyes lost and staring hopelessly at a point on the floor.

“Come in,” Tony called when he was sure Loki had staged everything to give the right impression. No, it was the wrong impression in any civilised place, but he couldn’t linger on that thought too much if he wanted to keep a straight face in front of whoever was going to cross the threshold.

It was the same elf of the previous day who opened the door, and Tony thought he had never hated someone so quickly.

“What?” He snapped, and it didn’t take that much of an effort to assume a commanding and annoyed tone in front of that shit-head.

“The Council would like to know if you would grace them with your presence at tonight’s banquet or not, sir,” he bowed his head a little, but the smirk on his face after seeing the hopelessness brightly painted on Loki’s face was still visible.

Biting his tongue for a second to avoid telling that idiot to go fuck himself at light speed, Tony decided to play along; he had to remind himself he was doing it for a good cause, not siding with that wicked people, “Thank the Council but no, I’ll have my dinner here. And make it a good dinner, I’m hungry,” he gave Loki a sly smirk and immediately hated himself for it. The only thing he could do to try ease the tension that was accumulating in Loki’s back – to put on a better show or because he believed Tony had finally put down his mask and was starting to behave in a more common way he didn’t know – was to rub small circles on Loki’s side, using Loki’s long hair and the blanket to disguise the gesture.

“Of course, sir. May I add something?”

“If you have to.”

“There’s no need to treat the slave so gently, sir, you can simply toss him on the floor when you’re done using him.”

This time Tony’s hand clenched on Loki’s waist, the odd protectiveness he had developed in a few hours finding grounding the possibility of holding him close.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“I’m glad of being of assistance, sir. Have fun, godling,” he taunted, shooting Loki a cruel smile.

“One last thing,” Tony interrupted him before the elf could leave, “If I want bruises on him, I’ll put them there myself.”

The elf seemed a little confused for a moment, but then he nodded, “Of course sir.”

“I’ll hold you personally responsible if my orders will be contradicted.”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony waited a few moments after the door was closed to remove his eyes from it and focus them on Loki, “You okay, Bambi?”

It took Loki a couple of seconds to answer, “Yes, I… I think so. Thank you.”

“You don’t really look fine, Lolo,” he hinted at his ashen complexion; Loki had been pale even the first time they had met, but that moment brought paleness to a whole new level.

“It’s just…” Loki had no idea of how to put it without offending the man that at the moment was ensuring his safety.

“For a moment you thought I had turned to their side, right?”

The expression in Loki’s eyes for how he had been able to decipher the shift in his mood was guilty.

“No, hey, I understand. That’s what you’re used to in this fucked up place, you’ve no reason to trust me unconditionally, I can only try to gain your trust,” he pulled the blanket up to Loki’s shoulders and removed his arm from under it, not wanting to touch him directly; it was just a guess, but he thought Loki would have preferred to have a layer of fabric between them.

“This doesn’t excuse…”

“It does, Loki. It so fucking does. You have every right to be wary of me, last time we met we were enemies and what you’ve suffered here…. I’ve no words that aren’t swears, really. You told me what meeting an enemy here has meant to you, and that’s what I am to you, or at least I hope I was. Please, believe me when I tell you I’m disgusted by those people, and that I won’t be mad at you if you don’t. Trust takes time, I don’t expect it right now,” he used his now free hand to brush Loki’s hair away from his face.

Loki was beyond words.

“Thank you,” he managed to utter once more, nestling against Tony’s side and hiding his face in the crook of his neck.

“Any time, Bambi. So now…okay, that’ll never not be spooky,” he commented when the tray with his dinner appeared out of thin air.

Loki turned slightly around, his hand still clasped around Anthony’s shirt. It was only in that moment that Loki realised the man had been so busy taking care of him he hadn’t even had the time to change in more comfortable clothes, “It’s just inoffensive magic.”

“I know, but it’s strange. You’ll have to explain me how it works, sooner or later.”

“For my explanation to be useful I’d need to understand your level of knowledge of magic.”

“What about zero?” He sat up bringing Loki with him, guessing that an upright position would have maybe helped Loki to refocus.

“It’ll be a long talk then,” Loki warned him, but Anthony was an eager student and listened keenly to the lecture, asking question when words like seidr puzzled him and stopping Loki when there was something he didn’t understand to have him repeat.

And the feeling of finally talking about magic again, oh, it was wonderful. Loki had missed his magic since the moment he had been stripped of it, at least being allowed to talk about it was like a soothing balm on a nasty wound. He was a mage, that was what defined him in the first place, and that essential part of himself was suppressed by that thin metal circle around his left ankle Odin had personally applied after pronouncing his sentence.

“Oh well, it’s still spooky,” Tony shrugged, but he had achieved his purpose; not that he wasn’t interested in how magic worked – he would have loved to learn more on that front – but what he wanted to obtain from that talk was for Loki to relax by speaking of something he was so familiar with. He had noticed that morning the warm tone Loki had used to try explain to him that same subject in a few words, so he had guessed he would have obtained even a better result by allowing him to talk at length. He had to consider Loki an experiment, try what he was comfortable with and use it to calm him down when he needed it, and find out what put him on the defensive and avoid it at all costs.

“It would be easier if I could show you.”

“You can’t?”

“If I still had my magic I would’ve been out of here in five minutes,” he hissed before raising worried eyes on him, afraid of having misstepped.

“Yeh, it figures. Stupid question.”

Each moment that passed, Loki was more surprised by Anthony and of how well he fitted the impression he had had of him years ago. Anthony didn’t know how things worked there, but he was eager to learn, to understand, to get to know the traditions and the customs of the place he was in even though he deemed the people who inhabited barbaric.

“Okay, my brain is burning now, so stop with the lessons for today. Have you been eating something since this morning?”

“No,” he answered and he was little confused by Anthony frowning, “Slaves only have one meal a day, and what you’ve so generously given me this morning is way more than what they usually give me.”

“Yeah, forget about that. With me you’ll have food anytime you want it,” he patted Loki on the shoulder and got up from the lounge chair, “Come sit at the table with me, it’s dinner time.”

They could have easily had their dinner on the plush chaise longue, but Tony was trying to make a point: from what he had gathered that morning – when Loki’s first instinct at approaching a dining table had been kneeling next to it – sitting at a table with people he was supposed to serve was foreign to him, while staying on a piece of furniture where other people could lie comfortably was something he was… very accustomed to. Tony had no intention to dwell on that thought, but he wanted to show Loki the differences, try to gain his trust even through small gestures that in the civilised world would have meant nothing but could have made Loki a world of good.

“I… Anthony, your offer is really kind, but I can’t accept it. I’ve already eaten your dinner yesterday, and I really shouldn’t have. I can keep you company if you wish, but I can’t eat your food again.”

“Pray tell, Mr. Mastermind, why do you think I’ve told Mablung over there to bring more food?”

Loki stopped dead in his tracks. All he had got from that sentence was Stark’s cruel tone, the feeling that the short parenthesis of safety was over, not his words.

“Sit down, c’mon,” Tony insisted with a soft voice, and Loki complied like under a spell; even if he had wanted to resist to that invitation he wouldn’t have been able to, the chance of being treated as a free person too tempting to dismiss it.

They ate in silence again, Tony piling up everything that came under his fork on Loki’s plate since the latter didn’t dare to make that move first. The man who had been a god, reduced to being afraid to make the wrong choice over what to eat after he had basically been starved.

If he were to think about that Tony wouldn’t have managed to swallow even one more bite, and he was sure Loki wouldn’t have either.

“So you like grape, mmh?” He asked after passing Loki the bowl with the fruit.

“I… yes, but if you like it…”

“No, eat it, I hate grape, really. The only kind of grape I like is the fermented one.”

A small smile formed on Loki’s lips at that as he picked another from the bunch. “It has always been my favourite kind of fruit, yes.”

It was Tony’s turn to smile at that small piece of information Loki had decided to disclose, “Now you can have how much you want.”

Tony had no idea if it was the fact he was being treated with a little humanity, or the taste of something that reminded him of better days, but Loki seemed to actually relax, the tension in his back easing a little and his composure shifting from the one of a scared animal caught in a spotlight to one more fit for a prince.

In the time Tony had spent fantasising about Loki he had imagined their first dinner together – in the remote eventuality there would have ever been one – to be something way different, in his penthouse or in a fancy restaurant, certainly not in the hellish place where Loki had been enslaved.

“About the garden over there,” he pointed with his glass to the cloister that could be seen through the huge open windows, “Any poisonous plant I should know about?”

“As long as you don’t try to eat them there’s nothing to worry about.”

Oh yes, Loki was definitely relaxing in his presence. Not to the point of insulting him directly for such a stupid question – honestly, who the hell would have thought of placing urticating plants in a garden made to please the guests’ eyes? – like his former self would have probably done, but that was already a step forward.

“Okay, so I think I’ll go exploring a little more, feel free to join me if you want, or do something else, like take a bath or sleep, I don’t know, whatever you want,” he patted him on the shoulder while getting up and left him alone, giving him some time for himself. He was winging it, but he guessed Loki wasn’t used anymore to be left in peace in a safe place.

Loki was indeed confused about what to do now.

Anthony’s behaviour was already something strange he had yet to figure out, but being left alone with the permission of doing what he wanted, that was even worse for someone who hadn’t been entitled to have his own freewill over the past four years.

Loki looked around for a little while, nibbling at the bunch of grapes, then he settled for two of the options he had been presented with: he would have joined Anthony in the patio – the least he could do was to keep him company – but he would have had a bath first. He couldn’t pass the possibility of taking another hot bath when he had one.

He didn’t feel as filthy as he normally did, and that was only thanks to Stark, but he had aways loved baths, how the warm water washed over him, allowing him to relax and to stop thinking for at least some minutes, how everyone left him alone in those moments… No, he couldn’t think about that. That was before. Now he was being treated kindly, but he couldn’t fool himself thinking things were going back to how they had been.

His magic was gone, his freedom as gone, the only thing he could hope for was someone’s charity.

He swatted those thoughts away and headed for the bathroom, opening the water and choosing the same soap Anthony had picked for him the previous day. The least he could do was smelling of something the man liked, even though he could have avoided bathing for that; the scent of the liquor he had used to disinfect his wounds still persisted on his skin.

On a whim he decided to look for the rags Anthony had made him abandon upon his entering in his chambers and took on the chance to finally wash them; that was something he had wanted to do for weeks, to remove the blood, the sweat and everything the guests of the palace had left on them. Without lingering too much on those thoughts he put his old tatters in the sink and used the same soap he had been pouring in the bathtub to get them clean; he was eager to have his bath, but he remembered all too well how disgusted that morning he had been to put on those filthy rags on his clean skin.

It wasn’t an easy task to accomplish, but with some effort he managed to return them to a decent state. They were still rags, but at least they weren’t soiled anymore. He spread them out on one of the bars meant to hold up the towels to let them dry and finally he could focus on his bath and that resemblance of humanity it gave him; he got out of the clothes Anthony had given him and folded them neatly to avoid getting any crease on them and sank into the warm water.

The white bubbles enveloped him, surrounding him and making the whole world disappear; it was so relaxing to finally let his guard down for some minutes, to have the impression he could even though he could have been proved wrong in his assumptions, but even that luxury had been foreign to him. There had never been anyone of the people who had come to torment him and that he had had to entertain who had allowed him to feel even the smallest spec of safety, even if it was just a pretence to make him regret his naivety. Sometimes he had thought they wouldn’t have been that bad with him, but never that he would have had a moment of respite.

But here he was, enjoying the simple pleasure a warm bath could give him, his eyelids getting heavy, his heartbeat slowing…

“Hello, sleepyhead,” was the next thing Loki heard.

He startled awake, his arms flailing in the water scrambling in search for a handhold, with the only result of splashing some in his eyes.

”Hey, hey,” Tony laughed, “Don’t drown, Bambi.”

Loki stilled only when he felt the man’s hands on his shoulders, “I’m sorry, I…”

“You simply fell asleep in the bathtub, nothing to be sorry for.”

“No, I… I should’ve kept you company, not abandon you.”

“Don’t take it the wrong way, Lolo, but I don’t need to have you watch my every movement. You’re nice to have around, don’t get me wrong, but I’m rather used to being alone.”

“I still shouldn’t have remained idle all evening,” he bowed his head, his shoulders shrinking between Stark’s hands.

“No, hey, relax. It’s fine, it’s alright. I didn’t come here to reproach you or something like that. I only wanted to tell you I’m going to bed in case you wanted to join me, and let me tell you that since you’re already half asleep it could be better to switch the bathtub for a mattress.”

Loki lifted his eyes on him, searching Anthony’s face for any sign of anger or irritation, but he found none. His expression was open, calm, something Loki had seen only in the last day and a half after four years of furious glares addressed to him.

“I… I’d like to.”

“Good. Now rinse your hair, it’s full of soap,” he turned around and started rummaging in the drawers, “I guess you don’t have hair dryers here.”

“What?” Loki asked when the cascade of water he had been pouring over his head was over.

“Never mind, a towel will do.”

Loki was startled when Anthony handed him the fluffy towel, but accepted it nonetheless as well as the bathrobe that was once again offered to him.

“Take all the time you want, at worst I’ll be asleep,” Tony waved and left to give him some more privacy.

It didn’t take much to Loki though, since a couple of minutes later he was already crawling on the bed, the white towel still around his wet hair.

“There are some clothes for you to sleep with. Still too short, but I don’t think that’s a problem.”

“Why are you giving me more clothes?”

“You can’t go around in the same clothes all day, not with me at least.”

“Oh, well, thank you then,” he was probably still too much asleep to actually protest that that was too much for him, so he simply changed the robe for the clothes and curled up next to Tony and let sleep claim him once again.

 

~

 

The previous day had gone rather well, Tony thought, at least if he didn’t consider the beating Loki had taken.

Maybe with the due precautions they would have managed to avoid even those accidents.

It was still hard to look the members of the Council in the eyes after what Loki had told him, but he had to soldier on and not let anything slip; if he had guessed correctly there would have been objections to Loki returning to him had those people realised his only purpose was to keep Loki away from that hell that was the rest of the palace.

Certainly he could have used the importance of their transaction as a bargaining chip if things really went bad, but he preferred to keep that as his last resource; keeping everything hidden was easier, and it allowed him some room for manoeuvring if they were discovered.

There was certainly still room for improvement in their arrangement, maybe something that didn’t involve Loki clinging to him as an octopus, even though Tony didn’t exactly mind that. It would’ve still been best for Loki’s sanity to understand that there was no need to actually touch him to be sure of his protection. On the other hand it was probably good for him understand that physical closeness could be something nice, not a threat.

Tony kept walking down the hall shaking his head.

He wasn’t the best person to give advice on mental sanity, not when he had abandoned his shrink the moment she had told him something that he didn’t like – he didn’t remember what was the matter in question, probably his drinking habits if he were to guess – and at the same time he couldn’t simply ignore Loki’s situation and just be glad of the chance of having him curl up against his chest.

That whole situation was a mess he couldn’t refuse to acknowledge or dodge if he still wanted to be able to look at himself in a mirror, and he was way too vain to simply stop that.

When he had his hand on the doorknob he took a moment to brace himself. He had no idea whether Loki was already inside or not, in any case he already felt the urge to be drunk.

Oh, this wasn’t good for him, not at all.

Not at all promising.

He wasn’t sure if in Slavery Hell hours worked like they did on Earth, but he was quite sure that could be considered as mid afternoon, and his one and only appearance at a AA meeting had taught him that the desire to gulp down an entire bottle of scotch before dinner wasn’t good.

Oh well, he couldn’t wait in the corridor forever, so better be over with that and enter in his chambers, where at least he could have been sure not to meet any of those people who made his stomach turn.

He opened the door and immediately wished he hadn’t.

Chapter Text

Tied to a column of the bedpost there was Loki, shirtless, a collar around his neck keeping his head painfully flat against the wood and his hands strapped behind him, keeping his spine arched and tense with no possibility to ease the discomfort if he didn’t want to choke himself with the metal ring around his neck.

There were tears on his cheeks.

Tony was still speechless, standing in the doorway like a distressed statue, when he caught a movement with the corner of his eye.

“Welcome back, sir,” the same guard of the previous days greeted him with a smile, getting up from the chair he had put in front of Loki, as to better enjoy the view, “You seemed to appreciate this slave so I have thought of bringing him back to you, sir.”

“What… what the fuck is going on here?” Tony stammered, daring to take a step further into the room.

“This is for you, sir,” Quennar offered him the staff and Tony was so astonished by the whole situation he even accepted it.

“You said you wanted to cause the bruises yourself, sir. This is the best hitting position,” he vaguely gestured at Loki’s arched shape.

For a moment Tony was about to swear he would have fainted.

“Get out,” he managed to say through gritted teeth, actually feeling the blood draining from his cheeks.

“There’s no need to concern yourself with my presence, sir. Actually, I could be of some assistance suggesting you the most effective ways to-“

“Get. Out.” Tony cut him off, and his voice came out threatening enough to have the guard bow his head and comply, “And close the door.”

“As you request, sir,” there was a clear reluctance in the elf’s composure – he had probably hoped to at least enjoy the show and at best to take part in it – but he closed the door indeed.

It took Tony about half a second to drop the staff and to rush at Loki’s side and start fumbling with the mechanism that kept the collar locked, “I’m getting you out of these, don’t worry, Lokes.”

His MIT degree came to aid, and even though Loki’s still flowing tears made him want nothing more than to wipe them away he managed to pull the collar open.

When he heard Loki taking in a deep breath he managed to get a hold on himself and the strap around Loki’s hands fell on the bed.

“Here, I’ve got you, don’t worry,” he took Loki in his arms before the former prince collapsed to the ground and gently held him against his chest, a hand instinctively disappearing in Loki’s inky hair, “My God, I hate this place so fucking much,” he felt Loki’s legs wobbling and lowered them both on the floor, “Stop crying, please,” Tony begged him, because he simply couldn’t stand the sight.

There was no reaction from Loki, as if he had blanked out and was so shocked about what had happened and wasn’t able to react anymore.

He was silently crying, his shoulders weren’t shaking with sobs, only with fear, but he was the most pitiful show Tony had ever seen.

“Here, have this,” Tony quickly got rid of the jacket of his suit and wrapped it around Loki’s trembling body, hands going up and down his arms to try and warm some reassurance in him. He had already witnessed the previous day how the skin-to-skin contact distressed Loki, but if he had been able to control it then now it was really beyond him.

“Better? Please, tell me it’s better.”

Loki tried to nod, but he was shaking so much Tony barely noticed.

“Okay, let’s move from the floor, it isn’t good. Come on,” he passed an arm around Loki’s waist and hoisted him up, hating once again how light he was; Tony gently led him to the chaise longue, his arms wrapped tightly around Loki even when he lowered him on the soft pillows.

“Wait me here for a second, I promise nothing bad will happen,” he gave Loki a light squeeze on the arm and rushed to lock the door because honestly, if this time someone would have entered the rooms he wouldn’t have been able to play the role of the master, not with Loki shivering just a few feet away.

“Okay, Lolo, now you’re safe, trust me on this. Please,” he added.

“Apologies, master,” Loki whispered, and Tony was about to bang his head against a wall for the third time in three days.

“No, Loki, it’s me. Tony. Look at me, please,” he almost begged, his hands itching to touch Loki to give him some comfort; he settled for buttoning the jacket instead, hoping that small ulterior protection could mean something to the shivering creature in front of him.

“It’s me, Loki. Tony. You don’t have to worry about me, I’ve already told you countless times I have no intention of hurting you,” this time he couldn’t help it and his fingers were brushing away some of the black strands that had fallen in front of Loki’s eyes, but that only seemed to make things worse.

Apparently the curtain of hair behind which he had been hidden was his last source of protection, and Tony had just removed it.
“No, hey, sorry, just do whatever you want. Tell me what to do and I will, I promise.”

That earned him a look so baffled Tony almost hoped Loki was back into gear. Almost.

“Yes, Lokes, it’s me. I want to help you, but you’re the only one who can tell me how.”

In that moment, seeing how fragile Loki was, how everything now scared him to the point he wasn’t able to even speak anymore, Tony only desired to gather him in his arms and hold him close to make him feel safe even if just for once. The problem was that he thought Loki would have probably freaked out had he tried to do that.

“Okay, this isn’t working in the slightest. I’m not going anywhere, I only have to fetch a few things,” he hurried to the centre of the room and came back half a minute later with his arms full.

“Here, drink this. Just one sip, I don’t know how much you can hold scotch and I guess you wouldn’t like feeling dizzy right now. Come on, Bambi, I assure you it tastes good,” he drank from the glass first before handing it to Loki, hoping he wouldn’t spill it. Not much for the liquor or for anything else he didn’t give a damn about, but because Loki would have probably panicked even more for something he thought he would have been punished for, if his reactions of the previous day were any indication.

Loki obediently did as he was told, only slightly grimacing for the strong taste, but Tony had already put it into account, “Not everybody likes it, have this,” Tony offered him some grapes, and Loki seemed to come back to reality a little in front of that thoughtful and unexpected gesture.

He accepted the fruit, eating some of it – probably more to please Tony than because he really felt like eating anything – but Tony smiled at him nonetheless.

“Good, Lokes, really good,” he dared a light squeeze at Loki’s arm and waited a moment for the scotch to work its magic, “What about putting on your clothes, mmh? That jacket isn’t that comfy,” this time Tony handed him also a t-shirt to add to the hoodie and sweatpants, “I’ll get a few things done as you get changed,” Tony informed him and left him alone a few moments.

He only reached the garden to get some air, and he was already feeling the urge to run back in and crouch next to Loki until things got back to normal.

For how normal that situation could be called.

If not normal then at least with Loki not being that afraid of him.

It looked like every step forward they managed to make was completely erased when Loki was left alone with the guards who had tormented him for years, and Tony hated that. He knew helplessness, he knew how it made you sick and desire to crawl out of your own skin when you could do nothing to improve your situation, and here he was witnessing at the worst display possible of lack of chances to get at least a pause from the constant knowledge of being in danger and with no cards in your sleeves to get you out.

Before he joined Loki in the freaking out he returned to the main room, and this time he sat next to Loki on the chaise longue since the former god seemed to have calmed down at least a little.

“Thanks,” he retrieved the jacket Loki had found the strength to neatly fold but pulled the pocket square out before tossing it away, “Here, have this and at least dry your face.”

Loki seemed reluctant to use such a fine piece of cloth only to wipe his tears, so Tony did it for him.

“I’m sorry for this, I shouldn’t lose my composure, and I already did so many times with you. I really should behave better. I’m sorry.”

“Nonsense,” Tony interrupted him, “You’re allowed to freak out as much as you want. You’re even too controlled for the pile of shit you’ve been through.”

“Nothing happened today, though.”

“Nothing happened?” Tony countered, “Really?”

“You didn’t hit me in the end.”

Tony paled.

Chapter Text

Now he understood what was going on, why Loki had been so scared even in his presence, as if he was another threat, “You thought I ordered that, right?” He gestured in the vague direction of the canopy bed, “That it was my idea, that I gave the order to the wicked version of Thranduil to tie you up like that.”

Loki nodded, a little confused about what Anthony was asking, “Yes. Didn’t you?” He added not really because he believed he would have certainly received a negative answer, but only because the expression on Stark’s face was so strange it made him suspect there was something off.

“Of fucking course not!” Tony exclaimed, his hands flailing in the air, “I’d never do that, Lokes, not to you or to anyone else. No, it wasn’t my idea, not in the slightest. The only reason I didn’t punch that fucker in the face was that our little recital would’ve come to an end he moment I hit him, but don’t think even for a second I didn’t want to.”

Loki’s mouth fell slightly open, “You… you had nothing to do with that?”

“No, Lokes, not at all,” he asserted.

Comprehension spread on Loki’s traits, and unexpectedly tears started rolling down his cheeks again.

“Lokes?”

“I… I thought you where behind this all along, and instead…” he started crying in earnest, but this time with his face on Tony’s legs, “I’m so sorry, so sorry,” he said in between sobs.

“What for?” Tony inquired softly, his hand automatically brushing Loki’s hair.

“Doubting you, when you’ve done nothing but help me… I’m so sorry,” he kept sobbing, bent in two to do his best to show Anthony how deeply he regretted his assumptions. Or maybe because he needed to feel the man close.

“No, hey. Again, you have every right to doubt me, I simply wish you didn’t but not because you’re listening to me telling you not to, but because you really believe that I’m trying my best to avoid anything bad from happening to you,” the hand that wasn’t in Loki’s hair came to rest between his shoulder blades, moving in soothing circles, “Listen – you can say no if you don’t want to and I won’t get offended in the slightest – if you want, and only if you want, I can lie down next to you so you don’t have to play contortionist.”

Loki vigorously nodded, and Tony had barely the time to get rid of his shoes before he had an armful of broken god against his chest.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Tony smiled against his black hair and kept threading his fingers in it. When he got stuck by a particularly tenacious knot an idea hit him.

With some effort he managed to wriggle away from Loki’s grasp a little and reached out for the suit jacket, fishing a comb out of the breast pocket.

“It’s easier if you lie on your stomach. At least partly,” he added, because he would have fallen had Loki occupied all the space on the chaise longue without using his chest as a pillow, “Tell me if it hurts,” he urged, even though he was more than sure that someone pulling at his hair with a comb was almost a treat if compared with what Loki was used to.

When he was sure Loki was fine with what he was about to do – even though more than slightly confused – he started brushing Loki’s long hair, starting from the lowest part that almost reached the small of his back and keeping the hand without the comb a few inches above in order to eliminate the worst knots without ruining the hair and causing too much discomfort.

He would have never told anyone, but one of Tony’s guilty pleasures – by far the healthiest one – was watching hair tutorials; he found incredibly relaxing to just watch how the strands could be pulled and twisted together to create complicate patterns, and it was absurd how it was coming in handy now.

When Tony was done with his work Loki had a luxurious long mane of soft hair draped on his back and he was almost purring.
Tony would have liked to ask him if was feeling better now, but he would have probably ruined the effect of the brushing, so he kept quiet and let Loki drift off to sleep.

 

~

 

When Loki woke up he realised in a moment he was way too comfortable than what he would have expected. He forced his eyes to crack open and realised he was alone.

No one was in the room or next to him.

He had simply been left alone to rest in a comfy bed, something that had never happened before.

He turned around with a yawn and realised he was surrounded by pillows.

Not in a normal way, with his back supported by some of them, but the pillows were arranged all around him.

There were a couple of them under his head, while at least five or six pillows were stacked both at his right and at his left, surrounding him on every side.

Now that he thought about that, he hadn’t even fallen asleep on the bed.

Last thing he remembered was Anthony combing his hair – and if that didn’t fit extremely well with his odd behaviour Loki thought he would have believed he was already sleeping at the moment and that was just a dream – while they were on the chaise longue, so Anthony had clearly carried him with all the care necessary not to wake him up. And then he had even built that fortress of pillows around him, probably only because he had thought back about what Loki had told him about sleeping with something at both his sides.

He felt tears forming in his eyes.

No one had ever cared for him so much to go to such lengths to make sure he was as comfortable as possible, and here was this man, a man who was supposed to torment him and use him as his plaything, stacking up pillows all around him only to make sure he wouldn’t have felt too exposed in his sleep.

There wasn’t only the warm feeling of being shown such concern for his wellbeing, but also undiscussed pleasure of knowing he hadn’t been wrong in his judgment about the man; Anthony was proving to be what he had thought of him four years later and more, and that was a satisfaction he couldn’t even name.

That man could have still proved his worst nightmare if only he wished to, but with each hour that he passed in Anthony’s company he felt more that he could let his guard down in his presence, that Anthony really meant what he said when he assured him he had no intention at all to hurt him. After all, why concerning so much with calming him down, giving him food and clothes, combing his hair only because he had realised Loki was mollified whenever he felt a gentle hand in his hair, and tending to his wounds if his only intention was to cause some more?

It could still be a wicked mind game Stark was playing on him, but even though it would have been ten times worse had that eventuality proven true, Loki couldn’t miss the chance of enjoying it; he had to grasp at that moment of respite with all of himself, because he knew he had been on the brink of losing himself in the meanders of the palace.

He knew he had been about to give up, to just let himself slide in a state of apathy that would have allowed him to at least avoid the mental sufferance of that place; if he had simply accepted his new position, let himself being used as anyone most liked as if that was the only thing his life was meant for, if he had stopped letting his mind wander to how things were before the man he had called father sold him into slavery, then he would have managed to diminish the anguish that was eating him from the inside.

He would have lost himself, though, more than he had already done.

It had been Stark’s disbelief in front of his submissive behaviour to truly remind him how not so many years ago he would have sank a dagger in the jugular of anyone who dared to cross him, while now he scrambled on his hands and knees at the flick of a wrist.

He couldn’t consider how low he had fallen, though.

Not now, not when he was being shown unexpected kindness by a man he had even fancied when he was still free to do so.

Anthony had even mentioned the fact that that interest wasn’t one-sided, and he had said that even ignoring Loki’s reciprocation of that interest.

To prevent himself from indulging too much on all those dangerous thoughts Loki decided to get up, but a piece of paper caught his eye; the white square was deposited on one of the pillows at his right, so Loki supposed it was meant for him.

Anthony had no idea of how things worked on Alfheim and most of all how they worked for slaves, so he must have relied on the Midgardian way.

 

I will have use for you later, stay here. I expect a proper greeting when I come back.

Chapter Text

Loki stared confusedly at the piece of paper.

What did that mean?

What did Stark mean by that?

What was he supposed to do?

Was he meant to strip of the clothes he had been given and wait naked on the bed? Or on the chaise longue? What could the man possibly want to say with that note?

He had suspected Stark would have turned on him on his face to better enjoy the moment in which Loki would have realised how stupid he had been at trusting him, but those words were still harsh and had only one meaning.

He was so puzzled by them he didn’t even realise those were the first written words he read in over four years.

It wasn’t the certainty Stark wouldn’t have pulled him a trick like that, but that the man would have been smarter in doing so, that spurred him to look for something else, for something that could have given a different meaning to that note.

It was in that moment that his eyes landed on the metal gauntlet carelessly abandoned at the feet of the bed. Loki immediately recognised it as part of Stark’s armour, and it was definitely off place since he was a revered guest of the Council and that if he had wanted to protect himself leaving the weapon he used with his right hand behind was a terrible mistake, a mistake Stark was way too intelligent to commit.

That was why he decided to take the piece of metal in his hands and examine it to understand if that could be linked to the strange content of the note, but his research didn’t last long since a second piece of paper folded many times fell in his lap.
Loki eagerly took it and smoothed it against the palm of his hand.

 

Good, you’ve found the right one. Obviously the previous note (the one on the pillows at your right in case you’ve found this one first) is fake, it doesn’t mean anything. I only left it there so in case someone would’ve entered the room and started asking you questions you could’ve shown them the note and be done with the fuckers.

Anyway, the door is locked from the outside. I hope you don’t mind, it was the safest option I could think about with such short notice. You were sleeping and I didn’t feel like leaving the door open for anyone to come in if only they wanted to. I’m sure they have a second key, but maybe they’ll restrain from using it since my precise instruction is to leave the door close.

I’ve been invited to some sort of trip I don’t know where, but I’ve been assured I would’ve been back before dinner. Not that I trust what they say, but it’s the only indication I can give you.

As you’re here do what you want, everything in the rooms is at your disposal, I don’t care what they’ve told you. If you want to get drunk do it, maybe just don’t start singing or you’ll draw too much attention. Beside that, feel free to do anything you like.

As you can see brevity isn’t my forte, anyway I think the meaning is understandable.

See you later, Bambi.

 

Tony

 

Loki kept staring at the piece of paper, and he finally realised what he was doing.

He was reading.

He was reading after four years.

He, who used to spend days on end in his library, lost in the hundreds of books in his possession, was now clinging to a note where a man who was refusing to behave as his master had scrambled a few sentences for his benefit, to make him feel safe and relax.

He could have felt angry for how he had been stripped of everything he had had, but right now he only felt grateful and genuinely happy; he kept tracing the letters with the tip of his finger, following the untidy calligraphy over and over to let the texture of ink sink into his skin. It was a strange kind of ink, one that he had never seen before; an old and almost forgotten part of him appreciated the fluidity of that ink, how it had left so thin and precise signs on the paper even though it was clear the massage had been written hastily. That old and almost forgotten part of him would have probably asked Anthony to tell him what mixture of ingredients he had chosen, which dosages of powder and liquids he had used, but that would have been of no avail now.

Slaves weren’t allowed to read, but while for many of them it wasn’t a problem since they couldn’t neither write nor read, for him it was just another part of his torture.

Anthony probably didn’t know what he had just done, but that wasn’t enough to make Loki stop wanting to be good too him in any way he could. Maybe Anthony didn’t want to have sex with him, but there were many other things he could be useful for. Not that lately he had been appreciated for those, but he still knew what he was capable of. The man had already told him he could have been of assistance with the formalities of the business deal he was trying to achieve, but he wouldn’t have stopped at that. Loki would have found other ways to show his gratitude, to prove him how thankful he was for how Tony was treating him.

He read the note a few more times, enjoying once more the feeling reading conveyed, then he realised it was time for him to do something to prove his point and be worthy of all the attentions Anthony was reserving him.

His eyes landed on the suitcases still in the corner; he remembered Anthony mentioning the fact he should have unpacked sooner or later, but he had been so busy with his meetings and with taking care of his crisis that he hadn’t had the time.

In the note he now knew by heart Anthony had written to do anything he wanted, and right now Loki only wanted to do something for him, so he quickly got up and started putting away Anthony’s clothes in the huge wardrobe, storing them according to their colour so when he would have had need of them in the next days the man wouldn’t have lost time for matching the colours. With the formal clothes the work was easy – even though Anthony didn’t certainly travel light – with the informal ones it was a little harder, so Loki only sorted them by type, deciding to ask later what Anthony preferred.

There were two more bags containing personal stuff and a couple more with things that Anthony probably used for his business – there were more of those things he had called ‘tablet’ and what looked like documents – so Loki decided to leave them there and to dispose of them after receiving the proper instructions. He didn’t want to indispose Anthony by sticking his nose where he wasn’t meant to.

Stark had told him he shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions, so he would have; normally a slave speaking to his master without being addressed first would have earned himself a beating or a whipping in the worst case, but Anthony seemed to encourage this behaviour in him, allowing him to talk at length whenever he felt like that.

He would have liked to do more, but there was nothing left in the rooms that could require his intervention. All he could do was wait for Anthony to come back in order to keep him company and make his staying a little more pleasant, trying to avoid all the behaviours that seemed to affect him so much. He had to get a hold on himself and stop losing his composure in front of the man, even though Anthony had never chastised him for that.

Loki decided to sit in a corner waiting for Anthony, reading again the note over and over, and that was how Tony found him an hour later.

Chapter Text

“Good, you found the right note. I know the one I left on the bed wasn’t the most polite thing I ever wrote, but I was kind of in a tight schedule. Is my handwriting so bad?” Tony asked when he realised Loki was still clutching the piece of paper in his hands.

“No, absolutely,” Loki smiled, “I was only reading it again,” he picked up the jacket Tony had just carelessly thrown on the bed and went to hang it in the wardrobe.

“Did you unpack my luggage?”

“Yes, I thought you might have appreciated it, but if you don’t-“

“You’re amazing, Lokes,” Tony complimented him reaching him in front of the wardrobe, “Did you sort them by colour?” He wondered, and Loki slightly blushed at the fact Anthony had quickly noticed that attention he had reserved him, “I’ve been told I make obnoxious colour choices, but you seem to have much more fashion sense than I do. If we exclude the helmet with the horns.”

Loki hid his growing blush by staring back at the note, and was naturally distracted by the written words on it even though he knew them by heart.

“What’s this thing with the note?” Tony asked when he noticed were Loki’s eyes were fixed.

“I’m sorry,” Loki quickly handed it back, fighting against the reluctance that would have had him hide that small piece of paper in order to have something to read later, when his masters wouldn’t have slipped on the mistake of giving him written instructions. Maybe in the time spent with the members of the Council Anthony had become aware of Loki’s restrictions, and had decided to play along with them. After all, Anthony had told him he wouldn’t have hurt him, not that he wouldn’t have been treated as a slave at all.

“You can keep it if you want to, I’m only curious,” he pushed back Loki’s hand.

“Oh.”

“So?”

“I… It’s been a long time since I had something to read,” he admitted in the end.

“You mean you’re not allowed to?”

So here they were.

“No, I am not.”

Loki was ready to give the note back now, but when he raised his eyes Anthony wasn’t there anymore. The man was heading to the corner of the room where Loki had left the bags he hadn’t dared to unpack and in a few moments he was back with a tablet in his hands.

“Here,” Tony had to thrust the StarkPad in Loki’s hands since the former prince didn’t seem to understand what he was doing, “It’s for you, you can keep it,” Tony added.

Thor had mentioned his brother was a bookworm, how he used to spend all his time in his library just like Tony used to spend his in his lab, and he couldn’t even imagine to stay away from it for four years.

Well, not that it was the worst thing that had happened to Loki, but it was the only thing Tony could easily solve at the moment.

“For me?” Loki asked, suspecting a trick. Only good slaves received gifts, but they were always clothes, in the most special cases jewels, anyway something the master who had given them could appreciate when those gifts were used. Loki had not been good with Anthony and that black box couldn’t certainly be described as pleasant to the eye.

“Yes, for you. Here, let me turn it on,” he pressed a little button on the side and the screen lighted up, “There are some books already on it, but I can download more. Or I can show you how to, so you can pick the ones that most catch your fancy.”

“B-books?” Loki stuttered.

“I know it isn’t paper – and I suspect you like that version more – but it’s the best I can do for now. Let me show you,” he led Loki to one of the armchairs and perched on the armrest, setting the StarkPad on Loki’s legs, “If you click this icon, it’ll show you all the books that are already present in the memory of the device. There is no time limitation, you can interrupt your reading whenever you want to and change book if you don’t like the one you chose. Just remember to tell me when the battery is low, so I can show you how to recharge it. I’m afraid they are only Midgardian books, but-“ he stopped mid-sentence when Loki threw himself at him, his arms circling Tony’s waist.

“Loki?” He asked, awkwardly patting Loki’s head.

“Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he kept on mumbling against Tony’s side, his face buried in the fabric of Tony’s shirt.

“Uh, you’re welcome, Lokes. It’s nothing really.”

“It isn’t nothing,” he pulled back to wipe away a tear that had just escaped he corner of his eye to avoid ruining Anthony’s shirt, “Thank you.”

“It’s just a few books,” he tried to brush it off, but he kind of understood what that gesture meant for Loki; it was the first time he managed to really understand one of Loki’s reactions, and not because they were out of place, but because this one was the one he could relate the most with. He had been imprisoned and tortured, but not to the degree Loki was; being deprived of his passion was something he could understand better, even though he had found his way to keep building stuff even in that cave in Afghanistan.

He quietly stroked Loki’s back, his fingers easily sliding in his long black hair, conceding him the chance of pulling himself together a little.

It was too much for Loki to handle, the degree of freedom Anthony was granting him even in his situation, and there was nothing he could do but feel overwhelmed by it. Giving him back a part of his life that had been so important for him, telling him to choose what he preferred the most and even offering to add more to the gift that already meant the world to Loki… There was no way the fallen prince would have managed to control the rush of emotions Anthony had caused.

“Lolo, it’s fine,” he said, even if Loki probably wasn’t even listening.

It took Loki a solid five minutes to be able to raise his eyes again, and Tony found himself stunned by their colour.

They were different, like something had been off up to that moment, as if his irises had been clouded by a dark veil over them. Now they shone bright, of an incredible emerald green that seemed to even reflect the light of the room, and then Tony realised what the difference consisted in.

He had never seen Loki happy.

That was the third shade Loki’s eyes assumed in Tony’s presence. When they had met the first time they had been of a starling electric blue, the same colour the Tesseract was, something that should have already let them to question Loki’s degree of willing participation in his foiled attempt of taking over Earth; the second time Tony had managed to meet Loki’s eyes it had been a couple of days before, and in that moment he had realised there was something different in him, that the kneeling version of Loki he had been presented with was way different from the one who had thrown him out a window; and now there was this third shade, so different from the previous two that it quickly told that this was a third version of Loki.

Not the controlled one, not the scared and broken one, a happy one.

His eyes were so beautiful Tony was convinced he would have done basically anything to keep seeing that colour.

“Hey, Lokes,” he murmured against Loki’s hair, fighting again with that strange protectiveness that had so quickly developed in him; there wasn’t much else he could say now.

“I… thank you, Anthony. Thank you,” he took Tony’s hands in his and rested his forehead against them, leaving Tony speechless once more.

“Ehm, you’re welcome, again,” he managed to stammer after a few moments, “But really, it’s no big deal. You like reading, you’re entitled to have some books.”

“No, I’m not,” Loki retorted, but his voice was still soft as he spoke those words, and Tony understood why.

“You are when you’re with me, even though you always should because this slavery shit is so fucking wrong that I hate to think about it and why the fuck am I talking about this since we were having a nice moment?”

That was the final straw for Loki, and last thing Tony knew was that he wasn’t anymore on the armrest and that he had Loki in his lap, curled up against his chest, his shoulders shaking lightly.

They were having a nice moment.

Anthony had said ‘we’, as if they were together.

“Hey, there’s no need to be so touchy, really. Not that it bothers me,” he added quickly, when Loki’s expression revealed how he feared to have misstepped, “If you want to curl up on me like a cat I’m completely fine, but if it’s a sort of payback then no.”

“It is not,” Loki assured, his mouth against Tony’s neck; after a few seconds he started tinkering with the tablet in his hands, looking for the point Anthony had touched that had made the front part light up.

“Here,” Tony suggested, pointing at the side of the tablet, then he remained silent to watch the childish awe written vividly on Loki’s traits. It was strange the effect that seeing Loki play with one of his simplest creations stirred in him.

“Lokes?” He called after a handful of minutes, distracting Loki from his game; he could have started reading as soon as the black little board had come up to life, but his curiosity had won over his desire for a book and he was currently lost in the exploration of what that little colourful squares could reveal.

“There’s the possibility I have to attend the feast the Circle of Evil are throwing tonight since apparently it’s in my honour. If it’s fine by you I could lock again the door from the outside.”

“There’s no need to ask me,” Loki informed him, his voice still soft despite the words coming out of his mouth.

“Yes, there is, because I’m not a fucking monster.”

“Do you want me to stay here even though you will be elsewhere?” He asked, because he couldn’t pass the possibility of freely making questions.

“The moment I let you out of my sight something horrible happens to you, so yes, of course. And most definitely you aren’t to stay around drunk people at night. Beside me,” he added for completeness’ sake, making Loki’s lips curl up.

“Thank you for your hospitality, then.”

“You have books now so you shouldn’t get bored, anyway you can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t harm yourself and don’t destroy anything.”

“I have no intention of causing trouble, Anthony.”

“Never too careful with you. Mind control or not, you’re quite known for causing chaos in your wake.”

“Not anymore,” Loki murmured and the light mood vanished like a soap bubble.

“Anyway,” Tony cleared his throat trying to buy some time in order to come up with something that could have erased the words he had so stupidly chosen, “I’ve told them to bring food here even if I’m at their stupid banquet, so you won’t starve.”

What he hoped would have reassured Loki only made his eyes widen in fear, “They’ll know there’s something wrong, they’ll find a way to not let me come here to you again.”

They would have said he was ill and that he was contagious, so Anthony wouldn’t have been able to request his presence, and he would have probably been sent to the Cell because it was obviously his fault if a new guest believed he had the right to eat from their table.

“I’m one step ahead of you,” Tony grinned, his hand naturally playing with the ends of Loki’s hair, “I’ve told them it’s a test, that I know you’re hungry and I’ll leave you unsupervised with food.”

Loki frowned a little, his frantic and panicked breathing slowing a little.

“Obviously you can eat whatever you want since it’ll be me to tell them if you passed the test or not, but I had to throw them a bone and let them believe I’m fine playing along with their fucked up mental tortures.”

The green light in Loki’s eyes twinkled again, intrigued by how Anthony had been good at picking up exactly what the members of the Council wanted to hear after only meeting them a few times.

“Do you think they’ll buy it?”

Loki nodded, “It’s sadistic enough for them.”

“It’s settled then.”

Loki gave him a little smile and settled under his arm, still refusing to abandon the comfort Anthony’s body was providing him; it would have probably been better if he simply went to sit on the floor with his unexpected gift, but he didn’t have it in him to move away from that strange embrace.

"Listen, Lolo, now I have to go, really,” Tony said after a few moments of relaxed silence during which Loki had continued playing with the tablet.

"Of course," he nodded, stepping away from the man and from his warmth.

"Do whatever you want and eat, okay? Mostly that, I can count your ribs when you snuggle against me. I'll knock before unlocking the door, so you'll know it's me. If the door is only opening without the knock, sit in the corner and tell whoever it is that's what I told you to do. Everything clear?"

Loki nodded, unable to thank him once again for that day.

"See you later, Bambi."

Chapter Text

Loki only waited for the door to close before he flung himself on the tablet he had left on the armrest when he had got up, turning it on and tapping the first title he laid his eyes on; for a moment the amount of words at his disposal overwhelmed him.

They were all there for him, and he was allowed to read them.

What Anthony had presented him with wasn't a trap, but the most beautiful gift he had ever received.

Barely noticing his surroundings he sat on the comfy armchair and lost himself in the reading, enjoying the Midgardian book; in a long forgotten past he had disdained Midgardian literature, convinced that humans couldn't produce anything worth his time since they were only fleeting and dull creatures whose lives were too short to provide them with the necessary insight to come up with an interesting plot. Apparently he had been wrong.

Not only on their ability with words, but on humans as a whole. Or if not as a whole at least he had to admit some of them were peculiar; Anthony was just human and at the moment he was the only person Loki cared about.

Only when he touched something wrong on the tablet and the screen returned to the first picture it had shown – Stark's name in a fancy font – he realised how he had forgotten everything around him, his mind only focusing on the letters before him.

He shook his head a couple of times, squinting, and noticed the tray on the table in the middle of the room. His stomach clenched and his first instinct was to look longingly at the food on it, then Anthony's instructions came back to his mind.

That food was for him.

It had been left there for him to eat and for no one else.

Anthony had been specific in his order, even if Loki suspected he wouldn't have punished him even if he hadn't complied.

Not that he wanted to disobey such a kind order, that was out of question, but it was nice to know that.

Looking around a couple of times to be sure of being alone with no one ready to jump out of the shadows and punish him, Loki ventured to the table, not comfortable in the slightest with what he was about to do but ready to eat anything that was offered to him now that he had a chance to do it.

He hadn’t been instructed about the place he should have occupied though, so he could at least avoid to sit at the table in a place that he so clearly shouldn’t be occupying; eating on the floor didn’t provide the most comfortable position, but at least it gave him a little peace of mind.

There wasn’t much left for him to do when he had finished eating, and he loved that. Usually he only had a couple of hours a day to sleep when he wasn’t requested by some guest or had chores to finish, now he had a full belly and a few hours ahead of him that were entirely his.

And books.

He had books.

There was also a bathtub in the other room.

So many pleasures, all at his disposal.

After a little internal debating he chose the latter, since he could at least be presentable for when Anthony would have returned; in the past he would have simply brought a book with him in the bathtub, but right now he didn’t dare to risk ruining the first gift he had received in years. He would have touched the device only when his hands would have been completely dry, even if that meant sacrificing some of the time he would have dedicated to his reading.

When he heard a soft knock at the door he was already on the bed, the fortress of pillows shielding him from every imaginary threat that his mind could conjure out of the shadows created by the dim lights on the bedside tables, the tablet carefully held in his hands and a book already finished in the virtual library at his disposal.

Anthony came in with an exhausted expression on his face, tugging at his tie to get rid of it. In less than ten seconds his jacket was on the floor and his shoes lost in a dark corner of the room.

“I should’ve never came here alone. I hate to have an entourage but I hate the people here so fucking more,” he snorted landing on the bed beside Loki, making some of the pillows fall from their place.

“Pleasant night, Anthony?” Loki asked with a soft smirk tugging at his lips, the realisation of how familiar that expression was to him before all of that happened only a fleeting thought.

“You aren’t funny,” Tony complained, but his deep frown was already disappearing.

“Wasn’t the feast of your liking?”

“The people attending certainly weren’t,” he removed the pillows between him and Loki and was instantly relieved when the former god naturally turned toward him, but a little startled by his confused expression, “What am I missing?”

“The members of the Council usually do everything in their power to please those they’re doing business with, I don’t understand how they could get such an important night wrong.”

“Having slaves serving at the table is a good start,” he growled.

“You didn’t like them? I’m sure they can call others for the next time.”

“I didn’t like them being there against their will.”

He had hated the show he had been presented with, and when one member of the Council had suggested to have Loki serve at the next feast as the main attraction for all the guests present Tony had thanked his good star for having locked him in his rooms. He would have never told Loki that, though, so he kept the answer vague and focused only on the relief of having made the right choice for once, “If it isn’t strictly necessary, I won’t be attending any of their stupid banquets in the future.”

“They could get offended,” Loki warned, assuming his advisory position as he had been requested the day before.

“They can all go to hell for how much I care,” Tony grumbled, getting up with the only intent of pouring himself a glass of scotch, but deep down he knew that Loki was right, “Okay, you know way more than I do about this fucking people. It still doesn’t mean I won’t do anything in my power to avoid being with them more than what is strictly necessary,” he finished sitting next to Loki and sipping from his glass, “I hope your evening’s been better than mine.”

“Undoubtedly. Thank you.”

“No need to thank me again, Bambi,” Tony mumbled in his glass, shifting on the bed to rest his back against the pillows, and before he could even think about it he already had Loki against his chest, “What…?”

“Is there something I can do for you?”

“I only want to go to sleep right now,” or get drunk, but even his latent alcoholism recognised the dangers of such a possibility.

“As you wish,” Loki rolled back against the only wall of pillows remained to allow him to change into his sleeping clothes, but as soon as Tony was under the sheets Loki was already back in his former position.

“Err… Loki, is something wrong?”

“Why?”

“You’ve been behaving like a cat for the past few hours.”

“I can go sleep on the floor if you prefer.”

“No, not at all. You won’t sleep on the floor, but there’s a huge difference between that and this,” with his chin Tony pointed at Loki’s curled position and at his hand currently clutched on his shirt.

“Apologies, Anthony,” Loki let go of him immediately, withdrawing against the pillows.

“No, Loki, wait. I’m not reproaching you, I’m not sending you away or telling you off, I only want to know what’s behind this,” he would have stopped there to not influence Loki’s answer, but he realised Loki would have panicked if he were to guess what he was asking, “What I mean is that there’s no need to cling to me, to… I don’t know, whatever it is that you’re doing. If you think you have to… show affection to me, no, there’s no need. Really.”

Loki stared at him for a few moments, not really understanding what Anthony meant.

“What I’m saying is that if you want to sleep with me because you feel better doing so then that’s fine. If you do it only because you think that’s what I want, than no, we’ll find another way to make this work.”

“You… don’t want me here?” Loki asked, really at a loss for what was going on.

“That’s really not the point, Loki,” Tony sighed.

“I… I apologise, I don’t understand.”

“This isn’t about me, it’s about you. I know they told you not to and I can’t even imagine how they managed to do that, but ignore everything those fuckers have told you when you’re with me. I’m not by their side, I’m not playing by their rules. If I knew what those people’s values were before coming here I would’ve never even considered the option of doing business with them. So listen to me and please, before I have a mental breakdown, tell me what you want.”

“I… can’t. I’m not allowed to.”

“You’re not even allowed to read, but as you know I don’t give a damn.”

Stark had a point there, and beside that particular piece of evidence he was bringing up he had already shown him so many times how different he was from the people Loki was used to.

It took him a few moments more to find his voice, “I… I think it’s more for me. I’d like to know you’re close,” he had to swallow the remaining of his pride to admit that, but in the few times he had managed to sleep in Anthony’s arms he hadn’t been woken up by his nightmares, and he hadn’t been able to sleep that well in four years.

“If that’s the case then it’s fine,” Tony opened his arms and Loki was against him in the blink of an eye.

“I’m sorry, you only wanted to go to sleep and you got caught in all this,” Loki whispered against his shirt, eyes cast down and shoulders tense.

“What about you stop worrying about me? I can take care of myself, and believe me, it’s been better to have this talk now rather than in the middle of the night.”

Because Tony knew he would have woken up wondering why the hell Loki was using him as his human security blanket, then he would have started hating himself for the possibility of Loki having read his offer as an imposition to which he wasn’t able to oppose, he wouldn’t have been able to go back to sleep and would have ended up waking Loki up to ask him only to regret it later because the poor guy deserved a night of sleep since in the last years the people Tony had come to sign a deal with had decided to add sleep deprivation to their preferred torture methods.

So yes, definitely better now.

“You’re not supposed to burden yourself with me.”

“Is it really such a problem if I try to make your life a little easier?”

Loki grimaced a little and nodded, making Tony snort.

“Without asking anything back, yes,” Loki added, trying to make Anthony understand that in his life nothing came for free.
“Okay, let’s put it this way: you sorted all of my clothes, and I hate unpacking, so you already did something for me.”

That reasoning was so ridiculous it made Loki quirk an eyebrow.

“What?”

“With everything you’ve been doing for me in the last few days it can’t possibly be enough.”

“It is to me,” he held his chin up in resolution and Loki was forced to give up on that front, “if you really want to do something for me then keep these chambers in a decent state, I’m not used to keeping things in order by myself.”

“It is already my duty,” Loki kindly pointed out.

“Listen, Lolo, let’s try to meet somewhere in the middle, okay? To me you should just do whatever you want as long as you don’t try to kill someone, this is already the most I’m comfortable with.”

Loki was even more confused right now. He truly had no way to understand why Anthony wasn’t comfortable with giving him orders, even when they were innocent ones he had no qualms at carrying on, so they remained in silence for a few minutes, trying to make that strange moment pass.

“If you really want to do something you could refill my glass, the bottle should be here somewhere,” Tony waved in the generic direction of his side of the bed and Loki was quick to prove he could be useful in more than one way, preparing Anthony’s drink with the utmost care.

Tony knew he shouldn’t have kept on drinking while remaining in that place – and especially that he shouldn’t have accepted all the scotch Loki continued to solicitously pour him since he had already had a few glasses at the feast he hadn’t been able to refuse for his mental sanity – but every time he told himself that he would have stopped when the glass was empty he found it full again.

Speaking was easier like that, he could ignore how he felt sick every time he thought about what Loki had been through, that way it was simply easier to let Loki curl up against him, stroke his side and comb his finger in his inky hair. That was easier than trying to talk things over, than try to help with useless words that clearly could do nothing to compensate what Loki had endured in those years of unjust punishment.

Hell, that would have been unjust punishment even if Loki’s actions had been his own.

That would have been unjust for everyone, and yet Loki’s supposed father had saw it fit to strip him of everything he had ever had and sold him as a slave to people who had broken him in any way possible.

All of that as a punishment for something Loki hadn’t even wanted.

And even if he had, what had he really done? He had caused some chaos and destruction, but was it that bad? That bad to justify the terms of his punishment?

All of that must have been for Loki’s past, for all the mischief he had caused, for who he was.

The man who had terrorised New York for, well, three hours.

He was nothing of the man he was before, now he was his broken version, the one who had nothing and whose reality only consisted in abuse and humiliation.

It was in that moment, with Loki handing him yet another full glass that he realised Loki was clinging to him because right now he was the only thing the former prince had. Loki wanted Tony to keep him because Tony was his only shelter, his only source of protection, but in Loki’s mind Tony was still a master, and the only way to keep a master in his good terms was to please him in any way possible. That was the reason why he was so desperately trying to be useful to him even when Tony was so clearly turning him down on the only front Loki thought he could have been wanted.

Tony really had to stop thinking if he didn’t want to go mad in there. If he wanted to lighten up the mood a little thinking about that must become a taboo for the moment, chatting with Loki about how his suit worked instead… oh well, that he could easily do. Along with cuddling him and keeping him close.

Loki was all too happy to listen to Anthony’s gibberish, to hear the passionate tone he used to describe his work – the same Loki had used for his magic – and the way his hands hovered over him only made him feel warmer. Anthony’s hands weren’t heavy on his body, they weren’t demanding as Loki was now used to, they only seemed to be there out of their own volition as if each gentle stroke was only meant to soothe or to underline a specific concept.

Loki didn’t mind their gentle pressure, the way in which Anthony’s right hand was currently running in his hair while the left one kept rubbing slow circles onto his side.

Soon Loki found himself nuzzling the man’s neck, breathing in his scent as the man’s arms tightened around him; he felt so incredibly well in the warmth radiating from Anthony’s body, listening to a voice that for once was gentle while addressing him, and Anthony’s mouth was so close to his ear… Loki naturally leaned in that embrace, only half listening to the always more slurred words Anthony was speaking, his eyes fluttering close for the gentle massage Anthony’s hands provided as they slid up and down his sides, his arms going instinctively to circle Anthony’s shoulders and their legs tangling together under the blankets.

There was progressively silence in the dimly lit room, but even though Anthony had stopped talking he hadn’t moved away; it was only when Loki tilted his face up to let his lips meet Anthony’s mouth that he realised the man was asleep.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god, what happened?” Was the mumble Loki woke up to.

“Oh god, no. No, no, no,” Tony kept on muttering, looking at Loki’s shirtless form curled up against him, “It can’t be true. No. No, no.”

“Anthony?” Loki asked, cracking an eye open. He hadn’t slept that well in more than a decade.

“Loki, hey. So, you’re awake. Listen, I’m so sorry. You’re gorgeous and everything, but I had absolutely no intention to… Hang on a second,” Tony finally came back to his senses and realised he was still fully clothed.

“Yes?” He asked, settling to open also his left eye.

“What… why are you undressed?”

“I was really warm but didn’t want to get up,” Loki explained, and Tony couldn’t help but notice how terribly adorable he looked still half-asleep.

“So, uhh, nothing happened.”

“You fell asleep talking.”

Someone else would have objected it wasn’t possible, but Tony knew himself better than that. He also knew that he was a tactile person who turned way too tactile when he had a little too much alcohol at his disposal, and he could see the half-empty bottle on the floor. To add to that there was the fact Loki had been in his bed the whole time, and in the eventuality he had turned into that way too friendly version of himself Tony knew Loki wouldn’t have been able to say no to him.

He remembered showing a little too much affection to the former god, how he had held Loki against his chest and how his hands had slid over his body, the fear of having gone too far was definitely a highly likely possibility.

“And that’s it?”

Loki nodded, snuggling closer to the one person who had actually spent time cuddling him with no ulterior motive, even though now that he was awake he felt the need wrap himself up in the blanket.

“So, nothing bad,” Tony asked again because he really had to be sure about it before he started loathing himself.

“No, you just fell asleep talking about your suit,” Loki reassured him, still not seeing the point of doing so.

Had Anthony claimed him as his bed slave he wouldn’t have had anything in contrary; he had a feeling the man would have been kind to him, that he would have treated him gently. The human wouldn’t have hurt him, maybe would have even cared for him and treated him as an actual person instead of just a toy.

That was wishful thinking, but with all the concern he had heard in Anthony’s voice he could bring himself to hope. Moreover, if Anthony decided to take him he could have had a more certain position than the precarious one he occupied now; some of the guests in the palace decided to have only one bed-warmer during their staying, and those were usually treated better than those who were used only for a night.

A part of Loki had registered the conversation in which Anthony had told him he had no intention of having a bed slave, but that was the only thing Loki knew right now. That was his safest option, the more stable one he could hope for. He had no idea of how long Stark would have decided to act merciful and friendly, while he had witnessed how other slaves fared better in the hands of only one master.

It had never happened to him, and he had never wished for it actually; what he had always wanted was for his time with his momentary master to be over as soon as possible, even though that meant falling in the hands of yet another one.

Anthony instead… he would have liked to remain with him, to keep on sleeping in a bed where no one tried to take him against his will, to keep on eating decent food and being dressed in Anthony’s soft clothes instead of his own rags.

If he could become Stark’s temporary lover he could have a chance of retaining those privileges, and most importantly – not much for his safety but for his mind – he liked Anthony. Fancied him actually.

The cementing interest he felt toward the man, the initial fascination of a few years ago was only growing each time they talked, making Loki’s prejudices about humans fall one at the time. He had always considered them a lower and barbaric race, nothing to be compared against Aesirs or Elves, but the years had proved him wrong: those he had considered superior had acted like beasts, while the only human who had come to know about his situation had shown him mercy and gentleness.

And he had liked the way Anthony’s fingers had lingered on his body the previous night, possessive but light, as if their aim was to keep him from others rather than diffusing his possible escape.

“Thank god,” Tony sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“It would’ve been your right.”

“Don’t even fucking say it.”

“Apologies, I didn’t want to imply anything…” he trailed off, considering that maybe despite his compliments Anthony was disgusted at the prospect of having sex with someone like him, someone who had been everyone’s toy.

“What I mean,” Tony added forcing Loki to look up, “Is that it’s no one’s right. The only right here is yours to say no.”

Loki stared at him with wide eyes.

That was too much for him to listen to, to be reminded of, but the tense silence was interrupted by Anthony’s voice.

“Do you have something for headaches here on the Middle Earth? Last night wasn’t exactly a good idea,” he pressed his thumbs against his closed eyes, and a deep buried part of Loki wanted to sit up and take Anthony’s head in his lap to massage his temples and make the discomfort go away; if he had still been in possession of his magic he would have simply pressed a digit at the centre of the human’s forehead, but he wouldn’t have been there in the first place if he could have still practiced.

“Nothing I could fetch for you, I’m sorry,” he apologised honestly, because after all Anthony had been doing for him he wasn’t helping him in the slightest, “You could ask the Council, though. Its members love to drink too much and I’m sure they could procure you something.”

“I prefer to feel a hammer in the middle of my forehead than asking them a favour,” Tony growled, because there was no way in hell he would have accepted something from those people, “I’ve been worse, anyway,” he shrugged and stretched against the pillows, Loki sliding on the mattress and leaving his chest free, “I think I’ll add something cat-related to the list of your nicknames, something like Lokat, or Lokitty. Lokitty is definitely better.”

Loki was a breath away from rolling his eyes, “it’s not my intention to impose, but if your meeting is at the same hour of the previous two you’re almost late, Anthony.”

Tony groaned and burrowed his face in the pillow, “No way I’m giving them also my morning. I was there yesterday night, now I’m going to sleep in. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem. Maybe they’ll stop inviting me to their stupid feasts,” he couldn’t shake off what that elf had said about Loki the previous night, and he had no intention whatsoever to face those disgusting people again so soon.

The former prince sat up with the hint of a smile on his lips when he saw how Anthony was tugging at the blankets to maintain all the warmth and go back to sleep; it was instinctual for him to tuck the sheets for him, even before retrieving the shirt he had abandoned during the night.

“Oh, thanks,” he slurred, but before Loki could leave him to his rest Tony’s hand grasped a lock of his hair, “If you want you can stay.”

This time the smile formed completely on Loki’s lips and he curled back against Anthony, enjoying how the human’s arm came to rest around his waist.

Chapter Text

Tony had grudgingly crawled out of bed at noon, aware that he had come to that hellish place to get things done, not to lounge in a comfortable bed all day.

He had found Loki reading by his side, this time with his shirt on, completely enraptured by the book he he had currently chosen; Tony had made a mental note to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, sooner or later.

After making sure Loki shared some of his breakfast since the former prince hadn’t touched even a crumble on the tray that had appeared on the wooden table in the middle of the room, he had settled for dressing – following Loki’s colour choice and immediately appreciating the result in the mirror – and was reluctantly ready to leave the room.

He had recommended Loki to come back in the evening and off he was to face his day.

Sulking, he had reached the meeting room and had forced himself not to glare at the few members of the Council who had commented with a smirk that he must have had fun with his slave if he was so late; he had dismissed them saying he was always late, but was nonetheless forced to listen to what they had done with the slaves of the palace that night.

At this point, Tony wouldn’t even try to blame his nausea on the alcohol Loki had kept pouring him the previous night.

He had soldiered on through the negotiations and the elves’ perverse sense of what was supposed to be funny – not so many hours actually but it felt like he had been stuck in that room with those people for days, and when they were finally done Tony had been forced to have dinner with them despite his previous declarations that he would have never done that again.

Heading back to his chambers he had already decided he would have ordered something for Loki, but when he opened the door there was no trace of the fallen prince he had intended to feed.

“Loki?” He called for good measure, even though he knew Loki would have greeted him on the threshold if he was in there.

If he could.

The image of Loki strapped to the canopy bed still lingered in his mind, so he hurried to check all the rooms and even the small garden just to be sure, but Loki was nowhere to be found.

A couple of days before Tony wouldn’t have minded someone who was slightly late, now he was worried.

Like, really worried.

He sighed in relief when he heard a soft knock at the door.

“Come in,” he said, not giving in to a joke because there was a high chance Loki was being escorted by someone who would have seen that as weird.

His brow furrowed in confusion when Loki swayed inside with an idiotic smile plastered on his face.

“Loki?”

The smile grew wider as Loki closed the door.

Something was off.

“Loki?”

“Yes, master?”

Something was definitely off.

“Err… Loki, it’s me,” he cautiously approached, his hands raised.

“Yes, master?” Loki repeated, and in a moment he was in Tony’s arms.

“Uh, Bambi, what’s this?” He asked, honestly confused.

“I’m here for you, master,” he purred as his hand roamed on Tony’s chest.

“That’s not exactly what I mean,” he put his hands on Loki’s shoulders since he wasn’t sure for how long he would have been able to stand on his own, but his gesture was misinterpreted as Loki started rubbing his nose against Tony’s jawline.

“Loki, really, what’s going on?”

“I’m here to please you, master,” Loki kept on smiling, but it had nothing to do with the smile Tony had seen the day before when Loki had received the StarkPad with its load of books. It was a fake smile, as if someone was pulling up the corners of his mouth with a couple of hooks.

Now that Tony looked with a little more attention he noticed a different shade of green, a fourth version of Loki’s eyes. They were glassy, almost unfocused as he looked at Tony, hands still roaming on his chest, and never meeting Tony’s eyes as the first night they had stumbled upon each other in that fucked up place.

Beside avoiding to make eye contact, Tony knew that look.

“Loki, are you high?” He hooked two fingers under Loki’s chin and tilted his head up, noticing only in that moment the forming bruises at the corners of Loki’s mouth and around his neck, “What happened?”

“Nothing, master,” he rubbed his cheek against Tony’s hand like a cat.

“Did they give you something? What’s going on, Loki?”

“Nothing, master,” that pasty smile again, “Nothing you have to worry about, master. I’m only here to please you, in any way you may like,” his hands travelled down the human’s body, but Tony gripped his wrists.

“Loki, no. You’ve been drugged and you probably have no idea of what you’re doing.”

“I’m trying to be a good slave for you, master.”

If Tony hadn’t already guessed someone had managed to give Loki something nasty to make him behave like that he would have now.

“Loki, again, no. And stop trying to undress me,” he ordered, because it was already difficult enough without Loki trying to get him naked.

“I apologise, master, I’m sorry. Whatever punishment you deem fit I’ll gladly take.”

“No, no punishment,” Tony interrupted him, “Can you stand on your own?”

“Whatever you wish me to do, master.” Loki smiled again that chalky smile, making Tony want to bang his head against a wall also that day.

“Okay… stay here then,” he rushed to the table and came back with a glass of water, “Drink this, please.”

There was no hesitation from Loki’s part, and Tony was always more worried.

“Better?”

“I’m fine, master,” Loki put down the glass and was once again in Tony’s arms, his hands running up and down the human’s back, “What may I do for you, master?” He whispered hotly in Tony’s ear, and Tony shivered despite himself, “How would you like to have me?”

“For instance, take a step back.”

He regretted the sentence immediately as Loki fell on his knees in front of him, a hand reaching for the fly of his pants.
“No,” Tony stopped him and took a step back just in case.

“You prefer something else to start with, master?”

“What? No! Get up, for Christ’s sake,” he cursed in exasperation.

“I apologise for making you angry, master. Please, let me fix that,” he surged forward and Tony decided that the only way to make Loki stop was to physically block him trapping his arms with his own.

Loki didn’t seem to notice the trick and started rubbing his cheek against Tony’s shoulder, his nose tickling his throat and a leg sliding between Tony’s.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Tony picked him up and carried him bridal style toward the bathroom, Loki not complaining in the slightest as he passed his arms around Tony’s shoulders for support.

Not letting go Tony opened the water in the bathtub, thanking once again how quickly it filled. As soon as there was enough water he deposited Loki in the tub, making him flinch in surprise.

“I know it’s cold but I can’t have you trying to jump me at any moment.”

There was a confused expression in Loki’s green eyes as he shivered in the cold water.

“Don’t look at me like that, it’s for the best,” he took a small basin and poured some of the water on Loki’s head, making his hair even darker if possible.

Loki flinched again, but his eyes seemed to be returning to the right shade of green; the effects of the drug hadn’t faded enough though, because after he recovered from the surprise he got rid of his rags, ending up naked under the cold water.

“Loki?”

“Anything you wish, master,” he shivered lightly but the pasty smile was still present on his lips. His hand was shaking a bit for the cold, but it was still searching contact with Tony.

“Let’s get this straight, alright? I won’t have sex with you.”

“Do you want me to entertain your friends, master?”

“What? No. Fuck, no,” Tony sat on the floor next to the tub, sure it was a good thing if Loki kept so innocently spilling those particular details of his life in the last four years.

“Listen, just stay in the tub for a while. Don’t put your head underwater,” he added and joined Loki in his shivering.

Chapter Text

There was an awful taste in his mouth.

A taste he knew very well.

So it had happened again.

It had been a few months since the last time he had been drugged by the guards to play the role of the willing whore, and the only thing he hated more than the Cell was that.

It was already humiliating enough to be forced to comply to any wish the guests of the palace had, but at least he could still show ho reluctant he was; they enjoyed it, it was more painful, but that little fighting back was at least keeping him sane.

The strange thing was that he was resting in a bed.

They usually left him on the floor or on the table on which he had been on display. Maybe they weren’t done with him yet even though the effect of the drug had wore off.

That was why he forced himself to painfully crack one eye open. What he saw was even worse that the effect of the drug on his bones.

Stark was sitting by the bed.

He was slouched on the armchair he had dragged close to better enjoy the view, his chin resting on the palm of his hand, clearly waiting for him to wake up.

“If you wanted my participation you could’ve simply asked,” Loki murmured bitterly, because at this point there was nothing worst that could happen to him.

In the end, also Stark had dropped his mask.

The play had been longer, had drawn him deeper, and it was only more cruel because of it.

Loki had allowed himself to hope once more, to grow actually fond of that man who had apparently protected him for no other purpose than hurting him more later.

He even meant what he had just said; if Stark had asked him, he would have gladly given himself to him, convinced that the human would have been gentle with him.

Apparently he had been wrong.

“Hey, Lolo,” the sight of relief and the concerned voice instantly enraged Loki. The human could at least have the decency of not pretending to care about him. He had dropped the mask, there was no reason to lie now.

“Yes, master?” He snarled.

“It’s me, Loki. Tony. It’s just me.”

Loki felt the mattress dip under Stark’s weight and he turned his face to the side, trying to ignore how difficult the movement was.

“Please, just give me a few moments, master,” he was secretly proud of how he had managed to keep his voice blank, devoid of any emotion.

“Loki?” Stark asked, probably made curious by his tone.

“Yes, master?” This time bitterness showed again.

“No, hey, it’s me.”

When Stark touched his shoulder Loki couldn’t help but flinch.

“It’s just me.”

Concern seemed to have increased in Stark’s voice and Loki couldn’t take it anymore. What more could that man do to him, anyway?

“I am aware, master.”

“Loki, what…” there was a pause, so long it almost prompted Loki to turn back toward the man.

“Oh. No, hey, no!”

This time Stark’s hands landed on him more forcefully, and Loki squirmed in his grasp, trying to get away from him.

“Please, master.”

“No, Loki, look at me. Look at me. You don’t remember?” Stark grabbed his face in his hands, ignoring Loki’s trashing to get free, “It wasn’t my idea, okay? I don’t know what they gave you, but it wasn’t my idea, it wasn’t my suggestion. Please, believe me,” he added, quite desperate.

That was something new for Loki.

Usually those who requested him drugged taunted him by telling him what he had said and what he had done, no one had ever tried to deny. No one had ever played with him as Stark had done, though.

“Please, Loki, believe me,” strangely, sensing his distress, Stark let him go, “I know you have no reason to, but please don’t think so low of me.”

Loki, who had already crawled as far away as possible, trying not to hiss in pain, came to a halt against the pillows. Only in that moment he realised he wasn’t naked but covered by the clothes Stark had given him in the previous days; the hoodie was even zipped up to his chest.

“Are you in pain? Did that stuff leave some kind of after-effect?”

Loki nodded doubtfully, but now that Stark mentioned it Loki realised that he was yes in pain, but not like the other times he had woken up after being drugged; slowly moving his hands he examined his body through the layers of fabric, but he couldn’t find any spot that hurt more than the rest of his body.

Actually there was something at the level of his shin, but that was strange.

“Sorry, I slipped helping you out of the tub.”

That explained why he was so unusually clean.

“You really don’t remember?”

Loki kept staring at the coverlet, noticing the bed was still made but for the blanket he had discarded while moving away from Stark.

“Loki, hey,” Stark was evidently trying to make his voice smoother and softer, “Lie down, okay? I’ll stay away if you want me to, but you have to rest.”

To his credit, Stark got up after saying that, but he only moved to the foot of the bed.

“I know there’s no way for you to believe me if you don’t remember, but I can assure you that nothing happened. I only put you in the bathtub because I hoped it would’ve cleared your head, but it only worked partially, you still weren’t yourself. I had no idea of what to do since you kept throwing yourself at me – it was pretty clear it wasn’tyour intention – so I locked you in the bathroom. Eventually you passed out and I brought you here. You’ve been off for four hours now.”

Loki didn’t believe him. How could he?

The situation was way different from what he was used to, but the fact he had been drugged still remained, he could still taste the horrible drops in his mouth.

“Wait, I know how you could believe me,” Stark seemed to brighten up as he hurried toward a corner of the room, coming back with a tablet in his hands, “As soon as I arrived, I installed security cameras in all the rooms, so I can show you what happened. You can see it with your eyes,” he sat beside Loki, careful not to touch him this time, and handed him the StarkPad.

Loki hesitantly took it, grimacing at the effort of merely raising his arm, and focused on the grey images on the screen; it was split in four squares, each of them showing a different part of Stark’s chambers.

“I’ll make it go a little faster. There’s no sound, but I’m pretty sure you can read lips.”

Loki actually could once, now he wasn’t so sure anymore.

Tony pinpointed the moment when Loki had knocked on the door and pressed play for him.

It wasn’t that strange for Loki to see himself from the outside — used as he once had been to cast illusions of himself to watch the situation from a safe distance – but watching that sort of behaviour from himself… there was no way he could suppress the shame.

He was startled though when he saw Stark blocking him, making him stand when he had knelt in front of him, blocking him once again and then taking him in his arms, scooping him up and carrying him away from the room, all the while with a shocked expression on his face.

Loki couldn’t know what had happened in the other room, though. Since he was perfectly aware of where he had placed the cameras probably Stark had brought him in a room where there weren’t any because he didn’t want to leave evidence of what he had done; not that he had any reason to, especially since he was probably the only one entitled to watch those recordings, but that was the most plausible thing that came to his mind.

“Wait, let me change the camera,” Stark tapped on the screen and in one of the four squares the image displaying the front door disappeared, making room for one showing the bathroom.

So Loki witnessed to the gentle way in which Stark had lowered him in the water and had waited by his side, helping him out of the tub when Loki’s shivering for the low temperature of the water had become too intense; even the part of Stark slipping was true apparently, but Loki hadn’t seemed to mind at the moment since he had ended up sprawled on the man’s chest.

