Tony had never imagined that flying around in a suit of armour protecting Earth would one day lead to hoping onto a spaceship and flying around in a sleeker, more deadly suit of armour and defending the universe. Tony couldn’t say he was complaining.
The Revengers were... fun. Dangerous, mindboggling and terrifying at times, but still, at the core, it was a scientist’s wet dream.
It also felt like a team, more than the Avengers ever had. Thor was a surprisingly good leader, and Loki was an even better tactician. Tony had to admit that a small part of him enjoyed not having to be the one to think of solutions. Loki and Thor knew space a hell of a lot better than him. He could still be helpful and make suggestions, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t his call and that took a load off his shoulders.
Tony had always known he could never fully retire from hero-work, but this was a good compromise. He got to explore the universe, invent, and do some good. He had friends and a team that would always have his back. Tony was happy.
It didn’t mean that things couldn’t still go downhill quickly.
They’d stopped their ship at a planet, only intending to stock up on supplies, but when they heard about a nearby world that had been taken over by a hostile dictator, the Revengers had been unable to pass by without investigating.
The world was small and some parts of it were more heavily monitored and controlled than others. Loki and Thor had argued about the best way to approach the planet. Thor voted for being upfront and loud; they’d land the ship and confront the dictator directly. Loki argued that they should use stealth and send down one or two members of the team to scout the area first.
Tony had sided with Loki, but it turned out to be moot as the planet fired a shot at them. After that, they weren’t about to go down softly.
It still took them the better part of an hour to get themselves safely on the planet. They didn’t want to fire back and hurt any innocent people caught in the middle. They disguised the ship and marched into the village square. They were greeted by hopeful and terrified villagers who laid out the story for them.
A disgraced criminal from their planet had fled his sentence and gone off world. He’d come back five years later with a small army and a device that revealed a person’s hidden thoughts and desires. He used that to his advantage and either blackmailed or killed people who stood in his way.
He’d been ruling for almost two years and had such a firm hold over the planet’s people and resources that no one had been able to stand up to him - not until the Revengers showed up.
They’d roused a small army of men and women wanting to take their planet back. They’d planned to lay siege to the compound the dictator lived in, but the moment they arrived there was an immediate problem; he had hostages.
“Give yourself up, Revengers!” The dictator shouted. A young woman was clasped in his arms as a human shield. He had a gun to her head. “Or I shall kill her!”
Thor’s fist came down in a furious punch against the ground. The Revengers were crouched behind a small hill, a portion of the army behind them and awaiting their guidance.
“We cannot allow her to come to harm,” Thor stated, glaring at the dictator furiously.
“We need a way to get the hostages free,” Rhodey said, his eyes flicking over the scene. “We need a distraction.”
“No,” Tony shook his head. “We need to give ourselves up.” He got aghast looks from Thor and Rhodey, but Tony looked past them to hold Loki’s gaze. “We need a trick.”
Loki knew exactly what he meant. They could always read each other so well and work together seamlessly. There was a reason they were usually paired together when the team had to split. Unlike when they normally came up with a plan together Loki’s eyes didn’t brighten nor did he smirk. He looked pensive and he flicked his gaze between the dictator and his hostages.
“Can you do it Loki?” Thor asked. “Are you able to craft illusions of us all?”
Loki’s jaw was tightly clenched. “Not all of you.”
“Then we split,” Rhodey said. “Half of us go down with you, the rest stay here.”
“I’ll go,” Valkyrie said, her eyes on the hostages.
“Me too,” Tony added. “Rhodey can stay here for air support. I can help Val with the hostages.”
“Don’t get close to him,” Bruce chimed in. He’d been sitting lower, not looking over the hill in order to keep calm. “You don’t want him using the device on any of you.”
“This is a stupid plan,” Loki hissed. “We put ourselves in harm’s way and for what?”
“For the survival of the hostages, Loki,” Rhodey replied, more amused than annoyed. “And have you got a better idea?”
Loki opened his mouth to reply when there was a shot and a choked-off scream. Bruce started to go green but Val slid down and grabbed his arm. She murmured, ‘it was a warning’ a moment before the dictator bellowed, “Now, Revengers, or she dies.”
Loki was clenching his fists. Tony could see him trying to search for another way, but they didn’t have a choice.
“Come on, Loki,” Tony implored.