He also saw how Stark had freed himself from his grasp and had settled for leaving the room for good. He had waited sitting with his back against the door, and when he had been sure Loki had lost consciousness he had re-entered the bathroom and picked him up from the floor, carrying him to the bed. Anthony had even returned to the bathroom to fetch some towels and had started drying Loki’s cold skin before dressing him with his clothes. From then on, he had simply waited on the armchair he had dragged beside the bed, concern painted brightly on his face.

Loki slowly turned toward him.

“You didn’t…”

“No. Absolutely not,” his voice wasn’t outraged as it had always been at the hint of him wanting to force himself on someone else, and Loki could clearly see the man was trying to control himself not to scare him.

“You just… cared for me,” he turned painfully to the side.

“You were high, Lolo. You clearly had no idea of what you were doing.”

“You could’ve still taken advantage of the situation.”

“I really don’t think so.”

This time Loki rolled in Anthony’s arms, warm tears spilling from his eyes at the thought of what his life had become.

Tony only drew him closer and draped the abandoned blanket on the shivering figure in his arms, only rubbing soothing circles on Loki’s back as the fallen prince abandoned himself to his own misery.

Tony understood the need of letting off some steam by crying your eyes out, so he didn’t say a word to the sobbing creature in his arms.

“I… I’m sorry. Again,” Loki sniffed after a while, wiping his puffy eyes with his fingers.

“What for, Bambi? You were only slightly annoying.”

“For doubting you. Again,” he feebly tried to move from his position not to weight on Anthony, but it was so clear he was doing it out of good manners and not because he wanted to.

“And again, I’ve told you that you have every right to be wary around me even if my intention is to not give you any reason to.”

“But…”

“No, Loki, it’s already bad enough without you apologising for something that isn’t your fault,” he hooked a loose strand of Loki’s hair behind his ear, and with that he considered that part of their conversation ended, “Is there something I can do for you? It’s pretty clear you aren’t feeling good.”

“It’ll pass. Usually when I wake up from this the after-effects of the drops are the most negligible of my problems.”

This time at least he wasn’t a mess of blood and cum. He was in a comfortable bed wearing clean clothes with someone hugging him, the pain in his bones that made him wince every time he tried to move was only a slight inconvenience.

Tony gritted his teeth but decided not to comment on that; instead he focused on how raspy Loki’s voice was, “You thirsty?”

It took Loki a moment to recover from such a simple and at the same time heartwarming sentence, “Yes. Those drops leave my mouth dry and with a terrible taste,” he didn’t add that normally it wasn’t the only drops he tasted in his mouth when he woke up from the effects of the drug.

“No water then,” Tony got up and disappeared from Loki’s sight, returning with a glass filled with a ruby liquid, “Grape juice,” he explained, and Loki beamed at his thoughtfulness.

“Do you need help?”

“No, I can do it,” he accepted nonetheless the hand Anthony offered him to sit up against the pillows, “Thank you.”

“No need. Now drink.”

Loki would’ve liked to, but his hand froze mid-air.

Chapter Text

He couldn’t.

He couldn’t just accept to drink something so light-heartedly after being forced to swallow the water that contained the drops that had turned him in that pliant and shameful thing he had been been up to a few hours before.

“What’s wrong?” Tony asked sitting next to him, “You indeed need my help, after all?”

Loki shook his head, unable to voice the reasons of his ungratefulness. He kept eyeing the glass, his throat dry and the thirst terrible, but he couldn’t move to take it.

Tony stared at his strange expression for a few moments, then the bruises around his mouth and on his neck caught his attention, “They forced you to drink the drops, right? You think I might have poured some in this.”

Loki would have liked to deny, to tell that kind human who was helping him so much that he knew he wouldn’t have drugged his drink, but he couldn’t. There was no way for him to trust Anthony so easily at the moment, with the taste of the drops still in his mouth.

“This one’s easy to solve,” Tony took a sip from the glass and handed it back to Loki, who accepted it this time, “I still prefer wine. What a waste of grapes for something so alcohol-free.”

Loki eyed him cautiously for a few seconds but when he noticed the human was still talking his usual nonsense he started to drink greedily, finally relieving his thirst.

Tony smiled for his success and went to retrieve the pitcher containing the juice, “If you’re hungry I can get you something to eat too,” he offered, but it looked like Loki only wanted to sate his thirst and curl back up against him.

Tony saw no reason not to indulge him.

“Feeling better, Bambi? I think the bath left you a little cold,” Tony commented adjusting the blanket around Loki.

“It is not for the bath,” he mumbled as a shiver went through him, “It’s for the drops. External cold doesn’t bother me that much,” his jotun nature allowed him not to be too much affected by the cold even at low temperatures, but another side-effect of the drops was to leave his bones icy other than sore.

“If you want another blanket just ask.”

“I’m fine, thank you,” he snuggled under the man’s arm and Tony seemed to understand that Loki being fine pretty much depended on his presence at the moment, so he brought also his other arm around him.

“Is there something more I can do?”

The way in which he asked, something in the tone of his voice, sounded odd in Loki’s ears and he felt compelled to look up and search the man’s face, “Do you feel guilty?” He ventured before he could stop himself.

“Of course I do,” Tony exclaimed.

“Why? You touched me only to get me away from you.”

“They drugged you and sent you here, for me. They did it because they thought to please me by doing that to you. Of course I feel guilty.”

In a different moment, Loki would have smiled, “You shouldn’t. It wasn’t the first time it has happened, so it’s only partially linked to you.”

“Not that this makes me feel better…” Tony snorted, subconsciously tightening his grip on Loki, who only snuggled closer to him.

“You know, I’ll stick with my definition: you’ve turned into a cat.”

“I can move to another part of the bed or of the room if you wish me to.”

“I was only joking and honestly you don’t seem able to go far.”

Loki would have countered that no one had ever cared much about that, kicking him out of the room or requesting his services again as the memories of the previous hours flooded back, but he didn’t want to talk about that at the moment. He only wanted to make that pain pass, to forget the sensation of his clouded mind, to forget where he was altogether.

“If you want to stay on your own I’ll be the one moving.”

“There’s no need.”

“I guessed so,” Tony smiled and started brushing his hand through Loki’s hair, disentangling the worst knots he found while being careful not to pull too hard.

Loki was mollified by the man’s hands and soon enough there wasn’t room anymore for tormenting thoughts in his mind; he only focused on the movement of Anthony’s fingers, how they soothed and curled, eliciting small pleased noises from him.

They were still curled up together when someone knocked at the door without them even noticing. Who was on the other side of the door didn’t seem to mind the silence and simply entered the room making them both startle.

“What?” Tony barked at the usual guard, not bothering to diffuse the impression they must be giving; he wouldn’t have abandoned Loki to deal with that shit alone, he wouldn’t have removed his arms from around the former god only because that sadistic fucker could think they shared the same twisted mind set.

“I came to get you rid of the slave, sir, so he won’t bother you anymore. If I may, there was no need to keep him in your bed, he could’ve simply waited for me on the floor.”

“What if I want to keep him here?” He snapped, and thankfully noticed that the blanket Loki was enveloped into reached his chin, so none of the clothes showed. He was shivering so much Tony felt the pressing urge to wrap around him to make him feel safer.

“In this case,” the guard sneered, leading Tony to ask himself what the hell he had understood, “Let me give you this, sir,” he pulled a vial out of a pocket and handed it to Tony, pinching Loki’s cheek in the process and laughing at him.

“What’s this?”

“The same drops we gave to the godling before. He’s way more fun all pliant and slutty.”

“Get out.”

The guard’s grin flickered since he had probably hoped to share part of that treat he had provided, but he knew better than contradicting Stark’s eager command again; he had already had the man repeating himself too many times, so he quickly retreated before the human could decide to report him to the Council.

When Tony’s eyes searched Loki’s he found him staring at the vial as if it was about to explode, but Tony was quick to make that look disappear.

With all the hate and disgust he had been harbouring in the last days he threw the vial against the door, watching it shatter in a snow of crystal.

“That fucker,” he mumbled, cradling Loki in his arms and resting his chin on top of Loki’s head.

“You… you threw it away.”

“Fuck yes I did. Next time the bastard shows up here I’ll throw something directly at him. Maybe a blast from the repulsers of the suit.”

Loki hummed his approval, the shivering in his limbs slowly calming down, but still not to a point Tony was comfortable with.

“Really, Bambi, if there’s something I can do just tell me and I will.”

Loki remained silent for a few moments, enjoying the warmth radiating from Anthony’s body and the way he was again playing with his hair, before finding the courage to speak up, “May I stay here tomorrow?”

“Of course you can,” Tony answered with no hesitation, “I thought it was implicit you were to not be out of here.”

“You want me to stay?”

“Loki, yes. That’s not even a question.”

“I won’t be of much company though, you should know that,” Anthony prompted him to go on tugging at a lock of his hair, “The residual effects of the drops last for several hours, I’m afraid I will not be at my best tomorrow morning.”

“First of all, you’re not here to entertain me. Secondly, it’ll be tomorrow morning in…” he checked the StarkPad, “Two hours. It’s four a.m,” he explained, “Just go to sleep, don’t worry.”

Loki would have protested that he couldn’t stay idle all that time, especially not when he had already been such a nuisance to Anthony in the last too many hours, but the man’s hand clasped on his mouth.

“Sleep, Loki.”

Loki had never received an order with a softest voice, so he simply decided to succumb to the numbness that was already taking hold of him.

 

~

 

When he woke up again his body was still sore, but nothing in comparison with how he had felt the previous day.

The room was bright even behind his eyelids, and he could hear the birds tweeting in the small garden through the huge windows that opened on it.

He had obviously slept late into the morning, but for once he didn’t feel anxious about it. He had fallen asleep to Anthony’s reassurances, and their effect was still lingering, even more than the one of the drops.

A small part of him guessed that if he had even tried to get up early Anthony would have sent him to bed not even listening to a word he would have said.

He stretched between the sheets, silently yawning against the pillows; he could get used again to such luxuries.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Anthony’s voice made him smile, but he didn’t open his eyes yet.

The mattress sank under Anthony’s weight and soon there was a hand on Loki’s shoulder.

“How are you?”

Loki hummed his answer before deciding to add something to that scarce reaction, “Better.”

He heard Anthony’s small chuckle and the way his fingers clutched his shoulder with a little more force.

“You feel like eating something?”

Loki nodded and finally turned around with his eyes still closed, so he ended up with his forehead resting against Anthony’s thigh without even realising it.

“I was training, if you give me a few minutes to take a shower then I can bring you something. Well, maybe a bit more since in this place there aren’t showers because of course I’m supposed to live as if we’re in the Middle Age and have to take a bath instead of a shower as every normal person would do. Anyway, the point is still the same. Bath since I smell and then your breakfast.”

“Training?” Loki asked in a sleepy voice since his brain had stopped registering Anthony’s words after the first ten ones.

“Yeah, it’s not only the suit working, I have my part in it and I can’t slack if I want to avoid crashing into a building.”

“I can help you with that if you want me to,” Loki yawned. He had been good at fighting before his downfall, certainly not at Thor’s level, but it wasn’t even right to compare their styles; Thor relied on strength only, Loki preferred swiftness and strategy, using the smallest amount of strength to achieve the best result.

“Maybe wake up first,” Anthony chuckled and swept his messy hair away from his eyes.

Loki hummed again and drifted back to sleep the moment Anthony removed his hand from his hair.

“Look what I’ve managed to get, Lo.”

A strange smell assaulted his nostrils before he could even realise how much time had passed, and at that Loki finally opened his eyes.

There was a cup in front of him, a swirl of steam coming out of the dark liquid.

“Coffee,” Anthony beamed, sounding like an excited child, “They knew I drink scotch but not about my addiction to caffeine, that’s strange. I wonder how I was able to function these last days, but probably I was too distracted by the news and had enough adrenaline in my body to keep me running despite the lack of coffee. Anyway, this morning I stopped… someone – I can’t tell if he was a guard or something else – and asked for coffee. A whole pot of it appeared on the table with the rest of the breakfast ten minutes later.”

Maybe Anthony wouldn’t have hurt him during his staying, but he would have surely given him a headache sooner or later.

Chapter Text

“Coffee?” Loki mumbled, trying to shake off the stiffness of his body.

“Yep. Nothing better to put you back on your feet. You prefer it with sugar or black? I go with black, but most people don’t like it.”

“Never had coffee before.”

“Never?” Anthony exclaimed, looking at him as if he had grown another head, “And you lived over a thousand years. Jesus, you’ve really been missing out. Okay, mmh, how to describe it… you prefer your drinks sweet or bitter?”

“Sweet,” he answered, even though lately his preferences hadn’t been taken into account.

“As Your Grace desires.”

Both guards and guests liked to use his former titles to mock him and remind him of what he had lost, but Anthony was saying it so lightheartedly Loki could easily interpret that as yet another name the man had been bestowing since the first time they had met on another realm.

“Here, drink it before it gets too cold.”

With a little manoeuvring Loki sat against the pillows after accepting the cup, and with small sips he drank that strange liquid; he wasn’t used to it, but he liked the rich taste and the warmth spreading in his body. He barely noticed Anthony getting up and coming back with a tray in his hands.

“I’ve put a little of everything in the plates, leave what you don’t like and don’t hesitate to ask more of what it’s of your liking. If my assumptions are right you haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning.”

Loki stared at him with wide eyes, accepting the tray that was being deposited on his legs. Even when he was still a prince he had never had someone bringing him breakfast in bed, no one had ever cared enough to do that for him.

For a brief moment he allowed his mind to wonder what would have been like waking up in Anthony’s bed under different circumstances, how it might have been hadn’t Loki been captured and sentenced to slavery before he had a chance to properly know the man.

Before the thought could ruin that moment Loki swept it away, smiling shyly at Anthony, “There was no need to go at such lengths for me.”

“It’s not like I’ve been the one cooking, Bambi,” he stole a biscuit Loki had been ignoring and stuffed it into his mouth.

“That’s not what I meant,” Loki smiled once again, but stopped pointing out how things were too strange for that place.

“Just out of curiosity,” Anthony spoke up after a few minutes of unusual silence, “How comes that that asshole of a guard is always bringing you to me?”

“Partially because he wants to get your favour,” Loki answered after swallowing a mouthful of the most delicious eggs he had ever tasted.

An expression of pure disgust appeared on Anthony’s face, “My favour? I won’t let that thing into my bed.”

“You’re letting me, though,” Loki commented absentmindedly, and instantly regretted it. At least until Anthony’s hand closed on his arm.

“That’s entirely different.”

“At least he didn’t try to kill you.”

“We already talked about this. I’m the one entitled to be mad about that day, if I’m not there’s no need for you to bring it up again.”

Loki grimaced at the surprising easiness in Anthony’s voice, but decided to listen to what the man was requesting. It was a small request, one of the few ones Anthony had ever made, he could only comply.

“However, it’s not like that. He wants you to mention him to the people you’re doing business with. If he gets noticed by the Council he could receive a promotion.”

“Oh yes, that’s the first thing I mention upon meeting someone. The bastard elf bringing someone into my bed against their will.”

Loki would have liked to mention that it wasn’t against his will anymore since that guard was unconsciously bringing him to the only place he deemed safe in the entire palace, but he didn’t want to risk his luck.

He couldn’t let that silence draw out too long, though, so he asked the first thing that came up to his mind, “Hasn’t the meeting already begun?”

“It was scheduled for two hours ago, but since I’m missing I don’t think they did much. Don’t look at me like that, I’m pissed so I’ll avoid them as long as I want.”

Loki could have advised him against making them wait too much, how showing them too much disrespect could have been dangerous for his business, instead he settled for nestling against Anthony’s chest and pretend that was normal, that lazing off in bed with him was the rule.

In that moment, wearing Anthony’s clothes, eating his food, staying in his bed, he could almost believe he belonged with the man. He had heard of guests who grew fond of the slaves they had met in the palace and had decided to bring them home with them, but if he wanted to savour even only a bit of the almost happiness his staying with Stark was bringing him he shouldn’t venture down that path.

And beside that, Anthony didn’t want him. It was obvious. The man had had any chance to have him, both asking him or by simply taking advantage of those few hours of Loki’s brain blacking out, and yet he hadn’t wanted him.

Anthony was obviously disgusted by the mere prospect of laying with someone like him, someone who held no worth anymore, so his fantasies were just that.

Fantasies.

Fantasies that would have never become true.

It was better for him if he completely ignored them.

He wasn’t a simple slave, born into slavery or made captive in battle, he was there because he had been sentenced to serve, so his possible release was out of question. Freedom wasn’t an option anymore.

That was another thing he couldn’t think about. He couldn’t bring up to his mind the memories of his mock trial held by Odin, hear again his words stripping him of everything and disowning him for good.

How Odin’s hands had sealed off his magic.

There were many things he had to ignore if he wanted to have at least a moment of respite from the internal pain the memories of his false family brought back.

“Indeed, a cat.”

Anthony non-committed comment shook him off of that circle of misery, and Loki snorted thankfully against his neck.

 

~

 

The next two weeks ran smoothly for them.

No one had played strange tricks on Loki in the false hope of gaining Stark’s favour, and beside a couple of bruises Loki had quickly dismissed as something that didn’t even bother him as long as it was just a show or a single blow as he did his chores he didn’t care much.

What he cared about was that no one had touched him anymore.

Tony had made clear he wanted Loki only for himself and would have taken every move against Loki as an insult to his own prestige, and no one had dared to request Loki’s presence anymore.

The fallen prince spent his days mostly in Tony’s chambers, giving an order to the mess the man created on a daily basis or indulging in a little spare time; not that Anthony required his unwavering attention when he was present, but Loki preferred to spend that time talking with the man, enjoying his light teasing and the way he always welcomed him in his arms.

Loki had grown fond of the warmth and calm radiating from the man’s body, and he seized every occasion to curl up against Anthony’s side and let him play with his hair. The only alarming thing was that Loki was growing fond of Anthony himself.

The fleeting feelings he had had years before had turned into something way more deep-rooted, something that scared him with its intensity. He was always more sure that they had little to do with the fact Anthony was granting him peace and safety – even though that was warmly appreciated – and more with how the man was treating him; Anthony had never once addressed him as a slave, he always asked for his opinion and actually listened to what he had to say – differently from what had always been done in Asgard – even when it went against what Anthony believed was right.

They had even argued a couple of times, and even if the first time Loki had been afraid about doing so, about having crossed some boundary, Anthony had reassured him later and told him that for him shouting at someone without holding a grudge at them afterwards was the routine. Loki would have still liked to avoid that shouting, but the next time it had happened he hadn’t almost had a panic attack over it.

Loki adored his time with the human, the easiness between them, and he had never slept so well; not even when he was a prince allowed to rest in the most comfortable beds that could be found he had had such pleasant nights of rest, his mind always keeping him up and making him pace in his chambers for the whole night.

Now either he had a cheek against Anthony’s chest or the man’s nose buried in his hair, he always fell easily asleep and only woke up when Anthony slipped out of the bed.

What never failed to make him smile as a child was how ever night Anthony personally built the barrier of pillows on the side of Loki left free by his body. Loki had mentioned it once, and Anthony was doing it without questions on a daily basis.

Tony on his part couldn’t say he was bothered by Loki’s presence. His ex-enemy was one – if not the one – of the smartest people he had ever met, and even though he acknowledged that Loki wasn’t anywhere near his witty old self, their verbal spars always left him with a smile plastered on his lips.

He only had one problem with their arrangement: he wanted Loki more and more each passing day, and he knew that making a move at him would have been included in the top-three of the worst things he had ever done.

Loki had no freewill to refuse him even if he had assured him he had no intention of taking advantage of him in any way, but he knew those reassurances would have meant nothing in the eventuality he would have made a move at Loki. The fallen prince would have surely followed his lead spurred by the only desire to stay away from the rest of the palace.

He would have done the same had he been in Loki’s shoes. One master who had never given away any sign of being a violent man against numerous ones for whom violence was the norm. Tony could clearly see the balance sway in his favour.

Even though in the various scenarios Tony’s mind conjured when he was lying in bed with Loki in his arms his partner would have enjoyed himself as much as Tony – he would have made sure of that – he still couldn’t consider Loki free to accept that.

There was a wicked voice in Tony’s head telling him that Loki was giving clear signs he wouldn’t have minded such an eventuality with the way he always sought Tony’s company in a physical way, always curling up in Tony’s arms whenever he had a chance and categorically refusing to sleep alone on his side of the huge canopy bed.

That little voice encouraged Tony to make a move at Loki, obviously asking for his opinion first and being ready to be refused, but the better part of Tony still knew that would have been wrong.

How could Loki possibly want to have sex with someone with what he had been through? Tony was already surprised by how touchy Loki was with his constant snuggling after being touched without his consent for so much time.

Hadn’t he seen the genuine smile on his lips when Loki was asleep, unable to pretend, Tony would have almost believed it was just a show to stay in his good graces.
Anyway, Tony found always more difficult to refrain from pressing his lips against Loki’s hair when they were curled up together in bed or on the chaise longue watching a movie Tony had downloaded before departing from Earth.

All in all, he was becoming obsessed by Loki and addicted to his presence; he knew there was a high chance of it being faked, but he loved the way Loki lifted his eyes from the tablet on which he was reading to greet him with a smile.

He had no one at home doing such thing.

To add to that there was his more than four-year-old teen crush on Loki, and here it was the icing on the cake.

 

~

 

Everything was going well, until one evening Tony came back to empty chambers.

He always found Loki in the same armchair, reading or asleep with the tablet in his lap.

Now no one was there.

At first, Tony told himself not to worry. He had never ordered Loki to stay inside his chambers the whole day or to be back at his return, so maybe Loki had only decided to wander off for a while, there was nothing wrong with that.

Tony decided to wait in Loki’s armchair just to piss him off when he would have returned, even though it was more than evident that Loki’s indignation was faked since every time he found Tony in his spot Loki’s only retaliation was to sit in his lap.

When half a hour had passed, Tony was worried.

What could keep Loki so long from the safety of those rooms?

No, there probably was a good reason for Loki being missing.

Tony was fumbling with his own hands when he heard the noise of the door being opened. He sighed in relief, but his breath caught in his throat when Loki stumbled inside, covered only by a sheet drenched in blood.

“Loki!” Tony was up on his feet before he could even take in the sight before him.

Tony’s timing was perfect, since the moment he was two steps away from him Loki collapsed in his arms.

“Loki, what happened?” He asked in a frantic tone, hoping that Loki could come up with an explanation that defused what was clear in front of his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Loki mumbled, his hand clenched on the dirty linen that barely covered him, “I… I tried to tell them… but they didn’t listen… I…”

“Them? Who? And tell them what? Loki, what the fuck’s happened?”

Chapter Text

Loki was sobbing against him now, leaving Tony speechless to hold him close. The only thing that kicked him back into gear was Loki wincing at his every touch.

“Loki, tell me what happened,” his brain refused to acknowledge what was so blatant before his eyes, maybe if he just kept on asking Loki would have found a different explanation, something that wasn’t so utterly wrong, something that wasn’t so horrible, so terrible.

“I… I told them you had said not to… but they…” he trailed off again, his swelling eyes losing focus for a few moments as the memories of the previous hours took over, and that made Tony search his face long enough to take in what was on it: one of his eyes was black, his nose was bleeding and probably broken, his lips were split in several points and a white streak was caked on his cheek.

“Loki…” he whispered, unable to form a coherent sentence or to even react properly.

His mind had blacked out.

When Tony’s brain was usually a buzz of activity, now it was completely silent.

Only a soft whimper managed to get his attention.

“Tell me what to do. Loki, listen to me, I need you to tell me what I can do for you. Let me help you, please.”

“I’m sorry,” Loki cried again, tears washing over his dirty face.

“No. No, you’re not sorry, you can’t be sorry, Loki. You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s not your fault, by any means,” he held Loki better in his arms, trying to keep him close and not to freak out since the only one allowed to at the moment was Loki.

“It’s not your fault, Loki. It is not. Now please, tell me what I can do to help you,” he brushed Loki’s hair away from his face, but it was matted with sweat and dried blood and Tony’s fingers didn’t managed to achieve their goal.

Loki was still crying when Tony decided to at least sit on the floor; he recognised he was in a state of shock and that the smallest thing could have made him fall out of that blissful moment of numbness, and he needed support for when it would have happened, at least not to have Loki fall.

“Loki, I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m sorry, I… I didn’t know where to go. I…” he chocked on a sob, “I shouldn’t have come here… not when they-“

“Stop apologising for Christ’s sake!”

That outburst, for how it made Loki shrink back in fear, at least managed to shake Tony out of his uselessness. Before he could say anything else he scooped Loki up and carried him to the bathroom, forcing him to rely only on the arm Tony passed around his waist when they reached the middle of the room so that Tony could use his free hand to throw a bunch of towels on the floor in order lower Loki on top of them.

With the state of his face Tony guessed Loki’s body was too damaged to be placed in a tub of warm water.

Using both his arms now he gently deposited Loki on the soft pile he had created on the carpet, but Loki winced nonetheless, holding onto him for reassurance even though he was still shaking in fear.

“Loki, listen to me. I didn’t want to raise my voice at you, it was wrong and it had nothing to do with you, only me and the fact that I have no idea of how being of some help to you. Now, I’m gonna take some warm water and a towel to remove some of the blood and see what needs to be tended to first, okay?”

Loki stared at him with glazed eyes, unable to answer or even understand what was going on. The gentleness he was being shown was such a strong contrast with the latest hours that his brain couldn’t process it, not even stopping the strong tremor of his limbs.

Tony would have only wanted to keep Loki in his arms and never let him go, but Loki needed his help on a medical front first, he would have focused on Loki’s mental wellbeing when he would have stopped bleeding.

Tony got up to fetch the only things at his disposal as if he was walking in a nightmare and was back next to the broken creature on the floor within a minute; Tony knew he should have started with Loki’s body because that was obviously what needed to be checked first, but he couldn’t bring himself to remove the bloodied sheet.

As long as he didn’t see it, he could deny it.

Reality hit him in the moment he tried to clean Loki’s face; the fallen prince was shaking too much, his eyes were too wide to let Tony approach him. There was no way he would have managed to avoid further damage if he didn’t make Loki calm down at least a little.

With all the strength he could conjure Tony forced himself to separate from Loki once again, wandering in the main room not even feeling his own legs, to retrieve the pitcher containing the scotch. Maybe it wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but it was the only option Tony could think about.

He had to give Loki some comfort, some peace of mind, and since holding him close while on the verge of a mental breakdown wasn’t working that would have had to make do.

Alcohol usually worked for him, it should have worked for Loki too.

Seeing Loki from the threshold, crumpled on the pile of towels, almost made him burst out crying on his own. Instead Tony ground his teeth and poured a glass of scotch before kneeling next to him.

“Here, I know it’s not much but at least it will dull everything a little,” he gulped down a couple of sips – to reassure Loki or to drown the creature that seemed to be clawing at his throat he didn’t know – before handing the glass to Loki.

The poor thing didn’t even protest, he simply drank what he was given keeping his scared eyes on Tony, something unreadable in them.

There were no more excuses for Tony, no other way of procrastinating what ought to be done.

He started dabbing Loki’s face with caution, holding his head on his folded legs, removing all the grime on it only to reveal the forming bruises that had been hidden by the layer of dried blood. Eventually Loki’s face was clean, and Tony had to face the removal of the sheet.

He was biting at his lips to the point he could taste blood, but he was forced to ignore the weight in his stomach at the prospect of what he was about to see and lifted the sheet.

For a moment Tony was sure he would have collapsed.

Loki’s body was a mess of blood and open wounds, there were burns on his skin and blood dripping down his legs, cuts made with a sharp blade and stabs on his thighs, then Tony stopped watching.

He couldn’t, not if he wanted to help, but for a few moments he could only cradle Loki in his arms, rocking him back and forth and fighting back his own tears.

Only the main door opening managed to shake him off of that state of trance, and it was only natural for him to hide Loki behind his back and grab the first blunt object he could lay his hands on.

“Loki?” An uncertain voice called, the light of the bathroom drawing him to the two shapes on the floor.

“Loki? It’s me. Please, answer.”

There was unbelievable concern in that voice, Tony noticed, but that didn’t mean he would have abandoned his position.

“Loki? Master!” A young elf exclaimed and immediately bowed low, “I apologise for entering your chambers without your permission, master. I’m deeply sorry,” the slave knelt on the floor and hung his head, waiting for a punishment that didn’t come.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Amras, master.”

“Why are you here?”

“I have been told Loki came here, and he should drink this, master,” he pointed to the cup he had put on the marble tiles.

“You’re calling him by his name…” Tony noticed.

No godling, no slave, no other insults.

Just Loki’s name.

“Loki is my friend, master. I beg you, don’t require his services tonight, allow him some rest. I can take his place if it pleases you, master.”

“Services?” Tony boomed, shock playing strange tricks to his voice, “Do you think I’m some kind of monster? I’m trying to clean him up so I can at least know which wound to tend to first!”

“I… I apologise, master, I thought…”

“Think less and come here to help me,” he ordered, and the slave was next to him in a second.

“Amras?” Loki whispered.

“I’m here, Loki. Drink, please,” he brought the cup to his lips before Tony could even think to stop him and even though Loki grimaced for the bitter taste he swallowed the liquid with no complaint.

“Please tell me it’s something that will heal him entirely.”

Amras shook his head as he deposited the wooden cup on the floor, “It was necessary.”

Under different circumstances Tony would have inquired more, but Loki whimpered in pain and all of Tony’s attention turned to the fallen prince.

“What do I do?” Tony asked desperately to the slave next to him since he almost couldn’t bring himself to look at Loki again. The only place his eyes managed to focus onto was the shackle around Loki’s anckle that had prevented him from defending himself.

“Your idea of cleaning him up was right, master,” Amras smiled at him, softened by the concern so obvious on Tony’s face.

“Can… can you do it?”

“Of course, master.”

Tony remained still for a few moments, trying to chase away his upcoming panic attack, but when Loki’s hand crept to find his he understood that he couldn’t just sit idly by thinking about how that situation was distressing him.

He squeezed Loki’s hand back an grabbed another towel.

The water in the basin had turned pink, but for now it had to make do.

Tony focused on the upper part of Loki’s body, silently thankful that the elf had taken for himself the worst.

When they turned Loki around Tony almost vomited.

His back was even worse, a pure arabesque of pain from his shoulders to his knees, and Tony’s sight blurred.

“I’ll do it, master.”

“No, no… I need to help him.”

“I’m here, master, I can do it.”

“I can’t stay here doing nothing, I…”

“You could change the water, master,” Amras suggested in a small voice, sure that he would have earned himself at least a slap for such a show of insolence.

“The water. Yes. Of course. Warm is better. Is it fine by you if I get up for a second?” He asked, but Loki had passed out.

Tony turned desperate eyes on Amras, but all he received from the slave was a reminder to get the water. They didn’t have time to deal with Tony’s anguish now.

Stark provided it in a hurry and rushed back to Loki’s side, spilling some of the water on himself in the process, “What do I do now?”

“Maybe it is better if I clean his back, master. I’m afraid you look only worse since we have turned him around,” he hinted at Tony’s ashen complexion, hoping not to sound too insulting at stating out how the man was so clearly feeling sick at the sight of something that instead he could handle.

“Give me something to do, Amras, please, before I start thinking that I could’ve locked the door this morning and told Loki to stay inside and none of this would’ve happened.”

Amras couldn’t almost believe the man’s behaviour was real, but for now he had to push his astonishment aside. Loki needed help, he wouldn’t waste time thinking about a human he would have soon needed to tend to also since he looked about to faint.
Stark probably couldn’t stand the sight of blood, but then why didn’t he just leave the room or ask them to go somewhere else?

Again, he didn’t have time for this.

“Maybe you could wash his hair, master. Only if you want to, master, otherwise I’ll do it later,” he invented with all the due care to avoid causing his anger.

“Yes, his hair, right. He likes it, you know, when I play with his hair,” Tony jumped at the occasion of being useful, silencing the small part of himself telling him the elf had suggested that task only to give him something to do so that he would have been able to focus on the important matters at hand while Tony would have stayed out of the way with his ridiculous task.

Anyway, that was what he was supposed to do now, so he hunted for more basins and filled them with warm water since there was no way to put Loki’s hand into the tub or the sink.

When he crouched down next to Loki again part of his back was clean and Tony could see the clear signs of a flogging. Before his mind could blank out again he focused on Loki’s matted hair, pouring some water on his head and brushing through the locks with his fingers. To that Loki’s eyes fluttered open, searching for a while until they found Tony’s familiar hand in front of him.

“Hey,” Tony coaxed, the brushing of his fingers slower now, “It’s alright now. Your friend Amras and I are taking care of you. It’ll be alright, okay?”

Loki wordlessly moaned and curled around Tony’s legs as if he was the only anchor he had left.

Chapter Text

“Stay still,” Amras ordered and Loki immediately complied, returning to his defenceless position even though terror settled on his features and his shivers only grew stronger.

That was the moment Tony’s shock turned into anger. He would have found those people and ripped them to pieces, even without his suit.

Without his suit it would have been even better.

“Amras,” he snapped, “Is there something, anything, that will heal him fast?”

“No, master,” the elf shook his head, cowering back at the sudden mood swing, “Not for Loki, at least. There is a healing potion that could cure his wounds overnight, but it’s not meant for slaves.”

“So there’s something,” was the only thing Tony had heard.

“Yes, master, but-“

“Then go fetch it!” He yelled, scaring Loki who flinched against the towels.

“I… master, I’d like to, but they would never give the elixir to a slave, they would never listen to my request.”

“Then I’ll go,” he stalked into the main room and when Amras thought he was gone he came back with a knife in his hand.

“Use it against anyone who enters and isn’t me.”

That was probably an overreaction since Tony vaguely knew slaves were forbidden from holding weapons, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t leave Loki alone with no protection at all.

“Guard!” He yelled once in the corridor, and it took Quennar just a few seconds to arrive.

“Yes, sir? Is there something wrong?” He didn’t even blink at the sight of Tony’s bloodied shirt.

“Of fucking course there’s something wrong!”

There was an evil glint in Quennar’s eyes, “What has the slave done this time?”

“What has been done to him!” Tony took a deep steading breath, “The healing potion. I want it now.”

“For… the slave?”

“Yes,” he hissed.

“We… don’t use it for slaves, sir.”

“I don’t fucking care what you people do. I said I want that thing, you will bring it to me.”

“Sir…”

“I had ordered for Loki to stay inside my chambers and to be only at my disposal, I have already been crossed once on that front.”

“The slave will be punished for his disobedience, sir, I can assure you that.”

Tony stared him down, his voice so hard it didn’t even sound like his own, “I hardly believe it was his idea.”

Quennar lowered his eyes, afraid of having just worsened the situation by insulting Stark’s intelligence with his pathetic lie.

“I’ll get you the elixir, sir.”

“Good.”

Tony didn’t wait to see him go to return to his chambers, and he almost ran into the bathroom.

He was swinging from panic to rage in the blink of an eye and all the way back, and if his brain would have worked properly at the moment he would have been worried about that.

“Loki?” He called, trying to put on a comforting smile when pained green eyes raised on him, “You’re safe, okay?” He repeated for good measure crouching down next to him, “Help is on the way, soon you’ll feel better.”

“Anthony…” Loki mewled, and Amras gasped in fear of the possible retaliation, just to gape surprised when all Stark did was force a brighter smile and brush his hand over Loki’s hair.

“I’m here, it’ll be alright. Are you almost done?” He asked Amras, and the elf was startled by the softness in his eyes.

“I… yes, master, almost.”

“Go on, then,” Tony took another basin and poured it on Loki’s hair, resuming his washing with the help of one of the few still clean towels at their disposal.

They worked in silence, the only sound Loki’s whimpers when Amras’ touch prodded a particularly sensitive spot.

“I’m done, master,” Amras informed him, and Tony was at a loss for what to do now, but he wouldn’t have certainly left Loki on the floor, so after wrapping him in the white robe that had escaped his raid Tony gathered him in his arms and, trying not to cause too much discomfort, carried him to the bed.

He would have put Loki under the blankets to keep him warm after how long he must have been without anything on, but then he would have had to move him again to make him wear dry clothes, and he couldn’t bear the thought of being the cause of even a single pained whimper more.

“Help me with the pillows. No, not those,” he stopped Amras before he could pick the ones he usually used to create the barrier at Loki’s side, “We’ll need them later.”

With some cautious manoeuvring they managed to settle Loki on the bed, but the mage couldn’t let go of Tony’s bloodied shirt.

“Anthony, please…”

“I’m not going anywhere, Lokes. I’m here. With the way you have open wounds all over you though it’d be better if you rested against something softer than me.”

“Please,” he begged again, tugging at the stained fabric with all the strength he still possessed.

Before Amras could admonish him to stop contradicting Stark’s orders before the man decided he had had enough and hit him, Tony was already leaning next to Loki, his thumb brushing at Loki’s temple.

“Okay, but we have to be careful, because I’m on the brink of a mental breakdown already so the moment I’m the one causing you more pain I’m not your pillow anymore.”

“You don’t intend to,” he protested feebly, worrying Amras again with his utter lack of respect for his master.

“That doesn’t make much difference for your wounds,” Tony retorted, but he was already pulling Loki against his chest, making him rest his front against him so that he wouldn’t have worsened the condition of his back.

“Easy now, it’s alright.”

“I’m s-“

“No. Don’t even fucking try to say you’re sorry again.”

“But…”

“No, Loki. If someone is to apologise it’s me. I should’ve locked the door and nothing would’ve happened to you.”

After that Loki started quietly sobbing against Tony’s shirt; neither the man nor the elf knew how to react to that, but they shared the conviction that Loki was more than entitled to have whatever sudden reaction he wanted, even though Amras was a little wary on that front. He would have liked to indulge Loki every behaviour he could have, but he was still scared for what could have happened to him if he did; for now Stark had allowed him to do everything he wanted, but he didn’t know for how much it would have lasted before the human turned on them.

He would have liked to believe that what the man was showing was real, that he actually cared for Loki, but his friend had never been lucky enough to find someone like that.

“It’s alright, Lolo. Everything will be fine,” Tony murmured in the most soothing voice he could conjure, and it was fortunate enough that he achieved that since Loki wasn’t listening to his words; the tone was what did the trick, making his sobs slow down until they were nothing but a little shaking of his shoulders.

Tony hoped – for how a wishful thought it was considering the pain he was in – that Loki could have just fallen asleep. Watching him suffer in that way was bringing Tony over the edge, and he knew he couldn’t have a panic attack when all he had to do at the moment was take care of the broken creature in his arms.

“You can sit down if you want to,” Tony croaked after some time, shifting his gaze from Loki’s battered face to the elf standing beside the bed.

“Master?” Amras asked surprised, even more when Stark sighed.

“There’s no need for you to stand up. Sit down, make yourself comfortable.”

“Master, I…”

“Yeah, I won’t hear about any bullshit of what you’re allowed or not allowed to do in this fucking place. If it makes you feel more at ease sit on the floor instead of the armchair, to me it’s fine whatever you choose.”

Amras violet eyes were as wide as saucers as he slowly lowered to the floor, sitting with his back against the bedside table; Loki had told him Stark was unlike any other master he had ever had, but that was indeed strange. Amras could understand fondness toward Loki since Stark had requested his only companionship during his staying and that the human could indulge certain attitudes from Loki’s part, but Stark had no reason at all to treat him kindly. He was a slave the human had just met in the most unorthodox way since he had introduced himself in the human’s chambers without even asking for his permission, Stark had no reason at all to treat him with all that consideration.

Stark was indeed a strange man, as Loki had described him during their stolen chats when they not-so-casually met in the same room doing their chores.

Amras jumped from his position though when he heard someone knock at the door, turning to open it when Stark gave him a nod.

On his part Tony had tightened his arms on Loki, ready to either hold him with all his strengths or to push him aside to place himself in front of him.

“Sir…?” Quennar called hesitantly from the door.

“What took you so long?” Tony barked, not needing that much of an effort to come up with an angry tone, his only regret the flinch ha caused Loki, but he suspected it was more for the sudden presence of his gaoler than for his harsh tone.

“The elixir is not easy to obtain, sir, I did my best.”

“I don’t care that this is the best you can do, I required a service and you are late. Now give me that thing.”

The guard sprinted toward the bed and handed him a vial containing a light blue liquid.

“You should be able to use the slave in a hour or so, sir,” Quennar added in the hope of making a good impression, but Tony only felt himself go stiff.

So the elf had thought he had requested the healing potion so he could have his way with Loki after what he had endured that day.

“The godling will be out of focus but still enjoyable enough, sir.”

“Get the fuck out of here,” Tony growled, and Quennar knew better than to question the human he had already so clearly pissed off.

When the door had closed after the retreating guard Tony felt like a spring about to bounce, but there was something he had to do first.

“Lokes, hey, stop shivering. Look what I have here. You should feel better later, it shouldn’t take long,” he showed the vial to Loki, whose eyes had filled even more with tears with Quennar so close.

“I know you probably don’t feel like drinking anything at the moment, but it’ll make you feel better, okay?”

Loki nodded against his chest, and Tony forced the brightest smile he could when his teeth were still grinding.

“Good,” he removed the lid from the vial and took it to his lis lips to prove Loki he hadn’t put anything in it just as he had done before with the scotch.

“No!” Both Loki and Amras exclaimed, Loki getting to the point of putting his bleeding hand on Tony’s mouth and eliciting a bewildered stare from the man.

“What?” He asked against Loki’s fingers.

“You’re human, master, the elixir is too strong for you, it could kill you.”

Tony slowly put down the vial, “How can I prove you I didn’t put anything in it?”

“You’re not them,” Loki murmured, “You wouldn’t put any drug in it. You don’t need to have me unable to move.”

To that, Tony couldn’t wait any longer.

Amras could easily see the anger washing over the human’s traits and he was quick to grab the vial when it was handed to him.

“You give it to him,” Tony ordered before storming out of the room.

Chapter Text

He didn’t even notice what was on his way until he reached the room where he knew the members of the Council were reunited to have dinner together. He had declined as usual, and he didn’t want to even imagine how he could have found Loki had he been late.

Probably on his floor in a pool of blood.

He didn’t bother to knock, he just threw the door open and stalked inside.

“Friend Stark! What happened?”

“Some of your guests happened.”

“What? How can we be of some assistance? Where are you hurt?”

“This blood’s not mine,” he spatted.

“Pardon?”

“This’s Loki’s blood. He wasn’t in my chambers when I came back and he returned covered in nothing but blood.”

“Oh. A guest might have required his services,” Kythrit explained.

“Some guests, “ Tony clarified with a snarl.

“Now that you make me think about it the Brokkrsen family has arrived at the palace this morning. Father and the two eldest sons. Last time they were here they requested the godling’s presence,” one of them added from the table, his voice light, as if he was stating what the weather was outside.

“The godling was probably with them, my friend,” Kythrit quipped, a neutral smile on his pale lips.

“Why?”

“They… have requested his presence.”

Tony had to fight the urge to rip off the elf’s face.

He would have liked to scream, to punch him in the face, to set fire to the entire room and lock those bastards inside, but he could’t.

He would have only wanted to make them pay for what they had done to Loki, for what they had allowed to happen and even encouraged, but he couldn’t.

From what Loki had let slip Tony had come to the conclusion that had the Members of the Council realised how he was treating Loki they would have come up with some excuse to prevent him from keeping Loki safe in his rooms, so he had to get himself back in check.

Instead of hurling insults, he had to bite back the yell in his throat and lie, “I had requested his presence. And I had been clear about being the only one to do so. Why am I being crossed?”

“My friend, no one had any reason to cross you, nor the intention. It just appears that you are… I don’t know how to put it… spoiling the slave.”

"Spoiling him?”

“Yes, the slave looks...” Kythrit waved his hand, searching the right word that wouldn’t have indisposed their guest further.

“Only because I don't like the people I share my bed with covered in bruises I'm spoiling him?”

“Also your decision of keeping him for yourself...”

“I’ve heard it’s not such an uncommon occurrence, and I don't like sharing.”

“In this case we should probably find someone else for you, my friend. A great number of people has already had what you claim as yours. Maybe a new addition to our ranks would be better suited to meet your requirements.”

“I don’t want someone else, I want what I have already claimed as mine.”

Tony hated himself at the moment, he truly did.

He was sticking to the script those bastards had written for it, and little did it matter that he was doing it for Loki’s sake.

He couldn’t find a justification for the words that were coming out of his mouth, so utterly wrong and disgusting, to the point Tony felt he was about to throw up.

“My friend, the godling is damaged goods, he doesn’t deserve all the attentions you are bestowing upon him.”

“I have made a request,” Tony hissed, fighting back the rage that was clawing at his throat, “A simple one. For Loki to be only at my disposal. I have been thoroughly ignored. How am I not supposed to take this as an offence to my person?”

“My friend, again, no one had any intention to offend you, we…”

“Then why has my single request been refused? Why am I being shown so much disrespect?”

It was getting harder not to just scream in their faces that they were nothing but fucking monsters for how they had treated Loki in those years, but his plan would have never worked if he were to tell the truth.

“My friend, we are talking only about a slave. Maybe on Midgard you consider them differently, but for us here they are like a decoration, like an object to adorn a room, not like persons. They are not, they are just slaves.”

“Now let me get this straight: you either leave Loki in my chambers, or the deal is off,” he growled, staring straight in the elf’s violet eyes, and before anyone could add a single word he was out of the room.

His mind was a blank sheet of rage as he stalked through the corridor to get back to his chambers. He couldn’t think about what he had said and what he had not, how he hadn’t even yelled at those people how the fuck they could look at themselves in the mirror with what they were doing. He hated them, he would have liked to see them all dead, and he hadn’t even had the guts to tell them.

Fortunately he reached the door before those thoughts could come to the surface and induce him to go back and throw all good caution out the window.

When he entered into the chambers all his attention shifted to Loki.

He was trashing under the blankets Amras had tried to cover him with, and he was mumbling something Tony couldn’t make out.

Only when he sat on the bed he realised it was his name.

“Hey, Lokes, I’m here,” he squeezed Loki’s shoulder, and green feverish eyes turned on him, “What’s wrong with him now? Shouldn’t he be feeling better?”

Had that bastard of a guard gave him the wrong vial on purpose just to make Loki suffer some more? He couldn’t exclude that.

“The fever is normal, master. His body is working faster to heal all the wounds he has, so his temperature is getting higher,” Amras explained, getting immediately up when he realised he was sitting beside Stark.

“Anthony…” Loki called again, and the man didn’t even hesitate for a second to move closer, but he had to stop mid-movement.

“How’s his back now?”

“Better, master.”

“Amras, if he still has open wounds on his back I can’t have him lay against me.”

“The worst should be over, master.”

“Anthony…”

“Amras, listen to me. Loki has a fever, he’s probably in shock since I almost am and nothing happened directly to me, so he isn’t in the best position to evaluate what’s best for himself.”

“Anthony…”

“Loki!” Amras warned him for interrupting Stark again, but Tony’s voice overlapped his.

“I know, Bambi, just a moment,” he brushed Loki’s hair away from his face and turned again to Amras, “I won’t do anything that goes against what’s best for him. I’m not a master, I… listen, Loki just sleeps here. Nothing more. He likes to sleep against me, I think he feels safer that way so that’s what he’s trying to do now, but I don’t want to… listen, where I come from all of this,” he gestured to their surroundings, “Is a crime. A heinous one. I don’t tolerate the idea of it, least taking part in it. I only want to help him. Loki needs help, and I’ll provide all the help I can come up with. I have tried in these last couple of weeks and beside some mistakes I think I have done a good job, but not today, and I’ll never be able to forgive myself for this. So now please, tell me if I can take him in my arms so I’ll know he’ll be safe or if I have to do something else, and remind that what I consider worst is to cause him some more pain.”

Amras didn’t know what to say.

He had never met anyone like Stark, and when his experience told him the human cannot be trusted everything else was screaming that he only had Loki’s best interests at heart. He looked sincere, his eyes lucid, the hand on Loki’s shoulder never wavering; he looked guilty for somethings that didn’t even depend on him, he had even helped him to care for Loki, had even accepted instructions from him in order to help Loki, so maybe his concern of the moment was sincere. What he had just told made no sense, though. Saying that Loki had just been sleeping here with him, only sleeping and nothing more, that made no sense.

Even the kindest master wouldn’t have kept a slave in their rooms for more than two weeks without asking for something in return, and even if Loki had confessed him how the time spent with the human had been the most pleasant he had had since the beginning of his imprisonment Amras had thought he was talking about the fact that his current master wasn’t a violent man. After all not much was required to make Loki’s time better.

Stark had no reason to lie about that, and Loki was still whimpering trying to shift closer in the human’s arms, and Stark was right, Loki was probably in shock, so there was no way he was making that up only to keep up some pretences.

“Well, master, I… I think his back is still not in the best state for Loki to rest his weight on it, but if you want to…”

“Say no more.”

What Amras could have interpreted as a reproach turned out to be only Stark’s impatience of finally being able to comply to Loki’s wishes.

“I’m here, Lolo, we only have to make some adjustments, okay? Can you avoid rolling over on your back? Let me lay down next to you like this, here I am, okay,” he reached out an arm and Loki was against him in the blink of an eye. He was still shaking, but at least he had stopped trashing around.

“Please, tell me if I’m doing something wrong,” Tony pleaded, but from the way Loki was clawing at his shirt he could easily tell Loki wouldn’t have moved from his hardly conquered spot.

He was in the only safe place he knew, with the only person who had bothered to treat him as a person, there was no way he would have abandoned that temporary shelter.

He couldn’t stop panting for the raising temperature in his body though, and Tony couldn’t miss it.

Chapter Text

“Amras, help me, please.”

“What can I do, master?”

“I’ve no idea, but look at him,” he gestured at Loki, who was fighting against the terrible waves of heat he felt rushing inside his body.

“He must stay warm, master, the elixir will heal him but it will make him feel bad for a few days if he doesn’t.”

“Okay, but there must be something I can do, anything. Like his hair. I’m not really informed on the subject but I guess it’s like having a blanket around your neck. Where can I find something to tie it back?”

“Master…” Amras said in a small voice, not finding the courage to contradict him.

“What’s this about now?”

“We cannot tie our hair. They think the guests of the palace prefer it loose and long, so…”

“Okay, so we’ll tie Loki’s hair back since I don’t give a fuck about that. You think you can find a brush too? My work was terrible,” he nodded in the direction of the black mass of loose curls that had started forming when Loki’s hair had started drying naturally in the air.

Amras was speechless for a few seconds, “You…. You can ask for one, master.”

“Yeah, I just did.”

“No, I….”

“You can conjure one up,” Loki supplied in that raspy voice of his abused throat. The effort he was making to follow the conversation was the same as if he had had to listen from underwater.

“What?”

“You… can make one appear, master. You want to use it on Loki, after all. It should work.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Magic. You can have what you want to use on the slaves,” Loki coughed, “You only have to ask.”

“Brush?” Tony asked, feeling an utter idiot when nothing happened.

“Picture it in you mind,” Loki advised before his eyes closed and his body started shaking more strongly.

Tony would have only wanted to make him stop, but he did as he was told and closed his eyes too, conjuring the image of a brush behind his eyelids and startling when he felt the weight of it in his left hand.

“The moment you feel better you explain everything of how this works,” he said in awe, not pestering Loki with question only because the former god was more passed out than not.

“I do the same for the hair tie?”

Amras had no idea what that exactly was, but he nodded.

Tony closed his eyes again and yelped in surprise when he felt the band form in his hand, “Fuck, I’m doing magic.”

There was no room for his enthusiasm though since Loki seemed on the verge of starting to trash around in pain again, as if a particular nasty memory was coming back to the surface, so Tony grabbed a handful of black hair and started working with the brush through the loose curls; it wasn’t easy since Loki’s hair was all tangled, but Tony could be patient in certain occasions, and Loki’s peace of mind was indeed one of them.

“Amras, sit down, you’re making me nervous.”

“Sorry, master.”

“No, I didn’t… never mind, we’ll discuss this later,” he pushed the matter aside since Loki had started whimpering again, tears spilling again from his eyes, “Lo, no, hey, everything is alright, what’s happening?”

“Please no…”

“Lokes, it’s fine, calm down, please.”

“Loki, you’re safe now,” Amras stepped in, placing a hand on Loki’s ankle, but the fallen prince’s only reaction was to frightfully startle and crawl away from the unexpected touch, his pleadings more desperate by the second.

“Loki, it’s just your friend Amras, he meant no harm,” Tony tried to calm him, but in the end he was forced to trap his flailing arms with a blanket, “Calm down, You’re reopening your wounds. Loki, please,” the only way to prevent Loki from his attempt of climbing out of the bed was to trap him against his chest, and it was only natural for Tony to press his lips to Loki’s forehead.

It worked like a charm.

Loki stilled in his arms and went limp, his back relaxing against Tony.

“Shh, you’re safe now,” Tony murmured in his ear and kissed his temple, even he couldn’t tell if it was to calm Loki down or because he needed to, “Here, lay back down, you shouldn’t try to get back on your feet right now.”

There were still huge tears rolling down Loki’s cheeks, as if the flash he had just had was only now fading, but at least he didn’t protest when Tony lowered him on the pillows; he did though when Tony didn’t follow him suit.

“I was trying to fix your hair, let me try again. This way it should be quicker,” he added in the hope of convincing Loki to stay still. When he was almost sure Loki wouldn’t have launched himself from the bed at the first given moment he resumed his brushing, gathering the ends of Loki’s hair in his hands to avoid touching by mistake his back.

He tried to be as quick as possible while at the same time inducing Loki to relax with the calm he hoped to be exuding, but in the end he was forced to admit that the only thing his movement could have conveyed was his urge to be over with that in order to cradle Loki back in his arms. He had to finish tough, because he could see Loki start sweating again in the thick blanket he was enveloped with, and since the only thing he would have been able to do for him in the short run was relieve him from at least the warmth of his long hair.

“I’m almost done, Lokes,” Tony informed him, carding his fingers through Loki’s hair against his scalp hoping that would have worked some sort of magic, but Loki was still whimpering.

“Amras?”

“Yes, master?” The elf answered promptly from his position in the corner; he didn’t want to make things worse for Loki again, he felt already bad enough for that mindless touch that had made Loki’s body bleed again for the sudden movements it had elicited.

“I suppose I can come up with a braid, but is there something equally simple that is used in Asgard?”

“I’ve no idea, master, I’m sorry.”

“Never mind, I wouldn’t have probably been able to replicate it though,” he split Loki’s fluffy hair in three strands and started weaving them together; the texture of Loki’s hair definitely helped an amateur in the task since the strands didn’t slide from their place and seemed to stay together almost on their own volition. Tony only stopped in his work once to press a gentle kiss against the top of Loki’s head when he noticed his movements were getting a little too agitated once again.

“Hey, Lo, I’m done here. If you want me to…” he trailed off when Amras cleared his throat, “Yes?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, master, but the robe Loki’s wearing is wet, he shouldn’t…”

“Fuck, you’re right,” he exclaimed, the agitated tone frightening Amras while the words reassured him he had done the right choice to speak up, “Here I was braiding his hair indulging in the most useless thing I could do and leaving open wounds in contact with wet cloth,” he got up from the bed trying to ignore Loki’s huffed protests and went through the wardrobe the fallen prince had sorted two weeks before and then decided to keep in order. He had no idea where Loki had put the clothes he had given him, so he grabbed another shirt – a light grey one so that he would have been able to immediately detect if his wounds had reopened – underwear and a pair of sweatpants, but when the moment came to actually remove the robe that was shielding Loki’s body from his sight he couldn’t do it.

“Amras…”

“Yes, master?”

“I… I don’t think I can do it. Not yet, not…” he trailed off, ashamed of not even being able to look at Loki’s body right now; he was already freaking out for something he had barely seen, Loki was just lying there, motionless, when he had been the one actually involved.

“I’ll take care of him, master,” Amras said thinking to reassure him, but Tony only felt worse.

He should have taken care of Loki, he should have been able to at least dress him, to be the shoulder to cry on, and instead he was on the verge of a mental breakdown for his own uselessness. He had promised to himself he would have protected that broken creature that had once been the God of Mischief, and he had failed on all fronts.

“Maybe…”

Amras’ soft voice distracted him from his spiral of misery.

“Maybe, master, if you want to, while I dress him up you could get some cold water and a towel or a piece of cloth to place on Loki’s forehead, it may bring him some relief. Or I can go later, master, there’s no need to do it now,” he added quickly, because even though Stark was the strangest master he had ever met one was never too careful; Amras would have never forgiven himself if Stark’s mood were to change for something he had said and the man decided to withdraw the protection he was bestowing upon Loki.

“Of course,” Tony exclaimed, all too happy to be of some assistance even when he wasn’t doing anything in particular, “Thank you,” he added before disappearing into the bathroom.

He had to avert his eyes from the bloodied pile in the middle of the room if he didn’t want to feel sick, but after a useless search he was about to surrender to the fact that if he wanted to find a clean towel to put on Loki’s forehead he would have had to go through the pile on the floor since there weren’t any left, he realised he could have just magicked one into existence. He wanted to use it on Loki, and even though the thought of what might have been conjured with the same purpose through the years made him shudder he went on with his new idea.

Feeling the towel form in his hand was on the top ten of the strangest things he had ever seen, and he had lived with shrapnels in his chest for years.

He came back triumphantly, but the smile was instantly erased when his eyes fell on Loki’s form, trashing desperately around and clearly searching for him.

“I was only in the other room,” he apologised as the realisation of what Loki had endured hit him; he was so desperate, so terribly searching for someone to hold on to, and it was the first time he actually had someone playing that role. The moment Tony started thinking how many times Loki must have been looking for a caring hand only to receive a slap he rushed to the bed and buried his face in Loki’s hair.

“I’m here now, I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

This time he was certain, he was kissing Loki’s forehead and temples because he needed to.

Chapter Text

Everything was a blur.

Loki had no clear idea of what was going on, all his mind could focus on was the memory of the sensation of hands grabbing him, holding him down and hitting him, forcing him open, but right now it was all gone.

He knew it was over, he knew it since he could smell Anthony’s skin.

If Anthony was close, he would have been safe.

That was the only thing he could think about, because everything else was just a spiral of pain he couldn’t even begin to consider since he would have never made it out of that vortex if he were to start descending into it.

He could also taste the elixir in his mouth, and that immediately brought back one of the worst memories he had. Only once the elixir had been used for him, but not with the aim of making him feel better; that time he had been such a mess he had had to be fixed a little to be still enjoyable. His tormenters had gone so far that even in their eyes he was a sorry sight, even if they didn’t consider him anything more than an object for their pleasure; In that moment, he had prayed the Norns to make them go on until they killed him, so he could have put an end to his suffering and humiliation.

This time, instead of being passed around again, he was being cared for and pampered, his hair brushed and tied out of the way to fight the terrible warmth caused by the elixir. There was even something fresh on his forehead to keep the temperature down, but most of all, more often than not, there were soft lips pressing against his heated skin.

It was all too easy to let the numbness playing at the edges of his mind take over.

 

~

 

“Is it normal? I mean, look at his face, the bruises haven’t faded in the slightest.”

“His body is focusing on the most severe wounds, master, the bruises will be the last thing to fade,” Amras answered from his spot in the corner of the bed; eventually he had settled for doing as Stark had asked and had sat with the back against the column of the bedpost. It was strange, but that was what he had been required to do; after all, what Stark was doing was stranger still.

He hadn’t stopped refreshing Loki’s forehead for a second, and his hands were so gentle on him, mindful of never touching a tender spot of Loki’s body; it looked like the man actually cared for Loki, but that was impossible, that had never happened.

Amras was well aware of Loki’s past, of who he had once been and of the deeds he had committed, Loki had told him the bits that weren’t known to many when he had asked. Not that he did it often, he always saw the pain those memories procured in Loki; he didn’t know if it was more for how different Loki’s life was now or because all that was left out of the official tale was how Loki had often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong moment.

Even the invasion of Midgard, it hadn’t even been his idea.

Did Stark know that?

When he had asked Loki who was the man who had required his presence in his chambers Loki had wrapped quickly up who Stark was and how he had thrown the human out a window when he had had the chance.

Amras really had no other idea of how Stark could ignore that and shield Loki from everything that place had always had in store for him after that, and even if he did know Loki had had no active part in the foiled attempt of taking over Midgard Amras didn’t understand what the man had said earlier. Even if they weren’t enemies there was no reason to just let Loki seek shelter in his chambers, to refuse to have his way with him, to let him rest. To show him mercy.

“Loki is well enough now, master, I can bring him back to his room, so you can finally get some rest.”

Stark seemed almost shocked, “Loki won’t get out of my sight anytime soon, I don’t care where he’s supposed to be.”

“Nowhere precisely, master, we all have a small room to…”

“No. Loki has told me how those dark suffocating filthy cubicles are, and you won’t bring him there. He’ll stay here, with me, where I can be sure nothing will happen to him.”

“Apologies, master, I thought you might have wanted…”

“Don’t apologise, Amras. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault and I’m really this close to my breaking point. Just stay here and don’t think Loki is a burden to me, okay?”

Amras nodded hugging his knees as he rested his head back against the column of the bad, trying to figure once again what was going on with Stark and his unusual protectiveness.

“Amras?”

“Yes, master?”

“I can hear you thinking from here.”

“Apologies, master,” he said quickly.

“Is something wrong? Well, clearly something is wrong, but more wrong, I mean you just said it’s normal Loki’s bruises aren’t fading now but is there something more I should know?”

“No, master, I…” Amras stopped himself before he could break the spell that was keeping Loki safe.

“Tell me.”

“It’s nothing, really, master. Just a stupid thought not worthy of your attention.”

“Amras, I’m already worried enough. If you don’t tell me what it is it’ll just get worse and I already know I’ll start fidgeting and Loki would only suffer from that, so please, spare that to the both of us.”

Stark was indeed a strange man, “It’s just… I beg you not to take this the wrong way, master, it’s just that I don’t understand.”

“Understand what?”

“I don’t understand this, master,” he gestured toward them, “Why are you protecting Loki, I really don’t understand. I’m glad he has found someone who doesn’t just want to see him suffer, but I don’t see why.”

“Because I’m not a monster, Amras. I already told you before, slavery on Earth is a crime, and rape as well. I can’t stand the thought of both, let alone be part of that. I would never.”

“But Loki tried to take over your realm…”

“It doesn’t matter, this is wrong. In any case. It doesn’t almost matter that Loki wasn’t himself when he tried to invade Earth, this is still wrong. He should have had a fair trial and a human punishment if he had been found guilty – which he’s not – not sold into slavery to end up in the hands of a bunch of fucking rapists,” Tony ended his sentence in a growl, trying his best not to raise his voice and wake Loki up.

Amras was once again speechless in front of the man.

“I had no idea of who the people of the Council were before Loki told me what he had been through during these years, and I can assure you I wouldn’t have decided to have anything to do with them if only I had known first. Right now the only thing I can do since I can’t go back in time and prevent his brother from bringing him to that pathetic excuse of a trial is to at least try to keep Loki safe from them now, and I’m not even good at that.”

“Thank you, master,” Amras said after a tense since filled with Stark’s anger.

“Stop calling me that, please.”

“I can’t call you by your name, it’s wrong.”

“Use my surname or what you want, anything else.”

“Sir?”

“It’s better, use that if it makes you feel comfortable enough.”

“It’s not me, m- sir, it should be fine by you to be addressed by a slave in such an improper way.”

“You’re not a slave in my eyes, Amras. You’re Loki’s friend, period.”

Once again Amras had no idea of what to say. He had been born a slave, he had no idea of how someone could not consider him as such.

“Now tell me, is there something more I could do?”

“No, sir, we can only wait for Loki to wake up unless you want him awake.”

“Amras,” Tony warned him.

“Apologies, sir. It’s hard to bear in mind that you’re only trying to do what’s best for Loki. Please, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a matter of distrust, more of habits.”

Tony growled under his breath but he couldn’t certainly reproach Amras for thinking so low of him.

“If you want to get some sleep I could take your place with the towel, sir,” Amras offered when he saw Stark’s eyes become unfocused for a moment.

“Sleep?” He laughed dryly, “Amras, I don’t think I’d manage to get some sleep in the near future even if I didn’t have something to do. You can sleep though if you want to, as long as I can call you if something goes wrong.”

“Thank you, sir, but I’m required elsewhere in a handful of minutes.”

“If you don’t want to go tell them I have ordered you to stay,” Tony offered immediately, unable to stand the thought of something similar happening to Amras too.

“It’s not like that for everyone of us here, sir. There are people who come to the palace who are… gentle. Who care for us. Loki has never found someone like that, but that doesn’t mean that kind of guests doesn’t exist.”

It was clear that Amras was avoiding to tell him something, but Tony didn’t have it in him to prod; he was too tired for that, he couldn’t really focus on that too when he still felt Loki’s laboured breathing against his chest.

“Just come back when you can, okay?”

“Of course, sir,” Amras looked once more at the pair on the bed and left with a quick bow, still not able to believe the sight of Loki wrapped up in a blanket and in the arms of someone who actually cared for him, then he was gone.

Now that they were alone Tony wasn’t sure of what to do, especially when Loki started whimpering slightly in his feverish sleep; he couldn’t move or he would have disturbed Loki, and at the same time he couldn’t let him in that state. The only thing that came up to his mind was to kiss his forehead once more, his lips lingering just a little more than necessary to simply justify the gesture to himself with the excuse he was doing it only for Loki.

That was a lie and he knew it very well.

Obviously the fact that something so little managed to give Loki some relief induced him to repeat the kiss, but he wasn’t so naive to believe himself such a disinterested person. He would have never acted in such a way had Loki been awake, but right now he couldn’t deny that. He didn’t only want to keep Loki away from a fate that made him shudder, he knew there was more. Those fleeting feelings he had felt for the first time four years before and had kept on nagging at his mind in that time of absence had only grown stronger with Loki constantly sleeping curled up in his arms like a cat, as if the spot next to him was the only place where he wanted to be.

He knew it was wrong, that Loki had suffered too many horrors to even think of suggesting something like that and that even voicing in their first days together the fact that he fancied him went against everything that could have been considered proper in such a situation, but he could do nothing against it.

It was time he recognised it wasn’t only protectiveness and justified anger for what he had suffered what he felt for Loki, he had to admit that the smouldering crush he had had for the former God of Mischief had only basked in the fact of being the object of so many attentions from him. Tony knew that under different circumstances Loki would have probably laughed him off for only even considering to be enough for a god, but the less noble part of himself kept whispering that that was not the case.

There weren’t different circumstances, those were the facts, that was the truth, and no ‘ifs’ could change that.

The most rational part of him tried to counter that he couldn’t still consider Loki’s actions at face value since the fallen prince was probably acting with the only interest of staying away from the horrors the palace had in store for him, that everything Loki was doing was tainted by the fact that Tony was the first person to treat him with a little care, and yet there he was.

He couldn’t help it.

He couldn’t stop alternating the wet cloth that was refreshing Loki’s forehead with soft kisses.

Chapter Text

Loki woke up to something cold being carefully lifted from his forehead, and before he even had the time to consider what that might have been he adverted something different against his skin.

It was the soft peck of lips, an affectionate gesture he had never experienced before if not when he was but a child.

It wasn’t long before the cold thing returned, helping to clear Loki’s mind just a little, just enough to remember what had happened.

Not much the encounter with those three beasts – that had been bad but not the worst moment he had suffered in the palace – but the aftermath.

He had shown up at Anthony’s door covered in blood with only a sheet draped over his poor body, and instead of the reproach that could have come about how he wasn’t even able to stay out of trouble when he had been given all the tools necessary to do so, a pair of careful strong hands had instantly grabbed him and supported him.

From then on he only remembered fragmentary bits, probably because he had passed out a few times, but all the moments that came rushing back to his numbed mind only spoke of how Anthony had been taking care of him, rushing at his side every time he had called him, cleaning his body with soft towels, tying his hair back so he would have reduced the intolerable warmth caused by the elixir at least a bit.

Kissing him to calm him a little.

When he realised that he fought against the heaviness of his own eyelids and slowly opened his eyes.

“Lokes, hey,” Anthony’s voice was tired, but cheerful nonetheless.

Loki only groaned, not really able to speak yet.

“Is everything alright? Well, not alright, I know this couldn’t be furthest from alright, I mean if there’s something worse, if something hurts more than before. Your temperature is still high, I tried to lower it at least a bit tonight with this cloth but I don’t know if it really works or if it’s something they tell you to do so you don’t feel completely useless next to someone who’s suffering, anyway you didn’t seem to mind so I kept on using it, but if you don’t like it I can stop. Just don’t get out of the blankets, your friend Amras said you should stay warm or the elixir won’t work properly. Oh, we had to give you that thing Amras called the elixir, I don’t know whether you remember or not because you were awake but I really don’t know how much your mind has registered of what has happened tonight-“

“Have you been doing this the whole night?” Loki asked in a raspy voice interrupting Tony’s nervous rambling.

“Yeah, it was-“ he was interrupted again, but this time Loki didn’t speak.

He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Tony’s, silencing him completely.

Tony stilled under the soft kiss, not daring to move.

“Thank you,” Loki whispered breaking away.

“I… uh, Loki…. There was no need…. I…”

“You were kissing me just a few moments ago.”

“Oh, so you noticed…. Listen, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have. Last night it worked when you were panicking, but I shouldn’t have. You were asleep, I’m sorry, really. I shouldn’t have assumed than only because you weren’t complaining it was right to do it again, I really am sorry Lokes, especially after what has happened I….”

“Will you let me say a word in edgewise?”

“I… Of course, sorry,” he finally shut up and Loki was free to talk.

I wanted to do it, Anthony. Not because I felt any sort of pressure to act in response of something you did, but because that’s something I have wanted to do for a while,” he was forced to stop and cough, curling painfully against Anthony’s chest; when he was able to relax his muscles again he found a glass of grape-juice already in front of him.

“You and Amras explained how to use the magic of this place,” Tony answered to Loki’s questioning look, helping him to drink so he wouldn’t have to get up.

“It’s good.”

“Why do you sound so surprised?”

“It’s not meant as an offence, humans aren’t known for their ability with magic,” he pushed away the glass and Tony removed it immediately, giving Loki the room to nuzzle his neck.

“Uh, Lolo, don’t get me wrong, but we probably need to talk about this.”

“Now?” Loki mumbled, his eyes already about to fall shut again.

“I can wait if you want to sleep, I’ll just have my mental breakdown in silence.”

Loki really doubted that.

“What do you want me to say?”

“No. No, it’s not about what I want you to say. Please, don’t think about what I may want to hear.”

Loki sighed, finding a more comfortable position against Anthony’s arm that still allowed him to look at the man, “Since you made the first move I thought I could follow you down that path.”

“I really don’t understand.”

“You told me you wouldn’t have minded.”

“Yeah, but not here. Not under these circumstances. Not in this living hell where you have no choice of what to do.”

“I have it with you,” Loki whispered, hoping his bold statement wouldn’t have been proved wrong.

It didn’t, not only because he was right, but also because Tony felt his heart clench, “Of course you have every right to choose when you’re with me, Lokes. Never doubt that.”

“Then let’s just say you weren’t the only one to want that drink.”

It wasn’t an usual occurrence, but Tony was speechless. Had Loki really been interested in knowing him better, at least in a little fun hadn’t things gone differently? Was that the reason for his constant curling up in his arms, for sleeping in his bed?

No, Tony wasn’t so stupid to believe that. He was the first person who had treated Loki in a way that wouldn’t have been disciplined with some decades in jail if they were in a decent place, Loki had simply decided to stick with the best option he had.

And yet Loki had just kissed him.

“Anthony.”

“Mmh?”

Loki gave him a meaningful look, ignoring the fact that the dark bruises under his eyes for the nose that had been broken the day before didn’t really make him look convincing.

“You’re sure you’re not trying to do what you’re supposed to do here, what they want you to do only because this way you can ensure your position in a safe place?”

“They can force me to do many things, Anthony, but they can’t force me to mean it,” he lined up to meet Anthony’s lips again, and this time the man gently answered to the kiss, a hand brushing Loki’s cheek as the other one tightened on his waist.

It was a soft kiss, gentle, only the brushing of their lips, but it already gave Tony some of the answers he was looking for. There was no mistake in Loki’s actions, it was clear that kiss really came from his intention and not from some wicked conditioning. It was clear in the way his hands clenched on Tony’s shirt, how his whole body relaxed under Tony’s hands, how his eyes fell shut.

When Tony had imagined how kissing Loki would have felt like he hadn’t imagined something like that; he had pictured a more heated situation, a rough contact of lips and tongues and teeth, certainly not something that sweet.

He hadn’t even imagined Loki could have ended up in such a nightmarish situation, though.

“We still need to talk,” Tony pointed out when they broke apart, depositing a little kiss more on the tip of Loki’s nose.

“Can we do it later?”

“Of course, Bambi. Go back to sleep.”

 

~

 

What disturbed Loki’s rest this time was something being deposited on top of him, something warm and soft that was making the cold that had seeped into his bones disappear a little.

“Anthony?”

“Hi, Lokes. Did I wake you?”

Loki hummed something and sank more comfortably between Anthony’s side and the pillows stacked behind him.

“Sorry. You looked cold.”

Loki couldn’t even express how much he liked Anthony’s perceptiveness, “I am.”

“You want me to add another blanket? Now that I’ve got the hang of it it’s easy to come up with the right stuff. You were right, I only have to picture what I want in my mind and it simply appears.”

Loki’s only reaction was to yawn against the fabric of Tony’s t-shirt, and the man couldn’t prevent the kiss he deposited on Loki’s temple. When he realised that he had just gone against his previous predicament of at least trying to discuss the issue further once Loki would have woken up, he completely froze despite the fact that Loki seemed to purr under his touch.

“Sorry,” he stammered.

“What for?”

“I should have asked you first.”

“There’s no need. Actually… no, never mind.”

“Tell me,” Tony prompted, sure that Loki was only holding back his desire of being left alone, without someone constantly touching him; he had already been thinking about that as Loki was asleep, but looking at his defenceless form he hadn’t had it in him to abandon Loki all alone in the huge bed. And beside that, Loki’s head was resting on his chest, if he had decided to move he would have certainly disturbed him.

Chapter Text

“No, it’s nothing, really.”

“Lokes, talk to me. You know I’ll do it if you don’t.”

“Could you…. Could you keep doing that?” He found the courage to ask, “Only for a little while.”

Tony had to hide his surprise since he suspected that any hesitation from his part would have only caused Loki more distress, “Of course.”

“I didn’t mean to impose, if you…”

“Loki, relax,” he finally kissed Loki on the forehead, “My only qualms at doing something with you is for how much you’re a willing participant of it, okay?”

Loki was still confused but nodded nonetheless, blaming it more on the fact he still felt feverish than on what Anthony was telling him.

It was strangely easy to let his eyes fall shut when Anthony’s mouth connected again with his skin, but Loki had a hint about the reason of that. It was something entirely new to him, something he had never experienced with anyone in any bed. It was something he was doing for the first time, exactly like spending the night curled up in someone’s arms; something he was experiencing for the first time with Anthony, something he could relate to him only, little did it matter where they were and what he was now.

Anthony didn’t seem to mind.

So many people would have wrinkled their noses at what he had become and would have never even imagined to dedicate so many attentions to someone like him, someone they could have only snapping their fingers, but Anthony didn’t share those feelings.

He was kissing Loki’s cheeks, his nose, his forehead – anywhere but his lips – with no urge, as if Loki’s request was his only concern.

It was natural for Loki to let his hand roam on the man’s chest, relishing in the warm feeling of it.

“When you have to go you can stop,” Loki murmured despite his every instinct shouting to shut up.

“Go where, precisely?” Anthony asked just below his ear.

“The meeting.”

“If you think I have any intention to see those bastards in the near future you’re way wrong, Bambi.”

Loki had to open his eyes, “What?”

“Let’s just say we had a sort of an argument yesterday.”

“Were they trying to foist a bad deal?” It was getting difficult to speak in a proper manner with his still feverish mind playing him strange tricks and with Anthony’s mouth still on his jaw. He instantly regretted the question when Anthony pulled back.

“That was not the issue at hand.”

“What was then?” He bit his tongue too late, insulting his own curiosity.