Loki let out a frustrated breath before twisting his wrist and making a clone of Bruce, Rhodey and Thor. The clones started to climb over the mound and Loki, Valkyrie and Tony hurried to join them. Tony was just grateful no one started shooting at them as they descended down the hill and towards the compound; after all, it was a pretty good opening to take them out.
The dictator just looked smug. Tony supposed he should be grateful for the arrogance of would-be-villains. He probably liked the idea of capturing and blackmailing the heroes of the universe.
Tony exchanged a look with Loki the closer they got to the dictator; he also made a subtle gesture with his hand. Loki was still unhappy, but he gave an imperceptible nod. Rhodey had once joked that Loki should steal the role of ‘best friend’ since he could read Tony better than Rhodey could. Loki had rolled his eyes and Tony had insisted Rhodey was not about to be replaced, but the truth was, they did read each other far too well.
They had a series of expressions and a code all their own. You could gag them both and tie their hands behind their backs and they could still share a conversation with eyes and head tilts alone. It meant that they occasionally infuriated the team by concocting and enacting a plan without giving thought to anyone else.
The thing was, they did think about everyone else, they just didn’t have time to include them. It was the same thing here.
Loki was a half-step in front of the rest of the group and he started to speak, “Release the girl and your other hostages.”
“You are in no position to bargain!” The man snapped. “You are all my prisoners!”
Tony was keeping his eyes aimed carefully forward waiting for an opening. He saw the clone of Loki appear behind the man a second before one of the dictator’s soldiers shouted. The dictator spun and pointed his gun at the fake Loki. Valkyrie darted in and grabbed the girl and all hell immediately broke loose.
The clones of the team were a distraction and acted as kamikaze, running at soldiers and taking a shot dead-on that disintegrated them and confused the enemy. Tony pulled on his armour and focused on releasing the hostages. The Hulk roared and ran down the hill while Rhodey took to the air and Thor’s lightning came into play.
It was a typical, chaotic battle for them, and something the dictator was entirely unprepared to handle.
Everything would have gone smoothly if Tony hadn’t been shot protecting a child. It hurt and rattled his suit, but he was still okay.
“Anthony!” Loki instantly shouted, concern in his voice.
“I’m fine!” he yelled back, shoving the child towards the awaiting arms of the villagers who were relocating the hostages to safety.
He turned around to face the soldier who had shot him, but was startled to find it was the dictator. He didn’t know when the man had got that close to him.
The dictator gave a howl of rage and made to shoot Tony again, but he didn’t get far as Loki was suddenly behind him and grabbing his arm, forcing the firearm into the air and twisting his wrist in a way designed to break, but he didn’t get to complete it. The dictator twisted in the hold. It wasn’t enough to get free, but it was enough to turn his other hand on Loki.
“Loki!” Tony tried to warn, but he wasn’t fast enough. The device shot something purple at Loki’s forehead. It looked like a combination between a beam and magic. He tried to struggle and pull away initially, but soon went horribly pliant.
“Now we’ll see what you hold secret and dear. The thing you fear to lose above all else,” the dictator snarled, his eyes glowing purple to match the beam.
“Release him!” Thor roared, but he was ignored. Tony tried to get close but the air crackled with purple magic and he didn’t want to do something that would hurt Loki.
The dictator’s eyes were sharply narrowed in concentration. Loki was still submissive in his arms, but the fury on the dictator’s face was quickly explained. “You think you can hide it from me?” The dictator snarled. “Tell me!”
The purple beam pulsed stronger. “Craving. Longing.” The dictator hissed. “Resignation. Rejection.” He growled. “What is it?!”
Loki’s hand had fallen from the dictator’s wrist and the gun was on the ground. The dictator didn’t care; he was intently focused on Loki. He gripped and tilted Loki’s chin, searching his mind for the information he wanted. Tony’s attention was locked on the two men, but he almost wanted to turn away and block his ears. He didn’t want to intrude and hear whatever the dictator pulled from Loki, but he refused to leave Loki defenceless.
“A person,” the dictator sounded gleeful. “Dreams. Hopelessness. Lust. Love. You pine. You fear his knowing. You fear rejection.” He laughed and turned his head. Purple eyes locked on Tony as the dictator announced, “Your secret is Anthony.”