“You were,” Tony answered in a bewildered tone, “And don’t look at me like that, I played it so it seemed I would’ve liked to tear them apart because my orders hadn’t been respected, not for what those bastards have done to you,” he ended the sentence with a low growl, protectively passing his arms around Loki again.

“You… fought because of me?”

“I threatened to call the deal off, but I didn’t even have the guts to tell them how much even the sight of them disgusts me,” self-deprecation was clear in his voice.

“There was no need to do that,” Loki whispered under his breath, “It’s not worth it, I’m not w-“

“Don’t even try to end that sentence.”

“But it’s true, I’m not worthy of such trouble.”

This time Tony’s mouth landed on his lips, possessive and yet still soft, cancelling the thought completely from his mind.

“You are worth the trouble, Loki. Never think otherwise,” Tony stroked Loki’s cheek with his fingertips, pulling back right before it became too much.

Loki had been silenced by that unexpected kiss, shocked by the suddenness of it, and yet he didn’t mind it; he would have expected to be scared by such a sudden movement, by the pressure of Anthony’s body on top of him, instead he had felt safe.

Safe, as if the weight of Anthony’s body was a shield between him and the rest of the world.

“Risking your deal because of me still isn’t wise,” he softly protested, a hand venturing at the edge of Tony’s goatee.

“Never been known for wise choices, me.”

Loki was about to snort when his head suddenly became too light and started spinning despite resting on the stacked pillows.

“Lokes? What’s happening?”

“Nothing…”

“Yeah, don’t lie to me. No, no, hey, I didn’t mean that,” he added when Loki’s eyes filled with fear for what that assumption could have possibly led to.

“It’ll pass. I’ve been worse.”

“The worst thing is that I don’t doubt it. Now you’re with me though, so you’ll tell me what I can do to help you.”

“It’s just… my head. It’s just spinning. Nothing to worry about. A side effect of the elixir,” he closed his eyes, so maybe the room would have stopped moving around him.

Tony pondered the answer for a few moments, his hands unable to stay away from Loki so he cradled him back in his arms, “Maybe you’re just hungry.”

Loki shook his head even though that only made him feel worse. Resting his forehead on Anthony’s shoulder seemed to stop the spinning a little, though.

“You haven’t been eating, it could be a reason.”

Loki disagreed again, this time verbally. Maybe Anthony was right, but he wouldn’t have let something extraneous into his body again, not after the previous day; he hadn’t been able to control those beasts and what they had done to his body, but he still had a little control over this at least.

“Do you have nausea? No? So there’s no reason to not even try to eat something. Maybe it won’t work, but a least we would’ve tried.”

Fighting his every instinct Loki turned away from him, but Tony didn’t let go.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“I don’t want to eat,” Loki murmured.

“You should.”

“Please, Anthony.”

“Usually it works, Bambi, but right now you really should put something in your stomach. And don’t give me the puppy eyes, it’s mean.”

“Can I go back to sleep?”

“After you have breakfast.”

Loki just pressed back into his embrace, deciding that his best option was to remain silent and close his eyes at this point.

“Lolo, I don’t know what’s wrong now, but listen to me, please.”

The fallen prince didn’t move, not even when he felt a kiss being pressed into his hair; what startled him a little was the sweet smell that assaulted his nostrils, though.

“C’mon, eat something and I leave you alone.”

Loki remained silent even when Anthony’s chin came to rest on his shoulder.

“I don’t know what it is, but make this effort, mmh? For me.”

Loki sighed in the still present embrace he was enveloped into, but when he made to get up and comply to Anthony’s simple request something soft and sweet was pressed against his lips; he suddenly opened his eyes at that, finding a piece of what seemed a cooked dough in the tip of a fork Anthony was holding for him.

“Pancakes. You seem to have a sweet tooth so I guessed you may have liked them. Just try one.”

Loki would have liked to do that, but there was a tight knot in his throat preventing him from doing so. Anthony was even feeding now, actually bringing food to his mouth so he wouldn’t have had to make the effort to do so himself. A sob shook him, leaving Tony to wonder what he had done wrong this time.

“Hey, Lolo, what’s happening?”

“Nothing. Just… thank you.”

“Mmh, okay,” Tony put the fork down and turned Loki in his arms, so he would have been able to look at the mage’s face, “It’s fine, okay? Now calm down a little, then we’ll talk about breakfast again,” he didn’t really know what to do for Loki at the moment beside holding him close. He had no idea of what was going on through Loki’s troubled mind at the moment, he had no idea of how to connect to him, of what to say to try and make things better, and at the same time his nature was screaming that staying silent wouldn’t have solved anything. Loki was crying against him, silently so, but Tony could feel warm tears soaking his t-shirt, and yet he had no idea of what to do beside rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades.

“Is there something I can do?” He asked quite desperately.

Loki shook his head no, only worsening the spinning sensation, but sinking in Anthony’s embrace was at least easing the tightness in his throat a little.

“If there’s anything I can do – anything, really – just tell me and I will.”

“Could you…?” He didn’t dare to finish the sentence, but Tony understood the meaning from the brushing of Loki’s nose against his neck; had he guessed before that all Loki wanted was for someone to kiss him through that mess he would have never stopped in the beginning.

He didn’t tilt Loki’s chin up, not wanting to force him to abandon the hiding place he had carved for himself, so he simply pressed his lips against Loki’s inky hair, doing his best to covey everything his missing words failed to communicate.

“I’m sorry,” Loki murmured after a few minutes.

“What for? You’re entitled to any reaction you could possibly have, Lolo. I’m surprised you even are this calm, and the reason why you are is about to make me have a mental breakdown, so please stop apologising. I told you, just ask. I’d like to already do the right thing for you, to make you feel better, but I don’t know what it could be. Please, don’t cry again,” he begged holding Loki closer.

If he were to think that Loki’s tears were induced by the fact it was the first time there was someone for him after that sort of violence he would have lost it.

Loki took a few seconds more to compose himself, trying to suffocate the unending gratitude he felt toward the human, and when he finally managed to pull himself together he raised his eyes on Anthony.

He immediately received a peck on the lips.

“You think you could eat something now? I’m not going to let it go.”

“It that’s what you want.”

“No, hey, it’s not that I want you to eat just to please some wicked desire of mine, but because you need food even though you claim you don’t want any.”

“I can survive without,” he protested feebly, not because he wanted to keep contradicting the only person he knew wouldn’t have backhanded him for such insolence, but mainly because the mere though of swallowing a bite of something almost made him choke.

“You can survive without many things, that doesn’t mean you should,” Tony completely ignored Loki’s complaints and sat up to grab the tray he had magicked before, “Here, eat,” he took up the fork again and held it in front of Loki who had crawled against the pillows to get up a little.

“I’d only like to sleep.”

“You will after you eat two pancakes. Look, just two, they aren’t even big.”

“Later?”

“No, now. I can keep this up the whole day, don’t think you’re the most stubborn one here.”

Once Loki probably was, but right now he could only sigh and make up excuses, “I’m not hungry.”

“You didn’t faint only because it’s physically impossible to do so if you’re laying down. Amras told me the elixir accelerates the natural healing process of your body, so it has probably burnt all your energy reserves. Now eat and be done with it.”

Loki just sighed and allowed Anthony to feed him that sweet thing, instantly regretting all his protests when the dough melted on his tongue, releasing one of the best savours he had ever tasted. At this point he could have sat up completely and started eating for himself, but he couldn’t pass on the chance of being tended to head to foot for once, so he just laid back against the pillows and enjoyed having Anthony slicing the pancake for him and bringing the fork to his mouth.

“Was it that bad, Your Grace?” Tony joked as another glass of grape juice appeared in his hand.

“You may have been right,” Loki conceded sipping the fresh drink.

Chapter Text

When Loki woke up for the third time that day he knew perfectly well where he was; his mind was a little numb for the still lingering fever and for the excess of sleep, but he could distinctly breathe Anthony’s scent next to him.

It was only natural for him to curl closer to him.

“My prince’s awake?”

Loki just hummed.

“When you grace me with opening your eyes I’ve something for you.”

Loki was too curious not to take the bait.

“These should fit you.”

Loki’s eyes widened in surprise when the focused on the mountain of clothes stacked on top of the bed.

“I took inspiration from the medieval clothes we have on Earth since I’ve no idea of what Asgardian casual-wear consists of.”

“You…”

“I was bored, sue me.”

The only thing that prevented Loki from launching himself on the pile of clothes meant only for him was the fact that it wasn’t easy to decide to abandon the warm embrace of Anthony’s arms. Only the chance of turning around to kiss the man made him finally crawl out of the thick cocoon of blankets.

Tony smiled watching him sort through the many items of clothing he had magicked into existence as Loki was asleep; there was a nice sensation in his chest at the sight of Loki just happily and curiously examining the product of his work, even though he didn’t pick anything to substitute the clothes he still had on.

“Close enough?”

“Mmh?” Loki asked, lost in the examination of a green tunic. He had immediately noticed how everything was in black and different shades of green.

“Is there something similar in Asgard or am I off target?”

“They’re perfect,” Loki smiled at him and crawled back at his side, “Thank you,” he murmured, leaving a soft kiss on Anthony’s lips.

“Not a problem, Bambi,” he was about to let a hand slide in Loki’s hair when the former god’s attention shifted to something at his right.

“Are those books?”

“Yeah,” Anthony almost managed to hide the disappointment to himself, only to erase it completely when he took in the sight of Loki’s amazed expression, “I thought you might prefer the paper version.”

It took Loki about half a second to be next to the pile of books to read at least the titles, but then he got lost in the feeling of paper under his fingertips, in the smell of the ink, in all the things that reminded him of a past long gone. It was different from what he remembered since those books weren’t handwritten but printed, but that didn’t make much of a difference; the smell was a bit different, but it was still ink, and that he had missed a lot.

He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder, instantly dropping the book he was examining in fear of what would have been done to him now that he had been discovered reading.

“Hey, sorry, it’s just me,” Tony’s thumb pressed in slow circles against Loki’s tense muscles, “I didn’t want to startle you.”

“Oh. Sorry, I…”

“Not your fault, Bambi,” Tony couldn’t help it, he passed an arm around Loki’s waist; he feared of having gone a step too far but then Loki relaxed against his chest, his fingers intertwining with Anthony’s, “I was only going to suggest you move your librarian instincts back against the pillows.”

Loki could have objected that he was perfectly fine with using Anthony’s chest as a backrest, but probably the man had something better to do. He grabbed as many books as he could bring with him, or at least tried to, since the moment he attempted to pile three of them up Anthony batted his hands away.

“Don’t look at me like that, I’m not going to set them on fire. You go back to lay down as you’re supposed to do, I carry your books.”

Loki looked at the space between himself and the pillows.

If he were to stretch his arm he could touch them with his fingertips.

“Yeah, right direction. C’mon,” Tony shooed him and Loki had to suppress a small laugh at his behaviour.

“I’m fine, Anthony, there’s no need to go at such lengths for me.”

“If you say so,” Tony grumbled, tucking one of the many blankets around him nonetheless.

“Anyway I’ll have to go do my chores, so…” Anthony’s dry laugh interrupted him.

“You really think you’ll get out of here anytime soon?”

Loki almost zoned off hearing the same words of the previous day. Not much for the memories linked to them, but for the utter difference of meaning.

“Lo, you won’t be anywhere out of my sight in the near future, is that understood?”

“I…”

Tony silenced him with the brush of his fingers, “Don’t even try to protest.”

“I can’t stay here all day…”

In the couple of weeks he had spent most of his time in Anthony’s chambers, that was true, but had still ventured out of that safe place to do his chores, it wasn’t something he could ignore. Had he been found idle all day he would have been punished, and taking care of Anthony’s space wasn’t certainly enough even though the man seemed unable to stay unsupervised if he still wanted to see the floor under the layer of clothes he constantly scattered around.

“You can and you will.”

“The Masters won’t be fine with this.”

“I have made myself clear yesterday.”

There was clear anger in Anthony’s tone, but Loki couldn’t really place it.

“What did you tell them?”

“That I would have called off the deal if someone would’ve crossed me again taking you away from my chambers, easy as that.”

Loki knew the move was silly, that it could have led to bad terms for Anthony’s business, but he couldn’t resist the desire of pulling the man close and kiss him on the mouth. It wasn’t wise, he shouldn’t have done it, and yet Anthony had decided to risk what he had been working on for weeks only for his sake.

Tony couldn’t resist such a blunt invitation, so he dropped the books and answered to the kiss Loki had initiated, passing his arms around the mage and pulling him on top of himself so he wouldn’t have felt trapped and would have been able to move away when he preferred.

Their kiss was a short one, and neither tongue entered the other’s mouth, but that was fine because when they pulled away, Loki’s face was flushed and there was a shy smile pulling at his lips.

“Now back in bed,” Tony put his hands on Loki’s waist and manoeuvred him against the pillows, trying to ignore the protests so clear in Loki’s demeanour.

“I’m not made of glass,” he protested.

“Cristal, maybe,” Tony muttered mostly to himself, thinking back to the way Loki green eyes twinkled in the light when he was happy and feeling a bit of an idiot.

Loki was kind enough not to prod it, he just rolled into Tony’s arms and settled against him.

“I could come up with proper Asgardian clothes, you know,” Tony said after a long moment of silence during which they had both basked in their closeness.

“Those are already more than enough.”

“It’s funny, though, and you should have nice stuff, what you used to wear,” that was the only technique Tony could come up with; any time someone was distressed Tony’s reaction was to buy them something fancy, the only thing he could do with Loki was to spoil him rotten.

“Anthony, there’s no need.”

“I don’t mind and it’s funny, come on,” he kissed Loki’s nose and the mage beamed.

“I could draw them so you can visualise them if you want, but what you have done is already more than enough.”

“Start drawing so I can hockety-pockety them into existence.”

Paper and pen appeared directly in Loki’s hands.

“What in Valhalla is this?” He asked raising a Bic in front of his eyes.

“That’s a pen, Loki.”

“What am I supposed to do with it?” he asked bringing the small plastic cylinder closer to his eyes.

“Draw, I just told you.”

“I have no ink.”

“The ink is… wait, you’ve never used a pen?”

“I don’t even know what a pen is,” he protested, and Tony cracked up laughing, “What?”

Chapter Text

“God, you’re adorable,” he kissed Loki on the cheek and decided to finally explain, “The ink’s inside, you only have to press to tip of the pen against the paper and it’ll write or draw,” he removed the cap and showed Loki what he had just said, “You see? You can call it Midgardian magic if you like.”

“Way more comfortable than ink and quill…” Loki murmured, enjoying the feeling of holding the pen between his fingers. He was quick to come up with a sketch of the tunics he was used to wear when he was still a prince, and the result wasn’t even that bad everything considered; he had always been skilled at drawing, but the last time he had had time indulge in that hobby dated back to a time before his fall from the Bifrost.

“You’re good at sketching,” Tony commented, his chin resting on Loki’s shoulder since the moment he had seen Loki sit up he had stealthily pulled the mage against his chest.

“I’m out of practice, my old drawings were definitely better.”

“If you’re done I can scan it.”

Loki had no idea what he was talking about, but he relinquished the sheet with no protests.

Tony fished the StarkPad from the bunch of blankets scattered across the bed and in a couple of seconds an improved, 3D version of Loki’s sketch appeared in front of them, followed by an awed hum from Loki.

“You can add some details if you want to, you can zoom every part like this,” Tony showed the proper way to do so and arranged himself around Loki as the mage played with the hologram in front of him.

That was how Amras found them half an hour later, Tony propped up against the pillows with his arms resting on Loki’s stomach and Loki – already wearing his first creation that Anthony had solicitously turned into existence the moment the sketch was complete – sprawled on the man’s chest, a hand lazily abandoned on Tony’s knee.

“Loki, you look better,” the elf smiled at his friend, trying to ignore how he had flinched further into Stark when he had noticed the door being opened.

“I still think he should go back to sleep, but someone’s not listening,” Tony gently tugged at the end of Loki’s braid, inducing him to put the StarkPad aside for a moment.

“You already let me sleep for I don’t know how long, I can as well remain awake for a while.”

Amras would have liked to warn Loki to stop that, because it was possible that Stark’s patience wouldn’t have lasted now that he didn’t look so pitiful anymore, but the human only snorted and hit Loki behind his ear with his nose.

“I’m only saying that because it’d do you a world of good to sleep some more.”

“I’ll sleep when you’re with the Council.”

Tony could have tried to convince him again, instead he tightened his embrace on Loki.

“Was he here?” Loki asked after a few moments of purely enjoying the tight hug he was enveloped into, and Amras smiled, getting closer.

“Who?” Tony asked, gesturing for the elf to sit on the huge bed. It wasn’t easy to find some room on the mattress encumbered by all the stuff Stark had magicked as Loki was sleeping, but Amras managed to find a spot.

“Amras’ lover,” Loki supplied, shuffling in Tony’s arms to reach for a blanket.

“He’s not my lover.”

Loki quirked an eyebrow.

“He’s not.”

“He comes here at least once a week only to see you.”

Amras blushed a little at that, and Tony had no idea of how to interpret that. He would have had to ask Loki later.

“Anyway,” Amras cleared his throat, looking anywhere but in their direction, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Not really. Anthony has already forbidden me to even lift a single finger.”

“You were drawing, technically speaking you were lifting a finger.”

Loki rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Maybe you should come back to your room, then,” Amras suggested and felt immediately sorry for how Loki flinched at the mere prospect of abandoning that safe place. It wasn’t his intention to wrench Loki away from the human who was treating him so kindly, but he feared what could have happened to him if some guard had found out that he was idly lounging in a bed all day.

“Amras, I already told you, Loki stays here,” Stark’s voice wasn’t angry, he was just sliding his hands up and down Loki’s arms to make him relax and stop shivering.

“Sir, the guards could…”

“I spoke with the Members of the Council yesterday. No one’ll say anything about what I do here, I can assure you that.”
Amras was already surprised for that revelation, the fact that Stark gently kissed Loki’s cheek only added to that. It seemed that his only preoccupation at the moment was to make sure Loki would have felt safe and protected, that nothing coming from that hell that was the palace to him surpassed the closed doors of his chambers.

“I apologise, I didn’t know…”

“Don’t worry, Amras. You only need to know that Loki’ll stay here, end of the story.”

Amras silently nodded, staring at his hands folded in his lap, “I could go if you don’t need me, sir.”

“Go wherever you want, it’s up to you. You know you’re welcome to stay if you want,” Tony had no idea of Amras’ role in the palace, but he still felt he had to offer the elf a way out of that hell; it was clear Loki was receiving an especially harsh treatment and that other slaves fared better, but only relatively better.

“I… I should go then. May I come back later?”

“Sure thing,” Stark even smiled at him, and with a short wave of the hand at Loki Amras abandoned the room before the human could confuse him any further.

“He has no idea of what you’re doing,” Loki explained a moment later, “Amras was born a slave, he finds it extremely strange to be treated as a free person.”

“I find it extremely strange to treat someone differently.”

“That’s a charming trait of your personality.”

Tony laughed against his shoulder, then he manoeuvred him to the side, making him rest against the pillows.

“Why?”

“You still have a fever, Lo. You should sleep it off.”

“I’m not an invalid, there’s no need to treat me with this much care.”

Tony could have objected that yes, there was definitely the need to care for him, to pamper him, to spoil him rotten, to do anything that could have distracted Loki’s mind from what had happened the previous day, but he couldn’t find his voice to say that. There was also a vicious part of him reminding him that all that concern was unnecessary since Loki had had to deal with that shit for himself for four years and had managed to do so even without losing his mind, but he preferred not to think about that.

Had he done so he would have curled up around Loki and never let him go.

He had to shove that malignant thoughts aside and focus on something more trivial, he had to.

“Fine. Your braid’s a mess, anyway.”

Loki looked a little startled at his sudden change of subject, but mindlessly reached for the braid hanging on his shoulder, really paying attention to it for the first time.

He hadn’t seen his hair styled like that in more than a century, partially because in the palace he was forbidden to do so and partially because before his fall his hair had been too short to do that.

The thought hit him all at once, “Did you braid my hair?”

“Uh, yeah. Not a perfect job but better than nothing.”

Loki was undecided. He didn’t know whether to laugh or to kiss the man on the spot.

He settled for the latter.

“You really did.”

“You were burning up, of course I did,” Anthony replied as if it was obvious, but to Loki it was not, “If you lay back down I can try to improve it.”

Loki sensed the trick lurking behind Anthony’s offer, but the temptation of having him play with his hair was too strong to resist.

The moment Anthony fished the brush from the blankets and undid the messy braid with quick fingers Loki knew he wouldn’t have won this battle; the moment Anthony would have started brushing his hair his eyes would have naturally closed. He tried to fight that urge back, focusing on the closest book he could find, but when Anthony magicked some perfumed oil to spread on the ends of his hair he knew there was nothing more to do but fall asleep with a contented hum.

Chapter Text

“You should get some rest,” Loki commented when he woke up again, his fingers gently brushing at the dark circles under Tony’s eyes.

“Hey, Lokes,” Tony tiredly smiled at him, “I’m perfectly fine. How’re you?”

“Better than what you think for sure.”

Tony hummed his denial but anyway pressed a soft kiss on Loki’s forehead, “Is it that bad to just stay here with me and rest?”

“Not in the slightest,“ Loki smiled accepting the glass filled with grape juice that appeared in his hand.

“Good.”

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sleep at all only to make sure I’m fine.”

“Yesterday you…”

“But now I’m fine. Thank to you. You have already done enough. More than enough to be honest,” Loki reassured him, but Tony couldn’t bring himself to let his guard down, to allow the possibility of something horrible happening to Loki again only because he had let his guard down for a moment.

He would have never forgiven himself such an eventuality.

“Amras was here again, you know?” Tony mentioned only to change the subject, “The guy really cares for you.”

“He’s a kind soul. An unfortunate one, sadly,” Loki added, thinking back of what his only friend had told him at the beginning of their unexpected friendship.

“Why? Slavery aside.”

“You know he was talking – or avoiding to talk – about a lover, someone who comes here only for him?”

Tony nodded.

“They love each other. Finrond even offered me to sleep for a few hours in the room that had been assigned to him when they were together so I could get away from the place for a little, but he can’t take Amras away from here even if he wants to. He’s able to look past Amras’ status and what has been demanded of him through the years, but he doesn’t have the money to ask for Amras to go away with him.”

“What?”

“He’d like to buy Amras’ freedom, I think he’d do it the moment he managed to put the money together, but for now he can only offer his services of tailor to the palace and ask to enjoy the presence of a slave as a compensation. I’ve no idea of how much time it could take him to have the sufficient resources to obtain Amras’ freedom. He says he doesn’t mind, that he’s happy as long as Finrond comes here and keeps asking for him since he wouldn’t know what to do with his freedom, but even he knows that’s a lie.”

Tony had no idea of what to say next.

There was no way he could relate to this, find the correct words to face the situation. Everything was so utterly wrong in his eyes that he had no way to even try to understand.

“You really should get some sleep,” Loki supplied after a few moments of silence in which Tony’s mind was just running around in circles.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep here again…”

“Anthony, look at me,” Loki said seriously, drawing a finger on Tony’s jaw, “Nothing truly bad happened. I’m fine, you helped me with a fast recovery and believe me, I’ve been way worse with no one to help me as you did,” he snuggled closer to the man but Tony couldn’t see how that was supposed to ease the sense of disgust and utter hatred for the bastards running that place that he was feeling.

The fact that Loki had been even worse than what he had been witnessing the previous night only made his desire to tear the Members of the Council apart stronger by the second.

“Stop thinking too much about that and rest,” Loki added, placing a hand at the centre of Tony’s chest.

“The fact you’re comforting me is ridiculous.”

Loki nuzzled his neck, “You aren’t used to this place.”

“Again, not working.”

“What time is it?”

“I’d say an hour or so before dawn, I still haven’t figured out how the time works here.”

“The hours are slightly longer than the Midgardian ones, and so are the days. The months have a couple of days less, though, so years have the same length of those on Midgard.”

“Why are you asking?”

“Just trying to figure out for how long I’ve been here doing nothing.”

“There’s nothing you’re supposed to be doing.”

“That might even be true to you, but I’m not used to all this rest, so since I’ve been in a bed for more than an entire day I think I could at least fold all the clothes you’ve made appear for me,” he tried to get up but Anthony’s arm was around his waist before he could even sit properly.

“Okay, you’re forcing me to do this. I order you to do nothing. Everything that can be considered a chore is out of question. Forbidden. You’re not allowed out of this bed unless you have to go to the bathroom or it’s a real emergency. Understood?”

Loki quirked an eyebrow at him, barely noticing how his old mannerisms were returning to him in Stark’s company.

“C’mon, back under the blankets.”

“Is that an order too, master?”

Tony’s wounded expression only lasted for a second before he realised Loki was just teasing and hadn’t really shifted back in that mind-frame that hellish place had managed to create out of his former proud self, “You’re just messing with me, right?”

Loki gave him a short grin before curling back against Tony’s side.

 

~

 

It took Tony another full day of pampering Loki before he eventually fell asleep.

He had done his best to prevent Loki from getting out of the bed, refrained from bodily carrying him to the other room when Loki had expressed the desire of taking a bath and later suggesting to help Loki wash his hair only because Loki had told him there was just enough coddling he could take before he went insane; he had magicked coffee and food on trays to avoid even getting to the table and what little progress he had managed to make on the front of letting Loki out of his sight for just a single moment was completely erased when he had to wake Loki up from a nightmare.

He had noticed Loki’s eyelids start to flutter and his breath getting shorter, so he had immediately shaken the fallen prince to wrestle him from whatever image was tormenting him. The one thing he could be proud of was how he had had the idea of coming up with a mug of hot tea; Loki had enjoyed the taste so much he had immediately forgotten what had woken him up.

It had just been a few hours later that Loki had realised the man had passed out; he had been reading the latest book Anthony had fetched for him, when he had noticed the tablet the man had been using sliding on the blankets.

When he had craned his neck to take a look at him, Anthony’s eyes were shut and his breathing slower.

Loki had just smiled at him and disentangled from the man’s arms just enough to make him shift from the half-sitting position he was in to one more comfortable for sleeping.

Despite the fact he was now free roam in the chambers on his own without anyone almost begging him to come back to bed he didn’t move, and that was why Amras found them curled up together in the dimly lit room when he found again some time to go visit his friend.

“Shh,” Loki warned him when Amras opened the door and made to say something, “He finally fell asleep.”

Amras was used to fellow slaves who thanked the fact their current master was asleep so they could enjoy some time alone without anyone tormenting them, but Loki’s tone was entirely different; he was genuinely glad Stark was asleep, and the concern in his voice for his possible waking up had nothing to do with fear.

“Why finally?” He murmured sitting on the bed.

“He hasn’t closed his eyes since the moment I came back here,” he deliberately glossed over everything that had happened that day.

“Really?”

Loki nodded, the movement making his hair brush against Anthony’s chin and eliciting a sleepy sound out of him that made Loki smile. For good measure he carefully disentangled from the man’s still present embrace and scooted closer to Amras.

“Why?”

“I think it has something to do with the fact he wasn’t here when…” he trailed off, knowing full well that Amras knew what he meant, “From what I’ve gathered that’s why I’m not even allowed out of bed.”

“What?” Amras was perplexed at that, at what usually that order meant, but Loki was still fully clothed and the only signs his skin bore were the still fading bruises of a few days prior.

“No, not what you think. It’s more like I’m not allowed to do anything, when I told you he doesn’t allow me to even lift a single finger I wasn’t joking. He has explicitly forbidden me from doing anything that could be considered a chore. Or sit on a chair to eat,” he gestured in the vague direction where the last tray had been abandoned, “Oh, if you’re hungry there must be something left there.”

“Loki, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“He won’t mind.”

“You can’t be sure, and you really need a safe place for once, Loki. I won’t be the one to make you risk losing it.”

Loki smiled at his friend, “For as much as I thank you for this, there’s no need to worry. Anthony truly won’t mind.”

“He may be indulgent with you, but he has no reason at all to do the same for me. He has already been too lenient with me when I entered these chambers without his permission, allowed me to use a wrong title to address him, let me visit you whenever I want and…”

“Amras,” Loki interrupted him, “For what I know, these aren’t exceptions to him. Anthony doesn’t want you to call him master because he doesn’t understand the whole concept of slavery. He has told me there’s no such thing on Midgard, at least not in recent years.”

Amras was speechless. A world without slavery… One who was born a slave couldn’t even contemplate such a possibility.

“So eat if you want to.”

Amras was still a little dubious at that, but when Loki made yet another encouraging gesture toward the tray he gave up his reticence and launched on the food. After all it was Loki who was risking his position for that, and he was the one who had spent the last two weeks and a half with Stark, so if Loki told him it was safe to do so he could only listen to him.

Loki tried for a while to remain close to his friend to chat, but with Amras eating as fast as he could there wasn’t much room for conversation.

He looked longingly at Anthony’s sleeping form.

He was so warm against his side, and it was relaxing to listen to the man’s sleepy breathing, the slow raising and falling of his chest… Without a second thought Loki was again curled up against Tony’s side.

The way Anthony’s arms naturally tightened around him made him smile.

“You’re falling for him,” Amras stated, a little surprised by the revelation but at the same time sure of his assumption.

Loki stared at him as a fawn caught in a spotlight.

Chapter Text

No, he wasn’t falling for Anthony.

He couldn’t.

It was too dangerous to do so.

And yet inevitable.

Even more importantly than care and protection Anthony had shown him respect, treated him as a person after years of that being denied to him. He had even gone beyond everything his family had ever done for him.

Anthony had believed him.

The man had only had his word as a guarantee of his extraneousness in the events in New York, in the attempt of his own murder, and he had believed him all the same.

When he had done so in front of Odin who had supposedly considered him as a son for over a thousand years he had been sentenced to slavery.

No one had ever believed to anything he had ever said to excuse himself for something that had not been entirely his fault, but no one in the position of pardoning him had ever done so; they had all turned their backs on him even if he hadn’t directly provoked them any direct damage. The nobles of Asgard, the elders, Odin… Frigga was always ready to listen to his side of the story, but then she didn’t actively do anything to shield him from what had happened. From time to time Thor had tried to believe, but he was so easily swayed…

Anthony had believed him the moment he had ended his tale.

Or better, even before if he were to think back of Anthony’s actions the day they had met; he hadn’t even had the time to end his recount of what had happened with the Mad Titan that Anthony had already wrapped him in the first hug he had received in ages.

More so, the man had already been questioning his degree of fault when Loki wasn’t even there to defend himself.

And beside that inexplicable trust Loki had never witnessed to before, Anthony had done things for him no lover had ever done.

Loki had never felt this cared for, this appreciated, this respected in his whole life. Even when he was still a prince people tried to please to reach their own goals no one had ever instinctively wrapped their arms around him in their sleep.

No one had ever ran him a bath, pulled a blanket over him because they had sensed he was feeling cold.

Not done so because Loki had voiced an explicit discomfort, but simply because he had looked uncomfortable.

No one had ever brought him breakfast in bed, covered him in books only because he loved reading, kissed him just for the sake of it.

Loki knew that falling for a master – even though the subject in question refused such a title and to behave in a way more fitting of that role – would have only brought to a miserable life, a life of waiting and disappointment, of feeling in the wrong place most of the times with no possibility to do otherwise.

He saw it in Amras.

His friend had told him how much he despised being with someone beside his lover, how the idea of being kind of cheating only added to the usual disgust. Amras was aware that Finrond would have never considered that cheating because he knew Amras had no choice, but Amras couldn’t shake off that feeling anyway.

Loki knew it was dangerous, and yet he couldn’t deny it.

“I shouldn’t…” he tried.

“You’re not denying.”

Loki raised pained eyes on him.

“Loki, it’s not bad news.”

Oh yes, it was. It meant not being able anymore to extricate his emotions from what he was forced to endure, it meant losing what little control he still had. And yet Anthony was the best thing that had happened to him.

“It’d be if it was one-sided, but it’s clearly mutual,” Amras gestured at how Stark’s hands were lightly clasped on Loki.

“He’ll leave, Amras,” Loki whispered.

“But he’ll come back. I’m sure he will.”

Loki shook his head biting at his bottom lip.

“Think at the bright-sides this could have nonetheless. Even if he is to leave without you, you’ll probably receive a better treatment now. The Members of the Council know Stark likes you and he’s an important ally they hope to keep. I’ve heard them saying so. If they know Stark may return they probably won’t want him to find you in bad conditions after the retaliation they are facing now. They are worried since Stark hasn’t left these chambers since the other day when he has threatened to call the deal off, now they’ll do anything in their power to keep on his good graces, and you happen to be the tool for it.”

But he would have been abandoned there on his own again.

Amras didn’t say it, but that was all Loki could focus on.

He had promised himself not to think about when Anthony would have returned to Midgard, but Amras’ words made it impossible. Maybe it was true, maybe he wouldn’t have been treated as he had had for years, but that didn’t mean the prospect made him happy. He would have been alone again, at the mercy of people who hated him and only wished him sufferance and pain. He wouldn’t even have had the comfort of not being prey of nightmares in his sleep.

“Loki?”

“Please, leave,” he whispered.

“Have I said something wrong?”

“No…”

“Loki, I didn’t mean to…”

“Please, just leave…”

Amras would have liked to find the right words to cancel his friend’s sad expression, to take back what he had said before, but all he could do was leave as he had been asked to. He comfortingly squeezed Loki’s ankle before tuning around and disappear in the corridor.

All Loki could do now was curl up closer to Anthony. There was no way he could have been able to ignore the revelation on his own feelings, he had to face it and at the same time hope it wouldn’t have dragged him down; he had to appreciate the time he still had, he couldn’t let anguish seep in only because now he was aware of what he was actually feeling for the man sleeping next to him.

He couldn’t even understand what he wanted at the moment: on the one hand he hoped Anthony would have woken up to distract him from those tormenting thoughts, and on the other that he would have remained asleep for bit more so he wouldn’t have had to hide his internal turmoil.

It was so easy to just breathe in the man’s scent, to feel safe in the circle of his arms, to enjoy his warmth… Loki decided to shut his mind, to leave everything outside. If he could only stop his mind from running in circles he would have got out on top.

That didn’t mean he couldn’t show his enthusiasm when Anthony woke up.

The man had barely the time to open his eyes and realise he had fallen asleep in the first place that Loki’s mouth was on his.

This time Loki pushed their kiss further, the tip of his tongue pressing against Tony’s lips and demanding access.

It took Tony a moment to answer to that. Not that he was contrary to it, just a little surprised by Loki’s eagerness; he had been more than fine with keeping their kisses chaste, already thinking that that was even more than could be expected from Loki, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate all what Loki felt comfortable at offering.

“What’s going on?” He asked when Loki pulled back.

“I…” Loki blushed, dropping his gaze.

“Lokes?”

 

Amras - by PorcelanowaPani

Chapter Text

“I’ve… realised something.”

An old version of Tony would have probably prodded the issue further, too curious for his own good, but right now he knew better than that; if Loki wanted him to know he would have told him.

“I like your realisations.”

Loki smiled at him, grateful for how he hadn’t been forced to clarify his mindless half-confession, “Did you sleep well?”

Tony’s eyes widened when he noticed what should have been obvious, “Fuck, I shouldn’t have.”

“Why not? As far as I know humans should sleep every day, and you already didn’t do that for too long.”

“What if someone would’ve come in? What if someone would’ve tried to take you away?”

“You would’ve woken up and stopped them,” Loki simply explained, finding Anthony’s overreaction a little strange; he may have understood his motives for avoiding sleep, but now there was no reason at all to regret doing so now that it was so clear that everything was fine.

“What if I hadn’t?”

“Anthony, nothing happened. The only person who entered these chambers was Amras.”

“And I didn’t even notice!”

“Because we kept our voices low, had it been anyone else it wouldn’t have happened.”

“Yeah, but…”

Loki kissed him again, deciding that it was the fastest way to silence the rambling man. He had tried different methods in the previous two weeks when Anthony launched on a complex explanation of how electricity or whatever other Midgardian system that could have been substituted by magic functioned, but nothing had ever worked that well. Actually shutting his mouth did the trick.

“Am I overreacting?”

“A little.”

Tony snorted and tightened the grip he already had on Loki, “I have my reasons.”
“Not letting me out of your sight is a tad too much.”

“If you say so.”

“Maybe I could get out of bed, fix that mess,” he waved at the stack of clothes on the bed mingled with a couple of trays that hadn’t already fallen on the floor.

“No.”

“It doesn’t bother me to do so.”

“No.”

“That mess bothers me more.”

“No, you’re not a servant.”

Indeed, he wasn’t a servant. He was a slave, which was worse, but he didn’t dare say it to Anthony because he had a feeling that wouldn’t have helped him in his pursuit of stretching his legs.

“Those are just the clothes you fetched for me, can’t I at least hang them in the wardrobe? They’re getting all rumpled,” he let his nose slide against Anthony’s jaw, making it difficult for Tony to say no. After all if Loki wanted his clothes in a decent state for the first time in years it was mean to deny him.

“Fine, but nothing else.”

Loki smiled and pecked him on the lips, getting up before Anthony changed his mind, but he was quickly followed by the man who started folding the clothes with him.

“Really?”

“You’ve been folding mine for two weeks, I don’t see the problem.”

Loki shook his head, still not really able to remember that Anthony considered him as an equal, not as someone below him who was supposed to jump at the snap of fingers.

“Okay, you’re done with the clothes, now…”

Loki raised an eyebrow at him and started sorting the books that had been tangled in the heap of clothes up to that moment.

“Why am I the only one you don’t listen to?”

“Because you won’t punish me if I don’t,” he answered lightheartedly, but raised his head when he realised how silent the room suddenly was, “Anthony?”

“Sorry, it was stupid for me to say that.”

“But it’s true, you wouldn’t.”

“Of course I wouldn’t! That doesn’t mean that anyone else is entitled to,” he growled, feeling the protectiveness that had quickly been developing in him surging forward.

Loki sighed and sat on the bed, patting the part of mattress at his left in invitation.
“I know how things work here, it doesn’t change anything if you say it out loud or if you don’t.”

“I know,” Tony groaned, resting his head on Loki’s legs, appreciating the way the god’s fingers threaded through his short hair, “Look, you’re sitting again,” he huffed after a few minutes.

“This is ridiculous.”

“Again, the fact that you’re comforting me is ridiculous.”

The knock at the door distracted them from the lighter atmosphere that was trying to be reinstated in the room, but they relaxed again when Amras’ head peeked in.

“Sorry, Loki, I didn’t want to… Oh, m-sir, apologies,” he quickly bowed a little, not sure how Stark would have taken his sudden appearance.

“Don’t worry, come in. You’re always welcome,” Tony got up from his sprawled position and Loki jumped at the chance of stretching a little more.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Loki just ignored him and reached the garden, leaving a bewildered Amras behind.

“I apologise for him, sir, sometimes Loki forgets that he’s not anymore…”

“Let him forget for as much as he can,” Tony put up a placating hand, glancing in Loki’s direction.

If he felt so comfortable in his presence to come to the point of ignoring his requests Tony could only be happy, thinking back at the shivering and kneeling creature he had met his first night in that hellish place.

When Loki turned the corner he couldn’t resist, though.

“Loki,” he called.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, but come back inside, it’s getting dark.”

“I can still see my hands, mother.”

Tony chuckled. That was more how he had imagined dealing with Loki would have been like.

“You aren’t funny. C’mon.”

“You can access to this garden only from your chambers, since there’s no one here beside you, Amras and me…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, Silver Tongue. Come back inside nonetheless.”

Loki rolled his eyes but was unable to hide his smile, “Fine.”

“Listen, I’ll even show you how much not-paranoid I am.”

The fact that his hand was resting on the small of Loki’s back as if to make sure he actually got inside wasn’t certainly helping on that front.

“Since Amras’s here I’ll have a bath and leave you two to chat on your own, okay?”

“Or, since you’ve found someone else to babysit me you may be inclined to consider the option of letting me out of your sight.”

“You make it sound like you don’t like my company.”

“I do,” Loki leaned in against him, and Tony lightly pulled at the end of his braid.

“He’s all yours,” he told Amras, whose eyes were going wider by the second, “Enjoy your time without me.”

Loki shook his head as the man disappeared in the bathroom and even closed the door.

“What was that?”

“I told you, he finds this place extremely strange.”

“He hasn’t even chastised you for ignoring him,” Amras said in a bewildered tone.

Loki knew it was difficult for Amras to understand that, and even he had needed his time accepting the fact that a free person saw it fit to treat him as something different than a toy.

“I told you it’s mutual.”

That sentence snapped Loki from his thoughts; he had managed to push aside the realisation he was falling for Anthony and simply focus on the man’s presence as long as it lasted, Amras bringing that up again only made the subject jump back up in the list of his problems.

“I don’t know, Amras, it’s… No, I shouldn’t be the one making this thing mutual in the beginning. It’s wrong and dangerous and you know it well.”

“Loki, I’m happy when Finrond’s here.”

“And when he’s not?”

It was a low blow, but it was true. Amras knew what he was talking about, how everything seemed even more wrong when he wasn’t with Finrond, how he hated every moment of it and lived in constant waiting for his lover to come back.

“When he’s not here I know he’ll come back.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“At least I know I have someone who cares about me.”

That was a low blow.

Amras had been told how Loki had been sentenced to slavery by his own father, how his family had done nothing to try and get him back, saying that was just mean, even though his purpose hadn’t been to hurt his friend.

“Loki, I’m sorry, I should have never said that.”

“Why not? It’s true,” the fallen prince said in an even tone, his voice blank.

“It’s not, you know there must have been a misunderstanding, you know they’ll come to get you back.”

“It’s been four years. They won’t come.”

“Isn’t Stark your brother’s friend?”

“He wasn’t certainly sent by Thor. You know what happened last time his friends were here.”

Amras shut up.

He had nothing to say in front of Loki’s truths.

“Let’s just forget this conversation,” Loki murmured after a few moments of tense silence.

“Of course,” Amras jumped at the occasion of making up for his thoughtless affirmations, “I like these new clothes of yours.”

“Anthony has found a way to exploit the magic of these chambers,” he tugged at the embroidered hem of the tunic he was wearing as a fond smile formed on his lips, unable to resist it even though his mind was still lingering on their previous conversation.

“He’s really good at it for a human.”

“Humans consider him a genius for what he has accomplished on Midgard.”

“What are you doing?” Amras asked as his friend returned on the bed, settling against the pillows after fluffing them a bit.

“Theoretically speaking I’m not allowed out of bed unless it’s an emergency. Orders of the master.”

“What happens if you disobey? Will you be sent to sleep on your own on the side of the bed no one has been using?”

“For two hours, probably,” he smiled, their previous exchange completely forgotten.

“Hey,” Tony complained getting out of the bathroom scrubbing his hair with a towel, “I think I could last at least three.”

Amras stiffened a little at the man’s sudden appearance, unsure of how he would have reacted to being mocked by two slaves who were currently idly enjoying his hospitality, but Loki just smiled.

“Really?”

“Two and a half?”

All the hints pointed at contradicting him since Tony was already sitting next to him.

“I doubt that.”

“That’s your problem,” Tony pouted, only to be mollified by Loki putting his head in his lap, “Okay, fine, do whatever you want.”

“Anyway I guess I could just comply to what you’re asking of me.”

“Just a few moments ago you seemed desperate to get out of bed.”

“Only because I couldn’t.”

Tony rolled his eyes at him but settled for just pulling at the end of Loki’s braid.

Amras found himself smiling at them, always more convinced of what he had already told Loki; the former prince could be as pessimist as he wanted, but there was no way to misinterpret what was so clear in Stark’s eyes.

“I think I should leave now, sir, if that’s fine by you.”

“Mmh?” Tony’s eyes shot up, a little surprised since he had been a little distracted to remember of Amras’ presence, “Of course, you don’t have to ask me. You know you can stay, though.”

Amras nodded and bowed shortly, shooting Loki a knowing look as he headed to the door.

“What’s going on with him?”

“He’s just surprised.”

Tony’s expression turned pained at the mere mention of what Loki’s years had been, and he couldn’t resist the temptation to pull him closer.

“Anthony…”

“No, no. I won’t listen,” he curled around Loki, still asking himself when he had turned so protective and at the same time unable to blame himself for it.

Loki just shifted a little in the man’s grasp, looking for a more comfortable position that still allowed him to benefit of the man’s close hug.

Oh yes, he was definitely falling for Anthony.

Chapter Text

“Hey Lokes, have you seen my grey-“ Tony’s voice died in his throat when he spotted the guard holding Loki by a black string tied around the mage’s neck.

“Good morning, sir,” Quennar bowed slowly, dragging Loki down with him.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“The Members of the Council have suggested this,” he tugged at the collar around Loki’s neck, making the fallen prince wince.

“They have what?” Tony growled, already pondering the different options he had for retrieving Loki from that bastard’s grasp without endangering the safe spot he had managed to carve for Loki in the previous two weeks.

“They had the feeling you have been abstaining from attending the meetings for how your orders haven’t been respected a few days ago, sir, so they thought this could be a solution,” he pulled a pebble and a leash out of a sack attached to his leather belt, “This stone will let you know whether the slave is in the same place where you ordered him to stay or not, glowing if the slave moves away, but if you don’t trust it you could simply bring the slave with you,” he raised the leash with the hand that wasn’t painfully keeping Loki close and slapped it on the the mage’s ivory skin.

Loki didn’t even flinch.

Tony knew he was pale, as well as he knew he was about to feel sick. It wasn’t easy to sound authoritative and detached when he would have only wanted to punch the guard and get Loki back.

“Leave,” he only ordered, his eyes fixed on Loki’s blank expression.

He wasn’t even scared, he was just… absent.

“Sir?”

“Leave. Get the fuck out of here. Now,” Tony clenched his fists, trying to control any sudden reaction he could have had but unable to keep his voice from trembling with rage.

“May I only ask if you will be attending the meeting, sir?”

“Out!”

Quennar furrowed his brow in confusion, not able to understand that human’s strange behaviour, but the order had been clear, and if he wanted to avoid any retaliation from the Members of the Council for his role in the possible absence of the man at the next meeting he would have done better to just obey, so he shoved Loki away and bowed before leaving.

Tony didn’t even wait for the door to close.

“Let me get you out of that,” he said the moment his knees painfully collided against the marble floor, ignoring the sharp jolt of pain in favour of unclasping the collar around Loki’s neck, “Just tell me if I hurt you.”

There was no reaction from Loki.

“Here, there’s the opening, I think…” Tony fumbled with the closing of the collar, only absently aware of the fact that he would have gotten the thing open in the blink of an eye hadn’t he beed in a state of almost panic.

He had left Loki alone for the time of a coffee in the garden, and here he was again, tied and humiliated.

And not even reacting.

“I’m so sorry, I knew I shouldn’t have let you out of my sight,” he kissed Loki’s forehead as he finally managed to get that hellish collar open, “Okay, I’m done. Look, you’re free,” he threw the collar away, in a corner of the room, but that didn’t elicit any reaction from Loki.

“Lokes?”

The fallen prince didn’t even blink.

“Lolo? Hey, it’s over. That bastard’s gone, and I’m not going anywhere, okay? Please, look at me,” he hooked his fingers under Loki’s chin to at least look at his face and have a hint about Loki’s state, but his green eyes were unfocused.

“Loki?”

There was still no reaction from his part, and Tony was starting to get worried; it seemed Loki was dissociating from reality, as if he wasn’t even there. As if his mind had blacked out.

“Okay, you don’t have to answer me now, we’ll just get you dressed for now.”

On the one hand it had been a good thing the guard had found him when he was just getting out of the bathroom – only a towel around his hips – so the guard hadn’t seen him in his new clothes instead of his usual rags, on the other hand Loki was terribly exposed now, just that small piece of fabric shielding him from whatever harm was meant for him.

“Can you get up with me?” Tony asked, passing his arms around Loki and drawing him close, only in that moment realising how his hands on Loki’s naked skin were distressing him. Generally he remembered that but now… the collar and Loki’s expression had got the best of him and made him forget, “Sorry, just come with me so I can get your clothes,” he murmured against Loki’s ear, unable to let him go even if his presence wasn’t doing any actual good.

Maybe he should have just let him go, give Loki the time to recover by himself, but he couldn’t force himself to let go of Loki; with the upmost care as not to frighten him Tony rose from the floor and led the broken god to the bed, where he was finally able to at least wrap him in a thick blanket.

“Better now?”

He didn’t receive an answer, and that made Tony worry even more.

It looked like Loki was shrinking in himself, hiding in a hidden place of his mind where no one would have been able to touch him; he wasn’t there, at least no mentally. His body could be at anyone’s disposal with no possibility for him to defend himself, but his mind wouldn’t have been dragged into that too.

That was too much for Tony to witness.

With no further thought he reached the door and inspected the corridor in search of the first person he could find, and when he managed to spot a slave turning the corner he waved at him to come closer, giving the quick order to fetch Amras as soon as possible.

The slave nodded quickly and took off without a single question, leaving Tony alone and helpless.

“Lokes?” he called again, not really expecting an answer from the tight envelop that was now lying on the bed, “Hey, Lo, you think you can talk to me? Tell me what I can do?”

This time at least Loki shook his head, and Tony had nothing else to do beside sitting there lightly squeezing Loki’s arm to at least try to comfort him a little.

That was how Amras found them a few minutes later when he ran into the chambers that were becoming much more familiar than he would have ever thought.

“Sir, may I…?”

“Amras, thank God you’re here. I just got distracted for a handful of minutes, and that guard entered and tied Loki up with a… with a collar and when I found him he was already staring into nothing, even as that asshole was still almost blocking his breath with the grip he had on that fucking leather string, and he hasn’t recovered since that, not in the slightest. I’ve tried to at least cover him with a blanket since he hates skin contact and he has every reason to, but even that’s not working. Look at him, he hasn’t said a word, he’s not even looking properly at anything, he’s just… there. There’s something wrong and I’ve no idea of what to do, he wasn’t like this even the other day after… you know it, I’m not gonna say it. I was surprised he hadn’t had any reaction that I would’ve considered completely normal after that, and I had come to terms with the fact that probably it was because he’s used to this shit even if I hate to even think about that, but now… Just look at him!” Tony stopped rambling his frustration at not being able to do anything for Loki.

Not really for that moment, but for how all his promises that nothing bad would have happened anymore were empty ones. Any time he let his guard down Loki ended up suffering, and he couldn’t forgive himself for letting that happen.

“Sir…” Amras tried, testing the waters to see whether the human was done with his frenzied speech, “If I may be so bold to suggest so, there’s no need for you to worry so much.”

“Look at him, does he seem normal to you?” He gestured at Loki who hadn’t even reacted to the arrival of his friend or to Tony’s stream of words.

“What I’m trying to say, sir, is that it’s not such an unusual occurrence,” Amras gaze dropped to the ground; he had no idea how to communicate to that human who seemed to have Loki’s interests at heart that the fallen prince wasn’t new to those states of numbness.

“You mean this is to be considered normal?” Tony sat back on the bed, his hand instinctively reaching Loki’s side.

“Well, sir… From time to time Loki just…” he paused, not sure about how to phrase the concept, “Shuts down on himself. I guess he’s blocking everything coming from the outside.”

Tony tiredly rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

Loki was used to that.

Loki was used to just shut his mind when everything became too much to tolerate, to part from reality to try to at least shield that little part still residing in him that kept on whispering that what he was enduring in that living hell wasn’t fair and that he should have found a way to get back to his old life, the life of a free man.

Loki was used to feel the need to completely eradicate himself from everything around him.

Tony leaned forward, resting his elbows on his tights, “What can I do to help him out of this?”

Chapter Text

Amras looked almost embarrassed.

“Amras?”

“I… I apologise, sir, I have no idea.”

“What? What do you usually do?”

“I don’t…..”

“Fine, if not you then someone else.”

It was blatant Tony was refusing to face the truth he was being presented with.

“Actually, sir, no one… There is not much consideration for whether the slaves feel good or not,” the young elf tried to remain as general as possible in the hope that not mentioning Loki directly would have had a better effect on the human, who was too clever to be fooled by such a weak trick.

“You mean they don’t care.”

Amras shortly nodded.

“They just don’t care that he’s not even moving, that he’s not saying a word, that…” he trailed off, the picture of Loki being cruelly passed around as he wasn’t even present to himself mercilessly forming in his mind. He didn’t have the strength to go on, he just curled around Loki and pressed a kiss to his lightly damp hair, “Okay, no, not today. If someone asks I’m not attending any meeting.”

Amras knew he should have protested that it wasn’t Stark’s role to be comforting a simple slave even though he should have never contradicted a free man, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice those thoughts. Loki needed help, a comforting hand to pull him out of those vortexes of despair that caught him from time to time and rendered him blind and deaf to everything around him.

So all Amras said was, “Of course, sir,” as he left the two of them alone.

It took Tony a couple of minutes before being able to do anything beside holding Loki close, but eventually he managed to make a cup of hot tea appear in front of Loki’s eyes.

“Here, you like this, remember? Tea. It should already have honey in it if I’ve been good enough with the picturing.”

Automatically, as if sleepwalking, Loki reached out a hand to stabilise the mug.

“Good, okay, you’re moving again. Do you want to drink it? It might do you some good. Here, let me help you,” Tony was rather used to pose questions and answer them himself, but doing so not because he was alone in his lab but because the person with him was blindly staring at the wall only contributed to his state of agitation.

Tony was forced to make Loki sit up against his chest in order to be able to make him sip some of the hot liquid in the cup, but what he had hoped would have been a good remedy to Loki’s numb state only proved useless. Loki blinked a couple times at the sweet taste, that was true, but he did nothing else.

He neither shifted, neither turned away, neither told him to just give him some time alone.

Nothing.

He did nothing.

He didn’t seem able to come up with something more than nothing.

“Lokes, can you just listen to me for a moment?” Tony pleaded putting the cup down and framing Loki’s face with his hands, “I know you haven’t received any help in these years when you were like this, that no one cared, but I do. I truly do, and I need you to help me help you. I want to help you, but I can’t do it if you don’t tell me what’d make you feel better, even a little. Would you answer if I were to ask you a couple of things?”

To Tony’s despair Loki kept staring unseeingly forward.

The man sighed and raked his hands through his short hair, “Please, Loki. I’ve no idea of what to do.”

He couldn’t stand the sight of Loki reduced to nothing more than a lifeless puppet who didn’t even have the willpower to react anymore, he couldn’t.

He knew what helplessness felt like, and he hated it.

He had already been useless enough during his staying, not even able to protect Loki as he would have liked to, but now he was reaching a whole new level; Loki wasn’t even responding, not even giving any sign his presence was acknowledged.

It was with frustration that Tony let his mouth rest on Loki’s cheek, so close to his lips to touch their corner.

To that, Loki reacted.

It wasn’t much, just a minor shifting in Tony’s arms to be closer to him and facilitate that soft touch, but it was enough to make Tony’s heart leap in his chest.

“Just this?” Tony asked in disbelief; he hadn’t thought about what he was doing, he would have never consciously started an intimate touch with Loki in that moment, but he had acted on instinct, letting his own despair take over. Kissing the broken creature in his arms had only been natural to him, a way to know he was close.

“If that’s all it takes I’m all in for it,” he gently brushed his lips over Loki’s, witnessing how that managed to get the fallen prince’s attention once again. This time the movement wasn’t imperceptible, Loki positively shifted in the tight embrace he was enveloped into and rested his cheek in the crook of Tony’s neck.

He didn’t do much beside that, but it was already a huge improvement in Tony’s eyes.

“Okay, good, we’ve found what’s working for you. Good,” he repeated pecking Loki on the lips, “Now let’s get you back to bed, c’mon. Can you you take the tea with you? No? No problem, I‘ll do it.”

Manoeuvring Loki against the pillows wasn’t difficult, neither enveloping him in yet another blanket to make sure he wouldn’t have got cold. What was difficult for Tony was to just be able to stare at Loki as he just curled on himself.

“Lolo?”

Nothing in Loki’s lost sad expression gave any hint about the possibility of receiving an answer in the next future, so Tony just kicked his shoes away and brought his arms around the mage, settling for just waiting with him for that awful moment to be over.

 

~

 

In the next couple of hours Loki didn’t even move.

He had accepted Tony’s warm embrace and sank into it, his back pressed against the man’s chest, but beside that he had done nothing.

He had kept on staring in front of him, eyes unseeing, probably not even too much aware of the fact that Tony’s grip hadn’t wavered even for a second and that his attention had only been focused on him, whispering soft endearments in the hope of shaking him out of that state of apathy.

“Lokes, please,” Tony murmured for what felt like the thousandth time, “I’m not asking you to move, to go anywhere, just to tell me what I can do for you. You’ve been complaining about me being a little paranoid and not letting you out of my sight, but how am I supposed to when you aren’t even speaking anymore?”

“There’s no need to waste your time on me,” Loki finally croaked, his voice so distant it managed to erase the instant relief that had flooded Tony when he had heard him starting the first sentence in too long a time.

“What are you talking about? Why wasting my time?”

“I don’t deserve so much attentions.”

“I’ve no idea of what you’re talking about. And if I remember correctly we’ve already had this conversation. I don’t even want to hear you saying such a stupid idiocy.”

“I’m a lost cause.”

“For fuck’s sake, Lokes, where’s this coming from? Have I done something wrong?”

“It’s not you.”

“Than what? I can understand shock, I can understand many things or at least try to, but not this. I can get closing on yourself, but not what you’re saying,” he turned Loki around even though he wasn’t sure that was for the best; Loki had found the strength to speak again as he was completely wrapped in Tony’s arms, maybe being forced to face the man he still considered at a higher lever than his own would have shut him up again, but Tony couldn’t have that conversation without looking in Loki’s green eyes.

It was already difficult enough like that, not being able to read his face would have made it impossible.

“Just let me go,” Loki whispered.

“Why?”

“Please.”

“Just tell me what’s wrong.”

“Let me go.”

It was physically painful for Tony to do so, but eventually he managed to detangle his arms from around Loki’s curled up form, “I won’t touch you if you don’t want me to, but please tell me what I’ve done wrong, so I can at least apologise.”

“Nothing.”

“Loki, please.”

“You have nothing to do with this.”

“Then tell me what is,” Tony gently grabbed on of the god’s nimble hands, stroking his thumb over its back, witnessing in silence to how Loki just shook his head at that request.

“Loki, I’m not leaving. If you aren’t ready to tell me now you’ll do it later, but I’m not going anywhere unless you’re in a more normal state.”

To that, Loki finally raised his sad emerald eyes on him.

“What for?” He asked as his lips were pulled in a depressed false smile, “This is my reality now. Even if I were to be freed, to leave this place, will I ever be truly able to do so? I won’t forget, what has been done to me here will remain with me, lurking in my mind for when I’ll go to sleep, for when a particular word will trigger a memory. Even if I were to physically escape from here, I’ll never be able to truly do so. So there’s nothing you can do, nothing you should be concerned about. You’ve done nothing wrong, it has nothing to do with you.”

Chapter Text

Tony had to swallow the tight knot that had formed in his throat, promising to choke him with the truth it was made of. What Loki was saying made sense, there was no way to deny it.

There was only one thing Loki wasn’t right about.

It wasn’t true that he had done nothing wrong.

Tony still remembered how they had gladly shipped the beaten prince to face his destiny, relieved to be done for the day and to able to finally rest their sore bodies after an exhausting battle. They had done nothing to be informed about what Loki would have faced, to what kind of trial he would have participated, for which crimes he would have been accused, what sort of consequences he was going to endure.

Had they been more of the honourable heroes they were supposed to be they would have put aside their tiredness and personal satisfaction for the victory of the battle and asked about what was awaiting their defeated enemy. Even if Loki had been found guilty of the crimes he had been charged with they would have never handed him over to Thor had they known Loki would have ended up a slave.

They should have asked for a few days to gather all the necessary information about trials on Asgard as Loki was kept captive in a safe cell, then they would have decided what to do with a clear mind, not letting the haste of the moment pollute their decisions.

They hadn’t done so, and Loki had suffered violence and humiliation for four years.

“You can go if you want to.”

“I… I’m not going anywhere,” Tony stammered, tightening his grip on Loki’s hand.

“I thought you had a meeting.”

“Irrelevant.”

“It’s certainly more important than me.”

“Don’t you dare say it again,” he grabbed also Loki’s right hand and cradled them both between his own, “You are important, I don’t care what you’ve been told here or even before ending in this fucking place. You are important. You do matter.”

Loki only shook his head, but instead of inducing Tony to just let it go it only prompted him to completely ignore Loki’s previous request and wrap him again in his arms.

“Stop this right now. Please,” he added in a second time before Loki misinterpreted his request.

“It’s the truth but I will if that’s what you want.”

“No, Loki, no. Hey, listen. It’s not that I want to change subject or something like that, I’m not asking you to stop because I’m bored of listening to you, but because what you’re saying is…” Tony wasn’t used to that, to being at a loss for words. What could he possibly say?

That what he was saying wasn’t true?

That there were other people beside him who considered him important, or at least a person?

That everything would have gone for the best?

That everything related to that pile of shit that was Alfheim would have been simply erased if Loki gave himself some time?
He couldn’t lie to the former God of Lies.

Loki would have never believed him, and probably wouldn’t have tolerated being sweet-talked out of that mood.

“What you’re saying isn’t true. Not to me.”

Loki would have liked to snort that those were just empty lies the human was telling just to soothe him and be able to enjoy a different version of him, but he knew that that would have been the real lie. Anthony had never done anything to convince him to do something with him, he had instead waited for him to make the first move, to take the lead. It was silly to think that Anthony’s refusal to just accept his many requests to not waste his time with him were born out of pure selfishness.

“It’s still not your place to concern yourself with me.”

“Let me be the judge of that, mmh?” Tony couldn’t resist the urge to kiss Loki, at least on the cheek, and a smile formed on his lips as Loki subtly shifted closer to him.

“Would you…. Would you mind if I were to stay here for a little then?”

“You do realise it’s been at least two hours since I’ve managed to put you in bed, right?”

“Really?” Loki inquired, “And you stayed?”

“Of course I stayed, what a stupid question.”

“But you had other things to do…”

“Not equally important,” Tony simply said, placing a soft kiss on Loki’s forehead that reduced the former god to silence; not the same silence as before, during which Tony hadn’t really known whether Loki was still present to himself or not, but a silence born out of the lack of an appropriate reaction.

 

~

 

Loki’s intention of sending Tony to his day had been ruined by the fact that the human had categorically refused to leave him alone for a single moment.

Again.

Tony had simply decided to leech to the mage and to spoil him beyond reasonable once more, providing all the comforts he could come up with and accepting the fact that Loki wouldn’t have just got out of that particular state of mind in the near future.

He had come to terms with Loki needing time, that the only contribution he could add to the quiet atmosphere of his quarters was the presence of his arm around the fallen prince. Loki seemed to be experiencing depression or something of the sort, maybe PTSD, but Tony couldn’t be sure that the term was valid in their situation.

Could they talk of post traumatic stress disorder when Loki was still a prisoner in the living hell that the palace had been for four years?

It wasn’t even shock, Amras had said that it was quite routinely for Loki to slip in that dull state.

What Tony knew was that giving that situation a name wouldn’t have certainly solved anything. It could be a relief since he would have had something to blame and to curse for that situation, but that wouldn’t have certainly put a patch to what Loki was going through.

What Loki needed was… well, he didn’t know that either.

For now the former god had seemed content enough to just curl up against him and allow Tony to press a kiss every now and then on his skin or on his hair, but there was nothing else Tony could call a solution. Probably there simply wasn’t a solution and he had to face the fact that he was useless.

Despite Tony’s dark thoughts, Loki got better on his own.

Just the possibility of staying in silence with no one requiring his presence was enough to make him feel like coming back to the surface.

The quiet time he had been granted in Anthony’s presence had done the trick, managing to pull him out the immense sea of misery he had been drowning into; the fact that the man had never stopped for a moment to hug him and softly talk to him had only helped in that.

Even when the worst was over and he knew that under different circumstances he would have started behaving again as a functioning person – or at least a wary slave – he remained where he was, deciding to indulge in his sombre state this time. Anthony was allowing it, so he would have made the best out of that.

He had showed just enough reactiveness for the man to start conjuring new things up to pamper him with, namely tea with honey and some fragrant oil he had started massaging in the tips of his hair – probably to pass the time – making Loki finally come back to the land of the living.

“Back with me, Bambi?”

Loki nodded, deciding to turn around to show that that wasn’t one of the silent half lies he had been giving over the past few hours.

“Is there something I can do for you?”

“Beside abandoning everything you had to do to coddle me for hours?”

“You’re definitely back,” Tony smiled, bringing Loki in for a kiss that the mage decided to deepen a little.

“I’m sorry you had to take c-“

“No, don’t even try to go down that path.”

“But it’s-“

“No, Lokes. I’ve said I’ll listen to everything you have to say, but not this,” the severity Loki would have expected to hear in such a sentence wasn’t there, nothing of what he could have ever expected after his slide into numbness to be honest, but the warmth in Anthony voice was still something he had to get used to.

For how long he could.

“The fact you’re feeling bad is not something you should be apologising for, and I won’t hear it.”

Since Loki had nothing left to say to that he simply decided to let it go and do as Anthony asked. He would have liked to thank him more, to be able to show more gratitude to him, but if the man didn’t want that he couldn’t force him to accept what he would have so gladly offered.

“Are we good?”

Loki nodded once more, sagging in the warm embrace that was still enveloping him.

“Lokes?”

“Yes. It’s just that… I’m not used to this,” he decided to blurt out, his hand landing at the centre of Tony’s chest, “And not only here.”

“We don’t have to talk about it, I only wanted to know if you were fine.”

Loki probably still wasn’t, but Tony knew from experience poking an open wound would have done more damage than good.

“Thank you,” Loki whispered, sensing the man would have liked to ask more but that he was refraining from doing so just for his sake, “Would you…”

“What, Bambi?”

“I’d like to take another bath, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, do whatever you want.”

“It’s just that… when he touched me I…” Loki struggled to pull out the words, not comfortable at admitting how disgusted he had felt when Quennar had laid his hands on him.

“You don’t have to explain me why,” Tony gently smiled at him, reading on Loki’s closed off expression how trying to give him a reason was difficult to him in that moment.

For how startled Loki still was that didn’t prevent him from laying a kiss on Tony’s lips before getting up.

Chapter Text

“I hate this fucking place.”

“Don’t tell me.”

Tony chuckled as he tumbled on the armchair where Loki was reading, feeling instantly better, “Okay, fine, I don’t get to complain.”

“What’s wrong?” Loki asked, putting down his book.

Tony had had to return to the negotiating table eventually, forced to admit that he couldn’t hole himself up in his chambers and avoid that entire world even though the simple thought of what its inhabitants considered normal made him want to throw up and probably set fire to the entire palace.

Loki had played his role in that, sounding as the voice of reason by telling him that he would have been perfectly fine with books to read, paper and ink if he wanted to draw and food at his disposal, that he had no need of constant company.

There was something in his eyes, a hint of sadness in the emerald irises, that had almost had Tony ignore everything that Loki had said to just spend another day with him, but in the end he had had to admit that Loki was right.

He had things to do that couldn’t wait.

“I just hate them.”

“Mmh. Can’t say I don’t understand the feeling,” Loki draped his arms around Tony’s shoulders, his breath brushing Tony’s neck.

“I should stop bitching about them with you.”

“You’re entitled to your complaints.”

“Or I could grow up and put things in the right perspective.”

Loki sighed, knowing the man enough at this point to know that there was no reason to keep giving him justifications when Stark only wanted to downplay his own emotions, and just slid his fingers down Tony’s chin to make him turn his face enough to press a kiss on his mouth.

“Better. Way better.”

Loki bit down the natural smirk in favour of a kinder smile.

“You just wanted to make me shut up, didn’t you?”

“… Maybe.”

Tony laughed at that, relaxing against the mage, “I could feel insulted, but I’ve been told to shut my mouth in worse ways.”

“Can’t say I don’t believe you.”

“At least you didn’t threaten to rip my vocal cords.”

“Who was that?”

“Natasha.”

Loki snorted in amusement of the behaviour of that peculiar woman who had managed to fool even him, but the thoughts regarding that day were swept away by Anthony deciding to sprawl against him, “Comfortable?”

“You’re not the only one allowed to behave like a cat, Lokitty.”

Since Loki was by now used to spend his nights nestled in the man’s arms he wasn’t exactly in the right position to complain, and beside that he didn’t really mind the fact that someone felt so at ease in his presence to basically melt against him.

He was used to people sneering at him and being afraid of him when he was still free to choose how to hold himself in public, and he had come to the point of going along with that perception, putting up a facade that was exactly what people thought of him.

Anthony seemed to be having none of that.

Even though he had probably heard from Thor about him, about his behaviour in the last centuries, the man wasn’t in the least intimidated by what he could have been led to believe, and wasn’t relying on any prejudices about him.

“What about letting me read what you’re working on?” Loki offered after a few moments of silence, his fingers skimming over the cover of the StarkPad that was abandoned next to his book.

“Mmh? Oh, there’s no need to.”

“You’d said that-“

“Yeah, yeah, I know what I’ve said, but it was mostly to make you stop worrying about the fact you were doing nothing here,” Tony turned around to look at him, “Why are you asking? Did something happen when I wasn’t here?”

Concern was spreading quickly on his face, so Loki was quick to shake his head no.
“Nothing happened, I was just wondering if I could be of any help. Maybe I haven’t given you the impression of it, but my role has always been the one of an advisor, a councillor. Even though that’s not what I’m used here for I’ve always been rather good at that.”

It took Tony a moment to get to the actual point of that roundabout way Loki had of telling things, but he managed to in the end. Loki had loved his role, the scheming that came with the job, the possibility of playing people without them even noticing, and that was the first chance of getting a grasp of his old life in years.

Beside that what Tony had told him weeks before was still true; Loki had an insight of how things were on Alfheim he could have never hoped to have, refusing his help to at least understand the people he was doing business with would have been stupid.

“As you wish, Bambi. Just…” he struggled to find the right words, “This is not to make yourself useful, okay?”

Loki suppressed a small snort and pulled him in for a gentle kiss.

“What about: it’s because I have the right skills to help you and want to do so?”

“Definitely better,” Tony handed him the StarkPad already open on the contract and went back to the first page, “Ask what isn’t clear.”

Loki hummed, his mind already focusing on the technical words in front of him, so Tony decided to let him at it and do something on his own, namely pouring a glass of scotch and finding more comfortable clothes.

“So? What’s the verdict?” he asked when Loki put the tablet down.

“I don’t know how much they are offering you, but you should ask for ten times more.”

“What?”

“The element in this contract is the same of the Arc Reactor, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“It’s perfect for the Elves’ magic. Your element managed to sway my magic, you can easily understand how powerful it is if it could block me. The way it reacts to magic… that’s something I had never seen before,” Loki admitted, a bit in awe as he inspected the formulas describing the element Tony was there to sell. It was unbelievable how much that human construct mirrored Loki’s magic to the point it could deflate it, and to think that Anthony hadn’t even know what magic was when he had written the formulas for it… Well, that couldn’t but fill Loki with extreme admiration for the human.

To think that Anthony was even able to use that element with no knowledge of magic at all… Well, Loki couldn’t deny how impressed he was.

“So the fuckers are trying to screw me.”

“I wouldn’t have put it so elegantly, but yes.”

“Nasty bastards,” he plopped back down on Loki’s armchair and rested his chin on the mage’s shoulder.

“You aren’t providing them with the means to reproduce your element themselves, right?”

“No, I don’t even think they could. They don’t have the means here, they have no idea of what engineering even is, and even if they knew what a screwdriver was they won’t have the necessary blueprints to do so.”

“Good. That’s the best option: what you’re selling is perfect for them and will make their lives so much easier they’ll start to rely on what you are providing so much that they’ll be desperate when the stacks they’ve bought will run out, and they’ll be disposed to offer even more in a future deal.”

“So fuck the fuckers?”

Loki rolled his eyes, “Just let them know you’re aware of what they were trying to do. They care about their honour, calling them out on their attempt at fooling you will yield you more than what you would have got even knowing how important your element is for them in the beginning.”

Loki couldn’t see it, but a smile was spreading on Tony’s face.

Chapter Text

“I know I’m really killing the mood here, but speaking of technicalities… Why here? Why have you been sent here by your f- by Odin? Why Alfheim?”

“My sentence isn’t linked to this place. I’ve been degraded to the status of a slave and successively put on auction. The Members of the Council bought me for what could be the equivalent of one dollar,” Loki’s voice turned instantly bitter and Tony could feel his shoulder tensing under his chin, “Why did you ask?”

“I’m curious in ways that usually turn out to be either harmful or tactless.”

Loki rather agreed on that.

“Sorry, Bambi,” Tony added, wrapping his arms around Loki’s waist, “I shouldn’t have asked.”

“I knew you would have sooner or later.”

“That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be sorry about it,” he gently brushed the tip of his thumb on Loki’s downturned lips, “Something I can do to make it up to you?”

Loki’s first instinct was to say no, that there was nothing wrong with Anthony expecting answers out of him, that he was already grateful that the man was limiting himself to asking thorny questions, but he had been in Anthony’s company long enough to know that those thoughts were due to the brainwashing of the last four years, “May I have some scotch too?”

For how much Loki had convinced himself that his hesitation was to blame on the punishments that had managed to break him years before and not on the answer he would have received he couldn’t still keep uncertainty out of his question.

“‘F course,” before Loki could stop him Tony was already out of the armchair.

“I didn’t mean you had to fetch it for me,” Loki followed him suit, failing though to remove the glass from Tony’s hands.

“Hey, Lokes, back with me,” Tony snapped his fingers in front of the fallen prince’s green eyes, making him blink a couple of times.

“What?”

“You were starting to act funny again,” he put his hands on Loki’s shoulder and slid them down his arms, “I shouldn’t have asked you, shouldn’t have made you think about that. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not like not talking about it will make it less real.”

“No, but a good distraction is always useful.”

Loki could have retorted that nowadays he was the one that wasn’t considered more than a distraction, but he didn’t have it in him to say something like that to Anthony; he settled for just grabbing the glass and gulping down a sip, enjoying the burning sensation at the back of his throat.

“I’m sorry, Lokes,” Tony said again, this time pressing a kiss against Loki’s jaw.

“Please, stop it.”

“Whatever Your Grace desires,” Tony playfully smiled, and Loki felt the anguish that had settled over him vanish, “Any idea for the movie to watch tonight?”

To that Loki quirked an eyebrow, “How am I supposed to know?”

“Oh, right, I forgot. Up to me, then?”

“As long as you don’t make me watch Bambi again.”

 

~

 

It was easy for them to settle in a sort of a routine.

Tony left in the morning and returned in the late afternoon or after dinner if he really couldn’t avoid the banquets the Council was throwing in his honour to try and make up for their obvious attempt at not disclosing all the information in their possess regarding the importance of the element he was there to sell.

Luckily, no one had really paid too much attention in finding out how that important detail had managed to reach Stark; they weren’t used to consider slaves as sentient beings who could have their opinions and even know better than them, and even though Loki was something different from the standard, their usual attitude at downplaying others’ potential had turned against them.

Even though the negotiation had become easier for him since he now had the indisputable upper hand, Tony always retuned to his chambers with a grim expression that was only soothed by flopping beside Loki who was usually waiting for him in his armchair.

In that moment, with the god’s arms circling him and drawing him against the comfort of his body Tony finally managed to relax; a huge part in that was probably played by the fact that he never felt too sure that he would have found Loki still in one piece when he returned, so having Loki showing him that he was indeed fine really helped.

Only once his return hadn’t been welcomed by Loki, but that had made him mostly laugh; Loki had been so engrossed by his reading – The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells or something of that sort – that he hadn’t even acknowledged the door being opened and Tony coming in. Tony had stared at him for a couple of minutes from the threshold, appreciating how Loki’s hair surrounded him like a black halo as he was sitting in his armchair, before calling him.

Loki had snapped an annoyed ‘what?’ that had made Tony burst out laughing, but unfortunately he had had to stop his moment of hilarity in order to prevent Loki from panicking once he had realised what tone he had just used. It had taken a bit of convincing from Tony’s part and a whole lot of murmured reassurance to convince Loki that nothing was wrong in snapping at people who interrupted you, and in the end Loki had been persuaded that no repercussions would have followed his mindless slip because Tony didn’t care.