The moment the beam retracted from Loki’s head, a bolt of lightning arched over Tony and slammed into the dictator’s chest and catapulted him into the side of the compound wall. Loki dropped like a doll with cut strings, ending on his hands and knees and gasping for breath.
Tony should run over to Loki, make sure he was okay, but he was frozen in place, too shocked to move.
Loki... Loki loved him?
Tony could only stare at Loki. The mage raised a shaking hand and put his palm to his forehead. He curled a little more into himself and Tony finally croaked out the other man’s name. Loki flinched violently. He didn’t even look at Tony, he just... teleported. He disappeared from the battlefield and left Tony staring at the spot he’d occupied, his mind still reeling.
Tony was forced to focus back on the battle and dealing with the remaining soldiers that were quick to surrender. They handcuffed the unconscious dictator and dragged him back to the village where they had first raised their army.
The celebrating and cheering of the planet’s inhabitants was loud and quickly surrounded them. The Revengers were silent and confused. Their eyes tracked the crowd searching for their missing member, and when Loki never showed, Tony felt everyone’s pitying and uncomfortable glances.
Loki hadn’t even stayed to get his vengeance on the dictator, and that said more than Tony wanted to admit.
The thing you fear to lose above all else. Your secret is Anthony.
The words ran through his mind and left Tony struggling to accept them. He knew they were true, God, there was no denying it. They all knew what the device was capable of. Tony had thought he knew Loki, but apparently not.
Yet... he could still fit this new piece of information in perfectly.
Their past interactions suddenly gained a whole new layer that made perfect sense.
They got along so well. Loki spent the most amount of time with him. Loki let Tony touch him; an arm over his shoulders, an excited hug, and even that one time when he’d been sick and Loki had been deliciously cool and hadn’t minded Tony curled up in his lap.
God, he was fucking blind, wasn’t he?
Loki looked at him all the time. He also didn’t look at him when it mattered. When Tony was shirtless or in boxers and Loki’s eyes were always pointedly turned away, like he couldn’t trust himself not to be caught staring.
You fear his knowing. You fear rejection.
Loki didn’t think Tony was receptive, and he wouldn’t actually be wrong. It wasn’t that Tony wasn’t receptive it was that Tony hadn’t thought about it. He’d broken up with Pepper months before joining the Revengers and had taken himself off the market. He didn’t need the heartache. He had friends, a team and was exploring space. He didn’t need a lover to get by.
Loki had obviously sensed Tony’s complete lack of interest in him--in anyone--and kept silent in response. But now the cat was out of the bag and they would both have to deal with it.
The village was bursting with people who were chanting their name and preparing to hold a celebration in their honour. Loki was nowhere to be found and Tony wasn’t surprised. He worked on autopilot to help Thor set up the force fields that would work as makeshift prisons for the dictator and his men. They would have to take them off the planet and transport them somewhere for justice, but it could wait a day.
When they had finished and everyone was contained, Thor stopped him from going far with a hand on his shoulder. “Tony-”
“I’ve got to talk to him, I know.”
Thor nodded softly, his eyes sad and resigned. “He has spent too many years in heartache. He knows his affections are one-sided. Be gentle to him. ”
Tony had been looking away, but jerked his attention back to Thor. “Are you-did you know?”
“He is my brother.” Thor answered. “His attentions to you were easy to see.”
Tony only felt worse at hearing that. Had he been the only one oblivious? Had his ignorance been stringing Loki along? Had he-
Thor squeezed his shoulder again, dragging Tony from his thoughts. “Loki did not fool himself. He knew your affections were not the same as his. You did nothing wrong, Tony.”
Tony gave tight smile and shrugged off Thor’s touch. He didn’t really believe that, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to change Thor’s mind. Tony walked away and out of the village. He needed some time to himself and away from the cheerful, liberated villagers. Tony was happy for them, but he needed to think, and the ship seemed like the best place to go.
He would go to his rooms, have a shower, try to clear his head and then he’d search for Loki. The mage would either let himself be found, or he’d lick his wounds for a little longer. Tony wouldn’t push. Loki had already had one thing forced on him today.
Tony had been walking the hallways of the ship, his footsteps echoing. He wasn’t being silent; anyone would know he was coming. It was why he was surprised to turn down the corridor to his rooms and find Loki sitting on the floor beside Tony’s door. His back was against the wall, his knees bent and his eyes on the ceiling. The sight was more than a little concerning.
“Loki?” Tony asked, his voice coming out soft.
“What would it take to have you act as if you didn’t know?” Loki questioned. He didn’t look away from the ceiling, but there was a hopeful yearning on his face, begging Tony to accept his request.
Tony felt horrible and guilt blossomed in his chest. “But I do know, Loki.”
Loki hands clenched into fists; he also angled his face further away from Tony. It made Tony sigh and walk over to the mage. He pressed his back to the wall before sliding down to sit beside Loki. He didn’t say anything and the silence lingered for a long time.
“I value your friendship, Anthony.”
“I value yours,” Tony replied.
“I had never intended to tell you,” Loki admitted, his voice rough. He let out a harsh laugh and his next words were bitter, “I knew it would be a mistake.”
Loki was staring at his hands and Tony found himself staring at the wall, trying to think of something to say.
“What will you do?” Loki asked abruptly. It made Tony look over at him, and he could read the worry and pain on his face. “You know how I...” He glanced away and gritted his teeth. “I had no chance. I don’t need your platitudes. I seek your friendship, Anthony, nothing more.” He turned back, holding Tony’s gaze and stating firmly, “Nothing more. Regardless of what you heard and what was said, I know what I can have and I do not want to lose it.”
He knows his affections are one-sided. Be gentle to him.
Thor’s words rang through Tony’s mind, and they made him slump. He found himself pressing closer to Loki. It made the mage tense briefly before he was relaxing and sliding closer. The lengths of their bodies were touching. It was warm and comforting. Loki always made him feel safe.
And how many people in the universe actually understood him? How many people could he share a conversation in a single look? How many people had Tony let under his defences so easily and without a second thought?
“I don’t want to lose your friendship, Anthony,” Loki told him, his voice a whisper. “If you could just pretend you didn’t know...”
Tony shifted to look at Loki. He was staring at the floor now, his expression pinched with unhappiness and pain. His hands were on his knees and Tony... Tony didn’t know what made him do it. Gut instinct? Compassion? Desire? Whatever it was, Tony reached out and placed his hand over Loki’s.
The mage’s entire body tensed. “Anthony...”
“You’re not going to lose my friendship, Loki. You’re too important to me.” He frowned a little, licking his lips and slowly slipping his fingers between Loki’s. “And you deserve better than an outright dismissal.”
Loki blinked at him, too shocked to even try to mask his expression. There was confusion, desperation, hope, disbelief, wariness and indecision. So many emotions all rolling across his face like a wave. Tony saw the moment that desperation and hope won over; Loki looked away from him but he curled his own fingers around Tony’s.
It was a tentative overture on Tony’s part, and Loki knew it, but he was accepting it regardless. Tony might have sworn off relationships, but he could give things a go for Loki.
And when it came down to it, a chance was better than nothing at all.
They sat there for a few minutes, saying nothing and holding hands, but Tony knew the team would come searching for them if they didn’t reappear. It was why Tony started to uncurl his fingers from Loki’s. He felt a momentary resistance before Loki let him go. Tony pushed up from the wall and stood, stretching out his back.
Loki watched him for a moment before pulling himself to his feet as well. He still looked wary, none of his usual confidence around him.
“How’s your head, after,” Tony made a gesture, “what happened.”
“Fine,” Loki answered. He fixed his jacket and stated flatly, “I’m going to kill that man.”
Tony knew he was deadly serious, and frankly, Tony didn’t even try to protest it. Mental manipulation was something Loki had been through enough of and if killing that dictator made him feel better, Tony wasn’t about to put up much of a resistance.
It didn’t mean he couldn’t try something else to help Loki as well. He smiled at Loki. “There’s a party starting soon to celebrate our liberation of this world.” He held out his hand between them. “Be my date?”
Loki’s eyes jerked to his, surprised. He looked between Tony’s face and his hand. It took a few seconds, but slowly, a small smile pulled at Loki’s mouth and he took Tony’s hand. Tony’s grin widened and he tugged Loki down the hall with him.
Tony could forgo his change of clothes and shower if it made Loki look at him like that. Tony could do a lot of things, actually, if the affection in the mage’s eyes continued to spark a soft warmth inside his chest.
Tony couldn’t make any promises, but maybe Loki wouldn’t have to spend anymore years in heartache. Maybe he could spend them, right here, at Tony’s side and holding his hand.