There had not been anymore accidents for Loki, since the only time someone had dared to ask his presence Tony had quickly stepped in and sternly told the guard that there was no way in hell he would have lent Loki to the Jotuns that had just arrived and that he wouldn’t have accepted anything in return for what had been referred to as ‘a slight inconvenience’. Loki had shivered for the entire evening after that, but Tony had managed to distract him with pancakes and a movie; it wasn’t exactly a solution since the fallen prince had been jumpy even the following day, but it was the best Tony could offer.

As for Loki, he knew by now that he had lost his internal struggle. On all fronts.
There was no way for him to deny he had fallen for Anthony, that what he felt toward the man was real and not only a particularly strong form of gratitude.

He loved to curl in Anthony’s arms, he loved their quiet evenings, he loved the way the man couldn’t stop playing with his hair to the point he had even started braiding it from time to time.

Anthony had even come to the point of offering shelter to Amras too. Whenever Amras wanted to escape from the Palace or saw a particularly nasty guest approach he hightailed back to Stark’s chambers, and remained there for a few hours, sometimes only keeping Loki company, other times having Stark playing houseguest to him by conjuring up some more food so he could take part to their meals and abandon that overly thin look Amras had always had since Loki knew him.

Loki loved everything about the time they spent together, except for the fact that it would have soon come to an end.

Loki knew the negotiation had to be drawing to the end even though he had refused to be informed about the progress Anthony had been making; he didn’t want to know when that blissed parenthesis would have ended, he didn’t want to have the certainty.

He knew it would have – he was no fool – but actually seeing the precise number of days left narrowing down until reaching the zero would have been devastating.

He could feel the time was coming and instead of letting his despair show he poured it in every kiss, in every soft caress.

He couldn’t spoil the last days he had left with Anthony being depressed about his imminent departure and what that would have meant for him.

All the horrors of his life as a slave would have been back, and it would have been only worse because now he knew there was an alternative to that. Not much on the sense of being actually free, but that one who had been considered an enemy could be so different from what would have been expected from him.

Now he would have been led to hope that every new tormenter could show that merciful side he had come to know so well in the last two months, and he would have been disappointed every time; at least before Anthony’s arrival he hadn’t hoped for that. He knew pain was certain, and he was resigned to that.

He would have spent his days waiting for the man he had come to love to return to him, only to be disappointed when he wouldn’t have.

He hadn’t voiced any of that to Anthony, not wanting to spoil the last days they had together, blaming his lost expressions on the same depression that had hit him weeks before and spooked Anthony so much when he didn’t manage to hide his feelings behind a mask.

What he hadn’t expected though was to wake up in an empty bed one morning to find all the suitcases that had been stacked in a corner of the room gone and nothing left in the wardrobe.

So Anthony had left.

He had left, not even saying goodbye.

A tight knot formed in Loki’s throat.

He had imagined he would have got at least a moment to say farewell to the person he had come to love, and now he had been deprived of that too by that same person.

So that was it.

It was over.

His little happy break was over, and he was yet again a slave with no rights and no protection. No respect.

He would have been back to his hell, but this time with a broken heart.

It hurt so much Loki couldn’t stay in there anymore.

He couldn’t stay in the chambers that had been his safe harbour for two months now that they weren’t anymore, he couldn’t keep resting his head on the pillow that still smelled like Anthony.

He had to get out of there.

He was already feeling his breath hitching in his throat, his eyes beginning to sting.
He had been abandoned once again.

He knew it wasn’t the same, but what Anthony had done leaving like a thief to avoid his possible reaction had had the same effect of salt poured on the open wound of what his supposed family had done to him.

No, he couldn’t stay there any longer.

So Loki ripped the blankets away and got up from the bed in a haze, not taking anything with him beside the clothes he still had on from the previous night.

 

~

 

When Tony finally spotted Loki he was walking slowly in one of the corridors, a depressed aura around him making surely more detectable than what Loki intended to be.

“There you are. What are you doing here, by the way?”

Loki turned a pair of reddened eyes on him.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

Loki wondered if he was truly asking. The disappointment he had felt that morning when Tony had simply left without a word was still scorching him, and the last couple of hours had only made it worse. Not that he expected much, but Tony could have at least told him when he would have been back to visit.

If he would have been back.

That possibility had brought painful tear to Loki’s eyes that he hadn’t managed to stop.

The moment he had abandoned the chambers that had been Anthony’s until the previous night he had lost it; just a few moments later he was sobbing in a hidden corner of a rarely used corridor, his shoulders shaking and his chest heaving in the effort of getting some air even though the sobs threatened to suffocate him with their strength.

More than the thought of being back to what his life had been for the last four years what had really filled him with crippling anguish was the fact that he wouldn’t have seen Anthony anymore; since the man was so heartlessly abandoning him he shouldn’t have suffered much about that, but Anthony had been the first person to show him kindness, the first person who had really intrigued him without proving a horrible misjudgement as it had always happened to him, and there was no way to forget that.

No one had ever cared for him as Anthony had done, only helping without asking anything in return.

Loki’s past lovers had always been drawn by his position as a prince or by what his magic could have got them, but now he had nothing to offer.

Anthony had looked past that, had been with him with no interest for how useful Loki could have proved since now he had nothing at all, and Loki couldn’t push aside that mere thought stirred in him.

Even if Anthony was discarding him like an old toy.

“Lokes?”

Loki closed his eyes for a moment to gather himself, and when he opened them his voice wasn’t quivering as he feared, just a little hoarse, “At least you’ve come to say goodbye.”

“Goodbye? What are you talking about? Listen, you know I’m always more than happy to discuss things with you, but we’re kind on a strict schedule here if we want to reach Earth at a decent hour so that we won’t have to wait tomorrow to get back. We should really go.”

Chapter Text

“We?”

“Do you need a written invitation? C’mon, the Bifrost’ll be ready in a handful of minutes and you still have to get ready,” he grabbed Loki by the wrist, but Loki opposed to being dragged down the corridor by quite stubbornly pointing his feet against the marble floor.

For how much he would have liked to spend more time with the man he had come to love, he couldn’t do it now.

That would have only been self-induced torture.

Remaining in Anthony’s presence, keep on pretending that his time with the human hadn’t come to an end, that was just foolish, and if there was something Loki couldn’t allow himself to be in that place was being stupid.

For how much the touch of Anthony’s hand was warming him inside and traitorously chasing away that suffocating sensation in his chest, he couldn’t allow him to get even closer.

Anthony was leaving.

He was leaving, without saying a word about that.

He had left that morning without having the decency of saying that everything that there had been between them was over, if something between them had ever existed and hadn’t been just Loki’s imagination.

There was a part of him that would have liked to yell at Anthony for what he had done, but another – wiser – reminded him of the possibility that Anthony may have come back one day and that remaining in his good graces could have been a smart idea if he hoped to receive a less harsh treatment from the Masters.

“Anthony, what are you talking about?”

“I’m sure you’ve noticed everything has been packed and brought away from the rooms. You’ll have to explain me how, everything went abracadabra and the suitcases were outside without you even waking up,” Tony gave him an encouraging smile, hoping that a bit of support would have brought them on the same page.

“What?”

“Listen, it’s pretty clear this’s my last day here, and honestly I don’t want to spend even a single minute more in this fucking place and I think you don’t either. C’mon,” this time Tony passed an arm around his waist, so that it would have been more difficult for Loki to wriggle away from his grasp.

That didn’t mean that the message managed to reach Loki’s confused brain any better.

“I… I don’t understand.”

“You’re probably the smartest person I know, what is that you don’t understand?”

“We?” he stressed the pronoun, hoping Tony would have caught on without him being forced to actually spell out what he didn’t even dare to utter.

“Well, yes, of course,” Tony stared at him as if it should have been obvious, then realisation sank in, “You believed I would’ve abandoned you here? Really? I don’t know whether to feel bad or insulted,” he drew Loki closer and kissed him briefly on the tip of his nose, “How could you possibly think I would’ve left you here? I know I didn’t tell you anything about today’s departure, but I didn’t think you would’ve got up before I came back. I’d have left you a note or something had I thought about that, but well, I had a lot on my mind and something was bound to slip, especially contingency plans. Anything you’d like to pack and bring with you?”

Loki didn’t seem in the right state to answer to that.

Or to utter a single word.

“Lolo?”

“Are you… really? I’m coming with you? Away from here?” the edge of surprise in Loki’s voice was making it almost unrecognisable. Maybe it was the presence of hope in it that made it so different.

“I don’t even know why you’re doubting that, Bambi. I’ve told you from the beginning that I wouldn’t have allowed those bastards to hurt you anymore, and even though I’ve failed at least a couple of horrible times, I would’ve never broken my word.”

“You… you told me that the first day,” Loki deadpanned, remembering their first conversation the night Tony had requested his presence and had allowed him the first night of true and undisturbed rest in four years.

“And started acting upon that the next. That’s why the negotiations took so long. They weren’t that keen on letting you go, but with your little hint about how they were trying to make a fool of me I had the right leverage. I told them that you either came with me, or they could’ve said goodbye to these two months of negotiations and to a partnership with the SI altogether. And hey, I’m Tony Stark, I always get what I want,” he flashed Loki a bright smile, but Loki was too confused to register it and mostly to react to it.

“Please, don’t do this to me,” he begged with a sad whisper.

“What?” Tony stared at him in disbelief, “You don’t want to leave?”

“Of course I want to leave this place, but I can’t. Please, don’t play with me. I belong to this place, they own me. I can’t just leave with you even if I’ve never wanted something more.”

Tony had to admit he had never seen a more heartbroken expression in his whole life.

Loki was trying to hope, to believe him, and at the same time he was so afraid of facing the possibility that his release wasn’t real that he was doing his best to prevent himself from believing to what Tony was saying.

“Yeah, uh, not anymore,” Tony scratched at the back of his neck, “Don’t take it the wrong way, but now you’re mine. Of course I’ll look for a way to fix that the moment we get back to Earth, but for now this’ll have to make do.”

Loki wasn’t able to process that sentence for a few seconds, “How?” he finally uttered, the look on his face the one of a man who had just lost an internal battle.

“I told you, you’re part of the deal. Part of the payment, if you want to say so,” Tony frowned at the thought, “I don’t like the idea of treating you like some trading goods, but for now that’s the best I could come up with.”

“You’re saying that… that I can leave?” Loki repeated, still trying not allow himself to hope even though Anthony’s words had made the walls he had built to protect himself crumble.

“Of course. For now you’ll have to come with me and probably you’ll have to stay with me until I figure out a way to get you citizenship or the state of refugee, I still don’t know, but yes, you can leave.”

“Am I really coming with you?” he whispered.

“Yes, Loki. We are leaving,” this time Tony framed the mage’s face with his hands, “What’s wrong?”

Loki stared in his golden brown eyes for some moments, trying to read them at the best of his capabilities, “Is this some sort of evil trick…?” he asked, doing his best to not allow hope and relief to wash over him.

“No, Lokes, no. Hey,” one of Tony’s hands slid down Loki’s neck to make him rest his forehead against his, “I’m not messing with you. You are leaving this place. You will never have to come here again. You are leaving for good. I couldn’t tell you anything before because I wasn’t sure I would’ve succeeded and I didn’t want to build your hopes for nothing, but now it’s done. We are leaving. Together.”

When realisation hit him, Loki felt like his legs wouldn’t have supported him for long.

Fortunately, Tony was there to catch him.

“Hey, no, I need you standing upright. Now come, I’ve a surprise for you.”

Chapter Text

Loki would have never expected to wear those clothes again.

The leather of his armour caressed his skin in a way that was both familiar and strange to him, only contributing to the mess that was spinning in his head in that moment.

When they had returned to Anthony’s chambers the sight of the clothes on the bed had been something that would have startled him hadn’t he been already so overwhelmed by the new development of events, but in the confused state he was in seeing his armour didn’t add much to that.

Hadn't he been so confused he would have also noticed that some elements of his real armour were missing and that the details were a lot rougher than the fine ones he was used to, bu the couldn't hold the man accountable for that; after all he had only seen Loki's armour four years before, and certainly he hadn't had the time to study it properly.

Anyway, Loki had been too out of his depths to notice. He had reverently brushed the dark leather and nodded at Anthony’s invitation to wear it so that they could finally leave.

It had been Anthony to secure the green cape on his shoulders, squeezing them shortly.

Striding in the corridors that had seen him bleeding and cowering in his dark boots with his chin held up high was something he would have never believed possible, and yet here he was, with Anthony at his side.

He had noticed how the man wasn’t touching him, not even resting a hand on his arm, and even though at first he would have liked to feel the comfort that touch would have provided, he was now glad of its absence and was also understanding why Anthony as refraining from doing so.

He had to do that on his own.

He was leaving the palace not as a slave passed to another master, but as a free person who was finally getting out from the hell he had managed to survive.

When they stepped out of the palace Loki was almost blinded by the sunlight; he hadn’t been outside even once in four years, and now the huge gardens at the entrance of Alfheim’s palace almost made him sway.

He managed to control that unwanted reaction though, and kept Anthony’s pace; it was rather obvious to him that the man was checking him from the corner of his eye, but it was also equally obvious that he would have abstained from helping him unless it was inevitable.

They hadn’t said a word since the moment they had left the chambers in which they had met two months before, but there was no need for it.

It was only when he caught sight of Amras that Loki remembered that in the haze of his new situation he had forgotten to say goodbye to his friend.

He didn’t have the time to find something to tell him though, since in that moment he also realised that the Members of the Council were all there to salute their new partner and were now staring with open mouths at his new attire.

He must have frozen, because he soon felt Anthony’s hand discreetly resting on the small of his back – hidden by his cape – to direction him toward Amras and… was that Finrond?

“I told you,” Amras smiled at the same moment Loki managed to ask, “What are you doing outside?”

“I’m free to do as I more please,” Amras’ smile turned brighter, if that was even possible.

“What do you mean?”

Amras looked at Stark who was standing just a step behind Loki, so the mage turned around to try and get the gist of what was going on.

“There was this offer, two for one, so…” Tony waved in the elf’s direction, and finally Loki got it.

“You freed Amras too?”

“Why not? So he can come and visit whenever he pleases.”

“I still haven’t had the chance to thank you, sir,” Finrond bowed deeply – his long, light-lilac hair following his movement like a waterfall – despite how uncomfortable that must have been since he was still keeping his hand on Amras’ waist, as if fearing that if he had let go the elf would have disappeared before his eyes.

“My pleasure,” Tony answered, his hands tucked in his pockets since he was so obviously itching to do the same with Loki, “The moment you want to visit Earth – Midgard, sorry – I’ll be more than glad to show you around. I’m sure we can arrange something soon. Now we should really get going, though.”

Loki was still speechless at his side, so he returned Amras’ hug a little oddly, his arms circling the elf a little too late than what would have been considered normal, but still holding him close.

“Lokes? You ready?”

This time Tony’s finger only tapped on his shoulder, trying to bring him back to the present.

“Mmh? Yes. Yes, Anthony,” the smile spreading on Loki’s traits was almost blinding, and Tony had no idea of how not to return it.

“Shall we go?”

“Never too soon to leave this place.”

Tony chuckled at Loki’s newly found attitude and decided it was the moment to face the monsters he had come to despise two months before and had had to tolerate all the same.

He could already see how pissed they were for having had to wait for a former slave to be addressed before them, but there was nothing they could do now.

And Loki knew it.

Those bastards had terrorised him for four years, tortured him, broken him, and yet here he was, with his chin held up high as he walked toward them.

“Mr. Stark, it has been a pleasure doing business with you,” Kythrit formally offered.

“Can’t say the same,” Tony bit back, his gaze hardening.

“I thought we had found a common ground during the negotiations,” the elf looked genuinely confused, as if he couldn’t place the sudden change of heart of his new business partner.

“I have no pleasure of considering the option of sharing anything with the lot of you,” he growled, the hatred he had been harbouring for so long finding a way out in his voice.

He hadn’t been able to say anything for two months, he had been forced to repress all his disgust in order to have Loki included in the negotiations, but now he could finally let go.

This time it was Loki to put a placating hand on the man’s shoulder.

“I thought we were in a hurry, Anthony.”

His soft tone made his former masters wince in the realisation that they had no power anymore to punish such a blatant trespassing.

“You’re right, Lokes. Let’s just leave this fucking place.”

That said, Tony didn’t waste any more time in talking to the people he would have liked so much to obliterate, and just followed Loki to the circle of runes on the ground where his suitcases had already been stocked.

Before anyone had the possibility to say anything, they were gone.

 

~

 

The Bifrost left Tony staggering once more to get his balance, but this time he had someone he could hold onto to avoid falling on the ground.

Not that Loki was exactly unaffected by their short intergalactic trip, but at least he knew what to expect.

“Welcome home, I guess.”

Loki’s expression was too confused to let Tony know whether the god had registered his words or not.

He was back on that terrace that had been his demise so many years before, but now his mind was free, not clouded anymore by fear and pain.

And he wasn’t on Alfheim anymore.

The fact he had abandoned the palace for good still hadn’t sank in, and it probably wouldn’t have in a short time. He had had the certainty he would have never had a chance to escape from there, or at least that he wouldn’t have received any help in doing so, but now here he was, standing at Anthony’s side.

On Midgard.

Not on Alfheim, not anymore.

On Midgard.

“Lokes, I get you might want to get some fresh air, but right now we’re a little too exposed. I’ll come up with something to let you outside, but for now this isn’t the safest place to be.”

Loki nodded, still not really registering what he was being told, but instinctively following Anthony.

He remembered all too well how he had already followed the man inside once, but this time everything felt so different it was almost disconcerting to compare the two situations.

He did, though, and startled when he heard a voice.

“Welcome back, Boss.”

“Hey, Friday. Everything alright?”

“I don’t know, Boss. I recall you leaving alone, and now my sensors detect another presence.”

Ah, how Tony had missed his AI.

“Nothing wrong, girl. We’ll have a guest for a while,” he turned toward Loki who had frozen just after the balcony door, taking in his surroundings with a wary expression.

“Lokes?”

“Mmh?”

“The polite thing to do would be to introduce us, Boss.”

“Listen who’s speaking about manners. However, you might be right. Loki, the rude lady talking is Friday. Friday, he’s Loki. There’s no need for you to go through the files to search who he is, they aren’t up to date.”

“It figures you brought back the person who has tried to kill you a few years ago, Boss. I would have preferred chocolate, though.”

“Something must have gone wrong with your coding, I’m sure of that,” Tony huffed as he closed the distance between Loki and himself, “Everything alright?”

“I…”

“What about sitting down for a moment?” he proposed, “You look a little shaky.”

Loki nodded and gladly accepted his offer, even though he felt extremely out of place on the plush sofa Anthony had pointed him to.

“I get this might be a little overwhelming for you, so I’ll just follow your lead here. Would you like for me to show you around a little or you prefer to just chill for a moment?”

Loki didn’t have time to ponder what would have been the option he was most comfortable with since the moment he tried to answer he was interrupted by the elevators door opening.

“Tony?” a female voice asked, and assumed a panicked edge to it the moment she spotted the other person in the room, “Loki?”

Chapter Text

“Pepper! Friday, why didn’t you tell me she was coming here?”

“Miss Potts has always been allowed access to your private floor, Boss.”

“What is Loki doing here? Tony!”

“Pepper, calm down.”

“You have to alert the others, tell them he’s here. Friday, do something!”

“Friday, no,” Tony ordered, his eyes already following Loki who had slid to the floor and knelt next to the sofa, his eyes cast down on the hands he had neatly folded in his lap, “No, Lokes, there’s no need, get up. Not here, you’re safe here.”

“Lokes?” Pepper almost shrieked, something truly unusual for the woman and that was conveying just how upset from the situation she was.

“Yeah, it’s… a long story. Would you just calm down a little?”

“Calm down? Loki is in your Tower and you’re using nicknames.”

“That’s not exactly something new for me since I call people by whatever name under the sun that isn’t theirs on a daily basis, but that’s another story. Lokes, please, everything is fine.”

“Nothing is fine, Tony! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Pepper, please, just one moment. One moment and I’ll explain everything, but right now – and please don’t get offended – you’re not my main focus,” Tony lowered himself next to Loki, carefully placing a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, “Hey, Loki, hey. Listen to me. Nothing’s wrong. Pepper is just surprised at fining you here since-“

“Since we thought you in a cell.”

“Pepper, please.”

“Fine, get us all killed.”

“You’re not helping,” Tony brought also his other hand on Loki’s shoulder, “Lokes, listen to me. Everything is fine, no one else is coming here, I promise. You’re safe here.”

Loki’s distressed green eyes shot in the direction of the elevator, underlining how little control Stark had had on Pepper’s arrival.

“Okay, right. Friday, total shutdown.”

“Tony!”

“No one gets in, no one gets out without my explicit permission.”

“Yes, Boss.”

“Tony, have you lost our mind? What if Loki attacks us? We’re stuck in here!”

“Pepper, look at him. Does he look like he’s about to snap my neck?”

The woman’s eyes followed Tony’s hand toward the god, and she had to admit that the kneeling creature in front of them had little in common with the raging maniac she remembered.

“You look much more inclined to do that, to be honest.”

“This’s just a farce, you can’t possibly believe he’s not trying to fool us.”

“I told you I’d explain everything, but you have to give me a moment. Friday, do we have tea?”

“There must still be some Miss Potts left in the kitchen.”

A moment of embarrassment clouded the room, but Tony had more important things to tend to than dwelling on the awkwardness his AI’s words had caused.

“Good. Put on some water then,” he hooked a finger under Loki’s chin, and even though Pepper was always more puzzled with every passing second she kept quiet, “Listen, I know this must be strange for you. It was strange even before when it was just the two of us and there wasn’t a third person yelling at you,” he held up a hand to silence the protest he could physically feel brewing behind him, “But that doesn’t change anything. You’re safe now, I promise. Nothing of what has happened on Alfheim will happen again, not here. I’ve told you how things are on Midgard, and you already knew on your own even though you missed the specifics. C’mon, now follow me and have some tea, I’m sure everything’ll look a little less grim after that,” Tony got up and reached out a hand to help Loki standing, and after looking around with a distressed expression that would have suited a wild animal closed into a corner Loki accepted it.

Tony’s smile was probably too wide to not stress out how he was trying hard to be supportive, but Loki appreciated it nonetheless; he followed the human to the kitchen island, trying to ignore the sensation of the woman’s eyes that were piercing holes in the back of his head, and sat on the stool he was pointed to.

“Any preferences?” Tony asked showing the small selection of teabags he had fished from a cupboard.

The hesitation from Loki’s part was promptly noticed, so Tony simply chose one and put it on the counter in front of the mage.

“This one’s good?”

Loki quickly nodded, doing his best to answer even if he felt like his voice was stuck in his throat.

Consciously he knew that he was in Anthony’s house, were the only one who could decide what to do with him was Anthony and that the man had never done anything but helping him, and yet he couldn’t find it in him to relax.

On Alfheim he was in constant danger, but at least he knew what to expect.

Pain, for instance, but at least it wasn’t a surprise.

Here instead he had no idea of what could have befallen him. His mind was trying to make him understand that there was nothing lurking in the shadows waiting for a moment of distraction from his part to punish him for the naivety he had shown by simply letting his guard down, but the subconscious part of him couldn’t forget what he had been through even if now that nightmare was over.

“Okay, here’s the hot water and here’re sugar and honey, choose whatever you prefer as I…” he stopped mid-sentence, realisation hitting him, “Mmh, uh. Lokes, listen, I should probably tell Pepper what’s happened on Alfheim, but if you don’t want me to do it I won’t.”

Loki quirked an eyebrow at him, his voice but a whisper, “Why not?”

“Maybe you don’t want other people to know?”

Loki just shrugged, “It doesn’t really make a difference if another person knows.”

Tony would have only wanted to take Loki in his arms and distract him from the bleak place his mind had shifted to, but right now he had to deal with Pepper first so at least this ordeal would have been over. He would have liked to ask Loki if there was something the mage wanted him to omit, but Loki was already dealing with enough shit at the moment without demanding him to go through his memories to find the nastiest ones.

Once he had positively checked that Loki was quietly sipping at his tea Tony gestured for Pepper to follow him in a corner of the huge open space.

“You have five minutes to get your stories straight and come up with a decent explanation as to why you think that coddling a criminal is a good idea.”

“For starters, I was right.”

“Excuse me?”

“My theory about Loki. You know, the one I’ve talked you about of how Loki wasn’t really trying to take over Earth.”

“You mean the one you talked everyone about?”

“Yeah, that one. Thor said something about that, and Bruce agreed with me.”

“May I know why you’re saying so?”

“Because Loki-“

“No, wait. I won’t even listen to this if you’re saying your theory’s right because Loki told you so.”

“He wasn’t lying.”

“Tony, you’re talking about the God of Lies! You can’t trust a word of what he’s said!”

“No, Pepper, it’s not… Listen, you have to trust me on this. Loki was in no position for lying, what he’s said is true.”

“Tony…”

“No, you’ll listen to me. I’d hoped you would’ve simply taken my word as valid, but apparently you don’t trust me enough to do so.”

So Tony started explaining, lowering his voice so that Loki didn’t have to hear his situation from an outsider and to live everything again, but Pepper’s horrified gasps were certainly taletelling; Tony continued nonetheless, his only desire to get to the end of that speech as soon as possible without omitting anything of what he knew; he was certain there were things Loki hadn’t said and that he didn’t even want to think about, but what he knew he would have told.

He recounted everything, everything that had happened to Loki during his staying, how Loki was half-starved, the conditions in which he had many times found the mage upon returning in his chambers.

He even told her of that day that had seen him refusing to leave his room for a week.

From then one the tale got a little better and with much less details, but it wasn’t easier to tell nonetheless.

“My God…” Pepper whispered, her hands covering her mouth.

“Yeah,” Tony didn’t have any strength left to add something to that.

“Are you sure he’s telling the truth? Maybe there was something behind to make you take Loki in and for him to return on Earth.”

Tony had no idea whether the woman actually didn’t believe him or that was just wishful thinking in front of something so horrible that couldn’t have been true.

He settled for not leaving her any doubt.

Chapter Text

“You weren’t there, Pepper. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen, you weren’t there when he collapsed in my arms covered in blood apologising for how I could’ve felt insulted for what had been done to him.”

“Tony…”

“You weren’t there at the banquet where the leader of that bunch of monsters proposed to have Loki serve as the main attraction the next one. You want to know how many people were sitting at that table? Twenty. Twenty people, Pepper.”

“I…”

“So don’t come here patronising me about how I could’ve been fooled by what I’ve seen, because you weren’t there. You have no idea of what I’ve witnessed, of how they treat people just like you and me. No, if you really want I can show you the footages of my rooms since I had installed cameras in there. I think they’ll be more than enough to make you change your mind.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that you can’t recognise when you’re lied to.”

“Yes, it’s exactly what you meant because to you I’m still the immature idiot who needs someone else to do everything in his stead, but right now I don’t have the time nor the will to discuss this. Watch the footages, Friday’ll make a selection of what to show you, and then you’ll tell me whether Loki was lying or not.”

“Don’t put in my mouth words I haven’t said. I don’t consider you an immature idiot. I just… do you think this is easy to listen to? This… this is a nightmare made real, Tony, forgive me if I’m trying to find a scenario for it to not be true. I know I’m in no position for complaining since I’ve only heard a shortened version of the events and in this very room is sitting the person who has been through this hell, but it’s still not easy at all.”

“Fair point,” Tony was forced to admit after a few moments.

After all he remembered very well how he had needed Amras’ help to tend to Loki since he had felt he would have been sick witnessing to what Loki had endured, and at the time he had already known what Loki had been through during his years in the palace.

“So… so you bought him?” Pepper tried when the silence between them turned into a quiet one.

“I don’t really like this term, but technically yes.”

Pepper remained silent.

“What else could I do, Pep? I couldn’t leave him there! You have no idea of how that fucking place is. And even if you don’t believe me when I tell you he had nothing to do with the Invasion than you have to at least agree with me that he deserves a trial, a fair one, not that bullshit Thor has dragged him to.”

“No, Tony, you misunderstand me. That’s not what I meant by staying silent, I was just thinking.”

“Thinking?”

“Yes, Tony. That thing people usually do before acting.”

Under different circumstances Tony would have found the perfect comeback, but right now he needed Pepper’s support and they had already been too close at yelling at each other.

“Okay. First of all, Loki can’t go back to Alfheim, that’s out of discussion. I don’t care whether he was lying to you in order to have your protection or not, he won’t go back there. Secondly, he’ll tell me his side of the story. About the invasion,” she clarified before Tony could protest, “I’m not a monster, Tony, for heaven’s sake. I want his version, not yours. After that I’ll be able to decide whether to have a guest room made ready or a cell.”

“… Pep, you’re amazing.”

“I know.”

“Just let me breach this to him, okay?”

“Sure, he already looks spooked enough.”

That was Tony’s cue to finally go back to where Loki was nervously sitting, pretending not to be aware they were talking about him.

“Hey, Lokes.”

“Do I have to leave?”

“What? No, no, don’t even think about that. I wouldn’t allow that, don’t worry. Pepper just wants to hear for herself what you told me about the attack, that’s it. Would you mind?”

“Just that?”

“Just that. Tell her what you told me. I know you don’t trust her, but I assure you she’s a fantastic person once you get past the impression she’d bite your head off.”

“Will you stay?”

Tony frowned at Loki’s muttered request; it looked like they were moving backwards, as if all the steps toward Loki feeling like a person again had been erased by finding himself in a foreign place. Maybe it was just the novelty of it all, maybe the fact of being away from those monsters had shook him more than what Tony had foreshadowed, but it still made him feel terribly bad for the former god.

That was why he ignored the caution with which he had duly omitted a few details in his report to Pepper and wrapped an arm around Loki’s shoulders, placing a soft kiss against his cheek, “‘f course I’m staying.”

“You must have something more profitable to do.”

“Hey, I’ve been working for two months straight, I deserve a few days of holidays.”

Loki was about to quirk an eyebrow and ask how lounging in bed playing with his hair could have been considered working when Pepper cleared her throat and made him jump out of his more relaxed state.

“I won’t even ask about this. Okay, Loki, all I want to know is the role you had during the invasion. And let me get this straight: whatever you’ll say you won’t end up back in Alfheim, so you have no reason to lie.”

Loki was more than puzzled at hearing that.

Sure, Anthony has already told him that even if he was guilty he wouldn’t have deserved such a fate, but hearing the same thing from a person that had no interest whatsoever in reassuring him was something different.

“Take all the time you need,” Pepper smiled comfortingly, and Tony had never been more glad that they had remained friends after their breakup, “Friday, make one of the bots take the bags inside, then reinstate the lockdown.”

“Yes, Miss Potts.”

“Where do you want me to start?” Loki asked after a few moments he had taken to brace himself; not much for what he was about to say, but for the person he was addressing: the woman in front of him was clearly important to Anthony and from the way she was dressed and she held herself it was equally obvious she was an important woman in her realm. Once such interactions had been his bread and butter, right now even lifting his eyes from the marble surface of the kitchen island made him feel out of place.

“From where you deem it more important,” Pepper sat down with them, not wanting to tower over Loki.

“It’s quite a long story.”

“You tried to take over this planet, Loki, I think I can make time for you.”

So Loki started his tale again.

It was easier this time, with Anthony’s hand rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades and without the threat of a horrible punishment hadn’t his words been believed true, but it still wasn’t easy for him to open up and tell that woman everything.

It was easier, but at the same time it brought back the memories of how his new Masters on Alfheim had made him confess that, and he couldn’t but shiver at the mere thought of all the pain he had endured those days when he had still refused to bend to their wishes.

In the end they had simply broken him.

“So you weren’t trying to win.”

“No, it wasn’t my intention. That was why I’ve made my intentions so clear, why I gave all those hints about where I would have been. I couldn’t be too obvious or the Chitauri would have killed me, but I had never had the intention of letting them take over Midgard. I was still under the influence of the Tesseract, but it wasn’t as strong as it was the last time they had checked my mind to see if I truly obeyed to them,” a tremor ran through him at the memory and Tony only held him closer.

“Look at his eyes, Pep. They’re green, not electric blue.”

“Why?” she asked, even though she already had a guess.

“I think it was the Tesseract’s control showing, I never really noticed that,” he glanced at Anthony, thanking him for his support.

“That was my guess too. JARVIS was the one to actually notice that your eyes had a different colour after your… encounter with the Hulk, and from that the connection with the Tesseract was an easy one.”

“It was in that moment that I completely came back to myself, in fact.”

“Why didn’t you tell this at your trial?” Pepper asked, not really getting the look Tony was addressing her, “It would have surely changed the verdict.”

“I did.”

The ‘nobody believed me’ was left unsaid.

Pepper remained quiet for a few moments, probably pondering how she would have felt had her own family refused to believe that she had been tortured in order to break her into submission, and how her heart would have broken had it been her own father to send her to a fate similar to the one Loki had endured in the last years.

“How much of this coincides with your theory?” she eventually asked Tony.

“All of it. You should know, I told you.”

“I stopped listening by the third time you started this conversation, Tony, and it was three years ago.”

“Fine, I might have been a little overbearing, but I was right.”

Pepper rolled her eyes, “Okay, now we have to understand what to do,” she put her hands down on the marble surface of the kitchen island and Tony was instantly relieved; Pepper was in charge now, she had that determined look that for Tony meant that there was nothing to worry about. Yes, the situation might have been bad, desperate even, but Pepper’s demeanour meant that now it was her problem, and she hadn’t yet faced a problem she hadn’t managed to solve.

With Pepper in charge things would have turned for the best.

Hell, she would have probably told off Odin himself if she ever got the chance.

Not that Tony would have given her the time.

He would have probably punched the old god in the face the moment he saw him.

But those were thoughts for another day.

What managed to shake Tony off of that state of almost triumph at having Pepper on board was Loki’s small voice.

“What do you want to do with me?”

Chapter Text

Tony’s good mood exploded like a soap bubble.

“No, Lokes, that’s not-“

“We’ll find you a room to stay, and for now I’d advise you not to go to the balcony since you could easily be seen by the paparazzi,” Pepper’s smile was a sympathetic one, kind but without resulting compassionate, “I think you’ll also need clothes unless you have something with you.”

“No…”

“Actually you do. I packed your stuff, so unless you had something in your room it’s all here.”

“I had nothing,” Loki turned around to stare at Anthony with wide eyes, not really believing Anthony had packed his things in the morning. The man had also freed him from the hell that his life had been during the last four years, though, so the fact that he had packed a few clothes couldn’t really be considered shocking.

“Then how…?” Pepper had always found comforting to stick to the practical side of things, and after everything she had heard the options she had were either feeling sick or asking about something marginal and a little more normal.

“That’s a talk for another day,” Tony stopped her, not really wanting to make her feel bad for such a trivial question but more focused on Loki’s wellbeing, “So, a room, you were saying?”

“Yes,” Pepper’s recovery times were always remarkable, “One of the guest rooms, I’d say. At least if you intend for Loki to remain on this floor.”

“Yes,” Tony quickly answered before Loki could even begin to panic.

“Good. Loki, if you’d like to follow me you can choose the room you most like. Tony won’t mind,” she added when the fallen prince turned uncertain eyes to the man.

He truly had nothing in common with the haughty god she had seen in the recordings of four years before.

He was scared, spooked, afraid to make the wrong decision with every single action. He seemed afraid to even look at them in the wrong way, even though he appeared to be more at ease around Tony.

Pepper could also see something had changed in Tony.

That wasn’t the immature man she had had to break up with in order to not have their relationship fall apart, the one she had firstly agreed to remain friends with because she had thought he would have never made it without her; this was a different version of that man, the change perceivable as when he had returned from Afghanistan. From what he had just told her Pepper could easily tell why, but it was still strange to witness how that man she had known for years had changed in just a couple of months.

This time it was maybe even more impressive because the turning point hadn’t been caused by something as personal as being kidnapped, but by something external that didn’t affect him personally.

Pepper imperceptibly shook her head.

That wasn’t the time nor the place for such reasonings.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of space here.”

Loki was still doubtful, but he didn’t express any protest.

Maybe he didn’t dare to.

“Come, I’ll show you the way,” Pepper went to the stairs first, “Last time I checked there were three guest rooms in a decent state. Friday, is that still so?”

“Yes Miss Potts, Boss didn’t set fire to anything since the last time you were here.”

“Hey! You traitor!”

“I was simply answering, Boss.”

“You could’ve just said yes.”

“Not my style, Boss.”

Loki might have been incredibly confused by the development of events of that day, but he couldn’t avoid a puzzled look at Anthony and at the ceiling. How could someone program a servant to insult them?

Was that what Stark wanted?

Did he just want a servant who talked back to him, who challenged him on an intellectual level?

Was that the reason he had been brought to Midgard?

“What’s wrong?” Anthony whispered in his ear, and Loki flinched, “Loki?”

“I…” he turned around, his head spinning.

Noticing that Tony took grasped his arm and forced him to sit on one of the steps, lowering beside him, “Clearly there’s something wrong.”

“No, I…”

Loki was staring at his hands folded in his lap, so he didn’t notice Pepper and Tony exchanging a quick glance.

“I’ll go check the rooms since Friday may be a little too indulgent with you, Tony. Will the two of you join me later?”

“Yeah, just the time for you to actually see that I’m able to not set fire to my own house. Again,” he mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to Pepper and the woman nodded before disappearing upstairs, “Okay, what’s wrong?”

Loki miserably kept his gaze low, not able to meet Tony’s.

“Lokes, something’s clearly off, will you tell me what it is?”

Loki had no other choice. If Stark had truly bought him because he had decided that he wanted a servant he couldn’t but obey.

He knew he would have been treated better than on Alfheim, that his role would have been different, but there was still a tight knot in his throat.

“Why am I here?”

“Why? Really?” Tony turned the mage’s shoulders so that he would have been able to face him, but the way Loki’s eyes widened in fear told him that that wasn’t the right approach, “No, hey, no. No need to be scared. Stupid question. You’re more than entitled to be confused and to make questions. Let me rephrase it: why are you asking?”

It took all Loki had to keep his voice steady. He had to answer, and he had to do it properly, “Am I here because you wanted a servant who would speak up and actually answer you?”

“What?” from the look on Tony’s face he might as well have been slapped, “A servant? No, Loki, absolutely not! I told you, the only reason you’re – fuck, I hate this so much – my property, is because I had no other way to smuggle you away from Shitheads Land. Had I found another way I would have opted for it without even blinking, but I had no other choice. You’ve no idea of how much I’d have liked to set that place on fire, but then how were we supposed to get back here? I had to remain in civil terms with them or they wouldn’t have opened the portal to get back to Earth, but don’t even think for a second I agree with what their fucked up minds think it’s right. I told you, the moment it’s safe to reveal your presence here I’ll do everything in my power, and I have to admit it’s a lot, to get you the state of refugee or something like that. That’s it. Okay?’” He wrapped his arm around Loki’s shoulders and made him rest against his chest, “Why did you come up with this?”

It was more difficult to feel threatened when Anthony was holding him so comfortingly. “You seem to like servants who are not afraid to answer,” his green eyes darted to the ceiling and Tony followed the direction.

“Friday? No, that’s entirely different,” before he had even the time to explain, his girl took over.

“Boss programmed me to manage his house and basically everything he owns, I’m not a servant.”

Maybe he should have factored empathy into the AI’s equation, Tony considered.

“I apologise, I didn’t mean to insult… you.”

“I can avoid considering myself insulted for today, but I’m no servant. Point taken?”

“Yes, sorry.”

“Friday, you can be a little bitch to me if you want to, not to him.”

“He was insulting me,” the AI sounded like she was almost whining.

“No, he wasn’t understanding our relationship since he’s new here,” Tony squeezed Loki’s arm, “Sorry about her, she can be a mean girl from time to time.”

“I wasn’t being-“

“Friday!”

“Sorry, Boss.”

“If you truly feel like you should be part of this conversation then add something useful to it, otherwise just silence the microphones in this room.”

“Boss…”

“And the cameras.”

If the AI could have sighed she would have, “Very well. From what I have gathered I can say that the main difference between Mr. Loki and myself is that I’m not a living being and that you have programmed me to help you, but I’m an AI, not a person. For how much I’m allowed to take decisions I don’t have a free will or something of the sort since I’m a string of ones and zeroes.”

“I’ve been building AIs and bots since I was a teen because I’ve no idea of how to survive on my own, but that doesn’t mean I want a servant. And in the eventuality I had, I would’ve hired someone. A butler or a housekeeper. Or both.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t doubt you after everything you did, it’s just…”

“It’s just that many things are happening all at once and you have no idea of how to handle them?”

“Indeed,” Loki snuggled closer to him and Tony did nothing to stop him.

In that moment what Loki needed was a grounding presence, something familiar in such an extraneous place, and Tony happened to be the only one who could play that role. Little did it matter that Pepper was waiting in the hallway for them and probably watching them to understand what was going on.

Tony didn’t honestly care about what his ex-girlfriend could think about what was going on with Loki. He needed her help, undoubtedly, but had she questioned the legitimacy of Loki’s presence he wouldn’t have thought twice about kicking her out.

Chapter Text

"I shouldn't make her wait," Loki murmured after a few moments of simply drawing comfort from Tony’s presence.

"Pepper?"

"She obviously has important things to do and I'm wasting her time as well as yours."

"For instance, you're not wasting anyone's time. Pepper likes to boss everyone around and take the reins of a situation, and I have nothing to do, so stop worrying."

"She doesn't want me here," he murmured, "And neither does your... AI," he struggled with the word a little, but he was prevented from going further with his statement of how unwanted he was by Anthony's hand clasping on his mouth.

"No. You won't go down that path.”

“I haven’t expressed any desire to see you leave,” Friday added, “I may not like being called with the wrong name, but as Boss said that must have to do with the fact that we’ve never met before rather than your desire to insult me. As of now your presence is neutral to me.”

“You’re always so affectionate, Fri.”

Old JARVIS would have had a comeback ready, she – being the female version of an AI – remained silent just to let him know that now she was offended and that Loki had nothing to do with that.

“You see? She’s mean with everyone,” Tony nuzzled the mage’s neck and Loki was forced to admit that probably it was just his mind playing strange tricks to him.

The enormity of being finally away from Alfheim was taking its toll, messing with his thoughts and making him a little dizzy.

“Now, ready to see your new room?”

This time Loki nodded and accepted Anthony’s hand to get up. He would have liked to hold onto it, but not even those four years on Alfheim had managed to strip him of his pride so much; so he stood up straight, only accepting Anthony’s hand resting on the small of his back as support and climbed the remaining steps to meet Pepper in the hallway.

He would have liked to refer to her with a more appropriate name not to displease her more that what he was already doing with his mere presence – Anthony could say whatever he wanted, it was clear from the way she held herself she wasn’t comfortable with having him around – but he had no idea what that could have been. It was obvious that ‘Pepper’ was a nickname Anthony had come up with one day and decided to stick to, and to him it was inappropriate to just call her with such a familiar name, but he didn’t have it in him to ask for the actual one. He would have simply avoided to call her by her name, that was the easiest option.

“Everything alright?” Pepper asked when she saw them entering the hallway; she waited for their nods to go on, “Okay, apparently you weren’t lying, Tony, since nothing seems to have been burnt lately. All the three rooms are in a decent state, so you can simply pick the one you most like, Loki. One of the bots’ll bring up your stuff when you’ve decided.”

Loki’s emerald eyes shot in Anthony’s direction. How was he supposed to be free to choose about such an important matter?

“Whichever you like, Lokes.”

And most importantly, why couldn’t he just stay in Anthony’s room? Had the man grown tired of having him constantly around and wanted his space back? Did that mean he had to sleep alone like he had been used to do in that suffocating cubicle he had considered his personal space for four years and that hadn’t granted the tiniest degree of protection? Did that mean someone would have come to pull him out of that room in his sleep now that he hadn’t Anthony sleeping beside him? Did that mean…

“Hey,” Anthony’s hand on his shoulder broke that infamous train of thoughts, “You’re hyperventilating. What’s wrong?”

“I… why…? I…”

“I’ll leave you to this. Tony, I’ll go watch that video if Friday is ready.”

The woman didn’t receive any answer beside a short nod, but she left them alone nonetheless.

“Loki? Mind to tell me what’s wrong? Okay, maybe breathe first.”

It took Loki a couple of minutes to have his breathing back in check, but when he did so he wasn’t any less confused than before.

“Back with me? Yes? So, what’s with the rooms?”

“I…” it took a lot from Loki to voice his doubts; he didn’t want to sound imposing, and at the same time Anthony sounded worried for him, “Why do I need a room?”

“What?”

“Why?”

“Why not? I thought you’d have liked to have a space only for yourself.”

Loki lowered his eyes to the floor.

“Oh. You think of this as an equivalent of that box that was your let’s call it ‘room’ on Alfheim?”

Loki was glad Anthony was such an intuitive man.

“No, hey, you’ll have all comforts here and tomorrow you can start giving your touch to it… And why do I feel this isn’t the point?”

May the Norns be blessed for how that human was guessing everything without Loki being forced to voice his problems.

“And you don’t want to talk about it. Okay, so what’s the point? Wait, I can get it if you give me a few minutes,” Tony stroked over his goatee looking for inspiration, “Okay, well… Has it something to do with the fact that we still haven’t discussed how things work here? Probably so. Okay, mmh, I haven’t really thought about setting up rules or something of the like because I’m not actually one for respecting them, but if it makes you feel better I think I could come up with something. Well, I think there’s not much, really. You can go wherever you want, just avoid the floors that aren’t for my personal use and stay inside, it’d be too risky to expose you like that. I’m sure we’ll find a solution to that but for now I’ve no better ideas. For anything else you can ask Friday to explain what you’re not familiar with, consider this your house too for now. Any of the guest rooms should already be supplied with anything you might need for the night, tomorrow-… Oh, so that’s the point.”

Loki finally raised his eyes from the floor.

“Same as for the pillows, isn’t it? You don’t want to sleep alone.”

“I don’t mean to impose…”

“No, Lokes, hey, look at me,” Tony hooked a finger under his chin, “I thought that you may have liked to have your space, honestly I hadn’t considered that. Okay, come with me, I’ll show you my bedroom,” this time he didn’t even pretend to keep a distance, he sneaked his arm around Loki’s waist and held him close, understanding how that conversation must have drained him.

“Here we are. As you can see there’s enough room for two.”

Loki smiled weakly at that attempt of making the situation a little less tense, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”

In the previous two months he had grown always more attached to Anthony and he had even got to the point of acknowledging his own feeling – with Amras’ help, but that wasn’t the point – and he hadn’t been that jumpy around the man after the first week he had spent in his chambers; now he really couldn’t understand why he was so unsure to speak up in Anthony’s presence after having spent eight weeks curled up in his arms.

“Maybe just a shitload of emotions you’re not that good at handling.”

“Mmh…” Loki hummed, deciding that probably the only quick way to get rid of that awful sensation that was making his insides twist was to reach out for something more familiar, so he tucked his head in the crook of Anthony’s shoulder.

“You know what? I still think you should have a room of your own. No, you can sleep here,” he added as he felt Loki tense in his arms, “What I mean is that you should have some space only for yourself, a safe place you can consider yours. A place that is only yours, where no one else can enter unless you give the permission of doing so. And I’ve too many clothes, I won’t share my wardrobe with you.”

Loki genuinely chuckled at that, finding a little easier to relax now that he had the reassurance he could still sleep in Anthony’s bed if he wished to.

“Better now? Yes? Okay, so we can go pick the room,” he pressed a kiss on Loki’s forehead and the fallen prince decided to follow him out of the bedroom.

Anthony led him down the corridor, showing him the first two rooms that didn’t elicit any particular reaction from Loki; when they got to the third, though, his eyes widened.

Chapter Text

“I think this one’ll do,” Tony commented with a smile in front of Loki’s clear fascination for all the light entering in the guest room, “It receives light from dawn to sunset, so it’s a nice choice to set up your lair here if you intend to use it during the day.”

Loki was only barely listening, his eyes drawn to the landscape in front of him; that room had nothing in common with the cubicle that ha been assigned to him on Alfheim.

That small place was suffocating and dark, and even though that was meant to be a place where he would have been able to lick his wounds he had never managed to consider it as such; that was probably due to the fact that anyone could simply enter there and kick him out to send him to whoever had requested him, but the idea of having a room of his own had sent his mind spiralling down that path, making him associate the two different situations.

The room they were standing in had nothing in common with that cubicle in Alfheim, it resembled much more his chambers in Asgard if he were to draw a comparison. Not much for the furniture – way too modern to actually remind him of his princely quarters – nor for the space that was still limited considering what he had considered his home up to a few years before, but for the light.

Loki had been used to bathe in the sun coming in from the huge windows he had been used to leave open so that the breeze carrying the smell of grass could refresh his rooms, all that light could only remind him of that long gone past that he had used to consider bleak. Now he knew that it was only because he had nothing to compare it against.

How could he consider intolerable some snide remarks and the constant mocking he had received after what his last four years had been?

Now he realised how his life had actually been the one of a spoiled child if compared against what his life on Alfheim had been.

It had been so bad he wasn’t even able to recognise anymore what a kind gesture was.

What Anthony was offering was a place that he could have really considered his own and where he would have been safe, and yet his mind seemed to refuse to realise that.

“Lolo? You keep zoning off.”

“Oh,” was all that came out of his mouth.

“You only need some quiet time, and we’ve probably skipped lunch. Friday, what time is it?”

“4:23 p.m, Boss.”

“Jeez, it took us longer than I thought. Okay, I should probably try to convince Pepper to leave, you can come with me or stay here, for me it’s the same.”

“Mr. Loki’s clothes have been deposited in front of the door, boss. Was I right assuming this would have been the final choice about our guest’s room?”

“First of all, I told you not to be mean, not to start talking as if we were in the eighteenth century. Secondly, you can ask directly Loki about this stuff.”

“Alright, Boss. Mr. Loki, is this decision final?”

“Yes. If it’s fine by you,” Loki added looking in Tony’s direction.

“I’m not using any of these rooms, whatever pleases you is perfect.”

Loki would have normally rolled his eyes at such a sentence, but right now he could only find it comforting.

“What about you stay here to unpack and I go deal with Pepper?”

“Sounds wonderful.”

Tony gave him one last encouraging smile and a brief peck on the lips before leaving the room. He left the door open, though, unsure about how Loki would have reacted had he tried to shut it.

Badly, probably.

He was winging it now with Loki, he had to admit he had no clear idea of how to deal with Loki’s steps back, but probably he was doing something good since Loki seemed to be calming down a little.

Now all he had to do was deal with Pepper and convince her that it would have been better if she simply left and allowed him to focus his entire attention on Loki.

It wouldn’t have normally been an easy task, but when he descended downstairs he found her on a couch, pale beyond reasonable, staring with wide eyes at the StarkPad still in her hands.

“Not exactly a nice show.”

“My God, Tony…” she whispered, raising her eyes from Loki’s bloodied figure on the screen.

“Yeah, I was there.”

“And you say it’s even been worse for him…” she wasn’t even questioning anymore.

“Yeah, again. That’s why it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I were to get back upstairs and try to convince Loki that it’s over.”

“Of course, that’s he first thing to do. Did you manage to make him pick a room?”

“First thing?”

“Yes, he needs to know he has a place here, that he can stay. Had you given him a blanket and a pillow to sleep on the couch he would’ve probably perceived his staying as something temporary.”

Friday must have skipped the scenes of Loki and him curled up in bed, then.

Good girl.

“Why first thing?”

“Because it was the main issue, now we need to understand what to do. Calling a therapist could be a good idea.”

“A therapist? You think you can possibly track one down that could help Loki handle all the shit he’s been through? And even if you were to find one, how could we avoid to let the information of Loki being here slip? Making him meet strangers seems a shitty strategy.”

“I’m sure that Fury still has some safe contacts.”

Fury?”

“Well, yes. SHIELD may have been destroyed but he’s a spy to start with, and if he hasn’t kept those contacts I’m sure Natasha’ll find someone.”

“Have you lost you mind?”

“You should tell the others.”

“No.”

“Tony.”

“It’s already difficult enough like this, Pep.”

“They deserve to know Loki’s here, you can’t keep him a secret.”

“Yeah, because we’re all so open with each other.”

“Don’t drag your grudges against Steve into this.”

Grudges,” he spat the word, “Yeah, God forbids that he’s made a mistake serious enough to be considered more than a grudge from my part.”

“Tony, that’s not the point.”

“That’s never the point, mmh?”

“I thought we were discussing how to deal with Loki here.”

“We are. I won’t tell those people who failed to notice that there was an underground criminal organisations in their midst that Loki’s here.”

“You didn’t notice either.”

“I’ve worked with them for a handful of years, Pepper, don’t try to turn the tables with me.”

“Okay, fine, I’m sorry. The point still remains: you can’t expect to keep Loki’s presence here a secret from them.”

“Maybe I won’t succeed but I’ll do my damn best to try.”

“Tony, calm down. I’m not saying to ship him back to Alfheim, I’m telling you it’d be wise to include your friends into this situation because there’s no bloody way you can deal with Loki alone,” she put up a placating hand before the man could start yelling, “And I’m not saying this because I don’t think you’re good enough, but because no one, not even a trained specialist, would be able to deal alone with someone who has suffered as many horrors as Loki has.”

“I’m not telling the Avengers.”

“Tony…” she sighed.

“No. I don’t trust them enough, even if you insist on calling them ‘my friends’.”

“Here! This is not about you, Tony. This is about Loki and what’s best for him. You thought about packing his stuff, but did you contact a doctor to check on his health? Do you have any idea whether he has contracted infections or any sort of disease we may don’t even know on Earth or not? You didn’t.”

“We’ve arrived five minutes before you did, Pepper! What was I supposed to do? Invent a transporter on the the way back?”

“It’s not like you’ve been insisting on it.”

“Now you’re just speaking for the sake of contradicting me. You were here. You’ve had a front row sit to my actions in the past hours: I’ve tried to convince you Loki wouldn’t have snapped our necks at the first given moment and the remaining time I’ve spent trying to prevent Loki from panicking.”

“It probably came out wrong. I’m not saying you aren’t making a good job with Loki, but that you need help because you’re too involved to think straight. You need someone external to help you take the right decisions for him until he’ll be able to take them by himself.”

“Someone external who still thinks of him as a mad murder.”

“I am external to the situation and you told me nonetheless.”

“It wasn’t part of the plan, Pepper. I had to tell you because you popped up in my living room as if you still lived here.”

Chapter Text

Strangely, it helped.

The awkward silence that had created between them helped them to cool down a little and to come back to the main focus of the conversation.

“Okay, fine, not now. At least not today, but soon you’ll have to face the reality, Tony: they’ll find out sooner or later that Loki’s here, it’s up to you to decide whether to have them walking in on Loki drinking tea in your kitchen or to talk to them first so they’ll be more well disposed toward him.”

Tony sighed, “Not even this week. It’s too soon, Pepper, Loki needs time before being forced to be around strangers. Let’s just allow him some peace, mmh?”

“You may be right about this. But you should tell Thor.”

“Thor? No.”

“You have his brother here, you can’t keep it a secret to him too.”

“No, Pepper, that’s out of question. What if Thor brings him back to Asgard? You’ve seen the recordings, do you really want us to be a part in that? Because we already are.”

“You know that Thor hasn’t been on Asgard since Loki’s trial, right?”

She had a point.

Thor had been residing on Midgard for four years, keeping away from the Avengers since no one had showed even a hint of concern for what was happening to Loki.

Now Tony knew why.

And that made him feel even worse.

They hadn’t simply shipped Loki off to his fate without considering what Asgardian laws could have provided in his case, they had also ignored Thor’s concern, brushing it off for childish brotherly attachment.

He was about to feel sick.

“Tony? Everything alright?” Pepper asked, placing a hand on his shoulder, “You look terribly pale.”

“No…” he murmured, “But I’ll give Thor a call. Just not today,” he raised tired eyes on her and Pepper simply nodded.

“Of course not today. But don’t wait too long, okay?”

“I’ll call him, I promise, can we stop talking about that? Right now I’d only like to order something to eat and go to bed,” the fact that that coincided with finally being able to have Loki nestled in his arms was negligible.

“You want me to stay? I had a dinner scheduled but I can cancel it if you need me here.”

“No, thank you. Don’t take it personally, but I guess Loki’ll prefer to have only me around.”

“That’s entirely understandable. You only have to call me if you need anything, okay?”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks, Pep.”

“Any time. Don’t drink too much this evening, Loki needs you sober,” she added before disappearing into the elevator, leaving Tony to realise with more than a little surprise that he had been so focused on how Loki might have taken his arrival on Earth that he hadn’t even thought about drinking.

 

~

 

It took Tony a good ten minutes to get himself back in check after his realisation that maybe only by listening to Thor’s worries he would have been able to spare Loki years of torture, but eventually he managed to drag himself upstairs with an expression that could be considered normal.

He had left the door to Loki’s new room open so he wouldn’t have needed to, but he knocked nonetheless not to scare him with a sudden appearance.

“Hey. May I?”

“Of course,” Loki smiled.

That little time alone seemed to have given him the space to refocus on where he actually was and even though he couldn’t say to be entirely conscious of the fact that he was actually free from his masters on Alfheim and that no one would have thrown him into a room for the pleasure of some sadistic bastard, he felt already more at ease.

He had even got rid of his armour, opting for something more comfortable, since now there was no need anymore to convey an idea of strength and faked power.

“Need help unpacking?”

“I’m almost done, actually,” Loki closed the wardrobe on his hanged tunics and turned to fully face Anthony. This time it was his turn to ask if everything was alright.

“Let’s just say yes.”

“I’m sorry to have caused problems.”

“What? No, there’s nothing to be sorry about,” Tony should have probably told him that the distraught expression the mage had caught on his face was only partly due to the small fight with Pepper and more to his realisation about Thor’s warnings, but he didn’t have it in him at the moment, “Come here?” he asked instead, opening his arms.

Loki didn’t need to be told twice. It was just when Tony hugged him close and rested his forehead against his shoulder that Loki started questioning what was going on.

“Anthony?”

“Mmh?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I know I don’t get to complain, but this’s a trying day for me too.”

Loki remained silent at that, understanding that words wouldn’t have helped in that case. The kind of comfort Anthony was seeking was of the physical type, and if could provide it by simply standing there with his arms around the man he was more than glad to do so.

“How do you feel about pizza?” Tony asked when he thought he had his emotions back in check.

“Never tried, actually.”

“What?” shock seemed to have erased any other emotion from Tony’s face as he stepped back to look better at Loki, “You’re what? A thousand years old? And you’ve never had pizza?”

“What you intend as ‘pizza’ has been invented in the 18th century, it’s not like I’ve had that much time.”

“Yeah, after all what are three centuries?”

Loki rolled his eyes, unable to suppress a smile.

“Well, now you live in New York so you absolutely have to try it. Friday, order some.”

“Usual place, Boss?”

“You know me so well.”

“Mr. Loki, do you have any allergies I should know about before I place the order?”

“Allergies?” he frowned.

“Things you can’t eat without risking to be sick.”

“Yes, I know what allergies are, it’s just that I’ve never thought about it,” he apologised.

“I don’t think you should worry about that, Fri.”

“If you say so, Boss.”

“I keep displeasing her.”

“That’s not something you have to worry about,” Tony reassured him, only to be silenced by his AI.

“Please Boss, don’t discourage the only person in this house who seems to have manners.”

“I fear you two’ll get along quite well.”

Loki smiled at him and followed the man out of the room; he might have managed to unwind a bit since he had had time to reason when Anthony had left him alone and to come to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything further from his cubicle on Alfheim than that room, but that didn’t mean he liked to stay there on his own.

He couldn’t still push completely away the vague perception at the edge of his mind that someone else would have jumped out from the shadows to tell him that that was just a trick he had fallen for and that he would have returned on Alfheim, having Anthony by his side would have probably prevented those thoughts to completely get hold of his mind.

“So… how much do you remember of this place?” Tony asked when they reached the living room.

“Just some fragments. Conversations I do remember, but what happened between them is mostly lost on me.”

“I guess I owe you something then.”

Loki glanced at him confusedly, but followed him to the bar.

“You had accepted that drink, hadn’t you?” Tony smirked pouring two glasses of scotch, “It’s past 5 p.m, we can’t be called alcoholics if we have a drink.”

“I’ve been called worse,” Loki reciprocated the smile and raised his glass mirroring Anthony’s toast.

For how good his aged scotch was, Tony was only paying half attention to its rich taste.

Loki hadn’t hesitated before drinking something that had been offered to him without anyone trying it first.

Chapter Text

“So, was I right? Had you missed out in these three centuries?”

Loki nodded, too busy munching on his slice of pizza.

When their dinner had been delivered Tony had refused to eat at a table – like civilised people were used to do, as Friday had reminded him – and had instead opted for a cosier setting on the sofa. Loki had been a little reluctant at first to eat on such a luxurious piece of furniture with the risk of staining it, but Tony had heard none of that and simply forced him to listen by telling him that dinner would have been served on the couch, it was either that or no food.

Loki had looked at the floor for just a few seconds before Tony had realised what was going through his mind and pulled him into a kiss, managing to make him sit on the sofa as the mage was distracted.

It hadn’t been fair, but he wouldn’t have allowed Loki to eat on the floor.

No more.

For how unfair that could be he would have had time to make Loki understand that now those awful four years of his life were over and that he could come back to his old self, ignoring the rules that had been thrust upon him.

Once again it wasn’t how Tony had pictured their imaginary first dinner in the Tower, but after the past two months he couldn’t have asked for anything better.

“I’ll have to come up with a list of Midgardian foods you absolutely have to try, then we’ll see how many things you’ve decided to ignore.”

“I’ve never been so fond of Midgardian habits.”

“Sorry, you’re stuck here for the near future.”

“You didn’t let me finish: I’ve never been so fond of Midgardian habits before.”

“This sounds better,” Tony smiled and reached out to pass an arm around Loki and pull him against his side; for their dinner he had opted for letting Loki have his space, but now he saw no point in pretending to keep a distance. Their legs had been brushing against each other’s for the entire duration of their informal dinner, it was rather obvious Loki wouldn’t have minded.

The concept was only emphasised when Loki almost purred as he ended up against Tony.

“Want to watch a movie or something?”

“Anything you wish.”

“I was asking you.”

Loki looked up at him, cleaning his hands in the napkin he had received when he had looked a little oddly at the first greasy slice of pizza. He may have been relaxing a little, helped by the mechanical and at the same time meaningful act of unpacking and later by the drink Tony had symbolically poured him, but actually taking decisions was still something out of his league.

He had learned again how to do so in Anthony’s presence in those two months, but it was a slow process that had been aided by the human at every step so that he wouldn’t have felt overwhelmed, and even though that seemed a thought that would have required someone to check his head to tell him whether he had gone insane or not, even being on Alfheim had helped on that front.

Loki had known that for how much freedom Anthony could have been granting there were still many things that where prohibited to him, that the range of options displaying in front of him was a limited one.

Now he wasn’t on Alfheim anymore, though.

He was on Midgard, with the man he had unconsciously come to love and who had freed him that very morning. Now he could do as he more pleased, there was no one telling him no.

That was too much too soon.

Coming to terms with the fact no one would have harmed him again was one thing, thinking about himself as a person with his own freewill when he had been forced to consider himself nothing more than an object for the pleasure of others was another.

“I’d like to watch a movie,” Tony added, the lost expression on Loki’s face revealing exactly how much he was struggling with that simple question, “I’m tired but it’s still way too early to go to bed.”

Loki only nodded, not really having the strength to thank him.

“Friday, Disney’s catalogue.”

“What’s the word, Boss?”

“Now.”

In response, the whole filmography of Quentin Tarantino appeared on the tv screen.

“Ah ah. Very funny.”

Tony had previously questioned whether he should have coded more empathy in the algorithm at the base of his AI, but apparently there was no need to do so. While filtering the recordings she had shown Pepper, she must have realised what had been going on on Alfheim and what Loki meant for him, and was now working side by side with her inventor to make their guest feel more at ease.

She usually wasn’t that witty, going directly against his requests, but she must have noticed how their interactions amused Loki and decided to act on that.

Even as they were squabbling she had thought about sending a bot in their direction with a soft blanket in its claws.

She really was a good girl.

“Fine, fine. Pleeease,” he stressed the word with the same tone of a five-year-old, pulling the blanket over Loki and himself at the same time.

“We can watch one of those,” Loki offered trying for once in his life to act as a peacemaker.

“She chose those ones ‘cause she knows I don’t like them in the least.”

Loki must have been really tired by the day because he didn’t detect the white lie. Those were all movies Tony had already seen and some of them even rewatched, but there was no way in hell he would have let Loki watch a movie with all that blood and gore in it.

Disney was the safest move, at least until Loki found out what he was doing. He probably wouldn’t have liked to know he had been allowed to watch only kids movies because Tony thought he wouldn’t have handled well anything more serious, but for now Tony could rely on the fact that he had been the one to actually explain to the god what a movie was, so he still had a certain leverage.

“Very well, Boss,” Friday sounded far too pleased for an AI, but Tony didn’t comment on that since the list of the movies he had required had appeared on the tv screen.

“Wanna see-?”

“Don’t say it.”

“Bambi?”

Loki heavily sighed and shifted in Tony’s arms, “Do you have a selection of ten movies on Midgard?”

“On Asgard you don’t even have them.”

“But we have more than a handful of plays.”

“Okay, fine, not Bambi. I think this joke has grown old by now. What about… The Emperor’s New Groove? I guess you’ll like it.”

“I’ve no way to know, you’re the expert here.”

“You’ll tell me later,” Tony pressed play and deposited a kiss on Loki’s inky hair. For how much Loki was trying to keep up a normal conversation it was more than obvious that he was struggling to do so, still not really sure of what he was allowed to say and what not.

The movie would have been the right distraction, relieving the pressure of talking; they were still together, but Loki didn’t have to fret over the right choice of words or the option of an uncomfortable silence.

It didn’t take long for them to end up sprawled on the couch under the thick blanket Friday had fetched, and by now Loki was yawning against Tony’s shirt as he ineffectively tried to keep his eyes open.

“Want to go to bed?”

“The movie isn’t finished,’ Loki stifled a yawn.

“We can either pause it or watch it in bed.”

This time Loki didn’t even bother talking, he only quirked an eyebrow.

“There’s a tv there too.”

Tony didn’t know whether Loki wasn’t giving an answer because he had nodded off or because actually choosing something was too much for the moment.

“Okay, we’ll finish watching the movie in bed because I’m not carrying you.”

“Mmh?”

“You’re barely conscious, if you have to fall asleep you’ll do it where I don’t have to either wake you up or strain a muscle to put you to bed.”

“I’m not a child,” Loki protested, but he didn’t really sound credible since he was snuggling closer to Tony all wrapped up in the blanket.

“No, but you can choose between coming to bed or having me calling you nothing but ‘Lokitty’ for the next three days.”

“What a horrible prospect.”

It took Loki a few more yawns before he was awake enough to follow Tony up the stairs, but in the end he managed to collapse on the bed.

“Don’t want to get changed?”

“Uh?”

“Pyjamas, sleeping clothes, something like that? Tomorrow we’re definitely going shopping.”

Loki would have really liked to understand what that strange man was saying, “Do I have to? Can’t I sleep in these?”

Tony was about to tell him he would have probably been more comfortable like that, but something seemed to snap in Loki and the fallen prince bolted upright.

“I apologise, I’ll go get changed.”

“Wait, Loki, what the fuck?” up to a few moments before Tony had had a boneless heavy mess of former trickster leaning against him, where was that fawn-caught-in-a-spotlight look coming from?

Chapter Text

“I apologise, I-“

“No, hey, no. I don’t know what I’ve said, but certainly it was something wrong since you reacted like this,” in that moment Loki looked so much like that version of him that Tony had firstly met on Alfheim to make his heart clench, “We’re in New York, Loki, not on Alfheim. You’re with me now, okay? No more of this. No more of thinking what other people might want from you. You can sleep in whichever clothes you like – maybe not your armour since I’d probably end up tangled in the straps keeping it closed, but I’m digressing – I didn’t mean to make it come out like that,” he sat next to Loki and placed his hands on his shoulders, “Okay?”

It took Loki a few instants of staring in Tony’s worried eyes, but in the end he nodded, “I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

“You’re just tired, Lokes, that’s it,” he kissed Loki’s cheek, “Today wasn’t exactly a quiet day.”

Loki didn’t answer, leaving Tony to wonder what to do.

“Let’s finish the movie, okay?”

Loki settled quietly for doing as Anthony had suggested, but all the sleepiness that had led them in that room in the first place had faded. The bolt of adrenalin that had shot through his veins as he had thought of still being on Alfheim and having just refused to do something one of his masters had required of him had woken him completely.

He didn’t manage to enjoy the end of the movie after that – it was indeed quite funny even though he suspected the main target it had been written for was comprised of children – but he didn’t voice that to Tony.

Maybe he just wanted to watch the movie and go to sleep, it was quite clear that the man was tired too, so it wouldn’t have been him to spoil that for him.

“Still awake? I’d have sworn you’d have fallen asleep the moment you touched a pillow,” Tony commented when the end credits started rolling on the screen.

“I’ve managed to ruin that.”

Tony stretched on the huge bed and propped himself up on an elbow, “You should give yourself a pause.”

“What?”

“You can’t honestly expect for everything to go back into place in a few hours, and you can’t blame yourself for still being affected by what has happened on Alfheim.”

“But I’m not there anymore. I’m here with you, I should know that everything is fine now.”

“That’s the most stupid thing I’ve heard you say.”

“Pardon?”

“Loki, you may not be human, but as far as I understand your brain is kind of similar to the one of a person. You’re not a computer, you can’t just cancel the file regarding Alfheim, that’s not how it works.”

“I know that.”

“You don’t seem to. Listen, it’s okay if you aren’t really at ease here. I mean, I’d love if you were, but I know this isn’t something that will happen instantly. After all you don’t know this place, the only memories you have of it date back to when your mind was under the control of some purple alien who had tortured you and we know what’s happened later. You have to create new memories, more positive ones, but that will take time.”

“I’ve never been this affected by something that has happened to me, and in a thousand years many things tend to happen.”

“This bad?”

“…No,” Loki admitted.

“So maybe that’s why you’re reacting differently, don’t you think?”

Loki pondered that option for a few minutes. Anthony was right, nothing of that magnitude had ever happened to him; he had already been imprisoned once or twice, but his confinement had always been limited to that, to be locked away for some time until he could find a way to have his magic break him free.

“It’s just that… I’m so tired of this,” he sighed, rubbing a hand on his face, “When I indulged on the thought of finally getting out of the Palace, I thought that would have been it. That everything would have gone back to normal, that I would have been free. That’s not what I mean,” he interrupted Anthony before the man could apologise once again for the fact that technically he wasn’t still free, “What I mean is that I thought my mind would have been free, that they wouldn’t have held power over me anymore, but that was just wishful thinking. They still have a grip on me, everything reminds me of that place. Do you know what my first thought upon seeing this bed has been? Than no one had ever had me on it. That was the first thing I thought. I thought I would have had my mind back, that everything they had taught me to fear would have disappeared, that the instinctive reactions I had come to have there would have been erased the moment I would have stepped out of that den of beasts. And I was wrong. My only hope, and I was wrong. It was a fool’s hope, now I know it, but it remains the fact that it had been he only thing I could grasp onto for such a long time that realising that I have been wrong the whole time… It’s too much. Knowing that they’re still in my mind, that they won’t allow me to live a normal life… that’s too much.”

Tony had remained silent for an uncharacteristically long amount of time, just letting Loki voice what had been troubling him the whole day: he hadn’t even reached out a hand to comfort him, to let him know he was there.

Loki didn’t need that at the moment.

He needed to vent, to let out all those thoughts that were crowding his mind. He needed someone who listened to him, he didn’t necessarily need answers.

Now though Tony rested a hand on Loki’s arm, squeezing lightly. The former god looked drained by his own words, by acknowledging what had actually been the problem of that day, and some comfort would have probably done him a world of good.

It was clear that Tony’s choice had been the right one when Loki turned toward him and sought out a tighter embrace.

There wasn’t much left to say in front of the horrible truth Loki had just told, so they remained silent until sleep mercifully claimed them.

 

~

 

The foreign texture of the sheets in which Loki was enveloped startled him when he woke up, and more so did the absence of Anthony by his side.

In the last two months he had grown used to waking up with an arm resting on his waist, every day beside the previous one, when he had thought Anthony had…

When he had thought Anthony had abandoned him on Alfheim only for telling him later he wasn’t a slave of the Palace anymore.

He wasn’t on Alfheim anymore.

He was on Midgard, in Anthony’s house, where no one meant him harm.

He was in Anthony’s house, in a house where he had a room on his own where he could go to and forbid anyone from entering it if only he wanted to.

A room of his own, only for him, and a place in Anthony’s bed if he wanted it.

He must have fallen asleep before the man, because he didn’t remember seeing any stacks of pillows the previous evening, while now he could feel the soft material behind his back.

He was on Midgard.

He was out of the Palace.

He wasn’t there anymore.

He was on Midgard, with Anthony.

Anthony who had tried to get him away from that hellish place since the moment he had learnt about his condition.

He had had no reason to, no sentimental attachment to him for desiring his sufferance to end. He had had no reason at all since the last thing they had been was enemies, and yet he had done what it took to rescue him from the hell his life had become.

Everything was already becoming too much.

The realisation of how much his condition had changed was enough to overwhelm him, making his head spin for a moment.

“Friday told me you’re awake,” Anthony’s voice came as a welcome surprise to distract him from the spiral of his thoughts.

“I… yes.”

“Thought you may’ve liked some breakfast,” he said lowering the tray he had in his hands at the foot of the bed and sitting next to Loki.

“Breakfast?”

“Yeah, I thought that at day two of our relationship I could still be a pleasant person. Or at least try to.”

“Day two of our relationship?”

Loki couldn’t do much more than repeating the last words he heard.

“Uh, yeah… I should’ve probably asked you first before starting to fantasise about things that maybe aren’t even there.”

That most likely weren’t there if Loki's surprised expression was something to go by.

“Relationship?’

“I, uh, assumed that we might have considered it something of that sort, yeah, but probably that’s just me and now this’s turning terribly embarrassing,” Tony ran a hand over his face, silently cursing his mindless choice of words.

Why couldn’t he just think before speaking?

Loki was quick to erase the downcast expression that had appeared on Tony’s face, though, “I was only questioning the ‘day two’ part,” he placed his hand on Tony’s one, leading the man to immediately drop beside him.

“So it’s not just me?”

“No,” Loki smiled at him, and was glad to snuggle against him.

Norns, he loved that man, he only had no way of telling him.

“I know you’re not used to deliver breakfasts in bed, Boss, but you risk to spill the tray,” Friday warned, interrupting the cosy moment.

“Friday, you’re honestly annoying.”

“I’m just trying to be helpful, Boss.”

“Then send one of the bots to put the tray somewhere else, there’s no way I’m moving,” he mumbled against Loki’s neck, making the mage chuckle and card his fingers through the man’s hair; he loved the way Anthony always managed to distract him from his dark thoughts.

The AI must have considered their verbal spar ended since she didn’t add anything more and soon enough they could hear the squeaking sound of wheels on the floor.

“I’ll have to fish some blankets from one of the cabinets. You’re a blanket hog through and through,” Tony commented absentmindedly.

“Pardon?”

“For now it’s not a problem since you barely move in your sleep, but if you decide to stop using me as your pillow I’ll end up freezing,” he pulled at the blanket Loki was still enveloped into, making the former god huff and pull him into the warm cocoon.

“This doesn’t really solve the issue of you moving away stealing all the blankets but-“

For how spooked by the new situation Loki might have been, he seemed to remember quite well the technique he had used on Alfheim to silence Anthony.

That tactic happened to work on Midgard too.

“Honestly, if you keep this up I’ll start associating my ramblings with you kissing me, and that’s not something you want.”

“You have a point,” Loki admitted, pulling back and relaxing against the pillows. He still found it difficult to address Anthony as he had done up to a couple of days before, but he had to recognise that the man wasn’t behaving differently at all; the way in which Anthony approached him hadn’t changed, he didn’t seem to expect something different now that they were in his house, and Loki found it incredibly comforting even if he still couldn’t be entirely comfortable about their new arrangement.

He had to know though what Anthony had meant before, and he saw no better moment than now, all curled up with Anthony after the man had just brought up the issue.

“What was the ‘day two’ thing, by the way?”

“Oh, uh, well…” Tony hadn’t really thought about explaining that in actual words, he had just assumed that since it made sense for him it would have for Loki too, but apparently he had once again made the mistake of considering his idea the only one possible.

“Why only day two?” Loki offered when he saw he wouldn’t have got a clear explanation soon.

“Well, I thought we needed to pinpoint a ‘day one’, and there’s no way in hell I’m gonna link a date that we can celebrate to that place,” at the mere mention of Alfheim Tony’s voice turned to a growl and his grip on Loki tightened, “I don’t know where you’d place a day one, but I won’t certainly consider the day when I first kissed you.”

That was a date Tony meant to celebrate in the future if he managed not to screw things up for long enough, and he would be damned before he decided to make their anniversary coincide with the one of the day Loki had knocked at his door covered in blood after being raped.

“I think that the day of you leaving that place works better,” he murmured, not really able to look Loki in the eyes.

“I share the same conviction,” Loki agreed pressing his lips against Tony’s forehead; it wasn’t something he was used to do, usually their roles were reversed on that front, and it was only in that moment that Loki realised what sort of an impact being on Alfheim had had on Anthony. At the moment Loki hadn’t really thought that someone else could actually be affected so badly by what was happening to him, but apparently Anthony had been.

The man had told him how things were different on Midgard, but Loki had been rather too focused on his own misery to actually pay attention to what being catapulted into a world that was nothing but barbaric in a person’s eyes could do to said person.
Now, in the safety of Anthony’s house – where people couldn’t come and go as they more pleased and hurt the people inside – he could stop and think back at Anthony’s behaviour; he had found the human’s reactions strange at the moment, but as the days passed he had blamed that on the fact that it was the first time in over four years someone showed him gentleness, he hadn’t considered the fact the man could have actually been shocked in front of such a situation.

The refusal of sleeping for days on end could have been a rather telltale sign, but at the moment Loki had been too distracted by having someone cuddling him when he needed it for the first time.

“Day two it is, then?” Tony asked.

“Day two it is.”

Chapter Text

“Breakfast now? Tea and coffee are getting cold.”

“Tea and coffee?”

“So you can choose,” Tony got up and retrieved the tray from where the bot had placed it, only to return to his spot a few seconds later to be used as a pillow by Loki.

“We’ll never eat all this stuff,” Loki commented eyeing the huge amount of food stacked on the metal tray that was now resting on his legs.

“Actually it’s for you.”

“For me?”

“Yeah, I don’t usually have breakfast when I’m at home.”

“Why?”

“Habits, I guess.”

“Bad habits,” Friday commented, and Tony was pleased to notice that this time Loki flinched only slightly at the sudden intrusion of the AI; he had thought about giving some temporary orders to Friday to avoid that – something like making his watch vibrate when she wanted to tell him something, so that he could warn Loki of the addition there would have been to their conversation – but apparently there was no need. Loki only needed time to get used to the AI’s presence.

Maybe the fact that Friday had a female voice helped on that front, JARVIS would have probably been different to handle for Loki, starting for the AI’s choice of addressing people with the title of ‘sir’.

“No one asked your opinion, Fri.”

“I think Mr. Loki has to be informed of your horrible habits, Boss.”

“Shut up, Friday.”

“You don’t usually have breakfast but prepared it for me?” Loki asked when he guessed the verbal spar between inventor and invention was over.

“Well, you like to have breakfast and I’ve told you I’d have made you try out Midgardian foods, so here we are,” he handed Loki a croissant, but Loki refused it, “Try it, it’s good.”

“You have breakfast too.”

“What?”

“Food is already here, and you shouldn’t skip meals.”

“It’s not a problem, really.”

“Trust someone who has skipped a few.”

Maybe it wasn’t the right choice of words since Anthony tensed next to him, but it worked since the man accepted the brioche that had been forced in his hand.

“Please, Boss, let’s keep him.”

“I intend to,” Tony smiled, appreciating how the AI seemed to detect the moments in which an external intervention was needed.

“Historically you aren’t really good at it, Boss.”

“You may have a point, but look, I’m trying,” he gestured at the tray in Loki’s lap from which the tea cup was now missing.

“Don’t screw it up, Boss.”

“Look at me: breakfast in bed, human pillow, I’m the standard image of a good boyfriend.”

Loki smiled behind the rim of the cup.

It was actually nice to witness to the interaction of those two; they teased each other like good friends, and now that Loki knew what Friday actually was it was easier to understand the odd relation between Anthony and the AI. It was also easier not to be spooked by the sudden intromissions in the conversations, so Loki had managed to stop almost jumping out of his own skin every time he heard the disembodied voice come through the speakers.

The previous day, when Anthony had gone downstair to see Pepper out, Friday had taken upon herself the task of explaining Loki how things worked in that house.

It had started with Loki timidly asking where he was allowed to store his clothes, and Friday had interpreted that as her cue to enter into a conversation; she had done a good job in explaining how she and her predecessors had been created and to which purposes, and that had managed to ease the tension in Loki’s back.

Anthony didn’t want servants, didn’t need them.

What he needed was a nanny.

A technological advanced one who could develop a personality of its own and access to the entire human knowledge database, but still a nanny.

“Loki, tell her something,” Tony whined.

“Friday, your inventor is a perfect gentleman.”

“If you say so,” the AI basically huffed, but decided to stand down and leave them a bit of privacy.

“One day I’ll have to come up with an invention that doesn’t insult me,” Tony commented over a bite of croissant, “She’s even more cheeky than her predecessor.”

“Why did you substitute it?”

“Kind of a long story. Let’s just say something went wrong, there was an attempt at world domination – again – and then JARVIS doesn’t exist anymore. Goes by the name of Vision, now.”

Loki didn’t really want to question what Anthony meant by that. That was an explanation that required too much attention for a sweet breakfast in bed, and Loki intended to enjoy the way Anthony tended to him head to foot.

“Slept well?” Tony inquired a little later, quite sure by the relaxed expression on Loki’s face that if he were to be left with no one paying attention to him the mage would have simply gone back to sleep; not that there was actually anything directly bad linked to that, but Tony had other plans.

“Eventually yes. Or at least I didn’t dream.”

Now that he slept cosily tucked in Anthony’s arms he didn’t have nightmares every night anymore, but there were still times when the man had to wrestle him from the horrors his mind conjured as he was asleep; they weren’t as bad as they were when he was forced to sleep alone in his pathetic excuse of a room, but they still weren’t pleasant.

“So what about getting up when you’re done with your breakfast?”

“Uh?”

“Well, you can’t stay in bed all day.”

“Why not?” Loki asked before he could stop himself.

“Because…” Tony really didn’t know how to put it without sounding hypocritical; after all it had been him refusing to let Loki get up or move a single finger for days on end, “Because we have other things to do.”

“What sort of things?”

Tony almost regretted having said something so vague when Loki went rigid, “Like showing you around a little more and doing some shopping since you have nothing that could be considered common Midgardian wear.”

Loki remained silent for a moment, his nose hidden in the soft blanket; he would have really liked to stay in bed, in that safe and warm place that was Anthony’s room, why did he have to face the world in the first place?

“C’mon, there’s a surprise for you downstairs,” Tony murmured in his ear, and in the end curiosity had the best of Loki, who shuffled out of the bed with an expression that made it clear that he still wasn’t entirely sold on the idea.

“Follow me, Sleeping Beauty,” Tony prompted him by pinching his side, and Loki almost squeaked at the touch, “My God, you’re ticklish.”

“I’m not.”

“Oh yes you are,” Tony laughed, pinching again the same spot and having Loki uselessly try to keep down his unwanted laugh, “You’re ticklish, don’t even try to deny that.”

“Stop it,” Loki laughed, and Tony would have immediately complied hadn’t he seen from the glimmer in Loki’s eyes that he was just trying to keep up a facade.

“Make me.”

Loki narrowed his eyes at the challenge, sprinting down the corridor with Tony in toe, but the moment the man managed to grab his wrist and effectively stop his escape that bubble of carefreeness exploded, set off by the scared eyes Loki raised on Tony.

It was a moment of downright panic that sent Loki’s knees colliding against the floor, his shoulders hunched and his breathing ragged.

“Loki,” Tony called, following the fallen prince on the floor, “Loki! Fuck, I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking, i should’ve never…” he shut up only when Loki pressed against his chest in search of comfort and his mouth could be better used by pressing it on the top of Loki’s head.

It took some moments after Loki’s breathing had slowed down for Tony to speak up again, “I’m sorry, never thought this stupid gig’d have had such an effect.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“‘F course it is.”

“No, you couldn’t know.”

“I should’ve known better.”

“You had no way to.”

“I-“

“Not your fault,” Loki repeated, placing a hand in the middle of Tony’’s chest, right on top of the scar left by the Arc Reactor.

“I’m truly sorry,” he repeated, accommodating Loki in the tight embrace since it was unlikely that they would have moved from the floor anytime soon.

“It was just a flashback,” Loki swallowed hard after a couple of minutes, “It wasn’t real.”

Tony remained silent, biting at his lips in order to avoid to curse out loud; Loki had to learn how to calm himself down, and actually voicing his own reassurance was a method as good as another.

“It’s not real. Not anymore.”

“No, not anymore,” Tony kissed him lightly on the forehead and thankfully watched Loki relax in his arms; he would have liked to come up with something more comforting, but he had nothing up his sleeve at the moment. He hadn’t been ready for Loki’s reaction, and now he just felt empty in front of the mage’s pain.

“What was that surprise you were talking about?” Loki asked in a weak voice, basically begging to be distracted.

“Oh, right, your surprise,” Tony sprung to his feet but waited for Loki to follow since he had no intention whatsoever of causing another flash, “Downstairs, follow me.”

Loki obliged easily, his eyes lingering briefly on the huge penthouse he hadn’t really examined the day before. He also noticed the way Anthony was trying to keep his composure light and open, almost skipping along the corridor, and Loki had to admit the man’s efforts were cute.

“Close your eyes.”

“What?”

“Close your eyes, your surprise is behind the door.”

Loki would have really liked to avoid doing so, but Anthony looked so happy for his surprise that he didn’t have it in him to spoil that mood; he had no idea of what was awaiting him behind that closed door, and while the rational part of him was telling him that there was nothing to worry about since Anthony was right by his side and that that was his house, the subconscious part of him was screaming to not do that at all costs, that closing his eyes and willing going into a room he knew nothing about could have entered in the top ten of the most stupid ideas he had had.

When Anthony’s warm hand landed on his shoulder that panicked voice in his head stopped screaming.

“Step forward, good, okay. Now turn around a little, like this, yes. Now open your eyes.”

Loki took a moment to draw comfort from the human’s presence behind him – now both Anthony’s hands were on his shoulders – and eventually opened his eyes.

Loki couldn’t help gasping in awe.

Chapter Text

He was in a library.

His surprise was a library.

Hundreds of books surrounding him, that was what Anthony wanted to show him.

When Loki turned around Tony could swear he had never seen a brighter smile.

And neither so beautiful.

“I don’t use it much since I prefer the digital version, but having a library in your house has a certain ring to it so…” he gestured toward the shelves.

“Can I come here when I want?”

“Lokes, you can go wherever you want whenever you want, I only told you to stay inside for your safety.”

He had barely the time to end the sentence because hearing that Loki had decided that he had to kiss him.

It was a happy kiss, with Loki’s arms wrapping around Tony’s shoulders to bring him closers, and when he pulled back he was laughing.

“Thank you.”

“Actually there’s nothing to-“

“No. Thank you,” Loki kissed him again, his nimble fingers drawing invisible patterns in Tony’s short hair,”Not only for the library.”

“Mmh?”

“You freed me, Anthony. You snatched me away from the place I thought I’d have died in,” he pressed another kiss on Tony’s lips, “You can’t brush it off.”

“That’s not really-“

“It is.”

“No, I was-“

Loki didn’t seem inclined to let him finish a sentence, “No. You could have left me there, but you didn’t. You stayed to make sure I could come with you, you kept seeing people you despise with the only aim of getting me away from their grasp, you decided to face them day by day even though you couldn’t stand their sight so that you’d have managed to include me in your contract. Allow me at least to thank you.”

“You’re the only reason I didn’t call off the deal at the beginning, Lokes. Had you not been involved in this gigantic pile of shit, the moment I’d found out those fucking people think slavery is right I’d have turned on my heels and never came back. You were there though,” he paused, “And I could’ve never abandoned you in that fucking place, even if you’d have really been the one behind New York. There was no way I’d have managed to convince them to let you come with me had I started our meetings with blatant insults, so I had to keep the show running to have some leverage,” he explained, “That was the only chance I had to get you out,” this time it was Tony to kiss him, reverently stroking his hands on Loki’s cheeks.

“And still you should allow me to at least thank you.”

Tony shook his hands, but once again Loki’s lips were pressing against his own.

He rather liked Loki’s ways to shut him up.

“Boss, Miss Potts is calling,” Friday interrupted them.

“What?” Tony had to ask since he had been lost in Loki’s amazed green eyes the moment the former god had pulled back.

“Miss Potts, Boss. She’s trying to contact you.”

“Uh, right,” he stepped back, his hands sliding to Loki’s shoulders before letting go, “Just one moment.”

“I’ll refer it to her, Boss.”

“Okay, so,” he cleared his voice, “Stay here as I take the call?”

“With pleasure,” Loki smiled at him, eyes already wandering to the shelves stacked with books.

“Good. I’ll be back soon.”

It was hardship to leave that carefree version of Loki behind, and even though Tony would have liked nothing more than to stay there to bask in Loki’s happiness he was forced to leave. He couldn’t hold the bite back from his voice when he picked up the phone, though.

“What?”

“Good morning to you too, Tony.”

“Sorry. It wasn’t the right moment.”

“Everything alright?”

“Yes, nothing to worry about. What’ve I forgotten?”

“Nothing, I only wanted to check on how things were going.”

“Surprisingly well.”

“Have you already called Thor?”

Fuck. He had forgotten. Not that it hadn’t been in Tony’s plan for the day, but that version of Loki he had had the fortune of having in his arms had completely erased any other thought from his mind.

“Not yet, but Loki just woke up.”

“Tony…”

“I know, just give the guy a moment of respite, okay? It’s the first day in four years he wakes up in a place where he’s not considered as an object, let him be happy for at least five minutes.”

“Tony, Thor’s been miserable for four years.”

“Yes, he’s been miserable for four years as he was safe and sound in the arms of his girlfriend. We can’t actually say the same for Loki.”

Pepper stayed silent for a few moments, something Tony wasn’t used to.

“Just call him, okay?”

“Sure, Pepper.”

“Promise.”

“I promise. Now can I go back to my day?”

“Remember to send me the contract you signed on Alfheim. There’s no rush, but it’d give the BOD some peace of mind before you’ll meet them in person.”

“Fine. They’ll have what they want. Can I go now?”

“Sure. Send my regards to Loki.”

“Sure thing. Bye,” Tony ended the call with a sigh.

So much for the carefree and happy Loki.

He had no idea how he would have reacted to the news he was about to call Thor to announce him his brother was on Earth, but he was sure enough that he wouldn’t have seen Loki’s eyes shine that bright again that day.

Maybe he just had to get over with it.

Just tell Loki as if he was stating something as unimportant as the weather outside, but then what would have Loki thought? Maybe nothing wrong, or maybe that he hadn’t any say in the decision that were taken in the Tower, just like it had been on Alfheim.

Loki was already struggling enough with coming to terms with the fact that he was now a free person once again, and Tony had witnessed the night before how he wasn’t at ease with taking even the smallest decision.

He had to handle it well.

When he had first met him, Loki had to be handled with care – like a bomb ready to explode in your face – and the same could be said in that moment, even if for entirely different reasons.

For once in his life he had to activate that brain-to-mouth filter and think his words through.

It was probably better to know whether Thor would have agreed to come to the Tower or not before worrying Loki for nothing, and at the same time Tony realised it wouldn’t have been a good move to simply tell Thor that right now his long lost brother was skimming though the books of his library.

That dangerously sounded like a plan.

It was with a sigh that Tony dialled Thor’s number.

“Hi, Thor. Yes, it’s me, Tony. What? No, nothing wrong, no one’s dying,” he paused for a moment, sensing that he had to choose his words carefully, “Yeah, I know I normally don’t get in touch that much, but would you mind coming here in a couple hours or so? No, no, again, nothing’s wrong per se, it’d just be nice if you could be here soon.”

Tony could hear the worry on the other end of the line, and he actually felt sorry for the blond bear.

“Good, thanks. See you later.”

Now all he had to do was brief Loki on the imminent encounter.

Chapter Text

Loki hadn’t taken it lightly.

The prospect of meeting Thor hadn’t pleased him in the slightest, but he had had to agree to it once Tony had told him it had been Pepper’s request in order to keep quiet.

Beside Pepper’s involvement, Loki had no intention of going against what Anthony was asking of him: after all that was his house and he was just asking Loki – who at best could consider himself as a guest - to have a friend visit him. Little did it matter that said guest was Loki’s adoptive brother who hadn’t lifted a single finger to help him.

That certainly didn’t mean he wasn’t scared about the prospect of meeting Thor now. How could he be sure the Crown Prince wouldn’t have decided to bring him back to Asgard so that he could be sold again to someone who would have actually treated him as a slave, and not like a kitten who needed coddling?

Tony had tried to put a patch on that by reminding him of the still standing contract that at least once turned out to be something that didn’t make Tony cringe. Not that he liked the fact that Loki had to rely on the fact of belonging to him to stop shaking, but for now he had to settle for that. He would have thought later about the implications of that messed up form of reassurance, right now he was basically grasping at straws so that would have had to make do.

Anyway his reassurances had fallen on deaf ears.

He had convinced Loki to get upstairs to his bedroom so that he could take a shower, and right now Tony was waiting on Loki’s unused bed since the fallen prince had requested his presence; apparently showering in that unfamiliar place while waiting for a person he had considered family for centuries and in the moment of direst need had abandoned him had been a tad too much for Loki to handle.

“Figured out how the shower works?” Tony asked when Loki emerged from the steamy bathroom all wrapped up in the soft bathrobe.

“I know what a shower is.”

“Says the guy who had no idea of what a pen is.”

Loki huffed and flopped beside Tony, rubbing his wet hair at the centre of Tony’s chest.

“Someone here has no idea of what a hairdryer is too,” Tony chuckled moving Loki away in order to avoid to have his shirt drenched.

“A what?”

“Exactly. A hairdryer is a smart device you – well – use to dry you hair so you don’t turn into the most wet and annoying cat that has ever existed.”

“How does it work?” Loki inquired following Tony back into the bathroom.

“It blows warm air that dries this,” Tony playfully tugged at a lock of Loki’s hair, “What did you use on Asgard?”

“My magic.”

An uneasy silence settled in the room, making Tony regret once again of having opened his mouth.

“Right, makes sense. Now use this,” he turned on the hairdryer and Loki actually started at that.

"It's just air, Lokes, relax," he squeezed Loki's arm and passed the hairdryer to him, "Aim it at your hair and... well, that's it."

Loki nodded, still a little confused by the loud noise erupting from the strange device in his hands and Tony interpreted that as his cue to go back into the main room. As he waited for Loki he decided to order a few clothes for him following the measures Friday had provided in order to pick the right size; he would have let Loki have his fun shopping for whatever he wanted later, but since his wardrobe only contained stuff coming from the worst place in the universe Tony had to solve that.

It took Loki a good half an hour to have his hair in a state that satisfied him enough to emerge from the bathroom, and by that point Tony had already placed five orders that would have been delivered the next morning.

"Wrapped your head around the functioning?"

"It wasn't difficult," Loki protested, curling once again at Tony's side.

The man didn't press that further, too distracted by how Loki's luxurious hair flowed between his fingers.

"When is he getting here?" Loki asked after a while, the courage to actually pose the question spurred by the calm Anthony's hand was emanating.

"We still have a good half an hour."

“Can we go back to your room?”

“Why?” Tony propped himself up on a elbow to better be able to look at Loki, “I thought you liked this room.”

“I do, it’s just... If these are the last moments I spend here, can I be in your room?”

“What? No, Lokes, hey, look at me,” Tony hooked a finger under his chin and felt his heart clench at the despair he saw in Loki’s emerald eyes, “You aren’t going anywhere, we’ve already talked about it. You are staying.”

“Thor will bring me back to Asgard.”

“No, he won’t,” he stopped Loki’s sad protest with his own lips, “I won’t allow him.”

“He will.”

“The first hint of something against you and I suit up and kick him out.”

“I’d be glad to help, Boss.”

“You see? Friday’s on our side.”

Loki inconsolably shook his head, hiding his face in the crook of Tony’s neck.

“Okay, Bambi, listen, if things really go south there’s still that fucking contact, alright? It’s the only bright side of this damned situation. If he really intends to go down that path we can show him that. He can't oppose to it, not if the reasoning is that you should be abiding your sentence."

"I really am not," he murmured against Tony's neck.

"Your sentence says nothing about how you should be treated. I read it," he added.

"He'll bring me back, I know it," Loki said in even more despair now, Tony's hands holding him close completely useless, "I'll be back to Asgard and they'll sell me again."

"Okay, there's something I should have probably told you earlier," Tony took a deep breath, "Thor has been here on Earth for the past four years. He has refused to go back to Asgard after your trial, and he has kind of burnt the bridges with us too because when he tried to talk about how you had had no part in the invasion nobody believed him. He told us months after your trial, but still we may have listened to him. He's answered my call only because Bruce and I have been the ones to actually listen to him and doubt the first impression we had had of you, so we have remained at least in civil terms. I'm so sorry, Lokes," his hold on Loki became even tighter, "We should have listened more, we should have done something the moment we only had the smallest speck of doubt. We should've never let you go in the beginning."

Loki was silent against the human's chest, with not any real indication of how he was supposed to react to that.

"I'm so sorry."

"You have no reason to," Loki croaked after a while.

"Fuck yes I do. Had I realised before that that wasn't you, that they're so fucking awful on Asgard... I have every reason to be sorry."

"Following this reasoning nothing would have happened had I not let go and fell into the Void. I had no way to know, and neither did you."

"I should have-"

"You didn't know me, Anthony. For all you knew that could have been my normal behaviour.”

“That’s not an excuse.”

“Stop blaming yourself.”

“I wonder how you’re not blaming me.”

“How could I possibly blame you?” Loki raised his head from Tony’s neck, “You helped me when at best you could consider me a stranger if not an enemy. You believed my word, something that the very person who raised me didn’t. I don’t blame you,” he caressed Tony’s cheek.

“I really don’t deserve you,” Tony sighed, pulling Loki in for a kiss that the fallen prince was more than happy to reciprocate.

For how on Alfheim they had learned to stay silent in each other’s company with ease, now their silence was turning uncomfortable.

“I’ve ordered you a few clothes that should arrive tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

“That’s really nothing, Lokes, you still have to do your shopping.”

Loki quirked an eyebrow in his direction.

“I only ordered something so you didn’t have to wear something coming from the worst place in the universe, you still have to pick something you like.”

Loki could have countered that he was glad to wear the clothes Anthony had gifted him with when they were still on Alfheim, but in all honesty he would have been even more glad to not have anything to do anymore with something coming from that hellish place; he liked the clothes Anthony had given him – they were the first clothes he had had in four years – and at the same time he would have liked nothing more than to get rid of them once and for all.

It was all easier when Friday simply supplied an hologram with a vast selection of clothes for Loki to pick; Tony noticed with a certain pride how the AI had added some clothes with a medieval appearance out of her own volition.

With the need of only a few reassurances Loki managed to pick out a few items of clothing of his liking – Tony couldn’t help but notice there was a pattern there: only long sleeves and showing the least skin possible – and to relax a little in Tony’s arm, but he couldn’t stifle a yelp when the Tower shook with the familiar energy of Mjolnir.

“I’ll go meet him as you get properly dressed, okay?”

They both got up even though Loki was extremely reluctant of letting Tony go.

“It’ll be fine, Lokes. Trust me,” Tony smiled his most reassuring smile and kissed him briefly on the lips before leaving the room.

He had no idea how to breach the news to Thor – he thought as he descended from the stairway closer to the landing pad – he could only hope Thor wouldn’t have reacted badly.

As he emerged from the corridor he immediately noticed Thor’s bright red cape and gestured for him to come inside as Friday opened the door for him.

“Hi, Thor.”

“Friend Stark,” the god greeted him, “I’m glad to see you. Is there any problem requiring my presence?”

“No, no. Nothing’s wrong.”

“You sounded distressed on the phone.”

“Yeah, highly likely, but nothing to worry about. Something to drink as you put Hammer down?”

“A beer, thank you.”

If Tony had subconsciously hoped to make the god relax with a little alcohol his hopes immediately died when he remembered how Thor could hold his liquor as the blond god drained the bottle in a single sip.

“May I know why I’m here, then? I don’t want to sound rude, but you rarely call in situations. That aren’t dire.”

“I… uh. Well, for starters you should probably know that I’ve came back from Alfheim yesterday. Business trip.”

“Had I known before of your journey I could have advised you on their traditions and their customs, my friend,” Thor said, not really understanding what the man was trying to get to.

“Yeah, I should’ve probably asked you before leaving. Anyway, I’be been hosted in the Palace of Alfheim since the negotiations took place there.”

Thor scrunched his face in contempt, “Despicable place. I would have liked to warn you about the habits of the inhabitants of Alfheim.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Tony scratched at the back of his neck, “As I was there I, uh, ran into a common acquaintance.”
“A common acquaintance?”

Thor couldn’t honestly think who Stark could be referring to. Who could the human. Have met on Alfheim that he previously knew?

As far as Thor knew Stark had been the first human to set foot on Alfheim in hundreds of years, so humans were to be excluded from the circle of Stark’s acquaintances.

That only left people coming from other Realms, and Stark didn’t know anyone beside Thor himself since when they had first met the human had told him he was the first alien he had ever met.

Actually, the second.

“You mean…?”

Tony nodded.

Chapter Text

“Loki?”

“Yeah, it was Loki I met as I was there.”

Thor’s eyes widened in shock, and Tony could see his fingers twitch in the process of summoning Mjolnir from the place where it had been set on the floor.

“I have to go.”

“No, Thor, wait.”

“I have to get back my brother.”

“No, Thor, let me finish.”

“You found my brother in the Palace of Alfheim, I have to go. Now,” he growled as the man tried to stop him.

“Thor, let me explain before storming off.”

“No one let me explain.”

“If you remember I did, and I also believed you and implemented your theory. Now calm down and let me speak.”

“Tell me where he is.”

“It’s kind of a long story. He’s not there anymore, though, so don’t storm off,” Tony could see Thor was losing his patience, but he had to add a few things to his story to be sure Thor would have behaved in Loki’s presence, and mostly that he wouldn’t have been a threat.

“I don’t care about your stories, tell me where he is.”

“Thor, calm down and I’ll tell you.”

“Stark,” Thor growled in warning.

“I’m getting there, Point Break, just a sec.”

“Where is he, Stark?” Thor yelled, grabbing the man’s throat and lifting him from the ground.

“I’m here.”

Thor immediately let go and turned around toward the familiar voice.

Loki had been watching the encounter from the relative safety of the corridor, waiting for the right moment to reveal his presence and not at all sure he shouldn’t have simply hid in Anthony’s room, but the moment Thor had wrapped his massive hand around Anthony’s fragile throat he had had no doubt.

Stepping out from the corridor had been natural to him.

“Bróðir?”Thor asked in disbelief.

“Kveðja, Thor.”

“Hvernig erð þú?” Thor asked, but he didn’t receive an answer, “Hvat varð fyrir þig?” the blond god took in Loki’s scared composure, how thin he was and how his hair reached the small of his back. His looks, added to the information Anthony had provided about where he had found him, made him pale to a shade that very much resembled Loki’s skin, “Nornir, Loki…” he stuttered, “Skyldi eigi láta verða.”

“Við hverju bjóstu?” Loki hissed, taking a step back as Thor tried to get closer.

“Nei Alfheim kastali. Nei þeim. Bróðir, vinsamlegast, sitja.”

“Bróðir? Eg er þræll til þín.”

“Nei, nei, Loki. þú ert bróðir minn, mér er alveg sama hvað Óðinn segir.”

Odin. Thor hadn’t called him father.

“þú lýgur.”

“Ekki til þín, Loki. Aldregi.”

“Then why didn’t you look for me?” Loki growled, switching back to english, allowing Tony to follow better the conversation; not that he had had many problems on that front since Friday had provided a live translation on the tv screen, but now he didn’t feel like he was meddling.

Even though Loki seemed reasonable enough to the point of abandoning his mother tongue for a language that he must have learnt with Thor, what he had read was enough to know that conversation wouldn’t have gone well.

Brother?

Hello, Thor.

How are you? What happened to you? Norns, Loki… They shouldn’t have allowed it to happen.

What did you expect?

Not Alfheim Palace. Not that. Brother, please, stay.

Brother? I’m a slave to you.

No, no, Loki. You’re my brother, I don’t care what Odin says.

You lie.

Not to you, Loki. Never.

The language switch was probably also meant to distance himself from Thor in any way possible, communicating how things were now broken beyond repair.

“Loki, vinsamlegast…”

“No,” Loki shook his head and strode past Thor, halting at Tony’s side.

“Bróðir…”

In response, Loki knelt on the floor and folded his hands in his lap, shocking Thor into silence.

“Okay, that’s enough. Lokes, get up,” Tony removed the hand he had kept on his throat after Thor’s not so gentle approach and put it on Loki’s shoulder, “I get this situation is difficult but this’s too much.”

Loki looked up at him, about to ignore what Antony had just said, but when he saw the distressed expression on the man’s face he decided against it and accepted his hand to get back on his feet.

“Bróðir, mér þykir þetta svo leitt. Ég veit að þú hefur alla rétt til að hata mig og ég get ekki einu sinni sagt þér hversu afsakið ég er, en vinsamlegast, láttu mig að minnsta kosti faðma þig.”

Brother, I’m so sorry. I know you have every right to hate me and I can’t even begin to tell you how sorry I am, but please, let me at least hug you.

“Speak a language everyone in this room can understand,” Loki may have chosen harsh words, but he didn’t pour any venom in them and allowed Thor to get closer.

He stifled when the blond god’s arms closed around him, but that had nothing nothing to do with anger.

It took him just a couple of seconds to melt in Thor’s embrace, allowing his brother to hold him in his arms.

It wasn’t something Loki was doing consciously, it was something more akin to muscular memory. Loki had been so used to Thor’s hugs, to the way Thor had of enveloping him in that bone-crushing grip, that his body responded to it out of its own volition. Had he been really conscious of what he was doing he probably wouldn’t have allowed Thor so much closeness, but his body had decided for him.

And he had missed it so much…

How many times on Alfheim had he wished to have Thor by his side, hugging him once again a taking him away from those horrors?

“I’m sorry, brother,” Thor repeated once again, but Tony couldn’t avoid to notice how Thor was purposefully avoiding touching Loki’s long hair.

When the god fell silent and Loki allowed his eyes to fall shut everything fell apart, though.

With his eyes open, filled with the sight of Anthony’s penthouse, he had managed to maintain a grasp on reality, but the moment his eyes had closed and black had replaced the modern and very recognisable furniture, everything changed.

Thinking about those moments in which – hurting and bleeding – he had wished for his brother’s intervention had certainly contributed to have his mind drift in the wrong place.

Loki stiffened in Thor’s strong grasp, squirmed to get away, and when he didn’t manage to do so his breathing became ragged.

“Thor, let him go. Thor.”

“What?” The god snapped not even looking in Tony’s direction.

“Let Loki go.”

“You have no authority to tell me what to do with my brother.”

“Maybe not, but just look at him then. You’re scaring him.”

“That’s not…” Thor was forced to stop what he was saying the moment he noticed Loki’s panicked state.

“Just let him go,” Tony suggested when he saw confusion on the blond’s face, “Trust me on this, let him go.”

Thor seemed to recognise the edge in Stark’s voice as something worth considering and reluctantly released his brother from his hold.

It took Loki about half a second to sprint away from what he knew he perceived as a renewed danger, but he found that he had no idea of what to do know. He couldn’t just run to Anthony, what remained of his pride prevented him from doing so, but he also couldn’t ignore what Thor’s desperate embrace had triggered.

Thankfully, it was Tony who broke the impasse.

“Lokes?” he called, crossing the distance between himself and the fallen prince, “Hey, everything’s fine, okay? It’s just your brother,” he explained, still walking slowly toward him until he could place a hand on Loki’s arm, “Just your brother, who’s indescribably happy to see you again and who has no idea of how to measure his strength.”

Loki nodded, silently thanking the man for how he had taken the control of the situation, and instinctively leaned into his touch.

“Stark? What are you doing?”

“Just making sure your brother doesn’t have a panic attack.”

“Why am I not allowed to touch him but you are?” he asked with a hint of danger in his voice.

Loki immediately sensed it – by now all too expert in detecting threats hidden in people’s voices – and raised distressed eyes on his brother, assuming again that fawn-caught-in-a-spotlight look that Tony hated so much.

“Because as of lately your brother’s life hasn’t exactly been a piece of cake,” Tony distractedly answered, entirely focused on sliding his hands up and down Loki’s arms to reassure him that everything was fine.

“But why you?” Thor growled and Loki took a step back, inducing Tony to turn around to see what was happening behind his back; Thor was striding toward him, a murderous look on his face and a promise of violence in his eyes had he received the wrong answer.

“Hey, Big Guy, calm down. If you avoid punching anyone I can tell you what’s going on here.”

“You have better.”

Chapter Text

“Anthony is doing nothing untoward,” Loki spoke softly, struggling a bit to pull out his voice.

The fact that Loki was referring to Stark calling him by his first name instead of choosing the appellative of ‘master’ seemed to calm Thor down a little.

“What’s going on then?”

“Why don’t we sit down as we discuss this?”

“I don’t need to sit down.”

“When I listened to Loki’s story I was shell-shocked, and at the time Loki was just a stranger to me. Sit down,” Tony advised as he followed his own recommendation and sat on the closest couch.

Thor obviously picked the other one.

The only one left standing was Loki, whose eyes darted between the two men in the room for a second before he decided to settle next to Tony. Something in him was screaming for the need of being held by the man who had become his security blanket in the last two months, but his pride in front of his brother prohibited him from doing so.

He would have really liked to have Anthony holding him lightly, mindful of the bruises that had appeared on his abused skin for Thor’s mindless grasp, but he couldn’t do that now. He had to settle for scooting as close to Anthony as possible without Thor suspecting anything.

The tension and uneasiness in the room could have been cut through with a knife.

“Okay, so, uh… well, I honestly don’t know what to say,” Tony blurted; he knew it would have probably been better for the two brothers to have that conversation alone, and at the same time he knew that abandoning Loki was the worst thing he could do at the moment. Loki was obviously intimidated by Thor’s presence, he had no idea of what to make of it, and how Thor had refused to let him go when asked to do so hadn’t certainly improved the situation.

“Brother, I wish to have words in private.”

Once again, Thor hadn’t understood what was going on with his brother, but Thor would have never forgotten the panicked expression that appeared on his Loki’s’s face at such a suggestion.

“Loki, it’s just me…”

Loki only shook his head no.

“Loki, please, I only wish to talk with you.”

“I don’t,” he finally managed to stutter.

“Why not? Brother, please, I’ve missed you every day for more that four years.”

“Then why didn’t you look for me?” Loki hissed, but the pain in his voice was clear.

“I would have, but-“

“But you don’t care enough.”

“No! Loki, I care about you, I love you. Just let me finish.”

“All these sentiments, and yet you left me in the Palace of Alfheim.”

“I could’t look for you! I had been told that had I actively searched for you you would have been killed on the spot! You’ve no idea of how many times I have wanted to believe it but an empty threat, and at the same time I couldn’t risk your life.”

“You could have as well taken the chance,” Loki muttered, and this time Tony couldn’t hold back the hand that squeezed his shoulder.

“Don’t say this.”

“Why not? I can’t even hold a conversation without losing my mind in fear of what could happen!”

“You’re just-“

“Tired? Confused? Stop telling me that! That’s not true and we both know it, Anthony. Don’t insult both yours and my intelligence by trying to convince us both otherwise,” Loki got up, unable to hold that conversation while sitting down.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply-“

“And don’t tip-toe around me! You’re watching your every word, telling your AI off, staying here to hold my hand as if I were a scared child, and at the same time you try to fool us both by saying that this’s just because we’ve arrived here only yesterday. That’s a lie and you know it. This is not something temporary, something I’ll manage to sleep off with a few days of rest with you coddling me. It doesn’t work like that and you know it!”

“You’re being too harsh on yourself, it takes time to-“

“To what? You know by experience? You can give a time frame for when everything will go back to normal? For when I’ll manage to forget I’ve spent the last four years on Alfheim being raped and doing unspeakable things in order to survive? You think I’ll manage to forget how I’ve learnt to scramble on my hands and knees at the fickler of a wrist anytime soon? Do you really believe that? You think I’ll manage to forget how it is to feel an object for the pleasure of others, how it is to be considered nothing more than a doll? Do you think that I’ll ever manage to erase from my mind what they had done to me in the Cell to get to the point of breaking me? Do you think I just need a little time to forget how they have stripped me of everything I had, of everything I knew about myself, how they have managed to reduce me to the shadow of the man I once was? Because I do not and you’re an idiot if you think so.”

“Finally,” Tony commented in front of Loki’s tirade, leaving the fallen prince entirely crestfallen.

“…What?”

“It was right about time you had your outburst, I was starting to get worried.”

Loki genuinely frowned at that.

“You’ve been so composed, just accepting what has been thrown at you and not even trying to rebel once, to fight. I had come to blame it on still being on Alfheim, that since the place reminded you of so many horrors you were simply trying to forget them altogether, but I had supposed that you would have spilled all your repressed anger the moment you’d have been away from there. The fact that you were still holding yourself in such a composed way was starting to worry me.”

“You… are not mad at me?”

“What for?”

“Yelling at you, insulting you.”

“You were only speaking the truth, Lokes, and you deserve to let it out on someone. As long as your only retaliation is yelling at me I can still consider myself positively surprised.”

“You… you don’t intend to punish me?”

“For fuck’s sake, Loki, it’s been two months. No. I’m not one of those fucking bastards. The most I’m inclined to do if you really cross the line – let’s say you throw me off the window again – is withdraw your tv privileges.”

Loki stared at him with his mouth slightly open, a small frown crossing his brow.

In the end, he settled for sitting next to Tony again.

“You always pick the movies nonetheless.”

Tony could only chuckle at that and pull him closer, “I’ve agreed to stop watching Bambi,” he sneaked an arm around Loki’s shoulders, regardless of Thor’s presence on the other couch.

Not that Thor may have gotten much of their latest exchange.

His eyes had become glassy the moment Loki had started recounting the gist of what his last four years had been, and from then on he hadn’t managed to hold back the tears.

They were now freely falling down his cheeks, unrestrained, as he considered what the person he had grown up with had been through.

“Loki…” he croaked, his voice quivering, “I… I can’t even start to tell you how… I have no words, really. And Stark,” he raised his red-rimmed eyes on Tony too, “I’ve no idea of how you managed to get my brother away from that nightmare, but I can only offer you my eternal gratitude and protection for doing so. I apologise for having been so arrogant and rude to you earlier, I hope you can forgive me.”

Both Loki and Tony were more than a little surprised at Thor’s sudden change of attitude, but the only one to effectively react to it was Tony since Loki was simply resting his cheek against Tony’s shoulder, completely drained by his own outburst.

“No problem, Point Break. You were expecting none of this, you’re entitled to have strange reactions. You probably only expected to face a massive explosion in my workshop I’d have needed your help to clean up, certainly not to find Loki here.”

“Certainly not,” Thor startled when a bot bumped against his leg offering him a box of tissues, “Oh, thank you.”

“Want one too?” Tony asked against Loki’s hair, but the mage shook his head no.

“I’m fine.”

Tony doubted that since Loki was shivering against his side, but he would have never voiced that. What he could more subtly do though was to grab the blanket that had been abandoned on the backrest of the couch and wrap it around Loki.

“I… may I ask you how you got here, brother?” Thor tentatively asked, this time trying not to react to how Loki seemed to be seeking Stark’s comfort.

“Anthony helped me.”

Thor waited for his brother to go on, but Loki didn’t seem inclined to keep on speaking. He looked exhausted from his outburst, as if removing that weight from his chest had physically tired him out completely.

“How?” Thor added, this time addressing Stark directly.

“I was there for closing a business contract. I required Loki as part of the dealing.”

“So now Loki is yours?” Thor really tried to avoid growling, but he couldn’t do so at the thought of his brother having just switched master.

“On paper,” Tony clarified before the blond god decided to take inspiration from his brother’s past actions and throw him off the window, “It was the only way and actually a good defence method for now.”

“Why a defence method?”

“Because I don’t trust you Asgardian folk one tiny bit,” this time it was Tony who had to make an effort in controlling his voice.

“I’ll make sure that-“

“You can stop there, Thor. I won’t trust what you’re going to say anyway.”

“Are you implying I can’t keep my brother safe?”

“I’m not implying it, it’s a fact.”

“And you think you’re better than me on that front?”

“Evidently yes.”

Chapter Text

“Stop it, both of you,” Loki required even though his voice was still small, and both men were startled into silence, “Stop squabbling and speaking over my head.”

Tony made to protest, but was forced to surrender in front of the evidence of Loki’s words, “Okay, fine, stop treating you like the damsel in distress since you’re not. Right?”

Loki nodded, settling better in Tony’s arms.

“Yeah, I think we can do it. Thor?”

“I… sure,” he agreed, even if reluctantly, “Brother, do you want to come with me?”

“What?” Loki found himself asking since ha had had no way to foreshadow that question that had come out of the blue.

“You can come with me, I’m sure Stark won’t oppose to that,” he added, and was rather disappointed when Loki turned to Stark to understand how to answer.

“Your choice, Lokes,” Tony tried to smile reassuringly, but it didn’t reach his eyes, “You can go with your brother if you want to, I won’t stop you. Just know that you can stay here for as long as you want.”

“I can stay?”

“Of course you can, I’m not kicking you out. You know that to me you’re free to do as you more please, I’ve already told you countless times. So if you want to leave I won’t certainly stop you.”

“But you told me that going outside could be dangerous.”

Tony could feel Thor’s glare even without looking up, “Because it is. I’ve no idea of what’d happen if the press were to find out you’re here, but if you want to go I can’t do much more than telling you that I consider that a bad idea. If you only want to go with Thor, be with your family, and try to keep a low profile I don’t see any problem in that.”

“But I can stay if I want?”

“Of course you can, Lo. You have your room here, you’re always welcome.”

“And the library.”

“And the library,” Tony smiled.

Neither of them added the warm place in Tony’s bed to that.

“You are really considering staying here, bro∂ir?” Thor, who had managed to be surprisingly silent up to that moment, decided to break the spell, “Are you really considering this a valid option?”

Loki frowned once again, making Tony notice how he hadn’t seen the fallen prince that confused in a while. No, actually it was just the previous day, but it looked like ages ago.

“You want to stay with him?”

“Why not?”

“Loki, this mortal owns you.”

“Only because he had no other way to get me away from Alfheim,” Loki’s answer started as an uncertain whisper, but quickly developed into a hiss, “At least he came up with a way to free me from there.”

“You’re not free, not really.”

“Thor,” Tony warned, but the god didn’t listen to him.

“What do you think I prefer? Being a plaything for anyone or being formally tied to someone? Answer me, please.”

“Loki…”

“No, answer,” he retracted into Tony’s chest, being quickly welcomed.

“Loki, you’re being difficult.”

Tony could physically feel the growl in Loki’s chest.

“Difficult. I’m being difficult. Forgive me if I can’t simply put past me the last four years for your sake, forgive me if I can’t put aside my childish grudges against the people who have used me as their pleasure slave for years, forgive me if I can’t make you shine bright as you’re used to do.”

“No, Loki, I-“

“Just shut up, Thor,” Tony couldn’t hold it back any longer. He couldn’t just stand idly by as Thor tried to downplay what Loki had been though; he had thought about many scenarios that could have made that meeting go wrong, but he hadn’t taken into the picture how Thor could be such a prick to his brother.

Thor may have put up the best show – or even real emotions – in front of Loki’s outburst, but he had been quick to forget it; it was as if Loki’s reactions were to be considered exaggerate in the first place, without investigating further into the real motivations behind them, as if he was just putting on a show every time something was wrong in his life.

“Stark?”

“Shut up. You’re being a dick and Loki doesn’t deserve it.”

“You can only thank the fact that I’m so grateful to you-“

“Or? You’d send your hammer through my head only because I’m daring to make you notice how much of a jerk you’re being? You’re just proving my point.”

“Anthony.”

“I know, Lokes, I’d promised we’d have been civil and I’m not, I’m sorry.”

“No, thank you,” Loki turned around and rested his hand at the centre of Tony’s chest. He had never had anyone by his side when Thor turned so blind in front of what he was trying to tell him, pouring out his emotions for once, and he couldn’t even begin to describe how it was finally having someone rooting primarily for him and only later for Thor.

“Loki?”

“I’m not coming with you,” Loki declared, using a tone he hadn’t come up with in years, “I’m staying here.”

“You’re willing to remain with a mortal who owns you?”

“I’m willing to stay with the person who blames himself for my fate more than you do and who doesn’t constantly remind me of what my sentence has been. A sentence to which you didn’t oppose.”

“Brother, that’s not true and you know it. You know I’m not good with words and I’ve no idea of how to even start to express how sorry I am, but just-“

“Just leave me alone,” Loki sighed, by now too tired to even pretend to sound more authoritative.

Talking with Thor was just proving useless since his former brother didn’t seem to even being listening.

Loki was too tired for that, too exhausted to try and reach out for Thor.

In that moment he even regretted having let Thor touch him. Not only because that touch had almost triggered a panic attack and had left bruises on his sensitive skin, but also because it had been useless.

That hug had meant nothing apparently, not when Thor was showing him how he wasn’t even inclined to listen.

Loki knew that even if he could have foreshadowed how that conversation would have turned out he wouldn’t have been able to deny a request someone made to him, but at least he wouldn’t have allowed his mind to drift back to Alfheim, to those moments during which he had only wished for Thor’s presence by his side.

Probably nothing would have changed even in the eventuality Thor had been there.

He wouldn’t have understood, he wouldn’t have got what that new reality really meant for him.

“What?”

“Leave me alone. Just… just leave me alone.”

It was clear Loki couldn’t take it anymore, and even Thor could see it. He had never seen his brother look so drained, so tired of just talking; Loki had shrunk back against Stark, leaning on him to find a little support and looking a little less on the verge of collapsing only when the human tightened his hold on him.

“You really want me to go away, brother?”

To that, Loki couldn’t answer; he had no idea whether Thor meant that as something permanent or as a pause to give him time to cope with what he had been forced to say.

For how much he wanted Thor to go away since he wasn’t even trying to understand, he didn’t want to push him away completely. After all Thor had been the person he had thought about in his moments of direst need, and even though Thor had done his very best in that last hour to prove his past convictions wrong, Thor was still his brother.

“You think you could come back in a couple hours?” Tony broke the impasse, “Just a break so we can all have time to calm down and refocus?”

“If that’s fine by Loki then yes.”

“Lokes? Yes? You also want some tea?”

Loki nodded once again, and probably it was that small act of kindness to convince Thor he had to take a step back.

Loki couldn’t trust him anymore, but he trusted Stark implicitly, as if he knew he would have been automatically safe with the human; Loki seemed to trust Stark’s presence, to actively seek his company in ways Thor had never experienced.

Thor had witnessed to many bad moments for Loki, but his brother had never relied on someone else during those times. He had always preferred to be alone, to not have anyone around as he licked his wounds, but right now Loki needed someone by his side, and that someone apparently was Stark.

Thor couldn’t almost recognise his brother in that exhausted figure on the couch, but he had also to admit that Loki had never been through such horrors and that he couldn’t expect to have back the same version of Loki he had always known; he had foolishly hoped Loki had survived those four years of separations unscathed, but that was just wishful thinking.

He had been a fool to think that, and he had also behaved like a fool in the last hour.

Loki was right, he had been selfish when listening to his story, he had tried to downplay what Loki had been through in order to avoid facing entirely what Loki had had to endure because he hadn’t been good enough to protect his little brother as he had always prided himself of doing.

He had to admit he wasn’t the person Loki needed around right now, and that the only thing he should have been thinking about was Loki’s wellbeing.

“Can I come back in a few hours, bróðir? Or tomorrow, if you prefer,” he added in an afterthought.

“Today is fine.”

“Good, so see you later, I think,” he refrained from clasping his brother’s shoulder in order to avoid the panicked reaction he had elicited before, “Stark, how do I open the door?”

“I’ll show you,” Tony got up, only hardly resisting the temptation of kissing Loki on the forehead before leaving him there on the couch, “This way, Point Break.”

“Should I really come back?” Thor whispered when he deemed they were out of Loki’s hearing-range.

Chapter Text

“Mmh?”

“Should I come back today? Maybe tomorrow is better. You were right, I’ve been an idiot and I should have never told those things to Loki, it’s just that…”

“That this isn’t the ideal situation, I know. None of us is really thinking straight right now, but I’m sure that once we have all calmed down we’ll manage to talk as civilised people,” Tony tried to reassure him.

“Are you sure Loki wants me here?”

“Yes. He may not want to admit it but he does.”

“I shall come back later then. And Stark?” he called as he stepped on the landing pad, “Thank you for taking care of my brother.”

Tony didn’t have time to come up with a decent answer that Thor was gone.

All was left for him to do was to get back inside and deal with the emotional wreck that was currently lying on his couch.

He didn’t have time to go on with his reasonings about what should have been better to do, because the moment he stepped back inside the emotional wreck had preceded him, and he found Loki waiting for him in front of the window.

“Everything alright?” Tony asked.

“Yes, I guess.”

“Okay, you don’t really look alright but I trust you. If you get back on the couch I’ll bring you your tea.”

Loki didn’t exactly look enthusiastic about it, but he reached the sofa nonetheless.

Not listening to Anthony’s requests was still something that passed as strange to him, as if was doing something wrong even though he knew that the man would have never been mad at him for not listening to what he was asking.

On the other end of the room, Tony was glad Friday had already heated the water so it only took him a few seconds to find a mug and pop a teabag inside, only to remember he had forgotten both milk and honey and do a double-take to grab them too.

“Here you go,” he smiled at Loki, but the fallen prince didn’t show any particular reaction to that; he did though when he was able to snuggle against Tony as the man sat down, “You sure everything’s alright?”

“Not that much,” Loki admitted, cradling the hot mug in his hands.

“Want to talk about it or you just want me to shut up?”

“I’ve no idea,” Loki reclined his head on Tony’s shoulder and closed his eyes, appreciating the calm atmosphere that Anthony’s mere presence could convey.

“In any case I’m here.”

“Yes. You’re here.”

Tony found staying silent in that moment one of the most difficult things he had ever done – and that list included his sojourn in Afghanistan – but he had promised to himself that he would have let Loki take the lead; had Loki wanted to speak up, to voice once again what was troubling him, he would have been ready to listen, but right now he could only give Loki the time to cope.

If Loki wanted to remain silent and have a bit of peace after the blustery conversation he had had with Thor, then he would have simply complied to that wish.

Loki was more than entitled to any demand he may have made.

Loki had said nothing about physical comfort, though, so he silently sneaked his arms around Loki’s waist and pulled him closer, making him rest his back against his chest. As he wondered whether that had been a good idea or not Loki turned his face in Tony’s direction, placing a kiss at the edge of his goatee and diffusing all doubts.

“I’m so tired…” Loki murmured, depositing the half empty mug on the floor.

“I know. And I’m not saying that I can understand at the same level,” he clarified before Loki could jump up again and ask him how he could presume to know his situation, “But I think I know what you’re going through right now.”

For how exhausted Loki may have been, he was still too curious not to turn around a bit to look at Tony.

“When I returned from Afghanistan I thought that everything would’ve been back to normal, that since I’d blown to pieces those bastards who had held me captive I’d have had my life back, but when I came home everything was too much. Meeting people was too much, walking freely in my own house was too much, even sleeping in my own bed was too much after being used to be held in a cave. Everything that had always come naturally to me was tiring, everything was different. For a few weeks the only thing I managed to do on my own was to hide under the sheets and drink myself stupid until I could forget what had happened. I understand,” he repeated, gently stroking Loki’s cheek, “I understand that you feel tired, that everything is confusing and honestly too much, but what I can also tell you is that you’re not alone in this. I was, and it was horrible, but I’m here, your brother is here and willing to help you even though he’s a douche with the self control of an overgrown teenager.”

“Thor won’t help me.”

“He wants to help you, Loki, he just doesn’t know how. He had no idea of what had happened to you up to a few hours ago. Mind, I’m not excusing his behaviour, I’m only saying that today was probably the worst, that with each passing moment your meetings will improve. That every time will be better than the previous one since Thor really wants to be here for you. Listen, I’m not trying to compare the two situations, but these years have been hard on Thor too. He knew you were most likely in danger and that he had no way to prevent any harm to come to you, and today he’s learnt that even his bleakest prospects were a happy stroll in a garden compared with what you’ve been through.”

“You don’t know him.”

“You’re right, I don’t, so maybe my judgment is not biased. He’s missed you terribly, Lokes, and yet he was ready to not return today if you didn’t want to see him. He desires nothing more than to be here with you, but he also respects your will of not having him around.”

Tony felt like he was lying. Not completely lying – he knew that what he was saying about Thor was true – but had the same time he had the horrible feeling he was downplaying what Loki had been through; trying to make Thor shine under a bright light for Loki’s eyes to see seemed wrong, and yet Tony knew that it was up to him to try and mend the shredded bond between the two siblings.

Loki could only benefit from having another person to rely on.

“I don’t want to go with him,” Loki muttered under his breath, his eyes lost in the steam rising from the mug on the floor.

“And I’m not saying that you should,” Tony hooked his index under Loki’s chin and made him look up, “Speaking to Thor, allowing him to tell you how sorry he is and how much he regrets his actions, that has nothing to do with going with him. You can stay here, Lokes, you know it. This is your house if you want, what I meant before when Thor asked you to follow him is that you’re free to do so. You’re free to do as you more please, Lo.”

A strange expression washed over Loki’s traits – something between relief and frustration at the same time – making it difficult for Tony to understand whether his words had done any good or not, but the way in which Loki curled up closer in his arms spoke volumes about his opinion on the matter.

“I’d stay here if you don’t mind.”

“Loki, stop. You know I want you here. And not in the sense of ‘you’re not allowed to go away’, but now I feel like I’m repeating myself,” he pressed a kiss between Loki’s eyes, watching with delight how his face scrunched up, “Will you just trust me when I tell you that if we’ll speak again about this in a couple weeks everything’ll seem much easier?”

“I can try,” Loki conceded, even though he still didn’t feel completely at ease.

“Is there anything I can do to convince you?”

“I don’t think so,” he sighed, “I hate it. I really hate it.”

“What, precisely?”

“How they still have a grasp on me. How I’m still there even though you went to such lengths to get me out, and it’s only a matter of time before you’ll grow tired of the mess I am.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, you’re allowed to doubt what you want, but not this.”

Loki didn’t have the strength anymore to raise his eyes from the dying spirals of steam rising from his mug.

“Loki.”

“You’ll grow tired of me, it’s inevitable,” he said with a resigned voice.

“Can’t I be the judge of that?”

“You’re only trying to be nice and reassuring, but we know that this won’t last,” he waved his hand in the direction of Tony’s chest, “Even Friday said so.”

Tony tried to avoid cursing at his own AI and how many troubles both her and her predecessor had caused; they had certainly saved his life more times than he could count, but they were also good at causing trouble, “What Friday was saying is that I suck at relationships, but that’s because the other person gets fed up with me, not the contrary.”

To that, Loki managed to look Tony in the eyes.

“So it’s highly more likely that I’ll piss you off and you’ll ask Thor to get you away from me, not the contrary.”

Thinking back at his past relationships, that was the only outcome Tony may have expected. All empirical data were against him, there was no reason to deny it. The longest relationship he had had was the one with Pepper, and that one hadn’t blown up in his face only because Pepper had been smart enough to withdraw before things got bad between them. Beside that, all his relationships stopped at a term of a few days, and those days had included more time having sex than not.

It was true that with Loki things were different – not even once he had ever considered that he may have spent two months sleeping with someone without having sex with them – but that didn’t mean he didn’t have doubts about how things may have developed between them.

No one had ever drew him so deep, not even Pepper, but if all those hours spent in his lab had taught Tony something was to rely on empirical data, and those data were against him on all fronts.

“I doubt it.”

“Stay with me for a few months and we’ll talk about that,” Tony snorted with a hint of resignation in his voice, but Loki was quick to silence him with a soft kiss that he decided to draw on a little longer that what they were used to, leading Tony to wrap his arms tighter around him and to follow Loki’s smooth movement in finding a more comfortable position against the pillows of the couch.

It was so easy to forget about all their problems when they fitted so perfectly against each other, all their worries erased by how well their hands rested on their bodies.

It was easy, and at the same time Tony couldn’t ignore how that prolonged contact was affecting him, and he had to pull back before involuntary reactions drew Loki away.

“What?”

“It’s better if we stop here.”

Loki may have felt rejected hadn’t he seen the look of pure adoration in Anthony’s eyes; it was something he wasn’t familiar with – no one had ever looked at him with such blatant devotion – and at the same time it was unmistakable. Even the gesture Anthony used to brush aside his hair was so terribly sweet that he felt like a weight had just been lifted from his chest.

Not that he was anywhere near comfortable, but at least he didn’t feel as if anxiety was about to strangle him at any moment, stealing his breath away and leaving him gaping.

The way in which he was so wrapped up in Tony’s arms, completely surrounded by the scent of him and by his warm presence, that certainly contributed to make him feel a little more calm.

“Better now?”

“A bit,” Loki admitted, even though he would have preferred to just stay silent and enjoy the moment. So much talking had already been done for that day, and it wasn’t even noon.

“What’s still wrong?”

Beside the obvious, but Tony would have never said that.

“I… I don’t know,” Loki huffed, sinking further into the pillows.

“Okay, we can just let it go if you want, there’s no need to keep talking about this.”

“No, today’s already ruined, let’s just discuss also this today so maybe tomorrow’ll be a little better.”

Tony remained silent, only nuzzling Loki’s neck to prompt him to go on. He must have found a particularly sensitive spot, though, because rather than disclosing what more had been troubling him he only tilted his head to the side, allowing Tony more room to have access to that particular patch of skin.

In those two months together Loki had never showed such a reaction, so Tony decided to go on down that path, his mouth substituting his nose on Loki’s neck, lips pressing a small pressure on the spot.

It was just below his ear, where Tony could feel Loki’s heartbeat through his pale skin, and when he sensed its rate increase he was about to draw back and call off the whole experiment, but then Loki’s mouth opened in a quiet moan that erased any doubt.

There was no way to misinterpret Loki’s reaction, it was blatantly clear that the fallen prince was more than enjoying Tony’s ministrations, to the point that his right hand slid into Tony’s hair to draw him closer, encouraging the man to increase the pressure of his mouth.

Tony would have never dared to attempt such an intimate contact without having any clear indication from Loki on that front, but Loki’s reactions were unmistakable.

Loki wanted that, he was feeling good, and as long as he was careful to read any sign of something going wrong they could go on; if Loki was at ease with him, with what he was doing, there was no was reason to stop. Loki wanted to get away from what his life had been in the last four years, and that seemed to include forgetting what having another person around had meant for him in that horrible time.

Loki had to get back to know what intimacy was.

It would have been a long process – Tony knew that – that maybe wouldn’t have yielded positive results, but they had to try; they would have moved slowly, at the pace Loki was more comfortable with, but the mage seemed eager to at least give it a shot.

At that point Tony was slowly stroking his tongue over the pulsing vein, when the same hand that had been resting in his hair up to that moment slid to his cheek, wordlessly asking him to pull back.

Tony immediately complied, not even thinking for one second of pushing a little bit to test his lover’s limits as he had done in the past, but when he raised his face from Loki’s neck he didn’t grasp immediately what was wrong; Loki’s cheeks were flushed, his eyes half-lidded, his mouth slightly open…

A beautiful sight, but that last particular gave Tony a hint of what had been going on.

Loki had heard himself starting to pant, the same sound he had heard so many times and that he couldn’t but link to something horrible.

Tony should have known better.

“Sorry,” he murmured, straightening up to give Loki some space, “I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, wait,” Loki’s hand darted to Tony’s shirt to stop him, “It was fine, I just… it’s fine.”

Chapter Text

“No, Lokes, don’t try to justify yourself, it’s my fault.”

“You’re not at fault,” Loki protested, a small frown crossing his brow, his confusion erasing what had been troubling him before.

“No? You panicked.”

“I did not panic,” Loki sat up, his tone close to angry, “It was a flash, it’s different.”

“Something I caused.”

“Stop blaming yourself,” Loki ordered, finding a resemblance of his old princely tone, “I was enjoying what you were doing, it was nice. You have no reason to feel sorry.”

Tony had to finally stop in front of Loki’s decision; it wasn’t usual to see him so sure of himself, and it was kind of unexpected; not that he was complaining about that, he had just been caught off guard. That tone of voice was something Tony would have associated with the version of Loki he had met four years before, not with the one he had come to know on Alfheim. It was so good to finally hear it again.

If only he could have avoided another near-death experience, he would have been really happy.

“It was nice, and nothing you did could be considered improper. I didn’t even have to ask you to stop, you did so on your own,” this time Loki’s hand managed to make grip on the fabric of Tony’s black shirt, “I’m fine.”

Tony grumbled a little, still not entirely convinced, but he had to admit that Loki looked indeed fine.

There were no traces of the panic Tony had come to know in those past few months, no signs of an imminent crisis, and who was he to determine what Loki was feeling?

If Loki said he was fine than he was fine, there was no better judge on that front.

“Okay, fine, I’ll stop mother-henning you.”

“I’ve no idea of what you’ve just said,” Loki smiled, drawing the human closer.

“I won’t say you’re right and I was wrong, so settle for that.”

Loki seemed to have taken those words at face value since the moment Tony stopped moving around he found himself with Loki back against him.

“Just out of curiosity, when you shapeshift do you turn into a cat? ‘Cause that’d explain a lot.”

“I can’t do it anymore,” Loki wistfully touched the shackle around his ankle, and Tony instantly regretted his stupid question.

“Sorry.”

“But when I could yes, it was one of my favourite forms. And a quite useful one. Cats don’t get noticed very often when they sneak around, and many things can be heard when people think no one’s paying attention,” despite the sadness the mention of his suppressed magic had stirred, Loki tentatively smiled; maybe he didn’t have access anymore to his magic, but now he had something he had never known before. He had someone who was actively interested in his magic, who was curious about it to the point of making questions, and for once his skills weren’t dismissed as something that wasn’t even worth mentioning.

Anthony was interested in that main aspect of his life even now that it was gone, now that it couldn’t be considered as a vile mean to an end, and Loki couldn’t but relish in that feeling.

“I’m sure you’d make a gorgeous cat,” Tony followed him along that path, attempting to lightening the mood by petting Loki’s hair.

“Cats do bite and scratch.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Possibly.”

Tony chuckled at that and kissed Loki lightly, incredibly grateful for how Loki now seemed able to switch from a painful issue to something more relaxed on his own; not that he thought Loki a child in need of someone looking after his every move, but he was also aware of how Loki needed help on many fronts.

Seeing those small steps toward normality couldn’t but make his heart melt.

“I like this cheeky version of you.”

“Do you?”

“It’s closer to the idea I had of you.”

Loki quirked a curious eyebrow in his direction.

“Yeah, you know, in the last four years there were moments when I wondered how things may have gone, how it’d have been to have you around when you’re not trying to take over the world. You know, I had a feeling you could be nice to have around if only you stopped trying to kill me.”

“It was a fair guess.”

Tony did try to avoid focusing too much on how Loki had used a past tense, but to no avail. It sounded like Loki had given up on coming back to who he was before his downfall, and even though the most rational part of Tony had known that that would have been the most plausible scenario it was still hard to listen to Loki actually voicing it.

Every small step toward normality made him hope that Loki was overcoming his problems, and every time something Loki said brought him back to the present situation, he couldn’t suppress the stinging sensation that reality brought with itself.

“That’s what I was talking about before,” Loki sighed, making Tony realise he had remained silent for too long.

“What?”

“I’m not what you’ve imagined, not anymore. A day will come when you’ll realise that I’m too damaged to be worth your time.”

Tony felt like banging his head against a wall, something he hadn’t desired to do since his first days on Alfheim.

“Loki…”

“No, it’s fine,” Loki gave him the saddest smile Tony had ever seen, “I know it and it’s inevitable. I bring nothing to this relationship, you’re the one doing everything and I’m just here enjoying what you do, I bring no contribution to us and when you’ll realise it too I won’t blame you.”

“No, wait. No contribution?”

“I’m doing nothing, Anthony. Nothing at all. You even had to make me tea twice in a row because I had no idea of what to do. You coddle me all day, sometimes you even put me to bed because I can’t make it on my own. You’ve done that there and you’re still doing it now, here, in your house where I should know that everything is fine. You can’t even sleep properly because you have to wake me up from my nightmares. You stay with me, you make me feel important, but I’ve no way to reciprocate it. You keep doing things for me, caring for me, and I just take. I take and that’s it, I’ve no idea of how to give back. I’ve never been good at relationships, but even I know that it’s a mix of the two things, and when that doesn’t happen people tend to fall apart. One day you’ll realise I’m nothing but a burden.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, you should really stop now,” Tony forced him to raise his head from where Loki had tucked it against Tony’s chest, “You’re not a burden. Not at all. And you’ve no idea of what your part in this relationship is. No, wait, that came out wrong,” Tony stopped and tried to gather his thoughts before he made a mess of that brittle situation, “What I mean is that you do have a part in this relationship, that you actually are contributing to it. You clearly have no idea of it, but do you know how important you make me feel?” Tony normally would have avoided spilling his feelings in so many words, but that seemed to be the only way for Loki to understand, “Every time you come to me, every time you let me do something for you, I feel as if I really am needed, and that’s not something to discard easily.”

He still remembered how he had felt with Pepper. He had felt… redundant. Pepper didn’t need him, not in the slightest, and he had come to the point of having the impression that it wouldn’t have really mattered whether he was there or not. Now he could admit that their characters simply weren’t made to be together, that Pepper had her own priorities as he had his, but at the moment he hadn’t managed to come up with such a lucid analysis.

“Listen, maybe I haven’t managed to let this pass, but you’re contributing, Lokes. And I know you don’t believe me know, I don’t blame you for it, but right now you’re the one needing a supporting hand. There’ll come a time, sooner than what it’d be advisable – when I’ll be the one needing you to support me, and even though you deny to be able to do so I know you’ll be there. You already have,” he added in an afterthought.

To that, Loki couldn’t stay silent, “When?”

“Back in Ihopeitllburntotheground-heim. Every time I came back from those fucking meetings you were there. You listened to me complaining about how the people who had made you suffer for years were getting on my nerves, and instead of telling me to shut the fuck up and consider what the real bad things are you just comforted me. You stopped everything you were doing and curled around me until I had relaxed,” he brushed his thumb across Loki’s lower lip, feeling how it was slightly curling up, “You see? Giving and taking, we’re doing both.”

When Tony finished his speech, Loki remained silent.

In his younger years Tony would have tried to fill that silence with more words, with one of his signature ramblings, but now he knew better; he had come to appreciate a good silence, how it could be an opportunity to think things through before coming to the wrong conclusions.

So he remained quiet as Loki pondered his words, his only contribution to the moment his fingers that travelled in Loki’s long tresses.

“Is that enough?” Loki asked after a while.

“What?”

“Being there.”

“You weren’t simply being there, but yes. You’ve no idea how important it is to come home to someone who actually cares.”

There was an edge in Tony’s tone that Loki really had no idea of how to interpret, so he did the only thing he could think about; he snuggled closer and nuzzled Tony’s neck.

“Exactly what I was talking about,” Tony commented as a smile formed on his lips.

“It’s that easy?”

“It can be.”

Tony didn’t add more to that, but soon he found Loki’s hand on his chin, pulling him down ever-so-gently in an unexpected kiss.

Not that Tony minded.

It was nice to see how Loki had come to naturally associate physical touch with comfort, and even though that small circle of trust for now included only Tony, the man couldn’t but be happy for that.

Small steps, that was all he was asking for.

“Is it a problem for you…?” Loki started asking, but in the middle of the sentence he seemed to regret speaking up to begin with and hid his face in Tony’s neck.

“What?”

“Nothing important.”

“Lokes.”

“It’s nothing, really.”

“Lo.”

Loki still didn’t feel comfortable in showing his reluctance, probably for the still lingering conditioning that his mind had had to undertake on Alfheim. It was something that was already improving – had started improving the moment he had realised Anthony could be trusted, actually – because now Loki was able to distinguish which thoughts were spurred by those implanted reactions and which came only from his own mind. Being able to understand that some of his worst thoughts were only something extraneous from his mind and that didn’t really belong there was of great help.

Beside that, he had been the one who had wanted to bring up that question, so he had no reason to interpret Anthony’s tone something even remotely dangerous or threatening.

“C’mon, you can tell me anything.”

The way in which Anthony’s hand cradled the base of his head, fingers describing slow circles at the roots of his hair, was what finally did the trick.

“I was wondering if maybe, if it’s not a problem to you, maybe you could stay this close even when Thor comes back?”

“You can use a little less hypotheticals, Lo. And of course I don’t mind. I’ll be as close as you want me, you know that.”

There was confusion on Anthony’s face, and Loki couldn’t say why. Was it so absurd to doubt that he would have wanted to be associated to Loki in such a way, to someone who had been at anyone’s disposal? Anthony had never seemed to mind, but it had just been the two of them, and the rare times someone else had been present it was Amras, another slave.

Now they were talking about Thor, at the moment more Anthony’s friend and team-mate than Loki’s brother, Loki would have understood reluctance.

“Maybe we shouldn’t show this to your brother, though,” Tony added brushing his thumb on Loki’s lips, and the fallen prince knew that the explanation that had already been going on in his mind would have soon spilled from Anthony’s mouth, “I’m not that keen of being smashed against a wall.”

“What?” Loki couldn’t help himself.

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but if I so much as place a finger on you your brother cringes. He has tried to hide it, but he’s not good at that.”

“Only because of that?”

“Are there other reasons?”

Loki should have been unable to feel surprised after the previous day, but he still couldn’t prevent his eyes from widening.

“Lokes? What’re you thinking about?”

There was no point in lying anymore, in keeping that fear to himself. Sooner or later that issue would have returned, it was better to get this over with in one single painful blow.

“It has nothing to do with me?”

“Excuse me?”

“Are you not… ashamed of being associated to me?”

“Ashamed of… what are you talking about?”

“After…” he still couldn’t say it, “Do you really want to… You want to let people know about me and you?”

“Lokes, please tell me you’ve suddenly forgotten how to switch from Old Norse to English and something got lost in translation.”

“No, it’d be normal if you-“

“No. No, I won’t even hear it. Listen, if I’ve said something to make you think that then I’m terribly sorry, it wasn’t my intention. I didn’t tell Thor because I’m a bit afraid of how he could react and I’d really like to avoid a direct confront with him, you saw how he reacted when I just put a hand on you shoulder. As for Pepper, well, that’s an entire different bag of cats. I didn’t think about mentioning it since yesterday it had already been quite an eventful day, but Pepper and I’ve been a couple for a while, broke up a few months before I came to Alfheim. That’s why I didn’t tell them how things really are between us, but if it helps you I’ll tell her everything next time she comes here,” there was an edge of worry in Tony’s voice that Loki couldn’t really place, but he was glad of the fact that the man was now hovering over him; he found it a bit strange to draw such comfort from being basically trapped between Anthony’s body and the backrest of the couch, but that also meant that nothing could get to him.

“But…”

“No, Lo. No. Don’t even think that. Don’t you dare.”

“I’m just saying that it’d be normal if you didn’t want to-“

This time Tony didn’t even try to keep on explaining why what Loki was saying was absolute bullshit, he just silenced him adopting the same technique Loki had been using on him for weeks now. He simply shut Loki’s mouth with his own, kissing him deeply and with a bit more intensity than what he would have normally allowed himself, but that was the only way he could think about to make the message sink.

When he pulled back Loki was panting slightly, but there was no way to mistake how Loki’s hands had slid in his hair to pull him impossibly closer.

“Don’t doubt anymore that I’m anything but proud of being with you.”

Chapter Text

“Proud?”

“You think that many men can say they have a god curling up in their arms at any given moment?”

”I’m not anymore, and unfortunately yes.”

“No, because as far as I know, you tend to turn into a cat only in my presence. Am I wrong?”

“No, you know that this’s entirely different and that you-“

“Exactly. This’s entirely different, you said it yourself. So now stop worrying your pretty head.”

Loki would have liked to counter that it wasn’t that easy to simply forget, to pretend nothing had happened, to believe that people would have simply ignored the last four years during which he had been turned into anyone’s whore, but it was difficult to do so under Anthony’s warm gaze.

Everything in the man’s brown eyes spoke of sincerity and devotion, there was nothing there reminding him of the last four years of his life.

Everything was so different from what he remembered that it was difficult to associate the two situations.

Loki would have never thought two months before that that contrast would have been so clear to him in such a short time, not even in his wildest dreams. He had thought he would have never left Alfheim alive or free. The only possibility of leaving that place that his broken mind had been able to come up with was that someone else would have bought him and that his life would have remained the same that it had been on Alfheim, only in a different place.

Then Anthony had come around, and everything had changed dramatically.

His days hadn’t been anymore a horrific sequence of pain and humiliation, his sleep hadn’t been taunted by nightmares every time he closed his eyes.

Anthony had arrived and safety had followed.

Loki had known safety for the first time in four years, had known respect.

Anthony had never treated him as a bed slave of the Palace.

Anthony had treated him as a free person with his own freewill who deserved respect and freedom, regardless of what had been said about him and done to him.

So Loki decided to let it go for the moment. There would have probably come a time when Anthony would have realised what he had been, how he had had to behave, there would have come a time when the man would have stopped putting him on a pedestal and realised that he had allowed something unworthy in his bed, but that wasn’t the time. Loki had been able to pretend all was well while he had had the certainty Anthony would have abandoned him on Alfheim, he could as well do the same now, in a place where he knew he was safe and with the feeling that even in the occasion of Anthony realising that their relationship was a waste of his time he would have still had a safe place to go to; maybe not the Tower, maybe not the room he had chosen the previous day, but he doubted that Anthony would have kicked him out with nowhere to go.

“Isn’t that terribly warm?” Tony asked, shaking Loki out of his infamous thoughts.

“Pardon?”

“You hair. I mean, you look wonderful, but isn’t it terribly impractical?” he pulled at one of the long locks, drawing Loki further away from the trap that was his own mind.

“Mmh?”

“Doesn’t it get tangled everywhere? I mean, if I were to have hair so long it’d have caught fire at least twice a day and sure thing I’d get trapped in a door.”

“I’m not Rapunzel.”

A wicked grin appeared on Tony’s face.

“No.”

The grin widened.

“Don’t you dare.”

“Rapunzel! How comes I’ve never thought about that?”

“No.”

“You’re of royal blood, you have luxurious hair and your eyes are green. You’re Rapunzel from now on.”

“I’m not blond.”

“I couldn’t care less. Rapunzel,” Tony drawled the name after a short pause during which he had wrapped one of Loki’s loose curls around his finger.

“Couldn’t you just use my name?”

“Nope, Bambi.”

Loki couldn’t resist it.

He bursted out laughing.

Little did it matter that up to a couple of minutes ago he had been telling Anthony that there was no future for them, that their relationship was just an illusion that would have disappeared the moment Tony would have realised what exactly he had been for the past four years.

Anthony managed to make him laugh even when his mind wandered to the darkest places, he managed to distract him from his misery just speaking the most ridiculous nonsense.

“You’re insufferable.”

“And yet here you are,” Tony pulled again one of the long locks and Loki squirmed to get free, but he couldn’t really do much with Tony’s hands buried in his hair.

A small part of his brain was surprised. He had expected to be spooked by the grasp on his hair, something that could have reminded him so much of Alfheim, but he wasn’t. Anthony was just playing, his hands weren’t pulling hard, they were laughing together and having fun despite the seriousness of their previous conversation.

Now his whole mind was surprised by the dichotomy of his own thoughts: one part of him was stubbornly repeating the litany of this-won’t-last-because-there’s-no-way-anyone-could-ever-want-me-anymore, while another one could only focus on the mantra I-love-him-and-there’s-a-possibility-it-isn’t-just-me.

Loki had no clear idea of how to get a grip on that mess that was his head at the moment, but he knew what he felt more comfortable with, so he simply nuzzled Anthony’s neck and tentatively nipped at the skin at the edge of his goatee.

Now it was Tony’s turn to be surprised, but he would have never voiced that; Loki was taking the lead, actually initiating the contact, and he would have never stopped him. He only readjusted his hands in Loki’s hair and let him do as he more pleased, turning slightly into his touch when Loki’s fingers beckoned him to bend a little to have access to his lips.

When he pulled back, there was a much more relaxed smile on Loki’s face.

“You do know you’re amazing, right?” was all Tony could ask before taking a couple of deep breaths, “Anyway, you still haven’t answered.”

“Answered what?”

“Your hair. Isn’t it impractical?”

Loki seemed to think about that for a couple of seconds, then he just shrugged, “Not really. It’s probably the only thing I liked in that place.”

Tony could’t help but notice how Loki wasn’t able to pronounce the name of the place of his detention. Actually, he couldn’t either, he just came up with elaborated bad words.

“And it’s useful to cover this,” Loki’s fingers slid on his neck to the point just below his ear with which Tony had grown incredibly familiar with less than a hour before.

“What?”

Loki pulled his hair back, revealing a quite noticeable hickey.

Tony paled.

“Loki, I… I’m so sorry.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean with why?”

Loki searched the man’s hazel eyes for an explanation, but he could only see guilt and regret in them.

“What’s wrong?”

“What… no, wait, it’s fine by you?”

“Fine…? Anthony, you lost me somewhere.”

“Okay, step back,” Tony straightened against the pillows of the couch, “Isn’t it a problem?”

“What is a problem?”

“Me…” Tony seemed to struggle to find the most appropriate words, “Me leaving marks on you.”

“Oh,” Loki shrugged, “It’s not like it’s the first time.”

“What?” this time Tony completely sat up.

“It’s not like it’s a big deal.”

“Not like… no, Loki, it is.”

“Anthony, I still don’t understand.”

“Lokes, you’re not fine with me touching you without at least a layer of clothes between us, you’re telling me this’s fine instead?” he waved his fingers in the direction of Loki’s neck.

Loki’s brow furrowed, “It’s not something you can really help, and you aren’t doing it on purpose either,” he used his elbows for some leverage and managed to place his head on Tony’s legs.

Chapter Text

“Explain.”

“My skin… has got quite sensitive to the touch,” he tried to maintain his voice light, as if he was speaking of someone else; Tony had no idea whether Loki was doing it for his sake or for his own.

“Leaving marks is not something so difficult right now,” he shifted closer, and Tony immediately stroked his thumb on Loki’s cheek, “Thor’s hug was enough,” he pulled up a sleeve to let Tony see the bruise that had started forming on his arm; Thor had never been aware of his own strength when he showed physical affection toward others, but in the past that had never been such a problem. Now, Loki’s skin couldn’t handle it so well anymore; years of bruises, cuts and burns had left it terribly delicate, and even a human touch could leave a mark behind. It didn’t hurt, but it was a constant reminder of how things had changed for him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“The pros outweighed the cons.”

It didn’t take a genius to understand what Loki meant by that: the possibility of being held close when his own mind became too much for him to bear, he would have accepted any kind of temporary marking on his skin to have that.

“Okay, but if I knew I could have-“

“Stop blaming yourself,” Loki raised his exposed arm and his hand came to rest on Tony’s cheek, “And we’ll have to work on that.”

“Work on what?” Tony asked kissing the palm of Loki’s hand.

“You touching me.”

“No, hey, wait. I only said that as an example, I didn’t mean to pressure you in any way, really.”

“And I know that,” Loki smiled, warmed by the preoccupation he could see so well on Tony’s face, “That’s why I say that’s something we should try.”

“Lokes…”

“I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t trust you.”

“We don’t have to, as always I didn’t think before speaking.”

“I want to go back, Anthony. I told you I can’t forget, but I want to try. At least to move on if I really can’t go back.”

There was a pause during which Tony seemed to be studying Loki’s face for any possible sign of a contradiction, “Anything, Bambi,” he kissed again the palm of Loki’s hand, then all his fingers, one by one, until Loki was melting in his touch, his forehead pressed against Tony’s stomach.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m starting to detect Mr Thor’s energy on the landing pad,” Friday’s voice pulled them from their blissful moment, and her words were enough to have Loki sit back up; he was still pressed against Tony, but in a less compromising way. What Anthony had told him could have been right, and he didn’t want the human to feel uncomfortable.

“Thanks, Fri.”

Before the AI could come up with an answer the Tower shook once again with the energy of Mjolnir, and Loki couldn’t suppress a light shiver running through him.

“It’s alright, Lo. Thor even offered to not come back if you didn’t want him to.”

“Stay here?”

“Of course I’m staying,” he pressed a kiss on Loki’s hair and pulled back just in time to see Thor materialising outside the huge windows, his light-blue eyes immediately searching for them and a tentative smile forming on his amicable face when he spotted them.

“Shall I open the door, Boss?”

“Sure, Fri, let him in.”

It didn’t take long for Thor to cross the short distance and join them in the spacious living room.

“Bróðir, friend Tony.”

To his credit, Thor tried his best to avoid staring at how Loki was curled up against Tony’s side, but he wasn’t as subtle as he thought he was. He didn’t comment, though, and that was warmly appreciated.

“Thor, sit down,” Tony invited him, being strangely listened to by the blond god who picked the same couch of a few hours before.

“Is… everything alright?”

“I’m not being forced into anything. Now,” Loki hissed, draping his long hair over his left shoulder to hide his neck.

“I didn’t mean to imply anything, I…” Thor hurried to explain, but Tony gestured at him to cut it short since Loki would have probably ignored everything he may have tried to say.

“He was just asking because when he left things weren’t exactly running smoothly, Lokes. No need to rile up.”

Loki just huffed his understanding, but it was already more than what Thor had been expecting.

Those two hours had managed to give him the time to think about what he had found out that day; he had tried to do it by himself, to walk alone with his thoughts, but in the end he had given up. He had flown back to New Mexico and asked Jane’s help to understand what he was feeling.

She had been shocked just as he had had when he had told her about Loki, about the content of his brother’s outburst, and even about Tony. Jane had shed a few tears too, but then she had tried to do what was best for him, just like Stark had done for Loki.

They had both stepped down and listened, just being there for support.

In the end Jane had managed to calm him down and to even have him listen to her advice, so now Thor felt much more ready to be there for Loki too.

“Yes, I only wanted to know that, bróðir.”

“I’m fine.”

“I… is there anything I can do for you, bróðir?”

“No.”

“Can I hug you?”

“No.”

“Bróðir…”

“No.”

“Okay, what about I try to come up with something for lunch?” Tony clapped his hands, desperately trying to get away from that situation; it was one thing to be there to support Loki, it was another to look at Thor being verbally slapped in the face.

Not that he didn’t deserve it, but Loki seemed quite at ease doing that on his own.

“It’d be nice. Bróðir, what do you think about that?”

“Stop this pathetic attempts.”

Thor deflated at his brother’s acid words, and Tony almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“Loki.”

“What?”

“Thor’s trying. Badly, but he’s trying.”

“Trying what, exactly?”

“To apologise and to make amends. Right?”

Thor nodded, incredibly relieved that someone else was trying to deal with his brother; not that he didn’t want to be the one talking with Loki, but if there was someone who could get on his brother’s nerves that was him.

“Poorly so.”

“You’re right, but-“

“Stop tip-toeing.”

Tony had to bite his tongue and take a deep breath to avoid telling Loki he was being kind of a jerk. With all the justifications possible, but still.

Where was that version of Loki who was basically purring against his stomach?

“Loki, friend Tony is just trying to help.”

Okay, Thor’s intervention in his favour was the last thing Tony would have expected. Those two hours of break had been a real blessing for the blond giant, apparently.

Maybe it was his tone, maybe the fact that he had referred to Tony as ‘friend’, but Loki seemed to be snapping back to reality.
“Oh. Sorry,” he turned around in Tony’s arms, a worried look in his emerald eyes, “I…”

“No need, Bambi, you just got a bit carried away.”

“But I…”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does. You don’t deserve-“

“Loki, relax,” Tony stopped him before the mage could start giving too much thought to his words, “No harm was done. Just try to remember we’re all trying, okay? No one here knows what’s right to do or what’s wrong, so just remember to be a little patient.”

“You’re still tip-toeing,” this time Loki words had lost their previous bite.

“Last time I didn’t I almost ended up on the pavement, sue me,” Tony shrugged, getting up now that things seemed under control again; he didn’t intend to go far – just the bar at the other end of the room – but that granted the two siblings at least a certain degree of privacy. Not to the point of actually being a alone, but they would have managed to keep their conversation to themselves if they kept their voices at a medium-low level.

Loki had followed the same reasoning, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t have preferred to still have Anthony closer.

Thor on the other hand seemed to have been waiting only that occasion, and before Tony had even made it all the way to the bar the god was already sitting next to his brother. Not too close, not touching him, but it was already a step forward.

“What?” Loki did try not to snap, but it wasn’t easy; that had always been the tone he used most of the time with his brother even before his mock trial to which Thor had dragged him, now things had just gotten worse.

“I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do, just…” Thor offered his hand, his palm up, and rested it on the pillow next to Loki; he didn’t try to reach out, to grasp Loki’s hand in his own. He only waited for his brother to make the next step, his eyes low on Loki’s pale fingers.

Chapter Text

“You did come back,” Loki commented, eyeing suspiciously the outstretched hand.

“Of course I did. I’d have never left, Loki, but friend Tony was right, we all needed a break.”

Loki hummed his agreement, but he remained silent otherwise. After a few moments of staring at Thor’s unmoving hand he sighed and lifted his right hand, positioning it on top of Thor’s. He found almost touching how Thor refrained from his usual bone-breaking grasp, opting for gently closing his fingers around his brother’s elegant hand.

“Are you alright?” Thor asked softly.

“Seriously?” Loki quirked an eyebrow, the fire alighting in his green eyes about to devour all the progress they had just made.

“I mean here, bróðir. Here with Stark.”

Thor almost couldn’t hide the grin for the familiar expression that appeared on Loki’s face; his brother had never admitted he was wrong once, he wouldn’t have certainly started now.

It was better to gloss over that.

“So?”

“I…” Loki’s eyes wandered on their own volition in Anthony’s direction, and words spilled from his mouth without him even realising it, “Never been better, actually.”

Thor had no idea of how to answer to that. He had never seen such a look in Loki’s eyes, not even when they were younger and crushes were a common thing for both of them; not even once Thor had witnessed to such a fond gaze in Loki’s green eyes.
“Is he treating you well? Because if he’s not-“

“Anthony is behaving perfectly with me, Thor.”

There was something left unsaid, but something in his guts told Thor that it was better not to prod.

“Can I ask you something?”

“If you really have to.”

“What’s going on between the two of you?”

Thor was no fool, he knew there were other things he should have asked his brother after those four years of imprisonment, but he had decided early in that conversation to listen to Jane’s advice: he would have waited for Loki to open up of his own accord about his time on Alfheim, he wouldn’t have been to one to pour salt on a still open wound.

“I…” Loki was still hesitating, looking anywhere but in Thor’s direction, “I’m safe here.”

“Yes, I think so, but how free are you here?”

“What?”

So that was what Thor was asking?

“I understand your gratitude toward him, and that comparing it with the last years everything seems freedom, but how free are you here?”

That was what Thor was thinking? That Anthony was keeping him there against his will?

“What are you asking, exactly?”

“Just that, bróðir, I only want to know-“

“If you have to ask something at least have the guts to do so directly.”

Thor took a deep breath. He had pushed too far to just pull back, and now withholding his question from Loki would have only made things worst between them.

“Is he… is he asking something back?”

“No,” Loki hissed, “Anthony has treated me with a respect I had never even seen on Asgard, when I hadn’t been disowned yet.”
Thor had no idea of what to say.

There was a fierceness in Loki’s eyes, as if he was protecting something he deeply cared about, that prevented him from adding something to his questioning.

“O-okay, that was all I wanted to know,” Thor put up his free hand, noticing with a little surprise that Loki was still holding the other one.

“You could have got an interest on how much I was being respected before.”

“No, Loki, I… I’m so terribly sorry,” Thor got up a bit so that he would have managed to wrap Loki in a hug, but he aborted that thought when he saw his brother retracting against the armrest of the couch, “Loki…”

“No. Don’t. Stay away from me,” Loki hastily said, tearing his hand away from Thor’s grip to put some distance between them.
Thor had moved so quickly, his arm ready to trap him, and Loki couldn’t take that.

No, Thor wouldn’t have hurt him, but he looked so much like those other Asgardians, whose blond hair and cruel blue eyes still haunted Loki’s dreams.

“Loki, please.”

“No.”

“Please, just listen.”

”No, leave me alone.”

“Bróðir, please.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Bróðir…”

“Stop it!”

“Okay, evidently we’ll have to rely on take out since I’m a lost cause,” Tony flopped on the couch, his arm instantly circling Loki’s shoulders and feeling the tension accumulated there dissipate immediately, and Thor’s eyes went wide.

Not even one of Loki’s more well accomplished spells had ever managed to leave Thor so astounded.

The moment Stark’s hand had landed on Loki’s shoulder Loki had seemed to immediately deflate.

His back, that had been rigid as if he was about to bounce just a few seconds before, had relaxed in an instant, and as soon as Stark had sat beside him Loki had curled up against his side, his knees drawn up to his chest.

“What did I miss?” Tony had to ask in front of Loki’s decision to turn into a cat once again.

“Nothing,” he uttered, shooting Thor a poisonous glare.

“Nothing,” Thor confirmed, straightening up against the other end of the couch.

Tony didn’t believe the two siblings in the slightest, but he would have had time later to question Loki about that.

“You haven’t tried to kill each other yet, can I interpret it as a good sign?”

“Barely.”

Tony had no idea whether Loki was doing it to piss Thor off or not, but he ended up with Loki almost on his lap.

“So, Fri, pull out some menus.”

“Right away, Boss.”

“Okay, now, what does Your Grace desire?

Thor was about to start a confused question since Tony had never used that appellative for him, only to realise that he was addressing Loki; not many in Asgard had used the right titles to address Loki when he was still a prince, technically now that wasn’t correct anymore, but he wouldn’t have certainly corrected Stark when Loki seemed so calm for once.

Loki could have felt mocked for that wrong title, instead he was just calmly resting his head on Stark’s shoulder.

“I’m not that hungry.”

“Loki.”

“Breakfast was more than enough.”

“Loki.”

Thor felt like there was something he was missing there, but it had to be important since suddenly Stark’s gaze had turned serious, so he opted to avoid intruding just for once.

“Really, I’m not that hungry.”

“Yeah, but since your knowledge of common Midgardian food is appalling we’ll try something new today,” Tony simply shut Loki up, waving his fingers at the holograms of the menus and pulling some closer, “Thai? I don’t really like it but we could give it a shot one day. Italian? Not really the best to be eaten on a couch? Chinese? I have a feeling you wouldn’t like it, so maybe another day. Sushi?”

“No.”

“What?”

“Not sushi,” Thor repeated.

“What’s sushi?” Loki asked, straightening up to get a better look on the menu.

“Nothing good, bróðir.”

“Raw fish.”

“Exactly. Nothing good.”

“Just that? Couldn’t you humans just call it fish?”

“It’s not just that, there’s rice and many other ingredients I won’t start listing ‘cause you probably don’t know what they are, but they’re good.”

“They’re tasteless,” Thor complained.

“I like fish. Especially raw,” Loki said.

“It’s settled then. Sushi it is.”

“Oh, come on,” Thor protested, “What about pizza? Pizza in New York is amazing, bróðir.”

“We’ve had pizza yesterday. I want to try something new.”

“But sushi’s horrible.”

“I want to try it.”

“It’s really horrible, bróðir, please.”

Tony was about to tell Thor to shut the fuck up and let Loki have his sushi, when he noticed the grin the blond god was trying to hide, and it all clicked. Thor wasn't trying to convince his long lost brother to renounce to something only because he didn't particularly like it, he was just adding to the possible satisfaction of the food and helping with the convincing Tony was trying to do.

Knowing that he was pissing Thor off in even a minor way would have given Loki a satisfaction the he would have never obtained just from their lunch, and since that had finally convinced Loki to eat it was definitely a good thing. So he just shared a knowing look with Thor and went on with placing an order.

“No, sushi.”

Tony couldn’t deny it, it was nice to hear Loki contradict someone.

Chapter Text

“As you wish, Bambi. Food’ll be delivered in half a hour.”

That left them with a horrible amount of time to kill, but Loki managed to fill it by asking information about any ingredient that was mentioned in the menu, even though Tony kept telling him that some of them weren’t included in what he had ordered. It wasn’t easy explaining to and Asgardian prince what an avocado was, but Tony and Friday were doing their best on that front, sometimes helped by Thor who came up with the Asgardian equivalent of the ingredient Loki had picked.

Luckily when Tony got stuck in arguing that yes, salmon eggs were something edible and that no, he wasn’t trying to poison Loki, Friday alerted him of the presence of their lunch in the elevator and Tony could send a bot to retrieve it.

“I won’t use the sticks,” Thor put his foot down.

“I didn’t ask that much, Point Break,” Tony conceded, jostling Loki a bit to pull the boxes out of the bags, “Lokes, it’s up to you.”

“What?”

“Use your hands like your brother or use chopsticks.”

“I’m not an animal.”

Thor snorted as Tony handed Loki one of the boxes and showed him how to use the sticks.

It could have been odd to eat in silence when they obviously had so many things to discuss, but Friday proved to be the knight in shining armour once again and saved the day by turning on the tv on a cooking show that immediately caught Loki’s attention.

Thor had a feeling it was for how skilfully the people on the screen were using knives.

They thankfully settled for that strained peace, or at least Thor and Tony did so, Loki seemed blissfully unaware of the tension that was gathering on that couch; both men knew that that was a strange occurrence, that normally Loki wouldn’t have failed to notice the mood in the room, but Tony had a fair guess that it was due only to the fact that Loki was drained by the emotional mess that had been that day.

He was relying on the distraction both the food and the tv were providing, alienating from the reality just for a little while and enjoying the unusual safety of that place.

Tony wouldn’t have certainly blamed him for that.

That was why he had nothing to argue when Loki slouched on the couch a bit more and slid down with his head in Tony’s lap, his long inky hair creating a makeshift pillow against Tony’s legs; it was only natural for him to pick a lock of Loki’s hair and start mindlessly braiding it once they were all done with their lunch.

It was impressive how much food someone who claimed to loathe sushi could gulp down, was Tony’s passing thought as he gave a side-glance in Thor’s direction; next to the blond god there was a small mountain of boxes, all thoroughly cleaned to the point that not even a rice grain had remained.

Tony had to admit it, he would have never imagined to find himself in such a situation, with Loki sprawled on his legs as he was braiding his hair and Thor sitting next to them, not even threatening to obliterate him, but just casually watching tv with Loki.

Thor must have sensed his gaze, so Tony was quick to focus on the screen before that unlikely peace shuttered and threw them into a most likely fight.

The sensation of being stared at became too much in a couple of minutes, though, and Tony couldn’t take it anymore.

"What?" he asked, the glass in his hand still midway to his mouth.

"I've never seen you drinking water before."

Tony frowned, and only in that moment he realised the truth in that: for how bad the situation had been, for how stressful hearing Loki spill his feeling had been, his entire focus had been on Loki, and Loki needed him sober.

A part of his mind must have registered Loki’s need to have the lucid version of him present, and it had prevented even the mere idea of relying on a glass of scotch from forming in his mind.

“Not that that’s the only thing I’d never seen before.”

“Mmh?” Tony had to ask, a bit lost in his own thoughts.

With his chin Thor pointed at Loki’s curled up position, and only then did Tony realise he had fallen asleep, “He doesn’t sleep with other people present, and certainly not on them.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he’s never done so before. Not even after the most exhausting battles. It has happened a few times with me, but not with anyone else.”

“Oh.”

“Has he done this before?”

Thor must have been turning a blind eye to his brother’s actions, because from the way Loki had easily snuggled against Tony’s side first and against his legs later, it was more than clear that it was something he was used to.

Not that Tony would have pointed that out.

“When I… stumbled upon him he was sent to my room, and yes, he fell asleep there, but I feel it was mostly because he hadn’t had a decent night sleep in four years.”

Thor couldn’t miss the affectionate – and probably involuntary – way in which Stark’s fingers ghosted over Loki’s hair.

“Could you tell me something more?” Thor murmured, his clear eyes shifting to Loki’s face.

“More?”

“About Loki. He won’t tell me anything more, and I… I can’t risk to say something wrong with him. Not anymore.”

“You should speak with him.”

“I manage to get on his nerves even on good days, now… now it’s better if I don’t even try.”

Tony was conflicted about what to do.

On the one hand Loki and Thor should have started communicating sooner or later, on the other hand there was no need to put Loki under unneeded pressure when that could have been easily avoided.

“Even if I tell you what you want to know, you still have to talk to him.”

“I know that,” the words all but rushed from Thor’s mouth, “But if I already know what to expect, what to avoid, maybe I won’t screw it up.”

Tony pondered that for a few seconds more, but then he had to give in; he would have done anything to have a gist about how to handle Loki in his most fragile moments, and that was all Thor was asking. He was asking for help, for guidance in the front of talking with his brother, and that wasn’t a selfish request. He wasn’t doing that to have an easier time, but to avoid causing Loki more pain.

That was something Tony could only encourage.

“Fine. Ask. I still retain the faculty of not answering if I’ll think you should ask directly to him.”

“Thank you, friend Tony.”

“Ask then.”

“What happened when you arrived?”

Tony was at a crossroad. He could have sugarcoated it, spared Thor some details, or he could have said the unaltered truth to the person who had conducted Loki to his mock trial.

“I found Loki bleeding in a corridor. I couldn’t make much of that back then, but now I know one of the guests of the Palace had just requested for him to be brought in his chambers. I wanted to know what he was doing there, and they sent him to my chambers. Loki was scared, he believed I would’ve treated him as he had been used to in that fucking place, and at the moment I didn’t understand what was going on. I basically forced him to tell me what had happened before New York – I had no idea of the fact he had been punished for lying and up to this day I still don’t know what they’ve done to him – and it all clicked. I believed him. Something none of you did.”

“I was the one to tell you about the Mad Titan,” Thor tried to protest, but Tony promptly silenced him.

“Later. You told us later. After the trial you dragged him to, after everything was already said and done. Had we known before we would’ve never let you bring him back to Asgard.”

“I had no way-“

“You had. You’ve grown up side by side for over a thousand years, and you didn’t realise you brother’s eyes had changed colour? They were bright blue when I first met him, and green when you dragged him to that fucking excuse of a trial later. How could you possibly miss that?”

“Loki’s a master of deceit, he-“

“Don’t even try to blame him. Don’t you dare,” Tony hissed, and Thor was forced into silence, “I know you aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but even you can see how pointless it’d have been to change the colour of his eyes. You can really affirm, swear, that you thought that Loki had decided to change style in the middle of a domination attempt just for the sake of it?”

Chapter Text

This time Thor didn’t even try to answer.

“No, you can’t. You didn’t pay attention. You didn’t notice that after being almost beaten to a pulp by the Hulk Loki’s eyes had turned to the colour they had always been. But that’s hardly the point,” Tony took a deep breath, trying to calm down.

He wasn’t there to blame Thor, to make him feel more guilty than Tony himself already did. He was there to smooth the tension between the two siblings, to ease their future conversation.

He had to forget for a moment how Thor was the only one he could have unleashed his anger against, something he hadn’t been able to do while on Alfheim in order to bring Loki with him; he had loather himself at the moment even though he knew that his restraint was for the greater good, and now he finally had a change to let all of that out.

But that wasn’t the point.

Loki came first.

Loki needed supporting people around him, and the only ones who appeared to be up to that challenge seemed to be his brother and Tony himself; Loki couldn’t certainly have them trying to leap at each other’s throat.

Tony took another deep breath.

“Loki told me a gist of what his life had been in the past four years and what would’ve happened had I refused to have him in my chambers. Someone else would’ve claimed what I was refusing. So I let him stay. He needed sleep and food, I don’t know which one the most, but I made sure he could have them both. From then on Loki’s remained in my chambers most of the time, where I knew he’d have been safe, except for those times when I wasn’t there for him,” Tony had to stare at the wall as he recounted of what had happened that night when he hadn’t been able to protect Loki. He couldn’t look at Loki while doing that, not when the images of his bloodied and dirty body continued to flash before his eyes; he also couldn’t prevent how his fingers curled protectively on Loki’s arm, and neither could Thor.

Hadn’t Thor been there Tony would have curled completely around Loki, burrowed his face in Loki’s dark hair and waited until things looked better, but he couldn’t do that at the moment.

Thor was there, and he looked on the verge of a breakdown too.

But for the tv still on, there was silence in the room.

Not that artificially peaceful silence from before, but a distraught one this time.

Tony felt he would have lost his mind if he was to talk about Loki’s recent life one more time, and Thor… Thor had just found out the details of what his little brother had been through only because he had failed to notice that the one who had tried to take over Midgard wasn’t his Loki.

Loki’s outburst from a few hours before had already managed to shock him, but listening to the details… that was torture.

And even thinking that made Thor feel even more guilty.

What Loki had been through was torture, what he was feeling was nothing compared to his brother’s last four years.

He couldn’t even begin to contemplate how Loki must have felt, and knowing his brother he could tell that far worse than the physical pain must have been the humiliation; Loki had always been proud, even when he wasn’t shown the respect he deserved by birthright, and he had been stripped of that too.

He had been forced to kneel and beg and accept everything in order to survive.

Loki had had to renounce not only to being treated as a person, but also to his pride, to what made Loki actually Loki.
Thor couldn’t help himself.

He clasped a hand around Loki’s ankle, the only part he could reach of him without actually stealing him away from Stark.

He would have liked to take his little brother in his arms and never let him go again, but even that small gesture of possible comfort turned out to be the wrong move.

The moment Loki felt Thor’s hand closing around his ankle he whimpered in his sleep, withdrawing against Stark who only welcomed him in a tight embrace.

“I… I’m sorry. I had no intention to…”

“Just don’t touch him. He doesn’t like it.”

“But you…”

“It’s different. He kind of trusts me.”

“I’m his brother.”

“He doesn’t know that at the moment, and right now I’m not so sure that’s something he really cares about.”

“But-“

“Thor. Listen to me. Loki needs time. That’s the only thing we can do for him now: give him time.”

“I only wish I could do something for him.”

“If you expect I’ll come up with a magical answer that’ll solve all our problems then you’re looking at the wrong person.”

“You known how to deal with him.”

“No, I don’t.”

“But-“

“No, Thor, I’m winging it. The only thing I’m trying to actually do is listen to him, and you aren’t.”

“That’s not true.”

“No? You’re treating him as if nothing’s happened to him, but you can’t. We can’t certainly consider him as a porcelain doll or he’ll go mad, but we can’t just pretend the last four years haven’t taken their toll.”

“I’m not doing that.”

“You’re pitying him, but you aren’t actively doing anything in order to help him,” Tony felt strange in the role of gods’ therapist, especially when one of them was still asleep in his lap, but if he really wanted to help Loki he had to do something to smooth his next conversations with his brother.

That was what good boyfriends did, right?

They tried to help, to do what was best for each other, even if that meant scolding a blond god who could have easily annihilated him.

“Up until a few hours ago I had no idea of what’d happened.”

“That’s not an excuse, Thor, not in Loki’s eyes. I can agree with you that it’s not easy to come to terms with what’s happened to Loki, but if it’s difficult for us try to imagine what it feels like to him. He’s moving backwards here. We arrived yesterday and I haven’t seen him this spooked since the first days he’s been with me. He has no idea of how to go back to the person he was, Thor, you can’t expect to treat him as if he already had.”

Thor fell silent.

He didn’t try to counter this time, to find an excuse. He only remained silent in front of Stark’s words, pondering the truth in them.

He was probably right.

He had been the one to find Loki after four years of horror and to have Loki trust him immediately. Loki may have been tired when they had first met, but he wouldn’t have certainly fallen asleep with Stark present hadn’t the man already found the right way to approach him.

And now, Thor couldn’t gloss over how Loki behaved in the human’s presence; it may have been the past four years showing, but Thor had never heard Loki apologising once in hundreds of years for just being slightly rude. He had never seen Loki relax in someone’s touch too, and after what he had been told he would have understood Loki’s aversion to anyone touching him, but he seemed to actively seek Stark’s touch, to feel better when the human was close.

“I… I don’t know if I’m able to.”

“Oh well, neither do I.”

“You seem to be doing a much better job than me.”

“Firstly, I’ve already had some time to figure out what’s to be considered wrong since it could draw a bad reaction from Loki, and secondly, there aren’t years of grudges against me to start with.”

Thor leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs, hanging his head and resting it on his hands, “I only wish I could do something to make things better for him. I’ve often failed to protect my brother, but not at this level. I’ve never screwed up so badly. Never,” he sighed once again, giving a distraught look in Loki’s direction, “It was me who dragged him back to Asgard, it was me to do nothing when his sentence was pronounced.”

“You left Asgard though.”

“As if that could even be enough.”

“No, but that’s something to start with, I’m sure. You can’t just expect Loki to-“

“Wait,” Thor interrupted him, “Maybe I know how to make it up to him, at least a bit.”

Now Tony was intrigued. And possibly worried.

“What?”

“His magic,” Thor said, his eyes suddenly brighter.

“Tell me more.”

“Loki’s magic.”

Tony barely refrained from rolling his eyes, “Tell me some more.”

“I can give Loki his magic back.”

“Really?” Tony almost bolted from his seat, holding still only because Loki grumbled in his sleep, “What do you mean with that?” he whispered this time, not wanting to wake Loki up.

“I’m still not so sure about that, but I could try.”

“Wait. You’re not sure about that?”

“Not completely.”

“Then lower your voice.”

Thor gave him a questioning look.

“If you’re not sure about that don’t build Loki’s hopes up. He misses his magic like an awful lot, I don’t think he’ll forgive you if you give him an uncertain hope and then fail.”

“Right,” Thor whispered back.

“So?”

“So what?”

“So what’s the plan?” Tony had almost forgot how infuriating it could be to deal with Thor. Not that he didn’t appreciate the fact the blond bear was trying to reach out for his brother and find a way to at least partially make it up to him, but even when Thor actually had a good plan it was painstaking to listen as he messily stated his strategy.

“I’d have to return to Asgard.”

“Can’t you just break that thing?” he asked pointing at Loki’s ankle; he had thought of suggesting that himself, but they still hadn’t had time for it.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Thor shook his head, “The shackle is suppressing Loki’s magic, and to do so the object itself must be embedded with magic.”

“So what do you need? A key?”

“Sort of, not exactly a normal key but something that works as one. Loki’s the expert in the field, the easiest way to do this would be asking him.”

“Then why do you have to return to Asgard?”

“Because that’s where the key is.”

“So you know what the key is.”

“No.”

“Thor, for fuck’s sake.”

“What?”

“I’m not understanding anything. Explain better. I know nothing about how this works,” he waved in the direction of the shackle, “I’ve never asked Loki because any time he talks about his magic he brightens up for two minutes and gets depressed for a couple of hours, so you’ll have to start from the beginning.”

Thor could understand Loki’s reluctance to speak of how his magic had been snatched away from him.

He still remembered how he had felt when he had been disowned of Mjolnir’s possession, and even he knew that that was only a small fraction of what Loki must be feeling without his magic; Mjolnir was an extension of Thor’s power, an object that for how amazing it was remained just that, a tool.

Loki’s magic was his nature, what defined him as a person, and not being able to access to that must have only contributed to him not feeling like a person anymore but like something less, something that wasn’t him anymore.

Maybe giving him his magic back would have helped shaking Loki out of that spooked state Thor couldn’t recognise.

That was why Thor tried his best to provide Stark with the best explanation he could come up with, trying to phrase his sentences as Loki would have done, “The shackle has been sealed by Odin, so the fastest and easiest way to remove it would be having Odin open it. Something I exclude to start with,” he added, noticing how Stark’s shoulders had tensed, “Beside being an unlikely occurrence to get him to agree, I don’t think it wise to let him know Loki’s here.”

“Right.”

“So we’ll have to rely on another method. Such powerful spells are usually linked to external sources of power, like particularly valuable gems.”

“Like the Mind Stone?”

“No. The gems I’m talking about are regular gems, but steeped in magic. They usually come from hardly reachable places, or have been crafted with specific spells to render them stronger. Anyway, I don’t think that’s what you want to know.”

“Not at the moment, no. I’ll ask Loki if we manage to get through with your plan.”

“I’m sure he can provide a better explanation,” Thor agreed, “The problem is that there are various gems or objects that could have been used to seal the shackle, and I’ve no idea of what could happen if I were to try and open it with the wrong one.”

“You mean Loki could get hurt.”

“Most likely.”

“Fuck.”

“Indeed.”

“You’ve no idea of what could be the right one? Didn’t you see it?”

“I wasn’t there when Odin sealed off Loki’s magic,” Thor’s voice turned sombre, and Tony didn’t feel it in him to prod.

“So we’ll have to ask Loki? Is it inevitable?”

“Not necessarily,” Thor seemed to brighten up again a bit, “He’d be my first choice since he was actually there and he’s an expert of sorcery, but he’s not the only mage I happen to know.”

“Who?” Tony asked, already dreading the possibility of calling Strange. He would have done that for Loki’s sake, of course, but he would have preferred to avoid dealing with that moron.

“Our mother,” Thor honestly smiled this time.

Chapter Text

“Your…. Would she help?”

“Of course! In fact, i should probably tell her that I’ve found Loki and that he’s safe and sound. Or at least safe,” he added after a pause.

“You said you don’t want Odin to find out Loki’s here, wouldn’t it be a little counterproductive to tell his wife?”

Thor frowned at that, obviously confused.

“Don’t you think she’d tell him?”

“What? No.”

Tony had never heard Thor deny something with such conviction.

“I think I’m still missing something here.”

“I’ll go ask Mother what’s the most plausible item that could’ve been used to help seal off Loki’s magic and then I’ll go fetch it.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you simply asked her to give you the right stone, gem, or whatever it is?”

“I don’t see why this would be easier.”

“”Cause she has access to Asgard’s treasures?” Tony wasn’t sure, but Frigga was the queen, it only made sense that she could take whatever she liked from Asgard’s vaults.

“She’s not in Asgard.”

Tony had to admit it, he had never seen Thor looking at him as if he was an idiot.

“She left after she heard what Loki’s sentence had been.”

Oh.

“So… where’s she now?”

“Vanheim. She’s staying with uncle Freyr.”

“Good?”

“Yes. She’ll feel better once she knows about Loki, though. Well, when she knows that he’s here now,” Thor corrected himself, already dreading the moment when he would have had to tell his mother what Loki’s last years had been like. He would have liked to avoid that, but Frigga would have asked, and the least he could do was to spare Loki to recount what had happened.

“Okay. Good. When do you want to go?” Tony asked, his fingers playing with the braid that had resisted in Loki’s hair.

“Soon. I’ll go there tomorrow. But…” Thor hesitated, not knowing how to phrase the sentence to avoid insulting Stark.

“What?”

“Once Loki has his magic back it’s probably better if he comes with me,” Thor couldn’t miss how Stark’s hand tightened on Loki’s shoulder.

“Why?” Tony asked, his voice cold.

“Loki could be… unpredictable.”

Tony made a gesture to encourage him to disclose a bit more information.

“And possibly dangerous.”

“You’re implying I won’t be able to handle him?”

“I don’t want you to get hurt, Tony,” Thor explained, his voice suddenly warm, “Amd neither does Loki, from what i can see. You’ve done so much for him and he trusts you, but I’ve no idea of how he could react once he’ll have his magic back. You said it yourself: he’s not expressing his anger, and I can tell you that Loki won’t opt for just some yelling. When he’ll be able to he’ll want his revenge, and I don’t know what he’ll be capable of doing to get it. And beside that, even if Loki were to restrain himself, he might not be able to. His magic has been sealed for a long time, we can’t be sure he’ll be able to control it.”

“You’re worried for me?”

“You don’t know Loki. You know this version of him, but this’s not who my brother really is. He can be dangerous. Really dangerous.”

“He doesn’t want to come with you.”

“I know he should be entitled to, but I don’t know if he should really have a choice about that. We aren’t talking only about you,” Thor added when Tony seemed about to punch him in the face, “How many people live here, in the nearby? Loki can be pretty destructive when he wants to.”

Tony had to admit it, Thor was being reasonable.

Had Loki really wanted to get revenge once his powers were restored he would have had no way to stop him – not that he wanted to, if Loki wanted to see Alfheim burn he was more than entitled to go and light the match – and if Loki were to react badly from the beginning… New York couldn’t stand destruction twice at the hands of the same person.

That didn’t mean he would have let Loki go.

Had Loki wanted to leave he wouldn’t have opposed to that – he would have been devastated by that, but he would have never denied Loki to go wherever he wanted to – but he couldn’t let Thor just drag Loki away without his consent.

Loki would have never forgiven neither of them.

“I think I have the solution.”

“Really?”

It was nice to hear the hopefulness in Thor’s voice, and it strengthened Tony’s conviction that he could have Thor to agree to his plan; it was obvious that Thor had no intention to do anything that could have resulted in Loki being even more upset, and that he was more than open to any solution that may have avoided that.

“Your apartment here, in the Tower. You’ve never used it, but you have a floor for yourself here as well as the others.”

At the moment none of the Avengers was present, they were all away either in diplomatic missions or deployed to take down the most recent possible threat, but they all resided in the Tower. The only one who had refused the offer had been Thor after their falling off, but Tony had never thought about destining that floor to something else.

“You could stay here, and if Loki turns destructive you can always jump in and save the situation.”

Thor pondered the option for a moment, “It can work. Loki won’t have to go far, he’ll probably agree too.”

“No, wait. Loki stays here.”

“What?”

“You move downstairs, Loki remains here.”

“But…”

“The only one at risk in the time of reaching this floor from your apartment will be me, you’ll have all the time to contain any collateral damage.”

Thor would have liked to find material to protest and have his brother living with him, but Stark’s reasoning didn’t leave much room for arguing. After all if Stark wanted to risk his own life Thor couldn’t really do much to stop him.

“We’ll ask him.”

“Of course,” Tony nodded, but he was fairly sure of what Loki’s decision would have been.

“I’ll have to tell Jane.”

“Bring her here if she wants to. I’m sure it’d be nice to work with her,” it was strange, but that was the first moment Tony felt how he had missed his lab.

“It… it’d be nice,” Thor agreed. Not only he wouldn’t have had to part from Jane, and his girlfriend would have finally managed to meet Stark in person, but she would have also been there to help him with Loki as she had done just a few hours before.

“It’s settled then.”

They remained silent for a while, the tv still on, then Tony realised he couldn’t ignore what Pepper had used to accuse him the previous day; not that he was blaming her for pointing that out since that was something also he had been thinking about, but her timing couldn’t have been less ideal.

"There's something I need to ask you."

"Tell me, friend Tony."

"Do you Aesirs catch diseases? I know Loki's not properly Aesir, but it's kind of important to know."

"Neither Aesirs nor Jotuns are affected by Midgardian diseases, Loki'll be fine here," Thor gave him a puzzled look. It was nice from Stark to think about that too, but there was really no reason to.

"That's not what I was talking about. I was the first Midgardian to set foot on Alfheim, or at least to meet Loki according to him. What I want to know is if there's the possibility Loki's caught some sort of alien disease."

Thor seemed to need a few moments to process that, and his face scrunched in a pained expression.

"That's something I can verify even with my magic."

"You have magic?" hadn’t Tony been distracted by what he had just asked he would have questioned Thor about that for the next hours, but that wasn’t his main focus at the moment.

"Not at Loki's level, but all Aesirs have seiđr," Thor explained, raising a hand and showing a little flame forming on his palm, “I can’t do much more than this. With the same spell Loki could almost raze the Tower.”

Tony blinked a coupe of time, not really able to tell wether for the flame on Thor’s hand or for the lethal weapon sleeping in his lap.

“There’s a problem, though. I have to touch Loki to check on is health.”

“You were holding his hand before, weren’t you?”

“Yes?”

“Then I’d say Loki’s not completely averse to you touching him, just do it lightly and don’t move suddenly.”

“You could be describing how to approach a wild animal.”

“Well, yeah, if it’s more familiar to you use the same method that you’d use for a cornered animal.”

Those words could have been offensive, Thor thought, but it was clear from Stark’s demeanour that he was using them only to smooth things between them, to help him in reaching out for his brother.

“I need to have access to his left wrist.”

“Give me a moment,” Tony took hold of the arm in question and gently turned Loki around a bit, stretching Loki’s arm in Thor’s direction; they waited for a bit to be sure Loki was still sleeping, then Thor placed his fingers on the inside of Loki’s wrist, in a movement akin to the one used to check someone’s heartbeat.

“So?” Tony asked when the silence prolonged to a point he was about to start fidgeting.

“He’s fine,” Thor assured him, and Tony couldn’t hold back a sigh of relief.

He had no idea of how Loki would have taken the fact of having caught some permanent disease in that fucking place, but he was sure that wouldn’t have helped at all.

“He’s just terribly thin.”

Loki had always been thin and lithe, but not even in his youth he had looked so frail.

“He was even worse two months ago,” Tony admitted, “He’s been eating, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good,” Loki’s condition had certainly improved from the first time they he had set foot in Tony’s chambers, but his body was nowhere near what he looked like during the invasion.

“It might have something to do with that,” Thor gestured at the shackle trapping Loki’s ankle, “His magic would restore his optimal physical condition in just a few hours, but right now he’s no access to it.”

Tony pressed his palm against his eyes, massaging his temples with the tips of his fingers, “I wonder how he’s survived so long.”

“Jotuns are a sturdy race, more than Aesirs.”

“Really?”

“They live in a more hostile environment, they’d have gone extinct ages ago hadn’t they been built to withstand more adverse conditions.”

“I thought you didn’t know much about jotuns.”

“I didn’t. Odin never encouraged knowledge regarding species that he considered lesser. I’ve always shared that belief, but now that I’ve had the chance to know some more I can say we’re just… different,” he glanced in Loki’s direction, probably thinking about how that simple knowledge would have prevented all of that from happening.

Hadn’t Loki considered Jotuns monsters he wouldn’t have been so upset at the discovery of his true nature, he wouldn’t have fallen into the Void, he wouldn’t have been captured by the Mad Titan. He wouldn’t have attacked New York and he wouldn’t have been sentenced to slavery.

All that pain could have been avoided with a couple of books.

It was almost ironic how much suffering Loki – who was constantly found somewhere reading throughout his whole youth – could have spared himself if only he had decided to visit that abandoned section of Asgard’s library.

Thor’s realisations were disturbed by a question, though.

“Odin?”

“What?”

“You’re calling him by his name, but he’s your father.”

Thor glanced at Loki’s curled up form, “Not anymore.”

Chapter Text

After Thor’s admission there had been a long silence.

Tony hadn’t known what to say, even though he had never had a particular fondness for his own father; Howard had been a shit parent, but at least he hadn’t sentenced one of his sons to four years of torture and rape that had been interrupted only by an external intervention.

Luckily the tv was still on – no one had dared to turn it off in the eventuality the lack of noise would have disturbed Loki’s well deserved rest – so in the end Thor had grabbed the remote and started zapping through the channels.

He didn’t have much more to do there, but he couldn’t find it in him to leave Loki.

He knew he could trust Stark, that the human was only doing what was best for Loki, and at the same time abandoning Loki once again felt unnatural. Rationally he was aware that Stark could have done anything he might have wanted with Loki in those two months during which they had been on Alfheim together, and that obviously he hadn’t since Loki trusted him so instinctively; it was his subconscious that didn’t allow him to back to New Mexico to brief Jane on the new arrangements that had been made and hope she would have agreed to follow him.

“Some channels are missing,” he commented, noticing the odd halting numeration.

“Yeah, uh, I know. I blocked some of them this morning,” Tony confessed. He had felt like a meddlesome parent when he had done so, but it was for the best, “I’ve no idea of how Loki could take watching violent programs, even though the violence there is only faked, so I blocked them for now.”

Thor gave him a surprised stare.

“What?”

“That’s… really thoughtful.”

“Well, it’s something that doesn’t require that much effort,” Tony shrugged, but Thor was smiling now.

“But not something many would have thought about,” he slapped his hands on his knees and rose up to his feet, “I should probably go now. I have to go back and talk to Jane, I’ll come back tomorrow morning if it’s fine by you.”

“Of course,” Tony nodded, trying to hide how relieved he was for finally being alone with Loki again.

He had to admit that version of Thor was indeed a more mature one that even admitted to his own mistakes and it was certainly easier to talk with him now, but repeating what Loki had told him about his life on Alfheim and adding his own details had taken its toll, and right now the only thing he wanted to do was cradle Loki in his arms and kiss him for the next two hours.

“You think he’ll be offended if I leave without saying goodbye?”

“I think he’d be more if you woke him up.”

“Can you just tell him that I didn’t mean to abandon him and that I’ll be back tomorrow?”

“‘F course, Point Break. Don’t worry.”

Thor gave one last glance at Loki, still serenely asleep, and with a wave of his hand he headed for the terrace.

It was unfortunate that Mjolnir’s energy shook the Tower once again, because Loki seemed to sense it and stirred, yawning adorably.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Anthony?”

“In the flesh.”

“What…? Where…?”

“My Tower. Midgard. You fell asleep against me, nothing to worry about. Thor’s just left. Actually it was him to wake you up, he didn’t do it voluntary but he was leaving and I guess there’s no way to dampen the hammer’s energy, so it shook the Tower and you-“

“What?” Loki asked since he had lost Anthony after the first eight words.

“Too much?”

“A little.”

“Sorry,” Tony chuckled, “Okay, small steps. Everything’s fine. This is Midgard.”

“Go on.”

“We had lunch, you fell asleep on my legs.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about, Bambi,” he ruffled Loki’s hair and received a snort in response, “You just strengthened your position as house cat.”

“This’s ridiculous.”

“Sure, Lokitty,” Tony answered petting the hair on the top of Loki’s head, and he couldn’t suppress a laugh when Loki tried to elbow him in the ribs, “You’re finally coming back to yourself.”

Loki didn’t comment on that, distracted by looking around in search of his brother, “Where’s Thor?”

“He left a couple of minutes ago. He had things to do but didn’t want to wake you up,” Tony stroked his thumb over the still persistent dark circles under Loki’s eyes.

“Of course he had other things to do.”

“Those things being informing Jane that he’s moving here to be with you,” Tony said, ignoring Loki’s resentful voice, “Not on this floor, in his own apartment, but that’s why he left.”

“Really?”

“Yep. He’ll be back tomorrow.”

Loki had no idea of what to say.

Had Thor really changed that much?

He couldn’t remember one time during their hundreds of years together when Thor had abandoned everything only to rush at his side, not even when Loki had been in real danger. Now he was safe, cared for and showed more attentions than he had in his whole life in Asgard, and Thor decided to become so attentive all of a sudden?

“You up for some shopping, Bambi?”

“What?”

“Shopping for your clothes, or anything you like. Well, and anything you like.”

“Anthony, there’s no need.”

“Yes, Lo, there is,” he helped Loki up by offering him a hand, but that didn’t mean Loki got far; he just switched Tony’s lap for his shoulder and snuggled under his arm.

“You already-“

“Bla bla bla. No. Now we’re shopping.”

Friday projected a tab in front of them, and Tony immediately picked the fastest delivery possible for all their orders; his prince would have had everything he wanted, and he would have had it now.

Despite Loki’s initial protests that Anthony was already doing too much he had come to like the whole choosing stuff thing, and it didn’t take much for some crates to be delivered in the living room: Tony had suggested for Loki to go and do as he more pleased as they waited, maybe spend a little time in the library, but Loki had just opted to remain in the safe spot that Tony’s arms were, enjoying some of that quiet he so desperately needed.

He had only got up to unpack when everything had been delivered, and also in that moment his eyes had lingered on Tony, silently asking the man to follow him.

What Tony hadn’t considered was that now his house had the aspect of a Viking hall.

Once they finishes unpacking there were tons of faux fur blankets everywhere, because Loki may have been his prince to spoil, but no real fur.

Loki had even seen his point when he had been told that there were other ways to keep warm and to have something looking like the fur of an animal, and even though he had been skeptical at the beginning, running his fingers into the soft blankets had erased any doubt.

Those were very accurate replicas, there was no need to harm animals when humans had progressed so much.

God, Tony even had a fur rug in front of the fireplace. Not one of those monstrosity still resembling the shape of the animal from which they had been taken – even though they were synthetic – it was a regular squared rug, but still.

It was worth the trouble though when he saw the expression on Loki’s face.

He was finally starting to relax even in the extraneous space that was the Tower to him, to let the tension in his shoulders seep away even without being in close contact with Tony; apparently being allowed to give his touch to the place managed to make it feel more real, to wipe away the sensation that that was only a temporary parenthesis that would have soon come to an end.

That didn’t mean Tony didn’t try to go for a little damage control, pushing Loki to store most of the fur atrocities in the library by saying that he already guessed that would have been elected to Loki’s favourite place so Loki could have as well started decorating it as he more pleased.

As for his bedroom, now it was too late.

Loki had sneaked upstairs with one the biggest blankets and had discretely placed it on top of the bed, subtly affirming what he thought about sleeping in his own room.

Not that Tony had anything against having Loki sleep in his bed, or more precisely in his arms, but it was important to give a shot to the option of Loki having his own autonomy.

Tony hadn’t really believed Loki would have chosen to abandon his room in order to sleep alone in his own bed, but now it was definitely out of question.

Loki had marked his territory in his subtle way, and Tony had to admit that that wasn’t his room anymore.

There wasn’t an obnoxious fur blanket on his bed.

There was an obnoxious fur blanket on their bed.

That was the realisation that hit him when they decided to retire for the night.

They had unpacked Loki’s new stuff, placed most of it, and then Tony had realised it was getting dark outside and had ordered dinner for the both of them; they had tried to remain a little longer in the living room, but all the events that had taken place in that room made it impossible to stay any longer.

It was early for Tony’s standards, but even he had to admit that he was too tired to do anything beside flopping in bed.

Only in that moment Loki’s suggestion resurfaced in his mind.

He had been so busy digesting the load of information Thor had provided that that particular bit in their previous conversation had slipped from his mind.

He had no idea of what to do now that Loki had joined him on the huge bed, his hair tied back in a braid that was much more elegant than what Tony could create even though it was only meant to keep his hair out of the way as they slept.

Did Loki remember what he had said earlier?

Was something he had thought in the heat of the moment or as an answer to Tony using that as an example?

Was he still willing to go through with his experiment?

And if he was, was Tony meant to wait or to make a move on that front?

Would have Loki got offended had he refrained from initiating that touch? Would he have beed scared had Tony decided to initiate that touch?

“Anthony, I can hear you thinking.”

“Uh?”

“What’s the matter?”

“I… nothing.”

“Is this about what I’ve said earlier?”

“Earlier?”

Playing dumb with Loki would have never worked, imprisonment or not.

“Anthony.”

“Okay, fine, it’s about what you’ve said earlier.”

“And?” Loki purred, his chin resting on Tony’s chest.

“Honestly? I don’t know what to make of it.”

“You don’t want to?” Loki frowned and propped himself up on his elbows.

Offended.

Definitely offended.

“Why? Has it something to do with the last years?”

“Of course.”

Wrong answer. Had Tony tried he couldn’t have found worse words.

“I see,” Loki made to get up, but Tony was quick enough to stop him by wrapping a hand around Loki’s waist.

“No, wait.”

“I don’t see why. You don’t want me.”

“No, fuck, Loki, no. It’s not like that. Of course it’s because of the last years, but not in the sense that I don’t want you. I do, but how sure are you?”

Chapter Text

To that, Loki seemed to deflate a little and settled back against Tony’s side.

“I’m the one who brought this up.”

“I know, but-“

“I mentioned it.”

“No, I mentioned that fact that you’re uncomfortable, you answered to that.”

“Yes, I answered.”

“To something I’ve told you.”

Loki took a deep breath and avoided Tony’s eyes, “Because I had no idea of how to broach the subject,” he admitted.

“Really?”

“Yes. I wanted to mention it when we were still… there, but…” he trailed off. It wasn’t easy to admit to Anthony that when they were still on Alfheim a more intimate touch would have been too much for him. Sleeping together, sharing kisses and snuggling in Anthony’s arms was something he could easily do, it was something he had never experienced before – both on Alfheim and even before on Asgard in some cases – so it was something he could relate to Anthony alone, but being directly touched? That was something he knew all too well, something he could link to so many experiences he knew he would have freaked out had he tried to give it a shot when they were still on Alfheim.

Now though? Now they were on Midgard, in the safety of Anthony’s home. A home where he had been welcomed, provided with all comforts and even a space of his own. A home he had been allowed to decorate as he more pleased because his staying wasn’t temporary and because that was now his home too.

There was no way to mistake Anthony’s touch for the one of one of those beasts.

“But now we’re here. And I know that’s something I want. Something I want to try.”

“Loki…”

“No. I want to.”

“What if it becomes too much?”

“I trust you. If it becomes too much I know you’ll stop.”

Tony was left speechless in front of that.

He implicitly knew that Loki trusted him, but listening him say it out loud was another thing.

“Lokes…” Tony all but whined, and Loki pressed closer to him, wrapping his arms around his neck, “One condition,” he added, placing a finger against Loki’s lips before the prince managed to distract him more.

“What?”

“Safe words.”

Loki quirked an eyebrow.

“I’d say we can have more than one, a streetlight system.”

That didn’t erase Loki’s doubtful expression.

“Okay, I’ll explain. ‘Green’ means that everything’s alright and that we can go on, ‘yellow’ means that you’re getting uncomfortable but that it’s still manageable, ‘red’ means stop. No questions, no answers required. Red means stop, in any case. No drawing it out a little more to see if that’s just a fleeting sensation, no. Red is stop.”

Loki remained silent, clearly pondering the advantages of the system Anthony had proposed.

“It… may work.”

“If you have a better idea I’m all ears.”

“No, this is fine. Can we just…?” Loki nodded in his direction, and Tony didn’t waste any more time before kissing him.

Happy as Loki could be to try a little more intimacy between them he would have probably got cold feet if given too much time to dwell on the thought of what he had just asked.

Loki easily slid on top of him, revelling in the feeling of that kiss, of the grounding warmth of Anthony’s hands on his cheeks.

It was easy to shut his brain, to shove all thoughts aside, leaving room for the pleasant feelings that the human managed to elicit just with a brush of lips.

It was with his mind free that Loki pushed the tip of his tongue against the seam on Anthony’s mouth, demanding access; it wasn’t something new for them, but usually it required more time for him to feel enough at ease for a deeper kiss. This time instead it simply seemed right, it seemed the natural thing to do along with one of his hands sliding down against Anthony’s side to raise his tank top.

“Lo?” Tony asked, gently pulling back from their kiss.

“Off.”

Okay, fine. Or well, kind of fine.

After Afghanistan Tony hadn’t felt comfortable with having his chest exposed, and more than a mere matter of trust – now that the reactor was gone he couldn’t fear anymore of someone trying to extract it – the scars left there didn’t leave him so at ease with his body as he once had been.

But that was Loki.

Loki whom he had seen at his lowest, whose scars he had been able to see even before the wounds had closed to leave the white lines on his skin.

So he pulled the top off.

Loki’s green eyes wandered for a moment to the scar tissue at the centre of his chest, but then they moved down, taking in what for now he had only felt through a layer of clothes.

Loki’s fingers – long and incredibly pale in contrast with Tony’s darker skin – started exploring, moving from his clavicle to the hollow of his throat, and then down to touch the scar highest on Tony’s chest.

Tony had to thank him for that.

Hadn’t it been for the uneasiness of Loki touching that patch of skin no one had been allowed to touch for years he would have started to get hard.

Loki seemed to sense his heartbeat getting agitated, but he didn’t stop stroking his fingers over the thicker skin, to the point of resting his cheek at the centre of Tony’s chest, exactly where the reactor had once been. He remained there until he could feel Tony’s heart slowing down to a more healthy rhythm, and he raised his beautiful emerald eyes on Tony.

“You okay?” Tony croaked.

“I feel like I should be the one asking you.”

“I… yes. I’m just… not used to this anymore.”

Loki gave him a questioning look.

“When I still had the Arc reactor it was a matter of safety, now… well, it’s not particularly pleasant to the eye.”

“It’s just a scar,” Loki commented, his tone so light that it showed how he really didn’t mind.

Probably to him scars were much more normal than they could be to modern common humans; after all Vikings and that lot celebrated battles and strength in fights, it was natural that scars wouldn’t have been frowned upon.

“Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“A bit,” Tony admitted.

“If I still had my magic it’d be gone in less than a hour,” he pulled at the shackle around his ankle with his other foot, expressing his hatred toward that damned thing in such a mild way that even Tony was surprised.

He would have expected more, but Loki had had four years to come to terms with the fact that his magic was gone, and in moments when he had needed it more that now, when it would have only served to calm Tony down.

"I wouldn't only fix the scar."

"Mmh?"

"I guess that what's beneath troubles you too."

"A bit," Tony admitted after a moment of hesitation.

How had they gone from passionately kissing to this? It was so nice…

"I have metal plates keeping my ribs together, they had to be removed to install the original device that kept my heart from being pierced by shrapnels," he shivered at the thought of that endless pain, and Loki was quick to drape himself over him and nuzzle his neck; Tony would have never guessed the former Trickster could be such an attentive lover.

"Does it cause you pain? I could write a list of herbs that Thor could go fetch on Asgard, they don't require magic to work so I could brew you a tea."

"I appreciate the feeling, but there's no need," Tony kissed his exposed cheek, smiling fondly and at the same time biting his tongue; he could see how Loki longed for his magic, to have it back, how bad he felt for not being able to help in a field that had used to be his bread and butter. It would have been easy to tell him that there was a plan that would have been enacted the following day, but then the cons outweighed the pros by far: had Thor failed in his pursuit to find the right material to free Loki, the fallen prince’s hopes would have been built up for nothing.

“If you say so.”

“Lokes, hey. I’ve lived with this for years, it’s fine,” he affirmed, even though he could see from Loki’s expression that the fallen prince wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, “It’s just new to me, okay? We can consider tonight as an experiment for the both of us.”

Loki didn’t know whether that was a strange sort of an encouragement or a sincere truth, but honestly he didn’t care much about that; Anthony was there with him, for him, and nothing else mattered.

It was with a smile on his face that Loki resumed their kissing, melting under Anthony’s hands.

He would have expected the man to just go on with their experiment, and yet once again that peculiar human was surprising him. Anthony took his time, sliding both his hands in his tied hair and messing his braid to the point it was useless by now, savouring every kiss as if it was the first they shared, making him feel the centre of the Nine Realms.

Not once Loki had ever felt like that, as if he was the only thing that mattered, that even if everything else would have been lost that didn’t matter because he was still there.

By the time Tony’s hands reached the small of his back Loki was panting, his arms around Tony’s neck and his fingers twisting the messy brown locks. He almost didn’t notice the fingers sneaking under the fabric of his nightshirt; it was so natural, so right, that he only squirmed against Tony to have more, more of that intimate contact he had been denied for so long.

There was no way to mistake Anthony’s hands for those of his tormenters; Anthony was careful, loving, and his touch was only there to bring pleasure and closeness. There was nothing coercive in it, nothing demanding.

No pinning him down, no holding him still.

Loki could have simply got up, not even using a safe word to do so.

And at the same time the touch was there, keeping him well rooted in the present, helping him bear in mind that that wasn’t Alfheim anymore.

Alfheim, where any request for stopping would have been ignored, where every moan of discomfort would have been discarded as something not worth the least attention, where every cry of pain would have been brushed off or even cherished…

But that wasn’t Alfheim, he was safe, he was safe in the arms of someone who cared about him, who did’t wish him any harm, who had been so patient with him and always waiting for him to make the first move.

For how much those gestures could bring back to his mind terrible memories it was different, there was nothing in common with his years in Alfheim, he was safe now, safe and cherished, and-

“Red,” Tony panted.

Chapter Text

Loki frowned when he heard Anthony’s voice, but did indeed pull back.

“What…?”

“You’re shivering.”

“I’m not,” Loki objected, but when he finished the sentence he realised Anthony was right.

“Yes, Lokes. You are.”

“I...”

“Breathe.”

Tony helped him to slide back down on the mattress, waiting for his breathing to return to a more regular pattern.

It was only for the best that the blanket Loki had brought upstairs was big enough to envelope Loki with it not requiring for Tony to get up in order to free his part of the blanket.

Loki tried to find some words to explain what had happened, but even he wasn’t so sure of that; everything was fine up to a few moments before, not once he had forgotten that those were Anthony’s hands, and at the same time his body had betrayed him.

“Want some water?” Tony asked, but Loki shook his head no, sitting up in order to help clear his head a little. Tony was quick to do the same.

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look like it.”

“I am.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-“

“It’s not your bloody fault!”

Tony retracted in front of Loki’s irate expression.

“You weren’t doing anything wrong, stop blaming yourself for every reaction I have.”

“I’m s-“ Tony shut up before the word managed to properly form on his lips.

“Don’t you dare,” Loki pointed his finger at him, and Tony felt he was about to burst out laughing despite everything.

Loki was all too adorable like that, messy hair and blushed cheeks.

“Fine,” Tony raised his hands in surrender, “I’ll shut up. Just tell me what you want to do.”

Loki pondered his options for a moment, then he moved closer to Tony to be able to rest his hands on Tony’s knees.

“I want to go on with this. At least a little.”

“Good,” Tony didn’t add more. He simply slid his hands in Loki’s messed hair and drew him closer, kissing him once again and feeling the fallen prince relax against his chest.

They shifted easily under the many blankets, not letting go of each other even for a moment, and kept on their little experiment until their kisses turned slower, less focused, their eyes now closed because their eyelids felt too heavy to open them.

It was with Tony’s hand still on the naked skin of the small of Loki’s back that they both fell asleep.

 

~

 

“I know it’s early, friend Tony, but I wished to tell you- What in Valhalla is going on here?” Thor’s greeting tone turned into an enraged one in a matter of seconds.

Both Loki and Tony had barely the time to wake up before Thor’s massive hand was closing around Tony’s throat and raising him from the bed.

“Thor!” Loki yelled, trying to disentangle from the thick blanket he was still enveloped with and that had managed to conceal his shirt; Tony instead must have considered it too warm during the night and had pushed it off on top of Loki, not letting go of him but leaving his shirtless chest exposed.

“You,” Thor growled, “I thought I could trust you.”

“Let me explain,” Tony stuttered, his lungs already longing for the air Thor’s hand was cutting off.

Lack of air, that was something he knew all too well, something he couldn’t even begin to contemplate if he wanted to still be able to tell Thor how things actually were.

“There’s nothing to explain!”

“Let him go, Thor, now!”

“I thought I could trust you with my brother’s safety and you’re taking advantage of the situation!”

“He’s not breathing, Thor, let him go!”

Loki was fighting hard to keep his panic at bay, to avoid linking those screams to something that would have ended badly for him, but he had to. Anthony’s face had gone a nasty shade of grey and it was clear he wasn’t faring well.

“I’ll explain, but you have to let him go,” Loki stood in front of Thor, barefooted and with his hair a mess in front of the armoured god.

“He-“

“You know nothing. Let him go at once,” Loki hissed, and Thor followed that order automatically, recognising in Loki’s eyes the same expression that promised a knife aimed at his throat in the near future.

That didn’t mean he didn’t throw Stark at the other end of the room like a rag doll.

“Explain then,” he growled, but Loki couldn’t care less about his words.

The moment Tony had failed to avoid an armchair in his fall Loki had run to his side, cradling his face between his hands to check that everything was fine.

Humans were fragile things, one wrong wound could easily be the end of them.

“Anthony? Can you hear me?”

That was kind of a strange question in Tony’s ears since he hadn’t even hit his head – just his shoulder – but he appreciated the contrast between Thor’s grasp and Loki’s, and he nodded.

“Explain,” Thor growled again.

“Get away from him,” Loki sneered, taking such a feline pose that Tony was sure the mage was about to leap at Thor’s throat.

“He’s the one who must get away from you. I thought you a friend, Stark,” Thor spat in the most hateful voice, making Tony cringe.

Loki didn’t even waver, though.

The only thing he had, the only person he had ever cared about outside his family was being threatened for something that Thor hadn’t even had the will to try to understand, and he couldn’t let it go lightly.

“At least this time you’ve been right in your choice of friends, brother.”

“It doesn’t seem so.”

“Because you haven’t even considered something that might diverge from your first impression.”

“You said he had his own room,” Thor looked past Loki’s shoulder to where Tony was still trying to contain the panic attack that his thinking back to Afghanistan for the lack of air in his lungs was causing.

“I have it.”

“But you’re not letting him use it.”

“I’m the one who chose to sleep here. I had to ask Anthony to let me sleep in his bed.”

“You’re just doing whatever you want.”

“He’s not.”

“You’re just taking advantage of my brother as his gaolers did, priding yourself of being better than them only because you keep him for yourself.”

“Look at me!” Loki yelled, “You’re talking about me as if I weren’t even here! You’re the one not treating me as a person but as an object!”

Thor was finally forced to stop in his tirade, and Loki took advantage of that moment of stupefied silence to go on.

“After all, your friends must have taken someone as their example.”

“What… what are you talking about?” Thor’s voice was terribly quiet in comparison with his roaring of a few seconds before.

“Your oldest friends, Thor, I’m sure you remember them from our childhood.”

“So?” from the edge in Thor’s voice it was clear he was dreading his brother’s next words, but Loki had always had a vindictive streak and he was going to indulge it.

“Your valiant friends took turns as your lady gave them ideas. You’d blush knowing what her mind is capable of coming up with.”

Loki didn’t raise his voice at all but from the look on Thor’s face he might as well have slapped him.

He was staring Thor straight in the eyes, silent, challenging him to question his words.

“Apologise to Anthony and leave,” he hissed.

Thor only managed to stutter something, disappearing before more colour could drain from his face.

“Lo-“

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Loki interrupted him, sagging against Tony’s chest and closing his eyes.

“As you wish,” Tony rested his chin on Loki’s shoulder, lightly kissing his temple as he wrapped his arms around the shacking mage, “You know, I like this tone of yours. Think you can use it sometimes on me?”

It was ridiculous how that managed to make Loki chuckle despite everything, “Thank you.”

Tony remained silent in their embrace, trying to find a breathing pattern that would have allowed him to calm down to be there for Loki, but he was finding that always more difficult as time passed; he had to do something, or his tentative help would have turned in a disastrous panic attack.

“Lokes, hey, I really need to go downstairs a moment. Can I leave you alone?”

Loki was a bit perplexed, but he nodded. Obviously there were other things going on in his mind.

“I’ll be back in a sec,” Tony promised pressing a kiss on Loki’s cheek before rushing downstairs, where he was sure to have spotted the pills he had been described when he had finally decided to open up to someone about his panic attacks.

He hadn’t brought them with him on Alfheim, although he had regretted that a couple of times, but now he was thankful of the fact they where within reach. The moment he managed to remove the lid and had one of the white pills on the palm of his hand he rushed toward the fridge to get a bottle of water, not even daring to see water flowing in the sink.

He took another couple of minutes to take a few steading breaths before going back upstairs and face the disaster Thor’s appearance had caused; he had to be sure to have everything back in check before going back to Loki, who at the moment needed a lucid version of him.

He would have expected many things upon entering his bedroom, but certainly not the sound of someone throwing up in the bathroom.

“Lokes?” he called, but he didn’t even wait for an answer before pushing the door open.

Loki was slowly getting up from the floor, and Tony had to avert his eyes when the fallen prince opened the tap to wash his mouth.

“Are you… alright?”

Loki nodded again, just looking at Tony from where he was standing next to the sink.

There was something so lost in his emerald eyes that Tony instantly forgot why he had even left the floor in the beginning.

“Hey,” he moved closer, slowly as not to startle Loki, but there was no need since the moment Loki saw him moving he shifted in his direction, mildly falling in the hug Tony was offering.

“Can I do something?”

“I only want to go back to bed,” Loki whispered.

“Of course, Bambi,” as they walked back to the bedroom Tony kept at least one arm around Loki, and he didn’t even let go to move back the blankets stacked on the bed, “You want me to stay?” he asked, because even though Loki hadn’t seemed to mind his presence this far he wanted to be sure.

Loki nodded once again, but his consent to that solution was more than clear when he snuggled against Tony’s still naked chest, burying his nose in his skin, breathing in the familiar scent that he could only link to safety.

Tony didn’t say a word as he raised the covers on top of them, shielding Loki with them, wrapping him at his best in that makeshift shelter. That wasn’t much, but that was something at least.

“You want to go to your library?” Tony tentatively asked when Loki seemed to have frozen there, not moving a single muscle; Tony only knew he was still awake and with him because every now and then he could feel a shiver running over Loki’s body.

The only answers that elicited were a weak shake of the head and Loki shifting closer in his arms.

“You sure? Yesterday you did’t have much time go exploring.”

“I only want to stay here,” Loki murmured against Tony’s clavicle, and the man couldn’t find it in him to move him from there. Loki’s voice was so weak and defeated that offering him again to do something beside what he was currently doing of his own volition would have been just cruel.

For a moment Tony had thought about mentioning his lab, using Loki’s curiosity as leverage so that the mage would have been inclined to follow him, but right now Tony felt that he could easily erase it from his to-do list of the day.

Apparently his bedroom – their bedroom – was the only place Loki deemed safe. He had already witnessed that the day before, when Loki had asked to spend the time before Thor’s arrival in that bedroom, and now he was refusing to even leave the bed.

Probably it had something to do with the chambers that had been assigned to Tony back in Alfheim and with the fact that those had been the first place where Loki had known even a shred of safety; the first place where he had known a bit of comfort had been Tony’s rooms, Tony’s bed, and now he was trying to hold onto that imaginary link to keep his mind rooted in the present.

“Lokes, this’s your house. You’re safe here. Everything’s fine,” he pressed a kiss on top of Loki’s inky hair, and he was honestly surprised when Loki didn’t shrink back, “I know you don’t want to talk about that, but know that I’m here to listen.”

“No.”

“Fine, that’s fine, I won’t press. What about breakfast, though? We don’t even have to move from here, one of the bots’ll just bring everything up.”

“I don’t want to eat.”

The answer triggered something in Tony’s mind. This time it had been direct, not hiding behind the fact that he wasn’t hungry, but Tony could easily link that sentence to an exact replica of it, one he had already heard another time.

It had been the second time when Loki had woken up after showing up at Tony’s door covered in blood and nothing else, when he had refused to eat even when his body so clearly needed food to restore the energy reserves he had consumed when the elixir had healed him. After that it had occurred a few more times, always in concomitance with Loki’s blue days – as Tony called them – those days when he just stared into nothingness and nothing. Tony did seem to be enough to shake him out of it.

Tony had already linked those days to particularly bad memories, but right now it all clicked into place.

The day before Loki had tried to refuse lunch after his outburst that had been a short wrap up of his last four years, and now he had threw up after admitting to Thor what people he had known since he was a child had done to him the moment they had had the chance.

Was that why Loki was so thin?

Tony had always blamed it on the fact he hadn’t been properly fed in years, and when Thor had told him that Loki’s healing was taking more time because of the suppression of his magic he had thought that would have been the final explanation, but was it really?

Loki was faring much better on that front now, his skipping meals from time to time no affecting him, but what about before Tony had got to Alfheim? Had it simply been the lack of food or Loki’s actual refusal of food had played a role in that?

And why was Loki even doing that?

There clearly was a pattern there, but Tony dreaded even forming the thought that was already so clear in his mind: that was the only form of control Loki had left back on Alfheim, the only thing he could still decide for himself.

Food was the only thing he could still refuse.

“Lokes, please. Just a bit, just something, anything you want.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“Just tea? Mmh? Tea is just water, it isn’t even actual food.”

Loki didn’t say no this time, so Tony freely interpreted as Loki’s assent and proceeded to tap the order on the StarkPad he had retrieved from his nightstand.

He didn’t want to bring Friday’s voice inside the room for now; for how much Loki could feel at ease with the AI now it wasn’t definitely the moment to force him to focus on someone else’s presence.

’Do you want me to add some honey, Boss?’ appeared on the screen, and Tony was always more thankful to his good girl.

’Tons of it’ he typed back before bringing his hand back in Loki’s hair.

It was only when Tony had managed to have Loki sit against the pillows with his mug full of tea in his hands – still snuggled in Tony’s arms – that Thor showed up again.

Chapter Text

“This’s not the right moment,” Tony said in lieu of a greeting, not even moving one inch from Loki.

From Thor’s ashen complexion one couldn’t have expected him to talk anytime soon, though.

“I…”

Tony held up a hand. He was done being the supportive third party who didn’t interfere. Remaining a neutral player in the background hadn’t worked, and now he had no intention at all to have Loki suffer more because the communication with Thor didn’t seem to be working for them.

“I don’t care. You either have something helpful to say or you leave. Go to your apartment, fly back to New Mexico, I don’t care.”

This time it was Loki to step in, placing a placating hand in the middle of Tony’s chest.

“Bróðir…”

“I have no desire to speak to you.”

“Bróðir, please.”

“I don’t want to be lectured by you,” he shifted closer to Tony, reaffirming his closeness to the man.

“Bróðir, i’m begging you…”

“No. I won’t hear you degrade the only good thing I have. No,” this time Loki realised he couldn’t take it any longer, and he simply hid his face in the crook of Tony’s neck, blocking the sight of Thor looking so confused and hurt and… no, Loki didn’t have the strength for that. He had thought he would have been able to talk with Thor, to stand the exchange of a few sentences with him, but he had underestimated what those few hours of dwelling on what those people he had known for centuries had done to him had taken their toll.

“Listen, Thor, it really isn’t the right moment,” Tony added when it was clear Loki wouldn’t have fought that battle, removing the mug from Loki’s hands and placing it on the nightstand, “I get you want to yell at me and that’s fine, but not now.”

“That’s not what I’m here for,” Thor protested.

“No?”

“I only want to talk with my brother.”

Not even once, not even when Thor had tried to explain them how Loki hadn’t been entirely responsible for the attack of New York and no one had believed him, Tony had heard Thor sound so defeated.

There was nothing of the cheerful, solar god he was used to know. Right now Thor was the shadow of that man.

“I went back to Asgard,” Thor started slowly, as if every word caused him pain, ”I… I had to confront them about… about what Loki had said. I know he wasn’t lying, but…” he paused and sat down on the bed, as if the weight on his shoulders was too much even for him, “But I hoped he was. I hoped it wasn’t true, that he had said that just to hurt me. I sent them, Loki,” Thor raised pained eyes on his brother, who stiffened in front of that admission.

Even Tony had no idea of what to make of it.

“I couldn’t look for you, but nothing had been said about me sending someone to get you back. Not a thing had been said about you remaining in one single place for your sentence, the plan was to have someone find you, take you away, and then I would have kept you with me. So I asked them to search for you. They never told me they had found you.”

Loki’s mouth fell slightly open in surprise. Had Thor really formed that plan for his sake? Had he really wanted to protect his brother to that point?

So it was true he would have looked for him hadn’t he feared Loki would have been killed on the spot?

“I… I never thought they’d have…” Thor’s voice died in his throat, the image of his so-called friends forming in front of his eyes.

After Loki’s hissed revelation he had wasted no time and had returned to Asgard, Mjolnir instantly guiding to Sif and the Warriors Three. They had greeted him cheerfully, at least until the had taken in the expression on his face.

Thor hadn’t given in in useless conversation, he had gone straight to the point, questioning them about their presence on Alfheim, demanding the truth.

The four Asgardians had immediately recognised that something had changed: they weren’t talking with the friend of many battles, with the one person they had known for ages. They were talking with the brother of the person they had merrily and mercilessly tortured when they had had the chance.

They had tried to avoid the question for a few moments, but in the end they had been forced to tell the truth, to confirm Loki’s words.

“He’s a criminal. He’s never caused anything but trouble to all of us,” Sif had tried to protest, “Loki has deserved his fate.”

“Don’t you even dare say his name,” Thor had growled, slapping her so hard she had fallen to the ground.

“I’ve banished them, bróðir,” Thor murmured when he managed to find his voice again, “From both Asgard and Midgard. I told them that if they so much as hint to look for you again I’ll kill them myself.”

Loki had no words to express the turmoil going on in his mind, but Tony could see his eyes were lucid.

There was only one thing Tony could focus on, though.

“You’ve basically told them Loki’s here, Thor. I know it’s already written on that fucking contract, but it could still be a problem.”

“What?”

“Banishing them from Midgard – whatever that means – is like saying Loki’s here.”

“No,” Loki shook his head, the smallest of smiles pulling at his lips, “Thor has the power to banish people only from Asgard, since he’ll be king, and from Midgard, since this realm is under his protection. That’s not clear saying that I’m here.”

“And I’ll know if they try to get here.”

“How?” Loki had to ask, because as much as locating people was concerned, Thor had always needed his help.

“Heimdall.”

“I beg your pardon?” Loki sat up a bit straighter, leaning toward his brother, “Heimdall?”

“I’ve asked for his help.”

“And he agreed?”

Tony had no idea of what they were talking about, but the surprise must have been huge to shake Loki out of his apathetic mood.

“Yes. I didn’t even have to ask him twice.”

Had Thor grown another head Loki wouldn’t have looked more surprised.

“Did he?”

“What am I missing?”

“Heimdall has never been excessively fond of me,” Loki explained, “I wonder what has caused this sudden change of heart.”

Thor frowned in front of his brother obliviousness, “Heimdall sees everything.”

Maybe Odin had managed to turn a blind eye to what his step-son was suffering, but Heimdall could not. Odin had the ability to see everything, Heimdall was forced to do so; he had no choice, that was his blessing and his curse.

Seeing everything, and not be allowed to do anything.

That was why he hadn’t alerted Thor, he had explained when the god had returned to Asgard for the first time after years. He couldn’t actively seek him out to warn him of what his brother was being put through, he could only wait for Thor to come and ask questions, but Thor had never dared to do so. Asking Heimdall to look for Loki was too risky, too close to that passage of his sentence that stated that Thor’s direct help would have led to Loki’s death. Someone else, who didn’t have the same powers of which Heimdall disposed yes, Thor had tried even if with horrible results; asking Heimdall though had seemed too daring for Thor, especially when the price would have been Loki’s life.

“So Heimdall pities me, good to know,” Loki snorted, crossing his hands over his chest, but that was a good thing in Tony’s eyes.

Pissed off Loki was definitely an improvement from depressed Loki.

“He doesn’t pity you,” Thor tried to placate him, but to no avail.

“Oh sure, Heimdall has always been so well disposed toward me.”

“It’s not like you’ve always done your best to stay in his good graces.”

“I feel like I need some background story,” Tony commented, relieved to finally have those two discussing as civilised people.

“No, you don’t,” Loki turned around in his arms, resting once again his cheek against the man’s shoulder.

“Thor?”

“Later.”

Loki rolled his eyes at them, but at least he didn’t seem on the verge of a mental breakdown anymore.

“Good. If it’s fine by you I’ll get a cup of coffee and reheat your tea. Thor, you want something?”

“Coffee, thank you.”

Tony nodded and slid off the bed, but this time he was free to press a kiss against Loki’s hair before leaving.

There was no way for Thor to miss how his brother leaned into that chaste kiss and how his green eyes followed the man as he left the room.

“What do you want to do now?”

“You love him.”

The two siblings spoke in unison, the questioning voice overlapping with the absolute certainty of the other one.

“Lower you voice, you oaf!” Loki hissed.

For the first time in ages, Thor burst out laughing, “You’re not even denying.”

“What? I didn’t say anything.”

That only made Thor laugh more, “You’ve always been good at hiding many things, but never your affections.”

“That’s not true,” Loki pouted, drawing his knees up to his chest and almost disappearing behind his thick blanket.

“Loki, you’re blushing.”

“I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“I am not.”

“You aren’t blushing, alright. But you were so busy pointing that out that you forgot to counter my statement.”

“You are infuriating.”

“But still,” Thor’s smile was broad, something no one had seen in along while, “Can I just ask you something, bróðir?”

“If you really have to.”

“Are you… sure?”

“About what?”

“About what you feel for Stark. And don’t deny it, I know you too well.”

“If you know me so well then why are you even asking?”

“Please don’t get me wrong, but… are you sure you aren’t just grateful? And I’m not trying to imply he’s taking advantage of you, I know I misunderstood the whole situation earlier,” Thor added cautiously, because if there was something he had understood about what was going on between Stark and Loki was that his brother wouldn’t have heard a single word spoken against his human, “What I’d like to be sure about is that you’re not mistaking gratefulness for something else.”

Oddly enough, Loki didn’t rile up at that.

“I’m not… confused. I am indeed grateful, but it has nothing to do with that.”

Loki must have been really in up to his neck if he had given up his pretences so easily, Thor thought.

“I… it’s not like that.”

“I only want to be sure of that.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“That’s not what I mean and you know that.”

Loki snorted his acceptance of Thor’s point, and the blond god felt like he had the permission of crawling closer to his brother.

“So?”

“So what?”

“Why do you want me to lower my voice?”

Chapter Text

“Why do I want you to lower your voice? Because you’re embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing?”

“Yes.”

Thor needed a minute to put his thoughts together, but what came out was strange, “You don’t want him to know?”

“Of course not.”

“Why?”

Loki gave him a pointed look.

“You fear it isn’t mutual?” Thor asked in confusion.

“Apparently residing on Midgard is doing you some good.”

Thor sighed, but internally he was smiling. That was his brother. The snarky, sarcastic little shit he had known since his childhood, not that scared version he had met the day before, “Maybe it is and you should just tell him.”

“I currently live here, if it weren’t everything would be too embarrassing.”

And he would have probably lost his place in Anthony’s bed. Loki had no doubt he would have been allowed to stay, but he would have certainly lost all those privileges that he now had; sleeping in Anthony’s arms, breakfast in bed, the man’s fingers constantly in his hair… an unwanted confession could have easily erased all of that. He would have still had his room, or maybe he would have directly been sent to Thor’s floor.

Loki had no intention to risk his luck with an unnecessary confession.

“Stark is a good man, he wouldn’t kick you out.”

“I am aware of that, being sent away is not my main concern.”

“So why-“

“I won’t listen to you.”

“Loki…”

“No. Let me handle this on my own.”

“Fine,” Thor conceded, “Is this your doing?” he asked, tugging at the faux-fur blanket in which Loki was still enveloped. That thing screamed ‘Loki’ in every way possible, there was no way Stark could have bought something like that.

“I’ve been introduced to the joys of shopping,” he gestured at another blanket draped over an armchair and to some folded clothes piled on a drawer.

“Loki?”

“Yes?”

“It’s clearly mutual.”

 

~

 

Downstairs, Tony was finally taking the first sip of coffee of the day, and God if he needed that.

It wasn’t even noon and he already wished to call that a day and be done with it.

Between Thor’s unexpected arrival, his almost panic attack and the discovery of why Loki hadn’t been eating he couldn’t even say what had stressed him out the most.

To add to that, his phone rang.

“Who?” he asked pouring a second cup for Thor.

“Miss Potts, Boss.”

“Fine, take the call.”

“Tony, how are you?”

“Hi, Pep. Why do I have the feeling you aren’t calling only to know how I’m doing?”

“Because you don’t trust people. I am concerned about you.”

“And about the fact that I’ve promised to call Thor but may have avoided to do so.”

“Did you?”

“I’ve called him, don’t start scolding me.”

“And?”

“He’s here right now,” he didn’t add the fact that Thor had almost strangled him a few hours before because the blond god had surprised him in bed with his brother, that was unnecessary.

“So?”

“Could you give me more than one-worded sentences?”

Tony could almost hear Pepper rolling her eyes, “So how is Thor handling seeing Loki again?”

“Surprisingly well. They even managed to talk a little,” beside some yelling, some crying and some shattered hearts and consciences, but that wasn’t something to mention over the phone.

“And?”

“And what do you think? It was Thor to drag Loki to Asgard.”

Pepper remained silent for a few seconds, “Do you want me to join you for lunch?”

It would have been helpful to have someone there to make the whole situation a little less odd, but thinking twice about that, Pepper’s presence would have made everything even more odd.

There was also the not negligible fact that getting Loki to eat something would have been hardship in itself, even without a stranger’s presence into his new home.

“There’s no need.”

“What if I come by later? Just to see if you need anything.”

“That’d be fine, I guess.”

“Good. See you later then.”

Tony rubbed at his eyes, taking a deep breath.

God, how well did he understand now Loki’s desire to spend his day in the safety of his bed.

Instead of keeping nurturing his future headache he grabbed the three mugs and headed back upstairs, hearing voices dying out as he approached his own room; he didn’t pay that much attention to that. After all the two siblings were just trying to build back a sort of connection that had been shattered beyond repair, and for what he knew they could have been speaking Old Norse.

“Your order’s ready,” he said to unnecessarily announce himself.

It was terribly sweet to see Loki unable to hold back a smile, and he knew he was mirroring it like an idiot.

“Thank you, friend Tony,” Thor interrupted their cheesy interlude by reaching out for his coffee.

“If you want more the pot is downstairs, no need to smash the mug,” Tony pointed out as he sat back on the bed next to Loki, handing him his tea.

“I have learnt Midgardian customs, do not worry.”

“Good to know.”

“Thank you,” Loki smiled once more, and Thor couldn’t honestly tell whether that was due to the return of his mug or of his human.

What was certain was that Loki barely waited for him to sit down before returning to his favourite spot against Tony’s chest.
“So, uh, you two managed to avoid ripping each other to pieces in my absence?”

“I wouldn’t lay a finger on my brother,” Thor pointed out.

“I’ve no idea of where knives are.”

“Second drawer to the left in the kitchen. But I probably shouldn’t have told you that.”

Thor had to hold back a grin. Despite his initial reactions he had to admit it, those two were made for each other.

Stark must have been truly special for Loki to show his affections so openly; he had met a few of Loki’s lovers in the past, but never once he had seen Loki behaving like that, smiling and seeking physical contact in every occasion. Thor would have rather expected the contrary now, after what both Stark and Loki had told him about the last four years, but it seemed to be exactly what Loki needed right now.

He was a safe harbour for Loki to go to, a fixed point that promised stability.

Up to a couple of days before Thor would have never thought that about Stark, but right now he could see how the human had changed.

For starters, he hadn’t seen Stark drinking even once in those hours they had spent together, when it would have been more than normal in such a stressful situation. Beside that, there were so many things Thor wasn’t familiar with that he didn’t even know where to start.

Just the oddly domesticity between his brother and Stark was something he couldn’t place.

“I can lock that drawer, Boss,” Friday offered, making Thor – who had forgotten about the hidden voices of Stark’s house – almost jump out of his own skin.

“So it’s not just you,” Tony snickered sipping at his coffee.

“Voices coming from the walls usually speak of haunted places,” Loki countered.

“No, wait. You two are scared of Friday ‘cause you think there’re ghosts in here?”

“Don’t joke about ghosts, Stark.”

“Loki?”

“You may not believe in ghosts here on Midgard, but where we come from they’re something to handle with the right caution.”

“Uh, okay.”

“I can confirm that I am not a ghost,” Friday pointed out, but they could all hear a smirk that shouldn’t have definitely been present in the voice of an AI.

“As for the drawer let’s give Loki the benefit of the doubt for now.”

“You clearly don’t know my brother well.”

The murderous glare in his direction only strengthened Thor’s point.

“I just have a feeling I won’t be the one to get stabbed.”

“If you say so.”

“Weren’t you supposed to be doing something when you barged in this morning?” Loki asked, retreating against Tony’s chest until the man got the message and circled his waist with his arms.

“It can wait.”

“What a pity.”

Oh yes, Tony, thought, it was such a good idea to have Thor around.

 

~

 

It had taken a lot of convincing and even more bribery to get Loki to eat something that day. For how Tony understood what was going on in Loki’s head, that didn’t mean he agreed with that.

Loki needed to overcome that internal refusal, and for now all Tony could do was try to distract him and get him to actually eat without thinking too much.

Bribery had been something Tony had ended up laughing at, Thor a little less since it had been required for him to remain silent for an entire hour.

It had all been nice and well – Loki even coming to the point of abandoning Tony’s side for more than five minutes so the man had had the time to take a shower – until Pepper had called again to announce her arrival.

The moment Loki had known Pepper would have visited he had conquered again his spot next to Tony and refused to leave it even for a second.

Tony hadn’t noticed anything strange, but Thor could see there was something Loki wasn’t saying.

It was even more clear when Pepper arrived.

Thor got up to kiss her hand and to thank her for her role in the short time that had been necessary for him to be rejoined with his brother, but even though Loki had politely welcomed her he hadn’t moved from Stark’s side.

“I see you’re making yourself at home,” Pepper smiled, sitting down on her usual armchair.

“Apparently I’m not leaving soon,” Loki answered in a tone that to someone who didn’t know him well could pass as polite.

Loki had no intention to sound rude or to disrespectful to that woman, that was something he couldn’t do without cringing in fear for the possible retaliation, but there was no way for him to forget that up to a few months before she had been the one occupying his place in Anthony’s bed.

No, that was something Loki couldn’t ignore.

“No one said anything about you leaving,” Tony frowned.

“What about Thor’s apartment?” Pepper asked.

“What?”

“Wouldn’t it be a better solution?”

“I don’t think so,” Tony commented, discretely placing a hand on the small of Loki’s back; he was as tense as a bow, and not even Tony’s touch seemed to be helping on that front.

“Lady Pepper, my brother and I have some issues that need further discussion, and certain bridges cannot be rebuilt in a couple of days. For now it’s better if Loki retains his freedom to avoid me if he wants to,” Thor swiftly stepped in, reading the distress on Loki’s face and the way in which he had curled into Stark’s side.

“Loki?” she asked with a gentle smile.

“Yes?”

“What’s your opinion? What do you prefer?”

Loki hesitated. What was the aim of that question? What was the right answer? Would Pepper have sent him away had he expressed his desire to remain where he was, with Anthony? Or maybe she was genuinely asking what he preferred, and in that case bluffing would have only been counter-effective.

And what if that was a test?

What if she was just as wicked as Sif had been?

Was the woman trying to trick him, to make him lie on purpose so that she would have been able to-

“Loki,” Tony called him, snatching him from his train of thoughts.

“I…”

“Breathe. Slowly. Follow me.”

Chapter Text

“Breathe. Slowly. Follow me,” he grabbed Loki’s hand and placed it on his own chest, right where Loki’s cheek had been the previous night, and closing his eyes Loki managed to focus just on that, on the slow rising and falling of Anthony’s chest.

“I’m sorry,” Pepper apologised when things were back under control, “It wasn’t my intention to startle you.”

Loki nodded, but he didn’t even try to move from Tony’s embrace; instead, he used the hand he still had on the man’s chest as leverage to slide closer to him and regain his favourite place.

“I’d rather stay here,” Loki murmured.

“Of course,” Pepper nodded, but Loki seemed to care little about that; for how more at ease he may have seemed when she had arrived, Loki had once again that spooked complexion she had seen two days before.

“You’ve filled the house with this stuff, you’ve better stay,” Tony joked, placing one of the monstrous and completely out of place furs on Loki’s shoulders.

“You know the others are coming back soon, right?” Pepper asked after a few moments of silence, receiving a glare from Tony.

“The others?” Thor asked, oblivious of the silent conversation Tony was trying to initiate.

“The other members of the Avengers. They all reside in the Tower, but right now they’re away. They’ll be back in a few days, though.”

Tony wouldn’t have thought Loki could have gone more rigid than that, but apparently he had been wrong.

“I haven’t seen them in a long time, it will be nice to know how they are faring. I’ve heard there have been some discrepancies among you,” Thor looked at Tony.

“So to speak.”

“But they’re all still living here?”

“It was required when the Accords were signed,” he answered, not really turning in Thor’s direction since he was more busy checking on Loki; he hadn’t mentioned to Loki who the other inhabitants of the Tower where, there hadn’t been the time and all the news had already seemed too much for Loki to add the weight of strangers who hated him to that.

Now though he wished he had.

Loki was almost shivering next to him, unsure of what to make of what he had just heard.

The presence of those people, the ones who had defeated him and from what he had gathered from both Anthony and Thor hadn’t changed their mind about his role in the foiled attempt of invading Midgard, so close to him…

He had no idea of what they would have done once they would have discovered his presence.

If they hadn’t changed their minds in those four years they wouldn’t have certainly done so now, being forced to face the fact that Anthony had decided he would have stayed in the building in which they were forced to reside.

Maybe they could have come up with a sort of arrangement.

Maybe if things turned bad as Loki was certain they would have, Anthony could find another place for him to stay. That was a solution, and yet it filled Loki with dread.

Anthony must remain in the Tower if his interpretation of what he had just heard was correct, and such a solution would have only meant for Loki to be parted from his human; he knew it wasn’t by far the worst thing happened to him, but yet he would have gladly avoided such an eventuality.

Anthony was the only thing he had, the only thing that made him smile even after Alfheim, the only beacon of safety he could cling to, being parted from him would have only been… wrong.

“That’s why we should inform them about Loki’s presence.”

“We’ve already talked about this, Pepper.”

“And you agreed with me.”

So Anthony had already considered that scenario, and had decided not to tell him anything about that. To not even mention the presence of those people who hated him, even when he had already decided Loki was supposed to meet them.

Loki had no idea of what that could have possibly meant for him.

Had he been wrong in believing he was finally safe now that he was residing in Anthony’s house, away from the hell that Alfheim had been?

He didn’t even know whether he should have curled closer to Anthony or if he should have retreated to the other end of the couch.

“No, I didn’t. What I’ve said is that we should inform them so they don’t have your same panicked reaction to Loki’s presence here, but I haven’t said anything about the time frame to do so.”

“The point’s still the same.”

“Not at all. I’ve agreed to let Thor know straightaway.”

“And I can only be thankful for that,” Thor tried to enter the conversation in order to diffuse the tension aggregating in the room; he had a feeling Loki wasn’t handling that well.

“But the situation is entirely different with you.”

“Was there such a fallout?”

Silence fell in the room.

Thor must have really been avoiding all news concerning the former Avengers to not know what had been going on; that seemed to have stirred Loki’s attention too, though, since he didn’t seem on the verge of shivering anymore but much more interested in what was going on around him.

“If you want to say so,” Tony murmured, playing with the tips of Loki’s hair to distract himself from the subject.

Loki must have sensed there was something wrong, because now he had no doubt anymore about what to do, and he pressed closer to Anthony’s side.

“What happened?” Thor innocently asked.

“I almost died.”

It was possible to see the blood draining from Loki’s face.

“What?” Thor asked in disbelief.

“Remember old honourable Cap? Apparently abandoning me do die alone in a cold bunker is something he considers honourable.”

“Tony,” Pepper tried to calm him.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Holding grudges isn’t healthy.”

Holding Loki closer was much more.

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Pepper countered, but it didn’t work well.

“What happened? Why?” were Thor’s still startled question.

“It’s kind of a long story,” Pepper intervened before Tony could launch into a detailed description of the latest events that would have only caused more disruption to the unstable peace they had managed to create. Maybe she still wasn’t completely at ease with having Loki sitting just a few metres away from her, the images of four years prior still seared in her brain, but her mistake of a few minutes before had taught her something: they should have all avoided to start heated conversations, at least for the moment, so that wasn’t certainly the best subject to pick.

“A story I would like to know since I’m moving here as well,” Thor pointed out, leaving to the side the fact that if he was to entrust Loki to the care of those people he must have at least known what was going on there.

“Legally speaking it wouldn’t involve you,” Pepper tried again to prevent things from spiralling out of control, “You’re Asgardian, so Earth has no jurisdiction over you. Over both of you,” she added, looking in Loki’s direction too.

“That isn’t exactly what I was asking.”

In the time it took Pepper to draw a deep breath Tony took the word, “Things were already tense between Rogers and me for our different political ideas, and then, well, shit went down,” he pressed his fingers in Loki’s side, trying to find something to steady him as he spilled some of his worst memories.

Not much for the actual fight, for the physical pain of broken ribs – no, that was something he could handle well – but remembering those moments lying alone in that damned bunker in Siberia, with no way to move and ice crawling its way on in suit and inside of it? How he had believe Rogers would have actually killed him when the facial plate of the suit had been ripped off?

No, that wasn’t something he could handle well. He had tried to do so, tried hard, but it was difficult to forget how a person he had considered a friend had lied to him for months and then abandoned him, alone and wounded, to possibly die in a place no one would have found him soon.

He still remembered all too well the fear, the utter panic that had clenched his chest at the thought of what ice could have done to his body. Even in the eventuality someone would have found him in time to save his life, what would have happened to his hands? He did everything with his hands, it had been his hands that had allowed him to escape that fucking cave, that had saved his life. He was a mechanic, without his hands he would have been lost. How was he supposed to work with some fingers missing?

He wouldn’t have been himself anymore, he wouldn’t even had anymore his healthiest stress relief: how was he supposed to build and repair stuff when he would have had to come up with something to repair his own hands first?

“Anthony!”

Loki’s voice managed to snatch him away from his own thoughts, and only then he realised his breathing had turned erratic.

“Look at me,” Loki ordered, his hands at both sides of Tony’s face, “Just look at me.”

“Here, have some water,” Pepper hurried to thrust a glass in his hands, but when some water spilled on his skin Tony cringed, the panic of that very morning crawling back to add to the awful sensation that was already closing his throat.

“Leave,” Loki hissed in Pepper’s direction, obviously considering her guilty for the worsening of the panic so clearly written over Tony’s traits.

A distant part of Tony’s mind registered how pleasant it was to see Loki coming back to his princely self.

“Loki, it’s better if I stay here, I know Tony and-“

“And you’re not helping.”

“Bro∂ir, are you sure?”

“I probably should-” Pepper tried again, but to no avail.

“You think you know how to deal panic attacks better than me?” Loki challenged her, his emerald eyes stern, “I don’t think so. So now leave, both of you.”

Chapter Text

“Loki, I think it’s not-“

“Friday?”

“Yes, Mr. Loki?”

“If I can’t be of some help here can you call them?”

“Of course.”

“And can you judge that by yourself?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good,” Loki turned his attention back to his brother, who only nodded and led Pepper to the door, much to the woman’s dismay.

“Anthony, everything’s alright,” Loki leaned forward, finally free to do so, and placed a kiss on the man’s lips, “Can you hear me?”

Tony nodded, resting his forehead on Loki’s shoulder for once and breathing in his now familiar scent. Loki always smelled so good…

“Then can you focus on my voice? You just have to listen, no need to answer if you don’t want to,” he tried to move a bit to ease the discomfort of Tony’s fingers digging in his flesh, but in the end he gave up and simply kept on speaking quiet nothings in Tony’s ear, nuzzling his neck in the process and trying to bear in mind that even though such a strong grasp reminded him of Alfheim that was only Anthony, who at the moment had no control over what he was doing.

Anthony wasn’t doing that on purpose, he probably had no idea of what he was doing.

What Anthony was implying with that grasp was his need to have Loki close, to have someone he considered safe in a moment of need; that had nothing to do with the violent hands Loki had been used to on Alfheim, nothing at all.

“Lo?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you,” Tony finally uttered once he felt that the knot that was closing his throat had vanished.

“How many times have you done the same for me?”

“That’s not the point,” the man huffed, “Sorry,” he added when he realised how he was still clawing at Loki’s side.

“It’s fine,” Loki reassured him, even though he was internally very relieved of how that disturbing pressure had disappeared. He may have tried to convince himself of the difference between Anthony’s touch and the one of his tormentors, but after that morning and the memories it had brought back, trying didn’t mean managing to do so.

“And you say you’re not good at the ‘mutual being there’ thing,” Tony snorted.

“I’ve helped you once.”

“You helped me when I needed it.”

“Do you want that glass of water?” Loki asked, not knowing what to say anymore.

“No,” Tony answered, a little too harshly if the confused expression on Loki’s face was something to go by, “I… don’t do well with water. Not now.”

“Can I get you something else?”

“Just stay here?” Tony tentatively asked, and Loki didn’t need to be told twice; curling against Tony’s chest, wrapping his arms around him, that was all he had wanted to do since Tony had started falling prey of the ghosts of his past.

Seeing the man who had become his safe harbour, that fixed point that had constantly been there for him in the past few months, crumble in front of his eyes had spooked him more than what he had believed possible; panic attacks were something common on Alfheim, but seeing Anthony succumb to panic… that was something he hadn’t considered.

“You know there’s something called pet therapy on Earth? Sometimes they use cats,” Tony commented stoking Loki’s black hair.

“I see you’re faring better.”

Tony even managed to chuckle as he pressed a kiss to Loki’s forehead.

“Sorry if I didn’t mention the other Avengers live here.”

“There’s no need to apologise.”

“You live here, you should know.”

“This is your house, you don’t have to inform me or ask my opinion.”

“This’s your house too.”

Loki could have countered that no, that wasn’t really his house, but he knew Anthony would have tried to convince him of the contrary and that the man didn’t have the strength to do so at the moment.

“I guess I won’t see them very often if there has been such a deterioration in your relationship.”

“No, not if I can avoid it,” Tony sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes, “It’s not that bad, not anymore at least. Many things have been fixed, it’s just…”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“Eventually I will, at least now we’ve already broached the subject. You know, communication, that thing to make relationships work,” he tried to flash Loki a grin, but all that came out from that attempt was a crooked smile, “Eventually they all signed the Accords, but Rogers and I… that’s more complicated. No, not like that,” he couldn’t suppress a laugh in front of Loki’s clearly suspicious expression.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to,” Tony would have never thought he would have been able to laugh when speaking about that particular events of his life, but Loki had managed that trick, “It’s not like that at all. Self-righteous blond isn’t my type.”

Loki still looked doubtful, but Tony had to go on. Now or never, there was no way he was going to start that conversation again.

“There’s another person residing in the Tower, but you don’t know him. I think you may find his history a bit familiar,” he started playing with Loki’s hair again; there was no way he could keep his hands still, “Goes by the name of Bucky Barnes. He and Rogers were friends back in the forties, then WWII happened and long story short everyone believed Barnes was dead. Evidently he wasn’t, and he’s spent the next seventy years being tortured and brainwashed by a criminal organisation to do their bids,” he paused for a moment, staring at the wall, “They trained him to be an assassin, and he became a very efficient one. So efficient they sent him to kill my parents.”

It was one of those few times in his long life that Loki found himself speechless. That man had killed his parents, and yet Anthony allowed him to live in his house?

For how much bad blood there could be between him and his family – or what remained of it – Loki couldn’t even imagine such a thing. Had he set eyes on the person who would have succeeded in killing Frigga he would have eviscerated them, not provided them with an apartment.

“It wasn’t his fault.”

“But he-“

“He had no control over his own action, Lokes, just like you. It took me a while to rationalise it, but I know I can’t hold Barnes responsible for what he was forced to do. Hydra and those who gave the order are the culprits, not him. When someone gets stabbed no rational person blames the knife.”

“No, they usually blame me,” Loki murmured, and once again Tony would have never expected to feel his lips curl upwards, “What happened with Rogers then?”

“I found out that my parents had been murdered and hadn’t died in a car crash as I had believed for years when we were in that bunker in Siberia and I reacted… badly.”

“Understandable.”

“But that’s not the point. The point is that Rogers knew, had known for months, and he hadn’t told me anything. Had he… had I… I could have… I should have…” Tony didn’t know how to go on anymore. Had Rogers talked to him in private, maybe called Pepper and Bruce as moral support, maybe Rhodey too, things would have certainly gone differently. He would have probably still reacted badly, but he wouldn’t have attacked Barnes, not if he would have been given the time to think and to mourn in peace.

As they were in that bunker he hadn’t had the chance to do so, he had reacted on instinct and almost died in the process. He could have avoided that, could have done things differently, could have…

“Come here,” Loki spoke softly, shifting against Tony in order to wrap protective arms around the man and let him hide his face in the crook of his neck as he had done so many times before in reversed roles.

Tony was a bit confused by that sudden switch in their roles, but he had to admit it was nice; Loki being taller than him provided the perfect height difference for him to curl up in Loki’s arms and let the former god rest his chin on the top of his head.

“It’s not your fault.”

“Yet-“

“No,” Loki didn’t try to convince him, he just impeded him to go on blaming himself by shutting him up with a kiss and grabbing one of Tony’s hands in his own. It was a small gesture, but when Loki led his hand beneath his green shirt Tony’s eyes snapped open.

“What are you doing?”

Loki just pressed a finger against his lips, silencing him for good.

“Lo?”

“Shh.”

Tony tried once more to protest, but Loki’s silky skin beneath his fingers was too much a distraction for him to keep thinking about anything else. At least until he felt the rising of a scar under his finger, and reality hit him once again in the face.

“Lokes, I’m so sorry,” he apologised, pulling back and framing Loki’s face in his hands.

“What for?’

“I’m here pitying myself over something that isn’t really so terrible while you-“

“No,” Loki interrupted him once more, “You have every right to be upset.”

“Yeah, complaining with you seems such a not stupid thing to do.”

“Anthony.”

“You’ve been through at least a thousand times more than what I can even imagine and yet you’re not complaining as much as I do.”

“How old are you?” Loki asked abruptly.

“What?”

“Compared to me, you’re nothing but a child,” Loki smiled warmly, kissing Tony’s cheek, “And your life has already been filled with so many horrible moments. You have every right to be upset.”

Tony just stared in those incredibly green eyes for a few moments, speechless, “I’ve no idea of what I’ve done to deserve you.”

“Saving me from a fate worse than death?”

“Stop looking at the technicalities,” he leaned in to kiss Loki once more, and Loki was all to happy to let him do that, shifting a bit to be more comfortable in their close embrace.

Chapter Text

“Do you want me to call Thor and Miss Potts back?”

“What?”

“I sent them away since you weren’t feeling well. I hope you don’t mind,” he added after a moment, but Tony couldn’t hide the smile for how Loki had finally taken the initiative.

“Not at all,” he said though, because he had a feeling that without some encouragement Loki would have misunderstood his silence.

“Friday would have called them, had the need arisen.”

“Yes, Boss.”

“Lokes, there’s no need for you to justify yourself. You made the right call. I don’t like having people around in these… moments.”

“You want me to leave?”

“No, no. I don’t like having many people around, I’m glad you’re here. Actually having you here helps.”

Loki didn’t need much conviction on that front, he understood all too well what Anthony was saying; that was something that was valid for him too, something he was experiencing on a personal level. He had never wanted anyone to approach him after his nightmares of during his worst moments, but Anthony was another matter entirely. Having the man around helped in ways he couldn’t even describe, so it was easy for him to recognise that Anthony may have been feeling the same.

“Hey, listen,” Tony found the strength to say after a while, “There’s something else we should talk about sooner or later, and since today is already a horrible day and there’s no chance for us to turn it better, I think we should do it now.”

“Talk about what?” Loki asked, immediately worried.

“Your eating problems.”

“My what?”

“Don’t deny it, there’s no reason to.”

“I’m not having any problem,” Loki pulled back, sitting with his legs crossed in front of Tony, “I’m fine.”

“Really? So this morning you were at your best?”

“Of course I wasn’t,” Loki snorted, “And I thought you would have understood why.”

“I can understand why, but that doesn’t mean that I’m blind in front of the fact you’re using avoiding food as a coping mechanism.”

“I’m not-“

“Why do you keep denying that? There’s no reason. And hey, it’s fine,” he took Loki’s hands in his own, so that Loki would have stopped nervously twisting the hem of his shirt, “I mean, not fine like you should live with it and stop, but fine meaning that it’s normal to have problems.”

“I don’t have problems eating.”

“You do, Lokes. Maybe you aren’t aware of that, but I can assure you that you have,” he stroked his thumbs over the back of Loki’s hands, trying to warm some reassurance into them.

“I don’t. I really don’t,” Loki tried to counter once again, but it was clear from the edge in his voice that Tony’s words had stirred something into him that had at least led him to reconsider what he had just affirmed with such certainty.

Maybe Tony had an external view that could have perceived something that he was missing.

That wasn’t something he had ever thought about.

Yes, he had skipped a few meals here and there even if it had been the only food he would have received in the whole day, but what was wrong with that? He had been so nauseated by everything, so disgusted by what he was forced to endure, that not feeling any desire to eat had only seemed normal.

Now though… Things with Anthony were different, and even though he was finally safe and respected he hadn’t stopped skipping meals.

“I…” Loki started, but he didn’t know how to go on.

“Okay, no need to discuss it at length now.”

“No, it’s… you’re right, better talk about everything today.”

“Lokes, hey, look at me,” he pulled at Loki’s hands to draw him closer, “You acknowledged there’s a problem, that’s enough for today.”

“I don’t want to think about it again,” Loki sighed, “Better to get everything out once, even if I… that’s not something I do consciously. It sort of… happens.”

“Lo…”

“No, I… let me speak. I never noticed this as a problem, never noticed it at all, but now that you point that out it sort of clicked and… I need to think about it.”

“Lokes, hey, relax, okay? Not all at once,” he briefly kissed the mage and the tension in Loki’s shoulders eased a bit, “No need to work on your issues today. You know there’s a problem, maybe next time it’ll pop up you’ll recognise it and start acting on it, or maybe you’ll just know what it is and that’s it. But don’t worry now.”

“Fine,” Loki accepted, massaging his temples with his fingers, “Do you want to call them?”

“Them?”

“Thor and Miss Potts.”

“Oh. No, it isn’t necessary,” Tony shook his head, “But you should probably talk with your brother.”

“Why?”

“Because today hasn’t been a great day for him too.”

Loki would have liked to dismiss what his brother had gone through since that morning, but he had to admit that Anthony was right: Thor had just found out in the most brutal way who his friends really were and that it was only for his order to go and look for Loki that they had found him. That didn’t mean that Loki had any intention to let other people interrupt the first quiet moment Anthony and he were having since Thor had so abruptly woken them up, “I don’t really want to see him again today.”

“There’s no need to,” Tony fished in the pocket of his jeans and handed Loki a phone, “You only need to call him, let him know everything’s fine.”

Loki nodded his reluctant approval and grudgingly walked away from the couch to speak with his brother.

Tony only watched him from where he was sitting, trying to understand how the conversation was going and unable to suppress a smile when he saw Loki rolling his eyes at something Thor had said at the other end of the line.

They should have both talked with Thor more, explained more things, clarified their situation, but Tony really didn’t think he was able to do so at the moment. That day had already been so filled with everything, with almost two panics attacks, with the realisation about Loki’s behaviour and the added revelations about Loki’s past years… no, Tony couldn’t include talking civilly to Thor to that day.

To think that they had returned to Earth for two day and a half… Tony would have sworn they had already returned weeks before with all the stuff that had happened in the last sixty hours.

Pepper asking to include also the other members of the Avengers to the picture was unthinkable for the moment.

It wasn’t only Loki to have troubles with the current situation who only included two people beside the two of them, but Tony himself wasn’t faring that better; of course it had more to do with the fact that Thor had almost decided to strangle him, but the stress induced by that had only proved disastrous when mixed to the one that talking about Siberia always stirred in him.

They both needed more time.

Just some time for themselves, only Loki and him.

He still wanted to show the lab to Loki, maybe introduce him to the more complicated holograms he used for his projects. As long as they couldn’t solve the situation of Loki’s lack of magic that would have maybe proved as a good substitute, giving him at least a distant impression of something he clearly missed so much.

To do that though, they needed some time alone with no one barging in in the most unexpected moments.

“Thor wants to let you know he’s staying in his apartment here in the Tower tonight,” Loki informed him handing him back his phone, “He says he still has to move his stuff here but that he prefers to stay if that isn’t a problem.”

“No, of course. That apartment is empty, he can do what he wants.”

“Is everything alright?”

Perceptive little thing that he was, Loki had immediately sensed there was something wrong.

“I’m just tired,” Tony admitted, not even trying to deny it, “I know it’s still early and that it sounds terribly childish, but what do you think of going to bed, have dinner there and then watch a movie until we fall asleep?”

“I’d love that,” Loki smiled, accepting the hand Anthony was offering and heading upstairs.

 

~

 

“Friday, did you order groceries?”

“Yes, Boss. After your conversation of yesterday I have thought that it would’ve been better to have a furnished fridge, not only a couple of eggs and wine.”

“Very funny, Fri, but thank you.”

“My pleasure, Boss.”

Tony only shook his head in front of the AI’s tone, but he was still thankful for her intervention when he poured a glass of grape juice and placed it on the tray he was about to get ready.

Loki acknowledging his problems was already a huge step forward, there was no reason to try and ease the process of doing something about it.

Tony had already noticed Loki reacted well to breakfast in bed, so who was he to deny Loki that? And beside that, he loved pampering Loki and see how his green eyes alighted in front of small acts of kindness.

Okay, fine, it wasn’t only kindness, but it wasn’t necessary to further into too many details.

“Tony, hey. You already up?” Pepper said stepping out of the elevator, and Tony made a mental note to ask Friday to warn him also of Pepper’s arrival when he almost jumped out of his skin.

Pepper may have been a blessing to his life, but after Alfheim he wasn’t so keen of having people opening doors unannounced.

“Hey, Peps. Checking on me?”

“Since yesterday the last time I saw you you had troubles breathing I thought it’d have been a good idea.”

“Oh, that, yeah,” Tony grabbed two slices of toasted bread and put them on a plate, “I’m fine.”

“Are you taking your pills?”

“When I have to.”

“Tony…”

“I know. No need to play martyr. I have a problem. There’s no shame in admitting it. If I need it I have the pills I have been prescribed. Thanks, mom,” Tony rolled his eyes, adding jam to the tray.

“You know I’m only trying to make sure you’re alright, and I imagine the last two months haven’t been easy for you.”

“They have helped me put things in a better perspective for sure.”

Pepper could understand that. How could someone complain about something after knowing what had happened to Loki? In front of his pain and sufferance everything else seemed negligible, “I get that, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your health.”

“Can we just change subject? PTSD and torture aren’t my favourite topics before coffee.”

“Of course,” Pepper smiled trying to lighten the mood, “What are you doing?”

“Preparing breakfast.”

“Indeed. What are you doing? You never have breakfast.”

“Oh, it’s not for me, even though I think I’ll end up eating some.”

“You’re preparing Loki breakfast?” Pepper asked, her eyes going imperceptibly wider.

“Yeah, it’s a good way to get him out of bed, eventually.”

“You… bring him breakfast in bed?”

“His Grace appreciates it.”

“Isn’t he a bit… freaked out at having you in his bedroom?”

“Since that’s still my bedroom, even though now Loki has transformed into a very close replica of a Viking hall, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

“Your bedroom?”

“Mmh-mh,” Tony nodded, grabbing the pot of freshly brewed coffee.

“Why is Loki in your bedroom?”

Chapter Text

Tony must have been rather distracted by picking a wide selection of tea-bags not to notice the edge in the woman’s voice.

“He has elected it to his room too, if that awfully warm blanket is something to go by. Luckily Loki’s a little colder than the average human.”

“Tony!”

“What?”

“Loki’s a little colder than the average human?”

“Yes,” he turned around, his brow furrowed, “He’s jotun, remember?”

“That’s not the point!”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“Loki’s in your bedroom?” she asked, using a tone better suited to use with an idiot.

“Of course he’s in my bedroom. We’ve been sleeping together for more than two months, I don’t see why that should change now.”

“Tony! Have you lost your mind?”

Tony hadn’t registered what Pepper had understood of that conversation in the beginning – his brain still too coffee-deprived to get to focus on more than preparing breakfast – but now her tone made it more than clear, “What? No. What do you think I am, a monster? We sleep together, actual sleeping, that’s it.”

Pepper was a little taken aback by Tony’s clarification – not much by the clarification itself, but she was still recovering from what she had thought in the beginning – and she just blinked a couple of times, “You’ve been sleeping with Loki this entire time?”

“Yes, since the first day we met in that fucking place.”

“How… how can you think this’s a good idea?” she asked, not even knowing what to say at this point.

“It helps Loki sleep. He has nightmares.”

“And that’s it?”

“Of course not. Where were you the past two days?”

“What?”

“It’s been no mystery that Loki and I have a relationship.”

“You two have what?”

“Pepper, come on, don’t play dumb. Even Thor knows.”

Thor knows?”

“And he’s fine with that. Kind of. Can you stop looking at me as if I’ve murdered someone in front of you?”

“Tony, have you lost your mind entirely?”

“What? Pepper, please, say what you want clearly and stop this.”

“You have a relationship with Loki?”

“Yes. I told you so. Can you go on before breakfast gets cold?”

“How can you even think that having a relationship with Loki can be a good idea?”

“Pepper-“

“Tony, his freedom depends on you, he depends entirely on you, how can you think that what you two have is a healthy relationship?”

Tony had to bite his tongue before answering. After all Pepper was the one who would have ensured all the papers to make Loki a citizen and refugee of Earth would have been filled and promptly delivered, he couldn’t just go for her throat. Luckily, those two months had taught him something in the front of diplomacy.

“And I made it clear to him that that isn’t linked to us being… something. Loki knows he’s free to stay here, to have his space, to do as he wants as long as he doesn’t endanger himself or others. I made it abundantly clear. He knows that. He knows he can go and do as he pleases. I have set boundaries. He has his room and he can tell me off and forbid me to enter it. The only time he went there it was with me and he didn’t want to stay.”

“Tony, this isn’t…”

“This isn’t what? Pepper, you’ve no idea. You’re just drawing assumptions from what you think you know, but you’ve no idea of what’s going on in Loki’s mind.”

“And you do?”

“More than you for sure.”

“You should have insisted to have him sleep in his own bed.”

“Why?”

“It isn’t healthy, Tony. Not even for your relationship, if you want to call it so,” there was no way not to notice the light wrinkling of Pepper’s nose.

“Pepper, we only sleep.”

“That doesn’t matter, he shouldn’t stay in your bed.”

“What do you propose then? Should I force Loki to sleep on his own, in a room where he doesn’t want to be, and that only reminds him of the cubicle he was segregated in when no one wanted him for some time? Because that’s what having a room of his own made him think about. That it was like on Alfheim, that he was left on his own once again and with no protection at all. Do you really think it’d have been better to let him think that, to make him think I’m the one who decides what he can and can’t do?”

Pepper would have liked to say something, but it wasn’t easy, “Maybe explaining to him…”

“Explaining what? That he has no reason to be afraid of loneliness? That what he’s been through shouldn’t have repercussions on his present? And what about his nightmares? Should I leave him alone to face them only because you think it’d be better if we didn’t share the same bed?”

This time Pepper was reduced to silence.

There was nothing she could say in front of Tony’s words, nothing that could have made a good point to counter what Tony had said.

She had only listened to a short recount of what Loki’s past years had been, she couldn’t pretend to know everything about him. Not that she had changed their mind about the wrongness of that arrangement, but she had no idea of how to voice that opinion without sounding like a jealous ex.

“Tony, I know that-“

“No, you don’t know, Pepper. You don’t know and it isn’t you place to know everything. Loki’ll tell you if he wants to, but that’s not my place to do so. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to try and control eating problems.”

Before Pepper could add something Tony covered the tray so the food wouldn’t have got cold and went upstairs, cursing at himself when he realised he had forgotten the water for Loki’s tea. By the time he had deposited the tray on the floor next to the door of the bedroom and headed back downstairs to put the kettle on the stove he found the huge open space empty.

Maybe Pepper had taken the hint and left.

It would have been the best thing; Tony was in no mood to fight her on the legitimacy of his relationship with Loki and neither did he want to justify himself.

What his temporarily relief hadn’t taken in consideration was that there were other stairs in his house beside the ones he had just used.

Pepper had decide to follow him upstairs, but now she was alone in front of what had used to be their bedroom. The door was open, and Loki’s shape under the thick blanket was unmistakeable.

Unmistakable as the side of the bed he was occupying.

It was the side of the bed that had used to be Pepper’s.

Loki was still asleep – his black hair tied in a braid falling over his shoulder revealing his closed eyes – surrounded by pillows; when Pepper had tried to convince Tony to redecorate a little and add some pillows to their bed she had been told they were useless, and now Loki had a whole stack of them behind his back.

Despite those considerations, it was impossible to remain impassible in front of how Loki stirred, his hand reaching out in the direction of Tony’s side of the bed. His hand ventured out of the blanket, exploring but grasping on nothing. It was only when Loki was sure that no one was there that he opened his eyes in search for Tony, startling back into the pillows when he noticed the unexpected presence on the threshold.

Pepper and Loki had only the time to stare at each other for a few seconds before Tony’s voice drew their attention.

“I thought you’d left.”

“I was leaving,” Pepper tried to excuse herself, because there really was no reason for her to be there.

“I’m quite sure you know the way out.”

“Tony, I meant no harm.”

“I know, but now leave, please.”

“Tony…”

“We’ll talk later,” Tony gave her a stern stare, and Pepper found no other way to retort.

In all honesty even she had no idea of why she had gone to that room to begin with, but now that she was confronted with that she recognised it had been a bad idea.

She had no reason to be there at all, Tony and she had remained friends and nothing more, and she was fine with that, truly fine.

To add to the nonsense of all of that there was also the scared look on Loki’s face; it wasn’t the same terror Pepper had previously seen, but it was still something that shouldn’t have been there. It was astonishing though how the scared expression on Loki’s face had immediately shifted the moment he had spotted Tony in the corridor: there was still a hint of worry in his eyes, but completely different. He was more confused than scared now that Tony was close, Pepper couldn’t deny or pretend not to see that.

“Okay, I…”

“Just go,” Tony only shook his head once, but that was enough to prompt Pepper to leave them alone.

This time Tony closed the door for good measure, “Sorry for that.”

“Is your bedroom usually so crowded?”

“No,” Tony chuckled, placing the kettle on the tray and bringing it to the bed as Loki sat up against the pillows, “Once it was even worse, but those days are long gone.”

“What’s that?”

“Your breakfast. And my coffee.”

“Did you bring me breakfast in bed again?”

“You seem to like it. I’d have done that yesterday too, but your brother kind of ruined my plans,” Tony placed the tray on the bed, trying his best to balance it on the ruffled blankets, and found a comfortable position next to Loki.

“You don’t have to do this for me,” Loki said, but there was a twinkle in his eyes Tony couldn’t miss.

If all that was required to see Loki happy was bringing him breakfast he would have done it every day.

“You like it, I don’t see why not. You want also butter on your toasts?”

“Anthony.”

“What? You don’t want it? It’s good, trust me.”

“Stop preparing me food as if I were a child. I can take care of myself.”

“That has nothing to do with that,” Tony hurried to explain; he had noticed how Loki was susceptible to being treated as a weak little thing who needed someone to survive. Tony knew that, and he tried to avoid having Loki feel that way, but he couldn’t deny how much he loved being there for him, spoil him rotten and make him feel like the prince he once was, “As I’ve told you, I’m trying to make us work.”

Loki gave him the warmest of smiles before answering, “And I can’t even express how much I appreciate that, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn into a servant.”

“Bringing you breakfast in bed has nothing to do with that. You aren’t asking me to do it, that’s something I like.”

“Mmh…” Loki hummed, the smile not leaving his lips, “Why don’t you put down the cutlery nonetheless?”

“Why?”

“Because now you can do this,” Loki shifted and with one single movement he was against Tony’s chest, taking the man’s hands in his own and leading them to circle his waist.

“You may have your point,” Tony smiled himself, burying his nose in Loki’s hair, just above the point in which his thick braid started.

“See? I can take care of myself.”

“I never doubted that, Lokes,” he kissed the god’s cheek, happily witnessing to how Loki snuggled closer to him, “And this has nothing to do with it.”

“So what’s this about?”

“You and me,” Tony promptly answered, not skipping a beat, his goatee lightly scratching Loki’s pale skin, “How we may work together.”

“Well, I hope.”

“Keep snuggling against me in the morning, and I’m sure we will.”

“There’s a way to ensure that.”

“That being?”

“You stop getting up before me to prepare me breakfast and actually remain in bed with me,” Loki slightly turned around and deposited the smallest of kisses on Tony’s lips.

“Can’t I do both?”

Chapter Text

Tony had had the idea of showing the lab to Loki that day, but in the end he hadn’t found it in his heart to force Loki to see something new.

He would have probably liked the lab, but Tony had noticed how Loki eyed suspiciously the doors of the elevator from time to time, so he had decided to postpone their trip; he was itching to finally be back in his workshop to thinker with his stuff, but for now he had decided to push that aside and favour giving Loki a quiet day in the space that was becoming familiar to him.

Not that Tony had managed to convince Loki to use his room, but at least Loki hadn’t leached to him for the whole day. He had even gone to the point of taking a long bath and explore the library; not actually staying there, but at least he had taken a look at the shelves and picked a couple of books to bring back with him. Tony had tried to tell him to try the armchairs strategically placed next to the huge windows, but Loki had looked at him with pleading eyes and Tony had desisted.

At least Loki hadn’t opposed to lunch, and Tony counted that as a progress.

It was impossible for Loki not to drop the fork when he saw the elevator doors open, thought, but it turned out to be only Thor and Loki resumed eating.

“Hey, Thor. Care to join us?”

“No, friend Stark, thank you. Brother,” he said with a huge smile sitting next to Loki at the kitchen island. “How are you?”

“Better earlier.”

“You don’t like pasta?”

Loki just rolled his eyes and went on eating, keeping his eyes on the plate.

“What brings you here?” Tony asked, trying to diffuse the tense atmosphere that had just settled in the room.

“I just wanted to check on my little brother. Loki, you want to do something?”

“Not particularly.”

“C’mon, brother, talk to me. You want to watch tv with me? I’m sure we can do something together.”

“I’m having lunch.”

“Yeah, but you’re almost finished. I can wait.”

Tony could only stare at the blond giant. Was Thor that stupid? How could he think that Loki was the same person he had known his whole life after years of torture and abandonment?

“We can do so many things now that we’re together. You want to see my apartment downstairs? And you should probably meet Jane, she’s amazing. Smart, brilliant, I’m sure you’ll get along well.”

“You know what? I’ll go read in the library. Please, don’t follow me,” Loki stood up and with a final gesture grabbed his books and left for the peace of the library.

Tony waited to see Loki disappear into the corridor before turning in Thor’s direction.

“What the fuck, man? Why did you do that? You know that Loki doesn’t react that well to basically anything.”

“Oh, nothing new. Loki’s always reacted like that to me. Better way to make him leave a room? Have me asking him to do something.”

Now Tony was confused.

“I need to talk with you alone, but Loki never seems to get away from you. So I improvised: it was a fair guess to think that certain things never change,” he gave a sad smile in the direction Loki had just taken, and Tony really didn’t know what to say.

Had Thor just outsmarted both Loki and him?

“You, uh…”

“You may know this version of Loki better than me, but I’m sorry to tell you that I still know more tricks than you.”

“Okay, fine. What did you want to tell me?” Tony asked, not so sure that going down that path would have led to anything good for the image he had of himself.

“I went to Vanheim this morning.”

“I didn’t hear the energy of Mjolnir.”

“I didn’t use it here. Loki would’ve suspected something,” Thor added, surprising Tony once again.

“That’s… thoughtful.”

“I’m glad you share my opinion. Now, I’ve spoken with Mother.”

“And?”

“She was devastated but willing to help,” from Thor’s look it was more than clear how that conversation must have been hard for him.

“Do you want something to drink? A beer?”

It was the only form of comfort Tony could think about at the moment.

“Do you have something stronger?”

“It’s 2 pm.”

“And I just came back from telling my mother what her son has been through these past four years.”

“You have a point,” Tony agreed, fetching a bottle of what was Thor’s favourite vodka, if he remembered correctly.

From how the god gulped down a few sips of the liquor as if it was water, he had guessed right.

“Okay, speaking of the practical part of your conversation with your mother and leaving aside all the trauma related to it: what about the shackle?”

“Mother says there are two different gems that could work to give Loki his magic back, but she should see them and study them to be sure of which one has been used: the only problem is that carrying powerful objects without the proper wards leaves a trace, and I’ve no idea of how to cast them.”

“Can’t you bring one and then the other?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Thor shook his head, taking another sip from the already half empty bottle, “The closeness of the gems would produce the same effect, and even bringing one, putting it back in its place, and taking the second one later would have the same effect.”

Tony remained silent for a few seconds as Thor drowned the failure of his plan in the clear vodka, “Does your mother have to touch the gems too?”

“I don’t think so, why?”

“Because I have an idea.”

Before Thor could say anything Tony disappeared in the same corridor that had seen Loki leaving them, but differently from Loki the human came back.

“What about this?”

“This?”

“A phone,” Tony explained.

“I can’t call Mother from Asgard’s vaults,” Thor frowned, “Phones don’t work on Asgard.”

“I know that phones don’t work on Asgard,” Tony snorted, “Of course they don’t work, there’s no signal. What works everywhere though is the camera,” he turned on the phone and snapped a picture of Thor’s confused face.

“So?”

“So if your mother only has to look at the gems you can take pictures of them, bring her the phone, and then come back here with only the one we need.”

Thor blinked a couple of times, pondering the possible fallacies of that plan, “Now I know what my brother sees in you, Stark,” he smiled, clasping a hand on Tony’s shoulder.

Tony had no idea of what to say in front of that, so he went for a tight smile that did nothing to express how nervous he felt for Thor’s hand being so close to where it had been the morning before, around his neck.

“You think you can do it now?”

“Is my brother having problems?”

“Not more than what it could be expected, but he needs his magic back.”

“Is he hurt?” Thor asked again, this time hinting to go after Loki wherever he had found refuge.

“No, I told you that he’s fine. Having his magic back could help him feel a bit more comfortable, a little more like himself. And I think that every time he feels that fucking shackle around his ankle everything just comes back to his mind and he has no way to forget.”

Thor weighted the human’s words, and found them indisputable; Loki’s tortures had started the moment Odin had sealed that damned shackle around Loki’s ankle, and that was a constant reminder to Loki of what he didn’t have anymore. His magic gone, Thor couldn’t even try to imagine it… Frigga had tried to explain, but the closest thing he could compare it with was the loss of Mjolnir, and he was well aware that that couldn’t even amount to the hundredth part of what Loki was feeling.

“I’ll see what I can do in the shortest time possible. Thank you, friend Stark,” Thor placed once again his big hand on his shoulder, and once again Tony couldn’t but find it odd and a bit worrisome; Thor may have snapped his neck if only he so pleased, so there was no need for Tony not to feel a little on edge.

“Should I tell Loki I’m leaving?”

“Nah, leave him alone. It’s the first time he decides to stay on his own for a while, I wouldn’t disturb him.”

“Just tell him I say bye,” Thor requested before leaving using the elevator as a normal person. Tony still couldn’t believe how thoughtful Thor’s preoccupation of having Loki guess his plans was.

Now that he was alone for the first time in months Tony didn’t know what to do.

Sure, he could have just joined Loki in the library and he was certain Loki would have welcomed his presence, but what he had just told Thor was valid also for him: Loki was exploring his new possibilities and the knowledge that being alone didn’t necessarily imply danger, Tony couldn’t ruin that.

As long as Loki didn’t seek him out Tony would have done better at not disturbing him at all.

For a moment he considered finally setting foot again in his lab, but on second thought that wasn’t a nice idea; had Loki looked for him and realised he was alone in the penthouse he would have probably panicked, and there was nothing Tony wanted more than to allow Loki to have at least a day of calm and quiet.

“Fri, what’s resident alien doing?”

“Reading, Boss.”

“Just that?”

“Just that, Boss. He looks fine,” the AI added, and Tony could hear a slight note of affection in her Irish voice.

“Okay, just warn me if something happens then,” he added before finding a comfortable place on his armchair and reaching his StarkPad to at least work on the schematics for a new model of the armour when his phone rang, the display of the tablet showing a picture alongside the signal of the incoming call.

“Hey, Platypus, how are you?”

“I’m just a bit offended you got back three days ago and didn’t even think about giving me a ring.”

Tony chuckled, “Well, uh, I don’t know if that could make you feel better, but I’ve been a bit busy.”

“So busy to not even call me after you came back from an alien planet? That’s one of the first things we’ve ever talked about: Playboy villa and alien planets. The first one we did together, but the second you did on your own and now you aren’t even telling me anything.”

“Okay, okay, you have your point.”

“How was it?”

“What?”

“What? Alf-something.”

“Like hell,” Tony admitted with a sigh.

“Really? Elves don’t really sound like menacing people.”

“Well, they’re the worst kind of bastards in the whole universe, probably.”

There was silence at the other end of the line, “Tony, what happened?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ve been gone for two months, you haven’t called me, and now you tell me this. You can’t dismiss me with ‘nothing’.”

“Really, Rhodey, nothing,” Tony lied again, not knowing how to inform his best friends of the new developments in his life.

“You sound tired.”

“Jet-lag.”

“Who do you think I am? I’ve known you for almost thirty years, you don’t fool me like that.”

“I’m just tired, that’s it.”

“Fine, I’m calling Pepper.”

“No, wait,” if there was something Tony didn’t want was Pepper more involved in that situation; not only because she may have been partial in her recount of what she had heard, but also because it wouldn’t have been fair. She was already helping them by keeping quiet and taking care of the papers to ensure Loki’s staying in the most discrete way possible, asking her more would have only been mean.

She was already being so kind to check on them – excluding the accident of a few hours before, but Tony was ready to considering it something done in good faith – that asking her even more was something not even the old version of Tony who had Pepper kick out his one night stands would have done.

“Wait, don’t call her. I’ll explain, but in person.”

His lines may have been secure, but one was never too careful while harbouring someone who was still considered Number One Public Enemy.

“I’m free for dinner.”

“Okay, then,” Tony sighed, saying goodbye to his quiet day.

“You want me to pick up something to eat?”

“That’d be a wonderful idea. Order for three,” he added before ending the call and leaving Rhodey to wonder what the hell had he done this time.

Chapter Text

When Rhodey arrived the penthouse was unusually quiet.

He would have expected a party going on from two days – not the sort of parties Tony was used to throw when he was younger and that usually ended with alcohol poisoning for at least five guests, but still a sort of party – and instead what welcomed him when the elevator doors opened to let him into the apartment was silence.

Hadn’t he heard from Tony just a few hours before he would have thought something was wrong.

“Tony?” he called, just to make sure the man was there; Tony may as well been in his lab, so waiting him there would have been stupid.

“Here, here,” Tony appeared from the corridor, “Hey, Rhodes.”

“Tony,” he smiled, hugging his friend he hadn’t seen in months, “How are you?”

“Never been better,” Tony flashed him a smile, but Rhodey could see from the wrinkles around his eyes that there was something troubling his best friend.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. Oh, you brought chicken. You’re amazing, man.”

“Tony…”

“What?”

“Remember that time at MIT when you set fire to our rug and didn’t want to let me enter our room? Well, you have the same look now.”

Tony laughed a bit nervously, but his laugh was a true one, “Okay, fine, you may have a point.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Tony what are you? Five? Don’t play dumb with me, it doesn’t work. It has certainly something to do with the fact you’ve made me order for three because had Pepper been the third person in question she’d have taken charge of dinner herself.”

“You know me too well, Platypus. You’re dangerous.”

“I’ve brought you fried chicken, I’m not dangerous.”

“That’s what a dangerous person’d say.”

“Tony, who’s here?” Rhodey cut him off before the man could start rambling even more.

“Uh, well…” Tony averted his eyes, taking the bag with the food in his hands and bringing it at the kitchen island.

“Tony you are dodging my question. Or better, dodging me entirely.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Why did you invite me here then if you didn’t want to tell me what’s going on?”

“I thought it’d have been easier to explain, but…” Tony trailed off. He had reached Loki in the library, knocking at the door not to startle him, but the look on Loki’s face when he had told him another stranger would have visited them… Tony had been tempted to call Rhodey back and cancel their dinner.

Loki had tried to hide his fear for another person – a man he didn’t know – joining them there since Tony had told him that visitor was his best friend and that they had been friends for more than thirty years, but the way his green eyes had widened had told everything his words had tried to hide.

“Listen, what I have to tell you is important.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve started an intergalactic war. I know you’re capable of that.”

“Rhodey, I’m serious.”

Had Tony’s words failed to convey the importance of what he was about to say the complete absence of any sort of reaction to Rhodey’s joke would have done it in his stead.

“Okay, sorry. Go on.”

“Give me your phone.”

“What?”

“Your phone. Give it to me and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Tony, what the hell?”

“I don’t want sudden reactions.”

“What do you think I’d do?”

“Just give me that phone, it’s already hard as it is.”

“Okay, fine, fine. Here,” Rhodey fished the phone from his pocket and. handed it to Tony, “What are you afraid of, that I’d call the army?”

“Yes.”

The total lack of irony in Tony’s voice only managed to worry the other man more.

“What have you done?”

“The right thing, even though you may judge some details inappropriate.”

“… what have you done?” Rhodey repeated, this time more worried.

“Sit here,” Tony gestured him in the direction of one of the stools around the island, “You have to listen, okay?”

“You’re being too cautious for my taste.”

“Listen, don’t interrupt me. Please.”

In front of Tony’s tired look, Rhodey shut up and turned in the direction of the stool Tony had picked for himself, “Sorry, go on.”

“Thank you. Okay, now, remember the attack of four years ago?”

“When Loki tried to turn humanity in his army of minions? Hard to forget.”

“Rhodey, please.”

“Okay, yes. I remember. Go on.”

“Well, we have all made a huge mistake. My theory about Loki not being really the mind behind everything, the one Thor told us something about only months after shipping Loki off to his destiny in Asgard… that theory was right, Rhodey. Loki hadn’t planned the attack for some personal reason, he was being controlled.”

“You can say for sure that you theory was right?”

“Never been more sure of anything.”

Rhodey only took a couple of seconds to think. Tony could be many things, but he wasn’t stupid, and he had yet to encounter a theory his best friend had spent months trying to prove that hadn’t demonstrated that Tony had been right from the beginning.

“Okay, I believe you. What has this to do with you trip to… whatever was the name?”

“Loki wasn’t responsible of the attack, but he was sentenced and punished as if he were guilty all the same,” Tony stopped, and Rhodey knew him too well not to read that there was something terribly wrong there, something that Tony was having troubles telling him.

“Tony, what are you trying to say?”

“Slavery,” he paused, “Loki’s been sentenced to slavery.”

“What?”

“Odin sentenced him.”

“Isn’t Odin…”

“His father? Yes.”

Rhodey remained silent for a few moments, before bringing himself to ask more, “What has this to do with your trip?”

“I… I’ve spent the last two months in the equivalent of an intergalactic brothel.”

“Tony!”

“No, Rhodey, it’s not what you think.”

The expression on Tony’s face was so pained that Rhodey had to actually stop for a moment to consider everything his friend had just told him, to put all the pieces together. There hadn’t even been a bite in his voice as he had denied what Rhodey had implied, Tony had just sounded so terribly drained.

The mention of Loki, what his sentence had been, what Tony had just told him…

“Tony, did you…?” he asked with a bit of dread in his voice.

“Did I find Loki there, working as a sex slave? Yes,” Tony admitted, his eyes low now.

“What... how…?” Rhodey didn’t know what to say, but from the way Tony’s shoulders had slumped he could easily say that asking more explanations out of him would have only been cruel.

“I got him out,” Tony uttered after a while, “That’s why it took me so long. I couldn’t leave him there, Rhodey, I simply couldn’t. Even if things hadn’t…” he trailed off, as if realising that he had said too much.

“If things hadn’t?”

“Listen, Loki’s important to me. Truly important,” Tony raised his eyes again, focusing on his best friend; once again Rhodey couldn’t but notice how tired Tony looked, as if he was recounting the same painful story for the hundredth time. And that look in his eyes… Rhodey had seen it only once.

“Define important.”

“I’m not gonna listen to any reproach you may have for me. I know what I’m doing. Kind of.”

“I’m only trying to understand.”

“You didn’t even sound surprised,” Tony frowned.

“Surprised? With you? Do you think I’m an amateur? Tell me more about Loki, though. Where is he?”

“The library.”

“He’s here?”

“I just told you, he’s… important to me.”

“I didn’t think this level of importance.”

Tony put on a smile that to someone who knew him as well as Rhodey did only communicated nervousness, “Well, yes.”

“Okay, fine, I won’t ask. Tell me something more about that place?”

“Can I do it another time? The ordeal with Pepper has already been enough for today.”

“Pepper?”

“She may have found Loki in my bed.”

Rhodey tried – really tried to shut up, but he couldn’t, “You told me that Loki was-“

“That’s absolutely not what you think. We sleep together but that’s it.”

“You. Only sleeping with someone in your bed.”

“I’m not fifteen anymore.”

“I can see that,” Rhodey nodded at the wrinkles around Tony’s eyes.

“Hey, you’re not exactly a flower yourself.”

“So… you and Loki…”

“Hang on a second. You’re not saying anything. Nothing about Alfheim, nothing about the attack of New York of four years ago, nothing at all?”

“Tony, I’ve known you for more than half your life. I’ve renounced to make questions when you sound so sure. And as for that place you found Loki in… well, since I think you’ll introduce him to me in a few minutes I won’t spend too much time making questions about what he’s been through. Not now at least,” he added, “Just tell me if there’s something I should avoid saying in his presence.”

It was another one of those rare time in which Tony was rendered speechless by the person in front of him, “Rhodey, you literally are the best.”

“I wouldn’t be so hasty in saying that. I have tons of questions, you just shocked me into silence.”

Tony managed a nervous chuckle, but that was the best he could offer at the moment, “I’m calling Loki, okay?”

“That’s your house,” Rhodey shrugged.

“Just… don’t do anything sudden, okay?”

“What are you about to do? Bring a deer into this room?”

“I call him Bambi sometimes, but I think that’s not the point.”

“That was something I didn’t want to know.”

“You know, the horns on the helmet…”

“Tony.”

“What?”

“I don’t want to know.”

Tony rolled his eyes, but he respected the desires of his friend, “Friday, can you tell Loki to come here if he wants to?”

“Sure thing, Boss.”

The banter between the two men quietly died as they waited for Loki to make his appearance.

The former god didn’t make them wait long, since in just a few moments he appeared from the corridor; there was a spooked aura around him that kept Rhodey from saying anything. It would have been easy to comment on how Loki looked changed from the footages of four years prior, but Rhodey wasn’t stupid.

“Lokes, this is Rhodey,” Tony introduced them, “Rhodey, you know who Loki is.”

“I may know something, yes. Hi,” Rhode offered Loki a hand, but Loki only looked at it.

“Rhodey brought dinner. Have you already tried fried chicken? I don’t remember.”

Loki shook his head, but he didn’t say anything, making Tony question whether that had been a good idea or not.

Introducing Loki to other people was certainly something good for the fallen prince, and Rhodey was the best person he could have picked to start doing that, but seeing how Loki was reacting… well, maybe that could have been postponed for a little while more, at least until Loki had gotten his powers back.

“Come sit here with us?”

Without raising his eyes from the floor Loki nodded and went to sit next to Tony, carefully circumnavigating the seat occupied by Rhodey.

“Uh, Lokes, everything’s fine, okay?” Tony tried to reassure him, going to the point of resting a hand on Loki’s arm, but the god didn’t seem likely to do something more than sit in silence in the near future.

“Tony, maybe I should just go,” Rhodey suggested in a low voice, and to that Loki raised his eyes.

“No, I… I’ll leave so you two can talk.”

“No, hey, Rhodey’s here to meet you. You’re important to me and Rhodey’s my best friend, the closest thing I have to family. And I’ve told you, he’s a great guy.”

“I… I don’t think…”

“Why don’t we have dinner? We can talk later and the food won’t get cold,” Rhodey interrupted him.

“That’s a good idea,” Tony agreed, starting to divide the chicken in their plates.

“And well, Loki, since you’re going to live in New York if I got it right, you can’t not know how to eat fried chicken with your hands.”

“With my hands?” Loki asked with a very close approximation of an outraged voice, and Tony drew a sigh of relief.

Chapter Text

They didn’t hear from Thor for three days.

After Rhodey’s visit, those days had been blessed with an unfathomable lack of visitors at the penthouse, and both Loki and Tony had been allowed to draw a sigh of relief. Loki for the possibility of focusing on putting a mental distance between Alfheim and himself, and Tony for how Loki had visibly relaxed in those past hours of quiet.

Not that Loki had changed much in his behaviour, but what little Tony could perceive was certainly positive: Loki was no longer seeking his company every second of the day, but he had come to appreciate the possibility of visiting his personal library for a few hours at the time. Not that that meant much on the front of regaining his previous status of arrogant prince, but that was a behaviour Tony would have expected more.

What still remained odd was how much Loki was sleeping, but Tony was already prone to pin it on some form of depression: the former god spent so much time asleep that the definition of a cat would have been always more fitting, but for now it wasn’t something Tony could solve. The only thing required of him was his presence so that Loki could curl up against him and close his eyes knowing he was close, and that wasn’t something Tony could question; he knew that was something they should have solved sooner or later – or at least talked about it – but for now there was so much Tony could deal with at once.

What Loki was doing was harmless, and for now there were more important things to focus on.

Luckily, after their conversation Loki’s awareness about his eating situation had improved; maybe it was because of that, maybe because he hadn’t received unwelcome visits in the past three days, but Loki hadn’t skipped a meal in those three days. It was true that Tony had done his best to avoid any stress around the time of their meals, but he still counted that as an improvement.

Tony had even managed to finally show Loki the lab; that had been something he had itched to do for days, and finally he had been able to do it. Loki had looked curious, intrigued by the many strange things that could be found in the shop, but he hadn’t dared to touch or try anything.

He had just sat there for a while, watching Tony play with his holograms and with his bots, and in the end he had retreated to the library. Tony had been a bit disappointed by that in the beginning, but after a bit of thinking he thought he had found a reason for Loki not really enjoying staying in the shop.

From what he had gathered Loki didn’t react well to loud noises – which apparently reminded him of Alfheim – so it was more than understandable that he didn’t like staying in a place where Tony soldered and hammered metal.

Tony could understand that.

Maybe he would have asked Loki to join him in more quiet moments.

Even their nightly experiments had continued, especially since Tony had shown Loki the gym.

It had been more a matter of need – Tony had already spent too many days without exercising and had something that required the intervention of Iron Man happened he would have got out of the fight terribly sore even in the eventuality no one would have hit him – than of actual desire to show Loki around, but Loki had loved it.

Tony had been cautious when proposing to abandon the now almost-familiar environment of the penthouse, and Loki had had exactly the spooked attitude that the man had expected.

What he hadn’t expected had been the sudden change in Loki’s demeanour the moment he had spotted the knives displayed on the wall along with the other weapons Tony had ordered more out of a whim than of a real desire to master all those fighting techniques.

Loki’s eyes had alighted the instant they had set on the shining blades on the wall, but it had been with the most hesitant voice that he had asked the permission to touch them.

Not to use them.

Just to touch them.

Tony had felt his heart break for having understood so promptly that Loki was being so cautious because he feared the possible consequences, and he had been forced to nod for the knot that had formed in his throat.

Loki had tentatively approached the showcase – the memory of the prohibition to even be close to a weapon still too fresh in his mind – and the glass containing the daggers had disappeared the moment he had been close enough to grab them.

Loki’s pale fingers had lingered a few centimetres away from the metal of the blades for a few seconds, but then he had taken a step forward and he had grabbed the closest knife.

He had twisted it in his fingers, spinning it, admiring how the metal of the blade caught the light, an his fingers had closed around the hilt, finding the familiar weight of the blade.

That knife wasn’t anywhere as delicate as the daggers he had crafted with his own hands, but Loki could still recognise good weaponry when he saw it.

The smile he had flashed Tony upon his request to practice somewhere and Tony pointing him to the training ground had been something Tony wouldn’t have forgotten easily.

From then on, every thought Tony had had about doing something for his own physical training had completely disappeared from his mind.

Loki finding back his familiarity with his beloved knives had been too much a distraction even for his multitasking brain.

And when Loki had picked up a spear – not even asking this time, probably made bolder by the old feeling of throwing daggers in the air – well, Tony had given up entirely.

Seeing Loki showing so much confidence, so much mindlessness for where he was or what had happened to him… That was what Tony had wanted from the moment the Bifrost had left them on the terrace of the Tower.

And besides, Tony had to admit it: Loki looked gorgeous.

There was nothing he could do but let his eyes linger on the sinuous lines of Loki’s body as he span the spear around.
That was something Tony tried not to think about during their experiments in the night.

Loki had insisted that they tried something more, but Tony had to admit that it was becoming more difficult by the day: Loki wanted his old life back, he only wanted to forget what had been done to him, and even though Tony more than agreed with that, he couldn’t deny how restraining himself was getting more and more hard.

He surely wasn’t a teenager anymore, but Loki kissing him in his bed, sitting in his lap and running his hands over his chest… that was something that was really testing Tony’s self-control.

He knew that even thinking about something like that now was tactless, stupid and selfish to say the least, but there was no way he could prevent his breath to catch in his throat.

That didn’t mean he would have stopped Loki from doing anything he wanted. If Loki wanted to experiment what he was more comfortable with Tony was in for anything the former god may have wanted.

That was why that morning they were once again curled up together in bed, their limbs tangled under the sheets.

Loki must have had the hint of a nightmare, and he had ended up in stealing half of the blankets and seeking the comfort of Tony’s arms without even waking up; Tony had only understood what had probably happened that night when he had found himself wrapped in a cocoon on blankets and with Loki safely tucked against his side.

What had woken them both up had been the familiar shaking of the Tower caused by the energy of the Mjolnir; Loki had only stirred in Tony’s arms, and yawned adorably against his shoulder.

“Hey, Bambi.”

“I thought you were done with that nickname.”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“Why’s Thor here?” Loki yawned once again, his arms instinctively circling Tony to bring him closer.

“He’s your brother, it should be you to tell me.”

“You’ve seen him more than me in these past years.”

Tony would have liked to say something against that, to retort that what Loki was saying wasn’t true and that Thor would have certainly preferred to spend his time with his brother instead of him, but his words were cut short by the appearance of Thor on the threshold.

“I have news!” he greeted them, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting this,” Thor stopped upon seeing them.

“It’s… 7 a.m,” Tony pointed out looking at his phone, “Where did you expect us to be?”

“Well, it’s just that…”

“Just give us the time to get dressed,” Loki cut him short, and Thor was about to inquire about such words, but before he could do that he managed to see the sleeve of Loki’s pyjamas, and he had to bite down a smile.

Despite what those years had been to Loki he hadn’t lost his vain streak, and there was no way he would have greeted a guest – even though such guest was merely his brother – in his sleeping clothes; what such a request was also bringing up was the fact that Loki was now feeling more at ease with Stark, to the point of actually behaving as if he was in his own house.

“Fine. I’ll wait downstairs,” Thor agreed before leaving the room.

“Look, your brother didn’t even try to murder me this time.”

“I still don’t know what he looked so happy about.”

“Get changed and we’ll find out?”

“Won’t you?”

Tony looked down at his tank top and his sweatpants, not finding anything wrong with them, “Why?”

“These are your sleeping clothes.”

“So?”

Loki seemed about to say something, but in the end he thought better of it and only pressed against Tony’s side a moment longer before facing the fact that he had to get up and leave the safe spot that was Tony’s bed.

“No breakfast in bed today, apparently.”

“You don’t have to keep doing that.”

“Today I’m preparing breakfast for your brother too, if it makes you feel any better,” Tony said following Loki out of bed, changing his tank top for a t-shirt.

“Not really,” Loki tried a smile, but it looked too forced to be sincere; Tony tried his best to interpret it, but he couldn’t honestly say what Loki had meant by that.

“Okay, I’ll go feed the bear, join us when you feel you’re dressed properly,” he left a kiss on Loki’s cheek and went downstairs, barely able to hold back his own smile.

If Thor had stormed in their bedroom with such a bright expression on his face, that could only mean one thing.

He had found what he had been looking for.

Not telling Loki that he knew what the reason of Thor’s visit was had been difficult – especially after the reaction Loki had had when he hadn’t been told he was about to leave Alfheim forever and Tony’s decision of avoiding surprises for a long while – but it wasn’t Tony’s place to deliver that news. It had all been Thor’s doing, and Thor deserved the chance to try and make it up to his brother.

Of course that gesture wouldn’t have accounted for the years Loki had suffered, but it was a beginning.

“Hey, big one. You’re back.”

“Indeed, friend Tony,” Thor smiled brightly, patting the sack hanging from his shoulder.

“I though you were looking for a gem.”

“Yes, but I have some other things that Loki may like to have.”

Thor had just the time for another flashing smile that he had to shut up any try to school his face in something a bit less enthusiastic not to give away his surprise before Loki joined them in the large open-space.

“Bro∂ir, hi.”

Loki only snorted in his direction, and Thor took advantage of the fact that his brother was pointedly ignoring him as he had done countless other times in the morning to hide his sack behind the couch.

Once again, it was Tony’s job to try and smooth things over between the to siblings, “Alright kids, come here and have breakfast.”

Loki felt his lips curl up of their own volition as he approached the kitchen island, but his small smile died the moment he realised he had to sit somewhere.

“Is everything alright, bro∂ir?”

“I…”

He didn’t know where to sit. He didn’t have a place for breakfast.

He had found one for other meals, but for breakfast? What were the rules in that house? Anthony hadn’t said anything about that and probably he didn’t care, but what were Midgardians customs on that front?

“Loki?”

“I… where…?”

“Where you usually sit at breakfast?” Thor suggested, but Loki shook his head, “You don’t have breakfast here?”

“Usually my breakfast is delivered in bed,” Loki murmured, and it was in that moment that Tony came to the rescue, placing two cups of coffee and one of tea on the counter top.

“What’s wrong with the kitchen island, where we usually eat?”

“Usually in Asgard-“

The silence that fell in the room was deafening.

Loki’s voice had died in his throat at the mention of the place he had once called home, and Thor had flinched by his side.
It was clear that he hitched to put a comforting hand on Loki’s arm, but he refrained from doing so and only settled for completing Loki’s sentence.

“Usually in Asgard different meals calls for different rooms.”

“Oh. Well, not here. Just pick the stool you prefer and eat your pancakes,” Tony cut him short, earning a small smile from Loki who never failed to appreciate how Tony always tried to make things easier for him.

“Thank you,” he murmured, sitting on his usual stool and glancing in the direction of the pancakes Tony had just left in front of him, “What’s so important to be here at this time in the morning?” Loki resolved to ask, turning his attention on his brother.

“I’ll tell you after breakfast,” Thor grinned, but the lack of protests made the light in his smile fade a bit; up to four years before Loki would have never accepted such an answer from him, he would have pestered him until the only thing Thor could do was give in and satisfy his brother’s curiosity.

Now Loki had simply accepted it.

No protests, no insults, nothing.

Loki had only nodded his assent, mildly waiting for others to do as they more pleased.

There was no time to waste.

For that reason Thor shot a knowing look in Stark’s direction and gulped down his own share of breakfast, impatiently tapping with his fingers on the marble top pf the kitchen island for Loki to do the same.

“Fine. What?” Loki eventually asked when Thor’s fingers tapping on the counter started to drive him mad.

“I have news.”

“You’ve already said that.”

“I have news for you.”

Loki tried to keep from flinching, but it was difficult, “Regarding?”

“Good news, bro∂ir.”

“What a change,” Loki said bitterly, but he visibly relaxed when Tony placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Listen to your brother for a moment.”

“It’s really good news, Loki.”

“Care to explain?”

The smile which had dimmed on Thor’s face came back in full force, “You can have your magic back.”

Chapter Text

“I… what?”

“Your magic, I’ve found a way to restore it.”

“My… what?”

“Your magic, Lokes. Thor has found a way.”

“You knew?” Loki asked, turning around in Tony’s direction, only able to focus on that.

“He didn’t want to build your hopes up in case I’d have failed,” Thor explained, making Tony draw a sigh of relief. Thor taking his side was a very welcome change from the hand around his throat.

“I… really?” Loki asked again, his eyes darting between Tony and Thor as if he didn’t know from which one of them a more honest answer could have come.

“In these last days I’ve gone visit Mother on Vanheim, she told me what to do to remove that damned shackle.”

“You… Why’s Mother on Vanheim?”

“She left Asgard after…” Thor trailed off, not wanting to say the word.

“After I was sold,” Loki finished for him, and immediately Tony’s hands were a reassuring presence on both his shoulders, “I’m fine,” he said, but he was sagging against Tony nonetheless.

“Well, she was on Vanheim, and she explained what was required to free you from that thing.”

“And you…?”

“I went to retrieve the gem that was used to seal it, so now I can try to open it,” Thor’s smile was still present on his face, but with the offer came a little uncertainty about how Loki may have reacted.

“No, it’s not possible,” Loki shook his head, proving Thor’s point, “It can’t be true.”

“I promise you, bro∂ir.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Lokes, Thor isn’t lying. Things may still go wrong and not work out perfectly, but Thor’s intentions are true.”

“No, no… it… it can’t be true,” Loki stumbled away from his stool, and when Thor made to reach for him Tony put up a hand to stop him.

“Lo, just listen.”

“No, I… I can’t have my magic back. It’s not true. It can’t be true.”

“Bro∂ir, please, I only want to help you.”

“I… no,” Loki kept stumbling back, trying to put some distance between himself and what could only be a false promise to test him, “No.”

“Loki, what’s wrong? This’s good news,” Tony tried to hint, but he was too confused about what Loki was doing to sound convincing.

“No, I don’t, I don’t want magic back, I… I don’t deserve it, I know it,” a wall stopped Loki’s retreat and the fallen prince pressed against it, sliding on the floor to offer a smaller target.

“I don’t understand, bro∂ir.”

“Loki, what the fuck?”

“No, I know… I don’t want to fail this test, I don’t want to be taken to the Cell, please,” he cried, hiding his face in his hands.

Tony sighed, rubbing at his temples in frustration, “Lokes…”

“What’s going on? Stark?”

“Stay here,” Tony requested before starting to approach Loki with small, slow steps, “Lokes, listen to me. This is not a test, this isn’t a trick. You’re on Earth. On Midgard. With me. With your brother. You’re safe. No talking about the Cell, nothing of that sort, okay? Can I come closer?” he asked when he was two steps away from Loki and any other movement would have probably triggered a crisis.

Loki didn’t give sign of relaxing even one bit, so Tony decided to sit down on the floor in front of him, keeping his hand in full display.

“Lo, it’s me, Tony. We came back from Alfheim together a few days ago, remember? We said goodbye to that place, you’ll never be back in that hell, alright?” he crawled closer to Loki, this time daring to lay a hand on his arm.

He couldn’t describe how the way Loki flinched back made his heart clench.

“Lo, listen to me. You’re safe here with your brother and me, nothing bad’s gonna happen anymore. What can I do to prove it to you?”

“I… please.”

“Lokes, just listen to me. Look around. Does this place look like Alfheim to you? Are there…” he looked around for inspiration, “Microwaves there? Answer me, please,” he asked, rubbing his thumb on Loki’s arm as encouragement.

“W-what’s a microwave?”

“The thing I used yesterday to make pop-corns. Are there such things on Alfheim?”

“No…” Loki murmured, glancing in the direction of the kitchen.

“And look at the shirt you’re wearing. Have you ever had one there?”

“No,” Loki admitted, but his voice and the light tremor of his shoulders showed how he still wasn’t convinced that what Tony was saying was true.

“When was the first time you’ve heard my voice, Mr. Loki?” Friday asked, and Loki instinctively glanced in the direction of the ceiling.

“I… when I left.”

“Were you aware of the existence of AIs before?”

“No.”

“So what’s the logic deduction, Mr. Loki?”

“I’m… on Midgard. I must be on Midgard,” he repeated with a bit more certainty, his eyes scanning the room and settling on Tony’s concerned face, “I must be on Midgard.”

“Yes,” Tony confirmed, “You’re here, in New York, and everything is alright.”

“It’s… yes.”

“Come here?” Tony asked, and the moment Loki nodded he didn’t waste time in taking the crumpled figure in his arms.

Not that Loki minded.

The moment his mind had managed to take a grasp on reality he had wanted nothing more than to have Anthony’s touch reminding him of what safety truly looked like. Burying his face in the crook of Tony’s neck, feeling the familiar texture of his skin, the weight of Tony’s arm around his shoulders… that was everything he could ask for in that moment.

“Thanks, Fri.”

“My pleasure, Boss,” the AI answered, and there was something gentle in her voice Tony was proud to hear.

“May I come closer?” Thor’s deep voice asked, but there was something in it that Loki couldn’t place; that level of concern and care had never been present in his brother’s voice before.

“Lo?”

“Yes, it’s… it’s alright. I’m fine. I know where I am.”

Despite Loki’s words, Thor was smart enough to sit down in order not to tower over him and distant enough not to pressure Loki into an unwanted closeness.

“I’m sorry, bro∂ir, I didn’t want to say anything improper. It wasn’t my intention to, well, spook you.”

“You didn’t,” Loki murmured, his voice muffled by Tony’s shirt, “I think I’ve just… linked two completely different situations.”

There was still silence in the room, so Loki continued, “They tried to trick me with the chance of getting my magic back a few times and… and it never ended well for me.”

This time it was more difficult for Thor not to reach out for his brother, but he recognised that Stark had already tightened his hold on Loki on his own account.

“If you don’t want to do this you don’t have to, bro∂ir. I thought – we thought – that having your magic back would’ve been something you’d have appreciated, but if you prefer to stay without it…”

“No,” Loki shook his head, straightening on the floor a bit, “I want it back. There’s no way I may pass the chance of finally be myself again.”

“What about getting on with it, then?” Tony said in an encouraging tone, and Loki gave him a grateful smile.

“Right, I’ll get what we need,” Thor got up quickly, all too eager to help his little brother now that he had the chance; maybe that wouldn’t have changed the past, but maybe it would have made Loki feel better and those vicious panic attacks would have ended, “Mother explained what I have to do, but I think that you’ll still know better than me.”

“What did she say?” Loki asked, approaching his brother and trying to look over his shoulder.

“She said it’s quite easy and that even I could do it.”

“With a little more detail?” Tony sat back on one of the stools and Loki was quick to follow.

“I only have to press the gem against that damned shackle, and it should open on its own. You only have to hold very still, bro∂ir, if the gem so much as touches your skin it’ll leave a very nasty burn and it’ll stop working, and in that case neither Mother nor I have any idea of how to get if off.”

“And that’s what you call easy? Had it been difficult what should we have done? Slain a dragon?”

“What has a dragon to do with a shackle?” Thor frowned, toying with the yellow gem in his hand, “A shackle isn’t a curse that you can break with the strings of a dragon’s heart.”

“What?”

“Thor, this is Midgard. They don’t have magic here. Nor dragons,” Loki explained shaking his head in front of his brother’s confusion, but at the same time a small smile was playing at the edges of his lips; now that his mind had managed to distinguish what was happening in Anthony’s penthouse from what had been done to him on Alfheim he almost couldn’t contain his excitement.

He was about to get his magic back.

His brother had been absent to do his best to get him his magic back, to give him back that part of him that had defined him since he could remember.

And Anthony, Anthony had known all along and yet he had remained silent in the eventuality things wouldn’t have worked out, only for his sake and to not let him down.

“So now?”

“Now Loki should take off his shoe and hold very still.”

“Fine,” Loki nodded, undoing the laces of his left shoe and rolling up the end of his pants to give Thor better access to the shackle.

“Bro∂ir, it’d be better if you placed your foot on my leg,” Thor suggested, sitting in front of Loki’s stool.

“Oh. I…”

“Just for a moment, bro∂ir. I only have to be sure you’ll hold still,” Thor reached out a hand in the direction of Loki’s naked foot, but all his brother did was retreat on the stool, his back colliding with the countertop behind him.

“Must it be you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Is it required by the… procedure, that it’s you to make sure that Loki doesn’t move around as you use the gem?” Tony explained.

“No, I don’t think so. Why?”

“Hey, Lokes, would it be a problem if I did it?”

Loki turned uncertain eyes in Tony’s direction, but the smile and care he found there made him move away a bit from his supposed shelter, “Would you?”

“Hey, I see no problem there. Here, just place your foot on my leg,” Tony slid down from his own stool and knelt in front of Loki, “Look, you did it. I’m kneeling.”

Thor was about to ask Stark if he had gone mad reminding Loki of that moment of four years before that had led him to so much pain, but then he heard something he hadn’t heard in too much time.

He heard Loki’s small laugh, the one he made when he would have liked to pretend he was annoyed by something someone had just said, but in the end he couldn’t hide how amused he really was.

“Took me long enough.”

“Everyone has flaws, Bambi,” Tony chuckled grabbing Loki’s ankle and making him rest his foot on top of his bent leg.

“You look ready to be knighted, friend Stark.”

“Well, maybe later. Now let’s get rid of that fucking thing.”

Chapter Text

Thor was all too happy to get down to business.

For how convincing Loki that everything was fine and that nothing bad would have happened anymore was, he only wanted to free his brother from that evil device.

“You have to stay very still,” Thor repeated.

“I know. I’ve heard what could happen, and there’s no one who’ll be more happy than me to see this gone.”

“Can you?”

“What?”

“Hold that still.”

“I won’t have a panic attack again, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You two may be immortal, but I’m not that young anymore and my knees don’t do well on hard floors. Would you mind leaving the bickering for later?”

What Thor would have expected a few years before would have been his brother shutting Stark up, instead his brother’s only reaction was to gently card his fingers in the man’s brown hair.

“Fine. Let’s do it.”

There was silence in the room as Loki placed his foot better on Tony’s leg and the man closed his fingers around Loki’s pale ankle, just below the thin circle of the shackle; it was now Thor’s turn to avoid as much as possible any tremor in his hands, and it wasn’t easy to do so with Loki’s green eyes so locked on the gem he was holding in his fingers.

“Okay, I’ll start now,” Thor announced mostly to himself, but he could hear Loki holding his breath.

Bringing the yellow gem close to Loki’s leg had Thor holding his breath too, his eyes narrowing in concentration as the stone came even closer to the metal of the shackle.

One wrong move, and he had no idea how he would have been able to free his brother from that ever-present prison.

One wrong move, and Loki would have only suffered more, and this time directly at his hand.

Those thoughts were enough to make Thor’s big hands shake, but not enough to make him stop; it would have probably been easier to ask Stark to do that – he was certainly more used than Thor at handling small parts and at executing the smallest of movements – but Frigga had been specific in her instructions: no mortal could have handled the gem, the results in such an eventuality were unknown even to her.

So it was with the certainty that he was the only one who could have done that that Thor closed the distance between the gem and the shackle, the coloured surface getting in contact with the metal of the shackle.

The energy emanating from the shackle hit them all.

Tony fell back on the floor, Loki was pushed against the counter, and even Thor found it difficult to maintain his balance, his eyes closing of their own volition for the force that hit him.

“Did it work?” Loki whispered, not even daring to look down in the direction of the shackle.

“I’ve no idea, bro∂ir. Try to take it off?”

Loki would have gladly avoided that, and at the same time he knew it had to be him to do that. He had tried to pry that shackle open so many times – making his ankle bleed in the attempt, breaking his nails against the hard unforgiving metal – and not once had the shackle given even only the hint of moving an inch.

Now it was the time to try once again.

He had to hold his breath as he bent down on the stool.

His fingers were so pale they looked white, and a well visible tremor was running through them.

Loki swallowed and bit his lower lip, bracing himself for another scorching disappointment as his fingers reached the thin metal band.

Not once had that thing moved.

Not once, not even with the most desperate attempt to reach to his powers to get away from the tortures he was enduring on Alfheim.

Not once, but this time it did.

The shackle simply slipped in his hand, leaving his ankle naked.

Loki had barely the time to let out a shaking breath of awe, an incredulous laugh finding its way in his throat, that everything went black.

 

~

 

“What have you done?”

“Me?”

“You opened that fucking thing and Loki collapsed!” Tony yelled, shaking Loki’s shoulders once more, “Lokes, can you hear me? Please, answer. See? Look at him!”

“I’ve no idea of what’s happened, same as you.”

“I think we have some clues!” he waved in the direction of the gem that Thor had abandoned on the floor the moment he had seen Loki falling from the stool and had darted forward to catch him before Loki smashed his face against the grey tiles.

“It shouldn’t have happened.”

“But it did!”

“Something must have gone wrong, I don’t understand…”

“Maybe your mother wasn’t that eager to help,” Tony spat, patting Loki’s cheek in the hope of drawing some reaction out of him.

“Careful, Stark.”

“After all where was she as her son was sold into slavery?”

“Be very careful, Stark.”

“You followed her instructions and look at your brother! He isn’t reacting,” Tony kept on patting Loki’s cheek, his mind viciously going back to another time when Loki was lying unresponsively in his arms.

“She surely didn’t know that could’ve happened.”

“Okay, that’s your version, but look at him. What am I supposed to do?”

If there was something Thor wouldn’t have expected it was to hear such despair in Stark’s voice; it looked like the human was living one of his worst moments, holding Loki’s unconscious body in his arms and desperately trying to wake him up. Thor had understood there was a deep bond between his brother and the man, but he hadn’t expected to see such raw emotions painted so brightly on Stark’s face.

“I’ve no idea.”

“Wonderful, you were supposed to be the expert in the field.”

“The expert in the field is Loki, not me.”

“Even better,” Tony sighed, his fingers sliding in Loki’s hair as the god’s eyes remained closed.

 

~

 

When Loki came back to consciousness he couldn’t immediately recognise the eyes that were staring intently at him. There was something familiar in them, and the the same time he didn’t remember those small golden straws in the brown irises.

“Lo? Can you hear me?”

“Of course I can hear you,” Loki said, a bit confused since Anthony’s face was just a few inches away from his own and there was no way he wouldn’t have managed to hear the human.

“Thank God,” Tony sighed, and before Loki could even realise what was going on the man’s lips were crushing against his own, pulling him into a kiss that had a hint of desperation that Loki wouldn’t have thought to find there.

“Oh, uh, it’s nice to have you back, bro∂ir,” Thor cleared his throat, obviously not at ease with the way Stark was kissing his little brother.

It was one thing to acknowledge those two had a thing, another to witness to it so blatantly.

“What?” Loki asked when he was free to talk again, “And why am I on the floor? Why are we all on the floor?”

“You don’t remember?”

“I removed the shackle and…” Loki’s voice trailed off at the realisation of what he had just said, and he couldn’t contain the urge to reach for his ankle and check that his words were indeed true.

The metal band was gone.

His leg was free.

He was free.

His magic wasn’t trapped anymore.

He was free, and the was nothing imprisoning him in his own body anymore.

“I removed the shackle,” he repeated, his voice low.

“Yes, it worked. You’re free, bro∂ir,” Thor smiled warmly, not resisting to the impulse of placing a hand on Loki’s shoulder.

This time Loki didn’t flinch.

“Are you alright though?” Tony asked, and the worry in his voice made Loki raise his eyes from the newly naked ankle.

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“You look… feverish,” Tony uttered, the distraught expression on his face something that Thor couldn’t really place nor understand.

Who seemed to understand perfectly well though was Loki, who was quick to get closer to the man and to rest the palm of his hand on his cheek.

“I am fine.”

“You don’t really look like it,” Tony commented again, his mind switching back to a couple of months before, when Loki had been a feverish, crying mess in his arms after being raped.

“I am,” Loki reassured him again, completely forgetting of his brother’s presence and shifting closer to Anthony, so that the man could easily drape his arms around him, “I… it’s different. It’s like… as if a bubble has exploded. A bubble that has been surrounding me for the last four years, dampening everything. Now everything is brighter, more colourful, more real.”

“You still look sweaty an your eyes are kind of glassy.”

“But I’m fine.”

Thor didn’t need to know what had triggered such a reaction in Stark, it was sufficient to witness to the way the human’s arms tightened around Loki’s body to understand that something really bad was linked to seeing Loki in such a state.

“If you say so.”

“I really am fine, Anthony.”

“Okay, I believe you,” Tony pulled out a very tight version of a smile, “So now you’re free. Free to raze the Tower down if you please.”

“Only if you make me watch Bambi again.”

Tony couldn’t resist to that, and he chuckled nuzzling Loki’s hair.

“Ready to show me something then?”

“Gladly,” Loki sat back on the floor and raised his hands, palms up, eyes closing in concentration an a smile tugging at his lips.

He took a deep breath, focusing on the shape of a flame to appear in his hands.

He pictured it behind his closed eyelids, running over each detail, over the warmth of it, its erratic movement… and yet nothing happened.

Chapter Text

Loki opened his eyes, a frown crossing his brow.

“Loki?”

“Bro∂ir?”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“What’s wrong?”

“A flame should be on the palm of my hands.”

“Oh yeah, that’s definitely normal.”

“No, I… that’s strange, Anthony.”

“You think something went wrong?” Thor asked, getting a closer look to Loki’s empty hands. There was nothing there witnessing that something hadn’t gone according to plan. Loki’s hands were the same hands Thor had seen cast the most complicated spells, bearing no signs of anything being wrong.

“I’ve no idea. I can feel my magic again, but I can’t access to it. I don’t understand.”

“Can we do something?”

“I don’t think so,” Loki shook his head, raising his green eyes on Tony, “It could be normal.”

“Normal?” Thor questioned, “The last time you had troubles conjuring a flame we were children.”

“What would happen to your muscles if you were forced to stay still for four years?” Loki asked, as if he was voicing his own realisation.

“What?”

“What do you think would happen?”

“You think you’re just out of practice?” Tony – who had come to the point more quickly than Thor – asked.

“I’m not sure, but it could be a reason.”

“Are you saying that you can’t make your magic work because you haven’t had access to it for too long?” Thor added, proving he wasn’t that dumb when he payed attention.

“Yes, surprisingly.”

“Are you sure?”

“Not completely, but I can feel it,” Loki turned in Tony’s direction, trying to find the best words to explain to someone who had no idea of what magic was, “Everything is different. Before it was like being wrapped up in something, as if a fog was surrounding me, clouding my senses, but now it’s gone. That means my magic is back, is here,” he touched his chest, his hands pressing against it as if welcoming his magic back with a hug, “But for now I can’t reach it. I can feel it, but I can’t access to it. Everything is already different, better, but I can’t control it yet. Hopefully, yet.”

“Can we do something about it?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Loki turned to his brother, and for once there was a grateful smile on his face, “You did it.”

“Not completely,” Thor shook his head.

“That’s not up to you. You got me rid of this shackle,” he nodded in the direction of the abandoned metal bracelet on the floor, “You gave me the chance.”

“Friend Stark helped.”

“I only told you to snap a picture, the merit is all yours,” Tony raised his hands. Thor deserved the spotlight for what he had done for Loki, Tony had no intention to steal it away.

The two brothers needed to bond again, and Tony saw no better occasion than that one.

It wouldn’t have been a solution to all their problems, but it was a start.

“I… it really is the least I could do,” Thor looked away, probably all too aware that anything he may have done for Loki would have never erased having dragged Loki to his mock trial, but he was forced to look up when Loki’s hand rested on his own.

“Anyway that’s something I warmly appreciate.”

“I have something else for you,” Thor exclaimed, suddenly finding a way to get away from that situation in which he looked once again as a hero, even when he had done the bare minimum to not look like a complete monster; he basically sprang from where he was sitting to go reach the bag he had kicked behind the sofa, “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to tell you about my meetings with Mother, but it wasn’t right to let you know at the moment,” he sat back one the floor, handing Loki the bag, “She gave me these for you.”

“What?”

“She thought you may have liked to have them. She says you’ve already read them, and she’ll try to procure different ones if you want them.”

Loki took the old leather bound books out of the sack he had been given, his fingers brushing on the covers with such reverence it was hard to believe.

Those books were well known to Loki.

Frigga had taught him the rudiments of magic with those books.

It had been ages ago, but Loki still remembered well the decorations on the covers, the weight of the tomes, the smell of the ink on old pages…

“She… Really?” Loki looked at his brother, his eyes shining dangerously, to the point Thor had to look away.

He remembered Loki studying those very same books so many years ago, how he had discarded them to pass to something more complicated in just a few months and how he used to scrunch up his nose when presented with such simple spell-work.

Now Loki’s green eyes were shining with such raw emotion that they were too much to witness.

“She wants you to have them,” Thor nodded.

“What…?” Loki started to ask, but then he thought better of it.

He didn’t want to spoil that moment.

He couldn’t ask why Frigga hadn’t done anything to prevent his sale into slavery, why she hadn’t tried some more to have him released and sentenced to a lighter punishment.

He had just had his magic back, he had just been offered the possibility to come back to his old self and he had been given those treasured grimoires, he wouldn’t have spoilt that moment with bitter questions.

One day he would have, but if the two months spent on Alfheim with Anthony – pretending the man wasn’t about to leave – had taught him something was to enjoy every small moment.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Loki shook his head, “Thank you, brother.”

Thor felt his heart skip a bit.

Loki… Loki had just called him ‘brother’ again.

No sneering, no hatred in his voice, just an old way to call him.

He hadn’t hoped Loki would have ever done that again, not if he spent the following three centuries apologising and begging his forgiveness, but Loki had just done it.

Thor wasn’t a fool, he knew well that that single word didn’t mean everything was forgiven and that such an eventuality was still very distant, but that was a start.

It was more that he could have even hoped for.

It was with a little surprise that he felt Stark’s encouraging hand on his shoulder, and when he turned around the human was smiling lightly.

They shared a nod before the man was crouching next to Loki, resting his chin on Loki’s shoulder to read the same page Loki was consulting.

“Hey, are those runes?”

“Old Norse,” Loki corrected him, cocking his head to the side so that his cheek was pressing against Tony’s.

“So?”

“So they’re a kind of runes.”

“So they’re runes.”

“Not exactly.”

“Oh come one, you just said it yourself.”

“I didn’t.”

“Do you want me to ask Friday to replay your exact words? Because you know she can.”

Thor only shook his head.

Oh yes, if there was someone able to match Loki’s – or at least the old Loki Thor knew well – banter, that was Stark.

They looked so at ease, curled up together on the floor debating about which one of them was right.

Thor would have really liked to have Frigga see that.

Their mother had been devastated when Thor had told her what he had found out.

He had had to help her sit down, for how strong the shock had been. Frigga’s legs had simply gave out when the reality of Loki’s last years had hit her.

When she had asked what was of Loki now, Thor had had only few reassurances to give her.

He had told her that Loki wasn’t on Alfheim anymore, that he was on Midgard with a human Thor knew, who had been the one to take Loki away from the horrors of Alfheim and who was more than willing to help Loki get his magic back, but the goddess hadn’t looked relieved.

After all what Frigga knew about Stark was that he had helped in Loki’s capture.

He had tried his best to reassure her, but he had seen mistrust clear in her golden eyes, and how could he blame her? She had just known what had happened to her youngest son, it was obvious that at the moment the only person she wanted to see Loki with was herself.

If only Frigga could have seen that.

See the way Loki was so casually leaning against Stark, how the human was making questions about almost every line of the grimoire even though Loki had no way to show him…

No one Thor knew had ever showed the same level of interest for Loki’s magic.

It was only in that moment that it dawned on Thor that he actually could.

He grabbed the phone Stark had given him to photograph the gem that had freed Loki, and snapped a picture.

For once he would have had something good to show to Frigga.

Chapter Text

After Thor had snapped the picture he would have proudly showed during his next trip to Vanheim, he had no idea of what to do anymore.

Loki was lost in reading his book – or at least trying to, since Tony kept on asking him questions about everything even when they moved to the couch for a more comfortable sitting – and Thor didn’t know what he was supposed to do there.

He would have liked to chat with his brother a bit, to know what had happened during those three days in which he had been away from New York, and at the same time he wanted to grant Loki the highest level of freedom; he wouldn’t have forced Loki into a conversation, for once he would have respected his brother’s desire to be left alone with his books.

With his books and Stark.

Even if the news of the unexpected relationship that had bloomed between Loki and Stark was still too fresh for Thor to consider that cozy behaviour normal, he couldn’t deny how everything in the image in front of his eyes looked right.

Loki seemed finally at ease, that trace of nervousness Thor had come to know all too well in those rare moments he had been left alone with Loki completely gone from his emerald eyes, his shoulders relaxed as he leaned into Stark.

Thor had to admit it: for how everything looked strange to him it was blatantly clear that it didn’t to Loki.

When he had told Frigga what he had found out – omitting how he had almost strangled Stark – she had looked as suspicious as he had in that moment, unsure of how to interpret the situation. The easiest explanation was that Stark was simply Loki’s new owner and that Loki was simply cherishing the fact of not being hurt anymore, but Thor had to admit how wrong he had been.

He had tried to explain that to Frigga the previous day, but the goddess hadn’t believed him.

To her that human was just another of Loki’s captors, little did it matter that he didn’t enjoy hurting and humiliating Loki.
Thor could hardly blame her.

After what she had heard from him it was difficult to imagine she would have reacted differently.

Maybe that picture he had snapped without Loki and Stark noticing would have diffused her dread of having her son once again in a prison.

“Hey, Point Break, everything alright?”

Stark’s voice startled him, making him snap out of that pensive state he had fallen into.

“I was just thinking.”

“You want to go on doing that with a beer?”

“I’d really appreciate it.”

“Your beer’s coming.”

Thor took advantage of that moment to glance in Loki’s direction – seeing his brother still absorbed in his reading, and with a certain air around him that to someone who knew him well spoke of how was relieved to have been finally left alone at it – and snapped back when a beer was thrusted into his hand.

“A beer for your thoughts.”

“What?”

“Nevermind,” Tony waved him off, sitting on the stool next to Thor’s, “You sure you’re alright? You seem a bit… lost.”

“This situation is just a bit too strange for me.”

“Yeah, I think I get why.”

“Why are you here?”

“This’s my house?”

“No, I mean: why aren’t you pestering Loki about magic?”

“Your lovely brother made me know my presence wasn’t welcome anymore.”

There was a small smile on Stark’s lips that prompted Thor to go on, even though he lowered his voice so that Loki wouldn’t have heard that conversation.

Not that they had to worry about that. If Loki was still the person Thor had known for ages he wouldn’t have payed attention to anything but his books.

“Why are you smiling? Were you pretending to be interested in magic?”

“What? No. I want to know more and I can’t wait until Loki gets his magic back so that he can actually show me what he was talking about, but that’s not the point.”

Thor gave him a questioning look.

“Okay, don’t strangle me now, but sometimes I have the feeling that Loki still doesn’t realise he’s entirely free to do what he wants with me. There are moments during which he’s not, but generally he’s on guard, and I really hate it. When he does that – telling me off, making me know he wants to be on his own – these are the moments in which I’m sure he’s aware he’s not on Alfheim anymore.”

Instead of the expected grasp on Tony’s neck, there was silence from Thor’s part.

“You really do care about him.”

“I thought it was evident,” Tony murmured.

“I… I just didn’t think that his mental sanity was so important to you.”

“You really think I’m a monster, don’t you?”

“No, of course that’s not what I meant.”

“Maybe not, but that’s what you thought four days ago.”

“That’s not-“

“Yes, it was.”

Thor gave up denying, “I’m sure you understand why.”

Tony may still have pointed out that he was a bit offended that Thor thought so little of him, but it wasn’t the time to do that, not when it was so clear that also Thor was having difficulties with the new reality of the last week.

“Yeah, I think I’d do the same if I were in your shoes.”

Thor took another sip from his beer.

“You think he’ll ever talk to me again?”

“Loki is talking to you.”

“No, he isn’t,” Thor sighed, “He’s not talking to me, he still hasn’t told me anything about Alfheim.”

Tony was about to correct him, but Thor was right. What the blond god had come to know about Loki’s past four years had been either yelled and hissed in his direction, or recounted by Tony himself.

Loki hadn’t tried to start a communication line with Thor, he hadn’t told him anything. All that had slipped from his mouth had been involuntary, not a conscious attempt from Loki’s part to build back the bridges that his mock trial had burnt.

Not that Tony blamed him for that.

Loki’s refusal to open up with Thor was more than understandable, but Tony knew that was something both siblings needed; Thor, before he went mad, and Loki, to find back a resemblance of his old life.

“Give him time,” Tony offered in the end, well aware that it was a stupid piece of advice and at the same time the best one he could give.

 

~

 

Loki had remained absorbed in his books for a good couple of hours.

Neither Thor nor Tony had dared to disturb him during that moment of peace, but they hadn’t known what to do.

In the end Tony had returned on the couch – sitting on the other end of it to avoid disappointing Loki – and Thor had had nothing better to do than sit on the other couch as a few days before and turn on the tv. Once again he would have liked to talk more with his brother, but he had understood that what Loki needed the most in that moment were peace and quiet.

He had learnt that from Stark, from the way the usually very active man had put aside that trait of his personality for the moment. It was almost disconcerting to witness to that change, to see how Stark was trying his best to be there for Loki and at the same time to not be an oppressing presence for him.

Thor had noticed that, and now he was aware of how wrong his first assumptions about their relationship had been; Stark wasn’t doing anything improper, he was only being there for Loki.

Of course, Thor would have still preferred to have Loki recovering on his own, but he had to admit that such a thought could only be considered selfish.

Loki deserved happiness.

If his way to achieve it was by being with Stark, then Thor wouldn’t have opposed to that.

Of course he would have kept looking out for his little brother, but he wouldn’t have impeded that blooming relationship.

“I should really get going…” he said after a while, a few minutes after Loki had realised his human was sitting next to him and had decided to curl up against his side as he kept reading his newly found grimoire.

“Mmh?” Tony asked.

“I should get back to Jane and help her with the disposal of our belongings. I don’t understand why we can’t have servants do that.”

When he received a dark glare from Stark Thor didn’t understand why at the beginning, but when his gaze shifted on Loki, Thor would have only wished to bite his tongue and disappear.

“Very respected servants,” he tried in a small voice, to which Loki just rolled his eyes.

“Go,” he said, but there wasn’t any poison in his voice. Loki only sounded exasperated, but that was a tone Thor was very familiar with.

“I’ll also tell Mother we did it. She’ll be very happy.”

There was a little hesitance from Loki, but eventually he managed to pull out the words he was conflicted about saying.

“Thank her for me.”

Chapter Text

“Lokes, you’ve been reading for six hours straight.”

“I’ve had dinner.”

“As you were reading.”

“But I ate.”

“You did, okay. Now, can you put that book down a sec?”

Loki barely refrained from rolling his eyes.

“Good. Can I get a bit of attention?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Hey, I’m not used to this. You spoiled me, I’m used to more attentions. You abandoned me,” Tony drawled out.

This time Loki couldn’t hold back an amused chuckle, “What can I do for you?” he asked, closing his grimoire.

“Nothing much, can you just explain me better what’s going on with the fact that now you’re Merlin once again?”

“Merlin?”

“Famous Midgardian witch.”

“Midgardian women possess magic?”

“Merlin was a man.”

“Mage, then.”

“What?”

“A witch is the right appellative for a woman. A man can be referred to as sorcerer or mage. A woman can be a sorceress, too, so the real distinction is between witch and mage.”

“Uh, okay…. Do dragons really exist?”

“Pardon?”

“Thor talked about dragons before.”

“Right,” Loki nodded, “They exist, on Muspellheim. They’re much bigger than the ones you know on Midgard.”

Tony needed a moment to recall which dragon Loki was referring to, “The one in Mulan?”

“Yes, real dragons are much bigger.”

“Oh. Yeah, but that’s just…”

How could he explain that to someone who had seen real badass dragons?

“That dragon was purposely small, to make it funny. Dragons should be bigger.”

“Are there dragons here too?” Loki asked, really confused since he didn’t know how to link that to Anthony asking him if dragons really existed.

“No, it’s just… Myths. Dragons are present in our mythology, but they’re big scary beasts you wish you’ll never meet in your life, not that red thing from the movie.”

Loki smiled, “Pretty accurate description.”

“Okay, so?” Tony asked after a moment.

“So what?”

“So what’s going on with you now?”

It took only one look in Tony’s direction to see the man was dying of curiosity, and Loki realised he had been waiting to ask those questions since the morning.

“What do you want to know precisely?”

Tony jumped at the occasion, the scientist in him surging forward, “You said that everything was different, better. What did you mean by that?”

“I told you: before, when the shackle was still in place, it was like being wrapped in a bubble. Everything was dampened, everything was just… less.”

“Describe ‘less’?”

Loki took a deep breath, trying to focus enough to find the right words, “My senses apparently depend on my magic. I rely on my sei∂r for more than what I thought, and I realised it only when it has been snatched away from me. It was like… my capabilities were reduced. I could see less, hear less, smell less.. But now it’s back. Everything is working properly again. That fog in my eyes, it’s not there anymore,” he gave Tony a small smile, placing a hand on his cheek and stroking his thumb over the edge of Tony’s goatee, “I can finally see again.”

“And?”

“You look older.”

“Hey!” Tony laughed, pushing Loki back and making him fall against the cushions of the couch, “Does your being a smug annoying little deity depend on your magic too? Because that seems to be getting back.”

“Maybe,” Loki chuckled, welcoming Anthony in his arms.

“So? Am I too old for you?”

“You keep forgetting I’m over a thousand years old.”

“Yeah, but you don’t look it.”

“What are you trying to get to?”

“Maybe you’re older than me, but I certainly look older than you.”

Honest to God, Loki snorted, “And that’s a problem why?”

“Uh, I don’t know, maybe-“ he couldn’t end the sentence because Loki shut him up in his favourite way.

“After everything we’ve been through, that’s your problem?” Loki asked, his voice so light and warm that Tony was struggling to believe that was the same person who still had troubles sleeping without a wall of pillows behind his back.

“Now that you say it like this I sound like a vain idiot.”

Loki averted his eyes, looking in any other direction.

“Hey!”

“I don’t spend half an hour in the bathroom fixing my short hair.”

“No, you spend the best part of an hour braiding it.”

“That’s only to get it out of the way. And you like my hair.”

“One braid would be sufficient for that. You make at least five and weave them together, if that’s not being vain then I’m afraid we have two different definitions on Earth and Asgard.”

“Weave?”

“What?”

“I didn’t think that would have been a term you would have used.”

“Why not?”

“It’s rather technical.”

“So? Are you implying I’m ignorant? I can fish my MIT degree for you if I really have to.”

“Your what?’

“Oh my God,” Tony laughed again, “You need to start getting more information about Earth if you’re supposed to live here.”

“Where else am I supposed to live?” Loki asked, his voice losing its unusual lightness.

“Wherever you want,” Tony pecked him on the lips to reassure him, “It can be here. It can be somewhere else. It’s all up to you.”

“I want to be here. With you.”

“Yeah, you’ve made it abundantly clear by filling every room with this stuff,” with his chin Tony pointed in the direction of the faux-fur rug placed in front of the fireplace and of the huge candles nicely arranged on the coffee table.

“You don’t like it?”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Tony clarified, “What I’m saying is that you’re making this place your own.”

“I thought you’d said-“

“And that’s good, Lokes. I’m happy you’re doing so.”

It felt strange, but in a positive way. Tony wasn’t used to so many changes to his space, but this time it felt good.

When Pepper had tried to do the same he had cringed, taken a step back, but apparently she had only been the wrong person; with Loki his only qualms had regarded how bad some stuff may have looked in the living room, but he had been completely fine with Loki filling his – their – bedroom with anything he liked. Everything considered, that was even a bigger step forward.

The living room was just a room as any other, but his bedroom was his personal space. Little did it matter that a huge number of people had been there.

That was his room, and now it was theirs.

Loki had even invaded his walk-in closet, and what had Tony done? He had freed a few drawers and some space to let him hang his new tunics.

Simple as that.

“It’s just new to me, but don’t think even for one second that I don’t like it. You’re making this place your own too, and that was all I was asking for.”

“Really?”

“Lo, I want you to stay with me. Not in the wrong way, but… I want you to want to stay with me. Please tell me I’m making any sense.”

“You are,” Loki finally smiled again, and drew Tony in for another kiss.

This time he didn’t pull back or push Anthony away, he only breathed into the man’s skin and let his head fall back against the pillows of the couch.

Everything was just perfect.

Anthony was there, with him, the warmth of his body making him feel good, making him feel finally home.

Chapter Text

Loki getting his magic back meant that Tony saw him way less.

Not that he was anywhere contrary to that, but in those two months and a half he had been used to be Loki’s centre of attention, and now that place was no longer available.

Since the moment Loki had had free access to his powers once again he hadn’t stopped practicing one single moment, even if with no results.

For how hard Loki tried to concentrate, his magic just didn’t answer to him.

Tony could see the frustration in Loki’s eyes every time he asked him how he was doing, and at the same in those green eyes that by now Tony knew so well there was something that made him breathe easier.

There was determination, too.

There was a fierceness in them, such a strong intention to overcome that boundary, that Tony couldn’t but be happy too see it.

Of course he would have been happy to just see Loki be his old self – even though he had no idea of what that could imply – but seeing him so focused on something and so refractory to defeat was already a step forward that only a few weeks before would have been unimaginable.

Anyway, it was strange to have some time alone again.

Not that Tony didn’t like it, he had always been used to spend days on end alone in his workshop, but by now he wasn’t used anymore to it, and those months spent on Alfheim hadn’t left him so keen on leaving Loki alone for more than an hour at the time.

He knew that Loki was perfectly safe in the Tower, but still.

That was why he had Friday watching over Loki.

Even when he was in his lab, he had asked Friday to give him an hourly feedback on what Loki was doing.

It was always the same: Loki was in the library, meditating.

The rare times he wasn’t there, he was in the gym, doing the same.

Tony would have liked to see Loki spar once again with both spear and daggers, but at the same time he knew that doing that would have only been considered masochism: Loki getting his magic back had also meant Loki wanting to experiment more during their nights, and Tony already had to take a cold shower every night before going to sleep under their current arrangements; had he also witnessed to Loki practicing with spear and daggers, his braided hair following his every movement and his lean body arching in the practised movement, his bill for the water consumption would have skyrocketed.

Even though the gym had been elected to second favourite place to meditate, Tony had tried to change that in favour of the lab, but for how much he had insisted, Loki had remained adamant on the fact that he had no idea of how it was possible to concentrate with that obnoxious noise Anthony called music.

Tony’s reaction on that had been double-layered: on the one hand he had been a bit disappointed on the fact that Loki had refused to spend more time in his company, on the other he had been happy to see that Loki was finally enough at ease to refuse his requests.

In any case, he couldn’t but appreciate what Loki was doing.

The former prince was finally getting his own person back, listening to his own desires instead of others’s, and Tony was only happy to see that change happen before his eyes.

He had been worried when he had heard that Rogers and Barnes had returned, but since they were barely on speaking terms, he was not overly scared of an unexpected visit from them.

As far as Loki was concerned, he was both happy and terribly mad a himself.

For the first time in four years he felt his magic flow back in his veins, and that couldn’t but fill him with joy, but at the same time he couldn’t access to it, and that irked him to an extent he wasn’t even able to describe.

Using his magic had always been natural to him, and now it was there, where he could feel it but not reach it; it was like his magic was hidden behind a transparent veil: he could see it, feel it, and at the same time he could do nothing about that.

He had never been reduced in such a state, with no control on his magic even when he should have had it, and now that he finally had someone by his side interested in the main aspect of him he wasn’t able to show it.

Anthony had proved to be so interested in his magic, and there was nothing Loki wanted more than showing him that part of himself, and yet he couldn’t. He had always desired to have a partner who would have accepted his love for magic, who wouldn’t have considered something not worthy of a man, and now that he had it he couldn’t do anything about it.

All his hopes to find someone who would have accepted his art as something worthy, and now his magic failed him.

That was why he spent every waking moment trying to reconnect with it, for how elusive his sei∂r could be.

Anthony accepted him, he was free to show every hidden side of his former self, and yet he couldn’t.

He had to change that.

There was something else that had changed though, and Loki meant to make the best out of it.

Even though he wasn’t still able to access to it, the return of his magic had made him more sure of himself, and that meant that he was also more sure around Anthony.

There was one thing he was sure about, and it was that he wanted his old life back.

With everything that had comprised.

So he had tried to push his limits a bit more, to experiment more in regards of their intimacy; he would have been forever grateful for the way Anthony was being patient and was leaving all initiative to him, but he would have also liked to see a bit more involvement from the man; he was well aware he would have most likely reacted badly to any move that could have been considered more spicy, and at the same time he wasn’t all that comfortable with being the one who had to take charge in that situation.

He appreciated to no end the respect and care Anthony was showing him, but if only the man had been a little more keen on doing something more… Loki was sure he would have benefited from such a situation.

Being the one to make that step forward, to take decisions… that was still too much for him.

He would have liked tough to have Anthony try something with him, test which was the point after which he couldn’t go.

Loki trusted his Anthony, and he knew the mortal would have never done anything that would have gone against his will, so he would have been all the more happy to have him initiate something more.

 

~

 

“Hey, Lo, may I?” Tony asked from the door, making Loki slip out of his focused state.

He had tried once again to reach his magic, but to no avail.

“Apparently I’m doing nothing profitable.”

“Still nothing?”

“No…”

“Well, at least I know you won’t set me on fire.”

“I won’t set you on fire,” he said fondly.

“One can never tell with you.”

Loki rolled his eyes, but beckoned Anthony to come closer, “What did you want to tell me?”

“I, uh…” Tony stammered entering the library and sitting next to Loki on the floor, kissing his cheek.

“That doesn’t sound well.”

“I know.”

To that, Loki stiffened.

Anthony always did his best to reassure him that everything was fine, and now he was admitting that something was wrong. To Loki’s still spooked mind, that only sounded like danger.

“Lo, I… I know you won’t like it, but I really have to go attend a meeting for the SI. I’ve tried to postpone it, but I really can’t this time.”

Loki remained silent.

“It’s only for a few hours, and this time I really can’t-“

“You should go,” Loki murmured, his eyes cast on the floor not to let Anthony see what was showing in them, “I’ll be fine.”

“I know you will,” Tony lied, passing an arm around Loki and kissing his cheek once again, “I only thought it may be still a bit too… early.”

“It isn’t like I’m keeping you much company as of now,” Loki nodded in the direction of the library, but even as he spoke he knew that what he was saying was foolish; even if he spent his time in the library or in the gym trying to reconnect with his magic, he always knew Anthony was close and that he would have been able to reach him at any moment. Anthony may have been holed up in his lab, but all Loki had to do was ask Friday to announce him and Tony was more than happy to set everything aside to dedicate him some time. Most of the times Tony didn’t even have to abandon his work when Loki grew anxious for his prolonged loneliness; all Loki asked was not to be alone in a room, and he was more than happy to just sit on the couch Tony had furnished with more pillows only for his sake and read something there. He never managed to focus, but at least he wasn’t alone.

“That’s not the point. Do you want to call Thor? I’m sure he’ll be bursting with joy knowing that he can talk with you without having me around.”

“No,” Loki shook his head, “I… I can do it. It’s stupid. I know I’m perfectly safe here, in your house.”

“This’s your house too.”

Loki smiled a little against Tony’s shoulder, “Okay, and that should encourage me even more to think that nothing’s wrong with being alone here.”

Tony only kissed Loki’s dark hair, holding him closer.

It wasn’t only Loki to not like the prospect of being separated, but Tony didn’t feel comfortable too. Every time he had left Loki on his own devices had ended horribly for Loki, and even though he was the one trying to persuade Loki that being alone was good, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that not being there to check that Loki was fine for more than a couple of hours was wrong.

Even when he was in his lab, he knew that he could just jump in the elevator and reach Loki if anything appeared to be wrong, but the meeting he had been requested to attend was on the other side of Manhattan, and that meant that – even if he were to use his suit to reach the penthouse – it would have took him some minutes before being able to have his eyes back on Loki.

Of course he couldn’t voice his fears to Loki, not when he was trying to have the former god regain his freedom and his independence, but he still didn’t feel comfortable with removing his arms from around Loki.

“Only a few hours, and if you need anything Friday’ll call me.”

“I can do it.”

“I know you can, but let’s say you don’t know how to make coffee or – God forbid – tea, she can help you or call me.”

Loki’s lips curled up, “I won’t disturb you for such a trivial thing when you obviously have an important meeting to attend.”

“That was just an example.”

“Anthony, I’ll be fine,” Loki said, his pale hand resting on Tony’s cheek. There was something strange in the man, and he had to understand what that was.

“I know, I’m just saying that you only have to call me if you need me.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Tony must have known that keeping something from the recovering God of Lies would have never worked, but he had hoped his bluff would have lasted a bit longer. Certainly having Loki nuzzle his neck didn’t help.

“Nothing important.”

“Anthony…”

“Okay, fine. I’m used to have the situation a bit more under control, and when I don’t… well. I like to have the situation in control.”

Loki could understand what was left unsaid. Now that he had had a bit of time to focus on something more than his own fear and pain, he had come to grasp always more how Alfheim had scorched Anthony too. The human wasn’t used to the elves, he loathed and hated them with all his heart, and yet he had remained for Loki; considering also that Anthony’s feelings for him were indeed true – for what Loki could gather – Loki could understand what the prospect of being parted could have stirred in him.

It was a shared thing then, it wasn’t only him to be afraid of separation.

What he had to do was to put on a brave face then. For once, he had to be the one to encourage Anthony. It had always been Anthony to spur him, to be the one to lean on, but now it was Loki’s turn.

Was he fine with being left alone in the penthouse? No, he was terrified.

Would have he tried to hide such fear in order to have Anthony live his normal life? Yes, as best as he could.

“Go, Anthony. You can’t just pause your life because of me.”

Tony stared at Loki, still pressed against his side.

He would have never thought he would have been so lucky to find someone like Loki, who was so poorly pretending of being fine only for his sake.

Chapter Text

“Friday? Loki?’

“Bedroom, Boss.”

“Is he already asleep?” Tony asked, adjusting his grip on the steering weal; the meeting had finally ended, leaving him free to go back home and put an end to that something that had been twisting his stomach for the past hours.

Friday had been ordered to warn him of any slight inconvenience, but one could never be sure.

“No, Boss.”

“Why’s he there, then?” Tony pressed, since he could sense from the AI’s voice that there was something she wasn’t telling him.

“He didn’t tell, Boss.”

“Fri.”

“Yes, Boss?”

“Don’t ‘yes Boss’ me. You aren’t telling me the entire story.”

“Mr Loki asked me not to.”

Tony’s foot naturally pressed on the gas pedal, “Why? Is he alright?”

“To what standards, Boss?”

Tony’s blood drained from his cheeks. Friday had analysed the recordings from Alfheim, if she was asking that what the hell had happened in the Tower in those few hours?

Had Rogers found Loki?

“Boss, your heart’s beating is exceeding the normal parameters.”

“What happened?”

“I shouldn’t tell you, Boss.”

“Friday!”

“Mr Loki got very close to a panic attack in your absence, Boss.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Tony exclaimed, making a very dangerous move to get rid of the slowest car in the history of mankind that had decided to stand in his way at all costs.

“Mr Loki made me promise not to.”

“And what about my order to let me know about even the smallest inconvenience? Panic attacks certainly fall into that category.”

The AI hesitated for a couple of seconds, as if pondering her answer, “Boss, Mr Loki had asked me not to.”

“So?”

“If he receives the information that he’s free to make his own decisions, and the first time he takes one he isn’t listened to, how should he process it?”

Tony remained silent.

Friday’s way of putting the problem had been really clear, and he had no way to counter what she was saying. He had told Loki that was his house too, and yet he had been more than ready to ignore Loki’s decision; of course his request of what had been going on had more to do with being sure that Loki was fine than with meddling, but at the same time he could get what Friday trying to say.

That was Loki’s pride coming into play, and even though Tony was happy to see that happening he couldn’t deny that he would have preferred to know; it was good that Loki was trying to handle his demons on his own, but Tony couldn’t but worry for his safety.

“Would you have told me if thing had gotten bad? Dangerous for Loki?”

“In that eventuality yes, Boss.”

“Fine then, you’re not grounded,” Tony snorted, and pressed more on the gas pedal to be home as soon as he could.

 

~

 

“Hey, can I?” Tony asked in a soft voice, addressing the bump under the blankets.

There was no answer from Loki, just shuffling from the bed.

“Okay, I’m coming in,” he announced, and went to it on the bed before Loki could stop him; he knew he was being stupidly overprotective, but the only thing he wanted in that moment was to hold his… boyfriend in his arms.

That sounded odd, but he lacked a better definition, and if Loki and he had a relationship well, that couldn’t be considered wrong.

“You alright?” he asked, sitting next to Loki and placing a hand on his arm. The fallen prince was curled up on his side, his face in Tony’s direction, but his eyes downcast.

“I…”

“Mind if I join you?” Tony interrupted him since a real answer seemed to be something he wouldn’t have obtained easily. What he was more likely to get was Loki’s permission to hug him, and actually it as what he really wanted at the moment.

Slipping under the warm blankets and finally wrapping Loki in his arms was the best thing he had felt in the whole day.

“I could really get used to this,” he said, kissing Loki’s hair since the moment he had had a chance the former god had pressed his face in the crook of Tony’s neck, “I don’t know if it’s normal, but you’re really warm,” he said, but no answer came from Loki.

“I couldn’t do it,” Loki murmured after a while, when Tony’s presence had managed to make him relax a bit.

“Mmh?”

“I… I thought I could have remained alone for just a few hours, but I don’t.”

“Lo…”

“No, I… I can’t. And I hate it. You can’t be forced to stay with me because I can’t stay on my own.”

“Hey, I didn’t even want to go. If I have to choose between boring shareholders and you, it’s easy to predict my moves.”

“That’s not the point.”

Sadly, Tony was aware of that.

“You left me for a few hours and I panicked.”

“It was an experiment, Lokes. It went wrong. That’s hardly a problem.”

“It is a problem. I want to be able to stay on my own without having you rush at my side every time.”

“You don’t want me here?”

“That’s not what I’m saying. Of course I want you here, I-“ Loki abruptly stopped, because he just couldn’t admit to Anthony that he loved him and that there was nothing that he wanted more than to have the man close.

“You want your independence, I get it.”

“I… yes. And I don’t want to be a burden.”

“Again?”

Loki hid a small smile against Tony’s chest, “I know we’ve already had this conversation, but you can’t say I’m wrong.”

“You’re not a burden.”

“And yet I shouldn’t need to have you around at any moment.”

“You don’t. You spend hours alone every day, sometimes I don’t see you until evening.”

“But I know you’re within reach if only I desire to see you.”

“Lokes, hey, let me get things straight. You’re entitled to need time. You’re already making huge progresses, I don’t expect you to suddenly start behaving as the past four years have never happened; we can try to ignore them, but we can’t pretend they didn’t exist. You’ve been free – really free – for less than a month, you can’t expect to miraculously start functioning again. Okay?”

Loki took some time to answer, but in the end he was forced to admit that what Tony was saying was right; he couldn’t expect to have everything back only because he wasn’t on Alfheim anymore – Anthony had called it PTSD or something like that – and even though he would have liked to show Anthony that he didn’t need someone to hold his hand through it all, he had to admit he required some help.

Anthony was the best to provide it, actually the only person Loki wanted around in that moment, and Loki could do little to deny that.

“So now, if you want to call it a night and go to sleep, I understand that.”

Loki just hummed against Tony’s skin, “I don’t feel like sleeping.”

“I didn’t mean sleeping. We can just stay here, together, and that’s it.”

“It’s still early.”

“I know, but I don’t want to do much else,” Tony reassured him, stroking his hands through Loki’s long hair, “You think you can tolerate me for that long?”

“Are you really asking?” Loki murmured, kissing Tony’s chin.

“Better to be sure.”

“I’m quite predictable on that front.”

Tony chuckled, adjusting the position of his arms around Loki, “Did you eat something?” and it that moment Loki’s attitude drastically changed.

“I…”

“Lo…”

“I know i should, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” he admitted, “I’m sorry.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me that you’re sorry. You didn’t feel like eating, okay. Skipping a meal won’t kill you,” Tony kissed him on the cheek, “Just know that if you want to talk about why you didn’t want to, I’m here. And Friday’s here, she’s a good listener too. She can also order take out for you if I’m not here, no need to rely on the scarce remnants of the fridge.”

“Are you leaving again?”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Tony reassured him, even if he didn’t like the worry he had heard in Loki’s voice, “Just generally speaking.”

Loki hummed his understanding, shifting closer in Tony’s hug.

“You want something? Grape juice?”

“I’m fine.”

Even if Tony would have liked to prompt Loki to explain what had almost made him panic, he had to remain silent; he wasn’t supposed to know about that, and Loki couldn’t probably tolerate to know that Tony was spying on him, not trusting his word. It was a matter of time.

Probably Loki would have opened up sooner or later, and in case he hadn’t, at least Tony knew that the former god was safely curled in his arms, with no reason to worry anymore.

After some moments Tony simply turned on the tv and chose one channel where they were airing one of Loki’s favourite cooking shows; Thor had told him that probably Loki only liked the sharp knives the cooks used, but he still found it funny.

“It... it didn’t feel safe,” Loki finally confessed after a few minutes.

“Mmh?”

“I… I know I’m safe here, you’ve made that abundantly clear, but not having you here… I’m not asking you to stay,” Loki quickly added, “That’s absolutely not what I mean. You have your life and you can’t ignore everything else to be with me only because I’m afraid of shadows.”

“Lo...”

“No, it’s true.”

“Again: I don’t even have to think to choose between you and boring people about whom I don’t give a shit.”

“That’s not the point,” Loki shook his head, “What I mean is that… I can’t depend so much on you. And I thought I could’ve done it, I thought I was ready… but apparently I was wrong on that front. The only thing I could do was come here, where it looked a little more like… home.”

“Lokes, look at me,” Tony prompted him, “You need time. It’s fine. There’s no shame in that.”

“Stop telling me that I only need time.”

“But that’s true. You can’t really expect to do everything the first time you try to do it. It’ll take time to be back to normality, and I’m here for that, okay?”

“I just don’t want you to be conditioned by my situation,” Loki admitted in a small voice.

“Relationship, remember? We’re here for each other, that’s what we do.”

Loki exhaled a long breath, but he remained quiet.

“Yes?”

“Yes,” Loki confirmed, snuggling closer to Tony and appreciating once more the warmth.

It was nice to feel Loki finally relax after what had been a very long evening for Tony and that must have been even worse for Loki himself, who had spent his time trying not to panic, and Tony couldn’t but sink his nose in Loki’s hair.

“I’ve been lucky,” Loki murmured after a while, startling Tony out of his relaxed state, during which he had learned how not to cook a lobster with butter.

“Lucky?”

“Yes,” Loki nodded, not raising his head from the crook of Tony’s neck.

“Really?”

“I’ve found you,” Loki said as if it was obvious, looking up since he didn’t understand Tony’s puzzlement, “You who’re doing everything you can to be with me and are trying to ignore my past.”

“First of all, I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“Of course you do, Anthony,” Loki rolled his eyes, “Stop pretending you don’t only not to hurt my feelings.”

“No, Loki, really…”

“That’s fine,” Loki placed a hand on Tony’s cheek, “I understand. And I know that you don’t care,” this time he didn’t add that he didn’t truly believe that, but he already saw the hints of a painful doubt in Anthony’s brown eyes, “Having you here, with me, I can only consider myself lucky.”

Tony just looked at him for a few moments, unsure of what to say. All he could come up with was stroking his
hand in Loki’s black hair, basking in the sensation that contact gave him, the intimacy of such a gesture. The importance Loki was giving him was too much, he had no idea if he could have lived up to those expectations, not with Loki placing so much trust in him.

He would have liked to, he was sure of that, but wanting something and actually being able to obtain it were two very different things; Loki deserved someone who could have given him that, and Tony hoped with all his heart to be be enough for that.

“I can hear you thinking,” Loki murmured, shaking Tony out of his thoughts.

“Mmh?”

“You’re worried.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Anthony, you realise I can feel your heartbeat accelerating, right?” Loki gave him a look that may have been called amused hadn’t Loki’s still lingering loneliness tainted it.

“You’re not letting it go, are you?”

“I will if you want.”

The way in which Loki said it – all innocent and with no hidden meaning – made Tony realise he had fallen into a trap. Oh yes, Loki was telling him that he would have respected his desire, but at what cost? What was implied by that sentence was that Loki would have obeyed to his orders, to any request he may have made, and Tony didn’t like that prospect.

He didn’t like it at all.

Loki believing he was bound to obey to Tony’s orders was a topic he didn’t want to touch with a ten feet pole.

He had done his best to reassure Loki of his status of free person, and yet Loki came up with sentences like that.

There was only one thing Tony could do on that front.

“Okay, I… I’ve already mentioned it, and you know that I’m not that good at relationships. I really suck at relationships, actually. So, uh, well, the level of trust you place in me… I’m not used to that.”

Tony would have expected a long – and probably false – reassurance to follow, instead Loki remained silent. All the former prince did was snuggle closer to him and brush his lips over Tony’s own.

And that was it.

No useless words.

Only the intimate closeness Tony was by now used to.

Tony couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Had Loki said anything, Tony’s unsure mind on the front of being actually appreciated would have most likely interpreted it as a lie, but Loki had done none of that sort, proving once again that facts spoke louder than words.

“Thank you,” he murmured against Loki’s hair, basking in the low hum that was Loki’s answer and cradling the god closer as if he was his own personal plushie.

Now that Tony thought of it, Loki had actually been the equivalent of a plushie in a certain way: since the moment Tony had had Loki sleep curled up in his arms to feel the first shred of safety in years, Tony’s own nightmares had disappeared. Maybe he still woke up in the middle of the night looking frantically around, but not anymore for the haunting memories of his time with the Ten Rings; what disturbed his sleep was the need to be sure that Loki was still there with him, safe and sound, sleeping peacefully with his face pillowed on Tony’s chest.

The only nightmares waking him up had been Loki’s ones, and to them Tony had learned how to react: talking with him, reassuring him that everything was fine and finally over, maybe bringing him a cup of tea when Loki’s hands couldn’t stop shaking. Loki always apologised for waking him up, but every time Tony was quick to shush him and tell him that it was normal and that he didn’t mind.

When Tony had left for Alfheim he would have never thought he would have come back with such a change in his life; of course a visit to another planet was something huge, but coming back with probably the only person in the world who made him able to be a working part of a relationship? That was just a too big leap of imagination.

Certainly said person needed to work on some issues, but that wasn’t a problem in Tony’s eyes.

Maybe he may have even helped.

That was why he withdrew his hand from Loki’s hair to nonchalantly rest it on top of the obnoxious fur blanket, raising his index to signal Friday to give him a keyboard.

“What are you doing?” Loki asked, the tip of his nose brushing against Tony’s chin.

“Mmh? Nothing.”

“Why are you tapping on the bed behind my back?”

“I’m not doing such thing.”

Taking Tony by surprise with the suddenness of his movement, Loki turned around and managed to get a glimpse of the keyboard projected on the bed before Friday made it disappear.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Tony lied badly.

“What were you telling Friday?”

“Just a few notes for a suit upgrade, really, you’d only find it boring,” Tony was almost proud of how he had recovered in his lie, but it quickly vanished when the bot he had called arrived with a bowl full of fruits which was duly deposited on the bed, right in front of Loki.

“Anthony?”

“Yeah, okay, fine. I thought that maybe you’d have liked to eat something now that the situation is a bit more quiet.”

“And you were hiding that from me because…?” Loki prompted.

“You don’t react well when I point out you should eat, so I thought that maybe taking you by surprise…”

Loki only rolled his eyes, kissing that ridiculous human.

“You’re not… mad at me?”

“Mad at you? Why should I? You’re doing all you can only to help me, even when I’m the one creating the problems. How could I be mad at someone who’s doing his best for me?”

“Well, of course I do, I-“

Tony’s mindless half-confession was interrupted by something neither of them expected.

The Tower started shaking with the usual energy of Mjolnir, and before they could even hint at reaching the living room, they heard the noise of Thor running up the stairs, barging into the room.

When his light eyes landed on him, Loki already knew he was in trouble.

“Odin knows you’re here.”

Chapter Text

Loki felt as if his entire world was crumbling down before his very eyes.

Odin knew.

Odin knew he wasn’t on Alfheim anymore.

Odin knew that he wasn’t anymore in the place where he had been. Tortured for years as punishment for his supposed crimes.
And now that he knew…

“What?” Tony asked, placing a hand on his shoulder, which was enough to stave off Loki’s imminent panic attack for a couple of moments.

“Odin knows Loki’s not on Alfheim anymore. The ambassador from Alfheim was on Asgard, and the topic was brought up,” Thor grimaced, going to sit on the bed with them, “I’m sorry, bro∂ir.”

“What… what does he know?”

“Only that you’re here. The ambassador only told him that you’d been… sold,” Thor’s face twisted at if the word itself tasted foul.

“Nothing more?” Tony asked, rubbing his hand on Loki’s back.

“I think that’s already enough,” Thor looked at him, his eyes immediately returning on Loki.

“No, it’s not. If they think Loki’s… situation hasn’t changed, that only the location of his imprisonment has, then maybe we can work with that,” Tony reasoned, and his words brought Loki to raise his green eyes on him, “Of course everything has changed, Lo, but they don’t have to know.”

“What do you mean?” Loki murmured.

“I’ve read your sentence, there’s nothing saying you should remain on Alfheim. The fact that you’re here, if that fucker hasn’t told too much to Odin, shouldn’t mean anything.”

Loki tried, really tried, to agree with Anthony, but that was too much.

Not even leaning against the man’s side managed to calm down his racing heartbeat.

“Really?” Thor asked.

“The sentence says nothing of the sort,” Tony confirmed, “You think they’ll come to check the situation?”

“It’s possible, yes,” Thor nodded, barely resisting the urge to hug his terrified brother, “And that could be the real problem,” he added, even though he would have gladly avoided the flinch it caused in Loki; he knew that Loki should have been spared that, but they really had to find a solution together.

“If they’ll come we’ll put up a farce.”

“We can do that, but there’s another problem.”

Tony quirked an eyebrow.

“The shackle.”

Thor could see the shiver that passed through Loki.

“Please, no…”

“I know, bro∂ir, I’m so sorry…”

“I don’t want to put it back on, please. Please, don’t make me do it,” this time he turned to Tony, the pleading of his voice flowing in his eyes, “Please.”

God, how Tony hated that.

He needed to think, and he had to do it quickly before Loki lost his mind entirely.

He had finally started to associate the Tower with safety, and now that was being stripped from him once again. That night had already been difficult for Loki, they couldn’t add that threat to that.

“Who could check? Odin?” he asked.

“No,” Thor shook his head, and from his expressions Tony could already tell that no one in the room would have liked the next part of the sentence, “He wouldn’t lower himself to do this.”

“Who then?”

“Guards, probably.”

“And they know magic?”

“Excuse me?”

“These guards. Can they recognise if something is a magical device or not?”

“I… No,” Thor confirmed when he saw from Loki’s nod that he wasn’t saying something stupid, “I don’t think they can.”

“Then I could build it. The shackle,” he added when Loki looked at him, “I could build an exact replica of it, but it’d open on your command, Lokes,” he pulled the fallen prince closer, “It’s up to you. I know that after everything that has happened to you because that fucking thing suppressed your magic you’d rather step into the fire than wearing something around your ankle again, but that’d do no harm. I’ve no idea of how magic works, so I won’t certainly be able to build something suppressing it.”

“It may work,” Thor chimed in, trying to help Stark with his plan, “If they see the shackle, they’ll be more inclined to believe to what you’re telling them.”

“Lo, I know this isn’t ideal, and that it requires a level of trust you’re not comfortable with right now, and believe me, I understand. I truly do,” he moved away Loki’s hair, trying to convey the most reassurance possible to the movement, “But what about you assist me with the process, mmh? You can be there with me as I make the false shackle, watch my every more. So you’ll be sure that everything is what I’ve told you, that I won’t add anything more to that.”

“I trust you…” Loki uttered in a small voice, and both Tony and Thor could see through the pathetic lie.

“I know you do, Bambi, but this wouldn’t be a bad idea. You could keep me company in the shop, make sure I go to sleep every now and then… it’d really be for the best.”

“He’s right, bro∂ir, that’s a good solution. A false shackle, no one will know.”

“I… I’m sorry, I can’t, I…”

“No, hey, look at me,” Tony shushed him, “No need to be sorry. You have every right to be wary, no one is saying otherwise. What we’re trying to do, maybe not in the best way, is to find a solution. If you have other ideas you think may work better, then tell us, please.”

“No, I… I just… I don’t want to, please. I don’t want to go there I don’t want to leave, I beg you,” Loki fisted Tony’s shirt, trying to get even closer to him, panic clear on his traits.

“No one’s saying that, Lo. No one’ll allow that to happen.”

“No, bro∂ir, you can be sure of that,” Thor added, following Tony’s gaze that begged him to intervene, “I failed you four years ago, and I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that, but I promise I won’t let anything bad happen to you anymore, bro∂ir, I swear,” this time Thor couldn’t help himself, and he rested a hand on Loki’s shoulder too; he was glad to see that only caused a minor flinching, and that Loki eventually seemed to be drawing comfort from it.

“Lokes, you’re safe here.”

“Here, but…”

“No ‘but’, Lo. They won’t take you away. I promise too.”

“I only want to stay here…”

“And you will, Lo. We only need a plan that doesn’t involve wedging war against some fuck-head to make it happen. But rest assured that it’s my intention to do so if I have to.”

“No,” Loki murmured, trying to regain some sort of control; had Anthony lost that battle, he didn’t even want to imagine the possible consequences for his human. Losing a battle against Asgard and being taken captive was something no human could have withstood, and Loki would have never tolerated something of that sort happening to his Anthony, “I prefer the shackle. The real one if I have to.”

Had Thor not been convinced yet of his brother’s feelings for Stark, he would have become persuaded in that moment.
“No need for that fucking thing. Well, actually I need it to copy it, but you got what I meant. No need to wear it ever again, Lo,” he cuddled the former god closer, pressing a kiss against Loki’s hair.

”Friend Tony is right, bro∂ir. We don’t even know if they’ll come here to check, we’ve no idea. But if there’s something you’ve taught me is that one must always be prepared, so that’s what we’re doing. We have a contingency plan for the worst possible scenario. Maybe we won’t even need to apply it, but we have it ready if the need arises.”

There was only silence from Loki’s part, but at least he didn’t look about to have a panic attack anymore; his shoulders were still shaking, but at least his breathing was a bit more even now.

“You’ll be fine, Lo, we’ll be fine. I promise.”

Chapter Text

They didn’t even try to go back to sleep.

The three of them settled in the armchair and in the loveseat in the bedroom, or at least they tried to do so, since Loki seemed to prefer staying on the floor, his back pressed against Tony’s chest as the man used the loveseat as a backrest. Thor had decided to to the same, only choosing the armchair as support.

“How did you find out?” Loki asked after a while, raising his eyes from his fingers which he had been tormenting for the last ten minutes.

“Heimdall. He told me.”

“Really?”

“He wants to help, Loki, I told you.”

“I find it hard to believe.”

“Heimdall can be trusted, bro∂ir. He doesn’t agree with Odin’s latest policies, and he’s trying to help where he can without committing treason.”

“Helping me is treason.”

“What he did can’t be considered treason. He didn’t do anything to actively help you.”

“He called you.”

“To communicate me of the presence of an important ambassador for the Realm, and he provided a short recollection of what has been told during a formal meeting. That can hardly be considered treason.”

Loki remained silent. Not really because Thor had managed to convince him of Heimdall’s trustworthiness, but because the way in which Thor had formulated his plot had shocked him into silence.

“How did he tell you? You obviously weren’t on Asgard,” Tony commented, pointing at Thor’s very Midgardian clothing; from what he was wearing, it was quite clear he had been home packing the last. Things he still had to move to New York.

Jane’s equipment had required particular care, even though Tony had sent the same people he hired to move his own stuff between New York and Malibu, and in the end she and Thor had come to the agreement that Thor would have moved there first and she would have joined him later when she would have been able to sort everything.

Thor would have liked to have Jane with him the whole time, recognising that she would have been of great help now that he was trying to build again a sort of very brittle relationship with his brother, but he knew that remaining in New Mexico for all that time would have been counterproductive on that account; maybe he would have made more mistakes without Jane pointing out what he wasn’t seeing, but at least he would have been there for Loki.

Not that Thor believed Loki required his constant presence there, but he couldn’t stand the thought of not being close to his brother after so many years of separation.

“He sent a message.”

“Yeah, how?”

“Heimdall can send messages in many ways, and they aways reach the receiver.”

“You’re not helping, Point Break.”

“Heimdall can send these messages directly to the receiver,” Loki supplied, his temple pressed against Tony’s neck, “He doesn’t need any mean to do so.”

“You mean… telepathy?”

“I think you can call it that, yes.”

“Okay, you really have to tell me more,” Tony leaned forward, as if by getting closer to Thor he would have managed to hear that message too, only to realise that Loki had to cling to him to maintain his protected position, so he tightened his arm on him.

“I wouldn’t know how to explain,” Thor admitted.

“Loki… Why do you tease me with these things and then tell me nothing?”

“It’d be impossible to explain it. If I’ll ever get the chance, I’ll show you,” Loki stroked his hand on Tony’s cheek, and the melancholy Tony could read in that gesture was something he didn’t like at all.

“You will, Lo, why’re you saying that?”

“If they take me away-“

“No,” both Tony and Thor interrupted him.

“They will…”

“No, Lokes, not again,” Tony pleaded, holding Loki better against his chest, and Thor shifted closer.

“None of that will happen, bro∂ir. I promise. We’re here. We won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

It was strange for Tony to be included in that statement, but Tony couldn’t but appreciate it.

Presenting an united front was the best thing they could do for Loki at the moment.

“If they come here, they’ll take me away and I…” he turned to Tony, the words he was trying to say remaining trapped by the knot in his throat.

“Lo, we’ll do whatever we need to do to prevent that from happening. I’ve promised you nothing bad would’ve happened to you again, and I intend to keep that promise.”

“They have to believe that this… that this doesn’t exist,” Loki tried again, his hand anchored to Tony’s chest, “The shackle won’t convince them. Not if those who’ll be sent here have talked with someone from… there.”

Tony didn’t need Loki to add more to that.

He understood all too well what he meant.

Loki looked well.

He was still thin, but the magic he wasn’t still able to control had worked on his body on its own, and all those damages that two months with Tony – away from the horrors of the Palace of Alfheim – had already helped to heal, had almost faded.

There weren’t bruises on his skin anymore, no more blood knotting his hair, no more open cuts.

It was clear that in that house Loki wasn’t playing the role of the sex slave as he had done in the past four years, but Tony would have rather returned to Afghanistan for another three months than change that situation.

“What do you mean?” Thor had to ask, because for how many explanations Tony may have given him, he hadn’t seen Loki in such a state and couldn’t understand what his brother was saying.

“I… this is not the aspect a slave should have,” Loki managed to mutter, his eyes fixed on the floor.

“You are not,” Tony all but growled.

“And they will im